Although Hulu is relatively new to the feature film game, it offers some very good content worthy of checking out: You’ll find some great homegrown films here, plus a broad collection of catalogue titles and a large collection of documentaries. Add in some intriguing serial content and you have a service that’s worthy of a subscription.
There are several ways to sign up for Hulu: The least-expensive option is supported by ads, but costs only $6.99 per month ($69.99 per year). You can dispense with the ads by signing up for Hulu’s ad-free program at $12.99 per month. And if you’re looking for live TV streaming along with Hulu’s other content, check out Hulu + Live TV at $69.99 per month. That level of service also includes subscriptions to Disney+, ESPN+, and the local broadcast television channels in your area, but enter your zip code on Hulu’s website to ensure those local channels available to you.
Updated May 10, 2022 to add new recommendations. Jeff’s earlier picks follow, also in alphabetical order, starting with the Aretha Frankin documentary, Amazing Grace.
The Breakfast Club
Five high-school students—five different “types”—show up for a day-long Saturday detention: the Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the Athlete (Emilio Estevez), the Princess (Molly Ringwald), the Criminal (Judd Nelson), and the Basket Case (Ally Sheedy). By the end of the movie, they emerge as more than just that; they’re relatable and human (especially if you are or ever have been a teenager).
On The Breakfast Club (1985), writer/director John Hughes pioneered a new kind of teen-speak. His movies understood who teens were and spoke directly to them in ways they hadn’t heard before; they were no longer just jokes or background dressing. The movie is best when it’s talking, although the huge library set does come in handy for some time-killing moments (smoking some pot, doing a makeover, etc.). A flaw in Hughes’s films is that he tends to make the grownups easy targets, but here Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) gets some truthful moments of his own. This is arguably Hughes’s finest work, though Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes close.
Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater earned acclaim and his first Oscar nomination for Boyhood (2014), but, as proven by the cult classic Dazed and Confused (1993), he was already making great movies decades ago. This one takes place on the last day of school in Texas in 1976; a battered drive-in marquee advertises Hitchcock’s Family Plot to quickly illustrate the generation gap. Jocks, freshman, stoners, and bullies abound as these teens wander aimlessly looking for a good time or some kind of release.
There’s no real plot, but events center around a hazing ritual and a keg party, and the lucky characters learn a little bit about who they really are. Named for a Led Zeppelin song, the movie is, of course, filled with vintage tunes by Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, KISS, Sweet, and more. The amazing cast, many of them just starting out, includes Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams, and more, with Matthew McConaughey a particular standout as a sleazy 20-something with a memorable line about high-school girls.
Director/writer Edgar Wright, writer/actor Simon Pegg, and actor Nick Frost teamed up to create what became known as the “Cornetto trilogy” or the “blood and ice cream” trilogy; Hot Fuzz (2007) is the second of these. Compared with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and The World’s End (2013), it’s probably the one that’s least in touch with its characters, but that doesn’t stop it from being hysterically funny and slam-bang exciting.
Parodying the plot of The Wicker Man, Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a rule-following young cop who is relocated to a small village. He meets his ne’er-do-well new partner Danny Butterman (Frost), begins investigating a series of “accidental deaths,” and stumbles across an evil conspiracy. The filmmakers studied an endless array of cop movies from which to pilfer ideas, and their enthusiasm clearly shows. A key scene shows the two heroes bonding over a DVD double bill of Point Break and Bad Boys II. Everything builds up to a series of shootouts and explosions that would make Jerry Bruckheimer blush.
Here are Jeff’s earlier picks, also in alphabetical order:
In 1972, Aretha Franklin was at the height of her powers, when she decided to record a live gospel album, recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Director Sydney Pollack was tasked to film the sessions, but since he somehow neglected to use clapboards, the sound could not be easily synced. The film sat for years, until Alan Elliott painstakingly put it all together, but Franklin sued for appropriating her image without permission, and the film was shelved again.
Finally, after Franklin’s death in 2018, her family allowed it to be released. And now Amazing Grace (2018) can be enjoyed in all its rapturous glory, as Franklin’s powerful vocals lift and soar through traditionals like the title track and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as well as covers like Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” Even Mick Jagger and the late Charlie Watts turn up to listen and learn.
