I have not seen Avengers: Infinity War. I’m thinking about it, but mostly out of a sense of obligation. After 18 of these films, all of which I’ve seen—although I waited out Thor: Ragnarok as long as possible and paused it several times to tweet about how long it was—I feel like I’m pot committed. Taken together, the Marvel movies are literally a week of my life that I’ll never get back. With death’s icy hand on my neck, I wonder: What’s another two hours and 29 minutes with Tony Stark and the gang?
Part of me feels like it would be an act of defiance—pointless, easy, and yet fully satisfying defiance—to avoid Infinity War this weekend, thus not participating in what is tracking as potentially the biggest domestic box-office opening in history. Unsurprisingly, Infinity War is basically running unopposed as far as other new releases go; the only real competition is the allegedly dodgy Kings, starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig and set against the backdrop of the Rodney King verdict. If you live in New York or L.A., you can go to Claire Denis’s sublime Let the Sunshine In (and see Juliette Binoche and Gerard Depardieu act in the same scene eight years after he called her “nothing”) but chances are if you want to #resist Marvel, you’ll have to do it at home.
With this in mind, I thought it might be good to put together some anti–Infinity War counterprogramming consisting of titles currently available on major streaming services, and based around what I know about the movie, which isn’t much. I don’t know if the movie is like Game of Thrones or Nashville (maybe and probably not). I don’t know which of characters has the most screen time, or who lives or dies. I don’t know what happens if all the Infinity Stones are ever in one place together, but I hope it’s more impressive than the three boxes in Justice League, which didn’t do anything.
Here’s what I do know about Avengers: Infinity War: (1) It’s really long, (2) it’s the third Avengers movie, (3a) it’s got a gigantic cast and (3b) every actor in it has their own personal character poster, and (4) it is “the most ambitious crossover event in history.” I can work with these categories; my only other rule is that none of my recommendations below can be superhero movies. Let’s go.
It’s Really Long: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Filmstruck)
In his 2015 obituary for Chantal Akerman, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody compared the late Belgian director’s 1975 masterpiece to two of the famous debuts in the history of cinema: “[She] was younger than Orson Welles was when he made Citizen Kane, younger than Jean-Luc Godard was when he made Breathless. The three films deserve to be mentioned together.” Certainly, Akerman’s film employs a different form of showmanship than these two classics. It’s a static, minimalist drama that takes place in a single location and with only a single, significant character—the eponymous Jeanne Dielman. Played by Delphine Seyrig, Dielman is a single mother who lives with her son in Brussels and works as a prostitute to pay the rent. Its epic, intentionally punishing three-hour-and-21-minute running time is divided across three days, and the drama lies in watching the minute variations in Dielman’s domestic and professional routines in each section.
It’s a strategy that rewards close attention even as the long periods of silence and monotonous pacing work to induce a kind of trance state; far from boring her audience, Akerman is providing us with downtime to think about the different forms of “work” being performed by her protagonist. There’s a social critique here, but also the kind of creeping, pressurized dread that exists in the best horror movies. Suffice to say, Jeanne Dielman pays off in the end in a way that subverts, complicates, and explodes its art-cinema setup.
It’s a Third Movie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Amazon Prime)
Technically, Infinity War is the 19th of the newer-phase Marvel movies, but considering that my only other option for a “Hey 19” recommendation was The World Is Not Enough—which has the most underrated Bond theme song ever, by Garbage, and nothing else good about it—I had to get a bit creative. So let’s say for categorical purposes that Infinity War is the third Avengers movie (which is true) and that lets us access a number of very good Part 3s: Rocky III, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Three Colors: Red, Final Destination 3, the list goes on. My choice, though, is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the 1966 Sergio Leone classic that concludes the Dollars Trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood as the self-reliant, crack shot Man With No Name.
Leone didn’t intend the films to be a set—that was a nifty trick by his American distributor, United Artists, which was importing A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More from Italy and looking for a marketing hook. An epically scaled tale of betrayal and pure mercenary greed set during the Civil War, Leone’s sly, violent classic undermines the heroism of older Hollywood Westerns by doing away with black-hat/white-hat distinctions among its three antiheroes (played by Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach). The wildly stylized cinematography—including some of the most dramatic close-ups in movie history during the climactic standoff—jagged editing patterns, and eerie, all-time great score by Ennio Morricone show Leone at the peak of his powers: harsh, potent, and completely unpretentious, this is genre cinema elevated to the level of enduring art.
