December is such a critical streaming month. You will probably have a couple days of holiday-related doldrums to suffer through, and you'll need something addictive to view during that serotonin holocaust. Here's the best and most curious stuff you can watch this coming month on Netflix and Hulu.
Musical biopics always seem like stunts. They gun for Oscar cred and often get it, they give serious actors the chance to endear everybody using preexisting iconography, and if all else fails there's usually a stirring soundtrack. “Ray” fits this mold, but it's somehow much more charismatic than other boilerplate works like “Walk the Line” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Jamie Foxx's appreciation for Ray Charles goes way beyond the opportunity to dramatize his gruffer moments, and I can't say the same for Joaquin Phoenix's take on Johnny Cash. I'd say Ray is a runner-up for best musical biopic of the 2000s. The #1 — thanks to a lead performance we'll gawk at for decades — is “La Vie en Rose.”
“Tangerine” (December 2, Netflix)
Have you seen “The Danish Girl”? I've never seen so much crying and giggling in a single film. If it had been made 20 years ago, it'd have been called “Crying and Giggling.” It's the kind of movie whose orchestral melodrama and heroic sadness make you cynical about Oscar films, so I'm recommending “Tangerine” to remind you that award-seeking films aren't all indigo-tinged “Imitation Game” dirges. “Tangerine” was shot for $100,000 on iPhones, stars two trans actresses, and is basically a bawdy comedy. It's not a perfect movie, but it's a welcome antidote to the paste-white Oscar season we'll soon be enduring.
“Friday the 13th” (Hulu)
I'm proud of everybody who participated in HitFix's horror poll for keeping “Friday the 13th” out of the top 100. It's a classic for obvious reasons (Betsy Palmer's knitwear), but it's more a weird curiosity than a compulsively rewatchable film experience. Still, see it. Kevin Bacon's cameo amuses, Betsy's grit mesmerizes, and you'll realize just how dubious an influential movie can be. It's like “Birth of a Nation” for gore hounds.
But back to musical biopics: Cole Porter died over 50 years ago, but he remains the mack-daddy of uppity queer songwriting. He subverted silly melodies with some sinister messages, and I think for that reason it's fair to call him the Oscar Wilde of the Great American Songbook. Kevin Kline is perfect is “De-Lovely,” a fairer and more realistic biopic of Porter than the old Cary Grant flick “Night and Day,” and it features a seriously cool soundtrack: Elvis Costello spices up “Let's Misbehave” with jocular bravado, Alanis Morissette is perfect on “Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love),” and I will throw in a vote for Sheryl Crow's samba version of “Begin the Beguine.”
“Young Sherlock Holmes” (Hulu)
We can double-check, but I think this is right: 1985 has more beloved and constantly revisited movies than any other year. “Young Sherlock Holmes” is not one of them, but maybe it should be. We see Holmes and Watson meet as youngsters, and we also see some creepy-ass CGI foes. It's kind of cute in this case that the graphics are elementary.