The final month of the year is finally upon us, and with it comes a bountiful crop of new movies available on streaming to tide us over through winter.
We’ve highlighted the best of the best new movies on Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Hulu, and other streaming platforms in December 2022. Our list includes Bullet Train, the outrageous new action comedy from John Wick co-director David Leitch and starring Brad Pitt, 2004’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou starring Bill Murray, a tender 2019 bromance about two men and a cow, and a neo-noir thriller and a classic revisionist Western drama to spice things up. If there’s a particular mood you’re looking for, we’ve got a movie for you.
Run time: 1h 53m
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
If I was asked to pick my favorite movies of the 21st century, I would spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out my top pick. But I know First Reformed would be in contention.
Paul Schrader is a filmmaker obsessed with contradiction, often pairing unlikely groups of themes or characters to wonderful effect. We saw it early on with Taxi Driver and more recently with Card Counter (or movies like Hardcore, Auto Focus, and Patty Hearst), but to me, the pinnacle is First Reformed.
Anchored by a masterful performance from Ethan Hawke, First Reformed follows a minister (Hawke) of a tiny, old congregation in New York. His church is more a museum than a real congregation, and is funded by a local megachurch run by a celebrity pastor (Cedric the Entertainer). For many filmmakers, that conflict alone would be rich enough to dive into. But Paul Schrader is unlike many filmmakers.
Schrader delicately weaves a story of climate change, grief, and the challenges before us, both as individuals and as a society. What could easily just be a downer (and it is bleak at times) for me instead manifests a very human connection, even in despair. It’s a wonderful film, and one I’m excited more people now get to watch. —Pete Volk
First Reformed is available to stream on HBO Max.
Run time: 2h 3m
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky
Michael Mann’s 1981 neo-noir crime thriller is exceptional. The late, great James Caan (The Godfather) stars as Frank, an expert safecracker and ex-convict with dreams of retiring from his life of crime to pursue a normal life and raise a family. After losing out on the money from his last big heist, Frank agrees to sign on for one more heist with a big-time gangster who, unbeknownst to him, plans on cheating him out of his cut once again. Even if you’ve never seen the film before, you can probably put two and two together and guess how well that goes for the gangster. With stunning nighttime cinematography by Donald Thorin and a pulsating synth score by Tangerine Dream, Thief is a bona fide wonder anchored by an inimitable lead performance. End of blurb. —Toussaint Egan
Thief is available to stream on Prime Video.
New on Netflix
Run time: 2h 7m
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
One of the greatest action movie traditions is taking a common, everyday location — say, a train — and promising an audience approximately two hours of outrageous violence in that mundane place. With that in mind, Bullet Train — named after Japan’s famous high-speed commuter rail — didn’t have to do much to succeed; some good fights featuring fun actors and a tidy ending would’ve been enough. But Leitch, with the help of a stellar cast including Brian Tyree Henry, Bad Bunny, Joey King, and lead Brad Pitt, turns Bullet Train into a nesting doll of misunderstandings and complications that compound into a steady stream of jokes and violence, gaining so much momentum that the only way to stop it is to blow it all up. —Joshua Rivera
Bullet Train is available to stream on Netflix starting Dec. 3.
New to Hulu
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Run time: 1h 59m
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett
You know what you’re getting with a Wes Anderson comedy, and Zissou is one of his best.
Dedicated to the legendary French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Murray plays the Cousteau-like documentarian Steve Zissou, who embarks on a stubborn quest to find and kill the shark who killed his best friend.
Featuring a sprawling cast of Anderson regulars and an excellent soundtrack of David Bowie covers by Brazilian singer-songwriter Seu Jorge, Zissou excels not only because of the hilarious gags delivered by some of the funniest actors in the business, but because of Anderson’s typical attention to detail in his shot compositions. It’s a gorgeous movie and a funny one. That’s not an easy combo to nail. —PV
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is available to stream on Hulu.
The best of the rest
Run time: 2h 2m
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones
One of my favorite movies of the decade, First Cow is a tender bromance about two men in 1820s Oregon, the unlikely friendship they strike up, and a very sweet cow they meet and steal milk from (in a friendly way). They use that milk to bake some treats, with their eyes on a life of comfort and security. —PV
From our glowing review:
The way Cookie and King-Lu’s story fits into a larger picture of American history isn’t as important, or as touching, as the way their relationship blooms onscreen. They’re both odd ducks in Fort Tillicum, where the ability to throw a punch and get rowdy is a dominant force in securing social status. King-Lu is more of a dreamer, while Cookie is more practical, but they’re kindred spirits, in spite of their occasional arguments. [...]
It’s the little things that make life worth living. Key to that rise is just how well Magaro and Lee suit each other. Magaro’s sad eyes and faintly scratchy voice convey a softness and warmth, as he politely chats with the cow as he milks it. His faint sense of uncertainty is offset by Lee’s self-assurance. Even when King-Lu experiences moments of doubt, Lee speaks with a reassuring timbre, and expertly turns the dial between King-Lu’s professional sharpness and his genuine affection for Cookie as their situation becomes more complicated.
First Cow is available to stream on Peacock.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Run time: 2h 1m
Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, René Auberjonois
In an oeuvre of films that includes such undisputed classics as The Long Goodbye and M*A*S*H, this 1971 revisionist Western drama nonetheless stands out as the only one of Robert Altman’s works Roger Ebert championed as “perfect.” It’s not hard to see why — McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a tremendous period drama powered by the combined charisma of Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as an infamous gambler and a streetwise prostitute, respectively, who join forces to run a successful brothel in a Pacific Northwest mining town in 1902. When a mining company attempts to buy out and later extort McCabe, he’ll have to resort to desperate measures to fend off a trio of bounty hunters and protect what’s his.
Featuring beautiful cinematography of the forests and hills of West Vancouver by Vilmos Zsigmond, whip-sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and a haunting plaintive score composed of songs written by the one and only Leonard Cohen, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a exhilarating, tragic portrait of frontier life on the fringes of civilization that’s perfect for any fan of shows like Deadwood or films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. —TE
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is available to stream on Criterion Channel.