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The Best Movies New to Every Major Streaming Platform in January 2020

From Netflix to Amazon Prime, Disney+ to the Criterion Channel, here are the best movies coming to each streaming platform this month.

“Midsommar”

Netflix may get most of the attention, but it’s hardly a one-stop shop for cinephiles who are looking to stream essential classic and contemporary films. Each of the prominent streaming platforms caters to its own niche of film obsessives.

From chilling horror fare on Shudder, to the boundless wonders of the Criterion Channel, and esoteric (but unmissable) festival hits on Film Movement Plus and OVID.tv, IndieWire’s monthly guide highlights the best of what’s coming to every major streaming site, with an eye towards exclusive titles that may help readers decide which of these services is right for them.

Here’s the best of the best for January 2020.

“Midsommar” (dir. Ari Aster, 2019)

Despite its ritualistic terrors, slasher-inspired structure, and “Hostel”-like affinity for butchering self-obsessed American tourists, “Midsommar” is clearly a film that uses horror tropes as a means to an end. The sun-blasted story of a grieving young woman (Florence Pugh) who joins her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his grad school chums on a deadly trip to a Swedish village in the midst of a mysterious pagan festival, Ari Aster’s follow-up to “Hereditary”movie isn’t a horror movie so much as a dark fairy tale about private trauma, collective healing, and the evils of co-dependence. It’s a spectacular and scarring experience that cements Aster as one of the most promising filmmakers of his generation. (Available to stream January 10)

Other January highlights:

  • “The Skeleton Twins” (Craig Johnson)
  • “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (Nicholas Meyer)

“The Swimmer” (Frank Perry, 1968)

Truly one of the strangest and most beguiling films ever released by a major studio, Frank Perry’s “The Swimmer” unfolds like the hallucinatory fever dream that Don Draper probably had on his deathbed. Set in a rich Connecticut town that’s located somewhere between Douglas Sirk and The Twilight Zone, this feverish condemnation of the 20th century man tells the story of a radiant suburban god (Burt Lancaster’s bravest performance) who decides to bask in his own apparent perfection one summer afternoon and “swim home” by doing laps in each of the neighborhood pools that lead to his house. Dressed in nothing but a speedo and a smile, our white-collar hero wades into his past only to discover how much carnage he’s always left in his wake. Adapted from a John Cheever text, rescued by a young Sydney Pollack (who was summoned for re-shoots at the 11th hour), and yet bound together by a queasily coherent vision of a life that’s rotting from the inside out, “The Swimmer” is a singular anomaly in American film history, and a film that is still waiting for its own day in the sun. (Available to stream January 1)

Other January highlights: 

  • “The Fugitive Kind” (Sidney Lumet)
  • “Fat Girl” (Catherine Breillat)
  • “The Lower Depths” (Akira Kurosawa)
  • “Until the End of the World” (Wim Wenders)
  • “That Obscure Object of Desire” (Luis Buñuel)

“Cool Runnings” (dir. Jon Turteltaub, 1993)

Disney+ isn’t exactly giving us a lot to choose from — the much-hyped new streaming platform cracked open the Disney Vault right out of the gate, leaving only a few scraps to bring to the service in subsequent months (in fact, a number of beloved movies disappeared on January 1). So that leaves us with “Cool Runnings.” It was your favorite movie of all time when you were eight and John Candy was an American God. Does it still hold up? Is the fact that a character is named “Sanka Coffie” still funny enough to drive you into hysterics? Will you still cry when the woefully inexperienced members of Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team [redacted] their way across the finish line? There’s only one way to find out.

Other January highlights:

  • “Holes” (Andrew Davis)
  • “Aladdin” (Guy Ritchie)

“Never Ever” (dir. Benoit Jacquot, 2016)

“Farewell, My Queen” director Benoit Jacquot — riffing on Don DeLillo’s “The Body Artist” — teams up with the great Mathieu Amalric for a classic French morality play about the consequences of desire. Amalrc plays a narcissistic filmmaker who abandons his aging muse in favor of a torrid fling with a young woman (Victoria Guerra) he meets at an art gallery, but all the hot sex they have in the countryside isn’t enough to stave off the consequences of horny self-involvement, and an idyllic romp is gradually perverted into a vintage cautionary tale.  (Available to stream January 1)

“Honeyland” (dir. Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019)

