We’re all busy people. Between work, school, going to the gym, crafting, or making time for family, going to the movies is a luxury we sometimes can’t afford. Luckily there is Netflix. With over hundreds of movies released each year, it can be hard to pick and choose which you want to spend your time and hard earned cash on. After the jump, check out a list of 16 films you may have missed in 2013 that you can now stream on Netflix.
When prioritizing the movies you want to see in theaters, the big blockbusters, the popcorn flicks, the star-studded Oscar-worthy dramas, and laugh-out loud comedies are typically safe bets to throw your money at. But there are quieter movies released that linger in the back corner of theaters or small indie cinemas you may have missed because of time, they weren’t in theaters long enough, they had limited screenings, or you may never have even heard of. That’s where this list comes in handy. Let’s begin:
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) – Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.
One of the most talked about and controversial movies of the year, Blackfish came and went during a very busy summer season. It is a very hard-hitting documentary about the treatment of killer wahles in captivity at Sea World. All of the storytelling is very compelling and sometimes sad. How this issue has continued for so long is beyond me. This is definitely a note-worthy cause to learn about and it will make you want to revisit Free Willy. The only slight neg can be correlated to the film’s one-sided nature against the theme park.
The Brass Teapot (Ramaa Mosly) – When a couple discovers that a brass teapot makes them money whenever they hurt themselves, they must come to terms with how far they are willing to go.
For those looking for a quirky comedy that is a bit fantastical, The Brass Teapot is for you. Starring Juno Temple (Afternoon Delight; Killer Joe) and Michael Angarano (Almost Famous; Red State), this story is a light look at the lengths people will go for money. There are some surprise cameos from Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), and Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) who bring a great energy for their small parts. Although the film is only 101 minutes, it can feel a bit long as this is an adaptation of a short film that becomes a bit repetitive with its messages. Don’t count it out though, The Brass Teapot is light, funny, and has a good heart.
Crystal Fairy (Sebastián Silva) – As Jamie travels in Chile, he invites an eccentric woman to join his group’s quest to score a fabled hallucinogen, a move that finds him at odds with his new companion, until they drink the magic brew on a beach at the edge of the desert.
Michael Cera must love shying away from his roots because like This is the End he plays another asshole character obsessed with drugs. Only this time he is the lead in an interesting character study pitted against Gaby Hoffmann (Volcano; Homeland) who plays the title role of Crystal Fairy. These two butt heads while Jamie’s (Michael Cera) friends are caught in the middle. This movie is for those with a lot of patience that like very subtle think pieces. Crystal Fairy will test your perspective of how you treat others and the way you view life.
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero) – An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.
True fans of science fiction will get a kick out of Europa Report. Now I’m not talking about your sci-fi adventure rodeo with lightsabres or scary alien invasions, this here is science fiction down to its core. More advertised as a thriller, Europa Report focuses more on the excitement, wonder, and mystery of space travel to another world. It takes its time to appreciate the characters, what they’re going through, and the hard questions that need to be asked when exploring the subject matter. I’d have to say this is on top of the list for most underlooked movies of the year.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) – A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.
Gaining some awards recognition with the Golden Globes for its lead actress Greta Gerwig (Greenberg; No Strings Attached), Frances Ha is a very sweet, tender movie about friendship, following your dreams, and life in your late 20s early 30s. More New Yorkers may appreciate this film than others, but there is a good story here that will have you rooting for Gerwig – she also co-wrote the film with director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale; Greenberg). Forewarning, this film is in black and white, which doesn’t take away any value of the film, but may be a bit jarring in the land of color we live in now.
Graceland (Ron Morales) – When a kidnapping goes wrong, a desperate father risks everything to save his daughter from the men who hold her captive.
First of two foreign films on this list, Graceland brings audiences to the Philippines. What you may have heard about this movie is that it bears slight similarities to Taken. That is incorrect. Sure they are both about a father searching for a kidnapped daughter, but that is about as close as they get. Graceland takes you on a wild ride of morality and desperation. How far are you willing to go to protect your family and who must get hurt in the process? Graceland will keep you on your toes to its inevitable finish and have you ponder the lead’s decisions after the credits have rolled.
It’s A Disaster (Todd Berger) – Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end.
Back to the lighter side of things we have It’s a Disaster, a smart comedy that builds on its laughs to a satisfying finish. We’ve got David Cross (Arrested Development), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty; Christine), and Julia Stiles (The Bourne Supremacy; 10 Things I Hate About You) for name recognition along with a merry band of actors that complete the four couples in one of the most dark, self-contained comedies of the year. Think of it as toned down version of This is the End over Sunday brunch where your closest friends begin to remove the skeletons from their closets.
Kon-Tiki (Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg) – Legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947, in an effort prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.
