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A still from "Upstream Color," the best movie you didn't see this year.




The 10 best 2013 movies you didn't see (but can now)

Each year by about December 1, I start combing through the film critics' best-of lists to see what worthwhile movies might have escaped my notice. And I always find and watch some of my favorite movies of the year this way.

These are the movies that did not come to a theater near you, unless it was an art house cinema. The titles that found limited but passionate audiences on Netflix or other streaming services.

For all the great prestige films released in 2013 (“12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity”) and those still to come (“American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”), I'll remember the year mostly for its deep pocket of under-seen gems.

If you want to play the catch-up game yourself, here are my 10 strongest recommendations.


1. “Upstream Color”

My favorite movie of 2013. The first film by writer/director/actor Shane Carruth since his 2004 time-travel mind-scrambler “Primer,” “Upstream Color” is a strange and beautiful and insanely ambitious work that is reminiscent of the best of Lynch and Cronenberg but also something completely unique.

The story involves two people who might have been kidnapped by a man whose head is made of sunlight and might have had their minds altered by parasitic pig worms. Yeah. Weird. But at its wacko core, it's really just the love story of two extremely damaged people trying to recover from a traumatic event.

Available on Netflix instant watch, DVD and other streaming services




2. “The Crash Reel”

This documentary came and went without much notice when it aired on HBO earlier this year, but it now has a good shot at getting an Oscar nomination alongside the more publicized docs of the year (“Blackfish,” “The Act of Killing”).

“Crash Reel” follows the story of snowboarder Kevin Pearce as he goes from Olympic hopeful to brain injury victim after barely surviving a bad fall. As Kevin recovers from his injury, he watches his rival Shaun White win the gold medal and is determined to one day (hopefully soon) get back on a snowboard, despite protests from his parents and doctors. It's both a great, moving film about family and a thoughtful look at the increasing risk of head injury in extreme sports.

On DVD February 4




3. “Stoker”

“Oldboy” director Chan-wook Park made his English-language film debut this year with a delightfully nasty little horror movie. Mia Wasikowska stars as the titular Stoker, a peculiar teenage girl whose father died under mysterious circumstances. When Stoker's mother (Nicole Kidman) shows infatuation with her late husband's brother (Matthew Goode), Stoker starts to wonder if something's amiss.

This gets far odder than some riff on “Hamlet.” Curious viewers will be treated to incest, fratricide, spiders, serial killing as a genetic trait, pervy piano duets and the most defiantly W-R-O-N-G shower scene of at least this decade. And poisonous as the proceedings get, it's also kind of a sweet, coming-of-age story.

Available on DVD and various streaming services




4. “Frances Ha”

There weren't many movies this year more lovable than Noah Baumbach's “Frances Ha.” It's an ode to a young woman down but not out in New York City, trying to hack it as an artist while stretching her quickly dwindling finances as far as she can. Our heroine (played by Greta Gerwig) is charming, awkward, maddening and ultimately winning, a victim of both the crap economy and her own foolishness. This already feels like a classic, a perfect artifact of what it was like to be young, broke and confused in 2013.

Available on Netflix instant watch, DVD and other streaming services




5. “Before Midnight”

“12 Years a Slave” was the most punishing film of 2013. But “Before Midnight,” the third installment in perhaps the most unlikely trilogy in film history, was a close second. It continues the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and CÚline (Julie Delpy), who met in 1995's “Before Sunrise” and met again in 2004's “Before Sunset” and are now married with twin girls. The sweet romance of youth has curdled a bit.

Over the course of their last day of a summer vacation in Greece, the couple's resentments bubble to full-on bile, culminating with a toxic argument and only a slim glimmer of hope. It's ugly, but it's true.

Available on DVD and various streaming services




6. “Drug War”

The year's most thrilling action movie is the Chinese export “Drug War,” in which a drug cartel boss is arrested and coerced into betraying his former accomplices. It takes about, oh, five minutes to get going, and then it's just pure exhilaration the rest of the way.

Available on Netflix instant watch, DVD and other streaming services




7. “The First Time”

Something a little more mainstream here, a criminally under-seen teenage romcom with rising stars Dylan O'Brien and Britt Robertson. It's the same old high school romance movie we see all the time but a lot more witty, well-written and sensitive.

Available on DVD and various streaming services




8. “Computer Chess”

An aggressively deranged mockumentary about a man vs. machine chess tournament taking place in the early 1980s. It starts as a straight-forward, deadpan look at this esoteric subculture and gradually loses its friggin' mind, chasing various threads down the rabbit hole. These include a man who gets caught in a literal infinite loop and a computer that gains sentience and decides it only wants to die. So, yeah, this isn't for everyone.

Available on Netflix instant watch, DVD and other streaming services




9. “Drinking Buddies”

Shaggy, beer-soaked comedy about two best friends (Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde) who are probably in love but are in relationships with other people (Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston). It's a laid-back, modest movie about messy complications without easy answers.

Available on DVD and various streaming services




10. “It's a Disaster”

The year had a few other great apocalyptic comedies that you should see (“The World's End” “This is the End”), but none did so much with so little as “It's a Disaster,” in which four couples meet for a Sunday brunch and slowly discover that the world is ending outside. Despite their impending doom, none of them can set aside their petty grievances. Stars David Cross, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera and several other funny people.

Available on Netflix instant watch, DVD and other streaming services




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