Of the thousands upon thousands of movies available to stream on Amazon Prime Video Canada, these are the movies we think are worth your time. NOW’s writers have spent weeks combing through the offerings to find some new arrivals, forgotten classics, and canonical greats that are available at the tap of a tile, and we’ll be updating this post every month as movies cycle on and off the service. You’re welcome!
Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in this intentionally uncomfortable comedy about illness and mortality, based on screenwriter and real-life Rogen buddy Will Reiser’s own experiences. Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a journalist diagnosed with a rare spinal tumour in his late 20s who undergoes chemo and counselling while his best friend, Kyle (Rogen), provides some very inappropriate moral support. It’s a shaggy and entertaining buddy movie that just happens to have life-or-death stakes, with great work from Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, and Anna Kendrick—as Adam’s rookie therapist – as three people who are all in way over their heads and doing their best to deal. It’s also Rogen’s first project with director Jonathan Levine, with whom he’d make The Night Before (costarring Gordon-Levitt!) and Long Shot.
Nick Nolte gives one of his finest performances as a small-town sheriff disintegrating under the weight of a murder investigation—and his own repressed history of abuse—in Paul Schrader’s chilly adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel, which was doomed to cult status by a botched release plan that kept it shelved for more than a year after its premiere at the 1997 Venice Film Festival. It’s possible that the U.S. distributor wanted to put some space between it and that year’s other, much more acclaimed Banks adaptation, Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, but by the time the movie arrived, it was treated like an afterthought. Still, reviews were strong enough to see Nolte and James Coburn nominated for Oscars for best actor and best supporting actor, respectively; Coburn won his, while Nolte lost to Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful. We’re still mad about that.
Francis Lee’s period romance—which casts Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as two very different women who forge an unexpected connection in a remote seaside village in 19th century Dorset—had the misfortune to arrive on the heels of Céline Sciamma’s masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire. But with a little more distance, people might be impressed with Lee’s film as well: as real-life paleontologist Mary Anning, Winslet is as good as she’s ever been, her clipped line readings suggesting a lifetime spent denying herself in the name of a larger duty, while Ronan finds a steely determination as the ailing Charlotte Murchison, whose sea cure leads to a very different sort of recovery. And as he did in his shattering first feature, God’s Own Country, Lee isolates his characters in natural settings and lets the story play out in his actors’ faces and bodies; there’s dialogue, but it’s rarely necessary. Everything we need to understand Ammonite is right there on the screen.
Like his earlier film about racing driver Ayrton Senna, Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the short life and tragic death of Amy Winehouse tells its subject’s story entirely through archival footage set to a soundtrack of present-day audio interviews with friends and family. But he also finds the real person inside the tabloid caricature, and that’s where Amy becomes a work of profound empathy. It brings Winehouse back to life, and forces us to lose her all over again.
French director Leos Carax’s English-language musical drama is about a misanthropic standup comedian (Adam Driver) and superstar soprano (Marion Cotillard) whose tabloid love affair results in a puppet child prodigy, the titular baby Annette. Based on a story by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks (who also did the music), Annette is a manic blend of absurd comedy, operatic melodrama, and gothic horror that creates a heightend fantasy world to exaggerate the ways celebrity mythologizing can become very real—and lucrative—for some. It’s full of Carax’s typically arresting setpieces and sequences and possibly Driver’s Adam Driverest performance.
Most directors would give their eye teeth to make a popular entertainment as smart, funny, and exciting as Back to the Future, a practically perfect comedy starring Michael J. Fox as '80s kid Marty McFly, who’s zapped back to 1955 and must make sure his teenage parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson) fall in love as scheduled—while also convincing the younger version of his mad-scientist pal (Christopher Lloyd) to send him back home. Robert Zemeckis’s box-office champion manages to be both heartfelt and thrilling, with wonderful work from all concerned, and Thomas F. Wilson playing one of the all-time great buttheads as the bully Biff Tannen. Seriously, why haven’t you seen this yet?
