Feature films are a relatively new area for Hulu, so to come up with this list, we also considered its much larger collection of documentaries, its horror movie series Into the Dark, and a some of the great catalogue titles that make the service worthy of a subscription.
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Updated February 24, 2022 to add five additional recommendations. Jeff’s earlier picks follow, in alphabetical order, starting with About Endlessness.
20th Century Fox
This nervy David Fincher film—it was only his third—hits like a punch dipped in acid. Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (1999) has real electricity and an exciting kind of danger. A Narrator (Edward Norton) is trapped in his soul-sucking corporate job, and not even his material possessions bring him solace. He likes to attend various meetings of support groups, and meets gothy Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) there. He also meets swaggery soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and after Tyler asks the Narrator to “hit me as hard as you can,” they wind up forming their own “support” group (which they agree not to talk about).
The trio begins living in a huge, abandoned mansion, as the movement turns into a revolution, much to the Narrator’s dismay. Fincher’s visual style feels like a digital dream, edgy and bruised, yet viciously alive.
Danish writer-director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary Flee (2021) brilliantly uses its format to enhance its recorded interview and conjure up a dramatic, harrowing, and moving story. The artwork provides a slight remove, echoing a fiction film, even though we never forget that what we’re hearing is true; it’s a grand improvement over a talking-head interview.
For protection, the subject is referred to by the pseudonym “Amin Nawabi.” He apparently told his story for the first time, ever, to Rasmussen, and it’s a deeply emotional account. The story stretches from Amin’s happy childhood in Afghanistan, before the mujahideen swooped in and took over, killing his family and kidnapping his sister. There are many tense, suspenseful hurdles before he finally makes it to Denmark, where he is now happily married to husband Kaspar. (It’s also a touching LGBTQ+ love story.) The only drawback is that the hand-drawn animation is often distractingly amateurish, but that doesn’t detract from the power of the tale.
The French Connection
20th Century Fox
Winner of five Academy Awards, William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) is one of the great cop movies, modeled after real-life police detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, and focused on the grimy details of the job. Its gritty realism elevated the cop movie genre to an entirely new and startling level. New York City detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman, who won an Oscar) and his long-suffering partner “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) are on the trail of an international drug smuggler (Fernando Rey).
Angry and fast-talking (“I’m gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!”), Popeye is far from a typical cop-movie heroic figure; he’s fascinating, and Hackman gives his all to the performance. (Scheider, who received an Oscar nomination, matches him.) Friedkin “stole” most of his New York location footage, shooting quickly and without permits, and uses plenty of spy and surveillance footage to heighten suspense. All that goes out the window, however, for the famous car chase sequence involving the elevated train; far from a tacked-on scene, this one has something at stake.
Guillermo Del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winner The Shape of Water is a remake of a 1947 film noir, expanded and given a sheen of lush color and glistening production design. In Nightmare Alley (2021), drifter Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) winds up at a carnival and—after a run-in with the chicken-eating “geek”—is given a job. He becomes fascinated by a clairvoyant act, Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn), whose drinking has begun to interfere with performances. He swindles the secrets of the act and takes pretty Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) on the road to the big time.
Unfortunately, his ego swells out of control, leading to disaster. Cate Blanchett is positively poisonous as a sleek, blonde psychologist who engineers a scheme with Stan. Willem Dafoe is the carny boss, Ron Perlman is a strongman, and Richard Jenkins, Clifton Collins Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson also appear. But even with its enviable cast and mesmerizing sequences, its dispiriting, fatalistic story—which lasts 150 minutes—can leave you feeling beaten and bruised.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín had already made two exemplary biopics, Jackie and Neruda (both 2016), before he moved onto this more ambitious, unconventional film. The deeply poetic, fascinating Spencer (2021) imagines what life might have been like for Diana, the Princess of Wales (Kristen Stewart) over the course of three days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, presumably in 1992, although the movie doesn’t say) as she suffocates under the weight of the Royal Family. She has her secret allies with whom she can be herself, baring her weight-of-a-nation anguish. Then, forced to attend family functions with color-coded outfits, she comes to a hard decision.
It’s a great, meticulous, wrenching film that received a lone Academy Award nomination for Stewart’s performance, but deserved many more. Jonny Greenwood’s score provides an unbearable tension, while the set design and pristine cinematography create a beautiful prison.
