Finally! The long-awaited new Downton Abbey film arrives in theaters! Is it worth the ticket? Find out what our critic thought, below, and catch up on all the best streaming shows and movies this week. And don’t pass the popcorn — pass the scones!
Downton Abbey: A New Era, PG
Need a soothing antidote to the news? Let Downton’s denizens deliver you to 1928, in a movie that’s immensely better than the first one and on par with the nonpareil TV series. It’s wittier, thanks to new director Simon Curtis (Cranford; his wife, Elizabeth McGovern, plays Lady Grantham). And the heartstring-fiddling hasn’t been this skillful since Matthew Crawley died in a car crash in Season 3. As a Hollywood crew shoots a movie at Downton (to raise cash to fix its roof), Lady G, Tom (Allen Leech) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) visit a French villa that Violet (Maggie Smith) just inherited from a long-ago swain — could he be Lord Grantham’s secret father? Downton’s staff gets cast in the flick, and the most inept servant turns out to be a natural scriptwriter, like the mobster Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway. The glamorous, insecure, low-born movie starlet bonds with the servants, and once-bitter butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) falls for the movie’s star (Dominic West, The Wire). Full satisfaction depends on knowing everyone’s Downton backstory — but who doesn’t? —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
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Your Netflix watches of the week are here!
Downton Abbey, Series 1 to 6
To make the most of this week’s Downton Abbey: A New Era, seize your last chance to Netflix and chill with the show that made Britons of us all. (It leaves Netflix May 31.)
Watch it: Downton Abbey on Netflix
Top Gun (1986)
What could top the Downton Abbey flick at the box office? Top Gun: Maverick (May 27), which got a five-minute ovation at this week’s Cannes Film Festival. Most early viewers say it’s a rare sequel that’s better than the original. Decide for yourself by watching Tom Cruise acquire the need for speed. (Also flying off Netflix May 31.)
Watch it: Top Gun on Netflix
Don’t miss this: The 27 Best Things Coming to (and Leaving) Netflix in May
Summer is coming, and that means one thing…
It’s our annual summer movie preview! Get our critics’ inside look at the blockbusters, dramas, comedies and documentaries that are coming this season. Spoiler alert: One of them is the new Downton Abbey film (be still our hearts)!
Get the list: Summer Movie Preview: 23 Films Not to Miss
What movie hits did COVID-19 keep down?
That’s just what our critics wondered when considering the many big films that came and kind of went over the past couple of years, never achieving the theater capacity or buzz to turn them into hits. That’s bad news for the studios. But it’s good news for us, because these hit-worthy movies are all streaming right now. Tune up your watch list this weekend with films that should have been contenders.
What are the best thrillers on Netflix right now? We’re here with the goods
Winter just seems like the perfect time to curl up on the sofa with a pulse-pounding film, which is what inspired our critics to gather up the 13 very best thrillers currently streaming on platform powerhouse Netflix. From 1982’s Blade Runner (never a bad idea to revisit that classic) to the 2020 Netflix original Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace, we’re here to pull you into the rabbit hole of suspense and sweaty palms.
Get the list: The Best Thrillers Playing on Netflix Right Now
21 great movies you didn’t even know were on Netflix!
Sure, you know the big-name shows and original series that the streaming giant wants you to browse … but did you know that Netflix has about 3,700 movies you can stream? Our critics sifted through the whole list to uncover 21 fantastic gems that are ready to watch. So what are you waiting for?
Get ready to bookmark this ultimate movie watchlist
Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images; Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Miramax Films/Courtesy Everett Collection
Our critics scanned the entire film catalog from the 1930s to now to handpick just 30 films that you must — must — see. We’re not talking about the best films (everyone does that list) but rather the films that are essential. You want to have seen these movies not just because they’re great (they are), but because they ensure you’re tuned into their cultural moments, the power of their time. So when someone makes a Philadelphia Story reference or deadpans, “the Dude abides,” you know exactly what they mean.
Get the list here: The 30 Movies Every Grownup Should Know
Love rom-coms but tired of watching millennials have all the fun?
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection; James Hamilton/Focus World/Courtesy Everett Collection
We hear you. Which is why our critics found the 13 best romantic comedies that feature older actors! From an all-grown-up Spencer and Tracy in 1957’s Desk Set to Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in the late ’90s to Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in 2017’s The Leisure Seeker, these are love stories for folks who know a thing or two about love. Grab your favorite rom-com date and get streaming here: Grown-ups In (and Out) of Love: 13 Great Rom-Coms Starring Older Actors
More of the very best movies online
It’s truly amazing how many incredible movies there are available on mainstream platforms like Amazon, Netflix and others. Our critics round up the very best for you, no matter what your interest. Check out the latest “Best of” lists from AARP critics. There’s never been a better time to catch up on movies you always intended to watch.
