20 Best Smart Movies On Kanopy (Page 2)

Staff & contributors

Good movies serve beyond entertainment, to expand perspectives and improve our understanding of humanity and the world. If you're hungry for some food for thought, here are the best smart movies and shows available to stream now.

Find the best smart movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these smart movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

It may not teach us anything that we don't already know by now, but the documentary Totally Under Control—filmed in secret, in defiance of the Trump administration—still stands as a valuable historical document so that the same mistakes can be avoided in the future. Boiled down to simple terms by doctors and other experts, the film's explanation of the United States' failure to adequately contain their own COVID-19 outbreak is always science- and fact-oriented first. And in its own classy, level-headed way, the film emphasizes that every politician, celebrity, and media outlet has a crucial part to play in making sure nobody panics and chases any counterproductive agendas. It should be obvious by now that we're all on the same team.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alex Gibney, Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Fauci, Barack Obama, Deborah Birx, Donald Trump, Joe Kennedy III, John R. Bolton, Michael Bowen, Mike Pence, Narendra Modi, Scott Becker, Taison Bell

Director: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger

Like a Wes Anderson movie, The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes artistic risks and nails every one of them. There are many quirky, aesthetically well-studied, and even funny aspects to this moving story.

Jimmie has been maintaining a typical San Francisco Victorian house, regularly painting the windows and watering the plants. One small problem: other people live there and they don’t want him around. It turns out this was once Jimmie’s family house, having been built by his grandfather in 1948, and he misses it deeply.

This story is based on writer Jimmie Fails’ life, as he tried to reclaim his family home in SF. However, it’s not a movie that limits itself to gentrification. It transcends that to being about the universal yearning to find a place to call home.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Andy Roy, Daewon Song, Danny Glover, Finn Wittrock, Isiain Lalime, Jamal Trulove, Jello Biafra, Jimmie Fails, John Ozuna, Jonathan Majors, Mari Kearney, Mike Epps, Rob Morgan, Thora Birch, Tichina Arnold, Tonya Glanz

Director: Joe Talbot

Rating: R

Certified Copy starts straightforward enough as it follows an unnamed shopkeeper (Juliette Binoche) and a writer (William Shimell) taking a stroll around picturesque Tuscany, debating the merits of authenticity and simplicity. They’re strangers flirting under the guise of an intellectual debate, and for a while, you think you’re watching a film like Before Sunrise, that is until a mysterious, almost magical, shift occurs, and suddenly, you’re witnessing something entirely different. For better or worse, director Abbas Kiarostami never makes it clear what happens, and that very mystery gives you a lot to think about. Are they pretending to be copies or is it the other way around? Neverending questions run through your head as you watch them banter, but whatever actually happens might be beside the point. At the moment, you get deeply felt, wonderfully rendered, as-real-as-can-be performances from Binoche and Shimell, and you can’t help but surrender.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Moore, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti, Jean-Claude Carrière, Juliette Binoche, William Shimell

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Rating: NR

Jia Zhangke (who NPR critic John Powers once called “perhaps the most important filmmaker working in the world today"), directed this movie based on the story of a gangster he knew while growing up.

And he is far from being the only noticeable talent here. Actress Tao Zhao shines as a character called Qiao, a dancer who infiltrates the crime scene in Northern China by way of her boyfriend (the gangster). When a boss leader is assassinated, Qiao finds herself in jail after she refuses to incriminate her boyfriend. 

This is a gangster movie but it’s also about how Qiao processes her time in jail and what she does once she gets out. It serves more as a character study and a picture of modern-day China.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Casper Liang, Diao Yi'nan, Ding Jiali, Dong Zijian, Fan Liao, Feng Xiaogang, Jiamei Feng, Kang Kang, Liao Fan, Tao Zhao, Xu Zheng, Yi'nan Diao, Zhang Yi, Zhang Yibai, Zhao Tao

Director: Jia Zhangke, Zhangke Jia

Rating: Not Rated

Even those who aren't baseball aficionados should find something interesting and human in this straightforward, brainy documentary Fastball looks at the titular type of pitch not just from a place of scientific curiosity but as a symbolic goal that players all over the world chase after. Through many clear-eyed discussions and testimonials, we begin to see how a large part of the sport has been structured around the idea of understanding speed—and how some careers have been made or broken by trying to catch up with the greats. But in the end, Fastball takes a surprisingly subjective position on the matter; instead of definitively stating who's the fastest on earth, it affirms that everyone has their own legends they look up to, pushing them to be greater.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Bryce Harper, Chris Cooper, Derek Jeter, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Justin Verlander, Kevin Costner, Tony Gwynn

Director: Jonathan Hock