Here are Jeff’s earlier recommendations, in alphabetical order:
Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor; You, The Living; A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) has been compared to Jacques Tati, for his dry sense of humor, and to Stanley Kubrick, for his meticulous, cavernous camera setups. About Endlessness (2019, released in the USA in 2021) is his sixth feature film since 1970; he works slowly, perhaps because it takes time for him to create every exacting, glorious, unmoving shot, like a series of paintings.
There’s no real plot here: the film follows many characters, some of whom recur—including a priest who has lost his faith—and others that are seen only once. Many of the moments are deadpan funny, while others are sad, brutal, or even beautiful, such as a trio of women who spontaneously begin dancing to music playing in a café. The title comes from a textbook read by two students, referring to how energy never dies; it just transfers from one place to another. This great film could be about that, or it could be about anything.
The Act of Killing
The filmmakers try a most unusual tactic; they convince the men to re-create their most memorable killings for the camera, complete with costumes and makeup. The effect is both chilling and highly revealing, as well as strikingly visual. The sheer number of crew members who chose to use “anonymous” in the closing credits suggests just how dangerously bold this film really is. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris signed on as executive producers. Director Oppenheimer continued telling the story with The Look of Silence (2014).
The documentary The Act of Killing (2012) is a tough watch, but you’ll be glad you did, and you will never forget it. Three filmmakers, Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and “Anonymous,” interview two men who served on death squads, and who killed Communists in Indonesia in the 1960s. The killers, Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, seem to have little remorse for what they did, comparing themselves to badass gangsters and American movie heroes, full of swagger and bravado.
In 1972, Aretha Franklin was at the height of her powers, when she decided to record a live gospel album, recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Director Sydney Pollack was tasked to film the sessions, but since he somehow neglected to use clapboards, the sound could not be easily synced. The film sat for years, until Alan Elliott painstakingly put it all together, but Franklin sued for appropriating her image without permission, and the film was shelved again.
Finally, after Franklin’s death in 2018, her family allowed it to be released. And now Amazing Grace (2018) can be enjoyed in all its rapturous glory, as Franklin’s powerful vocals lift and soar through traditionals like the title track and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as well as covers like Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” Even Mick Jagger and the late Charlie Watts turn up to listen and learn.
Many sci-fi movies are essentially war movies with humans fighting aliens, humans teaming with aliens to fight other humans, or some variation thereof. Adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang, the amazing Arrival (2016) is something very different. It may not appeal to all comers, but if you tune into its thoughtful, meditative mode, it’s a great film. Amy Adams plays a linguist, Louise Banks, who is called into duty when 12 alien pods mysteriously arrive and hover over 12 seemingly random places all over the planet. It’s her job, along with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to learn the alien’s language and find out what they want.
In a normal movie, the answer would mean the end of the mystery, but here, it’s only enhanced. The timely message is one of empathy and understanding, rather than panic and destruction. Director Denis Villeneuve does remarkable things with shapes and light and dark, as well as a use of quiet and diegetic sounds; it’s pure poetry. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson, who died in 2018, provided the astoundingly beautiful music score.
This Groundhog Day-like “stuck in a 24-hour time loop” movie proves that you can always approach an old idea with a fresh angle. Directed by Joe Carnahan, Boss Level (2021) comes right out swinging as our hero, ex-soldier Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), wakes up dodging a machete in his apartment, and seconds later, machine-gun fire from a helicopter outside his windows. Roy must hit the ground running, every morning, to avoid a team of elite assassins who are trying to kill him. He has never survived past 12:47 p.m., and has mainly decided to spend his last moments at the bar.
But this time, he finds a clue that will help him figure out why this is all happening to him, and perhaps also save his wife (Naomi Watts) and son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real-life son). The 94-minute movie pulses along like a beast on adrenaline. It’s paced just right so as to be exciting without being exhausting, and yet doesn’t leave much time to ask questions. Mel Gibson co-stars as a sinister bad guy, and with Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, and Ken Jeong.
Olivia Wilde’s feature directing debut Booksmart (2019) is bound to become a classic of the John Hughes-like high-school party movie, yet bracingly modern (and without all the cringy moments that those 1980s films got away with). On the last day of high school, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) realize that, despite being studious and walking the straight-and-narrow for four years, most of the slackers around them seem to have made it into prestigious schools or enviable jobs. So they decide that they deserve one blow-out party, and hit the road to try to find the biggest bash in town.
