The best films and TV to stream this Christmas
Christmas; a time for giving, a time for laughing, a time for sharing, a time for sitting around in your pants watching all the movies and TV shows you couldn't make time for in the last year
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the epoch of video on demand. It was the age of a new, must-see TV series every week and films by master filmmakers surreptitiously slipping on to streaming sites. It was the winter of despair, as we all scrambled to keep up with the amount of content coming at our eyeballs. Thank heavens for Christmas, the one week of the year where you can, without shame, sit around in your pants curled up on the sofa catching up on the plethora of films and television that passed you by in the last twelve months.
Let’s start with the big guns. Only a few years ago, the idea of a film bypassing cinemas altogether and going direct to home viewing was the sign of a filmmaker in decline. With directors as great as the Coen brothers and Alfonso Cuarón doing exactly that this year at the height of their powers, it suggests the straight-to-video stigma has all but vanished. The Coens’ Netflix effort is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a meticulously constructed portmanteau western that’s as bleak as it is hilarious, while Cuarón, also working with Netflix, delivers his most personal film with shimmering realist drama Roma. Between the two, the streaming service can lay claim to producing two of the best-looking films of the year.
Cuarón and the Coens could have probably got these films financed anywhere. What’s been more heartening to see is Netflix offering up a platform to the kind of medium-budget films that might not get made otherwise. Two films that might have slipped through the cracks are Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life and Nicole Holofcener’s The Land of Steady Habits. The former is a spiky study of an aging, arty couple trying to get pregnant; the latter is notable for giving a starring role to the great Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn that isn’t as the villain in a major blockbuster (see Rogue One, Ready Player One and the upcoming Captain Marvel). Both are the kind of keenly observed, quietly devastating dramas for grown-ups that the Hollywood studios gave up on a long time ago.
While we’re on the subject of films Hollywood no longer makes, Netflix was also the home to a number of surprisingly excellent romantic comedies this year. Take your pick from sweet queer teen comedy Alex Strangelove, office-based matchmaker lark Set It Up and the platonic ideal of Netflix rom-coms, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. If you’re after something a little edgier over the festive season, Netflix has also offered up two of the year’s darkest visions in Alex Garland’s Annihilation, a pleasingly weird body horror sci-fi following a crack team – Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson – investigating a mysterious biosphere steadily taking over the earth, and Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody arctic noir Hold the Dark, in which Jeffrey Wright’s retired wolf expert is summoned to a backwater town to investigate a child’s disappearance.
Christmas should also provide you with ample time to catch up on the television shows you’ve been putting off all year. First on your list should be Killing Eve, the wry cat-and-mouse thriller from the pen of the great Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Less witty but no less gripping is the sexy political intrigue nonsense of Bodyguard, while the award for the most handsome TV show of the year should go to Park Chan-wook's ’70s-set spy series The Little Drummer Girl. All three are available on iPlayer now.
Netflix was not without great shows this year too – including stranger-than-fiction doc series Wild Wild Country, the hilarious second season of American Vandal and The Haunting of Hill House which is spine-tingling up until its soppy final episode – but Amazon had it beat. Dramedy Barry gave Bill Hader a role worthy of his talents as a hit man who goes to LA for a job and ends up wanting to give up murder and take up acting. Hader's fellow SNL alumni Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen shone as a couple pondering an eternal relationship in the afterlife in tragicomic Forever. And Amazon’s show of the year dropped just last month: the ingenious Homecoming, a fat-free mystery-thriller in which Julia Roberts stars as a retired military therapist who suspects she’s lost her memory – or it’s been taken from her.
So in short, there’s much great film and television to catch up on. But if you insist on a Christmas movie over the festive season, plump for The Christmas Chronicles, if only to see Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) play a no-nonsense Saint Nick. We wouldn’t want to be on his naughty list, that's for sure.