Olivia Wilde’s feature directing debut Booksmart (2019) is bound to become a classic of the John Hughes-like high-school party movie, yet bracingly modern (and without all the cringy moments that those 1980s films got away with). On the last day of high school, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) realize that, despite being studious and walking the straight-and-narrow for four years, most of the slackers around them seem to have made it into prestigious schools or enviable jobs. So they decide that they deserve one blow-out party, and hit the road to try to find the biggest bash in town.
Wilde’s direction is vibrant and alive, employing everything from animation and musical numbers to dizzying camerawork. The movie is awake to various genders and cultures, and yet still knows how to have fun with its mix of brainy and raucous humor. Jessica Williams is wonderful as a sympathetic teacher, and Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte, co-star.
This Groundhog Day-like “stuck in a 24-hour time loop” movie proves that you can always approach an old idea with a fresh angle. Directed by Joe Carnahan, Boss Level (2021) comes right out swinging as our hero, ex-soldier Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), wakes up dodging a machete in his apartment, and seconds later, machine-gun fire from a helicopter outside his windows. Roy must hit the ground running, every morning, to avoid a team of elite assassins who are trying to kill him. He has never survived past 12:47 p.m., and has mainly decided to spend his last moments at the bar.
But this time, he finds a clue that will help him figure out why this is all happening to him, and perhaps also save his wife (Naomi Watts) and son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real-life son). The 94-minute movie pulses along like a beast on adrenaline. It’s paced just right so as to be exciting without being exhausting, and yet doesn’t leave much time to ask questions. Mel Gibson co-stars as a sinister bad guy, and with Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, and Ken Jeong.
Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is a clever, creeping meta-horror story that recalls a time when the genre was considered dangerous. Niamh Algar is highly effective as the dewy, wounded Enid Baines, the title censor, whose job in the early 1980s is to go through “Video Nasties” frame by frame, and cut out anything that could be considered morally corrupting.
While viewing one film, she becomes alarmed by a story of two sisters that mirrors her own life, and the day her own sister went missing. So, she tracks down the film’s director to find answers, and instead enters a world of nightmares. Director Bailey-Bond, whose feature directing debut this is, really sinks into the forbidden world of those old VHS chillers, changing her aspect ratio and using fuzzy FX and stark, bold lighting to suggest menace as well as an increasingly slippery grasp of reality.
This searing, austere drama will leave your soul in smoking ruins. Alfre Woodard gives a profoundly affecting performance as prison warden Bernadine Williams, who oversees a string of executions. The latest one goes horribly, gruesomely wrong, as the prisoner dies in agony. From there, Bernadine tries to hang on to her crumbling marriage, works through the constant drone of angry protesters outside her office, and drinks a little too much each night. Meanwhile, a kind, but worn-down lawyer Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) puts what energy he has left into preventing the next prisoner (Aldis Hodge) from going to the chair.
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the overlooked Clemency (2019) moves with a reflective observant quietness, peering inward at the characters’ layers of pain and lost hopes with an undeniable power.
Crime + Punishment
Stephen T. Maing’s documentary Crime + Punishment (2018), which made the shortlist for the 2019 Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary, seems even more relevant now than it was when it first appeared. It deals with quotas within the New York Police Department, which were made illegal in 2010, but which still exist. Police officers are expected to make a certain number of arrests per month, and they are encouraged to target mostly Black and Latinx citizens.
Maing captures audio and visual evidence of this, as well as evidence of punishments doled out to officers who refuse to comply. The main focus is a harrowing trial in which brave officers, known as the NYPD 12, come forward and attempt to sue the department, while the main subject is a former officer-turned-private investigator, Manny Gomez, a bear-sized, highly persuasive, old-school New Yorker who is as devoted to fighting corruption as he is to tasty lobster roll pastries.
Culture Shock (Into the Dark)
Arguably the best of the feature-length Into the Dark episodes, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Culture Shock” (2019) grapples with America’s shameful treatment of immigrants, as well as anticipating a show like Disney+’s WandaVision. Marisol (Martha Higareda) is a Mexican woman who has already made one failed attempt to get to the United States. Now pregnant, she must try again, at any cost. She hires a coyote (Sal Lopez) for the trip, and along the way she befriends a young boy, Ricky (Ian Inigo), and the tough-looking Santo (Richard Cabral), who seems determined to protect her.
