Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge
Follow the white rabbit
It’s the end of year two of the pandemic and many of us staying inside — both to avoid the spread of new variants like Omicron and to avoid the unpredictable weather of 2021. Whether you’re new to HBO Max or signed up earlier for the half-priced deal but haven’t opened the app in a while, this is a particularly good month to check out the platform. HBO Max is streaming some of the hottest movies that are being simultaneously released in theaters (if you’ve subscribed to the ad-free tier), so you can enjoy them from the comfort and safety of your own home.
I hope you have your favorite snacks and drinks ready because here are 11 movies and shows that are worth watching right now.
The Matrix Resurrections
This highly anticipated fourth installment of The Matrix franchise brings stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss back into the Matrix — but this time, Neo and Trinity don’t seem to know each other. Thanks to the new Morpheus (not Lawrence Fishburne) offering Neo a red pill to bring him back to a new version of the Matrix, Neo ends up joining the resistance to fight a new enemy. Directed by Lana Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections was simultaneously released on HBO Max and in theaters starting December 22nd, 2021. But if you’re planning the watch the streaming version, don’t wait too long — you’ve got (according to HBO Max) 31 days to do it.
The Matrix Trilogy: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions
Before you start watching The Matrix Resurrections, you should really fall down the rabbit hole and (re-)watch the complete The Matrix Trilogy. The original The Matrix (1999) follows hacker Thomas Anderson / Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he discovers the truth about the virtual reality world he and fellow humans have been trapped in, a world created by artificial intelligence overlords in the shape of Agent Smith. Written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix changed how slow-motion action sequences are filmed with “bullet time” and is responsible for such iconic cultural references as red pill / blue pill and lines like “There is no spoon.”
The Matrix Reloaded (2003) takes place six months after the events of The Matrix, where a rogue Agent Smith infiltrates Bane, one of the rebel ship’s crew. Meanwhile, Zion is expecting an attack by the A.I.-powered Sentinels within about 72 hours, and it’s up to Neo as The One to decide the fate of Trinity and the human race.
In the conclusion to the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions (2003), the humans in Zion go to war against the machines. As the rogue Agent Smith attempts to conquer both the Matrix and the real world, it’s up to Neo to thwart his plans. Who will succeed?
Part family drama and part dark comedy, Succession centers around the fictional media and entertainment mogul Logan Roy as his health declines and he figures out who among his children (or outsiders) has the chops to take over his billion-dollar company. It’s an expletive-filled, modern take on William Shakespeare’s King Lear: the Roy kids vie for their narcissistic parents’ affection and trust while they (and everyone around them) play games within games. The show just wrapped its third season with a masterful season finale (it has been renewed for a fourth season), so you can go binge all three seasons to see what all those Succession-memes are about.
Need a new Christmas movie to love? 8-Bit Christmas (2021) is a hilarious and wholesome reminder of how much your Christmas present meant to your 10-year-old self. Jake Doyle (played by Neil Patrick Harris) regales his daughter with a story on how he and his friends, who lived in a working-class suburb in 1988 Illinois, tried to get the Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Whether you have your heart set on a red-headed Cabbage Patch doll or the still elusive PlayStation 5, we can all relate to the trials and tribulations of trying to get that present we’ve been dreaming of and not knowing if Santa will get the job done on Christmas Day.
In the Heights
As the first blockbuster movie that was released this past summer (after vaccines became more widely available), the movie musical In the Heights (2021) did not get as big a box office as hoped, but you can watch it on repeat to learn all the songs or choreography. Adapted from the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with a screenplay written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the movie weaves modern Latino immigrant stories, along with their hopes and dreams, into a great soundtrack full of hip hop and Latin beats. Directed by Jon M. Chu and choreographed by Christopher Scott, the team behind the iconic Microsoft Surface “Movement” commercials, the choreography is crisp and shows off diverse styles, ranging from mambo to ballet, particularly in “96,000” — the Busby Berkeley-esque extravaganza at the swimming pool. I dare you not to sing or couch-dance along.
Jean Smart deserves all the awards she gets, like the Emmy she won for portraying diva comedian Deborah Vance in Hacks this year. Just as her Las Vegas show makes plans to reduce the number of her appearances per week (and therefore her paycheck), Deborah finds herself working with a Gen-Z comedy writer named Ava who can’t do anything right. Through some brilliant writing that is darkly funny and yet feels all too real, the two find they can grudgingly learn from each other and create a more authentic show for Deborah. It’ll be interesting to see where this show goes in season two.
Nora from Queens
When I was feeling extremely homesick during the first lockdown, my howling laughter from watching season one of Nora from Queens really brought me a little closer to my family. Co-written and developed by Awkwafina (aka Nora Lum), the show is loosely based on the actress’s own family: she was brought up by her Chinese American grandmother because her Korean mother passed away when she was young. The show breaks the model minority myth that all Asian Americans are over-achievers and highlights some of the intra-racial tensions within the Asian American community. When an app created by Nora and her cousin Edmund (played by SNL’s Bowen Yang) gets bought up by a Chinese tech company, the show really demonstrates what it’s capable of. Both seasons one and two are available on HBO Max.
Raised by Wolves
Raised by Wolves (2020) is a horror sci-fi show that makes you question who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Directed and executive produced by Ridley Scott for its first two episodes, the show starts off by introducing you to two androids called Father and Mother, who crash land on the desolate Kepler-22b planet and birth some human babies. They seem like a loving family until an accident forces them to cross paths with a group of human missionaries who are very suspicious of the androids. That’s when the audience realizes the two groups have been at war with each other for some time and are hungry for revenge. Created by Aaron Guzikowski, there is a strong sense of foreboding in this world, but you just can’t turn away — good thing this show has already been renewed for season two.
My Neighbor Totoro
I had no idea HBO Max offers the entire Studio Ghibli library on HBO Max (I always assumed it would be on Disney Plus). Known for its environmentally conscious messages, beautifully hand-drawn animations, and strong female characters, the Hayao Miyazaki-led Japanese studio has something for everyone. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is my personal favorite: you experience the world through the eyes of the sisters Satsuki and Mei as they befriend the forest spirits in their new home. Miyazaki manages to capture the feelings of growing up so perfectly that I feel like I just fell into the rabbit hole of my own childhood every time I re-watch this classic.