A gander at this month’s offerings on the popular streamer proves there’s a method to HBO’s Max-ness. For franchise-philes, there are deep dives into Jack Ryan political thrillers and Inspector Clouseau romps. For award-season aficionados, 2006’s Notes on a Scandal — with the dynamic duo of Cate Blanchett, 54, and Judi Dench, 88 — feels like an appetizer for 2023’s May December. On the other hand, American Masters: Leonard Bernstein is a delightful nightcap to Maestro. But it’s the HBO Original Documentaries that own a month that starts with a three-part series about a headline-grabbing, race-fomenting murder and ending with Oprah returning to The Color Purple, with music this time. Set your holiday calendar to catch these 11 best things coming to Max this month.
Coming Dec. 1
Clear and Present Danger (1994, PG-13)
Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst Jack Ryan is a quadruple threat this December. Alec Baldwin, 65, plays Ryan in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, the first of many adaptations of Clancy page-turners. Ben Affleck, 51, tries his hand at Ryan in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears. Chris Pine introduces a new generation to the operative in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). But if you’re looking for the pitch-perfect version of intelligence work tempered with integrity, Harrison Ford, 81, is the guy. Ford stars in his second outing as Ryan (interim deputy director of the CIA) who learns that the president has launched a covert war in Colombia.
Denial (2016, PG-13)
The courtroom drama — based on Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005 memoir — stars Rachel Weisz, 53, as Lipstadt, a scholar taken to British court for libel by author David Irving (Timothy Spall, 66). Irving refutes the role of Auschwitz in the extermination of Jews and takes umbrage when Lipstadt calls him a liar. It would have been easy for the film to launch into legal pyrotechnics. Instead, it pivots on nuanced acting and incisive writing (by David Hare, 76). Sometimes the understated is just what the moment requires.
The Lovers (2017, R)
With grace, moments of gravity and humor, Debra Winger, 68, and Tracy Letts, 58, elevate this entertaining marriage story by writer-director Azazel Jacobs, 51. The acting aces portray a couple who cheat on each other, then double down on their infidelity by stepping out on their younger paramours — with each other.
Notes on a Scandal (2006, R)
Sometimes you just want to see the best go at it. If that describes your mood, look no further than this British melodrama/psychological thriller that pits Judi Dench against Cate Blanchett (each received an Oscar nom). Only high school art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) has little idea how darkly enamored fellow teacher and self-described “battle-ax” Barbara Covett (Dench) is with her. When Barbara spies Sheba in a liaison with a student, things get very twisted, indeed. And, as Sheba’s husband, Bill Nighy, 73, speaks the outrage of both a properly shocked spouse and us viewers.