February may be the shortest month of the year, but the major streaming sites certainly haven’t used that as an excuse to slack off. Perhaps motivated by the imminent Leap Day, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are unleashing an absolute blizzard of new titles over the next four weeks — from a martial-arts sequel 16 years in the making, to a note-perfect new comedy series that’s arriving just in time to cure (or inflame) those post-Valentine’s Day blues. Here are our top 10 picks for what to watch in the next 29 days.
11.22.63 (Hulu, 2/15)
It’s almost never a good idea to travel back in time and muck with the past, especially not in a television series adapted from a novel by Stephen King. High school teacher Jake Epping (James Franco) certainly has good intentions when he steps through a time portal he finds in the basement of a Maine diner and travels back to September 9, 1958 — which makes him too late to kill Hitler, but early enough to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. Would that it were so simple. Needless to say, things go very wrong, but it sure is fun to watch him run around with love interest Sarah Gadon and try to undo the disasters his actions invariably cause.
Atonement (Netflix, 2/16)
An old-fashioned weepie with a postmodern twist, Joe Wright’s seminal Ian McEwan adaptation was nominated for multiple Oscars and now seems to have been collectively (and undeservedly) forgotten — a reception is nothing if not in tune with the spirit of the movie itself. Chronicling the tortured love affair between a wealthy young women (Keira Knightley) and the son of her family’s housekeeper (James McAvoy), this ravishingly shot melodrama wends an intimate romance through the bluster and chaos of WWII before abruptly kicking you in the teeth with its abrupt third act shift. Devastating as its finale may be, it’s hard to regret watching the movie that gave us Saoirse Ronan, an immersive Dario Marianelli score, and one of the great long-takes in contemporary cinema.
Chi-Raq (Amazon Prime, 2/5)
Spike Lee’s playful riff on Lysistrata wasn’t taken to task by members of the NRA as much as it was members of Chicago’s inner city community, some of whom felt the film trivialized the plague of gun violence that continues to ravage their streets. For others, it was the director’s freshest, sexiest, and most urgent joint in years. There may never be a consensus on this fiery update of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy, which imagines might happen if modern women went on a sex strike until their men put away their glocks, but everyone can agree that Nick Cannon is a revelation as a violent gang leader, and Mad Men alumnus Teyonah Parris is ferociously great as the girlfriend who’s sick of his he-man bullshit.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (Netflix, 2/26)
It’s been almost 16 years since Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became the highest-grossing foreign film in the history of the American box office. A lot has changed since then: For one thing, this long-awaited sequel is premiering on Netflix, a service that didn’t exist when the original hit theaters. For another, Lee has been replaced in the director’s chair by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, who’s added a sizable dollop of CGI magic to the balletic wire-fu that defined the original. But one thing has mercifully stayed the same: Michelle Yeoh, who reprises her role as ancient China’s foremost sword-swinging badass.
Cruel Intentions (Netflix, 2/1)
For a generation of teens whose nascent sexuality had been perked and brought to a simmer by the likes of Dawson’s Creek and Can’t Hardly Wait, Roger Kumble’s super pervy prep school riff on Dangerous Liasons heated things up to an overflowing boil. The story of a scheming sexpot (Buffy‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar), the step-brother she’s got whipped (Ryan Phillippe), and the virginal girls who get caught in their web of deceit and innuendo (Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair), this landmark of late 20th Century cinema may not be as saucy as you remember. But what it lacks in titillation it more than makes up for in cultural kitsch. Plus, that “Colorblind” cue still kills.
The Fifth Element (Amazon Prime, 2/1)
A blockbuster so confident and strange that its imprint on pop culture was practically preordained, Luc Besson’s futurist space opera is a wacko stew of iconic nonsense. “Leeloo Dallas Multi-pass.” Milla Jovovich’s white strap couture. Ruby Rhod. Gary Oldman’s flip of brown hair, and the ooze that occasionally seeps down from it like motor oil. A maximalist story of a gruff cab driver (Bruce Willis) whose true love turns out to be an ancient bioweapon, The Fifth Element is the kind of cartoonish, go-for-broke sci-fi spectacle that’s hard to get funded and even harder to get right (just ask the Wachowskis).
How to Steal a Million (Amazon Prime, 2/1)
Often overshadowed by Audrey Hepburn’s more iconic classics, this deviously fun 1966 heist comedy reunites director William Wyler with his Roman Holiday star for a France-set frivolity about an art forger (Hugh Griffith), his nervous daughter (Hepburn), and the inspector (Peter O’Toole) with whom she falls in love after mistaking for a cat burglar. Some very silly business ensues, but the vintage photography is a delight, Hepburn and O’Toole are wonderful to watch together, and the great Eli Wallach is at his best as a suspicious American tycoon. This is perfect lazy Sunday viewing.
Lost in Translation (Amazon Prime, 2/1)
An unlikely sensation, Sofia Coppola’s beautifully observed follow-up to The Virgin Suicides obliterated any lingering doubts that Francis Ford’s daughter wasn’t the real deal, and also made her the first American woman to ever be nominated for Best Director. Bill Murray, in what’s arguably the greatest role of his career, plays a washed up actor who flies to Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial. Scarlett Johansson, in the role that ensured her a career, plays the married college grad who pals around with him in their towering Tokyo hotel. We’re still wondering what he whispers to her at the end — the secret to doing a great karaoke rendition of “More Than This,” maybe?
Love (Netflix, 2/19)
Not to be confused with Gaspar Noe’s 3D sextravaganza of the same name (which, incidentally, is arriving on Netflix on February 2nd), Judd Apatow’s winsome and hilarious new series is the best streaming comedy since Master of None. Co-creator Paul Rust is Gus, a dorky 31-year-old nice guy who’s being cheated on by his longtime girlfriend. Community graduate Gillian Jacobs is Mickey, an alcoholic girl who ruins everything she touches. When the two meet in a gas station, it sparks one of the most honest TV romances of recent memory, even if the characters can be so self-destructive that the show sometimes feels like the rom-com equivalent of Making a Murderer.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Hulu, 2/1)
All due respect to Airplane!, but this is the greatest spoof ever made. An almost impossibly stupid parody of the hardnosed cop dramas that were all the rage during the Seventies, Leslie Nielsen’s first feature-length case as Lieutenant Frank Drebin is still the pinnacle of ZAZ’s (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker) idiot genius. Ostensibly a story about a heroin deal, the Queen of England, and the USC marching band, this straight-faced parade of visual gags and unbelievable puns feels like an episode of Columbo that was written by the Marx brothers. And if that weren’t enough, it also co-stars comic legend O.J. Simpson, six short years before his career went south.