What to Watch in December 2021: Best TV Shows, Movies Streaming Online - Rolling Stone
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What to Watch in December: New ‘Matrix,’ Spider-Man, ‘Being The Ricardos’ and Boba Fett

December’s offerings include the return of two massive movie franchises, a new film on ‘I Love Lucy’ and a Boba Fett spin-off

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It’s December which, when it comes to movies and television, tends to mean two things: Christmas specials and prestige movies. This year is no exception. In theaters (and sometimes on streaming) you’ll find big new films from names like Spielberg, Almodóvar, Coen, Washington, del Toro and Verhoeven. Things look a little less exciting on the Christmas special front, which mostly features old favorites, but there’s a new, not-for-kids series sending some of those up that looks like it will be worth checking out. There’s a lot to squeeze in this month, so let’s start with that one.

Santa Inc. (HBO Max, December 2)

In this foul-mouthed riff on the Rankin-Bass holiday claymation classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Sarah Silverman provides the voice of an elf determined to become the first female Santa when the current holder of the position (Seth Rogen) steps down only to discover the North Pole is even more of a boys’ club than she suspected. Watch on HBO Max here.

Benedetta (Theaters, December 3)

Some directors mellow with age. Others make provocative films about 17th-century lesbian nuns and church politics. Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Black Book) falls into the latter category, as evidenced by his latest film. Verhoeven has harbored an interest in religion as long as he’s had an interest in shocking audiences. The two combine in a story of erotic chaos written by Verhoeven’s Elle collaborator David Birke and starring Charlotte Rampling.

Flee (Theaters, December 3)

In his unusual and powerful documentary, Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmusseen uses animation to tell the story of his longtime friend Amin (a pseudonym created for the film), who fled his homeland for Denmark as a child, an experience that continues to mark him. It’s at once a gripping story of escape and a study of what shapes our identities.

The Hand of God (Theaters, December 3 and Netflix, December 15)

The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, The Young Pope) is a coming-of-age story starring Filippo Scotti as Fabietto and draws on his own time growing up in 1980s Naples and the tragedy that set him on the path to become a director. The title comes from a famous World Cup goal made by soccer star Diego Maradona, who accidentally plays a role in shaping Fabietto’s fate.

Harlem (Prime, December 3)

Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver created this new series about four Harlem friends (Megan Good, Shoniqua Shandai, Jerrie Johnson, and Grace Byers) navigating the unique challenges of life in their thirties. Oliver, who’s cited shows like Girlfriends and Sex and the City as inspirations is, of course, no stranger to stories about complicated friendships between women featuring appealing casts. What worked at the movies looks likely to work just as well as a TV series. Watch with a free trial to Amazon Prime here.

Landscapers (HBO, December 6)

In a fact-inspired black comedy Olivia Colman and David Thewlis play a pair of nice, unremarkable Nottinghamshire residents with a secret. (The exact nature of the secret probably counts as a spoiler but, for those who like to do a little research before watching, the crime at the heart makes for pretty shocking reading.) Watch on HBO Max here.

And Just Like That… (HBO, December 9)

Speaking of Sex and the City, it’s back, mostly, in this revival that reunites three of the four main cast members. That means no Kim Cattrall but plenty of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon as well as a handful of new characters played by Sarita Choudhury and Nicole Ari Parker. Watch on HBO Max here.

West Side Story (Theaters, December 10)

Steven Spielberg has never directed a musical before which means, even for a director with Spielberg’s talent and track record, West Side Story is something of a risk. Not only is it arguably the most beloved musical of Broadway’s golden age, it’s already been turned into an all-time classic film thanks to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ 1961 adaptation. Still, it should be fascinating to see what he does with the material and with stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, who play this version’s star-crossed lovers. (One familiar face from the 1961 version does make an appearance, however: Rita Moreno.)

Related: How to Watch West Side Story Online

Being The Ricardos (Theaters, December 10, Prime December 21)

Aaron Sorkin follows The Trial of the Chicago 7 with a look at a different sort of 20th century landmark: I Love Lucy, the sitcom that more or less invented the sitcom (and much of TV as we know it). That might sound like a departure for Sorkin, but it’s reportedly as much about the intersection of entertainment and politics as the personal lives of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). Watch with a free trial to Amazon Prime here.

Don’t Look Up (Theaters, December 10, Netflix December 24)

Another director fond of mixing politics and entertainment, Adam McKay returns with a satire about climate change and humanity’s propensity for self-destruction. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as astronomers trying to warn Earth about an approaching comet only to find out that no one’s particularly interested in what they have to say, no matter how dire the consequences.

Red Rocket (Theaters, December 10)

Director Sean Baker (Tangerine, The Florida Project) has a gift for depicting desperate characters with a sense of understanding that doesn’t ignore their flaws, a trend that looks likely to continue with his latest. Former MTV personality/actor/rapper Simon Rex stars as a down-on-his-luck porn star who returns to his hometown in Texas for a fresh start that turns out to be less fresh than he might have hoped.

