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For every splashy Netflix/Amazon Prime/Disney+ movie that crowds home-screens, there are countless more under-the-radar gems inexplicably buried at the bottom of a search queue

Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig in Mistress America.Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Coming soon: who knows! These are strange times for Canadian moviegoers, arguably the most surreal since the pandemic began. At least back in March, 2020, the entire world was in sync with shutdowns. Today, movie theatres are operating in some provinces, indefinitely shuttered in others (and open without capacity or concession restrictions just south of the border). Meanwhile, audiences have become increasingly accustomed to the comforts of streaming, and can now easily rattle off the differences between PVOD, SVOD, VOD, AVOD and OTT (okay, maybe not everyone).

What does the future of moviegoing mean? Anyone who says that they know for certain should be immediately distrusted. But while we wait for some sense of clarity – or at the very least for Ontario and Quebec to reopen theatres after arbitrarily shutting them down for the third or fourth time – streamers are here to remind us of the power of cinema, no matter the size of the screen (or the price of the monthly subscription bill).

But this new era does not mean that we must also settle for such heavily marketed and algorithmically optimized dreck such as Red Notice or Love Hard. For every splashy Netflix/Amazon Prime/Disney+ movie that crowds home-screens, there are countless more under-the-radar gems inexplicably buried at the bottom of a search queue.

To help pass the time between now and whenever theatres (and galleries, and museums, and concert halls) fully reopen, here are The Globe and Mail’s most underrated, under-noticed, under-promoted streaming bets for every kind of audience – action-hungry escapists, content-starved families, those needing a laugh, serious cinephiles, and those who just want to watch some well-executed Hollywood trash – across all of the major Canadian streaming services.


NETFLIX

Action Escapism

Bahubali: The Beginning & Bahubali 2: Netflix has conflicting ideas as to what makes a good action film. On the one hand, there’s the aforementioned Red Notice, a movie so horribly boring it threatens to kill the genre off entirely. On the other hand, the streaming giant’s Extraction has a truly kick-butt mid-film sequence that redeems the entire idea of what an action film can do. Perhaps we should just stick to films that Netflix acquires, rather than produces, for now. Which is as good a segue as any to talk about S.S. Rajamouli’s twin Bahulbali blockbusters. Following a poor boy who grows into a warrior (Bollywood superstar Prabhas), the Bahulbali films feature jaw-dropping, super-silly spectacle delivered with the straightest of faces.

Family Fun

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: At every point in the family-friendly Hunt for the Wilderpeople, it seems like the story might take the easy way out and devolve into cheap sentimentality as sullen tween Ricky (Julian Dennison) struggles to survive in the New Zealand bush with his taciturn caretaker Hec (Sam Neill). Instead, writer-director Taika Waititi (who made this in his pre-Thor days) executes a series of deft narrative U-turns, twisting the tale into 101 minutes of pure joy.

Comic Relief

Seth Rogen, left, and Charlize Theron in 'Long Shot.'Philippe Bossé/Lionsgate/The Associated Press

Long Shot: After dying an unfair death at the box office in 2019, this Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron rom-com has acquired a true under-appreciated status. With the gentle nudging his frequent collaborator, director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before), Rogen delivers a performance balancing guttural outrage with 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 an opportunity. The two stars clearly enjoy each other’s comic vibes – so much so that we can’t help but do the same.

Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron rom-com Long Shot knows it’s ridiculous, and that’s why it works so well

High Drama

Melvin Gregg, left, and André Holland in High Flying Bird.Peter Andrews/Handout

High Flying Bird: It’s a little surprising that 2019 delivered a Steven Soderbergh film about pro sports, complete with a screenplay by Moonlight’s Tarell Alvin McCraney, and we’ve all mostly forgotten about it. Shot on an iPhone 8 but with the ambitions of a movie many times its budget, High Flying Bird chronicles an NBA lockout from the perspective of money men, resulting in a whip-smart commentary on the state of modern entertainment.

Dumpster Diving

'Babyface' in Happy Death Day 2U.Michele K. Short/UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Happy Death Day 2U: Whereas the 2017 film Happy Death Day was a fun-enough slasher focusing on the live-die-repeat adventures of a university student who was forced to perish over and over again until she learned some grand cosmic lesson, director Christopher Landon’s parallel-universe sequel raises the stakes to create a masterpiece of self-knowing time-travel nonsense.



