Not all that long ago, the idea of getting cosy on your couch, clicking a few buttons, and having thousands of films and television shows at your fingertips seemed like something out of science fiction. Now, it’s just an ordinary night — whether you’re virtually gathering the gang to text along, cuddling up to your significant other or shutting the world out for some much needed me-time.
Of course, given the wealth of options to choose from, there’s nothing ordinary about making a date with your chosen streaming platform. The question isn’t “should I watch something?” — it’s “what on earth should I choose?”.
Hundreds of titles are added to Australia’s online viewing services each and every month, all vying for a spot on your must-see list. And, so you don’t spend 45 minutes scrolling and then being too tired to actually commit to watching anything, we’re here to help. We’ve spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this months latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from September’s haul of newbies.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL
Hitting streaming mere days after premiering at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, The Mad Women’s Ball marks the latest thoughtful and entralling stint behind the camera for Mélanie Laurent. The French actor who’ll forever be known for Inglourious Basterds features on-screen in this, too, and turns in a layered and textured performance. But, behind the lens for the sixth time — and the first since 2018’s Galveston — she transforms an already-gripping tale into a film that’s vivid, passionate, empathetic and resonant. You could compare The Mad Women’s Ball to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, although that’s oversimplifying things. Both are primarily set within comparable facilities, with the Salpêtrière neurological clinic the key location here, and both hone in on the power imbalance between those admitted and those running the show. But the Salpêtrière’s patients are all women, most have been checked in against their will, the word ‘hysteria’ is thrown around too often by the male doctors, and 19th-century Paris treats anyone who doesn’t conform to to the placid, dutiful female norm with contempt. That’s what Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge, who also starred in Laurent’s 2014 film Breathe) learns after she starts hearing spirits. When her wealthy family find out about her new ability to communicate with the dead, she’s packed away despite her pleas and protests, and confined to a place where she’s little more than an inmate for men to torture with ice baths and other supposed cures. Laurent plays a nurse who becomes sympathetic to Eugénie’s cause, but the film has just as much time for the sense of camaraderie that springs between the facility’s wrongly institutionalised charges. It also offers space for other on-screen women to make an imprint, and serves up not just a potent but a handsomely staged adaptation of Victoria Mas’ novel Le bal des folles.
The Mad Women’s Ball is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Exploring societal divides within South Korea wasn’t invented by Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s excellent Oscar-winning 2019 thriller, but its success was always going to give other films and TV shows on the topic a healthy boost. Accordingly, it’s easy to see thematic and narrative parallels between the acclaimed movie and Netflix’s new highly addictive Squid Game — the show that’s on track to become the platform’s biggest show ever (yes, bigger than everything from Stranger Things to Bridgerton) less than two weeks since it released. Anyone who has seen even an episode knows why this nine-part series is so compulsively watchable. Its puzzle-like storyline and its unflinching savagery making quite the combination. Here, in a Battle Royale and Hunger Games-style setup, 456 competitors are selected to work their way through six seemingly easy children’s games. They’re all given numbers and green tracksuits, they’re all competing for 45.6 billion won, and it turns out that they’ve also all made their way to the contest after being singled out for having enormous debts. That includes series protagonist Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae, Deliver Us From Evil), a chauffeur with a gambling problem, and also a divorcé desperate to do whatever he needs to to keep his daughter in his life. But, as it probes the chasms caused by capitalism and cash — and the things the latter makes people do under the former — this program isn’t just about one player. It’s about survival, the status quo the world has accepted when it comes to money, and the real inequality present both in South Korea and elsewhere. Filled with electric performances, as clever as it is compelling, unsurprisingly littered with smart cliffhangers, and never afraid to get bloody and brutal, the result is a savvy, tense and taut horror-thriller that entertains instantly and also has much to say.
Squid Game is available to stream via Netflix.
