20 great movies you can stream this weekend to cope with your end-of-summer blues

Celebrate Labor Day and make summer last just a little bit longer.

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Do the Right Thing

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Do The Right Thing Universal

Mookie (Spike Lee) delivers pizzas for Sal (Danny Aiello) on a hot, tense Brooklyn day in Do the Right Thing.

We transition from summertime heat to Labor Day with Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), wherein Lee's character Mookie works as a pizza delivery man, looking to get paid. It takes place on a scorching hot day in Brooklyn, in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (or Bed-Stuy). We meet many memorable characters, all with interesting things to say, but the main events center around Mookie, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), and the pizzeria's owner, Sal (Danny Aiello).

As the day wears on and tensions rise, sometimes over race and racial misunderstandings, things come to a head as Radio Raheem enters the pizza parlor, blasting Public Enemy on his radio. The climax, an act of violence by Mookie, had commentators discussing the many sides of the story, as well as others fearing real-life riots if they went to see the movie. It all ends, famously, with seemingly conflicting quotes from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Lee's screenplay and direction were masterful, using rhythms, music and color like a pro, employing humor, and raising tensions slowly. It received only two Oscar nominations, for Lee's screenplay and for Aiello's supporting performance, in the year that Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture.


Amazon Prime, Vudu [w/ads], TubiTV


Bartleby Wellspring

Bartleby (Crispin Glover) perplexes his boss (David Paymer) with his assertion "I would prefer not to" in Bartleby.

The offbeat, independent office drama Bartleby (2001) is an unsung oddball of a movie. It's based on Herman Melville's great 1853 short story Bartleby, the Scrivener, about a worker who, one day, simply responds to his boss's request with "I would prefer not to." He even refuses to help his boss tie a bow around a present, spending a moment in insane indecision before he decides not to put his finger on the knot. There's no explanation, and the repeated phrase is met with increasing dismay by Bartleby's boss and co-workers.

The perpetually weird Crispin Glover stars, perfectly, in the title role, and David Paymer is his frustrated boss (who narrates). Director Jonathan Parker shot the movie in the San Francisco Bay Area, making a surreal office environment filled with odd, clashing colors, air-conditioning ducts, and a creepy, inaccessible building surrounded by freeways. It was met with largely negative reviews and barely any box office, but the more intrepid viewers will want to give it a second chance. Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo, Seymour Cassel, Carrie Snodgress, Dick Martin, and Josh Kornbluth co-star.

The Boss of It All



The Boss of it All IFC Films

Peter Gantzler (right), pretends to be the "boss of it all" in a company belonging to Jens Albinus in Lars von Trier's The Boss of It All.

This silly office comedy sounds like a sitcom nightmare: a company CEO, Ravn (Peter Gantzler), has spent years pretending to be a drone among his workers, leaving all the big decisions to an unseen "boss of it all." However, when investors arrive and wish to meet the actual boss, Ravn hires an out-of-work actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), to play the part. And, of course, even though the ruse was supposed to be finished in a few hours, it gets extended to a week, and the actor must begin improvising. However, this high-concept fluff was directed by the maverick Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Melancholia, etc.), and he briefly appears, reflected in the exterior office windows on a camera crane, making wry comments about the plot.

Additionally, the camerawork was seemingly ordered by computer, and it's a strange array of zooms, tilts, and off-kilter angles, emphasizing the idea of the "captainless ship." Nonetheless, The Boss of It All (2006) comes together beautifully; it's well-balanced and hilarious. In Danish, Icelandic, English, and Russian, with English subtitles.




Clerks Miramax

Brian O'Halloran (left) and Jeff Anderson pass a long day working in New Jersey in Kevin Smith's Clerks.

One of the most auspicious film debuts of the 1990s, Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994) was made for a paltry $27,000 and earned many times that, charming critics and becoming an instant cult classic. It generated a sequel, a cartoon series, and comics. It follows two clerks, over the course of one day, in their dreary New Jersey jobs. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) works the counter at the Quick Stop (it was supposed to be his day off), and Randal (Jeff Anderson, no relation to me) works the video shop next door. Dante is in an existential crisis over his direction in life and his indecision over the two women in his life, Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) and Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer), while Randal revels in his freedom and irresponsibility.

Most of the movie consists of foul-mouthed conversations and monologues, sullenly dealing with idiotic or annoying customers, or dealing with two comical potheads that are forever hanging out in front of the store: Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). Eventually, there's a break for a game of hockey on the roof.

Dirty Pretty Things



Dirty Pretty Things Miramax

Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor stumble onto a black market organ ring in their workplace in Dirty Pretty Things.

In another movie about work, Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe, an illegal immigrant from Nigeria. There he was a surgeon, but in London he makes ends meet by driving a cab during the day and working as a hotel desk clerk by night. He rooms with Turkish Senay (Audrey Tautou), and they try to avoid each other by keeping opposite schedules; she works in the same hotel as a maid. One day, Okwe plunges a blocked toilet and finds a human heart. He discovers that the hotel is being used for a black-market organ ring, and he is soon blackmailed to use his surgical skills to help.

