Welcome to Flavorwire’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. This week, we’ve got new films starring Aubrey Plaza, Mike Birbiglia, John Krasinksi, Sarah Polley, Rosemarie DeWitt, Olivia Thirlby, and Paul Dano, plus three of last year’s best documentaries and a killer hour with our favorite stand-up. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a movie that’s a genuine original, and that’s what Safety Not Guaranteed is — intelligent, utterly unpredictable and anchored by a marvelous lead performance by the great Aubrey Plaza (who we talked to about the movie last year at SXSW). There’s big laughs in her interactions with a possibly (okay, probably) crazy Mark Duplass, but the story shifts into contemplative pathos and genuine wonder in the third act with such skill that it’s almost a sneak attack — you’re surprised by how absorbed you’ve become in this nutty little picture.
Mike Birbiglia’s debut feature, which wowed us at Sundance and SXSW, was one of last year’s best films: a sharp, witty, whip-smart coming-of-age story that invokes both the laughs of Birbiglia’s stand-up act and the pathos of This American Life (where its story originated, and whose host Ira Glass serves as co-writer and co-producer). Personal, candid, inventive, and often painfully funny, it’s the first film in decades to legitimately recall Annie Hall — not as an imitator, but as a continuation of that film’s innovative comic style.
Writer/director Craig Zobel tells the disturbing and completely true (I looked it up when the film ended, and so will you) story of a young woman humiliated and assaulted at her place of employment, all to follow the instructions of a police officer. Zobel’s provocative picture — which prompted walk-outs and heated Q&As at Sundance and SXSW — poses some important questions about authority and subordination, and is a gripping little workplace thriller besides (thanks to the filmmaker’s sharp eye for mundane details, and the astonishing performances of his skilled cast).
If you’d like a break from yelling about and/or defending Girls, have a look at this indie from last year. Director Russo-Young and Girls creator Lena Dunham co-wrote this small-scale relationship drama about smart, attractive people making all sorts of terrible decisions, and like much of Dunham’s work, Nobody Walks seems to take an almost perverse delight in transforming comic situations ever-so-slightly into awful ones (and vice versa). Russo-Young brings an intimacy and directness, photographing these personal moments from an often uncomfortable (but unquestionably effective) close proximity. Some audiences found it aimless or navel-gazing, but this is a refreshingly honest and often heartbreaking film.
This 1999 comedy/drama from writer/director Audrey Wells (best known for The Truth About Cats and Dogs), newly streaming on Netflix, would make a fine double-feature with Nobody Walks; it likewise concerns a smart young woman who gets involved with the wrong man, against every ounce of her better judgment. Sarah Polley is best known these days for her directorial efforts (like last year’s remarkable Take this Waltz and the upcoming documentary Stories We Tell), but she remains one of our most skilled actresses, and this is one of the great unsung performances of the ‘90s.
Paul Dano’s performances too often seem like locked-in, over-rehearsed studies in predetermined quirk. That’s why his turn in For Ellen is such a revelation; it’s a loose, funky, anything-goes piece of work, and the picture itself has the kind of captured intimacy found in the best of Cassavetes. Jon Heder is also surprisingly good, funny but free of his usual tics and Napoleon-isms, and the film itself is a tender and moving exploration of a flawed guy trying desperately to figure his life out.
“Non-fiction Friday Night Lights” became the go-to shorthand for last year’s Best Documentary Oscar winner, which is both accurate and a little reductive. Simply put, it’s an extraordinarily personal verité-style piece in the Hoop Dreams mold —an absorbing, intelligent, and achingly moving snapshot of a Tennessee high school football team’s triumphs and failures, and the coach and players who are swept up in them.
One of the most gripping of last year’s indie documentaries was this remarkable account of Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared from San Antonio at age 13 and turned up three years later, alone and without identification, in Spain. When he returned to Texas, his family was so relieved to have him back that they overlooked a few minor details: the color of his eyes, the color of his hair, his stubble, his French accent. Bart Layton’s direction is stylish and often flashy (more than one review compared the look and feel his film to Errol Morris), but he’s equally interested in the rich, fertile psychological territory of this story: how did all of these seemingly intelligent people fall for what was, clearly, a giant lie?
Raymond De Felitta’s riveting documentary looks back at his father’s 1967 NBC News documentary, Mississippi: A Self Portrait, and a black man named Booker Wright who gave an astonishingly candid interview about how the races really interacted in that state, at that time. De Felitta examines Booker’s story from several angles: by looking at how his father made the film, and why; by creating a portrait of that particular time and place; and by investigating Wright’s life before it intersected with his father’s, and what happened to him after. In doing so, he gives us the entire story of the civil rights movement, writ small: injustices finally exposed, in the voices of ordinary people. Booker’s Place is effortlessly moving and endlessly powerful; this is an exemplary film.
Louis C.K.’s fourth full-length comedy special generated more ink from a business standpoint than a comic one: he bypassed physical media and broadcast networks, distributing the special himself (less than a month after its performance) via his website in multiple formats, DRM-free for five bucks. It was a smash, making over a million bucks in ten days, which Louie spent on reimbursements, bonuses for his collaborators, charitable donations, and he joked (we think?) new pieces of anatomy. Point is, that story was so interesting that people didn’t talk much about how this is some of the funniest and most daring stand-up of his career — from birth to death, and everything in between. Someone smarter than me called it “The Tree of Life of stand-up”; that’s about as good a description as any.