Netflix may get most of the attention, but it’s hardly a one-stop shop for cinephiles who are looking to stream essential classic and contemporary films. Each of the prominent streaming platforms — and there are more of them all the time — caters to its own niche of film obsessives. From chilling horror fare on Shudder, to esoteric (but unmissable) festival hits on the newly launched OVID.tv, IndieWire’s monthly guide will highlight the best of what’s coming to every major streaming site, with an eye towards exclusive titles and bonus features that may help readers decide which of these services is right for them.
Here’s the best of the best for April 2019.
Amazon Prime has become the most reliable platform for exclusive streaming access to exciting indie and foreign movies. Netflix might get “Infinity War,” but Amazon Prime gets “Shoplifters.” Netflix might get “Solo,” but Amazon Prime gets “Cold War.” And when Disney+ launches and the Mouse House no longer allows Netflix to stream its blockbusters, Amazon Prime will continue to enjoy its monogamous relationship with distributors like A24 and (obviously) Amazon Studios.
Despite that preamble, this may not be the best month to highlight what Amazon Prime brings to the table, as its April lineup isn’t nearly as robust as usual. Sure, subscribers will get to enjoy many of the same movies that are also coming to Hulu (a number of classic Bond films and Sarah Polley’s magnificent “Stories We Tell,” to name just a few), but there isn’t a standout title that really highlights what Amazon Prime has to offer. Besides “Book Club,” of course, which should only be watched at home if you’re not going to be on a plane any time in the next six months.
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And that leaves us with Jonah Hill’s “Mid90s,” a thin but nuanced, heartfelt, and promising debut that crashes a typical coming-of-age story into a very particular sub-section of Los Angeles’ skateboarding culture. Young Sunny Suljic is terrific as a 13-year-old kid who falls in with a loose crew of local skaters, and Lucas Hedges is revelatory playing against type as the lead’s emotionally repressed older brother.
Available to stream April 18.
THE CRITERION CHANNEL
This month sees the hotly anticipated launch of the Criterion Channel, which is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of (the dearly departed) FilmStruck. And, really, where are we even supposed to begin? Picking the best movie from the new streaming platform’s day one lineup is kind of like looking for a needle in the world’s biggest stack of needles. In addition to the Criterion Collection’s entire lineup, the service will also launch with several unmissable sidebars and spotlights, including an 11-film array of classic noir from Columbia Pictures, a program of David Lynch features and shorts, profiles of Charles Burnett and Simone Signoret, and a smattering of more contemporary essentials like Bi Gan’s “Kaili Blues.”
“The Virgin Suicides” (1999)
Of all the incredible films coming to the Criterion Channel, Sofia Coppola’s debut feature deserves special attention because of how the streaming platform is choosing to present it. Continuing one of FilmStruck’s best features, the Criterion Channel will offer subscribers the chance to enjoy the full Criterion experience on a select few titles each month, and “The Virgin Suicides” is one of the first movies to receive that deluxe treatment. This brilliant Jeffrey Eugenides adaptation established Coppola’s singular ability to transform bored-as-hell privilege into something unexpectedly profound, and on the Criterion Channel you’ll be able to enjoy exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, Eleanor Coppola’s documentary on the making of the film, and even Coppola’s short “Lick the Star.”
Available to stream April 24.
Hulu might be known for its television slate, but it has quietly amassed a movie lineup that’s able to stay competitive with the likes of Netflix and Amazon (the latter of which shares many of the same titles that come to Hulu every month). Hulu has also been able to pocket a handful of choice exclusives. As of April, for example, it’s the only streaming service where you can find Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” as Netflix lost its license for the horror classic shortly after the Halloween season. And with the Coen brothers’ “Barton Fink,” that makes for at least two stone-cold masterpieces that you can’t stream anywhere else this month. But the most exciting new addition to Hulu’s lineup is something a bit stranger…
Here’s what IndieWire’s Eric Kohn had to say about Ali Abbasi’s “Border,” a Cannes sensation that later earned a spot on Kohn’s list of last year’s best films:
At first, “Border” is the story of an ostracized woman named Tina (Eva Melander), who works at a remote Swedish port where she sniffs out contraband, and long ago accepted that she was ostracized because of her unusual appearance. But this is not your average ugly duckling story. As the movie charts a path to her burgeoning self-confidence, it arrives at a sex scene so unexpected and ludicrous it instantly transforms the movie into a dark fairy tale. Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi’s sophomore effort (following 2016’s “Shelley”), co-written by the author of the Swedish vampire novel “Let the Right One In,” builds out such an unusual premise that it risks devolving into quirky inanity, but Abbasi grounds the narrative in an emotional foundation even as it flies off the rails. As it does, “Border” becomes a complex, gender-bending examination of identity politics with Melander’s spellbinding performance at its center. This unusual, unpredictable love story is one of the year’s great conversation-starters.