They are nearly caught, but then Marisol wakes up to find herself in a perfect, pastel-colored vision of the suburban American dream, with American flags and fireworks and community barbecues. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) plays a woman who smiles too broadly (creepy, David Lynch-style), and Shawn Ashmore plays the mayor. Where it goes from there definitely tingles the synapses. This is a nimble, wise, and deeply effective horror-satire.
Death on the Nile
Made before his Oscar-winning Belfast (2021) but delayed by the pandemic, Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (2022) returns him to the director’s chair and to the role of the great detective Hercule Poirot. As with the previous Murder on the Orient Express, this one is an old-fashioned, star-studded Hollywood mystery, but the two films are also surprisingly different. This one is more open, airier, as well as more emotionally affecting, although still crafted with a masterly hand.
Poirot finds himself on an elegant ballroom of a ship gliding down the Nile, and once again solving a murder. Co-stars include Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Ann Turkel. (Given that the film was shot in 2019, two of the cast members, Armie Hammer and Letitia Wright, have since become somewhat—problematic, although perhaps it’s better to keep the conversation going rather than not watching a wonderful film?)
Eyes Wide Shut
One of Stanley Kubrick’s best and most mature films, his final masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is set in a dreamy, unreal, holiday-decorated New York and begins at a Christmas party. After being flirted with, tending to an overdosed, naked woman, and hearing a story about one of his wife’s fantasies, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) embarks upon a nighttime odyssey across the city, flirting with various ideas of infidelity and sex, until he reaches a forbidden masquerade party. (Everyone in the film relates to Harford in a physical, sexual way. The film is about sex, even if it’s not inherently sexy.)
Kubrick’s ingenious framing and movement is still startling, and the film works on many levels, intellectual and visceral. Nicole Kidman—married to Cruise at the time—is luminous as Bill’s wife Alice. Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Thomas Gibson, Vinessa Shaw, Rade Serbedzija, Leelee Sobieski, and Alan Cumming appear. Frederic Raphael wrote the screenplay with Kubrick, based on a short novel by Arthur Schnitzler. Hulu offers the slightly censored, “R” rated theatrical cut.
Danish writer-director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary Flee (2021) brilliantly uses its format to enhance its recorded interview and conjure up a dramatic, harrowing, and moving story. The artwork provides a slight remove, echoing a fiction film, even though we never forget that what we’re hearing is true; it’s a grand improvement over a talking-head interview.
For protection, the subject is referred to by the pseudonym “Amin Nawabi.” He apparently told his story for the first time, ever, to Rasmussen, and it’s a deeply emotional account. The story stretches from Amin’s happy childhood in Afghanistan, before the mujahideen swooped in and took over, killing his family and kidnapping his sister. There are many tense, suspenseful hurdles before he finally makes it to Denmark, where he is now happily married to husband Kaspar. (It’s also a touching LGBTQ+ love story.) The only drawback is that the hand-drawn animation is often distractingly amateurish, but that doesn’t detract from the power of the tale.
Written by Lauryn Kahn and directed by Mimi Cave, this clever deconstruction of both romance and horror movies begins with a horrific depiction of a terrible date before getting very grisly. Girl-next-door Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has been trying and failing at online dating, when, during a late-night grocery run, she meets the charming Steve (Sebastian Stan), who nervously asks for her number. Things seem to be going well. What could go wrong?
Well… Steve runs an operation in which he kidnaps women and sells their “meat” to wealthy cannibals, and Noa is his latest find. Fresh (2022) keeps going farther than we might expect it to, yet keeping a firm hold on the quasi-comic tone. It also strikes a much-needed blow for female power, as well as one for strength in numbers. Jojo T. Gibbs co-stars as Noa’s bad-ass best friend Mollie.
Filmmaker Peter Nicks directed the eye-opening documentary Homeroom (2021) in the same vérité vain as his previous works, The Waiting Room (2013) and The Force (2017). Unlike those two, this one was nearly derailed, twice, first by the death of Nicks’s teen daughter Karina, and then, months later, by COVID-19. It was meant to follow a group of seniors, the graduating class of 2020, through their final year at Oakland High School. The focus was going to be on teen mental health, but after COVID, the focus instead became Denilson Garibo, a student member of the School Board, who continues to fight to have police removed from the school. (The board meetings are outrageous free-for-alls, which tend to devolve into shouting and rage.)
