The Bell Media-owned platform brings a handful of different Canadian and American TV and movie brands services together under one streaming service. Essentially, that means there’s a big selection of mainstream fare: original HBO and HBO Max movies, buzzy new releases with awards cache, as well as an extensive back catalogue of Hollywood classics and Canadian indies. There are so many iconic films to choose from so for this list that we’re not even trying to be definitive. We’ve selected a mix of recent gems and older favourites that we like. You should note that quite a few of these movies require an additional subscription to Starz. We’ll update this list monthly as new titles arrive on the platform and older ones leave.
Update (November 1, 2021): This post was updated with Casino Royale and Munich.
It’s weird how The A-Team has sort of fallen between the cracks in Joe Carnahan’s filmography: it’s one of the better expressions of his frantic, explodey, dudes-rock action deal, and Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper are having a ball blowing up everything in sight while Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Sharlto Copley yell at each other in the background. You know the story: Army covert-ops unit is framed for a crime they didn’t commit, break out of military prison to clear their names and end up levelling pretty much every location they visit. But an A-Team movie doesn’t really need to do much else, does it? We’re there for the one-liners and the occasional flying tank, and everybody knows it. Requires Starz subscription
Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy plays out over one frenzied night in the life of an unassuming New York word processor (Griffin Dunne), who ventures downtown to see a nice woman (Rosanna Arquette) and finds himself trapped in a nonstop parade of weird encounters with characters played by Linda Fiorentino, Verna Bloom, Catherine O’Hara—in one of her very first big-screen roles—and Cheech and Chong. And three and a half decades later, Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography of pre-gentrification SoHo makes the movie feel like it’s set on an alien world. Requires Starz subscription
All My Life
In a perfect world, this true-life tale of romance, tragedy and crowdfunding would have been a huge Christmas hit. Instead, Marc Meyers’s unabashed studio weepie never had a chance to build the world of mouth that would have attracted audiences, and it sank into VOD oblivion. But now the true story of Toronto couple Jenn Carter and Sol Chau—whose friends launched an online campaign to pay for their 2015 dream wedding when Sol was diagnosed with aggressive liver cancer—has another chance to catch your eye as you scroll through the new releases. Jessica Rothe (the Happy Death Day movies) and Harry Shum Jr. (Crazy Rich Asians) are charming as hell as instant soulmates whose connection sustains them through an unimaginable challenge, and the movie becomes a celebration of the life they could have made… if they’d only had more time.
An American Pickle
In 1919, Brooklyn pickle-factory worker Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) falls into a brining barrel, where he lies perfectly preserved for a century—resurfacing 100 years later to a very different world, where his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen) is his only surviving family. Simon Rich’s generational fish-out-of-water tale mixes some fun commentary on hipster America’s obsession with artisanal frippery and social-media meltdowns into a deeper, sadder story about loss and faith. Actor/producer Rogen takes to the whimsical premise surprisingly well, giving two distinct and fully felt performances as Herschel and Ben… even when the movie moves a little too quickly to really let us savour them.
Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen—who last collaborated in 2012’s unnerving drama The Hunt—reunite for a slightly looser but no less powerful story about four high school teachers (Mikkelsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang and Vinterberg mainstay Thomas Bo Larsen) who decide to see if their careers and relationships would be better if they maintained a minimum blood-alcohol level of 0.05%. The answer may not surprise anyone, but the path to it is both very funny and very grim, with the quartet adapting to their state of constant inebriation with varying levels of success. Vinterberg is an old hand at spinning awkward human moments into explosive comedy or soul-freezing dread, as the situation depends, and this story gives him the opportunity to do a little of both—and Mikkelsen turns down his quicksilver charisma to blend into the ensemble, until it all comes pouring out of him in a brilliant, and brilliantly ambiguous, final dance number. This year’s Oscar winner for best international film—and rightly so.
Ryan White’s documentary tells the jaw-dropping story of two women who unwittingly assassinated the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Malaysia’s international airport in broad daylight in 2017. The killing made international headlines, but the complicated story that unfolded next wasn’t covered as intensely. Exactly how these women (originally from Vietnam and Indonesia) became ensnared in an elaborate murder plot encompasses economic disparity, exploitation and diplomatic intrigue.
