En español | There’s nothing like January for digging into new goals, and the current crop of top-flight documentaries arriving in the past few weeks fits right into all our aspirations to learn more about our world. After last week’s remarkable doc about the FBI’s surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. (check below if you haven’t gotten to it yet), this week’s critic’s pick that looks at 30 years of negotiating peace in the Middle East is a stunner. It’s like back to school these days ... only there’s popcorn, too! Pass the remote!
This fascinating doc is your must-watch of the week
The Human Factor, PG-13
Inspired by Errol Morris’ Robert McNamara doc The Fog of War, Dror Moreh persuaded every Israeli secret service chief to explain the nation’s security and moral problems in his 2012 Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers. Now he has made another Oscar hopeful, The Human Factor, in which six men in the room where it almost happened tell the decades-long story of how American negotiators almost achieved a lasting Arab-Israeli peace, and how the human factor alternatively supported and squelched common interest and common sense, with many eye-opening revelations about George W. Bush, Secretary of State James Baker, Bill Clinton, assassinated peace crusader Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Who knew Yasser Arafat and his PLO pals were Golden Girls fans? Sworn enemies almost pulled off a peace. As one source, Egyptian American interpreter and envoy Gamal Helal put it, “If you are not willing to accept the other side, there is zero hope for peace.” —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Watch it: Opening Jan. 22 in limited theaters
The sexiest man on Earth gets apocalyptic in a space drama
The Midnight Sky, PG-13
As the star of this existential drama about a dying scientist racing to prevent a group of astronauts (David Oyelowo, Demián Bichir, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler) from returning to Earth after an apocalypse that destroyed civilization, George Clooney acts beautifully. He directs many space-calamity scenes on a par with the 7-Oscar-winning Gravity (where he played an astronaut), plus a cross-country Arctic trek that’s often as gripping as The Revenant (which The Midnight Sky’s writer also wrote). But the plot has fuzzy logic and the characters are a bit sketchy. Still, there’s about an hour’s worth of epic, ambitious, thoughtful, deeply heartfelt story in there. Clooney remains one of our most promising up-and-coming directors. —T.A.
Watch it: In select theaters and on Netflix
RELATED: Don’t miss out on the other best new arrivals — use our custom watch list: The 12 Best Things Coming to Netflix in January
Paging Mr. Ripley fans ...
You may already love novelist Patricia Highsmith without knowing it. Did you love the chilling thriller, The Talented Mr. Ripley? How about Strangers on a Train? Or the taut drama of Carol? If any of these movies tickled your fancy, you’re a fan of the prolific novelist whose birthday we celebrate this month. Go deeper with our definitive look at the best film adaptations of her novels you can stream right now, including some scoop on new movies and series coming up soon. Get the list and links, here: The Ultimate Guide to the Films of Novelist Patricia Highsmith
Feeling overwhelmed with all the streaming services on your TV?
Disney, HBO, Peacock … it seems like every time you turn around (or turn on the TV), another streaming service is vying for your attention (and subscription dollars). Which streaming services out there are really worth the money? How do you decide what to pick? Here’s what you need to know about your options on Apple, BET, CBS, Disney, HBO and NBC: Too Many TV Streaming Service Choices? Here’s What You Need to Know
Geena Davis has something to say, and we all need to listen up
You may know the actress best for her star-making turn in 1991’s Thelma and Louise, but you may not know that her experience on that film inspired her to found an institute focused on gender bias in the media. AARP caught up with Davis this week to discuss her latest research — a sobering look at how women over 50 are portrayed in film. Read more (and get riled up), here: Geena Davis Calls Hollywood’s Age Bias ‘Dismal’
If you loved Da 5 Bloods, or BlacKkKlansman, or Do the Right Thing, or…
Then you know that Spike Lee is one of America’s most influential filmmakers working today. But what you might not know is the full scope of his work, including these five critic-picked Spike Lee Joints that you should put to the top of your streaming list pronto. Get the list and catch up, right here: The 5 Best Spike Lee Films You Haven't (Yet) Seen
Backward AND in High Heels Department
Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images; Lia Toby/PA Images via Getty Images; Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Women directors — long sidelined — are tearing it up in movies right now. And to celebrate their achievements, we’ve rounded up the 13 essential female filmmakers you need to be following — from Ava DuVernay to Kathryn Bigelow (plus links to their films available online).
