July: a time for backyard cookouts, fireworks displays, and tipsy, tearful declarations of how you — sniff — just love America so much. And streaming addicts will have plenty to salute in the month to come, whether that’s Netflix trotting out a new Goonies-style mystery series and reviving a certified cult animation sensation, or tempting new film options from the folks at Amazon Prime and Hulu. No better way to beat the heat than a retreat into the safety of an air-conditioned living room, and no better way to turn that space into your binge-nest than with the following 10 shows and movies.
Berberian Sound Studio (Hulu, 7/1)
For horror fans that prefer slow-burning dread rather than in-your-face shocks, Peter Strickland’s stylized throwback to the Italian B-movie niche known as giallo is a must-see. The British director has a knack for revitalizing old exploitation genres (see also The Duke of Burgundy) and a talent for finding unsettling brutality in the unlikeliest of places; as a movie sound technician (Toby Jones) fine-tunes the audio for a horror flick not unlike this one, he can’t help but fixate on the savagery of the sound-effects specialists ripping heads of lettuce in half, or the way the leading lady’s eyes pop out of their sockets when she shrieks. It’s the rare scary movie that knows when to say when.
The Big Short (Netflix, 7/6)
Remember the distant world of the mid-2000s? Global warming was a hot new issue (only four degrees hotter, but still), a white guy ran the White House, and Adam McKay was Will Ferrell’s partner in anarchic gross-out crime. With this scathing high-finance satire, the director reinvented himself as a champion of an urgent social cause — and what’s more, a filmmaking talent to be taken seriously. He had help from a quartet of high-wattage names — moral center Steve Carell, good-time slickster Ryan Gosling, savant seer Christian Bale, and brief-but-memorable Brad Pitt — but the hyperactive camera, careening off walls and speeding through years, was the real star. It’s hard to believe he’s fully left the Anchorman vibe behind him, but with this deft takedown, McKay had announced his arrival as something more than the sum of his manchild comedies.
BoJack Horseman, Season 3 (Netflix, 7/22)
When embittered sitcom actor BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) was last seen, he had resolved to put in the effort to make lasting, meaningful change in his life. After two seasons of watching the chronic-depressive cartoon horse struggle to be a decent person, however, we know better than to believe that promise will stick. Returning with its signature fusion of howling existential pain and absurdist humor (the animal puns keep getting better, with “Cameron Crowe as an actual crow” now the sight gag to top), Netflix’s highly acclaimed black comedy promises new hope and heartbreak for BoJack, slacker genius Todd (Aaron Paul), mercurial writer Diane (Alison Brie) and irritatingly upbeat pooch Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). Last season tackled some big issues, fearlessly confronting the myriad failures of the media during the Bill Cosby scandal; the diehard fanbase eagerly waits to see creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has in store for Round Three.
Difficult People, Season 2 (Hulu, 7/12)
Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner have become avatars of New York misanthropy, like twin Statues of Liberty extending double middle fingers towards all who dare to step foot in their city. In the second season of this lightly fictionalized account of their years scrounging for work in the entertainment industry, they continue their war of attrition on everyone except one another. Featuring guest appearances from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nathan Lane, the pair carry on with their tooth-and-nail climb up the cutthroat comedy ladder, gladly stepping on anyone they can along the way. The duo epitomize the parts of ourselves we hate to love, like human embodiments of every hilariously bitchy comment we’ve ever kept inside for politeness’ sake. It feels amazing to see them all let out.
Hannibal, Season 3 (Amazon Prime, 7/5)
Pour out a glass of 1979 Chateau Margaux for the heaviest loss of the most recent round of mass network dismissals. Bryan Fuller’s take on Thomas Harris’ thriller novels about Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter was never cut out for life on network TV. It was steeped in highbrow esoterica of literature and art history, and shot with a formally experimental spirit seldom found on the small-screen — Fuller’s house style could be described as “classical oil painting meets the iTunes visualizer.” The show’s swan-song season wasn’t just darker and more daring than the first two, a feat in itself; it also put MVP actors Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Gillian Anderson, and Richard Armitage to good use. We’re still waiting for something to fill the “bizarro art-TV” vacuum Hannibal left, but for now, these leftovers will have to suffice for a four-course tasting menu.
