10 Great 2014 Movies You Can Stream (or Rent) Right Now

Well, moviegoers, the year is drawing to an end, and ‘tis the season for “best of 2014” lists. Ours will arrive later this week — and as with most, thanks to the Oscar-courting release patterns that have become the norm, it’ll be full of films you’ll either have to go to theaters to see, or that aren’t even at your neighborhood theater just yet. There’s nothing we can do about that, but in the meantime (as a kind of appetizer), we thought we’d offer up a few great movies that didn’t quite make the final cut, but have the advantage of immediate availability for streaming or rental. Add them to your queue for the holidays, or just click the title link to watch right now.

We Are the Best!

This charming comedy/drama, set in Stockholm circa 1982, has been marketed as a punk rock movie, but it’s less about music than about the bond that develops between friends who agree that everyone else is terrible. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) essentially form their band out of spite, and one of the film’s nicest surprises is that, over the course of the story, they become… OK, passable, not miraculously amazing or anything. There’s a bit of boy trouble, of course, and some subtle commentary on maturity and gender roles (their band members are mostly raised by single moms, and their parents all seem trapped in a perpetual, spin-the-bottle-playing adolescence). But the film doesn’t sink under its messaging; it’s a joyful experience, and its ending couldn’t be more perfect. (via Netflix)

Virunga

Deep in the Congo lies Virguna National Park, a safe haven for African wildlife and refuge for endangered mountain gorillas. And underneath it lies oil, lots and lots of oil. Director Orlando von Einsidel tells the story of a civil war quite possibly financed by the British company that’s going after that oil, focusing on a handful of individuals — a park ranger, a gorilla keeper, an investigative reporter — literally risking their lives to do what’s right. The stakes are clear and the events are terrifyingly close (von Einsidel’s camera is right in the middle of this mess), but more than anything, he manages to get right to the heart of the repulsive, all-or-nothing capitalism that’s driving too many people with too much power. Heart-wrenching, infuriating, and gripping filmmaking. (via Netflix)

Ida

This powerful Polish drama is the current frontrunner for Best Foreign Film, but don’t let its dour look and distinguished pedigree fool you into thinking it’s something remote; Paweł Pawlikowski’s film is emotional, human, and even funny. In ‘60s-era Poland, on the eve of her vows, a young novice nun finally connects with her long-lost aunt, who informs her that she’s Jewish and her parents were killed during the war. The older woman is initially cold to her niece, but her righteous indignation (its source slowly, deliberately revealed) ends up building a bridge between them as they go on a fact-finding mission into their shared past, their brief but important time together altering both for good. Ida is light on dialogue — it doesn’t need it, thanks to Pawlikowski’s sure sense of stark yet evocative visual storytelling. (via Netflix)

Blue Ruin

“I’m not used to talking this much,” explains Dwight (Macon Blair) in Jeremy Saulnier’s dramatic thriller, and the film lives by that same principle — like Ida, it’s sort of remarkable how little of the story is told in dialogue, particularly early on. Saulnier instead traffics in haunting, arresting images to tell the story of a drifter who goes after the newly released man who killed his parents. Sharp, riveting, visceral filmmaking. (via Netflix)

The Unknown Known

It would be easy to dismiss Errol Morris’ feature-length conversation with Donald Rumsfeld as a rerun of his Oscar-winning Fog of War (another profile of a controversial former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara). But there’s a difference between the men, and thus between the films; McNamara comes off as an introspective intellectual haunted by regret and curious about the world, whereas Rumsfeld, while no dope, is clearly either not yet removed enough or simply not human enough to look at his life with any real honesty. The result is a fascinating portrait of obfuscation, and the lies and excuses we tell ourselves in order to sleep at night. (via Netflix)

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

Joe Berlinger, co-director of the Paradise Lost films and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, helms this riveting documentary account of the investigation, pursuit, and conviction of “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster who provided the loose inspiration for Nicholson’s character in The Departed. What seems at first a fairly straightforward crime doc morphs into something more complicated and corrupt, as Berlinger’s relentless digging provides no answers and more questions — and reminds us that a good investigative film can prove as relentless and riveting as the best thriller. (via Netflix)

Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s sorta-sci-fi drama requires a bit of tuning in; it’s such a sui generis experience, so uniquely its own thing, that it may take you some time to situate yourself to it. But once you settle in to its rhythms, it’s a richly rewarding experience, equal parts hypnotic and terrifying — and finds star Scarlett Johansson taking some invigorating risks to contemplate her own image-making and feminine power. (via Amazon Prime)

Life of Crime

It’s pretty rare these days for anyone to take a chance on a clever little B-movie like this one, so it’s even more depressing that it came and went without anyone noticing. Writer/director Daniel Schechter adapts Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch, which introduced the characters later played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown. It’s a ‘70s period piece, but spends minimal time giggling at the fashion and music; it feels more of that era than about it, smart and funny with a bit of darkness, moving at a good clip yet maintaining a hanging-out vibe. It’s loaded up with ace supporting turns, while Schechter’s Ordell and Louis, Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes, generate even better chemistry than Jackson and De Niro. (via Amazon Instant Video)

Obvious Child

Gillian Robespierre’s rom-com seems so modest and off-the-cuff that it’s easy to think it’s not as sophisticated as it is. It’s got a likably lo-fi, lived-in quality, a feeling that it knows its way around these tucked-away bars and bookshops, which may be why its story of a wandering comic (Jenny Slate) and her abortion doesn’t play like a polemic, as movies dealing in hot-button political issues so often do; her choice is, like everything else in the movie, just a fact of her existence, something that’ll have to be dealt with eventually. Have I mentioned it’s really funny? It’s really funny. (via Amazon Instant Video)

Jodorowsky’s Dune

After a 20-plus-year absence, Alejandro Jodorowsky came roaring back into our cinematic consciousness this year, and not a moment too soon. His directorial effort The Dance of Reality was fascinating and predictably inscrutable, but the real tribute to his unique talent was Frank Pavich’s glorious Jodorowsky’s Dune. A documentary account of one of the greatest movies that never was, tracing the development and almost-production of the surrealist’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus, Dune is less about that particular production and more a tribute to the idea of genius run amok, and to the joy of creation — even when it’s purely in the mind’s eye of the creator. (via Amazon Instant Video)