New on Netflix this week –

Netflix has a massive movie catalog with both original productions and entertainment licensed from studios across the globe. Not all of it is great, so finding something worthwhile to watch can be a challenge if you don’t have the time or patience to sift through thousands of titles. For every The Irishman you’ll encounter two or three bombs like The Kissing Booth. We focus here on Netflix’s original productions, so you can spend more time watching and less time searching.

Updated June 21, 2022 to add new recommendations. Jeff’s earlier picks follow, starting with Always Be My Maybe.

Atlantics

Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) struggles with the disappearance of her lover in Atlantics.

Netflix

This beautiful movie from Senegal—in Wolof and French with English subtitles—is an old-fashioned romantic tragedy that could have been written for a silent-era film, a social commentary, and a supernatural ghost story, all at the same time. Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and several like-minded colleagues decide to take a boat to Spain to look for better work opportunities. He leaves behind his true love, Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), who is set to be married to the wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla). On their wedding day, their bed catches fire, and a detective, Issa (Amadou Mbow), is assigned to investigate the case as potential arson.

Meanwhile, at nightfall every night, several people seem to be possessed by spirits, their eyes turning into white orbs. Directed by Mati Diop—who became the first Black woman with a film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival—Atlantics (2019) is quiet and poetic, seeing its images with an ethereal gaze, and moving through its familiar story threads with a fresh kind of mystery.

Beasts of No Nation

The fearsome Commandant (Idris Elba) controls an army of African lost children in Beasts of No Nation.

Netflix

Netflix’s very first original streaming movie, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation (2015) caused quite a controversy when it first arrived; certain theater chains boycotted it, and then (possibly in relation to this), the film received no Oscar nominations, sparking an outrage about lack of cultural diversity (#OscarsSoWhite). But all that aside, the movie itself is a powerhouse: brutal, crisply paced, and still somewhat optimistic.

Abraham Attah gives an astonishing performance as Agu, a young boy caught in an African civil war. When his father and brother are killed, he runs into the jungle and is discovered by a band of guerrilla soldiers, most of them not much older than Agu, and led by the fearsome Commandant (Idris Elba). The Commandant ensures their survival, but also exposes them to shocking horrors. In one heartbreaking moment, we see how Agu has become numb: laughing and playing games as men are shot behind him. Elba’s creation is monstrous, proud, vain, and vile, and the actor received numerous other nominations and awards for his performance.

Bo Burnham: Inside

Comic and songwriter Bo Burnham performs an entire Pandemic-era special all by himself while on lockdown in Bo Burnham: Inside. (

Netflix

There will no doubt be many things written, recorded, and filmed about the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) will be among the most penetrating. The former stand-up comic turned director (Eighth Grade) and actor (Promising Young Woman) was about to take to the stage again when the pandemic hit, so he made this collection of funny, dark songs and sketches and clever lighting effects entirely in his home, entirely by himself.

There are laughs here, but Inside is largely a dispiriting dive into a suffering psyche, as potent as Pink Floyd The Wall. It’s impossible to tell where Burnham’s creative whirlwind begins and his descent into anxiety-ridden madness ends, but it feels like a true, unfettered unburdening of the soul.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) gets an ending to his story in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, the coda to the great TV series.

Netflix

Certainly one of the greatest TV series of all time, Breaking Bad wrapped up almost perfectly in 2013, but a few years later, Vince Gilligan offered this 122-minute coda. Essentially, it details Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) escaping from his captors and spending the entire movie trying to get the hell out of Dodge. And that’s it.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad (2019) movie may be almost totally unnecessary, and it feels as if virtually nothing happens in it, and yet it’s like a riveting, masterful neo-Western, making incredible uses of sparse, vast, unfriendly spaces and creating rippling tension and emotional cascades. Some old familiar faces—including Badger (Matt Jones), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks)—turn up, as well as some new ones; Robert Forster, who, astonishingly, passed away the day this premiered, is terrific.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Tony (Elijah Wood) and Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) are on a mission to find Ruth’s stolen computer and catch the thieves in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.

