Sunrise, sunset; as the days get shorter and colder, there are a few endlessly re-watchable films and TV series leaving Netflix. (Haaaave you met How I Met Your Mother?) But not to worry: the streaming service is replacing them with intriguing prospects, like a new series from the mind of Spike Lee and an indie hit that lit up Sundance. Read on to learn the best of what Netflix is bringing to the screen next month—as well as what to catch now, before it fades into the black hole of the Internet.
What’s Arriving . . .
A whistleblower thriller with an ache at its heart, Tony Gilroy’s intelligent, gripping film feels like one of those movies they don’t make anymore—except it was only made 10 years ago. The film stars a perhaps never-better George Clooney as a cynical fixer, a lawyer who doesn’t practice law so much as he cleans up powerful people’s problems. When he gets embroiled in a scandal involving Big Agra and a detestable, yet pitiable, Tilda Swinton (in an Oscar-winning performance), he suddenly finds the weary conscience he’s been sublimating for years. Robustly entertaining and galvanizing in its own way, Michael Clayton is great for-grown-ups studio filmmaking. Plus, it features one of the best closing shots of the new century: troubled, ambiguous, and quietly hopeful.
The Homesman (11/5)
Unfairly overlooked when it was released in 2014, writer-director-star Tommy Lee Jones’s sad, bitter Western tells a forlorn story about hardscrabble life on the windswept frontier. As Mary Bee, a tough independent woman nonetheless longing for companionship, Hilary Swank is the best she’s been since her pair of Oscar wins in the late 90s/early 2000s. She and Jones—as a n’e’r-do-well who finds his moral way when he’s tasked by Mary to help her transport three insane women back east to civilization—have a warm and prickly chemistry, holding the center of this eclectic film as a roving cast of characters comes meandering through. (Including one played by none other than Meryl Streep.) Though it’s not an easy story—and features at least one seriously jarring plot turn—The Homesman nonetheless has a rueful grace to it, one that bears some reconsideration after its inauspicious initial release.
A sensation at Sundance back in January, director Dee Rees’s big, rumbling, occasionally lumbering literary adaptation has serious heft. A story of race and class in the post-WWII Deep South, Mudbound perhaps tries to cram in too much from Hillary Jordan’s novel—the film is dense and long, yet not everything gets its proper consideration. Still, it’s a film of undeniable power, with commanding lead performances from Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund, revealing talents I didn’t know he had. Once considered an Oscar sure thing, it will be interesting to see how Mudbound fares in the ongoing Academy vs. Netflix cold war. Regardless of its awards chances, Mudbound is a heavy meal worth digging into. Violent, angry, and tragic, it’s not exactly a feel-good family movie. But you’ll get enough of that at Thanksgiving, won’t you?
A complete piece of junk, yes. But sometimes you just need to see a severed penis get devoured by a murderous fish just before the holidays begin.
What’s Leaving . . .
We all got older. Kids grew up; 20-somethings became 30-somethings. Singletons became spouses. Couples became parents, became grandparents, became dead. Time has passed since 2008. Almost a decade. And now Twilight is leaving us, abandoning Netflix to go live its immortal life elsewhere. Because we have all gotten too old for it. So wave it one last goodbye, then watch it bound off into eternity—sparkling as it goes—while we mortals age ever more and darkness descends.
What’s Arriving . . .
Alias Grace (11/3)
With four on-screen adaptations this year alone, Stephen King may be the author most dominating the pop-culture landscape in 2017—but Canada’s Margaret Atwood isn’t far behind. An adaptation of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale proved a major coup for Netflix’s competitor Hulu, making it the first streaming platform to score an Emmy for best dramatic series. Alias Grace, Netflix’s own six-episode Atwood mini-series, is unlikely to stir up as much awards-season buzz, but is nonetheless an engrossing adaptation of Atwood’s 1996 historical novel. The show and book follow Grace Marks (the mesmerizing Sarah Gadon), a real-life convicted 19th-century Canadian murderess who nonetheless keeps both the audience and her fictional interrogator, the Atwood-created Dr. Simon Jordon (Edward Holcroft), guessing as to her innocence and mental state. The six-part mini-series—made for the CBC, adapted by Canadian triple threat Sarah Polley (Away from Her), directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho—so she knows her way around an axe murder)—may not contain the genre elements of Handmaid, but its psycho-sexual themes are classic feminist Atwood. Polley has also packed this series with Canadian luminaries including Anna Paquin and married stage legends (and Slings and Arrows stars) Paul Gross and Martha Burns. A compelling watch for lovers of Canadian history, period dramas, and seductive, morally ambiguous leads.
The Punisher (11/17)
While we’re on the subject of morally ambiguous killers: Netflix will unveil its seventh Marvel Comics series in November, with The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal reprising his role as the brain-damaged, gun-toting Frank Castle from Daredevil Season 2. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page is another familiar Daredevil face joining Bernthal, and ensuring that The Punisher will have a soft landing among fans of Matt Murdock’s show. Given Castle’s fetish for firearms—unlike Netflix’s other Marvel stars, he has no superpowers other than deadly aim—there was some question as to whether Netflix would delay the Punisher premiere in light of the recent (slash ongoing) national debate around gun control. But Netflix is plowing ahead anyway, and this series is, perhaps, the character’s best shot at on-screen fame. Bernthal’s supporting turn as the vigilante, who was previously played, with mixed success, by Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson,was well received by Daredevil fans. But the jury’s still out on whether Castle’s unrelentingly grim outlook and hair-trigger finger can carry a story all on their own.
She’s Gotta Have It (11/23)
In the latest salvo of what FX President John Landgraf called the “epic, titanic battle for talent” Netflix is waging against cable television, here comes the first TV series from writer/director Spike Lee. Based on his 1986 first full-length feature of the same name, She’s Gotta Have It stars DeWanda Wise (Underground) as Nola Darling—a character originally played by Tracy Camilla Johns. Anthony Ramos (Hamilton), Cleo Anthony (Extant), and Lyriq Bent (12 Monkeys) co-star as her suitors. Over 30 years later, Nola Darling still hasn’t decided which of the three very different men she likes best. But this time, the Brooklyn resident will have 10 half-hour episodes to make up her mind—or not. (The original film famously throws cold water on a neat and tidy happy ending.) Lee directed the entire first season, which will prove must-see viewing for any fan of Lee or the original indie movie—which is still taught in film schools as, among other things, an example of what can be achieved on a shoestring budget.
What’s Leaving . . .
How I Met Your Mother Seasons 1-9
If you are several years behind on your TV and still haven’t figured out how, exactly, Ted Mosby met the mother of his children, well, you only have a few days to catch up. What’s more likely is that the nine-season adventures of Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney have turned into comfort Netflix background TV, much the same way the show’s spiritual predecessor, Friends, has. The day Friends leaves Netflix forever is the day a million millennials will cry out in pain. How I Met Your Motherhasn’t enjoyed quite the same cultural resonance as Friends, thanks, in part, to the sour taste its emotionally manipulative finale left in the mouths of fa,s and how poorly Neil Patrick Harris’s womanizing, emotionally manipulative character, Barney, has aged in just three short years. Perhaps it’s not so legen—wait for it—dary after all.