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 the boundless wonders of the Criterion Channel, and 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 that may help readers decide which of these services is right for them.
Here’s the best of the best for May 2019.
Amazon Prime continues to be among the best streaming platform for exclusive streaming access to “first-run” arthouse and foreign films that you may have just missed in theaters. While their May lineup is padded out by all the usual randomness that’s shared between various streaming services (“F/X,” “Antitrust,” “The Punisher: War Zone,” etc.), it’s defined by the likes of Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria,” Neil Jordan’s camp-tastic “Greta,” and the fascinating archaeological documentary “Dinosaur 13.”
Of course, the real highlight on Amazon Prime this month is season two of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” but that’s out of this column’s jurisdiction.
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Perhaps the single most polarizing film that came out last year (and one of the biggest box office disappointments), Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is a coldly violent seance for the evils of the 20th century, none of which are quite as dead as we might have once hoped. Based on the screenplay of Dario Argento’s giallo classic about a coven of witches behind a German dance academy, Guadagnino’s radical new take is less a remake of the original than it is an estranged sibling — the fraternal twin sister who recognized herself as the black sheep of an already twisted family, ran away from home to become a fascist, and has dressed in gray every day since then. Only by drawing some blood can you tell the two are even related.
As grim and severe as Argento’s film was ecstatic and harlequin, this “Suspiria” offers a richer, more explicit interpretation of that old nightmare; it digs up the latent anxieties of that story like someone picking at a scab and watching with a queasy mix of horror and delight as the pus seeps out and makes everything literal. Those ideas don’t always have the emotional force to justify the degree of self-harm, but Guadagnino’s wicked opus ultimately cares more about the scars it leaves behind than it does the violence that caused them, or might cut them open again. Mileage will vary (to put it mildly), but “Suspiria” is worth streaming for Dakota Johnson’s committed lead turn alone, not to mention Tilda Swinton’s three performances and an unnerving score from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
Available to stream May 3.
THE CRITERION CHANNEL
Hot off the most exciting launch lineup that any streaming platform has ever had, the Criterion Channel is keeping the party going with another month of incredible classic and contemporary movies. It’s hard to know where to even begin, as the May titles cover so many bases. The month kicks off with a Masterclass with Kelly Reichardt (accompanied by four of her best films), and then follows that up on May 8 with three brilliant — and previously elusive — features from “The Souvenir” auteur Joanna Hogg. Later on, the Channel shines an overdue spotlight on Claudia Weill’s raw and funny “Girlfriends,” a trio of Hong Sang-soo’s recent work, and three vintage works from the Taviani brothers. Along the way, thematically curated programs pegged to Mother’s Day and legendary Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa offer clear roadmaps through Criterion’s intimidatingly vast Collection of 20th century masterpieces.
“The Love Witch” (2016)
Amidst the Criterion Channel’s latest embarrassment of classic and contemporary riches, “The Love Witch” stands out for how it epitomizes the streaming platform’s ability to rescue more recent films from the edge of oblivion, and draw new audiences to working filmmakers while they still have the opportunity to make use of that attention.
So please say hello to your new obsession: A spellbinding homage to old pulp paperbacks and the Technicolor melodramas of the 1960s, Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch” is a throwback that’s told with a degree of perverse conviction and studied expertise that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Shot in velvety 35mm and seen through the lens of a playfully violent female gaze, the film follows a beautiful, narcissistic young sorceress named Elaine (Samantha Robinson, unforgettable in a demented breakthrough performance that earned her a role in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) as she blows into a coastal Californian town in desperate search of a replacement for her recently murdered husband. Sex, death, Satanic rituals, God-level costume design, and cinema’s greatest tampon joke ensue, as Biller spins an archly funny — but also hyper-sincere — story about the true price of the patriarchy.
Available to stream May 29.
FILM MOVEMENT PLUS
Film Movement Plus is the streaming complement to Film Movement, which began in 2002 as a mail-order DVD-of-the-month club with a special focus on arthouse and foreign cinema. The company’s online venture is a natural outgrowth of that brand, offering subscribers access to more than 250 recent festival favorites (and a scattering of older treasures) for just $5.99 per month. Perfect for cinephiles whose tastes are a bit off the beaten path, Film Movement Plus’ May lineup includes contemporary work like “Theeb” and “Narcissister Organ Player,” along with vintage titles like Arturo Ripstein’s semi-obscure Western “Time To Die,” and also Budd Boetticher’s 1982 swan song, “A Time for Dying.”
