Twelve Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in January
Feast your eyes on two stunning new shows from top-notch filmmakers, the best game-to-TV adaptation yet and an ace 80s-set horror flick about video nasties.
January 30, 2023
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 anything, we're here to help. We've spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this month's latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest through to old and recent favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue in January (and yes, we're assuming you've already watched Kaleidoscope in whichever order you preferred).
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL NOW
Ten years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn released his second Ryan Gosling-starring film in succession, won his second Sydney Film Festival Prize, and was a reliable source of dazzling and blisteringly atmospheric crime fare thanks to Drive and Only God Forgives — and also the Pusher trilogy and Bronson before that pair. In the past decade, however, he's only brought one more movie to cinemas. The Neon Demon was a gem, too, and about as Refn as Refn gets, but that was back in 2016. Smaller screens have been beckoning the Danish director, thankfully. He launched his own free streaming service, and also co-created, co-wrote and directed the ten-part, Miles Teller (Top Gun: Maverick)-starring Too Old to Die Young. Refn's latest effort gets episodic as well, and sees him return to his homeland for the first time since Valhalla Rising — and, while it feels filtered through David Lynch's sensibilities alongside his own, Copenhagen Cowboy remains Refn through and through.
The visuals have it, as they always do when this filmmaker is behind the lens. Neon aplenty, how he composes a room, how his characters peer on at the world around them, the use of 360-degree pans, the chilly mood, his overall aesthetic flair: they're all here. So, too, is another of the director's essentials, courtesy of a synth-heavy score by Cliff Martinez. That combination makes an entrancing mix, as it has over and over before, but Copenhagen Cowboy is never simply a case of empty style, sound and vision. Also present is an enigmatic tale, this time about the magnetic and mysterious Miu (Angela Bundalovic, Limboland). Considered a "living lucky charm" and highly sought after for her talents, she's the show's entry point to Copenhagen's criminal underworld. Can she help Rosella (Dragana Milutinovic, also Limboland) get pregnant? What kind of eerie situation has she found herself in? Are her gifts genuine? It wouldn't be a Refn project if questions didn't linger in the pulsating sense of stillness.
Copenhagen Cowboy streams via Netflix.
THE MAKANAI: COOKING FOR THE MAIKO HOUSE
At the beginning of The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 16-year-old best friends Kiyo (Nana Mori, Liar x Liar) and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi, Silent Parade) leave home for the first time with smiles as wide as their hearts are open. Departing the rural Aomari for Kyoto in the thick of winter, they have internships as maiko lined up — apprentice geiko, as geishas are called in the Kyoto dialect. Their path to their dearest wishes isn't all sunshine and cherry blossoms from there, of course, but this is a series that lingers on the details, on slices of life, and on everyday events rather than big dramatic developments. Watch, for instance, how lovingly Kiyo and Sumire's last meal is lensed before they set out for their new future, and how devotedly the camera surveys the humble act of sitting down to share a dumpling soup, legs tucked beneath blankets under the table, while having an ordinary conversation. Soothing, tender, compassionate, bubbling with warmth: that's The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House from the outset.
There's a key reason that this cosy and comforting new treasure overflows with such affection and understanding — for its characters, their lives and just the act of living. Prolific writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda simply isn't capable of anything else. Yes, Netflix is in the auteur game at the moment. Its January question: why give streaming queues the world over one new series by an acclaimed filmmaker in a month when you can gift them two? The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House couldn't be more different from Nicolas Winding Refn's Copenhagen Cowboy (see: above), but it is unmistakably the work of its rightly applauded creative force. One of the biggest names in Japanese cinema today, and the winner of the received Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or back in 2018 for the sublime Shoplifters, Kore-eda makes empathetic, rich and deeply emotional works. His movies, including 2020's France-set The Truth and 2022's South Korea-set Broker, truly see the people within their frames. On the small screen, and hailing from manga, the nine-episode The Makanai is no different. It's also as calming as a show about friendships, chasing dreams and devouring ample dumplings can and should be.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House streams via Netflix.
