NBC’s foray into the crowded subscription space includes some fine films from the likes of Spike Lee and Richard Linklater.
This past week saw the launch of another streaming service to help you fill the empty hours of quarantine — Peacock, the NBCUniversal platform featuring a variety of movies and TV shows extending beyond the studio’s core library. You’ll notice a lot of familiar blockbuster titles in there, of course, many viewable for free, but there are also quite a few smaller gems that are well worth your time, too.
Strangely overlooked to this day, this comedic true-crime tale is one of the finest films from director Richard Linklater and features a career-best performance by Jack Black as the title character, a mortician whose relationship with wealthy widow Shirley MacLaine takes several bizarre turns. A brilliant snapshot of Texas culture, this film cast numerous residents of Carthage — where the real-life events took place — who provided their own running commentary on the action onscreen.
Dr. Cyclops (1940)
Old-school three-strip Technicolor was rarely more gorgeous than in this visually inventive sci-fi thriller from many of the creators of the original “King Kong.” When mad doctor Albert Dekker shrinks down four fellow scientists to doll-size during a jungle visit, the fun begins with an avalanche of insane special effects that still make an audience clap today.
Grace of My Heart (1996)
Director Allison Anders provides a heartfelt and truly infectious look at the evolution of pop music from the early days of ’60s Brill Building songwriting through the upheaval of the ’70s as experienced by aspiring singer Illeana Douglas, who sidelines her own voice to provide material for others. An insane supporting cast, including a great bit by Bridget Fonda, and songs by the likes of Elvis Costello, Carole Bayer Sager, Jill Sobule, Joni Mitchell and Burt Bacharach make this film a treat for the eyes and ears alike.
Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987)
Speaking of popular music, trailblazing powerhouse Chuck Berry is given an unforgettable showcase in Taylor Hackford’s combination concert movie and documentary centered around Berry’s star-packed 60th birthday celebration with the likes of Keith Richards, Etta James, Little Richard, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison and many more. You’ll never see a line up like this ever again.
Imitation of Life (1934)
Often overshadowed by the splashy 1959 remake starring Lana Turner, this powerful look at the intersection between racism and sexism in Depression-era America still packs a punch and is in many ways far more progressive. Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers shine as two women who decide to go into business together, only to find their life decisions have a major impact on their young daughters. Warning: Keep the Kleenex handy for the last five minutes.
Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Indian director Mira Nair scored her biggest breakthrough by turning the rom-com upside down with this delightful story about an international collection of family and friends congregating for an arranged marriage — with more than a few secrets that could put it in jeopardy. Strong performances across the board are the highlight of this look at how local versus global culture can alter our lives in major ways before we even realize they’re upon us.
Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Spike Lee’s glorious period at Universal following the success of “Do the Right Thing” resulted in some of his most fascinating and underrated films including “Mo’ Better Blues,” the first of four collaborations with leading man Denzel Washington. Soaked in saturated colors and sizzling music, it’s the jazz-fueled story of a talented trumpeter who finds his professional and romantic situations going through major changes over the course of his life on the way to truly finding himself.
Raggedy Man (1981)
Hot off her Oscar win for “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Sissy Spacek gave one of her most complex and endearing performances in this look at a single mom working as a switchboard operator during the end of World War II to make ends meet and provide for her two young sons. What starts as a sensitive character study takes some very surprising turns, offering enough romance and even suspenseful thrills to essentially give you three movies for the price of one.
Red Rock West (1993)
The resurgence of film noir in American films during the ’90s produced some terrific twisty thrillers, and this is one of the very best. Nicolas Cage stars as a drifter who makes the bad decision to take a hitman’s fee after a case of mistaken identity, which leads to a string of double-crosses and whiplash plot turns that will keep you on your toes all the way to the last frame.
Short Term 12 (2013)
Long before they worked together on last year’s “Just Mercy,” director Destin Daniel Cretton and star Brie Larson first landed on viewers’ radars with this sensitive and engaging look at a counselor dealing with at-risk foster kids. One of the most realistic depictions of what social worker life is really like from both sides, this movie is also an inspiring and compelling example of how day-to-day life can really make for the best drama.