When we draw up our streaming guides for New Year’s Eve, we usually focus on movies that are set on New Year’s Eve, or that feature New Year’s celebrations. Films such as An American in Paris, Trading Places, While You Were Sleeping, Phantom Thread, etc. One year we went with debut films, to celebrate the “firsts” of things.
For our 2022 New Year’s Eve collection, given the general state of the past few years, we decided to take a new approach. These are films that move a little slower—and go a little deeper—into life. They take time to ponder, and to find the positives. In many of them, kindness is an important tool. Others are merely about hope. May they inspire at least a tiny spark of something good to carry into 2023.
Stream it on Criterion Channel
Best known for his acclaimed films about everyday life (including the Oscar-nominated Shoplifters), Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s best-loved feature, ironically, may be the fantastical After Life (1998). In it, the several recently deceased humans find themselves in a way station. They are told they have three days to choose a favorite memory from earth. Film crews will then re-create these memories as films, which each deceased person can carry with them into the afterlife. But only this one memory will survive.
Many people, of course, have trouble deciding on which memory to choose. Some of them are delightfully simple—such as a memory of a girl lying in her mother’s lap; or even selfless, when a man chooses a moment of happiness experienced by his ex-wife. The film is also a discussion of the fleeing, shifting quality of memory versus the permanence of cinema, but which one of these is more “true”? This is a very special film; one that is perfect for reflection.
Rent it at Spectrum.net for $3.99
One of the all-time-best feel-good movies, this hit from France is mainly about the joy of doing good in the world. Audrey Tautou is the saucer-eyed waif of the title, a sweet, darling combination of Charlie Chaplin, Giulietta Masina, and Audrey Hepburn, who finds a boy’s treasure box hidden in her little Montmarte apartment. She decides to anonymously return it to the now-grown boy, and when she sees his joyous, teary-eyed reaction, she vows to do more good deeds. These occur in a “Mousetrap”-like arrangement, with one deed circling around and mysteriously connecting to another.
Everything eventually leads Amélieto her own potential soulmate, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz). Unlike his dystopian earlier films, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Alien: Resurrection) directs Amélie (2001) with a zingy, brightly colored, cartoonish cleanness, artificial and precise but delightfully alive. Overseas the film had the more elegant title Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.
Stream it on HBO Max or Criterion Channel
Based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast (1987), from Denmark, is arguably the greatest food movie ever made. Babette (Stephane Audran) is a Frenchwoman who comes to live with and work for two elderly spinster sisters. When she wins the lottery, she decides to use the money to prepare a magnificent, French feast for her employers and friends.
The sisters, Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel), have always lived simply and meagerly in their remote village, and such a feast is completely alien—and slightly forbidden—to them. This, of course, makes it all the more exciting for us. Director Gabriel Axel creates subtle drama in the meal itself, while his camera lovingly lights and captures the colors and textures of the various courses. Yum. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Stream the former on Fubo or Starz; the latter on Netflix
Sony Pictures Releasing
When Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) appeared, charting the life and times of beloved children’s TV show host Fred Rogers, its depiction of kindness and caring came as a revelation. It was so bracing and such a drastic contrast to the world, it left most viewers in tears. And indeed, Mr. Rogers was the real thing, a man who saw the good in everyone.
So, it made sense that a biopic starring Hollywood’s nicest guy, Tom Hanks, would follow. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is equally powerful, focusing on a depressed journalist (Matthew Rhys) who is assigned to interview Mr. Rogers, and finds his life significantly changed. These two movies appeared just when we needed them the most, to remind us that “anything mentionable is manageable.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Stream it on Showtime or Fubo
Possibly the best film of this year, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) is jam-packed, and yet flows smoothly; it’s difficult to describe, yet effortless to watch. It manages to suggest an infinite number of realities without cutting corners. And still the focus is on the wonderful characters, and on the myriad of ways they are simply trying to connect with one another.
Unhappy Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) runs a laundromat and frets over taxes. She can’t get along with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and finds her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and his boundless optimism ridiculous. On their way to a tax appointment, Waymond suddenly changes into a different version of himself and informs Evelyn that a powerful being is out to destroy the multiverse, and only she, Evelyn, can save it. This leads to an astonishing martial arts fight, and many, many, many zany, out-of-left-field ideas that all seem to click together perfectly. Jamie Lee Curtis is amazing, and in heavy make-up, as a sinister IRS agent, and James Hong plays Evelyn’s grumpy father.
