Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream This Month
Spend your couch time watching an Oscar-nominated true tale, the 'Boy Swallows Universe' TV series and the stunning return of 'True Detective'.
January 31, 2024
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 Aotearoa'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 from January's haul.
Brand New Stuff You Can Watch From Start to Finish Now
Boy Swallows Universe
A magical-realist coming-of-age tale, a clear-eyed family drama, a twisty crime and detective thriller, a time capsule of Brisbane in the 80s: since first hitting the page in 2018, Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe has worn its happy flitting between different genres and tones, and constant seesawing from hope to heartbreak and back again, as confidently as readers have long envisaged Eli Bell's wide grin. That hopping and jumping, that refusal to be just one type of story and stick to a single mood, has always made sense on the page — and in the excellent seven-part adaptation that now brings Australia's fastest-selling debut novel ever to the screen, it also couldn't feel more perfect. As played by the charmingly talented Felix Cameron (Penguin Bloom), Eli's smile is indeed big. As scripted by screenwriter John Collee (Hotel Mumbai), and with Dalton among the executive producers, the miniseries embraces its multitudes wholeheartedly. Like style, like substance: a semi-autobiographical novel penned by a writer and journalist who lived variations of plenty that he depicts, learned and accepted early that everyone has flaws, and patently has the imagination of someone who coped with life's hardships as a child by escaping into dreams of an existence more fanciful, Dalton's tome and every iteration that it inspires has to be many things in one bustling package. Its characters are, after all.
Seeing people in general, parts of a city usually overlooked, and folks with complicated histories or who've made questionable choices — those forced in particular directions out of financial necessity, too — in more than just one fashion flutters at the centre of Boy Swallows Universe. In the Australian Book Industry Awards' 2019 Book of the Year, Literary Book of the Year and Audio Book of the Year, and now on streaming, Eli's nearest and dearest demand it. So does the enterprising Darra-dwelling 12-year-old boy who knows how to spy the best in those he loves, but remains well-aware of their struggles. His older brother Gus (Lee Tiger Halley, The Heights) hasn't spoken since they were younger, instead drawing messages in the sky with his finger, but is as fiercely protective as elder siblings get. Doting and dedicated mum Frankie (Phoebe Tonkin, Babylon) is a recovering heroin addict with a drug dealer for a partner. And Lyle Orlik (Travis Fimmel, Black Snow), that mullet-wearing stepfather, cares deeply about Eli and Gus — including when Eli convinces him to let him join his deliveries.
Society of the Snow
It was meant to be a fun trip to Chile with friends and family for a game. When the Old Christians Club rugby union team boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in Montevideo on October 13, 1972, destination Santiago, no one among them knew what would happen next. The plane didn't make it to its destination, as 1976 Mexican film Survive!, 1993 American movie Alive and now Spanish-US co-production Society of the Snow each cover. All three features boast apt titles, but only the latest sums up the grim reality and existential dilemma of crashing in the Andes, being stranded for 72 days in snowy climes with little resources against the weather — or for sustenance — and attempting to endure. Taken from the memoir by Pablo Vierci, aka La sociedad de la nieve in Spanish, only this phrase adorning JA Bayona's (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) picture encapsulates the tremendous effort that it took to find a way to persist, as well as the fact that trying to remain alive long enough to be rescued meant adapting everything about how the survivors approached each second, minute, hour, day, week and month — and also links in with how a catastrophe like this banded them together, doing whatever it took to find a way off the mountains, while reshaping how they contemplated what it meant to be human.
Society of the Snow isn't just a disaster film detailing the specifics of the flight's failed trip, the immediate deaths and those that came afterwards, the lengthy wait to be found — including after authorities called the search off — and the crushing decisions made to get through. Bayona, who also helmed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami-focused The Impossible, has made a weighty feature that reckons with the emotional, psychological and spiritual toll, and doesn't think of shying away from the most difficult aspects of this real-life situation (including cannibalism). This is both gruelling and meaningful viewing, as crafted with technical mastery (especially by Don't Breathe 2 cinematographer Pedro Luque, plus Cinco lobitos' Andrés Gil and Cites' Jaume Martí as editors), built upon brutal candour, and paying tribute to resilience and then some. Its feats extend to its hauntingly acted performances from a cast that includes Enzo Vogrincic (El Presidente), Agustín Pardella (Secrets of Summer) and Matías Recalt (Planners), all contributing to an account of camaraderie and sacrifice that deserves its Best International Feature Film Oscar nomination.
