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 films from Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Michael Shannon, Anna Kendrick, Elisabeth Moss, Will Smith, and Martin Lawrence; check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Brave may have won the Oscar and Wreck-It Ralph the fan love, but our favorite animated movie of last year, without question, was Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s witty, winning, utterly delightful animate picture; it’s got a cockeyed world view and a genuine sense of play that’s altogether too rare among films geared to the family audience. Equal parts ghost story, coming-of-age tale, and slapstick comedy, it’s like an ‘80s Sam Raimi movie toned down and repurposed for kids. Boisterous, high-spirited, and big-time fun, this one’s new to Netflix Instant and well worth your time (even if there’s not a kid in sight).
We know it’s a little bit of a cheat to sneak a TV show into the streaming movie preview, but it must be said: Top of the Lake (which was just added to Netflix) is better than just about any movie in theaters this week, so don’t let the seven-episode commitment dissuade you from giving it a look. As we noted in our review last month (when it began its Sundance Channel run), this taut combo of police procedural and character study from director Jane Campion (The Piano) is haunting, mysterious, and disturbing — and it features a starring turn from Elisabeth Moss that proves there’s much more to her than Peggy Olson.
Full disclosure: your film reviewer saw Drop Dead Fred in its original theatrical run (yes, I’m that old), found it alternately loathsome and embarrassing, and pretty much forgot about it. But there are people out there who love this movie, love it with a boundless enthusiasm that’s somewhat confounding, frankly (check out all those five-star reviews on the Netflix front page), but since it was just added to Netflix streaming, we suppose we should yield to their affection and at least mention that it’s there. Do with that information what you will.
Something called The Big Wedding hits theaters this week, and we have to say, we’re not exactly booking the babysitter to make sure we see it. It’s got Katherine Heigl in it (strike one), writer/director Justin Zackham is best known for penning The Bucket List (strike two), and it’s a wedding comedy with Robin Williams playing a priest, which is a cruel move for those of us who’d managed to erase License to Wed from our memories (strike three). If you don’t mind, we’re just going to stay home and stream an earlier, happier Diane Keaton/Robert De Niro collaboration: Jerry Zacks’s 1996 film adaptation of Scott McPherson’s play. And instead of Heigl and Williams, this one’s got Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio rounding out the cast. You’re welcome.
Director Mira Nair’s latest film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, also opens this week, and while it’s got its moments — even her weakest work does — its far from her finest hour. Instead, it might be time to revisit her 2001 indie hit Monsoon Wedding, a charming (yet weighty) look at an Indian family’s various familial and romantic entanglements during the titular nuptials. Plus, it’s a fine time to brush up on the story, since (as Nair revealed last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival) the film is currently being adapted into a Broadway musical.
The best of this week’s new releases is Mud, a remarkable coming-of-age movie/Southern Gothic hybrid starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Michael Shannon. It’s the third collaboration between Shannon and writer/director Jeff Nichols; the second was 2011’s powerful Take Shelter, and the first was this 2008 drama (the director’s feature debut). As in their later films, the setting is Arkansas, the story is one of a family tested, and the results are just remarkable.
The fanboy love that seems to be converging around Michael Bay recently is a little baffling. And selective; let’s not let your affection for The Rock overshadow the pain that is three Transformers movies (and counting). It’s presumably just a tribute to the power of Paramount’s marketing arm, flacking wildly for his upcoming Pain and Gain (out Friday!) — but there is, we’re aware, a certain portion of the population that was just the right kind of teenage boy when Bay’s directorial debut, Bad Boys, hit screens back in 1995. So here’s this link, for them. We might watch a little bit of it too. Don’t judge. (Fun fact: Bad Boys was originally conceived as a vehicle for Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. So try envisioning that next time you’re watching it.)
Last week, we ran down several movies expiring from Netflix streaming this month — but this is one we missed, so we had to make it right. Hal Ashby (who would go on to helm Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, and Shampoo, among many others) made his directorial debut in this sharp, stark, and timely comedy. Beau Bridges stars as a rich, entitled white kid who decides to buy a tenement building in a black Brooklyn neighborhood and make it over into luxury housing — in other words, it’s a gentrification satire that was way ahead of its time. (The neighborhood in question? Park Slope.) It’s gone at the end of the month; fans of the ‘70s auteurs — and of New York real estate trends — should catch it quick.