Maybe you need something to watch while you digest the turkey and fight off tryptophan-induced sleep. Maybe you need something for the whole clan to watch together in a spirit of family feeling or to avoid talking about politics and You Know Who. Here’s my latest guide to some of the lesser-known cinematic worthies recently arrived in the digital slipstream.
They include movies you might have missed when they played Boston-area theaters, movies that never played locally, and “Netflix originals” — i.e., films that the service snapped up from festivals and elsewhere without (necessarily) sending them to theaters at all. All eight offer a little more meat on their bones than the franchise-film leftovers. In order of recommendation:
Support the Girls — One of my favorite 2018 movies that no one saw: a day in the life of the wait-staff at a Hooters-style restaurant, overseen by a frazzled, enduring manager played by Regina Hall in one of the year’s finest performances. Additional standouts include Haley Lu Richardson (“Columbus”), Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black”), and the magnificent Shanyna McHayle (a.k.a the rapper Junglepussy). Andrew Bujalski’s comedy-drama says more about working-class America, working-class women (of all colors), and the work that goes into maintaining male fantasy than — let’s see — anything else put out by the entertainment industrial complex in ages. (Amazon, iTunes, cable on-demand)
Sorry to Bother You — If you missed this exploding ice cream cone when it played theaters this summer, you’re in for a treat: Movies don’t get more amusingly, pointedly gonzo than this. Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta,” “Get Out”) has a welcome lead role as a black guy who finds surreal success as a telemarketer once he locates his “white voice” (dubbed in by comedian David Cross). His artist-activist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson, an MVP in just about every movie she’s in) is not amused, but the company’s creepy chief (Armie Hammer, nailing every Internet-era CEO bro) has bigger plans. Director Boots Riley taps into the spirit of midnight movies past while sliding in a furiously funny message about gig capitalism. (Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, cable on-demand)
The Kindergarten Teacher — Many actresses get cautious as they enter their 40s; on the basis of HBO’s “The Deuce” and this film, Maggie Gyllenhaal is just becoming more fearless. A remake of a 2014 Israeli film, this second feature from director Sara Colangelo casts Gyllenhaal as a Staten Island elementary school teacher, stuck in a mid-life funk and a dead-end marriage, who comes alive when one of her young students (Parker Seyak) is revealed as a possible prodigy of poetry. It’s a quietly riveting tale of a good person confronting her own ordinariness and backing away into obsession. With Gael Garcia Bernal. (Amazon, iTunes, cable on-demand)
Puzzle — Another neglected wife and mother undergoing a mid-life crisis, but warmer and softer than the above, and maybe even more moving. If someone other than Kelly Macdonald (“Boardwalk Empire”) were playing the invisible woman who wakes up to joy and mystery when she discovers the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling, this would probably be a lesser movie. But Macdonald is playing it, and she’s luminous. As is the great Irrfan Khan (“The Lunchbox”) playing her partner in puzzling and perhaps more, as is Dustin O’Halloran’s haunting score. A lovely little film. (Amazon, iTunes, cable on-demand)
Shirkers — Stick with this documentary about the making of a movie that ultimately never was: It starts slow but wades steadily into weirder and more emotionally plangent territory. In 1992, Sandi Tan was a punkish, ambitious Singapore teenager who with some friends made a quirky feature film called “Shirkers” that was hijacked by Tan’s filmmaking mentor. Decades later, she recovered the footage and set about plumbing the mystery of a man who may have had no identity besides being a saboteur of other people’s dreams. “Shirkers” the feature film, if it had ever been finished, could have been a Singapore “Rushmore.” “Shirkers” the documentary is a wise and rueful remnant with a black hole at its center. (Netflix)
Juliet, Naked — The best thing Ethan Hawke has done this year is his jaw-dropping performance of a pastor losing his faith in Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed.” By contrast, the most enjoyable thing he has done is play the aging rock’n’ roll star — all right, “one-album wonder” — who somehow ends up romantically drawn to the neglected girlfriend of his number-one fan. Rose Byrne is the girlfriend, Chris O’Dowd is an absolute pill as the boyfriend, it’s based on a Nick Hornsby novel, and it’s a simple, straightforward delight. (Amazon, iTunes, cable on-demand)
Cam — A deeply unsettling low-budget suspense-thriller about Internet fantasy, role-playing, loss of identity, and sex work. Your basic topical drama, in other words. Madeline Brewer (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) plays Alice/“Lola-Lola”, an online “cam girl” who gives sex shows to an unseen clientele until an unknown someone hacks her account and pretends to be her. Has Lola-Lola’s online persona split off from Alice’s personality? “Cam” plays with both psychological-horror genre tropes and darker existential themes, and its clear-eyed view of the drab realities of a cam-girl’s life is both refreshing and ultra-creepy. A “Black Mirror” for the Selfie generation. (Netflix)
Blindspotting — Another tale of modern-day striving and strife in a gentrifying Oakland (see “Sorry to Bother You,” above), but this one is a drama of two pals at a crossroads of friendship and life. The charming, charismatic Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton” on Broadway) proves he’s ready for the movies as a heartsore ex-con who witnesses a police killing, and Rafael Casal is hilarious and scary as his motormouth buddy. The two actors are real-life friends from childhood and co-wrote the script, including an ending that will either knock you out of the movie or just plain knock you out. (Amazon, iTunes, cable on-demand)Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.