Once Upon a Time in (White) Hollywood
Tarantino's alternative history of the 1960's uncritically repeats the era's sexist and racist stereotypes.
There is no such thing as watching too many movies. I know that since my family and I have enacted social distancing, the amount of movies we’ve watched has skyrocketed. And if there can be a silver lining in the messiness and ugliness of the situation we’re all in right now, it’s that we have an opportunity to watch a lot of the movies that we’ve been meaning to watch and re-watch a lot of the movies that we’ve been meaning to re-watch. I know the other day I was looking through my Blu-ray collection and picked out the 1933 King Kong, a movie I’ve owned for about a year but never watched. It’s one of those movies I always said to myself, “Not now, I’ll watch it another time.” But because we’re stuck indoors with nothing to do, I finally said, “Screw it, it’s time to watch King Kong!” And I loved it!
With the popularity of my previous list (you can check it out here), I wanted to recommend another 19 movies for people to check out across Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Hulu. So here you are; go watch some movies! You can’t really go wrong with any of them.
1 | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
Genre: Drama, War
Premise: A U.S. Army officer serving in Vietnam is tasked with assassinating a renegade Special Forces Colonel who sees himself as a god.
Apocalypse Now is my all-time favorite war movie. From a film-making perspective, it’s hard not to watch this in awe. If you look into the making of this film and everything that happened on set and how Coppola shot it, it’s incredible that there is a watchable movie at all, let alone one that is as visceral and powerful as this one. Apocalypse Now captures the reality of war, from the attitudes of the people in it, to the destruction it causes. And this is all done through the narrative framework of Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness.” This is the sort of wide-scale blockbuster that isn’t really made today.
2 | Beasts of No Nation (2015) | Netflix
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Idris Elba
Premise: A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.
I remember when Beasts of No Nation came out, it was one of Netflix’s first original films. It blew me away when I watched it. It gives you a look into the absolute tragic world of child soldiers and how they are manipulated by governments and mercenaries to do horrible things. This is one of those movies that is really hard to watch because of the atrocities being committed and how terribly treated these children are, but it’s also rather important to watch because it is exposing you to a reality you don’t necessarily know that much about. I’m guessing most of the people reading this article don’t know the experiences of child soldiers and what they are forced to endure, and in that sense Beasts of No Nation becomes rather substantial.
3 | Booksmart (2019) | Hulu
Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd
Genre: Comedy, Coming-of-Age
Premise: On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars (and best friends) realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
One of the most underappreciated treasures of last year was Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart. While the story is not too uncommon from many other coming-of-age films, what makes it unique is Wilde’s direction and the cast’s performances. The characters feel real and organic and feature a great deal of diversity without falling into stereotypes. It’s a really funny and cleverly written film that also hits on the emotional points of leaving your high school friends, moving onto the next stage in life, and trying to figure out who you are. Booksmart is a very well done movie with a stand-out performance from Billie Lourd.
4 | Child’s Play (1988) | Hulu, Amazon Prime
Directed by: Tom Holland
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Premise: A single mother gives her son a much sought-after doll for his birthday, only to discover that it is possessed by the soul of a serial killer.
Whatever you may think of the subsequent sequels, the original Child’s Play is simply old school horror slasher fun! I’m a really big fan of 70s and 80s horror, and so this film fits into a similar vein as Halloween or Poltergeist while having a more lighthearted tone. It doesn’t go into the full-on camp of the sequels, but the fun of the horror is retained mainly due to a great voice performance from Brad Dourif. If you’re looking for a horror movie that is scary but isn’t full fledged horror, Child’s Play may just be your film.
5 | Dolemite Is My Name (2019) | Netflix
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps
Genre: Comedy, Genre
Premise: Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.
Dolemite Is My Name is a movie I knew virtually nothing about before I saw it other than its existence and that Eddie Murphy played the lead character. And I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. Murphy gives the best performance I’ve seen from him in years, proving this to be a fantastic return to form. The ingenuity of Rudy Ray Moore is absolutely fascinating, and it’s fun to see him change and evolve over the years in trying to create something that will excite people. This film is in a similar vein to The Disaster Artist, so if that’s a movie you enjoyed, I think you’ll really like Dolemite Is My Name.