There’s no way to know what the original film might have been like, but this one—tying uniquely into the other events of 2020, such as the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter marches, and the “defund the police” movement—uncovers the unending well of resilience and strength that today’s teens actually have.
I Am Greta
Nathan Grossman’s documentary I Am Greta (2020) follows Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg from her humble beginnings, staging a solo walkout from school on Fridays to call attention to the threat of climate change, to her international celebrity as she begins being recognized and invited to speak publicly. (Her speeches are boldly terse, scolding the old white men who have refused to take action.)
The film doesn’t dig very deep, and anyone who has followed the news knows the story, but it’s still filled with amazing moments that let us in on the way her brain works, from her insistence on a meat- and dairy-free diet to taking a small boat across the Atlantic rather than take an environment-destroying airplane. After seeing this, it’s difficult to deny that climate change is a pressing crisis, or that Miss Thunberg deserves our admiration for leading the fight.
Yes, it’s another zombie movie, but Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters (2019) is likely the sweetest zombie movie ever made. It works largely due to its contagious good nature, and largely thanks to the awesome presence of the mighty Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Black Panther, Us), who manages to be both adorable and badass. Alexander England co-stars as Dave, a struggling metal musician who has gone through a savage breakup and is now staying with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and her five-year-old tractor-loving son Felix (Diesel La Torraca).
Dave takes Felix to school and immediately crushes on his teacher, Miss Caroline (Nyong’o). He volunteers to chaperone a field trip to a farm, hoping for a chance to flirt with her. But a bloody zombie attack forces the field trip to hole up in the gift shop, where they must placate the children and figure out a way to escape. Josh Gad co-stars—and parodies his own image—as a famous kids’ TV star, Teddy McGiggle, who is an absolute scoundrel off-camera.
An exceptional feature-writing and directing debut by Nia DaCosta, Little Woods (2019) is an immensely moving story of small-town America, battered but not yet broken. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok, Passing) gives a tremendous performance as Ollie, who has just days left on her probation, having been arrested for smuggling painkillers to her adoptive mother. She ekes out a living selling coffee and snacks at worksites, but when her sister, single mom Deb (Lily James) gets into trouble, they find themselves on the verge of losing their house, and Ollie must get back into drug smuggling.
Even though it deals with issues of economy and healthcare, the movie weaves those themes delicately into its fabric, so that it never feels preachy. Bathed in soft, chilly light, Little Woods tells a gentle, incredibly moving story. The movie went on to be quite a calling card for DaCosta, whose next gig was the excellent 2021 Candyman remake, followed by the upcoming Marvel film The Marvels.
An impressive debut feature by Fran Kranz, Mass (2021) feels like an intricately workshopped play, its nuances tweaked and re-tweaked until it achieved a powerful, logical flow, both searing and moving. Yet it never feels hemmed-in or stagy, either. It might not be the most inviting subject matter, but it’s an unforgettable experience.
It’s also a master class in acting as two couples, Gail and Jay Perry (Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) and Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney), meet in the conference room of a church. Gail and Jay’s son was murdered in a school shooting, committed by Linda and Richard’s son. They have met for a discussion, and perhaps some closure. The result is a complex web of themes, from guilt and apology, to demonizing and humanizing, deconstructing a tragic, all-too-commonplace event in unexpected ways. Breeda Wool also gives a terrific performance in a smaller role as Judy, the nervy church employee who awkwardly tries to get things settled for the two sets of parents.
Memories of Murder
Bong Joon-ho’s great second feature, Memories of Murder (2003), is ostensibly based on a true story about a serial killer in Korea, but it’s also quite a bit more: a sly comedy, and a story about problems and solutions, about searching and not searching. It’s set in a farming community in Hwaseong Province, where several murders have occurred. Bong’s frequent leading man Song Kang-ho (Parasite) effortlessly steals the show as shaggy detective Park Doo-man, in charge of the case. He claims he can spot a criminal by sight, but he’s not above bullying a suspect to confess or casually falsifying a bit of evidence here and there.
Park’s partner is the hair-trigger Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roi-ha), and the more polished, professional Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) arrives from the big city (Seoul) to help. They run through false leads and wrong suspects, pick up clues, fail, and keep trying. Bong fashions the perfect ending, bittersweet, ironic, and unforgettable. Indeed, on paper its parts shouldn’t come together in any way, but they do, and beautifully.
