The 15 Best Straight-to-Streaming Movies of 2023 So Far
Watching flicks on the couch has delivered Oscar-nominees, unsettling horror gems, delightful walk-and-talk rom-coms and more across 2023's first half.
July 17, 2023
Long before getting cosy on the couch meant living the streaming dream, not all movies made it to cinemas, just as happens now. Back then, though, that's where the term 'straight to video' came in. Then, it was 'straight to DVD'. At the moment, if a film doesn't flicker in a picture palace, it's a straight-to-streaming release.
Some such movies do receive a big-screen run, but only at a film festival. Others were only ever bound for watching at home. Either way, just because they didn't light up your local multiplex or arthouse go-to for weeks on end, that doesn't mean these flicks aren't worth a look.
Indeed, some of 2023's viewing highlights are straight-to-streaming films — whether you're fond of Oscar-nominated documentaries, Aubrey Plaza-led heist flicks, walk-and-talk rom-coms, unsettling horror gems or intimate portraits of famous faces. With 2023 now into its second half, we've made our picks of the year's best straight-to-streaming gems from January–June. Obviously, you can watch them all now.
ALL THAT BREATHES
Pictures can't tell all of All That Breathes' story, with Delhi-based brothers Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud's chats saying plenty that's essential. In the documentary's observational style, their conversation flits in and out of the film — sometimes, there's narration, too — giving it many meaningful words. Still, the images that Shaunak Sen (Cities of Sleep) lets flow across the screen in this Sundance- and Cannes-winner, and also 2023 Oscar-nominee, are astonishing. And, befitting this poetic meditative and ruminative doco's pace and mood, they do flow. All That Breathes' main pair adore the black kites that take to India's skies and suffer from its toxic air quality, tending to the creatures' injuries. As Sen watches, he adores them as well. Viewers will, too. Indeed, if there wasn't a single syllable uttered, with the movie just leaning on cinematographers Ben Bernhard (Talking About the Weather), Riju Das (14 Phere) and Saumyananda Sahi's (Trial by Fire) sights, plus Niladri Shekhar Roy ('83) and Moinak Bose's (Against the Tide) sound recording, the end result still would've been revelatory.
This film trills about urban development, its costs and consequences, and caring for others both animal and human — and it says oh-so-much. It notes how everything that the earth's predominant inhabitants do has environmental impacts for the creatures that we share the planet with, including quests for economic dominance and political control. All That Breathes peers on as its subjects' tasks get harder even as they earn global attention, receive more funding and build their dream hospital. It sees how they put the majestic kites' wellbeing above their own, even as the numbers of birds needing their help just keeps growing. This is a documentary about animals falling from the skies due to pollution, two siblings trying to help them soar again, why that's so vital and what the whole situation says about life on earth — and it's vital and spectacular viewing.
All That Breathes streams via Binge.
EMILY THE CRIMINAL
Enterprising, astute, intelligent and accepting zero garbage from anyone: these are traits that Aubrey Plaza can convey in her sleep. But she definitely isn't slumbering in Emily the Criminal, which sees her turn in a performance as weighty and layered as her deservedly Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated portrayal in the second season of The White Lotus — something that she's been doing since her Parks and Recreation days anyway. Indeed, there's more than a touch of April Ludgate-Dwyer's resourcefulness to this crime-thriller's eponymous figure. Los Angeles resident Emily Benetto isn't sporting much apathy, however; she can't afford to. With $70,000 in student loans to her name for a college art degree she isn't using working as a food delivery driver, and a felony conviction that's getting in the way of securing any gig she's better qualified for for, Jersey girl Emily breaks bad to make bank when she's given a tip about a credit card fraud ring run by Youcef (Theo Rossi, Sons of Anarchy). Her simple task: purchasing everything from electronics to cars with the stolen numbers.
