We’ve almost made it through an objectively terrible 2020 — and while you wait for this annus miserablis to finally end, there’s a lot of stuff to watch while you’re stuck at home, wishing you could be with loved ones and remembering better times. Need a holiday-centric special episode of a controversial show about teens run amuck? Boom. You want to see the new Wonder Woman movie? Well, Merry Christmas to you (assuming you have HBO Max). Also on deck: a slew of big-name Netflix movies and the first Shondaland production to debut on the service; not one but two new Meryl Streep projects (one of which is directed by Steven Soderbergh); the latest Pixar joint; and a limited-series adaptation of a major Stephen King novel. And should you be able to venture out to theaters, the end of the year brings Western starring Tom Hanks, Regina King’s directorial debut and a revenge-thriller/black comedy starring Carrie Mulligan. Here are 21 (!) options for what to tune in to/check out this month.
Another Round (In Theaters, 12/4)
Everyone knows a little alcohol can make life more tolerable. But what if the road to excess really does lead to the path of wisdom, and that requires more than just a wee bit of tippling? Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg reunites him with his The Hunt star (and erstwhile Hannibal Lecter) Mads Mikkelsen for this take of four middle-aged teachers who, inspired by a Norwegian philosopher, decide to up their daily booze intake in an effort to become better, more productive people. Are they intellectual pioneers or just drunks? The answer, if there is one, may be found in this buzzworthy dramed, a.k.a. Denmark’s official entry for the Best International Feature Academy award.
Bridgerton (Netflix, 12/25)
The first fruit of Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix deal adapts a series of popular Julia Quinn novels set in Regency England, where eight siblings learn that high society can be a treacherous place. Julie Andrews provides the voice of Lady Whistledown, the pseudonymous author of a scandal sheet that causes everyone to live in fear of having their darkest secrets exposed. Call it Gossip Grandma?
Euphoria, The “Christmas Special” (HBO 12/6)
Yes, the coronavirus may have delayed the second season of Sam Levinson’s buzzy drama, which earned Zendaya a Best Actress Emmy for her work as the troubled Rue. But don’t fret too much: Two special episodes, filmed with a pared-down cast and crew, will help fill the gap, starting with this holiday-themed outing dealing with the aftermath of Rue’s relapse. Watch on HBO Max here.
The Father (In Theaters 12/18)
Playwright-turned-director Florian Zeller’s adapts his own award-winning play, which centers on a man (Anthony Hopkins) succumbing to dementia and the daughter (Olivia Colman) doing her best to care for him as his condition worsens. The twist, if one could call it that: The story largely takes place via his fractured, ever-shifting perspective. It’s key difference that not only makes this unique from many disease-of-the-month melodramas but is likely to challenge Hopkins in ways that, say, Transformers: The Last Knight probably did not. Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatniss costar.
The Hardy Boys (Hulu 12/4)
Given that Nancy Drew is sleuthing it up over on the CW, it was probably inevitable that the brothers Hardy would follow with a series of their own. Like Nancy Drew, Hulu’s take on the classic kids’ mystery series looks a bit darker and more grown-up than the books that inspired it. But even with the addition of moody lighting and ominous music the core premise remains unchanged since the boys made their debut in 1927: Frank (Rohan Campbell) and his younger brother Joe (Alexander Elliot) solve mysteries that the grown-ups around them can’t crack. Some formulas stand the test of time no matter how much the world around them changes. Watch with free trial to Hulu.
I’m Your Woman (Amazon, 12/11)
Rachel Brosnahan’s first starring feature pushes her a decade past her The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s era to play Jean, a ’70s wife whose criminal husband Eddie (Bill Heck) surprises her with a baby. He says is hers to care for … and then he disappears. That leaves Jean to lam it with only Cal (Arinzé Kene), Eddie’s mysterious associate, to protect her from whatever trouble her husband has stirred up. Julia Hart (Fast Color, Stargirl) directs. Watch with free trial to Amazon Prime.
Let Them All Talk (HBO Max, 12/10)
A new Steven Soderbergh movie! Yes!! The ever-experimental filmmaker enlists his Laundromat star Meryl Streep to play a veteran author of bestsellers who takes a cruise with a pair of old friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) in an attempt to fight back a bad case of writer’s block. Lucas Hedges co-stars as the nephew who’s along for the ride (and to watch as old resentments resurface). Watch on HBO Max here.
Mank (Netflix, 12/4)
David Fincher delves into the past — both Hollywood’s and his own; the director’s late father Jack Fincher wriote the screenplay — as he revisits the life of Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a drunken wit and compulsive gambler who helped create the sound of classic Hollywood dialogue. He also wrote the screenplay to Citizen Kane, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made — not that director, producer, star, and credited co-writer Orson Welles was eager to make a big deal about his hired hand’s contributions. Shot in black and white with Fincher’s usual eye for detail, the film connects the dots between Mankiewicz’s life, his relationship with publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and the rise-and-fall story at the heart of Kane.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix, 12/18)
Of all the losses 2020 has brought us, few have hit quite as hard as the death of Chadwick Boseman, a supremely talented actor who seemingly had decades of work ahead of him. In his final role, Boseman plays Levee, a trumpeter taking part in a dramatic recording session for the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). The film adapts August Wilson’s acclaimed 1984 play and continues producer/Fences star Denzel Washington’s ongoing project of committing the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” to film.
Midnight Sky (Netflix, 12/23)
The good news: A group of astronauts (played by Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo and others) have discovered a moon orbiting Jupiter with an atmosphere capable of sustaining human life. The bad news: They’re returning to a devastated Earth and don’t yet realize the dangers of coming home. Director George Clooney costars as a scientist stationed in the Arctic who tries to warn them before it’s too late. This sounds like the perfect grim capstone to a year that feels like it’s teetered on the edge of the apocalypse several times over.
