Our team searches out great films you can watch right now via our three favorite streaming services.
“What should I watch right now?” This is a question we get a lot from friends, family, readers, and even strangers on the street. For many cord-cutters, streaming is the way but the algorithms often betray us. Netflix recommending you watch a bunch of Adam Sandler movies? Not sure where to start with Amazon (beyond their original content)? Have you worked through all of Filmstruck’s amazing curated collections?
Our goal today is to find you something great that maybe you haven’t seen or been served by the almighty algorithm. Not a complete list, to be sure, but a good starting point for finding great hidden gems in the streaming universe.
Curated by Ciara Wardlow
In The Loop
We all need a bitter laugh at the state of world politics right about now, and this brilliantly pithy and eminently quotable pitch black satire from the simpler time of 2009 is still relevant enough to provide cathartic laughs while being blessedly void of any of the names or newly introduced words and phrases that have become a constant daily presence on social media, the news, and life in general. It might be a spin off from the short-lived BBC series The Thick Of It, but no knowledge of the show is needed to appreciate Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s quick-witted, short-tempered Director of Communications who hands out witty insults like candy with the sort of confidence to which us plebeians can only dream of someday aspiring.
Now, when this film was released in 2013 I didn’t think I would be including it in a list of hidden gems, but it really has faded into some degree of obscurity since then, even if the dream team of Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have gone on to take Hollywood by storm with the extremely successful Creed and, next up, the highly anticipated Black Panther slated for release next year. And it’s a damn shame for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a fantastic film—and Coogler’s debut feature, which is downright astounding. While Jordan has proven his star power elsewhere, no other role since Fruitvale Station has provided him the same opportunity to show off his acting chops. And to top it all off, the issues at the center of the film are unfortunately still just as relevant as when it was made.
Dear Zachary: A Letter To His Son About His Father
I don’t care if you’re not a “documentary person”—watch this one. Why? I can’t really tell you that; this is the sort of film that’s best if you go into it blind. It’s about a murder, that’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to gush too much and create impossibly high expectations either, so I won’t wax poetic, even though I really want to. But seriously, watch this documentary.
The Way Back
This inspired by a true story epic of a group of World War II labor camp escapees trekking through thousands of miles of snowdrifts and scorching deserts is the last film from director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show). It received generally positive reviews but flopped at the box office, and you can’t help but wonder if this might have convinced Weir to be one of the few directors to actually retire because we haven’t really heard or seen hide nor hair from him since. If watching a star-studded cast (including Saoirse Ronan, Ed Harris, and Colin Farrell) do a commendable job of acting as if they’re struggling to survive across landscapes that would put an issue of National Geographic to shame (fun fact: the National Geographic Society helped produce the film) sounds like the sort of thing you might enjoy, I cannot recommend this one highly enough.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
An apocalyptic rom-com road trip movie starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should work, but ultimately that’s one of the things that makes it so charming. It received mixed reviews and performed poorly at the box office when it was released back in 2012, but for me, this film is the cinematic equivalent of a pair of warm, fuzzy socks in the middle of winter, and I’m not even a gooey, rom-com sort of person. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely worth trying.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
“Creepy children” and “scary teenagers” are practically their own genres, but this 2011 psychological drama from writer-director Lynne Ramsay, adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel, doesn’t concern itself with keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering what happens next, but showing you how it ends and letting you try to piece together how things got there. The film jumps between the past and present from the perspective of unreliable narrator Eva (Tilda Swinton), whose teenage son Kevin (Ezra Miller) committed a massacre at his high school. At times you won’t know what the hell is going on, but it’s so visually mesmerizing that it doesn’t even really matter.
Instead of spreading awareness, Spike Lee’s poorly received remake of this South Korean masterpiece (based off a Japanese manga) seems to have, if anything, made the original less popular. Chan-wook Park’s twisty revenge tale of a businessman released after being imprisoned and tortured for fifteen years might occasionally hit some familiar beats—after all, “twisty revenge thriller” isn’t exactly an unpopular genre—it does so with an unparalleled amount of style. Even if you usually don’t go for films that require watching subtitles, give this one a try. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it in any language.
