“I agree with you most of the time.”
On the occasions when I meet someone who’s read enough of my Globe movie reviews over the past two decades, this is often what they say if they’re feeling friendly. (If they’re not feeling friendly, they tend to save it for the comments section.) The remark serves several purposes. It’s a compliment, for which I’m eternally grateful, and it’s a gentle reminder that readers have their own minds and their own tastes — that they don’t follow newspaper film critics blindly. I’d expect no less and might even be a little creeped out by more.
It also usually means I’ve sent them to a movie — or three — that they absolutely hated. So it goes. A critic is there to offer guidance, context, a knowledge base, hopefully a good read, and the annoying privilege of thinking out loud. A critic is not there as a guarantor that his or her response to a work of art or entertainment will be the same as yours. In other words, it’s always a crapshoot.
So I offer the following 10 movies — the second of this column’s pandemic-era gleanings from past reviews for forgotten or unjustly ignored gems, all available on demand — in a spirit of clear-eyed adventure. Alphabetically arranged (with one exception), they cover a variety of genres and countries of origin. They impressed me then, and the ones I’ve since revisited — more than a few — still do. If you’re binged out on TV series and looking for a good, old-fashioned movie experience, these should do the trick.
Most of the time. (For more detail about streaming availabilities, check justwatch.com.)
Goodbye Solo (2009) Winston-Salem, N.C.: A Senegalese cab driver (the irrepressible Souléymane Sy Savané) deduces that a weary passenger (Red West) wants to be driven to his suicide and goes about pulling the old man back toward life. What could have been a treacly heart-tugger is more richly moving for director Rahmin Bahrani’s respect for his characters and the script’s clear-eyed take on marginal Americans propping each other up. Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube.
The Illusionist (2006) The less critically acclaimed of two 2006 movies about magicians (“The Prestige” is the other) is also the more blissfully enjoyable to watch with your brain turned (partly) off. Edward Norton plays an up-from-poverty prestidigitator in old Vienna, Jessica Biehl is his beloved, and Paul Giamatti hams it up in high style as a police inspector. Plus a fabulous Philip Glass score. Available on Fandango Now and Microsoft; and free with ads at Crackle, IMDb TV, Roku Channel, Tubi, Vudu Free.
The Magdalene Sisters (2003) A blistering, furious drama set in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, where unwed mothers and other “sinful” young women were imprisoned for years under the iron rule of the Sisters of Mercy. Actor-turned-director Peter Mullan takes us inside what were essentially jails for a society’s sexual anxieties. The last one closed in 1996. Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu.
Schultze Gets the Blues (2005) A deadpan delight about a portly, polka-loving German retiree (Horst Krause) who’s wilting on the vine until he hears a snatch of zydeco music on the radio and embarks on a journey that somehow ends up in the Louisiana bayou. For all of us who want to get out of the house and be gone already. Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube.
Skate Kitchen (2018) The current HBO series “Betty,” about young women skateboarders in New York City, has its origins in this scruffy, tough-minded, but endearing feature film by Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”). Rachel Vinberg plays a Brooklyn girl who finds solace and sisterhood with a vibrant multi-culti subculture. Available for free on Hoopla and Hulu; and for rent on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube.
Source Code (2011) Utterly preposterous but curiously addictive sci-fi thriller in which Jake Gyllenhaal has to keep going back in time to stop a mad bomber while figuring who, where, and why he is. No, I don’t know what the title means either. Directed by Duncan Jones (“Moon”), a.k.a. the former Zowie Bowie. Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube.
Tower (2016) An animated documentary about the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings might not sound like anyone’s cup of hemlock right now, but the focus is on the memories of those who survived, and the decision to re-create their recollections through digital rotoscoping is surprisingly effective. A community oral history that turns overpoweringly real with one cinematic flip of the switch. Available for free on Kanopy and Mubi; for rent on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube.
A Very Long Engagement (2004) Remember that adorable French movie “Amelie” (2001)? Sure you do. Remember the movie that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet made next? It’s all right, no one does. Audrey Tautou plays a woman searching post-World War I Europe for her true love in a stylish, affecting epic of determination. Available on Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube.
What Maisie Knew (2013) A Henry James novel transported from Gilded Age England to 21st-century Manhattan, this tale of a 6-year-old girl (Onata Aprile) caught in a custody battle between her parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) has a serene faith in the strength of its small heroine. Available on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube.
Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) This one’s special. For years, whenever anyone has asked, “Hey, movie critic, what’s your favorite movie?” I’ve given two answers, both true. The film everyone has heard of (which is always the question’s subtext) is “The Godfather.” The film no one has heard of (because it hasn’t been available in the United States for decades, until now) is this indescribable proto-meta-comedy about two women (Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto) who pal around an empty-August Paris until they find a house of fiction, where the same melodrama recurs every day, over and over. Can they monkey-wrench their way over from reality to save the one character who needs saving? The movie’s nearly 3½ hours long and you won’t have any idea what’s going on for the first half, but when you do — oh, when you do — it’s like a 3-D backyard stage production of “Alice in Wonderland” has suddenly snapped into delirious focus. Directed by the enigmatic French New Wave master Jacques Rivette with an eye to all the fictions we make of our lives. Available for streaming on the Criterion Channel subscription service for who knows how long, so pounce.