I HATE SUZIE TOO
Watching I Hate Suzie Too isn't easy. Watching I Hate Suzie, the show's first season, wasn't either back in 2020. A warts-and-all dance through the chaotic life, emotions and mind of a celebrity, both instalments of this compelling British series have spun as far away from the glitz and glamour of being famous as possible. Capturing carefully constructed social-media content to sell the fiction of stardom's perfection is part of the story, as it has to be three decades into the 21st century; however, consider this show from Succession writer Lucy Prebble and actor/singer/co-creator Billie Piper, and its blood pressure-raising tension and stress, the anti-Instagram. The unfiltered focus: teen pop sensation-turned-actor Suzie Pickles, as played with a canny sense of knowing by Piper given that the 'Honey to the Bee' and Penny Dreadful talent has charted the same course. That said, the show's IRL star hasn't been the subject of a traumatic phone hack that exposed sensitive photos from an extramarital affair to the public, turning her existence and career upside down, as Suzie was in season one.
In I Hate Suzie Too, plenty has changed for the series' namesake over a six-month period. She's no longer with her professor husband Cob (Daniel Ings, Sex Education), and is battling for custody of their young son Frank (debutant Matthew Jordan-Caws), who is deaf — and her manager and lifelong friend Naomi (Leila Farzad, Avenue 5) is off the books, replaced by the no-nonsense Sian (Anastasia Hille, A Spy Among Friends). Also, in a new chance to win back fans, Suzie has returned to reality TV after it helped thrust her into the spotlight as a child star to begin with. Dance Crazee Xmas is exactly what it sounds like, and sees her compete against soccer heroes (Blake Harrison, The Inbetweeners), musicians (Douglas Hodge, The Great) and more. But when I Hate Suzie Too kicks off with a ferocious, clearly cathartic solo dance in sad-clown getup, the viewers aren't charmed. Well, Dance Crazee Xmas' audience, that is — because anyone watching I Hate Suzie Too is in for another stunner that's fearless, audacious, honest, dripping with anxiety, staggering in its intensity, absolutely heart-wrenching and always unflinching.
New movie, familiar query: what would you do if you physically came face to face with yourself, and not just by looking in a mirror? Films about clones, including all-timer Moon and the recent Mahershala Ali (Alita: Battle Angel)-starring Swan Song, have long pondered this topic — and so has the Paul Rudd-led series Living with Yourself. In Dual, there's only one legal option. This sci-fi satire shares Swan Song's idea, allowing replicating oneself when fate deals out a bad hand. So, that's what Sarah (Karen Gillan, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special) does when she's told that she has a rare but terminal disease, and that her death is certain. Cloning is meant to spare her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale, Shadow in the Cloud) and her mother (Maija Paunio, Next of Kin) from losing her, making a difficult situation better for Sarah's loved ones. But when she doesn't die after all, the law states that, just like in Highlander, there can be only one. To decide who lives, Sarah and her doppelgänger must fight to the death in a public dual — with Trent (Aaron Paul, Better Call Saul) helping train the OG version.
Even with its twist, on paper Dual sounds like a feature that any filmmaker could've made — one that any actor could've starred in, too. But this is the meaty, meaningful and memorable movie it is thanks to writer/director Riley Stearns and his excellent lead Gillan. With his penchant for deadpan, the former pondered working out who you truly are through an unlikely battle in 2019's very funny The Art of Self-Defense, and does so again here. He's also fond of exploring the struggle to embrace one's personality, and confronting the notion we all have in our minds that a better version of ourselves exists. That said, Dual plays like a sibling to The Art of Self-Defense, rather than a clone itself. It'd certainly be a lesser flick without Gillan, who sheds her Nebula makeup, wades out of the Jumanji franchise's jungles, and turns in two powerful and nuanced performances as Sarah and Sarah 2.0. And while Paul is in supporting mode, he's a scene-stealer.
Dual streams via Netflix.
Call it a conspiracy thriller. Call it an alternative history. Call it a revenge fantasy. Call it another savage exploration of race relations with Jordan Peele's fingerprints all over it. When it comes to Hunters, they all fit. This 70s-set Nazi-slaying series first arrived in 2020, following a ragtag group determined to do two things: avenge the Holocaust, with many among their number Jewish survivors or relatives of survivors; and stop escaped Third Reich figures who've secretly slipped into the US from their plan of starting a Fourth Reich. The cast was stellar — Al Pacino (House of Gucci), Logan Lerman (Bullet Train), Tiffany Boone (Nine Perfect Strangers), Jeannie Berlin (Succession), Carol Kane (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Lena Olin (Mindhunter) and Australia's own Kate Mulvany (Elvis) among them — and Get Out and Us filmmaker Peele executive produced a gem as he also did that same year with Lovecraft Country. And, when it wrapped up its first season, it did so with one mighty massive cliffhanger: the fact that Adolf Hitler (Udo Kier, Swan Song) was still alive in 1977.
