The 2021 Holiday Streaming Guide

Stay in and catch up on all the new shows and movies your timeline won’t shut up about.

The 2021 Holiday Streaming Guide

The last two weeks of the year, otherwise known as “the holidays,” are always a good time to stay inside, lay low and catch up on the entertainment that end of year lists remind everyone they missed. Unfortunately, there are once again extra reasons to stay inside this year, but on the bright side, the slate of new things to watch has never been more bountiful. In the last few weeks alone, some of the best shows, most anticipated films, and engrossing documentaries of the year have dropped across the wide spread of streaming services. Surely, if you don’t have a subscription to all of these, you know someone who does. Here’s a handy guide on where to find the new movies and TV shows your timeline is talking about this holiday season.

Movies

The Matrix Resurrections (HBO Max). Sooner or later reboot culture comes for every beloved classic, whether it needs a new entry or not. But the fourth Matrix film is witty and self-aware about this, as Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) somehow find themselves embroiled in a war we saw them sacrifice their lives to end way back in 2003. Does this film need to exist? Not really, but in grappling with that very question on-screen, Resurrections is an unexpectedly good time.

The Power of the Dog (Netflix). Jane Campion’s first movie in over ten years studies the descent of a 1920s Montana ranch community into self-hate, alcoholism, depression, masculinity, and violence. Playing head rancher Phil Burbank, Benedict Cumberbatch switches the wit of Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes for his most vile role ever and a career-high performance the Academy may just seek to reward; Kodi Smit-McPhee is an exciting new talent.

Swan Song (Apple). In a near-future where cloning is possible, Mahershala Ali plays a dying man who must decide whether to replace himself without telling his family. Walking a fine line between melodrama and sci-fi, Swan Song is elevated by Ali’s superb performance.

Don’t Look Up (Netflix, available December 24). With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Chris Evans, Cate Blanchett, Kid Cudi, and Tyler Perry, writer/director Adam McKay’s climate change satire probably has the starriest Netflix cast ever. Two astronomers try, try, and then try some more to warn a disinterested world about its own impending doom: At two hours and change, Don’t Look Up can be overly preachy, but with a bench as deep as this one, even minor characters pack a huge laugh.

Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime). Aaron Sorkin is all about biopics these days. This time his focus is on the duo that once commanded 72 percent of American television viewership, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, played by Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman. Sorkin dissects the most public marriage in American history, with commie scares, affairs, and business intrigue swirling in the background. It’s a thrilling, if somewhat jumbled, tell-all.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Apple, available December 25). Starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, with Joel Coen directing, this black and white, fog-filled dreamscape version of the most famous backstabbing in theater history has never looked or sounded so good.

The Rescue (Amazon Prime). Twelve boys stuck in a cave, an impending monsoon, and Elon Musk trolling Twitter: in 2018, it seemed that everywhere you turned, somebody was talking about the Tham Luang caves, but nobody knew what the hell was actually happening. Documentary master Jimmy Chin teamed up with Nat Geo to right that wrong. Full access interviews and rescue mission footage paint a harrowing ordeal of man versus nature as divers attempt to navigate an underwater labyrinth, while rising political and physical tides threaten to drown everybody.

The Last Duel (for rent on Amazon Prime, Apple and others). Ten or so years ago, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reuniting in a Ridley Scott movie would’ve been a blockbuster event. In 2021, weak box office made it the latest battleground for fears that Marvel is destroying cinema. Put all that aside, and what you’re left with is one of the best films of the year, with Affleck, Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver at the top of their games in a gripping tale of ego and revenge set in medieval France. The film’s title fight is one of Scott’s most brutal accomplishments yet.

Kanye West Presents Free Larry Hoover with Special Guest Drake (Amazon Prime). It’s been five years since Kanye performed live, and for this grand peace summit with Drake, he wisely returned with a greatest hits set that reminded fans why they loved him in the first place. Just hearing “I Wonder” or “All Falls Down” in 2021 is an unexpected delight. (Amusingly, Drake used his set to perform his new album full of subliminal disses of Kanye West–maybe that’s why he’s mostly been dropped from the documentary of the show.)

The French Dispatch (for rent on Amazon Prime, Apple and others). Wes Anderson’s latest, a thinly-veiled homage to the New Yorker, is a series of vignettes that threatens to overwhelm with his trademark visual and narrative tropes. But, armed with a stacked cast—which includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Jeffery Wright, Timothee Chalamet, Edward Norton, and Elisabeth Moss—Anderson leans into his storytelling theme to deliver one of his most charming and warmest films yet.

The Lost Daughter (Netflix, available December 31). Maggie Gyllenhaal steps behind the camera for the first time with this emotionally taut adaptation of Elena Farrante’s 2006 novel. Olivia Colman takes the lead in a thrilling tale about a mother coming head-to-head with her past mistakes, and the increasingly odd happenings surrounding another woman and her daughters who are staying nearby. Gyllenhaal doles out clues at a hypnotizing pace in tandem with Coleman’s increasingly neurotic behavior.

Hand of God (Netflix). Call Me by Your Name, Cinema Paradiso, Malena, Shoeshine, and now Hand of God; nobody does coming-of-age films quite like Italians. God comes courtesy of director/writer Paolo Sorrentino (The Young Pope, Youth) and tells the story of Fabietto Schisa (Filippo Scotti), a Neapolitan teen whose love of life is suddenly tested by tragedy. Against the beautiful backdrops of the Italian coast, Sorrentino offers an intimate study of 1980s Italy, how it’s changed, and how, as always, life must go on. With Sorrentino’s signature elaborate blend of vulgar comedy, romance, and sentiment, Hand of God has a little something for everyone.

