It was only a few days ago when the spring theatrical calendar looked bright and promising. The big-budget thrills of Mulan! The action spectacle of No Time to Die! The promising rust-belt horror of Antlers! And The New Mutants was also there! But like absolutely every other aspect of this modern world, the movie landscape has changed with the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
All of which means that you are likely reading this from the comfort of your own home – or locked behind your bathroom door, hiding from your children – and wondering what is out there in the vast wild west streaming world to make these next few weeks (at least) speed by.
Here, The Globe and Mail’s Film Editor Barry Hertz offers his top movie picks for every kind of audience – escapists, content-starved families, those needing a laugh, serious cinephiles, and those who just want to watch some well-executed trash – across all the major Canadian streaming services. Here’s hoping this is just a temporary measure and that we’ll all be watching the sure-fire wonder of The New Mutants in a crowded multiplex soonest.
More on streaming
- Every television series worth watching on Canadian streaming services, for every kind of viewer
- Kids already bored? Here are eight children’s classics available to stream on the National Film Board website
- See you later, Paw Patrol: The best streaming films to keep your kids occupied during a COVID-19 school break
- If you need your fix of opera, theatre and ballet, here’s where to find them on TV
- You’ll need a streaming service or two these next few weeks. Here’s your guide to Canadian options beyond Netflix, both paid and free
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
A Star Is Born: In such uncertain times, it is the height of comfort to watch a bearded, gravel-voiced Bradley Cooper woo Lady Gaga. You already know the arc of this not-surprising fame story by heart, but that doesn’t dull its skillfully executed musical numbers and lived-in performances. We’re all in the shallows now, my friends.
Crazy Rich Asians: I wasn’t so hot on this flashy and frothy rom-com when it originally came out two summers ago, but now that the world may never again see a wedding outside of one’s own living room (kidding, I think), there is a certain joy in watching a 100-minute cavalcade of glorious bridal-industry excess.
Creed II: I think we can all appreciate a good underdog story right about now, and while this sequel doesn’t exactly position Michael B. Jordan’s boxer as a come-from-behind guy, its director Steven Caple Jr. had to fight for his life to work his way out of the shadow of his franchise predecessor Ryan Coogler. And remarkably, Caple Jr. finds his footing early on in Creed II, when he starts nailing the brutally punishing fight scenes and Sylvester Stallone turns up the dial on his hang-dog, aw-shucks charm.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part: Take it from someone who has a five-year-old son and the perforated feet to prove it: My house is at its absolute maximum Lego capacity. Yet seconds after stepping outside the screening for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part back when it opened last year, I felt an uncontrollable urge to purchase as many multicoloured toy bricks as possible. Such is the irresistible, irrepressible and only infrequently irritating charm of this sequel to what may be one of the greatest animated films of the new millennium.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Miles away from the sanded-down safety of Pixar and so layered and energetic that it makes whatever the Minions are doing look like the scribblings of a juice-drunk toddler, Spider-Verse’s animation is next-level gorgeous and intoxicating. Co-directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman have said they intended to pioneer a style akin to “living paintings” – but even that hyperbole doesn’t do justice to the images onscreen. One-hundred and forty-two animators band together here to take the best principles of comic-book imagery – impossible physics that subvert reality, hyper-stylized backgrounds that overwhelm the eye, bright colours that do more than pop, they explode – and tether them to the language of film. The result is an exaggerated, completely immersive cinematic experience that nicely apes the thrill of losing yourself in a comic, perhaps while highly caffeinated.
Detective Pikachu: If your kid is like mine and has started communicating exclusively with the words “pika” and “chu” and “pikachu,” then this cross between Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and, um, the decidedly not-for-kids Cool World might do the trick. And for anyone bored with the antics of Pokemon, Ryan Reynolds’s voice-acting is so believably smarmy that you’d swear you’re just watching a slightly more PG-rated Deadpool adventure.
The Art of Self-Defense: I’ll be the first one to say that Crave’s comedy offerings are a bit thin – unless you really, really like Kevin Hart – but there are some gems that arrived on the streamer after being almost fully ignored in theatres. For starters, there’s this Jesse Eisenberg-led black comedy that does a number on toxic masculinity.
