weekend watchlist: a timely cure for collective cultural amnesia

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First published May 7th, 2022, on Substack and Patreon.

Don’t spend hours scrolling the menus at Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other movie services. I point you to the best new films and hidden gems to stream.

Movies included here may be available on services other than those mentioned, and in other regions, too. JustWatch and Reelgood are great for finding which films are on what streamers; you can customize each site so that it shows you only those services you have access to.

When you rent or purchase a film through the Amazon and Apple links here, I get a small affiliate fee that helps support my work. Please use them if you can! (Affiliate fees do not increase your cost.)


both sides of the pond

It’s not often that collective cultural amnesia is a good thing, and it certainly isn’t now that it looks like reproductive rights in the United States are in danger of immediate rollback. (This is something that should also be of concern to those in the United Kingdom.) Anyone under 60 years old or so in the US won’t have any memory of what it meant to need an abortion before it was legal to have one. Movies such as the harrowing and incredibly timely new drama Happening, about a young woman in early-1960s France seeking an illegal termination and in cinemas now on both sides of the Atlantic, can serve as a reminder of the terror and the dangers of the time.

Another cinematic reminder of how women and other pregnant people coped before Roe v Ward can be found in the low-budget 2018 independent film Ask for Jane, a clear-eyed, straightforward dramatization of the work of the underground Jane Collective in late-60/early-70s Chicago. The brave women of the group organized to ensure that women who needed abortions could get them safely and clandestinely. Also plain here is the bravery of the women seeking abortions themselves, who risked their freedom, their health, and even their lives to ensure better futures for themselves and, in some instances, the child they already had. There is a compassion here for women, and an understanding of the difficult choices that women make, that is often missing from pop culture and from mainstream discourse. And it’s a compassion that is urgently needed again.

(Be on the lookout, too, for new documentary The Janes, coming in June to HBO in the US, and very likely also to a UK streaming service soon.)

US: available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime

UK: available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime and Apple TV


US

last chance on Netflix

2016’s Eye in the Sky is a stupendously important and provocative dramatic thriller about drone warfare, and every single bit of it is riveting on levels intellectual, philosophical, and visceral. A military procedural unfolding in near real time, it is people — the terrific cast includes Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman (in his last onscreen appearance) — sitting around watching computer screens, and debating and arguing about what they are seeing and how they should react to it. This is war is waged from a conference table in a comfy office building, or from in front of a rig that looks like an elaborate videogame. This is a film as entertaining on an escapist level as it is irrefutably engaging on a level that is essential for citizens who are players in our political environment. (Read my review.)

streaming on Netflix through May 12th; also available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime and Apple TV

last chance on Prime

A cheery spin on the heist movie, 2008’s The Bank Job exists in the delicious space between a limited set of real facts and the conspiracy theories that have sprung up to fill in the blanks. In September of 1971, the British newspapers were full of the news of the brazen robbery of a safe-deposit vault at a London bank… and a few days later, the story disappeared from the newspapers. Just gone, like it never existed. Rumors ran wild about what could possibly have been stolen from those boxes that would prompt the government to quash the story. What this movie suggests is a damn good guess, and it’s ridiculously entertaining how it gets there. (Read my review.)

streaming on Amazon Prime, free for members, though the end of May; also streaming on Hulu, and available for rent or purchase on Prime and Apple TV


UK

new on Prime

Dip your toe into the concept of the multiverse — the infinite slew of alternate realities where things are just a little bit different from our own — with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Animated Feature, this is a thoroughly charming adventure with Spider-Man in the form of Brooklyn teen Miles Morales as he encounters Spider-Man in the form of Peter Parker from Queens, among others. You don’t need to know anything about comic books, or about the sci-fi ideas this fresh and funny movie plays with: it will clue you in, quickly and slyly and without stopping the fast-paced plot in its tracks. Visual styles collide here like universes collide: in a way that’s at once dangerous and synergistic, complementary yet clashing. If animated movies seem to have forgotten just how visually adventurous they can be, Spider-Verse is a huge honking smack of a reminder (Read my review.)

streaming on Amazon Prime, free for members; also available for rent or purchase on Prime and Apple TV

Netflix hidden gem

If the Downton Abbey movie currently in cinemas is a bit too… nice for your taste, reacquaint yourself with 2001’s Gosford Park, the sublime black comedy Julian Fellowes wrote before he created the much gentler saga of the Earl of Grantham and family. This upstairs/downstairs murder mystery, set at a shooting party at an English manor in 1932, is about catty gossip, cheap rich people, flirting across class lines, secret sex, daggers stared across the dinner table, and bottles of household poisons everywhere. The *ahem* killer cast features Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Clive Owen, and many more. If this had become a regular series, I’d have been there for it. (Read my review.)

streaming on Netflix; also available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime (free for members) and Apple TV


find lots more movies to stream

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