Netflix may have Squid Game but Amazon has the movie that inspired it: Kinji Fukasaku’s dystopian 2000 masterwork, set in a near-future Japan where once a year a class of schoolchildren is selected for transport to an island arena, fitted with explosive collars, and pitted against each other until only one is left alive. Featuring unrelenting violence and dark comedy—with screen legend Takeshi Kitano balancing the two in his performance as the kids’ morally ambiguous teacher, who’s also the “host” of the murder game—it was slapped with an NC-17 rating in the U.S. and unavailable for years to North American audiences, emerging only in certain video stores that dared to import it. Now you can just click “play” and watch it whenever! Isn’t progress wonderful?
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon had a classic meet-cute: they met, they clicked, and she went almost immediately into hospital with a life-threatening malady that led to her being placed in a medically induced coma, leaving new maybe-boyfriend Kumail to sit and worry with her parents for days on end. Obviously, everything worked out, and years later they turned their ordeal into a screenplay that lets Nanjiani play a version of himself opposite Zoe Kazan as Emily, with Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as her parents. The result is a sweet, prickly tweak of the romantic comedy, with director Michael Showalter keeping an eye out for moments of genuine feeling among the cast. Check it out to see what Nanjiani looked like before he got all jacked for Marvel’s Eternals.
Jillian Bell is the eponymous hero of Paul Downs Colaizzo’s first feature: a hard-living Brooklynite who resolves to get into shape after a diagnosis of terrible health, only to find herself backsliding at every opportunity. What could have been little more than a goofy comedy turns out to be a little more thoughtful than its elevator pitch, as Brittany’s situation plays out realistically rather than as a string of workout jokes. (Bell lost some 40 pounds over the course of the shoot, but we never get the feeling we’re watching a stunt.) The characters who enter her orbit—played by Never Have I Ever’s Utkarsh Ambudkar and Bell’s Sword of Trust costar Michaela Watkins—are similarly complex people rather than types. And even though Brittany Runs a Marathon goes exactly where it says it will, it gets there on its own prickly terms. Just like its hero.
PJ Raval’s doc about a trans woman in the Philippines who was murdered by a U.S. Marine in 2014 is an unflinching and eye-opening investigation into the emotional, physical, and political toll that a continued American military presence is having in that country. It’s clear that Jennifer Laude’s killer is a Marine, but the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement essentially grants immunity to American officers, and the ensuing trial becomes a flashpoint that blows up politically. Raval makes clear and compelling connections between personal stories and institutional violence. This is a film that doesn’t shy away from challenging anyone’s attitudes about trans people and the ongoing effects of colonialism.
Hollywood couldn’t figure out what to do with Rashida Jones, so after four years on Parks and Recreation, the actor and her writing partner, Will McCormack, came up with her own star vehicle: this bittersweet comedy, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, about two exes who haven’t quite figured out how to disconnect from one another. Andy Samberg is perfectly cast as Jesse, who’s kind of a lightweight but comfortable within his own sphere, and Jones is simply terrific as Celeste, a conflicted, confused young woman just beginning to realize she isn’t as okay with moving on as she first thought. In the middle of all the rom-com packaging, Jones delivers a great dramatic performance.
The premise of James Ward Byrkit’s ingenious 2013 film is very simple: eight friends have gotten together for a dinner party in northern California just as a passing comet knocks out the planet’s power—and maybe also cracks the multiverse open. (Maybe.) Eight actors—including Emily Baldoni, filmmaker Lorene Scafaria, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendon (though in this reality, he’s the former star of Roswell)—improvise their way through a series of mind-bending complications involving glowsticks, identical handwritten notes, and the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. Just watch it and see if you can unscramble the puzzle before they do. Not that it’ll help, necessarily.
Nacho Vigalondo’s 2016 mashup of kaiju movie and recovery drama is like nothing else around, with Anne Hathaway as an alcoholic New Yorker who returns to her childhood town to dry out and decide whether to patch things up with her boyfriend (Dan Stevens). Once there, she runs into an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) and drinks some more, and the next day she wakes up to discover a giant monster has stomped through Seoul—and she’s somehow connected to it. Hathaway is terrific, riding Vigalondo’s metaphor for all it’s worth—giant-monster rampages equating nicely to the damage her character does to herself on a bender—and if you only know Sudeikis as the fount of human kindness that is Theodore Lasso, you’ll never be able to look at him the same way again after this one.