Happy Death Day 2U: Early in Happy Death Day 2U, the delightful and actually hilarious sequel to the unexpectedly delightful 2017 slasher flick, two characters note how similar the plot of their own film is to that of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future Part II. It’s a deliberate echo of when those same characters noted the first film’s similarity to Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day, in which the hero (there, Bill Murray’s cynical weatherman; here, Jessica Rothe’s caustic co-ed) is forced to live the same day over and over until learning some grand cosmic lesson. But if you’re going to out-loud compare yourself to the greats, you better live up to such audacity.
Wild Nights with Emily: What more do I need to say than former Saturday Night Live staple Molly Shannon plays 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson ... and it’s supposed to be deliberately funny? Okay, maybe you need more of a sell, so know that Shannon turns in a layered and sincerely hilarious performance as the American literary icon, while director Madeleine Olnek turns what sounds like a one-liner into a witty and affecting production.
High-Quality High Drama
The Last Black Man in San Francisco: While boutique, cool-kid U.S. distributor A24 is currently mulling what to do with its loaded spring arsenal, why not catch up on what the company produced last year? One of the best and most under-seen offerings is Joe Talbot’s satirical drama, an essential work to experience and a difficult one to shake. With its deadpan humour, wild visuals and career-making performance from Jimmie Fails, who collaborated with Talbot on the screenplay, the film marks an irrepressibly original and exciting cinematic vision – one that feels as fresh as it does problematic.
Can You Every Forgive Me?: Who knows what is going to happen to New York’s literary scene in the wake of the COVID-19 chaos, but for an opportunity to revisit what the community was once like, dive into Marielle Heller’s lovely 2018 drama, which captures the city at a crucial turning point, with author-turned-forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) caught between the creaky Gotham that could afford mild successes like hers and an elite haven that has no room for anyone without the right pull.
The Souvenir: Early on in her excellent new drama The Souvenir, director Joanna Hogg aligns her film with its most despicable character. “We don’t want to see life play out as it is,” says Anthony (Tom Burke), a Cambridge-educated, silver-tongued mooch, “we want to see it as experienced within this soft machine.” That Anthony is using his words to woo film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), who herself is based on Hogg, only adds to The Souvenir’s paradoxical approach to filmmaking as personal history. This is not a movie that lets life simply play out as it is or was – it is instead a collection of memories, some sharp as shards but others smoothed down. It is, as Anthony says, an experience that cannot be replicated in another medium.
Skyscraper: Let’s get this out of the way right now: the Dwayne Johnson action film Skyscraper is a dumb, trashy movie. But it’s also a dumb, trashy movie made with enthusiasm and at least a hint of self-awareness, which is why it is so fun to revisit. Especially if you’ve been trapped inside the house all day and need some half-minded distraction.
Upgrade: Trashy in a different sort of way is this gory body-horror satire from director Leigh Whannell (the somewhat classy The Invisible Man, but also the Saw franchise). A hybrid of RoboCop, Maniac Cop and half a dozen other shock-to-the-senses thrillers, Upgrade is perfect for those requiring bloody-minded nonsense.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters: I was one of the few critics to actually enjoy this monster mash last year, although I can understand why some audiences were put off by its many human characters (just give us the kaijus!) and its sometimes confusing aesthetic (why is it raining so often?). But I feel if you have a large enough screen at home, it is still prime no-brain-required viewing.
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
Ocean’s Eleven: Look at all these sexy movie stars! Enjoy their antics! We may never see them on the red carpet again. Plus: Steven Soderbergh really knows how to make a caper film sing. And it’s fun to watch Brad Pitt constantly stuff food down his beautiful face.
La La Land: Has enough time elapsed that we can all watch Damien Chazelle’s delightful Los Angeles musical without feeling ashamed of ourselves, or that we’re somehow on the wrong side of cinematic politics? I should hope so.
Inception: It is yet unclear whether Christopher Nolan’s latest head-trip, Tenet, will be coming out as scheduled this summer. So now is as good a time as any to revisit his perfectly nonsensical thriller Inception. It refuses any and all attempts at logic, but it is still an engaging rabbit hole to fall down into.
