This is the free version of our weekly newsletter. The premium version has 21 excellent recommendations, on top of these, of what to watch at festivals, virtual cinemas, VOD, and via streaming. We also spotlight several virtual film festivals worth catching worldwide, featuring films we love that have yet to secure distribution (so this may be your only chance to see them!).
In our premium newsletter for members this week, we recommend more virtual film festival screenings, plus additional VOD, virtual cinema, and streaming recommendations. If you become a member now, shoot us an email, and we'll be happy to send you these recommendations, too!
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Worldwide, the biggest Sundance crowdpleaser, CODA, is now available on Apple TV+. Meanwhile, lots of our favourites are now streaming. Catch up with Sally Potter's underseen and underrated (but hilarious and smart) The Party, all-time great performance from Ben Foster in The Messenger, and a great under-the-radar rom-com that's on Netflix all over!
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CODA - Apple TV+ worldwide
This Sundance crowdpleaser that also doubles as an (albeit flawed) introduction to Deaf culture is a cozy weekend watch... though we don't recommend risking your health in a cinema to see it. Expect tears and joy.
Here's an excerpt from my review:
Siân Heder’s unabashed crowd-pleaser, CODA, is the kind of film that, in any other year, would have had the entire Eccles Theatre on its feet with rapturous applause. Although this year’s virtual Sundance meant that the response trickled out, instead, through social media, it’s no surprise that the film picked up four awards — and not just because the US Dramatic Competition was so weak — including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best US Dramatic Feature, Best Directing (US Dramatic), and a special Best Ensemble Prize. Despite a plethora of coming-of-age story cliches, CODA still feels genuinely original, nuanced, and important because it has thoughtful, sensitive storytelling where it counts: in the depiction of disability and family, even as the film centres the only non-disabled family member.
Ruby Rossi (breakout star Emilia Jones
) is a Hearing Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) who learns to find her voice both literally (as a singer) and figuratively (to stand up to her family). From the start of the film, Ruby is caught between two worlds: her insular, tight-knit deaf family, and the hearing world beyond where her class status and insecurities keep her isolated. The film’s first image is of a fishing boat at sea with no one else in sight, before Heder takes us on board to meet Ruby, her older brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), and her father, Frank (a hilarious and heartbreaking Troy Kotsur
), all working seamlessly together on the day’s catch. Ruby is singing, her family’s oblivion the only sign that they are deaf. There’s genuine joy and camaraderie in their daily crack-of-dawn toil. As soon as they come ashore, Ruby hops on her bike to school, Heder’s clever signal that Ruby is moving from one world to another. It’s only when Ruby says her goodbyes to her family in sign language, after having a chat with the fishery inspector, that we understand she’s a CODA.
Read the full review here.
The Party - Hulu/Kanopy US, Tubi Canada, VOD UK/Canada/AU & many other territories
This underrated and underseen Sally Potter chamber comedy/satire shot in black and white is very smart and funny and features a great Kristin Scott Thoms, Cillian Murphy, and Patricia Clarkson who all look fantastic. Great acting, great fun, and just 71 minutes!
Here's an excerpt from my review of the film:
“Have I been emotionally neglectful?”, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) innocently asks her friend April (Patricia Clarkson) in the bathroom. In the living room next door, her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), is literally suffocating and possibly dying. The walls are porous, but she’s completely oblivious to his suffering. It’s an apt metaphor for the problems in their marriage, which bubble to the surface one evening — along with the problems of all of their friends gathered at The Party.
The title of writer-director Sally Potter’s darkly funny film is itself a double entendre, referring to both the the gathering where the film is set and the reason for it, Janet’s parliamentary ascent to Shadow Health Minister. The personal is political, and characters’ behaviours at the party are a microcosm of how they live their lives: full of both good intentions and hypocrisies, inflected by the suffocating gender and political expectations of society at large.
Janet may have cracked a glass ceiling, but it doesn’t stop her friends, and her husband, from quickly stealing her thunder. Bill chooses this occasion to reveal that he has terminal cancer and he’s leaving Janet. Before the party has even begun, April has declared it’s her final night out with her current boyfriend, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) announce they’re having triplets. And Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives high on cocaine, with a pistol strapped to his back, intent on stirring up trouble.