At Eternity’s Gate
Julian Schnabel’s look at the final years of Vincent van Gogh’s life stars Willem Dafoe as the Impressionist master, and the fact that the actor is a good 25 years older than van Gogh was when he died is a risky choice that pays off beautifully: Dafoe seems to reflect the extra wear of Vincent’s life, a man scraped raw by poverty and drink but incapable of doing anything other than making art. It’s one of the actor’s finest performances, which is really saying something, and Schnabel showcases it by structuring his film as a series of conversations between the deteriorating Vincent and his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), his contemporary Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) and, ultimately, a solicitous priest (Mads Mikkelsen) at the sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There have been plenty of movies about Vincent van Gogh; it’s starting to feel like this one might be the best.
Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s antic, absurdist comedy about two Midwestern BFFs whose impulsive Florida getaway lands them smack in the middle of a Bond-level revenge plot is positively filled with good-natured foolishness, as its naive heroes fumble through some moderate self-actualization and also fall into a love triangle with the lovelorn henchman (Jamie Dornan) of a supervillain (Wiig again, styled like a zombie Vera Farmiga) bent on unleashing a plague on the peninsula. There are musical numbers and talking animals and absolutely pointless digressions that are just there because writer/stars Wiig and Mumolo and director Josh Greenbaum are out to entertain themselves and hopefully everyone else.
Writer/director Mike Mills’s semiautobiographical drama stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a struggling artist whose life is complicated even further when his aging father Hal—recently widowed, and newly diagnosed with terminal cancer—decides to finally come out of the closet and live his truth for all it’s worth. Plummer won his only Oscar for his performance as Hal—at the age of 82—and rightly so; it’s a role perfectly suited to the actor’s habit of undermining his stentorian presence with a wink or an unexpected grin. McGregor’s pretty good too, as is Mélanie Laurent as Anna, an actor who eventually helps Hal regain his equilibrium.
Best In Show
Christopher Guest’s 2000 improvised mockumentary about competing dog breeders might not be his best work – that’s clearly A Mighty Wind, which has songs as well as jokes—but it’s the one where Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy are clearly having the most fun yes-anding each other’s ideas. Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of other very talented people around—Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Fred Willard and Guest himself—but there’s just something so perfect about watching former SCTV co-stars and future Schitt’s Creek Emmy winners just riff off one another with practiced ease and genuine affection. Don’t believe us? Just watch them.
Aubrey Plaza delivers the most archly calibrated and unpredictable performance of her career in this joyously nasty and sharply written movie. She plays a filmmaker looking for inspiration who visits a privileged artistic couple (Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon) living in a cottage in the Adirondack Mountains. What ensues could be described as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle meets millennial narcissism as the trio proceed to manipulate each other’s insecurities to benefit their creative endeavours. Director Lawrence Michael Levine keeps the audience on their toes, shifting from melodrama to metasatire to slapstick to thriller and back again.
The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open
The brief and harrowing encounter between the two Indigenous women depicted in The Body Remembers is based on co-director’s Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers experience with a pregnant woman escaping abuse. Áila (co-director Tailfeathers) comes from privilege and Rosie (Violet Nelson) from the foster care system. But both are burdened by history and trauma, which recent headlines remind are not so far behind us. Their time spent together, seemingly shot in a propulsive and immediate single take (the edits are carefully hidden), is fleeting, but it has a profound and lasting impact.