David Cronenberg’s 1988 masterwork—a tragedy about twin gynaecologists who descend into addiction and madness after one falls in love with a neurotic actor—marked the end of his early period, defined by stately perversity, deranged science, and unflinching body horror. But it also signalled the beginning of Cronenberg’s pure-artist phase, when financial and creative conditions lined up to allow him to make complex, challenging projects like this, Naked Lunch, and Crash. It’s also the film that best defines his style as a filmmaker: Dead Ringers is beautiful, grotesque, elegant, and ultimately mournful, sometimes all at once. That it should also be built around the magnificent dual performance of Jeremy Irons—with invaluable support from Geneviève Bujold as the woman who comes between the doomed Mantle brothers—is almost a grace note.
Director Lulu Wang’s second feature is a thoughtful, moving meditation on the burden of family expectations, with a revelatory Awkwafina as a struggling Brooklyn artist who flies back to Changchun to join her family for a cousin’s wedding—which has been hastily organized to let everyone spend some time with grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou), who’s been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer but not informed of her condition. Wang, who based the story on her own relationship with her grandmother, gives every character some measure of depth and history, and in doing so she gets at something else: the way all children are powerless in the face of their parents’ decisions, and how that affects us as adults.
Anthony Hopkins won his second Oscar for his alternately flailing and furious performance in Florian Zeller’s brutal adaptation of his stage play about an aging Londoner who can’t understand why the world around him refuses to make sense—and why people keep trying to get him to leave his beloved flat. (Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss costar, but it’s Hopkins’s show all the way: he’s in every scene, and practically every shot, of this meticulously crafted film. (Zeller won an Oscar for adapted screenplay, too.
Paul Schrader’s reinterpretation of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest for the age of the American megachurch is his best film in decades: like Martin Scorsese’s Silence, it’s the work of a man who’s spent a very long time thinking about his subject. Here, it’s the conflict between modern evangelical Christianity and the actual teachings of Christ as experienced by a tormented priest (Ethan Hawke, in a career-best performance) trying to minister to his congregation while enduring his own profound suffering. It’s brilliant cinema.
Miss the Toronto of 2013? Check out this love letter to the city, written by Elan Mastai and directed by Michael Dowse, that riffs on When Harry Met Sally… to tell the story of an emotionally prickly young man (Daniel Radcliffe) who meets a delightful young woman (Zoe Kazan), discovers she’s in a long-term relationship, and resigns himself to the friend zone—for a while, anyway. It’s funny, sharp, and sweet, with Radcliffe and Kazan exchanging rapid-fire dialogue that they also share with a lively circle of supporting players, including Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, an unbilled and terrific Sarah Gadon, and a pre-superstardom Adam Driver. And Dowse and DP Rogier Stoffers use the city’s streets, stores, and spaces to create a sense of constant promise, all thrumming to the beat of A.C. Newman’s infectious score.
Gerard Butler and his Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh reunite for a ground-level thriller about the end of the world. A comet is on a collision course with the Earth, its impact expected to cause an extinction-level event in a day or so, and Butler’s character—a structural engineer—must race against the clock to get himself and his family (Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd) to a secure shelter. The problem? They’re in Atlanta, the shelter is in Greenland, and there are like a billion obstacles standing between them and survival. Buckle up.
John McTiernan’s 1990 adaptation of the Tom Clancy Cold War novel is one of the very best studio action movies of its age, juggling multiple characters and a complex storyline without ever missing a trick. In his only outing as Jack Ryan, Alec Baldwin layers some entirely understandable notes of self-consciousness into Clancy’s everyman hero, while Sean Connery is all gruff conviction as Marko Ramius, the Soviet sub captain who’s either preparing to nuke America or defect to it. Really, the entire cast (which includes Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Stellan Skarsgård, Courtney B. Vance, a pre-GOP Fred Dalton Thompson, and half a dozen That Guy character actors) is perfectly on point in every role, and McTiernan—in concert with his Die Hard cinematographer, Jan de Bont—makes the whole thing flow like a symphony.
