Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in October 2021
Get stuck into a medieval epic starring Dev Patel, the stellar new season of 'Succession' and a documentary about whether we're living in a simulation.
October 28, 2021
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. We've spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this months latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from October's haul of newbies.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
THE GREEN KNIGHT
Mesmerising and magnetic from its first moments till its last, The Green Knight is a moving musing on destiny, pride, virtue, choice, myths and sacrifice, all wrapped in a sublime spectacle. The medieval fantasy hums with haunting beauty and potency as it tells of Arthurian figure Gawain (Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield), nephew to the King (Sean Harris, Mission: Impossible — Fallout), and the only man who accepts a bold challenge when the eponymous figure (Ralph Ineson, Gunpowder Milkshake) — a mystical part-tree, part-knight — demands a duel one Christmas. The catch: whichever blows the eager-to-prove-himself Gawain inflicts on this towering interloper, he'll receive back in a year's time. So, when this initial altercation ends in a beheading (and with the Green Knight scooping up his noggin and riding off), Gawain faces a grim future.
Twelve months later, that bargain inspires a quest, which The Green Knight treats as both a nightmare and a dream. There's an ethereal look and feel to every inch of this stunning movie, where the greenery is verdant, and the bloodshed and battlefield of skeletons just as prominent. Playing a man yearning for glory yet faced with life's stark realities, Patel is in career-best form — and the latter can also be said of writer/director/editor David Lowery. Every film he makes has proven a gem, from Ain't The Bodies Saints and Pete's Dragon to A Ghost Story and The Old Man and The Gun; however, The Green Knight is a startling and riveting feast of a feature that's as as contemplative as it is visionary.
The Green Knight is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
Excellent filmmakers helming exceptional documentaries about music icons just might be 2021's best movie trend. It isn't new — see: Martin Scorsese's filmography as just one example — but any year that delivers both Edgar Wright's The Sparks Brothers and Todd Haynes' The Velvet Underground is a great year indeed. Both docos are made by clear fans of the bands they celebrate. Both films find creative and engaging ways to approach a tried-and-tested on-screen formula, too. And, both movies will make fans out of newcomers, all while delighting existing devotees. They each have killer soundtracks as well, obviously. They're each tailored to suit their subjects, rather than leaning on the standard music bio-doc template. As a result, they each prove the kind of rich, in-depth and electrifying features that only these two directors could've made.
With The Velvet Underground and Haynes, none of this comes as a surprise. As well as the astonishing Carol and the just-as-devastating Dark Waters, he has experimental short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, glam-rock portrait Velvet Goldmine and the Bob Dylan-focused I'm Not There on his resume, after all. Here, he makes two perceptive choices: splitting his screen Andy Warhol-style to show both archival materials and new interviews simultaneously, and avoiding the allure of giving the late, great Lou Reed all his attention. The result is an inventive, impassioned and wide-ranging doco that charts the band's story and impact; captures the time, place and attitudes that gave rise to them; and proves as dazzling as The Velvet Underground themselves.
The Velvet Underground is available to stream via Apple TV+.
When Katherine Parkinson starred in The IT Crowd 15 years ago, she played a woman trying to exude a cool, calm and collected air, but constantly finding her life — and her new job in IT — hindering that aim. In Spreadsheet, her new sitcom role, Parkinson's latest character isn't attempting the same feat. Instead, freshly divorced Melbourne-based lawyer and mother-of-two Lauren has has accepted that her existence is now messy; however, having a spreadsheet to keep track of her revamped love life is meant to help. Embracing being single, and all the opportunities for casual hookups that apps now bring, she isn't looking for a relationship. She even has her colleague Alex (Rowan Witt, Adore) helping to maintain her fast-growing database of sexual options. But this clearly wouldn't be a comedy if her new status quo turned out smoothly and stress-free.
As this new Australian sitcom knows and keenly relies upon, there's a breeziness to Parkinson's comic performances that hits both humorous and relatable notes. Indeed, the British actor is the key reason that Spreadsheet's eight-episode first season is so incredibly easy to binge. Whether Lauren is being introduced in the throes of pleasure in the car park outside the Palais Theatre, is getting intimate in a snake dungeon or sports an eye patch after a run-in with a cuckoo clock, Parkinson is a comedic whirlwind. In a series that approaches its 'sex in the suburbs' setup with smarts and insights, too, she's also surrounded by an impressive local cast that includes Witt, Stephen Curry (June Again), Katrina Milosevic (Wentworth) and Zahra Newman (Long Story Short).
The first season of Spreadsheet is available to stream via Paramount+.