Minding the Gap
Filmed over the course of 12 years in Rockford, Illinois, this great, Oscar-nominated documentary traces the nuanced, layered lives of three skateboarding friends as they grow and face life changes. Director Bing Liu is one of the trio, and with his camera so ever-present, the other two, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan never seem guarded. We watch them grow from childish teasing to being able to confide in each other. We see Zack’s volatile relationship with his girlfriend Nina, complicated when Nina becomes pregnant. We see Keire begin to wrestle with his identity as an African-American. And we see Liu interviewing his mother about the relationship she had with the man who helped raise him, and abused him.
At the center of Minding the Gap (2018), however, are the beautiful, fluid skateboarding sequences, showing the three gliding through the streets like superheroes, escaping life for just a little while.
Guillermo Del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winner The Shape of Water is a remake of a 1947 film noir, expanded and given a sheen of lush color and glistening production design. In Nightmare Alley (2021), drifter Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) winds up at a carnival and—after a run-in with the chicken-eating “geek”—is given a job. He becomes fascinated by a clairvoyant act, Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn), whose drinking has begun to interfere with performances. He swindles the secrets of the act and takes pretty Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) on the road to the big time.
Unfortunately, his ego swells out of control, leading to disaster. Cate Blanchett is positively poisonous as a sleek, blonde psychologist who engineers a scheme with Stan. Willem Dafoe is the carny boss, Ron Perlman is a strongman, and Richard Jenkins, Clifton Collins Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson also appear. But even with its enviable cast and mesmerizing sequences, its dispiriting, fatalistic story—which lasts 150 minutes—can leave you feeling beaten and bruised.
The time-loop movie Palm Springs (2020) is so loose, cheerful, funny, clever, adorable, and thoroughly entertaining, that many film critics named it one of the best films of the year. (According to Metacritic’s roundup of lists, it was ranked the 12th best film of 2020.) It’s one of those films that was sorely needed during the pandemic year, a tonic for jangled nerves.
Andy Samberg plays Nyles, stuck in a time loop on the day of a friend’s wedding. The movie cleverly lets us get through one day before letting us know that Nyles has been in this loop for some time and has learned to just enjoy himself the best he can. On this this day, however, he accidentally brings Sarah (Cristin Milioti) along with him, and she becomes stuck too. As the couple deals with their feelings for each other, and Nyles’ past within the loop, they must decide whether to relax and enjoy, or try to break out. J.K. Simmons co-stars in a great performance as yet another time-looper with a different agenda.
After a decade or so of forgettable, direct-to-video movies, Nicolas Cage is back, giving some of his career-best performances in movies like Joe, Mandy, Color Out of Space, and Pig, which was one of the best films of 2021. On paper, it’s a simple revenge film. Cage plays Robin Feld, a master chef now living out in the woods, hunting truffles with his trusty pig, and making rustic mushroom tarts for himself. His connection to the outside world is Amir (Alex Wolff), a truffle salesman who fancies himself a high roller.
When Rob’s pig is stolen, he heads into Portland with the single-minded mission of getting his pig back. Eventually the movie begins to deepen in fascinating ways, becoming more perceptive and even touching as it explores themes of identity and truth. It’s the feature directing debut of Michael Sarnoski, who creates a rich, wintry atmosphere and coaxes a ferocious, powerhouse performance from Cage, as well as an effective supporting one by Wolff.
This Hulu original sounds like it could be pretty formulaic, but instead it’s not only wildly funny, it also makes you want to clap and cheer. Directed by Natalie Morales, Plan B (2021) would make a great double-bill with Booksmart (also on this list), both movies about two teen girls on nighttime odysseys. This one follows Sunny (Kuhoo Verma), who sees her crush leaving with another girl at a party; she gets drunk and has the most awkward, horrible sex in the history of movies with the next closest guy.
The next morning, she discovers the condom still inside her, so she and her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) hit the road to find the “Plan B” pill. The only catch is that they’re in South Dakota, and it’s not so easy to find such things. The movie taps into Sunny’s Indian identity (she’s constantly on the lookout for the “Indian Mafia”), as well as Lupe’s identity as both Latinx and LGBTQ+, but always with large doses of silly, witty, and warm humor.
