As we enter the shortest, darkest month of the year, the streaming services of the world have banded together to provide us with a varied, colorful array of viewing options to stave off seasonal affective disorder.
With everything from recent prestige television (The People v. O.J. Simpson! The Americans!) to modern film classics (There Will Be Blood! The Fountain!) to soul-warming nostalgia (Babe! The Golden Girls!) and beyond (The Care Bears Movie), there’s an escapist option for every personality type. And if you’re an ahead-of-the-curve type, there are some exciting TV and film premieres happening this month too.
New in February on Netflix
Babe and Babe: Pig in the City (available February 1)
By far the best talking pig movies ever made (Gordy can jump off a cliff), 1995’s Babe and 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City are sweet, funny, moving tributes to never judging anyone based on their appearance — even barnyard animals. The two films’ richly imagined storybook worlds will appeal to kids and their parents, and the second one is directed by George Miller, of Mad Max: Fury Road fame.
Paris Is Burning (available February 1)
Full of rich humor and featuring an up-close glimpse at a bygone era — Harlem in the 1980s — Paris Is Burning is a controversial but enduring documentary of the black LGBTQ community at a time when their struggles and triumphs were self-contained within a thriving underground community of support. Filmed when the world of drag ball houses and queer voguing culture teemed with energy and vibrance, Paris Is Burning has attracted lingering criticism for framing the culture through the eyes of a white documentary filmmaker, director Jennie Livingston. Still, the spirit, talent, and unique artistry of performers like Willi Ninja and Octavia Saint Laurent has endured; these queens and kings are as fascinating and inspiring now as they were three decades ago.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (available February 2)
One of the most acclaimed TV shows of 2016 is finally available on streaming, so you can see what all the fuss was about. Winner of nine Emmys and two Golden Globes, the series zooms in on the 1995 murder trial that captivated a nation, and the personalities that made the trial so fascinating. In particular, watch for Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, who turned in two of the best TV performances of the decade.
Santa Clarita Diet (available February 3)
Netflix's newest original comedy may also be its most surprising original series to date. At first, it was billed as "Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant star in a suburban comedy." But a couple of weeks ago, the show's first teasers revealed that Santa Clarita Diet is actually "Drew Barrymore becomes undead, and she and Timothy Olyphant have to figure out how to satiate her bloodlust for human flesh, in the suburbs." (This revelation might be less of a curveball if you’re familiar with creator Victor Fresco's very weird and woefully underrated comedy Better Off Ted — which, hey, you can also find on Netflix!)
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (available February 24)
Starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore is the delightfully unpredictable story of a depressed loner frustrated with the world — “Everyone is an asshole!” she says early on, in a fit of anger — who gets wrapped up in a strange, elaborate, and gory heist plot, entirely by accident, after her house is robbed. This strange little film, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January, isn’t making fun of anyone. But it knows exactly how absurd humans are, and it uses tiny details — a woman’s obsession with nut milks, a man’s rat tail — to pull together a kooky cast of characters who still aren’t stereotypical.
New in February on Hulu
The Fountain (available February 1)
More myth than anything else, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain weaves three parallel timelines — one in an ancient past, one in the present, and one in the distant cosmic future — into a meditation on mortality, grief, and resurrection. The central story concerns a scientist (Hugh Jackman) who’s racing to find a medical cure that will save his terminally ill wife (Rachel Weisz), but like a tone poem or a piece of music, The Fountain is as much about feeling as understanding.
The Machinist (available February 1)
Christian Bale famously dropped 60 pounds for his role in this 2004 film, playing a factory worker whose intense case of insomnia — he hasn’t slept in a year — has brought him to the brink of insanity. His co-workers understandably cut him a wide berth, especially after his condition leads to a serious accident. It’s a creepy, haunting thriller about psychological problems, paranoia, and delusions, and it won critical acclaim for Bale that went beyond his commitment to emaciation. There’s a decent chance you won’t sleep afterward.
There Will Be Blood (available February 1)
It may be too early to declare Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 treatise on the crude oil bubbling beneath the American dream a masterpiece, but the deliberate melodrama and Grand Guignol of There Will Be Blood has stayed relevant since the moment the film debuted. Daniel Day-Lewis’s sterling performance as Daniel Plainview serves as an all-too-contemporary portrayal of the corrupting, dehumanizing effects of capitalism on the body and soul. His phenomenal clash with Paul Dano’s corrupt preacher, who uses fanaticism to mask his lust for power, remains one of cinema’s most mesmerizing relationships: that between two men whose mutual desire for control is matched only by their mutual delight in wrecking each other. It’s the perfect American love story, twisted and fueled by greed, hurtling willfully toward destruction.
The Golden Girls, complete series (available February 13)
When Hulu announced to a room of TV journalists at this year’s Television Critics Association winter press tour that it would be streaming every season of The Golden Girls come February, it was met with audible gasps. It's not hard to understand why: The whip-smart comedy, which ran from 1985 to 1992, is beloved for a reason. Not only did it defy sitcom norms by focusing on retirement-age women, but its cast boasted four admirably sharp actresses: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. The show’s wit has lived on for years beyond its finale, but the series has never been as conveniently on hand as it will be now.
