What to watch: The best movies to stream this weekend from Retrograde to Spinal Tap

One of the documentaries competing for an Oscar this awards season lands on Disney+ this weekend

What to watch: Manifesto, Retrograde and This Is Spinal Tap are all new to streaming. (Mubi/National Geographic/Studiocanal)
What to watch: Manifesto, Retrograde and This Is Spinal Tap are all new to streaming. (Mubi/National Geographic/Studiocanal)

Wondering what to watch this weekend? It's a slow week for banner releases on streaming, but if you dig deep enough there are still plenty of exciting movies to watch on the major platforms.

A selection of documentaries and dramas (and even a film that used to be an art installation) rank among the more striking things to make their way to services, with the new release Retrograde, from the award-winning documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (probably best known for Cartel Land and City of Ghosts), leading the pack.

Read more: New on Prime Video in January 2023

At the same time, MUBI releases the Cate Blanchett one-woman-show Manifesto, a feature film edit of a gallery installation of the same name, in which the legendary actress performs as over a dozen different characters all performing artistic and political manifestos from across time.

Elsewhere, one of the greatest mockumentary's ever made is streaming on BBC iPlayer if you prefer something more lightweight to get stuck into.

Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.

Retrograde (2022) | Disney+ (pick of the week)

After an incredibly middling foray into fiction storytelling with the stale biopic A Private War, filmmaker Matthew Heineman — best known for Cartel Land and City of Ghosts (the documentary, not the also acclaimed children’s television show) — returns to more comfortable territory with Retrograde, which has been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature category at the Oscars.

Read more: New on Disney+ in January 2023

In Retrograde, Heineman returns to his sometimes brutally frank, observational style, simply turning the camera on his subjects as he drops the viewer into the middle of the utter mess of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in the final months of a 20-year war. The doc is short, punchy and focused, cross-examining the relationship between American Green Berets and the Afghan officers they’re responsible training, with often profoundly unsettling results.

Also on Disney+: The Menu (2022), The Flagmakers (2023)

Manifesto (2017) | MUBI


Featuring a dozen characters all played by Cate Blanchett, Manifesto — a linear edit of a moving image installation by director Julian Rosefeldt — has the award-winning actress have each of these characters reciting a range of political and artistic manifestos, from the Communist Manifesto to Dogme ’95.

It’s an imperfect translation of its original format being a number of different screens placed in a gallery space. Each character played by Blanchett is depicted performing each manifesto in isolation within an actual physical space rather than a passive, sequential order.

But Rosefeldt’s feature film edit of his installation work of the same name is still interesting enough without its gallery context, and is bolstered by Blanchett’s dramatic range and the sense of humour she injects into her characters.

Perhaps not the finest work she’s been involved in, but could be a worthwhile pursuit for those curious about Blanchett’s broader filmography with her current awards season run.

Also on MUBI: I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016)

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) | BBC iPlayer from 14 January

Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean in This Is Spinal Tap. (Alamy)

Spinal Tap — the undisputed granddaddy of mockumentaries — will celebrate its 40th birthday next year, and the legacy of Rob Reiner's endlessly quotable comedy continues to grow every year.

Lampooning the hagiographic rock docs of the era, it picks up the baton of Eric Idle's Beatles-spoofing The Rutles from 1978, and turns everything up to 11 taking aim at the poodle-haired rock excesses of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Headlined by Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean, who would go on to enjoy even more success in the mockumentary genre with Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, Spinal Tap is so perfectly observed and flawlessly acted, the laughs come thick and fast making it one of the funniest comedies of all time.

Read more: New on Sky/NOW in January 2023

Like the Rutles before it, Spinal Tap succeeds because the music works as well as the jokes, and the fictional band parlayed movie fame into a real-life touring act, reuniting periodically over the years. A sequel was recently announced, so if you've never rocked out with David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls before, now is the time to tune in and drop out. - TB

Also new on BBC iPlayer: Green Book, The Duchess, Beautiful Boy