6 | Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) | HBO Max
Directed by: Danny Leiner
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Ethan Embry
Premise: An office worker and his stoner friend embark on a quest to satisfy their desire for White Castle burgers.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is the ultimate stoner comedy. It has everything you would expect from a movie like this, but it also has a lot going on beyond the surface. It plays with the idea of expectation and the presumptions we make about people and how they are not always correct. It takes many different kinds of people who are expected by the characters and the audience to fit into specific stereotypes but then flips it on its head. It’s this added bit of nuance that makes this film stand out and makes it more than just a stupid fun comedy.
7 | Last Flag Flying (2017) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Premise: Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman, Larry “Doc” Shepherd, re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.
If you’re as big of a fan of Richard Linklater as I am, then you should definitely check out one of his lesser known films, Last Flag Flying. It is a fascinating retrospective on the lasting effects war can have on people and how different people deal with and process it. This is all explored within the context of a road trip movie with Linklater’s signature quick dialogue and dynamic characters. And as you would expect, Cranston, Carell, and Fishburne are all fantastic. This would be an interesting movie to watch after Apocalypse Now, to see a depiction of the war itself, and then to watch the personal ramifications of it years later.
8 | Long Shot (2019) | Hulu
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Premise: Journalist Fred Flarsky reunites with his childhood crush, Charlotte Field, now one of the most influential women in the world. As she prepares to make a run for the presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly.
I am a really big fan of Seth Rogen’s movies, and I think Charlize Theron is rather underrated when it comes to her comedic performances. The two have excellent chemistry in Long Shot, and most of what makes this movie work as well as it does is their dynamic. The comedy is also really on point, and it’s just a genuinely hilarious movie. But beyond the surface-level comedy, there’s more to it, which makes the film stand out as much as it does. It has a lot of fun political comedy, but the romance angle is what really takes it to the next level for me.
9 | Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018) | Amazon Prime, Hulu
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson
Genre: Action, Thriller
Premise: Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.
If you watched the first couple Mission: Impossible movies and fell off the series, I completely understand. Starting with the fourth film, however, the series completely turned around and has been getting better and better with each installment. Mission: Impossible — Fallout is one of the best action movies I’ve seen in the last decade. The stunts they pull off — which are real — are absolutely mind-boggling. This film is filled to the brim with anxiety-inducing high stakes tension. If you haven’t seen a single Mission: Impossible film, I think you could jump right in with this one. There will be a few things you’re missing, but you can figure it out as you go. This is truly an incredible movie.
10 | Moonlight (2016) | Hulu
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex R. Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali
Premise: A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.
While many people may remember Moonlight mainly from the snafu at the Oscars when it won Best Picture, the quality of the film far surpasses that embarrassing moment. Populated with beautiful performances, this is a really moving story about a young boy’s search for who he is as a person. Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for his performance, steals the whole movie for the limited scenes he’s in, as he proves to be hugely influential in Chiron’s life. And as we move through the various stages of his life, we see how he evolves as a person and how his outlook on the world changes. It is a really powerful film.
11 | Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) | Disney+
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Starring: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan
Premise: After a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend time with his children held in custody by his former wife.
Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the all-time great classic comedies and one of the first films I think of when I think of Robin Williams. It’s a really beautiful movie about a father wanting to spend time with his estranged kids, packed with sidesplitting humor. The initial premise raises some eyebrows within today’s culture, but aside from a few throwaway lines, the story plays out innocently enough for 1993. But take that with a grain of salt, as that perspective is coming from a cisgender person. I personally find Mrs. Doubtfire to be heartwarming, joyous, and incredibly funny.
12 | Overlord (2018) | Hulu, Paramount+
Directed by: Julius Avery
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbaek
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, War
Premise: A small group of American soldiers find horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day
Overlord is an entertaining action movie in which American soldiers unearth a Nazi base where they are engineering zombies. While it certainly delivers on the bloody action, there is a lot of really effective horror in it as well. Pilou Asbaek is great as the villain, turning in a cruel and captivating performance. There are some points where the movie does get a little too silly for its own good. However, Overlord is rare in that we don’t get too many horror/action movies nowadays. So whenever a quality one comes along, it’s worth checking out. If that is the kind of movie you’re craving, Overlord is one I’d recommend.
13 | The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton
Premise: A struggling salesman takes custody of his son as he’s poised to begin a life-changing professional career.