Society of the Snow streams via Netflix.
Same cast, new location, similar-enough scenario: that's the approach in The Tourist's second season, which brings back what was meant to be a once-off series from 2022. In its debut run, Jamie Dornan's (A Haunting in Venice) Elliot Stanley awoke in the Aussie outback with zero memory and his life in danger. When the first six episodes ended, he'd uncovered who he was, complete with a distressing criminal past, but was en route to starting anew with Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald, French Exit), the constable who helped him get to the bottom of his mystery. After the show worked so swimmingly to begin with, swiftly earning its renewal, screenwriters Harry and Jack Williams (Baptiste, The Missing, Liar) switch part of their initial setup for its next spin. The story moves to Elliot's homeland, while Helen is the tourist (as is her grating ex Ethan, as played by Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe's Greg Larsen). Remaining in the compellingly entertaining thriller-meets-dramedy's return is the lack of recollection about Elliot's history, even as he actively goes looking for it.
The Tourist first rejoins its main couple on a train in southeast Asia. While not married, they're firmly in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. But the now ex-cop has a revelation: Elliot has received a letter from one of his childhood pals who wants to meet. Quickly, off to the Emerald Isle they go. Trying to shave off his bushy holiday beard in a public toilet leads to Elliot being kidnapped, plus Helen playing investigator again. As he attempts to flee his captors (Outlander's Diarmaid Murtagh, Inspektor Jury: Der Tod des Harlekins' Nessa Matthews and The Miracle Club's Mark McKenn), she seeks help from local Detective Sergeant Ruairi Slater (Conor MacNeill, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre), but any dreams that The Tourist's globe-hopping couple had about happy reunions or relaxing Irish getaways are sent packing fast. Disturbing discoveries; feuding families led by the equally formidable Frank McDonnell (Francis Magee, Then You Run) and Niamh Cassidy (Olwen Fouéré, The Northman); again bringing Fargo and TV adaptation to mind: they're all influential factors in The Tourist's easy-to-binge (again) second season.
With its ninth live-action streaming series on Disney+, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has broken out a new label:" Marvel Spotlight". It's now being applied to anything that's apparently less about ongoing MCU continuity and sports a greater emphasis on character. The idea is that watching shouldn't feel like homework, with no prior viewing required. Echo has also dropped its entire five-episode span at once, another MCU first. The focus on badging this Hawkeye spinoff about Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox, who made her acting debut in the earlier series) as something different because it isn't just connecting Marvel dots and setting up more to come is a curious choice, though. It's also the wrong point to stress. Echo isn't worth watching thanks to a lack of constant MCU winking, nudging and future nods. In fact, given that Avenger Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, Mayor of Kingstown), Matt Murdoch/Daredevil (Charlie Cox, Kin) and Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio, Dumb Money) appear, that "no knowledge necessary" claim isn't accurate. What makes Echo a must-see, rather, is its protagonist, the authenticity with which it explores her story as an Indigenous woman who is deaf and has had a limb amputated, its cast and the potency that gathers across its run.
By deviating from its standard release pattern — where it usually launches with a few episodes at once, then doles the rest out weekly — and unveiling the full series in one go, Disney isn't dumping Echo. If anything in the MCU's streaming catalogue demands a one-sitting binge, it's this. As created by Marion Dayre (Better Call Saul), and directed Sydney Freeland (Reservation Dogs) plus Catriona McKenzie (the Australian filmmaker behind 2012's Satellite Boy), Echo's power resounds with more strength the longer that it continues. The show takes time to step into Maya's backstory, explore her Choctaw community in Oklahoma, see how Kingpin's criminal enterprise reverberates through her family and thread its elements together. The three prologues that kick off the first three episodes, each telling of one of Maya's foremothers, start painting the full picture: this is an MCU TV entry made with careful attention to and affection for the cultural heritage that it depicts, and ensures that that's a genuine and crucial part of the narrative, even if Marvel also still being Marvel comes with the territory.