Writer/director John Patton Ford makes his feature debut with this lean, sharp, keenly observed and tightly paced film, which works swimmingly and grippingly as a heist thriller with plenty to say about the state of America today — particularly about a society that saddles folks starting their working lives with enormous debts, turning careers in the arts into the domain of the wealthy, and makes even the slightest wrongdoing a life sentence. Emily the Criminal is angry about that state of affairs, and that ire colours every frame. But it's as a character study that this impressive film soars highest, stepping through the struggles, troubles and desperate moves of a woman trapped not by her choices but her lack of options, all while seeing her better-off classmates breeze through life. As she usually is, Plaza is mesmerising, and adds another complicated movie role to a resume that also boasts the phenomenal Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear as well.
HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN
The sound of cracking knuckles is one of humanity's most anxiety-inducing. The noise of clicking bones elsewhere? That's even worse. Both help provide Huesera: The Bone Woman's soundtrack — and set the mood for a deeply tense slow-burner that plunges into maternal paranoia like a Mexican riff on Rosemary's Baby, the horror subgenre's perennial all-timer, while also interrogating the reality that bringing children into the world isn't a dream for every woman no matter how much society expects otherwise. Valeria (Natalia Solián, Red Shoes) is thrilled to be pregnant, a state that hasn't come easily. After resorting to praying at a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in desperation, neither she nor partner Raúl (Alfonso Dosal, Narcos: Mexico) could be happier, even if her sister Vero (Sonia Couoh, 40 Years Young) caustically comments that she's never seemed that interested in motherhood before. Then, two things shake up her hard-fought situation: a surprise run-in with Octavia (Mayra Batalla, Everything Will Be Fine), the ex-girlfriend she once planned to live a completely different life with; and constant glimpses of a slithering woman whose unnatural body movements echo and unsettle.
Filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera (TV series Marea alta) makes her fictional narrative debut with Huesera: The Bone Woman, directing and also writing with first-timer Abia Castillo — and she makes a powerfully chilling and haunting body-horror effort about hopes, dreams, regrets and the torment of being forced into a future that you don't truly foresee as your own. Every aspect of the film, especially Nur Rubio Sherwell's (Don't Blame Karma!) exacting cinematography, reinforces how trapped that Valeria feels even if she can't admit it to herself, and how much that attempting to be the woman Raúl and her family want is eating away at her soul. Solián is fantastic at navigating this journey, including whether the movie is leaning into drama or terror at any given moment. You don't need expressive eyes to be a horror heroine, but she boasts them; she possesses a scream queen's lungs, too. Unsurprisingly, Cervera won the Nora Ephron Award for best female filmmaker at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival for this instantly memorable nightmare.
Huesera: The Bone Woman streams via Shudder.
ROBE OF GEMS
In the very first moments of her very first feature as a director — after working as an editor on films such as 2012's Post Tenebras Lux and 2014's Jauja — Natalia López demands her audience's attention. She earns it and ensures it as well, and looking away while Robe of Gems unfurls its story is impossible afterwards. To kick things off, a patient and painterly glimpse at the rural Mexican landscape comes into sight, fading up and bringing more and more dusty grey details with it with each second. Then, without the frame moving, a frenetic man is seen bashing and slashing through the plants. Next, it becomes apparent that there's a reflection as part of the image. And, it's also quickly evident that viewers are seeing someone else's vantage as they look on at the landscape. In fact, a couple peers out, in the middle of getting intimate (and immediately before flinging wooden furniture around, strewn pieces flying everywhere). With the 'start as you mean to go on' maxim in mind, it's a helluva opening.
López does indeed begin as she goes on, in a film that scored her 2022's Berlinale's Silver Bear Jury Prize. The pivotal villa belongs to Isabel's (Nailea Norvind, Julia vs Julia) family, and offers somewhat of a respite from a marriage that's splintering like that thrown-about furniture, with the clearly well-to-do woman settling in with her children Benja (first-timer Balam Toledo) and Vale (fellow debutant Sherlyn Zavala Diaz). But tension inescapably lingers, given that the onsite caretaker María (newcomer Antonia Olivares) is unsettled by the disappearance of her sister, a plot point that makes a purposeful statement. The police are investigating, the cartel has a local presence, corruption is an ever-present force, and the gap between the wealthy and not-so is glaring. Progressing carefully from that powerhouse opening, Robe of Gems quickly seeps under your skin — and as its first visuals make abundantly clearly, every second is a marvel to look at.
