In case you haven’t noticed, and really, how could you not, June has been jam-packed with notable streaming movies as the likes of Netflix, Apple, Hulu, and others compete for eyeballs with summer blockbusters such as Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion.
I watched nine high-profile titles for this column, and I didn’t really regret seeing any of them, even though Spiderhead simply didn’t add up to much in my eyes — odd considering it hails from Joseph Kosinski, the director of Top Gun: Maverick, which is my favorite movie this year, and one that just crossed the $1 billion mark at the global box office.
What’s wild about the list below is how many different streaming services are in the original movie game these days, and the wide range of budgets in place for feature-length content. If you’re anything like me, a glutton for stories, there’s something for everyone these days, you just have to know where to look. Anyway, here are my rankings of the nine notables…
1. Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+) – Next to Top Gun: Maverick, this is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. Writer-director Cooper Raiff‘s sophomore feature finds him playing a bar mitzvah party host who befriends a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter (newcomer Vanessa Burghardt), and it demonstrates a sense of emotional maturity beyond its creator’s 25 years. Not only does Raiff do a commendable job of depicting autistic youth (aided by a sneaky-good performance from Burghardt), but he guides Johnson to what may be her best performance yet. As it did with reigning Best Picture winner CODA, Apple bought this movie out of Sundance, where it was the best of the fest in my book. Not only was the script well-observed, but it was laugh-out-loud funny at times and ultimately, pretty relatable for me seeing as how I am also a big hit at bar mitzvahs.
2. Fire Island (Hulu) – This charming LGBTQ-friendly comedy from Searchlight Pictures and director Andrew Ahn features a largely gay cast led by Joel Kim Booster and SNL‘s Bowen Yang, both of whom show impressive depth. The film finds the two of them and a few other friends traveling to Fire Island in search of a little romance, and naturally, they get more than they bargained for in more ways than one. This movie is obviously great for gay representation, but it’s also a good movie about a friendship between two Asian leads, not to mention one that allows Asians to be sexual — both of which are all too infrequent in movies these days. Though this movie is a little awkward at times, I think it captures that feeling of, “am I too old to be doing this?” and let’s face it, it’s a lot of fun hanging out with this colorful crowd of young men. Fire Island might have been #3 on this list if the next film wasn’t a remake, but as it stands, I feel extremely comfortable giving it this month’s silver medal.
3. Father of the Bride (HBO Max) – I’m not surprised that Father of the Bride has performed well on HBO Max, because it is perfectly cast, from Andy Garcia as the title character to Gloria Estefan as his wife, and Adria Arjona and Diego Boneta as the gorgeous young couple getting married. Like Fire Island, this movie is also very colorful — both its palette and its characters — and SNL‘s Chloe Fineman does a fine job of stepping into the big shoes of the wedding planner previously played by Martin Short (who probably doesn’t actually wear big shoes, but you know what I mean). Director Gaz Alazraki and screenwriter Matt Lopez deserve credit for doing something different with the latest reboot of this timeless tale, and if HBO Max doesn’t order a lesbian wedding sequel starring the talented Isabela Merced (who played Garcia’s younger daughter), the streamer is making a big mistake. It needs to bring the whole team back again, Fineman and her scene-stealing assistant (Casey Thomas Brown) included.