Netflix

The wonderful, unsung New Zealand-born actress Melanie Lynskey stars in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) as Ruth Kimke, a nursing assistant who has a very bad day. A patient dies in front of her (after some nasty, vulgar last words), a man in a bar ruins a huge plot twist in a book she’s reading, and, to top it off, her home is burgled. The cops do little but scold her for not locking up tighter, but when her phone shows the location of her stolen laptop, she enlists a wacko neighbor, Tony (a perfect Elijah Wood), who has a collection of ninja throwing stars, to help get it back. The two find clues leading to the rest of her stolen goods, mainly her grandmother’s silverware, but things take a very weird turn.

This is the directorial debut of actor Macon Blair (Blue Ruin and Green Room); Blair also wrote the screenplay, and it cannily, and hilariously deals in life’s most mundane sorrows and searchings, the kind of stuff that most movies simply ignore. The movie’s shift in tone from its first half to its second can be shocking, but it’s also strangely satisfying.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman, left) is part of a troubled recording session led by blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Netflix

Produced by Denzel Washington, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) is the second of August Wilson’s plays to be adapted to the screen, after Washington’s own Fences. It’s an incredible film, far more dynamic than most adaptations of plays, and blasting through its 94 minutes with jumping, stomping, and sweating.

In the 1920s, blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band arrive to cut some sides in a white-run recording studio in Chicago. In her panda-bear makeup and sinister gold teeth, Ma is a fierce figure, wielding a certain amount of power, but only for her immediate gratification, and Davis’ performance is masterful. Even more powerful is the final work by the unparalleled Chadwick Boseman as the swaggering trumpeter Levee. Director George C. Wolfe uses the studio’s spaces, its high windows, its dank basement, and a mysterious door, as part of the movie’s fabric, with all the pieces snapping together as it sings through its rage.

Okja

Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), seen with twin Tilda Swinton, tries to rescue her special pig-like beast in Bong Joon-ho’s Okja.

Netflix

The Korean director Bong Joon-ho became something of a household name after winning multiple Oscars for his great Parasite. His earlier film, the slick, international, all-star Okja (2017), contains some of the same themes; i.e. humanity as monsters. It’s perhaps his busiest, but most playful work, offering laughs, thrills, weird visuals, and some disconcerting thoughts about food.

CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has developed a kind of super-pig designed to ease world hunger and bolster her company’s image. The pigs have been sent to the four corners of the world to be raised by local methods, to see which works best. A young girl in rural Korea, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), is clearly the winner, but she has also bonded with her pig, Okja. When Okja is picked up and shipped off to the city, she follows, like a pint-sized action hero.

She meets a group of eco-terrorists called the Animal Liberation Front (members played by Paul Dano, Lily Collins, and others), who have a plan. Shirley Henderson and Giancarlo Esposito co-star, and Swinton has a dual role as her own twin sister, but Jake Gyllenhaal steals the show as an outlandish television host, in the looniest performance he has ever given.

Private Life

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) are willing to try anything, even a surrogate, to have a baby in Private Life.

Netflix

Director Tamara Jenkins last gave us The Savages (2007) and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, but for some reason, didn’t or couldn’t make a follow-up until the equally excellent Private Life (2018), 11 years later. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a middle-aged New York couple, Richard and Rachel, trying every conceivable method to have a baby, flitting back and forth between adoption centers and fertility treatments, until they come upon a plan.

Uneasy with the idea of an anonymous egg donor, their sort-of niece Sadie (Kayli Carter)—the child of Richard’s brother’s wife from a former marriage—begins to look like a good candidate. To their joy, Sadie agrees, but then the fallout starts. Jenkins is brilliant at juggling the unruly emotions of smart people, and somehow making their stories universal, funny, and heartbreaking. This is a wonderful film. John Carroll Lynch, Molly Shannon, and Denis O’Hare co-star.

Metal Lords

Kevin (Jaeden Martell) and Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) get serious about their music when they enter a Battle of the Bands competition in Metal Lords.

