The 5 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘A Matter of Life and Death,’ ‘Jaws’


This week’s new disc offerings are mighty bleak – the biggest title of the bunch is Ready Player One, easily Steven Spielberg’s worst movie (it’s not even close), a loud, noisy, self-congratulatory mash-up of video game, Transformers movie, and wax museum. The only disc worth recommending is a new Criterion edition of a Powell and Pressburger classic, so the rest of your recommendations this week are catalogue titles recently(ish) added (or re-added) to your streaming subscriptions services. Enjoy!


Gone Baby Gone: Quick, what do Ben Affleck and George Clooney have in common? Yes, they’re both traditionally handsome leading men who crossed over from acting to directing – but more importantly, neither multi-hyphenate has yet to direct a film with the ingenuity and energy of their first. Here, Affleck adapts Dennis Lehane’s crime drama with intelligence and precision, soaking in the Boston atmosphere (yes, that much is expected, but still) and showcasing stunning performances from his first-rate cast, including brother Casey, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Michael K. Williams, and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan.

An Education: Director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby adapt Lynn Barber’s memoir of her teen years in Twickenham, London in the early 1960s, and her romance with a man nearly twice her age (played here by an eerily convincing Peter Sarsgaard). It’s a film that understands the many complex transactions of such a relationship — and how our protagonist (Carey Mulligan, breathtakingly good) comes out of it stronger and, for better or worse, wiser.


Jaws: It’s not just that Steven Spielberg’s masterful adventure story/modern blockbuster-birther has returned to Prime (it’s a bit of an on-and-off favorite on the service) – it’s that they’re streaming the entire franchise. So, yes, you can set aside a day and marvel at how a series can veer from the heights of Jaws 1 – basically a perfect motion picture, the kind of movie where every moment plays like something out of a “cinema’s greatest hits” reel, from the first shark attack to the Brody reverse-zoom to the lurch towards the chum to, holy of holies, Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis monologue – to the jaw-dropping depths of Jaws: The Revenge.


In A World…: Lake Bell makes a smooth transition from engaging supporting player to leading lady/writer/director with this charming 2013 inside-showbiz romantic comedy. She stars as Carol, an inspiring young voice-over artist hoping to break into the world of movie trailer narration – an occupational choice that proves there are fascinating internal rivalries and political struggles in just about every industry on earth. Ace character actor Fred Melamed is terrific as Bell’s dad (and rival in the industry), and her supporting cast, which includes Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Rob Corrdry, and Demetri Martin, is loaded with comic talent.


A Matter of Life and Death: This 1946 masterpiece from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger begins with one of the most heartrending scenes in all of cinema, in which a crashing British pilot (David Niven) reaches out to a kind American radio operator (Kim Hunter), dictates his farewell telegrams, and develops quite the late-in-life crush, begging her, “June, if you’re around when they pick me up, turn your head away?” But thanks to a mix-up in the afterlife, he survives the crash, or so he says, and thus the question is raised: is he caught in a genuinely heavenly predicament, or perhaps a bit out of his mind? That question is debated in an ethereal trial, appealing for the “reconsideration” of his death, which turns into a wide-ranging debate on the merits of the UK and USA, the effects of imperialism, and more – a turn that is, frankly, a bit odd. But the movie works anyway, thanks to the luminousness of the cinematography (beautifully saturated color on earth, sensible black and white above), the crispness of the effects, and the overall lushness of the picture – both in its style, and its emotion. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, and short film ‘The Colour Merchant.’)