“Oh dear God,” you might be thinking, “not another movie about Hitler.” But if you only watch one more movie about Hitler, make it this one about Hitler’s final days from the perspective of his secretary. The many, many, many cinematic depictions of Hitler through the years have generally taken their cues from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and propaganda caricatures—pure evil and unhinged. It makes for a good cinematic villain, but it does beg the question, “how the hell did this guy come to power?” Bruno Ganz’s brilliant portrayal of perhaps the most infamous figure of the 20th century is no less despicable or unstable, but also incredibly charismatic—there are moments in this film where, though Hitler remains consistently repulsive, you can really understand how he succeeded—and that’s the most terrifying thing of all. The film also wins the award for “most unexpected meme-starter” for spawning the “Hitler Reacts” meme.
Curated by Francesca Fau
You know we are in the Golden Age of television when a Syfy television series kicks this much narrative ass. I hate myself for writing that sentence, but I don’t for making this point: The Expanse is a phenomenal show that no one’s watching. The Expanse is a smart show hidden in a saturated television landscape. It is beautifully shot week after week and no one bats an eyelash. Season 1 tracks a detective, a ship of former ice haulers, and Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration of the United Nations as they go about uncovering an intricate web of scandal and secrets.
The MVP of The Expanse is Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala. Aghdashloo is absolute fire. Do you remember Polly Walker’s Atia of the Julia in Rome and do you love Lena Headey’s Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones? Imagine all of that maneuvering and plotting in SPACE. Chrisjen is your next favorite female television character. She’s just one withering one-liner away from you falling absolutely ridiculously in love with her and her performance. To be fair though, you will eventually fall in love with the entire crew of The Rocinante; the spaceship caught between a lot of interplanetary funny business. Discovering what they are like and the confines of their fictional universe is a treat. Further, watching Thomas Jane play his best Blade Runner-esque neo-noir detective is wickedly divine.
Batman: The Animated Series
I can hear the cacophony of DC fans: “It’s not underrated nor hidden.” I concede this isn’t a hidden gem to many. However, there is still a generation of kids out there that haven’t seen it and even a few adults that missed out. Well, here you all go. Paul Dini’s masterwork of a children’s show is a big deal. (He gave us Harley Quinn—god bless Paul Dini.) I respect him. The love with which Dini treats his character is wonderful and it shows in his work. It’s complex, rich, character-driven narrative that is flashy enough for children and deep enough to revisit as an adult. The episodes are kid’s TV short but Dini works with surgical precision to make every beat matter. His words are heightened by a stellar voice cast. Hearing Kevin Conroy’s voice will make you wonder about what the hell Christian Bale was doing. Also, well Mark Hamill’s Joker is a legend. To all this add a noir-ish hued animation style in the vein of Tim Burton’s Batman and you have a beautiful, perfect Batman show. Don’t @ me you know it’s true. Go forth, and stream.
Who doesn’t love a good spy series? The official synopsis for Patriot reads “To prevent Iran from going nuclear, intelligence officer John Tavner must forgo all safety nets and assume a perilous ‘non-official cover’ — that of a mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.” First off, John Tavner looks normal. Normality is a great asset when trying to keep Iran from going nuclear. He looks like someone that does your taxes or fixes your computer at the office by asking when was the last time you defragmented. His mundane façade masquerading as the insidious is something most spy movies aren’t brave enough to attempt. (The Americans is a stellar exception.) The first episode introduces its world by contrasting the unusual with the usual. A boring meeting followed by small talk then a violent death. It’s a hell of a way to get things moving, and god do I love it. Additionally, this show has a great sense of humor. If you enjoy Netflix’s House of Cards, you’ll love Patriot. I’m not finished with my feast of the entire series, but my viewing dance card is now officially full. Let’s watch Patriot, people.
