Ah, January, when the weather throughout most of the country gets unbearable and the number of enticing options at the local cineplex takes a nose dive. What better time to hole up inside and stream a bunch of movies and TV shows?
January’s streaming options include a couple of high-profile new releases — among them Netflix’s attempt to overwrite the terrible 2004 Jim Carrey movie Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events with its own take on Daniel Handler’s book series — and some 2016 curios you may have missed, as well as a lot of older stuff that will stoke the warm embers of nostalgia. Plus, there’s a handful of new horror and otherwise creepy offerings that serve to remind that January, the darkest month, can also be kind of spooky.
Point is, whatever sort of entertainment salve you prefer, January’s new-to-streaming roster most likely contains something to help get you through the month.
New in January on Netflix
The Parent Trap (1961) (available January 1)
The original Parent Trap features Disney darling Hayley Mills as teenage twins Susan and Sharon, who meet at summer camp and are archenemies, until they discover they are identical twins separated shortly after birth by their divorcing parents. They hatch a plan to get their parents back together — which involves switching places. The film has been remade three times, including the 1998 version starring Lindsay Lohan, but this original is still the heartwarming gold standard.
One Day at a Time, season one (available January 6)
An early contender for “most welcome surprise of 2017” is this remake of the 1975-’84 sitcom about a single mother starting her life over after a divorce. This new spin on the story follows three generations of a Cuban-American family as they deal with everything from immigration law to LGBTQ issues. It’s shepherded to the screen by the great Norman Lear of All in the Family fame, one of the few TV comedy writers to successfully blend laughs and political discussion, and it has ace showrunners in sitcom vets Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce.
Miss Sharon Jones! (available January 7)
When Sharon Jones died in November, she left behind a legacy of powerhouse singing and defiant joy. This documentary follows her journey as frontwoman of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, her devastating cancer diagnosis, and the inspirational tenacity with which she approached every single day of her life and 20-year music career.
Under the Shadow (available January 7)
An admirably strong feature debut from writer-director Babak Anvari, this tense horror film puts a mother and daughter at the center of war-torn 1980s Tehran, just after the Revolution. The panic that Shideh (Narges Rashidi) experiences while trying to protect her feisty daughter (Avin Manshadi) translates into attacks from djinn (the word for ghosts in Islamic mythology). It's the rare knockout political ghost story that also explores the psychological terror of repressive regimes, particularly on women.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, season one (available January 13)
One of the pitfalls of attempting to adapt Daniel Handler’s — er, Lemony Snicket’s — best-selling children’s series for screen was that the star of the series was Handler’s prose. A study in relentless verbosity, it somehow managed to remain darkly comedic, blackly cynical, and delightful. Netflix has solved the problem of how to transfer Lemony Snicket’s narration to screen by enlarging his role as a character, with Handler, er, handling the script. Neil Patrick Harris could easily be overkill as Count Olaf, but instead has joined forces with an estimable cast to make this series the excellent ensemble story it was always meant to be.
New in January on Hulu
The Powerpuff Girls (classic), seasons one through six (available January 1)
Whether you’re sick of superheroes or obsessed with them forever for always, The Powerpuff Girls may be your jam. Cartoon Network’s self-aware show — which got a rebooted 2016 series — let tiny elementary school girls Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles save the world with hope, determination, and even some rage. Highly recommended if you’ve ever been tempted to launch an adult Saturday morning cartoon revival.
Bug (available January 1)
Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), Bug stars Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, and Harry Connick Jr. in a chilling psychological horror film based on a play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay). Shannon plays Peter, a war veteran who barricades himself into an Oklahoma motel room with Agnes (Judd), convinced that bugs are infesting the room and himself. We never see the bugs, but as the lines between reality and delusion blur for Peter and Agnes, they start to blur for us too. It’s creepy, and terrific.
The Brady Bunch Movie (available January 1)
Betty Thomas’s 1995 parody of the venerable TV family is one of the sharpest screen satires of its decade, a simultaneous send-up of traditional family values and a celebration of why cheesy television matters. There are many great gags in this movie, but you should watch it if only to know where “Sure, Jan” comes from.
The Piano (available January 1)
As with most of director Jane Campion’s films, there’s nothing pleasant or easy about The Piano. But we need, more than ever, its relentless interrogation of the ways society restricts the autonomy and independence of women. The depth of its female characters earned Oscars for both Holly Hunter and young Anna Paquin, but if you haven’t watched the film for a while, it’s worth revisiting not just for the acting but for the painful beauty of Campion’s direction and Stuart Dryburgh’s lush cinematography. The film was marketed as an erotic love story, but the real love story is Hunter’s passionate affair with the title character. The piano is her one chance for escape and joy; its ultimate fate remains the film’s most powerful moment.
