Wondering what to watch in the new year? A number of awards season hopefuls make their way to streaming services, ranging from shockingly moving British film debuts to frankly ridiculous satires.
Charlotte Wells’s critically acclaimed Aftersun lands on Mubi (amidst the site’s own curated season of debut features, which includes low-key works like Shopping from B-movie maestro Paul WS Anderson as well as genuinely game-changing works like Faith Akin’s Short Sharp Shock).
At the same time, the foodie horror The Menu arrives on Disney+, with an ensemble cast of diners including Nicholas Hoult, Anya Taylor Joy and Hong Chau, lead by Ralph Fiennes.
Read more: New on Sky/NOW in January 2023
Also on the retrospective side of things, Martin Scorsese’s under-sung masterpiece of a period drama, The Age of Innocence, arrives on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.
Aftersun (2022) | Mubi (pick of the week)
The feature debut of Charlotte Wells — who also wrote the script — Aftersun’s autobiographical nature feels apparent even without prior knowledge of how the director drew upon her own past.
It carries the fragmented sense of real memory, the recollections of Sophie as an 11-year-old girl (played wonderfully by Frankie Corio) and her reflections as a 31-year-old woman mixing into a strange nostalgic but faintly tragic haze as she tries to reconcile her father as she remembers him, and as he was when she didn’t see him.
Also walking that line is the astonishing performance of Paul Mescal as Sophie’s father, Calum, whose apparent struggles with depression constantly simmer beneath the surface even as he tries to make their Turkish holiday together a happy memory.
Watch a trailer for Aftersun
It’s not just the deeply personal nature of Aftersun that makes it so striking, but the confidence of its elliptical direction and the digital haze of its DVR recorded imagery through which a lot of the holiday is observed, via Calum’s video camera. It all comes together for one of the finest British debuts in years — and not just 'pretty good for a British movie'.
Also new on MUBI: Short Sharp Shock (1998), Shopping (1994)
The Menu (2022) | Disney+
Probably best known for his directorial work on the likes of the not-television-but-HBO shows Succession and Game of Thrones, Mark Mylod’s satirical dark comedy The Menu certainly feels like the work of a for-hire television director, with little energy or creativity behind the camera to be seen. Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s script is just as often silly for the wrong reasons as it is silly for the right ones, pulling out some amusingly absurd dialogue before tying its own satire into interminable knots.
Read more: New on Disney+ in January 2023
All that said, it’s also a pretty great time. The story takes a group of high society folk as well as a young man and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) travel to an exclusive island restaurant, for a multiple course meal that, to say the least, takes a turn for the dramatic.
Watch a trailer for The Menu
As it rolls through its fairly obvious 'eat the rich' line of messaging it also gets to play with some hilarious, tightly wound performances from Ralph Fiennes as a pompous (and murderous) celebrity chef and Hong Chau — the highlight, easily — as his devout maître d’, as she ominously hovers over guests and makes the most of every millisecond of the word ‘tortilla’.
Nicholas Hoult is also an MVP with his portrayal of a pretentious foodie, who becomes so single-mindedly absorbed by the experience even as things get more out of hand.
Also on Disney+: If These Walls Could Sing (2022)
The Pale Blue Eye (2022) | Netflix
As if January wasn't already cold enough, this Gothic thriller on Netflix is set to plunge you into the chilly, snow-covered environs of a New York military academy in the 1830s. Christian Bale's reclusive detective has been summoned to investigate the death of a cadet and soon reluctantly pairs up with another cadet to investigate, who just so happens to be Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).
The idea of a fictionalised Poe serving as a detective has been done before — including by John Cusack in 2012 thriller The Raven — but Melling brings an intense and very watchable weirdness to the part. Bale does great grizzled detective and has a clear understanding with director Scott Cooper, with whom he has collaborated before on Out of the Furnace and Hostiles.
It doesn't all hang together at the end and it's often more Gothic style than substance, but fans of the macabre will find this a very enjoyable way to start the year. -TB
The Age of Innocence (1993) | Netflix
A common reflex when discussing the work of Martin Scorsese is to first bring up his gangster pictures: Goodfellas, Casino, The Irishman, and so on.
The truth is that the majority of the director’s filmography is made up of a wide range of adventurous, sumptuous dramas, such as The Age of Innocence, a story of forbidden courtship laced with melancholy, and one of his finest works.
Read more: New on Netflix in January 2023
Daniel Day-Lewis, in a performance that could be considered the prototype for his part as Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread, plays wealthy New York society attorney Newland Archer, who is engaged to the kindly and well-meaning wealthy socialite May Welland (Winona Ryder).
Archer meets and then legally represents Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) amidst a messy divorce and social ostracisation, not long before he falls in love with her. Newland finds her to be an oasis amidst his loneliness in high society, which Scorsese called in an interview with Roger Ebert to be uniquely bloodthirsty, the lack of bloodletting leaving only repressed hatred beneath all that opulent surface.
The rich colour of Michael Ballhaus’s roaming cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s dramatic score only enrich those luxurious textures while the film questions their real value amidst high society’s inherent misery.
Also on Netflix: How I Became A Gangster (2023)