Many of us are still being kept inside by COVID, so here’s a new round of streaming recommendations to keep you occupied. There’s no theme this time around; just a selection of great films from a wide variety of times and places. Stay safe, and stay engaged.
The Cranes Are Flying
This 1957 Soviet film is one of the great unsung war stories, a look at the Eastern Front of World War II through the eyes of both soldiers and civilians. Director Mikhail Kalatozov centers everything on the longing between lead character Veronika and her soldier boyfriend Boris, with a full plate of beautifully melodramatic twists and turns.
Like many of the best works by revered Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, this 1965 film is above all else a wonderful piece of moral instruction. A meditation on the true nature of compassion, it follows a 19th-century doctor as he studies under a master who insists on treating everyone in their village, no matter their station in life.
On Criterion Channel and Fubo.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
A foundational element of any good martial arts film is the training montage. This essential 1978 Hong Kong kung fu feature from director Lau Kar-leung is built of almost nothing but the training part. Gordon Liu plays a student turned revolutionary who turns to the Shaolin Monastery to learn the skills he needs for revenge against a murderous army. The process instead teaches him inner peace … and also leads to a ton of badass action scenes.
On Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other platforms.
This 1977 film adapted the same source novel as the knuckle-gnawingly intense 1953 French thriller The Wages of Fear (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot). William Friedkin adds his particular brand of grittiness to the story of a group of hard-worn men trying to safely transport unstable dynamite hundreds of miles. With some explosive (sorry) sequences of suspense and a god-level score by Tangerine Dream, it’s one of the last gasps of New Hollywood style.
On Fandango Now and iTunes.
Like the rest of the work of pioneering director Kathleen Collins, this film was overlooked during her lifetime. But in the decades since her untimely death in 1988, this wonderfully observed 1982 comedy of interpersonal negotiations has been rediscovered and reevaluated, recently receiving a restoration. There’s no better time to learn about Collins and her films.
Before they blew up the world with The Matrix, the Wachowskis staked their claim as ingenious genre filmmakers with this 1996 queer neo-noir. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon fall in love and plot to rob Tilly’s mafioso boyfriend. As they are wont to do, things get complicated from there. The Wachowskis made the most of a minuscule budget to deliver some delicious thrills.
An experimental feature built entirely out of fragments from old, lost films, Bill Morrison’s 2002 masterpiece is a revelatory work of simultaneous restoration and mourning. Much of cinema from the Silent Era is now gone; all we have left are these context-free dreams.
On OVID and Amazon Prime.
An Injury to One
Travis Wilkerson uses the still-unsolved 1917 murder of labor organizer Frank Little to examine the labor movement in Butte, Montana during the early 20th century, and how it was in many ways a microcosm of the larger labor battles around the US during that period. Wilkerson draws a host of unlikely connections to draw up a holistic portrait of how this time set the stage for the rest of American history.
On OVID and Amazon Prime.
Girls Always Happy
I didn’t think this wonderful independent Chinese gem would get any kind of release, but it’s now available as part of dGenerate Film‘s partnership with OVID. Yang Mingming explores the mother-daughter bond with an incisive wit that edges just up to being caustic without ever getting too unpleasant. It’s a deeply funny movie, and definitely deserves some love.
The Grand Bizarre
Writing for Hyperallergic, Monica Castillo previously praised this unusual documentary from Jodie Mack. We even named it one of our favorite films of the 2010s. Now, finally, it’s available for you to stream — but only for a limited time! You have from the day this is published until just 30 days later to catch it! Act fast!