Wilde’s direction is vibrant and alive, employing everything from animation and musical numbers to dizzying camerawork. The movie is awake to various genders and cultures, and yet still knows how to have fun with its mix of brainy and raucous humor. Jessica Williams is wonderful as a sympathetic teacher, and Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte, co-star.
Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is a clever, creeping meta-horror story that recalls a time when the genre was considered dangerous. Niamh Algar is highly effective as the dewy, wounded Enid Baines, the title censor, whose job in the early 1980s is to go through “Video Nasties” frame by frame, and cut out anything that could be considered morally corrupting.
While viewing one film, she becomes alarmed by a story of two sisters that mirrors her own life, and the day her own sister went missing. So, she tracks down the film’s director to find answers, and instead enters a world of nightmares. Director Bailey-Bond, whose feature directing debut this is, really sinks into the forbidden world of those old VHS chillers, changing her aspect ratio and using fuzzy FX and stark, bold lighting to suggest menace as well as an increasingly slippery grasp of reality.
This searing, austere drama will leave your soul in smoking ruins. Alfre Woodard gives a profoundly affecting performance as prison warden Bernadine Williams, who oversees a string of executions. The latest one goes horribly, gruesomely wrong, as the prisoner dies in agony. From there, Bernadine tries to hang on to her crumbling marriage, works through the constant drone of angry protesters outside her office, and drinks a little too much each night. Meanwhile, a kind, but worn-down lawyer Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) puts what energy he has left into preventing the next prisoner (Aldis Hodge) from going to the chair.
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the overlooked Clemency (2019) moves with a reflective observant quietness, peering inward at the characters’ layers of pain and lost hopes with an undeniable power.
Crime + Punishment
Stephen T. Maing’s documentary Crime + Punishment (2018), which made the shortlist for the 2019 Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary, seems even more relevant now than it was when it first appeared. It deals with quotas within the New York Police Department, which were made illegal in 2010, but which still exist. Police officers are expected to make a certain number of arrests per month, and they are encouraged to target mostly Black and Latinx citizens.
Maing captures audio and visual evidence of this, as well as evidence of punishments doled out to officers who refuse to comply. The main focus is a harrowing trial in which brave officers, known as the NYPD 12, come forward and attempt to sue the department, while the main subject is a former officer-turned-private investigator, Manny Gomez, a bear-sized, highly persuasive, old-school New Yorker who is as devoted to fighting corruption as he is to tasty lobster roll pastries.
Culture Shock (Into the Dark)
Arguably the best of the feature-length Into the Dark episodes, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Culture Shock” (2019) grapples with America’s shameful treatment of immigrants, as well as anticipating a show like Disney+’s WandaVision. Marisol (Martha Higareda) is a Mexican woman who has already made one failed attempt to get to the United States. Now pregnant, she must try again, at any cost. She hires a coyote (Sal Lopez) for the trip, and along the way she befriends a young boy, Ricky (Ian Inigo), and the tough-looking Santo (Richard Cabral), who seems determined to protect her.
They are nearly caught, but then Marisol wakes up to find herself in a perfect, pastel-colored vision of the suburban American dream, with American flags and fireworks and community barbecues. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) plays a woman who smiles too broadly (creepy, David Lynch-style), and Shawn Ashmore plays the mayor. Where it goes from there definitely tingles the synapses. This is a nimble, wise, and deeply effective horror-satire.
Escape from Alcatraz
The last of the five movies that director Don Siegel made with star Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz (1979) caps off a sterling track record. Strangely, rather than slam-bang action, the movie focuses on the slow, patient details of a prison break, not unlike its French arthouse predecessors by Robert Bresson (A Man Escaped) and Jacques Becker (Le Trou). Eastwood plays Frank Morris, who gets off on the wrong foot in prison by beating up a nasty con called “Wolf” (Bruce M. Fischer). He begins his escape plan, which involves three others (including a young Fred Ward), and which must be completed before “Wolf” gets out of solitary and before the warden moves Morris to a different cell.
Siegel’s eye for clean, step-by-step activity is at its peak here, given emotional heft by the fascinating supporting characters and the gray, quietly oppressive atmosphere. Screenwriter Richard Tuggle later received credit for directing the Eastwood thriller Tightrope.
An electrifying, drum-tight thriller from Denmark, The Guilty (2018) focuses largely on one character, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), a police officer who has been temporarily assigned to manning the phones at dispatch while awaiting a misconduct trial. It’s his last day before the trial, and he is hopeful that things will go well and he can return to his job. He answers a few routine calls before hearing from a woman who seems to have been kidnapped. Using only the phone and his instincts, he attempts to rescue her, but discovers that something much bigger is going on.