You know how you’ve been waiting for Rosamund Pike to re-embrace her inner amoral monster? It’s been far too long since Gone Girl; we deserve a treat. This arch thriller from writer-director J. Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) casts Pike as Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who preys on vulnerable senior citizens—dumping them into care homes, selling off their assets, and moving on to her next mark. And then, one day, she snares the wrong victim: a grandmotherly widow (Dianne Wiest) whose institutionalization leads her son (Peter Dinklage) to declare war on Marla. Also, as TIFF viewers can attest, this is a comedy.
Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens and Fast Color played long games with high-school movies and superhero tropes, using viewers’ expectations of those narratives against them. Her third feature remixes the '70s crime picture in much the same way, following a wife and mother (Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) who finds herself on the run as a result of her husband’s actions, forced to navigate a world she doesn’t understand. Brosnahan’s performance is unlike anything you’ve seen from her before, and the relatively unknown British actor Arinzé Kene (Crazyhead, Flacks) provides crackling support as the enigmatic criminal determined to keep her safe.
Aubrey Plaza gives a hell of a performance in Matt Spicer’s unnerving tale of an outsider who becomes an influencer, playing the eponymous social-media stalker who goes from trolling the Instagram of a Venice Beach photographer (Elisabeth Olsen) to insinuating herself into the lives of her quarry and her artist husband (Wyatt Russell). Before too long, she’s a guest in their home, and that’s when things get really complicated. Imagine the predatory tension of Single White Female crossed with the new-BFF energy of I Love You, Man, with unexpectedly textured performances from all concerned. No Time to Die’s Billy Magnussen is in there too, as is O’Shea Jackson as a screenwriter who channels all his creativity into his Batman obsession.
The new thriller from Hysteria director Tanya Wexler stars Kate Beckinsale as a woman who… You know what, we’re just going to quote the synopsis here: “due to a lifelong, rare neurological disorder, she experiences sporadic rage-filled, murderous impulses that can only be stopped when she shocks herself with a special electrode device.” And then she gets framed for her boyfriend’s murder, forcing her to go on the run to find the real killer and clear her name. Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, and Laverne Cox are all in it, hopefully having a good time, and after five Underworld movies, it’ll be nice to see Beckinsale do action stuff without all the dopey vampire-assassin trappings.
As Alanis Obomsawin marks 50 years of urgent, impassioned filmmaking, there’s no better time to revisit her 1993 doc Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, which chronicles the Mohawk standoff at Oka, Quebec, that lasted 78 days in the summer of 1990, bringing tensions between the local Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government to the boiling point. Obomsawin was there for all of it, capturing people on both sides of the conflict at their best and worst, and breaking up her reportage with social and historical context that explores the centuries of political betrayals and resentment that led to the current situation. Writer-director Tracey Deer’s Beans lightly fictionalizes the same events; Obomsawin’s film shows us that Deer isn’t exaggerating either the rage or the ugliness of the showdown in the slightest.
Both halves of Quentin Tarantino’s '70s-inflected revenge epic are tremendous popcorn entertainment—and both are currently streaming on Amazon—but the first half is the best half, following Uma Thurman’s entirely justified Bride as she begins her single-minded quest for vengeance, with David Carradine’s Bill glimpsed only in flashbacks or present as a disembodied voice for the devastating cliffhanger. It’s gloriously stylized action, with beautifully choreographed set pieces riffing on the pulpy Japanese gangster and samurai movies Tarantino gorged himself upon as a kid. The Bride gets more layered in the second volume, but there’s something truly wonderful about the economy of Thurman’s performance here: she’s simultaneously aware of the movie’s cartoonishness while playing things absolutely straight. And Lucy Liu has a blast matching her tone as formidable opponent O-Ren Ishii.
After the triumph of Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro reteamed for this sinister character study starring De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe comedian who becomes fixated on popular talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), which ultimately leads to Pupkin taking Langford hostage. Marketed as a comedy despite being not funny in the slightest—it’s really more of a companion piece to Taxi Driver—the movie is best known nowadays as the inspiration for about a third of Todd Phillips’s Joker, which tipped its hat by casting De Niro himself as the Jerry Langford character. But Joker doesn’t come close to capturing the seething sense of envy and desperation upon which The King Of Comedy is built. This is the real stuff.