When Dom (David Jonsson, Industry) and Yas (Vivian Oparah, Then You Run) are asked how they met, they tell a tale about a karaoke performance getting an entire bar cheering. Gia (Karene Peter, Emmerdale Farm), Dom's ex, is both shocked and envious, even though she cheated on him with his primary-school best friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, The Secret). It's the kind of story a movie couple would love to spin — the type that tends to only happen in the movies, too. But even for Rye Lane's fictional characters, it's a piece of pure imagination. Instead, the pair meet in South London, in the toilet at an art show. He's crying in a stall, they chat awkwardly through the gender-neutral space's wall, then get introduced properly outside. It's clumsy, but they keep the conversation going even when they leave the exhibition, then find themselves doing the good ol' fashioned rom-com walk and talk, then slide in for that dinner rendezvous with the flabbergasted Gia.
It's easy to think of on-screen romances gone by during British filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller's feature debut — working with a script from Bloods duo Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia — which this charming Sundance-premiering flick overtly wants viewers to. There's a helluva sight gag about Love Actually, as well as a cameo to match, and the whole meandering-and-nattering setup helped make Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight an iconic trilogy. That said, as Rye Lane spends time with shy accountant Dom, who has barely left his parents' house since the breakup, and the outgoing costume designer Yas, who has her own recent relationship troubles casting a shadow, it isn't propelled by nods and winks. Rather, it's smart and savvy in a Starstruck way about paying tribute to what's come before while wandering down its own path. The lead casting is dynamic, with Jonsson and Oparah making a duo that audiences could spend hours with, and Allen-Miller's eye as a director is playful, lively, loving and probing. Rom-coms are always about watching people fall for each other, but this one plunges viewers into its swooning couple's mindset with every visual and sensory touch it can.
Rye Lane streams via Disney+.
New movie, familiar query: what would you do if you physically came face to face with yourself, and not just by looking in a mirror? Films about clones, including all-timer Moon and the recent Mahershala Ali (Alita: Battle Angel)-starring Swan Song, have long pondered this topic — and so has the Paul Rudd-led series Living with Yourself. In Dual, there's only one legal option. This sci-fi satire shares Swan Song's idea, allowing replicating oneself when fate deals out a bad hand. So, that's what Sarah (Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) does when she's told that she has a rare but terminal disease, and that her death is certain. Cloning is meant to spare her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale, Shadow in the Cloud) and her mother (Maija Paunio, Next of Kin) from losing her, making a difficult situation better for Sarah's loved ones. But when she doesn't die after all, the law states that, just like in Highlander, there can be only one. To decide who lives, Sarah and her doppelgänger must fight to the death in a public dual — with Trent (Aaron Paul, Better Call Saul) helping train the OG version.
Even with its twist, on paper Dual sounds like a feature that any filmmaker could've made — one that any actor could've starred in, too. But this is the meaty, meaningful and memorable movie it is thanks to writer/director Riley Stearns and his excellent lead Gillan. With his penchant for deadpan, the former pondered working out who you truly are through an unlikely battle in 2019's very funny The Art of Self-Defense, and does so again here. He's also fond of exploring the struggle to embrace one's personality, and confronting the notion we all have in our minds that a better version of ourselves exists. That said, Dual plays like a sibling to The Art of Self-Defense, rather than a clone itself. It'd certainly be a lesser flick without Gillan, who sheds her Nebula makeup, wades out of the Jumanji franchise's jungles, and turns in two powerful and nuanced performances as Sarah and Sarah 2.0. And while Paul is in supporting mode, he's a scene-stealer.
Dual streams via Netflix.
