From Mulholland Drive to Chadwick Boseman's last film: what's streaming in Australia in December

Plus Jamie Foxx’s animated jazz musician, 1960s love stories, David Duchovny’s other detective, and the best of the Christmas specials


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Film, US, 2020 – out 18 December

Chadwick Boseman delivered a magnetic lead performance in Black Panther, one of the few movies in the elephantine Marvel Cinematic Universe that was actually pretty good. This new adaptation of August Wilson’s 1982 stage play – which is set in Chicago in the 1920s and explores the exploitation of black recording artists – features Boseman as a horn player named Levee, and was the actor’s swansong performance before he passed away from colon cancer in August.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described the film as “a glorious performance to go out on”, with Boseman providing – like co-star Viola Davis, who plays the titular blues singer – an “immovable object and irresistible force”. The trailer, full of bluesy stage spectacle, blasting horns and jazz hands, is more than enough to get your toes tapping.


TV, US, 2020 – out 25 December

Some of the characters of Bridgerton, or ‘Downton Abbey for Netflix’.
Some of the characters of Bridgerton, or ‘Downton Abbey for Netflix’. Photograph: Nick Briggs/Netflix

A lavish, pacy period drama set in London high society during the Regency era, revolving around the titular family. The pitch behind this adaptation of Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels appears to be: “Downton Abbey for Netflix.” Julie Andrews plays the narrator, a gossip writer named Lady Whistledown who guides the audience through the family’s various trials and tribulations, dropping turns of phrase such as “the brighter a lady shines, the faster she may burn”. Expect lavish settings, fancy frocks and tangy dialogue.

Final Destination 2

Film, US, 2003 – out now

I never thought I would say this but: it’s been almost a decade since the last Final Destination movie and I miss this franchise. The five films made so far semi-regularly bottom out into grindhouse shlock, but at their peak they are grotesquely inventive, with a great core premise that rethinks the very concept of a villain. The bad guy is everywhere and the bad guy is nowhere.

Each film introduces characters who cheat death, only to find that death finds creative ways to even the books – killing them by using whatever elements are around at the time, like a sadistic MacGyver. In Final Destination 2 (the best of the bunch, featuring a very well-staged car crash sequence near the start), one character, for instance, meets his end while cooking dinner in his apartment. Will the faulty microwave kill him? Or the frying pan that’s caught fire? Nah, too obvious. This gnarled guessing game is fuelled by a perverse spirit of innovation.

Honourable mentions: Superbad; Batman: Mask of the Phantasm; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; The Age of Innocence; The Dark Knight (films, 1 December); Detention (TV, 5 December); Alice in Borderland (TV, 10 December); Tiny Pretty Things (TV, 14 December); Sweet Home (TV, 18 December); The Midnight Sky (film, 23 December); Bridget Jones’ Diary (film, 31 December).


A Sunburnt Christmas

Film, Australia, 2020 – out 11 December

Is this ‘Australia’s greatest Christmas film ever’?

The trailer for A Sunburnt Christmas, a comedy directed by Bondi Hipsters co-creator and co-star Christiaan Van Vuuren, is emblazoned with the line “Australia’s greatest Christmas film ever”. That remains to be seen but there isn’t, to be fair, an awful lot of competition – the titles in this scant genre including Crackers, two versions of Bush Christmas, and scary movies Better Watch Out and Red Christmas.

The peaceful farm life of a single mum and her kids is thrown into disarray upon the arrival of a criminal the kids mistake for Santa. Playing said criminal is Daniel Henshall, who has major runs on the board when it comes to playing dodgy blokes – as evinced in Snowtown and more recently in his portrayal of the late artist Adam Cullen in the terrific Acute Misfortune (which is also available to stream on Stan).

Mulholland Drive

Film, US/France, 2001 – out 8 December

The story of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspiring actor turns into a backhanded valentine to Tinsel Town.

