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Happy holidays! Ahead of the impending festive period, we’re here with a bumper edition of the streaming guide, picking out some highlights — new and old — released on streaming services over the final weeks of the year.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Mud - Netflix (15 December)
A coming-of-age drama released at the height of the ‘McConaissance’, Jeff Nichols’ Mud sees an uncharacteristically grimy Matthew McConaughey at the height of his powers, bringing all of his spellbinding charm to the eponymous loner and fugitive, hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River.
The bildungsroman angle comes from the two boys with whom he strikes up a friendship, and forms a pact with to help him reunite with his lover and escape from his isolation in the wild. As with Jeff Nichols’ other character dramas, it's got a lot of heart as well as Deep Southern vibes, and should not be overlooked.
In The Heights - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (17 December)
Perhaps not the best movie musical of the year — or even this month, seeing as West Side Story is in cinemas — but In The Heights holds interest as an anti-gentrification screed, looking at a community feeling the walls closing in, unsure as to how to maintain their traditions.
Jon M. Chu’s glossy direction, as in Crazy Rich Asians, mostly feels sterile and safe when it’s not butchering its own musical numbers through choppy editing and awkward composition. It gets by on the strength of its cast and occasionally the catchiness of the songs themselves.
The Joy Luck Club - Disney+ (17 December)
An early starring role for Disney mainstay Ming Na-Wen (now best known as the voice of Mulan, Agent May from Agents of SHIELD, and now Fennec Shand from The Mandalorian and the upcoming Book of Boba Fett), The Joy Luck Club was an oasis in a time when films about the history of Chinese-Americans were fewer and further between.
A story told through a series of flashbacks, director Wayne Wang explores the pasts of four Chinese women born in America as well as their respective mothers who were born in feudal China. Perhaps a little syrupy and sentimental by contemporary sensibilities, but something of a small landmark film nonetheless, filled with affecting performances and frequently tear-jerking drama.
Encanto - Disney+ (24 December)
Zootropolis directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush’s new Disney Animation Encanto strikes a high note, composed with dazzling floral colours and a style of 3D animation that maintains a hand-drawn tactility to it. The story is that of the Madrigals, a magical family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal. Every child except one: Mirabel (a wonderful Stephanie Beatriz). Mirabel finds out that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, and despite her lack of supernatural power, finds herself to be family’s last hope.
It can occasionally feel a little aimless. As with Frozen 2, the film consciously does away with villains and so has little to anchor its conflict to. It's about internal struggle rather than classic fairytale villainy, which is fine when you’re working with Studio Ghibli, but the script feels a little more slight than such works. Still, it’s affecting, and the music is infectious.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Netflix (25 December)
Based on a famous Esquire profile piece, Marielle Heller’s followup to her Oscar-winning biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me is deceptively smart, the rare biopic that feels idiosyncratic and precisely crafted even as it hits somewhat predictable heartwarming notes.
It tells the story of the fictionalised meeting between Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, award-winning journalist, and beloved children’s television icon Fred Rogers, as the latter begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write an article on him. Of course, through his various meetings with Rogers, Vogel’s dour perspective begins to change. A surprisingly creative work.
The Suicide Squad - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (26 December)
James Gunn’s gleefully bloody, but confusingly titled, soft reboot of 2016's Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad sees much of its characters die before the credits even land, the blood and guts of its wacky cast spelling out the movie title.
It’s a callback to the director’s Troma roots that his work on Guardians of the Galaxy (a film that was no small inspiration for the first Suicide Squad) didn’t have room for under Marvel. Gunn gets to indulge in his most juvenile impulses as supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker are forced into joining the extremely shady Task Force X on a secret mission on the remote island of Corto Maltese.
It’s a tad overlong, and gets caught between wanting to take nothing seriously but also wanting to hone in on a found family storyline (Guardians of the Galaxy’s bread-and-butter) here fused with a fairly clumsy allegory for a long history of corrupt American interventionism. All in all, a striking reminder of what’s possible for superhero films outside of Marvel’s restrictive house style.
The Lost Daughter - Netflix (31 December)
Potentially doomed to be ignored on release with its being shuffled away to a New Year's Eve release, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is as ambitious as it is enigmatic. It follows the character of Leda, whose perspective and characterisation is doubled through her being played as a young woman by Jessie Buckley and in the present day by Olivia Colman.
Leda’s seaside vacation takes a dark turn when her obsession with a young mother forces her to confront secrets from her past — director Gyllenhaal stranding us in Leda’s obsessive but opaque mindset, her truly unnerving filmmaking amplifying the terrible magnetism of the character.
A Hidden Life - Disney+ (31 December)
Terence Malick’s latest gorgeous treatise on religious faith and morality is anchored to the real story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who faces the threat of execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis during World War II.
The Malick traits are there: a spiritual connection to natural landscapes and emotional turmoil externalised to an epic, sweeping scale. It’s all purposed as a battle between theology as a system and how that system may be wielded and abused, and personal religious faith, constantly found in the heavy responsibilities that Jägerstätter contemplates.