Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in December
Cancel your plans to get stuck into Pixar's latest masterpiece, Chadwick Boseman's last movie and a blistering new film anthology series.
Not all that long ago, the idea of getting cosy on your couch, clicking a few buttons, and having thousands of films and television shows at your fingertips seemed like something out of science fiction. Now, it's just an ordinary night — whether you're virtually gathering the gang to text along, cuddling up to your significant other or shutting the world out for some much needed me-time.
Of course, given the wealth of options to choose from, there's nothing ordinary about making a date with your chosen streaming platform. The question isn't "should I watch something?" — it's "what on earth should I choose?". Hundreds of titles are added to Australia's online viewing services each and every month, all vying for a spot on your must-see list. And, so you don't spend 45 minutes scrolling and then being too tired to actually commit to watching anything, we're here to help. From the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from December (yes, we're assuming you've already watched Sound of Metal, Mank and The Flight Attendant).
BRAND NEW STUFF TO WATCH
MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM
Chadwick Boseman, Oscar-winner. That combination of words is very likely to become a posthumous reality for the late, great actor, thanks to his last screen role. Boseman is just that phenomenal in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. He has earned that term before in Get on Up, Black Panther and Da 5 Bloods, but his performance in this stage-to-screen production is such a powerhouse effort that it's like watching a cascading waterfall drown out almost everything around it. He plays trumpeter Levee Green, who is part of the eponymous Ma Rainey's (Viola Davis, Widows) band. On a 1920s day, the always-nattering, big-dreaming musician joins Ma — who isn't just a fictional character, and was known as the Mother of Blues — and the rest of his colleagues for a recording session. Temperatures and tempers rise in tandem in the Chicago studio, with Levee and Ma rarely seeing eye to eye on any topic. Davis is in thundering, hot-blooded form, while Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Glynn Turman (Fargo) also leave a firm impression. It's impossible take your eyes off of the slinkily magnetic Boseman though, as would prove the case even if he was still alive to see the film's release. Adapting the play of the same name by August Wilson (Fences), director George C. Wolfe (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) lets Boseman farewell the screen with one helluva bang.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is available to stream via Netflix.
From FernGully: the Last Rainforest to Moana — and including everything from Studio Ghibli's Pom Poko and Princess Mononoke to Pixar's Wall-E, too — many an animated movie has combined eye-catching frames with an important message about the environment. Irish film Wolfwalkers joins the pile and rockets to the top, thanks to one of the most visually and emotionally enchanting features of the year. Story-wise, it follows young wannabe hunter Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey, The Bookshop). In a tale set centuries ago, she moves to Ireland with her father Bill (Sean Bean, Snowpiercer) when he's hired to eradicate the last wolf pack lurking in the woods. The locals, as overseen by an English Lord Protector (Simon McBurney, The Loudest Voice), want to wipe out the wolves so that they can tear down the forest in the name of progress. But, after sneaking out to go exploring, Robyn befriends a girl called Mebh (feature first-timer Eva Whittaker) who just might be a member of a mythical tribe that's able to shapeshift into the creatures while they're dreaming. As well as a rousing eco-conscious narrative, Wolfwalkers delivers distinctive and delightful animation. Expect earthy, natural colours, with greens, browns, oranges and yellows dancing across the screen. Expect a line-heavy visual style, too, which is almost reminiscent of woodblock prints. And, expect another all-round beauty from co-director Tomm Moore, who also helmed the Oscar-nominated and equally beautiful duo The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.
Wolfwalkers is available to stream via Apple TV+.
I'M YOUR WOMAN
Normally, when a criminal's latest job takes a turn for the worst for whatever reason, the film that tells their tale follows their part in the aftermath. I'm Your Woman isn't that movie. It looks like that kind of feature. It resembles one with exacting precision. But that isn't the narrative that's on offer here, and refreshingly so. Directed and co-written by Julia Hart (Fast Colour) with such a supreme handling of style, story and genre, this is a 70s-esque crime affair, but it focuses on Jean (Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel), the wife of a thief who has gone missing after a big score goes south. The aggrieved gangsters chasing her husband are also unlikely to be kind to Jean and her baby, so she's whisked off into hiding in the middle of the night with zero notice. That's a drastic change that she's unprepared to cope with — but, with help from the her spouse's ex-acquaintance Cal (Arinzé Kene, How to Build a Girl), she also discovers that she's far more resilient than she thinks. Compelling from the moment it opens with Jean clad in a magenta robe, add I'm Your Woman to the pile of movies that serves up a big shift in a familiar genre (see also: Sylvie's Love below), and does so in a spectacular fashion.
