Even cursorily looking back on my output for TVOvermind, it’s obvious that I’ve been erroneously conflating movie streaming with Netflix. Yeah, I bring up services like Crunchy Roll or FilmStruck when I talk about how saturated the streaming market has and is becoming, but the definite bulk of my discussion of the topic is so narrowly hyper-focused on one streaming provider (and, arguably, not even the best one), that it’s created a false narrative surrounding the entire streaming industry.
And, yeah, that’s not cool. Other streaming services have a lot to offer and I, like many others, are not married to just one anymore. I subscribe to Netflix. I subscribe to Hulu. I use the free version of Cruncy Roll. I used to subscribe to Amazon TV (because Re:Creators is literally, not figuratively, the best). I’m in the middle of a free trial-run of Shudder (an excellent horr-streaming service) and plan on shifting over to a free trial of FilmStruck after that runs out.
So, at least while I have them, it only makes sense that I should be talking about them: some of the many streaming options available to modern households (many of which have yet to find the perfect provider specifically for them). And in that light, I’ll start with what I’ve honestly found to be the best, broadly-mainstream service, the one offering the latest high-end movie and TV releases and the overall broadest catalog of must-see programming. And we start, of course, as with all things, with movies.
10 . Justice League: War (2014)
Although I said it once before, it bears repeating again: despite their live-action woes, the DC superheroes are alive and well in the field of animation. Their straight-to-DVD releases have been everything that their big screen counterparts have not been — exciting and dramatically well-rendered, living in a detailed world populated by a cast of compelling characters. Although Hulu sadly has only a few animated DC offerings, what they do have are easily among the best: not just War, but Gods and Monsters, Throne of Atlantis, Justice League vs Teen Titans and Justice League Dark as well.
9 . Super (2011)
Although Deadpool‘s unique brand of pointedly crass meta-humor won audiences the world over in 2016 (and again in 2018), it was hardly the takedown of the growing superhero genre that many had assumed it to be. Instead, it was lock-step with the gag: making fun of a genre with which it was itself fully invested in. For the kind of no-holds barred, wind-from-the-sails evisceration that those fans wanted, they’ll have to look back at this forgotten James Gunn (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame) masterpiece about an everyday schlub who creates his own superheroic persona in order to win his wife back from the drug dealer (played by Kevin Bacon) that stole him away from her. It’s a work of vicious, deconstructive satire that shows just how utterly demented these kinds of people would have to be to take up the life of costumed vigilante, but it’s also a really funny, intelligent and occasionally touching film about a down-on-his-luck guy raging at the indifferent universe he is trapped in.
8 . Fences (2016)
It is no secret that Denzel Washington is one of our most talented, skilled and infectiously charismatic actors working today. And in this celebrated adaptation of the classic August Wilson stage play, he brings all of those talents to bear: not just as its star, but as its director and producer as well. He brings complexity to a boorish character that could have easily been a flatly scripted villain otherwise. He draws powerful performances out of the film’s ensemble cast and recreates one of the iconic American dramas for audiences the world over.
7 . Arrival (2016)
Although hardly the household name that Kubrick or Spielberg are (at least, not yet), French-Canadian emigre Denis Villeneuve is one of today’s premiere filmmakers. Although his earlier work — which includes genuine modern-day classics like Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015) — is often considered a bit inaccessible for the casual movie-goer, Arrival is a different sort of beast altogether: a gripping and timely narrative that is somehow inviably easy to follow despite the temporal knots that it ties itself in. And like Prisoners or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Villeneuve is able to bring incredible performances out of his A-list talent here — namely Amy Adams (as linguist Louise Banks) and Jeremy Renner (as physicist Ian Donnelly) — as the characters try to contend with a visiting alien force and the unique challenge of attempting to communicate with them as the world descends into chaos around them.
6 . Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
On paper, Sweeney Todd is just about everything I hate about this medium, coalesced into a single film. Like may of my contemporaries, I generally can’t stand bombastic Hollywood musicals. I’ve always found director Tim Burton to purposefully bizarre to invest into as a filmmaker. Although undoubtedly talented, Johnny Depp (especially when collaborating with Burton) gets old pretty quick. And yet, for all of that, this is a remarkable and infinitely rewatchable film: not just my favorite Burton film by a mile, but also my favorite musical and nearly my favorite Depp performance. It is a one-of-a-kind musical experience, and is case zero for why the otherwise stale musical genre really needs to start playing around with other kinds of characters and stories.