Isle of Dogs: Is this the most Wes Anderson-y film to ever Wes Anderson? Given the too-cute pups, the presence of Bill Murray, the on-screen font aesthetic, and the problematic way it approaches another culture (in this case, Japan), I'm going to say: oooh boy, yes.
Paddington & Paddington 2: I’ve already mentioned these films in my first emergency COVID-19 viewing guide, but they’re so charming I’m going to do it again, dang it. The bear who has captured the hearts of film critics everywhere – maybe it’s the shared affinity for marmalade and coats so big they hide any insecurity? – Paddington has emerged as a crossover hero of sorts. Adults can get just as much entertainment and heartache watching the Peruvian bear bumble through two delightful British adventures as children will – and with the added bonus of both movies featuring excellent performances from the best British actors around (Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters and, especially, Hugh Grant in the sequel).
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Before Chris Miller and Phil Lord were building the Lego Cinematic Universe and getting fired from a Star Wars spin-off, they were honing their kids-film skills with this zany and zippy adaptation of a children’s book.
Groundhog Day: There may be no better movie to watch right now than this dark comedy about living the same day, the same routine, over and over again.
Game Night: I recently had a conversation with a Globe and Mail colleague who wondered whether, upon the publication of yet another endorsement of this Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams comedy, I had reached the paper’s record for recommending the same movie over and over again in different columns. And I told her: Not yet! But maybe now I have.
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: Netflix may have given Adam Sandler comedies a bad name, but this Robert Smigel-directed farce is worth your hard-earned quarantine time. And if you like hummus, then, my chickpea-loving friend, you are in for a deliciously smooth treat.
High-Quality High Drama
Uncut Gems: Speaking of Sandler, here’s a 134-minute anxiety attack disguised as a movie starring the Sandman in a genuinely tremendous performance. Watch it today and instantly feel even more nervous than ever before!
Marriage Story: By the time the film cycles through the starts and stops of a divorce, director Noah Baumbach will have you cycling through all manner of convulsions. This is hilarious, heartbreaking cinema – a work that will make you burst out laughing one moment and leave you tearing your hair out the next.
The Irishman: Much like Martin Scorsese’s most popular work, this is a crime film, thrilling and visceral. But The Irishman represents something deeper, too. It’s as much a companion piece to the addictive violence of Goodfellas and Casino as it is to the meditative lacerations of Silence, the punishing doubts of The Last Temptation of Christ and the romantic suffering of The Age of Innocence. The result is a film that is nearly perfect.
Snowpiercer: Before Bong Joon-ho dominated the Academy Awards with Parasite, he made this excellent bananas genre exercise – a mix of high-speed action and surreal dystopic environs. Oh, and it stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Why aren’t you watching this right this very moment?
Den of Thieves: An ambitious, epic-length (140 minutes!) and distinctly working-class love letter to the work of Michael Mann and Kathryn Bigelow, Den of Thieves is the best kind of hard-boiled ridiculousness, complete with a last-minute twist that will either make you throw your hands up in the air or laugh uproariously.
The Night Comes for Us and Manhunt: The former, courtesy Indonesian madman Timo Tjahjanto, is the most ludicrously violent film to come along in some time, a spiritual sequel to Gareth Evans’s The Raid films that would bring down the house – were it to ever play in an actual cinema. Manhunt, meanwhile, is the long-awaited return to form for Hong Kong action legend John Woo, who flirts with both self-preservation and self-parody in this bonkers, dove-filled masterpiece.
Amazon Prime Video
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
Rocketman: The only thing that I expected from Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman was nothing at all. The best-case scenario was that the director’s Elton John biopic would be a mild headache, not as bad as Fletcher’s pick-up work on the hagiographic and insulting Bohemian Rhapsody but not as good as, say, listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on repeat. In a delightful upending of expectations, Rocketman sets the standard for what a jukebox drama can be: bright, bouncy, fantastical and off-kilter in every possible way.
Top Gun: In just a few months, Paramount is set to premiere the long-in-the-tooth sequel to Tom Cruise’s high-flying hit ... or maybe not. Until then, relive the superb ridiculousness that is director Tony Scott’s original. And mourn poor Goose all over again.
Bourne Identity: Some times you just want to watch Matt Damon drive a car through the streets of Europe and punch some bad guys in the face. And also remember what the streets of Europe look like when crowded.
