The Best Films and TV Shows to Stream Over the Holidays


Here is a highly select list of films, series and specials due this season on the major subscription streaming platforms. (Dates are subject to change.) Because the pandemic has created uncertainty around release dates for movies headed to theaters and video on demand, those titles have been omitted.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (HBO Max) Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 book, a reflection on racial injustice written as a letter to his 15-year-old son, is adapted into a film that draws on both the book and the 2018 stage version performed at the Apollo Theater. Kamilah Forbes, who directed that production, directed here as well.

BELUSHI (Showtime) Toga! Toga! R.J. Cutler directed this documentary about the life of the sorely missed “Animal House” star John Belushi. It features audio and writings from Belushi and reminiscences from many of his “Saturday Night Live” co-stars.

DOLLY PARTON’S CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE (Netflix) For this holiday musical special, Parton wrote the music and lyrics for 14 original songs, and stars as an angel who makes an appeal to a Scrooge-like figure (Christine Baranski) who wants to evict a town’s residents by Christmas Eve. Debbie Allen directed; Jenifer Lewis and Treat Williams also star.

BLACK NARCISSUS (FX) The spectacular Technicolor splendor of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 movie version cannot be improved upon, but this limited series is a new adaptation of the novel underpinning that film. Gemma Arterton has the Deborah Kerr role of Sister Clodagh, a nun charged with running a mission in the Himalayas, where the altitude and the cultural dislocation tilt the sisters toward madness. With Aisling Franciosi (“The Nightingale”) as the troubled Sister Ruth.

SHAWN MENDES: IN WONDER (Netflix) The Canadian pop singer and former Vine star is the subject of this backstage documentary.

HILLBILLY ELEGY (Netflix) J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir of growing up in southwestern Ohio — in which he criticized what he saw as a culture of dependency and resignation among the nonworking white poor — is now a Ron Howard melodrama, starring Amy Adams as Vance’s mother, who struggled with addiction, and Glenn Close, in a gnarly-looking makeup job, as his grandmother. Gabriel Basso plays the author. The early reviews were … not kind.

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART TWO (Netflix) Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn return as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus in this follow-up to the 2018 hit. That movie was set mostly in Chicago; this one involves a theft at the North Pole by a villain named Belsnickel (Julian Dennison). The “Harry Potter” filmmaker Chris Columbus, who also wrote the script, gives the series an uptick in franchise-directing cachet.

HAPPIEST SEASON (Hulu) Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play Abby and Harper, a couple dealing with the uneasiness of spending their first holiday together with Harper’s family. Making things more awkward: Harper hasn’t told them she’s gay, which greatly complicates Abby’s plans to propose. With Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Daniel Levy of “Schitt’s Creek.” Clea DuVall directed.

THE MYSTERY OF D.B. COOPER (HBO Max) Some people speculated that “Mad Men” would end with Don Draper revealed to be the man known as D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a passenger plane in 1971 and parachuted out of it with $200,000 in ransom money. What happened to him has never been solved. “Mad Men” didn’t go there, and the F.B.I. deactivated its investigation in 2016. But maybe this documentary by John Dower can crack the case.

SAVED BY THE BELL (Peacock) In the original “Saved by the Bell,” Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) imagined that as an adult, he’d have a job as a game-show host. He was pretty far off: In this reboot, which appears poised somewhere between homage and sendup, he’s the governor of California. Elizabeth Berkley, Mario Lopez and several other cast members return, along with a new class at Bayside High.

UNCLE FRANK (Amazon Prime) Alan Ball wrote and directed this 1970s-set drama, centered on a Southern teenager (Sophia Lillis) who heads to college in New York and learns that her uncle there (Paul Bettany) is gay. She then accompanies him back home for a funeral.

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (HBO Max) In a new series with a caustic sense of humor, Kaley Cuoco plays a flight attendant who enjoys an impromptu fling in Bangkok with a passenger. The next morning, she wakes up next to a corpse.

MOSUL (Netflix) The screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (who had a hand in the scripts for “Deepwater Horizon” and “World War Z”) makes his directorial debut in this film about an Iraqi police officer (Adam Bessa) who joins a specialized group of soldiers to take back Iraqi territory from the Islamic State.

SUPERINTELLIGENCE (HBO Max) Melissa McCarthy’s character, Carol, is targeted by a superintelligent A.I. entity that wants to observe her romantic interactions — and take over the world. Bobby Cannavale and Brian Tyree Henry also star. Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and frequent collaborator, directed.

