As Netflix et al. add more content, it’s difficult to know what to look for amidst all of the newly added titles. So at the start of every month, I publish a list of particularly noteworthy and interesting movies and TV shows to add to your streaming queues.
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Jan 1)
Based on the 1978 children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable family flick about a scientist who creates a machine capable of creating all manner of food-oriented weather. Yeah, it’s a silly premise, but the film’s visual cleverness and engaging storyline makes it far more than its title might suggest.
Cobra Kai, Season 3 (Jan 1)
The third season of this unlikely — and highly acclaimed — sequel to the classic Karate Kid movies finds Cobra Kai sensei Johnny Lawrence wrestling with the results of his decision to restart the infamous dojo. Cobra Kai originally aired on YouTube before being acquired by Netflix this past June; season four is already in production. Season three was originally scheduled to premier on January 8, but Netflix decided to release it a week early.
Enter the Dragon (Jan 1)
Enter the Dragon was the final film that Bruce Lee completed before his untimely death at the age of 32, and it was the film that sealed Lee’s status as the greatest martial arts actor of all time. Enter the Dragon’s plot is pretty straightforward — Lee must use his skills to infiltrate a martial arts competition run by a ruthless crime lord — but it’s all about Lee’s charisma, lighting fast fists and feet, and superhuman skill with the nunchaku. Enter the Dragon also stars John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Angela Mao, and Bolo Yeung.
Goodfellas (Jan 1)
Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic is based on the true story of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), a mob associate who eventually became an FBI informant. The film follows Hill’s introduction to the mob life, and his rise and fall in the gang through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The film was nominated for multiple Oscars, eventually winning “Best Supporting Actor” for Joe Pesci’s performance as the unhinged Tommy DeVito.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Jan 1)
Lieutenant Frank Drebin is a goofball and clutz. But he’s also the best man to protect Queen Elizabeth II from an assassination attempt, which he’ll do with site gags, pratfalls, and visual puns aplenty. Based on the Police Squad! series from 1982, The Naked Gun is widely considered one of the greatest movie comedies of all time.
Sherlock Holmes (Jan 1)
Sherlock Holmes has been endlessly reinvented over the years, so why not give Guy Ritchie a turn? Ritchie brings his noted visual style to the world’s most famous detective, with Robert Downey Jr. starring as Holmes and Jude Law as his right-hand man, Doctor Watson. Together, the inimitable duo must defeat an aristocratic killer whose experiments in blending science and the occult appear to have brought him back from the dead.
Lupin (Jan 8)
Arsène Lupin is one of the most famous of all French literary characters, a gentleman thief and master of disguise. In this French series — which is not related to the popular Lupin III manga/anime franchise — a young man comes into possession of a book about Lupin that grants him unimaginable wealth and resources, which he then uses to avenge his father’s death.
Outside the Wire (Jan 15)
The Avengers’ Anthony Mackie stars in this sci-fi action movie about a drone pilot who is sent into a militarized zone to find a doomsday device. To help him in his mission, he’s partnered with a soldier (Mackie) who turns out to be more than just flesh and blood. Netflix has a history of releasing decent, mid-budget sci-fi movies (e.g., I Am Mother, ARQ, Spectral), so I hope Outside the Wire follows suit.
Here’s everything arriving on Netflix in January 2021.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jan 1)
Yeah, baby… Mike Myers’ original send-up of James Bond movies and ’60s swinger culture is very much a product of its time (the late ’90s). And though the sequels ran the joke into the ground (and then dug it up and re-ran it back into the ground), the original is still quite a lot of good fun, as Myers’ shagadelic super-spy must come to terms with the modern era after he’s re-thawed to take on the nefarious Dr. Evil (also played by Myers).
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Jan 1)
What else can I say about Blade Runner that hasn’t already been said? Without a doubt one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, its sense of atmosphere and gritty vision of the future has influenced countless films since its release in 1982. The “Final Cut” was released in 2007 with additional footage (including a complete version of the unicorn dream scene), and is considered by Ridley Scott to be the definitive version of the film.
Broken Arrow (Jan 1)
I know that, as a longtime fan of Asian cinema, I’m contractually obligated to denigrate all of John Woo’s Hollywood films. Even so, Broken Arrow is a total guilty pleasure. When terrorists steal nuclear warheads from a crashed bomber, it’s up to a pilot and a park ranger to stop them. But there’s a catch: the lead terrorist is the pilot’s commanding officer, played to scene-chewing perfection by John Travolta. The film also stars Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, and Delroy Lindo.
Changing Lanes (Jan 1)
What happens when a brash, hotshot attorney crosses paths with a down-on-his-luck father trying to make ends meet? Chaos and suspense, in this modern morality tale by director Roger Michell. Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson star as the two men, each from vastly different backgrounds and levels of privilege, who find themselves resorting to increasingly desperate measures to outsmart and outmaneuver each other.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Jan 1)
When an alien probe threatens Earth, James T. Kirk and the Enterprise crew travel back in time to find the one thing that might save humanity: humpback whales, which are sadly extinct in the 23rd century. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, The Voyage Home is arguably the funnest Star Trek movie, as the Enterprise crew find themselves confronting 20th-century San Francisco.
The Truman Show (Jan 1)
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives in a lovely little town, he has a lovely wife, and his life seems perfect and idyllic in every way. But unbeknownst to Truman, he’s actually the star of the world’s most popular reality TV show, and has been ever since birth. But a series of events soon arouse Truman’s suspicions that his world isn’t all that he thought it was, and he begins rebelling against his existence even as the show’s producers try to rein him in.
