The start of December ushers in a flurry of new releases, a mix of crowd-pleasing holiday movies and awards season fare that can make the scrolling and app jumping feel especially overwhelming.
So we’ve sifted out six of the most exciting, engrossing, and transporting new films, shows, and even a podcast — each of which you will want to talk about at your holiday events. From the controversial new season of The Crown to the present tense incarnation of Fargo to the most gripping podcast about the JFK assassination, from a reboot of a cult classic to a beloved but often overlooked Christmas classic to a historical epic from a classic director, here’s the need to know about our six Watercooler picks.
The Crown Season 6
Based on an Award-winning play The Audience by showrunner Peter Morgan, the buzz around this ratings and awards darling reached a fever pitch when it became a global phenomenon in the lead-up to Season 5, which followed the unfortunate death of titular subject Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022. Now in its 6th and final season, The Crown is upping the ante by dropping its latest season in two separate volumes.
Performance as Diana and mainly because of the drawing power of nostalgia. This just proves that The People’s Princess’ enduring legacy still captivates global audiences 26 years after her untimely passing.
With The Crown coming to an end, the creators can take comfort in the fact that at least one member of the royal family was quite okay with how they appeared in the show. “I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife or myself,” Prince Harry told James Corden in 2021.”Because…that is obviously fiction — take it how you will — but you are supposedly news, reporting it as fact. I have a real issue with that.”
Catch up on Part 1 in early December, as Part 2 drops on December 14 and will feature the early days of Prince William and Kate’s relationship, Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, and Charles and Camilla’s controversial marriage — as well as a few other big moments as the show moves into the new millennium and closer to the current headlines. Stream it on Netflix.
Fargo Season 5
After a disappointing 4th season, Fargo returns in top form by doing what it does best: crafting a riveting crime thriller that’s populated with oddly relatable characters while performing a high-wire act between dark humor and gritty violence. Inspired by the Coen Brothers’ 1996 crime film classic of the same name, the latest season is a necessary course correction for one of the most innovative shows of the past decade.
Creator Noah Hawley went back-to-basics with the new season, “revisiting the essential building blocks of the Coen original while re-spinning them for a darker, angrier sociopolitical context,” as Clint Worthington writes at Roger Ebert.
Featuring a powerhouse cast such as John Hamm (Mad Men), Juno Temple (Ted Lasso), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Joe Keery (Stranger Things), and Lamorne Morris (New Girl), to name just a few, season 5 centers around the story of an ordinary housewife (Juno Temple) who is haunted by the dark secrets of her past. Plot twists, intrigue, macabre humor, and stellar performances escalate as the season progresses. Fargo season 5 is indeed back with a vengeance. Stream it on Hulu.
Who Killed JFK?
Marking the 60th anniversary of arguably the greatest murder mystery in U.S. history — and the birth of the conspiracy theory industry — the JFK assassination continues to live on in pop culture and spawn wild new theories. As recently as two years ago (November 22, 2021), more than 100 people congregated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas (the site of JFK’s assassination) as they believed that John F Kennedy Jr. (JFK’s son) would rise from his grave to take his rightful place as vice-president alongside a reinstated Donald Trump.
Legendary actor/filmmaker Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men), who has been investigating the assassination since his 20s, joins up with award-winning journalist/documentarian Soledad O’Brien take a deep dive into the godfather of modern conspiracy theories in a 10-part weekly iHeart podcast. Featuring interviews with CIA officials, forensic experts, authors, witnesses, and a former Secret Service agent, the co-hosts claim that they have uncovered the truth behind the most notorious political assassinations in the 20th century. In an interview with Variety, Reiner doubles down as he alleges that Lee Harvey Oswald was not acting alone, and claims that he has proof that four men were involved in the killing — while several more are involved in the cover-up.
The four episodes have aired since November 8, and the revelations promise to become more explosive with each passing week. Reiner and O’Brien have the receipts and they are not afraid to name names. The bigger question they’re posing is, can we handle the truth? Listen to it at iHeart.