The Velvet Underground (Apple). Many documentaries have tried to crack the Velvet Underground, but Todd Haynes comes the closest yet. At nearly two hours and jam packed with archival footage, and never-before-seen clips from Andy Warhol’s 16mm home movies – but thankfully no talking heads – The Velvet Underground offers a rare glimpse into the revolution, exploring why the band’s mystique continues to grow, decades later.

TV

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO Max, December 26 finale). After eleven seasons, Larry David’s greatest ability is how effortless he makes it all look. When he resumed Curb in 2017 after six years off, the rust was palpable, the flashes of brilliance too few and far between. But season 10 in 2020 was a victorious return to form, and this latest batch has been a happy medium: maybe light on classic episodes, but full of the weird specificities (Stage 4 cancer wisdom, the responsibilities of mid-table dinner guests) and comedy legends bringing their A-game (Albert Brooks, Tracy Ullman, Bill Hader) that only Curb can provide.

Insecure (HBO Max, December 26 finale). Issa Rae’s beloved rom-com draws to a close while leaving its audience wanting more. The relaxed, self-confident fifth season has delivered plenty of delightful moments between the core group of four friends as Issa and her best friend Molly finally work through their issues (Lawrence!). If you haven’t been watching, the half-hour episodes are great for a binge catch-up.

Get Back (Disney+). Whittling 57 hours of mostly unseen footage from the legendary Let It Be sessions down to a mere eight-and-a-half, director Peter Jackson’s latest epic trilogy actually justifies the running time. Aside from puncturing long-held myths about why the Beatles broke up, Jackson’s granular study of a few dudes sitting around a recording studio for weeks sheds insight into the complexity of friendship and the mystery of creativity.

Hawkeye (Disney+). Marvel has managed to build an entertaining series around one of the weaker Avengers members (using David Aja’s acclaimed Hawkeye comic run as a close reference helps). A case of mistaken identity turns Clint Barton’s (a weary and wry Jeremy Renner) New York holiday trip with the family into a chance to pay for the sins he committed during Endgame, when he became the underworld murderer Ronin. When a crime syndicate assumes young Kate Bishop—a Hawkeye superfan played with the perfect amount of charm and rich girl entitlement by Hailee Steinfeld—is the Ronin, Clint must step in to untangle her from his mess and tie up some loose ends in the process.

Station Eleven (HBO Max). With Omicron surging, perhaps a new series about what’s left of humanity after a deadly virus wipes out most of the global population doesn’t seem like the most relaxing holiday choice. But judging from the first few episodes, this adaptation of the Emily St. John Mandel novel will be more weird and inventive than scary–think The Leftovers, not Contagion.

Boba Fett (Disney+, available December 29). While The Mandalorian is off babysitting and saving the galaxy one small backwater planet at a time, the man who made Star Wars armor iconic is finally stepping up to reclaim his spot. With Robert Rodriguez at the helm, Boba Fett promises to be a fun dive into the galaxy’s (specifically, Tatooine) underworld—a setting that’s long been underserved since we first met Jabba the Hutt in the original film—and a long-deserved spotlight moment for one of the franchise’s most intriguing side characters.

Yellowjackets (Showtime). This is Lost for teenagers in the best, most pulpy way possible. A high school girls’ soccer team crash-landed in the Canadian wilderness in 1996; flashbacks from the survivors unravel the mystery surrounding the tragedy. Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, and Melanie Lynskey play the damaged adults forced to face the truth of what happened to them, while recounting the ordeal threatens to bring back some of that primal girl power they used to survive. Cannibalism meets Mean Girls energy makes for the most exciting series Showtime’s had since Homeland season 1.

And Just Like That (HBO Max). Of course, the world doesn’t need a new season of Sex and the City, especially one without Samantha (Kim Cattrall opted to not return) and with the cringe factor of trying to make a show often criticized for its decidedly white lens feel more contemporary and “woke.” But so far, instead of sex, this new collection finds late-50s Carrie and her girls navigating the specter of death in startingly real fashion. The bold change showrunner Michael Patrick King makes to Carrie’s life in the premiere episode creates a kind of gravitational pull both diehards and casual fans of the original can’t escape. Messy though it may be, you just have to see where this is headed.

American Crime Story: Impeachment (for rent on Amazon Prime, Apple and others). Unfortunately somewhat lost in FX’s post-Disney shuffle, the latest edition of Ryan Murphy’s best series is now available in full. Where O.J. tackled race’s thorny relation to the justice system and Versace highlighted queer identity crises, Impeachment is less about Bill Clinton than it is the gender inequalities and nefarious ulterior motives that made Monica Lewinsky a national laughing stock. Even if you lived through it, you’ll probably learn some crazy new details, and Beanie Feldstein’s tormented and betrayed Lewinsky lends humanity to an ordeal that’s been too often reduced to a punchline.

The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max). Co-creator Mindy Kaling delivers another entertaining coming-of-age comedy with an appealingly diverse cast – while the awkward high school girls of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever dealt with puberty and mortality, the awkward college girls of this new show have moved on to getting laid and learning how to deal with freedom. It’s smart, funny stuff.

Hellbound (Netflix). You’ve already watched Squid Game, but did you know Netflix recently dropped another quality dystopian series from South Korea? Hellbound draws on religion, rather than capitalism, for its metaphorical material–director Yeong Sang-ho (Last Train to Busan) has called it “cosmic horror.” But the true terror of Hellbound is distinctly earthly, and the cast (including Burning’s Yoo Ah-in) is excellent.

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