Other movies to watch
Operation Mincemeat, PG-13
Based on a top-secret World War II mission carried out by the British in 1943 and chronicled by Ben MacIntyre in his best seller of the same name, Operation Mincemeat is a tense and taut thriller directed by John Madden, 73 (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). It coincidentally stars two former Mr. Darcys — Colin Firth, 61, and Matthew Macfadyen, 47 — as Allied intelligence officers tasked with an improbable disinformation assignment involving a corpse (“pocket litter” as they say in espionage) and the goal of breaking Hitler’s hold on Europe. That the plot was actually the brainchild of a young pre-novelist Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) only makes the story richer, and a must for James Bond completists. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Watch it: Operation Mincemeat on Netflix
Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen, Unrated
The week’s most exhilarating movie, directed by Oscar-nominated Hollywood historian Daniel Raim and cowritten by AARP contributing critic Michael Sragow, celebrates 1971’s triple Oscar winner Fiddler on the Roof. The film starred Topol as Tevye because director Norman Jewison (who was beaten up in childhood by anti-Semites who were unaware he was Protestant) rejected Tevye wannabes Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and even Zero Mostel, who had played him in the record-stomping Broadway show. It’s the platonic ideal of the making-of-a-movie movie, with reminiscences by Jewison (95); composer John Williams (90); lyricist Sheldon Harnick (98), who can still sing “Sunrise, Sunset” inspiringly; Topol and other cast members, including Rosalind Harris, who understudied Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel for the not-yet-famous Bette Midler on Broadway. “Bette said, ‘They don’t want me. Get your ass down there!’ ” Harris recalls. If, like Tevye, you don’t remember growing older but can’t forget Fiddler after half a century, this film’s for you. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Audrey Diwan’s devastating abortion drama, adapted from Annie Ernaux’s intimate novel, won the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious top prize, the Golden Lion, and no wonder. Set in France in the early 1960s, when the procedure wasn’t legal, the film follows an attractive literature student (Anamaria Vartolomei, winner of France’s Oscar equivalent, the César) who misses her period. As the weeks tick past, Anne navigates the medical establishment, underground clinics and social shunning. A companion piece to Eliza Hittman’s critically acclaimed 2020 film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, this understated, gorgeously shot, female-led drama captures the raw energy and excitement of young people discovering the mysteries of sex — and the high cost intercourse extracts from those unintentionally impregnated. Absolutely not for the faint of heart, the movie catalogs the horrors Anne experiences while trying to terminate the pregnancy so that she can stay the course as a scholar and chart her own fate. Happening could not be more staggering, or timely. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Happening, in theaters
Have You Heard About Greg?: A Journey Through Alzheimer’s With Faith, Hope and Humor, PG-13
At 59, distinguished newspaperman Greg O’Brien developed Alzheimer’s disease, which is expected to afflict 80 million people by 2031. He covered his own experience and interviewed experts in the 2014 best-selling book On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s and became an Alzheimer’s activist. At their 50th high school reunion, somebody asked his filmmaker classmate Steve Ecclesine if he’d heard about O’Brien’s misfortune. So Ecclesine reunited with him and made this documentary, featuring O’Brien — one vivid, irreverent cinematic subject — and his friends, family, pastor, and doctors, plus neurologist Lisa Genova, whose Still Alice was adapted into the Oscar-winning movie starring Julianne Moore. It’s a loose jumble of talking-head interviews, but it’s never less than moving, fascinating, painful yet inspiring, and extraordinarily important. —T.A.
The Duke, R
The mysterious 1961 heist of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery was once so famous that in the 1962 Bond film Dr. No, the archvillain stole it. The real thief turned out to be the eccentric, unemployable idealist Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), 60, who said at his trial that he’d only borrowed the painting to force the government to provide free TV for OAP (old-age pensioners). In a movie that feels like a chamomile bubble bath enjoyed whilst sipping British tea, Broadbent is infinitely charming, and Helen Mirren, looking older than her age for once, is his perfect match as the no-nonsense wife who supports them by cleaning houses — and emphatically does not support lawbreaking, nor people who won’t use tea coasters. Mostly true, it plays like a frail fable. What makes it a must-see is the excellence of its acting and its sheer kindness. —T.A.
Watch it: The Duke, in theaters
Liam Neeson plays Alex Lewis, the usual two-fisted Neeson hero, satisfyingly capable of kicking butts a fraction of his age. Except this time, he’s struggling with memory loss — the serious advancing dementia everybody dreads. When an FBI man (Guy Pearce) saves a young immigrant girl (Mia Sanchez) from criminals, Alex, a professional hit man, is ordered to rub her out. Somebody does so, and Alex doesn’t know if he was the killer or not. Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) directs with panache, but the story is at least 100 IQ points dumber than the 2000 classic Memento, where Pearce plays a memory-afflicted hero who, like Alex, scribbles things on his arm in a vain attempt not to forget. Memory isn’t memorable, but its gimmick is more interesting than Neeson’s typical action fare. —T.A.