Get the list: 13 Female Directors You Should Discover Right Now
More of the very best movies online
It’s truly amazing how many incredible movies there are available on mainstream platforms like Amazon, Netflix and others. Our critics round up the very best for you, no matter what your interest. Check out the latest “Best of” lists from AARP critics. There’s never been a better time to catch up on movies you always intended to watch.
Other movies to watch
There could be few better ways to recognize to recognize Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr.'s enduring legacy than to watch director Sam Pollard’s devastating documentary. Its subject? The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance of, and obsession with, the civil rights leader, from 1963 to his assassination in 1968 and spearheaded by J. Edgar Hoover. Prolific Emmy winner Pollard (who has chronicled Zora Neale Hurston, Sammy Davis Jr., and August Wilson) weaves rich black-and-white archival footage with the shrewd insights of political experts and historians. Accessing newly released government documents, Pollard assembles the controversial story of our government’s covert intelligence war on an African American leader committed to the peaceful nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi, reflected in the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Former FBI Director James Comey, 60, says, in voiceover, that reading the FBI report, including salacious details of King’s personal life, made him physically ill: “This whole episode represents the darkest part of the bureau’s history.” —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Some Kind of Heaven, Unrated
Why did 130,000 people flock to live out their golden years in The Villages, the biggest retirement community in America, near Orlando, Florida? Because the developers built it to be a child-free, crime-free paradise for grownups. This absorbing doc takes us inside a fascinating parallel universe, as elders golf, dance, swim, flirt, cheerlead, do karate, play tennis and binge movies in the place envisioned as the Disneyland of retirees. Says one resident, “This is nirvana. When you live here, you kind of become younger.” It’s not all margaritas and synchronized golf-cart driving: We meet a long-suffering wife whose husband has drug and mental health problems, a lonely widow seeking love, and an 82-year-old bachelor living in a van and hunting a rich bride. —T.A.
The Dissident, PG-13
On Oct. 2, 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post opinion writer and free-speech advocate who had fled his home nation and gone into exile in the U.S., entered his country’s embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. To marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, he required legal proof that he was single. Little did he know he was walking into an ambush. In the devastating documentary from Oscar winner Bryan Fogel, this vicious political assassination unspools like an international true-crime drama. Bold, brutal and controversial, Fogel’s picture may get a deserved Oscar nomination for best documentary. —T.M.A.
RELATED: How Will Moviegoing Change in 2021?
One Night in Miami, R
Oscar- and Emmy-winning powerhouse actress Regina King, 49, flexes her muscles behind the camera as a feature film director — and it’s clear it will be the first of many. For her debut, she opts for a talky screen adaptation of Kemp Powers’ 2013 play, which imagines a fictional February night in Miami. That 1964 evening, boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), athlete Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) gather, party and discuss what it meant, and what the obligations were, to be a successful Black man in ‘60s America. —T.M.A.