Available to stream April 24.
Kanopy continues to be a film lover’s most generous friend, as the streaming service taps into America’s library and university systems in order to provide totally free (no fees, no commercials) access to essential classic and contemporary cinema. Kanopy’s existence can feel like a godsend, and it’s worth celebrating even when the service adds movies that you can already pay for on other platforms (e.g. A24 hits like “Hereditary” and “Eighth Grade”). Other crucial Kanopy adds this month range from Hollywood classics (“Chinatown”), to under-the-radar indies (Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer’s “Wrestle”).
“The Criminal” aka “Concrete Jungle” (1960)
But an angel gets its wings every time a Joseph Losey film is made available to stream online, and so “Concrete Jungle” gets the edge this month. A tense and jazzy look into the London underworld, the film stars Stanley Baker as a thief who gets nabbed after a robbery goes wrong, but refuses to tell the rest of his gang where he hid the loot (even after they kidnap his girlfriend). Losey, who directed “The Servant” and “Time Without Pity” around the same time, was at the height of his powers, and it shows in every breathless frame of this ruthless crime drama.
It’s always a great time to be a MUBI subscriber, as the service has long been the best-curated streaming service for movie lovers. This month, MUBI is kicking things up a notch by supplementing their usual rotating program of 30 films with a permanent collection that will collect unmissable work from new auteurs, established luminaries, and MUBI’s growing roster of all-rights acquisitions (such as Stephen Nomura Schible’s remarkable documentary “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda.”
In celebration of Claire Denis’ “High Life,” MUBI is streaming two of the French directors extraordinary films, “White Material” and “Bastards.” While the former has received a fair amount of attention over the years, and can be viewed on the Criterion Channel, the latter (and more confrontational of the films) has gone overlooked. An elliptical and unforgiving revenge tale that riffs on Kurosawa’s “The Bad Sleep Well” but with a violent twist, “Bastards” is a searing work that illustrates Denis’ singular gift for dark poetry.
Available to stream April 14
OVID.tv, which launched just last month, bills itself as “an unprecedented collaborative effort of eight of the most noteworthy independent film distributors in the United States.” And while it remains to be seen if that effort will be enough of an advantage to earn the service a devoted fanbase in an increasingly competitive space, it’s allowed OVID to burst out of the gate as a valuable (and inexpensive) way for dedicated cinephiles to track down exciting contemporary films that may have only played on the festival circuit.
This month’s lineup includes Huang Ji’s Rotterdam prizewinner “Egg and Stone,” Pierre Godeau’s Adéle Exarchopoulos prison drama “Down by Love,” about a female inmate who falls for her warden, and Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s extraordinary “A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness.”
“Happy Hour” (2015)
The best film coming to OVID this month is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Happy Hour.” “Happy Hour” is five hours long, but that only sounds like a lot until you start watching it. This gentle domestic opus eases into the lives of four middle-aged women in Kobe, Japan, criss-crossing their daily trivialities into a rich mosaic that stretches out like the kind of thing that Mikio Naruse would make if he were alive in the limitless age of digital video.
The film is absorbing from the moment it starts, Hamaguchi’s exquisite cast of actresses forging a palpable bond that immediately convinces you of their 25-year history. Each one of them makes the others more believable. These characters are all working through their own stuff (one is seeking a divorce, another is struggling to accommodate her mother-in-law, and so on), but they’re working through it in the same way we all do: Quietly, as if trying to put on a show while keeping most of themselves hidden behind a curtain. Ambling from one tremendous setpiece to another, “Happy Hour” gives us the time to suss out the difference between feeling and expression. By the end of it, even the most fleeting and ordinary moments seem to contain entire worlds.
Available to stream April 19.