Returning for its second and final batch of episodes three years later, but largely moving its action to 1979, season two of Hunters sees its central gang initially doing their own things — but unsurprisingly reteaming to go after the obvious target. Jonah Heidelbaum (Lerman) is living a double life, with his new fiancee Clara (Emily Rudd, Fear Street) in the dark about his Nazi-hunting ways, but crossing paths with the ruthless and determined Chava Apfelbaum (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Possessor) ramps up his and the crew's efforts. Knowing this is the final go-around, the stylishly shot series isn't afraid of embracing its OTT leanings, tonal jumps and frenetic camerawork, and always proves entertaining as it hurtles towards its last hurrah. The best episode of the season, however, is one that jumps back to World War II, doesn't focus on any of its main stars and is as clever, moving and well-executed as Hunters has ever been. If the show ever gets revived in the future, which it easily could, more of that would make a great series even better.
Hunters streams via Prime Video.
THAT '90S SHOW
The teenagers of Point Place are at it again: hangin' out down the street, that is, usually in Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp, WandaVision) and Red Forman's (Kurtwood Smith, The Dropout) basement. This time, decades have passed on- and off-screen since the world first met a group of high schoolers happily doing the same old things they did last week in the fictional Wisconsin town, and enjoyed their relatable antics. Netflix's new That '90s Show picks up just over 15 years after That '70s Show's timeline, embracing all that the mid-90s had to offer from raves and Alanis Morissette's initial fame to video stores and Donkey Kong. (Yellowjackets isn't the only series going all-in three decades back right now.) For viewers, the 1995-set series arrives 17 years after its predecessor said farewell, and also delivers endearing, laidback, easily bingeable throwback that's quite the good time.
The years might've changed, but the basics stay the same in a wave of familiar places, faces, scenarios and themes — and the overall formula. From 1998–2006, Eric Forman (Topher Grace, Home Economics), girl-next-door Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon, Orange Is the New Black), and pals including Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher, Vengeance), Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis, Luckiest Girl Alive) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama, NCIS) earned That '70s Show's attention as they chatted through their hopes and dreams, got stoned frequently, and tried to work out who they were, who they loved and what they wanted. Now, doing the same is Eric and Donna's 14-year-old daughter Leia (Callie Haverda, The Lost Husband), plus the new friends — feisty riot grrrl Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide, Four Kids and It), her airhead brother Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan, Gabby Duran & The Unsittables), ladies' man Jay (Mace Coronel, Colin in Black & White), the witty Ozzie (Reyn Doi, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) and the super-smart Nikki (Sam Morelos, Forgetting Nobody) — she makes while visiting her grandparents.
Fans of weighty Australian fare that reckons with the country's past are fans of the Mystery Road franchise, spanning both the big and small screens. They're fans, then, of the way that the outback-set saga surveys the nation's distinctive ochre-hued landscape from above in picturesque drone shots, all while contemplating the racist ills waged to live and work upon it. Six-part series Black Snow borrows much that's made Mystery Road such a hit, including a shock murder in a small town, a cop riding in to solve the mystery it heralds, a grim look at Aussie history and a bird's-eye view of its setting. But when this instantly compelling show peers down, it spies fields of green sugar cane fields far and wide. And, when it explores the country's traumas, it focuses on the treatment of the Australian South Sea Islander community — especially blackbirding, which involves forced relocation, severe underpayment and brutal working conditions, a grim form of slavery that isn't forgotten here.
Seventeen-year-old Isabel Baker (talented debutant Talijah Blackman-Corowa) is the first person seen in Black Snow's opening moments, riding her bike hurriedly through the cane in the thick of night, making a frantic call from a remote phone booth and getting spooked by a music-blaring car's sudden appearance. The year is 1994, and the evening is the high schooler's Year 12 formal, as well as her last alive. Black Snow's second face belongs to James Cormack (Travis Fimmel, Raised by Wolves), a Brisbane-based Cold Case Unit police officer trying his luck in 2019 at a claw machine in a pub. He's troubled in a different way, haunted by emotional pain he attempts to deaden by paying for a Fight Club-style beating in the bar's back alley. After a time capsule buried by Isabel and her classmates reveals more than pop-culture blasts from the past, he's swiftly trying to solve her death — with help from her shrewd sister Hazel (potent first-timer Jemmason Power).