Stream it on HBO Max
A masterpiece from director Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity (2013) was a groundbreaking technical marvel to be sure, and a grippingly suspenseful white-knuckler, but it was also a powerful ode to the essence of what it means to be human. Astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are repairing the Hubble telescope when meteors destroy their shuttle. Stranded in space and with only their suits’ thrusters, they must make their way around to whatever other satellites might be nearby in the hopes of finding a shuttle to get back home.
The use of three-dimensional space, movement, speed, and impact are unlike anything else ever filmed, and Steven Price’s droning, threatening score adds much depth to these scenes. But it’s Bullock who provides the movie’s heart. She’s constantly fighting and thinking, and the few moments in which we she reveals her inner self offer a snapshot of how the very best can emerge from any of us. Ed Harris is the voice of Mission Control.
Stream it on Fubo or AMC+
Religions of every stripe from all over the world have claimed that Groundhog Day (1993) perfectly encapsulates their beliefs, which says a great deal not only about the film, but about the world. Cynical weatherman Phil (a perfect Bill Murray) is nonplussed to have to cover the same old groundhog story on February 2 in Punxsutawney, PA, but imagine his reaction when he keeps waking up on the same day again and again, with no explanation.
The brilliant screenplay by Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis explores virtually every possible aspect of this scenario, from suicide to gluttony to “I must be a God.” Then Phil tries to use his “powers” to woo his pretty producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), but soon discovers that the only way to go is to dig deep and try to make himself a better person. Some have analyzed the film to calculate that the time Phil spends in the loop is around 34 years, or, as Rubin put it, “a lifetime.” This hilarious, romantic, and existential film is a work of art worth pondering.
Stream it on HBO Max, Criterion Channel, or Kanopy
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is perhaps one of the best-known of all international directors, but mainly for his exciting, action-packed samurai movies. Those are great, but Kurosawa also made many powerful, contemporary dramas, and none were quite as moving as Ikiru (1952). Fans may recognize star Takashi Shimura from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as well as Godzilla; here he plays a big city bureaucrat, Kanji Watanabe, who learns that he has cancer. He grapples with the fact that his life’s office work and pencil-pushing hasn’t amounted to much, and so he devotes his time to building a children’s playground.
The image of Watanabe sitting on a swing somehow manages to sum up all the movie’s simple, powerful themes. Kurosawa’s direction here is as gentle as it is energetic in the samurai films, and Shimura gives one of the all-time great screen performances. (Note: a brand-new remake, Living, starring Bill Nighy, was released in December.)
The Iron Giant
Stream it on The Roku Channel
Brad Bird had been an animator on The Simpsons and directed a couple of episodes before making the leap to the big screen with this superb, hand-drawn, animated feature. Based on a book by Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant (1999) takes place in the 1950s, using the tensions of the Cold War as part of the conflict. A boy, Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) finds a giant robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and must try to hide it from his mother (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) and from prying government agent Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald), and gains help from a beatnik junkyard artist, Dean (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.).
The movie draws on Looney Tunes-style humor and timing, but also has enough style to create a truly spectacular and suspenseful showdown. The movie reminds us that “you are who you choose to be” and that judgment based on appearance—even if we’re talking about a giant robot—is not cool.
Stream it on Fubo, Showtime, Hoopla, or Kanopy
The surprise Oscar winner for Best Picture, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight (2016) is a masterful work that manages to generate understanding and empathy for a character that many mainstream viewers have never encountered, nor even considered. He is Chiron, played by three different actors at three different ages, a shy, thin, introverted boy growing up in the mean part of Florida, and is very likely gay. His life changes when he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer that somehow radiates calm, intelligence, and kindness. Juan gives him a place to go when he needs an escape, which he does frequently, given that his mother (Naomie Harris) is an unstable, angry junkie.
As Chiron grows, he models himself after Juan, attempting his own brand of swagger, though he can’t forget the one moment of connection he ever had, with a school friend named Kevin. The delicate, watchful cinematography captures different sensations of light and air, with different qualities of cluttered and uncluttered exteriors and interiors, reflecting the characters. It’s a deeply perceptive, quietly textured movie. André Holland and Janelle Monáe co-star.
