Online streaming is bigger than ever, and with so many streaming services adding new shows and movies every week, it can be nearly impossible to sort through the good and the bad. If you need something to watch and don’t want to wade through the digital muck that washes up on the internet’s shores, follow our picks below for the best new shows and movies worth a watch.
The OA season 1
Released with little warning by Netflix, The OA is a strange project: beautifully shot, intriguing, and perhaps a little infuriating in the end. Opening with cellphone footage of a woman jumping off a bridge, the show immediately establishes itself as a work of mystery, and a stylish one at that. The woman wakes up in a hospital bed. Her name is Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling). Seven years earlier, she went missing. Now she has resurfaced, with no memory of where she went. Even more shocking, she can now see, despite being blind as a child.
Like Netflix’s other recent sci-fi series, Stranger Things, The OA sets up a number of mysteries from the beginning. Unlike that show, The OA is not rooted in nostalgia. It can be difficult to categorize The OA; the show straddles so many genres, and takes so many bizarre turns, that it truly is unlike anything seen on television recently. Although this first season is often muddled, the show’s stunning imagery and audacious concepts are enough to recommend it.
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Two things immediately stand out in Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. First, the cast is made up entirely of puppets, animated using stop-motion. Second … well, we won’t ruin the second part up front, but you’ll soon notice a trait about almost all the characters. The two quirks serve the underlying themes of the film, which follows a customer service rep named Michael Stone (David Thewlis), who is unable to form meaningful connections with the people he perceives as copies of each other. Michael is alone in his head, until he meets a shy but sweet woman named Lisa, who is refreshingly different.
Much like Kaufman’s other films, Anomalisa is a subtle examination of what it means to be human. Specifically, it asks whether a man closed off from the rest of the world can find a way to return to it. The difficulties of forming a relationship loom large. Although the characters move somewhat stiffly, there is an unmistakable humanity in their expressions, and that uncanny tension is important. The modern world, as Michael perceives it, is monotonous and without purpose, and all the people merely puppets. Masterfully animated and profoundly sad, Anomalisa is a daring experiment from one of America’s most inventive filmmakers.
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Midnight Special will seem immediately familiar to fans of Steven Spielberg’s films. An adventure with supernatural undercurrents and a focus on parent-child relationships are just some of the Spielberg-esque touches throughout the film, but director Jeff Nichols does not merely emulate the maestro’s style. The film follows a gruff man named Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), who has abducted a boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) with the help of an accomplice, Lucas (Joel Edgerton). Roy’s motives will become clear over time; he is no mere kidnapper, and Alton is no ordinary boy. They are pursued by two groups: the government and a cult, both of whom have an interest in Alton. Midnight Special is very much a chase film, as Roy and Alton move from place to place, evading traps and confrontations along the way, and Nichols is an expert as raising tension at the right moments. This is an adventure film that maintains the viewer’s interest from start to finish, even if the plot makes some extraordinary leaps.
One of the things that elevates Midnight Special above other popcorn films is Shannon’s performance as Roy. Face grim, speaking in quiet but assuring tones, Roy is an everyman, determined to protect what is important to him. Nichols’ previous films showed a deep empathy for the working-class people of the American heartland, and the relationship between Roy and Alton emphasizes values like family and responsibility. Midnight Special is not revolutionary, but it is a superbly executed chase film, with deft cinematography and a gripping lead performance.
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Crazyhead season 1
Amy (Cara Theobald) has a problem. She can see demons everywhere she goes, but nobody else seems to notice them. One day, after Amy is attacked by one of them, a woman named Raquel (Susan Wokoma) rescues her, claiming that they are both “seers.” Together, the two women take up demon hunting; little do they know, the demons may be closer than they think.
With its blend of action, horror, and snappy humor, Crazyhead easily draws comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Such comparison are apt, but the show’s distinctly British wit and brisk pace (the first season is a crisp six episodes) make it a perfect snack for modern viewers accustomed to gobbling shows quickly.
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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Never before or since has a film so colorful cut so deeply. Directed by Jacques Demy, this French musical opens on the coastal town of Cherbourg, and two young lovers who live there. Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) works in her mother’s boutique. Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is a mechanic in a local auto shop. They go to a showing of Carmen, walk along the waterfront, and talk, as young lovers do, of their dreams and their future. Then Guy receives his draft notice, and Geneviève catches the eye of a charming diamond merchant …
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is closer to an opera than a standard musical; every line of dialogue is sung, rather than spoken, and though it may seem awkward at first, the process gives even mundane conversations a sense of overflowing passion. The score, composed by Michel Legrand, combines elegant jazz and mournful orchestral music. Demy’s direction is gorgeous, reflective of the story’s turbulent romance. His vision of Cherbourg is awash in bright colors, and at times the movie seems like a painting in motion. Romantic, and at times sharply bitter, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a beautiful and honest tale of young love.
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