Sweet, goofy and unapologetically crass, Paul Feig’s blockbuster farce is built on a solid foundation of human psychology, thanks to the finely honed screenplay by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Wiig stars in the film as Annie, a Milwaukee baker whose life has hit a rough patch that’s made even worse by the impending marriage of her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Even as the situations grow increasingly cartoonish—like the infamous food-poisoning sequence—Bridesmaids paints a credible portrait of a woman in crisis. But it’s also an ensemble piece, with Wiig sharing scenes with Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Jon Hamm, Chris O’Dowd, Matt Lucas and a ferocious Melissa McCarthy—nabbing her first Oscar nomination for a performance that catapulted her onto the comedy A-list. Ten years later, it’s still wildly funny.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Helen Fielding’s sly reworking of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice was a massive literary hit, and its audience was mortified at the announcement that Texas-born Renée Zellweger would be playing the very English lead. But Zellweger’s entirely convincing as the self-doubting singleton, who finds herself caught between the recessive Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and the rakish Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) over a very chaotic year. Don’t worry so much about the sequels. They don’t count. Requires Starz subscription
The Broken Hearts Gallery
Veteran television writer Natalie Krinsky (Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy) makes her directorial debut with this charmer starring Geraldine Viswanathan as a young woman who compulsively collects mementoes of her past relationships—and winds up inviting others to display their own artifacts alongside them in a pop-up gallery. Krinsky surrounds the gifted Viswanathan with a charming supporting cast—including Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo, Broad City’s Arturo Castro and current SNL breakout Ego Nwodim—and throws in Dacre Montgomery as an aspiring hotelier who definitely wouldn’t break her heart if she’d just give him a chance. And though it’s set in New York City, you’ll have fun spotting all the Toronto locations and day players, like The Beaverton’s Emma Hunter and —’ Tricia Black.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Even if you don’t know the first thing about author Lee Israel’s short-lived but very lucrative side hustle as a literary forger, the magnificent performances of Melissa McCarthy (as Israel) and Richard E. Grant (as the aging hustler who becomes her accomplice and enabler) are reason enough to take a chance on Marielle Heller’s acidic biopic. Throw in the vivid re-creation of early 90s Manhattan, the barbed brilliance of Nicole Holofcener’s dialogue and vivid supporting turns from Dolly Wells and Jane Curtin, and you’ve got plenty of reason to catch up to one of 2018’s most overlooked movies. Requires Starz subscription
Now that Daniel Craig’s wrapped up his tenure as James Bond, it’s a fine time to revisit his 2006 introduction to the series – which remains one of the franchise’s best movies, full stop. Not only does Craig’s terse, brutal performance bring Bond back to Ian Fleming’s original conception, but he’s surrounded by unpredictable supporting players like Eva Green (as 007’s doomed love Vesper Lynd), Jeffrey Wright (as his CIA pal Felix Leiter) and Mads Mikkelsen (as his blood-weeping adversary Le Chiffre). Director Martin Campbell, who helmed Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond adventure GoldenEye, delivers an entirely different sort of Bond film, with action sequences that feel more grounded and immediate (thanks, Jason Bourne!) and an active interest in the psychology of its hero. Also, Judi Dench reprises her icy M from the Pierce Brosnan era, which messes up the continuity but hey, it’s Judi Dench. Of course you’d ask her back.
David Cronenberg’s Cannes-wowing, Ted Turner-scandalizing 1996 adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel might not be the filmmaker’s best picture—that’s probably Dead Ringers, or maybe A History Of Violence—but it’s definitely his purest, using a new cinematic language to reduce Ballard’s narrative to a series of sex scenes. There’s conventional dialogue, too, but none of it really matters; all the communication is conveyed through who’s doing what to whom, and how, with James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas and Deborah Kara Unger literally feeling their way through the story. A quarter of a century on, it still holds a perverse thrill. Requires Starz subscription
The Death Of Stalin
Perhaps the funniest movie ever made about Soviet regime change, Armando Iannucci’s barbed comedy—based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin—reimagines the chaos within the Soviet Central Committee before, during and after the eponymous event. A ballet of desperate quislings and backstabbers—among them Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Pali—scramble to fill the power vacuum while Stalin’s adult children (Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend) run around making things worse in the background. And somehow Jason Isaacs walks away with the whole picture.
Dog Day Afternoon
Sidney Lumet’s quintessential New York City picture—fictionalizing the incredible true story of a botched Brooklyn bank robbery that turned into a prolonged hostage situation on a stiflingly hot August day—features remarkable work from Al Pacino and John Cazale as the hapless crooks, Charles Durning as the exhausted cop trying to end the siege and Chris Sarandon as a civilian with a very specific connection to the case. And the treatment of Sarandon’s character is remarkably progressive for a movie almost half a century old. Requires Starz subscription
Empire Of The Sun
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel—with a young Christian Bale as his on-screen avatar Jim Graham, a British child separated from his parents in the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1941 and forced to survive on his own—was considered a disappointment on its release in 1987, failing to rack up the box-office or the Oscar nominations of The Color Purple two years earlier. But it’s easily the superior work, with Spielberg setting his instincts for emotional manipulation aside and just telling the story straight, letting the remarkably talented Bale convey the feeling of the piece with his eyes alone—ably supported by John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers and a baby-faced Joe Pantoliano, among others. Requires Starz subscription
Thirty-five years after its release, David Cronenberg’s mournful, operatic remake of the 1950s sci-fi programmer can be considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made, taking a pulpy story about a scientist whose atoms are remixed with a housefly’s in a botched teleportation experiment and turning it into the tragedy of new love destroyed by cruel illness, with real-life couple Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis playing out what would have been their worst nightmare as his untreatable malady turns him into someone (and, thanks to Chris Walas’s Oscar-winning makeup effects, something) unrecognizable and alien.