A bittersweet and mesmerically beautiful documentary that focuses on a single beekeeper as though our collective future hinges on the fragile relationship between she and her hives, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s “Honeyland” emerged as one of the more unexpected breakouts of 2019; the beloved documentary (now nominated for two Oscars) connected with audiences right off the hop, and continues to blaze a path across the long and winding awards trail. The film introduces us to Hatidze Muratova, who is said to be the last of Macedonia’s nomadic beekeepers — like every other bit of context in this strictly observational film that detail is never made explicit. It doesn’t need to be: The more time we spend watching Muratova stick her bare hands into natural stone nests and sing old folk songs to her buzzing swarms, the more obvious it becomes that she’s one-of-a-kind. But when an itinerant Turkish family moves into her area, Muratova is forced to confront what it really means to co-exist in the modern world. (Available to stream January 6)

Other January highlights:

  • “Little Men” (Ira Sachs)
  • “Life, Animated” (Roger Ross Williams)
  • “Luce” (Julius Onah)
  • “The Art of Self-Defense” (Riley Stearns)

“Goodbye, First Love” (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011)

A movingly detached inquiry into lost time, Mia Hansen-Løve’s exquisite second feature has the sweep and sensitivity of a coming-of-age story, but to lump it in with the rest of that genre seems wrong. For one thing, “Goodbye First Love” feels fully mature from the start, even if its young heroine (the wonderfully grounded Lola Créton) still has plenty of growing up to do. For another, Hansen-Løve isn’t the least bit interested in rehashing any familiar tropes. She traces her protagonist’s adventure with such directness that it feels like we’re living it first-hand, the girl’s maturation adhering to no recognizable plot structure beyond the erratic — and ineffably natural — trajectory of falling in love and getting back on your feet. Starting with a blast of unbridled zeal and ending with a note-perfect needle drop, “Goodbye First Love” is an unforgettable glimpse at volcanic passion, the pain of watching it cool, and the beauty of feeling it harden into the people we become. (Available to stream January 1)

“The Wild Pear Tree” (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2018)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan closed out Cannes 2018 with the epic story of a young aspiring writer named Sinan (Aydin Dogs Demirkol) who resents his own lack of talent, and returns to the sleepy village where he was raised in order to redirect his rancor at his schoolteacher father (Murat Cemcir). Anxiety, resentment, and lots of blissfully well-articulated soul-searching ensues. Writing about “The Wild Pear Tree” following its world premiere, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn said that the film, by Ceylan standards, is relatively brisk: “The narrative’s gradual pace remains an acquired taste, but anyone willing to engage with Ceylan’s slow-burn approach will find his variation on an accessible formula — it stretches and magnifies the details of its character’s dilemma while pushing him along an impactful journey at a leisurely pace. Rise to the challenge, and payoff awaits on the other side: a formulaic story transformed into something more perceptive and profound. If only more family dramas took such care to get the details right.” (Available to stream January 14)

“Force Majeure” (Ruben Östlund, 2014)

Debuting on Magnolia Selects just in time for the Sundance world premiere of its Will Ferrell/Julia Louise-Dreyfus American remake, Ruben Östlund’s withering “Force Majeure” is difficult to improve upon in any fathomable way. Here’s what IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt had to say about the film when it ranked on our list of the last decade’s best films:

In a decade that flayed white male insecurity in public, Ruben Östlund’s wickedly hilarious study of masculinity in crisis took a natural place as one of the definitive comedies of our time. Right from this film’s famous inciting incident – in which a dad named Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) instinctively abandons his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children during a false-alarm avalanche at a ski resort — the upper-middle class family’s comfortable existence is upended forever.

Nested inside perverse Kubrickian long takes, Östlund’s shrewd choreography and cringe-worthy situations heralded the arrival of a major cinematic storyteller who isn’t afraid to dig his characters into such deep holes that they have no choice but to try and tunnel out on their own. Each scene of this film shovels further and further into unsettling truth that Tomas’ reaction was not simply an isolated primal act, but something far more primal and perverse. The result is an unholy buffet of squirm-inducing humor, but one that’s built atop a dark reservoir of real empathy. Östlund takes seriously the escalating trap the family finds themselves in, and it’s the way that Ebba is forced to rebalance the gender equation that makes “Force Majeure” one of the most profound and unflinching examinations of masculinity this decade. (Available to stream January 7)

Other January highlights:

  • “Take This Waltz” (Sarah Polley)
  • “Results” (Andrew Bujalski)
  • “White Bird in a Blizzard” (Gregg Araki)

“The Image Book” (dir Jean-Luc Godard, 2018)

“The Image Book” is the most fetching title in a typically loaded month on Mubi, as the platform is set to rotate in some high-profile new releases (“Les Miserables”), a comprehensive series of Yuzo Kawashima’s Post-War classics, a bundle of Indigenous Shorts from the Sundance Institute, and much more. (Here’s what IndieWire’s Chief Critic Eric Kohn had to say about Jean-Luc Godard’s latest cinematic screed after the film’s Cannes premiere in 2018:

Jean-Luc Godard has a lot to say in “The Image Book,” in fits of inspired poetry and angry asides, in tune with the apocalyptic dimensions that  characterize much of his late-period work. His raspy, bitter voiceover emanates from different channels of the sound mix, his lyrical pronouncements rooting audiences in the confines of his restless mind. You choose to engage, or reject the entire endeavor outright. Anyone poised to do the latter falls into the filmmaker’s trap: More media installation than movie, “The Image Book” bemoans a vapid world well into the process of disintegration, and his film is engineered to simulate that process in visceral terms.