Saturday Morning All Star Hits! (Netflix, December 10)

Anyone who’s ever lamented that Saturday Night Live doesn’t feature enough of Kyle Mooney indulging a talent for weird, absurdist comedy will probably want to check out this series Mooney co-created with Bob’s Burgers’ Ben Jones. Mooney plays twin hosts of a Saturday-morning show in a series that mixes live-action with animation while drawing inspiration from the children’s programming of the Eighties and Nineties. Watch on Netflix here.

Station Eleven (HBO Max, December 16)

In the not-so-distant future much of the world has been wiped out by a flu pandemic. Wait. Don’t check out yet. Starring MacKenzie Davis, this new series adapts a terrific 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel that found hope and humanity in a catastrophe-stricken world. It might be just the sort of series the moment requires. Watch on HBO Max here.

Mother/Android (Hulu, December 17)

Set in yet another grim not-so-distant future, this dystopian thriller stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a pregnant woman desperately trying to make it to safety while outrunning murderous androids who’ve turned on their human creators. It’s the directorial debut of Mattson Tomlin, writer of Project Power and co-writer of The Batman. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.

Nightmare Alley (Theaters, December 17)

While Spielberg tackles one of the quintessential musicals of the past century Guillermo del Toro turns his attention to one of its most revered crime novels. Written by William Lindsay Gresham, 1946’s Nightmare Alley was previously turned into a classic noir starring Tyrone Power. The director of The Shape of Water and Crimson Peak, del Toro’s no stranger to putting his own spin on past styles and here he’s drawn in an all-star cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Toni Collette for the lurid story of a manipulative carny and a dangerous psychiatrist.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Theaters, December 17)

When we last saw Spider-Man he’d just been accused of a horrific crime and had his secret identity outed. What’s a superhero to do? If you’re Peter Parker (Tom Holland) you track down Dr. Strange and ask for help, only to create more trouble—and some visitors from past Spider-Man movies—in the process.

The Lost Daughter (Theaters, December 17, Netflix December 31)

Maggie Gylleenhaal makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novel starring Olivia Colman as Leda, a vacationing academic whose attempt at some downtime leads her on a journey through the past. Jessie Buckley co-stars as the young Leda alongside Dakota Johnson and Peter Sarsgaard. The film earned instant acclaim at the Venice Film Festival and, with Passing, looks to make 2021 a notable year for actors making confident directorial debuts.

Swan Song (Theaters and Apple TV+, December 17)

In the grand tradition of science fiction stories that pose difficult conundrums Swan Song stars Mahershala Ali as a dying man who might be able to cheat death, sort of, by creating a clone of himself and leaving it behind with his unsuspecting family. Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, and Glenn Close co-star in a first feature from Irish filmmaker Benjamin Cleary. Watch on Apple TV here.

The Matrix Resurrections (Theaters and HBO Max, December 22)

Lana Wachowski (sans Lily) returns to the world of The Matrix eighteen years after The Matrix Revolutions brought the story to a seemingly definitive conclusion. But the world of The Matrix is strange and twisty enough to allow for fresh beginnings. The film’s plot remains tightly under wraps but the trailer suggests that Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) now no longer remember their lives outside the Matrix. Chances are good, however, that the film won’t leave them in blissful ignorance. Watch on HBO Max here.

Licorice Pizza (Theaters, December 24)

Paul Thomas Anderson returns to a bygone era of California history with this coming-of-age story starring Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a couple of teens fumbling their way toward adulthood in the San Fernando Valley of 1973. A new PTA film doesn’t necessarily need any more selling points, though a cast that includes Tom Waits and Bradley Cooper (as hairdresser-turned-movie producer Jon Peters) and an amazing trailer don’t hurt. (The film opened last month in Los Angeles but expands this month.)

Parallel Mothers (Theaters, December 24)

There are few directors as reliable as Pedro Almodóvar, who’s now entering his fifth decade making visually striking, thematically complex films and shows no signs of stopping. Almodóvar’s latest tells the story of two mothers, one middle-aged (Penelope Cruz, making her seventh film with the director), the other much younger (Milena Smit), who bond as childbirth approaches. 

A Journal for Jordan (Theaters, December 25), The Tragedy of MacBeth (Theaters, December 25 and Apple TV+ January 14)

It’s a big Christmas for Denzel Washington who can be found both in front of and behind the camera. He’s starring opposite Frances McDormand in Joel Coen’s take on Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. (Coen, working without Ethan for the first time, shot the film in striking black and white.) Washington also serves as the director of A Journal for Jordan, an adaptation of a memoir by Dana Canedy (played here by Chanté Adams) detailing her relationship with Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan), a sergeant serving in Iraq.

The Book of Boba Fett (Disney+, December 29)

Anyone wondering what happened to Grogu, the adorable creature formerly known as Baby Yoda, after [redacted for spoilers] showed up to whisk him away at the end The Mandalorian’s second season will apparently have to wait a little while longer. But don’t worry too much: we’ll instead be getting a season of this spin-off starring Temuera Morrison as the morally ambiguous bounty hunter Boba Fett. The plot, naturally, remains secretive but Morrison and co-star Ming-Na Wen were highlights of that second Mandalorian season so this should definitely be worth a look. Watch on Disney+ here.

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