Every Wednesday morning, I find myself whispering the old Beckett adage “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” to myself as I settle down into work. No matter how thrilling the day’s prospects may be, it’s that midweek slump that always seems to rear its ugly head in the worst way. But never fear, the hours are sure to breeze on by and soon it will be the weekend—one that happens to be rife with fantastic films both premiering and screening around the city, thanks to NYFF and various other retrospectives.
But in the meantime, what better way to spend an evening than curled up under the sheets enjoying the best of cinema—new modern masterpieces to wonderful classics—from the comfort of your bed? And with myriad options to choose from on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, the nightly decision of what to show in your private bedroom screening can prove a challenge. So to make your time easier, I’ve rounded up some of the best films available to stream, so peruse our list, get cozy, and enjoy.
Much Ado About Nothing (iTunes)
Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.
Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast.
Simon Killer (Netflix)
Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.
Shock Corridor (Hulu)
Haunted by doomsday visions, the mental hospital is a tabloid version of America — a place where war games and race riots are played out on the central corridor, a.k.a. the Street, as in Main Street. Or put another way, America is imagined as bedlam. At once compelling and incoherent, "Shock Corridor" was shot entirely in interior — the outside world only present as hallucination. It’s a movie that regularly, if unpredictably, breaks free from its narrative straitjacket and erupts into mayhem. Social pathology merges with individual delusion. The three witnesses to the murder are a guilt-ridden nuclear physicist regressed to age 5, a brainwashed Korean War traitor imagining himself a heroic Confederate general and the first black student to integrate a Southern university, who believes he founded the Ku Klux Klan and, in true split personality fashion, crafts signs directed at himself: "Black foreigners can’t breathe our white air and go to school with our white children."
Something in the Air (Netflix)
Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: "Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world," Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood. It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett.
Room 237 (iTunes)
Ascher’s Room 237 is not a film that asks us to hold any of its ideas as truths, nor does it present them as such. For how could we ever know the turth that lived inside the confounding mind of Stanley Kubrick? The Shining is a film that explores the maze-like complexity of the tortured mind’s unconscious, and takes our idea of the nuclear family and throws it in our face. And with Room 237, we’re left to question where subjectivity and art collide—was any of this really Kubrick’s intention, and where do my personal affinities transfer themselves into his world? Ascher presents us with these ideas in an invigorating way that makes us question not only our own understanding of the work but career of a man whose films have continued to baffle, excite, and penetrate our subconscious inqueries and desires for over half a century.
À nos amours (Hulu)
Painful, beautiful, and discomfiting, À nos amours remains as startling in its honesty, its unique mix of savagery and delicacy, as it was in 1983. Next to it, most adolescent “rite of passage” films, with their predictable dividing lines and alignments of sympathies, look tame, even reassuring. François Truffaut, who had his own take on the miseries of childhood, and thus was perhaps the closest to Pialat in interests, admired him immensely, but from our vantage point, this late-blooming director was not one of the “new people.” Not just a late starter but a cranky outsider to boot, Pialat was never part of the nouvelle vague, had none of the collegial feelings or movement enthusiasms of a team player. And although he shared a revolutionary aesthetic, and was as adamantly opposed as they were to the tyranny of the “well-made film,” he was more interested in autobiography than genre. In a series of films, made and seen with difficulty, he explored his life and concerns in terms so uncompromising and so deeply felt that, though he was not easy to take in his own time, he has emerged like a prophet of the conflicts that are convulsing today’s families and relationships.
The Bling Ring (iTunes)
In the past year we’ve seen myriad films about rebellious teenage behavior, youth in revolt against their mundane lives—from dangerously wild films like Spring Breakers to the more heartfelt coming-of-age stories like The Kings of Summer. As the inundation of social media and the obsession with celebrity culture increases, it’s easy for young people to get sucked into the idea of fame and success as the ultimate goal. But what happens when you get there? What happens when you’re knee-deep in Paris Hilton’s leather Louboutin boots? How do we reconcile the aspiration of affluence with the reality that undercuts it? But with The Bling Ring, Coppola’s kinetic fashion heist film based on the 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Wore Louboutins," we follow a group of reckless teens lusting after the sheen of materialistic pleasures.
