By Jason Bailey
In January, several big movies from an impressive coterie of marquee directors — including Sofia Coppola, Luca Guadagnino, Yorgos Lanthimos, Spike Lee, Jordan Peele and Robert Rodriguez — leave Netflix in the United States, along with a zippy comedy, an entertaining animated sequel and what may be the most famous runner-up in Oscars history. (Dates indicate the final day a title is available.)
‘BlacKkKlansman’ (Jan. 5)
Better late than never: Lee won his first competitive Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to this deft combination of social satire and police procedural, which he also directed. It details the true story of how Colorado police Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, despite the fact that Stallworth is Black. Lee plays Stallworth’s ruse, achieved with a clever combination of phone calls and undercover work by his white, Jewish partner (Adam Driver), for laughs. But the danger of the operation is ever-present, building considerable tension to a conclusion that ingeniously and gut-wrenchingly ties the past to the present.
‘Get Out’ (Jan. 5)
When Peele’s crossover to feature filmmaking was announced in the mid-2010s, most audiences — familiar only with his work as half of the sketch comedy team Key & Peele — presumed he would continue to work in that wild comic style. No one could have predicted that he would turn the entire horror genre upside down, but that’s exactly what he did with this nail-biting combination of social commentary and scary movie. What begins as a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” riff — a wealthy young white woman (Allison Williams) bringing her Black boyfriend (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents — turns into something far more sinister and unpredictable. Peele’s insights as a screenwriter are pointed and even profound, and his directorial instincts are striking from Frame 1.
‘Spy Kids’ (Jan. 12)
Just as it’s hard to remember that Peele wasn’t always associated with horror, recall that there was once a time when the idea of Rodriguez — known then for his hyperkinetic action movies — making a family film was shocking. But he changed all of that with this 2001 smash, in which two average kids (the charismatic duo of Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) discover that their seemingly boring parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, both delightfully game) are in fact globe-trotting superspies. A mission has gone awry, and the kids have to save them. Rodriguez’s imaginative scenario plugs right in to childhood play, and his handmade style is a smooth fit for kid-friendly cinema. (The second and third chapters in the franchise leave Netflix the same day.)
‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (Jan. 22)
Director Lanthimos and actor Barry Keoghan have two of the most talked-about movies of the fall in “Poor Things” and “Saltburn”; back in 2017, they collaborated on a film that makes both of those efforts seem comparatively tame. Colin Farrell stars as a seemingly normal heart surgeon whose peculiar interactions with Keoghan, the son of a former patient, escalate into deeply troubling territory. Farrell strikes a perfect key of revealing nothing without hiding anything, Nicole Kidman is excellent as his wife (with secrets of her own) and Keoghan’s mere presence is effortlessly disturbing.
‘Baby Mama’ (Jan. 31)
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took their considerable chemistry from “Saturday Night Live” to the big screen in this charming 2008 buddy comedy. Fey stars as Kate, an uptight executive who hears the ticking of her biological clock and seeks out a surrogate. Poehler is Angie, wildly immature and worrisomely irresponsible. It’s a classic opposites-attract story, and the story beats contain few surprises. But Fey and Poehler are so easily entertaining and tuned in to each other’s wavelengths that even the throwaway lines land big laughs, and the stacked supporting cast (including Greg Kinnear, Romany Malco, Steve Martin, Dax Shepard, Holland Taylor, Maura Tierney and Sigourney Weaver) more than pulls its weight.
‘The Bling Ring’ (Jan. 31)
Last year’s Netflix original docuseries “The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist” dived into the true story of the crew of Los Angeles teenagers busted in 2009 for burglarizing the homes of several boldfaced names. That may satisfy true-crime aficionados, but Coppola’s 2013 dramatization offers more than mere stargazing and rubbernecking. Her textured and experiential aesthetic is a perfect fit for this tale of shiny surfaces and conspicuous consumption; it isn’t exactly sympathetic to the teen criminals at its center, but it is empathetic to the feeling of being surrounded by unimaginable wealth and the thrill of having it (literally) in your grasp.
‘Call Me by Your Name’ (Jan. 31)
Sometimes a movie can seem to mosey and meander, running on vibes and nostalgia, and then snap itself together with full emotional force in its closing passages. That’s what happens in Guadagnino’s adaptation of the novel by André Aciman (with a screenplay by the great James Ivory, of Merchant-Ivory productions). Timothée Chalamet is remarkable in the leading role of 17-year-old Elio, a withdrawn young man who falls in love for the first time with a visiting graduate student (Armie Hammer). The rural Italian locations are gorgeous, and the supporting players are charming (particularly Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s understanding father). But most important, and impressive, is Guadagnino’s skill at capturing the sheer intoxication of one’s first flush of love and playful lust.
‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2’ (Jan. 31)
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who adapted the beloved children’s book for the original “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” in 2009, did not return for this 2013 sequel, and their absence is felt; the new team can’t quite replicate the gonzo energy and wild wit of the first picture. But it maintains that film’s considerable charm, thanks primarily to the winning vocal work of Bill Hader as perpetually nervous inventor Flint Lockwood and Anna Faris as Sam Sparks, a brainy meteorologist (and Flint’s best girl).
‘La La Land’ (Jan. 31)
This 2016 romance from Damien Chazelle was a critical and commercial smash (and, notoriously, almost the Oscar winner for best picture) — not always the fate of big-screen musicals in the modern era. But Chazelle’s creation is irresistible, from the sheer spectacular enthusiasm of its song-and-dance numbers to the heartfelt lead performances of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to Chazelle’s undeniable and infectious affection for the great musicals of yesteryear.
Also leaving: “Ma” (Jan. 5), “Begin Again” (Jan. 24), “Eat Pray Love” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (Jan. 31).