Highly-rated yet little-known movies

agoodmovietowatch suggests excellent movies (and recently shows) that you might not know about.

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Spotlight

agoodmovietowatch Spotlight is a series of sections that shine a light on excellence in under-represented cinema.

Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.

9.1
BF

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

8.0

Shia Laboeuf and Stellan Skarsgård star in this true story about one of the greatest tennis matches in history: the 1980 Wimbledon final. The movie dissects what drives both competitors (one played by Laboeuf and the other by Sverrir Gudnason). Their personalities, considered opposites, are studied through their paths and how they got into tennis. All this leads to that one match, in this beautiful story of dealing with competition and fear of failure. Don’t stop watching when the credits roll, read what they say!

8.0

If you liked Superbad, you will love Booksmart. It's a funny coming-of-age movie about two best friends who embark on one last crazy night before their high-school ends. Sounds like something you've seen before? Don't worry, it's not. This movie might be for fans of smart coming-of-age comedies, but it's very different from them. It's current, creating situations and premises for jokes that haven't been explored before, ranging from taking a Lyft and finding out the driver is their school principal; to mistakenly connecting to his car's sound system while trying to get educated on how two women have sex. The girls in Booksmart are overachieving, fiercely supportive of each other, and yet in the right context, ready to let go and have fun. In short, their endearing attitude makes this movie not only funny but extremely likely to charm your socks off.

9.0
BF

If you liked Superbad, you will love Booksmart. It's a funny coming-of-age movie about two best friends who embark on one last crazy night before their high-school ends. Sounds like something you've seen before? Don't worry, it's not. This movie might be for fans of smart coming-of-age comedies, but it's very different from them. It's current, creating situations and premises for jokes that haven't been explored before, ranging from taking a Lyft and finding out the driver is their school principal; to mistakenly connecting to his car's sound system while trying to get educated on how two women have sex. The girls in Booksmart are overachieving, fiercely supportive of each other, and yet in the right context, ready to let go and have fun. In short, their endearing attitude makes this movie not only funny but extremely likely to charm your socks off.

9.0
BF

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

8.8

Do you know that euphoric feeling you get when you watch a smart, eloquent person talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two in Best of Enemies.This 2015 documentary traces the debates between two of the brightest intellectuals around the Nixon and Reagan eras. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley couldn’t be more opposed to each other in ideas and values. One is an ardent liberal, who wrote books and movies around gay sex (back in the 1960s), female empowerment, and the fall of the so-called American Empire. The second is an elitist and a Republican guided by Christian values and status quo ideals.ABC put them together as commentators the 1968 presidential debates, and as such, they would change the future of talk-show TV forever. They both considered debating a sport, and they both were the best in their craft. It’s so, so entertaining to watch them spar with each other. They despised each other, I know that’s not something I should be proud of enjoying, but I did. These debates were not so much a clash of tepid arguments but more of a clash of geniuses.

9.1
BF

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of French journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Almost completely paralyzed by what is termed “Locked-in Syndrome”, Bauby was left with only the operation of his left eye intact, leaving him forced to communicate via partner-assisted scanning (selection of each letter of the alphabet via blinking). Ultimately, Bauby employed this painstaking procedure to dictate his own memoir “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon”, which became a number one bestseller in Europe. The film alternates between Bauby’s interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including the dictation of his book) and his own dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. With the title, Bauby uses the diving bell to represent his self-perceived state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver encased in an oxygenated chamber, and the corresponding butterfly to represent the freedom he enjoys as he often journeys quite magically through his own mind’s eye. It’s a somber yet engaging film full of heart and vision, featuring wonderful performances by the entire cast across the board.

9.0
BF

PEN15 is a funny sitcom about two friends going through middle-school in the year 2000. The show's creator Maya Erskine plays one of the two characters, who just like most of the show is based on her own life. Erskine's genius in PEN15 is her ability to wrap her own insecurities and hardships growing up in genuinely funny comedy. You might be asking how can a 13-year-old create a TV show and star in it? They can't, Erskine is in her 30s but plays her 13-year-old-self. Her performance and that of her co-star are one more exceptional sight to behold in this hilarious and personal TV show.

8.1

Shia Laboeuf and Stellan Skarsgård star in this true story about one of the greatest tennis matches in history: the 1980 Wimbledon final. The movie dissects what drives both competitors (one played by Laboeuf and the other by Sverrir Gudnason). Their personalities, considered opposites, are studied through their paths and how they got into tennis. All this leads to that one match, in this beautiful story of dealing with competition and fear of failure. Don’t stop watching when the credits roll, read what they say!

8.0

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

8.0

Taika Waititi’s follow-up to the (also great) What We Do in the Shadows, is a pure delight and the perfect antidote after a bad day or a steady diet of too many sad movies. "Bad egg" Ricky Baker has been bounced out of more foster care situations than he cares to remember until he's given his last chance with a couple living on a rural New Zealand farm. After tragedy strikes early in the film Ricky and his foster uncle (Hec) find themselves on the run in the bush while a nationwide manhunt is initiated on their behalf. Hip-hop enthusiast Ricky and crusty, cantankerous Hec make quite the inspired pairing; this is a very funny film full of the deadpan humor that has become emblematic of Waititi's work (Flight of the Conchords, Boy) but it is also oddly touching and full of heart.

9.6
BF

Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.

9.1
BF