THE DONUT KING
The documentary that comes with an obvious serving suggestion — avoiding pastry cravings while watching is impossible — The Donut King chronicles the life of Cambodian American Ted Ngoy. In the mid-70s, the soldier-turned-refugee fled the Khmer Rouge for a new start in the US. Then, after being enticed by the smell wafting out of a Californian doughnut shop, he found owning his own the path to success. After beginning with one venue, Ngoy grew his empire. In the process, he even helped cement pink-hued doughnut boxes as the industry standard — the pop culture standard, too. Inhabiting a constant cinnamon cloud might've been bliss, and it certainly was the impetus behind Ngoy's rags-to-riches story; however, filmmaker Alice Gu covers much more than pastry highs in this incisive and thoughtful portrait of the American Dream.
Not even the best job is ever 100-percent filled with glaze and sprinkles, including when making desserts is your daily trade. For Ngoy, becoming a doughnut kingpin was the result of hard work — not just his own, but his whole family's — as well as savvy choices. His business also helped set a path for fellow Cambodians, as well as fostering a sense of community, by sparking a run of expat-owned doughnut shops in California. Gu captures all of this lovingly, with a celebratory tone, and with a warm appreciation for Ngoy's achievements both in general and as an immigrant entrepreneur. That said, she doesn't shy away from the twists and turns that've complicated his path, and this story, along the way.
The Donut King is available to stream via Docplay.
It's the remake that was always going to eventuate; the remake that was announced before the original Danish film even reached Australian cinemas, in fact. A high-concept thriller set in a police call centre and solely conveying its dramas via telephone conversations, The Guilty was instantly destined to get the Hollywood treatment — not only because it's predicated upon a commanding concept, but because the first time around made for exceptional, Oscar-shortlisted, outstandingly tense and gripping viewing. Thankfully, Netflix's take on the tale lives up to its predecessor. It's as suspenseful and taut, as economical and evocative, and as superbly acted. Twenty years after Donnie Darko made him a star, Jake Gyllenhaal's resume isn't short on highlights; however, The Guilty easily sits among them.
Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home) plays LAPD officer Joe Baylor, who's been demoted to taking 911 calls after an on-the-job incident that'll see him in court the next day. His evening at work will prove just as stressful, after a woman called Emily (Riley Keough, Zola) advises that she's been kidnapped by her ex (Peter Sarsgaard, Interrogation), with their kids left home alone. Joe springs into action, and tries to get his colleagues to do the same. But as the excellent series Calls also demonstrated, words can tell viewers the whole story while keeping on-screen characters twisting. Reteaming with Gyllenhaal after Southpaw, filmmaker Antoine Fuqua directs this intense affair with that truth firmly in mind.
The Guilty is available to stream via Netflix.
A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX
When a certain Sydney-shot, Keanu Reeves-starring sci-fi/action film did big box-office business 22 years ago, it did more than just start a huge movie franchise. The Matrix and its sequels also gave proponents of the simulation hypothesis — the idea that this life we all call our own is merely an artificial simulation, but we don't know it — an enormously successful pop culture touchstone. Examining that notion, as well as its connection to the series that shares part of its title, A Glitch in the Matrix couldn't arrive at a timelier moment. The concept is about to get another blockbuster billboard, after all, with The Matrix Resurrections just months away from release. What truly interests this documentary, however, isn't the answer to that reality-versus-simulation question, but all the reasons that might inspire someone to think that nothing about their experience is genuine.
Documentarian Rodney Ascher likes delving into ambiguous and liminal spaces. With Room 237, he pondered conspiracy theories around The Shining. Next, he dedicated his sophomore effort The Nightmare to sleep paralysis. He's clearly fond of fascinating, mind-bending concepts, too, but there's always a shagginess to his films — a sense that the underlying ideas he clasps onto are far more compelling than actually charting the stories he selects on his chosen topic. A Glitch in the Matrix is no different, but it's also ambitious and engrossing as it mixes everything from animation and archival clips to interviews. A movie can be thought-provoking and also messy, of course, and still make for compelling viewing.
A Glitch in the Matrix is available to stream via Docplay.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
For fans of blistering TV shows about wealth, power, the vast chasm between the rich and everyone else, and the societal problems that fester due to such rampant inequality, 2021 has been a fantastic year. The White Lotus fit the bill, as did Squid Game, but Succession has always been in its own league. In the 'eat the rich' genre, the HBO drama sits at the top of the food chain as it chronicles the extremely lavish and influential lives of the Roy family. No series slings insults as brutally; no show channels feuding and backstabbing into such an insightful and gripping satire of the one percent, either. Finally back on our screens after a two-year gap between its second and third seasons, Succession doesn't just keep plying its astute and addictive battles and power struggles — following season two's big bombshell, it keeps diving deeper.
The premise has remained the same since day one, with Logan Roy's (Brian Cox, Super Troopers 2) kids Kendall (Jeremy Strong, The Trial of the Chicago 7), Shiv (Sarah Snook, Pieces of a Woman), Roman (Kieran Culkin, No Sudden Move) and Connor (Alan Ruck, Gringo) vying to take over the family media empire. This brood's tenuous and tempestuous relationship only gets thornier with each episode, and its examination of their privileged lives — and what that bubble has done to them emotionally, psychologically and ideologically — only grows in season three. It becomes more addictive, too. There's no better show currently on TV, and no better source of witty dialogue. And there's no one turning in performances as layered as Strong, Cox, Snook, Culkin, J Smith-Cameron (Search Party), Matthew Macfadyen (The Assistant) and Nicholas Braun (Zola).
