One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 64
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
It’s the last week of 2021, and the latest Covid-19 variant, this one monikered with the ominous-sounding 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, is doing its damnedest to squelch a lot of seasonal fun. Holiday parties, concerts, Broadway shows, the Rockettes—all were on the docket for the latter part of the month, but all are now being delayed, rescheduled or just flat-out cancelled.
But the movies are continuing to shine unsteadily at the cinema—there haven’t been any closings on that front, yet—with a handful of December’s top guns playing exclusively in theaters. Spielberg’s West Side Story (the opening box-office grosses of which were disappointing) Spider-Man: No Way Home (the first weekend’s numbers of which went through the roof) and Guillermo del Toro’s carnival-set crime thriller Nightmare Alley (don't ask!) are three biggies that will require you to head to the theater if you want to see them this season, Omicron be damned.
But there are many other eagerly awaited, prominent titles slated to premiere on streaming services or that just began to stream a week or two after they made their largely symbolic theatrical debuts. HBO Max and Disney+ and Netflix have been releasing their films with that kind of day-and-date pattern for nearly a year now and you don’t hear audiences complaining, though their pricing policies have raised some eyebrows.
That said, here are 10 films to consider streaming during the last days of 2021. All of them are brand spanking new, having premiered over the past two weeks or are on the brink of going live before January).
Dramas, comedies, sci-fi effects extravaganzas, musicals, foreign flicks, animation—there are a lot of flavors to choose from to make this year’s final week a tasty one.
So don’t have to rush out to the theater just yet—they’ll be there in 2022.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix, now streaming)
New Zealand arthouse queen Jane Campion’s first feature in more than a decade is an exquisitely crafted, psychologically intense Western drama based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. Starring Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and an outstanding Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s already receiving substantial awards buzz.
Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime, now streaming)
This biographical drama centers around the lives of Hollywood stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz over the course of a week of production on a classic I Love Lucy episode. Aaron Sorkin directs Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as the complicated couple from Sorkin’s own script, which places the action on a politically, culturally and sociologically charged backdrop.
Swan Song (Apple TV+, now streaming)
Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali is a terminally ill husband and father presented with the possibility of replacing himself with an exact clone without his family's knowledge. Naomie Harris (also featured in Moonlight) co-stars as Ali’s wife in this emotional sci-fi-drama written and directed by Benjamin Clearfield.
Mother/Android (Hulu, now streaming)
In a post-apocalyptic world where the human race is engaged in a brutal, Terminator-like war against rebellious, sentient androids, a pregnant young woman and her boyfriend set out on a trip to a safe haven (in this case, Boston) where she can safely give birth. The always-game Chlole Grace Moretz stars in writer-director Mattson Tomlin’s feature debut.
The Hand of God (Netflix, now streaming)
The Hand of God
Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino brings his trademark sumptuous style to this autobiographically inspired drama about a boy in 1980s Naples who comes of age in a joyous and tragic world of family, friends, football and films.
The Matrix Resurrections (HBO Max, Dec. 22)
Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lambert Wilson and Jada Pinkett Smith return for still more cyber-thrills in this latest installment of the sci-fi action franchise, co-written and directed by original Matrix creator Lana Wachowski (minus her sibling collaborator Lilly this time around).
Encanto (Disney+, available on Dec. 24)
The animated Colombian family musical concerns a young girl who must cope with being the only member of her family without magical powers. A colorful, fantastical concoction, it features original songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the familiar voices of Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Diane Guerrero and Wilmer Valderrama.
Don’t Look Up (Netflix, available on Dec. 24)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star in this sci-fi satire as two astronomers attempting to warn an uninterested public that an approaching comet will destroy the Earth in a matter of months. Veteran comedy writer-director Adam McKay’s latest features a sterling supporting cast that includes Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, Melanie Lynskey, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep as the President of the United States.
Finding Kendrick Johnson (Starz, available on Dec. 27)
Writer-director Jason Pollock’s true-crime documentary investigates the death of Kendrick Johnson, a 17-year-old who was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at Georgia’s Lowndes High School in 2013. The film is the product of Pollock’s years-long undercover investigation into the case.
The Lost Daughter (Netflix, available on Dec. 31)
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel about a middle-aged woman’s troubling summer beach vacation stars Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley and Peter Sarsgaard. Gyllenhaal’s debut as a co-writer and director has been cleaning up on the awards circuit, receiving honors at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.