Netflix is adding a diverse array of new titles to its streaming library this April, from certified American classics like “Deliverance” to more recent cult favorites like “The Fifth Element.” But the most exciting thing about the platform’s latest crop of movies is how they point towards Netflix as a repository for essential foreign cinema that wouldn’t otherwise have been available to such a wide audience of American viewers. From a much-hyped masterpiece like Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” which received a long but limited theatrical run, to the Locarno-winning “A Land Imagined,” which is going straight from the festival circuit to the streaming world, Netflix is becoming an invaluable safety net for new international fare. It’s no substitute for seeing these movies on the big screen, but perhaps their availability will stoke a renewed interest in subtitled film, and inspire people to take a chance on the next Cannes sensation that comes into town.
There are two kinds of cinephiles: Those who’ve seen “Burning,” and those who didn’t have access to its theatrical run last fall, and are probably sick of hearing about its stone-cold brilliance. Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece — which topped IndieWire’s critics poll as the best film of 2018 Cannes Film Festival, landed the highest score in the long history of Screen Daily’s annual critics grid, and then proved to be way too good for an Oscar nomination — was an elusive thing in this modern world of streaming content and short theatrical windows. But now, in the immortal words of Sam Rosen, the waiting is over: One of the best films of this waning decade is coming to Netflix.
Adapted from a Haruki Murakami story called “Barn Burning,” which was first published in The New Yorker in 1992 (and can be read in its entirety here), “Burning” is sparked by a seemingly innocent encounter between two born-again strangers. Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is an aimless young writer whose rootless existence is turned upside down after he bumps into former classmate Shin Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), a beautiful woman who’s been rendered unrecognizable by time, experience, and some top-notch plastic surgery. The two quickly rekindle their old friendship — and light the tinder of a new romance — before Hae-mi asks Jong-su to feed her cat while she takes off on a spirit quest to North Africa.
That’s when things start to get strange. For starters, Jong-su can’t seem to find any evidence of a cat living in Hae-mi’s cramped Seoul apartment. And then… there’s Ben. Hae-mi may have gone on that trip to find herself, but she returns with a man in tow. And not just any man, but “The Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun, playing a slick, rich, and mysterious hunk who claims to have never cried, and confesses to a lifelong addiction to arson. The hidden darkness only makes his Gatsby vibe sexier; Jong-su never has a chance. But when Hae-mi suddenly disappears, our slack-jawed hero begins to suspect that Ben’s secrets might be more sinister than he first assumed.
While the film uses Murakami’s source material as more of a starting point than a reference, the writer’s fans know better than to expect a conventional thriller. Lee — delivering his first movie since “Poetry” came out eight years earlier — makes good on that assumption and then some, the director unpacking a simple premise into a brilliant and beguiling portrait of working-class frustrations, and resolving it into as essential a film as anything you’ll find on Netflix.
Available to stream April 29.
The world’s best (and only) premium streaming service exclusively for genre fare is offering another strong lineup for horror mavens, adding a motley collection of classics like John Hough’s “The Haunting of Hell House” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” along with more recent hits like “Cloverfield” and James Wan’s “Dead Silence.” They’re even adding Robert Altman’s immortal “3 Women,” because you can never see that movie too many times, or in too many different ways.
“Most Beautiful Island” (2017)
A short, stressful, and utterly spellbinding debut that transforms the immigrant experience into the stuff of an early Polanski psychodrama, “Most Beautiful Island” was a worthy winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for best narrative feature, and might prove to be a breakthrough moment for a major new talent: Spanish actress Ana Asensio not only wrote, directed, and produced this fraught metropolitan thriller, she also appears in just about every frame.
It would be criminal to reveal too much about what happens to her character, a Manhattan immigrant who’s struggling to make a life for herself in the big city and in for the longest night of her life, but it’s thrilling to watch the anxiety of neo-realism as it slowly bleeds into something that resembles the suspense of the orgy sequence from “Eyes Wide Shut.” Creating a lucid sense of reality only so that she can defile it with a wicked pivot towards madness, Asensio’s film creates a vision of immigrant life in America (and its value) that’s all the more urgent for how it uses genre elements to exaggerate the experience. People should still be talking about this one, which is as weird as it is timely. Read IndieWire’s full review here.
Available to stream April 22.