(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)
Now Streaming on Disney+
Release Date: 2020
Director: Thomas Kail
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillipa Soo
By now, there’s a good chance you’ve already watched Hamilton on Disney+, since most people did when it dropped onto the service last weekend. But I’m including it here anyway, because how could I not? Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s musical take on the Founding Fathers, and Alexander Hamilton, in particular, blends hip-hop, classic Broadway melodies, and more, to create one of the most exciting stage musicals in the last 20 years. Yeah, it really is that good. And now it’s on film – and the results are beyond impressive. The camera is constantly on the move, going in for close-ups that would be impossible in a Broadway audience. It gives the show a brand new intimacy while also making you appreciate the staging that went into pulling this off. But none of that would matter much if the songs and the show itself wasn’t so damn good. I’m a fan of musicals, but more often than not, I tend to find most musicals have a lot of filler songs. By that I mean songs I could do without; songs I quickly skip whenever I’m listening to the recording. But every song in Hamilton is a barn burner. Clever lyrics cascade into an emotionally resonant story about love and loss. Funny, romantic, and guaranteed to make you cry more than once, Hamilton doesn’t just live up to the hype – it transcends it.
For fans of: Jesus Christ: Superstar, Les Misérables, having over two-hours-worth of songs stuck in your head for weeks.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Now Streaming on Netflix
Release Date: 1993
Director: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Abe Vigoda
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is often hailed as the best Batman movie, and for good reason. A film spin-off of the fantastic Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm may be technically an “animated kids movie,” but it’s loaded with nuance. Best of all, it understands Batman/Bruce Wayne in ways most adaptations do not. He’s not just some brooding weirdo. Well, okay, he is that. But there’s a lot more going on under his cowl, and Mask of the Phantasm gets that. The film is both a new Batman story and also an origin story of sorts, jumping back and forth in time as Bruce Wayne deals with the return of an old flame, Andrea Beaumont. Once upon a time, Bruce came close to giving up on his crime-fighting quest to marry Andrea. But the romance unexpectedly ended, and Bruce embraced his inner Dark Knight. All of this is happening while a mysterious new figure is running around Gotham bumping-off old mobsters. And oh yeah, the Joker is there, too. Animated in that gorgeous art deco style of the animated series and boasting some killer voice work (Mark Hamill‘s Joker remains unbeatable), Mask of the Phantasm elevates the Batman mythos to a whole other level.
For fans of: Batman, duh.
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 2002
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam
David Fincher has firmly established himself as a fan-favorite; the type of filmmaker people obsess over and get excited about. But Panic Room feels oddly overlooked among the entries on Fincher’s resume. Sure, it’s not his best movie, but gosh is this a crackling thriller elevated by Fincher’s unapologetically flashy direction and a great lead performance from Jodie Foster. Foster plays a recently divorced, very wealthy woman who moves into a huge brownstone in New York with her daughter (baby Kristen Stewart). Mother and daughter aren’t even in the house for a full night before a trio of burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam) come busting in looking for loot. Mom and daughter hide out in the house’s fancy panic room, but as bad luck would have it, the score the thieves are looking for is in that room as well. Now the stage is set for a tense stand-off. David Koepp‘s script is tight but also a bit threadbare. No matter – Fincher finds ways to make it all so damn exciting with scenes where cameras float through walls and floors like a ghost, and where every little action can lead to something deadly. It’s a blast.
For fans of: Home Alone, Rear Window, Jodie Foster swinging a sledgehammer.
Now Streaming on The Criterion Channel
Release Date: 2016
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, James Le Gros, Jared Harris
Kelly Reichardt‘s lovely, sorrowful Certain Women follows three different stories about three different women, which makes it a kind of anthology film. You know, like Creepshow, but without the gore. The first story follows a lawyer (Laura Dern) dealing with a client (Jared Harris) who has gone off the deep end. The second story focuses on a woman played by Michelle Williams who is trying to convince an old man to sell her some sandstone. The final entry finds a lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone) unexpectedly taking a night school class, and falling for her teacher, played by Kristen Stewart. These may not sound like the most thrilling of tales, but Reichardt and her cast wring pathos from every moment. The final story is the best of the bunch, with Lily Gladstone turning in a particularly aching performance as the awkward rancher who doesn’t know now to voice her feelings.
For fans of: River of Grass, Meek’s Cutoff, diner food.
