How thoroughly are streaming services like Netflix and Amazon revolutionizing the ways we watch? The best movie of the year I’ve seen to date isn’t on a Boston movie theater screen at all and probably never will be. It’s High Flying Bird, a new Netflix “original” that’s the latest from Steven Soderbergh, a director who just likes to tell stories and doesn’t much care where they end up. It’s a sports movie or, more particularly, a sports business movie, part of a small but rewarding genre that includes “Moneyball” and “Jerry Maguire.” And it is almost ridiculously satisfying.
If the movie has an authorial voice, it belongs to Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of the play and screenplay for the Oscar-winning “Moonlight.” “High Flying Bird” is a behind-the-scenes NBA drama casting a wise, melancholy eye on a sport of young black strivers who are owned by old white men. André Holland is cast as a players’ agent working a very long con over the course of a league-wide contract lockout; his aim is to get his clients back playing and paid, in money and respect. The details of how he works a master plan so far-fetched no one else even sees it turn “Bird” into a kind of moral heist movie, one with penetrating observations about race, sport, money, and freedom.
The dialogue is slangy and delivered on the lowdown; one nice thing about Netflix is that you can turn on the closed captioning if you miss a line. It’s worth it just to savor every sentence uttered by the great Bill Duke, playing a youth coach who remembers the black basketball community before they took the white man’s money. Plus Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta”) as Holland’s ambitious assistant and/or rival and Kyle MacLachlan as a high-flying owner who gets the grin wiped off his face. Oh, this movie’s good.
So are the following, my latest recommendation of streaming movies and collections:
Velvet Buzzsaw — Fresh from the Sundance Film Festival and straight onto Netflix, a satire of pretentious art-world fops, LA division, from writer-director Dan Gilroy and starring his “Nightcrawler” star Jake Gyllenhaal. You have to be in the right headspace and have a gory, goofy sense of humor when the paintings of a mysterious outsider artist somehow start killing all the snobs. But I don’t think anyone who made this movie took it seriously, and if you don’t either, you might find it Grand Guignol fun.
Of Fathers and Sons (Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Kanopy) is the least-known of this year’s Oscar-nominated feature documentaries, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki went undercover for two years to live with a group of jihadist radicals and their families. To watch these men use the deepest love to inculcate their young sons with the fiercest hate is both horrific and necessary to see.
A New Leaf (Amazon, YouTube, GooglePlay, Vudu) — Writer/director/comedy legend Elaine May is having a moment: Retrospectives of her films are playing (even “Ishtar”!) and at 86 she’s on Broadway as a woman sliding into Alzheimer’s in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” This little-known 1971 gem, May’s first turn behind the camera, casts her as a rich, adorable nebbish being courted by a bankrupt snob (to quote Pauline Kael’s review, “Walter Matthau?”) who plans to murder her on the honeymoon. I saw this on opening week at the old Sack 57 downtown and watched it again last night — it has aged to dry, off-kilter perfection, like a bottle of Mogen David Extra Heavy Malaga wine. Echt Elaine May dialogue: “Excuse me, are you one of the Boston Hitlers?” “No, we’re from Glen Cove.”
The Sisters Brothers (Amazon, iTunes, Youtube, GooglePlay) and Tully (HBO) — Two 2018 movies nobody saw and should have. “Sisters” is an eccentric, fairly bloody western directed by a Frenchman (Jacques Audiard of “A Prophet”) that gives room for actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, and Riz Ahmed to swing all sorts of cats but that ultimately proves a sneaky star vehicle for lonesome John C. Reilly. “Tully” is all Charlize Theron, who’s fantastic as a new mother drowning under anxiety, exhaustion, and cracked nipples until a night nanny enters her life. (No, it’s not Mary Poppins.) The movie doesn’t quite pull off its big twist, but the subject is, shamefully, rarely addressed and the lead performance is phenomenal.
Happy Hour (Amazon, iTunes) Because you really need to watch one 5½-hour movie about a group of Japanese girlfriends before you die, and this is the one. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s 2015 drama — a cult experience for those lucky few who’ve seen it — follows four friends and slowly, immeasurably deepens into a contemplation of the choices we make in life and of life itself. It’s available for streaming in three parts or as one DVD megillah, and if you liked the everyday profundities of such films as “Shoplifters,” it’s well worth the plunge. (Look, you just binged on four hours of “Russian Doll,” didn’t you?)
Also, you’ve signed up for Kanopy, haven’t you? If you have a library card, why not? It’s a free media streaming service offered by many colleges and universities to their students and by many public libraries to their members, (Check www.kanopy.com to find out.) Kanopy offers a deep, deep list of recent and classic movies — emphasis on art-house and indie rather than franchise and blockbuster — as well as a selection of Criterion classics, and enough documentaries to keep a nonfiction fan happy for weeks. (Caveat: Some libraries limit use to a set number of titles per month.)
Did you suffer through the recent Steve Carell misfire “Marwen” and want to know what the fuss was about? On Kanopy, you can stream the original 2010 doc Marwencol, a much more convincing and moving account of the real Mark Hogancamp’s trials and creations. Have you ever wanted to see a Frederick Wiseman documentary? Kanopy’s your place, as Wiseman has tapped the site to serve as the exclusive streaming service for pretty much his entire filmography: 41 films, from 1967’s classic Bridgewater State Hospital expose Titicut Follies on.
The service is also celebrating Black History Month with a terrific lineup of titles that range from the recent “Moonlight” all the way back to the Pioneers of African American Cinema collection, featuring the silent and sound films of Oscar Micheaux and other unsung black filmmakers. Where else are you going to find “The Bronze Buckaroo” (1939), a western featuring African-American singing cowboy star Herb Jeffries?