There are so many great films and shows that come out every year, and yet somehow it always feels so hard to find something good to watch. So we’ve pulled together some of our favorite releases from this year so you know what to watch before there’s a whole new year’s worth of releases taking over your ‘oh yeah, I need to watch that’ list. We’ve split them into ten categories, from the best performances, to the best zany comedies, to the shows that got canceled way too soon, and more. So no matter what you’re looking for, we’ve got something for you!
It’s no surprise that Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, two of Hollywood’s greatest actresses, gave stellar performances in Todd Haynes’ May December - but even fans were wowed by just how dark and twisty the story got. Portman stars as tv-actress-that-wants-to-be-a-movie-star Elizabeth, who infiltrates the lives of Moore’s sweet on the surface, quietly devious Gracie and her much younger husband Joe (a standout turn by Charles Melton [yes, the guy from Riverdale!]) Based on a real-life story (we’ll link our video explaining all of that at the end if you want a rundown), May December examines the dark underbelly of power dynamics and the danger presented by people who are so good at lying they seem able to rewrite the truth. Check this one out if you’re looking for: capital-A Acting, mystery, and a film that (thankfully) never forgets who its actual victim is.
We have covered the many reasons we love Succession a lot over the years – but its final season really was full of excellent performances. As the Roy family absolutely melts down in the wake of the loss of its patriarch, every player vies for the crown – but trauma, circumstance, and ego all seem to get in the way. Every single performance is artfully nuanced and brings a level of humanity to these often inhumane characters, from Roman cracking at the funeral, to Shiv’s phone breakdown, to Kendall’s, well, being Kendall, to Tom being willing to do anything for his greatest love, money. If you’ve been putting off starting Succession, let this be the push to finally start! If you’re looking for comedy, drama, great performances, and writing, this is the show for you.
The Holdovers follows a boarding school teacher tasked with keeping watch over the kids with nowhere to go during a snowy 1970s winter break – and it looks true to the era. The warmth and film grain make it feel like the film was really pulled straight out of the 70s. So you might be surprised to find that it was actually shot on digital. More than trying to replicate the exact look, cinematographer Eigil Bryld and director Alexander Payne were more interested in capturing the feeling of the era. The result is a beautifully shot film that feels at once fresh and nostalgic. Featuring great performances, hilarious moments, and a heartwarming story, The Holdovers is one you don’t want to miss.
Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla is a compassionate, beautifully rendered look at 13 years in the life of Priscilla Presley. Following Priscilla from the day she met future-husband Elvis (at only 14 years old) to the day she left him, Coppola and cinematographer Philipe Le Sourd use the film’s visuals to express so much of what young Priscilla can’t quite say. Engulfed by her surroundings, hidden behind a facade decided on by someone else, unable to make even basic decisions about her own life, Priscilla has to learn to find her own power within and realize that she wants more out of life than to just be some famous guy’s wife. Check this film out for great visuals, another entry into Coppola’s dreamy canon of lonely girls, and an engaging look at the story behind the one that was splashed all over the tabloids.
Best Relationship Dramas (About The Past & Future Colliding)
Romantic drama Past Lives, the debut film of writer-director Celine Song, is a touching, relatable exploration of the pain of being torn between your past and future selves, unsure of how to hold on who you were while still moving toward who you want to be. The film follows childhood friends Na Young and Hae Sung as their lives diverge and they grow into different people on different sides of the globe but never seem to lose the thread that ties them together. There’s no villain in this romance, aside from the unrelenting flow of time. If you like deeply felt dramas about the love we have to leave behind and love we choose to keep with us, definitely check out Past Lives!
All of Us Strangers
All of Us Strangers makes its meeting of past and future a little more literal. A lonely writer’s life is sent spinning when a handsome young man shows up at his door and sends him on a journey through his past – including a trip back to his hometown where his parents still seem to be living in his childhood home, unchanged even though they died 30 years prior. All of Us Strangers dives into the hard truth that we have to find a way to come to terms with our past if we’re going to be able to let our future in. If you’re into films that use a bit of fantasy to explore something very real, we think you’ll love All of Us Strangers!
Best Zany Comedy Premise
Our Flag Means Death
‘Romance and friendship’ might not be the first things you think of when you hear ‘swashbuckling pirates taking to the high seas’, but HBO’s Our Flag Means Death proves that it’s actually the perfect combination. We’ve already done a whole video on exactly what makes this show and its dedication to realistic representation so special (we’ll link it in the description!) and we can’t not include season two on our ‘favorites of the year’. This season was all about never being afraid to try and fail (and try again), finding your way back to your loved ones and yourself, and learning to be truly unapologetic about who you are. This comedy has become a cult favorite for a reason.
Theater Camp flew a bit under the radar, but it deserves some attention! This comedy starring Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, and so many of our faves dives right into the intense world of Theatre summer camp theater that is. Rebecca-Diane and Amos have been friends since they first started coming to the camp as kids, and now help run things – including writing and directing the summer play. As a #Business influencer takes over and foreclosure looms, the campers must put on the greatest show of all time to try to save the camp. Friendships and skill sets are tested in this hilarious behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring theater to life. Theater Camp is the perfect watch for recovering theater kids (and ones who never gave up the dream) who want to relive the joy (and pain) of working to put on the perfect show.
Extraordinary is a charming little show that no one I’ve spoken to in real life has heard of (even others here at The Take!), but I thought it was a lot of fun! This British superhero show follows Jen, a floundering 20-something who is the only person she knows who didn’t receive a superpower when she turned 18. As Jen struggles with being totally ordinary, her friends have to deal with the increasing number of problems brought on by their powers. Also, there’s a cat, man-cat named Jizzlord. Check this one out if you’re looking for a fun, quick pick-me-up watch!