He has an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe for Judas and the Black Messiah. He was nominated for all of the above accolades for Get Out, and should've won them all then, too. His resume spans Skins, one of Black Mirror's most-memorable episodes, plus Sicario, Widows, Black Panther, Queen & Slim and Nope as well. But The Kitchen marks a first for Daniel Kaluuya: his first movie as a director. Hopefully more will follow. Co-helming with Kibwe Tavares — who also notches up his feature debut behind the lens after shorts including Jonah and Robot & Scarecrow, which both starred Kaluuya — and co-penning the screenplay with Calm with Horses' Joe Murtagh, the actor makes a stunning arrival as a filmmaker. The Kitchen's setup: in the year 2044 in London, with class clashes so pronounced that not being rich is basically treated as a crime, a man (Top Boy's Kane Robinson, aka rapper Kano) living in the titular housing development crosses paths with a 12-year-old boy (newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman) who has just lost his mother, with the pair discovering that they have no one but each other as they endeavour to find a way to survive.
Robinson's Izy has bought into the social-climbing dream when The Kitchen begins. He'll do so literally if he can come up with the cash for an apartment in a swankier tower away from everything he's ever known within 21 days, a dream that he's been working towards at his job selling funerals. It's at the latter that he meets Bannerman's Benji, who has nowhere to live after his mother's death and no one else to turn to for help. The film's scenario is pure dystopia, reflecting the inequities, oppressions and realities of today as all great sci-fi should. Its intimate emotional core hones in on people attempting to persist and connect, as the genre's best always does as well. Accordingly, this is an impassioned and infuriated portrait of society's gaps as everyone watching can recognise, a nightmarish vision of what might come and a thoughtful character study. As directors, Kaluuya and Tavares excel at world-building, at bringing such rich detail and texture to the screen that viewers feel like they could step straight into its social realist-leaning frames, and at guiding affecting performances out of both Robinson and Bannerman (who adds to the feature's impressive first efforts).
The Kitchen streams via Netflix.
Grief is a frequent filmic theme, but also a difficult one. Movie-of-the-week weepies have built their own set of cliches. The worst of the worst use someone's illness to try to claim that dying isn't worse than being by a person's ailing side. Dramedy Good Grief knows that the subject that's right there in its name is tricky, however — and that there's no one-size-fits-all experience of mourning. It also manages a complex task, focusing on a man who becomes a widower when his husband is killed suddenly, following his plight as he realises that not everything about their relationship was as idyllic as he thought, but never using someone losing their life solely as fodder to make its protagonist more interesting or tragic (or both). The directorial debut of Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy, who also pens his first feature screenplay, this sincere grappling with mortality and love cares about its characters deeply. It sees their intricacies and their flaws. This is also a film about the messy space that awaits when everything you thought your future holds crumbles, and then all that you're holding onto feels like it's floating away.
Levy also stars as Marc, adding to a busy past year that's also seen him in The Idol, Haunted Mansion and Sex Education. When his character throws a Christmas party with his husband Oliver (Luke Evans, Nine Perfect Strangers), the only thing that doesn't seem rosy is the fact that the latter has a business trip to Paris that's taking him away mid-shindig. But the evening turns heartbreaking, leaving Marc lamenting the perfection he's lost — until he learns that there's more to Oliver's jaunts to France. Accompanied by his best friends Sophie (With Negga, Passing) and Thomas (Himesh Patel, Black Mirror), a visit to the City of Love himself awaits, where the stark discoveries keep coming in tandem with earnest soul-searching. Levy helms and pens this like he's lived it, especially in the honest dialogue. He unfurls the story with humour, too, and soulfulness. And he also never lets the inescapable truth that grief never disappears — and that its evolution never ends, either — fade from view.
Good Grief streams via Netflix.
