By Jeffrey M. Anderson, TechHiveDec 6, 2013 5:00 am PST
It’s almost the end of the year, which means soon we’ll start seeing various tastemakers
trotting out those traditional lists of the best music, books, and of course movies.
But this year is better than usual—as it happens
five of the best, most enjoyable movies of 2013 are newly available
streaming on Netflix. We also picked some of the best films from past years, from 2009 all the way back to
1950, also new to Netflix. Of course, it’s all a game, choices are
personal, and opinions change over time. But for now, these 10 are a great start—see if any make
your own best-of-all-time list.
Former child actress Gaby Hoffmann (Field of Dreams) received an
Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance as the title
role in Crystal Fairy (2013).
She plays a carefree, earthy hippie type
who goes along on a road trip in South America. American Jamie (Michael
Cera) wishes to find a certain cactus that contains mescaline and
provides a special kind of drug trip. His guides are three local
brothers (actually the three brothers of director Sebastián Silva), who
eventually come to appreciate Crystal Fairy’s honesty, even as they grow
to disdain Jamie’s eager, entitled behavior. The movie has a loose,
summery rhythm in which the characters are allowed to make mistakes,
explore, apologize, and come to life.
Writer/director Andrew Bujalski was a trailblazer in the “mumblecore”
movement, making realistic films about smart but idle young characters.
Yet his fourth feature
(2013) is something else entirely.
Set in the early 1980s at a convention for chess-playing computers, it
initially plays like a fake documentary, shot on actual early-1980s
smeary, black-and-white video. But it eventually rides some truly
bizarre and unpredictable brain waves. The hotel is overtaken by cats,
as well as a group that performs “adult births,” and some of the
characters begin exploring their own ideas with unexpected, surreal
results. Certainly Computer Chess is not for all tastes, but for some
adventurous viewers it may become a funny, smart, cult classic.
New York intellectual and Oscar nominee Noah Baumbach wrote the
screenplay for Frances Ha (2013)
with his girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who
stars. Together they achieve a very funny, rhythmic movie that relies
more on potent little disconnected scenes rather than a logical plot.
Frances (Gerwig) loses her best friend/roomie to a new boyfriend, loses
her own boyfriend, meets some new roommates, goes to France, goes to
work for her old college, and learns a little something about life.
Baumbach and Gerwig don’t exactly write jokes, but their dialogue is
nonetheless so offbeat and musical that it simply sounds funny. It helps
that Frances is such a loveable kook. The meaning of the title is
revealed in the wonderful final shot.
Biopics and “true stories” often go onto year-end glory, though you
probably won’t be seeing many awards for
(2013). It’s a dark,
brutal story of Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a cold-blooded
contract killer who, in the 1960s and 1970s, somehow managed to hide his
day job from his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) and their two daughters.
The very intense Shannon has one of his best roles, but it’s Ryder who
really stands out. She totally re-invents herself from a saucy Gen X
pinup girl to a mousy, naïve housewife. Ryder’s small touches in her
performance completely sell the implausible idea that Deborah would fail
to suspect her husband of foul play. Ariel Vromen directs.
What Maisie Knew
The directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who met in film
school, never fails to make thoughtful, intelligent, understated
independent dramas. Their fifth feature,
What Maisie Knew
(2013), may be
their best. Based loosely on a Henry James novel, it’s updated to
modern-day New York. Young Maisie (Onata Aprile) is a young girl caught
between her parents’ disintegrating marriage. Her mother, Susanna
(Julianne Moore), is a rock star from the Chrissie Hynde/Patti Smith
mold, and her father, Beale (Steve Coogan) is a snooty art dealer.
Things get complicated, and emotionally wrenching, when Maisie winds up
spending more time with her parents’ new, younger lovers, bartender
Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) and nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham). The
filmmakers tell their story entirely through Maisie’s point of view,
giving the movie a unique sense of curiosity and wonder, while toning
down the story’s soap opera aspects.
I Am Love
Tilda Swinton stars in the romantic melodrama,
I Am Love
giving a remarkable performance as a Russian-born woman, Emma, who
marries into a wealthy Italian family (she speaks Italian throughout,
presumably with a Russian accent). Emma becomes smitten with a younger
man and embarks upon an affair with him. Her lover, Antonio (Edoardo
Gabbriellini), may also have designs on her son Edoardo (Flavio
Parenti). Meanwhile, a daughter has come out of the closet, and another
son wants to sell the family textile business. Director Luca Guadagnino
handles all this in the best possible way, highlighting emotions rather
than actions. A passionate love scene is a standout, shot outdoors,
wherein shots of the lovers mingle with shots of nature.
In the digital age, no longer saddled with 10-minute film reels, the
Russian director Alexander Sokurov created, with
first unbroken 96-minute shot in movie history. Thankfully the movie is
more than just its gimmick. It’s a powerful, meditative exploration of
the past and its resonance on the present. Two “guides,” one from the
present and one from the 19th century, suddenly find themselves in the
early 1700s. They walk through the Hermitage museum in St. Petersberg,
moving through 33 rooms, looking at art, and meeting people. They
discuss what they’ve seen from two opposing points of view. But even if
the movie starts to get too brainy, it climaxes in a lovely ball, with
hundreds of dancers. It’s so transfixing that even the time-travelers
clam up and watch.
Gods and Monsters
Writer and director Bill Condon had been working in the lower depths
of horror (Strange Behavior, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) when
he paid tribute to an old horror master, James Whale, in the terrific
Gods and Monsters
(1998). Brendan Fraser stars as Clayton Boone, a
gardener who goes to work for the aged, retired Whale (Ian McKellen)
years after he made The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein. Having
suffered a stroke, Whale now experiences all kinds of flashbacks, his
real experiences of war mixed up with the monsters from his movies. He
asks to paint Boone’s picture, and forms a friendship with him. Even
though Whale is gay and Boone is not, the two men find great comfort in
their growing bond. Lynn Redgrave is terrific as Whale’s cranky housekeeper, and received an Oscar
nomination. McKellen received an Oscar
nomination for Best Actor, but lost to… wait for it… Roberto
After spending years studying and writing about film, and
interviewing the great Hollywood directors of the past Peter
Bogdanovich began working with Roger Corman. After paying his dues, he
was allowed to make
(1968), his feature directorial debut.
Drawing from one of Corman’s horror films, Bogdanovich cast Boris
Karloff as an aging horror star promoting his latest film—Corman’s
The Terror—at a drive-in. Meanwhile, a more modern-day monster,
clean-cut Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) starts shooting and killing
random innocents with a sniper rifle. Bogdanovich intelligently juggles
and crosses these two elements, and then brings them together with a
satisfying click at the conclusion. It was one of Karloff’s final roles,
and one of his best performances. Samuel Fuller reportedly helped
Bogdanovich with the screenplay.
All About Eve
The winner of the Oscar for Best Picture,
All About Eve
held up remarkably well as a model of sophisticated entertainment for
grown-ups. Bette Davis stars as Margo Channing, a successful, aging
Broadway star. Anne Baxter plays the young upstart, the sweet,
unobtrusive Eve Harrington, who insinuates herself into Margo’s life.
She begins showing a cold cunning, calling the shots, messing with
Margo’s relationships, and trying to become a star herself. George
Sanders is the most memorable male cast member, playing theater critic
Addison DeWitt, a wry and cynical soul who writes in his bathtub. The
great Thelma Ritter plays Margo’s street smart maid, and Marilyn Monroe
had one of her early breakout roles in a few scenes at a party.
Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz focuses on the characters and
dialogue (“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”)
first and foremost, but he manages a subtle visual scheme that enhances
the characters’ relationships.