CRAVE

Action Escapism

Police Story, directed by and starring Jackie Chan.Crave

Police Story: Most North Americans were introduced to Jackie Chan through 1995′s Rumble in the Bronx, a solid primer on the goofy charm of the one-man stunt machine. But to truly grasp how Chan’s daredevil attitude changed the course of action cinema, you have to go back a decade earlier to Police Story. The first and best entry in the mega-series (now at eight barely connected films), Police Story stars Chan as a cop who takes down a drug empire with nothing but his limbs.

Family Fun

Rosie and Mehrnaz in Window Horses.Courtesy of Mongrel Media/Handout

Window Horses: If you’re sick of Pixar fare, Canadian animator Ann Marie Fleming’s cross-cultural tale is a wonderful break from the familiar. Window Horses focuses on Rosie Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), a Chinese-Canadian poet whose quest to visit her father’s Iranian homeland results in a colourful, poetic adventure.

Comic Relief

Lucas Hedges, left, and Meryl Streep in Let Them All Talk.HBO / Crave

Let Them All Talk: I’m not quite sure a Meryl Streep comedy might ever risk being classified as under-the-radar. But given that Let Them All Talk arrived on HBO Max at the end of 2020, I fear there’s a good chance yet another Steven Soderbergh film has been forgotten. Don’t let that happen: This is a witty and delightful cruise-ship-set journey from a star and director at the top of their respective games.

Witty Meryl Streep cruise-ship comedy Let Them All Talk is a lifesaver for the ocean-liner industry

High Drama

Mark Ruffalo stars in Dark Waters.Mary Cybulski/Focus Features

Dark Waters: I’m a sucker for a sharp legal drama, and Todd Haynes’s underappreciated 2019 film might be one of the best efforts in the genre over the past decade. Focusing on the 15-year battle of Cincinnati lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) to uncover the misdeeds of chemical giant DuPont, Dark Waters is a deeply compelling chronicle of corporate malfeasance.

Todd Haynes and Mark Ruffalo close the case against DuPont in the thrilling and surprising Dark Waters

Dumpster Diving

Dana Drori, left, and Kathryn Newton in Freaky.Universal Pictures

Freaky: This is now unofficially a Christopher Landon fan-page. While the filmmaker revived the slasher genre with Happy Death Day 2U, he also twists the body-swap comedy with Freaky, which has the added bonus of a secret comedic weapon: Vince Vaughn. Landon shrewdly exploits Vaughn’s high-comedy past while also riffing on his more recent lean toward repulsive creepiness.

Vince Vaughn’s Freaky is the serial-killer body-swap comedy you never knew you needed



AMAZON PRIME VIDEO CANADA

Action Escapism

Gong Yoo in Train to Busan.Next Entertainment World

Train to Busan: Not only is director Yeon Sang-ho’s film one of the best zombie movies ever made, it is also one of the best tick-tock-thriller-taking-place-on-a-speeding-train movies ever made (of which there are a surprising number of competitors). The film follows the standard zombie apocalypse narrative – mysterious sickness breaks out suddenly, city descends into chaos, survivors gather forces – but moves ridiculously fast, and with enough technical skill and emotional awareness to match.

Family Fun

Kubo and the Two Strings.LAIKA / Focus Features/Handout

Kubo and the Two Strings: A lovely wonder from the stop-motion magicians at Laika Studios, this adventure follows a young hero named Kubo (Art Parkinson), who enlists the help of two unlikely friends voiced by two unlikely actors – Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) – to fight off a fearsome spirit.

Comic Relief

Daniel Radcliffe, left, and Zoe Kazan in The F Word.Caitlin Cronenberg/Entertainment One

The F Word: Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan lead Canadian director Michael Dowse’s sweet, sincere and only infrequently profane rom-com (the “F” word in question is … friendship!). There are also some lovely shots of long-gone Toronto landmarks, including an entire scene set against the backdrop of the blinking Honest Ed’s sign, making the film a wistful time capsule.

The F Word: How to build a Canadian rom-com

High Drama

Brady Jandreau in The Rider.Sony Pictures Classics via AP/The Canadian Press

The Rider: Before she made Oscar history with Nomadland (and before she made Marvel history, but in a bad way, with Eternals), filmmaker Chloe Zhao broke through with this deeply felt 2017 neo-western about a former rodeo star searching for meaning in his life.

