It was a great year for movies. However, it was not a great year to be in a movie theater.
U.S. theaters sold $11.4 billion worth of tickets in 2019, which was the last year that box office returns were not affected by the pandemic. That lofty figure fell to $2.2 billion last year (as an example, Avengers: Endgame made more than $850m domestically in 2018). Although things are looking better in 2021, with ticket revenue expected to reach $4.7 billion, that’s still not good news for businesses that depend on customers spending $10 every weekend to see a new movie and possibly buy popcorn.
This is a complicated topic. What would happen if AMC, a large chain, went under? What happens to independent theaters? Will smaller stories be forgotten? What does this mean for you, movie-lover?
It means movies can now be streamed faster, at least temporarily. This is a good thing if you aren’t willing to sacrifice the theater experience. You won’t have to wait six, or even three months to see the latest blockbuster. You don’t have to wish you were closer to a major city in order that you can catch the latest film festival sensation. Nowadays, almost everything can be found at home even before most people have had the chance to look in their local listings.
The following 30 films were all highly acclaimed and loved by audiences. They are all available for streaming or digital rental. Not all award-winners are out yet. Some films remain exclusive to theaters (sorry Lady Gaga fans and Wes Anderson fans). Others, such as Amazon Studios’ Being the Ricardos or Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake, have not yet been released. There are plenty of other things to do until then.
The Amusement Park
Although technically it is one of the greatest films of 1975, this surreal satire by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), was never released beyond a single festival screening. It was lost for many decades, until a print was rediscovered and restored, which was then released on the horror streamer Shudder.
The film, which runs 54 minutes, is more of an artifact than a movie. It was commissioned by a Protestant church to show the horrors of elder abuse. However, it is worth re-discovering. The film explores how many elderly Americans in the U.S. get ignored and forgotten through the metaphor of an older man’s increasingly distressing experience at an amusement park. It feels just as relevant and cutting-edge nearly fifty years later than it was made.
Where to stream: AMC+ and Shudder
It’s possible that it’s too far to include Leos Carax, a French director and divisive musical about Holy Motors here. It was a controversial film that divided critics at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an opera where Marianne Cotillard and Adam Driver dance their way through their dysfunctional marriage, before they give birth to a child. Although you won’t know it coming, 76% of the audience seems quite good. In naming it the year’s best movie, John Waters–director of many celebrated grotesqueries–called it “insane, over-the-top, and thankfully self-indulgent,” which sounds like an endorsement to us.
Where to stream:Amazon Prime Video
Star and Barb go to Vista del Mar
This trailer doesn’t make it any more compelling than the one that makes it appear like a sketch featuring one of Kristen Wiig’s most rushed Saturday Night Live characters. It’s not. It’s far more bizarre, silly, and adventurous than that. The zany energy recalls Austin Powers’ first film before it became a clichéd pop culture reference. Although we would not want to spoil the plot, it is worth mentioning that Wigg wrote the script alongside Annie Mumolo. You may have seen their first film together, Bridesmaids. (which, as you probably don’t recall, received a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination). It’s excellent.
Where to stream: Hulu
Actor/director/Shakespeare superfan Kenneth Branagh has been earning critical hosannahs for this heartfelt, black-and-white ode to his upbringing in Ireland during the height of the Troubles. Although it may sound like a movie about a heavy bummer, the film is more of a fictionalized recreation his idyllic memories of the time and place. It follows a young boy’s journey through the city, and explores how children’s resilience can overcome what adults consider incomprehensible horrors. Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, and Caitriona Balfe are the parents of the young boy, and they’re very beautiful.
Where to stream: Digital rental
A couple who are filmmakers travel to an island where Ingmar Bergman shot many of his most famous masterpieces. While one is looking for inspiration, the other (who isn’t a fan of Bergman either as a filmmaker or a man) feels depressed and misses their daughter. Their time together on the island is a remarkable reflection of how movies can transform us (or at least those who give us hope).
Where to stream: Digital rental (from $6.99)
Apple spent $25 million on Sundance Film Festival’s favorite to buy it. The goal was to establish itself as a home for influential, well-respected independent films. We don’t know if that was a worthwhile investment for the tech company-turned-entertainment conglomerate, but we can’t argue about the quality of the movie, which follows the hearing daughter (Emilia Jones) of a deaf couple (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) who aspires to attend a prestigious music college. It’s a great example of representation on film. The cast includes many deaf actors, but it’s also a very heart-filling story.
Where to stream: Apple TV+
This one you may have seen: Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation to one of the most renowned sci-fi novels is both an attempt at creating a new franchise and a personal endeavor. It is the most expensive film of art ever made. The bones of Frank Herbet’s novel, which based on or established many of Star Wars’ hero’s travel tropes, can feel a little creaky. Villeneuve, however, layers them with such dusty beauty–sun-baked sandy sands. flitting, insectile spacecraft. Images of alien creatures at an incredible scale captured in images that could double up as surreal paintings. You won’t notice that the story kind of…stops just as it gets really good. They are working on a sequel.
Where to stream: Digital rental