Aliens, activists and art: the five best films added to US streaming this week

Call Jane (Hulu)

When I first saw Call Jane, a meticulous and clear-eyed film on a real underground network of abortion providers in 1960s Chicago, it was at the Sundance film festival in January 2022. Roe v Wade was on the chopping block – anyone paying attention, including the filmmakers, knew it – but not yet dead. By the time it premiered last October, abortion was illegal in several states. Director Phyllis Nagy’s sensitive portrait of the Janes’ operation is thus upsettingly resonant, which in movie form is more invigorating than depressing. Its refined, prestige TV-esque historicism weaves throughout the Janes’ grassroots group, from Sigourney Weaver’s steely leadership to Elizabeth Banks’s politically awakened housewife to Wunmi Mosaku’s frustrated advocacy for access for black women. Scenes covering how the abortions are paid for, who provides them and, most movingly, how the procedure is done make for one of the best, most direct and unflinching, depictions of abortion on screen. AH

Philomena (Hulu)

For a time, as the rest of the industry mostly pretended that female actors over 60 didn’t exist as anything but nodding grans, Stephen Frears gave some of our finest some of their finest lead roles. He ushered Helen Mirren to her first Oscar with The Queen, brought Meryl Streep her 20th nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins and guided Judi Dench toward two best actress nods, one for Mrs Henderson Presents and the second for Philomena. The latter remains a delicate, piercing little film, taking aim at the inhumanity of the Catholic church without becoming a diatribe (despite what some claimed at the time), casting Dench as a woman searching for the son she was forced to give up as a youth with the help of Steve Coogan’s cynical journalist. In a period where she became more closely associated with sterner and/or splashier performances, it’s a reminder of how much she can do at a far lower volume, quietly devastating us. It’s a film of similarly quiet anger, carefully bottled up by Frears. BL

Carol (Netflix)

Woman in red coat
Carol. Photograph: AJ Pics/Alamy

Director Todd Haynes wrings every erotic detail out of this adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith story (written for the screen by Phyllis Nagy, the director of Call Jane) – a story of covert glances, wordless admissions and lidded emotions. Released in 2015 and set in the winter of 1952, Carol constructs, one freighted exchange and luminous snapshot at a time, the forbidden love affair between the eponymous New Jersey housewife (Cate Blanchett at her most leonine and alluring) and Therese (Rooney Mara), a doe-eyed clerk at a Manhattan department store. Blanchett received a best actress Oscar nomination for a reason – her Carol is a fascinating blend of impulse and control, vulnerability and self-assurance, against the backdrop of a contentious custody battle with her stereotypically 50s society husband (Kyle Chandler). The film takes place almost entirely in the winter, and is a good choice for heating up this interminable one. AH

Nope (Amazon Prime)

Nope, the third feature from Jordan Peele, is an underbaked comedic thriller, asking the audience to both think too much and too little about its science-fiction logic and commentary on spectacle. But it is undoubtedly a fun watch. That is in large part due to compelling performances across the board: Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood, one of the few remaining Black horse trainers in Hollywood; the always magnetic Keke Palmer as his saucy, firecracker sister Em; Steven Yeun as a haunted former child star turned theme park operator. And it’s in part owing to the surreal staging, unnerving sound design, and adrenaline rush of its increasingly unhidden UFO creature. On a visual level if not a storytelling one, Nope packs a punch. It’s maybe not the scintillating, airtight alien flick you would hope from the writer-director of Get Out, nor is its critique of exploitative celebrity very clear, but it’s not hard to watch Kaluuya and Palmer take on the extraterrestrial for two hours. AH

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (HBO Max)

Nan Goldin in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.
Nan Goldin in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

Weaving together enough strands, timelines and themes to give most documentarians, and viewers, a migraine, Laura Poitras’s elegantly structured and emotionally stirring 2022 Oscar nominee All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a close to perfect example of how to turn a true story into a real movie. It’s a detailed study of the life and work of Nan Goldin, tracing her difficult childhood and chilly parents, her undeniable photography and sexual awakening and then her determined activism against the horrors of the Sackler family and the many lives affected by their involvement in the propagation of OxyContin. Goldin is a remarkable figure, generous and unguarded, and Poitras’s stunning film makes for a suitably remarkable portrait, showing the complicated texture of a life and the incredible light that can come from incredible darkness. BL