weekend watchlist: a sci-fi mood piece of eeriness, ookiness, and dread

First published August 27th, 2022, on Substack and Patreon.

Don’t spend hours scrolling the menus at Netflix, Prime Video, 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 Prime Video 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

If Jordan Peele’s creepy UFO movie Nope has you hankering for more unsettling sci-fi, allow me to recommend strange and wondrous little indie The Vast of Night. This low-budget marvel captures the extraordinary feeling that science fiction grants to those of use who understand its sway, that combination of unease and fascination that pondering the world beyond the confines of puny planet Earth brings. A striking mood piece, this is all eeriness, ookiness, and dread as two early geeks in 1950s New Mexico investigate an eerie electronic sound in the nascent airwaves. This is not a movie about what happens. It’s about how what happens rocks the cultural paradigm of its protagonists, how it turns them into the fish who suddenly see the water they swim in. Even better, this is a terrific example of science fiction that is as much about it own invented, imaginary world as it is about our real world right now, in this very moment. (Read my review.)

US: streaming free on Prime Video, only for members

UK: streaming free on Prime Video, only for members


new on premium VOD

Speaking of Nope… I don’t often recommend movies here that are on premium VOD, because those are quite expensive rentals. But in this case, it’s certainly 20 bucks well spent, particularly if you have a decent home-cinema setup, and/or if you can share the rental with a few friends. (Multiplexes might not be the safest places at the moment, because the pandemic is not over regardless of how much we’d like to pretend it is. But it does feel a bit safer to invite a few friends over whom we can trust are being careful not to spread the bastard virus.) Jordan Peele’s third film is full of delicious popcorn-movie vibes and horrors galore, both funny-suspenseful and stone-cold bone-chilling, in its tale of siblings in a remote California valley who taunt the UFO buzzing their ranch in the hopes of capturing video footage they can cash in on. But most intriguing is the twistiness of how the movie grapples with its own existence as an instance of Hollywood spectacle that itself cashes in on human pain and suffering. (Read my review.)

available as a premium rental on Prime Video and Apple TV

leaving HBO Max soon

We all have those movies where, if we’re flipping around on the TV and stumble across it, we can’t not jump in and watch it till the end. One of those, for me, is Steven Soderbergh’s endlessly amusing, never-not-enthralling Ocean’s Eleven. George Clooney plotting to pull a heist on three Vegas casinos with the help of Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, and other delicious boys? While snarking all the way? Count me in, always. (Read my 2001 review.)

streaming on HBO Max through August 31st; also available for rent or purchase on Prime Video and Apple TV


iPlayer hidden gem

Turns out Ron Howard’s 2015 seafaring adventure drama In the Heart of the Sea is another movie that I cannot skip past when channel surfing: I came across it one insomniatic late night last week on BBC One and was drawn into watching it straight to the end. This is a two-centuries-ago story of a previous energy crisis, when the whale oil that lit the world was starting to be in short supply because *checks notes* we humans were already hunting whales to extinction. Chris Hemsworth stars as the whaler who starts to get an inkling that whales are maybe sentient creatures we should leave be. It’s green! And it’s inspired by a true story that also inspired Moby-Dick. Rollicking good stuff. (Read my review.)

streaming on BBC iPlayer through September 15th; also available for rent or purchase on Prime Video and Apple TV

new 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; also available for rent or purchase on Prime Video and Apple TV

find lots more movies to stream at Flick Filosopher

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