Stand-alone films like The Breakfast Club and The Dark Knight have the power to draw viewers in over and over again. Genres like animation and horror thrive off of rewatchability. Those films elicit favorable reactions that keep audiences coming back time after time, never getting old. Dramas and thrillers are another story. Once the twist is revealed, or the third-act breakup ensues, a single-time viewing is all audiences need to appreciate the film.
For obvious reasons, franchise films are left out of this categorization. In the last decade, these multi-genre films are so well done that once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. These pictures can be appreciated for the high-quality filmmaking that leaves an impression on audiences, but not the type to conjure a second watch. Films like these are the ones that you watch because of who’s working on them or you’re interested in their sensibilities, and then never really queue them up again for a movie marathon.
‘The Lighthouse’ (2019)
Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, the film follows a pair of lighthouse keepers trying to hang onto their sanity in late 1800s New England. With excellent performances from both stars, The Lighthouse drew in critics and audiences by using cinematography (for which it earned its one Oscar nomination) to build a claustrophobic tension for the characters and the viewers. For those who have not seen it, viewers can stream this film by renting it from Apple TV or with a subscription to Amazon Prime.
Director and co-writer Robert Eggers created a black and white masterpiece that you never need to watch again once you watch it. It’s a film that balances beauty and madness: the experience of witnessing for the first time can not be replicated. Audience members recognize its cinematic stature but do not need to seek it out for the next movie night.
‘Nightmare Alley’ (2021)
A slow-burn crime drama, Nightmare Alley is visually stunning, keeping viewers engaged until the long-awaited payoff. Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a grifter that works his way up from a lowly carnival work to a wealthy con artist posing as a psychic. Carlisle’s con is challenged when he gets in deep with a wealthy business tycoon. The film is based on the William Lindsay Gresham novel.
The film earned four Oscar nominations at the 94th Academy Awards but took none home. Director Guillermo Del Torobrings the perfect noir film to the screen, but its pacing makes it one that once you’ve sat through it and appreciated its beauty, there’s no desire to watch it again. Nightmare Alley is an all-around beautiful film but lacks the elements to make it rewatchable. It is available to stream with subscriptions to Hulu and HBO Max or for rental on Amazon Prime.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ (2016)
Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals finds art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) is forced to examine her past through the disturbing lens of her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) manuscript. Directed by the admirable Tom Fordthe film is equally jarring to viewers as the manuscript is to Susan.
From the opening image (not a spoiler) to the final scene, Adams and Gyllenhaal brilliantly execute their characters’ emotional journeys. The film earned one Oscar for Supporting Actor for Michael Shannon. With a tale as somber and distressing as this, audiences recognize its value but would rather not be put through the wringer again. The film is available on Netflix or for rental on Amazon Prime.
Another modern black and white film, Nebraska has a simplistic beauty that should be preserved by only watching it once. The film stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte as father and son Woody and David Grant driving from Montana to Nebraska so that Woody could claim his supposed million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. The pair’s estranged relationship expertly plays out during the 115-minute runtime.
The film earned six Oscar nominations at the 86th Academy Awards. In addition to Best Picture and Best Director for Alexander Payne, Dern earned a Best Actor nomination. Unfortunately, Nebraska did not take home a golden statue for any of its nominations. The film is available to stream with subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Paramount +, and EPIX or for rental on Prime.
Dry but clever, Thoroughbreds produces brilliant performances from its leads, Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke. Upper-class teens Amanda and Lily rekindle their childhood friendship as they plot to solve their impending life problems. The film’s thoughtful pacing keeps viewers engaged as the story reveals darker secrets. With an unpredictable ending twist, once you’ve seen it, there’s no going back and being surprised when rewatching it.
The film was written and directed by Cory Finley, his directorial debut. Still, despite the critical praise and high production values, it did not yield any major nominations from the Academy or Golden Globes. Both Taylor-Joy and Cooke balance each other well, making the film an excellent pick for movie night if you haven’t seen it. Thoroughbreds is available for rental on Amazon Prime, YouTube, or Apple TV.
‘The Favorite’ (2018)
With three all-star leading ladies, The Favorite is a chaotic, well-done period film that yields a solid comedic presence among its dramatic basis. New servant Abigail (Emma Stone) upsets the status quo of a British court when she befriends Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), forcing out Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) from the Queen’s good graces. There is a lot going on in this film from start to finish, with moments of madness that are quite comedic, causing viewers to question what is actually going on.
Coleman’s win for Best Actress would be the only award the film took home out of its ten nominations at the 91st Academy Awards. Even if you’re the viewer that doesn’t appreciate the stuffy nature of period dramas, this film will provide a reprieve from the usual tropes of the genre. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. Fantastically put together, Yorgos Lanthimos’sThe Favorite is available to rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Apple TV, and Vudu.
After the shutdown of the US Gypsum plant and the death of her husband, Fern (Frances McDormand) travels around the country, living out of her van and finding seasonal work at places like Amazon. She’s invited to a support rendezvous in Arizona for nomads like herself. There she discovers so much about the life she’s moved on to living and the journey that lies ahead for her. Nomadland is based on journalist Jessica Bruder‘s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.
The film is semi-fictional as Fern’s co-nomads are real people who live the lifestyle. Director Chloé Zhaobroke boundaries in 2021 as she became the first woman to be nominated in four Oscar categories within the same year for Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, in addition to Best Director. It’s an emotional masterpiece that will be most impactful on first viewing. It’s available to stream with a Hulu subscription or for rental on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Vudu.
‘Eighth Grade (2018)
So good, but so uncomfortable, Eighth Grade is the story of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she tries to make it through her last week of eighth grade. A preteen barely surviving socially during the height of technology and her generation, Kayla’s cringe-worthy journey is honest and authentic, with many viewers relating to her struggles to fit in. The film is written and directed by the comedic mastermind Bo Burnham.
Burnham’s film does not romanticize the transition between middle and high school, the struggles of knowing who you are at that age, and coping with insecurities. Fisher earned her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Because of the cringe factor, this film is masterfully put together but can be too much to watch more than once. Streamers can watch this coming-of-age story with subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Sling TV, and The Roku Channel.
A controversial Oscar snub, Hustlers, is an empowerment heist film that holds its magic for a single viewing. A group of strip club dancers works to turn the tables on their Wall Street clientele after the 2008 market crash, led by the club’s top earner, Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). The film is inspired by a true story and the New York Magazine article titled “The Hustlers at Scores.”
Lopez would earn Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award nominations but did not take home the win for either. Fans of the film and Lopez were outraged when she was snubbed for a leading role nomination by the Academy. Hustlers is a dish best served once to preserve the integrity of rooting for criminal characters. The star-studded film is available on Hulu or for rental on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Apple TV, or Vudu.
‘The French Dispatch (2021)
Delivering his usual promise, Wes Anderson‘s latest installment is exhaustingly well-done. Lovable, practical editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), refuses to cut any of his journalists’ pieces in the final edition of The French Dispatch magazine, viewers journeying through with each writer the scenarios by which their piece was inspired. It’s a film where the average viewer can recognize and appreciate the caliber of filmmaking it takes to produce, but not one that will become a go-to for a movie night.
With elaborate sets and intricate cinematic details, The French Dispatch is geared toward the Wes Anderson viewer. If you’re new to his filmmaking, this is not the film for you; However, if you’ve followed Anderson closely throughout his career, this one is a worthy installment in his career despite being snubbed by the Academy for the 94th Awards season. This ode to journalism is available with subscriptions to Hulu and HBO Max or for rental on Amazon Prime.
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