2013 Movies You Should Watch Right Now


December is top-10 list month, which means most bloggers and journos will be spending the next few weeks catching up with some of the year’s smaller titles that are now available on DVD and streaming outlets. I’ve highlighted 20 movies that are worth your time and attention.

5…on Netflix Instant
Three great docs and two terrific narrative features you can stream today. No discs required.

This searing, but factual attack on Sea World’s orca whale policies is powerful and precise enough to actually make change happen. As someone who watches a lot of non-fiction cinema, I don’t say that often, as I see a lot of documentaries that are of equal or even greater artistic value but can’t sustain a conversation for whatever reason. Blackfish has already shown signs of being different in that respect, which is incredibly encouraging, and even more exciting because it’s a film worthy of such a legacy. (Click here for my full Blackfish review.)

Call Me Kuchu
There’s courage, and then there’s what the men and women at the center of Call Me Kuchu display. The documentary chronicles the fight for LGBT rights in Uganda where homosexuality is illegal and almost became a capital offense. It’s incredibly sorrowful, but even more powerful as it shines a light on repression of the worst and most dangerous kind. (Click here for my full Call Me Kuchu review.)

Dirty Wars
It’s a searing documentary about American drone use that chews up your hopeful, idealistic illusions regarding U.S. leadership, spits them out, and leaves a cruise-missile-sized hole in your heart for good measure. (Click here for my full Dirty Wars review.)

Europa Report
Yes, Europa Report is a “found footage” movie. Yes, the last sci-fi film to employ this technique was Apollo 18. But like last year’s tremendously engaging found-footage cop film End of Watch, this film is a textbook example of merging style and substance. The you-are-there approach is essential to Europa Report‘s story, and coupled with its jumbled chronology, it helps create a mesmerizing mystery. (Click here for my full Europa Report review.)

Frances Ha
Both Frances Ha the character and Frances Ha the movie are bright lights—unimpeachable bastions of optimism, big dreams, and enduring friendship, with some destructively doe-eyed perseverance thrown in for good measure. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant movie this year. (Click here for my full Frances Ha review.)

5…on iTunes and Other Streaming Outlets
Not as easily accessible as the Netflix titles, but all five films are more than worth your time and money.

The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring is director Sofia Coppola’s most satisfying and thematically precise film since 2003′s Lost in Translation. Her eye for style, subtly irreverent tone, and tendency to dissect the matters of Hollywood’s most privileged all find a glass-slipper-like fit in this story, based on real events, of a group of teens who break into and steal from the homes of their favorite celebrities. (Click here for my full The Bling Ring review.)

Drinking Buddies
Despite coming from the sometimes wild mind of writer-director Joe Swanberg, there’s nothing about this fine picture that should alienate the more mainstream viewer. Its laughs aren’t of the big belly variety, and its romantic moments are quietly earned, rather than grand and verbose. But Drinking Buddies is an exceptionally pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, featuring great music, even better performances, and very richly observed character development. (Click here for my full Drinking Buddies review.)

A Hijacking
There’s no big boarding scene, and its editing is graceful, subtle. It’s a film born of a fictional incident, which means its themes are truly universal. This piracy thriller has understandably been compared to Captain Phillips a lot, but the films aren’t all that similar. It does have at least one thing in common with Paul Greengrass’ movie, however: it lands with a devastating bang in its final minutes.

Prince Avalanche
It’s the best movie ever made about guys who paint lines on roads. That’s pretty simplistic reading of a film worthy of something deeper, but because Prince Avalanche is so enigmatic, all I’ll say is it’s David Gordon Green’s best movie in a long time.

What begins as an affable portrait of a family turns into something damn near approaching tragedy—a psychological devolution brought on my delusions of bright-lights-big-city grandeur. It’s a tough film to watch in some respects because it doesn’t hide anything, it’s rarely subtle, and it doesn’t pull any punches. But not unlike the reality shows director Matteo Garrone seems to be commenting on (if tangentially), it’s hard to look away from Reality. (Click here for my full Reality review.)

5…Still to Come
You can’t exactly watch these titles right now, but if an opportunity to do so presents itself before the end of 2013, seize it.

After Tiller
After Tiller is not a fire-breathing piece of pro-choice propaganda, nor is it even a fact-based policy polemic. After Tiller is concerned with people—specifically the only four American doctors who actively perform late-term abortions. The approach gives the film a calm air, which is novel to both the subject matter and, frankly, the entire genre. It also makes After Tiller one of the year’s very best documentaries. (Click here for my full After Tiller review.)

In a World…
Lake Bell is something of a revelation as a writer, director, and actress in this slippery comedy about the tiny, but incredibly competitive world of movie trailer voiceovers. (Click here for my full In a World… review.)

Muscle Shoals
Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter—not to mention rock acts like The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers—are all on hand to pay deference to the titular Alabama town that gave them, and all of us as listeners, some of the best, most unforgettable music in humankind’s history. It’s an absolutely joyful movie.

Short Term 12
Short Term 12 toes so many lines—it’s at times almost too mawkish, frenetic, and under-detailed. But it improbably manages to avoid being any of those things. It is, instead, parts an onion-like character piece and a penetrating coming-of-age drama that manages to sprinkle in just enough beneath-the-pain smiles to make the exercise enjoyable. (Click here for my full Short Term 12 review.)

These Birds Walk
In Karachi, Pakistan, there’s a home for boys run by a massive charitable organization called the Edhi Foundation, which provides services for the city’s ill, hungry, homeless, and otherwise afflicted. It’s the subject of this fantastic, very observational and poetic documentary from directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq, who introduce us to vulnerable, fascinating young boys and a culture that’s almost impossible to fathom from your couch or a darkened movie theater.

5…I Haven’t Seen But Others Love
Five movies on my 2013 catch-up list.

A silent, black-and-white interpretation of Snow White that deals with Spanish bullfighters? How is it I haven’t found time for this one yet? It’s on Netflix Instant, if you’re intrigued.

Shane Bitney Crone’s story is tragic, and the documentary chronicling his tragedy is, by all accounts, absolutely infuriating. Like Blancanieves, Bridgegroom is available to stream on Netflix.

Drug War
I wish I was a little more informed about beloved director Johnnie To, and it’s probably because I’m not that I haven’t seen Drug War yet. But there’s no way I’m compiling a top ten list without considering it. It sounds like a film made for me.

The East
This eco-terrorism thriller slid through theaters without me noticing, but Brit Marling is a talent to watch, as is her director here, Zal Batmanlij.

In the House
According to most who’ve seen it, it’s Francois Ozon’s best film in year. That’s all I need to know.

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