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The best things we caught up with before 2022

Wheel of Time, Lost in Space, and more — we binged a lot over the winter break

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Moiraine from Wheel of Time sitting in a forest Photo: Amazon Studios

The Polygon team is finally back in the (proverbial) office from a long and restful winter vacation. Besides celebrating the holidays with our loved ones and eagerly looking forward to games, movies, books, comics, and TV shows set to come out in 2022, we used the break to binge-watch some old favorites alongside the entertainment we had always been meaning to catch up on back in 2021.

The heartwarming black-and-white Joaquin Phoenix drama C’mon C’mon; HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant; a first-time watch of 1999’s The Matrix (!) — here’s everything we watched at home over the holidays.

C’mon C’mon

Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman in C’mon C’mon Image: A24

It’s almost too easy to say that one of the best movies I saw over the holidays is one about the simple truth of living in someone else’s shoes, but that’s the magic of cinema, baby. Old things become new, and we are reminded of things so fundamental that we accidentally stripped them of meaning.

C’mon C’mon is the latest film from director Mike Mills, a story about Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a radio journalist who talks to children. He travels around the country, asking local kids what they think about the future. Johnny himself, however, seems mired in a past he doesn’t ever want to talk about — and thanks to his solitary existence, no one’s really around to make him.

Then, on a rare visit to his sister, he volunteers to help her out and watch his 9-year-old nephew Jesse for a few days, taking him on the road with him as he interviews other kids. In his time with Jesse, Johnny begins to better appreciate his sister and her struggles as a single parent, looking beyond the strained relationship they had as siblings and learning, through Jesse, that there’s maybe more growing to do.

Again: On paper, this is all very basic, but in execution? C’mon C’mon hits like a damn freight train of empathy. Mike Mills has a tender humanity to his work that’s become his trademark, and paired with the tremendous talent of Joaquin Phoenix, child actor Woody Norman, and black-and-white cinematography by Robbie Ryan, C’mon C’mon transcends, a feel-good movie that is neither saccharine nor cloying. Instead, it is honest, first inviting you to feel its characters’ frustrations and fears, before finally, in the end, asking you to smile along with them. —Joshua Rivera

C’mon C’mon is available to rent for $19.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

The Flight Attendant

Kaley Cuoco in The Flight Attendant. Photo: Colin Hutton/HBO Max

Ever manage to live through a viral viewing phenomenon without gleaning much of anything about what it entails? That’s me and HBO’s mystery-thriller series The Flight Attendant, which seemed like the only thing anyone was watching when season 1 aired back in November 2020. I was never sure why until this Christmas break, when my sister pressured me to watch it with her, and we wound up bingeing all eight episodes in two days.

It’s a pretty knotty, compelling mystery, as a flight attendant named Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) “with an alcoholism problem,” per HBO’s description, makes a whole lot of bad choices and also ends up with an international murder problem, a “being pursued by the FBI” problem, a serious PTSD problem, and some hallucination problems. The structure of the mystery is solid, but the structure of the story is even better, as Cassie keeps getting pulled into a kind of dreamspace where she navigates the murder and her own troubled psyche alongside the not-very-helpful murder victim. It’s creative, compelling, and very fast-paced, but you’ll need a strong tolerance for people making absolutely self-destructive decisions at every turn. —Tasha Robinson

The Flight Attendant is streaming on HBO Max.

The Great

Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning as Emperor Peter III and Catherine the Great in The Great Photo: Ollie Upton/Hulu

The first season of The Great gave me something very rare: a show that my entire family was super interested in. Naturally, we had to wait till we were all reunited for the holidays to watch the second season.

The Hulu original series very loosely adapts Catherine the Great’s rise to power, with some delightful anachronisms like wooden roller coasters invented for science fairs and crocodiles roaming through the court. It’s hard to pick favorites among the colorful cast of politically savvy (and horny) religious authorities, sad old generals, scheming courtiers, and an absolutely awful yet lovable former emperor. It’s violent and horny and yet incredibly charming and humorous. Catherine (Elle Fanning) has perhaps bitten off more than she can chew, but we as viewers know that history is on her side, even if the show takes massive creative liberties when detailing her journey. And not to spoil that much, but The Great has one of the most delicious and fulfilling enemies-to-lovers arcs I’ve ever seen. Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult are electric together.