No one can accuse Mike Flanagan of being lazy. In the past three years, he’s made four different Netflix horror series, plus The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep. In the two years before that, he directed four other movies. Yes, he’s prolific, and he also knows and loves his unsettling niche. Midnight Mass is the third of those aforementioned shows, and forgoes the ghostly setup of The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor — and it spins its musing on loss in multiple forms, faith in just as many varieties, and mortality and everything it means into a commanding seven-part miniseries. For Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford, Good Girls), the show’s narrative begins with the biggest mistake of his life. After killing a woman while drunk driving, he spends four years in prison, haunted by her bloody face whenever he tries to close his eyes. Upon his release, he has no choice but to head home to Crockett Island, where his god-fearing mother (Kristin Lehman, Altered Carbon) is thrilled, his Ron Swanson-esque dad (Hill House and Bly Manor alum Henry Thomas) barely says a word, and his now-pregnant childhood sweetheart (Kate Siegel, Gerald’s Game) has just made a comeback after her own absence. Also upsetting the status quo: the arrival of Father Paul (Hamish Linklater, Legion) to fill in for the island’s ailing priest, and a wild storm that wreaks havoc. When he’s spinning episodic stories, Flanagan likes to tease. He likes fleshing out his always-eclectic range of characters, too, and Midnight Mass is no different. Here, he adores monologues as well, but that’s hardly surprising given the stellar cast he’s writing for. It’s been a great year or so for disquieting miniseries set on small, sparsely populated islands, thanks to The Third Day as well, and this is just absorbing.
Midnight Mass is available to stream via Netflix.
STRONG FEMALE LEAD
When The Final Quarter opted to explore AFL footballer Adam Goodes’ career purely using footage from the time — focusing on his stint on the field during its last stages, as the name makes plain — it weaved together media clips from his games, general AFL coverage, news stories, press conferences and interviews from the era. The result: a heartbreaking picture of the ex-Swans captain’s experiences with racism that couldn’t paint a clearer picture. Strong Female Lead does the same, but swaps sports for politics and discrimination based on race for prejudice predicated upon gender. Given that Australia has only ever had one female Prime Minister, that’s where this fast-paced documentary heads, with director Tosca Looby (See What You Made Me Do) and editor Rachel Grierson Johns (Roller Dreams) letting existing media materials about Julia Gillard do all the talking. Anyone who can remember the headlines, news commentary, panel shows and talkback radio discussions from her 2010–13 spot in the nation’s top job will know what they’re in for, but seeing it all so deftly sliced together couldn’t be more powerful. The sexism she faced at every turn isn’t a relic of that not-at-all-distant past, of course. Indeed, Looby’s approach makes all the horrendous words flung Gillard’s way cut like a fresh wound, and simultaneously also sting like an old scar that won’t heal. That’s the cumulative effect of enduring the horrific things said, her overall treatment as PM, the odious behaviour of her parliamentary peers, and the belittling comments and placards, too. Strong Female Lead is a film to get angry with, as it’s meant to be. It’s also a celebration of Gillard’s achievement in becoming Prime Minister, her work both along the way and in the role and other world leaders who’ve broken the glass ceiling. What lingers, though, is the fierce and formidable indictment of what women in positions of authority have been forced to navigate.
Strong Female Lead is available to stream via SBS On Demand.
EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE
They’re both underdog stories, they’re both set in Sheffield in England’s north, and they both have the accents to prove the latter. They each follow struggling locals trying to carve out a better life, and feature the entertainment industry prominently. And, they both chronicle characters breaking out of their comfort zones, shocking plenty around them, and working towards a big show, event or both. The movie that got there first: The Full Monty. The newcomer: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. That’s about where the similarities between the two end, however, other than the inescapably feel-good vibe they both stir up. In this case, that crowd-pleasing sentiment springs from teenager Jamie New (first-timer Max Harwood), his quest to become a drag queen and his determination to chase that dream by first frocking up for his school prom. Already bullied, considered a disappointment by his soccer-loving father (Ralph Ineson, Gunpowder Milkshake), but adored by his mother (Sarah Lancashire, Yesterday) and best friend (fellow film debutant Lauren Patel), he isn’t certain about showing his drag side to the world. He needs mentoring by a former drag icon (Richard E Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), in fact, to even get the courage to do so. And, from there, the path to unleashing his inner queen is nowhere near as sparkly as the red heels his mum gives him for his 16th birthday. Where Everybody’s Talking About Jamie isn’t at all surprising, whether you’re familiar with the stage production it’s based on, or the real-life tale it’s inspired by — or if you’ve just seen other against-the-odds British flicks such as Kes and Billy Elliott. Nonetheless, from its first frame to its last, this lively and sweet musical still shimmers, glows and charms.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE
In the initial two episodes of Scenes From a Marriage, Mira (Jessica Chastain, IT: Chapter Two) and Jonathan (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker) brush their teeth in front of their ensuite mirror. It’s an everyday task in a familiar place, spanning something we all do in a space we all use, but this five-part HBO miniseries turns these two scenes into a complex snapshot of its central couple. It takes not just skill but feeling and understanding to turn such a mundane activity into a must-see; however, that’s this weighty show’s remit. Scenes From a Marriage gets viewers engrossed in cleaning teeth because it’s ordinary, and because everything within its frames fits the same description. Its central relationship careens from happy to heartbroken, comfortable to distraught, and assured to messy, but it also charts a path that countless others have. Accordingly, Mira and Jonathan start the series cemented in their routine, but with each of its five episodes dedicated to a significant day over the course of several years, much changes. The ambitious tech industry executive to his ex-Orthodox Jewish philosophy professor, Mira drops a bombshell, their lives shift over and over, and yet plenty stays the same as well. As penned and helmed by The Affair‘s Hagai Levi — remaking the 1973 Swedish TV miniseries by iconic film director Ingmar Bergman — Scenes From a Marriage is a show about patterns, cycles and echoes, in fact. It ponders how they ripple through relationships and, when broken or changed, how their absence is felt. The result is devastating and powerful, shot and scored with intensity, and home to exceptional performances from Chastain and Isaac, who prove just as irresistible in their second collaboration in a stormy union as they did in 2014 also-stellar A Most Violent Year.
The first three episodes of Scenes From a Marriage are available to stream via Binge, with new episodes dropping weekly. Read our full review.
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
If you’ve ever listened to a true-crime podcast, decided that you’d make a great Serial host yourself and started wondering how you’d ever follow in Sarah Koenig’s footsteps, then you should be watching Only Murders in the Building. The Disney+ series follows three New Yorkers who follow that same process. Actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin, It’s Complicated), theatre producer Oliver Putnam (Martin Short, Schmigadoon!) and the much-younger Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez, The Dead Don’t Die) are all obsessed with a series hosted by the fictional Cinda Canning (Tina Fey, Girls5eva), to the point of bonding over it as strangers. Then, when someone turns up dead in their building, they decide that they can sleuth their way through the case — by getting talking themselves, naturally. But being a true-crime podcast diehard and making a true-crime podcast clearly aren’t quite the same thing, and turning amateur detective isn’t clearcut either. Entertaining and exceptionally well-cast, Only Murders in the Building makes makes the most of its main trio’s mismatched vibe. It’s filled with hearty affection for everything it jokes about, resulting in an upbeat satire of true-crime obsessions, podcasting’s pervasiveness and the intersection of the two. It adores its single-setting Agatha Christie-lite setup, it’s always empathetic, and it also loves peppering in highly recognisable co-stars and guest stars such as Fey, Nathan Lane (Penny Dreadful: City of Angels), Amy Ryan (Late Night) and even Sting. The series is also written and acted with enough depth to pair relatable character insights with its bubbly, clownish fun. If Knives Out was a sitcom, and also a little goofier, it’d turn out like this — and that’s a delight, obviously.
