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The 25 Best, Recent Netflix Movie Releases (Films Released In the Last 2 Years)

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | July 3, 2015 | Comments ()


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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 recent Netflix 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.

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 past two years. We update this page regularly, so feel free to check back if you're ever searching for a good recent release. At this point, we are only featuring films released in theaters during 2013 - 2015.

Nightcrawler (Watch Here) -- Nightcrawler is a dark film, but it's not punishing or bleak. It's not the kind of movie you simply watch to appreciate for the themes and performances. It's also an entertaining and riveting thriller with a certain popcorn quality. Above all, however, it's Gyllenhaal's film, and he delivers another incredible performance in a string of incredible performances.

Beyond the Lights (Watch Here) -- Beyond The Lights takes a rather derivative, simplistic story and adds just enough freshness and intelligence (and music! The soundtrack is perfection) to make it rise to something far more interesting. It's built on a thoroughly conventional premise that in less skilled hands would be cause for eye-rolling, but under the capable, confident direction of Gina Prince-Bythewood, it flexes a little more muscle and becomes a picture that is far stronger and more enjoyable than the average hideously cheesy Nicholas Sparks garbage that we normally suffer through. It's a rare, welcome and much-needed departure from the genre, and was genuinely enjoyable to watch.

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Fruitvale Station (Watch Here) -- There is a lot to recommend the film in some bold and interesting early scenes: it begins with a fine, realistic scene involving Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) arguing in bed: it articulates very well the dynamic between the two of them, between exasperation and tenderness, and lays out the film's themes of family and money, and how to be a good person. In our introduction to Oscar, he is a lively, combative presence with great reserves of charisma: he speaks fast, he is off-the-cuff and bright. A few more scenes -- including a lovely breakfast scene with the couple's daughter the next day -- add a few more assured brushstrokes to this picture . We gradually get a sense of the type of man Oscar is, through interactions with pretty much everyone he knows, in text messages he sends to everyone, phone calls, and encounters with strangers: the sense is of a conflicted, kind and generous man.


The Best Movies You've Never Seen on Netflix

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Life Partners (Watch Now) -- All of the praises that were deservedly showered on Bridesmaids should also be applied here. But Life Partners is so much more than a "new Bridesmaids," mostly because it has no interest in being that. Though that's what it will probably will be called, because while a strong female friendship is really the only connection, that's a rare enough element for it to stand out. What we really learned here is the Gillian Jacobs can carry the shit out of a movie. Leighton Meester is also fantastic, and the chemistry between the two is unbelievable (in just how absolutely believable it is). Adam Brody and the supporting cast-- Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Dover as Sasha's lesbian frenemies, and Kate McKinnon in one completely stolen scene-- round out a fully lived-in connected web. But Jacobs is something else.

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Babadook (Watch Here) -- The Babadook is writer-director Jennifer Kent's first feature-length film. And that's absolutely insane. Her skill for film language, establishing set geography, developing tension, and creating complex characters is far beyond what you'd expect from a first-timer. The Babadook is damn-near perfect. And horror connoisseurs better take notice.

How to Train Your Dragon (Watch Here) -- How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a rare followup that not only lives up to the hype of the first movie but also manages, somehow, to surpass all expectations. The opening sequence will swiftly get you up to speed if you missed (or forgot what happened during) all of the events until now. The first film was a thrill-seeking ride about the Viking village Berk and how humans stopped hunting dragons and developed symbiotic relationships with these dangerous creatures. The sequel is just as captivating, except everything is king-sized instead of simply fun-sized. The animation is better. The first movie's visuals were uneven after suffering from some production blips, but the sequel is visually flawless.

