If ever I were to get asked that boring interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” my answer would always be the same: At the movies. Preferably watching better movies. Not that this year didn’t have some good ones, but they could always be better, right?
When that in mind, here are some great movies from five years ago – and 10, 15 and so on. It’s as arbitrary as an anniversary re-release on DVD or the big screen, but it never hurts to remember the greats. Think of it as a rolling five-year plan, and here’s hoping 2027 delivers some more for the ages.
Blade Runner 2049 – a critical success though a financial underperformer, Denis Villeneuve’s thoughtful, visually stunning followup to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner is likely to (like that film) only grow in popularity as the years pass. Mark my words. Available on AppleTV.
Lady Bird – A solo writing/directing debut from Greta Gerwig, this coming-of-age tale helped make a star of Saorise Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high-school senior trying to figure out her way in the world. And aren’t we all? Available on Crave.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh (currently wowing audiences with The Banshees of Inisherin) mixes laughter and sadness so expertly in this TIFF People’s Choice winner that you may not know from one moment to the next what kind of tears you’re crying. Available on Disney+ and Crave.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi – Do what you love, and the customers will follow. That seems to be the moral to the life of Jiro Ono, master of the tiny Sukiyabashi Jiro eatery in Tokyo, and quite possibly the best sushi chef in the world – or perhaps the greatest of all time. David Gelb directs. Available on Hoopla.
Room 237 – It’s always nice when conspiracy theories don’t threaten democracy or safety. Rodney Ascher’s documentary lets various fans spin their theories about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror The Shining. Many of them sound plausible until you realize – wait, they can’t all be true. Available on AppleTV.
Searching for Sugar Man – Mark Bendjelloul tells the story of two music fans who set out to uncover the history of American singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, a cult figure in South Africa but almost unknown by the rest of the planet. A fascinating documentary with a kick-ass soundtrack that will make you a fan. Available on Prime.
Away From Her – Sarah Polley’s feature directing debut was a jaw-dropper, based on a short story by Alice Munro and starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as an elderly couple dealing with Alzheimer’s. Nominated for its screenplay and Christie’s performance, it signalled the arrival of a fierce new talent behind the camera. Available on Netflix.
No Country for Old Men – I still remember the awe I felt watching the premiere of the Coen brothers’ elegant neo-western, based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, starring Josh Brolin, and featuring Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a villain for the ages. No soundtrack, by the way: Perfection needs no music! Available on Netflix.
The Savages – Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman shine in Tamara Jenkins’ deceptively simple drama, playing wounded siblings who find a new connection as they care for their ailing father (Philip Bosco). Hoffman died in 2014, and this film will also remind you what a talent was lost. Available on AppleTV.
28 Days Later – Danny Boyle may not have been the very first director to give us “fast zombies,” but his dystopic thriller gave them fresh life, while also ushering in the age of shooting digitally rather than on film. The rough look of this early example of the technology fits the movie’s end-times tone perfectly. Currently unavailable to stream.
About Schmidt – Jack Nicholson plays a recent retiree who, having a late-mid-life crisis, hits the road to attend (and possibly stop) his daughter’s wedding. Alexander Payne, working from a novel by Louis Begley, crafts a portrait of quiet humanity, but Nicholson brings it to life. Available on AppleTV.
Catch Me If You Can – The bizarre true (false?) story of master impersonator/fraudster Frank Abagnale is the jumping-off point for Steven Spielberg’s crime comedy-drama, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and (of course) Tom Hanks. Excellent: Do you concur? Available on Paramount+.
Austin Powers – With its full title Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Jay Roach’s supreme spy spoof introduced Mike Myers as the snaggle-toothed swinging sixties British spy. No less a luminary than Daniel Craig once credited (or blamed) Powers with the serious tone of later Bond movies, which could hardly take lightly what Myers had already satirized so well. Available on AppleTV.
Cube – Canada’s Vincenzo Natalie made this smart, chilling low-budget thriller with one set – a cube-shaped room – that doubled (and redoubled) as any one of 17,576 rooms from which a group of prisoners must make their escape. Available on Hoopla.
The Spanish Prisoner – Writer/director David Mamet took the name of a pre-Internet version of the Nigerian-prince scam as the title for this film about secrets, lies and double-crossers, its stellar cast including comedian Steve Martin and magician Ricky Jay. A Hitchcockian thriller. Currently unavailable to stream.
A League of Their Own – Penny Marshall’s story of the first female professional baseball league is one of the great feel-good sports movies, reminding us that there’s no crying in baseball, but also so much more. Available on AppleTV.
Baraka – Technically a documentary, this narrative-free film from director Ron Fricke was shot on six continents over a 14-month period, and chronicles – well, life on Earth, basically, in all its sorrow and glory. Critic Roger Ebert once said that if humankind were to send just one film into the cosmos on a Voyager-type probe, this should be it. Available on AppleTV, Tubi.
Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood had directed westerns before this one, but never one as lauded and loved, taking home Oscars for best picture and best director from among its nine nominations. A standout in the genre from a man synonymous with it. Available on Netflix.
Good Morning Vietnam – Robin Williams and a microphone were always a dynamic pairing, and that’s what Barry Levinson delivered in this war comedy, with the motor-mouthed comedian taking on the role of real-life Armed Forces radio DJ Adrian Cronauer. Available on Disney+.
Moonstruck – To this day, director Norman Jewison still has complete strangers telling him to “snap out of it!” Cher and Olympia Dukakis won Oscars for their roles in this story of a 37-year-old Italian-American widow who worries that her life may be cursed. Available on Hoopla, Tubi.
The Princess Bride – One of the most quotable films in history (Inigo Montoya had me at “Hello …”), Rob Reiner’s fantasy-adventure-comedy features perfect performances from Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn and more. Some people watch this movie once a year, and that is in no way inconceivable. Available on Disney+.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – What a year for science-fiction was 1982, with this one from Steven Spielberg giving us one of the kindest (and cutest) aliens this side of Yoda, who by the way has a cameo of sorts in the film. Available on Prime.
The Thing – Oh, you want ugly, evil aliens? John Carpenter’s The Thing, based on a 1938 novella by John W. Campbell, finds Americans at an Antarctic research station beset by a dangerous shape-shifter. The story was also told in 1951 as The Thing From Another World, and in 2011 as The Thing, but this is the best, and holds up all these years later. Available on AppleTV.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – An early example of a science-fiction reboot (and the first of many for this franchise), director Nicholas Meyer’s Khan all but ignored 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and told the story of a villain from the original series (played by Ricardo Montalban) who returns to wreak vengeance on one James T. Kirk. With an early score by James Horner, it’s ’80s sci-fi at its best. Available on Paramount+.
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