The Best Movies To Watch On Netflix In January 2021

Todd Van Luling
·Senior Culture Reporter, HuffPost
·9 min read

The new movies on Netflix:

“The Dig” (Netflix Film)

Premise: This drama focuses on archaeologist Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is employed to investigate mounds on an English estate during World War II. The archaeologist focuses on uncovering a burial ground even as the ongoing war reaches closer and closer.

The wealthy Edith Pretty (played by Carey Mulligan) owns the land and hires the as-of-yet unknown archaeologist as local museums are engaged in the war effort. Pretty and the Brown become friends, providing solace as the world around them goes to hell.

The movie is based on a 2007 historical novel of the same name by John Preston.

Reviews are still trickling in, but the film currently has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Netflix descriptors: “Understated” and “emotional”

The opening of "The Dig" on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix/"The Dig")
The opening of "The Dig" on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix/"The Dig")

How it starts: White text on a black screen explains that the film is based on a true story. Then the movie opens with an establishing shot of a flat English field that goes on and on into the distance. The camera cuts to a close-up of the archaeologist holding a bike while crouching in a small rowboat. As a ferryman rows off-screen, the archaeologist looks up at a flock of seagulls in the sky.

“Well, I expect it’ll cloud over later on,” he says.

“Aye,” the ferryman responds. “What’s going on at Sutton Hoo, then?”

Text appears on-screen to explain this is Suffolk, England, in 1939.

Notable cast: Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and Carey Mulligan

Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Bonus: The British Museum did a short feature about a helmet found at Sutton Hoo.

“The White Tiger” (Netflix Film)

Premise: This drama tells the story of an Indian man born into poverty who becomes the driver for a wealthy family and then gets tied up in a terrible mistake made by his “master.” The wealthy family treats the man like dirt and forces him to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. The man then goes on the run and attempts to become a populist leader.

The movie is based on the 2008 novel “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga.

Priyanka Chopra stars as one of the family members and also served as an executive producer.

“The White Tiger” currently has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Netflix descriptors: “Offbeat,” “provocative” and “gritty”

The opening of "The White Tiger" on Netflix. (Photo: "The White Tiger"/Netflix)
The opening of "The White Tiger" on Netflix. (Photo: "The White Tiger"/Netflix)

How it starts: Text explains that the setting is 2007 Delhi. “Beware of the Boys” by Panjabi MC feat. Jay-Z plays over establishing shots of statues lit up in green and red lights. A statue of Gandhi seemingly leads the other statue figures. The camera cuts to an SUV speeding through traffic as three people in the car laugh together.

Notable cast: Priyanka Chopra, Adarsh Gourav and Rajkummar Rao

Runtime: 2 hours, 5 minutes

Bonus: Netflix released a behind-the-scenes feature for “The White Tiger.”

Movies from earlier in the month:

“Cut Throat City” (2020)

Premise: Musician and filmmaker RZA directed this action heist movie about four friends trying to pull off a heist in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The friends desperately need the money, but going on this mission leads them to get in way over their heads. New to the world of crime, they don’t know who to trust and who will sell them out.

“Cut Throat City” had a limited release in August 2020, and Netflix just surprised by adding the movie.

Upon its initial release, the film earned a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Netflix descriptors: “Provocative,” “Slow burn” and “gritty”

The opening of "Cut Throat City" on Netflix. (Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment/"Cut Throat City")
The opening of "Cut Throat City" on Netflix. (Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment/"Cut Throat City")

How it starts: The film begins with an extended animated title sequence featuring imagery of the KKK, a neo-Nazi and other white supremacist rioters lynching a man and cornering the four main characters. The friends fight back in a bloody, animated sequence involving makeshift weapons.

The movie cuts to the friends hanging out, and it’s revealed the artwork was a graphic novel by the protagonist that he was showing off to the others.

Notable cast: Eiza González, Ethan Hawke, Terrence Howard, Shameik Moore, Demetrius Shipp, Jr., Wesley Snipes and T.I.

Runtime: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Bonus: Here’s an alternate trailer that’s slower-paced and more character-based.

“Hook” (1991)

Premise: Steven Spielberg directed this reinvention of the “Peter Pan” story starring Robin Williams as a man who forgot he used to rule Neverland, but must return to save his children.

The story focuses on the evil Captain Hook gaining too much power in Neverland and kidnapping the children of the adult Peter Pan, who has forgotten how to use his magical powers. Tinker Bell brings this aging Peter back to Neverland and helps him remember his past to train along with the Lost Boys. He slowly regains his powers and attempts to stop Hook.

The movie reaped five Academy Award nominations, including Best Costume Design, but didn’t earn overwhelmingly favorable reviews. Still, the film was a box office hit and ultimately became one of Williams’ most memorable roles.

"Hook" on Netflix. (Photo: Sony Pictures/"Hook")
"Hook" on Netflix. (Photo: Sony Pictures/"Hook")

How it starts: A young boy looks upward with a gaping expression. The camera cuts to other kids doing the same. After a few seconds, the camera shows a stage with child actors performing the story of “Peter Pan.”

Notable cast: Along with Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Maggie Smith

Runtime: 2 hours, 22 minutes

Bonus: Sony put one of the most memorable scenes on YouTube if you want a quick nostalgia hit.

“A Monster Calls” (2016)

Premise: This dark fantasy is based on a 2011 novel of the same name and tells the story of a boy who befriends a benevolent monster. The boy’s mother is dying, and the monster helps him process his anger and fear about the world.

