You came, you added to your watchlist, you delayed watching … and now your time is almost up. Here are ten quality titles departing streaming at the end of August and why you should make time over the next week to watch them.
Adaptation, Amazon Prime
Meta-movies don’t get any better than this. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s struggles to adapt the best-selling nonfiction book The Orchid Thief into a film spiral out into something insane and profound about the creative process. Rather than submitting to his source material, Kaufman does not resist the wild direction his mind takes him — and we’re all the better for having access to the journey of artistic enlightenment and ruthless self-doubt.
The Birds, Peacock
There’s a whole lot of Hitchcock classics expiring this month — Rear Window and Vertigo are both leaving Amazon Prime, while Psycho also departs Peacock. I don’t think The Birds always gets the same love as Hitch’s classics from the same period, but let me just say … this movie absolutely terrifies me. It’s horror done right, and I find it especially unnerving because there’s no rhyme or reason as to why these birds begin to attack a town. They just do. Sometimes meaninglessness is more powerful than metaphor.
Body Heat, Criterion Channel
No one is making too many erotic thrillers these days, and certainly not quite like they did in their ‘80s heyday. If you only know this subgenre through Fatal Attraction, expand your lens with neo-noir Body Heat. This is steamy enough to fog up your glasses and features a stunner of a femme fatale performance by Kathleen Turner.
Chinatown, Amazon Prime
Maybe you’ve heard Chinatown is one of the all-time great movies, especially because of Robert Towne’s script, but haven’t quite felt that brilliance click into place for you. My advice: keep watching. Give it another try. The more you “understand” the plot to the point where you can not worry about how the scenes connect narratively, the more you’ll be able to tap into the cynicism and defeatism that seeps into every orifice of the film.
City of God, HBO Max
There are few explosions of cinematic energy quite like City of God, the Brazilian film charting how to get out — and get mired — in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. This remarkable work is like someone captured lightning in a bottle, a kinetic thrill ride like few others. I’m swept away by the go-for-broke verve each time I watch.
Like Father, Like Son, Hulu
People debate the question of nature vs. nurture in parenting a child all the time, and yet Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda still finds interesting wrinkles and complications in the discussion. This tender, humane drama about two children switched at birth and the fallout of untangling the mess is riveting to watch unfold and deeply moving each step of the way. Many people point to Kore-Eda’s Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters as his career high-water mark, but I have to say … I still prefer Like Father, Like Son!
Miss Congeniality, HBO Max
Do I even need to blurb this one? Let me just direct you to the live tweet I did for the 20th anniversary last year. Or my full retrospective piece on Crooked Marquee. Or my more personal set of reflections from The Distancer last year. I hold Miss Congeniality close to my heart and hope you’ll let it move you to be in the same position. Any day can be The Perfect Date when you’re watching it.
Safe, Criterion Channel
Over 25 years ago, Todd Haynes had his finger on the pulse of something we’re only beginning to articulate as a culture. This claustrophobic domestic drama locates the nebulous terror of the wellness industry and transposes it onto the “environmental illness,” a sense that the natural and cultural world is closing in on us in frightening ways. The thematic tension finds brilliant expression in the tightly coiled performance of Julianne Moore, who delicately unravels under the stress of simply living in the late-20th century.
Few movies can still make me audibly laugh out loud after innumerable rewatches, and Superbad is one such movie. It’s not even the same parts that get me, which is remarkable. Sometimes it’s a new line, a different reaction, an overlooked glance that just sets me off. Anyways, if you need a laugh to close out this month, here’s a reliable source of them. Don’t deny yourself that joy.
Take Shelter, Amazon Prime
Now that I think about it, Take Shelter would make a great double feature with Safe. This is another movie about existential dread related to cultural forces that seem bigger than us and insurmountable; in Jeff Nichols’ tale, it’s a working man played by his muse Michael Shannon whose apocalyptic visions of an incoming storm echo a larger post-Great Recession anxiety over providing for one’s family. This makes the connections to mental illness a little more explicit, though I think it’s all the better for acknowledging and grappling with the elephant in the room. Anyways, if you think you’ve been spooked by a Michael Shannon performance before, you haven’t seen anything until he screams at a bingo hall for not taking storm preparation seriously.
HEY NEW YORKERS!
The schedule is UP for this year’s stacked New York Film Festival, and ticket sales are right around the corner (I’m a member of Film at Lincoln Center and get cheaper tickets/earlier access). If anything catches your eye and you want to attend, please let me know in the next week! I’d love to catch a movie with you.
WHAT I WATCHED
An exclusively Venice preparation kind of week. Sicario remains an absolute banger.
WHAT I HEARD
This week’s randoms:
As part and parcel of my big Halloween binge, I finally listened to the excellent podcast series that critic Amy Nicholson did for The Ringer back in 2018. Highly recommend!
Not film-related, but in case anyone didn’t become an expert on Afghanistan last week from scrolling your social media feeds, I found this episode an excellent look at what went down and wrong.
WHAT I READ
In a manic dash to see how far I can get before the Venice premiere in less than 10 days, I finally took a crack at Frank Herbert’s sprawling sci-fi novel Dune. At least I got to do it in some sunshine!
WHAT I WROTE
ICYMI at the bottom of last week’s newsletter, I got the chance to speak to the great Rebecca Hall for Slant about The Night House, her directorial debut Passing, and more. This interview was notable, too, because it was many years in the making:
That’s all for today! I’ll be back on Thursday with the first installment of what I hope will become a recurring feature, “The HBO Max Syllabus,” where I help provide resources and context that will help you tackle some of the service’s great collection of classic cinema.
Yours in service and cinema,