From Netflix to Amazon Prime, and HBO Max to the Criterion Channel, here are the best movies coming to each streaming platform this month.
Netflix may get most of the attention, but it’s hardly a one-stop shop for cinephiles looking to stream essential classic and contemporary films. Each of the prominent streaming platforms caters to its own niche of film obsessives.
From the boundless wonders of the Criterion Channel to the new frontiers of streaming offered by the likes of Disney+ and HBO Max, IndieWire’s monthly guide highlights the best of what’s coming to every major streamer, with an eye toward exclusive titles that may help readers decide which of these services is right for them.
Even now, after surviving for more than 100 years and almost as many supposed deaths, the movies are still full of surprises. Case in point: At a time when feature-length sci-fi is dominated by franchise spectacle, someone made a tender, quiet, and terrifically affecting post-apocalyptic drama. Here, Tom Hanks plays a dying engineer named Finch Weinberg who builds a robot to care for his rescue dog once he’s gone. That isn’t even the strange part. No, the strange part is that Finch’s creation — a sentient, Hertzfeldian 9-foot can opener who dubs himself “Jeff” after his AI formatting is interrupted by the superstorm that sends this story on a road trip from St. Louis to San Francisco — is voiced and motion-captured by king weirdo Caleb Landry Jones, an actor who’s always seemed more alien than android. He nevertheless (or directly because of that) delivers a heartfelt and consistently hilarious performance that elevates Jeff alongside the likes of Gort, R2-D2, and Fritz Lang’s Maschinemensch in the pantheon of cinema’s greatest full metal characters. In a sweet little film that’s long on bittersweet feeling and refreshingly short on contrived twists, that’s one thing this critic never saw coming.
The Criterion Channel can always be counted on to deliver the goods come Noirvember, and it doesn’t disappoint this year. We start with a 12-film series that collects some of the shadowiest movies from the glory days of 20th-Century Fox, including Samuel Fuller’s nuclear “Pickup on South Street,” Nunnally Johnson’s star-studded 1954 mystery thriller “Black Widow” (in which Ginger Rogers plays a murder suspect), and Edmund Goulding’s electrifying “Nightmare Alley,” adapted from the same bleak-as-hell book that inspired Guillermo del Toro’s new movie. While the 31-film Robert Mitchum series “Playing it Cool” follows its star far beyond the genre that made him famous, it’s still absolutely loaded with shadowy classics that range from popular favorites (“Night of the Hunter”) to lesser-known gems (Don Siegel’s short and twisty “The Big Steal”).
That alone would be enough to keep most people busy through Thanksgiving, but Criterion Channel subscribers are also being treated to a roster of Elia Kazan favorites (just when it seemed like we could stop thinking about “A Face in the Crowd” on a daily basis…), a slew of movies about the thrill-a-minute world of newspaper journalism (“His Girl Friday” being just the tip of the iceberg), and a program of films about female friendship that invites subscribers to revisit some of the platform’s most popular titles, from canonized masterpieces à la “Céline and Julie Go Boating” to the more recent likes of Dan Sallitt’s micro-budget home run “Fourteen.” The Channel also represents the newer side of things with essential shorts from “Time” director Garrett Bradley, RaMell Ross’ immense “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” all five hours of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Happy Hour,” and a whole lot more.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings
To a certain extent, “Shang-Chi: Legend of the 10 Rings” was just another Marvel Cinematic Universe origin story, and one beholden to all of the mega-franchise’s usual problems (namely: an over-reliance on CG, a numbing third act, a bland hero, a pervasive emotional shallowness, and our growing fatigue with all of the above). On the other hand, the bad guy was played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai, so who cares? They won’t teach you this at the University of Austin, but “Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie” wasn’t just a progressive talking point, it was also a long-overdue chance to spotlight several of the greatest actors on the planet and add some much-needed character to the MCU. Amazing how that works.
“Shang-Chi” may be limited by the cookie-cutter mold it was made to fit, but the movie predictably thrives whenever it embraces the specificity of its latest spandex adventure. Shang-Chi’s — or Shaun’s — attempts to assimilate into San Francisco allow for an unusually nuanced take on superhero identity, while the martial arts he brings with him from China make for some of the most fluid and well-choreographed action scenes in a franchise that typically opts for chaos instead of grace. As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland put it in her review of the film: “‘Shang-Chi’ may be built on familiar lines, but in the moments when it’s allowed to be its own film, it’s a vastly different (and vastly superior) film compared to its predecessors.”
Warner Bros’ whole “let’s release every single one of our 2021 movies on HBO Max on the same day they open in theaters” thing has been a real hit-and-miss experiment so far (“Dune” made it work, while surefire blockbusters like “The Suicide Squad” disappeared into the void), but there’s a pretty good chance the studio’s gambit is about to peak with the first Best Picture winner to open day-and-date in theaters and on a Love Hard streaming platform. Starring Will Smith in a swing-for-the-fences performance as Venus and Serena Williams’ dad, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard” is the kind of smart, breezy, glossy-as-it-gets biopic that was always destined to loop on cable for 100 years, and the HBO Max deal is just giving it a head start.
Venus and Serena’s origin story is what will get people to click, but Smith’s turn as their irrepressible svengali of a father is what makes it a winner. From his waddle to his obstinance and angry outbursts, Smith renders Williams as a larger-than-life figure locked in an endless tiebreak with his own sense of worth. The movie might skirt around the more unsavory details of Williams’ life story, but Smith shades the role just enough to anchor a poignant story of perseverance. “King Richard” is the kind of movie that can emotionally synchronize an entire theater full of people, but watching it at home means that “Eyes Wide Shut” might start auto-playing during the end credits, so it’s really a win-win situation at the end of the day.
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