Welcome to Flavorwire’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. This week, there’s great stuff from George Clooney, Catherine Zeta Jones, Robert De Niro, Woody Allen, Aubrey Plaza, Diane Keaton, Billy Bob Thornton, Ray Liotta, John Cusack, Mia Farrow, Harvey Keitel, Sylvester Stallone, Jeff Bridges, Jake Johnson, and more. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Bad Santa made Billy Bob Thornton the king of the anti-Christmas movie, and he throws out plenty of yuletide sourness in this 2005 caper film (new to Netflix Instant), which includes such tidings of comfort and joy as “Only morons are nice on Christmas” and “Christmas Eve. Ho ho fucking ho!” It’s the tale of a lawyer (John Cusack) and a businessman (Thornton) who team up to rip off a mob boss on Christmas Eve; double-crosses, dead bodies, and holiday drinking ensue. Though promoted as a comedy (which you’d expect from its director, Groundhog Day’s Harold Ramis), The Ice Harvest has a surprisingly dark, neo-noir streak to it, and Cusack’s particular brand of flop-sweated desperation is especially at home here.
Thornton also make a supporting appearance in this 2003 Coen Brothers movie — not exactly their finest work, not by a long shot, but an enjoyable bit of fluff with a clever screwball premise, attractive leads, terrific support, and inventive Coen touches. It never really gels into a fully successful work (they were on a bit of a shaky run here), but there are some great character moments throughout, particularly a moment with a character named Wheezy Joe that still comes to this viewer’s mind when the film is mentioned, and still gets a laugh.
The Coen Brothers’ biggest cult hit isn’t streaming on Netflix these days, but you can watch this slender yet amiable documentary about the film’s most dedicated admirers (named after the title character’s pet organization, the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers). The resulting film looks and feels a bit like a home movie, but that’s part of its considerable charm — it knows this scene from the inside out, and takes us on an entertaining and clever journey inside of it. It’s easy to laugh at these fans, though in its more subtly insightful moments, it’s not just about that particular movie but fandom in general.
Blue Jasmine, the latest from the endlessly prolific writer/director Woody Allen, hits screens this weekend, and luckily, two of his finest films are currently available via Netflix Instant. Manhattan, released in 1979, was one of his biggest hits, a sparklingly romantic look at his favorite city and the complicated, dissatisfied people within it. There’s some troublesome foreshadowing in the Allen character’s relationship with a 17-year-old girl, but that caveat aside, this is one of his most totally satisfying pictures — full of big laughs but serious business.
Five years later, Allen went back to black-and-white for the uproarious tale of a D-level theatrical agent (Allen), the crooner he tries to help, and the singer’s brassy girlfriend. She’s played by Mia Farrow, all but unrecognizable under a pile of bleach-blond hair and giant sunglasses, and her unforgettable performance here serves as a reminder of what an incredible talent and muse he lost in their icky 1992 split.
Yes, it’s been on this roundup before — but there’s a new Aubrey Plaza movie (the sexy comedy The To Do List) out on Friday, and your film editor will never miss an opportunity to again insist that you spend 86 minutes in the company of this sweet, funny, and slyly serious-minded comedy about time travel. Correction: it’s about the idea of time travel — what you would do if it were really possible, and if you would trust someone who says that it is. Plaza is perfection in the leading role, indie filmmaker/actor Mark Duplass beautifully captures a very specific kind of paranoid jean-jacket dude, and New Girl’s Jake Johnson masterfully digs out the longing heart under his character’s sheen of smarm.
This week’s big new theatrical release is The Wolverine, another attempt to spin the X-Men character into his own franchise — and yet this one is somehow getting bad reviews again. Why, it’s almost like this character shouldn’t have his own movies! It’s too bad; hopes were high that director James Mangold could do something interesting with the picture, especially considering his fascinatingly esoteric filmography. This viewer’s favorite of his films remains this 1996 cop drama, the best Scorsese movie that Scorsese never directed, featuring a rogue’s gallery of his favorite actors (De Niro, Keitel, Liotta, Moriarty, etc.) and a Sylvester Stallone performance that serves as a sharp reminder that this was once a promising and gifted actor.