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 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 Film Movement Plus and OVID.tv, IndieWire’s monthly guide highlights 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 February 2020.
“Close-Up” (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
The Criterion Channel invariably offers the deepest and most compelling slate of any streaming service, but this month’s additions almost border on overkill; how is anyone supposed to choose where to start? The programming lineup kicks off Black History Month with 18 of Sidney Poitier’s most significant films (including “Lilies in the Field,” “The Defiant Ones,” “Cry, the Beloved Country,” and of course “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”), and follows that up with Julie Dash’s essential “Daughters of the Dust.” A series of foreign-language Oscar winners features a handful of masterpieces (ranging from the sweetness of “Babette’s Feast” to the epic deluge of “War and Peace”), a string of self-reflexive classics explores how the cinema has always been eager to look in the mirror (highlights run the gamut from “The Bad and the Beautiful” to “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One” and “Adaptation”), and the remarkable Pioneers of African American Cinema package represents “a rich alternative history of American cinema forged by innovative artists who defied systemic oppression to tell their own stories on screen” (selected titles stretch from 1915 to 1946).
If that’s not enough to keep you busy until March, the Channel is also adding 22 Jean-Luc Godard movies (including somewhat rarer gems like “A Married Woman”), five films by Mati Diop (“Atlantics” is exclusive to Netflix for the time being, but here’s the 2009 short that inspired it), a series of Montgomery Clift classics, a Wendy Hiller program that’s highlighted by “I Know Where I’m Going!,” and more. Nominating just one title from this treasure trove should be absurd, and yet it’s an easy call, as the “Film Plays Itself” series includes what might be the single greatest film ever made: Abbas Kiarostami’s “Close-Up.”
Available to stream February 9
“Toy Story 4” (Josh Cooley, 2019)
Disney Plus is still getting off the ground, and still struggling to reinvigorate its library with new film content every month. The best movie coming to the service in February is one of the only movies coming to the service in February, though it did just happen to win an Academy Award, and it does happen to star the greatest spork in cinema history, Forky. To talk about “Toy Story 4” is to talk about Forky. This is a movie that doesn’t initially appear to have any compelling reason to exist — the forced but satisfying third installment of Pixar’s signature franchise seemed to wrap things up when it came out almost a full decade ago — and yet Forky alone is enough to elevate this potential cash-grab into the beautiful and hilarious coda that its long-running series needed to be truly complete.
Forget Andy, forget Woody, and definitely forget that lame Buzz Lightyear (the writers of “Toy Story 4” already have), Forky is the god’s honest truth. He’s everything these films have been working towards. After 25 years, several billion dollars, and the rise of a cartoon empire that has become synonymous with top-drawer family entertainment, the beating heart of the “Toy Story” saga is best expressed by a plastic spork with mismatched googly eyes, a red pipe cleaner for arms, and an existential crisis that causes him to snap even though he technically can’t even bend. There are other things in “Toy Story 4,” I suppose — something about Woody and the gang being waylaid at an antique shop, it’s hard to remember at this point — but Forky is there. Forky is always there. And it never feels like trash when he’s on screen.
Available to stream February 1.
“The Third Wife” (Ash Mayfield, 2018)
In an alternate universe, Nguyễn Phương Trà My would have been invited to this month’s Oscars as a nominee for her extraordinary work in Ash Mayfair’s “The Third Wife,” in which the first-time actress plays a 14-year-old Vietnamese girl who is married to a rural landowner and tasked with conceiving him a male child. A desolate but determined performance in a quietly staggering portrait of female agency and frustration, Nguyễn’s turn highlights one of the most affecting under-the-radar gems of recent years.
Available to stream February 28.
