The Best Recent Releases on Netflix Watch Instantly (2012-2013 Theatrical Releases)
If you want to catch up on great television, Netflix is a fantastic service. It has a ton of great options (here's the 25 best series on Netflix Instant, ranked) that will keep you occupied for months, if not years. The movie selection, however, often leaves something to be desired, particularly when it comes to more recent films. Netflix will often land three or four big movie titles each year, but the rest of their movie selection tends to be a lot of filler, and it's difficult to wade through it to find the best gems. Just because a movie like The Last Stand or Flight has a big name doesn't mean it's a particularly good movie.
We here, however, like to keep a running list of the best, most recent movies on Netflix. Not just the movies that were recently released to the service, but movies that were released in theaters from the last two years. We update this page regularly, so feel free to check back if you're ever searching for a good, recent release.
(Last Updated: February 20th, 2014)
Released in 2013
Drinking Buddies (Watch Here) -- Drinking Buddies, starring Jake Johnson, is a screenwriters' nightmare, the complete opposite of the major studio screenplay-by-committee schemes. There was no script for Drinking Buddies. In fact, much of the cast -- which also includes the beautiful and crass Olivia Wilde, the charming and winsome Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston -- were only discussing the idea of doing the movie when the director, Joe Swanberg, shot them an email asked them to show up for filming a few days later. Credit the insane chemistry of the actors, their deft improvisational skills, a smart, original outline from Swanberg, and the inability of the actors to overthink the process for Drinking Buddies' ability to transcend not only conventional romantic comedy tropes but most mumblecore offerings and capture something real, relatable, and genuine. It is a magnificent film. -- Dustin Rowles
Frances Ha -- Frances Ha is one of those bolt-of-lightening films, something so modern and tangible, you're utterly surprised to see that someone has managed to capture the feeling of being alive, right now, so exquisitely. Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, the film is remarkable through and through. Though it does get a bit boring half way through, it picks up again and makes a case for itself. What an exceptionally delightful time to be a woman with something to say. -- Amanda Mae Meynke
Dead Man Down (Watch Here) -- Dead Man Down drops you right in the middle of a mystery, with a cold blooded murder and a killer who loves to send clues to his upcoming victims. What follows is nearly two hours of solid story, fast paced action, tepid romance, and adequate acting, all of which adds up to an unexpectedly good movie. A perfect appetizer to the blockbusters of summer, Dead Man Down presents us with a reliable, no-frills thriller that works no harder than it has to, arriving exactly where you think it might, just when you hope it will.
Upstream Color (Watch Here) -- Many filmmakers try to make "art" of their movies, to bring an air of poetry and allegory beyond the simple A-to-B-to-C storyline. Most attempts fail, resulting in grating pretension. Others succeed, resulting in beautiful pretension. Upstream Color is more articulate in its themes, and far more coherent in its plot, but like the work of Terrence Malick, that pretension often throws people off. It's certainly not for everyone. However, if you're willing to go with a film and let it take you where it wants in the way that it wants, even if that way is sometimes bizarre and disjointed, while you may not understand it all, you'll find yourself with an enriching and beautiful ride. -- Seth Freilich
The Iceman (Watch Here) -- Buyer beware, there's lots of stabbings, shootings, bloody messes all over the place, gross out moments upon sickening nasty imagery. While The Iceman is certainly not Oscar-worthy, and at times feels only like a high-class version of a sensationalized Lifetime film, there's still plenty to like about this creepy little movie, mainly Michael Shannon's endless reserve of calm, threatening low-level horror. -- Amanda Mae Meyncke
Side Effects (Watch Here) -- There are some good ideas and moments in Side Effects, most of them built around Law's character. The film continues Soderbergh's habit of taking a man known currently or formerly as a sex symbol (George Clooney, Tatum) and stripping them of their sexual power while forcing them to slowly lose their ability to persuade/seduce those around them. Part of this has always been a nod to the actors' off-screen personas; Soderbergh's been getting cuter with this since Ocean's 11, which not coincidentally used "introducing Julia Roberts" in its closing credits. Yet though these metafictional riffs are apparently a big part of the charge for Soderbergh, he's not just goofing around. He remains convinced, and rightly so, that sexuality and the human body are merely the entryway to much darker and more interesting ideas. Law's charm and charisma here become some of the tools of his own downfall, tools he doesn't even know he's wielding against himself until it's too late. In other words, Soderbergh's interested in people as people, not merely as objects that fit each other. -- Daniel Carlson