Of course, everyone’s favorite doll come to life has to be on our list! Barbie brought audiences out in droves to join her on her journey into the Real World, and broke records while doing it. She’s a great role model for young girls (and a great reminder for adults) of the importance of loving yourself for who you are and being unafraid to embrace your womanhood and power. Already re-watched the movie and want more Barbie? Check out our videos breaking down why her journey to become human is so important (and relatable) and the one thing wrong with the movie (and how Greta, Margot, and the rest of the creative team saved the film!)
Bella Baxter, Poor Things
Bella Baxter is a reanimated corpse who is determined to make the most of her second shot at life. On her journey to freedom, she begins figuring out what it really means to live. Emma Stone plays this “difficult woman” to perfection, carrying this satirical takedown of gender roles with wit and a knowing humor. Definitely check out Poor Things if you’re looking for a wonderfully bizarre take on finding yourself and taking control of your own life.
Miles Morales, Across The Spider-Verse
In the past couple of decades there have been so many Spider-Men on screen – all of them great in their own way, to be sure – but it came as a breath of fresh air when the latest iteration of the web-slinger actually felt fresh. Miles Morales is a teen that took over the Spider-Man mantle after Peter Parker died in his reality. We get to see his artistic side, unpack his family dynamics, and follow him on a journey of coming into his own (featuring some absolutely astounding animation.) Across The Spider-Verse sees Miles fighting against the way things are “supposed to be” and instead figuring out how to use his skills to create the future he wants for himself. If you somehow haven’t already seen this movie this year, don’t miss it!
Best “Occasionally True” “Almost Entirely Untrue Historical Fiction/Reinterpretation
Hulu’s historical-ish, satirical comedy-drama The Great, starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as Peter III of Russia, follows Catherine as her illusions of a happy marriage are quickly shattered and she realizes she’s going to have to take control – of her life, and, y’know, the country. This fictionalized retelling of the very true story of Catherine becoming Catherine The Great is at turns hilarious and touching, walking the line between absurdity and emotional truth. While we would have loved for the show to go on for many more seasons, it did end in a great place – so no worries about it ending on a cliffhanger (unlike some other shows we’ll talk about later.) Give The Great a watch if you want a little bit of history with a lot of attitude.
Best for learning about how restaurants work while processing your trauma
The Bear is an intense show – we’ve even done a whole video just on how the sound alone works to build layers of chaos to put you into the frazzled minds of the characters – and while it’s, on its face, about the stress of running a restaurant, it’s also a very true-to-life dramatization of dealing with (or, often, not dealing with) trauma. This year the show released a second season filled with great episodes full of high highs and low lows (prepare yourself for Seven Fishes!) If you tapped out of season one because it was too intense, season two is also really intense, but it’s worth it! The show has thankfully been renewed for season three, so take some time to watch the first two before it drops if you haven’t already!
The Shows We’re Saddest About Getting Canceled Too Early…
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, about the beginning of the Showtime era of the Los Angeles basketball team, was always an underdog of a show – it never got huge ratings, but those of us who did watch loved it. Even if you’re not that into basketball as a sport, the writing and performances will still pull you in. Its unfortunate early cancellation means that the show ends on a pretty big down note (that was supposed to lead into a triumphant comeback arc in the third season) which is a bummer – but the show is still worth watching. And once you reach the end, you can read the book it’s based on, Jeff Pearlman’s Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s to find out what happened next!
Reservation Dogs was a great show that took the classic coming-of-age premise somewhere TV never had before an Indigenous American reservation. Set in the Muscogee Nation, the series followed a group of teens as they tackled the ups and downs of growing up while trying to cope with the recent death of their friend, all on top of trying to figure out where they fit in their community and the world at large. Thankfully this show at least got three wonderful seasons before it ended, but it still feels like there was so much more story left to tell. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this story about growing up and growing together is a must-watch.
Being an Oscar-bait film isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bradley Cooper’s Maestro is certainly a film built for the awards circuit, but thanks to this it does hit a lot of great notes. Ostensibly a biopic about iconic composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, much of the focus of the film is actually on the effect his immense fame (and ego) had on his wife Felicia, who gave up her own career to support his. (If you want to learn more about the story there, make sure to check out our video breaking it down.) Filled with great musical moments and superb acting (especially from Carrie Mulligan), Maestro takes a look at the complex nature of love and care within the frame of this turbulent relationship.
A show featuring normal people going through regular, everyday struggles shouldn’t be so hard to come by, but Somebody, Somewhere really does feel like it’s filling a niche no other show really is. We follow Sam as she attempts to find where she fits in in her hometown after the death of her sister – and the way that finding community helps her make it through her midlife crisis. Full of laughs and tears, Somebody, Somewhere is a quiet show that packs a punch. Thankfully after season two dropped this year, the show was renewed – so make sure to check it out if you’re looking for a quick, heartfelt watch!
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
The first feature from writer-director Raven Jackson, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a striking, poetic journey through the life of a woman – flowing like memories, less concerned with chronology and more with the feelings in the moments. It’s an interesting look at the kinds of things that really latch themselves into our memories, not just major life events but the small, seemingly inconsequential things that our minds continue to turn over and over. If you’re into meditations on the little lingering moments of our lives, the stunning All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a film you don’t want to miss out on.
There were so many great films and shows this year, we definitely didn’t have time to include them all in this video – but we hope this list gave you some good ideas on what to watch before the end of the year! What were your favorite films and shows of the year that you think everyone should check out? Let us know in the comments!