Actually, that should be Gojira—because that’s the original Japanese title of Toho landmark monster movie, before it was redubbed, renamed and slashed to ribbons by its American distributor. Crave has the recent Criterion Collection restoration in its library, which means you get to experience the film as Ishiro Honda originally intended: as a movie soaked in the dread and grief of a nation still recovering from the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or you could just watch it for the creature effects, of course. Requires Starz subscription.
The Good German
At that time of this writing, Crave is streaming 13 of Steven Soderbergh’s features (as well as Mosaic and The Knick). This is one that no one ever talks about: a 2006 noir with George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire that Soderbergh made with the same technical restrictions that Bogart and Bergman’s Casablanca had in the early 40s. It’s not good, exactly, but it’s fascinating—and for one reason or another, it’s become really hard to find. But here it is. Check it out. Requires Starz subscription
Spanning decades in the life of one Henry Hill, a small-time member of a lightly fictionalized New York City mob family, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece ranks with The Godfather for grand, expansive American crime cinema—though the nervous energy Scorsese brings to the action makes sure there’s no crossover with Francis Ford Coppola’s legacy. (Henry surely loves The Godfather as much as Tony Soprano does.) Scorsese’s show-and-tell approach to his subject – which he’d use again in Casino, The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Irishman—is so enthralling we hardly notice the way Ray Liotta’s rabbity enthusiasm as Henry curdles gradually into misery over the course of the picture, as his friendships with hair-trigger sociopath Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and calculating monster Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) come at a heavy cost. Which, of course, is the point. Requires Starz subscription
In The Same Breath
Nanfu Wang takes viewers inside Wuhan’s hospitals, ambulances and crematoriums during the city’s coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown that stunned the world in January 2020. Working remotely with a group of local cinematographers, the filmmaker calls into question China’s official death toll and many other official lines, but also shows the way propaganda spreads like a kind of virus to undermine public health and health-care workers. She also questions her own assumptions about the American response to COVID, drawing damning and sadly ironic parallels between the two government responses.
Judas And The Black Messiah
In less skilful hands, Judas And The Black Messiah could play like hollow Oscar bait, a tragedy of Black lives manipulated by cynical white authority in a less enlightened time. Instead, director/co-writer Shaka King’s powerhouse drama about the complicity of FBI informant William O’Neal (played by LaKeith Standfield) in the 1969 murder of Fred Hampton (an Oscar-winning Daniel Kaluuya), a charismatic community organizer with the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, keeps subtly drawing parallels to the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement, showing us how little has changed in the ensuing half-century.
Miranda July’s sly comedy about a family of small-time crooks living a principled life off the grid who are nonetheless obsessed with money is full of philosophical questions and complex layers. Bouncing along on snappy dialogue and muted pastels, Kajillionaire cleverly uses mise en scène, symbolism and sight gags to pose deeper questions about values and the ways our parents shape our worldview. The movie follows Evan Rachel Wood’s stuck-in-a-rut character as a relationship with a new friend (Gina Rodriguez) allows her to see her scheming parents (Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger) in a new light. The final climactic shot is a head-trip.
The Kid Detective
An unexpected entry on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten for 2020, Evan Morgan’s genuinely weird character study stars Adam Brody as an embittered former small-town prodigy out to prove himself by solving a murder. It plays like a custody battle between Wes Anderson and David Lynch as Brody’s deeply broken Abe Appelbaum slouches through life, drinking and fighting, until a teenager (Sophie Nélisse) hires him to prove her boyfriend’s death wasn’t an overdose. Morgan, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-edited The Dirties with Matt Johnson, is fascinated by the idea of a grown-up Encyclopedia Brown forced to confront the limits of his childhood genius, and Brody finds an endless number of tragic notes in the character of Abe, still in denial over a past tragedy he wasn’t equipped to solve.
