We’re sure Netflix is looking forward to a much brighter 2023. Heck, who isn’t. The streamer saw massive losses, backlash from a truly strange release strategy for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and also let arguably their most consistently great series-maker Mike Flanagan bolt to Amazon. For January, it looks like Netflix is going to lean way into superstars while also hoping that Scott Cooper and Christian Bale’s latest, The Pale Blue Eye, can help right the ship.
This Is 40 (Available January 1)
As the old adage goes, “write what you know” and since filmmaker Judd Apatow turned 40 in or around 2012, he wrote and directed This Is 40. The film was treated fairly harshly due to it’s portrayal of “rich white people and their problems” being a played out trope but, again, write what you know as Apatow is a white adult with problems even though, much like the characters in the film, he seems to lead a pretty charmed life. Paul Rudd stands in for Apatow as Pete, and Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann, presumably plays a variation on herself as Pete’s wife Debbie. Heck, even Apatow and Mann’s kids, Maude and Iris, are on-board as Pete and Debbie’s daughters. While the film suffers from Apatow’s weird five-act structure, there’s some downright hilarious scenes, including a subplot involving Jason Segel as a personal trainer (“bodies by Jason…), Melissa McCarthy as a mom sick of white elitist parents and many more. C’mon, give it a shot.
Grease (Available January 1)
The dawning of a new year is as good a time as any to take a trip down nostalgia lane with the ever-cheery Grease. While we sadly lost Olivia Newton-John this summer, she lives on as bookworm turned sexpot Sandy who, after an apparent summer fling with a sweet boy named Danny (John Travolta), is stunned when she transfers schools for the new year and finds out Danny sort of has two-sides to him. Rather than just be the person Danny sparked a flame to, Sandy decides to change into a sexier version of herself because this movie takes place in the ’50s and problematic storytelling like this somehow seemed normal. That (and a few more cringey issues) aside, Grease is the kind of movie that can cheer you up on a gloomy day.
Jerry Maguire (Available January 1)
Cameron Crowe is an unabashed fan of several things which include romance, Billy Wilder, charm and the darker side of the entertainment world. All of these things are in full display in his wonderful dramedy Jerry Maguire from 1996. It’s easy to praise the performances of Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who won as Oscar for Best Supporting Actor which prompted one of the greatest Oscar speeches ever) but what’s also impressive is the way Crowe channels Billy Wilder (particularly his masterpiece, The Apartment) in a modern way. Jerry Maguire (Cruise) is a top sports agent who grows a conscious overnight, writes a scathing screed and is promptly fired. In a classic cinematic moment he tries to get some of his co-workers to follow his lead but, they don’t, aside from Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger) who believes in Jerry. He also loses all of his clients, save for moody but talented Rod Tidwell (Gooding Jr.), and from there we’re off to a world of charming cynicism bathed in sweet and sticky romance.
Road To Perdition (Available January 1)
The 2002 crime-drama Road To Perdition turned heads as it was the first time America’s modern everyman, Tom Hanks, played a genuinely bad dude. While not as shocking to audiences as when Henry Fonda did it in 1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West, it was definitely a major selling point for this film. Hanks plays mob enforcer Mike Sullivan, who works for one John Rooney (shrewdly played by Paul Newman). Rooney’s son Connor (Daniel Craig) is jealous of the close bond between his dad and the henchman Sullivan, and one night, after Mike’s son (Tyler Hoechlin) inadvertently catches dad at work, Connor uses this mistake to set Mike up. Thus father and son must go on the run from the mob family they used to call their own. Perhaps weighted down by expectations for Hanks and director Sam Mendes who was coming off the hit film American Beauty, Road To Perdition wasn’t really a big hit. But it is a solid thriller with strong performances and a great, noir look and feel.
