As the summer parade of megaplex fare comes to a close, your weary eyeballs may be in need of some fresh content to view from home. Here’s a handpicked roundup of excellent films, new and old, available across various streaming and VOD platforms that you may have missed. Trailers after the jump.
Casanova (1976) Dir. Federico Fellini
Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival just gave its top prize to Catalan director Albert Serra’s “Story of My Death,“ a fantasy mashup of the Dracula and Casanova myths. That film still seeks a distributor but in the meantime, check out Federico Fellini‘s Oscar-winning interpretation of Casanova, now streaming on Netflix. The revisionist film stars Donald Sutherland as the titular libertine and adventurer, and he plays it with an air of detachment more dreamily cinematic than Heath Ledger’s (RIP) grandly romantic, heartthrob portrayal in the 2005 Lasse Hallstrom snoozer. Every frame bursts with decadent beauty.
The Dying Gaul (2005) Dir. Craig Lucas
For a wicked, brooding and sinister incision of sexual ennui in the Hollywood Hills, look no further than Paul Schrader’s “The Canyons.” Seek out Craig Lucas’ 2005 Sundance drama “The Dying Gaul,“ starring Peter Sarsgaard, Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott — all of whom have the sexiest voices in contemporary movies, by the way — as players in a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”-esque postmodern Greek tragedy. When fatalistic screenwriter Robert (Sarsgaard) sells his very gay, autobiographical screenplay about AIDS to Jeffrey (Scott), a world of deceit and treachery bottoms out beneath them. Critics were mixed at the time, but the film holds up well as an even more poisonous antidote to Mike Nichols’ “Closer,“ another play-based relationship drama with a small cast from the year before.
It’s All About Love (2003) Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg‘s unsung foray into sci-fi, which he calls “a dream,” stars Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix as lovers on the run from a looming apocalyptic meltdown in the year 2021. This boldly experimental work was hacked to bits by critics and virtually forgotten upon release, despite its top drawer cast. But in the wake of Vinterberg’s new thriller “The Hunt,” “It’s All About Love” deserves serious reconsideration as a dystopian love story with rueful echoes of Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem. Claire Danes is deliciously tragic as a figure skater. While in the midst of a troubled half-decade-long production, Vinterbeg asked Ingmar Bergman for help, who allegedly laughed in his face.
Love Is the Devil (1998) Dir. John Maybury
John Maybury‘s criminally under seen “Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon” stars Derek Jacobi opposite Daniel Craig as the 20th century abstract painter and his lover, a beautiful petty thief straight out of Jean Genet, who are locked in a sadomasochistic affair. Maybury couldn’t secure the rights from Bacon’s estate to use his oeuvre, a collection of raw, surrealist paintings that inspired David Lynch. So instead the director recreates the artist’s disturbing style in the very frame, distorting heads, bifurcating bodies and blurring the lens to disorienting effect. See Tilda Swinton here in one of her best supporting roles as a low class, trifling tavern wench with bad teeth. But the real draw of the film is the achingly sad, monstrous love between Jacobi and Craig and their withering souls. It’s the best gay art film Lynch never made.
Ron Fricke’s rapturously praised follow-up to “Baraka” (1993) originally screened in 70mm. Until it hits future retrospectives, your best bet is to enjoy “Samsara” in high definition on Neflix. The film is an insanely beautiful tour through 25 countries over four years, focusing less on documentary narrative than on images and sounds as Fricke plumbs natural wonders, sacred sites, disaster zones and more exquisite locales. It’s an assault on the senses, and essential viewing for lovers of “pure cinema” (and stoners who want their minds blown).
Sinister (2012) Dir. Scott Derrickson
Derrickson’s irresistibly nasty piece of work about a writer driven to madness by his dark obsession with a cache of 8mm home movies is one of the most nihilistic horror movies in recent memory. Ethan Hawke, on a roll lately, plays the haunted scribe who puts his family in danger to continue living in a house where a spate of gruesome murders took place — all of which unspool in unforgiving detail on reels he finds in the attic. Unfortunately, Derrickson and cowriter C. Robert Cargill succumb to the cliche “gotcha!” last moment that has become contemporary horror’s cheap hallmark, but up until then, this is a bleak “Shining”-esque trip to hell (but not back) that flouts audience expectations and plays on our thirst for onscreen carnage.
What Maisie Knew (2013) Dirs. Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Few filmmakers fully embody the inner world of a child as effectively and tenderly as McGehee and Siegel do in their drama “What Maisie Knew.” This is a liberal adaptation of Henry James‘ late-19th century novel of the same name, here set in present day New York. In a perfect world, preternaturally gifted seven-year-old Onata Aprile would win an Academy Award for her performance as Maisie, a little girl caught in the eye of a marital storm between her punk rocker mom (Julianne Moore) and selfish art dealer dad (Steve Coogan). The gorgeous Swede Alexander Skarsgard, too, rises above his typically dopey portrayals as Maisie’s loving stepdad. Our TOH! interview with the screenwriter here.