Actually releasing last year and nominated for Best Foreign Picture, Kon-Tiki released in U.S. theaters this year to a very dull roar. Foreign films tend to be forgotten in American culture with all of the explosions, bikinis, and fart jokes we dish out each year. It’s a shame Kon-Tiki didn’t gain the recognition from audiences it deserved. Sure there are all of the makings of an out-at-sea adventure – sharks, storms, delusions, and sickness – but this was a very well-made piece of cinema that had good drama, decent characters, and beautiful cinematography.
Maniac (Franck Khalfoun) – As he helps a young artist with her upcoming exhibition, the owner of a mannequin shop’s deadly, suppressed desires come to the surface.
I’ve got one for you horror fans out there. Shot mainly in first person from the perspective of Frodo Baggins, Maniac is a really excellent remake of a 1980 film that is one of the best horror movies of the year. It’s psychotic, twisted, and simply disturbing. Elijah Wood does a convincingly fantastic job portraying our maniac terrorizing the women of New York. It will definitely make you think twice about walking to your car alone at night or even talking to people who work with mannequins.
Only God Forgives (Nichlas Winding Refn) – Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.
Although I would put this on more of the disappointing end of the spectrum for 2013, there were some who found Only God Forgives to be a unique story full of subtleties and beauty. Coming off of Drive, many expected director Refn and Ryan Gosling to hit this out of the ballpark again. Only God Forgives challenges viewers to see past it’s bizarre character actions and delve deeper beyond its facade. Of course Refn makes use of the haunting score and gorgeous cinematography again, but to me everything else falls flat. Give it a shot and see if you can find something of value that I couldn’t.
Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green) – Two highway road workers spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind.
Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch give it their all when their characters endure isolation in their work. Prince Avalanche puts a lot of big dramatic questions on the table and fills them with laughs and sincerity. There aren’t too many big, outlandish comedic beats or crazy wacky hijincks that will have you barreled over in hilarity; it’s just two guys, trying to make a living, while questioning their place in life and the truths of where they’re headed. It has Paul Rudd, what more could you ask for?
Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) – A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Dumped at the beginning of the year, Side Effects garnered a surprising number of positive reviews from audiences and critics alike – the box office sales would tell you differently however (only $32 million). Comprising of Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects catapults its audience into a slew of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way through. There are some great performances mixed within the many surprises this film has in store for its viewers.
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) – A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.
Anyone who has seen Shane Carruth’s past work (Primer) could tell you that you’re in for a mind-bending experience when you watch his films. It’s been nine years since his debut release of Primer and he comes back with guns blazing. Like Primer, there is much rewatchability in Upstream Color if you are able to stomach this slow burn feature. A test for anyone’s patience, Upstream Color is rewarding and filled to brim with effective writing and careful plotting.
V/H/S/2 (Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto, and Adam Wingard) – Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student’s disappearance.
I’ve got another for the horror movie enthusiasts out there. If you have not seen V/H/S I implore to watch it first – also available on Netflix streaming – as fast as you can. You won’t find a more innovative set of horror movies than what the V/H/S series has been able to produce. There are five short films in the first V/H/S, and four in the second, which are more well-thought out and put-together. Each short story has its strengths and weaknesses, but for the budget they have these filmmakers do an incredible job at creating frightening imagery.
Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua) – Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.
As the most commercially successful film out of this bunch ($98 million in domestic ticket sales), Olympus Has Fallen is the action movie that got tossed aside for its bonkers premise. There are some haters out there that say White House Down is the superior invasion thriller of the year, but I say NAY. WHD is too campy, full of silly dialogue, and a child actor who make you want the terrorists to win. OHF is dark, gritty, and brutal. It’s like the Die Hard of White House movies, minus the comedy. Gerard Butler returns to form off of some pretty lousy rom-coms with the multitude of action sequences sprinkled throughout the film.
What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee and David Siegel) – In New York City, a young girl is caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter custody battle.
And for the final film of this list is What Maisie Knew, an all too real look at the woes of divorce when a child is involved. Julianne Moore (Magnolia) and Steve Coogan (Philomena) play Maisie’s (Onata aprile) parents, along with Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) and Joanna Vanderham (The Paradies) also caught in the middle. Everyone does a wonderful job exploring the harsh reality of the situation. As you would expect there is much sadness and drama with such a topic to set your movie on, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
(UPDATE: 1/4/14) Drinking Buddies, directed by Joe Swanberg, is now available on Netflix. This amazing, non-scripted film was all improvised by the incredible actors (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston) based on the loose synopsis written by Swanberg. I highly suggest you seek this film out immediately if you are in search of a funny, honest look at love between friends and are you willing to sacrifice that friendship for something more? And although the film seems like it kind of meanders at times, the performances and chemistry between Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are on-point to keep you dialed in.
Seen any of the films on this list? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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All plot synopses courtesy of IMDb.com