Rian Johnson’s self-aware spin on the stuffy old Agatha Christie murder mystery is a delight from beginning to end, and it rewards repeat viewings, since you can just enjoy watching Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and Don Johnson rip into their roles (and each other) while Ana de Armas holds the centre—and our sympathy—as Marta, the understandably panicked nurse trying to stay one step ahead of Daniel Craig’s peacocking investigator, Benoit Blanc. Johnson has announced a sequel, hopefully revolving around the revelation that Blanc was really Joe Bang from Logan Lucky all along.
Robert Eggers’s delirious period drama is a study in simple character conflict, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two 19th-century lighthouse keepers going slowly mad on an unforgiving New England isle. Sure, it’s shot in black-and-white 35mm and framed in the squarish aspect ratio of the silent era, but after our shared pandemic experience, its concerns now seem entirely contemporary: time slows to a crawl, going outside doesn’t fix anything, and the other person’s habits are starting to grate on you. The saving grace is that The Lighthouse is a comedy, with Eggers milking Dafoe and Pattinson’s anti-chemistry for huge, weird laughs—and using that laughter to disarm us regarding his larger intentions with the narrative. Just enjoy the ride, and watch out for angry seagulls.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women might seem like just another generic costume drama—and yet another adaptation of the much-filmed Louisa May Alcott novel. It’s anything but. Recognizing that the novel’s Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is herself an aspiring writer, the director has made the movie self-reflexive, bookending the narrative to tell the tale about how Little Women itself was published. Gradually, through deft, psychologically weighty flashbacks that feel true to the way memories work, we get the story we know so well about Jo and her siblings’ attempts to forge identities while being raised by their tireless mother. This isn’t a cozy, sentimental movie but a fierce, angry look at the constraints on women during Alcott’s era—and, of course, our own.
The best entry in British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series, Lovers Rock is also one of the best dramatic movies about club culture. The movie methodically shows us the collective energy and labour that goes into throwing a blues party in '80s London and then ditches us in the middle of the dance floor—and the drama—like a fair-weather wingman. It’s a short, deliberately paced and richly atmospheric film that enjoyably elucidates how dancing can be a form of rebellion, personally and politically.
It seems strange that a filmmaker as distinctly American as James Gray would make a period drama about an Englishman who spent most of his life obsessed with finding the eponymous Amazonian ruin. Stranger still that it should result in the best film of his career, lacing an intimate character study into a sprawling old-school epic and finally giving Charlie Hunnam and Sienna Miller roles that make them feel like proper movie stars.
There are movies that disappoint; there are movies that underperform; and there are movies that flat-out bomb. In May of 2010, Will Forte and Jorma Taccone’s deadpan salute to the films of Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal revelled in their own clichés with none of that annoying ironic distance you get from 21st century action heroes—was deemed a failure, swept under the rug, and never spoken of again. Until the DVD came out, and people realized that Forte and Taccone—and Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe and Maya Rudolph and Val Kilmer and everyone else involved with this genius spoof of late '80s action cheese—had made a damn masterpiece. Don’t believe us? You have 10 seconds to hit play and find out.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 drama tells the story of a battle of wills between an unstable WWII veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charismatic writer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who claims to have discovered the cure for pretty much everything—as long as you do exactly what he says. Is it a fictionalization of L. Ron Hubbard’s development of Scientology? Some strange telepod fusion of John Ford’s WWII documentaries and Stanley Kubrick’s cinema of Earthbound alienation? Almost a decade later, The Master remains entirely its own thing, resisting all interpretations and explanations to focus almost exclusively on Phoenix’s sinewy performance and Hoffman’s megalomaniacal magnetism. Whatever Anderson is doing, just try to look away.
