Well, folks, it’s that time of year – Christmas trees are going up, Christmas music is playing in the stores, and good God it’s too freaking cold to go in the stores, just stay home and buy online. As temperatures continue to fall, no one can blame you for politely declining those holiday party invites and staying in, so we’ve combed through the new arrivals on your subscription streaming services to find the best films to watch while putting off your shopping.
8 Mile (available 12/1): A decade and a half later, and we still kinda can’t believe Eminem got the director of L.A. Confidential to make his life story.
Exporting Raymond (available 12/1): What sounds like a complete-series box-set special feature – in which Everybody Loves Raymond co-creator Phillip Rosenthal goes to Russia to supervise an adaptation of that series – becomes a surprisingly funny culture-shock doc, thanks in no small part to the A+ comic timing and mildly neurotic worldview of its star.
Full Metal Jacket (available 12/1): Just in time for Christmas, all together now: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR JESUS…”
The Wackness (available 12/1): Writer/director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, 50/50) helms this comedy/drama, which adroitly and affectionately captures the specific experience of being young, white, and wild about hip-hop in the mid-‘90s. Why yes, it does hit close to home, thanks for asking.
Voyeur (available 12/1): Legendary journalist Gay Talese experienced a bout of very public embarrassment with the 2016 publication of The Voyeur’s Motel, a book whose veracity was challenged on the eve of its publication. Filmmakers Myles Kane and Josh Koury documented the process of the book’s writing, and thus had a front-row seat for the controversy – resulting in a fascinating, thoughtful, and (yes) voyeuristic look at the creation of a scandal, and what happens when a master’s instincts fail.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (available 12/5): Hey remember when this movie came out, at the beginning of the summer that just ended recently? Time is wild in 2017.
Pottersville (available 12/15): This is a direct-to-digital holiday movie in which a drunken Michael Shannon is mistaken for Bigfoot. Christina Hendricks, Judy Greer, Ron Perelman, Ian McShane, and Thomas Lennon co-star. I have not seen it, but you can bet I’m gonna – if for no other reason, than as fodder for this column.
Point Break (available 12/1): Because Kathryn Bigelow may be one of our most esteemed filmmakers, turning out works with their finger on the pulse of the socio-political landscape, but she may never top this.
Silence (available 12/1): Martin Scorsese returns to the reverential tone and subject matter of Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun with this 2016 drama, powerfully examining the questions of prayer and passiveness that lie at the heart of faith and religion. As you might imagine, it didn’t make a lot of money. Don’t let that discourage you. (Also on Hulu.)
Titanic (available 12/1): That’s right, it’s been 20 big years since every jackass in the world began shouting “I’m the king of the world” from the front of anything resembling a boat. Anyway, just in time for that anniversary, you can give it a fresh look, and argue anew about whether there was room for Jack on that piece of wood.
Nightcrawler (available 12/10): It just dropped off Netflix, but rest assured, if you need to look into the cold, black eyes of Jake Gyllenhaal and feel a bit more like a human, this one is still there for you.
It Comes at Night (available 12/9): Trey Edward Shults follows up his family drama Krisha with a post-apocalyptic tale of friendly and familial bonds sorely tested by paranoia and fear. His rattling, raw style lodges itself under your skin, and in your head; this is a lean, mean, frightening piece of work.
Woodshock (available 12/21): In which Kirsten Dunst rolls a joint and works some stuff out. It’s kind of a mess, but a gorgeous and strange one.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (available 12/31): S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk was a lean, mean genre picture full of stellar performances and some genuinely stomach-churning gore; by all reports, his latest (a prison riot movie with Vince Vaughn) is very much in the same vein.
Apocalypse Now (available 12/1): Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful Vietnam epic feels like one of those movies that should only be seen on the big screen, a la Lawrence of Arabia and 2001. But if you’re going to insist on watching it on your TV, or your laptop, or (God forbid) your phone, Apocalypse is waiting, in both its theatrical and super-sized 2001 Redux cuts. (Also on Amazon Prime.)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (available 12/1): The twists and turns and plot machinations of this con artist caper are a lot of fun, but if we’re being honest, I’d have been fine with an entire movie just about Ruprecht.