It’s Got a Gigantic Cast: Slacker (Fandor)
Yeah, there are a lot of characters in Avengers: Infinity War but Richard Linklater’s nimble, amazing second feature has more than 100 speaking roles. The camera never stops moving, and the people in front of it never shut up. A masterpiece of short-attention-span cinema, shot on 16mm for $3,000 (making it the cheapest movie ever canonized by the Criterion Collection), Slacker uses a sort of exquisite-corpse structure, ambling through the hipster-infested streets of Austin, Texas, to pick up snatches of conversation between characters ranging from wannabe artists to confidence peddlers to manic street preachers. (Look carefully and you can see Louis Black as “Paranoid Man Reading the Newspaper.”) Before we can get too into any one person and his or her spiel, Linklater has moved on down the road.
The film’s sheer, whirling speed is impressive even though most of what it documents is downtime. Part lo-fi experiment, part philosophical statement of principle (“withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy,” reads one title card, a line Michael Stipe borrowed a few years later), and quietly revolutionary as the idea of a popular American independent cinema came to fruition in the early ’90s, Slacker is crowded in the best way: Its sprawling cast of normal (or slightly-less-than) nobodies is one of the most memorable ensembles ever assembled.
Every Character Has Their Own Poster: Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II (Netflix)
Now that Lars von Trier is back in the news for being back at Cannes (with the serial killer film The House That Jack Built) expect some second looks at this 2014 pornographic picaresque, which was made after the director was banned from the French film festival for jokingly comparing himself to Hitler. (True to form, the Notorious LVT turned his punishment into a T-shirt slogan; he reflects on the whole ordeal in this new, oddly touching interview.) The film critic in me wants to talk about how Nymphomaniac unites visual styles and tropes from across its creator’s career, constituting a kind of Lars Extended Universe. Von Trier fans will spot references to everything from The Kingdom to Breaking the Waves to Antichrist during its four-hour, two-volume running time, which chronicles the life and times of sex addict Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). But I’ve put Nymphomaniac in this spot because mostly because of its amazing ad campaign, which used superhero-movie-style “character posters” to show off its art-house all-star cast and get across the idea that von Trier’s film was seriously NC-17 stuff.
Everybody loves to hate Lars, but it surely says something that Shia LaBeouf, Willem Dafoe, Uma Thurman, and Jamie Bell were willing to share their O-faces to help promote their director’s provoc-auteur brand. (Fun side game: Which of the Avengers would do the same thing? Who would do it ironically, and who would only do it ironically? Explain your answer.)
It’s the Most Ambitious Crossover Event In History: Heat (Netflix)
It’s not like you need an excuse. On this very website, Heat was inducted into the Movie Hall of Fame, and while I don’t always stan for Mann, the case for Cooperstown is solid enough. It’s a great-looking Los Angeles thriller with an irresistible plot (workaholic master detective tracks down workaholic master thief; feels like he is looking in a living mirror); an amazing ensemble cast; one of the best-edited shoot-out scenes you’ll ever see; and all kinds of Mann-erisms that split the difference between effortless, alpha-male cool and mawkish sentimentality. As a sprawling crime drama, Heat really goes for it, reaching back to the glory days of ’70s American cinema, uniting Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for the first time since The Godfather Part II (where they played father and son in separate timelines and had no scenes together). In 1995, the coming together of the two major Hollywood actors of their era was a very big deal even if the internet didn’t really exist to amplify it. A lot has already been written about the famous diner scene between De Niro’s Neil McCauley and Pacino’s Vincent Hanna, which lives up to its billing as a major crossover event even though there isn’t a lot of actorly pyrotechnics on display. It’s a quiet, hushed summit that finds Pacino downshifting gears to match his costar’s steely, neutral vibe. “Maybe we’ll never see each other again,” McCauley says by way of farewell. This fall, the pair will be reunited again in Martin Scorsese’s Netflix drama The Irishman, which is probably going to be worth its own column. [Al Pacino voice] Maybe that’s what will be. Or … who knows?