Netflix: the 10 best new films and shows in December
Roma, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, Dumplin’, The Innocent Man, Springsteen on Broadway
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
With Jon Favreau’s 2016 live action Jungle Book featuring the vocal talents of Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray being a surprise success, Andy Serkis takes us back into the wild with his version of Mowgli’s origin story.
The erstwhile motion-capture actor turned director has assembled a cast heaving with award winners with Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale all voicing the jungle cats and reptiles, it tells the tale of the conflict between Mowgli’s human life and his empathy with the animal kingdom.
Darker and more serious than Favreau’s unfailingly charming effort, Serkis focuses on the relationship between Mowgli and the human villagers including hunter John Lockwood (Matthew Rhys) giving it a sombre tone closer to the Kipling original than the much-loved Disney classic.
Based on Julie Murphy’s best-selling novel, Dumplin’ is the story of Willowdean Dickson (Danielle McDonald) a self-assured teen, comfortable in her own skin regardless of what her former beauty queen mother (Jennifer Aniston) sometimes thinks, who in a bid to test her body confidence after she embarks on a relationship with a local hunk, decides to enter her mother’s beauty pageant. As other less pageant-conventional girls follow in her footsteps, her actions start a revolution in her small Texas town.
Directed by rom-com impresario Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, Set it Up) and with a soundtrack provided by Sia and Dolly Parton, Dumplin’ is the sweeter side of beauty queen comedies such as the blisteringly brilliant Drop Dead Gorgeous and Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a down-home slice of cinematic apple pie goodness that the holidays were made for.
Nailed It! Holiday!
If you’re feeling embarrassed by your own culinary efforts among the Enid Blyton perfection of Bake Off creations, this Christmas, take comfort in Netflix alternative baking show Nailed It! – this celebrates the truly average of home-cooks. The awful cakes and battered buns take centre stage in this seasonal special as contestants compete against each other to win $10,000.
Forget Kirstie and her handmade pearl encrusted place-cards or Jamie and Nigella with their trussed up turkeys, Nailed It! epitomises the true spirit of Christmas. An ordinary Christmas, like the confections presented by the amatuer bakers, is one that never matches the fantastical ideal – it’s everyone a bit frayed around the edges just trying their best to make something that doesn’t poison everyone. It’s not a time for fussing over frou-frou millefeuille or worrying about the origins of the brussel sprouts. Nailed It! unifies us in our limited capabilities and says it’s okay to be a bit crap, which is sometimes the reassurance we need in this season of superficial smugness.
The American Meme
A fascinating look into the curious appeal and lives of social media superstars and reality celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Josh Ostrovsky (AKA The Fat Jew) and party-boy Kirill Bichutsky, the documentary The American Meme puts Warhol’s United States of Celebrity under the microscope. Showing the endless rat-race involved in providing controversial content and gossip-worthy drama mined from their lives to keep the circus going, it proves that only the hardened and true fame-hungry wannabes will survive.
Exploring the attraction and popularity of this cultural debasement, (the idea of those who are “famous for being famous”), it examines the schism in modern celebrity, those in the higher echelons who refuse to take part in the daily media grind and those who are more than willing to sell their souls (and everything else) to the highest bidder.
Netflix are pinning all their Academy Award hopes for 2019 on Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical black and white, Spanish language tribute to his childhood nanny. Hailed as a masterpiece by critics since it debuted at the Venice film festival earlier this year, it follows the daily life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she raises her boss’s four children in middle-class Mexico. Starring unknown actors and with a story that relies heavily on meaningful silences and stream-of-conscious scripting, it will be interesting to see if something that is so perfectly created for the rapt concentration of the art house cinema transfers to the smaller screen and the distracting ways in which we now consume film and television. As Netflix keeps its viewing figures under wraps, it will be difficult to ascertain if the slow0moving drama ends up being a smash hit.
With Netflix shoring up auteur talent in a bid to become a serious contender within Hollywood, gaining kudos for providing compelling work from diverse talents including Dee Rees with Mudbound, the Coen Brothers Ballad of Buster Scruggs to Kathryn Hahn’s astonishingly stirring performance in Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life, the streaming service is now striving for critical acclaim not just bank-busting viewing numbers.
The Innocent Man
Armchair detectives can settle in for some festive binging as a new winter true-crime obsession is born. The Innocent Man is based on the bestselling non-fiction book by John Grisham which detailed the shocking murders that unsettled the small town of Ada, Oklahoma in the 1980s. As with Netflix’s Making a Murderer, The Innocent Man is as much a critique of the American justice system as it is a true-crime documentary. Following the controversial conclusions of the trial, it uses archival footage and interviews with family members and friends to re-examine the case and the troubling aspects of the law enforcement procedures.
Springsteen on Broadway
Some might say that Springsteen is a kind of a gruff-talking Santa for grown men and women. This year he’s spreading some cheer by giving Netflix exclusive access to his one man show, cleverly titled Springsteen on Broadway (although the Boss on Broadway may have been more alliteratively pleasing) where he strums some tunes and talks openly and emotionally about his inspirations and life as one of the great American storytellers.
Since the success of Get Out and A Quiet Place, dystopian thrillers have captured an elusive market: films that manage to be blockbuster success stories as well as a critical sensations. Bird Box attempts to muscle in on this territory as another grim post-apocalyptic horror story. Starring Sandra Bullock as pregnant mother Malorie who must protect her family from the strange supernatural beings that have infiltrated the Earth and set about destroying the population. These creatures (who remain unseen) cause human eyes to glaze over before insanity and suicidal tendencies take hold. Malorie’s story is untangled through flashbacks of an abandoned house that’s populated by several unpredictable strangers, including John Malkovich as an eccentric alcoholic, as well as rapper Machine Gun Kelly giving a menacing tattooed turn.The all-star cast also includes Sarah Paulson as Malorie’s sister and the always engaging Jackie Weaver.
Back With The Ex
An Australian import, Back With the Ex is a reality series that reunites four former couples to see if sparks can reignite and romance can blossom after the dust has settled on a relationship. The intriguing concept has more of the sensitivity of First Dates rather than its tawdry, tanned and tattooed cousin, MTV’s Ex on the Beach. It endeavours to reconnect genuine couples and not just create more reality stars for tabloid consumption.
Not that it’s a dry social experiment either, the series sees the couples move into each other’s homes and face the wrath of their former flames’ families and also divulge their darkest secrets of their singledom to each other before making the decision of whether or not to reunite for good.
The trashiest of treats to save for some guilt-free Christmas viewing, You is a thriller in the vein of such kitsch classics as Mother, May I Sleep with Danger and early Reese Witherspoon effort Fear. Starring Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley as Joe, a creepy tech-savvy bookstore owner who uses the object of his affection’s social media to infiltrate her life while gleaning information on her in an attempt to become her ideal man. So far, so Tinder, but as Joe’s lust intensifies, turning into an obsession, things become more chilling, as if sliding into someone’s DMs wasn’t terrifying enough.