The great film critic Pauline Kael was interviewed after her retirement in 1990 and before her death in 2001, and she remarked that there was a certain “lostness” in the air that the movies simply weren’t capturing. This week’s batch of now-streaming movies, I think, captures that thing she was talking about. It’s refreshingly cathartic to witness others going through challenges that tap into our own daily worries.
These stories of searching take many forms, from a dark comedy-turned-crime story snapped up from the Sundance Film Festival just weeks ago, to a recent superhero story about a man looking to replace something he felt he was missing, to a crime film about a man with a memory problem, and a story of two men trying to restore an old friendship.
Mind you, this week's selection isn't all contemplative and heavy. There are two hilarious mockumentaries—one about vampire roomies, and another cult favorite about an aging rock band. All told, you're looking at an array of fine entertainment.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Netflix)
Netflix snapped up this movie lickety-split from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and gave it a streaming premiere before festival goers could even stamp the snow out of their boots. The wonderful, unsung New Zealand-born actress Melanie Lynskey stars in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) as Ruth Kimke, a nursing assistant who has a very bad day. A patient dies in front of her (after some nasty, vulgar last words), a man in a bar ruins a huge plot twist in a book she’s reading, and, to top it off, her home is burgled. The cops do little but scold her for not locking up tighter, but when her phone shows the location of her stolen laptop, she enlists a wacko neighbor, Tony (a perfect Elijah Wood), who has a collection of ninja throwing stars, to help get it back.
From there, they find clues leading to the rest of her stolen goods, mainly her grandmother’s silverware, but—not to give away any plot twists—things take a very weird turn. This is the directorial debut of actor Macon Blair, notable for his performances in Jeremy Saulnier’s films Blue Ruin and Green Room; Blair also wrote the screenplay, and it cannily and hilariously deals in life’s most mundane sorrows and searchings. This is the kind of stuff that most movies simply ignore, but the stuff that all of us endure every day. Blair’s vision is observant and true, but also wildly creative and entertaining. The movie’s shift in tone from its first half to its second can be shocking, but, eventually, strangely satisfying.
The Wailing (Netflix)
This horror film from South Korea quietly became one of the highest rated movies of 2016 on Rotten Tomatoes, winding up with 99 percent approval based on 68 reviews. It sports a daunting 156-minute running time, but once started, it establishes a fascinating rhythm that never lets up. The Wailing (2016) begins almost as a comedy as a bumbling cop Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) shows up at the scene of a gruesome murder; it seems to have been caused by a spreading sickness, possibly perpetrated (although unlikely) by mushrooms. The source of the problem seems to be a mysterious, reclusive Japanese man (Jun Kunimura).
Jong-goo finds a possible witness, a young woman, Moo-myeong (Chun Woo-hee), but she disappears. Then, his own daughter grows ill and begins behaving alarmingly. He hires a shaman (Hwang Jung-min), who begins performing rituals, but things only grow worse. Eventually, it becomes difficult to tell who is telling the truth, which forces are trying to help and which are trying to harm. But the mystery of it is deliciously exciting. Director Na Hong-jin keeps a miraculous balance between tones; it’s more than just a typical horror movie. It has some monsters, ghosts, malevolent beings and spirits, and even some blood, but it’s more of a mystery, and a family crisis, with moments set aside for a few chuckles, and for reflection.
Midnight in Paris (Netflix)
Out of nowhere, and during what many would have seen as a declining career, Woody Allen had the biggest hit of his career with Midnight in Paris (2011). Perhaps it was because of Owen Wilson, whose lyrical comic timing and laid-back drawl was comfortably suited to Allen’s usual neurotic character writing. Or perhaps it was because of the lovely Paris settings, and the idea of not minding strolling in the rain. Or perhaps it was because of the amazing supporting cast, or the weird time-traveling idea, or its thesis on the pitfalls of nostalgia. Any of those reasons are enough to see it, in any case.
Wilson plays Gil, a dreamy writer about to marry the pretty but materialistic Inez (Rachel McAdams). During a stroll, he is invited into a car mysteriously that takes him into the past, to the Jazz Age, where he meets many of his heroes, including F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). He also meets the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who seems to be everything he ever dreamed of, but who also teaches him something about dreaming. The movie received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction, and Allen won for Best Original Screenplay, his third win in that category (after Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters).
After making a remarkable, small-scale debut with the low-budget crime story Following (1998), director Christopher Nolan stepped it up with Memento (2001), an amazing, buzz-inducing, puzzle-box movie that holds up to many viewings. It may still be his best movie. (It’s certainly better than Interstellar.) Working from a story written by his brother Jonathan, director Nolan effectively depicts a hero with short-term memory loss by telling the story backwards. Each scene begins cold, with nothing familiar having preceded it. In one scene, the hero pops back into reality and realizes he’s running, possibly chasing someone, or possibly being chased. He doesn’t know.
Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man with bottle-blonde hair and lots of tattoos. The ink is there to remind him of what he’s supposed to do: find his wife’s killer. He has a few clues, and a few people show up who seem to be sympathetic to his cause, namely Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). But the further Leonard goes in his quest, the more dangerous it gets. In between memory lapses, in a kind of flashback, Leonard tells the story of Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), who suffered a similar memory condition. Like a great thriller should, this one has more to say about the human condition than it does about the solution of a mystery, though both are immensely satisfying. Mark Boone Junior plays a hotel clerk who figures out how to benefit from Leonard’s condition. The movie received Oscar nominations for its screenplay and editing.