Legendary director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner) and Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) reunite after more than 20 years in a film that is luring fans of history back to the theaters. A stunning and surprisingly funny biopic, the two-and-a-half-hour historical epic highlights two decades (1790-1810) of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s meteoric ascension to power until the catastrophic collapse of his empire.
Meticulously shot, the film boasts ultra-complicated battle sequences that are precisely staged while relying on very few visual effects. Phoenix delivers a compelling portrayal of Napoleon. His thorny and dare I say sassy portrayal of the brilliant yet petulant emperor is delightful to watch. The rest of the cast is terrific, but the real star of the film is Vanessa Kirby. She is bewitching as Empress Josephine. She disappears into the role as Napoleon’s lover and tormentor, effortlessly stealing every scene she’s in.
In a clip from CNN, Kirby shared some insights into how she saw her character, explaining that, like Napoleon, she was also an outsider. “She was a total survivor, enigmatic, mercurial and strange. I think they recognized something in each other that no one else can understand.”
Scott, being the visionary director that he is, takes risks and creative liberties, so it goes without saying that Napoleon suffers a bit from narrative inaccuracies and tonal inconsistencies. Critics were quick to point out some of the flaws of the film, including French historian and Napoleon Bonaparte biographer Patrice Gueniffey, who denounced the historical epic as “very anti-French and very pro-British.” Scott brushed off the criticism and told the BBC that the French don’t even like themselves. “The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it,” he added. Moviegoers seem to agree as Napoleon just outperformed industry expectations with a $32.7 million haul over the five-day Thanksgiving window.
Like many other biopics that came before it, Napoleon not only immerses us into a riveting and revealing time in history, it leaves us with lessons amidst the carnage and spectacle. In its entirety, the movie is a cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked ambition, and a reminder of the costs when one man’s gifts are used to quench his thirst for power. Despite its flaws, Napoleon still deserves to be seen on the big screen. My full review explains why. Find it in theaters.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
It’s not too often that a franchise based on a graphic novel gets better and fresher with each iteration. From an indie comic book series to a 2013 film adaptation, to a beat-em-up video game, and now an anime series — Scott Pilgrim has proven time and again that it has more than earned its cult status.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off starts in a similar fashion as the previous iterations: Scott (Michael Sera), a slacker bass player of an indie rock band, falls madly in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious rainbow-haired dream girl. But in order to win her heart, he must defeat her seven evil exes. It’s a familiar set up to the original story, but that’s where the similarities end. The animated shifts its focus on Ramona’s side of the story to give her the much-needed agency and the rest of us much needed perspective. It’s a fresh take on the source material that breathes new life into the franchise.
Bringing back the movie’s entire cast to reprise their roles in the anime is a thoughtful move by creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and Ben David Grabinski, as it brings familiarity and legitimacy to the story. The series format also offers a much more expansive canvas, so each character is given their moment in the spotlight. Eye-popping visuals with intricate, hand-drawn detail for each frame — from Japan-based studio Science Saru– makes the story much more personal and immersive.
In an industry plagued by subpar remakes and reboots, this anime series manages to provide a fresh spin on a beloved story while retaining the heart and soul of the source material. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Stream it on Netflix.
The Shop Around the Corner
As holiday season is in full swing, it’s only reasonable to wrap up the list with a Christmas classic. And few are as charming and entertaining as The Shop Around the Corner. Released in 1940, the often forgotten rom-com follows the story of two warring co-workers who unknowingly fall for each other through anonymous letters.
Filled with clever dialogue and memorable moments, the film’s delightfully simple storyline still resonates today, as it captures the power of human connection and forgiveness.
Of course, it also has terrific performances from screen legends James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, a compelling screenplay by acclaimed screenwriter/playwright Samson Raphaelson, and masterful direction by renowned German-American filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch. The Shop Around the Corner is also now streaming on Max (free for subscribers), or you can pay for it on the VOD (Vudu, Google, Amazon, iTunes).
So there you have it. If you’re looking for more New Releases, we’ve curated a mix of big releases and under the radar “finds” with just the need-to-knows, spoiler-free quick takes and links to where to stream them.