To the Wonder (Watch Here) -- The film's not short on Malickian flair. Yet these touches -- the naturalism, the whispering, the probing and incomplete thoughts -- are what's so special about Malick's movies. He roots his stories in nature because nature is the best and purest backdrop we have for asking daring and terrible questions about grace and theology and the limits of love, and all those things we care about so much that we can barely talk about them without feeling embarrassed or exposed. Malick's made a movie about a man, a woman, and a servant of God searching for some road back to Eden or just a version of their lives where they can make sense of the world around them, and he's so honest and sad about the process that it takes real focus not to shut down in the face of such openness. It's not a surprise to learn that several other actors and actresses who appeared in the film were eliminated in the editing process. Malick himself might not even know what he's looking for until he goes searching, and the searching is what he's after. To the Wonder is a celebration of that search, and it builds to moments of sustained divinity and forgiveness and prayer that -- I don't even know how to finish that sentence. They're about what Thomas Wolfe called the "lost lane-end into heaven," but it's really just a sense of coming home. Of peace. -- Daniel Carlson
Prince Avalanche (Watch Here) -- Prince Avalanche is beautiful, the cinematography will break your heart, and the music is so carefully selected and so moving, it doesn't quite make sense of the subject matter. The story is based off an Icelandic film, Either Way and was shot very quickly. Knowing that off the bat makes a lot more sense of the strangeness of the story and the lack of action. Scandinavian and Icelandic film has a very mild, mannered approach and the value is placed in evoking a mood, however long that might take. Much of the film is spent watching these two men paint lines on the cement and glue down little road bumps, or watching them camp and fish -- an exercise in patience. The film itself is casually funny at times although it often feels as if there's too much open space for two slim bodies to fill, holding back as much as they do. But their conversations are funny and tender at times, trying to co-exist in the same space without much in common, the two men turn to topics both familiar and strange. Amanda Mae Meynke
Bad Milo (Watch Here) -- Folks are quick and eager these days to dub a movie the champion of some genre, but I am comfortable in unequivocally declaring that Milo is best butt monster movie of all time. Butt monster, what? Yes. Butt monster. That polyp is actually a demon -- Ken has a demon living in his colon. It's name is Milo. It's adorable ... and violent. If you're asking yourself how a demon living in a man's lower intestinal tract can be violent, there's an easy way for a demon like that to get out and go muck about in the world. You do the math. -- Seth Freilich
Released in 2012
Jack Reacher (Watch Here) -- It's a generally enjoyable film, though an odd one. It wants to be a bit of a thinking man's actioner, but it's plot occasionally gets tangled up in its own cleverness. It's also a little too broad in its humor at times, with some of Reacher's quips coming off as a little too vulgar or excessive. It's a character that's supposed to be efficient and self-contained, yet there's also a ridiculous "throw down your guns and fight it out" scene that's not only contrary to the character that McQuarrie so carefully developed, it's also simply stupid. The supporting cast makes for an unusual mix as well. Werzog's casting sent a few fascinated ripples through the movie world, but he doesn't get to do much other than make sinister proclamations in a thick Russian accent. Yet Jai Courtney, as his quiet, deadly right-hand man is actually very good, giving his grim, sparsely spoken killer a surprising charisma. -- TK
Skyfall (Watch Here) -- Skyfall is beautiful and brilliant, blunt and precise, wielding violence, contemplation and excellence in equal measure. The kind of movie that holds your rapt attention and makes you glad you went and saw it, which is a rarity these days, to be sure. Skyfall is wonderful, everything a Bond film should be -- meditations on purpose almost always overruled by a more pressing, immediate need for action on the part of our hero. -- TK