You won’t learn a lot of actual Russian history from watching The Great, but there were enough “occasionally true” (as the show’s subtitle emphasizes) moments to pique my curiosity and send me down Wikipedia rabbit holes. And really, what more could I want from a show? —Petrana Radulovic

The Great is streaming on Hulu.

Lost in Space

(L to R) Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson, Brian Steele as Robot in episode 301 of Lost In Space Image: Netflix

I am a huge space nerd, so when the Lost in Space reboot showed up on Netflix in 2018, I jumped right in. Sitting through the first few episodes, however, I began to question the decision to market the show as family programming. As a parent, I had some big problems with the material, especially for younger children.

Light spoilers, but the premiere episode puts fragile young explorers into some serious (and intensely claustrophobic) danger. Making matters worse, in my opinion, was Parker Posey’s Dr. Zoe Smith, a menacing antagonist that goes far beyond mustache twirling into legit homicides pretty much right off the bat. I can confidently say that my (at the time) 9-year-old and 6-year-old were simply not up for the challenge.

Fast forward to 2022, and my two tiny companions are a few years older now. They also have things like a global pandemic and the transition to junior high school under their belt now, so the perils of space travel aren’t quite as scary. We are sailing through season 1 as a family, and I’m skipping ahead to make sure that the conclusion to this new, final third season is worthy of the time commitment. —Charlie Hall

Lost in Space is streaming on Netflix.

The Most Unknown

A scene from “The Most Unknown,” a documentary by Ian Cheney. Image: Abramorama

All crafting projects with a deadline end in an evening of frenzied stitching. And for background watching, as I doggedly embroidered a tiny felt cape, a friend recommended The Most Unknown without describing it in any way. I bit.

The Most Unknown is a science documentary, I am just now learning via Google, from director Ian Cheney and producer Werner Herzog, but it’s really about science communication. First, we are introduced to a biologist who studies cave slimes. She goes to visit a physicist, to chat about dark matter. Then the physicist goes to visit a psychologist, to explore the mysteries of cognition. Then the psychologist flies halfway around the world to meet a biologist studying extremophile bacteria. On and on, a ring of scientists visiting scientists circles the globe, from remote telescopes at the top of mountains to weird fish at the bottom of the sea.

The topic of conversation is the “most unknown” answer in each specialist’s field of study, and from that prompt spring uncanny connections between the sciences and a deep sense of the joyfully undertaken Sisyphean task of laying another rung on the ladder to the universe’s mysteries, knowing that it may not get where it’s going until after you’re a footnote in a textbook. —Susana Polo

The Most Unknown is streaming on Netflix.

The Matrix

A man (Keanu Reeves) stands in a hallway with his right hand outstretched as a hail of bullets trailed by visible rings of motion are suspended in motion in front of him. Image: Warner Home Video

I watched The Matrix for the first time in 2021. A bunch of folks here at Polygon were talking about the franchise in Slack when I admitted that I’d never seen the movie before. I figured that I had been able to glean the gist of it through memes and cultural references throughout the years.

Here are three things I thought I knew about The Matrix: 1. Everyone has cool sunglasses. 2. If you die in the Matrix, you die in real life. 3. There are red and blue pills that look like Mike and Ikes.

In preparation, I went to the movie theater closest to me, bought popcorn and M&Ms, and settled down to watch The Matrix that night. And, like ... what the fuck? No one told me The Matrix was like that. (And I mean that in a good way.) It turns out, I was right about a lot of what The Matrix is, but there is also so much more that I could not have dreamed up.