Netflix

An unusually delightful high-school coming-of-age story, Metal Lords (2022) is a big, huggable movie, with, surprisingly, a bit of a sledgehammer edge. Long-haired metal fan Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) and his unlikely best friend, nerdy Kevin (Jaeden Martell, from It and Knives Out), are in a band together. Kevin practices playing on a full drum kit after playing a single drum in the school marching band.

After a run-in with the school bully, Hunter impulsively signs them up for the Battle of the Bands competition, but they need a bass player. Enter Emily, a Scottish student who is kicked out of the school band, but is actually a brilliant cello player. Kevin tries to convince Hunter to allow Emily into the band (“no Yoko Onos!”), while many other obstacles arise before the big show. It might be familiar stuff, but it’s lively and “metal” enough to rawk on its own terms.

Here are Jeff’s earlier recommendations, also presented in alphabetical order.

Always Be My Maybe

Old friends Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) struggle with romantic feelings in Always Be My Maybe.

Netflix

Co-written by and starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe (2019) follows a pretty standard romantic comedy formula, but is so constantly, surprisingly fresh and bracing along the way that it feels like something new. It’s crazier and richer than Crazy Rich Asians.

Park and Wong play childhood friends who have a falling out after an awkward attempt at teenage sex. As adults, Wong has become an ambitious celebrity chef and Park is content performing his silly, catchy hip-hop songs in whatever small, local San Francisco venues will have him. Wong arrives in town to open a new restaurant, and all the old feelings tumble out again.

With Park’s unhurried delivery and Wong’s frantic intensity, the two stars have a perfectly complimentary chemistry, and Keanu Reeves’s much-memed cameo is the icing on top. Daniel Dae Kim and Vivian Bang play the romantic rivals, and Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan directs.

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

During the Space Race, young Stanley is chosen by NASA to be the first boy to walk on the moon in Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood.

Netflix

That great filmmaker Richard Linklater returns with this warm, funny coming-of-age story, somewhat based on his own childhood growing up in Houston, TX, during the Space Race. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022) is presented in an animated format similar to the rotoscope technique Linklater used for his Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.

With a spot-on Jack Black narrating the tale from an adult point of view, it tells the story of Stanley, who is chosen by NASA to be the first kid to walk on the moon (they’ve made a mistake and built a cockpit too small for an adult). In and around this imaginary story is a vivid portrait of the times, the food, cars, entertainment, and family life, as well as both the excitement (and boredom) of watching the moon landing on television. The movie has a loose, affectionate feel, not dissimilar to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, but closer to School of Rock in terms of family-friendliness.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Singing gunslinger Buster (Tim Blake Nelson) is the subject of one of six weird Western tales in Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Netflix

The amazing Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, offer up this anthology Western with six strange stories, ranging from the hilarious—Tim Blake Nelson as the verbose sharpshooter in the title story—to the disquieting; i.e. Liam Neeson and Harry Melling in “Meal Ticket,” about an armless, legless actor.

James Franco is very funny in a beautifully constructed episode about winding up at the wrong end of a rope, Brendan Gleeson plays a rider on a stagecoach whose destination is uncertain, Zoe Kazan stars as a troubled woman on a wagon train, and Tom Waits appears in a wonderful episode, “All Gold Canyon,” faithfully adapted from a Jack London story, although Waits’s gravelly warbling of the song “Mother Macree” as he works is probably not something London envisioned.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) is as expansively beautiful as the Coens’ other Westerns True Grit and No Country for Old Men, but it’s also as dark and as mysterious as Barton Fink.

Dolemite Is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) attempts to make a low-budget movie in Dolemite Is My Name.

Netflix

The biopic Dolemite Is My Name (2019), written by the masters of the biopic, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes), focuses on what some might consider a marginal talent, Rudy Ray Moore. He was a struggling musician and comedian who finally finds a hit with his “Dolemite” character, and decides to make his very own, low-budget movie, regardless of talent or know-how.