The Path, season two (available January 25)
The first season of this drama about the members of a reclusive religious sect that’s just a little cultlike was slow to get going. But by its final episodes, it slowly revealed a compelling, surprisingly deep mythology to go with strong performances from its central trio of Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, and Hugh Dancy. In season two, the characters dig ever deeper into the history of Meyerism. Presumably, they won’t like what they find, because then what would be the show?
New in January on Amazon Prime
Hellboy (available January 1)
Director Guillermo del Toro’s first go at the demonic superhero Hellboy (played by a perfectly cast Ron Perlman) isn’t as finely tuned as his 2008 follow-up, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. The 2004 attempt to bring Mike Mignola’s long-running comics creation — a demon summoned to Earth by Nazis who then goes on to defend the world against dark forces — to the big screen is weighed down by an unwieldy story, and the film’s blend of action and comedy is just a wee bit off. But del Toro’s visual sensibility is a perfect match for the material, and Perlman is clearly having the time of his life.
She’s All That (available January 3)
This contemporary Pygmalion has almost all the teen-comedy standbys in one convenient package. A sensitive jock (Freddie Prinze Jr.) falls for an artsy outcast (Rachel Leigh Cook) who becomes beautiful the second she takes off her glasses. There’s a bet involved, because of course there is, and a climactic prom scene featuring choreographed group dance to “The Rockafeller Skank,” because it’s 1999. To say that She’s All That is a good teen comedy might be stretching it — but calling it exemplary is just the truth.
Sneaky Pete (available January 13)
The latest Amazon original series comes to you from the minds of Battle Creek producer David Shore and Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, so it’s maybe unsurprising that this show appears to be a slick and gritty-ish take on incarceration and identity theft. The endlessly watchable Giovanni Ribisi taps in as “Pete,” which we put in quotes because he is actually playing a con man pretending to be Pete after a long stint in jail. If nothing else, Sneaky Pete is probably worth a shot for beloved character actress Margo Martindale playing Pete’s mother alone.
The A Word, season one (available January 17)
This sweetly winning British small-town drama (which aired on Sundance in the US) follows parents who learn that their 5-year-old son is autistic, then watch as the revelation ripples out through the rest of their little community. Rather than demonizing any of its characters, The A Word attempts to understand all of them and their very human foibles, and it boasts a terrific cast, headed up by Lee Ingleby and Morven Christie as the parents.
Swiss Army Man (available January 30)
A top contender for the title of 2016’s weirdest movie, Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano as a man who gets stranded on a desert island with a farting corpse, played by Daniel Radcliffe. Believe it or not, things actually get stranger from there, but the most bizarre thing about Swiss Army Man might be the way it morphs from that wacky premise into a sad but almost sweet meditation on loneliness and acceptance. Or it might be the scene where Dano rides Radcliffe’s farting corpse like a jet-ski. Either way, it’s unlikely you’ve seen a movie even remotely similar to Swiss Army Man, which is as good a reason as any to see what it’s all about.
New in January on HBO Now
Mad Max: Fury Road (Available January 1)
Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most highly acclaimed films of 2015, a barreling, no-holds-barred ride through a dry future hellscape where gasoline and water are in short supply. The fourth movie in the dystopian Australian action franchise, Fury Road stars Tom Hardy as Max, in the role originally filled by Mel Gibson. The real star of the movie is Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, fleeing cult leader Immortan Joe and bringing his wives with her. It’s heart-pounding action, even more notable because very little of it is CGI.
Cloud Atlas (available January 1)
You’ll either love this adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel of the same name or hate it, but it’s all but guaranteed you’ll have a strong opinion on it. Brought to the screen by a distinctive trio of directors — Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Tom Tykwer — the movie tells six separate stories, spanning time from a ship exploring the Pacific in the 1800s to a post-apocalyptic far future. Themes of reincarnation and shifting identities abound.
The Young Pope, season one (available January 15)
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, whose The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014, joins forces with Jude Law and Diane Keaton for this visually opulent tale of the first American pope, who is also a young pope. Who knows if Sorrentino’s love of bold visuals will translate well to television, but one thing’s for certain: James Cromwell snarling, “You’ll be a terrible pope,” in the above trailer is the greatest thing ever.
Beware the Slenderman (available January 23)
Before two 12-year-olds shocked the nation in 2014 by stabbing their friend in an attempt to summon him, many people had probably never heard of the Slender Man, or Slendy, as he’s affectionately known on the internet. Since he emerged from a famous Something Awful thread in 2008, the Slender Man has become a bona fide urban legend, with millions of fans building his tale. Unlike nearly all other folk tales, however, Slendy has a definite origin point. HBO’s exploration of his rise to fame, and the subsequent horror produced in his name, is a fascinating study of collective storytelling and collective madness.
The Nice Guys (HBO Go, available January 28)
The Nice Guys sprang from the mind of Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), so the fact that it’s a slick, fast-talking action movie comes as no surprise. But The Nice Guys is a lot of fun in its own way, thanks to a meticulous ’70s setting, Russell Crowe daring to have some fun, and Ryan Gosling providing ample reminders of his impeccable comic timing.