NEW SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
THE LAST OF US
If the end of the world comes, or a parasitic fungus evolves via climate change, spreads globally, infests brains en masse and almost wipes out humanity, spectacular video game-to-TV adaptation The Last of Us will have you wanting Pedro Pascal in your corner. Already a standout in Game of Thrones, then Narcos, then The Mandalorian, he's perfectly cast in HBO's latest blockbuster series — a character-driven show that ruminates on what it means to not just survive but to want to live and thrive after the apocalypse. In this smart and gripping show (one that's thankfully already been renewed for season two, too), he plays Joel. Dad to teenager Sarah (Nico Parker, The Third Day), he's consumed by grief and loss after what starts as a normal day, and his birthday, changes everything for everyone. Twenty years later, he's a smuggler tasked with tapping into his paternal instincts to accompany a different young girl, the headstrong Ellie (Bella Ramsey, Catherine Called Birdy), on a perilous but potentially existence-saving trip across the US.
Starting to watch The Last of Us, or even merely describing it, is an instant exercise in déjà vu. Whether or not you've played the hit game since it first arrived in 2013, or its 2014 expansion pack, 2020 sequel or 2022 remake, its nine-part TV iteration ventures where plenty of on-screen fare including The Road and The Walking Dead has previously trodden. The best example that springs to mind during The Last of Us is Station Eleven, however, which is the heartiest of compliments given how thoughtful, empathetic and textured that 2021–22 series proved. As everything about pandemics, contagions and diseases that upend the world order now does, The Last of Us feels steeped in stone-cold reality as well, as spearheaded by a co-creator, executive producer, writer and director who has already turned an IRL doomsday into stunning television with Chernobyl. That creative force is Craig Mazin, teaming up with Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog, who also wrote and directed The Last of Us games.
Cards on the table: thanks to Russian Doll and the Knives Out franchise, Natasha Lyonne and Rian Johnson are both on a helluva streak. In their most recent projects before now, each has enjoyed a hot run not once but twice. Lyonne made time trickery one of the best new shows of 2019, plus a returning standout in 2022 as well, while Johnson's first Benoit Blanc whodunnit and followup Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery were gems of the exact same years. The latter also saw the pair team up briefly — Lyonne and Johnson, that is, although getting a Russian Doll-meets-Knives Out crossover from the universe, or just the Netflix algorithm, would be a dream. Until that wish comes true, there's Poker Face. It's no one's stopgap or consolation prize, however. This new mystery-of-the-week series is an all-out must-see in its own right, and one of 2023's gleaming streaming aces already. Given its components and concept, turning out otherwise would've been the biggest head-scratcher.
Beneath aviator shades, a trucker cap and her recognisable locks, Lyonne plays detective again, as she did in Russian Doll — because investigating why you're looping through the same day over and over, or jumping through time, is still investigating. Johnson gives the world another sleuth, too, after offering up his own spin on Agatha Christie-style gumshoes with the ongoing Knives Out saga. This time, he's dancing with 1968–2003 television series Columbo, right down to Poker Face's title font. Lyonne isn't one for playing conventional detectives, though. Here, she's Charlie Cale, who starts poking around in sudden deaths thanks to an unusual gift and a personal tragedy. As outlined in the show's ten-part first season, Charlie is a human lie detector. She can always tell if someone is being untruthful, a knack she first used in gambling before getting on the wrong side of the wrong people. Then, when a friend and colleague at the far-from-flashy Las Vegas casino where Charlie works winds up dead, that talent couldn't be handier.
Viewers mightn't have realised they'd been lacking something crucial until now, but Shrinking serves it up anyway: a delightfully gruff Harrison Ford co-starring in a kind-hearted sitcom. Creating this therapist-focused series for Apple TV+, Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein and Jason Segel didn't miss this new gem's immediate potential. Lawrence and Goldstein add the show to their roster alongside Ted Lasso, which the former also co-created, and the latter stars in as the also wonderfully gruff Roy Kent to Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning effect. It too bathes in warmth amid chaos, all while understanding, exploring and accepting its characters as the flawed folks we all are. As for Segel, he's no stranger to playing the type of super-enthusiastic and super-earnest figure he inhabits again here, as seen in Freaks and Geeks and How I Met Your Mother.
