As of Tuesday, the movie industry has effectively ground to a halt. Multiplex chains Regal, AMC, Showcase Cinemas, and Showplace ICON have closed their theaters for at least three weeks. So have art-house chains Landmark (the Kendall Square and the Waltham Embassy) and ArcLight (the new venue near North Station) and independent houses the Coolidge Corner, the Brattle, the West Newton, the Somerville, and the Capitol in Arlington. The Boston Underground Film Festival and the Independent Film Festival of Boston have been postponed. Major theatrical releases have been pushed further down the line; major film shoots have been put on hold.
There were at least five movies slated to open in Boston on Friday; all have been canceled. Already studios and distributors are considering a shift to video on demand, if only temporarily. NBCUniversal is making current theatrical releases “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man,” and Focus Features’ “Emma” available for streaming on March 20 (for $19.99 per rental) while sending family film “Trolls World Tour” to on-demand for its theatrical opening date of April 10. Warner Bros. is releasing “Suicide Squad” spinoff “Birds of Prey” to streaming on March 24, a month ahead of schedule. At least one indie film, “Phoenix, Oregon,” is taking the entrepreneurial high road by offering a “theatrical-at-home” viewing option when the movie opens theatrically on March 20.
That’s a glimpse of an unwanted but very possible future for the movie exhibition business, especially if the Covid-19 pandemic lengthens into many months. How long can brick-and-mortar theaters hold out? For an indie like the Brattle, not long at all, and that theater, as well as others, have seen an initial groundswell in donations from their surrounding communities. The streaming revolution has been slowly pushing the theatrical movie toward, if not extinction, then increasing irrelevance. The coronavirus will only hasten the process.
In the meantime, what the heck to watch? I posted some ideas for mini-movie festivals last week and around the same time it occurred to me that I’ve reviewed about 2,000 movies in 18 years at the Globe and there are surely some forgotten gems in there — movies that were good, maybe even great, but that came and went with little fanfare, grosses, or awards.
So I looked. And, indeed, there were films even I’d forgotten about that are perfectly fine for this time of enforced home viewing. Curiously (or maybe not, since they’re the definition of unheralded), many of these movies are hard to find or on a limited number of platforms. It’s telling that not one of them is on Netflix. You might be able to find them at your library, if it’s open and you’ve signed a legal waiver. But I came up with about 40 titles for a “Between the Cracks” on-demand festival, and here are the first 10 (I’m reserving the others for later columns; who knows how long we’ll be here?)
“Igby Goes Down” (2002) You love-hate Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy on HBO’s “Succession”? Revel in the actor’s spiky early promise in this comedy about a snotty misfit preppy cut loose in New York. Written and directed by Burr Steers, with diamond-hard dialogue (“You call your mother Mimi?” “Medea was taken.”) and a terrific supporting cast: Jeff Goldblum , Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes. Culkin’s the show, though, and the movie’s like watching Holden Caulfield finally getting the kick in the pants he always deserved. (Prime Video, DirecTV; rental: iTunes, Vudu, Microsoft)
“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003) Fans of Patrick O’Brian’s 20-volume series about the early-19th-century adventures of British Navy Captain Jack Aubrey and her Majesty’s spy Stephen Maturin held their breath when this movie was announced — and then breathed a sigh of relief at how director Peter Weir fused two books in the series and still got everything right. With Russell Crowe as Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Maturin, this is the last of the great old-school wide-screen fighting-warship epics. Accordingly, it didn’t make a dime and any plans for a sequel were scuttled, a lost opportunity some of us still mourn. (Starz, DirecTV; most major rental platforms)
“The Door in the Floor” (2004) Nobody, but nobody, remembers this adaptation of one-third of a John Irving novel, starring Jeff Bridges as a wastrel children’s-book writer in the Hamptons, Kim Basinger as his grieving, fed-up wife, Jon Foster as Bridges’s young assistant, and, in her first major role, a 4-year-old Elle Fanning. Funny, mordant, sexy, and sad, the movie’s catnip for fans of offbeat tales and performances, and Broadway legend Donna Murphy gets a honey of a scene in a frame shop. (Starz, DirecTV; not available for rental)
“Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (2006) Despite being available on demand hardly anywhere — what in God’s name is Hoopla? — I still feel compelled to recommend this absolute charmer about the friendship between an elderly lady (Joan Plowright) and the young artist (Rupert Friend, long before “Homeland”) she takes on as a grandson, since the real grandson’s a prig who never visits. The movie advances the radical notion that your family should deserve you, and if they don’t, you should find appropriate substitutes. (Hoopla, DirecTV; not available for rental)
“The Last Station” (2009) Who wants to watch a movie about the last days of Leo Tolstoy? Not you? Your loss — this is an unrestrained and extremely entertaining big-budget melodrama with a performance by Helen Mirren as the spoiled Countess Tolstoy that goes beyond overacting to achieve something close to emotional installation art. Actually, with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy also in the cast, “Station” is pretty much the World Series of hambone-ery. Potted movie history but irresistible just the same. (Rental: Fandango, Vudu, Youtube, Google Play)
“Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012) Want to see Aubrey Plaza smile? It takes long enough, but when the dour, dark “Parks and Recreation” actress finally cracks a grin here, the Earth’s axis wobbles a bit. She plays a mordant alt-weekly intern charged with finding out the truth behind a want ad involving time travel — which leads to a sad-sack inventor (Mark Duplass) who’s either nuts or not. A goofy little indie with some sharp things to say about the human ache to rewrite the past. (Most major rental platforms)
“Don Jon” (2013) Before he seemingly dropped out of movies to pursue Internet entrepreneurship, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in this very smart comedy-drama about men, women, desire, and online porn. (To date it remains one of the more honest movies on the last subject.) The star plays a cocky New Jersey stud — think Tony Manero from “Saturday Night Fever” with a Pornhub addiction — and Scarlett Johansson is a gum-chewing girlfriend with her own movie-fed ideas about how love works. (Starz, DirecTV; most major rental platforms except Amazon)
“Land Ho!” (2014) Armchair travelers, rejoice at this fluky indie comedy about two duffers from Kentucky (Paul Eenhoorn, a professional actor, and Earl Lynn Nelson, a retired eye surgeon and full-time character) who travel to Iceland because life’s short and not getting any longer. Low on incident and high on scenery and whimsical attitude, this is a hot spring of a movie: It fizzes a lot and you come out feeling better than you went in. (Most major rental platforms)
“Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016) Richard Linklater commemorates his time playing college baseball in the Texas university system in the 1980s the same way he celebrated his 1970s high school years in “Dazed and Confused” — with a lot of fine young actors talking hilariously and incessantly at each other. It’s basically life in a team dorm as young men realize they can be disco, country, punk, or any damn thing they want to be. (Most major rental platforms except Amazon)
“Support the Girls” (2018) Andrew Bujalski’s funny, raw workplace comedy, set in a Hooters-style restaurant on a very bad day, is overflowing with incisive performances, but pride of place goes to Regina Hall, magnificently weary as the house manager trying to hold work, life, and soul together. There are too damn few movies about working-class America — fewer still about its women — but even if there were, this would be one of the best. (Hulu; most major rental platforms)