Holiday moviegoing is an American tradition, giving families something to stare at that isn’t each other. “Frozen,” “Enchanted,” “Knives Out,” “Creed” and “Unbreakable” are some of the many films that have opened on or around Thanksgiving, and each went on to rank among the long turkey weekend’s most lucrative releases. We won’t have the same glitzy box-office data this year, as most of the country’s indoor theaters remain closed due to COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new movies to cherish. In fact, you don’t even have to leave home to find them.
Here are three new movies available on select streaming and video-on-demand platforms that are worth your time in the coming days.
Finally, the lesbian Christmas comedy we’ve been waiting for.
“Happiest Season” takes “The Family Stone” and makes it gayer, wittier and more sympathetic, tossing in a dash of “Birdcage”-esque conservative politicking as Harper, a peppy Pittsburgh reporter (Mackenzie Davis), brings home her committed doctoral-student girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) for a five-day holiday visit. There’s a catch: Harper omitted a key detail from the initial invitation. She told her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber), one of whom is running for mayor and both of whom are steadfast in maintaining their customary WASP veneer, that Abby is her orphaned roommate. In fact, they don’t even know Harper is gay.
Abby goes along with the ruse, begrudgingly shoving herself back into the closet on the condition that Harper correct the record when the Christmas frenzy ends. Thus begins a lark about identity performance and familial posturing. Clea DuVall, best known for her acting work in “Girl, Interrupted,” “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Argo,” directs “Happiest Season” with an eye toward its screwball humor, executing a series of mishaps that offer rowdy laughs and emotional texture in equal measure. She co-wrote the script with her “Veep” co-star Mary Holland, who steals the show as Harper’s daffy sister. (Alison Brie, always excellent when playing mean, is on hand as Harper’s other sister, an icy ex-lawyer.) DuVall and Holland savor glossy holiday-movie hallmarks but still forge something distinct — less a reinvention than a much-needed remix.
Most of the comedy stems from the folks who surround Abby and Harper, leaving them to react to the antics. Stewart is particularly adept at this, striking a winsome blend of alacrity and hesitance opposite supporting players like Aubrey Plaza and Sarayu Blue. In the film’s most moving scene, Abby’s best friend (a witty literary agent played by Dan Levy) delivers a monologue about coming out. He recalls how terrifying it is the first time you do it, how you’re not sure what words will escape your mouth, and how everyone’s aftermath is different. This isn’t a coming-out movie, per se; we have plenty of those already. But Levy’s articulation is one of several poignant insights that clarify Harper’s plight. Even if we know how “Happiest Season” will end, the nuances that guide us there are wholly worthwhile.
“Happiest Season” is now available on Hulu.
Last week, Amazon released “Mangrove,” the first installment in Steve McQueen’s five-part film anthology “Small Axe.” Each movie is a standalone piece taking place in the United Kingdom between the 1960s and 1980s, so you can watch them in any order. You can even start with the best of the bunch, “Lovers Rock,” a rapturous 70-minute spree that will satiate any Thanksgiving hangovers.
The centerpiece of “Lovers Rock” ― which takes its name from the reggae stylings that were popular in London in the ’70s ― occurs at a house party where Black revelers gather to find sanctuary outside the city’s white-owned nightclubs. Over the course of their communion, various storylines emerge, particularly one that follows a young woman (newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) who meets a charming suitor (Micheal Ward) on the dance floor. But the film coalesces around its soundtrack, namely “Kung Fu Fighting,” Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” and an incandescent singalong set to Janet Kay’s “Silly Games.”
McQueen, one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, is known for bleak dramas like “Shame,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Widows.” What a treat it is, then, to see him operating in such a joyful mode, his camera gliding and weaving in search of characters’ cathartic smiles. The other “Small Axe” installments are more overtly political, but “Lovers Rock” channels its historical import through bliss — an approach that’s equally radical. To watch these merrymakers cherish their safe space, bodies grooving in harmony, is to feel like we’re at the party with them, escaping the abhorrence of the outside world.
“Lovers Rock” will be available Friday on Amazon Prime Video.
In 2011, Sean Durkin’s debut movie, the haunting psychodrama “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” crowned him one of Hollywood’s hottest indie novices. He took nine years to make another feature, and it was worth the wait. Like his previous film, “The Nest” deploys horror elements to create an atmosphere of unease, depicting a haunted marriage decaying inside a possibly haunted house.
Jude Law and Carrie Coon play Rory and Allison O’Hara, an upper-crust couple living in New York City in the 1980s. He’s a stock trader, she’s an equestrian. Rory convinces Allison they should move to England, where he will rejoin his old firm and seek a better financial future for their family. But in the process, secrets about his misleadings begin to seep out, resembling a ghostly specter that subsumes the countryside mansion they’ve leased. This is the age of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and a fiscal conservatism that lures Rory into a dangerous hubris. Law is effective as a resentful showoff who believes he is owed more than the world has given him, but “The Nest” is Coon’s movie, the story of a mother unravelling as her security fades. She carries Allison’s troubles in her shoulders, looking pent-up and increasingly bitter.
Durkin lets the horror tropes steer the tone rather than the plot. It doesn’t really matter whether Rory and Allison’s house has something supernatural inside it, or why their two children seem so spooked. The deterioration of the pair’s relationship is enough of a phantom on its own. Hungarian cinematographer Mátyás Erdély shoots the film through a grainy haze that mirrors the protagonists’ states of mind. Rory’s social ambitions are blinding, and they leave Allison searching for a clarity she knows will be hard to find.
“The Nest” is now available on VOD rental platforms.
Plus, five older movies you can stream:
“20th Century Women” (2016)
This infinitely lovely dramedy, set in 1979 California, stars a career-best Annette Bening as a single mother running a boarding house populated by a budding photographer (Greta Gerwig) and a suave mechanic (Billy Crudup). Along with a classmate (Elle Fanning), they band together to teach Bening’s 15-year-old son (Lucas Jade Zumann) how to be a decent man. (Available on Netflix.)
“After Hours” (1985)
Martin Scorsese’s funniest movie, this one-crazy-night romp follows a bored data-entry peon (Griffin Dunne) as he encounters a series of calamities while trying to get home. It’s the type of surreal, character-driven laugh riot that Hollywood should make more of, especially when the cast includes Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Catherine O’Hara, Linda Fiorentino and John Heard. (Available on HBO Max.)
Before “Parasite” won him three Oscars, Bong Joon-ho was already South Korea’s most celebrated filmmaker. Many of his earlier movies are available on Hulu, and I’d recommend “Mother,” which shares some DNA with “Parasite.” It’s the gripping tale of a widow (Kim Hye-ja) determined to protect her troubled son (Won Bin) when he is accused of murder. (Available on Hulu.)
“Nightcrawler” introduced Jake Gyllenhaal’s live-wire era, in which he dropped some of the movie-star charisma to portray zany dynamos (see also: “Okja” and “Velvet Buzzsaw”). Here, he is a videographer chasing ambulances in Los Angeles to sell grisly crime footage to a local news station. It’s his eeriest performance to date, gaunt in appearance but thick with eccentricities. (Available on Netflix.)
“Sorry to Bother You” (2018)
An audacious indictment of corporate capitalism, “Sorry to Bother You” finds Lakeith Stanfield portraying a hard-up California striver who takes a telemarketing gig, only to discover that the company he works for harbors a labyrinth of deception. By turns bizarre, hilarious and scathing, Boots Riley’s directorial debut is one of the most original movies of the past decade. (Available on Hulu.)
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