If Ted Lasso downplayed the soccer, instead emphasising the psychologist chats that were a pivotal part of season two, Shrinking would be the end result. Also, if Scrubs, another of Lawrence's sitcoms, followed doctors specialising in mental health rather than working in a hospital, Shrinking would also be the outcome. Round up those familiar elements and details brought over from elsewhere, and Shrinking turns them into a series that's supremely entertaining, well-cast and well-crafted — and an engaging and easy watch. The focus: Segel (Windfall) as Jimmy Laird, a shrink grieving for his wife Tia (Lilan Bowden, Murderville), making bad decisions and leaving parenting his teen daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell, Generation) to his empty-nester neighbour Liz (Christa Miller, a Scrubs alum and also Lawrence's wife). When he decides to start checking back in, and to also give his patients like young war veteran Sean (Luke Tennie, CSI: Vegas) some tough love, it causes ripples, including for his boss Paul (Ford, The Call of the Wild) and colleague Gaby (Jessica Williams, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore).
RECENT AND CLASSIC MOVIES YOU NEED TO CATCH UP WITH
You don't need to fondly remember the height of the VHS age to know that Censor, the exceptional, intelligent and inventive debut by Welsh writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond, sports a killer concept. Set in Britain in the 80s, this is a video nasty-loving flick about video nasties, aka low-budget, frequently exploitative, blood- and gore-filled horror movies that proliferated when home entertainment finally became affordable for the masses. Watching and assessing such fare for the British Board of Film Classification — and judging what's acceptable for release, what can get by after a little or a swag of cuts, and what should be banned outright in the process — Enid Baines (Niamh Algar, The Wonder) spends her days wading through the violent, visceral and queasy. If she and her colleagues make the wrong call, there's a public outcry, as happens when a man gets murderous and the media ties it to a recent title. Amid the resulting uproar, Enid finds herself drawn to a different director's OTT work, seeing uncanny parallels within his frames with her own traumatic experiences.
An attention-grabber at Sundance back in 2021, Censor doesn't ascribe to the view that wild screen content sparks wild behaviour — but it does have a brilliant amount of fun cleverly toying with it. Bailey-Bond knows the discourse and satirises it savagely. She knows the type of movies that Enid has to evaluate, too, with her confident first film both lovingly nodding to and playing with them. Rising star Algar, who was also a standout in The Virtues and Calm with Horses, is intense and inimitable as workaholic Enid; the always-welcome Michael Smiley (Bad Sisters) enjoys his sleazy role; and cinematographer Annika Summerson (Mogul Mowgli), editor Mark Towns (Choose or Die) and composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Rocks) help get the look, feel and sound just right. Creepy, immersive, and boasting a multi-layered ending that works as a parody, a statement and a balls-to-the-wall horror spectacle, Censor demands close and engrossed notice — and marks Bailey-Bond as a talent to keenly watch.
Censor streams via Stan.
Back in 1987, an out-there martial arts movie that really has to be seen to be believed first hit screens. There was one huge problem with this collaboration between director Park Woo-sang (American Chinatown) and star YK Kim, however: Miami Connection wasn't a success with critics or audiences at the time, despite featuring a band called Dragon Sound that's filled with Taekwondo aficionados, a motorcycle-riding ninja gang and a cocaine war. That lacklustre response is thoroughly understandable. Miami Connection isn't great, and wouldn't have been even amid the 80s action boom — but it is 100-percent worth watching at least once. It debuted well before The Room but made a comeback afterwards, and proves immensely entertaining in the same so-bad-it's-just-so-bad manner. Post-Tommy Wiseau's hit, Miami Connection was unearthed and revived by the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, then worked its way around the festival circuit, including playing the Brisbane International Film Festival.
An obvious caveat applies to this Florida-set flick: watching it with as big a group of people as you can, even while streaming it at home, is the ideal way to have the best time with everything that it throws at the screen. And make no mistake, Miami Connection gets a-hurling, including when it comes to makeup, ridiculous dialogue, a plot that's absurd and jumps all over the place, choreography, montages, musical numbers, acting and action. Story-wise, Dragon Sound's members become the target of the film's ninjas over a gig. Don't go expecting much that's coherent springing from that basic premise, though. Do get ready for the kind of movie that no one could ever set out to make on purpose, and that no one can truly be prepared for before viewing. Throwing spoons isn't required here, but you might want to anyway.
Miami Connection streams via SBS On Demand.
You can also check out our list of standout must-stream 2022 shows as well — and our best 15 new shows of last year, top 15 returning shows over the same period, 15 shows you might've missed and best 15 straight-to-streaming movies of 2022.
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