When the musical drama Coda won the Best Picture Oscar in 2022, it marked a sea change in filmmaking: a movie made by a streaming service could win Hollywood’s most sought-after prize, and the service in question didn’t have to be Netflix. Sneaking in through the backdoor was Apple TV+, which has quietly produced a compelling library of starry blockbusters and small-scale triumphs since it debuted in 2019.
Due for release this year is Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which just blew audiences away at Cannes – and which our critic Clarisse Loughrey called “extraordinary” – as well as Ridley Scott’s historical epic Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix.
But until then there’s a lot to unearth on the platform (which, aesthetic-heads should take note, is far and away the sleekest in streaming right now), from musical documentaries by Todd Haynes to the finest Jennifer Lawrence performance you’ve probably not seen. Here are 12 of our favourites…
Brian Tyree Henry received an Oscar nomination this year for his open-hearted portrayal of a grieving man in Causeway, alongside a career-best Jennifer Lawrence. She plays a military veteran sent back home after sustaining a brain injury in Afghanistan, who struggles to find her place in the world. Lawrence is extraordinary here – consider it the beginning of a thrilling new chapter in the Oscar winner’s career.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
This is a sprightly comedy about a man-child (writer-director Cooper Raiff) who bonds with a single mother (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter (Vanessa Burghardt) while trying to wade through post-college malaise. It’s very much from the Little Miss Sunshine school of indie quirk, but is just charming enough to pull it off.
Watch Cha Cha Real Smooth with a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
This angsty bit of Tom Holland misery porn went down like a lead balloon upon release in 2021 – despite its source material, a novel by Nico Walker, drawing acclaim years earlier. Holland is miscast as a junkie bank robber and Anthony and Joe Russo’s abrasive directorial style feels a bit like someone trying to cut together a Korn video with their feet. But there’s also something fascinating about it all the same – borderline camp, even.
A syrupy crowd-pleaser of the highest order, Coda aims for the heart and – depending on your cynicism quota, at least – pretty much gets there. Emilia Jones plays the only hearing member of a deaf family (led by Marlee Matlin and Oscar winner Troy Kotsur), who pursues her dream of becoming a singer.
This frenetic actioner fell victim to post-Oscar slap Will Smith fatigue, but is worth watching all the same: Smith plays a slave in 19th-century Louisiana who escapes his captors, in a film that merges elements of real-life history with explosions, gunfire and Hollywood spectacle.
Watch Emancipationwith a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me
This incredibly intimate documentary marks filmmaker Alek Keshishian’s return to pop star docs 30 years after he defined the genre with Madonna’s Truth or Dare. His subject here is Selena Gomez, who graduated from Disney kid notoriety to international pop stardom while withstanding a number of professional and psychological traumas. This is an honest, haunting piece of work.
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Watch Selena Gomez:My Mind & Me a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
Told in elegant vignettes, Sharper is a two-hour sleight of hand that builds twists upon twists. Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan and Justice Smith are among the players of what amounts to an elaborate con involving one of the richest men in New York (played by John Lithgow).
Watch Sharper a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
Still: A Michael J Fox Movie
Michael J Fox’s sheer likeability fuels this moving documentary about his life, career and diagnosis of Parkinson’s in 1998, which severely impacted his ability to act on screen but has led to decades of advocacy. Director Davis Guggenheim explores Fox’s past through reams of archival footage, and reveals the Fox of the present day as someone who embodies a powerful blend of grief, gratitude and sweet optimism.
Watch Still: A Michael J Fox Movie a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
Inexplicably, this look into the creation of everyone’s favourite Eighties arcade game is half a heist movie and half an action extravaganza. Director Jon S Baird unfurls the game’s backstory via Taron Egerton screaming in boardrooms and then screaming during high-speed car chases – it’s up to you if you want to google how much of it is accurate once the credits roll.
Watch Tetris a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Denzel Washington characteristically brings the house down in this eerie and visually sparse take on Macbeth, which Joel Coen (working for the first time without his brother Ethan) fills with nightmarish imagery and sharp black-and-white photography. Frances McDormand is Lady Macbeth, but it is theatre veteran Kathryn Hunter – playing all three weird sisters – who steals the show.
Watch The Tradgey of Macbeth a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
The Velvet Underground
Todd Haynes’s documentary explores the almost supernatural groundswell of creativity and madness that conjured up The Velvet Underground in Sixties New York. It’s also a film that avoids slavish worship of its subjects – from the erratic Nico to the infamous misery that was Lou Reed – and frames them as they really were. Namely absolute geniuses who were probably hard work to be around. But when the material is that good, does it even matter?
Watch The Velvet Underground a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+
Filmmaker Tomm Moore has long cornered the market in gorgeous animated tales that bristle with magic and Irish folklore. Wolfwalkers is his follow-up to The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and concerns a fledgling wolf hunter who befriends a mysterious girl in the forest outside Kilkenny.
Watch Wolfwalkers a seven-day free trial of Apple TV+