There aren’t many upsides to the closures, cancellations and postponements that have brought our common pop-cultural life to a standstill. But one might be the discovery that there are wonderful movies streaming online, some of them hiding in plain sight for years.
Better still, more and more titles are becoming available through local theaters who are finding economic lifelines through “virtual ticket” sales. When possible, please acquire your digital links through the websites of your neighborhood art houses; when we can finally get back into theaters, we want to make sure they’re still standing.
R, 108 minutes
James Le Gros plays a thwarted graphic artist battling a crippling midlife crisis in this modest but good-hearted 2019 comedy. Sure, we’ve seen the grumpy, shlumpy archetype before, but Le Gros gives his character deadpan appeal, and his scenes with a possible love interest, played by Lisa Edelstein, sizzle with humor and mutual attraction.
(Available at phoenixoregonmovie.com. Visitors can designate a local or regional theater of their choice to share in the $6.50 ticket price.)
Unrated, 106 minutes
This charming coming-of-age comedy opened just before coronavirus concerns shuttered theaters; thankfully, theaters throughout the country are making it available for home viewing. Star and co-writer Kelly O’Sullivan plays a lost soul in her mid-30s who snags a nannying gig over the summer and gleans unexpected life lessons from her 6-year-old charge, played with electrifying assurance by Ramona Edith-Williams.
‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’
TV-MA, 94 minutes
In 1999, comedian Jim Carrey played Andy Kaufman in the Milos Forman biopic “Man on the Moon,” a notoriously troubled production. In this strange and beautiful 2017 documentary, Carrey peels back the veil on what happened on the shoot, during which the practice of staying in character took on increasingly bizarre and eerie dimensions of channeling Kaufman and his antisocial alter ego, Tony Clifton. Weird, confessional and ultimately deeply moving, this chronicle transcends great Hollywood backstage dish to become a poignant meditation on fame, creativity and the fine line between madness and spiritual inspiration.
(Available on Netflix.)
Unrated, 83 minutes
If you haven’t heard of Janicza Bravo, you will: Her new film “Zola,” due out this year, was one of the buzziest titles at Sundance. “Lemon” was her 2017 directorial debut, a Hollywood satire co-written by Brett Gelman that is every bit as tart and sometimes off-putting as its title suggests. Gelman plays an acting teacher beset by problems in art, love, career and every other life category you can mention. Reminiscent of “Barry,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and other jaundiced views of L.A. life at its most invidious and self-defeating, “Lemon” isn’t always pretty, but it’s consistently bold and uncompromising in its stylized aesthetic and adamantly mannered delivery.
‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’
TV-MA, 93 minutes
The title might sound pretentious, but this wackadoodle 2017 mystery is anything but. Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood star as two unlikely sleuths who embark on a shaggier and shaggier shaggy-dog journey to recover her character’s stolen family silver. Along the way, they confront all of the selfishness and social ills that are making America increasingly unlivable. Written and directed by Macon Blair (“Blue Ruin”), this gonzo bagatelle indulges in the kind of bloody mayhem he and frequent collaborator Jeremy Saulnier are known for – but also the same share of sincerity and spot-on satirical zing.
(Available on Netflix.)
PG-13, 101 minutes
Clive Owen delivers a wonderfully understated performance as a forlorn divorced dad in this lovely film, the 2016 directorial debut of screenwriter Bob Nelson (“Nebraska”). Over the course of an eventful weekend – which is supposed to culminate in the confirmation of his 8-year-old son – Owen’s character messes up in nearly every way possible, resulting in what will surely be a permanent rupture with everyone he loves … or redemption. “The Confirmation” is funny and finely observed, with lovely supporting performances from Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt and the late Robert Forster.
Unrated, 86 minutes
Thanks to “American Horror Story,” Lily Rabe has enjoyed something of a heyday lately. But she should still be better known. In this offbeat 2016 comedy-drama, Rabe plays a high school theater teacher who agrees to drive a few of her most-gifted students to a weekend competition. Conflict, misjudgments and even some high jinks ensue, but in filmmaker Julia Hart’s capable hands, they feel surprising and grounded. Bonus: a pre-“Call Me By Your Name” Timothee Chalamet hitting his mark as a talented but troubled young actor.
TV-MA, 82 minutes
You know Callum Turner as the handsome Frank Churchill in Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of “Emma,” but he had a breakout role in this delightful crime caper as the son of Polish immigrants who becomes embroiled in a scheme gone horribly (and sometimes hilariously) awry. Smoothly crafted by writer-director Adam Leon (“Gimme the Loot”), this 2016 lovers-on-the-lam romance also features Grace Van Patten as Turner’s edgy opposite number who finds out that the wrong man can sometimes be the right guy.
(Available on Netflix.)
Unrated, 104 minutes
Joanna Hogg made a bit of a splash last year with “The Souvenir,” which was produced by no less than Martin Scorsese. In that film, Hogg evinced what has become her signature style, which tends toward observing characters as bodies in space, with their environments telling the audience as much about them as their dialogue and behavior. In 2013’s “Exhibition,” Hogg explores that concept with even more rewarding results, as two artists (played by conceptual artist Liam Gillick and former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine) put their glass-box London house on the market. Come for the graceful combination of balletic movement, architecture and meditation on creative practice; stay for the Tom Hiddleston cameo as a real estate agent.
TV-MA, 120 minutes
Tina Mabry’s searing semi-autobiographical family drama isn’t a feel-good movie. It’s a feel-everything movie filled to the brim with love, pain, betrayal, sacrifice and self-preservation – all set against the backdrop of a working-class community in rural Mississippi. Filmed with delicacy and nuance by Bradford Young (“Arrival”), Mabry’s 2009 portrait is unsparing but also forgiving, as her characters try to break the bonds of poverty, sexual abuse and addiction with only dishearteningly partial success. Tessa Thompson delivers a breakout performance as a young woman whose determination to survive finds its match in her most steadfast loyalties.
(Available via Showtime Anytime.)
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