Robot and Frank (Watch Here) -- Robot and Frank is a remarkable testament to the power of keeping things simple, with such a strong singular grain of an idea there's nothing to hide behind, no magic tricks or obfuscation, just powerful comedic and dramatic performances and pitch-perfect pacing. From love to friendship, parenthood and the responsibilities that all entail, Robot and Frank manages to be touching and honest without sacrificing humor and intellect. -- Amanda Mae Meynke
Dredd (Watch Here) -- For you fans of the comic, I'm delighted to say you can now wash the bitter, acrid taste of Stallone's Judge Dredd from your mouth. In fact, you can wipe if from your memory wholesale, because Dredd, directed by Pete Travis (Endgame, Vantage Point), stars Karl Urban as the Judge Dredd you've been waiting for. And better yet, it's a damn good movie. Not perfect, but still thoroughly enjoyable. -- TK
End of Watch (Watch Here) -- Beyond all its modern style, though, End of Watch is a strong, gripping police drama. It's almost an inversion of typical cop thrillers: It's slow where another movie might be fast, sad where another might only want victory. It favors silence over explosions, worry over certainty, character over spectacle. There's a pulse and texture to the film that's become rare in the genre, and so the found footage winds up being anything but distracting. In fact, it does what it's always been designed to do: it makes every moment feel totally real. You forget you're watching a movie. -- Daniel Carlson
The Avengers (Watch Here) -- The Avengers really is unlike anything we've ever seen before. It somehow manages to have a massive, sprawling plot that involves gods, monsters, aliens, robots, superheroes, and pretty much everything else you can think of. The story, by Whedon himself and Zak Penn, is one that somehow manages to pull threads from every franchise leading up to this one and make a (mostly) coherent thread out of it. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the nefarious and conniving brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), seeks the mysterious energy source known as The Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube for you comic afficionados) so that he may rule our world. It's pretty much as simple as that -- except that he's enlisted the aid of a malevolent alien race, as well as brainwashed a few key humans to help his cause. The Avengers assemble. Chaos ensues. -- TK
Fat Kid Rules the World (Watch Here) --- It would be so easy for Fat Kid Rules the World to take the easy way out. The film deals with high school terror, loneliness, and the frustrating way that caring for someone means giving them the power to break your heart: in other words, everything you've seen probably hundreds of times over. But Matthew Lillard, in his first turn as a director, taps into real pain and genuine joy in a deft exploration of the awkward relationship forged by two people who had given up on ever finding anything good in the world. What makes the film so wonderful is precisely the way it takes those old dramedy tropes and grounds them in utterly believable characters. These people are not archetypes, or examples. They come alive like the best film characters do, and you ache and celebrate with them at every turn. The script from Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, based on the novel by K.L. Going, is hilarious and touching in equal measure, and the film thoroughly earns its uplifting ending. -- Daniel Carlson
Cosmopolis (Watch Here) -- The film is as polished and great-looking as can be expected. Cronenberg responds well to his main actor, fitting him out in a suit that becomes a little wrecked by the end, and filming him in close-ups with harsh lighting. There are plenty of great shots -- Pattinson in close-up, lit by the fluorescent white tracking light of a gun, for instance. The cinematography excellently captures the sense of modern alienation, showing the city in all of its strangeness and dehumanizing state. All of the sets are beautifully designed, from the interior of Pattinson's limo to the grim cityscape in the last few scenes. Cosmopolis ultimately serves its function very well of being deeply Cronenbergian -- reflecting his key themes of identity and isolation in the modern world -- while doing justice to Don De Lillo's source material in its scope and lyrical screenplay. -- Caspar Salmon
The Hunger Games (Watch Here) -- It's rare that a director can successfully adapt a novel -- especially one with as big a following as The Hunger Games -- in a way that both thrills new audiences and satisfies the textual purists. Gary Ross, however, knocks it out of the outdoor arena, extracting brilliant performances from his cast, perfectly rendering the words from the page into images on the screen, and capturing the exact tone of the book: Somewhere between sickly grim and supremely entertaining. The Hunger Games does more than live up to the hype; it makes the hype an afterthought. -- Dustin Rowles
