Sometimes you’re just in the mood a different movie experience, something that takes you far from the familiar and comfortable. Different, of course, is different for different folks. For some, it could be a a good rock ‘n’ roll comedy; for others, comedies about prison, kidnapping, clones, or life-size dolls. And everyone enjoys a documentary that takes you someplace you’ve never been, or tells you about an album you’ve never heard. Or it could be a hard-hitting, nocturnal drama about the seedy underbelly of TV news.
There’s something for everyone in this collection of the best movies newly available for streaming this week.
Jake Gyllenhaal creates an astounding portrait of bizarre outcast Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler (2014). Gaunt and weird, he’s completely intense, like a hypodermic needle; his eyes poke out and take aim, refusing to retract until his point is made. It’s hard to imagine how such a being might have evolved, but he’s completely fascinating. He begins as a scavenger, stealing and selling scrap metal, until he happens on a freelance cameraman (Bill Paxton) in search of gory footage for the morning TV news. Louis decides that this is the life for him, and he blunders his way into the job, forging a strange, power-struggle relationship with news producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo), and even taking on an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed). He becomes more successful as he becomes more and more personally involved with the stories he films.
Writer/director Dan Gilroy (son of playwright Frank D. Gilroy and brother of Tony Gilroy) makes his debut with this, and it’s immediate, dynamic, and nocturnal, without ever being overly concerned with social commentary. It’s showbiz at its most cutthroat.
High Fidelity (Netflix)
High Fidelity (2000) is the ultimate “guy” movie, a blueprint for the way that guys of a certain age think and act. It’s part of an unofficial trilogy—bookended by Grosse Pointe Blank and Hot Tub Time Machine—by actor/writer John Cusack and writer/director Steve Pink, about men who look to their pasts for clues to their present. Cusack, Pink, D.V. DeVincentis, and Scott Rosenberg adapted Nick Hornby’s English novel, and Englishman Stephen Frears directed, but it was set squarely in Chicago and has an American sensibility.
Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a thirtysomething who runs a worn-out record store with two misfit employees (Jack Black and Todd Louiso), regularly re-organizes his own record collection, and can’t seem to commit to his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle). So he takes a trip down memory lane and visits his “top five” former girlfriends to get some perspective.
The filmmakers allow for so many delightful moments of humor, anxiety, joy, and music that plot is almost an afterthought. But by the time the conclusion comes, we know that these unforgettable characters have been on a real journey.
Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Netflix)
For this fascinating, visceral documentary, filmmaker Anthony Powell took his cameras north, where he begins shooting footage of an Antarctic research station during the busy summer months. Scientists, technicians, engineers, and others work in the dazzling, chilly landscape—during one period, the sun never sets—and Powell’s astounding time-lapse cameras capture much of it.
But then winter comes and a few brave souls stay behind to handle the day-to-day operations, facing storms, isolation, disorientation, and a period in which the sun never rises. Powell is mainly concerned with the humans in this story, rather than scientific explanations or theories; we get moving tales of important events missed, heartbreaking tales involving the workers’ vow not to interfere with nature, love stories, and more. It will have viewers seriously considering a trip there to see the beauty for themselves.
Life of Crime (Netflix)
Elmore Leonard’s stories have been gracing the big screen since the 1950s, and Life of Crime (2014) happily joins this long tradition. It’s adapted from Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch, whose sequel, Rum Punch, was previously adapted into Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997). Though some of the characters are the same, they are played by different actors. The two movies go off in their own directions, and the connection between them is barely more than a footnote.
Louis Gara (John Hawkes) and Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def) plan to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the aging trophy wife of a wealthy property magnate, Frank (Tim Robbins), and hold her for ransom. Unfortunately, Frank has a mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), and doesn’t care about his wife; in fact, her death would be a favor, since he wants to marry Melanie. Will Forte (TV’s Last Man on Earth) plays Mickey’s ineffectual suitor, and Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy)is a creepy creator of peepholes. Set in the 1970s, writer/director Daniel Schechter’s movie doesn’t have a lot of action, but, it has a lot of style and a great deal of Leonard’s clever plotting and dialogue. It’s good for an evening of low-key fun.
Lars and the Real Girl (Hulu)
Written by Nancy Oliver (TV’s Six Feet Under and True Blood), Lars and the Real Girl (2007) starts with what sounds like a sitcom setup: a lonely man buys a lifelike doll and develops a relationship with her. Happily, the movie never goes for cheap laughs or easy situations, and when it seems like it’s just about to go someplace overly familiar, it holds back. It remains rooted in human truth, finding beautiful emotions in the absurdity.
