Welcome to 2021, which isn’t that different than 2020, except all the streaming platforms have entirely different movie line-ups. Really, that’s the only difference. It’s early. We’ll see what happens.
January finds Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow’s bumped-to-VOD comedy The King of Staten Island finally hit HBO, a few decidedly un-Disney films arrive to Disney Plus, and some truly great adult-friendly dramas starring prime talent like Mark Ruffalo, Robert Redford, and Charlize Theron for those looking to really sink their teeth into a new movie.
Read on for 11 of the best movies new to streaming services in January. There’s something for everyone.
All the President’s Men
In this heated moment in American politics, there may be no better film than director Alan J. Pakula’s take on the Watergate scandal. Adapted from reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s own book, the conspiracy-thriller-esque drama finds Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Carl and Bob, who dig for answers around the Nixon administration, poke the hive, and meet their smoking gun contact Deep Throat in a now-infamous parking garage. While emulating the grit of real life, Pakula ups the intensity of his subjects’ pursuit through overt stylistic choices, including split-diopter shots and the shadowy signature of cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather). This is a masterpiece anyone who keeps up with the news needs to see.
All the President’s Men is streaming on HBO Max.
One of the feel-bad movies of the 2010s, writer-director Derek Cianfrance pulls no punches in his portrait of explosive romance and break-up meltdowns. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling throw themselves into the turbulent intimacy of Dean and Cindy’s relationship, which goes up up up then dooooown hard. Grizzly Bear, who provided the soundtrack, allows all the emotion to bubble to the surface.
Blue Valentine is streaming on HBO Max.
The King of Staten Island (HBO Max)
Pete Davidson and writer-director Judd Apatow’s look at the slacker life of a New Yahwk twentysomething might sound like a comedy, but by seizing on many of the star’s real-life difficulties — from his firefighter dad’s early death to suffering from Crohn’s disease — the movie feels more like a contemplative FX series packed into two-and-a-half hours. But the rambling dramedy is extremely satisfying, finding loads of quirk in Davidson’s memoir-ish perspective and room for great performances. Alongside Davidson as Scott, a wannabe tattoo artist who’s lost in a cloud of pot smoke, are Marisa Tomei has his frustrated mother, Bill Burr as another firefighter who strikes up romance with her (much to Scott’s chagrin), and Bel Powley as a Staten Island girl with big dreams who can’t escape Scott’s gravitational pull. It’s a touching film, shot by, all of people, the guy who brought us There Will Be Blood. The artistic contrast helps it all sink in.
The King of Staten Island is streaming on HBO Max.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s most recent animated film provoked some reasonable controversy over its depiction of Japanese characters and culture, but the artistry involved makes this new Disney Plus addition worth a watch. Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, and Ken Watanabe, the movie tracks the cross-country mission of a pack of dogs looking to return a lost boy to home. Rendered in exquisite stop-motion with Anderson’s usual attention to details, not to mention a rousing score from Alexandre Desplat, the movie brings a more subdued, meditative energy than just about any animated feature of the last 10 years.
Isle of Dogs is streaming on Disney Plus.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War
On the other end of the animation spectrum: A truly epic work from the DC Animation group. Touted as the final installment of a DC Animated streak that began with 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the movie loosely adapts Geoff Johns’ Darkseid War storyline, and basically teams up every known character in the DCAU for one giant battle with the Big Bad Apokoliptian.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is streaming on HBO Max.
A Night At The Roxbury
“So anyways, I was standing there waiting to use the pay phone.”
“Yeah, he was, seriously.”
“And this guy who was on the phone, turns around and tips his hat like this.”
“And who do you think that guy was?”
“The Mighty Duck man, I swear to God, I was there.”
“Of course you were, you were the one who yelled the Breakfast Clubber’s name.”
“I was like, ‘Emilio!’”
I’m just going to leave it at this: Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan’s Saturday Night Live movie is underrated.
For some reason, in an era of rousing, modern Bond and Mission: Impossible incarnations, a huge spy movie starring Angelina Jolie as a master of disguise/butt-kicker did not blow up at the box office and spawn a five-movie franchise. Jolie doesn’t go Full John Wick as she runs, jumps, and shoots her way through Salt’s intrigue, but she has the style to make it sing. Plus the movie packs one of the best car chases of the 2010s. Bring back Evelyn Salt!
If lockdown has you craving bacchanalia, turn to Harmony Korine’s indulgent-yet-critical look at the sprrrrrring breeeaaaak party life. Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine star as four coeds who dream of letting loose in Florida, but are low on funds. So, naturally, they snort massive amounts of cocaine and rob a restaurant. The high of a law-breaking act unlocks the young women’s worst instincts, and when they finally make it to the beach and hook up with Alien (James Franco), a rapper/arms dealer, dreamy, sunbaked hell breaks loose. Swirled together with a Skrillex soundtrack, the movie remains perfect as an at-home midnight movie experience.
Spring Breakers is streaming on Netflix.
Before pushing the adamantium-clawed X-Men to R-rated territory in Logan, James Mangold (Ford v. Ferrari) brought Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s bloody, Japanese-set Wolverine adventure to life in The Wolverine. A lean, mean yakuza drama, the movie — co-written by Queen’s Gambit creator Scott Frank — finds a psychological edge that the previous X-blockbusters never found to room to explore, while still packing the slickest fights of the series. Quite possibly the most violent movie on Disney Plus.
The Wolverine is streaming on Disney Plus.
You Can Count On Me
As far as baking an authentic human story and cutting up a slice of life goes, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is basically Cake Boss. You Can Count On Me, his debut after spending years in the theater, is a prime example of how film can capture universal moments that we all seem to overlook. Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo play a brother and sister who, even years after the tragic death of their parents, continue to struggle with how to exist. Sammy (Linney) is a single mom challenged by her past relationships; Terry (Ruffalo) exists on the road, and when he finally comes home to help his sister, his style of surrogate parenting becomes more of a burden than either expect. The drama sparks, wanders, and surprises in You Can Count on Me, but it’s obvious Lonergan has a greater handle on the inner-workings of everyday people than any of his contemporaries.
You Can Count on Me is streaming on HBO Max.
From The Italian Job to Mad Max: Fury Road to Æon Flux, Atomic Blonde, The Old Guard, and her stint in the Fast and Furious universe, Charlize Theron has spent the last two decades becoming synonymous with female-driven action. But she’s also one of the finest character-creators of a generation, as evidenced by Diablo Cody’s prickly dramedy Young Adult. Theron plays Mavis, an alcoholic, divorced writer of YA novels who, spurred by a pic of her ex’s newborn, decides to embark on her own My Best Friend’s wedding mission of reclamation. They must be together. It does ... not go well, but the descent into hometown hell is a stunning journey in Theron’s hands.
Young Adult is streaming on Hulu.
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