Netflix descriptors: “Emotional” and “dark”

Notable cast: Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver

Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Bonus: Focus Features put an extended clip on YouTube if you want to preview the movie’s vibe.

“Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix Film)

Premise: This drama focuses on a woman who decides to have a home birth, which ultimately goes awry, potentially due to a midwife’s incompetence. The woman’s family brings the midwife to court. The woman and her partner deal with the emotional fallout of the loss of their child, while both have people in their lives making them feel guilty for what happened. The story is a series of seemingly endless heartbreaks that come from the fallout of the central tragedy.

Netflix descriptors: “Emotional,” “dark” and “tearjerker”

The opening of "Pieces of a Woman" on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix/"Pieces of a Woman")
The opening of "Pieces of a Woman" on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix/"Pieces of a Woman")

How it starts: There’s an establishing shot of a construction site across a body of water. Text explains this is Sept. 17 (without a year). The camera dollies back from the establishing shot to reveal another construction site on the foreground side of the water. This is construction for a bridge. The camera pans left and reveals Shia LaBeouf’s character in full construction gear, shouting instructions.

It should be noted that in December, FKA Twigs sued LaBeouf alleging sexual battery, assault and emotional distress. LaBeouf released an email statement to The New York Times shortly thereafter, seemingly acknowledging the allegation.

After the accusations, Netflix removed mention of LaBeouf from advertisements about the movie, even though he co-stars in the film.

Notable cast: Along with La Beouf, Vanessa Kirby, Molly Parker, Benny Safdie and Sarah Snook

Runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Bonus: Kirby starred in the first two seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown” as Princess Margaret. Here’s a late-night interview she did about almost losing that gig.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

Premise: David Fincher directed this adaptation of the 2005 crime thriller by Stieg Larsson, which focuses on a disgraced journalist and an atypical investigator teaming up to solve a cold-case murder. A wealthy man hires the journalist to try to discover who killed his grandniece 40 years earlier, as he suspects it was somebody in his well-off family.

The film earned five Academy Award nominations, including a win for Best Film Editing.

Netflix descriptors: “Slick,” “chilling” and “scary”

The opening of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" on Netflix. (Photo: Sony Pictures/"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo")
The opening of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" on Netflix. (Photo: Sony Pictures/"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo")

How it starts: The camera pans over a small, snow-covered town along a river. The camera cuts to an establishing shot of one of the town’s houses and then shows an older man answering a phone. The man has a cryptic conversation with another older man about a mysterious package.

Notable cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård and Robin Wright

Runtime: 2 hours, 38 minutes

Bonus: Sweden had its own film adaptation of the book in 2009. Noomi Rapace starred. Here’s the trailer.

Trailers for a few other movies that joined Netflix this month:

“Catch Me If You Can” (2002)

“Into the Wild” (2007)

“Julie & Julia” (2009)

“Superbad” (2007)

All the movies that have joined Netflix this month so far:

Jan. 1

  • “17 Again” (2009)

  • “30 Minutes or Less” (2011)

  • “Blue Streak” (1999)

  • “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)

  • “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1998)

  • “Catch Me If You Can” (2002)

  • “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (2009)

  • “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

  • “The Creative Brain” (2019)

  • “The Departed” (2006)

  • “Enter the Dragon” (1973)

  • “Gimme Shelter” (2013)

  • “Good Hair” (2010)

  • “Goodfellas” (1990)

  • “Gothika” (2003)

  • “Into the Wild” (2007)

  • “Julie & Julia” (2009)

  • “The Minimalists: Less Is Now” (Netflix Documentary)

  • “Mud” (2012)

  • “Mystic Pizza” (1988)

  • “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988)

  • “Sex and the City: The Movie” (2008)

  • “Sex and the City 2” (2010)

  • “Sherlock Holmes” (2009)

  • “Striptease” (1996)

  • “Superbad” (2007)

  • “What Happened to Mr. Cha?” (Netflix Film)

  • “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1993)

Jan. 2

  • “Asphalt Burning (Børning 3)” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 5

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

Jan. 6

  • “Ratones Paranoicos: The Band that Rocked Argentina” (Netflix Film)

  • “Tony Parker: The Final Shot” (Netflix Documentary)

Jan. 7

  • “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 8

  • “Charming” (Netflix Film)

  • “Stuck Apart (Azizler)” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 10

  • “Spring Breakers” (2012)

Jan. 11

  • “CRACK: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy” (Netflix Documentary)

  • “The Intouchables” (2011)

Jan. 13

  • “An Imperfect Murder”

Jan. 15

  • “Double Dad (Pai Em Dobro)” (Netflix Film)

  • “Hook” (1991)

  • “Outside the Wire” (Netflix Film)

  • “Penguins of Madagascar: The Movie” (2014)

  • “Pinkfong & Baby Shark’s Space Adventure” (2019)

Jan. 16

  • “A Monster Calls” (2016)

  • “Radium Girls” (2020)

Jan. 18

  • “Homefront” (2013)

Jan. 20

  • “Sightless” (2020)

Jan. 21

  • “Cut Throat City” (2020)

Jan. 22

  • “So My Grandma’s a Lesbian! (Salir del ropero)” (Netflix Film)

  • “The White Tiger” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 27

  • “Accomplice”

  • “Penguin Bloom” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 29

  • “Below Zero (Bajocero)” (Netflix Film)

  • “The Dig” (Netflix Film)

  • “Finding ’Ohana” (Netflix Film)

Jan. 31

  • “Fatima” (2020)

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.