Eddie Murphy gives a masterful performance as Moore, one of his career best, finding moments of pride, humanity, and humility in the offbeat character. Wesley Snipes is hilarious as the dubious director D’Urville Martin, but Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as performer Lady Reed, is the key to the whole thing. On the day of the premiere, she tells Rudy, “I’d never seen nobody that looks like me up there on that big screen,” and it’s a moment for the ages.

Fear Street Trilogy

Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch) and Deena (Kiana Madeira) find themselves under the curse of a murderous, 300 year-old witch in the Fear Street Trilogy.

Netflix

Based on a series of Young Adult novels by R.L. Stine and directed by Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon), the three Fear Street movies achieve the neat trick of feeling like YA stories, but including grown-up gore to please more sophisticated horror fans. Fear Street: Part One – 1994 sets up the tale about a centuries-old witch, “Sarah Fier,” who possesses the bodies of teens and goes on murderous rampages (accompanied by some cool, vintage alt-rock tunes).

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 is a summer-camp movie with high socks (think Meatballs meets Friday the 13th). And Fear Street: Part Three – 1666 transports all the actors back in time, playing earlier incarnations of themselves and ingeniously wrapping things up.

The Harder They Fall

Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), and Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) prepare for a showdown in the Western The Harder They Fall.

Netflix

An exciting mess of a movie, lit as if shining the frontier sun through a prism, Jeymes Samuel’s bold, kinetic all-Black Western The Harder They Fall (2021) is a must-see for anyone who can handle gore in the name of art. The complex 139-minute tale has Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) seeking revenge against Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) for killing Nat’s family when he was a child (and also carving a small cross in the boy’s forehead). They each form gangs—Stagecoach Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) and Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) join up with Nat, and Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) are on Buck’s side—and go to war, with bloody headshots aplenty.

Director Samuel emerges full force, with fluid, confident use of color, space, and rhythm, where characters sizing one another up is as important as the shooting, and it all becomes a rumination on violence itself. While the story is fictional, and practically unreal, the characters’ names come straight out of the history books.

His House

Sudanese refugee Bol (Sope Dirisu) begins seeing strange things after emigrating to England in His House.

Netflix

This devastating horror film, directed by Remi Weekes, tells the story of a couple, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who flee South Sudan for a new life in England. They lose their daughter along the way, we learn, and they are placed in a wretched house, where they must live by several strict rules or be deported. Bol tries to fit in, while Rial continues to embrace her traditions. But soon, scary spirits appear in the house, and before long, Bol is tearing at the wallpaper and bashing in the drywall to stop the torment.

Filled with strange visions, powerful depictions of cultural divides, and impeccable storytelling, His House (2020) has a confident flow, placing us right there with this suffering couple, as it slowly unfolds their real story, and the real reason an apeth (night witch) has followed them. And it’s plenty scary, too.

The House

(L to R) Tenant Jen (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) tries to convince landlady Rosa (voiced by Susan Wokoma) about things more important than rent in The House.

Netflix

The very strange, stop-motion animated The House (2022) was originally intended to be a series, but three episodes were instead edited into a feature-length film. In the first segment, a family of humans living in poverty is offered a chance to move into a huge house for free, but the parents become obsessed with the place, to the point of ignoring their children. In the second, a mouse in a suit has spent his life fixing up a beautiful house to sell, only to find it inhabited by unwanted guests. In the third—and best—segment, a cat struggles to collect rent and fix up her crumbling building, while flood waters rise outside.

The tone here is often strange and disturbing, but sometimes clever and beautiful as well. Irish playwright Enda Walsh wrote the script, and Mia Goth, Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, and Helena Bonham Carter, among others, provide voiceovers.

The Irishman

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, right) rises through the ranks of the crime world, becoming a hitman for mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci, left), in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Netflix

A masterpiece from Martin Scorsese, The Irishman (2019) is both a summation of his long career’s worth of gangster movies, and a rumination on them. Using ground-breaking digital effects to de-age the actors, the film tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who narrates his tale from a rest home. He goes from being a truck driver to a hit man for crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and then a union president alongside Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, who snarls and barks and chews the scenery with fresh gusto).