Missing Link: Missing Link, which was criminally passed over for an Academy Award this year, is one of those films I feel I’ll be recommending over and over this quarantine era. Especially because, even though it’s 10 times as original as, say, Oscar-winner Toy Story 4 and features just as committed and energetic a voice cast (Hugh Jackman, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson), it still has no Oscars to boast about.
Antz: Maybe now is not the time to introduce Woody Allen into your household ... but I’m still going to recommend this wittier, zippier counterpart to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which threatens to be forgotten to the ant-hill sands of time.
Hugo: For your older, more cinephile-inclined child, there may be no better option on Amazon’s streaming service than Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s 2011 fantasy-drama that is as much a love letter to old-time kiddie adventure films as it is to the medium of film itself.
Long Shot: After dying an unfair death at the box office last spring, now is an ideal time to bask in this Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron rom-com, which is like a big warmhearted bear hug. By this point in his career, Rogen could mine gold in the most dusty and outdated of comedy (go back and watch parts of Knocked Up, I dare you). And here, with the gentle nudging of director and frequent collaborator Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before), the actor again delivers a performance that balances guttural outrage with sweetness, goofiness with sincerity. Theron, meanwhile, seems like she’s been doing this sort of smoothly confident rom-com shtick her entire career, even though this is the first time she’s been afforded such a prime opportunity. Together, they are delightful and clearly enjoying each other’s comic vibes so much that we can’t help but do the same.
Booksmart: Some critics believed Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut to be the second coming of the teen comedy when it came out last spring. Don’t get me wrong – it’s pretty good, and its two leading women, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Deaver, are excellent. Just don’t expect a mind-blowing revelation, and you’ll do fine.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: The ultimate movie to pick you up when you’re down, the Apatow-era rom-com Forgetting Sarah Marshall is just a pure delight. And features one of those rare instances where Russell Brand is not out-and-out annoying.
High-Quality High Drama
Manchester By the Sea: This Kenneth Lonergan drama about a man haunted by his past will surely devastate you, in every sense. So just be prepared for that, if you’re feeling especially overwhelmed.
Wild Rose: Jessie Buckley should have catapulted to instant fame with this drama about an Scottish ex-con trying to make it in country music. Maybe now that we’re all trapped inside, people will finally watch it and see what all the fuss was about.
No Country for Old Men: If you want to really feel haunted about this modern world, try revisiting the Coen brothers’ ultra-dark – but also slickly funny – neo-western. And wonder at how anyone convinced Javier Bardem to get such an ugly haircut.
John Wick: Chapters 2 and 3: Gun-play has never looked so beautiful and even sexy as it does in these two sequels to the original Keanu Reeves shoot-'em-up. And unlike the first John Wick, the follow-up films are keenly more aware of their obscene ridiculousness.
Child’s Play: This reboot of the killer-doll series got a bit lost last year, but it’s actually a funny and even smart approach to the dilemma of rewiring a horror franchise.
Shooter: Mark Wahlberg makes stupid movies. That’s just his shtick! But they don’t make them much stupider, in an entertaining fashion, than this nearly forgotten 2007 film, which features a mountain-cabin-set climax that must be seen to be believed.
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
The Empire Strikes Back: Because Disney+ holds the rights to almost every major franchise on the planet, you can certainly bet that you’re going to be turning the app on again and again over the next few weeks. But instead of watching Frozen 2 on repeat – just because Disney made it available for streaming three months earlier than planned doesn’t mean you have to indulge the film’s mediocrity! – why not revisit a time when a mega-franchise was ... good? I’m talking of course about the best Star Wars entry of the bunch. And a reminder of what happened when blockbuster movies didn’t automatically equate to been-there-done-that repetitiveness.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Could anyone imagine if this COVID-19 shutdown happened exactly a year ago, right ahead of the release of Avengers: Endgame? The riots in front of the box office would have been brutal. I wish that were a joke. Any way, the best Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, as everyone should know, is the second Captain America film, which turned not on its special-effects budget (though, yes, it had a giant one), but an actually engaging espionage plot that was accented by a nearly subversive anti-authority streak.