More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright, Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.
The East (iTunes)
Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling.
With its pop art color scheme and two-dimensional characters, Weekend is less like a novel than a pamphlet, and more like a fairy tale than either. The presiding trope is Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole. Weekend opens conventionally enough, like a Chabrol movie or a Balzac novel: a married couple, Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne), are planning each other’s demise with their respective lovers, and plotting together to help Corinne’s ailing father into the afterlife— maybe her mother as well, if she refuses to split the inheritance. But any illusion of melodramatic realism is quickly punctured in a scene where Corinne’s lover assumes the role of psychiatrist, sitting at a desk in a darkened office while Corinne sits on the desk in her bra and panties and describes a recent three-way with a different lover and his girlfriend, an orgy, involving eggs and a bowl of milk, loosely borrowed from Bataille’s Histoire de l’œil. The episode is a parody of Bibi Andersson’s emotionally overwrought “orgy monologue” in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, rendered flat and passionless by Corinne’s bored delivery, the camera’s slow zooming in and out in near darkness on the barely distinguishable figures, and swelling, “ominous” B-movie theme music that occasionally drowns out her voice. Godard establishes here an atmosphere of neurotic apprehension and narrative unreliability sustained throughout the rest of the film. “Is this a dream or did it really happen?” “I don’t know.”
‘Tape” made me believe that its events could happen to real people more or less as they appear on the screen, and that is its most difficult accomplishment. To describe the movie makes it sound like an exercise in artifice: three characters, one motel room, all talk, based on a stage play. But the writing, acting and direction are so convincing that at some point I stopped thinking about the constraints and started thinking about the movie’s freedoms: freedom from idiocy, first of all, since the characters are all smart and articulate, and testing each other’s nerve and values. Freedom from big gassy meaningless events. Freedom from the tyranny of an overbearing soundtrack that wants to feel everything for us. Freedom from the expected.
Fox and His Friends (Hulu)
Make no mistake, this is the real Queer as Folk, but for all of Fassbinder’s gripes with an elite gay culture’s many sexual hang-ups, Fox and His Friends is first and foremost a riveting evocation of social Darwinism in action (Fox is called "stupid and primitive" and the tagline that follows the film’s title on the Wellspring DVD of the film aptly proclaims: "Survival of the Fittest"). A mere child at heart, Fox is unconsciously rude to his elders and pounds his hands at the dinner table. His sweetly innocent behavior nonetheless brings shame to Eugen, who has no problems borrowing 100,000 German marks from Fox to prevent his father’s printing business from going under. And after Eugen and his elite family (they prefer Mozart to loud modernist composers and are easily mortified when Fox drops chunks of bread into his soup) successfully bilk Fox out of his entire fortune (embarrassing him by forcing him to work at their factory and then suggesting that his slave labor is his interest due), Fox returns to the earth, so to speak, after dying of a broken heart.
I Killed My Mother (Netflix)
I Killed My Mother is determinedly quotidian, albeit suffused with betrayal and disappointment. Chantale, whatever we may think of her gaudy taste (some of the film’s best comedic moments come from her literally wild faux fur ensembles), is not the worst mother in the world, and sometimes, when she’s fiercely defending her son to his haughty boarding-school principal, she’s truly admirable. In the midst of the film’s arguments and disavowals, it’s easy to lose track of its dramatic core, which is less about adolescence than moving past it. “I love you,” Hubert tells his mother late one night. “I’m telling you so you won’t forget.” Though the fighting inevitably resumes, the unexpected tenderness of these words lingers on. Dolan knows that as Hubert passes into adulthood, this moment will seal itself off. Its intensity will fade, leaving behind just a few words and images, tokens to remind us of, but also to shield us from, the searing pain of the too-recent past.