The greatest game in the world can't make the leap to screens like most of its counterparts, whether they involve mashing buttons, playing campaigns or attempting to sink ships. A literal adaptation of Tetris would just involve four-piece bricks falling and falling — and while that's a tense and riveting sight when you're in charge of deciding where they land, and endeavouring to fill lines to make them disappear, it's hardly riveting movie viewing. As a film, Tetris is still gripping, however, all while telling the tale behind the puzzle video game that's been a phenomenon since the 80s. Did you have your first Tetris experience on an early Game Boy? This is the story of how that happened. Starring Taron Egerton (Black Bird) as Henk Rogers, the man who secured the rights to the Russian-born title for distribution on video game consoles worldwide, it's largely a dramatised account of the fraught negotiations when the west started to realise what a hit Tetris was, Nintendo got involved, but Soviet software engineer Alexey Pajitnov had no power over what happened to his creation because that was life in the USSR.
Egerton is perfectly cast as the resourceful, charming and determined Rogers, a Dutch-born, American-raised, Japan-residing game designer who stumbles across Tetris at a tech conference while trying to sell a version of Chinese strategy game Go. First, his assistant can't stop playing it. Soon, he's seeing blocks in his dreams, as everyone does after playing (and then forever). Director Jon S Baird (Stan & Ollie) and screenwriter Noah Pink (Genius) have a games licensing battle to unpack from there, something that mightn't have been as thrilling as it proves — and certainly is no certainty on paper — in other hands. Stacking up this real-life situation's pieces involves becoming a savvy takedown of shady business deals, a compelling Russia-set spy flick and an exploration of daily existence in Soviet times, plus an upstart underdog story. And, Tetris does all that while gleefully and playfully bringing in the game's aesthetic, and blasting an appropriately synth-heavy soundtrack.
Tetris streams via Apple TV+.
GUY RITCHIE'S THE COVENANT
Announcing his cinematic arrival with a pair of slick, witty, twisty and fast-paced British heist flicks, Guy Ritchie achieved at the beginning of his career something that many filmmakers strive for their whole lives: he cemented exactly what his features are in the minds of audiences. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch made "Guy Ritchie movie" an instantly understood term, in fact, as the writer/director has attempted to capitalise on since with differing results (see: Revolver, RocknRolla, The Gentlemen and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre). Ritchie's third film, the Madonna-starring Swept Away, has also proven just as emblematic of his career, however. He loves pumping out stereotypical Guy Ritchie movies — he even adores making them Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur flicks, with mixed fortunes — but he also likes leaving his own conventions behind in The Man From UNCLE, Aladdin, Wrath of Man and now Guy Ritchie's The Covenant.
Perhaps Ritchie's name is in the title of this Afghanistan-set action-thriller to remind viewers that the film does indeed boast him behind the lens, and as a cowriter; unlike with fellow 2023 release Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, they wouldn't guess otherwise. Clunky moniker aside, Guy Ritchie's The Covenant is pared down, gripping and intense, and home to two excellent performances by Jake Gyllenhaal (Strange World) as Master Sergeant John Kinley and Dar Salim (Tatort) as his interpreter Ahmed. As the former leads a team that's looking for IED factories, the pair's collaboration is tentative at first. Then a raid goes wrong, Ahmed saves Kinley's life, but the recognition and support that'd be afforded an American solider in the same situation doesn't go the local's way. Where Afghan interpreters who aid US troops are left after their task is complete is a weighty subject, and treated as such in this grounded and moving film.
Guy Ritchie's The Covenant streams via Prime Video.
STILL: A MICHAEL J FOX MOVIE
Anyone who lived through the 80s and/or 90s spent a large portion of both decades watching Michael J Fox. Thanks to Family Ties on TV and the Back to the Future movies in cinemas, he was everywhere — and courtesy of Teen Wolf, Doc Hollywood, The Frighteners and Spin City as well. The list of the beloved star's work from the era goes on. Forgotten one or some? Watch Still: A Michael J Fox Movie and you'll be reminded. This intimate documentary steps through the star's life, career and Parkinson's Disease diagnosis using three main modes: splicing together clips from his resume to help illustrate his narration, chatting with Fox now in candid to-camera segments, and hanging out with him and his family as he goes about his days. Each aspect of the film adds something not just important but engaging; however, all that footage from his time as Alex P Keaton, Marty McFly and more offers firm proof, if any more was needed, that Fox was an on-screen presence like no other three and four decades back.
Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth documentarian Davis Guggenheim both shows and tells, always letting Fox's own words do the talking. Still: A Michael J Fox Movie takes the birth-to-now route, observing that its titular figure was always a kid on the go, then a teen who found himself in acting — a place where he could be anyone, regardless of his short stature — and then an aspiring actor slogging it out in Hollywood until he scored not one but two big breaks. The film also examines the fame and success, Fox's thinking that this'd now be his status quo, the moment his life changed and everything that's followed since. Yes, it notes that this story would've been completely different if Eric Stoltz had kept his Back to the Future job. Also, as Fox's memoirs are on the page, it's supremely self-deprecating. Still: A Michael J Fox Movie is unflinchingly honest, too, especially about his relationship with his wife Tracy Pollan — who, when asked how she is, Fox replies "married to me, still".
Still: A Michael J Fox Movie streams via Apple TV+.
Bounding from the page to the screen — well, from pixels first, initially leaping from the web to print — graphic novel-to-film adaptation Nimona goes all in on belonging. Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal) wants to fit in desperately, and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it. In this animated movie's medieval-yet-futuristic world, there's nothing more important and acclaimed than being part of the Institute for Elite Knights, so that's his aim. Slipping into armour usually isn't possible for someone who grew up on the wrong side of this realm's tracks, as he did, but Ballister has been given a chance by Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint, The Equalizer), who says that anyone can now be a hero. Alas, just as he's about to have his sword placed upon his shoulder with all the world watching, tragedy strikes, then prejudice sets in. Even his fellow knight-in-training and boyfriend Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang, Star Wars: Visions), who boasts family ties to legendary monster-slaying heroine Gloreth (Karen Ryan, Under the Banner of Heaven), believes that Ballister is responsible. His only ally? Nimona's namesake (Chloë Grace Moretz, The Peripheral), a shapeshifter who offers to be his sidekick regardless of his innocence or guilt.
Nimona usually appears as a human girl, but can change into anything. The shapeshifter also wants to belong — but only by being accepted as she is. Unlike Ballister's feelings of inferiority about being a commoner, Nimona is happy with morphing from a kid to a rhinoceros, a whale to a shark, then between anything else that she can think of, and wouldn't give it up for anyone. Indeed, when Ballister keeps pestering her for reasons to explain why she is like she is, and asking her to remain as a girl, she's adamant. She already is normal, and she rightly won't budge from that belief. Animated with lively and colour animation that sometimes resembles Cartoon Saloon's Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, Nimona is a family-friendly adventure and, as penned as a comic by ND Stevenson (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power), also a clear, impassioned and sincere allegory for being true to yourself. As a film, directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane (who also teamed up on Spies in Disguise) and screenwriters Robert L Baird (Big Hero 6) and Lloyd Taylor (another Spies in Disguise alum) ensure that it remains a thoughtful delight.
Nimona streams via Netflix.
PAMELA, A LOVE STORY
If you weren't aware of Pamela Anderson's recent Broadway stint, bringing the razzle dazzle to a production of Chicago in 2022, Ryan White (Good Night Oppy)-directed documentary Pamela, A Love Story will still feature surprises. Otherwise, from Playboy to Playbill — including Baywatch, sex tapes and multiple marriages in-between — the actor's story is well-known around the globe. Much of it played out in the tabloids, especially when she married Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in a white bikini after four days together. She also graced what can easily stake a claim as the internet's first viral video, after intimate footage of Anderson and Lee was stolen, then sold. And that very experience was dramatised in 2022 limited series Pam & Tommy, including the misogynistic way she was treated compared to her spouse, how her rights to her image and privacy were considered trashed due to her nude modelling days, and the unsurprising fallout within her relationship.