Acclaimed director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, The Queen) turns in one of his most tactile movies here, with his rank, rough vision of a dark, despicable London. He coaxes deeply nuanced performances from Ejiofor and Tautou, who convey not only their sense of desperate helplessness, but also utter exhaustion. Sophie Okonedo and Benedict Wong co-star. Steven Knight wrote the screenplay, with perhaps too many neat coincidences, but wholly effective.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Rental: Amazon Prime, $2.99


Glengarry Glen Ross New Line Cinema

Salesman Al Pacino tries to convince Jonathan Pryce to buy property in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Based on David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, James Foley's great office drama, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), was among a new breed of American films, made for an independent budget, and with a stellar, A-list cast taking on smaller character roles for significant pay cuts. Jack Lemmon is arguably the main character, a hapless real estate salesman, whose future depends on his ability to move chunks of worthless, unwanted property; he's pathetic, aching, but compelling. Al Pacino is dazzling as the slick Ricky Roma, and Alec Baldwin steals his one scene as the man sent to motivate the lagging sales team ("coffee's for closers!"). Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey round out the cast as the rest of the salesman in the cruel office, and Jonathan Pryce plays a potential buyer.

James Newton Howard's forlorn score weeps around the edges of the sharp dialog. Foley's widescreen frame and use of bold colors and offscreen sounds complete the picture, making it an underrated American classic.

The Grapes of Wrath

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Grapes of Wrath 20th Century Fox

(L to R) Dorris Bowdon, Jane Darwell, and Henry Fonda look for work and a place to call their own during the Great Depression in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath.

Most other film directors look at and study John Ford's films with a sense of awe; he was just about the best that ever was, and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) was surely one of the best films he ever made. Based on John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, it's just as powerful as that work of literature. It follows the poor Joad family, with Henry Fonda as Tom and Oscar-winner Jane Darwell as Ma, as they look for work and a place to call their own during the Great Depression. It should be unbearable to watch, but Ford was a poet of the cinema, and he constructs moment after moment to flow as effortlessly as life.

The movie tackles the subject matter with earnestness, dignity, haunting beauty, and just a little humor. The cinematography by Gregg Toland—who would go on to shoot Citizen Kane the following year—is as lustrous as anything ever produced, and it contributes to many moments of sheer, heart-rending beauty. Ford won an Oscar for Best Director, his second of four.

Horrible Bosses

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Horrible Bosses New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

(L to R) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day hire Jamie Foxx to help murder their bosses in Horrible Bosses.

Seth Gordon directs his hit comedy Horrible Bosses (2011) by merely letting his great cast bounce off one another, like so many rubber balls, and it results in plenty of chuckles and a good many belly laughs. Three friends find themselves in intolerable work conditions. Nick (Jason Bateman) is forced to suck up to a maniacal CEO (Kevin Spacey), hoping for an ever-elusive promotion. Dale (Charlie Day) works for a sexy, sexually aggressive dentist (Jennifer Aniston), endangering his impending nuptials.  And Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) finds his comfortable job at a chemical plant threatened when the boss' volatile, cocaine-wracked son (Colin Farrell) unexpectedly takes charge.

The friends decide that murder is their best option, so they hire an underworld consultant (Jamie Foxx) and set their plan underway. Of course, everything goes spectacularly wrong. The bosses seem to have the most fun here, with Aniston at her best, and Farrell breaking away from his usual stoic heroes, but the good guys find a perfect comic rhythm as well.

Modern Times

Kanopy, FilmStruck


Modern Times The Criterion Collection

Charlie Chaplin (right) is pushed to the brink by his factory job in Modern Times.

One of Charlie Chaplin's greatest masterpieces, Modern Times (1936) showed the great silent clown hilariously poking fun at progress, starting the film with a shot of a rushing crowd of people dissolving into an image of herded sheep. Working in a sterile factory setting, Chaplin chases nuts and bolts down a conveyer belt, and becomes a guinea pig for a "feeding machine." Losing that job, he falls for a beautiful "gamine" (Paulette Goddard) and attempts to build a new life with her. He gets a job as a night watchman in a department store, which doesn't last. He also gets caught in the gears of his old factory, and, finally, sings a nonsensical song at a café, which proves to be a hit; these are the only spoken sounds in the film.

It's fairly clear that Chaplin was commenting on how progress—including talking pictures—wasn't necessarily a good thing, and that simple things could be great too. It's his most hopeful picture, with the Tramp walking off into the sunset, for once, with the girl.

Office Space

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Office Space 20th Century Fox

Milton (Stephen Root) tries to get his stapler back in Mike Judge's Office Space.

Written and directed by Mike Judge (of TV's Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill), Office Space (1999) is perhaps the most beloved of all office comedies, a bona-fide cult classic with many instantly recognizable, quotable lines. ("We need to talk about your flair." "Excuse me... I believe you have my stapler..." "I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow.") Ron Livingston stars as Peter, who hates his soul-sucking office job, claiming that each day is worse than the one before it.

While attending hypnotherapy, his therapist dies in the middle of a session and he never snaps out of his trance. He begins feeling happy and carefree, and slacking off at work, which, ironically, makes him very popular and shakes things up, even earning him a promotion. Jennifer Aniston co-stars as a pretty waitress, Stephen Root is the pathetic sad-sack Milton, Gary Cole is the smarmy boss Bill Lumbergh, and Ajay Naidu and David Herman are Peter's best friends, Samir and Michael Bolton (not the singer... "Why should I change my name? He's the one who sucks.")

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