“Princess Cyd” (Stephen Cone, 2017)
Hulu’s February lineup celebrates Valentine’s Day with a number of reliable love stories (including “When Harry Met Sally” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary”), but the best romance coming to the platform this month is a less heralded and more recent indie treasure from Chicago-based filmmaker Stephen Cone, although romance is hardly the only thing that “Princess Cyd” has on its mind. The story of a 16-year-old girl (Jessie Pinnick) who goes to stay with her novelist aunt (Rebecca Spence) for the summer — only to find herself amidst a raw but unexpected same-sex romance with a barista she meets in town (Malic White) — the film gracefully expands into a tender exploration into the relationships between women who are separated by experience, generation, and layers of grief. It’s a diamond in the rough from a special filmmaker who’s delivered one uncut gem after another, and there’s no better time to familiarize yourself with his work.
Available to stream February 15.
“Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
Reinventing the ghost story with radical directness and a singularly modern sense of self, Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper” survived a dicey Cannes premiere to assume its place as one of the most affecting depictions of the grieving process ever committed to the screen. And somehow, even though it includes a scene in which a phantom projectile scream-vomits hot white ectoplasm into the air above Kristen Stewart’s face, it’s also one of the most realistic.
Bracingly direct one moment and elliptical the next, “Personal Shopper” isn’t just a story about a young woman trying to connect with her brother across the great beyond, it’s also a knowing portrait of how technology shapes the way people remember the dead and process their absence. A numbed Stewart is brilliant as Maureen, a celebrity assistant who moonlights as a medium in the hopes of making contact with her dead twin. And since spiritualists have always been magnetized to spectacle, it’s only natural that Maureen is constantly staring at her iPhone, using it to google the paintings of Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint or watch an amusing clip from a (fake) old TV drama in which Victor Hugo conducts a hokey séance. These digital communions lend Assayas’ laconic thriller the feeling of a Russian nesting doll, each layer hiding a new dead body, and the film’s infamous centerpiece sequence managed to infuse the simple (and decidedly uncinematic) act of texting with Hitchockian suspense.
Available to stream February 5.
“Tangerine” (Sean Baker, 2015)
Magnolia Selects is reaching into the company’s robust library of movies for another solid month of programming, as the platform’s February lineup is highlighted by Roy Andersson’s masterpiece “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” Lars von Trier’s always-fascinating “Nymphomaniac,” and Michael Almereyda’s “Experimenter” (a great way to get hyped for his upcoming Sundance biopic, “Tesla”). But our pick of the month is none other than Sean Baker’s “Tangerine,” which placed high on IndieWire’s list of the 100 Best Movies of the Decade. Here’s what Jude Dry had to say about the film that made iPhones seem viable on the big screen:
An audacious and infinitely re-watchable farce about a day in the life of two trans girls working the streets of downtown Los Angeles, Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” was both an instant classic, and a lightning rod for emerging trans cinema. Baker earned major points for casting actual trans women in the leads — a rarity in 2015 that has since become the norm — and his decision paid off in a big way; Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez saturate the film in such delicious specificity that it’s almost enough to make you want to swear off professional actors altogether. Shot entirely on iPhone (with the help of an anamorphic adapter), “Tangerine” made waves when it premiered at Sundance in 2015. And sure, the cinematography is vibrant and alive in a way that no one has been able to replicate on a consumer-grade camera since, but the look of the film was only a means to an end. On the contrary, it’s the raw intimacy of Baker’s approach that made “Tangerine” an instant queer classic.
Available to stream February 11.
“A Faithful Man” (Louis Garrel, 2019)
It’s hard — borderline impossible — to argue that Louis Garrel’s “A Faithful Man” is the best movie coming to Mubi this month, as this slight and extremely French romantic drama about a lopsided love triangle is up against four Takeshi Kitano classics (“Fireworks,” “Violent Cop,” “Boiling Point,” and “Outrage: Coda”), Godard’s “The Image Book,” Adina Pintilie’s Berlin-winning “Touch Me Not,” an essential series about the post-war films of Yûzô Kawashima (don’t miss “Burden of Love”), and something called “The Red Phallus.”