New and Returning Shows to Check Out Week by Week
Even when True Detective had only reached its second season, the HBO series had chiselled its template into stone: obsessive chalk-and-cheese cops with messy personal lives investigating horrifying killings, on cases with ties to power's corruption, in places where location mattered and with the otherworldly drifting in. A decade after the anthology mystery show's debut in 2014, True Detective returns as Night Country, a six-part miniseries that builds its own snowman out of all of the franchise's familiar parts. The main similarity from there: like the Matthew McConaughey (The Gentlemen)- and Woody Harrelson (White House Plumbers)-led initial season, True Detective: Night Country is phenomenal. This is a return to form and a revitalisation. Making it happen after two passable intervening cases is a new guiding hand off-screen. Tigers Are Not Afraid filmmaker Issa López directs and writes or co-writes every episode, boasting Moonlight's Barry Jenkins as an executive producer. True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto remains in the latter role, too, as do McConaughey, Harrelson and season-one director Cary Joji Fukunaga (No Time to Die); however, from its female focus and weighty tussling with the dead to its switch to a cool, blue colour scheme befitting its Alaskan setting, there's no doubting that López is reinventing her season rather than ticking boxes.
In handing over the reins, Pizzolatto's police procedural never-standard police procedural is a powerhouse again, and lives up to the potential of its concept. The commitment and cost of delving into humanity's depths and advocating for those lost in its abyss has swapped key cops, victims and locations with each spin, including enlisting the masterful double act of Jodie Foster (Nyad) and boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis (Catch the Fair One) to do the sleuthing, but seeing each go-around with fresh eyes feels like the missing puzzle piece. López spies the toll on the show's first women duo, as well as the splinters in a remote community when its fragile sense of certainty is forever shattered. She spots the fractures that pre-date the investigation in the new season, a cold case tied to it, plus the gashes that've carved hurt and pain into the earth ever since people stepped foot on it. She observes the pursuit of profit above all else, and the lack of concern for whatever — whoever, the region's Indigenous inhabitants included — get in the way. She sees that the eternal winter night of 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle come mid-December isn't the only thing impairing everyone's sight. And, she knows that not everything has answers, with life sometimes plunging into heartbreak, or inhospitable climes, or one's own private hell, without rhyme or reason.
It was accurate with side-splitting hilarity in The Thick of It, as dripping with heartbreak in Benediction and in the world of Doctor Who in-between: Peter Capaldi is one of Scotland's most fascinating actors today. Criminal Record uses his can't-look-away presence to excellent effect, casting him as DCI Daniel Hegarty, one of the eight-part series' two key detectives. By day, the no-nonsense Hegarty is a force to be reckoned with on the force. By night, he moonlights as a driver, seeing much that lingers in London as he's behind the wheel. In his not-so-distant past is a case that brings DS June Lenker (Cush Jumbo, The Good Fight) into his orbit — a case that she's certain is linked to a distressed emergency call by a woman trying to flee domestic abuse, and who says that her partner has already committed murder, gotten away with it and sent another man to prison for the crime in the process. Hegarty contends otherwise, and gruffly, but Lenker is determined to discover the truth, find her potential victim, ascertain whether someone innocent is in jail and learn why every move she makes to dig deeper comes with professional retaliation.
This is no odd-couple cop show. It's largely a two-hander, however — and saying that it couldn't be better cast is an understatement. Capaldi is already someone who makes every moment that he's on-screen better. So is Jumbo, which makes watching them face off as riveting as television gets. Passive aggression oozes from the frame when Hegarty and Lenker first confront each other. Tension drips throughout the series relentlessly, but do so with particular vigour whenever its key cops are in close proximity. Criminal Record doesn't waste time keeping audiences guessing about who's dutifully taking their role as part of the thin blue line and who's part of policing at its most corrupt; instead, it lets those two sides that are both meant to be on the upstanding end of the law-and-order divide clash, surveying the damage that ripples not just through the fuzz but also the community. While twists and mysteries are also layered in, they regularly come second to Criminal Record's extraordinary performances, plus its thematic willingness to tear into what policing should be, can be and often is.
Criminal Record streams via Apple TV+.