Now Streaming on Netflix
Release Date: 2010
Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
Ben Affleck‘s slick heist thriller The Town owes a great debt to the heist films that came before it (Heat is the most obvious example, but there’s a bunch more in there). But it’s also a solid little crime drama. Affleck plays the leader of a team of bank robbers who finds himself falling for a woman, played by the always-fantastic Rebecca Hall, he once took hostage during a robbery. The romance subplot doesn’t really work, but that’s okay – mostly everything else does, especially Jeremy Renner having a blast as the most volatile member of the gang.
For fans of: Heat, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Bawston accents.
The Beach House
Now Streaming on Shudder
Release Date: 2019
Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Cast: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel
There are plenty of H.P. Lovecraft movies out there, but it seems that more often than not, the films that manage to capture Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors aren’t direct adaptations of his work, but rather inspired by it. The Beach House, a new Shudder original, is a great example of that. Because while this isn’t based on any of Lovecraft’s stories, it does a fantastic job of emulating the unspeakable, unfathomable, and downright weird terrors that haunt his text. Here, a young couple – Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros – run off to a family beach house hoping to rekindle their relationship. Those plans get shot to hell when the couple discovers an older couple – Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel – are staying at the beach house as well. In an attempt to make the best of an awkward situation, the younger couple suggests everyone partake in some edibles with the hopes of having a fun night. And that’s when things get weird. What starts off seeming like a bad drug reaction turns into something far more bizarre. The next day, the sun is shining, but nothing seems right. And that’s when the body horror starts…
For fans of: The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, being both confused and grossed-out.
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Marion Cotillard, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Danny DeVito
What was the last genuinely good movie Tim Burton made? I’m sure everyone has their opinion, but for my money, the answer is Big Fish (side-note: the last genuinely great movie Tim Burton made was Ed Wood). While Big Fish has plenty of Burton-isms, it’s also a brighter, more accessible journey. It’s also emotionally devastating in its attempt to tell a story about a son trying to understand his seemingly unknowable father. The son is played by Bily Crudup, and the father is Albert Finney in his final days and Ewan McGregor in his youth. The old man tells the story of his life, which amounts to several tall tales that strain credulity. Or do they? Like a bedtime story that turns into a deathbed goodbye, Big Fish makes you long for the days when Tim Burton wasn’t a parody of himself.
For fans of: The Fall, Edward Scissorhands, crying.
Best in Show
Now Streaming on Hulu
Release Date: 2000
Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey
Of all the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, Best in Show might be the best. This laugh-out-loud hilarious film is about a group of misfits trying to win big at a dog show. And that’s it! Guest’s films don’t run on plot, they run on the talents of his usual players (Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, and so on) to improvise and create hysterical scenes that go in directions you’d never expect. As an added bonus, Best in Show has a bunch of very good dogs on screen as well.
For fans of: Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, naming nuts.
Now Streaming on HBO Max
Release Date: 2005
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins
There are times where I think I might be the only person on the planet who saw this movie. That isn’t true, of course, but I’ve never encountered another soul who actually saw Stay, even though it’s a film with some big names in it – Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling – and also one that was written by Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff. Stay is a strange thriller about a psychiatrist (McGregor) who finds himself with a new patient, played by Gosling. The patient is potentially suicidal, but he also appears able to predict the future and is haunted by things that may or may not be there. Is the patient insane? Or is there something more sinister going on here? Gosling is quite good as the tormented young man, and Marc Forster‘s direction is loaded with moody, atmospheric shots that look like they’ve been pulled from a gothic horror film. Some may find fault with the final pay-off, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this underseen flick.
For fans of: Jacob’s Ladder, Angel Heart, weird & spooky stuff.
Now Streaming on Kanopy
Release Date: 2020
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon
Josh Trank‘s Capone was met with mostly disdain by critics, but I’m one of the few who thinks this movie is better than its reputation suggests. Rather than just made a straightforward crime drama about Al Capone’s mobster days, Trank’s movie checks in with Capone at the end of his life. As played by Tom Hardy, he’s a rotting, pants-shitting monster with dementia, haunted by the terrible deeds of his past. The surreal hallucinations Capone suffers turn Capone into a kind of horror movie, complete with people cutting out their own eyes, hungry alligators, and piles of corpses. It’s weird, it’s over-the-top, it’s undeniably fascinating.
For fans of: Barton Fink, The Shining, Tom Hardy and his mumbly voice schtick.
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