It’s that time of the year where cinemas are positively overflowing with movies that are in some ways worth your time. Whether it’s Wild (December 5th), which features sure-to-be Oscar nominated Reese Witherspoon, or Unbroken (December 25th), which is directed by Angelina Jolie and is bound to be one of the most talked-about movies of year. Still, it can be a struggle to see all of the new releases when there are four or five a week, so some quiet nights in with Netflix become important. Here’s your guide to some streaming alternatives for those winter nights on the couch.
The Pyramid (December 5)
If you’ve seen one film about a group of idiot archeologists entering a cursed Egyptian pyramid against their better judgment, then you’ve seen them all. Or, in the case of The Pyramid, it’s probably just best to not see it at all. Instead, if you still want some found footage thrills, check out Mr. Jones (2013). It’s about a couple who take a weekend retreat only to discover somebody is watching them and placing mysterious scarecrow-like effigies around their house. It’s scary and packs a big surprise in its final scenes.
Inherent Vice (December 12)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s name is guaranteed to get a certain clientele into cinemas, but Inherent Vice is the weakest film of his career. Its shambolic, labyrinthine stoner-noir plot is nowhere near strong or funny or powerful enough to justify its length. Equally wacky, but far more successful in garnering laughs, is Flirting With Disaster (1996), which was directed by David O. Russell before he went all serious and Oscar-bait with Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013). It stars Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni and is hilarious and fun and a breath of fresh air.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (December 12)
If you’re going to watch white actors portray Egyptians in the desert, then why not make it an even bigger affair than Ridley Scott’s misjudged sword-and-sandal epic? You may think Cleopatra (1963) is a bit of an ordeal – and at four hours long (!!!) you’d probably be right – but it’s grand and sweeping and your other half may just appreciate your effort. You may also want to try The Robe (1953), a Best Picture nominee and nearly half as long.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (December 17)
By this stage you probably know whether you’re going to see the sixth entry in Peter Jackson’s gargantuan, overblown adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories. If, like me, you gave up after the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) delivered little hope of what was to come after all three The Lord of the Rings films were so great, then go back and investigate one of Jackson’s earliest films. Heavenly Creatures (1994) isn’t at all like The Hobbit, although it does feature a sequence of wonderful Claymation fantasy, but it’s a stunning work of humanity when it’s become easy to forget Jackson is capable of it.
The Gambler (December 19)
In Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, Brie Larson’s character is described as a genius and yet is never once given a chance to actually demonstrate it. Make it up to her and your own mental faculties by catching up on last year’s brilliant drama Short Term 12 (2013), where Larson plays the manager of a foster care facility for teenagers. This is a film far worthier of her talents than this Mark Wahlberg crime drama.
American Sniper (December 25)
What was the last good Clint Eastwood movie? It’s hard to remember, so best to not bother with his latest – his second for 2014 after the appalling Jersey Boys. Instead, why not watch Omar (2013), which was recently nominated for an Academy Award and tells the story of a young man on the border of conflict between Israel and Palestine. If you’re interested in something more directly war-related then Beaufort (2007) may be more up your alley.