Netflix’s December lineup has a handful of gems — including some films (e.g. “8 Mile”) that have been on the service before, and are now resurfacing after a brief absence — but there’s no avoiding the elephant in the room: “Roma.” The most important film that Netflix has ever released (and arguably also the best), Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning love letter to his childhood nanny is the company’s first legitimate Best Picture contender, and a game-changing moment in its history as a distributor; “Roma” even inspired the streaming giant to flip its usual script upside down and open the film theatrically in advance of its online premiere. After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and sweeping the New York Film Critics Circle’s top awards, “Roma” will finally be available to Netflix subscribers around the globe. Whether people have the patience to watch the meditative 135-minute mood piece on their laptops and iPhones is a different story that only time can tell.
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Here are the seven best movies coming to Netflix in December 2018.
7. “One Day” (2011)
Okay, so “One Day” isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time (this critic is ethically — if not legally — obligated to inform you that “The Big Lebowski” is also coming to Netflix this month), but this gimmicky, shameless, hyper-manipulative melodrama is one of the most ruthlessly effective 21st century movies of its kind. The premise is probably a little too clever for its own good: A boy (Jim Sturgess) and a girl (Anne Hathaway) meet on the night of their graduation from the University of Edinburgh on July 14, 1986. Sex happens, and a stilted friendship is born. From there, the film drops in on its star-crossed love birds every July 14 for the next 25 years. Sometimes they’re together, sometimes they’re apart; sometimes July 14 seems to be a strangely momentous day in their lives, and sometimes it’s just another spin of the clock. He becomes a worse person, and she makes him decent (groan). She starts with a decent British accent, and he’s too kind to mention that it weirdly manages to get worse as she grows older. Then: tragedy. The kind of tragedy that makes you laugh, like a certain memorable scene from “Meet Joe Black” (also coming to Netflix this month).
“One Day” shouldn’t work, and many people would argue that it doesn’t. Hathaway is charming, but always over the top. Sturgess is gruffly handsome, but too much of a shit for this story to hold together. Patricia Clarkson is wasted on a sadistic cancer subplot, and Rafe Spall (as a blithering romantic interest) didn’t even suffer this much in “Prometheus.” And yet, Lone Scherfig buttresses all of the film’s silly business with a refined classical touch, and her Edinburgh is bursting with wistful romance. But it’s composer Rachel Portman who does most of the heavy lifting here, as she slathers the film with one of the most heartrending movie themes ever written — you might not want to cry, but good luck trying to stop yourself.
Available to stream December 16.
6. “Bird Box” (2018)
While it may not be much of an awards contender, Susanne Bier’s gripping post-apocalyptic thriller is still one of Netflix’s splashiest films of the years. Imagine if “A Quiet Place” starred Sandra Bullock — and focused on seeing instead of hearing — and you’ll be on the right track. The “Gravity” actress stars as Malorie, a gritty survivalist who tries to keep her two young children alive after an inexplicable wave of suicides has swept across the globe. The specifics of the threat are shrouded in mystery, but one thing is clear right off the bat: One look at it is enough to drive someone mad. Malorie has only managed to keep her kids alive by forcing them to wear blindfolds 24 hours a day.
Boasting a cast that also includes Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, and Trevante Rhodes, the film was described by IndieWire critic Michael Nordine as a thriller “that brings to mind everything from ‘The Road’ to ‘The Happening,’” and should be a nice change of pace from the deluge of holiday programming. Here’s a bit more from Nordine’s review:
“That premise — that something is out there and must be avoided at all costs — is further evidence that denying your characters one of their senses makes for incredibly tense moments. Wondering as to the cause of this affliction is good fun, even as your thoughts are frequently interrupted by the many white-knuckle sequences where ‘Bird Box’ most excels. Bier’s direction is coolly efficient, which fits the material to a t — anything more ostentatious would just feel wasteful. The filmmaker doesn’t have much of a background in genre cinema to speak of, but it’s hard not to wonder what else she could do with this kind of material. She lays out the film’s ideas a little too overtly — ignoring your problems doesn’t make them go away, in case you hadn’t noticed — but you may be too busy covering your own eyes in fear to notice or care.”
Available to stream December 21.
5. “8 Mile” (2002)
Possibly Eminem’s finest moment (if not quite on par with director Curtis Hanson’s high watermarks), this wrenchingly personable and palpably lived-in memoir should have been an unmitigated disaster. Out of context, the idea of a mega-famous white rapper starring in a semi-autobiographical movie about his rough-and-tumble early years living in a trailer, competing in freestyle battles, and palling around with a mentally impaired guy named Cheddar Bob… it has “vanity project” written all over it. But Eminem keeps his ego in check, and it’s easy to “lose yourself” in his life story.