Safety Not Guaranteed (Watch Here) -- Safety Not Guaranteed isn't what you'd expect it to be. It's a bittersweet comedy that flirts with time travel, but it's not straight science-fiction or rom-com. It resolutely refuses to tie up a couple of its plot lines, yet the story is still satisfying and full. Most rewardingly, it's a dramatic comedy built on relationships that feel earned, nuanced, occasionally uncomfortable, and completely relatable. Director Colin Trevorrow, in his first feature, mines a series of relationships for small-scale humor and poignancy, and the script from Derek Connolly (also his first feature) has some wonderful moments that reflect the awkwardness of young adulthood and the way we all eventually have to reckon with the choices that we make. The film is light and often breezy, but it's anything but insubstantial. -- Daniel Carlson
Do-Deca-Pentathalon (Watch Here)-- If you're a fan of the Duplass brothers' work, and accustomed to the sort of DIY lo-tech wavering narrative, then you'll be a fan of The Do-Deca-Pentathlon. If you don't care for narratives that kind of stumble around, or films that are more quiet moments, then you'll just find this wearying. And that's not some sort of "Go Watch BIG BANG THEORY, you FUCKING TROGLODYTE!" berating. Mumblecore is an acquired taste, and though the Duplass brothers are probably top of their game, it's not going to be everyone's yerba mate. It's a more complex, multigrain version of Step Brothers, sans the balldrumming. -- -- Brian Prisco
The Imposter (Watch Here)-- The best documentaries show us just how true it is that life can be stranger than fiction. The Imposter is here to show you that life isn't just stranger than fiction; life sometimes comes up with the kind of crazy sh*t that fiction can't even dream of. In fact, 2010's The Chameleon is based on the story documented by The Imposter and part of why that movie failed (but by no means the only reason) is because the story just seems so preposterously unbelievable. The Imposter is about Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old blonde boy from San Antonio who went missing in 1993. Three and a half years later, his family gets a call telling them that Nicholas has been found in Spain. But the Nicholas who comes home to the Barclay family isn't a 16-year-old boy. He's a 23-year-old man. With poorly died blonde hair. And a French accent. -- Seth Freilich
Lockout (Watch Here)-- Lockout has only the barest sense of a coherent plot. It's haphazard and silly, and there are quite a few plot threads that simply never get resolved, Very Important Discoveries that clearly aren't that damn important since they're mentioned once and then forgotten. It's ten pounds of dumb in a wet five pound bag, practically bursting at the seams with stupid. But here's the thing -- Lockout? Kind of a shitload of fun. Oh, you're not going to like yourself afterwards, but damn if it doesn't manage to engage and entertain every now and then. We're left with a B-movie in the truest sense of its modern definition. It's cheap and dumb and clumsily written, less homage and more cinematic hustle job. It explodes all over the place, big scary dudes beat the fuck out of the good guy, and he beats just a little bit more fuck out of them. --TK
Paranorman (Watch Here) -- "From the makers of Coraline" is a label that is both promising and daunting, but Laika studios somewhat delivers -- mostly from a visual standpoint -- in this story of a town plagued by a witch-zombie curse that can only be mitigated by one young boy. Co-directed by Sam Fell (The Tale of Desperaux, Flushed Away) and Chris Butler (who did storyboards for Coraline), Paranorman is a both too pseudo-smart for its own good and too creepy and intense for the younger children out there. While I hate to advise people to, you know, watch a film's trailer before making a judgment call whether to watch a movie, it's an unusually good idea to do so here; if your kid is spooked by the zombies in the Paranorman trailer, they'll probably be terrified of the film as a whole, which includes disembodied limbs, a fairly scary witch, and ectoplasm scattered in all sorts of places. Not to mention that haunted toilet that could put some kids back into diapers. -- AB
Act of Valor (Watch Here) -- What surprised me most was that Act Of Valor rarely feels overwrought or jingoistic. Despite its origins, it's not filled with patriotic silliness like the military ads you see on TV. It's not about securing America's future or saving the world, it's not America rah-rah-rah, but instead about the men on the ground and the work that they do, both at home and abroad. Act Of Valor isn't an action movie in the conventional sense -- for much of it, it almost feels like a documentary. It's visceral, scary stuff througout, harsh and unflinching and believe me, it does not make you want to be a Navy SEAL. But it does make you respect the hell out of them, and when they go down, you mourn with them as well.
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