Great HBO Original Films

HBO has been producing its own independent programming long before it was streaming its stuff across the internet. All of the movies are great and you should check them out – here are a few that might pique your interest.

We’ve all been there. Browsing through endless catalogs of stuff. Checking out Hulu, HBO NOW, Showtime. Then Hulu again, Showtime, HBO NOW. Funny how we see the same stuff even though we look at it in reverse order. If you’re ready to watch something a little less ordinary, here are a few great HBO Original films, that we recommend.

Behind the Candelabra

Set in 1977, this movie follows the the famous pianist Liberace and his 18-year old lover Scott Thorson in the musician’s final ten years of life. The movie is based on Thorson’s diary which was turned into a novel after Liberace’s death. The film garnered mostly positive praise and competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. It also got a limited cinematic release in the UK.

The film is a genuine and heart wrenching look at Liberace’s life and absolutely over-the-top his performances were. Even more important is how affectionately Michael Douglas (Liberace) and Matt Damon (Thorson) play their characters. Their performances are certainly something to watch, so much so, that Michael Douglas won an Emmy award. Further, the relationship between Liberace and Thorson is absolutely magic on the screen.

Grey Gardens

This one is certainly on the older side. First aired in 1975, Grey Gardens is a documentary that looks at two former upper-class women, a mother and daughter, who live in poverty in a dilapidated mansion in the South Hamptons of New York. The documentary was selected for preservation in the library of Congress and is hailed as one of the best documentary films ever made because of its painfully truthful storytelling.

The film uses direct cinema techniques, meaning there is no voiceover explaining the story – the two female subjects do all the voice work in the documentary.  The film came about after an investigation by The Examiner and New York Magazine of the two women’s lives led to health department inspections of their home. There, they found the home and the women living in squalor with trash and rubbish everywhere, no running water and in complete delusion.

From the Earth to the Moon

A 1998 miniseries produced by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, From the Earth to the Moon tells the story of the Apollo missions during the 1960s and 1970s. The series was based in large part on Andrew Chaiken’s book A Man on the Moon, which was also extraordinarily good. The series features a large ensemble cast, as well as Tom Hanks in each episode.

All twelve episodes are wonderfully shot and riveting. In particular, the episode covering Apollo 13 smartly looks at the entire stressful mission from the ground’s point of view, showing how much work went into keeping those astronauts alive. The series won three Emmy awards for outstanding miniseries, outstanding casting, and outstanding hairstyling, which is sort of an odd award. Great hair or not, this series is definitely worth your time.

All The Way

Anything that stars Bryan Cranston gets our attention right out of the gate. And man, if he doesn’t play a drop dead lookalike of President Lyndon Johnson! The film also stars Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr. as he and LBJ work together (and often against one another) to pass the Civil Rights Act. The whole thing is complicated by the Vietnam War and the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

All The Way was nominated for eight Emmys, but for some reason didn’t win any – we can’t explain why because this movie is simply wonderful. The acting is standout and the story is compelling, drawing the viewer in, as the disgusting idea of segregation is actively fought against. Further, the movie is incredibly important – the fight for equal rights was not always a rosy one. LBJ would have preferred to do the politically expedient than the right thing – it just so happened that neither was truly possible and the Civil Rights Act was passed in the United States.

Taking Chance

An extraordinarily powerful film, Taking Chance (2009) follows Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, wonderfully played by Kevin Bacon, as he escorts a fallen marine Chance Phelps home. Phelps was killed during a mission in the Middle East. Along the way, Strobl meets and interacts with many different people and is touched by the outpouring of love and support.

The film received generally positive reviews and captured the poignant and gut-wrenching reality of war. Some reviewers noted that the movie was almost to procedural – that it covered how a soldier who is killed in action is brought home and buried. Still, the movie is a powerful one and relatively short – just 77 minutes – so certainly worth your stream.

Game Change

Based on the book of the same name by Jay Roach, Game Change follows the political journalism of Mark Halperin and John Heileman during the 2008 US presidential campaign between Barack Obama/Joe Biden and John McCain/Sarah Palin. The movie focuses predominantly on the Republican side of the ticket cataloging the many ups and downs of the ultimately unsuccessful campaign.

The movie garnered generally positive reviews, particularly for Julianne Moore’s depiction of Sarah Palin. The former governor herself has called the movie “based on false narrative.” However, former campaign manager Steve Schmidt noted that watching it was like an “out of body experience” because it was so accurate. A great film, even if you’re unfamiliar with American politics.

Too Big To Fail

Too Big to Fail catalogs the story of the 2008 financial crisis from the point of view of the men that both caused and attempted to fix it. The film is based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book of the same name and looks at how the US Federal Reserve and Treasury Department attempted to stop the entire global economy from crumbling, while bank executives attempted to protect their interests and their shareholders.

The movie was nominated for numerous Emmys and other awards when it debuted in 2011. The frenetic nature of the time during the collapse is expertly captured on film, drawing the viewer in. Additionally, the greed of many of the CEOs is evident and getting angry watching the film isn’t out of the realm.

Show Me a Hero

Another great miniseries based on a book of the same name, the film follows Nick Wasicsko, a former police officer and city council member in Yonkers, New York, as he fights to show the value that federally mandated-scatter-site public housing has to a white, middle-class population. It sounds really wonky…and it is. But if you enjoy political procedurals you’ll like this one.

The show spans six episodes and received critical acclaim from reviewers. Unfortunately, it did not garner high viewership, likely because of its wonky nature. The series was produced in part by David Simon, the creator of The Wire, however, so if you liked that (which you did…everyone did), give this one a try.

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