Set in the mid '80s, Lee Isaac Chung’s autobiographical drama follows a Korean family trying to start a farm in Arkansas. Named for the vegetable that flourishes in even the harshest of conditions, Minari is an unhurried, beautifully observed drama that invites us to live and breathe alongside its characters as they put down roots, worry about each other, and find their way through a culture utterly alien to them. Steven Yeun is flinty and charismatic as the driven father, and newcomer Alan S. Kim is a natural charmer as the young, impulsive David, who’s our guide to most of the drama. And while Chung doesn’t flinch from the darker aspects of this story, he always makes sure to show us where the light is.
Having put their Resident Evil series to bed, videogame-adaptation power couple Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich turn their attention to another beloved Capcom creation, the one where players hunt monsters in a supernatural dimension. Jovovich plays Natalie Artemis, an army Ranger pulled with her team into the New World; Tony Jaa is Hunter, a merciless, resourceful warrior who becomes her ally. Together, they hunt monsters while Anderson sets up a new franchise. One with monsters! And hunting! And Ron Perlman!
This jaw-dropping account of China’s birth-control policy deservedly won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance. Directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang impressively distill the major documentary genres of the past decade (memoir, investigative thriller, social history) into a film that lands like a gut punch. They capture the enormity of collective trauma in a variety of visual and emotional ways while posing difficult questions about nationalism and personal accountability versus structural conditions.
Regina King’s directorial debut—adapted from the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers—imagines an evening in the company of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) in February 1964, the night Clay beat Sonny Liston and became the world heavyweight champion. It’s an examination of celebrity, social responsibility, and identity—as well as politics—played out between four Black cultural figures who understood one another’s circumstances as few others could.
Benjamin Ree’s documentary about Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova and Norwegian addict Karl-Bertil Nordland—who in 2015 broke into an Oslo gallery with another man and stole two of Kysilkova’s best-known works in broad daylight—was one of the highlights of Hot Docs in 2020. It’s a gripping, thorny look at empathy and transference, framed through the bond that develops between an artist and her subject, neither of whom can quite articulate the nature of their relationship as it evolves over the three years Ree spends shooting them.
Palm Springs is a time-loop movie about a young woman named Sarah (Cristin Milioti) who gets stuck repeating the day of her sister’s wedding, over and over and over again. Worse, she’s stuck in there with Nyles (Andy Samberg), who’s been trapped in the loop for so long that he’s resigned to his fate. Nyles has no patience for Sarah’s existential horror; Sarah has no patience for Nyles’s over-it attitude. And the movie is a love story—a little gem of a romantic comedy, as well as a really clever variation on the Groundhog Day genre. Palm Springs could have been a fun little diversion, but it evolves into something so much more: a movie about relationships and commitment and about growing with someone—and what it takes to choose to be a better person when the world doesn’t really care what you do.
When people talk about Joel and Ethan Coen’s best films, this 2009 comedy rarely comes up—but it should. It’s the brothers’ most personal work, a clockwork farce built upon the premise that it might be possible for a mathematician to understand the mind of God and rooted in the Minnesota Jewish culture of their childhood. Michael Stuhlbarg is human punching bag Larry Gopnik, a put-upon academic whose entire world comes crashing down on him over the course of one awful week in 1967.
Imagine a world where depression is a contagious disease that overcomes even the most high-strung members of society. That’s the simple yet surprisingly hilarious premise of Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow, an extremely dry comedy that uses clever shifts in perspective to heighten tension. The movie often feels like it is taking place underwater and is comprised of long, loaded pauses that give us lots of time to drink in Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams’ subtly expressive performances.
Elisabeth Moss is a literary terror in director Josephine Decker’s fictional account of a specific period in the life of horror author Shirley Jackson. Best known for the New Yorker short story The Lottery, Shirley doesn’t exactly fit the gender-role expectations of the 1950s, and when a younger couple (Odessa Young, Logan Lerman) turn up, invited by her professor husband (Michael Stuhlbarg), the stage is set for a full-tilt dive into the writer’s interior life that finds Moss at her most unpredictable (coming off Her Smell, that’s saying something). Making a move to bigger-budget territory, Decker upends typical biopic conventions, exploring the couple’s relationship with a wild energy and intimate granularity.