BLACK BEAUTY (Disney+) In the latest screen adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, Kate Winslet voices the titular horse, and Mackenzie Foy plays a girl who becomes her companion.

DANCE DREAMS: HOT CHOCOLATE NUTCRACKER (Netflix) This documentary recounts the dance career of Debbie Allen, who directed “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” (see above) and was a choreographer, director and actress on the TV version of “Fame.” It also goes behind the scenes at Allen’s dance academy, which stages her version of a holiday ballet classic.

LOVERS ROCK (Amazon Prime) The highlights of this year’s New York Film Festival included three features in the “Small Axe” anthology directed by Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), a series that focuses on West Indian residents of London. This installment, which opened the festival, is about a party in 1980, from preparations to the morning after. “You feel less like a spectator than like a participant, intoxicated by the hints of danger, the pulse of the music and the tantalizing possibility of love,” A.O. Scott wrote in September.

MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY (Showtime) In a documentary that may make viewers themselves feel as if they’ve embarked on a head-spinning trip, Errol Morris points his camera at Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who describes her whirlwind relationship with the psychedelics evangelist Timothy Leary and ponders any role she may have played, consciously or unconsciously, in his decision to become a government informant. It’s based on a book by Harcourt-Smith, who died last month.

TRIPPING WITH NILS FRAHM (Mubi) The director Benoit Toulemonde shows Frahm, who blends elements of classical and electronic dance music, in four concerts at the Funkhaus Berlin in Germany.

GODMOTHERED (Disney+) A novice fairy godmother (Jillian Bell), fearing her vocation is about to go the way of the encyclopedia salesman, does some godmothering for a single mom (Isla Fisher) in Boston. Sharon Maguire directed.

LA LEYENDA NEGRA (HBO Max) The Lisbon-born artist Patricia Vidal Delgado makes her feature-directing debut with this Sundance drama, centered on an immigrant teenager from El Salvador (Monica Betancourt) living in Compton, Calif., whose activism threatens her temporary protection status.

MANK (Netflix) David Fincher — directing a screenplay by his father, Jack Fincher — dramatizes the period when Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), holed up in Victorville, Calif., worked on the screenplay of “Citizen Kane,” on which he shared writing credit with Orson Welles. In flashbacks (mostly) are Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard).

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (Amazon Prime) In this gripping and terse entry in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series, John Boyega plays a scientist who in the 1980s joins the London police, thinking that his presence as a Black man on the force will help combat his colleagues’ racist attitudes. It’s based on the story of a real officer, Leroy Logan, who consulted on the film.

SELENA: THE SERIES (Netflix) Christian Serratos stars as the Mexican-American singer Selena, who earned a reputation as the queen of Tejano and who won a Grammy in 1994, the year before she was killed at age 23. With Seidy López and Ricardo Chavira as her parents.

SOUND OF METAL (Amazon Prime) Riz Ahmed stars as a punk drummer who finds that he’s experiencing a rapid deterioration of his hearing. Olivia Cooke plays his girlfriend and fellow musician.

EUPHORIA (HBO Max) After winning three Emmys, including one for its headlining star, Zendaya, Sam Levinson’s sensationalistic series will return with two special episodes made under restrictions during the pandemic. Can these teenagers practice social distancing?

40 YEARS A PRISONER (HBO Max) This documentary explores the legacy of the 1978 confrontation between the Philadelphia police and the back-to-nature, antigovernment organization known as Move.

ALABAMA SNAKE (HBO Max) Did a Pentecostal preacher try to kill his wife using a bed of rattlesnakes in 1991? Family interviews tell the tale in this documentary.

Dec. 10

LET THEM ALL TALK (HBO Max) Steven Soderbergh, always up for a challenge, filmed this feature on the Queen Mary 2 as it crossed the Atlantic. Meryl Streep plays a writer; the cast also includes Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest and Gemma Chan. The short-story author Deborah Eisenberg is credited with the script.

ALEX WHEATLE (Amazon Prime) This installment of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series centers on the real-life writer Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), who wound up in prison at 18 after a riot in 1981 in Brixton, London. He was also a writing consultant on the anthology.

DURGAVATI (Amazon Prime) This Hindi-language thriller is part of a lineup of contemporary Indian films that Amazon is releasing; this one concerns a government officer and a conspiracy.