Director Gustav Möller stays razor-focused on Asger, never leaving the dispatch office, with only a few other characters moving in and out of the picture. The voices on the phone are never seen. Even with such a limited palette, Möller keeps things moving with expertly chosen close-ups, wider shots, and cuts, and especially the lights on the phone banks. (An American remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal is on Netflix, but catch this exciting original first.)
You might think you know what a Satanist is, but Penny Lane’s amazing documentary Hail Satan? (2019) will surprise you in all the best ways. The group is really just a bunch of outsiders dedicated to fighting for religious and democratic equality for everyone; they’re more atheists than devils. Their tenets include “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason,” “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone,” and “Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.”
Part of the movie deals with the group trying to get a statue of the goat-headed Baphomet installed in front of the Arkansas state capitol building, to offset another statue of the Ten Commandments. The attempt is more an attempt to stir up conversation about religious freedoms than any hope of succeeding. By the end of the film, you’ll be glad these forward-thinking misfits are out there.
The Hate U Give
The late screenwriter Audrey Wells and director George Tillman Jr. take their time to flesh out the story and a host of layered supporting characters. Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are particularly excellent as Starr’s parents. The title, inspired by Tupac Shakur, may sound off-putting and angry, but it’s a positive, empowering movie.
Based on a young adult novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give feels a great deal more relevant and more powerful than all the Twilights, Divergents, and Maze Runners in the world. Amandla Stenberg gives an immense performance as Starr, a teen who lives in a tough, black neighborhood and commutes to an all-white prep school. She carefully keeps two separate identities for the two places, but her efforts are undone when she witnesses a white cop shooting her childhood friend; she must decide whether to risk everything and come forward.
Filmmaker Peter Nicks directed the eye-opening documentary Homeroom (2021) in the same vérité vain as his previous works, The Waiting Room (2013) and The Force (2017). Unlike those two, this one was nearly derailed, twice, first by the death of Nicks’s teen daughter Karina, and then, months later, by COVID-19. It was meant to follow a group of seniors, the graduating class of 2020, through their final year at Oakland High School. The focus was going to be on teen mental health, but after COVID, the focus instead became Denilson Garibo, a student member of the School Board, who continues to fight to have police removed from the school. (The board meetings are outrageous free-for-alls, which tend to devolve into shouting and rage.)
There’s no way to know what the original film might have been like, but this one—tying uniquely into the other events of 2020, such as the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter marches, and the “defund the police” movement—uncovers the unending well of resilience and strength that today’s teens actually have.
I Am Greta
Nathan Grossman’s documentary I Am Greta (2020) follows Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg from her humble beginnings, staging a solo walkout from school on Fridays to call attention to the threat of climate change, to her international celebrity as she begins being recognized and invited to speak publicly. (Her speeches are boldly terse, scolding the old white men who have refused to take action.)
The film doesn’t dig very deep, and anyone who has followed the news knows the story, but it’s still filled with amazing moments that let us in on the way her brain works, from her insistence on a meat- and dairy-free diet to taking a small boat across the Atlantic rather than take an environment-destroying airplane. After seeing this, it’s difficult to deny that climate change is a pressing crisis, or that Miss Thunberg deserves our admiration for leading the fight.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins follows up his glorious Moonlight (2016) with this drama, and while it doesn’t quite match up— not much could—it’s still an elegant, meticulous film, heartbreakingly alive, and flowing with poetry. Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) is about a young woman, Tish (KiKi Layne), who becomes engaged to her childhood friend Fonny (Stephan James) and becomes pregnant, but then Fonny is arrested and jailed for a crime he did not commit.
The movie is filled with virtuoso sequences, handsome camera moves and disquieting use of sound, and it contains at least one truly great performance, by Regina King as Tish’s mother. (She won an Oscar for her work.) This is a highly accomplished piece of filmmaking that may yet stand the test of time.
Yes, it’s another zombie movie, but Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters (2019) is likely the sweetest zombie movie ever made. It works largely due to its contagious good nature, and largely thanks to the awesome presence of the mighty Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Black Panther, Us), who manages to be both adorable and badass. Alexander England co-stars as Dave, a struggling metal musician who has gone through a savage breakup and is now staying with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and her five-year-old tractor-loving son Felix (Diesel La Torraca).