The violence here is not intoxicating as it was in GoodFellas or Casino; it’s more reflective, and, indeed, has more in common with Scorsese’s faith-based movies (The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, and Silence). It’s a reflective movie, wondering what all this means, and perhaps even aware that it might mean nothing at all. Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel are also among the impressive cast.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

(L to R) Katie, Rick, Linda, Aaron and dog Monchi prepare to fight an army of renegade robots in The Mitchells vs. The Machines.

Sony

An animated feature from Sony Pictures Animation, The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) is a zany, lunatic scramble, but it’s also endlessly creative, lots of fun, and kinda lovable. The eldest daughter of a Simpsons-like family of misfits, Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is getting ready to go across the country to film school and leave her annoying family behind. (She uses the vacant-eyed family dog for a series of creative videos called Dog Cop.)

On the day of her flight, her well-meaning, doofus dad Rick (Danny McBride) decides to take a family road trip and drive there instead. Unfortunately, the machine apocalypse has just begun, and flying robots (commanded by a renegade Siri-like operating system voiced by Olivia Colman), are imprisoning all humans. Through sheer luck, and maybe some stupidity, the Mitchells survive, and it’s up to them to save the world. Maya Rudolph voices mom Linda Mitchell, and Mike Rianda voices the young dinosaur-loving son Aaron.

Mudbound

Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) is the matriarch of a Mississippi farm at the end of WWII in Dee Rees’s Mudbound.

Netflix

Dee Rees’ follow-up to her remarkable debut Pariah, the excellent Mudbound (2017) is like a Gone with the Wind for the streaming age, a sweeping slice of Americana, epic, but intimate. It’s based on a novel by Hillary Jordan and features Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Jonathan Banks. The story follows two farming families, one black and one white, over several years in and around WWII.

In one crucial plot thread, a member of each family, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), returns from war; they form an unlikely friendship, much to the rage of the rest of the community. (Ronsel is forced to duck down in the front seat of Jamie’s truck to avoid being seen in a place of equality.) Mary J. Blige steals the movie in her role as Ronsel’s mother, a strong, caring midwife glaring from behind sunglasses, and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (as well as one for Best Song).

Many of the characters narrate their inner dreams, hopes, and fears in whispered voiceover, adding Malick-like poetry to the images. The 134-minute movie focuses on small incidents, having to do either with survival in the muddy farmland, or with the deep, frightening racism of that time and place, and never feels too overstuffed or too long.

The Perfection

Two brilliant cellists, Lizzie (Logan Browning) and Charlotte (Allison Williams), find themselves in a friendship, and in a fierce competition, in The Perfection.

Netflix

A kind of horror-thriller with humorous elements and a playful structure, The Perfection (2019) is centered on two brilliant cellists, Charlotte (Allison Williams, from Get Out) and Lizzie (Logan Browning, from the Netflix series Dear White People). When the older Charlotte was forced to quit her training to look after her sick mother, the younger Lizzie became the new star. But after Charlotte’s mother dies, she returns to the fold, thus leading to a twisty symphony of passion and revenge, told through clever, time-twisting measures.

Steven Weber plays their teacher who has a room so acoustically perfect that only the most special students are invited there. Director Richard Shepard, a criminally underappreciated filmmaker, provides a brisk, smart, agile touch, moving easily between gripping suspense and bright comedy in a way that’s almost Hawksian.

The Power of the Dog

Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee, left) forms a strange bond with his uncle-by-marriage, hardcore cowpuncher Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog.

Netflix

Oscar-winner Jane Campion (The Piano) returns with her first feature film since 2009’s Bright Star (she’d spent time working on the series Top of the Lake). The Western The Power of the Dog, based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, shows that Campion has lost none of her potency. She uses the landscape, and even the earth itself, to tell this primal, feral story. The Cain-and-Abel brothers are alpha-male Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), who bathes only occasionally and uses his vast, drawling vocabulary and steely eyes to cut others down, and clean-cut, soft-spoken George (Jesse Plemons), whose carefully chosen words make him seem simple.

