Looking for something good to watch in January? It might not have quite as much choice as some streaming services but when it comes to quality, you can't go wrong with Disney+ – or Disney Plus, if you prefer. Two of its most recent additions – The Menu and The Banshees of Inisherin – are easily better than anything new to Netflix this month. Both films are a tad gloomy, but it’s not all bad news on Disney Plus. There’s The Bad Batch, for instance, and Star Wars lovers will be happy to know that this animated adventure is back for a second series. There's usually some sort of fresh Wars fare on offer here – but I'm looking specifically at the best movies to watch on Disney+ today, so I’m not covering that or Meet The Chippendales, which is Disney’s other big series for January.
Despite starting out largely as a source of Disney and Pixar animations, Star Wars and Marvel movies, Disney+ is now full of options for the whole family to enjoy, with the more traditional likes of Willow and National Treasure sitting alongside prestige dramas such as The Bear which are aimed very much at adults. It's definitely not just for kids and superhero fans. In fact we even have a guide to the best R-rated movies on Disney+.
The following are my favourite three new films for January on the streaming service. If you have multiple streaming services, you might also want to check out the best movies to watch on Netflix in January. That includes the Christian Bale-starring The Pale Blue Eye – which also features Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter, although he's all grown up now.
This macabre film stars Ralph Fiennes as a superstar chef so sinister, he makes Gordon Ramsay look like Ainsley Harriott. Running a restaurant on a secluded island, he charges guests $1,200 a head to sample his exquisite, cutting-edge cuisine. Said guests on this occasion include Nicholas Hoult as a food blogger and Anya Taylor-Joy as his date, alongside some ludicrously pretentious reviewers from a fancy New York magazine, a gaggle of finance bros, and a washed up actor played by John Leguizamo. The twist is that Taylor-Joy is a late replacement – a fact that takes on great significance as the evening wears on.
The film starts out a little like one of the currently popular crime mystery dramas, with a bunch of largely unlikeable strangers coming together in a location they can't easily leave. However, while a certain amount of murder ensues, it's not so much a question of 'whodunnit?' as why. Ultimately, The Menu is a very dark comedy, and while the amount of blood up the walls, and some extremely surly service, would lead most patrons of the fictional restaurant in it to leave one-star reviews, the movie is worth at least four.
This film isn't 'new' – it's from 1994 – but it is new to Disney+. Also, I wanted to have at least one movie in this list that doesn't involve people arguing violently and chopping their fingers off. January is bleak enough as it is. A lot of you will be looking forward to Avatar: The Way of Water arriving on Disney+ but in the meantime, you may well enjoy this OTT action thriller from its director James Cameron.
The film starts as a wacky comedy, wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger must keep the fact he is an international super-spy from his spouse, Jamie Lee Curtis. This requires a certain amount of 'acting', which was never really Arnie's forte, so you'll be glad to know it soon turns into a gloriously enjoyable action romp, replete with jaw-dropping stunts, effects and one-liners. As is Cameron's habit, this was the most expensive film ever made, at the time – although its $100 million budget seems piffling compared to what he subsequently spent making Titanic and the Avatar movies. This film flexes some distinctly old-fashioned attitudes – the baddies are largely evil Arab stereotypes and Jamie Lee Curtis initially spends a fair bit of time running around screaming. As such it can literally be described as the kind of film that they don't make 'em like anymore.
Bonus feature: Charlton Heston turns up as someone called 'Spencer Trilby'.
The Banshees of Inisherin
I honestly don't only watch dark and blood-spattered movies about brooding men. That just happens to be what Disney+ has the most of in January. This film reunites the creative team of director Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from the superb In Bruges. However, this film is considerably darker even that than nasty little gem.
Like The Menu, this is another film that is hard to write about without giving too much away, but let's just say Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) are friends living on an island off the West of Ireland in 1923, and they have a bit of a falling out that leads to, let’s say, unpleasantness.
The rural irish locations used look absolutely stunning and the cast – also including Barry Keoghan (Eternals) and Kerry Condon (Better Call Saul) – are uniformly excellent. Farrell has already won a Golden Globe for his performance, as did writer-director McDonagh and the film itself, and there's a good chance of Academy Award glory to follow.
Admittedly the setting and full-throttle rural Irish whimsy give The Banshees of Inisherin a distinct feeling of Father Ted-ness at times. Pádraic has an air of Father Dougal about him. Keoghan’s character recalls Craggy Island village idiot Tom, while Pat Shortt, who plays constantly perplexed pub landlord Jonjo Devine here, actually WAS Tom in Father Ted.
Continuing the theme, Condon is reminiscent at times of a comparatively glamorous Mrs Doyle, while in his most exasperated moments, Colm is like a more menacing version of Ted himself. Oh, and Pádraic is also very attached to his lovely horse. Where is it going, with its fetlocks blowing, in the wind?*
But while Banshees has its comic moments, it is very much at the 'jet black' end of the dark comedy scale. The plot is actually quite slender, but if you ever feel the action is becoming a little drawn out, you can just enjoy the scenery, and the masterclass of masculine angst served up by Gleeson and Farrell.
*If you’ve never seen Father Ted, apologies for this entire paragraph, but at least it didn’t contain any spoilers.