Quo Vadis, Aida?
The harrowing, sobering Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021), which received an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film, is, according to Metacritic.com, the most acclaimed film of 2021. In a straightforward, pulse-pounding narrative, without hand-wringing or wallowing in misery, it’s one of the clearest depictions of the cruelty of war yet made.
It takes place in 1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Aida (Jasna Đuričić) works as a UN translator. The Bosnian Serb Army approaches, poised to take over the town of Srebrenica. Despite promises of protection from NATO, Aida—being able to hear both sides of the conversation—realizes they are doomed. She frantically begins attempting to save herself, her husband, and her two sons, using her credentials, but keeps running into problem after problem. Writer and director Jasmila Žbanić gives the film the look and pacing of a Hollywood thriller, but with a most unconventional hero; Đuričić gives a great, heart-rending performance, especially in the film’s final moments.
Riders of Justice
Veteran screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, from Denmark, wrote and directed this endlessly clever crime film sprinkled with clusters of dark comedy. But the real surprise is that, while it veers close to Tarantino territory, Riders of Justice (2021) manages to avoid the kind of ironic detachment that usually marks these kinds of films.
The characters here, a band of hyper-intelligent misfits and a wounded, violent outsider (the great Mads Mikkelsen), are always trying to get each other to talk about their feelings, and to be totally honest. When a woman is killed in a train accident, which may not have been an accident, Markus (Mikkelson), Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Lennart (Lars Brygmann), and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) begin hunting for the murderer, using both computer skills and Markus’s lethal military training, all while trying to keep it a secret from Markus’s teen daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). It could have gone overly slapsticky, but it remains constantly fleet-footed and surprising.
Shadow in the Cloud
Arriving on the first day of 2021, Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud is still the most demented, unpredictable, and entertaining “B” movie of the year so far. It’s 1943, and a woman named Maude (Chloë Grace Moretz) boards a bomber called The Fool’s Errand, mysterious package in hand. Over cries of “no dames on the plane!” she informs the men that she’s on a top-secret mission, and that the package is officially the most important thing on the plane.
From there, with no place for her to sit, Maude must crawl into the Sperry turret in the belly of the plane, where the camera stays on her until about the 50-minute mark. After the 50-minute mark, be ready for anything as the plane is attacked by both Japanese zeroes and gremlins, and Maude does her best to save the day while clinging to the outside of the plane. The pieces of this incredible, bonkers movie don’t always seem to go together, but there’s hardly a wasted moment in its 83-minutes. Even the ending is as incredible as the rest of it.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín had already made two exemplary biopics, Jackie and Neruda (both 2016), before he moved onto this more ambitious, unconventional film. The deeply poetic, fascinating Spencer (2021) imagines what life might have been like for Diana, the Princess of Wales (Kristen Stewart) over the course of three days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, presumably in 1992, although the movie doesn’t say) as she suffocates under the weight of the Royal Family. She has her secret allies with whom she can be herself, baring her weight-of-a-nation anguish. Then, forced to attend family functions with color-coded outfits, she comes to a hard decision.
It’s a great, meticulous, wrenching film that received a lone Academy Award nomination for Stewart’s performance, but deserved many more. Jonny Greenwood’s score provides an unbearable tension, while the set design and pristine cinematography create a beautiful prison.
Summer of Soul
Questlove makes his directing debut, bringing this phenomenal footage to the world’s eyes for the first time. Like other Black stories that have been swept under the rug, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021) not only tells that story but gives a hint of its powerful impact at the same time. In the summer of 1969 when Woodstock became a legend, the Harlem Cultural Festival provided an alternate place to go, and a friendly place for Black faces. The free concert took place over six weekends and included a legendary slate of acts, with a remarkable variety of music.
Sly & the Family Stone gives an electrifying performance, as does young Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, B.B. King, and more. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and Questlove does an impressive job of interspersing backstory and music in just in 2 hours. Yet it’s impossible not to be moved by surviving musicians watching their performances, moments of pure exaltation on stage, and revelations like the fact that this concert meant more to Black folks that summer than did the moon landing.
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Jeffrey has been a working film critic for more than 14 years. He first fell in love with the movies at age six while watching "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and served as staff critic for the San Francisco Examiner from 2000 through 2003.