Side Effects (Netflix)
Because Side Effects is brilliant: a noir psychological thriller – like a 21st-century Marnie, or Rosemary’s Baby – that is also an acid satire on big pharma, the mental healthprofession and its terrifyingly powerful, priestly caste of doctors. There is a compelling lead performance from Rooney Mara who lays down the law with her presence. She demonstrates a potent Hitchcockian combination: an ability to be scared and scary at the same time, and Soderbergh’s film manages to introduce its effects in some insidious, almost intravenous way. Fear and fascination swam through my skull simply watching it. And the later scenes involving sex, lies and videotape will be especially involving for those on the lookout for recurrent authorial motifs.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Hulu)
"The film is just too damn impenetrable for its own good,” writes the Web-based critic Kevin Maynard. I’m sure he speaks for a lot of viewers, but of course if you could penetrate it, there would be no film — simply a police case, or an account of an accident. My idea of Australia has been fashioned almost entirely from its films, and I picture it as a necklace of coastal cities, from which depend smaller inland towns, surrounding the vast and ancient Outback — where modern logic does not apply, and inexplicable things can happen…Nicolas Roeg’s "Walkabout" touches on some of the same feelings as "Picnic at Hanging Rock." In it, a white girl and her brother are left abandoned in the wilderness when their father kills himself. They would quickly die, but are saved by an aborigine boy who, in an ironic reversal, kills himself after they all wander back to civilization. The suggestion in both "Walkabout" and "Picnic” is that aboriginal life cannot be sustained in cities, nor European-based life in nature, and it is intriguing that girls on the brink of maturity are the focal point in both films.
Babette’s Feast (Hulu)
The quality of the film is, in the end, a spiritual one (which is why mention of Dreyer is merited). Since its release, critics have pointed out that the story is open to religious interpretation, which is fair, and fine, as long as one understands what is meant by this. Certainly, story and film are studded with religious references—to the Last Supper, to sacramental grace, to the importance of charity, and so on—but given that the milieu being depicted is religious, this should contain nothing to surprise us. Plainly, as viewers, we need to acknowledge a certain irony and genial good humor being directed against the narrowness of the village sectarians, while also taking the trouble to observe that the critique provided (such as it is) is congruent with broadly Christian sentiment. As in Ordet, there is puritanical Christianity and a more enlightened Christianity “of the body.” The feast given by Babette to the pious townspeople opens their minds to the notion that the pleasures of the senses aren’t necessarily sinful, but the satire involved here is very gentle, and it would be false to interpret the great sequence we are talking about as some simple endorsement of epicureanism. Actually, you could argue that the film itself resists interpretation because, as with the story, everyone already understands its essence.
Shakespeare used six words to pose the essential human choice: "To be, or not to be?" Elizabeth, a character in Ingmar Bergman’s "Persona," uses two to answer it: "No, don’t!" She is an actress who one night stopped speaking in the middle of the performance, and has been silent ever since. Now her nurse, Alma, has in a fit of rage started to throw a pot of boiling water at her. "No, don’t!" translates as: I do not want to feel pain, I do not want to be scarred, I do not want to die. She wants . . . to be. She admits . . . she exists. "Persona" (1966) is a film we return to over the years, for the beauty of its images and because we hope to understand its mysteries. It is apparently not a difficult film: Everything that happens is perfectly clear, and even the dream sequences are clear–as dreams. But it suggests buried truths, and we despair of finding them. "Persona" was one of the first movies I reviewed, in 1967. I did not think I understood it. A third of a century later I know most of what I am ever likely to know about films, and I think I understand that the best approach to "Persona" is a literal one.
McQueen is renowned as an artist and winner of the Turner prize, and this is his first feature film. I came to it sceptically, having been alienated by his video-art work Deadpan (1997), which seemed to me an uninteresting and frankly supercilious appropriation of Buster Keaton. But Hunger shows that McQueen is a real film-maker and his background in art has meant a fierce concentration on image, an unflinching attention to what things looked like, moment by moment. There is an avoidance of affect and a repudiation of the traditional liberal-lenient gestures of dialogue, dramatic consensus and narrative resolution. This is a powerful, provocative piece of work, which leaves a zero-degree burn on the retina.