Here’s everything arriving on Hulu in January 2021.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Jan 1)
In this pitch-black comedy by Stanley Kubrick, America is faced with the threat of nuclear combat when an American general decides to preemptively attack the Soviet Union in order to protect Americans’ precious bodily fluids. Meanwhile, the President confers with his frantic — and increasingly ineffectual — staff in the Pentagon War Room. Starring Peter Sellers in three roles, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, and Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong, Dr. Strangelove is widely considered one of the greatest comedy films of all time.
How I Met Your Mother, Seasons 1 – 9 (Dec 19)
Full disclosure: we never actually finished How I Met Your Mother. We eventually grew tired of the central storyline by about season five. However, I can’t deny that How I Met Your Mother features some truly hilarious moments. Some have criticized the show as a Friends knock-off, and I can see their point. But it also had a surreal and absurdist bent all its own. That, and Barney Stinson (played to perfection by Neil Patrick Harris).
Here’s everything arriving on Amazon in January 2021. As usual, there’s a lot of overlap between Hulu and Amazon’s offerings.
Isle of Dogs (Jan 15)
In a dystopic Japan, all dogs have been rounded up and banished to Trash Island to prevent the spread of canine influenza. But when his dog Spots is sent to the island, young Atari Kobayashi sacrifices everything to find his beloved pet. Adopting the same stop-motion aesthetic that he used to great effect on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson and his considerable cast (e.g., Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe) create a bizarre and whimsical canine world.
Mary Poppins Returns (Jan 15)
Emily Blunt is the titular nanny, who is practically perfect in every way and returns to help the Banks family once again. Which means plenty of fantastical and fanciful adventures with the assistance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack. The film also stars Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and Dick Van Dyke.
WandaVision (Jan 15)
The latest Marvel series finds Wanda Maximoff and Vision living a picture-perfect suburban life in the small town of Westview. Even though they do their best to hide their powers, strange phenomena begin to threaten their idyllic life. WandaVision looks to be pretty trippy, from the homages to classic TV tropes to the references to the characters’ comic book history. And just how are they going to explain Vision’s return from the dead after Thanos ripped the Mind Stone from his forehead in Avengers: Infinity War?
Here’s everything arriving on Disney+ in January 2021.
Batman: The Animated Series (Jan 1)
Arguably the greatest screen adaptation of Batman, as well as one of the greatest cartoons of all time, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian’s Batman: The Animated Series has received considerable acclaim for its noir and Art Deco-influenced visuals, stirring musical score, mature approach to storytelling, and complex themes and characterizations of Batman/Bruce Wayne, his friends, and even his foes. Also, thanks to this series — which I watched religiously in middle school — I will never not hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s voices in my head whenever I think of Batman and the Joker.
Batman Begins (Jan 1)
Before Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale came along, the Caped Crusader hadn’t fared too well on the silver screen. True, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was enjoyable in a campy way, thanks to an ultra-gothic aesthetic, Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top Joker, and a funky Prince soundtrack. But it wasn’t until Nolan’s Batman Begins that the world’s greatest detective truly came into his own.
Chinatown (Jan 1)
Chinatown may be overshadowed by the crimes committed by its director, Roman Polanski. Which is a shame, because Chinatown is considered one of the greatest movies, and certainly one of the greatest noir movies, of all time. A private investigator (Jack Nicholson) finds himself in a political conspiracy involving California water rights in the ’30s, only to discover an even deeper and more disturbing mystery.
Escape from New York (Jan 1)
Snake Plissken is one of cinema’s great anti-heroes, a cynical and violent man willing to do anything to survive. That survival instinct will come in handy, though, when Plissken is sent into Manhattan (which is now a maximum-security prison) to retrieve the President after Air Force One crashes there. Directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, and Adrienne Barbeau, Escape from New York is a classic example of dystopian cinema.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Jan 1)
Although I’ve been underwhelmed by most of their live action films, I’ve been a big fan of DC’s animated movie universe — and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War brings that universe to a conclusion in stunning manner. After the god-like Darkseid conquers Earth, the planet’s few remaining heroes, which include John Constantine, Damian Wayne, and Harley Quinn, must resort to increasingly desperate measures in their battle to save their beleaguered world.
Mad Max: Fury Road (Jan 1)
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute juggernaut of a film, from its mind-blowing visuals of an apocalyptic wasteland to some of the most insane and over-the-top action sequences in recent history. Indeed, you’ll often find yourself wondering how no one died during the making of this film. Even more surprising, though, are the quiet and even hauntingly beautiful moments that Miller intersperses amongst the action and chaos.
No Country for Old Men (Jan 1)
In this harrowing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, a hunter discovers a bunch of drug money and decides to keep it — which puts him in the sights of a psychotic hitman (Javier Bardem, in a chilling performance). Meanwhile, the only one who might save him is an aging, world-weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones, also giving a fantastic performance). No Country for Old Men may not have the quirky humor that the Coen Brothers are best known for — O Brother, Where Art Thou? this most certainly is not — but its depiction of human evil and darkness is captivating and provocative in its own right (read my review).
Babylon 5 (Jan 26)
Althought its visuals and special effects look pretty dated these days, don’t let that stop you from experiencing the ambition and scope of J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5. Premiering in 1994, Babylon 5 details the lives of the crew and residents of the Babylon 5 space station as they work together for peace in the galaxy and find themselves caught up in political conspiracies and a greater cosmic struggle.
Here’s everything arriving on HBO Max in January 2021.