The winter is the best season for watching movies (…in a four-way tie with spring, summer, and autumn). For those of us in the Rust Belt, the forecast is ice and snow and skies that stay a sooty grey until roughly April. It’s the perfect time to clear out the Netflix queue or catch up on trendy movies and shows.

I’m not here to tell you about The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), though. You’ve already decided whether you will watch it. I’m digging just a skosh deeper into the archives of the streaming services for forgotten films, seasonal favorites, and odd ducks.

All right, and yes, also you should check out Mank (Netflix historical drama about the production of Citizen Kane), if only so you’ll know what the film-bros are talking about for the next few months.

MattRob’s 10 Recommendations

Wonder Woman 1984 (HBO Max, Christmas)

Wonder Woman (2017) was a kickass movie. Gal Gadot is megawatt dazzling as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Chris Pine… I mean, he’s Chris Pine. The two of them elevated what could have been a mediocre origin story with some otherworldly chemistry. Because the US has been incapable of containing its COVID outbreak, the movie industry has delayed releases or, as in the case with Warner Bros., released their upcoming films online. The Wonder Woman sequel takes place 70ish years after the first film and features Kristen Wiig (literally too many comedies to name) and Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) as antagonists. Somehow Chris Pine is also back in this movie and I’m very curious how. Anyway, CHRISTMAS DAY, Y’ALL. Grab the eggnog and the Lasso of Truth and plant yourself on the couch.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Netflix)

This is one of my all-time favorite movies, based on a book by my favorite spy novelist, John Le Carré. There’s a double agent inside the British service, and Gary Oldman’s George Smiley has to find him. The movie is loaded with character actors (Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciarin Hinds, John Hurt, Stephen Graham) and movie stars popping in for supporting roles (Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch). Everyone is a suspect, and Smiley has his work cut out for him, for who’s better at deception than a spy?

The Last Waltz (Amazon Prime)

I have to be brief, because otherwise I’ll write 5,000 words about this movie. Martin Scorcese directed this concert film about The Band’s final performance (…excluding their reunions in the decade afterward). The concert features some of the biggest rock, country, and R&B stars of the 20th century, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Mavis Staples, and countless others. Every song slaps, the interviews are coke-fueled, and I dunno, I’ve seen this 25 times? In my personal pantheon of concert films, there is Stop Making Sense, then The Last Waltz, then a ten thousand foot gap before #3 (Prince’s Sign o’ the Times, maybe).

Cliffhanger (Amazon Prime)

This one is a recommendation for me as much as for you. I haven’t seen this movie in probably 20 years, and I’ve been itching for a rewatch. It may be terrible, it may be great, but if nothing else, you can’t go wrong with John Lithgow in villain mode (see the excellent Blow Out for another example).

Total Recall (Netflix)

This is an all-time great action film. Arnold Schwarzenegger attempts to have a virtual vacation memory implanted in his brain, only to learn that his mind had already been erased and false memories planted there. Soon he’s on his way to Mars amid widespread political violence. The performances are over the top, the violence is gratuitous, the special effects are timeless, and the score is iconic. This is the easiest recommend on the list.

Ronin (Amazon Prime)

Irish mercenaries hire a disparate group of criminals to steal a briefcase in France. A few double-crosses later and everyone is scrambling to find the briefcase. Robert DeNiro, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgard, and Jean Reno are great in this euro thriller, but the film’s real legacy is its car chases through the streets of Paris and Nice. Director John Frankenheimer used techniques he perfected in his race car movie Grand Prix, and the results are tense and I still don’t get how every scene didn’t end up with stuntmen crashing through storefronts and into ravines.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (Amazon Prime)

Walter Matthau is a personal favorite around these parts. He had a fascinating career, with his most-remembered films being his comedy team-ups with Jack Lemmon (The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men, Fortune Cookie). However, sandwiched between his frumpy, put-upon comedy roles was a run of actioners that rule. Hopscotch is a light spy thriller, but Charley Varrick and The Taking of Pelham 123 are more classic 70s thrillers. Pelham is about a hostage situation on a subway, perpetrated by Robert Shaw and with Matthau as the everyman police lieutenant. Huge recommend (the remake, starring Denzel and Travolta, is also on Prime, and is interesting mostly as a contrast on how thrillers were made in the early 2000s versus the 1970s).

The Personal History of David Copperfield (On-Demand)

I haven’t seen this, but it is pretty high on my list for the month. I’m not a Charles Dickens fan, but I do love Armando Iannucci, the sharp-tongued satirist behind The Death of Stalin, Veep, In The Loop, and The Thick of It. The cast includes Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. This is almost certainly worth a watch and lighter in tone than Iannucci’s other work. Conversely, if you want jet-black satire, The Death of Stalin is very, very satisfying, and is on Netflix.

Good Omens (Amazon Prime)

I try to include at least one TV show when making these recommendations, because while I infinitely prefer the constraints and spectacle of a movie, sometimes one just wants a languorous, meandering story spread across 10+ hours. I am not suggesting that Good Omens, meanders, though. This show moves at a pretty brisk pace given the stakes of its story and the amount of background it has to get through. The leads are world-class charmers (Michael Sheen and David Tennant), Adria Arjona is someone I’d never seen before but who absolutely steals every scene she is in, and this is just a really fun story. If you care about such things (and I do), this is also easily the best adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s writing and actually maintains some of his wit.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Netflix)

I don’t super love this movie, as I think that Michael Cera is a black hole at the center of the film but there is still a lot to like here. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Huntress in Birds of Prey) is great, Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) remains one of the most fun directors working today, and there’s a metric ton of great bit parts in this movie (including performances by Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Allison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Kieran Culkin). The basic premise is that pop-punk guitarist Scott Pilgrim falls for Ramona Flowers, but learns that all of her exes are still very attached to her, so he must do battle with them. The movie is heightened and silly (think high school manga blended with a fighting game). The best thing I can say is that you should just watch the first 15 minutes, and if you aren’t hooked, turn it off. FWIW, I think that you’ll get hooked.


Ramblings: The Lord of the Rings 4K blu ray set released this month, and Peter Jackson and his team oversaw the restoration and transfer. Early reviews highlight the big improvement in sound quality and the removal of the weird discoloration for which the blu ray was notorious. /// I watched a bunch of 4K UHD blu rays the past few months, and The Last Jedi and Bram Stoker’s Dracula remain among the most impressive visually.  /// Warner Bros. is releasing its entire 2021 movie lineup on HBO Max at the same the films release in theaters. Should be a weird year, but hopefully vaccines help us put COVID in the rearview mirror. The movie theater experience has been a little lackluster the past few years thanks to every big film being a sequel/remake/prequel/adaptation, but even I’m not immune to that. I’d still hoped to see WW84 and Dune and No Time to Die in the theater. WW84 definitely isn’t happening, but the other two might still! /// HBO Max is sounding more and more like a good subscription service, but at present we are still just on Netflix and Prime.