Dave takes Felix to school and immediately crushes on his teacher, Miss Caroline (Nyong’o). He volunteers to chaperone a field trip to a farm, hoping for a chance to flirt with her. But a bloody zombie attack forces the field trip to hole up in the gift shop, where they must placate the children and figure out a way to escape. Josh Gad co-stars—and parodies his own image—as a famous kids’ TV star, Teddy McGiggle, who is an absolute scoundrel off-camera.
Memories of Murder
Bong Joon-ho’s great second feature, Memories of Murder (2003), is ostensibly based on a true story about a serial killer in Korea, but it’s also quite a bit more: a sly comedy, and a story about problems and solutions, about searching and not searching. It’s set in a farming community in Hwaseong Province, where several murders have occurred. Bong’s frequent leading man Song Kang-ho (Parasite) effortlessly steals the show as shaggy detective Park Doo-man, in charge of the case. He claims he can spot a criminal by sight, but he’s not above bullying a suspect to confess or casually falsifying a bit of evidence here and there.
Park’s partner is the hair-trigger Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roi-ha), and the more polished, professional Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) arrives from the big city (Seoul) to help. They run through false leads and wrong suspects, pick up clues, fail, and keep trying. Bong fashions the perfect ending, bittersweet, ironic, and unforgettable. Indeed, on paper its parts shouldn’t come together in any way, but they do, and beautifully.
Bong Joon-ho’s dark, satirical masterpiece about the nearly-insurmountable chasm between the haves and have-nots caught on in a big way, both at the box office and with critics; it’s one of the few films to have won both the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Picture. It starts almost as a comedy. the unemployed Kim family—father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang), daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik)—use their wits to scam a wealthy family into hiring them for various jobs (tutor, art therapist, maid, and driver).
Just when they think they’ve grasped the Good Life, Parasite (2019) turns sideways in such a brutal way that it can hardly be called a “twist.” But the second half is wise enough to make us go back and wonder why the first half had been so amusing. Clearly, something about this brilliant film tapped into the world’s consciousness, and it deserves continued pondering.
After a decade or so of forgettable, direct-to-video movies, Nicolas Cage is back, giving some of his career-best performances in movies like Joe, Mandy, Color Out of Space, and Pig, which was one of the best films of 2021. On paper, it’s a simple revenge film. Cage plays Robin Feld, a master chef now living out in the woods, hunting truffles with his trusty pig, and making rustic mushroom tarts for himself. His connection to the outside world is Amir (Alex Wolff), a truffle salesman who fancies himself a high roller.
When Rob’s pig is stolen, he heads into Portland with the single-minded mission of getting his pig back. Eventually the movie begins to deepen in fascinating ways, becoming more perceptive and even touching as it explores themes of identity and truth. It’s the feature directing debut of Michael Sarnoski, who creates a rich, wintry atmosphere and coaxes a ferocious, powerhouse performance from Cage, as well as an effective supporting one by Wolff.
Pooka! (Into the Dark)
Certainly the weirdest and most divisive of the Into the Dark horror movies, “Pooka!” (2018) was apparently popular enough to warrant a sequel (“Pooka Lives!”) in season two. An out-of-work actor, Wilson Clowes (Nyasha Hatendi), takes a job wearing the giant-sized “Pooka” suit to help promote a weird new Christmas toy. The toy repeats whatever it hears, in either “naughty” or “nice” mode. The launch is a success, and Wilson is finally doing well. He even meets and begins dating a pretty real-estate agent and single mom, Melanie (Latarsha Rose).
But Wilson begins to experience strange, violent events when his suit seemingly switches to “violent” mode, and he becomes increasingly dependent on it. The creepy eyes and massive size of the suit make for some truly unsettling images, and the talented director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Colossal) and Bear McCreary’s eerie score exploit them for all they’re worth.
Quo Vadis, Aida?
The harrowing, sobering Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021), which received an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film, is, according to Metacritic.com, the most acclaimed film of 2021. In a straightforward, pulse-pounding narrative, without hand-wringing or wallowing in misery, it’s one of the clearest depictions of the cruelty of war yet made.
It takes place in 1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Aida (Jasna Đuričić) works as a UN translator. The Bosnian Serb Army approaches, poised to take over the town of Srebrenica. Despite promises of protection from NATO, Aida—being able to hear both sides of the conversation—realizes they are doomed. She frantically begins attempting to save herself, her husband, and her two sons, using her credentials, but keeps running into problem after problem. Writer and director Jasmila Žbanić gives the film the look and pacing of a Hollywood thriller, but with a most unconventional hero; Đuričić gives a great, heart-rending performance, especially in the film’s final moments.
