For many Internet commenters and desk-chair pundits, there is no more enjoyable pastime than ripping both the selection of Netflix's streaming library and the amount it costs to access that library each month. If there were an Internet Olympics, "Complaining About Netflix" would doubtless be a marquee event, along with "Slap-Fighting Over Apple And Android," "Mocking Research-In-Motion" and "Threatening To Quit Facebook After A Redesign."

We've put together this small Netflix guide -- for Olympian Netflix Bellyachers and otherwise -- to help you get the most out of your Netflix, to really suck the marrow out of the bone of your subscription. And while there's little you can personally do to improve Netflix's catalogue (unless you are the President of HBO, in which case: We need to talk) these tips and tricks can enhance your experience and the quality of the films that get delivered to your eyeballs.

These little tidbits may not bring "The Wire" to your Instant Queue (and believe me, there's no headline I would love to write more than "OMAR'S COMIN' -- TO NETFLIX!"), but they should help you get more bang for your eight bucks per month. So pause that episode of "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" and dive in:

Don't Watch A Movie Without Rating It

When you finish a show or movie on Netflix, the site requests that you give it between one and five stars, based on how much you enjoyed it. You're not being asked to rate that content for kicks, or so that you can later reminisce about how much you liked a certain film: Rather, Netflix has spent many years improving its recommendation engine, even offering a $1 million prize for anyone who could up the accuracy of Netflix recommendations by 10 percent.

At this point, the Netflix recommendation engine is pretty darn accurate -- it takes into account your own ratings as well as the viewing habits of those similar to you. Basically, the more films you rate, the more you're likely to enjoy a Netflix recommendation. If you constantly find yourself frustrated that there's nothing on Netflix, take a half hour or so and knock out a few hundred ratings on the "Taste Profile" section of the site, and make sure you've filled in your genre preferences, too.

Finally, if Netflix persists in recommending a title that you're just never going to watch -- for me, that would be "The Lincoln Lawyer" -- remember that you can click on the "Not Interested" button on any film's homepage and it will disappear from your recommendations page while simultaneously smartening up your future recs.

(For an in-depth look at the Netflix recommendation engine, and how it works, I recommend this post on Netflix's official blog.)

Don't Fly Blind

Leaning on Netflix's recommendations alone ensures that you'll discover some good flicks; if you're really committed to shaking all the leaves from the tree, however, you're going to need some backup artillery. There are several excellent extensions that you can add to your favorite browser to augment your Netflix experience and increase your chances of sniffing out a great new film.

An extension like "Rotten Netflix," for example, inserts little Rotten Tomatoes scores beneath every movie poster on the website, so that you can instantly know how a movie fared with critics. Similarly, the "IMFlixDB" extension displays a movie's IMDB ranking on a white bar above the Netflix homepage and gives you quick access to that film's information page. The ever-prodigious members at Reddit use the wisdom of crowds, meanwhile, to constantly vote up streaming movies that you might otherwise miss. It's a super-active community with consistently high-quality recommendations: Check it out here.

Don't Let A Film Disappear

Another Netflix specialty website is InstantWatcher, a clean website that allows for easier movie search than you'll find on the Netflix homepage. And while many outlets toast InstantWatcher for its quick and robust search functionality, we like it because it also lists the notable films that will disappear from Netflix Instant soon. There's even a Twitter feed that does nothing but tweet out the names of soon-to-be-expired Netflix movies.

There is no worse feeling, in the whole entire world, than sitting down to watch a movie you've had in your Netflix queue only to discover that the movie has disappeared. Don't let it happen to you again.

Don't Be Afraid To Quit

One of the really nice things about a Netflix subscription is that you pay month-by-month; it's not like a cell phone contract where you're locked in for two years and you have to pay an exorbitant fee if you want to get out early or cancel service. With Netflix, you can quit for one month and come back the next: Netflix will save your queue and ratings for up to two years so that if you do come back, you don't really have to start over.

So, if you're taking a vacation, or studying for the LSATs, or going to prison, just cancel your account and save yourself the $8 for as long as you need. Or, if you are one of our Olympian Netflix bashers from above, go ahead and try life without the 'Flix for a month or two and see how you do. Your account information will be waiting for you when (or if) you return; and, hey, if you do, now you have plenty of new ways to find the excellent movies and TV shows you might have missed while in exile.