My Neighbor Totoro
Stream it on HBO Max
A strong candidate for the greatest hand-drawn animated feature film ever made, Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is gentle enough for young children, but profound in its sense of hope and discovery. A father and two girls move into a country home while the girls’ mother is in the hospital. While exploring the house and the nearby woods, the girls, Satsuki and Mei, meet a variety of friendly spirits, from the small black “soot sprites,” to the magical Catbus, to Totoro himself, a giant, fuzzy creature who may be a cross between a cat and a rabbit. He has a huge maw that could swallow a little girl whole if the mood struck, but he’s never menacing. If anything, he seems mostly bemused.
Through it all is the possibility that the girls’ mother could die, and the film never ducks away from this issue, though it also avoids hysterics. The mood is peaceful and humane—it certainly feels influenced by Yasujiro Ozu—with moments so quiet that they’re like a spray of cherry blossoms in the breeze.
Stream it on HBO Max or Tubi
In the 2022 Nicolas Cage movie The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, there are jokes about the movie Paddington 2 (2017), which briefly made headlines for earning a rare 100-percent on Rotten Tomatoes and displacing Citizen Kane as the so-called “greatest movie of all time.” They’re jokes, but not jokes. “It made me want to be a better man,” says one character.
In the film, a villainous actor (Hugh Grant) steals a valuable book of maps and blames it on Paddington bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw). Paddington goes to prison, where rather than becoming corrupted by surly inmates and hopeless surroundings, he uses his good manners and kindness to transform the place for the better. He even becomes pals with the prison’s most feared occupant (and its cook), Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson). There’s a prison break and a tense showdown on a moving train, and everything turns out fine, but its Paddington’s enduring positivity, affecting everyone he touches, that makes this special.
Stream it on Hulu or Hoopla
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) may be Paul Thomas Anderson’s strangest and most lovable movie. It seems to have come together out of the ether, inspired by pudding, plungers, and a desire to work with Adam Sandler. Sandler plays Barry Egan, dressed in his chrome-blue suit, an odd figure within the super-widescreen frame. He works at a novelty plunger company and collects pudding cups (hoping to cash in on a promo giveaway and earn airline miles). He has an entire brood of nitpicking sisters, and an explosive temper hiding under his mild surface.
One night he calls a phone sex service and finds himself the victim of a credit-card scam. Then, he finds a harmonium in the street. When he meets his true love, Lena (Emily Watson), that same day, he finds it hard to explain any of this weird stuff to her. The movie takes a wonderful detour as Lena flies to Hawaii and Barry decides to follow her, and then as Barry must fight to defend her honor. (“I’m a NICE MAN!” he declares, defiantly.) Anderson’s rainbow colors and odd music score raise tension and release it beautifully. This movie can just flat-out make your day.
The Shawshank Redemption
Stream it on HBO Max
Castle Rock Entertainment
Based on a story by Stephen King and written and directed by Frank Darabont (making his feature debut after writing things like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, and The Fly II), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) today means the world to a great many people. This is perhaps for its themes of patience, friendship, and freedom, or perhaps for other, more individual reasons.
Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly accused of murder and thrown in Shawshank prison, where he meets Red (Morgan Freeman), the man who can get anything. We see Andy through Red’s eyes as a man at peace and with infinite patience. The movie’s leisurely pace and 142 minutes create a spiritual quality, rather than a suspenseful one, even though breaking out of prison is the goal. In 1994, it was not considered a success, perhaps, some surmised, due to its awkward title. It received seven Academy Award nominations, but in the year of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, won nothing. It’s considered a “cult classic,” because it was discovered over time, and organically, by true fans.
The Straight Story
Stream it on Disney+
Disney/Buena Vista Pictures
Best known for disturbing and surreal things like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and Mulholland Drive, David Lynch did something even stranger in 1999 by making a G-rated film for Walt Disney Pictures. The result is one of his very best films, and one based on a true story. Seventy-three year-old Alvin Straight (Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth) gets the news that his brother has had a stroke and realizes he must pay a visit. Unfortunately, he can’t drive, can’t see very well, and needs two canes to walk. But he can operate his John Deere riding lawnmower, whose top speed is 5 miles per hour.
Straight hits the road, puttering along at a leisurely pace, and the movie follows in a similar fashion. It’s mainly about Alvin and the people he meets along the way, and their beautiful conversations. Sometimes Alvin dispenses wisdom, and other times he ruminates on his own life, and sometimes he just listens. The movie has a few weird, Lynchian touches here and there, like an auto mechanic with a chunk of metal imbedded in his jaw, but the tone is always kind and warm. Sissy Spacek co-stars as Alvin’s daughter Rose.