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The Invitation (Netflix, 7/8)
You’re cordially invited to a casual, low-key evening with old friends. The proceedings will include a cocktail hour, dinner in three courses, and as the night’s diversion, a little bit of murder. Something’s off from the get-go in Karyn Kusama’s slow-burning thriller, and the twisty pleasures of figuring out just what that might be is matched only by the lived-in character work of this ensemble piece. Like a mumblegore spin on The Big Chill, the film balances precisely measured tension with long-simmering, layered dynamics between fully-developed figures. With all creeping terror of 2014’s undervalued indie Coherence and the plain-and-simple acting showcases of a good stage play, Kusama’s film is one of the year’s underground success stories.
Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 (Amazon Prime, 7/1)
We’ll need a couple more decades of distance before we can get a clear view of what Quentin Tarantino’s real masterpiece is, but the two-part Kill Bill saga has a solid shot at the title. Hollywood’s biggest movie geek crafted a sweeping collage of romantic drama, scuzzy Seventies revenge flicks, and reverent kung fu homage as his greatest gift to constant muse Uma Thurman. Clad in her Bruce Lee-styled yellow jumpsuit, katana in hand, she became an instant symbol of remorseless revenge and arguably the most iconic female ass-beater in Tarantino’s wide gallery. Volume 1 amps up the violence (that fight with the Crazy 88 gang can put viewers with heart conditions in the hospital) while Volume 2 focuses on the tattered relationship between Thurman’s unnamed bride and her target. But both halves offer insider Easter eggs and gobsmacking cinematic audacity.
The Loneliest Planet (Hulu, 7/1)
Two lovers trek across the striking, gorgeous terrain of Georgia (the country, not the state). A false move in a pivotal moment opens a rift between the two of them, which they try to patch over. There’s not much more to Julia Loktev’s understated, intimate drama than that, but stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg communicate novels’ worth of feeling with the scant handful of lines they’re given. There’s something basic and pure in the powerful simplicity of the film’s approach, where everything is flayed away except for unadulterated feeling expressed on the most primal level. As romances go, this one’s as rocky as the sub-Soviet steppe that provides the film with its backdrop, but The Loneliest Planet rewards those with patience and faith.
Mommie Dearest (Amazon Prime, Hulu, 7/1)
“I can’t imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie,” Roger Ebert wrote in his searing pan of this notorious Joan Crawford biopic. Lots of people, it turns out; a fervent cult has formed around this over-the-top delight, and now the unfamiliar can get acquainted with one of the best bad movies of all time. Faye Dunaway nearly acts herself into a coma as Crawford, playing the infamously abusive mother as a harpy in pancake makeup and delivering every line as if they’re her dying words. The “no wire hangers” scene has earned its rightful reputation as the diamond-hard pinnacle of drag-queen camp and then some, to the point where viewers can quote the line without even knowing where it’s from. Good, god-awful, or some enticing combination of the two, there’s nothing else like it.
Stranger Things, Season 1 (Netflix, 7/15)
In small-town Indiana during the Eighties, a young boy vanishes into thin air. His mother (Winona Ryder) drives herself to the brink of sanity in her fruitless search for him, and while the local sheriff (David Harbour) is convinced the boy’s deadbeat dad has absconded with him, the clues suggest something something far … stranger. A valentine to the the Reagan-era supernatural thrillers in the vein of the recent Midnight Special, this Netflix show weds procedural storytelling with a sci-fi angle that’s been kept tight under wraps. A product of brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, former writers on Fox’s paranormal limited series Wayward Pines, this eight-episode run will surely be riddled with plot twists and skin-crawling oddities. With the added X-factor of star Winona Ryder, it could be a sleeper smash in the dog days of summer.