National Treasure: Nicolas Cage tries to steal the Declaration of Independence. What more do you need to know?
Um, that’d be about everything that’s on Disney+. But your best bets, if you have to narrow it down, lie within the Pixar canon, including all-timers Toy Story 2 and 3, Inside Out, Up and Wall-E. If you can, keep the existence of the Cars franchise a secret from your children forever and ever.
Splash: As we all collectively hope for the speedy recovery of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, let’s revisit one of Mr. Nice Guy’s best performances.
The Muppets: Almost any Muppets movie is a good movie, but there’s a certain high-point comedic charm found in director James Bobin’s 2011 revamp. And not just because it features a delightful solo musical number from Amy Adams. Though it does help.
10 Things I Hate About You: Before Julia Stiles was helping Jason Bourne punch people in the face and before Heath Ledger was inspiring a million dorm-room posters with his Joker antics, the two teen-but-not-really stars teamed up for this witty Taming of the Shrew remix, which has aged better than most young-adult movies of the era.
High-Quality High Drama
Pete’s Dragon: A much more sombre affair than might be expected from Disney, director David Lowery’s 2016 remake emphasized rural isolation and loneliness in a more poignant fashion than its half-animated predecessor. Which, by the way, is way-too-weird for kids these days.
Free Solo: For Tom Cruise’s next, inevitably insane Mission: Impossible sequel, he should really consider casting Alex Honnold as his co-star. There were no two people in 2018 who literally risked life and limb for the big screen more than these lovable idiots. As the daredevil climber who goes without ropes or a harness, Honnold propelled Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary Free Solo to disgustingly thrilling heights.
Flight of the Navigator: I have fond, weird memories of this sci-fi drama from my childhood ... and now that I have nowhere to go but my couch, I’m eagerly anticipating revisiting it. And maybe regretting it. We’ll see!
Mighty Joe Young: There’s a lot of questionable movies lurking toward the bottom of the Disney+ queue, but I admit that there’s a certain fondness for this gorilla-adventure remake starring Charlize Theron. Just because there’s never really been a great movie starring a medium-sized gorilla. But yet they keep on trying.
Willow: You know it’s bad, but you also know that nothing quite compares to this bonkers combination of George Lucas, Ron Howard and whatever Val Kilmer is doing on-screen.
Heavyweights: Ben Stiller and co-writer Judd Apatow would probably like you all to forget about this 1995 fat-camp comedy, but you know what? I will do no such thing.
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
Zodiac: David Fincher was allowed to make a nearly three-hour movie about a hunt for a serial killer that ultimately proved futile. And a major studio funded it! Not Netflix! Think long and hard about this when you realize that no major studio would dare do such a thing today. And weep.
Chinatown: Marvel at how much the film world is missing Jack Nicholson (er, maybe not so much Roman Polanski) with this classic L.A.-based noir. If you have somehow gone your life without seeing it, now is the time.
Grease: It’s the word! And because you may already be exhausted by this streaming guide, I’ll leave it at that. Oh, and don’t take this as a tacit endorsement of Grease 2, which may be lurking out there on some other streaming service ...
Clueless: As if! If those words don’t make sense to your children, then perhaps they should finally be exposed to director Amy Heckerling’s riff on Jane Austen’s Emma.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: A teen gets to take the day off school! What a novel concept! (Sits silently in the corner of the kitchen and weeps)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit has been, for myriad reasons, the most controversial thing on Film Twitter until Film Twitter was more or less extinguished this past week. For a more widely embraced Waititi project, though, go back to his delightfully weird 2016 comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, now streaming on Kanopy. At nearly every point in the film – focused on a curmudgeonly widower (Sam Neill) forced to care for a wily foster-care kid (Julian Dennison) in the New Zealand bush – it seems like the story might take the easy way out and devolve into cheap sentimentality. Instead, Waititi executes a series of deft narrative U-turns, twisting the tale into 101 minutes of zippy serio-comic joy.
Force Majeure: Remember Downhill, that Will Ferrell-starring comedy that landed in theatres just two months ago? Neither do I, so there’s no harm in watching Ruben Ostlund’s original family-dynamics satire that inspired the movie that we’ve all decided not to talk about.