GIVING VOICE (Netflix). Released in advance of the forthcoming “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the movie version of August Wilson’s play, this documentary trails six students as they compete in the National August Wilson Monologue Competition. By performing excerpts from Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, they have a chance to appear on Broadway.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL: THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL (Disney+) The latest “High School Musical” cast (that is, not Zac Efron or Vanessa Hudgens) performs Christmas and Hanukkah songs in a revue filmed “semi-remotely,” Disney says, during the pandemic.

I’M YOUR WOMAN (Amazon Prime) Julia Hart (“Fast Color”) directed this retro crime drama, which she wrote with her husband, the “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz. It stars Rachel Brosnahan as a young mother who is left in the lurch by her criminal husband. With Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake.

THE PROM (Netflix) Four Broadway actors (played by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden and Andrew Rannells) travel to Indiana to help a high schooler (Jo Ellen Pellman) whose school district won’t let her attend the prom because she wants to go with her girlfriend. Oh, and it’s a musical, directed by Ryan Murphy. Keegan-Michael Key and Kerry Washington are also in the starry cast.

SAFETY (Disney+) Jay Reeves stars as the real-life college football player Ray McElrathbey, known as Ray Ray, who took custody of his kid brother while still in school to keep him from foster care when their mother was in rehab. Reginald Hudlin directed.

WOLFWALKERS (Apple TV+) In the latest Irish animated feature from Tomm Moore (the Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells”) and Ross Stewart, a girl hunts wolves — then gains the ability to turn into a wolf as she sleeps.

THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART (HBO Max) From his lyrics, you might think that the “Stayin’ Alive” singer Barry Gibb has no time to talk. But as the sole surviving original Bee Gee, he is one of the principal interviewees in Frank Marshall’s documentary on one of disco’s most famous groups.

THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER (HBO Max) George Clooney is among the executive producers of this documentary on the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, a force for human rights in Guatemala.

THE STAND (CBS All Access) A limited TV series based on Stephen King’s 1978 novel — set in a world ushered into apocalypse by a flu pandemic — is a little on-the-nose for 2020. James Marsden, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard, Alexander Skarsgard and Whoopi Goldberg are in the sprawling cast.

EDUCATION (Amazon Prime) The last of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” features — all stories involving West Indians in London — stars Kenyah Sandy as a boy who, because his school has a de facto segregation policy, is summarily transferred from his regular school to a school for students with special needs.

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (Netflix). Chadwick Boseman, who died in August at age 43, gives his final performance in this adaptation of August Wilson’s 1984 play. He plays Levee, a trumpeter who wants the blues band headed by Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) to try a new sound in jazz-age Chicago. The Broadway veteran George C. Wolfe directed.

ON POINTE (Disney+) Ballet hasn’t exactly avoided the spotlight of documentaries — there are two films on the subject from Frederick Wiseman alone. But neither of those is about youth ballet. This six-episode series goes backstage at the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center, where younger students rehearse “The Nutcracker” and older students prepare to enter the cutthroat dance world.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (Netflix) George Clooney, who directed, stars as a scientist in the Arctic trying desperately to warn a team of astronauts (played by Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo and Demián Bichir, among others) that they should stay up in space, because Earth has experienced some sort of cataclysm.

BRIDGERTON (Netflix) Shonda Rhimes is an executive producer of this series inspired by Julia Quinn’s novels, which follow the members of a nobleman’s family in early-19th-century England. Expect gossip, intrigue and ornate costumes.

SOUL (Disney+) The pandemic-delayed, much-awaited new outing from Pixar — originally destined for Cannes in May and then theaters, but now going straight to streaming — casts the voice of Jamie Foxx as a school band teacher who falls down an open manhole and ends up separated from his soul. Tina Fey and Angela Bassett provide some of the other voices. Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) directed, with the playwright Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”) credited as co-director.

SYLVIE’S LOVE (Amazon Prime) A jazz saxophonist (Nnamdi Asomugha) and a woman who yearns to work in television (Tessa Thompson) fall for each other in 1957, then separate and cross paths over the years.

WE CAN BE HEROES (Netflix) The children of superheroes join forces to rescue their parents, who have been taken by aliens. The movie presumably returns the director Robert Rodriguez to the turf of “Spy Kids” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D.” Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Pedro Pascal are among the adults in the cast.

Listings compiled with the assistance of Lauren Messman.



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