Named the quintessential Toronto movie by NOW in January 2014, Don McKellar’s 1998 comedy-drama—which takes place over the last six hours of human existence—has only grown in stature in the ensuing years. It’s a deadpan apocalypse with an amazing cast: McKellar and Sandra Oh play the leads, with Sarah Polley, Tracy Wright, David Cronenberg, Callum Keith Rennie, and Geneviève Bujold in key supporting roles. And in its vision of a city slouching glumly towards the end of everything, it captures something very specific about the way Canadians see themselves, and how we want to believe we’ll try to be decent to each other, even at the end. Requires Starz subscription
Let Them All Talk
Steven Soderbergh and Meryl Streep followed 2019’s The Laundromat with this lighter and considerably less problematic project, with Streep starring as celebrated author Alice Hughes, who takes the Queen Mary II to pick up a literary prize in England, bringing along her nephew (Lucas Hedges) and two old friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest)—and decades’ worth of baggage. Soderbergh amuses himself by shooting aboard the QMII during an actual crossing and treating the ship like one of his Ocean’s casinos, fixating on angles in the architecture and patterns in carpet design. As always, his technical choices are inventive and perfectly suited to the subject matter—but he’s also hiding the story’s real dramatic arc in plain sight, and it’s one that pays off surprisingly well.
While everyone else was learning how to make sourdough, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anne Hathaway, screenwriter Steven Knight, and director Doug Liman went off and shot a London heist picture for HBO Max, telling the story of a couple who broke up just before COVID reached the UK, and ended up trapped together for months; their jobs put them in the perfect position to steal a very valuable diamond from Harrod’s, so that’s what they set out to do. Ejiofor and Hathaway find a complementary energy that’s so engaging you wish someone would cast them in a proper screwball comedy; maybe now that everyone’s looking for non-pandemic content, that might even happen.
Logan Lucky broke Steven Soderbergh’s self-imposed directing exile in 2017 and plays like a celebration of his strengths. You’ve got charming actors playing well-drawn characters (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as squabbling brothers plotting to rob a North Carolina speedway, and Daniel Craig as a hayseed explosives expert), exquisitely orchestrated storytelling and the willingness to give the audience credit for being able to follow the plot while appreciating weird little jokes and observations peppered throughout. By the time Hilary Swank turns up as a federal agent who thinks she’s Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, you’re either on board or you walked away an hour ago. Either way, Soderbergh wins. Requires Starz subscription
Stephen Sommers’s 1999 adventure comedy owes as much to Raiders Of The Lost Ark as it does to Universal’s classic Boris Karloff-in-bandages creeper – and the one that shows us just how much fun it is to watch Brendan Fraser punch digital monsters while romancing Rachel Weisz. To revisit The Mummy after more than 20 years is to remember what heedless fantasy action can feel like; there are moments when the movie itself feels like it knows it shouldn’t be getting away with something so silly. We’re invited to share in the glee of Weisz’s bookish Evie discovering her inner action hero, and the bemused tenderness emerging in Fraser’s confident adventurer Rick O’Connell as he figures out he’s falling in love with her. Requires Starz subscription
Steven Spielberg made two movies about 9/11 in 2005: War Of The Worlds, which interprets the terror of America under attack through an alien-invasion lens, and this gripping drama about the Israeli response to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team. Eric Bana is Avner, a Mossad operative charged with assembling a team (among them Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler and a pre-Bond Daniel Craig) to hunt down 11 Palestinians tied to the attack—an assignment that leads them into increasingly murky moral waters. Tony Kushner and Eric Roth’s script leaves plenty of room for debate about whether revenge can ever be truly righteous, and Spielberg refuses to soften any of the truly terrible things his heroes do in the pursuit of their enemies. The result remains one of the most haunting films of the director’s later career—yes, even with that ending.
Writer/director Sean Durkin finally follows up on the promise of his 2011 cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene with this story of an 80s family who move from the U.S. to the UK when dad (Jude Law) gets a business opportunity in London—only to find that living in a remote mansion in leafy Surrey isn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds. The kids (Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell) have trouble adjusting to their new schools, and mom (a magnificently controlled Carrie Coon) suffers a series of unpleasant setbacks. Durkin adopts the oppressive visual style of late 70s/early 80s horror like The Legacy or The Changeling, with an additional disconnect created by the fact that most of this very English film was shot in the GTA. But The Nest isn’t exactly a horror movie; rather, it’s another intense, unnerving look at true believers and the chaos they leave in their wake.