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Chef (Watch Here) -- Jon Favreau has had a bit of a bumpy ride, hasn't he? After a bangarang career launch, complete with the catchiest catchphrases of the 90s, he found his way into the blockbustery people-pleasing business. And he's taken a lot of sh*t for that. The thing is, as a writer, director, and actor, Favreau has put out a lot of great work. But for every Swingers, there's a Couples Retreat. For every Iron Man, there's a Cowboys and Aliens. Even his best work these days is in the form of huge tentpole films. In watching those movies, you get absolutely no clue of who he is. He may have produced The Avengers, but his indie street cred of the '90s is long gone. That loss of artistry -- the accusations that Favreau has sold out and gotten soft (figuratively and physically) -- is the driving force behind Chef. The movie is clearly an autobiographical allegory, with Favreau casting himself as his own Mary Sue in the form of Carl Casper.

Wolf of Wall Street (Watch Here) -- There's plenty of artistic merits to The Wolf of Wall Street, and for fans of dark, dark comedy, it doesn't get much better. It is nevertheless difficult to get behind DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort, a despicable human being made only more despicable by the fact that the consequences of his actions were not proportionate to his crimes.

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The Double -- For The Double, Richard Ayoade has invented a fascinating world. Somewhere between our own reality and a dystopian future, it feels like The Twilight Zone's version of what 2014 would look like. It's bleak and dark and vaguely Eastern European. The immediate influences abound. It's like David Lynch and Orson Welles threw a party for Charlie Chaplin. Dostoevsky was invited, naturally, since the movie is based on a novella of his, and he brought along Jean-Pierre Jeunet as his plus one. Still, though the film may immediately remind you of ten different things, it is spectacularly unique.

Snowpiercer (Watch Here) -- Chris Evans turns in an amazing performance as Curtis, the leader of a band of merry dystopian future revolutionaries. The Captain America movies only give you a hint of what a genuinely good actor he is--and now, between Snowpiercer and Sunshine, he's been in two of the best sci-fi movies from the past ten years. And let's not even talk about Iceman, where he manages to hold his own--even outperform, in some scenes--scenery-chewing dynamo Michael Shannon, for Chrissakes. And the wizard behind the curtain is Bong Joon-Ho, who directed the excellent Mother and The Host. The man is good.


Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Watch Here) -- Knoxville's heady combination of fearlessness and a complete lack of shame may put him on the sociopathic spectrum, but it also makes the Jackass movies one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have in a theater. Granted, I have absolutely dreaded each and every Jackass movie going in (and this is the third I have reviewed), but it never takes more than a few minutes for Knoxville and the gang to kick loose the movie snob from my bowels and elicit paroxysmal, almost lethal laughter out of me. If it's possible, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa may be the funniest Jackass movie yet.

World War Z (Watch Here) -- There are a lot of problems with this movie, as our review suggests, but it also has Brad Pitt, Peter Capaldia, and walls of zombies. It's not a great theater movie, but it's a pretty good Netflix movie.

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Out of the Furnace (Watch Here) -- The film's deepest strength is in its twin leads. Christian Bale, in a rangy Southern mode, does some of his best and most compelling work in years, at turns broken down by the hand he's dealt and forcefully resolved to fight back when his family is threatened. Affleck, though, is perfect. As an actor, his best work has been playing men struggling to reconcile the world around them with the version of reality they create for themselves (like his eerie and sad killer in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). His portrayal of Rodney is pitiable but never pathetic, and he realistically inhabits the role of a shaken warrior without resorting to cliche or overacting. He's so good you forget how good he is, and though the film builds -- as it's destined to -- toward a confrontation between Russell and DeGroat, it's the jagged shadow of Rodney that gives the film its real shape.

Short Term 12 (Watch Here) -- Brie Larson's Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it has the potential to be the best independent film of 2013. It's an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. Despite the subject material, however, Short Term 12 is not a maudlin film. It is peopled with determined and hopeful characters, and there's not an ounce of self-pity coursing through the narrative. It's my favorite kind of film: Good people who want to do good things, and nothing but kindness, humor, and warmth seep out of every frame.

