Watch it on: Available to rent
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003, directed by Peter Weir)
Yes, this 138-minute, 19th-century nautical epic begins and ends with huge naval battles where cannon fire rages and bodies are flung overboard. But most of the action of Peter Weir’s movie, an adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s popular series of seafaring novels, is of a far calmer variety, delving into the curious human ecosystem of a British warship. As Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his faithful sidekick, surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), nurse their wounds after defeat in battle, Master and Commander explores the peculiar dynamics of their partnership, the complicated class politics of their crew, and Maturin’s desire to chart rare birds on the Galapagos Islands. How many action epics have multiple scenes where the two heroes play string duets together?
Watch it on: Hulu, or rent it
Metropolitan (1990, directed by Whit Stillman)
Any Whit Stillman film relies on the same storytelling engine: conversation. He makes movies about the chattering classes that involve a lot of chatter of the fizzy, droll, and hyper-neurotic variety. His debut, Metropolitan, set in stuffy Manhattan high society, is the chattiest of them all, essentially following a group of fancy teenage debutantes as they mingle, flirt, and snipe from party to party. There’s a certain calm I get from Stillman’s confident sense of dialogue and rhythm, also on resplendent display in his follow-ups Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, and Love & Friendship. He’ll make you nostalgic for dinner parties.
Watch it on: Showtime, or rent it
Molly’s Game (2017, directed by Aaron Sorkin)
Certain types of movies just play better on TV after you’ve already seen them three or four times. In the past, you’d stumble across these films on cable when flipping through channels; now, maybe you find them while scrolling through Netflix or some other streaming service. One such film is Molly’s Game. On release, the directorial debut of the celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin got mixed reviews, but on rewatch, it’s sensational fun, telling the story of real-life underground poker mogul Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) with a breakneck screenplay that combines voice-over narration, flashbacks, and courtroom antics. It features Sorkin’s typical approach to writing—an absolute piledriver of dialogue and speechifying—but has the perfect mix of gossipy sizzle and self-importance to entertain every time.
Watch it on: Netflix, or rent it
Read: ‘Molly’s Game’ is pure Aaron Sorkin—for better and for worse
Moonstruck (1987, directed by Norman Jewison)
The deepest, richest, most romantic kind of a movie, a full-bodied glass of red wine to be enjoyed anytime one’s faith in humanity is fraying, Moonstruck might be the most comforting film ever made. Norman Jewison’s Oscar-winning rom-com, written by John Patrick Shanley, works because of its wonderful sense of place (the cramped kitchens and restaurants of Italian-American Brooklyn Heights), its passionate and committed cast (including Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, and Danny Aiello), and its loopy celebration of love emerging from the strangest and most unexpected places.