Pieces of a Woman, R
Vanessa Kirby scored best actress at the 2020 Venice Film Festival for playing Martha, an expectant wife whose insistence on a home birth upends her hopeful life, her marriage to Boston working man Sean (Shia LaBeouf in full Method mode), and her relationship to her I-told-you-so mother (an affecting Ellen Burstyn, 88). The first act turns on her extended labor — a long, sweaty action sequence as breathless as any in The Bourne Identity. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Netflix
News of the World, PG-13
Wonder Woman 1984 may outgross it, but the prestige Christmas hit this year is bound to be this True Grit-like film about a Civil War veteran (Tom Hanks) who makes his living riding from town to town to bedazzle locals by reading aloud thrilling newspaper stories from all over America — they don’t get papers and most can’t read. He winds up stuck with the last thing he needs: a feral 10-year-old who lost her white parents in a Native American raid, and then her adoptive family. His job is to take her back to her family, whom she doesn’t remember — she wants to escape back to Kiowa country. Director Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne movies are jittery, but this one’s a stately, old-fashioned epic. There’s action, but what drives the story is the deep emotion. —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters
Promising Young Woman, R
The dazzling Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a once-stellar med student in this smart, stylish revenge flick for the #MeToo era. It was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who plays Camilla on The Crown and was Killing Eve’s showrunner. To the consternation of her baffled parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown), Cassie is working at a coffee shop, turning 30 and living with them. She’s also spending nights at bars pretending to be blotto to lure men to assault her so she can avenge her childhood friend and med school classmate Nina, whose life was ruined by a sex scandal. (Everyone involved in her downfall got off scot-free.) Alison Brie (Mad Men), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man) are terrific as Nina’s victimized victimizers. The script wobbles at times but the performances are must-see. —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, R
Viola Davis and, in his last role, the late Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) star in Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson’s illustrious tale of Ma Rainey, the 1920s Mother of the Blues. It’s hard to say which actor scores the more towering performance. It’s like a duet between geniuses — or, since they’re fighting bitterly over how Ma should record her music, old-dirty-blues-tent-show style or hepcat modern jazz style — an acting duel. Both win, as do all of us. —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters and on Netflix
RELATED: Viola Davis tells AARP about Ma Rainey, August Wilson, aging, her big break and what happens when you get everything you always wanted. Read it here: Viola Davis Finds a Powerful Voice
ALSO RELATED: Get the full story on August Wilson’s remarkable Pittsburgh Cycle — 10 plays that explore the American Black experience in every decade of the 20th century — and discover how to get a taste (or more) of each play, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, here: The Essential Guide to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Playwright August Wilson
Let Them All Talk, R
Miss going on ocean cruises, or watching Woody Allen movies without the nasty biographical baggage? Try this talky, Woody-ish flick by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11) starring Meryl Streep as an airplane-phobic novelist who takes a free trip aboard the Queen Mary 2 to accept a British lit award. She’s joined by her old pals Dianne Wiest, a kindly Seattle victim’s rights lawyer and peacemaker, and Candice Bergen, a Dallas lingerie salesperson furious that Streep’s writer betrayed her by turning their private conversations into a roman à clef book. Everyone’s terrific, but Bergen’s the standout. She hasn’t had a part this good in many years — it capitalizes on her gift for peevish outrage, and it’s the first time she’s ever improvised dialogue. She was scared to costar with Streep, but she actually upstages her. —T.A.
Watch it: In select theaters and HBO Max
Farewell Amor, Unrated
Inspired by a true story in Tanzanian-American director Ekwa Msangi’s family, this is one of the most moving films about immigrants since The Namesake, Mira Nair’s masterpiece. After 17 years of bureaucratic delay, a Brooklyn cabbie (The Chi star Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is reunited with his Somalian wife (Zainab Jah, Deep State) and his 17-year-old daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), who knows him only through phone calls. They’re so happy! Yet as we see the reunion through each family member’s eyes, big problems and deep secrets emerge. He’s taken a mistress he’d better renounce; his wife’s Christian faith soothes her loneliness, as does her effervescent neighbor (Spike Lee’s sister and Do the Right Thing star Joie Lee). This movie deserves its perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters and on demand
Another Round, Unrated
Alfred Hitchcock had Cary Grant. Martin Scorsese has Robert De Niro. And Oscar-nominated director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) has Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s Hannibal). They reunite with this year’s smashing Danish Oscar entry, a vibrant comic drama following four middle-aged pals who decide one boozy birthday dinner to try something new: drinking just enough during the day to sustain a happy buzz. It’s the alcohol equivalent of micro-dosing. Hilarity, and heartbreak, ensue. Once the genie escapes the bottle, it’s not the magic answer to their midlife malaise. —T.M.A.
