Photo: Blumhouse / MGM / TWC / Well Go USA
When 2021 began, many movie lovers were hopeful April would be the month of the rebound. James Bond was scheduled to (finally) return at the beginning of the month, and Marvel’s Black Widow was waiting at just the end of it. This of course did not happen.
Nevertheless, for those looking for more bite-sized distractions over the usual binging blur on streaming services, there is still relief coming on Netflix. While all of the below movies are relatively recent, chances are you haven’t seen any of them in a long time, if at all. So sit back, relax, and find out the best options to Netflix and chill this April.
As the movie that arguably ushered in the horror movie renaissance of the 2010s—or at least cemented the Blumhouse Productions formula—Insidious has become strangely overlooked. This is probably due to director James Wan and star Patrick Wilson refining this style to even greater success a few years later with The Conjuring. Nevertheless, Insidious is a creepy delight, one which reworked Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist for the 21st century with its vision of a haunted house in suburbia. The logline, though is what really made this scary: it isn’t the house that’s haunted… it’s your son. With their lad pursued by a demon from a place called “the Further,” a father (Wilson) and mother (Rose Byrne) will have to confront some repressed supernatural trauma and team-up with Lin Shaye’s marvelous ghost hunter. Just beware the Woman in Black.
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Legally Blonde (2001)
Legally Blonde remains the best kind of comedy: one that’s as socially relevant as it is fun. The feminist comedy about a “sorority girl” who decides to go to Harvard Law School to get her ex-boyfriend back became an immediate classic when it hit theaters in 2001. Starring Reese Witherspoon as protagonist Elle Woods, and based on a book of the same name by Amanda Brown, Legally Blonde came out at a time when most pop culture feminism took the form of Strong Female Characters who had to be traditionally masculine in order to be taken seriously as female role models.
Legally Blonde, by contrast, gave us a character who not only didn’t have to give up her femininity to be seen as smart, competent, and powerful, but whose exhibition of those qualities stems from her femininity. The film would go on to launch several sequels (one theatrical and one straight-to-home video release), with another one in development, plus a musical. But the original movie’s cultural legacy lives on far beyond that.
The Pianist (2002)
We cannot in good conscience recommend this movie without noting the film is directed by the reprehensible Roman Polanski. If that is a deal-breaker, please move on. However, there is a powerful piece of cinema here, and in a subject matter the director is all too familiar with: the Holocaust. Starring Adrien Brody in the role that won him an Oscar, the film provides a searing biographical portrait of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish classical composer of Jewish descent. After the Germans invaded his homeland, Szpilman is confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he first continues performing for Polish radio and then spends the last two years of the war in hiding, evading Nazi detection and death in the concentration camps. It’s unforgettable for those who can watch.
Yes Man (2008)
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This Jim Carrey comedy based on a memoir by Danny Wallace sees a buttoned up businessman make a covenant to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity he is presented with. While it’s structurally pretty similar to his earlier hit Liar Liar, this is good-natured, classic Carrey which might just provide some much needed escapism during these dark times. The director is Peyton Reed, who went on to make Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, and although the story—essentially a romance co-starring Zooey Deschanel in manic pixie dream girl mode—is formulaic, Reed brings a pace and energy that keeps it buzzing until the end.
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The Master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s deliciously opaque satire of Scientology (or sympathetic love letter to the misled?) has new poignancy in 2021. With its depiction of a traumatized veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) falling for the bait of a charismatic charlatan (Philip Seymour Hoffman), it rings truer than ever. It also still features bizarrely fascinating performances from both Phoenix and Hoffman, with the latter being particularly bombastic as a science fiction writer who’s become a profit. It’s never really clear if he believes his own line of BS, but what is obvious is the one to really watch out for is Amy Adams as Hoffman’s lethally smiling wife.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro took things back to the late 1800s for his Gothic romance film Crimson Peak. This horror-tinged drama stars Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston as star-crossed lovers, and Jessica Chastain as Tom’s conniving sister and lady of a haunted castle in the English countryside. Like a Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe flick from the ’60s, Crimson Peak begins as an unlikely love story but soon devolves into a nightmare come to life for Wasikowska’s Edith, who discovers that there’s more to her new husband, his sister, and their home than meets the eye.
By David Crow and 1 other
While not quite on par with del Toro’s other films from a narrative perspective, Crimson Peak is a masterclass in atmosphere and spooky imagery. The movie is less a jump scare-heavy cheap thrill and more of an unnerving slow-burn. It may feel a bit dated to modern audiences, but those who like a good haunted house story will find plenty to love in this picture.
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A little bit Ford v. Ferrari before Ford v. Ferrari was a film, Rush is a surprisingly underrated biopic from director Ron Howard. With its traditional Hollywood filmmaker operating at top performance, Rush provides a highly dramatized portrayal of a rivalry between two Formula One drivers, British wheelman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). In real-life, the pair began as good drinking mates on the Formula Three circuit before becoming superstar rivals at a higher level between 1973 and ’79. The film tracks their speed, bravado, and sometimes horrific crashes with steady doses of adrenaline. And hey, it stars Thor and Baron Zemo!
Synchronic is the fourth and most ambitious film yet from the directing-writing-producing (and sometimes acting) team of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. The pair have explored the grip of addiction and the passage of time in all of their features to date, and this sci-fi/horror hybrid continues with those themes. Anthony Mackie (the MCU’s Falcon) stars as Steve, a New Orleans paramedic who learns he has six weeks to live just as he and his partner Dennis (Jamie Dornan) respond to a series of bizarre deaths linked to a new designer drug called Synchronic. What the drug does and how it affects the two friends personally propels Steve on a mind-bending, frightening, yet ultimately compassionate journey, told extremely well here with strong performances and shocking imagery.