Probably the most genius part of The Pursuit of Happyness is that the father and son in the movie are played by real life father and son, Will and Jaden Smith. There’s a certain authenticity that can’t be captured by unrelated actors. It’s an unspoken quality — even simply the way Will looks at his son — that enriches this movie and gives it an additional layer of emotion and heart. It’s a beautiful movie about families and the relationships between parents and their children. It is also one of Will Smith’s best performances, though I would say his performance in Concussion is my personal favorite of his.
14 | The Ring (2002) | Amazon Prime, Paramount+
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Noami Watts, David Dorfman, Brian Cox
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Premise: A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone one week to the day after they view it.
The Ring is a remake of a 1998 Japanese film, Ringu, which I admittedly have not seen. But this film is a really solid, effective horror movie. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, I’m sure you recognize the above image or are familiar with the concept of a videotape that causes your death; it’s become popularized in our culture. The film holds its own and is a good one if you want to throw on a movie that’ll give you the scares without requiring too heavy of an investment. Noami Watts is great in everything she’s in!
15 | Roma (2018) | Netflix
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Premise: A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Alfonso Cuarón’s quiet drama, Roma, is based upon his own family and his upbringing, and that personalization seeps into every frame. You can tell this movie came from a place of deep love and authenticity. Roma isn’t a movie filled with lots of big events and exciting sequences, but rather it follows its characters as their lives play out. In a world where Avengers: Infinity War can have half the universe decimated, the stakes of Roma seem quite mundane. But it’s because of how rooted in character the film is and what these stakes mean for these characters, that we can be on the edge of our seat to see what happens next. I know a lot of people who skipped out on Roma because they said it didn’t seem like their kind of movie — watch it!
16 | Room (2015) | Hulu
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Premise: Held captive for 7 years in an enclosed space, a woman and her young son finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time.
Room was my favorite film of 2015, and it’s criminally under-discussed. The performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are two of the greatest, most raw performances I have ever seen, with Tremblay’s performance being probably the greatest child actor performance I’ve witnessed. This film is filled with so much pure drama and emotion, and it’s an absolute gut-punch. But it’s filled with awe and wonder and makes you seriously consider the things we have in our lives that we take for granted. I also think this would be an interesting film to watch while quarantined because it too is almost entirely close-quarters and features characters stuck in isolation.
17 | She’s Gotta Have it (1986) | Netflix
Directed by: Spike Lee
Starring: Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Spike Lee
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Premise: Story of a woman and her three lovers.
She’s Gotta Have It is one of Spike Lee’s first films, and it really cements his style of filmmaking. From the structure of the narrative to the type of comedy, you can really see a young filmmaker coming into their own with this low budget outing. Lee also has a supporting role in the movie as Mars Blackmon and is absolutely hilarious. Some may view it as vain, but he gives himself the best moments of the film. And considering how well he pulls them off, it seems like the right decision to me. This movie has a lot of unconventional ideas about love, especially for 1986. It covers things that weren’t talked about at this time, and it’s the boldness of the movie that makes it stand out as much as it does.
18 | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) | Hulu
Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
Genre: Action, Comedy, Science Fiction
Premise: Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.
I know what many of you may be thinking: an animated Spider-Man movie? Why would I want to see that? Believe me when I tell you that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is something special. The animation style in this film is truly unique and is just one of the many elements that makes it feel like a comic book playing out on screen. The reason this movie works so well isn’t just because it’s Spider-Man or that there’s action, but it is because of the characters. You’re invested in Miles Morales’ struggle to figure out who he is and to be his own person. You’re invested in Peter Parker trying to find the hero in him again after it’s been washed away. This is a film filled with great humor, fun action, and lots of heart. And it is just dripping with love and appreciation for comic books.
19 | Up in the Air (2009)| HBO Max
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Premise: Ryan Bingham enjoys living out of a suitcase for his job, traveling around the country firing people, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a potential love interest, and a new hire.
Jason Reitman is one of my favorite working directors, and Up in the Air is his finest work. It touches on the anxieties of the working class who fear their impending termination and the humanization of a man who makes a living off of their termination. As with most of Reitman’s work, it is thoughtful and clever. It has a lot to say about those disenfranchised by a capitalistic society and those who stand to gain from it. All the performances are wonderful, and it is a truly compelling movie to watch. I highly recommend it.
Author: Nathanael Molnar, originally published [4/2/2020]
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