Watch it: In select theaters and on demand
Sound of Metal, R
Amazon’s first film about hearing loss boasts an innovative sound design that recreates the losing-hearing experience of a fictional punk-rock drummer (Riz Ahmed) who spirals into dope and despair. His bandmate and girlfriend (Olivia Cooke) saves his life and career by sending him to a sober house for the hearing impaired. Ahmed learned both American Sign Language and drumming to play the part, and he’s convincing. It’s an eye-opening film. —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters and on Amazon Prime
In this devastating Romanian documentary that unfolds with the force of a political thriller, reporters investigate a deadly 2015 Bucharest disco fire and discover ghastly medical and governmental corruption, and an aggressive cover-up. Burn victims who could have survived their wounds died from invasive bacteria in the hospital, thanks to a murderous, for-profit scam by a consortium of medical supply companies — aided by government bribes. Alexander Nanou’s gut-wrenching film underscores the power of a relentless press to right wrongs, save lives and cauterize corruption. —T.M.A.
Watch it: In theaters and on demand
The Life Ahead, PG-13
At 86, Sophia Loren is back! In her terrific new tearjerker, directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, she heartwarmingly plays a former prostitute, Holocaust survivor and caretaker for streetwalkers’ children. She looks after an orphaned African street kid (Ibrahima Gueye), grudgingly at first, and develops a deep bond with him.
Watch it: Netflix
RELATED: Sophia Loren tells AARP about her comeback and her six life lessons
The Weasels’ Tale
In this dark comedy from Argentina’s 2010 Oscar winner Juan José Campanella, a once-very-famous diva actress, her once-not-so-famous actor husband, and a renowned director and screenwriter — all in their 70s and long retired from showbiz — live together in a country mansion (complete with a henhouse and weasels). When a young couple (real estate developers interested in the property) pull into their driveway, claiming to be lost, it starts a delicious game of deception and one-upmanship. Think Sunset Boulevard meets Arsenic and Old Lace. —Marc LeGoff
Watch it: Streaming via theaters
The Mole Agent, Unrated
Chilean detective Romulo Aitken has been hired by the daughter of an assisted-living resident to find out who’s taking advantage of her mother. The PI hires recent widower Sergio, 83, to nose around inside. In Maite Alberdi’s charming documentary, the octogenarian takes to his role with diligence — his fumbles with spy gear notwithstanding. There’s humor and intrigue, but it’s Sergio’s blossoming friendships with a number of the women that make this covert operation brim with grace. He’s companion, confessor, caretaker. The Mole Agent — alongside recent Aussie comedy Never Too Late — makes clear that where folks grow older is a universal anxiety. —Lisa Kennedy
The War With Grandpa, PG
Robert De Niro is both a towering icon of Scorsese gangster flicks and high-art tragedy and the king of blockbusters about the Focker family. In his latest silly featherweight comedy, he’s an irascible guy who moves into his grandson’s bedroom, so they conduct a prank-war over its possession. Grandpa’s shaving cream gets switched with foam sealant. The conflict is somewhat Home Alone-like, but more illogical, as when De Niro, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour and Cheech Marin challenge the kids to a trampoline volleyball match and the ref rules on the first round: “Age-appropriate team 1; AARP team none.” —T.A.
Watch it: In theaters
RELATED: Find out what Jane Seymour thought about playing for laughs with Robert De Niro, in her new interview with AARP: Jane Seymour Shares Her Special View of England’s Royal Family
The Trial of the Chicago 7, R
An utterly wonderful, vivid dramatization of the trial of Chicago’s 1968 demonstrators, with bravura performances by Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clark and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale. —T.A.
Watch it: Netflix
RELATED: Frank Langella tells AARP about The Trial of the Chicago 7, his string of history-based hits and the best time of his life — his 80s, here: All Rise for Frank Langella