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Canada’s summer movie season has proven to be … complicated. But this perplexing period of movie-going limbo – how many people are allowed in a cinema? Do I have to wear a mask? Is Manitoba open yet? – provides an at-home opportunity to catch up on all the excellent ready-to-stream films that you might’ve missed while hunting for a second-dose Pfizer shot. Here are 10 of 2021′s best films so far, and how you can watch (most of) them right now.
1. New Order
Michel Franco’s violent, polarizing thriller might go down as the most uncomfortable but essential watch of the year. Sadistic and nerve-racking, the film is also fully riveting, demanding every second of your attention as Franco follows a revolution in a near-future Mexico City. The reward is a master-class in high-anxiety cinema, and enough fodder for 1,000 uncomfortable conversations about race, privilege and art. (Available on Apple TV/iTunes, Cineplex Store, Google Play)
2. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
When Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson’s documentary about 1969′s Harlem Cultural Festival premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival this past January, it felt like a blast of fresh air. After a wealth of faux-serious indie dramas, here was a genuine explosion of artistic energy and political fury. The rare doc that deserves a making-of doc of its very own – it’s remarkable how much archival material Thompson unearthed – Summer of Soul should be played as LOUDLY as possible. Yes: ALL CAPS loud. (Streaming on Disney+ with Star)
Janicza Bravo’s hallucinatory, beautiful, absurd retelling of an infamous Twitter thread is a tremendous smack of cinematic confidence. As Bravo chronicles one very bad weekend in the life of exotic dancer A’Ziah (Zola) King, the director creates a whole new genre: the viral movie. It will only take one viewing for Zola to be forever seared inside your brain. Two viewings just might change you forever. (Now playing only in theatres; digital release date to be announced)
At every turn, the Gerard Butler-led end-of-the-world thriller Greenland could have been a groan-inducing mess. As anyone who’s suffered through Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, San Andreas and Butler’s own Geostorm knows all too well, Hollywood’s last meal of choice is a heaping serving of cheese, gooey and viscous. Yet director Ric Roman Waugh and screenwriter Chris Sparling ground Greenland’s many end-of-days clichés – the crowds scrambling for safety, the paranoid survivalists, the plane that has to take off right now! – with a genuine sense of emotional relatability. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
5. The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Like other Phil Lord/Christopher Miller joints, including The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the animated comedy The Mitchells vs. The Machines entertains on a two-track system: Goofy and colourful and sweet enough for the under-12 set, but also smart and witty and emotionally complex enough to keep adults enthralled. (Streaming on Netflix)
6. The Killing of Two Lovers
The opening minutes of Robert Machoian’s stirring feature appear to give the events of the title away. But then the director pivots, and his story about a ne’er-do-well father (Clayne Crawford), his frustrated wife (Sepideh Moafi) and the man (Chris Coy) who comes between them becomes something else entirely. Working with an ultralow budget in the wide-open and haunting spaces of Western Utah, Machoian delivers a nervy, stripped-down drama that puts character first. (Available for rent on Google Play, Cineplex Store)
7. Psycho Goreman
A delirious and delightfully dark concoction, this Canadian splatter riot is the latest throwback creation from Steven Kostanski (Manborg, The Void), whose artistic vision is perma-stuck in the sugary-cereal haze of a Saturday morning circa 1989. Working with little resources, the director creates an epic universe full of alien landscapes, bloody set-pieces and fantastical creature design that strikes just the right balance between inventive and derivative. (Streaming on Shudder; available for rent on Apple TV/iTunes)
8. No Sudden Move
Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move is a Miracle Movie. How else can you describe a film that was shot, edited and released over the past 10 months – and bears absolutely no resemblance to what we’ve come to recognize as a “pandemic-era” movie? This is a multilocation, large-cast, loads-of-extras, style-to-spare affair. A smoothly twisty thriller set in a Detroit populated entirely by Elmore Leonard-y scoundrels, No Sudden Move could be called Out of Sight 2.0. (Streaming on Crave)
9. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Following the misadventures of two middle-aged women (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) on a trip south to relax and unwind, Barb and Star is one of the most admirably strange comedies in some time. To truly enjoy its idiosyncraticity, you should appreciate the following: jokes about Florida, jokes about women named Trish, jokes about the pronunciation of the name “Don Cheadle,” jokes about macaroni salad and jokes about crabs gifted with the voice of Morgan Freeman (or, as the crab itself pronounces it, “Morgan Freedman”). But if you do, ooh boy, this is a treat. (Streaming on Crave)
10. Wrath of Man
Yes, a Guy Ritchie/Jason Statham movie is taking one of the top spots. That’s 2021 for you. But Wrath of Man isn’t some blokes-and-bullets retread like last year’s The Gentlemen. This is an enjoyably grim endeavour that revels in the ugliness of underground characters who Ritchie typically employs for black comedy. Think of Christian Gudegast’s scuzzy Den of Thieves crossed with the L.A. grandeur of Michael Mann’s Heat, peppered with a touch of the nihilism in S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete and you’re mostly there. (Available for rent on Google Play, Cineplex Store, Apple TV/iTunes)
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