“The Teacher” (2016)
Effectively transposing “12 Angry Men” into the most intense PTA meeting of all time, Jan Hřebejk’s “The Teacher” is a sardonic, richly seriocomic morality play that uses a delicate touch to explore why communism never seems to work out in the long run. Set in Czechoslovakia circa 1983 — when the country was just beginning to peek out from behind the Iron Curtain — and loosely inspired by true events, this perverse crowd-pleaser leverages its hyper-specific setting to convey a universal story of fear and power. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds!
In large part, that’s because of the spellbindingly hateful lead performance from Sloval actress Zuzana Mauréry. Essentially Dolores Umbridge for the muggle set, her Mrs. Drazděchová is lustful, and low-key where her Hogwarts counterpart was the living embodiment of toffee-nosed evil. A teacher at an elementary school that looks more like a concrete concentration camp, Drazděchová terrorizes her students without fear that they’ll rat her out to their parents; being the highest-ranking Communist in town has its perks, and Drazděchová has no reservations about exploiting every one of them. Mauréry is a symbol of corruption who’s most compelling when she’s right on the brink of becoming a cartoon, and her performance threads the needle between dismantling communism and skewering the timeless human qualities that make it so untenable.
Available to stream May 3.
Hulu offers a mixed bag for cinephiles this month, as the platform seems to be focusing its energy on the May 17 release of George Clooney’s “Catch-22” series. On the film side of things, subscribers will have access to a litany of movies that are being shared between Netflix and Amazon Prime, but hot exclusives are few and far between (“Dazed and Confused” is a big one, but Richard Linklater’s classic has never been especially hard to find).
There had never been a character quite like Pauline “Poppy” Cross, and there hasn’t been one since. Not even “Inside Out,” which starred Joy herself, could match the immaculate buoyancy that Sally Hawkins brought to the lead role of “Happy-Go-Lucky” — indeed, the character could have easily been a cartoon if not for Hawkins’ ability to show us a little bit of her soul with every smile. Written and directed by Mike Leigh (of all people), the film follows a relentlessly cheery London gal as she irritates almost everyone around her with her perpetual positivity, eventually sending her driving instructor (Eddie Marsan) into a violent rage that’s as raw as real life and a touch more relatable than most of us might care to admit. A charming comedy that isn’t afraid to stare unpleasantness in the face, “Happy-Go-Lucky” knows that some of us can’t always afford to laugh at life, but that happiness is always a little bit easier to see than it seems. Also, it has Eddie Marsan absolutely bringing it in one of the more disturbing supporting turns in recent memory, and one that you’re unlikely to ever forget.
Available to stream May 1.
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 May lineup is impressive — if not for its volume, than for its quality. In addition to low-key essentials from major auteurs (e.g. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Hard Eight,” Jia Zhangke’s “24 City,” Iwai Shunji’s unmissable “All About Lily Chou-Chou”), the service is also dipping into mumblecore (“Mutual Appreciation”) and Tucci-core (“Big Night”). But the biggest new addition of them all is an anime.
“Millennium Actress” (2003)
Satoshi Kon left us far too soon (the staggeringly brilliant storyteller died of cancer in 2010; he was only 46 years old), but the slim oeuvre he left behind will shape 21st century cinema for decades to come. His volatile body of work has already been thoroughly subsumed into American film, as “Black Swan” is like a defanged remake of “Perfect Blue,” and “Inception” is pretty much just “Paprika” without the spice. Swirling together the lives of legendary Japanese actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, 2001’s “Millennium Actress” is a magnificent Charlie Kaufman-esque character study that blurs the line between fantasy and reality as it uses an aging star’s movie roles in order to tell her life story and solve the mystery of her broken heart. It may not match the scope of Kon’s limited series “Paranoia Agent,” but this achingly human story epitomizes how Kon used animation to express real emotions in a more vivid and three-dimensional way than most live-action films could dream.
Available to stream May 1.
Always the most fluid and responsive of the streaming platforms, MUBI is leaning hard into Cannes season with a dozen films from some of the festival’s biggest names. Lars von Trier (“Antichrist”), Gus van Sant (“Paranoid Park”), Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”), and more will be dropping by the service as the month rolls on and the action begins on the Croisette. Meanwhile, MUBI is offering a special focus on the great French auteur Olivier Assayas — whose delightful “Non-Fiction” is now playing in theaters — and streaming five of his best films, including exclusive access to “Noise” and “Demonlover.” If that’s not enough for you, how about a 10-film Straub-Huillet retrospective, a profile of Eugène Green, and some highlights from the Film Society’s Art of the Real series?