Below, check out some offbeat alternatives to Netflix that could fill your void if you do decide to quit:

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  • Crackle

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Crackle was bought by Sony in 2006</a> (when it was a startup called Grouper), and now its <a href="" target="_hplink">streaming-only movie and TV library </a>features mostly Sony productions. It is free to watch, and you don't have to register, but you do have to sit through advertisements that break up your movie. The options are fairly limited right now--there are about 250 full-length movies and episodes from 50 TV shows, though apparently Crackle adds about 10 of each every month. The quality of the options is pretty good, however; I've been watching "Pineapple Express" since lunch, and I'm moving on to the original "Bad Boys" when that's done. The stream looks great at 480p on my laptop, though would probably pixellate on a television screen. <strong>PROS</strong>: Totally free, no registration required; varied quality options; user-friendly website design; good picture on laptop for free service; free iPhone, iPad and Android app. <strong>CONS</strong>: Ads, ads, ads; limited quantity of movies and especially TV shows; no DVD rental option.

  • Vudu

    A startup founded in 2004 and <a href="" target="_hplink">purchased by Wal-Mart</a> in 2010, <a href="" target="_hplink">Vudu is a movie-streaming service</a> that prides itself on two key features: first, it has a database of high definition, 1080p movies that is larger than any other website's; and second, it is accessible on any device that connects to the Internet, from PlayStation 3s and Blu-Ray Players, to laptops and Internet-enabled TVs. Vudu is compatible with over 300 devices and works as a simple laptop movie streamer, too. The selection is terrific--over 20,000 movies are available-- though the payment option (for me) is not as terrific. Renting a movie for two days costs between $2 and $7, depending on the desirability of the movie and the streaming quality. A new release in high definition at $7 for 2 days? Pass. <strong>PROS</strong>: High definition streaming; terrific selection of new releases and classics; great "Collections" sections, including my personal favorite, a "Best of Rotten Tomatoes" playlist. <strong>CONS</strong>: Pay-per-view on-demand system can get very expensive very fast; no DVD rental.


    That ".org" is not a typo: <a href="" target="_hplink">Facets Multi-Media is a Chicago-based non-profit</a> founded in 1975 as a film appreciation group that now has a monthly DVD-by-mail rental system similar to Netflix's. There are over 75,000 movies in its warehouse, and one-out-at-a-time plans are $8.99 a month or $90 a year. If you're a little squeamish about signing up for a year, the monthly plan is one dollar more than the new Netflix DVD-only plan ($7.99), but perhaps you can justify the extra expense with the knowledge you're supporting a non-profit. As a film appreciation society, Facets has a great selection of rare and imported films, as well as playlists <a href="" target="_hplink">curated by "experts" that are worth checking out</a>. <strong>PROS:</strong> Reasonably priced DVD-by-mail rentals from a non-profit; excellent selection of independent and foreign films; recommendation lists from Werner Herzog, Stephen Sondheim, Dan Savage, and other notables. <strong>CONS:</strong> No streaming (yet--a company spokesperson says it's on its way); cannot match Netflix's prices, even after the price hike.

  • GreenCine

    <a href="" target="_hplink">San Francisco-based GreenCine is Netflix for film buffs</a>; they have "an accent on independent, art house, classics, foreign, documentary, anime and Asian cinema," as their website <a href="" target="_hplink">boasts</a>. With over 30,000 DVDs available for rent at plans starting at $9.95 per month (which lets you take out one video at a time), it's a little more expensive than Netflix for mail rental, but that is the price you pay for Greencine's "eclection" (again, per their website). Not included in your monthly fee are on-demand rentals: rather than streaming, you download the movie on DivX. Most of those rentals are $5 for 30 days with the DRM-protected flick. So, streaming is available, but only for a price. <strong>PROS:</strong> Awesome online selection of niche films, including anime, indie, and foreign; Blu-Rays available; DivX-quality watching on computer <strong>CONS:</strong> The prices. More expensive than Netflix, and the per-rental fee for streaming is way too high unless you are only streaming one movie a month

  • SortFLIX - A Global Movie Directory

    <a href=""><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="" /></a><a href="">SortFLIX</a>:<br />SortFLIX is a Movie Resource full of interesting online sources from around the world, including some names you already know. We also offer movies to buy, and rent and also cool movie accessories and posters to buy. We will bring blogs, reviews and communities so that everything you wanted to do to get social and watch movies, you can do at our quirky, colorful movie theater themed directory. Oh, and if there isn't enough resources for you, try our search tool that lets you type in your search terms once, but get mulitple results at once, no need to type your search in multiple search engines again. Our directory also allows you to run a quick virus scan on any site you might want to watch movies from. Our communities allow you to join to talk about movies, blog about movies, review movies and anything else you love about movies. Suggest a site, write a review, submit your blog...let us know what we can do for you while we are still in public beta. Thanks!


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  • SundanceNOW

    <a href=""><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="" /></a><a href="">Alison Steedman</a>:<br />