By Kevin Slane
Though the song is nearly 30 years old, Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” encapsulates the struggle viewers face today. With hundreds of cable channels, dozens of streaming services, and countless on-demand titles, trying to decide what to watch can feel like an endless ordeal.
That’s where we come in. Each month, Boston.com recommends 10 must-watch movies and TV shows available on streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, and more.
Many recommendations are for new shows, while others are for under-the-radar releases you might have missed, or classics that are about to depart a streaming service at the end of the month.
Have a new favorite movie or show you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments, or email me at [email protected]. Looking for even more great streaming options? Check out previous editions of our must-see list here.
I’m almost hesitant to include “Dune,” the gorgeous, sprawling, hypnotic dreamscape from Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) on this list, because “Dune” is the first film of the pandemic era that must be seen on the big screen if at all possible. That said, COVID-19 makes streamers of us all, and with Warner Bros. continuing its practice of releasing its entire 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max simultaneously, “Dune” should be your top streaming selection of the weekend if theaters aren’t in the cards at the moment. “Dune” does justice to Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi masterpiece, introducing viewers to the futuristic desert world of Arrakis, where the Atreides family — Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and son Paul (Timothee Chalamet) — face stiff resistance from all sides as they assume rulership of the planet and its rich supply of “spice.” Villeneuve has made a blockbuster that truly feels epic in scale and ambition, and owes a debt of gratitude to the likes of “Lawrence of Arabia” as much as space-based sagas like “Star Wars: A New Hope” (which was itself inspired in part by Herbert’s novel). Villeneuve only manages to squeeze the first half of Herbert’s novel into the film’s 155-minute runtime, but not a moment feels wasted, and viewers will surely be hoping that Warner Bros. green-lights the sequel post-haste.
How to watch: “Dune” is streaming on HBO Max.
If you miss reading the insightful reviews of longtime Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr, I highly recommend subscribing to his Substack newsletter (which offers both free and paid subscriptions). This week, Ty’s streaming picks included “Game 6,” a fitting film to check out before the Red Sox face the Astros in Game 6 this weekend. The film travels back to 1986, where struggling playwright Michael Keaton faces a doubleheader of anxiety over his beloved Red Sox attempting to win their first world series since 1918 and a scathing theater critic (Robert Downey Jr.), who threatens to scuttle his newest Broadway show before it gets off the ground. “Game 6” isn’t without its flaws, but for Boston sports fans old enough to remember the days of fandom before the city morphed into Titletown in the 2000s, the film is a grim reminder of the (seeming) inevitability of heartbreak and disappointment.
How to watch: “Game 6” is streaming on Showtime and is available to rent on various VOD platforms.
With Disney hard at work filming “Hocus Pocus 2” in Rhode Island, now is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with the 1993 original, which was partly filmed in Salem and Marblehead and whose filming locations remain a tourist attraction in the towns to this day. Approximately 300 years after the Salem Witch Trials, “Hocus Pocus” brought a renewed interest to the Massachusetts city where they were held, as a group of kids work to stop three ancient witches (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker) from wreaking havoc on 1990s Salem.
How to watch: “Hocus Pocus” is streaming on Disney+.
In the small (fictional) town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, Norman Babcock is a preteen misfit who can see and speak to the dead. That may sound like the plot of a pretty morbid film, but in the vein of “A Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Coraline,” this stop-motion animated film, with excellent voice acting from stars like Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and John Goodman, is a mixture of creepy and heartfelt.
How to watch: “ParaNorman” is streaming on Netflix.
Halloween movie preferences can run the gamut from spooky and campy to creepy and bone-chilling. For a title in the former category, consider 1987’s “Witches of Eastwick,” which stars Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon as women unaware that they are witches, and Jack Nicholson as the mysterious man who awakens their powers. While the John Updike novel the film is based on is set in Rhode Island, filming was moved from Rhode Island to Cohasset, Massachusetts, after locals raised concerns about their church being involved in a film about witches. Producers instead chose Castle Hill in Ipswich to represent the story’s Lenox Mansion. Interestingly, Castle Hill served as the setting of another horror film released the very same year, 1987’s “Flowers in the Attic.”
How to watch: “The Witches of Eastwick” is streaming on HBO Max.
For those whose tastes in horror run toward the occult, the supernatural, or the deeply Catholic, Mike Flanagan’s newest series “Midnight Mass” is the perfect Halloween treat. Flanagan, who has become Netflix’s go-to horror maestro after the success of “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” sets “Midnight Mass” on Crockett Island, a small island community that has strong New England vibes, though the show was filmed in Canada. When a charismatic new priest (Hamish Linklater) shows up and miracles begin to happen, the town, ravaged by economic hardship and personal loss, is overcome with religious fervor. Needless to say, not all is as it seems.
How to watch: “Midnight Mass” is streaming on Netflix.
I’m still on the fence as to whether “The Morning Show” is actually “good,” per se. But two seasons in, I can’t stop watching, which must count for something in an era of near-limitless streaming options. Season two of the flagship Apple TV+ series partially shifts its focus from Season 1, dividing its time between the previous year’s #MeToo-centric plot and the rise of the pandemic, commentaries on “cancel culture,” and other internecine squabbles at the fictional UBA network. The cast of “The Morning Show” has only become more star-studded this time around, with the likes of Julianna Marguiles, Will Arnett, and Hasan Minhaj joining Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, and Steve Carell, whose disgraced anchor Mitch Kessler is still hanging around the margins after being fired from the morning news show for sexual misconduct. The show can feel overstuffed and preachy at times, but the individual performances make for compelling television.
How to watch: “The Morning Show” is streaming on AppleTV+.
Earlier this week, “Only Murders in the Building” wrapped up its first season, with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez’s true crime obsessives discovering the identity of the killer in their New York City apartment building. Originally billed as a one-off miniseries, the ending of the mystery-comedy teased the tantalizing possibility of a second season. While the series had its ups and downs, the talent involved (others involved included Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, and Amy Ryan) leaves us hoping that Hulu sees enough promise to greenlight Season 2.
How to watch: “Only Murders in the Building” is streaming on Hulu.
Way back in January 2019, “The Other Two” was an immediate hit for Comedy Central, getting picked up almost instantly for a second season as viewers connected to struggling NYC siblings Brooke and Cary (Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver) as they reacted to their kid brother, Chase, becoming a Justin Bieber-like overnight teen heartthrob. Almost three years later, the series co-created by former “SNL” head writer Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider is now on HBO Max, and has thankfully lost none of its humor or heart during the extended delay. This time around, the siblings’ mother, Pat (Molly Shannon), is the star of the family thanks to her wildly successful daytime talk show, while the kids each struggle to find their niche in the world of show business.
How to watch: “The Other Two” is streaming on HBO Max.
Given its dominance of the cultural conversation and continual presence on Netflix’s Top 10 list since its Sept. 17 debut, you probably don’t need my recommendation to check out “Squid Game.” The South Korean survival-of-the-fittest show brings together hundreds of down-on-their-luck individuals hoping to hit the jackpot by winning a series of children’s games during a contest run by a mysterious, faceless corporation. The show dips in quality a bit during the second half of the nine-episode series, but is still worth checking out. Hopefully the success of Netflix’s modern-day “Most Dangerous Game” riff will lead less adventurous viewers to give other South Korean tales of class warfare a chance, like Boon Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” (streaming on Hulu) or Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning” (streaming on Prime Video).
How to watch: “Squid Game” is now streaming on Netflix.
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