Watch it: Memory, in theaters
Don’t miss this: Liam Neeson: Age-Defying Action Hero
Petite Maman, PG
From Celine Sciamma, the brilliant French director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, comes a clear-eyed, intimate, beautifully rendered story about three generations of women — and one beautiful child’s fantastical encounter with her mother as a young girl. The vivid Petite Maman, or Little Mother, follows 8-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) on a melancholy trip with her parents to empty her late grandmother’s cabin. While exploring the nearby forest, Nelly befriends a mysterious 8-year-old (Gabrielle Sanz). As the girls play together, their bond grows. Over time, Nelly realizes her new playmate’s true identity, and how they can support each other through challenging times. The Sanz sisters deliver fresh, naturalistic performances. There’s no fluff, just an unusual exploration of the mother-daughter bond — and this stunning premise: What would a child encounter if they met their parent as a youth? The answer is an emotional experience like no other. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Petite Maman, in theaters
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, R
We’re witnessing a Nicaissance, and the sublimely entertaining The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which begs to be seen in a theater for communal laughs, seals it. Ebullient, star-driven and charmingly meta, the action comedy features Nicolas Cage, 58, the star of the 1987 rom-com Moonstruck and last year’s brilliant Pig, going balls out as a fading version of himself in the midst of an identity-and-cash crisis. The spendthrift takes a $1 million birthday-party gig with a shady financier (the delightful Game of Thrones star Pedro Pascal) on an island paradise, only to be pulled into a drug war, a CIA sting and an unlikely but satisfying bromance. Remaining relevant, a roaring Cage embraces his massive talent as well as his enormous crazy, and soars. —T.M.A.
The Northman, R
Think bloody Hamlet: a Viking prince witnesses his uncle (Claes Bang, 54) murder his father the king (Ethan Hawke, 51) and abduct his mother the queen (Nicole Kidman, 54). Our preteen hero flees, grows into a crusty-but-buff adult (Alexander Skarsgard, 45) and returns to seal his destiny: Save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father. On his quest, he beds a bewitching slave (Anya Taylor-Joy) — and sacrifices everything for revenge and a one-way ticket to Valhalla. The Shakespearean execution comes from horror wunderkind Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) — it’s arty, intense and insular. While the Northmen genre is enjoying a vibrant revival, with the streaming success of Vikings, Vikings: Valhalla and The Last Kingdom, Eggers’ miscast, moody, turn-of-the-10th-century action adventure seems late to the Norse feast despite, or perhaps because of, its overserious intentions. —T.M.A.
Watch it: The Northman, in theaters and on demand
Justin Kurzel’s disturbing drama digs under the sweaty skin of Nitram (an engrossing Caleb Landry Jones) in a fictional excavation of what drove one Australian to commit the country’s deadliest mass shooting, the Port Arthur massacre, in 1996. The film portrays the shooter as a physically mature young man of limited intelligence who loves lighting fireworks but has a loose grip on consequences. This is a case where everyone — his critical mother (Judy Davis, 66, emotionally stripped bare), his father (an impressive Anthony LaPaglia, 63) and the kooky heiress up the street (Essie Davis, 52, of The Babadook) — knew something was very off but wasn’t equipped to contain him. Ultimately, Nitram is about Australian society’s failure to keep guns out of inappropriate hands. To me, the heartbreak lies in the lack of a mental health safety net to address the young man’s repeated calls for help, and the devastating loss of innocent lives as a result. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Nitram, on demand
Everything Everywhere All at Once, R
Michelle Yeoh, 59, and Jamie Lee Curtis, 63, make beautiful movies together — and I hope to see them joined in everything from Westerns to crime thrillers. In this whacked-out, exuberant, multiple-timeline sci-fi actioner, Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a bedraggled Chinese immigrant living above the family laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, 50). While sandwiched between her cranky father, Gong Gong (James Hong, 93), and moody daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), she finds herself on the wrong side of IRS auditor Deirdre (Curtis in a crowd-pleasing, physically comic performance). In other words, she’s doing the everywoman juggle, except that in an outrageous series of multiverses, Evelyn has to dig deep, find her inner kung fu fighter, make peace with Joy (who often appears in outrageous costumes as her mother’s multiverse antagonist), Waymond and Gong Gong, and save the world. Spoiler alert: She succeeds — and global audiences will emerge feeling like winners, too. —T.M.A.
