12 Great 2013 Movies to Stream Over the Holidays

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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, as film critics across the land (this one included) trot out their year-end best-of-2013 lists, we offer up a few of the year’s best movies — all currently available for viewing right in your living room. Settle in over the long break with great movies from Greta Gerwig, Jake Johnson, Simon Pegg, Steve Carrel, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Sarah Polley, Brie Larson, Toni Colette, Jeff Garlin, Allison Janney, Anna Kendrick, Shaline Woodley, Jim Rash, Miles Teller, Nick Frost, Noah Baumbach, Edgar Wright, Andrew Bujalski, Alex Gibney, Johnnie To, Joe Swanberg, Ben Wheatley, and more. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.

Frances Ha

Noah Baumbach’s latest was written in collaboration with Greta Gerwig, whose honest-to-goodness movie star performance was the main attraction of his 2010 film Greenberg. That picture was the culmination of rather a sour streak in Baumbach’s post-Wes Anderson filmography — not a complaint (his work wears ennui well), just an observation made clear by the rather cheerier exterior of this one. Frances Ha‘s bittersweet nature is further from the surface, buried in the charming hopelessness of its heroine (Gerwig) and the luminescence of its black and white photography. But it’s there, and it keeps the film from becoming the throwaway piffle that its twentysomething-New-Yorker-has-a-life-crisis logline implies. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)

Computer Chess

It’s hard not to come at this one from a purely stylistic viewpoint, because its look is so aggressively unique. Set in the world of early-’80s computer experts, Computer Chess is shot like a no-budget refugee from the era: ugly, smeary, full-frame black and white video that appears to have been left on a shelf for the better part of the ensuing decades. The frames are filled with other aged technologies, from overhead projectors to the giant, desk-size computers at the story’s center, and the film’s throwback look and analog style help offset its genuine (though likable) peculiarity, occasional dry spots, and odd narrative loose ends. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)

Blackfish

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s powerful, troubling documentary is primarily focused on a February 2010 incident in which a SeaWorld trainer was killed by a performing whale. But she uses that merely as a starting point for a closer examination of the horrors of killer whales in performance environments, particularly at SeaWorld, with stories of heartbreaking family separation (both at capture and in the parks), shameful living conditions, and wildly truth-spinning corporate types. Assisted ably by horrifying footage and testimonials from former trainers, Blackfish is paced, scored, and structured like a thriller, and leaves the viewer stunned and infuriated. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

My pick for the year’s best documentary finds Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) telling two stories: the thriller-like ascendancy of the title organization (and the troubling questions it asks about government transparency), and the crumbling of founder Julian Assange, which plays like something out of Greek tragedy. The filmmaker ends up with a morally complex tale of temptation and transformation, its subtleties and nuances either ignored or attacked by Assange’s legion of apologists. But more thoughtful viewers will find it challenging, intelligent, and riveting. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)

Drug War

The latest effort from venerable Hong Kong action king Johnnie To moves as fast as its characters think — this is thrillingly visceral, improvisational cinema, its old-hat story of hard-nosed cops and police informants given an extra jolt by the sheer electricity of To’s inimitable style. But it’s not just for adrenaline junkies; the twisty script spins off into unexpected directions, resulting in a high-speed collision of storylines and a no-one-gets-out-of-here-alive climax. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)

Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley’s first feature documentary doesn’t quite achieve the precision of her narrative efforts, but its experimental nature is one of its virtues; she’s telling the story of the mother she barely knew, and the remarkable things she found out about her in recent years, via testimony (less documentary than “an interrogation process” she says, only half joking) from family and friends. It’s an intriguing story with the turns of good fiction, and its genuine emotion and first-person insight into the slippery nature of objective truth stick with you long past the closing credits. (Available for rental and purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

The Spectacular Now

In James Ponsoldt’s teen drama (based on Tim Tharp’s novel), two good-hearted teens fall into the kind of heart-racing, idealized love that only seems to happen when you’re a teenager and the idea of someone being perfect is possible. The picture remembers that feeling, its loveliness and its danger, and many more things about being that age; there are scenes, moments, and dialogue in this film that ring so true that it all comes rushing back, a flood of memories and emotions and a little bit of pain. (Available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

Drinking Buddies

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play co-workers and best friends who start to feel the pang of something more, but Joe Swanberg’s ensemble comedy/drama isn’t just a mumblecore When Harry Met Sally; in fact, what at first seems an obvious narrative with too-tidy schematics becomes something messier, more inhabited, and more interesting. The relationships are thoroughly convincing — not just Wilde and Johnson, but Johnson and Anna Kendrick (who put across the ease and comfort of long-timers with real warmth) and Wilde and Ron Livingston (whose entire performance is filled with inspired physical comedy of the subtlest form). And this is the best work I’ve seen from Wilde: her performance is simple, lived-in, and just plain good. Same goes for the movie. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

Sightseers

Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List isn’t the easy, chuckle-headed black comedy you might expect from its trailers — this tale of two drab thirty-somethings whose pastoral holiday becomes a killing spree works in unexpected ways. Wheatley instills a feeling of uncertainty and discomfort as the protagonists’ crimes escalate; the film initially appeals to our buried, murderous impulses, but as the offenses become more petty and slight, the script doesn’t shy away from the implications of the material. And the way Alice Lowe’s Tina becomes our object of sympathy by acting — by anyone’s standards — less sympathetic is a thrilling subversion of audience assumption and expectation. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

The World’s End

The real accomplishment of the latest three-handed collaboration between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost is not so much that it delivers laughs and thrills in high style and at a breakneck pace; that much is expected by now. What’s so lovely about their third cinematic effort is the quiet sense of melancholy at its center, its keen understanding of how some people just don’t grow up, and how try as you might, you cannot force them to. It’s a more mature piece of work than the trio’s previous films, which seems a peculiar way to label a zippy comedy about drinking beer and outrunning the apocalypse. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

The Way Way Back

The directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the latter familiar as Dean Pelton on Community) was promoted as a heartwarming coming-of-age comedy/drama — and it works as one, capturing with remarkable specificity the desperate, gloomy loneliness of neither fitting in with your peers nor the grown-ups you’re stuck hanging out with. But it’s just as much an ‘80s-style fun-loving summer comedy, its Meatballs vibe fully realized by a wonderfully Murray-esque performance by Sam Rockwell at his fast-talking best. The plot tumblers click into place a touch too easily in the third act, but the emotions are genuine, and the ensemble cast couldn’t be better. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video)

Dealin’ with Idiots

Writer/director/star Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Goldbergs) follows up 2006’s wonderful I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With with this semi-improvised ensemble comedy, playing a comedian who gets a load of the comically dysfunctional parents of the kids on his son’s Little League team and decides to spend some time with them as research for his next movie. The cast is remarkable (Tim Olyphant, Fred Willard, Bob Oedenkirk, Kerri Kenney-Silver, and J.B. Smoove among them), the laughs are plentiful, and the oddball climax is unexpectedly sublime. A modest picture, but worth a look. (Streaming free on Netflix Instant)