Election: Kanopy programmers must really have a thing for Matthew Broderick movies, and I cannot blame them. This Alexander Payne satire is as dry as they come, but in an amusingly vicious fashion.
Airplane: They don’t make this kind of gag-a-minute cinema any more. Maybe for good reason, yet Airplane holds up well, even if you’ve seen it a thousand times before. “Surely you can’t be serious?” I am. And don’t call me Shirley.
High-Quality High Drama
Phoenix: There’s a little Christian Petzold mini-festival happening on Kanopy, where you can watch two of the German director’s finest works: the Second World War-era Phoenix and the maybe-Second-World-War-era-but-not-really Transit. Both are master classes in high tension and contemplative studies on the lengths humans will go to help, and abandon, one another. But Phoenix might have the edge, thanks to its jaw-dropping ending and lead performance from Nina Hoss.
Call Me By Your Name: Break out the peaches for the feel-sad romance of the aughts. This is the movie that we have to thank for countless Timothée Chalamet memes, but also probably afforded the excellent Armie Hammer a few more years of top-billed roles. So it balances out.
The Master: Joaquin Phoenix got up to all kinds of wacky mayhem this past fall in Joker, but for a true portrait of a socially disturbed man intent on destroying society, we must look to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Truly a high-water mark for everybody involved, the 2012 Scientology-but-not drama still makes for bracing viewing nearly a decade later.
Prospect: Considering the flood of barely suitable genre trash that receive token releases in Toronto theatres, it’s surprising that Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s Prospect never made it here for even a blip of a screening. The low-budget thriller takes a neat-if-familiar premise – a father and daughter head to an abandoned alien moon for work, only to encounter chaos – and twists it into a satisfying meditation on human nature. It’s all the more essential viewing if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Mandalorian and wondered who, exactly, is the actor behind the helmet.
Death Proof: Quentin Tarantino’s deliberately, defiantly sleazy ode to drive-in grime still hits where it counts. And all hail Kurt Russell, who stars here as a psycho who might give even Tarantino’s many other psychos pause.
Summer of 84: The height of 1980s-movie fetishism is hit early in this tongue-in-cheek ode to all things slasher. Bonus points for it being Canadian-made. Like most great-bad horror movies of the era.
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
Well, maybe we’ll skip this category for CBC Gem, given the streaming service features Canadian films and all. But I will include the exact opposite of splashy Hollywood escapism: Last Night, the Don McKellar-directed drama about the world’s last evening of existence. It somehow feels like of-the-moment viewing. For some reason.
Kung Fu Panda: I’m not sure why the Jack Black-voiced animated tale is on CBC Gem – surely there’s a Canadian connection somewhere that I’m missing and that I have no time to uncover in these coronavirus-deadline times – but you could do far worse than exposing your family to its lessons of friendship and hard work.
The Breadwinner: Ah, this is more like it: A Canadian co-production with Ireland and Luxembourg, Nora Twomey’s 2017 animated film The Breadwinner leaves behind all three states to go deep into the life of one young girl in Afghanistan. The themes of freedom and strength in family are far from new, but Twomey’s heartfelt direction, her team’s subtle animation and Anita Doron’s gentle adaptation of Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s novel culminate in a powerful and topical tale.
Window Horses: Touching, beautiful and gentle, this animated children’s tale about an Iranian poet has more than enough literary appeal for adults, too.
The F Word: Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan lead Michael Dowse’s sincere and only infrequently profane rom-com (the "F" word in question is ... friendship!). There are also some lovely shots of busy Toronto streets. Which might make it a period piece of sorts.
Jean of the Joneses: Before Canadian director Stella Meghie was making big Hollywood rom-coms like last month’s The Photograph, she was putting all her sweat, blood and tears into indie productions that have sadly gone under-the-radar. Rectify that mistake by exploring her feature debut, which features a strong ensemble and an arch comic tone.
Fubar: Two Michael Dowse movies in one category! Well, that’s what happens when you’re looking for decent Canadian comedies of which CBC happens to have the streaming rights. But don’t take this as backhanded praise, either – the first Fubar film should be considered a classic of homegrown comedy.