The Outfit, R
Mark Rylance, who stole Don’t Look Up from Leo DiCaprio and Bridge of Spies from Tom Hanks, plays a self-deprecating, London-trained tailor in 1956 Chicago who matches wits with his customers, dumb young gangsters who underestimate him (excellent Dylan O’Brien and Johnny Flynn) and one smart old gangster (Rylance’s fellow British stage great Simon Russell Beale). They use his shop to stash stuff they don’t want cops or rivals to find, and when one mafioso gets shot, the tailor stitches him up. The FBI has bugged the tailor shop (which really happened in 1950s Chicago), the mob is hunting whoever ratted on them, and the tailor tries to protect his receptionist, who’s like a daughter to him (Zoey Deutch, a ringer for her mother, Lea Thompson). Writer/director Graham Moore, who wrote the Oscar-winning The Imitation Game, crafts a tense thriller that’s like a cross between Sleuth and Reservoir Dogs — he keeps you guessing. You won’t likely find better acting in any film this year. —T.A.
Watch it: The Outfit, on demand
Yes, it’s formulaic, with foreseeable TV-like beats, but there’s a reason this winsome indie film broke all Sundance Festival sales records. The most feel-good Sundance hit since Little Miss Sunshine, it’s an irresistible coming-of-age tale of a CODA, a Child Of Deaf Adults (Emilia Jones). Ruby helps her irascible hearing-impaired folks (Marlee Matlin, 55, and The Mandalorian’s Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) with the family fishing business in a salty Massachusetts town. She joins the school choir — there’s a cute boy — and proves to be a Glee-level singer with a shot at Berklee College of Music. When Ruby sings “Both Sides Now,” her parents can’t hear it, but they can feel it, bridging the gaps of both generation and hearing. Unsurprisingly, Matlin’s acting is just as good when she’s signing (with subtitles), not speaking. —T.A.
Watch it: CODA, on Apple TV+
DON’T MISS THIS: 10 Things Marlee Matlin Suggests Doing Now
Swan Song, R
I can never get enough of double Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, 47 (Moonlight, The Green Book) — and here there are two of him: the original and his clone. In writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s existential sci-fi romance set in a near future of driverless cars and dramatic AI advances, Ali plays Cameron. The terminally ill father and husband confronts extinction and the end of his love before his time. His doctor (Glenn Close, 74) recommends he take a radical new course: bid his beloved Poppy (Naomie Harris, 45) and son goodbye, transfer his memories to the clone, and enter an idyllic hospice for his final days while another flesh-and-blood being stuffed with Cameron’s personal memories takes over. That’s going to take some serious adjusting. Ali excels at delivering a man undergoing all five stages of grief until he achieves acceptance, and Harris connects as his wife, but the overall narrative unfolds with all the forward drive of passive voice. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Swan Song, on Apple TV+
King Richard, R
In the real story of tennis immortals Venus and Serena Williams, the kids (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) are all right. They hit all the notes of a sport biopic with a satisfying thwack. But the grownups steal the show. Will Smith (53) outdoes himself as their dad/coach Richard, who survived KKK thugs in youth, protects them from Compton thugs, vows they won’t always have to share a bedroom with three other extremely talented sisters in poverty and shamelessly promotes them to the rich, lily-white tennis establishment. Smith conveys the bizarre drive that made his preposterous plan come true in a performance as impressive as anything he’s done, perhaps more, and entirely new. Remarkably, Aunjanue Ellis (52) is even better in the smaller role of Richard’s wife, Oracene, who stands up to his iron will and coaches just as well. A total feel-good movie. —T.A.
Watch it: King Richard, on HBO Max
Don’t miss this: The 7 things Aunjanue Ellis suggests doing now
And this!: The ultimate tennis lover’s movie watchlist
The Harder They Fall, R
Like a Tarantino romp only faster-paced, Jeymes Samuel’s Black Western is a sort-of historical hoot and a holler. It really is history-inspired: Blacks were a quarter of America’s cowboys, and the movie’s stampede of stars play wildly fictionalized actual people: Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo, 68), the West’s first Black deputy U.S. marshal; outlaws Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and Nat Love (Jonathan Majors); and Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), the first Black U.S. mail carrier. Treacherous Trudy Smith (Regina King, 50) is a gas but not real. The shaggy-dog plot involves the Love gang’s vendetta against Buck’s, but it’s just an excuse for tongue-in-cheek genre pastiche, high-noon showdowns and saloon shootouts, shot with flippant style and a killer soundtrack by everyone from Fela Kuti to Jay-Z (a coproducer). It’s overstuffed with terrific actors having a blast, and the fun’s infectious. —T.A.
Watch it: The Harder They Fall on Netflix
Don’t miss this: 11 Gems From the Black Film Archive to Watch Now
Tim Appelo is AARP’s film and TV critic. Previously, he was Amazon’s entertainment editor, Entertainment Weekly’s video critic, and a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, LA Weekly and The Village Voice.