Beginning as a failed TV pilot, which was ultimately salvaged and turned into a feature, David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece belongs to a canon of films from great directors ruminating on the nature of Hollywood – among them Robert Altman’s The Player, Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. Lynch borrows heavily from the language of dreams, turning the story of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) into a backhanded valentine to Tinsel Town, oozing with cynical commentary about the machinations of the movie business.

The identity of a mysterious amnesia-afflicted woman (Laura Harring) is a puzzle characters attempt to solve, but the real mysteries are for the audience – who must grapple with intentionally disorientating elements such as disconnected plot tangents, abrupt tonal changes and the most stunningly peculiar rendition of a Roy Orbison song in movie history.

Honourable mentions: Boy, Precious (films, out now); Sweet Country (film, 3 December); My Tehran for Sale (film, 6 December); Your Honour (TV, 7 December), A Most Wanted Man, The Ice Storm (film, 8 December); Dom & Adrian (TV, 13 December); Four Weddings and a Funeral season 1 (TV, 18 December); Twister (film, 18 December); Shaun of the Dead, Proof (film, 19 December); Escape from New York (film, 21 December).

SBS On Demand

Aquarius seasons 1 and 2

TV, US, 2015 – out now

Australian actor Damon Herriman recently played Charles Manson not once but twice: in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood and the serial killer procedural Mindhunter. There are other Manson-themed productions, of course, including this 2015 series starring David Duchovny as a fictional LAPD detective investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl (Emma Dumont).

Aquarius got a bit of a whacking from critics, but I like the way it captures a psychologically sticky impression of the past, caught in the tension between evoking romantic nostalgia and exploring a gnarly real-life context. It certainly isn’t Duchovny’s most memorable performance as a detective (cue The X-Files theme song), but he makes a fine bad cop.

The City of Lost Children

Film, France/Germany/Spain, 1995 – out now

The City of Lost Children: out of this world.

“Out of this world” are probably the most obvious words to describe this amazingly weird 1995 French film co-directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who made the also great and deliciously twisted black comedy, Delicatessen. It is based in a universe where a man who cannot dream – who lives in a lair with six clones and a brain in a vat named Irvin – kidnaps children and studies their thoughts during sleep.

So: out of this world in a literal sense, based in a vaguely Venetian city with large canals and a surreal junkyard aesthetic; and out of this world in pure strangeness. The production and set design detail intensely vivid locations, colour graded with an often greenish tint, as if the frame has been varnished with a thin layer of slime. The word “unforgettable” also comes to mind, and is bandied around a lot in film reviews, but in this instance is very much on the money.

Honourable mentions: Das Boot, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (films, out now); The Sister (TV, 2 December); Incendies (film, 13 December); The Investigation (TV, 17 December); Monogamish seasons 1 and 2 (TV, 26 December); Martial Universe (TV, 31 December).

ABC iView

Wild Australia: After the Fires

TV, Australia, 2020 – out now

After the Fires is an ABC documentary about the 2019/2020 bushfires.

It takes the producers of this well-made, Hugo Weaving-narrated documentary about the Black Summer bushfires a long time to mention the elephant in the room, climate crisis, but it gets there eventually. The focus rests on the conservationists and volunteers cleaning up the land and tending to sick animals in the wake of the devastating fires of 2019/2020, which killed or displaced a shocking number of animals: somewhere in the vicinity of three billion.

It’s difficult not to get a little emotional when observing the show’s key art, which depicts clouds of smoke morphing into koalas embracing.

Would I Lie to You? Christmas Special

TV, UK, 2019 – 23 December

For me, panel shows – the bread and butter of ABC TV – don’t get any better than this long-running British game show hosted by Rob Brydon and divided into teams of three, captained by the very funny David Mitchell and Lee Mack. The premise is simple: each contestant recounts the details of an absurd situation, and the opposing team decides whether they’ve told the truth or a lie. The show has had 13 seasons to date, but I can never get enough: it is always funny and at times so viscerally hilarious my insides start hurting.