“Something in the Air” (2012)
Of all the Assayas films coming to MUBI this month, the one we’re going to highlight isn’t necessarily the auteur’s best — for this critic, that’s “Irma Vep” now and forever — but perhaps the one that’s most in need of rediscovery, or at least most ready to be rediscovered. A semi-autobiographical portrait of a floppy-haired teenager (Clément Métayer) trying to find himself in the immediate aftermath of Frances’ May ’68 revolution, “Something in the Air” burns with the orphaned energy that shaped Assayas’ formative artistic years. The plot is as wayward and wandering as its young hero, but it’s basically structured around a series of flashbulb memories (e.g. sex, protest, a house fire that revisits Assayas’ “Cold Water”) that allow Assayas to personify the sublime embarrassment of self-discovery, and build to an ending that crystallizes the moment when someone starts living their life instead of just watching it all go by around them. It’s agitated, it’s romantic, and it’s essential to understanding what makes Assayas tick.
Available to stream May 11
Netflix’s May release slate is a bit quiet compared to the average month, as it almost seems as if the streaming giant were ceding a little bit of viewers’ attention to the first onslaught of summer movies (the platform’s new television offerings are more robust, highlighted by Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us”). But that doesn’t mean Netflix is leaving its subscribers high and dry for the rest of the spring, as the assortment of titles streaming over the next few weeks are a grab bag of new — and classic! — films that should offer a little something for everyone.
The new batch of Netflix Originals include “Knock Down the House” and “The Perfection” (the former of which stormed through Sundance, and the latter of which was a Fantastic Fest highlight last fall), and the mixed bag Ted Bundy biopic, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.” On the older front, Netflix is also adding a handful of films that were formative in their respective genres, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Scream,” and “The Matrix.”
There’s still plenty to say about “Moonlight.” There will probably always be plenty to say about “Moonlight,” particularly as the landscape continues to change (and Barry Jenkins continues to play a part in changing it). But for now it’s enough to say that “Moonlight” is coming to Netflix, which should hopefully allow it to reach an even wider audience than before; winning Best Picture can do a lot to raise a movie’s profile, but a relatively small $27 million box office haul suggests that some people have yet to discover what IndieWire crowned as the best LGBTQ film of the 21st century.
Available to stream May 21.
Now in its third month, OVID.tv 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. Their small but well-curated May lineup once again appeals to hardcore cinephiles, as it focuses on recent festival curiosities (“The Strange Little Cat”), hard-to-find auteur gems (Raúl Ruiz’s “Time Regained”), and illuminating documentaries about great artists (“Jean Rouch, the Adventurous Filmmaker”).
“Trouble Every Day” (2001)
Ranking high on IndieWire’s list of the best foreign-language horror films of the 21st century, Claire Denis’ savage masterpiece simultaneously finds the great French auteur at her most violent and tender (a paradox that only she is able to pull off). Marking the occasion, Chris O’Falt wrote that “Denis found tension boiling underneath the glistening bodies of young legionnaires in ‘Beau Travail’; with ‘Trouble Every Day,’ that fixation erupts into sexual obsession and body horror in the great French filmmaker’s into genre territory.” The story is simple enough: An American scientist (Vincent Gallo) uses his honeymoon as an excuse to visit France and search for his ex-lover Coré (Béatric Dalle), who shares his supernatural fetish for human blood. For her part, Coré escapes from her keeper (Denis regular Alex Descas), and begins going full “Under the Skin” on the male population of Paris. Carnage ensues, as Denis’ sensual camera probes new territory in the dark space between sex and violence.
Available to stream May 3.
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 Robert Mulligan’s “The Other,” recent genre highlights like “V/H/S/2,” and various oddities (“White God”) that might appeal to the platform’s unique audience.
Before “Boogie Nights” (but after Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), there was James Foley’s “Fear,” an MTV Movie Award-minted psychothriller in which Mark Wahlberg plays every father’s worst nightmare. Basically a youth-friendly riff on “The Stepfather,” this is one of those movies where an ominous man shows up and starts gaslighting everyone around him into thinking that he’s not a deranged serial killer. Except this time, that ominous man is a foster kid (scary!) with a proto-swoop haircut and a fatal attraction to 16-year-old Reese Witherspoon. A trashy ’90s time capsule that’s full of nostalgic value and iced off by a tense Carter Burwell score, “Fear” is the movie that Wahlberg should actually be apologizing for every time he goes out of his way to suggest that “Boogie Nights” was the devil’s work — and that’s exactly what makes it so much fun.
Available to stream May 1.