Wondering what to watch? Netflix continues a fast-paced December release slate this week with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths coming hot on the heels of Guillermo Del Toro’s (wonderful) new adaptation of Pinocchio. Next week, you have Rian Johnson’s Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion, to look forward to.
Paramount+ continues its rollout of crowdpleasing summer movies with the Sandra Bullock-led The Lost City, while Prime Video releases the small scale allegorical horror Nanny, directed by Nikyatu Jusu in her feature debut.
At the same time, Crunchyroll, now perhaps the biggest western distributor of anime around, has resumed a weekly release of feature films to their platform — modern classics like Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress as well as the unparalleled Naoko Yamada’s unmissable, painterly, keenly felt high school drama Liz and the Blue Bird both land just in time for some excellent holiday viewing.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Millennium Actress (2000) | Crunchyroll (pick of the week)
It’s often Paprika and Perfect Blue that get held up as the greatest works by director Satoshi Kon (who sadly passed away in 2010 from pancreatic cancer). They're markers of both the visual imagination of his work as well as their more adult concerns when compared to the more commonly cited anime director Hayao Miyazaki.
Read more: The best movies of 2022
But it’s Millennium Actress which stands as perhaps his most accomplished work: taking the blurring of the line between reality and fiction of Perfect Blue and applying it to a more optimistic story about a life lived in the spotlight. Starting from the perspective of two documentary filmmakers, it’s about the reclusive actress named Chiyoko, a fictional figure composited from real life 60s Japanese stars like Setsuko Hara.
The filmmakers are making a special about her and her disappearance from the spotlight at the height of her career, and she shares with them her life story, the presentation of it beginning to merge inextricably from the roles that she starred in. It’s an exhilarating approach to a life story, where the characters join the audience as bewildered spectator as the environment suddenly shifts around them in artful ways that only animation can manage.
Millennium Actress is a perfect gateway into Kon’s small but creatively vast filmography, an undersung modern classic by a director who feels like they aren’t celebrated enough even with all his posthumous critical recognition, and the chance to catch its recent restoration on streaming is too good to pass up.
Also on Crunchyroll: Liz and the Blue Bird (2018) Penguin Highway (2018)
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022) | Netflix
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest dark comedy is also his first entirely filmed in his native Mexico in over 20 years, and the marker of time since Amores Perros highlights how much the size of his filmmaking has changed, with Birdman and The Revenant spurring him to an international profile that gives room to portray existential dread on an epic scale.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in December
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths follows a weary documentarian through his return to Mexico and resultant existential crisis through a series of bizarre visions. Its heavy-handed symbolism, and allegorical dream logic is at least nice to look at, as Iñárritu’s revelrous use of wide-angle lensing seeks majesty in both the natural world and human made environments, as a character runs and leaps over a desert and another naps in a hospital corridor, silhouetted in golden light.
Watch a trailer for Bardo
That seeming serenity is quickly derailed by absurdism, with a scene of the sleeping man’s pregnant partner giving birth only to be told that the baby doesn’t want to come out, and the doctors promptly put the thing back where it came from. The film more or less continues along this tack for its incredibly drawn-out and sedative two hours and 40 minute runtime, and never completely feels like it fills that time.
It’s big, it's pretty, but emotionally distancing even as it seeks to get inside both its main character’s head and its filmmakers.
Also new on Netflix: Private Lesson (2022)
The Lost City (2022) | Paramount+
Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock, still a dab hand as a surly romantic lead) writes terrible novels. She’s stuck and dissatisfied writing tawdry romance fiction, all with a pulpy, Indiana Jones-esque archeological theme that harkens back to her days studying the subject at university.
Following a humiliating Q&A on her book tour, that aforementioned skill (and the fact that she accidentally included a new translation of an ancient language within) set gets her kidnapped by a rich collector of antiquities Abigail Fairfax (played with gleeful megalomania by Daniel Radcliffe), who wants her to help him find a fabled lost treasure in the eponymous Lost City.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in December
The film itself exists in the very same territory as the pulpy romance novels that it pokes fun at, that is to say, it’s an enjoyable but throwaway good time. Alongside Bullock, Channing Tatum plays the dimwitted model for her book covers, Tatum as charming as ever with his usual loveable, well-meaning himbo routine, even if a fair share of his dopey malapropisms feel a little repetitive.
Watch a trailer for The Lost City
Brad Pitt’s bizarre cameo as a former Navy Seal turned life coach also entertains (introduced with the same song as the True Detective opening, of all things), his confident professionalism making for a funny contrast with everyone else’s ineptness for one of the film’s more memorable set pieces. More than anyone else though comedian Patti Harrison steals scenes with her line delivery, giving a compellingly weird edge to even the most predictable one-liners.
Though its jokes aren’t nearly as uniformly strong, The Lost City often recalls Game Night, in that it’s a larger budget studio comedy that actually cares about its construction, that makes a worthy attempt at actually looking like the kind of film it is parodying rather than simply sticking some comedians in a room together to improvise.
Also new on Paramount Plus: Snow Day (2022)