Actor: Mauro Prosperi, Michael Bentt, Surya Bonaly
Director: Lissette Feliciano
Challenging movies serve beyond entertainment, pushing us to ask new questions about humanity and the world around us. If you’re hungry for some food for thought, here are the best thought-provoking movies and shows available to stream now.
Actor: Mauro Prosperi, Michael Bentt, Surya Bonaly
Director: Lissette Feliciano
Restored in 2019, Djibril Diop Mambéty's adaptation of the 1956 play, The Visit, presents a powerful allegory of societal decay through the story of Linguère Ramatou, a woman who returns to her impoverished hometown with an offer that can change everything. Mambéty's skillful direction captures the complexities of human nature and the moral choices we face in a world driven by greed and corruption in a global capitalist world. The narrative unfolds with precision, blending dark humor and piercing social commentary. With or without the context of its original influence, Hyenas is a brilliant Senegalese film.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
A road trip movie with an unknown destination, Hit the Road plays with our expectations by avoiding any obvious questions we might have, and making us focus on the real important things. Informed by the censorship and persecution faced by critics of Iran's government—including director Panah Panahi's own filmmaker father, Jafar—the film places more focus on the very act of escape and what that can take from a family. And most importantly, through Panahi's skillful direction of rural Iran's varied, beautiful landscapes, he creates a conflicted relationship between character and setting, with entire emotional crescendos playing out just through a single shot of the environment. It's one of the most underappreciated movies of the year.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Amin Simiar, Hasan Ma'juni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak
Director: Panah Panahi
One of the most original, underseen, and unexpectedly wholesome shows on HBO, High Maintenance spends each episode looking into the everyday lives of various New Yorkers, often with eccentric jobs or alternative lifestyles. The only thing that connects them is that they all happen to be clients of an unnamed weed dealer (played by Ben Sinclair), who becomes a witness to their ordinary joys and struggles. Barely any of the stories we get to see throughout the show's four seasons have a traditional dramatic arc to them, but the series remains a one-of-a-kind comfort nonetheless—showing us just how colorful and interesting a mundane life can be when we have well-meaning people surrounding us. And it's a prime example of how television should be allowed to tell stories in any form, making perfect use of the half-hour episodic format to capture these fleeting, beautiful snapshots.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ben Sinclair
Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991.
The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed.
Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself.
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Alka Balbir, Katia Krafft, Miranda July
Director: Sara Dosa
A harrowing family loss sets off a poetic exploration of grief in this experimental film from Haitian-Canadian filmmaker Miryam Charles. The focus of the movie is Charles’ own cousin, who was found murdered in her Connecticut bedroom in 2008. Rather than let her cousin’s life remain frozen at that point in time, Charles unmoors her film from the cold realities of time and space to suggest new perspectives on the girl’s past and imagine a future that never came. While events like the family’s decision to move to the US are recast as portends of tragedy, there’s also deep generosity in the movie’s ghost story — such as the joyous scenes it depicts from a mother-daughter trip to the family’s home country of Haiti, a trip that never actually took place.
It’s not always easy to discern where or when we’re at in its liberal toggling between time and space, but once Cette Maison establishes its unconventional visual language, everything comes into poignant focus. Given the reality on which it’s based, this is undoubtedly a heartbreaking watch, but the way Charles’ movie evokes the ability of imagination to both deepen and assuage the pain of grief is nothing short of revelatory.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Fantasy
Actor: Ève Duranceau
Director: Miryam Charles
After struggling to recapture the magic of the first few Star Trek series for the better part of two decades, the franchise has finally returned to its original formula of self-contained space adventures, progressive politics, and an unabashedly hopeful tone—all to magnificent results. Strange New Worlds is classic Trek in every sense: from its truly out-there, '60s-style sci-fi stories; to its warm sense of humor; to its welcome focus on sentiment and emotion even amid large battles and dangerous situations. The series accomplishes all of this while keeping every member of its crew unique and charismatic, crafting powerful character moments for them even in the thick of things—elevated by uniformly brilliant performances from its cast, led by a commanding Anson Mount. It's Star Trek for old and new fans alike, and a great reminder of the distinct strengths of episodic TV.
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction
Actor: Anson Mount, Babs Olusanmokun, Celia Rose Gooding, Christina Chong, Ethan Peck, Jess Bush, Melissa Navia, Rebecca Romijn
Set against the backdrop of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s, the film follows Nedjma, a young fashion student, as she navigates the challenges of pursuing her dreams while living under strict societal and religious constraints. Gripping and emotionally charged, the film paints a vivid picture of the oppressive climate and the courageous women who refuse to be silenced. The performances are outstanding, particularly Lyna Khoudri's portrayal of Nedjma, who brings a compelling blend of vulnerability and determination to her character. Director Mounia Meddour's storytelling is powerful and thought-provoking, shining a light on the resilience of women in the face of adversity and the importance of artistic expression as a form of resistance.
Actor: Aida Guechoud, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Khaled Benaissa, Lyna Khoudri, Nadia Kaci, Shirine Boutella, Yasin Houicha
Director: Mounia Meddour
Dickinson takes more than a few creative liberties in telling the story of one of America's greatest poets, Emily Dickinson (played here by the effervescent Hailee Steinfeld). As soon as the first pop song blasts in the background, followed by more than a few expletives blurted by the characters, it becomes clear that the series is more interested in making Emily's life story not just understandable to a new generation, but timeless and universal too; it's a tale about freeing oneself from the constraints of gender and society, and how regardless of whether you succeed or not, it's the attempts that keep us human.
