It’s late-December so all you’ll be hearing for the next few months will be “12 Years a Slave” this and “Gravity” that — but there were other great movies made in 2013 too, you know. And you can stream ten of them now.
Netflix, on a roll of late in terms of quality movies, offers a smorgasbord of the year’s best films:
“Blackfish” (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite) One of the year’s best docs eschews a straight-up talking heads approach (though there’s plenty of it) for a more cinematic style. All the while you have a sense of watching something truly essential, and what we’ve been missing: a real whistleblower of a doc with the potential to turn heads. And also, the horror story of killer whale Tilikum really lends itself to a good old-fashioned violent sob. (Beth Hanna’s TOH! review)
“Cutie and the Boxer” (dir. Zachary Heinzerling) Eccentric boxing painter Ushio Shinohara is the kernel of an idea that first-time feature director Heinzerling unpacks into a portrait of the troubled marriage of artists. Delicate editing and meandering camerawork make for the gentle rhythms of a late Ozu film–it’s quiet, compact and above all else interested in the characters. (My interview with Heinzerling)
“Frances Ha” (dir. Noah Baumbach) Objects in the mirror are more twee than you could possibly remember, evidently, because on second — or was it third? — viewing of Baumbach’s black-and-white postcard to New York and your plateauing late-20s, “Frances” doesn’t deliver as well. The film is rather light on its feet throughout, reassuring us that no dark days will come for Frances and her frustrating lack of poise. But audiences love this film and Gerwig is as compulsively watchable as ever. (Q&A with Gerwig and Baumbach)
“Post Tenebras Lux” (dir. Carlos Reygadas) I’ve touted this film from the ramparts since its heavily booed Cannes premiere in 2012. Were audiences jet-lagged and asleep? Because it feels like they really missed out on something special in Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas’ outsize cri-de-coeur, which has a snaky, impenetrable structure and some cagey symbolism. But in the emphasis on sensation over sense, “Post Tenebras” blows the dust off the definition of “pure cinema.”
“Sightseers” (dir. Ben Wheatley) A film only Brit director Ben Wheatley could’ve made, a blend of comedy, fantasy and horror — and a “Sid and Nancy” or “Bonnie and Clyde” for our time. This darkly comic travelogue from hell turns out to be a sight to see indeed. While the nasty, unforgiving “Kill List” remains Wheatley’s best film to date, “Sightseers” is a pleasant, fitfully disturbing detour. (Anne Thompson’s TOH! video interview with Wheatley)
“Upstream Color” (dir. Shane Carruth) The first time you see Shane Carruth’s long overdue followup to his amazing “Primer,” you may hate it; the second time, its dreamy logic and plot start to click; and upon third viewing, you know less than you ever did. But that’s part of the film’s mesmeric pull. This apocalyptic eco-thriller and Lynchian love story gnaws at you like a silkworm under the skin.
“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” (dir. Alex Gibney) In this unsettling doc, smart provocateur Gibney deconstructs the myth of Julian Assange while making it palatable for those who lived under a rock when the whole NSA breach went down. While Gibney is a documentarian above all, “WikiLeaks” has the pulse of a cyber-thriller. (Anne Thompson’s video interview with Gibney.)
Or catch these films on Fandor, and Amazon Prime:
“This Is Martin Bonner” (dir. Chad Hartigan) This sweet, mostly unsentimental Sundance film awards your patience with brilliant performances from Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette as men who’ve fallen off the straight path and hope to outrun their past all the way to Reno. (I praised the film in my recent column on unsung 2013 performances.)
“Spring Breakers” (dir. Harmony Korine) Lo and behold, Amazon Prime subscribers: Harmony Korine’s wildly cinematic teenage wasteland is now available for free. “Spring Breakers” has the texture and punk spirit of a great avant-garde film–from the woozy cascade of montages to Clint Mansell’s lush score–which is why so many critics heralded the film as a masterpiece even if they didn’t understand it. It’s a Korine film all right, meaning that this world is ugly, but at the end of the day the man has a heart and a soul. Who knew.
“Sun Don’t Shine” (dir. Amy Seimetz) A psychosexual travelogue of mud, sweat and tears, Amy Seimetz’s debut owes stylistic debts to old school Malick and Cassavetes. But this 16mm-shot film about lovers on the lam is truly her own creation, full of anxiety and emotion and a breakthrough performance by mumblecore starlet Kate Lyn Sheil as a rattled woman running from an ineffable past. (My column on the film here; Anne Thompson’s video interview with Seimetz here.)