Ryan Gosling plays Lars, and it’s a highly skilled performance, intuitive and interior (not unlike Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her). He doesn’t relate well to people and doesn’t like to be touched, so his doll, Bianca, is the perfect solution for him. His brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) do their best to understand, and in some of the movie’s finest scenes, a clever doctor/psychologist (Patricia Clarkson) pretends to examine Bianca while treating Lars. Nothing ever goes quite where you expect it to, and Oliver’s screenplay received an Oscar nomination. Craig Gillespie directs.
Nas: Time Is Illmatic (Amazon Prime)
Nas’s 1994 album Illmatic never sold quite as well as some of its contemporaries but to those who discovered it, it remains a milestone; perhaps the greatest hip-hop album ever recorded. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, former graffiti artist and graphic designer One9 directs this brief (75 minutes), but informative and touching documentary. It traces the life of Nasir Jones, growing up with feuding parents in the Queensbridge housing projects, where some of his friends never made it out. Remarkably, he recorded the album at the tender age of 20.
Nas openly addresses his life and music, with each of the album’s various producers (Q-Tip, DJ Premier, Large Professor, L.E.S., Pete Rock) discussing individual tracks. The remarkable thing is that the interviewees, including Nas himself, seem to downplay their input. There’s no bragging or egotism—the opposite of Kanye West—as if these amazing songs just happened on their own. Alicia Keys and Busta Rhymes are also interviewed.
Cry-Baby (1990) was Johnny Depp’s first movie after his cheesy, hit TV series 21 Jump Street. With it, he proved that he was not interested in being any kind of ordinary movie star. (He showed his bravery, but his acting chops would have to wait until later.) The subversive director John Waters, once known for underground grossouts like Pink Flamingos, was working with his biggest budget to date, but never sells out. He brings a sense of cheerful naughtiness to his 1950s rock ‘n’ roll story of “Cry-Baby” (Depp), a leather jacket-wearing rebel who, from time to time, sheds a single tear. He falls in love with a cute girl, Allison (Amy Locane), from a rival gang, causing lots of trouble, and lots of singing.
The movie was also notable for the first non-porn role for Traci Lords, as well as supporting turns by Susan Tyrell (an Oscar nominee for Fat City ), Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake (also in Waters’ Hairspray). Polly Bergen, Willem Dafoe, Patty Hearst, and Mink Stole also make cameo appearances.
Get Hard (Vudu)
A sizable hit for both Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, Get Hard (2015) is most notable for its teaming of the two stars. With nearly a foot of difference in their heights, Ferrell is a big man who acts small, and Hart is a small man who acts big. It could have been a gimmick, but remarkably, the two form an easy onscreen bond, seeming as if they are genuinely enjoying each other’s company. After that, the plot has a tendency to get somewhat soft, but it still offers plenty of laughs.
Ferrell plays James King, a wealthy businessman—newly promoted and about to marry the CEO’s daughter—when he is arrested for fraud and embezzlement and given hard time. With 30 days to prepare, he hires car detailer Darnell Lewis (Hart) to teach him how to handle prison. The catch is that Darnell is a good guy who has never been to prison himself, but he’s still a fast talker and has plenty to teach, and he can always call on his real-deal gangster cousin Russell (rapper T.I.). Craig T. Nelson and Alison Brie co-star. Screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Men in Black 3) makes his feature directorial debut.
Lynn Hershman-Leeson’s Teknolust (2002) might have been a Rocky Horror Picture Show-type cult classic if anyone had ever seen it; unfortunately, it was quickly marginalized and forgotten. It’s exceedingly weird, but has just about everything going for it. (Make sure you have donuts on hand while watching.)
Tilda Swinton plays scientist Rosetta Stone, who has created three clones of herself: Ruby, Marine, and Olive (all played by Swinton, in an amazing performance). The clones live in her computer, but since they lack a male element, Ruby must sneak out from time to time, seduce men, and bring their “essence” back to replenish her ailing sisters.
Unfortunately, she carries a virus that leaves bar codes on the foreheads of her victims. James Urbaniak plays an FBI man, and Karen Black is a private detective. Jeremy Davies plays a copy-shop guy—his copies come out like warped artworks—who falls in love with Ruby. Shot in San Francisco, the movie has both a high-tech, multicolored look and a grubby, low-budget feel, both of which somehow fit perfectly. Monologist Josh Kornbluth has a funny role as one of Swinton’s victims.