weekend watchlist: is it good to be the queen?

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First published September 18th, 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

You don’t need to be a fan of the British royals to appreciate writer Peter Morgan (Netflix’s The Crown) and director Stephen Frears’s (Victoria & AbdulThe Queen… and in fact, it might be better if you’re not. This 2006 docudrama is less than generous — though never unfair — to the now newly deceased monarch Elizabeth II, who, in the immediate aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, learns a hard lesson: that her family are now global celebrities, beholden to the whims of a fickle public, and not so much the revered icons of old who can do no wrong. Helen Mirren gives one of her best-ever performances as the Queen, squaring off against Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair as he tries to convince her that her go-to ways of dealing with public outcry and a demanding press — by ignoring it — just won’t work anymore. This is less a story of royalty than it is one of fame, and how quickly that can turn to infamy in our age of instant information and saturation media.

US: streaming on HBO Max; rent or buy on Prime Video or Apple TV

UK: streaming on Disney+ and Netflix; rent on BFI Player


US

leaving Netflix soon

Escape the awfulness of reality right now with a retro-hip real-life tale of the past: Steven Spielberg’s charming 2002 crime caper Catch Me If You Can. Leonardo DiCaprio is an effervescent, farcical delight as a teenage con artist who pretends to be an airline pilot, a surgeon, and *checks notes* Ian Fleming, among other unlikely adventures in scamming. With Tom Hanks’s FBI agent on his trail, this is everything a grownup popcorn flick should be: frothy without sacrificing smarts, fast-paced without resorting to over-the-top action, and funny without a hint of juvenile humor that has come to dominate even adult comedy. (Read my review from 2002.)

streaming on Netflix through September 30; rent or buy on Prime Video or Apple TV

leaving Netflix soon

The Perfect Storm is another based-on-fact story, but a literally disastrous one. Wolfgang Petersen’s 2000 adventure thriller is an intense and terrifying man-against-nature action movie, and an unsentimental and unclichéd drama about people doing work they love, no matter how dangerous it is. In this case, it’s the crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, who confront a killer storm far out to sea. The terrific cast includes George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Karen Allen, Cherry Jones… and some of the most furious weather imagery ever committed to film. In retrospect, from the overfished waters that drive these fishermen dangerously far from shore in search of their catch to the unprecedentedly catastrophic weather, events depicted here seem like one of the warnings we’ve failed to heed about the damage we’ve done to our planet. (Read my review from 2000.)

streaming on Netflix through September 30; rent or buy on Prime Video or Apple TV


UK

leaving iPlayer soon

The deliciously entertaining Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling take center stage in 2009’s Late Night, a comedy about women in a male-dominated world: that of American TV talk shows. Intergenerational feminism is keenly skewered as Thompson’s legendary late-night host hires Kaling, her first female writer, and oil-and-water personality clash ensues. (Kaling wrote the script here.) And that’s before all the boys in the writers’ room starting getting their manly hackles up. This is a smart rarity: a movie that never punches down while being witheringly funny about diversity and about breaking down bigotry. (Read my review.)

streaming on BBC iPlayer through September 25th; rent or buy on Prime Video or Apple TV

leaving iPlayer soon

I haven’t seen David Cronenberg’s latest film, Crimes of the Future, yet, but in the meantime, I might revisit his 2007 thriller Eastern Promises, which is as quietly chilly as gangster movies come. You expect a lot of noise from a mob movie: shouting and screaming, barrages of gunfire. Here we have somber reflection, the lurking gray peril of an urban underbelly, shifting shifty glances and unspoken threats. Viggo Mortensen brings extraordinarily tense layers of irony and mystery to his Russian mobster in London, who crosses paths with Naomi Watt’s nurse as she attempts to track down the family of a dead teenager prostituted by the Russians. It’s all grimly electrifying. (Read my 2007 review.)

streaming on BBC iPlayer through October 5th; rent or buy on Prime Video or Apple TV


find lots more movies to stream at Flick Filosopher

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