4. Rise (Disney+) – I’m not going to lie, this Disney sports movie got me in the end. I was crying throughout the NBA Draft sequence that marks the climax of the film, which follows the “rise” of the Greek Freak himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo. We watch as his parents make their way from Nigeria (where they must leave their eldest son behind) to Greece, where they struggle to get a job without a visa. Real-life brothers Uche and Ral Agada play Giannis and his older brother Thanasis, which goes a long way towards establishing their chemistry as siblings, and Dayo Okeniyi is particularly good as the boys’ father, who is willing to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. This is a truly inspirational story about daring to dream big, and it’s precisely what Disney should be putting on its streaming service
5. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Hulu) – This sex-positive movie explores body image, and features a brave turn from Emma Thompson as a single woman who hires an escort to give her something she’s never had — an orgasm. Newcomer Daryl McCormack acquits himself well opposite the two-time Oscar nominee, and Thompson delivers a courageous performance without an ounce of vanity to it. I watched this movie with my grandmother, and when she left the house, my father yelled at me and was like, ‘what’s wrong with you? Why would you watch that movie with your grandmother?’ Which is sort of the whole point! It’s like people get to a certain age and we stop thinking of them as sexual creatures. Oh my god, they talk about “69-ing” in this movie? Heaven forbid my grandmother hear something like that! Don’t be so naive. Grandma’s been around. She knows some shit. And I think she appreciated the idea of watching a movie about a woman of a certain age having sex and being pleased by the reflection of her naked body in the mirror.
6. Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe (Paramount+) – Listen up, fartknockers. This animated sequel to 1996’s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America uses the device of a black hole to bring the dumbass duo into 2022, where Beavis and Butt-Head befriend Siri, learn about white privilege, and consume a lot of nachos. Your tolerance for this movie will probably depend on how much you liked “Pull my finger” jokes as a kid, but as someone who spent most of the 5th grade talking in a Beavis voice, I thought it struck just the right balance between being terribly juvenile and genuinely clever — an apt description for most things from the mind of Mike Judge. Beavis and Butt-Head may be the most pathetic virgins I’ve ever seen but you can’t help but fall for them, and this movie is seriously better than it has any right to be. And yes, the great Cornholio makes a triumphant return.
7. The Man From Toronto (Netflix) – Sony sold this movie to Netflix, preferring to take a modest profit over gambling on a theatrical release, but I think the deal worked out for all parties, because this is a Netflix movie, for better or worse. Most star-driven Netflix movies aren’t bad, they’re just not very good, which kind of describes The Man From Toronto to a tee. You can almost tell that Woody Harrelson was called in to replace Jason Statham shortly before shooting started. But I do love me some Woody, and Kevin Hart is a movie star for a reason — he makes everything just a little bit funnier. I’m not saying this is a particularly funny movie, unless you get a kick out of air boxing, but as with most Netflix movies, from Spencer Confidential to The Old Guard, it’s more than watchable, and Hart and Harrelson do have winning chemistry together. This action-comedy is a guilty pleasure and should be well received by the same crowd who made it all the way through Red Notice and 6 Underground.
8. Jerry and Marge Go Large (Paramount+) – This amiable, low-key boomer comedy stars Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening as a Michigan couple who discovered a flaw in the Massachusetts lottery system, so they spent thousands of dollars buying tickets that ultimately brought them a steady profit, which they used to enrich their lives of their friends and neighbors (including a scene-stealing Larry Wilmore) and revitalize their community. It also saw them run afoul of a rival investor group made up of bratty college kids, because a movie like this needs something (or someone) to root against besides the odds. Sure, this movie is a little staid and old-fashioned but there’s something comforting about that, plus it’s the kind of movie you can watch with your parents, which can be hard to find. These kinds of movies always prompt interesting discussions, like what you’d do if you won the lottery, so if nothing else, it’s got that going for it.
9. Spiderhead (Netflix) – To say this movie was a disappointment would be an understatement. Spiderhead stars Chris Hemsworth as a strapping scientist, and reunites Top Gun: Maverick star Miles Teller with director Joseph Kosinski, though they can’t quite manage the same result. Based on George Saunders‘ short story in The New Yorker, the film takes place within a futuristic prison where the inmates have volunteered for an experimental treatment administered by Dr. Steve Abnesti (Hemsworth). I won’t say too much more than that, since the few surprises this film does have should be preserved, but suffice to say, I was underwhelmed. Having said that, I know more than a few folks who really enjoyed this film, so your mileage may vary.