Reservoir Dogs (Available January 1)
Master filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has written and directed nine films, and he’s long said he would do 10 total, then dip. Well, 2019’s Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood was number nine, and QT is signed on to make a Netflix series, so it’s going to be a while for number 10. So, why not go back to where it all began with 1992’s breakout smash hit Reservoir Dogs. There are many ways to approach this film, but one is to note the early, somewhat more crude examples of Tarantino’s dialogue. While endlessly quotable (and enjoyable), the tough guy banter in Reservoir Dogs is a bit too cinematically on the nose. That’s not a huge issue, it just shows a young filmmaker honing his chops. Another way to watch Reservoir Dogs is to just enjoy it as a sheer cinematic treat, rip-offs of lesser seen foreign films aside.
Top Gun (Available January 1)
Forever late to the party, or so it would seem, Netflix is bringing in the OG Top Gun to its service to kick off the new year. And, that’s fine as we’re all still flying high on that sweet, sweet Top Gun: Maverick chem trail. It’s hard to believe Top Gun was made in 1986 and featured a then-rising star in Tom Cruise who cemented himself as a superstar that year (he also released Color Of Money in 1986), a run that has lasted nearly 40 years and, if he doesn’t kill or maim himself, may never stop. Sure, Top Gun is a bit dated and can be challenging to watch now knowing what we know of Cruise’s personal life. But it’s still a fun flight down nostalgia lane that’s sure to put a smile on your face. Plus now we can watch it and count the myriad ways in which Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick mirror one another.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Available January 1)
Filmmaker Edgar Wright’s first non-British feature, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, (yes, we know it’s set in Canada) hit screens so hard in 2010 that people didn’t know what to do with it at the time. Nearly ripped from the pages of the underground comic by creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a wonderful post-modern mishmash of 8-bit videogame madness which hides a fun story about growing up. Michael Cera plays the titular Scott Pilgrim, a self-absorbed musician who can’t be alone yet also can’t seem to treat the women he latches onto with respect. He meets his match one day in Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who not only isn’t about to put up with Scott’s childish behavior, but is also going to make him earn her affection by facing her “seven evil exes.” It’s hard to pick which evil ex is your favorite, and the fact they’re a fun cavalcade of celebrity cameos makes it that much more fun yet difficult to decide. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World did indeed bomb at the box office, but has since become a cult favorite.
The Pale Blue Eye (Available January 6)
It’s still the case that bigger budget films not screened for critics or those that have reviews held until the film opens,usually aren’t very good. Such is the case for Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye which is a bummer because on paper and via the trailer, the film looks very cool. Set in 1830, Christian Bale stars as haggard detective Augustus Langor, who is on the case of a series of grisly and bizarre murders at West Point Academy in New York. His investigation continually stalls, forcing him to seek assistance from a West Point cadet, none other than a young Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling). The film re-teams filmmaker Scott Cooper with Bale (the two worked together on 2013’s Out Of The Furnace and again in 2017 with Hostiles, both excellent and severely under seen) in what looks like an intriguingly dark period piece mystery.
The Pez Outlaw (Available January 19)
Who doesn’t love a documentary that is stranger than fiction? If that sort of thing floats your boat, Bryan Storkel’s doc The Pez Outlaw is going to make your head flip (see what we did there?). The story revolves around Steve Glew, a “hillbilly from Michigan” in the 1990s who discovers the Pez dispensers sold in Europe are very, very different from those available in the United States. While this isn’t anything new, this was before the advent of eBay, so Glew recognized a strong market for European Pez amongst American collectors. From there he simply flew to Europe, bought tons of Pez dispensers and sold them back on U.S. soil. However once Pez International got wind of this, they stepped up to stop him. The collector world is always weird and wild and The Pez Outlaw takes a look at several hard-core Pez collectors while telling the sordid story of Glew.
The Aviator (Available January 1)
One might think that the success of Top Gun: Maverick would launch a whole new reinvestment in great airplane movies of the past. As of this writing, that has not happened. However Marin Scorsese’s 2004 film The Aviator is very much worth a watch be it for your first or 10th time. Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s cinematic bromance covers five films, and this year’s highly anticipated Killers Of The Flower Moon will make it six. When you look at all the films they’ve done together, The Aviator really doesn’t jump out and that’s too bad. Maybe it’s because many of the others (Gangs Of New York, The Departed, Wolf Of Wall Street) are a bit more bombastic and intense. Still, The Aviator is an incredibly compelling biopic about the rise and fall of legendary American aviation tycoon (and massive sufferer of OCD) Howard Hughes. The movie isn’t just overshadowed by louder Scorsese films, DiCaprio himself gets overshadowed by the female stars of the film, mainly Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-winning performance as Hughes’ love interest Katherine Hepburn.