I'm Your Woman is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
British filmmaker Steve McQueen hasn't directed a bad movie — and, dropping five new features as part of the Small Axe anthology, that isn't changing now. The director of Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave and Widows gifts viewers a quintet of films that are as exceptional as anything he's ever made, with every entry in this new series taking place in England, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, with London's West Indian community at its centre. The first, Mangrove, tells an infuriating true tale about a police campaign to target a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill. From there, Lovers Rock spends time at a house party as two attendees dance into each other's orbits, and Red, White and Blue follows a young forensic scientist who decides to join the force to change it from the inside. Next, Alex Wheatle explores the life of the award-winning writer of the same name, while Education unpacks unofficial moves to segregate children of colour in schools. There's no weak link here — only stunning, stirring, standout cinema that tells blistering tales about Black London residents doing everything it takes to resist their racist treatment. Every film is sumptuously shot, too, thanks to cinematographer Shabier Kirchner (Bull), and the cast spans everyone from Lost in Space's Shaun Parkes and Black Panther's Letitia Wright to Star Wars' John Boyega.
All five Small Axe films are available to stream via Binge.
Released earlier in 2020, Onward definitely wasn't Pixar's best film — but Soul, its straight-to-streaming latest movie, instantly contends for the title. The beloved animation studio has always excelled when it takes big leaps. Especially now, 25 years into its filmmaking tenure, its features prove particularly enchanting when they're filled with surprises (viewers have become accustomed to seeing toys, fish, rats and robots have feelings, after all). On paper, Soul initially seems similar to Inside Out, but switching in souls for emotions. It swaps in voice work by Tina Fey for Amy Poehler, too, and both movies are helmed by director Peter Docter, so there's more than one reason for the comparison. But to the delight of viewers of all ages, Soul is a smart, tender and contemplative piece of stunning filmmaking all on its own terms. It's Pixar at its most existential, and with a strikingly percussive soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to further help it stand out. At its centre sits aspiring jazz musician-turned-music teacher Joe (Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy). Just as he's about to get his big break, he falls down a manhole, his soul leaves his body, and he's desperate to get back to chase his dreams. But that's not how things work, and he's saddled with mentoring apathetic and cynical soul 22 (the always hilarious Fey) in his quest to reclaim his life.
Soul is available to stream via Disney+ from Friday, December 25.
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL
Mindy Kaling knows a thing or two about romantic comedies. For six seasons between 2012–17, she made an entertaining and often also very amusing TV sitcom that paid tribute to them in a big way, with her on-screen character frequently navigating situations that referenced plenty of classic flicks. To do just that, Kaling has clearly watched a plethora of rom-coms in her time — and she's the perfect person to turn the Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell-starring early 90s favourite Four Weddings and a Funeral into a new and updated show. First, a word of (very obvious) warning: the ten-episode miniseries that results won't dislodge the original movie as your favourite version of the type of tale. That said, it's pleasant, extremely watchable (and bingeable), and makes enough twists to the premise to carve its own niche. It's also nicely cast, featuring Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel, plus Rebecca Rittenhouse (The Mindy Project), Brandon Mychal Smith (You're the Worst) and John Reynolds (Search Party), as some of the folks involved in four ceremonies celebrating nuptials, and one farewell.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is available to stream via Stan.