The series is funny and tender and vivacious, kept afloat by its modern sensibility and desire to showcase a whole new side of Emily. Here, she's a fighter, a (queer) lover, and an intellectual. But she's also spoiled, narrowminded, and selfish—she is after all, still a growing girl. Dickinson succeeds on two counts: as an enlightening biopic, artistic license notwithstanding, and as an energizing coming-of-age series, complete with awkward epiphanies and inspiring character developments.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, History
Actor: Adrian Enscoe, Amanda Warren, Anna Baryshnikov, Chinaza Uche, Ella Hunt, Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski, Toby Huss
Black Snow has the sleek style of a modern murder mystery, but its concern with Australia’s colonial past that sets this show apart. As a neo-noir series centered on a murder, the show has all the classic elements: the hardboiled detective, the suspicious townsfolk, and the murder. As the murder is set in 1994, nostalgic summer-tinged high school scenes make it easy to root for justice for the show’s young victim.
But the series stands out as it's always mindful of Isabel Baker, always concerned with her and her dynamics with her friends, family, and her South Sea Islander (ASSI) community. Supported by the strong performance of newcomer Talijah Blackman-Corowa, and even consulting the ASSI community personally in the show’s development and production, Black Snow is excellent not just as a murder mystery but also as a depiction of a community that's rarely portrayed on screen.
Actor: Alexander England, Jemmason Power, Rob Carlton, Talijah Blackman-Corowa, Travis Fimmel
Director: Sian Davies
Putting the inherent eeriness of stop motion animation to perfect use, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa create a legitimately disturbing experience of a man's paranoid delusions, as he tries desperately to make a real human connection while perceiving everyone around him as the same person. It's that (unfortunately) rare animated film that understands that this medium can tell complex, even terrifying, stories for grown-ups while respecting their intelligence. And it's still gorgeously put together, with seamless movements from the character puppets and evocative lighting and cinematography that puts the film firmly in the uncanny valley. It's a tougher watch than it looks, but the depth of feeling it captures is nothing short of totally human.
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Capturing the craziness of a political campaign, Wave Makers portrays a behind-the-scenes look of a fictional campaign team as they work to get their party elected. While branded as a political drama, the Taiwanese Netflix series focuses on the dynamics of its team members, starting with their day-to-day work – how they deal with on-the-spot PR issues, budget cuts, and negotiations – and ending the first episode with the personal issues that affect them, such as work-life balance, career growth, and personal revenge. Focusing on the team makes for an interesting approach in portraying how the personal affects the political, and the show easily balances these two through its well-written sequences and careful direction. It’s no wonder it’s already inspired a #MeToo wave in Taiwan.
Actor: Chen Yan-Fei, Gingle Wang, Hsieh Ying Shiuan, Jag Huang, Leon Dai
Director: Chun-Yang Lin
When Sr. Lino started his warehouse job, he had to work for 11 years before being able to sit down during work hours. This is because there was one chair, and he had to wait for his more senior colleague to retire before he could have his turn.
Now, many years later, he’s about to retire. A new recruit is sent to replace him just five days before he leaves. Sr. Lino is disgruntled that the new kid will only have to stand for five days, but on the second day, the kid brings a chair from home and sits.
Warehoused is a comedy about these two characters with completely different personalities as they interact during the few days left in Sr. Lino’s career. The most interesting thing is perhaps how little seems to happen: the warehouse is empty, unvisited, and yet religiously maintained by Sr. Lino.
It’s such a joy to watch the two actors carry this movie. And behind the funny and simple premise, there is a lot that this movie tries to deal with: deceit and lies, the weight of modern working life, and more.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Hoze Meléndez, Jack Zagha Kababie, José Carlos Ruiz
Director: Jack Zagha Kababie
A breathtaking and enigmatic masterpiece of Thai cinema, Tropical Maladyis a poetic and deeply philosophical exploration of human desire, spirituality, and the mysteries of nature. It follows the story of two men, a soldier and a farmer, who fall in love and embark on a journey deep into the heart of the jungle, where they encounter a shape-shifting spirit. The film's surreal and dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing, and the performances are outstanding, especially the nuanced and subtle portrayal of the two protagonists. This film is truly a stunning and unforgettable work of art that challenges our perceptions of love, identity, and reality.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Sakda Kaewbuadee
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Part police-procedural and part supernatural thriller, The Devil’s Hour is the perfect show to binge if you love solving complicated puzzles and don’t mind being spooked by the occasional jump scare. It's also co-produced by Steven Moffat, who was the brain behind equally mind-bending thrillers Sherlock (BBC) and Doctor Who.
The six-parter follows social worker Lucy Chambers as she looks after potential victims, a behaviorally challenged son, and a schizophrenic mother—and this is on top of her personal problems, which include bloody hallucinations and waking up every day at exactly 3:33 am, or what she dubs the devil’s hour. There are a lot of moving parts in The Devil’s Hour, but aside from the intricate world-building, it’s the powerful performances from Jessica Raine and Peter Capaldi that truly anchor this ambitious show.
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Alex Ferns, Jessica Raine, Nikesh Patel, Peter Capaldi, Phil Dunster