No matter how familiar the details are, Pamela, A Love Story does something that little else on-screen has, however: it lets Anderson tell her story herself. Much of the doco focuses on the Barb Wire and Scary Movie 3 star in her childhood home in Ladysmith on Canada's Vancouver Island, watching old videos, reading past diaries and chatting through the contents. She's recorded and written about everything in her life. Sitting in front of the camera without a trace of makeup, with her sons Brandon and Dylan sometimes talking with her, she gives her account of how she's been treated during the highs and lows of her career. The film coincides with a memoir, Love, Pamela, so this is a tale that Anderson is currently on the page and in streaming queues — but it's still a powerful portrait of a woman made famous for her appearance, turned into a sex symbol to the point that male interviewers in the 90s could barely talk about anything else, then cruelly judged and discarded. She's frank and sincere, as is the movie amid its treasure trove of archival footage.
Pamela, A Love Story streams via Netflix.
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY
If you've seen one music biopic, or some of the flicks that've earned actors Oscars or nominations in recent years for playing well-known rock stars — think: Bohemian Rhapsody and Elvis — then you know how this genre usually plays out. So does Weird Al Yankovic, who is strongly involved in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, co-writing, producing and even popping up on-screen. He doesn't give himself a solemn screen tribute, though. For decades, he's found pop music rife for satirising, and now his career spent spoofing hit songs gets sent up as well. The soundtrack is already hilarious, filled as it is with everything from 'My Bologna', 'I Love Rocky Road' and 'Another One Rides the Bus' to 'Eat It', 'Like a Surgeon' and 'Amish Paradise'. The casting is brilliantly hilarious as it is hilariously brilliant, too, with Daniel Radcliffe (The Lost City) sporting a mop of curls, grasping an accordion and wearing Yankovic's Hawaiian shirts like he was born to.
Silly, happily self-mocking, not serious for a second: that's this joke-packed flick, which isn't quite as stuffed with gags as a typical Weird Al song, but is still filled with laughs — and still immensely funny. Unsurprisingly, much of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story plays like a collection of skits and sketches, whether visiting his childhood, showing how he scored his big break or charting his fame (which is Westworld's Evan Rachel Wood as a comical Madonna comes in), but it works. Yankovic co-writes with director Eric Appel, a parody veteran thanks to NTSF:SD:SUV, and they're joyfully on the same goofy, go-for-broke wavelength. So is Radcliffe, who keeps demonstrating that he's at his best when a certain Boy Who Lived is relegated to the past, and when he's getting as ridiculous as he possibly can. Forget the wizarding franchise — he's magical when he's at his most comic, as Miracle Workers keeps proving, and now this as well.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story streams via Paramount+.
Since Mad Men had Don Draper want to buy the world a Coke to end its seven-season run back in 2015, comedy has been Jon Hamm's friend. He's the ultimate TV guest star, building upon stints in 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation while Mad Men was still airing with Toast of London, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Curb Your Enthusiasm, on a resume that also includes The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Childrens Hospital, Medical Police, Angie Tribeca, The Last Man on Earth and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp as well. So, casting him as the new Irwin Maurice 'Fletch' Fletcher couldn't be an easier move. Having fellow Mad Men standout John Slattery (The Good Fight) also appear in the latest flick about the investigative reporter, and the first since the Chevy Chase-led movies in the 80s, is another winning touch. Even if that reunion wasn't part of the film, Hamm is so entertaining that he makes a killer case for a whole new Fletch franchise — on whatever screen the powers-that-be like — with him at its centre.
Hamm clearly understands how well he suits this type of character, and the genre; he's a comic delight, and he's also one of Confess, Fletch's producers. Superbad and Adventureland's Greg Mottola directs and co-writes, scripting with Outer Range's Zev Borow — and ensuring that Hamm and Slattery aren't the only acting highlights. Working through a plot that sees Fletch chasing a stolen artwork, discovering a dead body, and both looking into the crime and considered a suspect himself, the film also features engaging turns by always-welcome Twin Peaks great Kyle MacLachlan and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar gem Annie Mumolo. There have been several attempts to revive Fletch over the past three decades, including separate projects with Ted Lasso duo Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis — on the page, the character spans nine novels — but viewers should be thankful that this is the action-comedy that came to fruition, even if it skipped cinemas everywhere but the US.