The year is 1957 when Sylvie (Tessa Thompson, Westworld) and Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha, Hello, My Name Is Doris) meet in Harlem. She's working in her father's record store, he asks about the 'help wanted' sign in the window, and her dad (Lance Reddick, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum) gives him the job. The already-engaged Sylvie wants to be a TV producer, a dream everyone thinks is out of reach for a Black woman in the era, but she's determined. Robert is an impressive jazz musician; however, it isn't paying the bills and he isn't certain where his career is going to go. From there, writer/director Eugene Ashe (Homecoming) traverses their ups and downs, both professionally and personally. He does so in swoon-worthy fashion, in fact, leaping wholeheartedly into melodrama, eagerly ramping up the emotion at every moment, and adding a film to the genre that focuses on people of colour in a way that simply hasn't been done before. Love radiates from the screen, whether Sylvie and Robert are feeling it together or yearning with it while apart — and in the affection that Ashe clearly has for making a gorgeous-looking, deeply moving, quietly revolutionary movie that feels like a throwback to six-plus decades ago.
Sylvie's Love is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video from Friday, December 25.
DEATH TO 2020
Across its five seasons to date, Black Mirror has dedicated 22 episodes to imagining dystopian futures. It makes for compelling, entertaining and often disturbing viewing; however, none of the sci-fi anthology series' predictions are particularly pretty. But, for all of its prognosticating, the Charlie Brooker-created show didn't foresee 2020's chaos. And now we've all endured this hectic year and are about to see it come to an end (finally, thankfully, and good riddance to it), the team behind Black Mirror has something to say about the whole mess. The end result: new comedy special called Death to 2020. Just before this garbage fire of a year fades away forever, the show will look back on the year via a documentary-style program that uses real-life archival footage from the past 12 months. It'll also deploy narration from fictitious characters played by the high-profile likes of Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Kumail Nanjiani, Tracey Ullman, Samson Kayo, Leslie Jones, Diane Morgan, Cristin Milioti and Joe Keery, all chatting to camera and — based on the trailer — inhabiting the types of folks that 2020 has been full of. Yes, it's the year's last must-watch show.
Death to 2020 is available to stream via Netflix from 6pm AEST on Sunday, December 27.
A WORLD OF CALM
It's not every day that you get to sit on your couch, stare at scenic sights, lose yourself in an on-screen taste of a specific story and a distinctive patch of the world, and listen to Keanu Reeves' inimitable voice all at the same time. Actually, thanks to new documentary series A World of Calm, you could now really stream and re-stream the above daily if you want to. The series is based on the immensely popular (and self-explanatory) Calm app, so it's designed to be as soothing as possible. It's also made by HBO, in the US network's first venture into this kind of lifestyle content. Although delivered via individual episodes rather than as one big long marathon (compared to an extended train documentary or a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory, for instance), it falls under the recent slow TV trend, too — because you'll be peacefully guided through a different topic in each chapter. Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Winslet, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy, Priyanka Chopra and two-time Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali also lend their voices to the show, chatting through everything from woodworking to noodles, plus coral, bird migration, space, snow, water and horses.
New episodes of A World of Calm are available to stream via SBS On Demand every day from Friday, December 25–Sunday, January 4.
CULT CLASSICS TO REVISIT AND REDISCOVER
They're called procedurals: TV shows that work their way through the investigation of different crimes, usually focusing on a new case in every episode. You're currently thinking of plenty (every take on Law & Order, for example), because they're that much of a television staple. And, they're often entertaining in an undemanding but easily addictive way. Viewers know a series' particular formula from episode one, but seeing how it plays out again and again with the same inquisitive characters is what keeps you watching. Accordingly, bringing Sherlock Holmes into this format was always going to be a great move — and, as set in modern-day Manhattan, and focusing on a just-out-of-rehab version of the ex-Scotland Yard, now-New York Police Department consultant, Elementary doesn't disappoint. The show's casting is a big part of its appeal, with Jonny Lee Miller getting sleuthing (as his co-star in Danny Boyle's stage version of Frankenstein, Benedict Cumberbatch, obviously did too in the British-made Sherlock) and the always-welcome Lucy Liu playing Dr Joan Watson. When Moriarty shows up — this is a Sherlock story, after all, so it's inevitable — the series also keeps serving up twists.
All seven seasons of Elementary are available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Published on December 24, 2020 by Sarah Ward