Eye in the Sky
Eye in the Sky is a fine thought experiment of a film. Helen Mirren stars as Colonel Katherine Powell a military officer who has to make a tough choice when a child enters her drone kill zone complicating her plans. Eye in the Sky is special as it gives life to the infamous trolley problem thoughtfully bringing it into the current age. In a world where some tools of war require no boots on the ground and can take out civilians and enemy combatants alike, Eye in the Sky is a much-needed meditation on the pros and cons of utilitarianism. Movies about the ethics of drone-based bombing are a dime a dozen but this one squeezes a dollar out of a dime. That said, Eye in the Sky is as much a commentary on modern warfare as it is a film but it works.
99 Homes is about the mortgage crisis and while that’s beginning to feel like a subject that’s too played out Ramin Bahrani’s tight direction and plotting keeps things from turning into a total snooze fest. Also, I will watch anything with Michael Shannon in it. I would watch Barney weekly if I knew Shannon was under the mask. He’s one of my favorite actors because he consistently delivers even when everyone around him is phoning it in or the film around him is crumbling under the weight of its own mediocrity. He’s superb at what he does. Shannon as a scary real estate broker is what I check under my bed for each night. He’s unhinged and horrifying in almost every way in this film. I’m more threatened by him as the broker than I was with him as Zod. Pair Shannon up with Andrew Garfield as a desperate man who makes a deal with Shannon’s devil and you have a dream team
Curated by Jake Orthwein
It is often consoling, as an aspiring filmmaker, to look back at the early work of great directors and witness their humble beginnings. Not so with Blood Simple, the Coen Brothers’ impossibly well-crafted debut. The film features all the trademarks that would come to define the brothers’ oeuvre, including impeccable visual design, brilliant characterization, and masterful control of tension. In a role that would kickstart her career, Frances McDormand plays Abby, the cheating wife of an abusive Texas businessman. When Abby’s husband plots to have her killed, things unravel in precisely the Coen-esque way one would hope. Blood Simple represents the birth of two of cinema’s greatest talents.
The Spirit of the Beehive
In another flabbergasting debut, Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice weaves a tale of innocence and enchantment that has inspired masters from Jim Jarmusch to Guillermo Del Toro. Like Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Spirit of the Beehive concerns a young girl impacted by the Spanish Civil War. But unlike in Del Toro’s film, Erice’s protagonist does not encounter the war directly; rather, she processes its effects through a spectral memory of a roadshow screening of Frankenstein (it makes sense in the context). Erice’s film was released toward the end of the Franco regime and paints a portrait of the haunting impact of fascist rule through the eyes of a child
Satyajit Ray’s humane, life-affirming portrait of Indian rural life took world cinema by storm, winning an award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival for the “Best Human Document.” The description is apt; few films provide such a textured depiction of a person and place. Pather Panchali is the first of three films in Ray’s “Apu Trilogy,” which, like Truffaut’s tales of Antoine Doinel, charts one boy’s life from childhood to middle age. Ray’s neorealist sensibilities helped break open an Indian national cinema that had, to that point, been preoccupied with Bollywood-style musicals. Look out especially for Ravi Shankar’s beautiful score and the powerful, poetic use of weather.
Days of Heaven
It’s easy to forget, in light of Terence Malick’s divisive recent movies, that the director’s early work contains some of the most entrancing hours ever put to film. Indeed it’s films like Days of Heaven that earned Malick the admiration from stars and leeway from producers that has allowed him to keep churning out such unconventional pictures. Like Pather Panchali and The Spirit of the Beehive, Days of Heaven is told from the perspective of a child, in this case, a young girl in Texas in 1916. As with Malick’s later films, the young girl provides a voiceover that sets the tone for a more conventional plot, in this case, a love triangle between characters played by Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, and Sam Shepard. Nestor Almendros’s staggering cinematography would form the inspiration for Roger Deakins’s work on The Assassination of Jesse James, itself one of the most beautifully shot films ever made.
The Thin Blue Line
Widely considered one of the finest documentaries ever made, Erroll Morris’s The Thin Blue Line recounts the true story of Randall Adams’s false conviction for murder. Told with a mix of interviews and re-enactments, the film stretches the boundaries of documentary storytelling to examine the line between truth and fiction – a theme that recurs in Morris’s work. Though its innovative style and gripping narrative are enough to make it essential viewing, the film also bears the honor of having impacted real-world change: Adams’s conviction was overturned a year after the film was released.