Chloé Zhao on crafting a personal western with universal appeal

Dumpster Diving

Sydney Sweeney, left, and Justice Smith star in The Voyeurs.Bertrand Calmeau/Amazon Content Services LLC

The Voyeurs: Dumped onto the service without much fanfare by Amazon last year, this slick erotic thriller about a young couple (Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith) who become obsessed with spying on their neighbours (Ben Hardy and Natasha Liu Bordizzo) is lots of sleazy fun.



DISNEY+ with Star

Action Escapism

Disney+

The Rocketeer: A Marvel movie before Marvel Studios existed, Joe Johnston’s 1991 adventure The Rocketeer stands up to all contemporary MCU fare. Pulpy without being patronizing, funny without being achingly ironic, the proto-superhero film should ignite everyone’s hearts and imaginations.

Family Fun

Disney+

Muppets Most Wanted: Kermit and company have had a bumpy ride since being resurrected for today’s culture in 2011′s The Muppets (remember that mockumentary ABC series? Yeah, me neither). But one underrated element of the Muppets 2.0 is this 2014 caper, which paired the gang with a crafty Ricky Gervais and enjoyably hammy Tina Fey.

Comic Relief

Lola Kirke, left, and Greta Gerwig as in Mistress America.Fox Searchlight Pictures/Handout

Mistress America: Zippy, sharp and monstrously smart, Mistress America is Noah Baumbach’s funniest film. Following the unlikely friendship between shy college student Tracy (Lola Kirke) and her manic stepsister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig, also the film’s co-writer), the movie rips apart New York’s overcrowded social jungle of writers, musicians, interior designers and other wannabe creative types with gleeful abandon.

Mistress America: The funniest comedy of the year

High Drama

The 5th Dimension performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, featured in the documentary Summer of Soul.20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised): When Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson’s doc about 1969′s Harlem Cultural Festival premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival last year (oh, how things have sorta changed!), it felt like a relief. After a fest full of faux-serious dramas and Big Issue docs, here was a genuine explosion of artistic energy and political fury, composed with style and flair.

Summer of Soul is both a mesmerizing doc and a good reminder to leave your celebrity friends alone

Dumpster Diving

Deep Rising: Remember when Treat Williams was an action star? Of course you don’t. But back in 1998, a pre-Mummy Stephen Sommers cast Williams as the lead in this delightfully bananas B-movie about an ocean liner, armed mercenaries, and the humongous tentacled monster that threatens to swallow everyone whole.



APPLE TV+

Action Escapism

Greyhound: I’ll admit, the cinematic offerings on nascent streamer Apple TV+ are limited. (The service doesn’t have a catalogue of other studios’ titles, only the ones it produces originally.) But of the dozen or so films currently available, the Tom Hanks-led Greyhound is your best action bet. A Second World War naval thriller, the movie goes big on high-stakes high-seas thrills.

Family Fun

Troy Kotsur, left, and Marlee Matlin in CODA.The Associated Press

CODA: Maybe keep the under-10 set away from this sweet dramedy given its infrequent detours into adult territory, but tweens should appreciate the film’s heartfelt family dynamics, and rousing lead performance from Emilia Jones as the teenage Ruby, the only hearing member of her deaf clan, who run a struggling fishing business in Gloucester, Mass. (That title is an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults.”)

Comic Relief

Rashida Jones, left, and Bill Murray in On the Rocks.A24

On the Rocks: Cast as Felix, a high-flying art dealer who, bored and generally without responsibilities, decides to help his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones) investigate whether her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her, Bill Murray is playing an idealized version of himself in Sofia Coppola’s feather-light comedy. Which is fine by me, given I cannot help but fall for his smooth sense of mischief. Imagine Lost in Translation’s movie star Bob Harris, but less sad, somehow wealthier and just as libidinous.

Now streaming on Apple TV+: The best part of Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is Bill Murray. The rest is feather light

High Drama

Joel Coen, left, and actor Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of Macbeth.ALISON COHEN ROSA/The Associated Press

The Tragedy of Macbeth: Available on the streamer starting Jan. 14, Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation is stark, beautiful, bloody stuff. With Denzel Washington as the title would-be king and Frances McDormand as his lady, the black-and-white film is powerful and entrancing.

No country for old kings: Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is bold, bloody and resolute

Dumpster Diving

Tom Hanks in Finch.Karen Kuehn/Apple TV+ via AP

Finch: Again, the relative newness of Apple TV+, and the service’s desire to stick to its own in-house material, means there isn’t much in the way of enjoyable Hollywood trash. So let’s go here with the enjoyable end-of-the-world dramedy Finch, given that it stars Apple favourite Tom Hanks as a man who literally digs through the trash of our postapocalypse world alongside his trusty robot.

