I often tell my film criticism students, as they prepare to review a new movie, that it’s always helpful to familiarize yourself with a director’s past work. That might sound like fairly obvious advice, but it’s worth reinforcing for someone not accustomed to watching movies through the lens of auteurism, and who’s still learning to see how recurring themes, ideas, narrative and formal strategies accumulate meaning across a filmmaker’s body of work.
This extra research, of course, takes time. A busy college student may not be able to cram in the collected works of, say, Sarah Polley, M. Night Shyamalan or Steven Soderbergh (or even to catch up with “Au Hasard Balthazar,” as I urged my students to do before they wrote about Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO,” which was partly inspired by that Robert Bresson classic). That said, the research has never been easier than it is in the era of streaming, where a simple visit to an invaluable guide like JustWatch.com can show you where and how to catch up on an auteur’s back catalog. And since I try to follow my own advice, it’s a site I find myself visiting often: Time permitting, I’m trying to schedule in some strategic replays of Wes Anderson, Greta Gerwig and Christian Petzold, among other filmmakers with new releases coming out this summer.
But the pleasures of watching and rewatching, needless to say, are not limited to students or critics. Revisiting the work of a filmmaker you love — or a filmmaker you don’t love but are trying to understand better — is one of the pleasures of going deeper into movies. Here are five filmmakers who have new movies that premiered recently at festivals and/or will be emerging in the coming months, and whose past work can be readily found, discovered and rediscovered on streaming platforms.
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Given how often Coppola is accused of making shallow rich-people movies that reflect nothing more than her own shallow rich-people upbringing, the idea of her writing and directing a Priscilla Presley biopic might seem to play right into the hands of her toughest critics. (Arriving a year after Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” Coppola’s “Priscilla” is expected to premiere sometime in the next several months.)
To which this critic can only respond that his two favorite Coppola movies — 2006’s sublime “Marie Antoinette” (multiple platforms), with a pitch-perfect Kirsten Dunst, and 2010’s exquisite “Somewhere” (multiple platforms), starring a never-better Stephen Dorff — are perhaps her most unapologetically insular works, set within near-hermetically sealed celebrity bubbles. They’re also her funniest and most delicately felt movies, although I wouldn’t argue with anyone who places 2003’s Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation” (multiple platforms), her melancholy Tokyo story pairing Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, in the same company.
Murray also appears, to lesser effect, in Coppola’s 2020 comedy “On the Rocks” (Apple TV+), one of her only movies — the other being 2013’s underwhelming teen-thieves drama “The Bling Ring” (multiple platforms) — that left me impatient for her to move on to something new. But not too new, I hasten to add. At her best, Coppola’s filmmaking is so pinpoint-precise that she can find nuanced new variations in the same pattern, which is why “The Beguiled” (multiple platforms), her artful 2017 riff on Don Siegel’s 1971 Civil War gothic, sounds such a haunting echo of her 1999 debut feature, “The Virgin Suicides” (multiple platforms). To describe them as perceptive studies of female dynamics in close quarters is perfectly accurate, even if it risks bleeding them both of their poetry.
Catching up on Glazer’s feature-length work is easily the least time-consuming endeavor on this list, since he’s made only four features over the past 22 years. The most recent of these, “The Zone of Interest,” a disquietingly oblique drama about a Nazi family living just outside the gates of Auschwitz, recently won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released later this year by A24.
An English-born talent who established his strong stylistic credentials with commercials and music videos, Glazer made a splash — quite literally, given its boulder-in-the-swimming-pool prologue — with his terrific 2001 debut feature, the gangster drama “Sexy Beast” (multiple platforms). Brilliantly acted by Ray Winstone, Amanda Redman and a terrifying Ben Kingsley, this expertly crafted genre piece gave little indication of the moodier, more ambiguous direction Glazer would take with 2004’s magnificent “Birth” (multiple platforms), a dryly funny, finally wrenching story of love, death and possible reincarnation, starring Nicole Kidman in one of her very best performances.
It would be nearly 10 years before Glazer would unveil “Under the Skin” (multiple platforms), his unsettling adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel, starring Johansson as an alien harvesting the bodies of horny, unsuspecting men around Scotland. A spellbinding amalgam of moods, shocks and implications, it’s also a surprisingly poignant story about how empathy can arise under the strangest of circumstances, which makes it an eerie companion piece to “Zone’s” study of inhuman evil.
Guadagnino’s upcoming “Challengers,” due to be released in theaters Sept. 15, sounds like a fascinating departure: a romantic comedy that stars Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor and takes place in the world of professional tennis. Then again, Guadagnino has never wanted for versatility.