Adapting Janice YK Lee's 2016 novel The Expatriates, Lulu Wang's first major stint behind the lens since The Farewell has been dubbed Expats as a miniseries. The six-parter marks a shift in location to Hong Kong and a splinter in focus to three protagonists for its guiding force — with Wang creating the show, executive producing, helming all six episodes and writing two — but she's still plunging deep into bonds of blood, deceptions amid close relationships, grappling with grief and tragedy, and being caught between how one is meant to carry on and inescapable inner emotions. It too sees not only people but also its chosen place. It's a haunting series and, albeit not literally in the horror sense, a series about women haunted. And it's spectacularly cast, with Nicole Kidman (Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom), Sarayu Blue (A Million Miles Away) and Ji-young Yoo (The Sky Is Everywhere) each stellar as its three main characters, all who've relocated for love, work or new beginnings, then make each other's acquaintance.
The year is 2014, and Margaret Woo, her husband Clarke (Brian Tee, Chicago Med) and their family aren't new Hong Kong arrivals — but their past 12 months have been under a shadow ever since their youngest son Gus (debutant Connor James) went missing. No one is coping, including elder children Daisy (Tiana Gowen, True Love Blooms) and Philip (Bodhi del Rosario, 9-1-1). But while Margaret refuses to give up hope of finding her three-year-old boy, there are still lives to lead and, to help start Expats, a 50th birthday party for Clarke to host. In the lift at The Peak, the towering symbol of wealth inhabited by plenty who give the show its title, she's also insistent that her friend, downstairs neighbour and fellow American Hilary Starr (Blue) attend the shindig. The frostiness that fills the elevator also stems from Gus' disappearance, and accusations made against Hilary's recovering-alcoholic husband David (Jack Huston, Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches). When the soiree takes place, Mercy (Yoo) is there working one of her gig-economy jobs. Indeed, the lives of the privileged aren't solely this show's domain — because while this is a tale of three Americans adrift with their sorrows, where and the reality that surrounds them is equally as important as how and why.
Death and Other Details
There's no doubting that Death and Other Details loves whodunnits, or that it's made with a murderers' row of them in mind. Playing "spot the nod" is one of this ten-part series' games. Sleuthing along with its plot is the other, obviously. So, as an odd couple with an age discrepancy team up to attempt to solve "a classic locked-room mystery" — the show even calls it such — among the preposterously wealthy on holiday, and on a boat at that, where everyone has a motive and a battle over who'll seize control of a family business is also taking place, gleaning what creators and writers Heidi Cole McAdams and Mike Weiss (who also worked together on Stumptown) have been reading and watching isn't a puzzle. Nudges and references are regularly part of the murder-mystery genre anyway; here, recalling Agatha Christie's oeuvre and especially Death on the Nile, as well as Only Murders in the Building, Knives Out, Poker Face, The White Lotus and Succession, is part of sailing into a tale that's also about what we remember and why. Indeed, when other films and shows earn a wink here, Death and Other Details also digs into the purpose behind the minutiae that sticks in our memories.
It's a savvy yet risky gambit, getting viewers ruminating on how they spy patterns and filter their perspectives, too, while chancing coming off as derivative. Mostly the series bobs in the first direction; however, even when it sways in the second, it still intrigues its audience to keep watching. Its seemingly mismatched pair: Imogene Scott (Violett Beane, God Friended Me) and the Hercule Poirot-esque Rufus Cotesworth (Mandy Patinkin, Homeland), with the second regularly dubbed "the world's greatest detective". Most folks might believe that label, but Imogene does not. The duo shares a history spanning two decades, from when she was a child (Sophia Reid-Gantzert, Popular Theory) mourning the shock killing of her mother that he couldn't solve. Back then, Rufus was on the case at the behest of the wealthy Colliers, who work in textiles, employed Imogene's mum as a personal assistant to patriarch Lawrence (David Marshall Grant, Spoiler Alert) and took the girl in when she had no one else. Now, both Rufus and Imogene are guests on a cruise chartered by them — she's there as basically a member of the family; he's accompanying the Chuns, with whom the Colliers are in the middle of a billion-dollar business deal — when bodies start piling up.
You can also check out our running list of standout must-stream shows from 2023 as well — and our best 15 new shows of 2023, 15 newcomers you might've missed, top 15 returning shows of the year, 15 best films, 15 top movies you likely didn't see, 15 best straight-to-streaming flicks and 30 movies worth catching up on over the summer.
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