Read the full review.
Read my interview with writer-director Sally Potter on the film.
The Messenger - Prime UK, Hulu/Tubi/Kanopy/Hoopla/Pluto/Topic/Plex US, Hoopla/VOD Canada, VOD AU
Ben Foster's incredible performance in The Messenger is best of the decade level work, and frankly, deserves way more attention than the showier Hell or High Water which was his most recent breakout film (Gotham has given him the breakout award TWICE). It wasn't until Leave No Trace that he'd get the chance to do work at this level again.
In this excerpt from my career essay on Ben Foster from our ebook Leave No Trace: A Special Issue, I talk about his work in The Messenger:
In Oren Moverman’s quiet and understated The Messenger, Foster plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, an American soldier recently returned from Afghanistan. He serves the remainder of his tour stateside as a notification officer, informing civilians of the death of their loved ones on active duty. Montgomery is lonely and detached: unable to discuss the horrors he witnessed, angry about the injuries he suffered, and alienated from his loved ones by his absence. The film follows him as he gets used to his new and difficult job and struggles to connect both with the people he’s notifying and with potential romantic interests.
At the beginning of The Messenger, Montgomery falls back on acting out conventional masculine stereotypes because he’s trying to protect himself from being hurt by the woman he loves. His ex-girlfriend, now in a new relationship, visits for an evening to welcome him home. Their sex is more mechanical than emotional. When they go to dinner afterwards, he barely looks at her, keeping his eyes on his plate as he devours his food and she pontificates on her feelings about marriage. He mostly lets her monologue, interjecting only with the occasional angry, passive aggressive remark. He’s playing the heartless macho guy because to show her his own vulnerability, his heartbreak from losing her, would be too painful. Montgomery is experiencing powerful emotions that Foster renders even more meaningful by reining them in.
As a notification officer, Montgomery sees strangers at their most emotionally vulnerable. This could make him hard, but instead, it jars him and pushes him to open up and try to connect with others. When Montgomery and a military friend pick up a pair of women, the friend goes straight to the sex; Montgomery sits outside with his date, first talking, then caressing her hair as she falls asleep in his lap. It’s a striking contrast to his interaction with his ex-girlfriend. His desire for intimacy really comes alive when a woman he notifies about her husband’s death, Olivia, responds not with malice but a calm ‘thank you,’ acknowledging the difficulty of his job. Her understanding of him makes him want to understand her, and they tentatively strike up a relationship.
Read the full essas.
Results - Netflix Canada/US/AU/UK...and pretty much worldwide
Also available on: Prime/Tubi/Kanopy/Pluto/Vudu Free/Plex US, Kanopy Canada.
One of the best rom-coms of the 2010s features fabulous blocking and some wonderful performances from Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders. I didn't think any film could make me interested in the world of personal trainers, but Andrew Bujalski has succeeded.
Here's an excerpt from my review:
With Results, Andrew Bujalski has reinvented and rejuvenated the romantic comedy, dispensing with the formulaic boy meets girl, boys loses girl, boy gets girl back trajectory. Beginning in the middle of the love story, the opening credits play over a moving, striped sheet that fills the screen while moans can be heard in the background. Bujalski skips past the meet cute and falling in love to focus on the more interesting stuff: how can two angry, somewhat broken people, come to terms with their feelings for each other and actually express them, especially when they can barely admit them to themselves? The film seemingly meanders about, immersing us in the world of ferociously upbeat personal trainers and their sometimes reluctant clients, but it’s very carefully, if subtly, structured to push our two lovers together by the end.
They are Kat (Cobie Smulders), a twenty-nine-year-old personal trainer, and her boss, Trevor (Guy Pearce). Trevor owns the gym where they work, where he espouses a mind-body philosophy that he’s fully bought into but that Kat finds to be a bit hogwash. They started sleeping together when she was first hired, but because they acknowledged it was so unprofessional, it never evolved into something more meaningful. Instead, they remain in a romantic limbo. They share the intimacy of lovers — Kat will offhandedly text Trevor that she’s taking a sick day, and he’ll rush over with soup — but pretend as though they’re maintaining their distance.
Read the full review.
Alex Heeney, Editor-in-Chief
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