Ah yes, New Year’s Eve: a time of jubilation, reflection, and renewal. Not necessarily a holiday known for an abundance of foot traffic to theater, but that hasn’t stopped studios from saving some of the year’s most anticipated films like Licorice Pizza, The Matrix Resurrections, West Side Story, and Spider-Man: No Way Home for the last half of December. If going out to the theater sounds like too much effort this holiday, not to worry; there’s still plenty of great new releases available on VOD and streaming.
From Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter, Fran Kranz’s directorial debut Mass, the vampire horror-comedy Red Snow, and several more recent releases available to stream and rent, there’s no shortage of movies to watch this weekend.
To help you get a handle on what’s new and available, here are the new movies you can watch with the click of a button this weekend.
The Lost Daughter
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Olivia Colman (The Favourite) stars in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter as Leda, a woman on a seaside holiday whose curiosity towards a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter gradually morphs into a dark obsession. Unnerved by the pair’s relationship, Leda’s memories of her own tumultuous past as a young mother are triggered from deep within her, forcing her to confront the choices and consequences of her parenting that had until then remained long dormant and buried.
Reed Birney (The Hunt), Ann Dowd (The Leftovers, Hereditary), Jason Isaacs (The Patriot), and Martha Plimpton (Beautiful Girls) star in the 2021 drama Mass as two sets of parents who, brought together by an unspeakable tragedy that tore their lives apart, have agreed to meet with one another in order to make sense of their shared loss and move forward. Not exactly the type of premise you would expect for the directorial debut of actor-writer Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods), but a remarkable premise nonetheless. The trailer looks thoroughly tense and devastating, and each of the four lead performances have garnered significant praise. Take a look for yourself first if you’re interested in watching this one.
The horror comedy Red Snow stars Dennice Cisneros (NCIS) as Olivia Romo, a struggling horror writer who nurses an injured bat back to health while spending her Christmas holiday alone at her deceased mother’s cabin. When the bat transforms into a handsome vampire, Olivia finds herself enamored with the creature, feeding him animal blood as a nascent romance sparks between the two. Things quickly take a dangerous turn however when a gang of vampires descend on Olivia’s cabin in search of her would-be lover.
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
The Matrix Resurrections
Where to watch: Available to stream on HBO Max
Eighteen years after the one-two punch of The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions comes The Matrix Resurrections, a mind-bender from original mastermind Lana Wachowski that works as both commentary on the franchise’s legacy and a damn good heist movie set inside The Matrix. If you want to dig a bit deeper, go read our outstanding review. Here’s a taste:
The Matrix Resurrections is about doing the impossible. On a very basic level, it’s about the insurmountable and inherently cynical task of making a follow-up to the Matrix trilogy, one that breaks technical and narrative ground the way the first film did. On a thematic one, it’s an agitprop romance, one of the most effective mass media diagnoses of the current moment that finds countless things to be angry about, and proposes fighting them all with radical, reckless love. On top of all that, it is also a kick-ass work of sci-fi action — propulsive, gorgeous, and yet still intimate — that revisits the familiar to show audiences something very new.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Disney Plus
Disney’s final animated feature of the year made our list of the best movies of 2021. Here’s why:
It’s always a strange year when Walt Disney Animation Studios outdoes Pixar on color, emotion, and innovation, but that happened in 2021. Pixar’s film Luca is a low-key and generally low-stakes charmer about friendship and family, but Disney’s Encanto explores similar themes about belonging and connection, and ramps them up to a feverish pitch. The story, about a magical home, the magical family it houses, and the one family member who doesn’t have a special gift, draws heavily on Colombian art and design for its richly textured characters and setting. But Lin-Manuel Miranda’s dizzyingly dense songs are the centerpiece of the film — they’re authentic earworms that function as important parts of the story instead of tacked-on interludes.
And the movie’s big emotions are compelling and powerful. Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) accepts her place as the family’s powerless black sheep with grace and humility for a long time, but eventually, the unfairness of the world catches up with her, and the seething hurt she’s been holding back for so long is palpable. Encanto is visually sumptuous, but it also cuts to the same kind of dark inner demons that the best Pixar movies reach, and offers some catharsis for anyone who’s ever felt at odds with their family, or the world in general.