The two run a successful cattle empire, and while on a drive, Phil ridicules the thin, un-masculine young Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who waits on their table at an inn. George comforts the boy’s distraught mother, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and winds up marrying her. Back at the ranch, the power games ramp up, with subtle acts and wrenching moments, vanquishments tilting into defeats, with the twist of a rope.

Red Notice

The Bishop (Gal Gadot) attempts to outwit a thief and an FBI man and steal three priceless Egyptian jeweled eggs in Red Notice.

Netflix

A massive hit for the streaming service, this Netflix Original has the look and feel of a big-screen romp, with big stars, silly laughs, and lots of heists, double-crosses, globetrotting, chases, and explosions. Red Notice (2021) is far from great, or even memorable, but it has a brisk, jubilant tone, making it the perfect diversion for an evening.

John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), a profiler for the FBI, reluctantly teams up with wisecracking thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) to find three Egyptian jeweled eggs that once belonged to Cleopatra. Their goal is to prevent a criminal mastermind called The Bishop (Gal Gadot) from getting the eggs herself. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber previously worked Johnson in both Central Intelligence and Skyscraper, which should give you an idea of what this one is like. The title refers to Interpol’s highest alert for most wanted criminals. There’s a good chance these three will return.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) head to court in Aaron Sorkin’s Trial of the Chicago 7.

Netflix

Aaron Sorkin’s long, complex re-telling of the trial following the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention is a surprisingly well-oiled machine. It moves slickly — and is even funny — as Sorkin’s trademark machine-gun dialogue punches cleanly through the details. Sorkin may have changed some facts here and there, but as a dramatic movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) still works like gangbusters.

The gist is that newly empowered Republicans want to make an example out of a group of peaceful, liberal protestors, and conjure up a huge trial based on ridiculous “crimes.” Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show as the headline-grabber Abbie Hoffman, but the entire cast is excellent, riding high on Sorkin’s screenplay and brisk direction (much sharper than in his directorial debut Molly’s Game). Frank Langella is especially strong as the sinister, malevolent Judge Julius Hoffman, while the treatment of Black Panther member Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is just as shocking as ever.

tick, tick… Boom!

Blocked playwright Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) struggles to complete his first musical in the early 1990s in tick, tick… BOOM!

Netflix

Lin Manuel-Miranda was everywhere in 2021, and in addition to writing songs and acting, he made his feature directing debut with this extraordinary, emotional adaptation of a play by Jonathan Larson, best known as the creator of Rent. The semi-autobiographical tick, tick… Boom! was written before that hit, during the days of struggle. Jon (Andrew Garfield) is seen performing the play, which was conceived as a one-man show and later expanded, and he serves as narrator.

It’s 1990 in New York City, and he has been trying to stage his first play, Superbia. It has taken years, and his chance to workshop it is right around the corner. But, acting on the advice of Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), he realizes he must compose one more song to fully flesh out the play, and with his thirtieth birthday approaching, he’s stuck. Meanwhile, his friends are contracting AIDS all around him, and his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) is considering taking a job in Massachusetts. Garfield is the whirlwind at the center of this, giving a deeply enthusiastic, anguished performance, with enough energy for a dozen movies.

Under the Shadow

In war-torn Iran, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her daughter are unable to evacuate due to the invasion of a Djinn in Under the Shadow.

Vertical Entertainment

Written and directed by Babak Anvari, the horror movie Under the Shadow (2016) is all the more powerful for being steeped in world affairs, and for vividly capturing the emotional sense of what it might be like to be caught in a war. It’s the 1980s, during the long Iran-Iraq conflict, and Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is forbidden to re-enter medical school because of her past as a political demonstrator. Her husband has been called off to serve in the war effort, and she must take care of her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone, with the threat of Iraqi bombs falling on their Tehran home. Worse, a djinn has become attached to Dorsa, and the girl, sick with fever, refuses to evacuate until her missing doll is found.

The film—best viewed in its original Persian with English subtitles—concentrates on realism and on small details of life rather than elaborate visual effects of scares, but the film nonetheless remains a satisfyingly unsettling experience.

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