Theaters are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the future of the movies this year is still up in the air. But that doesn’t mean film releases have slowed down. Each weekend, on streaming services and through “virtual theatrical” releases, new and newly available movies arrive to delight cinephiles of all stripes.
This weekend’s offerings range from several teenage coming-of-age stories to documentaries about capitalism in the 21st century and about undocumented immigrants infiltrating the detention system. One of the year’s best films so far is now available, and so is a wild, strange French movie about a leather jacket that takes over a man’s life. And two of your childhood faves are newly streaming on Netflix. (Most of the films that were newly released in recent weeks are also still available to watch.)
Here are nine of the best movies, from a range of genres, that are available to watch at home for the weekend of May 1 — some for a few bucks on digital services, some through virtual theatrical engagements, and some to subscribers on streaming platforms.
It took two years for a truly great movie to come out about the Harvey Weinstein case, and The Assistant is it. Julia Garner (Ozark, The Americans) plays Jane, a new assistant in the Tribeca offices of a high-powered movie studio executive. The Assistant follows Jane through one long workday. She makes coffee and copies, takes calls and endures light ribbing from her colleagues; she also witnesses, to her growing horror, what she thinks might be her powerful boss’s inappropriate behavior toward a young woman who shows up unexpectedly, saying she’s been promised a job in the office.
We don’t see the “Weinstein” character directly. Instead, we hear his voice and see his back from a distance; we also see the fear he provokes in his subordinates. He isn’t the point of the story, though. The point, as The Assistant makes blindingly clear, is that the movie executive gets away with his behavior because of the people around him. It’s one of the best, smartest, and most gripping films of 2020.
All Day and a Night
Joe Robert Cole — a co-writer on Black Panther and writer and producer on The People v. O.J. Simpson — wrote and directed this drama about a young man named Jahkor (played by Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders), who commits a serious crime and lands in the same prison as his father (Jeffrey Wright). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about Jahkor’s family life, his relationship with his often-violent father, and his growth from a vulnerable boy to a young man with a chip on his shoulder. Though the film is clunky at times — the flashback device doesn’t work as well as one might hope — Sanders’s and Wright’s performances anchor it. It’s a passionate plea to understand the interplay between individual choice and structural injustices that feed into generational cycles of violence like the one Jahkor has lived.
How to watch it: All Day and a Night is streaming on Netflix.
Back to the Future
Pop some popcorn and fire up your DeLorean: It’s time to travel back to 1985 for Back to the Future, the first entry in the classic trilogy starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Teenage Marty (Fox) accidentally finds himself stuck in 1955 without a way to get back, and while trying to concoct a way to get back to ... well ... the future ... he nearly ruins his own chances at being born. Back to the Future was a massive hit upon release nearly 35 years ago, and it’s still a nostalgic charmer — and a whole lot of goofy fun.
Betty is not technically a movie — it’s six half-hour episodes — but because it’s so closely linked to a movie, I’m letting it slide. Director Crystal Moselle has collaborated with the female skateboarding collective Skate Kitchen twice before: once on a short film (that’s also a Miu Miu ad) in 2016, and once for the 2018 feature Skate Kitchen, in which the young women play fictionalized versions of themselves. Now they’ve remixed that formula for Betty, in which they once again play fictionalized versions of themselves in a loose, almost improvisational-feeling story of finding your people, all set in the skateboarding communities on New York’s Lower East Side.
How to watch it: Betty premieres May 1 at 11 pm on HBO and will be streaming for subscribers on HBO Now and HBO Go.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Less of a movie, more of a visual version of a book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is nonetheless a fascinating and compelling way to look at the full sweep of the history of capitalism and its consequences in modern history. Based on economist Thomas Piketty’s bestselling book by the same name, the documentary uses archival footage and a bevy of talking-head experts to explore the cultural and political reasons capitalism became so powerful. They also explore the reasons that wealth and inequality are a facet of our world today, and how capitalism as a system might be shaped in ways that learn from history. It’s timely and well-argued, and an interesting, accessible way to grasp Piketty’s main arguments.
How to watch it: Capital in the Twenty-First Century is in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on Kino Lorber’s website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
Deerskin is likely the weirdest movie to come out this week, and maybe the most daring. Director Quentin Dupieux (among whose previous films is 2009’s Rubber, about a car tire that goes on a killer rampage) tells the strange tale of Georges (Jean Dujardin), a middle-aged man with a fringed leather jacket. Georges is recently divorced, aimless, and a bit of a sad sack; the jacket begins to talk to him, or at least he thinks it does, and it starts to coax him toward ethically dubious behavior. He presents himself as a film director to residents in a random town and befriends Denise (Adèle Haenel), who tends bar and wants to be a film editor. Things go sideways from there. It’s a fable about the lies we tell ourselves about why we do what we do, and while Deerskin is a bit of a one-trick pony, at 77 minutes long, it’s completely satisfying.
How to watch it: Deerskin is in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on the movie’s website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
The Half of It
In The Half of It, writer and director Alice Wu dips into rom-com territory for a sweet, wistful tale of growing up and finding yourself. Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) lives with her widower father in a small town, where she hustles to earn money by writing essays for fellow students and pines after her classmate Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Another classmate, Paul (Daniel Diemer), is also in love with Aster, and pays Ellie to write love letters in his name. The Cyrano de Bergerac-style story gets an update that also takes into account Ellie’s experience as an outsider in the town: She’s queer, she’s the only child of immigrants, her family doesn’t have much money, and she doesn’t believe in God in a town where everyone else seems to. In the end, The Half of It is more than a romantic comedy — it’s a story about learning to accept that there are some places you’ll never fit in, and be proud of who you are anyhow.
How to watch it: The Half of It is streaming on Netflix.
The Infiltrators is a true story, and its stakes couldn’t be higher. After a man named Claudio Rojas is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Florida and sent to a detention facility in Broward County, his family contacts a group of activist DREAMers called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). The group decides that Marco Saavedra, a volunteer, will self-deport, so as to be sent to the same detention facility and find a way to keep Claudio from being deported. By mixing documentary footage and interviews with the story’s real-life subjects with restaged scenes using actors, The Infiltrators reveals how the facility imprisons unauthorized immigrants, sometimes for years, without a trial. It’s suspenseful, enlightening, and infuriating.
How to watch it: The Infiltrators is in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on the Oscilloscope website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
You can also watch the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Netflix this month, but for my money, the one that truly captures the weirdness of Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder as Wonka. You know the story — a very poor boy named Charlie Bucket ends up at a famous, mysterious chocolate factory with four other children, in what purports to be a tour but turns out to be some kind of wild, strange Survivor-style test of character and wit. Wilder’s unnerving, impish performance, haunting songs, and occasionally visually bizarre direction by Mel Stuart turns the movie into a fever-dream fantasia that is hard to shake — and a ton of surreal fun. (Once you see that sequence on the boat, you can never go back.)