Not only is the rapper a warm and affecting screen presence, but he allows the film to feel honest, texturing his natural talent into a blue-collar story that burns with a striver’s determination. There are no rose-colored glasses here, just a tough and tender look back at the things that America gives you, and the things that you have to take it from it with your own two hands. Also, shoutout to the late Brittany Murphy, whose performance here hints at a lifetime of tragically unrealized potential.
Available to stream December 1.
4. “Springsteen on Broadway” (2018)
Have you always wanted to go to one of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary concerts, but never felt like shelling out a few hundred dollars for the pleasure of standing in the back of Giants Stadium for more than four hours? Have you been dying to see The Boss’ one-man Broadway show, but don’t live in New York City or have a small fortune to burn? Well, Netflix has gotten you one hell of a holiday treat.
Premiering on Netflix the day after Bruce plays his final show on the Great White Way, “Springsteen on Broadway” is exactly what it sounds like: A front-row seat to one of the hottest tickets in the history of this town, and an invitation to watch it as many times as you like. Alone on stage with an acoustic guitar and a grand piano, Springsteen performs national anthems like “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Brilliant Disguise,” while spanning the gap between them with deep-cut stories from his life and times. Call it a film or call it a filmed concert — whatever you call it, “Springsteen on Broadway” is about to be on constant rotation on screens across the globe.
Available to stream December 16.
3. “The Lobster” (2015)
Lanthimos, droll demi-god of contemporary Greek cinema, didn’t lose anything in translation when switching into English for this dystopian romantic fable about a world in which single people are doomed to become literally less than human. Colin Farrell has still never been better than he is as a heartbroken divorcee who’s desperate not to be turned into an animal for the rest of his lonely existence, and Rachel Weisz was brilliant as a woman who’s blinded for love. These big-name actors so implicitly understood Lanthimos’ unique rhythms that the filmmaker was emboldened to grow even more ambitious (and re-cast them both in future roles). Today, his latest movie is tipped for a huge number of Oscar nods. If you can’t wait to see “The Favourite” — or are simply looking for another movie to continue that delirious high — “The Lobster” is the perfect fix.
Available to stream December 2.
2. “Shaun of the Dead” (2016)
Netflix couldn’t get its act together for Halloween, but there’s no bad time of year to sink your teeth back into Edgar Wright’s beloved zombie comedy; its characters may be rotting, but the movie around them sure holds up. The jokes haven’t aged a day (in fact, they’ve only gotten better), the filmmaking still walks the line between loving homage and inspired reinvention, and the premise has only grown more relevant now that we’re inching towards the apocalypse ourselves. And Shaun (Simon Pegg, of course) has become something of a model hero. Even when faced with the ravages of Z Day, this aimless layabout fights back; Shaun has been one of the walking dead since the day he entered the workforce, but the end of the world turns out to be the perfect time to start fresh. Also, Bryan Singer? This is how you use Queen in a movie.
Available to stream December 1.
1. “Roma” (2018)
There’s more guilt, nostalgia, love, anger, and raw audiovisual data packed into a single tracking shot in “Roma” than there is in many entire movies. At once the most formally astounding and emotional thing that Alfonso Cuarón has ever made, the filmmaker’s magnum opus so flattens the distance between what it’s doing and how it’s doing it that you might need a lifetime to extricate the ideas it provokes from the feelings it leaves you.
Or maybe the sly magic of this one-of-a-kind memory play is that it’s so much simpler than it seems. At heart, “Roma” tells the story of an indigenous Mexican woman named Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, whose face reflects decades of feeling in every shot), a fictionalized version of the domestic worker who lived with and worked for Cuarón’s upper-middle-class Mexico City family when he was a child. Cleo looks after the kids, escapes to the movies, gets impregnated by her karate-loving crush, and wanders through an increasingly tragic whirlwind of experiences against the unsettled backdrop of the early ’70s. She lives just outside of the main house, but “Roma” patiently traces her true remove from it, as Cuarón combines the social-realism of early Fellini with the carnivalesque dreaminess of late Fellini. Even the film’s unspoken title, which alludes to the neighborhood in which it’s set, leads us back to the flamboyant Italian auteur.
And yet, there’s something so pure and sacrosanct about Cleo that Robert Bresson might emerge as Cuarón’s greatest influence; for all the love the director obviously has for his heroine (and for the woman who inspired her), the donkey from “Au Hasard Balthazar” might be the last movie character who’s suffered through so much with such dignity. As the credits appear, it’s hard to tell if “Roma” was patronizing, profound, or some unknowable combination of the two. Now that it’s on Netflix, you can always watch it again to find out.
Available to stream December 14.