Mere minutes into Love Life's second season, a big query arises. With The Good Place's William Jackson Harper taking over from Anna Kendrick as the show's lead, it's an obvious question: what would Chidi Anagonye think? He'd recognise the indecision bubbling away inside Harper's new character, Manhattanite book editor Marcus Watkins. From a moral and ethical standpoint, he'd be less enamoured with Marcus' other choices, especially the flirtatious friendship that Love Life's new protagonist pursues with Mia (Jessica Williams, Booksmart) while still married to Emily (Maya Kazan, Love Is Love Is Love). Thankfully, it doesn't take long for Harper to settle into his new part, and for the ghost of Chidi to fade. The latter would still protest, of course, but Love Life sends the man behind him wading through a different pool of rom-com dilemmas.
It's a delightful stroke of casting, in a series that has always hinged upon its audience's connection with its main character. Harper doesn't ever let his natural charm eclipse Marcus' flaws — Love Life doesn't trade in perfect protagonists or easy, clearcut romantic fantasies — and that balance adds both weight and depth to the show's second season. That said, the storylines here won't seem particularly different to Love Life's season-one viewers. This is a case of new lead, same city, similar romantic struggles. It isn't a spoiler to note that Marcus and Emily's marriage doesn't last long, or that the relationships that follow take him on quite the rollercoaster ride, but Harper instantly gets you hooked on the journey.
The first three episodes of Love Life are available to stream via Stan, with new episodes dropping weekly.
If you've ever wondered whether good things truly do come to those who wait, as the old adage insists, let Foundation convince you. In the 90s, these Isaac Asimov-penned sci-fi stories were slated to become a film trilogy, but those plans faltered. In the late 00s, Independence Day's Roland Emmerich was onboard to direct a different movie adaptation — and thankfully that didn't eventuate either. It's hard to see how Foundation would've worked on the big screen, unless it fuelled a sizeable number of features. On the small screen, it still spins an immensely dense storyline, but it also has room to breathe. Stepping into a futuristic world on the precipice of ruin, this is a series that rewards patience. (If you've ever seen the Party Down episode that jokes about hard sci-fi, you'll know how seriously it takes its genre, too.)
Created by screenwriters David S Goyer (Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy) and Josh Friedman (the TV version of Snowpiercer), Foundation splashes its sizeable budget across the screen — all while reimagining Asimov's tales almost eight decades after they were written. Mathematics professor Hari Seldon (Jared Harris, Chernobyl) remains a key part, though, thanks to his prediction that the Galactic Empire will soon fall. That prophesy angers the three cloned versions of Emperor Cleon, especially Brother Day (Lee Pace, Captain Marvel), with his dismay sparking action just as Seldon's new protege Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell, Voyagers) arrives. That's just Foundation's setup, too, and it's sci-fi catnip.
The first six episodes of Foundation are available to stream via Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping weekly.
A RECENT MUST-SEE YOU CAN (AND SHOULD) STREAM NOW
THE OTHER TWO
You're in your twenties, trying to make it in New York and struggling to chase your dreams. The only thing that's making you feel better is the knowledge that your sibling is doing the exact same thing. Then your kid brother comes up with a throwaway pop hit, adopts the stage name ChaseDreams and becomes a YouTube sensation — and suddenly you're related to the world's next Justin Bieber. That's the premise of sitcom The Other Two, which follows struggling actor Cary (Drew Tarver, Bless the Harts) and his ex-dancer sister Brooke (Helene York, Katy Keene) as they come to terms with their new situation. Yes, they're thrilled for their baby brother; however, they're also shocked, envious and desperate to get their own time in the spotlight. That's the other thing about having a famous sibling: riding their coattails isn't the same as making it yourself.
The Other Two leans upon two things: its sense of humour and the way it interrogates the celeb game, and its casting. Both are as sharp as Chase's rise to stardom; Case Walker even got that part after becoming a Musical.ly sensation IRL. Tarver and York's back-and-forth is the series' anchor, however. Also excellent: Molly Shannon (The White Lotus), Ken Marino (Black Monday), Wanda Sykes (Breaking News in Yuba County) and Josh Segarra (The Moodys). Its second season hasn't arrived in Australia yet, but The Other Two's first ten episodes are hilarious, acerbic and perceptive, especially when it comes to today's celebrity-obsessed, influencer-heavy society. It's an instant classic (it was one of our best new shows of 2019, in fact), and it's instantly rewatchable.
The first season of The Other Two is available to stream via Paramount+.
Need a few more streaming recommendations? Check out our picks from January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September this year — and our top straight-to-streaming movies and specials from 2021 so far, and our list of the best new TV shows released this year so far as well.
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