I’ve always turned to cinema for escapism. I love to lose myself in period dramas and feel the thrill of action flicks. Raised by a fellow cinephile, I was taught that movies are the place to go to get away from it all. Now that I’m facing down the anniversary of living alone during a pandemic, I’m finding the greatest comfort in a genre of films I can best describe as “grown-up movies.” These are cinematic gems I missed growing up or, more often, contemporary films full of adults just talking about their feelings.
From Let Them All Talk and The Dig to The Red Shoes and Barry Lyndon, my favorite quarantine films have been on the more thoughtful side. I’ve found more pleasure in quiet, pretty, and messy mid-tier films than big genre fare or Oscar bait. The more mundane, the better! The deeper cut, the more I’m on board. Quarantine has made me a nerd for movies rooted in character study and conversation. My new escapism isn’t watching a superhero sucker punch an evil space alien, but watching adults confront their emotions.
Now before someone sends me a jeering note about how I’m finally developing a sense of taste, the joke’s on you because I’ve always loved these kinds of movies. As a teen, I soaked up what I would call New Line Cinema/Touchstone/Miramax fare. These included quirky indies, misshapen character pieces, and dramas rooted in character development. You know, the kind of movies they made a ton of in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, but fell out of vogue with the rise of the tentpole feature. Today it feels like the vast majority of films that are made have to either be unabashed Oscar bait or shameless franchise-based money grabs. Films have to make bank or take home awards because there’s been no room at the multiplex for anything in between.
But there is room for mid-tier acting showcases on streaming.
Photo: HBO Max
In pursuit of world domination, Netflix has invested big time in its original film slate. That means that a new film will premiere on the service every Friday in 2021. While some of these are definitely Oscar-contenders — Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 5, etc. — quieter films like The Dig or sweet romances like To All The Boys trilogy have also seen debuts. (And let me tell you: I loved The Dig.) HBO Max might be banking on people signing up to stream big movies like Wonder Woman 1984, but I’ve been having more fun watching original features like Let Them All Talk and library titles on the expertly curated TCM hub.
If I want to watch a visual spectacle, I’d rather be dazzled by a film I missed as a youth than watch the latest tentpole in my apartment. Wonder Woman 1984‘s numerous plot problems aside, watching it from my La-Z-Boy proved to me that it’s just not as fun to watch a big blockbuster movie on a small screen. Those movies weren’t just made for a bigger aspect ratio, but a group experience. Quieter, actor-driven dramas, however, thrive in a living room. Conversations punctuated by emotional denouements hit harder on the small screen, where a feeling of intimacy is fostered. Moreover, these movies offer a form of escapism I didn’t anticipate needing during the pandemic: an escape to a world where conversations happen!
Look — and this might be just my personal experience talking — but when you spend a year only talking to other humans over Zoom or a phone call, a mask-less, face-to-face emotional conversation looks like a decadence. Furthermore, films where characters grapple with their darker emotions feel far more cathartic right now than watching literal fight scenes. Smaller, more intimate films feel perfect for this moment in a way the big blockbusters could never.
Most importantly, streaming has offered a literal platform for these films that they were losing in multiplexes. While the great Martin Scorsese has literally just penned an essay about how the algorithms of streaming are in danger of devaluing cinema, I would add that streaming has reconnected this cinephile to the kind of films I thought had gone extinct. Smaller acting showcases have a home again, and curated lists, like TCM’s hub, easily connect folks to great films of yesteryear. Trapped in my house, streaming is the only way I can watch movies period and the movies I’ve loved the most are the most understated of the bunch.
The revelation of my little living room cinema hasn’t been that film-making is dead, but that it will keep going. And that as much as film nerds fret about streaming devaluing movies as content, streaming also gives some movies a chance to be seen at all. And “grown-up movies” are emotional lifesavers in a world we all want to escape from.
Originally published at https://decider.com/2021/02/17/grownup-movies-hbo-max-netflix/ on .