‘99 Homes,’ ‘Paddleton’ and More Streaming Gems

‘99 Homes’ (2015)

Stream it on Hulu.

The acclaimed writer and director Ramin Bahrani’s early independent films (“Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop”) examined life at the margins of the American dream. He pushed that inquisition into the burst of the housing bubble with this thoughtful and compelling examination of the desperation and exploitation that ensued. An affecting Andrew Garfield stars as Dennis, a suddenly unemployed construction hand who loses his home and is determined to get it back. Michael Shannon is blisteringly good as the broker who puts him to much-needed work — albeit preying on other overextended middle-class victims. The question at the heart of this pointed morality play is ultimately not whether you’ll sell your soul, but how much it’s really worth.

‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ (2018)

Stream it on HBO Max.

The “Peaky Blinders” co-star Joe Cole is electrifying as Billy Moore, a real-life rising English boxer whose heroin addiction lands him in a Thai prison where he must fight, literally, to survive. It’s easy to imagine this as a color-by-numbers throwaway — “Penitentiary” meets “Midnight Express” — but Cole is too magnetic, and the direction by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire too visceral, for such cheap thrills. He renders Moore’s time inside as an often uncomfortably subjective experience, layering unsubtitled dialogue, impressionistic images, a harrowing score and generous helpings of stylized violence. Yet it never feels like sheer brutality; Sauvaire is using the most effective cinematic tools to force the viewer to feel Moore’s alienation, physical punishment and chemical withdrawal. It’s a tough watch, but a powerful piece of work that should’ve opened more doors for its filmmaker and its star.

‘Paddleton’ (2019)

Stream it on Netflix.

One of the most delightfully unexpected twists of the 2010s was watching Ray Romano, too often dismissed as just another stand-up turned family-sitcom star, develop into a dramatic actor of genuine weight and skill. That became clear late in 2019, as he shouldered a major supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” but earlier that same year he turned in an impressive performance as the laid-back Andy, whose best buddy Michael (Mark Duplass, who co-wrote with the director Alex Lehmann) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It sounds mawkish, but the picture’s low-key vibe and offhand humor land with surprising grace.

‘The Way Way Back’ (2013)

Stream it on Hulu.

The actors and Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash made their feature directing debut with this wise and witty coming-of-age story, set in and around a second-tier water park over a tricky summer in the life of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James). He’s a withdrawn (sullen, even) type, feeling even less at home in his own skin since his mother (Toni Collette) began dating a stern and humorless boor (Steve Carell). That pairing, and the picture’s Sundance pedigree, recalls “Little Miss Sunshine,” but Faxon and Rash are going for something more grounded and bittersweet, particularly when Duncan starts hanging out with the water park’s manager, Owen (an indelible Sam Rockwell). Rob Corddry, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet and Maya Rudolph round out the cast of heavy hitters.

‘A.C.O.D.’ (2013)

Stream it on Amazon.

A similarly packed bench of first-tier comic talent inhabits the co-writer and director Stuart Zicherman’s semi-autobiographical tale of life as an A.C.O.D. — Adult Child of Divorce. His onscreen avatar is Adam Scott’s Carter, an affable restaurateur whose well-practiced ability to keep his divorced parents (played with both weight and comic vigor by Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara) far apart is put to the test by his brother’s wedding. Scott doesn’t get a lot of big-screen leading-man opportunities, so he makes the most of this one, playing the character’s frazzled dismay and endless frustration with the slow-burn skill of a classic comedian. The robust supporting cast includes Jane Lynch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clark Duke and, in a bit of casting that will shock fans of “Parks & Recreation,” Amy Poehler as Scott’s stepmother.

‘Lizzie’ (2018)

Stream it on HBO Max.

A preview of the film.

Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart make an unsurprisingly crackling on-screen pairing in this period thriller, loosely based on the life and crimes of the folk figure Lizzie Borden, accused of murdering her parents with a hatchet. In the title role, Sevigny pinpoints the timeless rebelliousness in the character’s refusal to bend to the will of her domineering parents; Stewart is the housemaid who becomes Lizzie’s confidant, lover and (perhaps) partner in crime. Bryce Kass’s sharp script keeps Lizzie’s secrets cleverly, and its stars elevate even the lesser scenes.

‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’ (2019)

Stream it on Netflix.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s biographical documentary was released less than two months before the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s death, and it serves as a fitting tribute to her life and legacy. Drawing on probing interviews with not only Morrison but her famous friends and admirers (including Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz and Oprah Winfrey), Greenfield-Sanders meticulously documents Morrison’s complicated background, scattered influences and all but immeasurable impact on literature and culture, resulting in both a respectful obituary and a spirited celebration.

‘The Outrageous Sophie Tucker’ (2015)

Stream it on Amazon.

Though the singer-actress-comedian Sophie Tucker was once one of the biggest stars in show business, her name is all but forgotten today. (Some have claimed Sophie Lennon, the superstar comedian character played by Jane Lynch on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” is based on Tucker — but that portraiture is hardly flattering). This documentary from the director William Gazecki seeks to push her back in the spotlight, where she belongs. Admirers from Tony Bennett to Barbara Walters appear to sing her praises, but the primary interview subjects are the producers Lloyd and Susan Ecker, who became Tucker obsessives via Bette Midler (who paid tribute to Tucker in her cabaret act). The filmmaking is mighty amateurish, but in a strange way it works; it lends the film a homemade feel, and the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for their subject is infectious.

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