across the streaming-verse

How to Find the Best Movies of 2013 on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes

Photo: Clockwise from top left: IFC Films; RADiUS-TWC; Laurie Sparham/Focus Features; ERBP

As the end of the year rapidly approaches, you are likely reading many top ten movie lists that feature a majority of movies that are just being released into theaters (American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Wolf of Wall Street) or that won’t even make it into wide release until January 2014 (primarily, Her). But we’re here to remind you that there were 11 other months in 2013, and many of the year’s best films came out then, and many of them are available for streaming or rental on a streaming service. If you’re not planning on hitting a multiplex this weekend, here’s a rundown of what you can watch from the comfort of your own sofa.

Big Budget Winners

The Heat: It’s amazing that a movie can still take the conceit of two diametrically opposed cop partners — one crazy, one uptight — and make it work this well. Melissa McCarthy is the former, Sandra Bullock the latter, and this summer comedy was a very deserving box office hit. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The World’s End: Vulture movie critic David Edelstein called this film — the third partnering of Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz  — “the year’s most entertaining sci-fi comedy romp.” That’s a very specific category, of course, but suffice it to say that it’s also one of the year’s funniest, getting an equal amount of laughs from verbal and slapstick physical humor. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The Conjuring: Of this summer’s hit haunted house movie, Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri wrote, “The Conjuring succeeds because of all that anticipation of dread things to come. The damned thing works you so well that you may even consider leaving halfway through, for fear you’ll have a heart attack.” (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

This Is The End: Much like The Conjuring, this apocalyptic comedy starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, and friends as themselves features an exorcism scene. Unlike The Conjuring, it also features Satan’s dick. Profane and crude and hilarious. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Fast and Furious 6: Every year has a great, dumb, fun movie. And this is 2013’s. The impossibly long runway, the London Tube fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano, that moment when Vin Diesel catches Michelle Rodriguez in mid-air after leaping out of his car — so ridiculous and so good. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Indie and Foreign Gems

Frances Ha: This is what it is like today to be a 20-something, artsy urban dweller. So, watch this Noah Baumbach-directed black and white gem if you’re interested in that. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Spring Breakers: Just read James Franco’s monologue. It might be the movie monologue of the year. Then watch Spring Breakers and look at all his sheeyit. Don’t be ‘spicious. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime)

Before Midnight: The sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset picks up about ten years later after the latter. Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are now married with children. And where the first two films dealt with desire and longing and nostalgia, this third tackles the joys and hair-pulling frustrations of marriage. There is a ferocious final act argument between the couple that will knock you down. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Gimme the Loot: Two New York City teens who love to graffiti want to tag up a piece of famous memorabilia belonging to the New York Mets. In terms of New York demographics, this shows the opposite of what we see in Frances Ha —  middle class minorities — but with just as much verve. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Upstream Color: Earlier this year I wrote the following about writer-director-actor Shane Carruth’s second feature: “It’s a movie full of long, wordless stretches and sounds of indeterminate origin that resulted in me experiencing wonderful feelings of indeterminate origin and being reduced to long wordless stretches when I tried to describe it to anyone.” The plot is wackadoo — it involves pigs and hypnotism and mind melds and the circle of life — but the emotions elicited by the love story at its core is anything but. If you liked Carruth’s first movie, Primer, and really if you like movies to be experiences as much as stories, then you should probably watch Upstream Color. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Much Ado About Nothing: David Edelstein’s fourth best movie of 2013. In his top ten roundup, he wrote, “Just before postproduction for The Avengers, Joss Whedon gathered a bunch of friends (TV actors, mostly) and shot a Shakespeare movie in twelve days in his own rambling L.A. house. His casual approach works amazingly well—this might be the best Shakespeare comedy on film.” (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The Grandmaster: In this tale about the early 20th century Chinese martial artist Ip Man, Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express) mixes lush slo-mo martial arts action with lush slo-mo meaningful stares between gorgeous stars Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)


Leviathan: Ostensibly a movie about the American fishing industry, Leviathan barely contains a narrative. Rather, it’s a stridently experimental work that puts cameras underwater and right in the middle of roly poly fish heads. Hallucinatory, enthralling, and most definitely not for everyone. (Available to rent on iTunes)

20 Feet From Stardom: Put your mind to The Rolling Stones’s “Gimme Shelter,” to the powerful woman’s voice singing “War, children, it’s just a shot away/ It’s just a shot away.” Now think of all the other incredible backup singers you’ve heard and seen and what popular music would be like without their invaluable contributions. 20 Feet From Stardom gives them their due in a manner as energetic as their voices. (Available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes)

Stories We Tell: Sarah Polley, erstwhile actress and director of Away From Her We Go and Take This Waltz, jumps headfirst into the muddy waters of her family’s past — specifically the question of whether or not the man who raised her was actually her father. What sounds like it could be a soap opera reveals itself to be so much more. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Blackfish: Whether you’re an animal lover or not, it’s hard not to be moved by this tale of of killer whales who are captured in the wild, forced to perform at theme parks like Sea World, and then lash out at their human handlers. (Available to stream on Netflix)

Room 237: An apology for the faked moon landing, a secret exploration of the great Native American massacre, a veiled look at the Holocaust — these are just three of the wacky theories that viewers have come up with as to the meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Room 237 is a movie obsessed with the outer limits of fan obsession. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

We Steal Secrets: Prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) turns his sights on Wikileaks and Julian Assange. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Cutie and the Boxer: An elderly Japanese artist lives in New York City, where he continues to make large abstract pieces by using paint-soaked boxing gloves to literally punch out his work on giant canvases. His wife, younger by several decades, has long served as his de facto assistant, but she too harbors a desire to create art. Cutie and the Boxer is simultaneously a movie about artistic and marital struggle. (Available to stream on Netflix, to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The Gatekeepers: Six members of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, get on camera to talk about war and peace. It’s precedent-breaking and compelling. (Available to rent on Amazon, to purchase on iTunes)

A Band Called Death: Three black musician brothers in Detroit form the title group and proceed to make punk music before the invention of punk music. The trio’s story is kickass and heartbreaking. (Available to stream on Netflix)

Where to Stream the Best Movies of 2013