Tom Hanks has an All-American Armageddon in comforting Apple TV+ drama Finch



CBC GEM

Action Escapism

From left: Riki Lindholm, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langford), Noah Segan, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, K Callan, Jaeden Lieberher, LaKeith Stanfield, Don Johnson, and Jamie Lee Curtis in Knives Out.Claire Folger/MRC II Distribution Company

Knives Out: CBC Gem offers a curious case of streaming curation, with programming that is all over the map. There are British imports, classic and contemporary Canadian films, and the odd American hit … like this wonderfully twisty Daniel Craig murder-mystery from 2019, which is the closest the service gets to “action escapism” (I’ll take it!).

Knives Out stabs your whodunit expectations in the back, and you’ll thank it for the bloody wound

Family Fun

The Breadwinner: A Canadian co-production with Ireland and Luxembourg, Nora Twomey’s animated film 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 tale.

Comic Relief

The cast of Jean of the Joneses.Search Engine Films

Jean of the Joneses: A quasi-Canadian comedy from director Stella Meghie, Jean of the Joneses is like Woody Allen filtered through Toronto by way of Brooklyn. A pre-Zola Taylour Paige stars as the title character, a floundering but talented ingenue of a writer surrounded by a Jamaican-American family of intensely opinionated women, each of whom is quietly clasping her own secret.

Canadian filmmaker Stella Meghie keeps levelling up her career

High Drama

Paulino Nunes, left, and Marie-Josee Croze in Disappearance at Clifton Hill.Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Disappearance at Clifton Hill: Focusing on Abby (Tuppence Middleton) as she returns to Niagara Falls to settle family affairs, Albert Shin’s film has great fun with expectations. As Abby falls into a rabbit-hole conspiracy involving a missing boy, greedy developers, French-Canadian magicians and a local podcaster played by David Cronenberg (!), Disappearance at Clifton Hill becomes just as thrilling and disturbing as its titular strip of haunted houses and fading-fast motels.

Dumpster Diving

Listen, the CBC is too classy for this category. Move along!



HOOPLA

Action Escapism

Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 epic Battle Royale.Handout

Battle Royale: Supplanting Kanopy as my new favourite free-with-a-library-card streaming service, Hoopla has a wild, unpredictable mix of cult classics and new releases. On the former point: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 epic Battle Royale is an all-time classic, a pre-Hunger Games riot set on an island filled with Japanese teenagers who are forced (for reasons never fully explained) to kill each other. It’s bloody fun.

Family Fun

From left: Tracee Beazer, Alana Allen and Dequina Moore in Camp.Handout

Camp: There is a lot – so much! – of bad animation floating around Hoopla. So your best family-friendly fare is Camp, director Todd Graff’s 2003 musical comedy starring a young Anna Kendrick about a group of eager kids attending a performing arts summer camp. It will will surely enchant your household’s resident theatre superfan, or at least console them after Stephen Sondheim’s death late last year.

Comic Relief

Kevin Kline in Dave.handout

Dave: Remember when you could make a satire about the White House and you didn’t have to resort to tired Donald Trump riffs? Kevin Kline does, starring in this quasi-forgotten 1993 comedy about a president, his body double and the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) who is stuck in the middle.

High Drama

Vertigo Releasing/Handout

Boiling Point: Until I started researching this article, I had no idea that the hit 2021 British restaurant drama Boiling Point was even available to watch in Canada. Well, surprise, here it is, featuring a stellar lead performance from Stephen Graham as a chef overseeing one very hectic evening of fine dining madness.

Dumpster Diving

Liam Neeson in The Commuter.Jay Maidment/Lionsgate

The Commuter: In the past decade, Liam Neeson has fought the following things on-screen: Wolves (The Grey). Albanian sex traffickers (Taken). Brooklyn gangsters (Run All Night). Demigods (Clash of the Titans). Fathers of Albanian sex traffickers (Taken 2). Skyjackers (Non-Stop). Russian sex traffickers (Taken 3). Aliens (Battleship). And a box of Trix cereal (Ted 2). The man likes a scrap. But he’s never had quite as ludicrous, and ludicrously entertaining, a fight as in The Commuter, which is essentially Liam Neeson versus a train. All aboard!

TTC’s Brad Ross on The Commuter: What not to do if Liam Neeson boards your train


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