I watch movies and TV for a living. Which means that, every Christmas, the following two conversations are inevitable: a relative asks if I’ve ever considered teaching instead, and I get hit up for recommendations. Problem is, “What should I be watching?” is a pretty big question, especially in an era when there’s more content than ever before competing for our limited attention. It’s impossible to watch everything. Meaning we’re all left constantly trying to catch up on the latest breakout series, the new can’t-miss movie.
But every year, between Christmas and New Year’s, there’s a brief, glorious lull, when everything slows down just enough to allow for a few blissful, uninterrupted days of catching up on all the shows and movies you’ve missed (and spending time with friends and family too, I guess). So, to help ensure you spend your holiday break wisely, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for what you should be catching up on as 2016 winds to a close. Happy holidays binge-watching.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
You probably didn’t see Popstar when it came out – not many people did – but in a better, more just world, this pop music parody from the Lonely Island team would’ve been a massive hit. It wasn’t (one more reason this year can get bent). But if you’re an Andy Samberg fan, Popstar shouldn’t be missed. With its pitch-perfect send-ups of the music business and a legitimately catchy soundtrack, it’s a guaranteed future cult classic.
Total time commitment: 1 hour, 27 minutes
If you’ve already seen Rogue One, and you’re looking for something other than the annual Oscar bait and standard Hollywood fare, let me be the latest person to exhort you to check out the little indie movie that’s got the entire industry buzzing. After receiving six Golden Globe nominations and big wins from critics in New York and LA (and Toronto), Barry Jenkin’s gorgeous, deeply affecting film has gone from under-the-radar dark horse to a legitimate Oscar contender. And for good reason. It’s hands down one of the finest movies of the year.
Total time commitment: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Forget Passengers. If you’re looking for a smart sci-fi movie to watch over the break, you’re not going to want to miss Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Avoiding the usual explosions-and-CGI spectacle that typically dominates the alien invasion genre, the film’s a fascinating exploration of the importance of communication and cooperation. And after the year we’ve just had, that’s an increasingly valuable lesson to remember.
Total time commitment: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Star Trek Beyond
No new Fast and the Furious movie came out in 2016. (We told you it was a garbage year.) But Star Trek Beyond was the next best thing, as Justin Lin, the mastermind behind the Fast franchise reboot, continued to show why he’s one of the top action directors working today, swapping insane, physics-defying car chases for spaceships. Beyond’s not going to crack anyone’s year-end best of list, but if you’re hankering for some fun, summer blockbuster action, you can’t do much better. Plus, it’s got maybe the best use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” you’ll ever see.
Total time commitment: 2 hours, 2 minutes
La La Land
One of the most charming movies out of TIFF is back as one of the most charming movies of the holiday season. So if you’re looking to actually get out of the house and off the couch for a few hours (blasphemy!), La La Land makes for a worthy expedition. Even if you’ve never met a musical you’ve liked, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in this toe-tapping tale of star-crossed Hollywood dreamers from the writer/director of Whiplash. Expect to be humming the score well into 2017.
Total time commitment: 2 hours, 8 minutes
The Grand Tour
Amazon Prime Video has finally come to Canada. And with it comes Jeremy Clarkson and his longtime Top Gear co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May tooling around in cars and talking trash again for our viewing pleasure. It’s been over a year since the iconic BBC series moved on without them, and fans have been waiting patiently to see what the trio would do next, as well as how their new show would stack up to the old one. (Pretty damn well, it turns out.) If the holidays are supposed to be about catching up with old friends, this has to count too, right?
Total time commitment: 5 hours, 13 minutes (and counting)
If you somehow managed to avoid this Netflix Original when it went viral over the summer, now’s the perfect time to binge on Stranger Things, so you can finally understand why the rest of us were geeking out so hard over this ‘80s nostalgia/sci-fi movie mashup. Not to mention, figure out just who the hell “Barb” is. Plus, with only eight episodes, this won’t take up your entire break, which means you’ll still have time left over for a few others on this list. Or, you know, going outside or whatever.
Total time commitment: 6 hours, 37 minutes
Game of Thrones officially began its descent in 2016 (boo), and with only two shortened seasons to go, that’s left HBO searching for its heir apparent. They may have found it in Westworld. The show certainly managed to take up GoT’s mantle in the gratuitous nudity, violence and rape department its first season, but once you look past those violent delights, the pulpy Western-meets-sci-fi series makes for an excellent binge-watch; you can ignore some of the weaker links in its central mystery (and weeks of online speculation) and get right into the robots-gone-wild action. Whiskey optional, but encouraged.
Total time commitment: 10 hours, 17 minutes
It’s nothing new to point out that this has been a pretty messed-up year. So if you’re looking to lean into that, send 2016 out in style by reminding yourself things could still get a whole lot worse. All three seasons of Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone-inspired, techno-paranoia anthology series are now available on Netflix, including a new six-episode run that tackles social media, VR gaming and hacking. With its eerily prescient portrayal of a not-distant-enough future, the series is packed with surreal, unsettling, and mind-effingly dark moments. You know, just like 2016.
Total time commitment: 12 hours, 23 minutes
OK, so maybe the idea of watching a show about Russian spies infiltrating D.C. is a little less appealing at the moment, given the current state of geopolitics. But FX’s The Americans has consistently ranked as one of the best shows on TV, even though its ratings haven’t always matched the critical hype. It’s time to change that. With only two seasons left, there’s still time to see what you’ve been missing before it’s too late. But you’d better get to work. You’ve got four seasons to get through.
Total time commitment: 40 hours, 16 minutes