It may sound perverse to make a hyperintellectual comedy about Hollywood’s anti-intellectualism, but Robert Altman did it with The Player (1992). Tim Robbins stars as an unscrupulous studio executive who…you know, the less you know the better. Let it suffice to say the film delivers the salacious goods—sex, death, stardom—even as it transcends them. Art mined from artlessness has never been so darkly delightful. HBO Max.
INDIE PICK 1:
Plenty of die-hard Christopher Nolan fans still haven’t seen Following (1998), the Dark Knight trilogy director’s scrappy, sinister debut. Shot in beautifully grimy black-and-white on weekends while Nolan was studying English at University College London, the film concerns a naive stalker (Jeremy Theobald) who is entranced by a dashing burglar (Alex Haw). Free on Tubi.
HOLLYWOOD PICK 2:
With Yellowstone returning, it’s time to reexamine co-creator Taylor Sheridan’s cinematic work. One of his most underrated films is Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021), about a smoke jumper (Angelina Jolie) shepherding a fugitive boy through a Montana wildfire. It’s like Gravity, but with ravenous flames instead of an endless void. HBO Max.
INDIE PICK 2:
No, the greatest magician movie of 2006 wasn’t The Prestige. It was Neil Burger’s The Illusionist, the saga of an elusive showman (Edward Norton) who outwits a dogmatic policeman (Paul Giamatti) in turn-of-century Vienna. At once a detective tale and a rapturous romance (Jessica Biel plays a noblewoman Norton woos), the film understands what few mysteries do: The best cons are the ones that are never truly revealed. Free on Amazon Prime, Peacock, Redbox, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube.