I miss movie theatres. I miss the popcorn smell, and the needlessly cold atmosphere, and the eternity of ads and trailers before you even get to the opening credits. When the movie theatres reopen I will return with unwavering loyalty, but in the absence of their excitement, streaming is a comfortable replacement that we are lucky to have, and gives you a wealth of options.
With Kanopy and Beamafilm, the streaming services freely available to library users, you can find films that are a little off the beaten track, but similar or supplementary enough to be a welcome alternative for the blockbusters that have been recently delayed. And if now isn’t the time to unearth a movie you’ve never considered, maybe never even heard of, when is?
The Lovebirds / Charade
Regular, unsuspecting people being hooked into dangerous and convoluted schemes is one of my favourite movie tropes, so the comedy crime caper The Lovebirds was driving straight up my alley. This subgenre has had a bit of a revival in the past decade, but no era did it quite like the 60s, with Charade enduring as one of the best. It pairs up the blinding star power of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant to lead a twisty escapade involving a murdered husband and his stolen fortune. Hepburn blends glamour and wit so effortlessly that it shouldn’t be fair, and Grant oozes just enough charm to make you forget that he’s 25 years older than his love interest.
Black Widow / La femme Nikita
It may not have the action or spectacle of Marvel’s long-awaited and long-overdue Black Widow, but La femme Nikita does have suspense, romance, and the most 90s film score you will ever hear. The film is an unexpected combination of a spy thriller and a rom-com, following a woman charged with murder who avoids the death sentence to train as an undercover government assassin. Nikita proves to be a strangely likeable figure — picture the Black Widow you know and love, but French, a little bit crazy, and just trying to hold down a boyfriend. Special mention to Jean Reno who bursts into the third act as “Le Nettoyeur,” the inspiration for his most famous role in Leon: the Professional.
Antebellum / I Am Not Your Negro
While the exact plot of Antebellum is still refreshingly mysterious, trailers suggest that it will be framing the history of black America in a modern context, and nothing could better prepare anyone for such a narrative than I Am Not Your Negro. The Oscar-nominated documentary combines the unpublished words of James Baldwin with archival material from throughout America’s racial past, conveying an experience of life and identity that is as urgent today as it ever was. Told with the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, Baldwin’s prose is both elegant and searing, and will hopefully lead you to discover more from this remarkable writer and activist. My follow-up recommendation: If Beale Street Could Talk.
The Woman in the Window / Enemy
The adaptation of the wildly popular novel The Woman in the Window looked like it was going to be a return to the campy, over-dramatic thrillers of the 90s, and frankly, I couldn’t wait. Enemy, however, takes the foundational concepts of the genre and runs with them in the opposite direction. Centred around the idea of a man finding his doppelgänger, the film becomes more and more perplexing as it goes on, with a conclusion that will have you scrambling to Google what on earth just happened -- in the best way. Regardless of how you feel about it, this cerebral, thematic mystery will linger in your head for some time. A fair warning, though: definitely not one for the arachnophobic.
A Quiet Place Part II / The Babadook
Both of these films know the horror of a mum going through hell to protect her family, but pit their characters against rather different beasts. Where Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place Part II is fighting off creatures from outer space, in The Babadook, Essie Davis squares up with an enemy that is more allegorical, and more sharply dressed. The metaphor isn’t particularly subtle or unique, but the film is still a terrifying concept of how buried grief and depression can be truly haunting. And should you find yourself getting a little too spooked by the titular ghoul (like I may have), just remind yourself that the internet has since dubbed him an LGBT icon. Seriously.
No Time to Die / You Were Never Really Here
He’s dressed in a suit, he’s carrying a weapon, and he’s on a mission to rescue a girl, but the protagonist of You Were Never Really Here is no James Bond. Joe, a former FBI agent suffering from PTSD, describes himself as a “hired gun,” paid to track down kidnapped girls and deliver some rough justice to the perpetrators. It’s as gruesome as you’d expect from the circumstances, but underneath the violence is a pulsating heart of emotion and introspection. With stunning cinematography, hypnotic music from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix (yes, I’ve seen Joker), this is one of my favourite viewings of the year so far. A must-watch.