No Sudden Move
In 50s Detroit, an ex-convict (Don Cheadle) looking for a quick score takes a job holding an accountant’s family hostage—but when things go sideways, he and another mug (Benicio Del Toro) have to figure out what went wrong… and who set them up to take the fall. Screenwriter Ed Solomon and director Steven Soderbergh—whose HBO miniseries Mosaic is also streaming on Crave—use a riff on the Humphrey Bogart thriller The Desperate Hours to launch into a more sophisticated thriller with strategies playing out across racial, political and socioeconomic lines. But it’s Cheadle’s picture from start to finish, his wary, electric presence perfectly suited to the role of a man trying to find an exploitable angle in a scheme he only barely understands.
An elegant dramatization of Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book about working-class Americans of a certain age who’ve reinvented themselves as itinerant workers, chasing seasonal work around the American West, Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as Fern, whose perspective we share as she hits the road in her white panel van. In Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider, Chloé Zhao cast non-professionals as versions of themselves and placed them within fictional narratives that diverged from their own histories. With McDormand at the centre of Nomadland, it all snaps together: the two-time Oscar winner (who won a third for this performance) shares the frame with literally dozens of non-professionals over the course of the film—some of whom appear in Bruder’s book, others who just seem to have wandered in from the parking lot next door—and in every single moment, McDormand is utterly, achingly present: listening to them, encouraging them, matching their specific rhythms, all without ever breaking character. It’s a stunning technical performance hidden in plain sight in the best film of 2020. Movies + HBO
North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock’s most purely pleasurable movie stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a Manhattan ad executive who finds himself at the centre of an elaborate espionage case. It’s basically a proto-Bond movie with a total amateur in the lead instead of a veteran agent, as scheming heavies James Mason and Martin Landau chase Grant across America while actual spy Eva Marie Saint does her best to keep him in harm’s way. It’s all about flushing out the real villains, who—you know what, never mind. Explaining it would just spoil the fun. Requires Starz subscription
Released in theatres on Valentine’s Day 2020, Stella Meghie’s proper adult romance stars LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae as bona fide big-screen movie stars, firing sparks at one another as two New Yorkers who find each other thanks to a decades-old photograph and a few twists of fate. Meghie, the Toronto-raised director whose previous credits include Jean Of The Joneses, Everything Everything and The Weekend, establishes her stars’ chemistry and just gets out of the way: when we saw the movie this time last year, we were pleasantly surprised by Meghie’s willingness to treat the audience like adults, taking her time with the storytelling and just enjoying the moments where her characters truly see each other and forge a connection. Meghie discussed it with NOW’s Norm Wilner in this interview, and talked about a few other things besides, but honestly? Just watch her movie. You’ll get it.
David Twohy’s low-budget sci-fi/horror hybrid about a crashed spaceship is arguably more important to Vin Diesel’s movie-star trajectory than the cars-and-robbers picture Diesel made around the same time. It’s much smarter, for one thing, and Twohy imbues Diesel’s natural surliness with some complexity, casting him as a spacefaring anti-hero named Riddick, whose ability to see in the dark makes him just the right person to help the survivors of that crashed ship survive a planetful of hungry aliens. Turn off the lights, turn up the sound and enjoy the ride. Requires Starz subscription
Rhymes For Young Ghouls
Jeff Barnaby’s first feature follows 70s teenager Alia (Reservation Dogs star Devery Jacobs, in her breakout performance) as she’s ripped from her rez in Northern Quebec and sent to a residential school by a local cop abusing his authority. Barnaby gives the school scenes the surreal texture of a nightmare, as if he’s showing us how Alia will eventually remember her experience: it’s hallucinatory and disorienting, like a bad dream she can’t shake off. When she gets back home, everyone knows exactly what she’s been through; the whole film is steeped in collective trauma. For those of us on the outside, the knowledge that the residential school programs are coming to an end is no comfort at all; as Barnaby told NOW’s Norm Wilner in 2014, Canada just moved its indifference into other programs.
Produced before the pandemic—it screened at TIFF in 2019—Neasa Hardiman’s nautical riff on the isolation horror of Alien and The Thing found new relevance once COVID hit, as the crew of an Irish trawler picks up a deadly infestation, and a marine biologist (We Hunt Together’s Hermione Corfield) insists they quarantine themselves to avoid bringing it back to shore. Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott and Olwen Fouéré co-star.