High-Quality High Drama
Enemy: Denis Villeneuve’s first English-language film served as a Hollywood calling card of sorts and quickly paved the way for the Quebecois filmmaker to be major studios’ director of choice when it came to big, dark spectacle (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049). Here, Villeneuve makes Toronto look like a poisonous waste land (umm), and also gives us two Jake Gyllenhaals, which basic math tells us is better than one Jake Gyllenhaal.
Take this Waltz: Seth Rogen romances Michelle Williams, and of course it all goes wrong. Learn more about this unlikely relationship and the many ways one can cook chicken in Sarah Polley’s quite tense but ultimately life-affirming feature.
Brooklyn: Before John Crowley made everyone’s least-favourite literary adaptation with last year’s The Goldfinch, he made everyone’s favourite literary adaptation with this Saoirse Ronan-led period drama.
There’s a noticeable lack of good ol’ trash on CBC Gem – perhaps its Canadian programmers are too polite for that kind of stuff – so I’m going to have to stretch this category’s definition to include ... um, Eastern Promises? Whose violence is pretty low-brow, even though it’s courtesy of the high-minded David Cronenberg? Or maybe Robert Eggers’s The Witch? Which I’m also not quite sure why it’s available here? Eh. Either way, you should really watch both of those films.
The Criterion Channel
Splashy Hollywood Escapism
Some Like it Hot: Jack Lemon, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and an ending that still elicits belly laughs. What more could you ask for? Thank goodness the Criterion channel is out there programming films made before 1983.
The Graduate: If you think that the Criterion folks are trying to seduce you, then ... you’re right.
Sweet Smell of Success: Or exactly the odour that the movie theatres were hoping to be in the air this spring. Ah well.
Godzilla: What young kid doesn’t want to watch a giant monster stomp all across a metropolis? Bonus: The film could be an entryway for children into the entire Japanese genre of Godzilla and related kaiju (giant monster) movies, of which Criterion just released an entire box set. That’s at least two full days of activities covered off.
Young Sherlock Holmes: Directed Barry Levinson’s take on the sleuth isn’t exactly peerless work, but it could inspire children to become amateur investigators, if only for an afternoon.
Jason and the Argonauts: Kids today know nothing of real special effects. There’s no better time to introduce them to the wonder of Ray Harryhausen.
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: While the world is falling apart, why not let Peter Sellers show you what real governmental incompetence looks like? Oh, wait ...
Daytrippers: The family that breaks up together travels together, or something like that. Director Greg Mottola would go on to become a valued member of the Judd Apatow crew, but before he was making Superbad, he crafted this delightfully neurotic comedy about divorce and the ties that bind, featuring Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Parkey Posey and more early-1990s delights.
High-Quality High Drama
Wendy and Lucy: Kelly Reichardt had the misfortune of seeing her latest film, First Cow, open just as the coronavirus panic was starting to close theatres. So throw her a bone by watching this woman-and-dog drama, a sincerely heartbreaking film that will hopefully sway you to revisit the entire Reichardt oeuvre (including that dang cow, when possible).
Chunking Express: Wong Kar-wai needs to make another movie, immediately. But until then, revisit the director’s best work, a movie so full of romance and desire that it might move you to relocate to the eponymous Hong Kong housing district of the title. If such a thing were remotely possible these days.
House of Games: David Mamet crafts one of his more epic cons with this low-key thriller that will have you rewinding – both to figure out its puzzle-piece plot and savour all the staccato dialogue.
Two Thousand Maniacs!: Just because it’s the vaunted Criterion Channel we’re talking about here doesn’t mean that there can’t be some old-fashioned sleaze. For instance, this month the streamer is showcasing the shlock of director Herschell Gordon Lewis, the godfather of splatter cinema.
Diamantino: Part political satire, part fantasy, part I-don’t-even-know-what, Diamantino is exactly the type of surreal concoction that begs to be discovered by unsuspecting audiences. The fact that it includes one of the best punchlines involving the word “Canada” in recent memory is simply a delightful bonus.
Hardcore: Paul Schrader’s latest movie, The Card Counter, was five days away from finishing shooting when a production member tested positive for coronavirus. Until that situation resolves itself, revisit the filmmaker’s most seedy, irrepressibly dark movies – which for Schrader is really saying something – with this 1979 trip into L.A.'s underground pornography world.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.