Minari (In Theaters, 12/11)
Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung draws upon his own experience growing up Korean-American in small-town Arkansas in the 1980s. Steven Yuen stars as a family patriarch who, tired of life in California, relocates his family to a five-acre farm outside Little Rock. In the ensuing culture clash, members of several generations have to reassess who they are, and who they want to be, as they settle into their new home in America’s heartland. Welcome to the season’s big A24 release.
News of the World (In Theaters, 12/25)
Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd (no, not that Captain Kidd) in this adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ 2016 novel about a Civil War veteran who reads stories of events and incidents to remote frontier villages. He is then charged with returning a kidnapped girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel) to her family after years spent living with the Kiowa people. The problem: She would rather not go, which complicates Kidd’s already treacherous journey through Texas. The western reunites Hanks with director Paul Greengrass for a film that could do for the dusty plains what Captain Phillips for open water.
Nomadland (In Theaters, 12/4)
Chloé Zhao’s great 2017 film The Rider blurs fact and fiction via the story of an injured rodeo star that uses non-professional actors to play characters whose lives mirrored their own. Adapting Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book about older workers wandering America looking for whatever jobs they can find, the filmmaker attempts a variation on the same trick by casting Frances McDormand as an middle-aged migrant and embedding her amongst real-life rootless people on the go. If that alone didn’t make it sound like a must-see, it also won the Golden Lion at Venice and the People’s Choice Award at Toronto. You can’t ignore that kind of transatlantic approval.
One Night in Miami… (In Theaters, 12/25)
On February 25, 1964, a 22-year-old boxer named Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) — soon to be known as Muhammad Ali — defeated Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world. He celebrated in the company of three friends: activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). We’ll never know what form that celebration took, but adaptation of Kemp Powers’ acclaimed play — which doubles as Regina King’s directorial debut! — offers a fictionalized depiction of a gathering of titans destined, each in his own way, to reshape the world.
The Prom (Netflix, 12/11)
In the conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana, high schooler Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is informed that she can’t bring her girlfriend to the prom. But all is not lost when a group of self-involved Broadway performers (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells) show up and decide to make Emma’s problem a cause célèbre. And look, if they happen to boost their profiles in the process after suffering through a massive flop, well … all the better! Ryan Murphy directs this adaptation of the 2016 musical — and the trailer, which includes a dance sequence staged in the middle of a shopping mall, suggests he’s holding nothing back.
Promising Young Woman (In Theaters, 12/25)
Once an ambitious med student, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) has a hobby: she feigns intoxication and helplessness in order to attract and get the better of sexual predators. And when she happens to run into a nice guy (Bo Burnham) at her barista job, our heroine discovers that she may be able to finally settle one last score. It’s a rich set-up for a timely, blackly comic revenge story from Emerald Fennell — an experienced triple threat who ran the second season of Killing Eve and is currently turning heads as Camilla Parker Bowles in the new season of The Crown, now making her feature directorial debut.
Soul (Disney+, 12/25)
Pixar’s latest was supposed to arrive in theaters in time for Thanksgiving. Instead it’s showing up on Disney+ on Christmas, which might not be the worst day to soak in the whimsical reflections of an animated film concerned with nothing less than the meaning of life itself. Pete Docter’s follow-up to Inside Out casts Jamie Foxx as a jazz musician hovering between life and death who escapes to the Great Before — where souls hang out before coming to Earth — as he tries to rejoin his body. Tina Fey co-stars as a reluctant soul in need of some coaxing. Watch on Disney+.
The Stand (CBS All Access, 12/17)
Stephen King’s mammoth 1978 novel found the author delivering an epic in which the forces of good and evil clash on the fields of a post-cataclysmic American that’s been devastated by a pandemic. It’s been hard not to think of the book over the last few months — and now here’s a nine-part miniseries adaptation sure to keep it top of mind well into 2021. This is a second attempt to bring The Stand to television (the first, starring Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald, aired on ABC in 1994), and the streaming service has recruited a cast that includes James Marsden, Amber Heard, Whoopi Goldberg and, as the villainous Randall Flagg, Alexander Skarsgard. Bonus: This means that his brother Bill can no longer claim to be the only Skarsgard to play a famous King bad guy. Watch with free trial to CBS All Access here.
Sylvie’s Love (Amazon, 12/25)
Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), the ambitious daughter of a record store owner, falls into a summer romance with an up-and-coming saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) in late-’50s New York. He seems destined to become Sylvie’s one-who-got-away when his music takes him abroad but life eventually draws them back together — albeit it might be too late. Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, the film appears to be designed to single handedly make up for a long drought of unabashedly romantic movies. Watch with free trial to Amazon Prime.
Wonder Woman 1984 (In Theaters and HBO Max, 12/25)
Another blockbuster making its debut on a streaming service (and, in this case, whatever theaters remain open), this Wonder Woman sequel finds the Amazon warrior resuming her adventures in the middle of the Reagan era. And she’s now pitted against both evil business tycoon Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a friend-turned-jungle cat-powered supervillain. Gal Gadot Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins return for round Two. If you;d told us a year ago that this much-anticipated superhero movie would first appear on a streaming service alongside the first season of The Vow, we would have thought you’d lost your mind. But here we are. Thanks again, 2020. Watch on HBO Max here.
Your Honor (Showtime, 12/6)
Israeli television has inspired such notable American series as Homeland, In Treatment, Euphoria, and now this miniseries in which Bryan Cranston plays a judge who helps his son cover up a hit-and-run accident then finds his troubles only snowball from there. Could a series in which the Breaking Bad star plays an upright citizen drawn into the wrong side of the law possibly succeed? Tune in and find out. Watch with free trial to Showtime here.