Honourable mentions: That Christmas, London Zoo: An Extraordinary Year (TV, 8 December); Sammy J’s 2020 Dumpster Fire Spectacular (TV, 13 December); Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell Pagan Holiday Special (TV, 20 December); The Yearly with Charlie Pickering (TV, 23 December).


Small Axe

TV, UK, 2020 – out 19 December

a group of black men and women stand in the dock of a court
A still from the Small Axe episode, Mangrove. Photograph: Kieron McCarron/BBC/McQueen Limited

Drawing some exciting buzz that seems to suggest it might be one of 2020’s biggest TV events, Small Axe is a series of five standalone films from 12 Years a Slave and Shame director Steve McQueen, each devoted to telling a different real-life story based in London’s West Indian community. The films include Mangrove (about Frank Crichlow’s restaurant, which was targeted by the police), Lover’s Rock (themed around a blues party in 1980) and Red, White and Blue (starring John Boyega as a police officer battling institutional racism).

Before Midnight

Film, US, 2013 – out 27 December

Richard Linklater’s verbose Before series consists of three films so far (Before Sunrise, Before Sunrise, Before Midnight), each made roughly 10 years apart and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as lovers. The first two are so warm, so tender, so romantic, nobody guessed the third would break our hearts, these once smitten characters grappling with long-held tensions that boil over into deeply personal arguments – in service of a message calculated to reject or at least be wary of the idea of “happily ever after”.

Beautifully written and acted, and directed in a seamless style that pushes the performances to the fore, it’s not as simple as saying Before Midnight is a downer. But it is, as they say, complicated.

Honourable mentions: The Kids Are All Right (film, 5 December); Baby God (TV, 9 December); Kindergarten Cop, Elizabeth (film, 13 December); Get Out (film, 18 December); Happy Feet (film, 25 December); The Third Day (TV, 27 December); Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness (TV, 30 December).

Amazon Prime Video

Sylvie’s Love

Film, US, 2020 - out 25 December

Swooning aplenty.

Writer/director Eugene Ashe’s tenderly made romantic drama about a saxophonist (Nnamdi Asomugha) and a record store employee (Tessa Thompson) who meet, embrace, and, as these things so often go, may or may not get together, is one of those films filled with elements that seem to reiterate the word “swoon” again and again. The setting of New York circa 1962? Swoon! Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha dancing in the middle of the street? Swoon! The warm colour grading, fabulous costumes and jazzy soundtrack? Swoon swoon swoon!

Handsomely produced and very well acted, with memorable chemistry between the two leads (swoon!), Ashe explores how some romances develop over very long arches, spanning many periods in people’s lives – with no guarantee of happiness or long-lasting union.

Honourable mentions: Widows (film, 3 December); Sound of Metal (film, 4 December); I’m Your Woman (film, 11 December); The Wilds (TV, 11 December); Mao’s Last Dancer (film, 15 December); Elementary seasons 1-7 (TV, 16 December); Yearly Departed (TV, 30 December).



Film, US, 2020 – out 25 December

This year the pandemic has accelerated a pre-existing trend towards online-only releases, with several key titles originally slated for theatrical release instead skipping cinemas and going straight to streaming. Pixar’s new movie is among the most highly anticipated, described as a “a tribute to the vitality of jazz” by the Hollywood Reporter and by the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as a “charming, bewildering and beautiful new animation about life after death and life before death”.

The protagonist is Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a high school music teacher and aspiring jazz musician who dies but escapes the Great Beyond, instead making his way to the Great Before – where he becomes a mentor to an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey). Clear as mud, right? The best Pixar films (Wall-E, Up and Toy Story) don’t shy away from challenging ideas, even if they’re presented in the form of gloss-lacquered animation.

Honourable mentions: Godmothered (film, 4 December); Safety (film, 11 December); On Pointe (TV, 18 December); Jingle All the Way (film, 18 December); Home Alone 1, 2 and 3 (film, 25 December).


Luke Buckmaster

The GuardianTramp

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