Emma Seligman’s breakout farce is a study in managed chaos starring Rachel Sennott as Danielle, a grad student who’s fidgety and adrift, sleeping with sugar daddies for cash she doesn’t seem to need. And today she’ll be spending the afternoon at a shiva in Brooklyn, where her hovering parents (Polly Draper, Fred Melamed) hope she’ll land an internship or a boyfriend. Instead, she will have to juggle both her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) and the client Danielle slept with earlier that morning (Danny Deferrari)… along with the wife and baby he somehow neglected to mention. Seligman and Sennott mine a great deal of uncomfortable comedy from the collision of Danielle’s personal, professional and private worlds, Sennott and Gordon have chemistry to burn and the world Seligman builds out around Danielle feels suffocatingly authentic. Even if it has the wrong kind of party sandwiches.
George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh made a number of pictures together—Out Of Sight, the Ocean’s trilogy, The Good German—but this is one of their best, an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi head trip that backgrounds the awe and wonder of a voyage to a planet that can bring the dead back to life (sort of) to focus on the emotional dilemma of the man at its centre, a psychologist sent to investigate strange events on a space station orbiting that planet who finds himself given another chance to connect with his late wife (Natascha McElhone). It’s a quiet masterpiece, and Clooney’s as good as he’s ever been. Turn the lights down, shut off your phone, and let it flow over you. Requires Starz subscription
Brian Duffield’s gory, giddy high-school comedy arrived almost unnoticed last fall, lost in a swarm of generic-looking VOD releases. But it’s an absolute gem, a sweet and sharp-edged adaptation of Aaron Starmer’s novel about a class of ordinary New Jersey seniors who experience an inexplicable, unpredictable plague of “popping” – bursting like balloons without warning. Whip-smart Mara (Knives Out’s Katherine Langford) understandably resents being forced to confront her mortality quite so soon—and quite so literally—until her shy classmate Dylan (Charlie Plummer) turns the crisis into an opportunity to tell her he’s in love with her. The intensity of teen romance has never had a better metaphor, really.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
Based on Michael Davis’s book, this HBO documentary from Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom) charts the history and evolution of the landmark children’s television show, mixing priceless behind-the-scenes footage with contemporary interviews with the surviving cast and creators—and their children. Did you know Sesame Street was funded by the U.S. government as a project to make educational television diverse, inclusive and engaging? Did you know they hated it in the South? Did you know that the Stevie Wonder counting song that’s been bouncing around your head for most of your life came from the show? All of this is true, and in telling the story, Agrelo fulfills the most important mission of Sesame Street: she makes learning fun.
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison find an unlikely connection in Nikole Beckwith’s gentle two-hander about the friendship that blossoms between an older single guy and the 26-year-old woman he hires as his gestational surrogate. Helms is well-cast, but Harrison – a rising writer and performer who exploded as a comic force last year on Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave—gets a part that makes full use of her spiky, hyperalert energy. But this isn’t, strictly speaking, a comedy: it’s a smart drama about two lonely souls who drift into a supportive, moving friendship without ever becoming a couple.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s intelligent, intimate adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after losing both her marriage and her mother. I don’t think Reese Witherspoon’s ever been better than she is here, showing us Cheryl’s determination in unexpected flashes while never playing down her constant weariness and exhaustion—and her capacity for awe at the American landscape as showcased beautifully by cinematographer Yves Bélanger. Vallée’s editorial rhythms are perfectly in sync with his star, moving back and forth in time to show us why she’s carrying the weight that she is. Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother in some flashbacks, is also terrific. Requires Starz subscription
The Wolf Of Snow Hollow
Jim Cummings writes, directs and stars in movies about overmatched men in extreme situations, changing genres and tones as he sees fit. In The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, Cummings goes for snowbound horror-comedy, casting himself as a deputy in a small mountain town doing his best to solve a spate of violent murders without acknowledging that the carnage sure looks like the work of a werewolf. Cummings’s knack for angry puzzlement gets a proper workout here, as his flailing hero and his long-suffering partner (Riki Lindholme) attempt to balance a complex investigation for which he is entirely unprepared with his responsibilities to his aging father (Robert Forster)… who also happens to be his boss. We won’t discuss the plot any further, but… it’s kind of a masterpiece? Bong Joon-ho would be proud of the tonal shifts, anyhow.
There were no changes to this lineup in December 2021.