January is absolutely the best time of year for movies. Nothing good comes out until spring, but all of a sudden we have this mountain of intel on last year’s best movies, courtesy of awards voters and best-of-2012 lists.
I do find it a little frustrating that a lot of the most-lauded movies of the year are almost impossible for regular mortals to see. Unless you’re one of a few hundred film critics or a few thousand academy voters and festival attendees, there’s no (legal) way for you or me to see Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not A Film (not in theaters, not out on DVD until 2/26), or Best Foreign Language Film nominees No (not in theaters until 2/15) or Kon-Tiki (no release date).
There are, of course, the big studio prestige movies: Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, and Lincoln are all still in wide theatrical release, and they’ll most likely remain there at least until the Oscars (Feb 24). You’ll probably be able to see any of these in a theater well into March.
A couple other prestige pics are still in theaters but on their way out: Argo, Anna Karenina, The Master and The Sessions already have DVD release dates (2/19, 2/19, 2/26, 2/12 respectively), so they’ll probably straggle along in theaters for 2 or 3 more weeks. The Master is only in a few theaters in big cities at this point. Anna Karenina and The Sessions are still playing in most cities. Argo‘s Golden Globe success gave it a reprieve, so for now you can still see it almost anywhere.
That still leaves an enormous slate of great movies that came out last year, some of which are still in theaters, most of which aren’t. Here are some I’ve seen (and also some I haven’t seen because I am just a human but I still wanted to give you INFORMATION), and how you can see them.
Have I seen it? Yes: at IFC in New York, where it’s still playing.
Why it’s worth seeing: This is maybe the craziest and best movie of the year. Awards have almost entirely ignored it, but it was at the top of a lot of critics’ lists, and I will go with the critics on this one because wowowow, this movie was really like nothing else I have seen. Part of the magic of it is figuring out what exactly you’re seeing, so I’ll leave it there. Try to go see this.
How you can see it: Still in some theaters in big cities. Comes out on DVD (and probably the major streaming services) on 2/26.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
Have I seen it? Yes: streamed it on Netflix
Why it’s worth seeing: Nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, and you can watch it on Netflix. I’ve found that telling friends “you should see this AIDS documentary” isn’t extraordinarily convincing, but really. You may cry once or twice (read: I cried basically the entire time?), but I ultimately found it less devastating than life-affirming, and if you don’t know about Act Up’s role in the AIDS crisis, as I didn’t so much, you’re in for kind of an extraordinary story.
How you can see it: Netflix streaming, iTunes rental, Amazon rental. Out on DVD 2/26.
Have I seen it? No!
Why it’s worth seeing: It’s the first Richard Linklater movie maybe since Before Sunset (2004) to inspire a lot of good critical will. I’m hoping to watch it this weekend. Jack Black kills a lady OR DOES HE? Actually it’s hard to tell from the trailer if this is the crux of the movie or not. You may recognize Shirley MacLaine from playing a Jewish person on Downton Abbey, and Matthew McConaughey from all the movies this year.
How you can see it: Netflix streaming, iTunes rental, Amazon rental, Google Play, DVD rental.
Have I seen it? Yes: Rented it for $4 with Time Warner on demand
Why it’s worth seeing: No nominations and only mild end-of-year critical love for it, but I think Looper is a weirder and better movie than it typically got credit for. A really smart, quiet, strange time travel movie that thwarted and beat my expectations. I think the weird prosthetics-and-CGI thing they did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look like Bruce Willis was a bit of a miscalculation, but the movie is at least worth the 4 bucks for a digital rental.
How you can see it: iTunes rental, Amazon rental, Google Play, most major cable on-demand providers, DVD rental.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
Have I seen it? No.
Why it’s worth seeing: This popped up over and over on lots of year-end best-of lists. It’s a Turkish police procedural, which, okay you don’t sound convinced, but remember that Zodiac (2007) and The Wire are also things called “procedurals” and those are two of the best things. I mostly haven’t seen this yet because it’s long (2:40) and WHO HAS THE TIME, but actually that’s just as long as Zero Dark Thirty and in fact SHORTER than Django, so I have no excuse.
How you can see it: Netflix streaming, iTunes rental, DVD rental.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
Have I seen it? Yes: in theaters.
Why it’s worth seeing: This was snubbed from even the 15-film shortlist for the Best Documentary Oscar, which I think is a little bit crazy; it stayed with me more than almost anything else I saw this year. It gives you a good shot of that Real Housewives sort of schadenfreude, but it’s also a good picture of what extreme American success looks like during the recession. It’s funny and sometimes devastating and a really good document of 2012 America.
How you can see it: Netflix streaming, iTunes rental, Amazon rental, Google Play, most major cable on-demand providers, DVD rental.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Have I seen it? Yes: in theaters.
Why it’s worth seeing: Absolutely the biggest surprise of the Oscar nominations, and it’s turned out to be one of the more divisive movies of the year. Is it “poetry on screen,” or is it racist, or is it a brave political statement, or is it a “Republican fantasy”? Guys, please chill: This is obviously a good movie. It came out on DVD last month, but then it was nominated for four major Oscars (Picture/Director/Actress/Screenplay), and this weekend it’s being rereleased in theaters.
How you can see it: It’s back in theaters across the country this weekend (and it’s worth seeing on a big screen), but also iTunes rental, Amazon rental, Google Play, all the major cable on-demand providers, and DVD rental.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Have I seen it? No.
Why it’s worth seeing: Nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. It’s been in theaters since July and people are still going to see it. An unknown American musician from the ’60s gets rediscovered in South Africa? I don’t know, I heard it was good.
How you can see it: Still in some theaters, but you can also buy it digitally on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Out on DVD this coming Tuesday, at which point the streaming services will probably start offering it for rental.
Adam Freelander has not seen Life of Pi. Maybe at some point.