Riders of Justice
Veteran screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, from Denmark, wrote and directed this endlessly clever crime film sprinkled with clusters of dark comedy. But the real surprise is that, while it veers close to Tarantino territory, Riders of Justice (2021) manages to avoid the kind of ironic detachment that usually marks these kinds of films.
The characters here, a band of hyper-intelligent misfits and a wounded, violent outsider (the great Mads Mikkelsen), are always trying to get each other to talk about their feelings, and to be totally honest. When a woman is killed in a train accident, which may not have been an accident, Markus (Mikkelson), Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Lennart (Lars Brygmann), and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) begin hunting for the murderer, using both computer skills and Markus’s lethal military training, all while trying to keep it a secret from Markus’s teen daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). It could have gone overly slapsticky, but it remains constantly fleet-footed and surprising.
This incredible horror film popped up at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival, but, due to COVID-19 didn’t arrive in U.S. theaters until January of 2021. Saint Maud (2021) is the feature writing and directing debut of Rose Glass, from the UK, and it’s one of the great portraits of obsession from an interior point of view; it’s perhaps something along the lines of Polanski’s Repulsion, but it’s a searing indictment of religious fervor, rather than moral.
After failing to save a patient with CPR, a nurse has changed her name to Maud (Morfydd Clark), become deeply Catholic, and works as a palliative care nurse. Her patient is Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), a noted American dancer and choreographer. After a seeming moment of connection, Maud becomes determined to convert Amanda before she passes. What follows are moments of Maud being humiliated, while desperately searching for signs or help from God to show her the way. The movie eerily reflects her state of mind with its confident, unwavering tone, teetering just on the edge of realism, drawn toward nightmarish longing.
Shadow in the Cloud
Arriving on the first day of 2021, Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud is still the most demented, unpredictable, and entertaining “B” movie of the year so far. It’s 1943, and a woman named Maude (Chloë Grace Moretz) boards a bomber called The Fool’s Errand, mysterious package in hand. Over cries of “no dames on the plane!” she informs the men that she’s on a top-secret mission, and that the package is officially the most important thing on the plane.
From there, with no place for her to sit, Maude must crawl into the Sperry turret in the belly of the plane, where the camera stays on her until about the 50-minute mark. After the 50-minute mark, be ready for anything as the plane is attacked by both Japanese zeroes and gremlins, and Maude does her best to save the day while clinging to the outside of the plane. The pieces of this incredible, bonkers movie don’t always seem to go together, but there’s hardly a wasted moment in its 83-minutes. Even the ending is as incredible as the rest of it.
After a misstep in the James Bond series (Quantum of Solace), things bounced back in a huge way with one of its all-time best entries, Skyfall (2012). Academy award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049 and 1917) eschew the silliness of some of the earlier entries, allowing the mix to cool and thicken a bit, and offering up action scenes that have a snap.
Bond (Daniel Craig) must try to track down a hard drive containing the names of all the undercover MI6 agents in the world. His first clue leads him to a casino, a martini, and a Bond girl (Bérénice Marlohe). To be sure, Mendes doesn’t mess with the formula much, but the film has a genuine artistry and pride that makes it feel fresh and bracing. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw joined the cast in this one, Judi Dench and Naomie Harris return from previous films, and Javier Bardem plays one of the sharpest villains in the series.
Support the Girls
Written and directed by indie filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, Support the Girls (2018) takes place over the course of one day at a Hooters-like restaurant called “Double Whammies.” General manager Lisa (Regina Hall) has her hands full, dealing with a robbery, the cable going out, a slightly unethical car-wash fundraiser to benefit one of the girls (a victim of abuse), and the temper of her quasi-racist boss (James Le Gros). It’s a hectic day, but not a hectic movie. Rather, it’s casually observed, and surprisingly nuanced.
Hall, who breaks out from her typical lowbrow comedy roles into a truly great dramatic one, handles everything organically, with some success and some failure, and some in-between; she sometimes sneaks out back for a smoke or a cry. Layered into the story are interesting commentaries about being judged or approved based on race or sex. The girls—Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), and others—don’t have a great deal of power, but at least, along with Lisa, they have each other.