Ty Burr’s Watch List is a newsletter designed to answer the eternal question: Why can I never find a good movie to watch on TV?
It works like this: Two times a week, maybe more, a film recommendation lands in your in-box, with some context, a little history, an anecdote or two, something to make you laugh or ponder. You’ll find plenty of new movies in the mix, especially on Fridays, but also curated choices from recent years and deep cuts from across the decades – the genuine oldies as well as ones that jump-start your personal nostalgia for the 1970s, ‘80s, or ‘90s. A click on the article’s headline in the email will take you to the website version; a click on the banner at the top will lead you to all previous newsletters. If you’d like to receive the weekly recap rather than the daily entries, check off only the “Weekly Digest” option on your “My Account” page.
The recommendations might include recent comedies like “Shiva Baby” (above) or throwbacks like the 1999 Kirsten Dunst-Michelle Williams political farce “Dick.” Dramas like “Minari” and “Maudie” and “Menashe.” Foreign classics like Ozu’s “Late Spring” (below) and home-made sleepers like “Starlet,” an early work by Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”).
You’ll learn about little movies you probably haven’t heard of (“Supernova,” from 2020, starring Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, below, as a couple in twilight) and bigger ones you may have missed (“20th Century Women,” from 2016, featuring another Annette Bening performance that should have won an Oscar and didn’t). You’ll be reminded of forgotten gems from the glory days of the New Hollywood era (“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” 1974) and from more recent years (Ron Howard’s terrific 2013 race-car drama “Rush”), as well as new works like Bo Burnham’s “Inside” that push the boundaries of the form.
Some of these movies go down like a lemon pop on a summer day. Some test your beliefs, your expectations, your patience. That can be a good thing. There are occasional television series among the recommendations but mostly movies; despite the culture and the entertainment industry pushing us toward an endless line-up of binge TV, I believe the stand-alone film experience still holds value. I discuss theatrical-only releases – understanding that the theatrical experience at its best is the preferred way to see a movie – but primarily titles that are also or only available for streaming on one or more of the on-demand platforms. Because that is where we now live.
What you probably won’t find lot of are franchise blockbusters and heavily digitized action-fantasy fare – the major studios’ current order of business. The better ones, maybe. (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” definitely.) In general, superheroes and souped-up mayhem bore me to tears, and I’m betting enough of you agree to make a go of this. Movies about people are still being made and distributed and, in fact, are more accessible than ever. Ty Burr’s Watch List shows you where they are and why they are.
Who am I? For the first two decades of this century, I was a film critic and cultural columnist for the Boston Globe. In 2017, I was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. Before the Globe, I reviewed movies and other pop culture for Entertainment Weekly for eleven years. Before that, I programmed movies on Cinemax and HBO for the better part of the 1980s, and so on back through a late Boomer’s lifelong intoxication with cinema. Short answer: I’ve seen a ridiculous number of movies. Does that mean I know what I’m talking about? Probably, yes. Does that mean my tastes align with yours? Not at all, but there’s an easy way to find out.
This is a free newsletter, and the hope is that you’ll recommend it or forward it to friends. If you choose the option of a paid subscription, you’ll gain access to additional essays and commentary and you can leave comments and engage with me and other readers.
More about me, if you’re curious: I’ve written two books, “The Best Old Movies for Families” (Anchor, 2007) and “Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame” (Random House, 2013). Both are available online and from independent booksellers. I’ve also written an e-book, “The 50 Movie Starter Kit: What to Know if You Want to Know What You’re Talking About” (2013), to which Ty Burr’s Watch List will serve as a never-ending weekly addendum and which is available only online. When I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I wrote or contributed to several slim hardcover volumes of movie lists that were sold at newsstands as “bookazines,” a neologism that should have been smothered in the crib. I will spare you their titles.
I live outside Boston with my wife and an extremely photogenic dog. No, really.