The Boondocks, complete series (available February 18)
For its first couple of seasons, The Boondocks — which follows two young black kids from the city who move in with their grandfather in the suburbs — was one of the most incisive TV satires around, thanks to the sharp writing of Aaron McGruder and a terrific cast of vocal performers. Few other shows have examined American race relations with such an acidly amusing eye.
New in February on Amazon Prime
The Care Bears Movie (Available February 1)
This dark horror classic begins where David Lynch’s Inland Empire left off, with tales of anthropomorphic animals facing off against the void at the center of the universe, who discover they are ill-suited to that dark challenge. And now, if you dare, you can watch the movie that caused a young Todd VanDerWerff, long before he became Vox’s critic at large, to quake with terror and pray, nightly, that God would send him no nightmares about those terrible, terrible Care Bears.
Thelma & Louise (available February 1)
Though Ridley Scott’s 1991 road movie is most well-known today for its iconic final scene, Thelma & Louise is so much more than that fulfilled death wish. The fiercely devoted friendship between sweet Thelma (Geena Davis) and salty Louise (Susan Sarandon) is a defiant blaze of fury, especially when the two are flying in the face of men who have wronged them — and yes, that also goes for baby-faced Brad Pitt, seen here in one of his first breakout roles.
Sabrina (available February 1)
Billy Wilder’s classic tale of romance between classes on Long Island owes its enduring popularity to two main factors: the ever-astringent humor of a trio of legendary screenwriters — Wilder, Samuel Taylor, and Ernest Lehman — and the chemistry of a trio of legendary actors. Humphrey Bogart and William Holden play two bickering brothers, Linus and David Larrabee, and Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina, the awkward waif turned Parisian goddess who captivates them both. Hepburn’s charm in one of her most famous roles wars with the script’s inevitably stilted, dated tone regarding matters of wealth and privilege. But Wilder’s humor is on point when it comes to skewering the pretensions of Long Island’s upper class; this is as sharp and wry as romantic comedy gets.
The Americans, season 4 (available February 15)
We've said it before and we'll say it again: FX’s The Americans is one of the best shows on TV, and this month you can catch up on all four seasons before the show returns in March. The twisty Cold War thriller hosts two of television’s strongest performances in Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys's married Soviet spies — and yes, watching this ’80s-set show in the current political climate might make it even more fascinating, which is no small feat.
10 Cloverfield Lane (available February 24)
Last year’s clever, underrated twist on the Cloverfield story probably shouldn’t feel as relevant as it unfortunately does. Yet the tale of a young woman who gets caught up in a conspiracy nut’s survivalist nightmare — complete with an enormous underground bunker and tales of a raging nuclear holocaust overhead — is almost painfully trenchant. Though John Goodman delivered a terrifying, pitch-perfect performance as a multilayered villain caught between sincerity, zealotry, and sociopathy, the story really belongs to the perpetually fabulous Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Her character never stops fighting to free herself from her fate, and the choices she makes in the final moments of the film have more relevance than ever at a time when many people are asking themselves how much they are willing to risk in exchange for freedom.
New in February on HBO Now
A Bigger Splash (available February 1)
Sexy and darkly funny, A Bigger Splash stars Tilda Swinton as a rock star recovering from losing her voice by soaking up the sun on a Sicilian island with her younger boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts). And then an old flame (Ralph Fiennes) shows up with his daughter (Dakota Johnson). Watching the movie is like taking a long, luxurious vacation you never want to end — until it does.
Broadcast News (available February 1)
Director James L. Brooks followed up his 1983 film Terms of Endearment — for which he won three Oscars — with 1987’s terrific comedy/drama/romance set in the world of TV news. Featuring sterling performances from Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks, this is the kind of endlessly quotable, enormously entertaining movie that Hollywood rarely makes anymore.
Crimson Peak (available February 5)
Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 dark gothic romance came out around Halloween, which seemed to set unreasonable expectations about how scary this throwback haunted house movie should be. It’s not exceptionally scary, nor is it as thematically rich as previous del Toro chillers like Pan’s Labyrinth. But removed from misplaced seasonal expectations, Crimson Peak is a visually rich director’s showcase that calls to mind lurid reference points like the works of Roger Corman and Mario Bava. It’s also a great stage for Jessica Chastain in high-camp mode, as the inhabitant of a crumbling family estate she shares with her brother (Tom Hiddleston), along with an unsettling sibling dynamic.
Producer Judd Apatow has shepherded two different projects to HBO’s schedule, and both will share an hour starting in mid-February. The sixth and final season of Lena Dunham’s Girls, which has evolved into a rumination on how relationships change over time, should pair nicely with the new Pete Holmes vehicle Crashing, about a recently divorced man who tries to jump-start his comedy career. Both shows are keenly observant of life in New York, and though their observational style isn’t for everyone, it might be for you.
Tickled (available February 27)
New Zealand journalist David Farrier had no idea what he was getting into in 2014 when he answered an open call for men willing to participate in a “competitive endurance tickling” competition, and found himself falling down an unexpected rabbit hole of ancient internet legends, catfishing, sexual kinks, and sinister brushes with criminality. Much of what Tickled uncovers won’t be new to anyone with a long internet memory or the ability to use Google. But the process of watching the slow reveal unfold on camera is worth HBO’s admission price. As Farrier and his co-director Dylan Reeve try to uncover who’s behind a mysterious tickling ring, what starts out as a funny, quirky story about a sexual fetish becomes a much darker story of repression, homophobia, abuse, control, and power.