The first seven episodes of Only Murders in the Building are available to stream via Star on Disney+, with new episodes dropping weekly. Read our full review.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
How do you match a season of TV that introduced the world to yet another ace Matt Berry character? That’s a question What We Do in the Shadows faced with its third season, after its last batch of episodes featured Jackie Daytona — the “regular human bartender” persona adopted by Berry’s bloodsucker Laszlo Cravensworth. Thankfully, this vampire sharehouse comedy found an easy solution. It’s still doing what it does best, which includes gifting the glorious Berry (Toast of London) and his co-stars Kayvan Novak (Four Lions), Natasia Demetriou (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga), Mark Proksch (The Office) and Harvey Guillen (Werewolves Within) reams of witty and hilarious dialogue. Picking up where the last season left off, the show’s vamps now have a new job running the local Vampiric Council; however, the mockumentary-style series still knows that it’s at the best when its stars are riffing either together or directly to the camera. Obviously, the Staten Island-dwelling bloodsuckers’ new gig comes with ample chaos and, as it dives into everything that follows, What We Do in the Shadows is still one of the silliest yet smartest horror-comedies that’s ever been made. But as proved the case with the movie it sprang from — aka Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 film of the same name — so much of the joy and laughs here come from watching exceptional comedic talents inhabit their characters’ fangs, banter about undead tropes and bounce off of each other. That hasn’t changed in season three, and the entire series is still a side-splitting gem in each and every episode.
The first five episodes of What We Do in the Shadows’ third season are available to stream via Binge, with new episodes dropping weekly.
Y: THE LAST MAN
On paper, Y: The Last Man sounds familiar, even if you haven’t read the source material. Based on the 2002–08 comic book series of the same name, it steps into a post-apocalyptic time where an eerie illness wipes out everyone with a Y chromosome — humans and other mammals alike. Accordingly, it initially resembles a reverse version of The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men. Thankfully, this dystopian tale heads in its own direction. First, it spends an episode plotting out the pre-plague status quo for Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer, The Grizzlies), his US Congresswoman mother Jennifer (Let Him Go) and his paramedic sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby, Goliath). Then, it dives deep into the world-changing event that sees males wiped out en masse. It isn’t a spoiler to say that Yorick survives, because the title ensures that’s clear. Also making it through: his Capuchin monkey Ampersand. As the globe’s women react, adjust and endeavour to traverse a whole new way of life, Yorick endeavours to do the same — and, based on its first episodes, it makes for gripping viewing. It’s the type of show that starts out with an obvious been-there-done-that vibe, especially at the moment. Anyone who has filled even part of the pandemic binge-watching movies about contagions, outbreaks and infections will recognise plenty of elements, but this is also the kind of series that takes its time to settle in, and to expand and grow. It’s ongoing focus on what comes next, rather than simply exploring what happened, is also filled with possibilities — timely ones, too, given the current state of reality.
The first five episodes of Y: The Last Man are available to stream via Binge, with new episodes dropping weekly.
A RECENT MUST-SEE YOU CAN (AND SHOULD) STREAM NOW
Even the most joyous days and nights spent sipping your favourite drink can have their memory tainted by a hangover. Imbibe too much, and there’s a kicker just waiting to pulsate through your brain and punish your body when all that alcohol inevitably starts to wear off. For much of Another Round, four Copenhagen school teachers try to avoid this feeling. The film they’re in doesn’t, though. Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg (Kursk) and his co-scribe Tobias Lindholm (A War) lay bare the ups and downs of knocking back boozy beverages, and also serve up a finale that’s a sight to behold. Without sashaying into spoiler territory, the feature’s last moments are a thing of sublime beauty. Some movies end in a WTF, “what were they thinking?” kind of way, but this Oscar-winning Danish film comes to a conclusion with a big and bold showstopper that’s also a piece of bittersweet perfection. The picture’s highest-profile star, Mads Mikkelsen (Arctic), is involved. His pre-acting background as an acrobat and dancer comes in handy, too. Unsurprisingly, the substances that flow freely throughout the feature remain prominent. And, so does the canny and candid awareness that life’s highs and lows just keep spilling, plus the just-as-shrewd understanding that the line between self-sabotage and self-release is as thin as a slice of lemon garnishing a cocktail.
Another Round is available to stream via SBS On Demand. Read our full review.
Need a few more streaming recommendations? Check out our picks from January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August this year — and our top straight-to-streaming movies and specials from 2021 so far, and our list of the best new TV shows released this year so far as well.
Published on September 30, 2021 by Sarah Ward