Horror, generously gory and beautifully stylized, has been his chief preoccupation of late, starting with 2018’s feverish and cerebral “Suspiria” remake (Amazon Prime Video and other platforms) and continuing with last year’s poignant YA cannibal thriller “Bones and All” (multiple platforms). His recent body of work also includes short films like 2019’s “The Staggering Girl” (Mubi and other platforms); documentaries like “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” (multiple platforms), his 2021 portrait of Salvatore Ferragamo; and a much-acclaimed series, “We Are Who We Are” (multiple platforms), that I’ve been dying to catch up with.
And those are just a few Guadagnino titles that are readily available for streaming in the U.S.; many others are not, including his first two features, “The Protagonists” (1999) and “Melissa P.” (2005). The next three features he directed, however, are gloriously available and endlessly revisitable: Taken together, the dizzying 2009 romantic tragedy “I Am Love” (multiple platforms), the seductive 2015 thriller “A Bigger Splash” (multiple platforms) and the wrenching 2017 coming-of-ager “Call Me by Your Name” (Netflix and other platforms) form a kind of trilogy, a languid three-table buffet of overflowing sensory delights. The theater remains the best place to experience them, but there’s something to be said for having their pleasures at your fingertips.
The Cannes Film Festival and Netflix have been at an impasse for years, for reasons that cut to the heart of the debate over the present and future of movie exhibition: Cannes refuses to show Netflix movies in competition unless they receive a theatrical release in France, and Netflix, unwilling to comply, now bypasses Cannes altogether. One of the ironies of this so-called feud is that Netflix can still buy titles that play in competition, which is exactly what it did with “May December,” Haynes’ new movie starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman.
I do hope the company gives “May December” more than a token theatrical release, since its darkly funny story — about a headline-grabbing marriage and a self-serving actor trying to turn life into art — benefits from being seen with an audience. But it’s also worth seeing after you’ve brushed up on Haynes’ earlier movies, especially his first two major collaborations with Moore — 1995’s “Safe” (Criterion Channel, Mubi and other platforms) and 2002’s “Far From Heaven” (multiple platforms) — and “Carol” (multiple platforms), his 2015 romance starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Like “May December,” all three of these movies are at least partly about what happens when a life of cozy suburban domesticity unravels.
The one Haynes title you won’t find on a streaming platform is “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” his banned, reputation-making 1988 short. (Too bad; recounting Carpenter’s life using dolls as actors, it might make fascinating counterprogramming to the forthcoming “Barbie.”) Everything else, happily, is within reach, including 1991’s “Poison” (multiple platforms), a disturbing triptych and New Queer Cinema landmark, and his rock ’n’ roll-themed trio: the 1998 glam-rock valentine “Velvet Goldmine” (multiple platforms), the dizzyingly prismatic 2007 Bob Dylan anti-biopic “I’m Not There” (multiple platforms) and 2021’s authoritative, virtuosic documentary “The Velvet Underground” (multiple platforms).
Oh, and not to be forgotten, even though some of Haynes’ staunchest admirers might prefer they were: 2017’s “Wonderstruck” (Amazon Prime Video and other platforms), a moving adaptation of Brian Selznick’s children’s book, and 2019’s “Dark Waters” (multiple platforms), a superbly acted environmental crusader drama that, like so much of Haynes’ work, has a lot churning beneath its seemingly straightforward surface.
One of the strongest movies playing at Cannes this year was also one of the longest: “Occupied City,” a nearly four-and-a-half-hour cinematic essay on the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam that marks the first nonfiction effort from the British-born McQueen. I’m grateful to have seen it in a theater, which it absolutely deserves; audiences planning to stream it at home should know that it demands and rewards wide-awake attention.
But then, that’s always been true of McQueen’s screen work, starting with “Hunger” (multiple platforms), his galvanic 2008 debut feature starring a then-unknown Michael Fassbender as the imprisoned IRA leader Bobby Sands. Fassbender also starred in 2011’s masterful “Shame” (multiple platforms), this time playing a New York City sex addict in a soul- and flesh-baring performance that drew predictable smirks. I think it’s McQueen’s strongest feature to date, though many would reserve that title for 2013’s Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” (multiple platforms), and understandably so: A seamless fusion of art-film austerity and classical narrative, it’s one of the most searingly powerful movies about American slavery this country has ever produced.
The film industry that handed “12 Years a Slave” a best picture Oscar proved less receptive to 2018’s “Widows” (multiple platforms), a gripping, sociopolitically charged heist thriller built around exceptional performances (by Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki, especially). McQueen followed up that underappreciated achievement with 2020’s “Small Axe” (Amazon Prime Video and other platforms), an outstanding five-part omnibus work set in London’s West Indian community. “Small Axe” further confounded the already confounding “is it cinema or television?” debate, contending for Emmys even after it played film festivals and won best picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. I’m still eager to see it on a big screen someday, especially its rapturous highlight, the 68-minute “Lovers Rock,” but if you haven’t seen any of it, the time to catch up is now.