Online streaming is bigger than ever, and with so many streaming services adding new shows and movies every week, it can be nearly impossible to sort through the good and the bad. If you need something to watch and don’t want to wade through the digital muck that washes up on the internet’s shores, follow our picks below for the best new shows and movies worth a watch.
This week: HBO’s The Night Of reaches its conclusion, a girl goes missing in New Zealand, and married painters deal with a transition.
The Night Of (finale)
HBO’s limited series The Night Of has been one of the great surprises of the summer, exploring the murky labyrinth of the criminal justice system over the course of eight episodes. On Sunday, the story wraps up. The series focuses on a murder case: Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is suspected of killing a young woman he picked up in his father’s cab. The evidence points overwhelmingly to him, and his only hope is a sleazy defense attorney, Jack Stone (John Turturro). Although the show starts as a whodunit, the murder mystery quickly takes a backseat to an examination of the system itself. Filmed with heavy shades of blue and green, the show has an austere look that reflects the indifferent machinery of the New York bureaucracy. The Night Of is not without problems — the murder victim is a human MacGuffin, and there is so much evidence against Nasir that it hardly seems unjust for him to be prosecuted — but the high level of craft and great cast make it worth watching despite the sometimes preposterous plot.
The Last Man on Earth
There is no shortage of apocalyptic fiction these days. Whether by zombies, viruses, or intergalactic cataclysms, stories about the end of the world are all the rage. Few stories play the end of the world for laughs, however, so The Last Man on Earth already has that going for it. The last man in question is Phil Miller (Will Forte), who lives alone in Tuscon after a virus seemingly wipes out every other earthly inhabitant. When he finds another survivor, Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal), they decide to repopulate the planet, but their distinct personalities get in the way. Forte and Schaal both play surprisingly complex characters, and have an acerbic chemistry that makes for one of the most memorable romantic pairings on television. The Last Man on Earth is a witty, surprisingly breezy portrayal of life after the end.
Top of the Lake
Jane Campion has a knack for choosing thematically appropriate settings. In Top of the Lake, the rugged hinterlands of New Zealand form a sort of frontier, where crime and barbarity lurk just out of sight. The show concerns an investigation by Det. Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) into the disappearance of a Tui, a 12-year-old girl who is discovered to be pregnant. Complicating matters is that Tui’s family is involved in the drug trade in Laketop, and it quickly becomes apparent that there is more than a simple case of abuse going on. Top of the Lake’s eclectic cast of characters adds to the thrill of the case. Moss does a fine job as the lead, taking the standard damaged detective template and adding in shades of grit and weariness as she tries to succeed in a male-dominated police department. Top of the Lake is often disturbing, but fans of grim detective stories will surely appreciate it.
A film that helped establish Michelangelo Antonioni as one of the great directors of the 20th century, L’avventura opens as Anna (Lea Massari), her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) go on a sailing trip. Despite sunny appearances, there are cracks in Anna and Sandro’s relationship; when she goes missing, Sandro and Claudia search for her, becoming close in the process. Although it begins with a mystery, L’avventura really is not about finding an answer. The film is more concerned with the emotional state of its characters, their angst and their attempts to cope through whatever pleasures they can find. It lacks much in the way of plot, but does not want for it; Antonioni’s beautiful, delicately crafted shots alone are worth watching.
The Danish Girl
Is there any actor in recent years who has played a more diverse lineup of roles than Eddie Redmayne? Since 2010 he has played a monk (Black Death), a star-crossed filmmaker (My Week with Marilyn), a theoretical physicist (The Theory of Everything), and a galactic conqueror (Jupiter Ascending). With The Danish Girl, he steps into the controversial role of Lili Elbe, a transgender painter who was also one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Based somewhat loosely on the true story, the film follows artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) and her husband Einar (Redmayne), who live and work together in Copenhagen. After Gerda asks Einar to pose for a woman’s portrait she needs to finish, he embraces the female persona that he has lived with in secrecy, Lili. The film explores Lili’s personal transformation, as well as Gerda’s struggle to cope with the upheaval of her marriage. Although Redmayne’s performance got much of the attention, Vikander is excellent here, balancing a true affection for her husband with fury at how his transition shatters their marriage. It is a complex performance that helps elevate what could otherwise have been a sedate biopic.