At the same time, it represents a return to familiar terrain for the filmmaker following the category-busting experiments of 2014’s 3D experiment, “Goodbye to Language.” A concise variation of his sprawling, multi-part film history essay “Histoire(s) du cinéma,” the new project speeds through classic film clips, disposable film clips, and wartime imagery — often shown in poor, low-res quality — as he grapples with the relationship between the violent power struggles that dominate the real world and their sanitized versions in movies. No wonder he swore off conventional narrative decades ago: In “The Image Book,” Godard theorizes that images obscured our imminent demise. (Available to stream January 17)

Other January highlights:

  • “The Cow” (Dariush Mehrjui)
  • “Les Misérables” (Ladj Ly)
  • “Edward II” (Derek Jarman)

“The Master” (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

The most inscrutable and enigmatic of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, “The Master” is always mesmerizingly just out of reach, turning you inwards every time you reach out to meet it. A.O. Scott hit the nail on the head when he described it as “a movie that defies understanding even as it compels reverent, astonished belief.” But there are answers here, even if Anderson doesn’t provide any clear indication of what they might be; whatever meaning you manage to tease out of this story is yours to keep.

On its most basic level, “The Master” is a gripping two-hander about a man and his dog. Philip Seymour Hoffman is almost unfathomably brilliant as the volatile Lancaster Dodd, a new age pseudo-prophet in the mold of L. Ron Hubbard (he’s not unlike a film director, the ringleader of a traveling circus who has to string people along through sheer force of will). Joaquin Phoenix is every bit his equal as the alcoholic Freddie Quell, a man whose face is twisted into a perpetual sneer even before he’s set adrift in the wake of World War II. One barks commands and the other rolls over, but neither one of them can play fetch alone. As Dodd puts it, with no small amount of spite: “If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.”

Dodd and Quell really aren’t so different, and Anderson’s dream-like storytelling helps swirl them together until it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins (Jonny Greenwood’s seasick score roots that confusion in the pit of your stomach). These are two men who are haunted by past trauma and have happened upon opposite ways of trying to outrun it; two men who are using each other as beacons to navigate the choppy waters between memory and imagination; two men who “can’t take this life straight.” But then again, who can? Just look into someone’s eyes, don’t blink, and repeat your name until you start to believe that it tells you something. (Available to stream January 14)

Other January highlights:

  • “Catch Me if You Can” (Steven Spielberg)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Peter Jackson)
  • “Inception” (Christopher Nolan)

“Girls Always Happy” (dir. Yang Mingming, 2018)

Ovid’s characteristically offbeat and compelling new release slate offers a nice array of contemporary Spanish-language narrative features (particularly Puerto Rican filmmaker Alex Santiago Perez’s “Cows Wearing Glasses” and Nicaraguan filmmaker Florence Jaugey’s “The Naked Screen”), as well as a number of strong documentaries to go along with it (e.g. Joan Lòpez Lloret’s “The Metal Stork,” in which three survivors of the Salvador Wars discuss their pasts as desaparaceidos). On a lighter note, Yang Mingming’s “Girls Always Happy” is a delightful Beijing-set comedy tells the “Lady Bird”-like story of a squabbling mother and daughter whose relationship is ever complicated by their shared (but separate) dreams of literary success. (Available to stream January 17)

Other January highlights:

  • “I’m in Love with My Car” (Michele Mellara & Alessandro Rossi)
  • “Goya, the Secret in the Shadows” (David Mauas)

“Demon” (dir. Marci Wrona, 2015)

Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona took his own life shortly after shepherding “Demon” into the world, but this indelible farewell — which Kimber Myers once described on IndieWire as “a marriage of a possession-driven horror film and a marriage comedy that adds elements of the enduring legacy of the Holocaust” — makes for one hell of a parting gift. It’s best to watch this with as little advance knowledge as possible, so let’s just say that a wedding party goes very, very, very wrong in a series of increasingly deranged ways when an uninvited guest crashes the reception in someone else’s body and brings an entire generation worth of trauma along for the ride. (Available to stream January 6)

Other January highlights:

  • “Luz” (Tilman Singer)
  • “Tammy and the T-Rex” (Stewart Rafil)

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