5 . Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Among the subset of cinephiles who actually are about the Oscars, 2005 is easily one of the most contentious years on record. In it, a contentious upset saw Crash, a melodramatic and traditionally Oscar-baity drama that “both sides” issues of racism in L.A., won Best Picture instead of the odds-on favorite, Brokeback Mountain. In the decade or more since that fiasco, Crash has (not unjustly) diminished in the popular consciousness whereas its one-time rival, a gripping, decades-long and ultimately tragic romance between a pair of cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), only feels more in-step with the present moment than it did even back then. Its script is both wickedly insightful to its characters lives and confident enough to present itself without maudlin flourish, the cinematography is stunning and the acting is among the decade’s absolute best.
4 . Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the greatest directors working in the film industry today. Generally, he presents bombastic stories starring dangerous men that inevitably destroy themselves over the course of a couple of hours. And of his expansive filmography, it is generally agreed that Taxi Drive is his best film, if not the most emblematic of his oeuvre: one in which a deranged, mentally unstable taxi driver forms an intimate (if uncomfortable) friendship with an under-aged prostitute, attempts political assassination and becomes an avenger of New York’s lower classes. It is a driving, intelligent and entirely unforgettable experience, and one that is just as fresh to revisit as it is to view for the very first time.
3 . Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Although dramas are commonplace at the multiplex, Richard Linklater is the only American purveyor of a particular type of drama that is popular elsewhere in the world (and especially in Japan): the slice-of-life drama. In his films — which include the lauded Before trilogy, Dazed and Confused and Boyhood — Linklater presents an intimate, compelling and decidedly low-key story that plays out within an exceptional cast of actors reading from an inspired script. They present nothing more or less than the entire world — at least as it exists for the characters — in all of its messy, intimate and thoroughly lived-in details.
Everybody Wants Some!! feels a lot like a sequel to Dazed and Confused. Whereas that film followed a group of high school students attending an end-of-the-year party, this one follows a group of college freshmen in the days before classes start as they cram in as much partying, drinking and youthful antics as they can. And yet, from this basic premise rises one of the best movies to come out in 2016: an arresting drama that doesn’t so much end a story as it does begin a new chapter, itself filled with boundless promise.
2 . Let the Right One In (2008)
I always thought that it was a real shame that not many American movie-goers were willing to give foreign language films a try. While the technical polish, exorbitant budgets and A-list talents of major Hollywood productions certainly have their place, so many audiences that frequently clamor or something different willingly dismiss the vast majority of films to come out each year owing simply to the fact that the actors don’t speak English.
Let the Right One In is a perfect example of why more American cinephiles shouldn’t dismiss these films purely out of habit. It is a bleakly gorgeous film, with a pair of really talented young actors at its forefront and a director who, by his own admission, went out of his way to make the opposite of the stereotypical Hollywood movie. Although ostensibly a movie about a vampire terrorizing a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s, the defiant way in which the story is presented in the film — with the vampire-on-human violence distant and de-emphasized and the human-on-human violence (ie, bullying) shot up-close and personal — presents a worldview entirely different from anything you’re likely to find coming out of America: one in which traditionally inhuman monsters are our sympathetic protagonists and everybody else (ie, their food) are the real villains.
And even if you don’t strictly want something different, the fact that it is undoubtedly the greatest horror film to come out since The Exorcist (1973) should be enough.
1 . The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
It seems to be a relatively common occurrence for movie-goers of my generation, coming up at the turn of the century and starting to get more deeply invested in the idea of cinema concurrently with the release of the X-Men, Harry Potter and Spider-Man movies to frame the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the greatest movies of all time (or, barring that, for them to be the first movies that we considered to be the greatest of all time). I was no exception. I readily insisted in the full decade after their release that they were, quite simply, the end-all be-all of the movie-going experience.
Although my tastes have changed with time, even today it’s really hard to argue against that idea, at least in terms of 20th century films. They are epic spectacles that are far grander than any of the sword-and-sandal films from the Hollywood golden age (such as Spartacus or Ben-Hur). They are near-perfect page-to-screen adaptations of their source material and arguably work better in a visual medium like cinema than in a static one like literature. They are perfectly cast, perfectly directed and all three films build up into something far greater than any individual installment within them. And if you haven’t had the chance to see these films before now (or haven’t done so in a while), a Hulu subscription is the best way to do so.
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