Martin Scorsese’s elegant, deliberately paced adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s novel (which was previously filmed by Masahiro Shinoda in 1971) stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Rodrigues and Garrpe, Portuguese Jesuits circa 1640 who travel to Japan in search of their vanished mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Garfield is revelatory as a naïve, prideful priest willing to sacrifice anything to stand on principle, but Issei Ogata (Yi Yi, Tony Takitani) is just as compelling as the Imperial inquisitor who becomes his nemesis: a man with unlimited patience and terrifying resolve. It’s a study of faith from the inside out, made by a man who’s far less certain about things than he used to be. And five years after its release, Silence feels like the crowning achievement of Scorsese’s career.
Director Joe Penna and editor Ryan Morrison made a splash with their Mads Mikkelsen survival drama Arctic. Now, they’re bringing their knack for tense, terse storytelling into space. Scarborough’s own Shamier Anderson—whom you may have seen in Wynonna Earp and Destroyer—stars as a NASA launch-support engineer who is accidentally included on a Mars mission that’ll take two years to complete; Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, and Toni Collette are the astronauts who weren’t expecting a fourth crew member. And, no, that’s not the only twist Penna and Morrison have up their sleeves.
Garrett Bradley’s documentary captures the emotional rippling-out effect of mass incarceration. The film is an intimate profile of the charismatic Sibil Richardson, a Louisiana woman who is fighting to get her husband, Rob, released from a 60-year prison sentence for armed robbery (in which no one was hurt). But while she makes daily phone calls and advocates for prison abolition at speaking events, life continues. The Richardson family presents a strong, upwardly mobile front, but behind closed doors there is a lot of pain. Bradley uses slow zooms, a leisurely, jazzy piano score, and black-and-white photography to show time is experienced differently by some people. It’s a sharp and empathetic family portrait that subtly asks profound philosophical questions.
Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan is the best fast-zombie picture since the Dawn of the Dead remake. It has a particularly high concept: almost the entire film takes place on a speeding train travelling from Seoul to Busan, and its focus is on a handful of passengers trying to survive an outbreak already in progress. Director Yeon efficiently establishes his characters, using instantly recognizable pairings—a workaholic father (Gong Yoo) and his young daughter, an expectant couple—to map out the conflicting motives that will drive his human drama. Visually, the action is exaggerated without ever tipping over into cartoonishness. Complications arise, panic escalates, and things go terribly wrong in just the right way.
Chris McKay’s time-bending action adventure is basically Terminator in reverse, with soldiers from the year 2050 arriving in 2022 to warn us that the Earth of their time has been overtaken by alien chomp monsters, and only present-day humanity can stop them—by travelling to the future and joining the battle. Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Sam Richardson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Mike Mitchell, Betty Gilpin, and an extremely jacked J.K. Simmons come at their fairly straightforward genre roles from unexpected angles, and the action sequences are clever and engaging. And, of course, there are the chomp monsters. You can’t go wrong with chomp monsters.
The actor Val Kilmer has been recording himself over the course of his entire life, accumulating hundreds of hours of footage on every film and video format imaginable. Organized into a feature-length narrative by directors Leo Scott and Poo Ting, and written and produced by Kilmer himself with his son Jack reading his father’s words in voiceover (Val’s own vocal cords are no longer up to the job), it’s a film of startling intimacy. All actors age on film, of course, but there’s something powerful about one specific actor owning his own deterioration. Kilmer was a singularly beautiful man in the first decade of his career, but he was also savvy enough about it to choose roles that pushed back against his built-in packaging. And in clips pulled from a lifetime of performance, we see that self-awareness over and over again, shaped in a tragic arc—but one that’s not self-pitying.
Yeah, yeah, Joaquin Phoenix won his Oscar for Joker, but his definitive performance as a broken soul who finds purpose in violence arrived a year earlier as the hero of Lynne Ramsay’s deconstructed revenge movie. Ramsay’s oblique adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s more straightforward novella about a finder of lost children infuses standard action beats with queasy dread and an unnerving ambiguity; more often than not, the worst things happen just off-screen, where we can conjure our own awful visuals to accompany the sounds of Phoenix’s trusty ball-peen hammer.
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