The latest big-movie name to join Disney Plus is Nightmare Alley, the latest film from director Guillermo del Toro, and a nominee for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards.
It's picked up mixed reviews since its release (including split opinion among the T3 team), but I think that while it undoubtedly has some flaws, it's also a deeply interesting film that kept popping back into my mind long after I saw it.
Combined with it being a sumptuous visual spectacle (as one expects from del Toro, who made Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, among others), it's ended up being my favourite of the films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year (with the caveat that I haven't seen Drive My Car yet due to its more limited cinema release, and it not being widely available to watch online in the UK still).
On the surface, Nightmare Alley is a story about a man who stumbles into a carnival while on the run from an initially unclear event, learns the ways of the carnival tricks and grifts practiced there, uses these tricks to find a successful life as an entertainer, but falls foul of the wrong people and loses sight of his morals along the way.
The tale includes some incredible performances from a stacked cast. David Strathairn is like the manifest spirit of regret walking through the film, Toni Collette plays a voice of reason as someone you feel you can't trust, Willem Defoe has lost any kind of perspective outside his own, Cate Blanchett acts like she's the devourer of souls in a fragile porcelain frame, and Bradley Cooper… well.
Bradley Cooper's performance is all tied up in what the film is doing thematically, beneath that surface-level plot I mentioned above. I won't go too deep into my read on the film's themes because they're more interesting to unpeel yourself, but he's playing a man who keeps making deals with the devil in order to just pull himself a little further out of the hell he's in… without realising that he's handing away a piece of his soul with every new opportunity. Until he eventually runs out of soul to give.
And it looks just astounding all the way through – if you want something that can show off what the best TVs can do, this is a great movie for it. The carnival is grotesque and cold, yet sometimes cosy. The lighting and cinematography shows off the period setting in all its lush finery, and Cate Blanchett's office is an instantly iconic movie set, taking the 'Art Deco' dial and cranking it up until it snaps right off. (The dial was made of polished walnut, obviously.)
I think Nightmare Alley is a bit of misunderstood gem, and though it wasn't my favourite film of last year (that would be Pig, for which Nicolas Cage has been brutally robbed of awards nominations), of the films recognised by the Oscars, it would get my vote.
Maybe it'll get yours too? At least you can now watch it easily in super-high quality if you're a D+ subscriber. And while you're there, you can check out West Side Story, which is another Best Picture contender that was criminally under-seen at the cinema – the story frustrates at times, but it's one of the most incredible-looking movies in years, so again is ideal in 4K HDR.