Don’t Look Up
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
The Big Short and Vice director Adam McKay merges with Step Brothers and Anchorman director Adam McKay in this fuming comedy about the end of the world. McKay locked up an all-star cast for his first outing for Netflix, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet, but based on reviews, it seems to be polarizing the audience, even in its noble quest to shake up the conversation on climate change. Here’s a bit from our take:
Don’t Look Up becomes a work of well-acted exhaustion. It’s not very interesting to see this cycle play out in a hypothetical context because this particular media circus is already repeated ad nauseum. McKay wastes his talented ensemble by having them labor in the service of virtually nothing, as his film has little to say about why we are trapped in these cycles, and it doesn’t seem to offer anything beyond the greatest hits of a bad few months online. If the jokes about daytime television, internet memes, or political ineptitude were funnier, this would be forgivable. Humor is subjective, but giving an example of Don’t Look Up’s specific jokes feels like a spoiler, depriving you of one of the three times you’ll likely experience a genuine laugh.
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott’s medieval epic, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver, and Killing Eve’s Jodie Cormer, pretty much bombed in theaters this fall, despite promising reviews. Our colleague Zosha Millman caught it after a few weeks in theaters, and walked out having had one of her best movie experiences of the year, suggesting the movie’s themes on sexual violence and human strife were worth the challenge. “The absolute high of digesting such a complicated, thorny narrative in a theater all to myself is something I’ve been chasing ever since.”
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
A reboot of the Resident Evil movie franchise that skews closer to the games turned out to not be what fans wanted — no one showed up to theaters when the movie bowed in November and, after bombing, it quickly departed screens for premium home video rental. But here’s the thing: it’s pretty solid! Despite being fully loaded with Easter eggs, director Johannes Roberts delivers a genuine horror film in the mode of James Wan. On the scale of this year’s biggest surprises, Welcome to Raccoon City is up there.
Lamb, a drama imported by A24 starring Prometheus’ Noomi Rapace, has a number of turns that would be egregious to spoil. But let’s just say Rapace’s character adopts Ada, a mysterious half-lamb half-human child, and that the director was really into capturing live lamb births on film.
“Paul Verhoeven, you horny motherfucker, you’ve done it again.”
So says our critic Joshua Rivera, who devoured the Robocop and Elle director’s erotic drama about nuns in 17th century Italy. From an early age, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) has believed that she’s been touched by God. When Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives to her convent, Benedetta’s touched ... by much more. The sexual and spiritual intertwine in ways that seem like a perfect fit for Verhoeven’s daring brand of cinema. Here’s more from Joshua:
Some may find Benedetta too exploitative to take seriously. That criticism has its merits: The movie’s lasciviousness can be read as being meant for the camera as much as it is for the characters. Its queerness can come across as something purely meant to titillate straight men. But in the context of the rigid confines of Catholicism at the peak of its powers, Verhoeven’s argument for Benedetta’s extremes is compelling. He presses the sacred against the profane, and brings the religious denial of the human experience into question.
The latest from Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, an uncle who slips into the father figure role for his young nephew, without much of a clue on how to parent. Simple, black-and-white, and apparently quite stirring. From our friends over at Vulture:
Johnny nurtures his 9-year-old nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), taking him from his home in Los Angeles to the different cities he visits for work, while his novelist sister, Viv (Gabby Hoffman), helps Jesse’s father Paul (Scoot McNairy) during a manic bipolar disorder episode in the Bay Area.
Not much happens in C’mon C’mon. There’s no overly grand gestures of love. There’s no arch monologues. There’s no teary reappraisals underscored by irrevocable shifts in the characters’ lives. As Johnny travels with Jesse in tow and Viv wrestles with Paul’s refusal to heal in the linear fashion people who don’t struggle with mental illness expect, the film finds a raw beauty in the wonders and heartbreaks of everyday life. It’s a humble portrait of a family’s deepening connections supported by a number of cinematic pleasures — expert sound design and cinematography; touching performances by Norman and Hoffman; and a tremendous showing from Joaquin Phoenix, operating at a register he’s rarely found before. It’s a career best for him — lovely, empathetic, humane.