The Best Streaming Movies to Watch Right Now: 'The American Friend,' 'The Empty Man,' A Quiet Place Part II,' 'Barb and Star,' and More

(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)

The American Friend
Now Streaming on The Criterion Channel

Release Date: 1997

Genre: Neo-Noir

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain

Wim Wenders‘ deliberately paced blend of neo-noir and tone poem, The American Friend is an adaptation of Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith. But this isn’t like the other Ripley adaptations. Wenders is less interested in the plotting and mystery than he is in the curious, unquantifiable relationship between two very different people. One is a frame maker, played by Bruno Ganz. The other is an art seller, and con artist, played by Dennis Hopper. By chance, or perhaps fate, these two cross paths, and an odd friendship begins to form. Ganz’s character is made to believe he has a short time to live (the logistics of this set-up are a bit hard to believe, but just go with it), and thus gets talked into committing murder to score a big payday to leave behind to his family after he’s gone. But the deeper he gets drawn into situations, the more Hopper’s character is drawn to help him out. Robby Müller‘s cinematographer is like something from a wonderful dream.

For fans of: The Talented Mr. RipleyParis, Texas, tossin’ bodies off trains.

The Empty Man
Now Streaming on HBO Max

Release Date: 2020

Genre: It’s Kind of a Cosmic Gumbo

Director: David Prior

Cast: James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, Robert Aramayo, Joel Courtney, Sasha Frolova

In this day and age, when Hollywood doesn’t want to touch anything unless it’s some sort of franchise-starter based on familiar IP, it’s pretty damn impressive that The Empty Man exists at all. To be fair, this is based on a comic series – but I doubt most people are aware of it. Instead, director David Prior uses this excuse to craft a big, weird, bloated oddity that deserves credit for being different. The Empty Man isn’t a complete success, but I’d rather have an interesting film with flaws than the boring crapola we keep getting from the Hollywood machine. The plot involves a mystery involving a missing person, sort of. But story is secondary here. The Empty Man is a vibe; a mood; a cosmic gumbo, if you will. Opening with an extremely lengthy prologue that absolutely rules and then transforming into something entirely different, The Empty Man is bound to turn off people who just want to sit down and watch something generic. But if you’re on a quest for something outside the norm, you should check this one out.

For fans of: CandymanIn the Mouth of Madness, huge fuckin’ skeletons.

A Quiet Place Part II
Now Streaming on Paramount+

Release Date: 2021

Genre: Sci-fi Thriller

Director: John Krasinski

Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou

A Quiet Place was a nice surprise; a simple, effective horror-thriller that got people talking. Now, here’s A Quiet Place Part II. Is it as good as the original? More or less, although I think it’s about time to leave the Abbott family behind and let them get some much needed rest. After a prologue, this sequel picks up almost immediately where the last movie left off, and has the surviving Abbotts looking for help. They find it in a neighbor played by welcomed addition Cillian Murphy. But those damn sound-sensitive aliens are still out there. Murphy is great here, and so is Millicent Simmonds. Director John Krasinski has clearly been studying some Spielberg for shot composition ideas.

For fans of: A Quiet Place28 Days Later, feet.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Now Streaming on Hulu

Release Date: 2021

Genre: Comedy

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr.

An unapologetically silly extravaganza, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar follows two lifelong friends (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) who head to Florida for a vacation. There they get mixed up in a plot involving a supervillain (also played by Wiig) who wants to kill everyone with bees. It’s very stupid, and that’s all part of the charm. The humor here is not going to be for everyone, and indeed, I’ve seen plenty of people who just downright do not care for this. But if you’re on the film’s wavelength, you’re going to have a lot of fun.

For fans of: MacGruberPopstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, culottes.

Near Dark
Now Streaming on Shudder

Release Date: 1987

Genre: Horror Western

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson

Kathryn Bigelow‘s vampire western Near Dark is slick, bloody, and will make you miss Bill Paxton all over again. The story follows a cowboy (played by Adrian Pasdar, who is admittedly very bland here) who falls for a beautiful stranger, played by Jenny Wright. As it turns out, she’s a vampire, and now the cowboy is becoming a vampire, too. Which means he now has to run around with a family of vampires, played by Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein. Vampire movies don’t come much cooler than this.

For fans of: The HungerThe Lost Boys, Bill Paxton covered in blood.

Son
Now Streaming on Shudder

Release Date: 2021

Genre: Horror

Director: Ivan Kavanagh

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Andi Matichak, Luke David Blumm

Son is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Halloween‘s Andi Matichak is a mom who escaped from a cult a few years ago while pregnant. Now, the baby has grown up into a young boy named David (Luke David Blumm), and mom and son get along nicely. Everything seems great! Of course, it isn’t. And a home invasion suddenly triggers something in David – something terrifying. Matichak is convinced the cult is coming back for her, and she turns to a cop (Emile Hirsch) for help while also keeping some secrets of her own. Director Ivan Kavanagh, who helmed the excellent The Canal, knows just how to make all of this surprisingly scary, and even if you think you know where Son is going, it’s guaranteed to still catch you off guard.

For fans of: The CanalThe Omen, cool monster designs.

In the Cut
Now Streaming on Hulu

Release Date: 2003

Genre: Erotic Thriller

Director: Jane Campion

Cast: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Meg Ryan stepped out of her America’s Sweetheart phase for Jane Campion‘s In the Cut, and the general moviegoing public shrugged their shoulders. Which is a damn shame, because In the Cut is fantastic – a strange, sexy thriller with a dreamy look. Ryan is a teacher who begins dating a rough-around-the-edges cop, played by Mark Ruffalo. Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose targeting women, and Ryan begins to suspect her new cop boyfriend might be the culprit. A box office bomb when it opened in 2003, In the Cut has slowly built up a following over the years, and rightfully so.

For fans of: Basic InstinctDressed to Kill, hot stuff.

Punisher: War Zone
Now Streaming on HBO Max

Release Date: 2008

Genre: Action

Director: Lexi Alexander

Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison, Dash Mihok, Wayne Knight

I don’t know why Hollywood has such trouble figuring out The Punisher, a very simple character. But no one has quite gotten the character right on the big screen. Lexi Alexander comes close with the gloriously violent Punisher: War Zone, which has Ray Stevenson as the heavily armed vigilante. The Punisher faces off against a ghoulish killer named Jigsaw, played by an extremely over-the-top Dominic West. Not everything here works, but the hyper-stylized violence helps elevate the film to new heights.

For fans of: Exploding parkour dudes.

In Dreams
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Release Date: 1999

Genre: Thriller

Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle

Neil Jordan‘s strange thriller In Dreams is mostly forgotten, but it’s worth a revisit. While the film is a bit bloated and kind of all over the place, Jordan conjures up some lovely, haunting imagery here – like a town submerged completely underwater, and a fairy tale obsession with blood-red apples. Annette Bening is an artist who has a psychic connection with a serial killer, played by Robert Downey Jr. before his big comeback.

For fans of: In the Company of WolvesInterview With the Vampire, Robert Downey Jr. in a wig.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Now Streaming on Hulu

Release Date: 2013

Genre: Action-Horror

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters seemed like a punchline before it even hit theaters. And to be fair, it has a very dumb title, and it has a very miscast Jeremy Renner. And yet…this film is a lot of fun. It never takes itself too seriously and features some truly memorable creature designs as storybook characters Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) grow up to murder evil witches. I’m genuinely surprised this hasn’t become a trashy cult classic by now.

For fans of: Jeremy Renner saying “Hansel.”

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