Let's call it the reality TV effect: after years of culinary contests carving up prime-time television, the savage on-screen steps into the food world just keep bubbling. The Bear turned the hospitality industry into not just a tension-dripping dramedy, but one of 2022's best new shows. In cinemas, British pressure-cooker Boiling Point and the sleek and sublimely cast The Menu have tasted from the same intense plate. Now Hunger sits down at the table, giving viewers another thriller of a meal — this time focusing on a Thai noodle cook who wants to be special. When Aoy's (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, One for the Road) street-food dishes based on her Nanna's recipes get the attention of fellow chef Tone (Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya, Tootsies & the Fake), he tells her that she needs to be plying her talents elsewhere. In fact, he works for Chef Paul (Nopachai Jayanama, Hurts Like Hell), who specialises in the type of fine-dining dishes that only the wealthiest of the wealthy can afford, and is as exacting and demanding as the most monstrous kitchen genius that fiction has ever dreamed up.
There's more to making it in the restaurant trade than money, acclaim and status, just like there's more to life as well. As told with slickness and pace, even while clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, that's the lesson that director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri (Folklore) and screenwriter Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (Faces of Anne) serve Aoy. She's tempted by the glitz and recognition, and being steeped in a world far different from her own; however, all that gleams isn't always palatable. Plot-wise, Hunger uses familiar ingredients, but always ensures that they taste like their own dish — in no small part thanks to the excellent casting of Chuengcharoensukying as the film's conflicted but determined lead. A model also known as Aokbab, she proved a revelation in 2017's cheating heist thriller Bad Genius, and she's just as compelling here. The two movies would make a high-stakes pair for more than just their shared star, both sinking their teeth into class commentary as well. Yes, like The Menu before it, Hunger is also an eat-the-rich flick, and loves biting into social inequity as hard as it can.
Hunger streams via Netflix.
When Vengeance begins with a New Yorker journalist who's desperate to start his own podcast, Soho House hangouts and relationship advice from John Mayer as himself, it begins with rich and savvy character details. Writing, starring and making his feature directorial debut after helming episodes of The Office and The Mindy Project, BJ Novak instantly establishes the kind of person that Ben Manalowitz is. He shows the East Coast world that his protagonist inhabits, too — and, by focusing on the only guy in NYC without their own audio outlet, or so it seems, plus that romantic guidance, it splashes around its sense of humour. This is a sharply amusing mystery-comedy, and a highlight on Novak's resume in all three of his guises. It's also about subverting expectations, and lampooning the first impressions and broad stereotypes that are too often — and too easily — clung to. Indeed, Vengeance bakes in that idea as many ways as it can as Ben (Novak) does the most obvious thing he can to convince his producer (Issa Rae, Insecure) that his voice is worth hearing: bursts his Big Apple bubble.
The Mayer bit isn't just a gag; it helps set up Ben as the kind of person who is dating so many women that he doesn't know which one has died after he gets a bereaved phone call from Texas in the middle of the night. On the other end is Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook, The Sandman), brother to Abilene (Lio Tipton, Why Women Kill), who insists that Ben head southwest immediately to attend her funeral — she claimed that they were serious enough that she's his girlfriend, after all. Upon arrival, the out-of-towner initially regards his hosts as jokes, and their lives and Abilene's death as content. Ty thinks she was murdered, and Ben couldn't be giddier about getting it all on tape and calling the series Dead White Girl. The journo's self-interest is up there with his obliviousness about anything that doesn't fit into his NYC orbit; however, this isn't a culture-clash comedy — thankfully — but a clever, self-aware and ambitious satire. It's also strikingly shot and features a standout performance by Ashton Kutcher (That '90s Show) as a suave record producer.
Looking for more viewing highlights? Check out our list of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.
We've also picked our top 15 movies that hit cinemas in the first half of 2023, as well as the 15 best new TV shows and 15 best returning TV shows of the year so far.
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