Moonstruck (available 12/1): Norman Jewison’s gorgeously romantic family comedy remains a) one of Cher’s best performances, b) one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances, and c) one of the best portraits of Brooklyn ever put to celluloid. (Also on Amazon Prime.)
Searching for Bobby Fisher (available 12/1): Perhaps since chess isn’t considered one of our more cinematic sports – what with all the tiny pieces and furrowed brows and all – Steven Zaillian’s 1993 drama doesn’t get included in the Best Sports Movies Ever lists. It should. (Also on Amazon Prime.)
Serpico (available 12/1): Sidney Lumet and Al Pacino teamed for the first time to redefine the cop movie with this tense and tough true story, of the idealistic NYPD detective who blew the whistle on the department’s top-down culture of corruption. Forty-plus years later, this one still packs a wallop.
Lemon (available 12/21): The year’s most aggressively odd picture, an absurdist piece of sprung storytelling, filled with odd little scenes, unexpected edits, and strange compositions. It is, to put it mildly, not for everybody. But people who like this kind of thing are really going to like this.
Gilbert (available 12/29): This bio-doc of Gilbert Gottfried is a fascinating portrait of a working comedian – funny yet introspective, with little fourth-wall breaks and other flashes of self-awareness to keep it from getting too serious about the Business of Comedy.
This is Spinal Tap (available 12/2): [“THIS GOES TO 11” JOKE TK]
Let’s Spend the Night Together (available 12/4): And MUBI is cleverly pairing Spinal Tap with this portrait of the Rolling Stones’ 1981 tour, the kind of worshipful documentary Rob Reiner and company were playfully sending up – though this one comes through the lens of director Hal Ashby, so it offers up much to admire aside from inspiration.
Time Out of Mind (available 12/16): A modest yet powerful drama from writer/director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) with Richard Gere as a homeless man grinding it out on the streets of New York City. Gere is tremendous—but he usually is, though no one ever notices—and Moverman’s observational style, with scenes often observed at great distance to emphasize the city bustling around him, is a beaut.
Contempt (available 12/24): MUBI’s weekly dose of Jean-Luc Godard continues through the month, with Detective (12/3), A Woman Is a Woman (12/10), In Praise of Love (12/17), and finally, on Christmas Eve, this 1963 masterpiece – which may be his best film, and is certainly his most self-aware.
The Trip (available 12/29)/ The Trip to Italy (available 12/30): The Trip to Spain, the third installment in Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s globe-trotting eating-and-ball-busting franchise, is out on disc in mid-December. So hey, why take the opportunity to watch ‘em all over the (hopefully) lazy holidays?
12 Angry Men (available 12/1): If you’re in the mood for more Lumet, Shortlist has you covered; they’re streaming his 1957 debut feature, which is still one of the sharpest films ever made about American jurisprudence.
Ace in the Hole (available 12/1): And if you’re in the mood for more timeless and trenchant social commentary, you can’t do better than Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard follow-up, a portrait of the cynicism of media that was a bit too sour for 1951, but tastes just about right, right now.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (available 12/1): Fresh from its 40th anniversary re-release, enjoy another look at the other great 1977 space movie.
Ordinary People (available 12/1): Robert Redford’s 1980 directorial debut is too often sneered at for swiping Raging Bull’s Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, and yes, news flash, sometimes The Academy Gets It Wrong. But the fact that Ordinary People isn’t that masterpiece isn’t its fault (few movies are); viewed outside of that lens, it’s a well-crafted and beautifully acted family drama, and Mary Tyler Moore is astonishingly good in it.
Buried (available 12/1): It’s that one where Ryan Reynolds is buried alive, with only a dying cell phone to help him escape. An ingeniously executed piece of work, featuring Reynolds’ most urgent and affecting acting to date. (Also on Tribeca Shortlist)
Better Watch Out! (available 12/7): This Shudder exclusive hopes to add to the rather limited field of Christmas horror, and advance word is good. Hey, if nothing else, it’s gotta be better than Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (available 12/18): Writer/director Sion Sono gives the blood-splattered Yakuza flick a post-modern spin in this inventive and frequently uproarious meta-horror action/comedy.