Mud (Watch Here) -- More than anything, this is a movie about love. It seems cheesy to just say it like that, but it's true. The plot is driven by Mud's love of Juniper. Ellis is a teenager just getting his feet wet in what it means to fall into and out of love, and he's practically compelled to help Mud because of Mud's relationship with Juniper. There's one scene in particular, where Shannon has a conversation with his nephew's friend about this adventure the boys are on. While it's about them staying out of trouble, it's also about how to cope with heartbreak. While the dialogue is delivered in a funny yet touching way, which leads to the funniest line of the whole movie, it's also really the heart of the film. We all love and, sadly, we all have our hearts broken. But we keep at it, because of the hope of the next love.

Pain & Gain (Watch Here) -- It's not to say that Pain & Gain is a great movie, but it is a remarkable entry point into these lurid, fantastical, outrageous events, and at times, it can be outright entertaining. In fact, I've seen several people suggest that Pain & Gain is Michael Bay's best film since Bad Boys II, and while that's not particularly high praise, like the events depicted in the film, it is also true."

Star Trek Into Darkness (Watch Here) -- Star Trek Into Darkness is both a fantastic space action film, and an excellent Star Trek film. The two are not necessarily coterminous, and they could easily be mutually exclusive. There are battles, a mystery to be unravelled, Benedict Cumberbatch utterly nailing the role of both villain and sympathetic foil to Kirk, a scattering of comic relief, and repeated call backs to the previous films of the franchise. And those call backs work most deeply because they are not simply references but partial reconstructions of scenes such that the new and old resonate like tines of a tuning fork."

Don Jon (Watch Here) -- There's a lot going on in Don Jon, and while not all of it works, that's also part of its appeal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is clearly on fire to try something here, and he's written and directed an ambitious and awkward and occasionally clunky and often powerful movie about the way we lie to ourselves and what it takes to be honest with someone we love. It's not a new topic, but that's precisely why it's so strong. He's found a fresher way to get at something that pesters all of us, and in wrestling with ideas of authenticity and human connection, he's continuing on the path he's laying for himself one hard-carved brick at a time. Gordon-Levitt is determined to find new ways to forge relationships with the audience, and Don Jon is both a reflection of that desire and a solid execution of same. He has things he wants to say, and I want to listen.

Blue is the Warmest Color (Watch Here) -- At just under three hours, the French film Blue is the Warmest Color would seem, from the outside looking in, to be a journey into the sleepy realms of slow-cooked cinema. Not the case! Offering a surprising lightness (surprising because it's oftentimes melancholy), the film makes the time investment here well worth it, a finer relationship film you're unlikely to see all year.

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.


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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.

Catching Fire (Watch Here) -- Francis Lawrence's Catching Fire manages to be more mature, more impressive, and darker than Gary Ross' Hunger Games and better than the book upon which it was based, which has a lot to do with a bleaker tone, a better roster of actors, the maturation of Jennifer Lawrence, and the burgeoning rebellion, which provides an actual point to the series, other than to watch one woman outlast the massacre of her peers. In Catching Fire, it's not children versus children, it's the poor masses versus the wealthy, and Katiness Everdeen and her Mockinjay are the symbols of the coming revolution.

In a World (Watch Here) -- If you've watched Children's Hospital or HBO's How to Make It In America, you already love Lake Bell. If you haven't, you'll love her after In a World. Bell's writing/directing debut focuses on a woman trying to make it in the trailer voice-over business, a business dominated by men, including her character's father and the shadow of Don LaFontaine's booming "in a world..." voice. It's a sweet and funny film which passes the Bechdel test with flying colors while managing to avoid being an overbearing feminist scribe (not that there's anything wrong with that). While Bell steals the film, she's backed by a solid and entertaining cast that includes Demetri Martin, Ken Marino Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro. In a world where that list doesn't convince you to watch this, I don't know what will.

Happy Christmas (Watch Here) -- Joe Swanberg's follow-up to Drinking Buddies is aimless at times, and often represents what people dislike about mumblecore, but the cast -- led by Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey -- keeps things light, enjoyable, and entertaining for the film's short duration.

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