Spooky season has come and gone, but good movies are perennial. To paraphrase Gorillaz: November has come, and a whole slew of new movies to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Max, and more have come with it.
This month, we’ve got the Sam Raimi horror thriller Drag Me to Hell and a Michael Bay action-thriller starring John Krasinski on Netflix. Ridley Scott’s medieval action drama The Last Duel starring Matt Damon and Adam Driver comes to Hulu, while Max adds a classic Ernst Lubitsch-directed rom-com starring James Stewart. If that wasn’t enough, our editor’s pick this month is Belly, Hype Williams’ divisive yet transcendent crime drama starring Nas and the late DMX.
Let’s dive in and see what this month has in store!
Genre: Crime drama
Director: Hype Williams
Cast: Nas, DMX, Taral Hicks
Hype Williams is one of the most prolific music video directors of all time. With a career spanning as far back as the early ’90s, the graffiti artist turned filmmaker has worked with some of the most genre-defining acts in hip-hop, from A Tribe Called Quest to Outkast, carving out the prevailing visual language of rap videos through his characteristic blend of canted wide-angle shots, stark saturated lighting, and slow-motion transitions. Belly, his feature debut (and only film as of this writing), is a synthesis of all these elements, resulting in a movie that taps directly into the zeitgeist of hip-hop’s mainstream ascendance.
Nas and DMX co-star as Sincere and Tommy “Bundy” Brown, two young street criminals who make their living sticking up rivals and dealing drugs in a hallucinatory version of New York. As Bundy climbs way up through the criminal underworld, dodging police raids and cutting deals in Jamaica, Sincere begins to have a change of heart, choosing instead to pursue another way of life. Escaping the cycle of violence and iniquity is easier said than done, however, as both men find themselves faced with the consequences of their past in the pursuit of a better future.
The story, co-written by Williams and Nas, is far from the strongest element of the film. Instead, Belly’s strengths are found in its visuals, which play out like a hallucinatory montage of music video vignettes sans music, with dark, shadowy silhouettes looming across spacious exteriors and ethereal interiors. The movie was a critical and commercial bomb when it premiered in theaters, but in the decades since has grown into a cult favorite among audiences for its audacious aesthetic and a star-making performance from DMX, who at the time was mere weeks away from releasing the second of his first two Billboard 200-topping albums. Belly is a genuinely fascinating time capsule of late-’90s experimental filmmaking that’s well worth experiencing. —Toussaint Egan
Belly is available to stream on Criterion Channel.
Drag Me to Hell
Genre: Supernatural horror
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Sam Raimi, the horror master behind the Evil Dead series, hasn’t really made a horror movie since this underrated 2009 masterpiece, but thankfully it’s now on Netflix for you to discover.
Drag Me to Hell follows Christine (Alison Lohman), a woman trying to get a promotion at her bank job by denying a woman a loan extension on her house. Instead of impressing her boss, however, Christine is attacked and cursed by the woman, causing an evil entity to follow her around tormenting her.
Raimi’s movie is a deliciously mean little parable about why you should never let self-interest get in the way of helping people when it’s in your power. In typical Raimi fashion, it’s joyfully cruel, with a playfully malevolent and sinister spirit at its center that makes the whole movie a ton of creepy fun. —Austen Goslin
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Genre: Military thriller
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini
Listen, I get it. When this movie came out in 2016, the last thing on Earth I wanted to do was watch a Michael Bay movie about Benghazi. Turns out, I just wasn’t ready for it.
13 Hours is a tense tactical military movie about soldiers defending an American diplomatic compound in Libya. The cast is very game – John Krasinski is fine in the lead role, but character actors James Badge Dale, Max Martini, and Pablo Schreiber all excel in supporting roles — and it’s one of the best displays of Bay’s technical mastery of the medium and genre.
The movie just looks so good. It’s Bay’s best digital work, shot by Dion Beebe (Miami Vice) with crystal-clear colors and sharp sunlight amid the chaos of the assault. The sounds are intense and immersive, too (deservedly earning a Sound Mixing Oscar nom). It’s an incredible technical display that feels in conversation with the chaos of Sam Peckinpah movies.
At the end of the day, 13 Hours isn’t for everyone. The source material does make the movie uncomfortable at times, especially the remove it has in relation to the Libyans who actually live in Benghazi. But there is a core of sadness to the movie — Bay’s sympathies lie with individuals, not with the military industrial complex or its aims — if you’re willing to look for it. —Pete Volk
The Last Duel
Genre: Historical drama
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
Apparently this month I’m just picking unfairly maligned movies of the past decade. Ridley Scott’s medieval Rashomon was my favorite movie of 2021, and now that it’s on Hulu, maybe you’ll give it a fair shot, too.
The Last Duel unfolds over three perspectives: A pompous buffoon of a knight (Matt Damon), his smarter wife (Jodie Comer), and the squire accused of raping her (Adam Driver). Each shows the events that lead to the duel from their perspective, as Ridley Scott and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener, Damon, and Ben Affleck deftly adjust major and minor details to show how different people perceive different events — without ever falling into he-said-she-said trap. It’s a delicate balance, and one the movie handles with aplomb.
The duel is fantastic, as is an early battle sequence where Scott gets to bring out some of his old Gladiator toolkit. There’s also Affleck’s delightfully, ridiculously over-the-top performance as the count to whom Damon and Driver’s characters swear allegiance to. It provides some much-needed comic relief in what can be a very dark movie. If you’re looking for a thoughtful, impeccably crafted movie for grown-ups, you can do a lot worse than The Last Duel. —PV
The Shop Around the Corner
Genre: Romantic comedy
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan
For a lot of people, November means the start of the Christmas season. Why not ring it in with one of the best Christmas movies ever made?
From the masterful Ernst Lubitsch, this romantic comedy follows a salesman (James Stewart) and a new employee at his shop (Margaret Sullavan), who can’t stand each other. They get in frequent arguments at work, and the only thing that keeps them going through their misery is a secret love they anonymously write to — each other.
Later made into You’ve Got Mail (and In the Good Old Summertime, a Judy Garland musical), the original is the best version of this story. It’s endearingly sweet, uproariously funny, and a Christmas classic for good reason. If you grew up with the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan remake, do yourself a favor this holiday season and watch the James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan edition. —PV
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Genre: Period war drama
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy
Sometimes you just feel the urge to step away from your keyboard, put on an admiral uniform, and set sail on a big wooden ship to shoot cannonballs at pirates and sing sea shanties. Who among us has not felt, at one time or another, enchanted by the siren call of the ocean?
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World speaks to this yearning for high-seas adventure, delivering a blockbuster naval period piece anchored by a pair of terrific lead performances courtesy of Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. Hunting the French privateer vessel Acheron, Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his crew must weather the dangers of their prolonged voyage in order to seize victory on behalf of king and country during the height of the Napoleonic Wars. If you’re looking for a grown-ass movie for grown-ass adults, Peter Weir’s epic nautical war drama is the film for you. —TE