It blew my mind in a way I imagine it might have when I was 11. I’m also shocked that I was able to keep myself free from spoilers for so long; I was legitimately surprised by The Matrix. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up watching any more of the Matrix movies during the holiday break, but my husband did watch the second one with headphones while I was reaching. I looked up a few times and saw some people with what appeared to be baby powder on their faces and hair, and I’m eager to eventually see what’s up with that. —Nicole Carpenter

The Matrix is streaming on HBO Max.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Image: Severin Films

I’m not really sure I can recommend a three-hour documentary about a horror subgenre with no reservations, but that description alone should tell you if this movie’s for you.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is an exploration of the history and inspiration of folk horror movies from all around the world. With such a massive subject, it isn’t the deepest documentary ever made, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for with truly impressive breadth.

Over its six parts, this doc covers the deep traditions of English paganism that make up the foundation of folk horror in the popular imagination — think The Wicker Man (1973). But it also expands the genre’s definitions to include things like American horror films about slavery and “ancient Indian burial grounds,” German and Scandinavian stories that date back to the Middle Ages, and movies about ancient Japanese demons. With dozens and dozens of films mentioned, Woodlands Dark is an incredible primer on folk horror and one of the most complete subgenre syllabuses ever compiled. —Austen Goslin

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is available to rent for $1.99 on Amazon, $4.99 on Apple, $3.99 on Vudu.

The Wheel of Time

Lan and Stepin play-fighting in a still from Wheel of Time Photo: Jan Thijs/Amazon Prime Video

After burning through every available episode of The Expanse’s final season, I was searching for another sagalike science fiction or fantasy show to sink into. Amazon Prime kept suggesting The Wheel of Time, and though I knew very little about it, I decided, why the hell not?

The show grabbed me immediately, with its interpretation of magic wielding — known as channeling — and its order of women channelers, the Aes Sedai. Rosamund Pike plays Moiraine, an Aes Sedai who is searching for the next “Dragon,” a heroic channeler who is destined to destroy the Dark One. There are, apparently, five possible candidates who might be the “Dragon Reborn,” and we’re not sure who it is.

The Wheel of Time is propulsive and easy to sink into, with its action-heavy opening and mostly single strand of narrative, which helps the show avoid the trap of dumping tons of exposition very early. Lots of fun channeling scenes, tense fights against trollocs (orclike human-animal monsters), and teen romance and angst. If anything, the plot can be a little too propulsive, with characterizations feeling a bit haphazard at times, as the five potential Dragons Reborn make out-of-character decisions that feel more like plot advancement.

But this doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. I’m always interested in the melodrama, and excited to see all of the familiar fantasy tropes that I’ve loved over the years. It’s been a while since I’ve sunk into a fantasy series — I never got into Game of Thrones, thanks to my low tolerance for onscreen gore. The Wheel of Time was a very welcome binge watch, and I’m excited to see what the next season looks like. —Nicole Clark

The Weel of Time is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster

Dr. Kenzo Tenma in a key art illustration for the 2004 anime adaptation of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. Image: Madhouse

Over the holidays, on a spur-of-the-moment impulse after watching The Matrix Resurrections a bajillion times, I sat down to rewatch one of my all-time favorite anime: Monster. Based on Naoki Urasawa’s mystery thriller manga series, the 2004 anime directed by Masayuki Kojima (Made in Abyss) and produced by studio Madhouse has been lauded as one of the best animated series of the early aughts. And for good reason: The adaptation of Urasawa’s meticulous plotting and multifaceted characters is fastidious and impressive, transforming an already riveting drama into a compulsively bingeworthy masterpiece.

The series centers on Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a gifted young neurosurgeon whose life is thrown into turmoil when he saves the life of a child who turns out to be a brilliant serial killer. Implicated for a series of murders he didn’t commit, Tenma is forced to go on the run in search of proof of the killer’s existence in order to clear his name, only to be thrust into a terrifying conspiracy. Despite Monster being critically acclaimed, the series is one of countless anime that have been rendered inaccessible due to a lapse of licensing rights in the West.

There are other, albeit admittedly inconvenient, ways to watch the series, such as shelling out the cash for a region-free DVD player and purchasing a complete box set of the anime from Australia. Is it worth it? Having just completed my second watch and already tempted to start it again, I can confidently say the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Even barring that, it’s still worth it to seek out and start reading the original manga. —Toussaint Egan

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