Fletch (Available January 1)
In 2022 Confess, Fletch with Jon Hamm as the goofy gumshoe brought us a lower-key take on the popular “Fletch” character. That film is actually pretty great and well worth your time. However Netflix is going old school with the classic 1985 Fletch starring Chevy Chase. Honestly an all-time ’80s classic with some of the best one-liners around, Fletch centers on journalist Irwin M. Fletcher, “Fletch” to his friends, who can’t keep from stumbling into trouble once he sniffs out something suspicious. In this case, Fletch is undercover as a beach bum and inadvertently stumbles into a classic “kill my wife for the insurance money” scandal. Directed by the great Michal Ritchie, the film manages to walk the line of a decent detective story mixed with Chevy Chase’s deadpan yet silly, smarmy demeanor.
Closer (Available January 1)
Master filmmaker Mike Nichols’ second-to-last film, Closer, was a pretty big deal both critically and with audiences upon its release in 2004. While critics are always keen on Nichols, audiences likely responded to the romantic drama due to a killer cast which included Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law. After saving a lovely young woman named Alice (Portman) who is hit by a car walking the wrong direction in England, writer Dan (Law) soon falls in love with her. However this love affair gets complicated as he writes a book based on Alice but, while shooting promo photos for it, he immediately falls for photographer Anna. From there, things get complicated as Nichols and his stars examine love in modern times and if people can ever really find love as well as be true to themselves.
Minority Report (Available January 1)
Like it or not (and, if you’re a fan of movies, you should like it) Tom Cruise is back in a big way. The thing is, he never really went away and proof of that is evident in 2002’s outstanding Spielberg/Cruise blockbuster Minority Report. Sometimes when two huge talents team up, it doesn’t always work as well as it looks like it will on paper. Not so here., Minority Report is everything a tentpole movie should be: smart, thrilling, action packed. It’s also an incredibly insightful film about familial grief (oh, Steven) and the issues surrounding surveillance, which was a hot button topic at the time and remains relevant today. Based on the novella by Phillip K. Dick, Minority Report concerns a not-so-distant future where crimes can be detected before they happen. Cruise plays John Anderton, head of the “Precrime” unit, who is great at his job until he gets targeted as a future criminal. Minority Report went so well that Cruise and Spielberg teamed up a few years later for the also great War Of The Worlds but lately Spielberg’s saying he’s done with Cruise so, enjoy these two excellent popcorn flicks and don’t expect thirds.
The ’Burbs (Available January 1)
With kids out on winter break a fun movie revolving around that topic is 1989s dark comedy crowd pleaser, The ’Burbs. Tom Hanks stars as suburban homeowner Ray Peterson who’s excited to have a week off to do some things around the house. However, his plans for a quiet week taking care of business come to a screeching halt when an “odd” family move in next door. Weird noises start coming from the basement and slowly all the fears of the world come bubbling forth. Hanks plays a great straight man here alongside strong performances from Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson and, of course, Rick Ducommun as the friend who never fails to pour gas on the fire. Joe Dante directed this gem and really hit a home run.
King Kong (Available January 1)
After a truly unprecedented run bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy to the big screen, Peter Jackson, newly awash in much deserved Oscar gold, could do no wrong. So much so that when news broke his next project would be a fresh version of King Kong, fans were all too eager to embrace it. And, why wouldn’t they? This is an epic tale and a cinema classic that also blended Jackson’s newly discovered talent for epic journeys and big visions. Well, that was all well and good but in a sort of death by a thousand cuts kind of situation, including weird casting, terrifying scenes and freaky monsters, coupled with the fact that no one really seemed to want a new King Kong when all was said and done, the film flailed at the box office. The thing is, aside from being a bit too long, Jackson’s King Kong is a pretty great cinematic journey that deserves a fresh look.