But Garrel’s chatty and seductive second feature — at once breezy and moribund at the same time — is worth highlighting because it feels like an invitation for Mubi-curious movie-lovers out there to see what the hot professor from “Little Women” is doing when he’s not crushing on Jo March, and maybe find themselves pulled in to the wider Garrel Cinematic Universe, which stretches back to essential but frequently overlooked veins of the French New Wave. “A Faithful Man” again sees Garrel casting himself as a brooding hunk with great hair who finds himself the object of several competing affections (the candidates here are Lily Rose-Depp and Garrel’s wife Laetitia Casta, who plays an ex who returns to him after being widowed). But if the geometry of the love triangle is as playful as you might expect, “A Faithful Man” is considerably more somber than Garrel’s previous “Two Lovers,” as this ultra-watchable film hinges on deeper questions about the centrifugal force that binds people to each other (for better or worse). Pull on this string and there’s no telling what you might be able to unravel. As a bonus, it’s also perfect Valentine’s Day viewing for single people.
Available to stream February 14.
“Blade Runner: The Final Cut” (1982/2007)
There’s no shortage of great movies coming to Netflix in February 2020, as the streaming giant’s typically eclectic release slate runs the gamut from recent favorites like “Good Time” and “Anna Karenina” to unimpeachable ’90s classics like “Jerry Maguire” and “Starship Troopers.” And while Netflix’s library of older films continues to dry up, the addition of must-see ’80s movies like “Blade Runner” and “Purple Rain” might help to ease the pain, or at least keep you busy while you figure out what to watch next on The Criterion Channel.
The only version of “Blade Runner” over which Ridley Scott had complete and unimpeded artistic control, this 117-minute cut was assembled in honor of his masterpiece’s 25th anniversary back in 2007, and there’s certainly a definitive quality about it (the full unicorn dream sequence has been restored, which canonically tees up the events of “Blade Runner 2049”).
If you’ve never seen one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, this is the best way to get familiar — it’s essential viewing for anyone living in a dystopia of their own (that’s you). But don’t delay, as great movies have a tendency to disappear off Netflix before too long. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe: “Inception.” “The Fellowship of the Ring.” I’ve watched Sigourney Weaver blast a Xenomorph out into space until its lifeless rubber body glittered in the dark near LV-426. All those moments have been lost in time, like tears in the rain.
Available to stream February 1.
“Nostalgia for the Light” (Patricio Guzmán, 2010)
“The Cordillera of Dreams” may not have landed with the same seismic impact as the previous two films in Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán’s loose trilogy of documentaries about the spiritual fallout of Pinochet’s coup d’etat, but the film’s imminent U.S. release is a wonderful opportunity to revisit some of the most stirring and elemental political cinema of the 21st century. OVID is marking the occasion by streaming a handful of Guzmán’s most acclaimed features, including 2001’s “The Pinochet Case,” 2004’s “Savador Allende,” and 2015’s incredible “The Pearl Button,” which extrapolates a haunted portrait of historical memory from a single shirt button. But the crown jewel of Guzmán body of work likely remains 2010’s “Nostalgia for the Light,” a stunning piece of speculative non-fiction that uses Malickian imagery of the galaxy around us to conflate the astronomical search for life with the Chilean search for answers to the most violent questions of Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Available to stream February 6.
“The Farewell” (Lulu Wang, 2019)
Amazon Prime has a small handful of compelling exclusives this month, including Amazon’s own “Honey Boy” (which is destined to find a passionate audience in the ancillary markets) and the much-loved TIFF breakout “Jallikattu,” an Indian Malayalam-language action film about a bull that escapes from a remote slaughterhouse and begins terrorizing the village men who try to hunt it down. But our pick of the month has to be Lulu Wang’s Indie Spirit Award-winner “The Farewell,” which earned a spot on IndieWire’s 100 Best Movies of the Decade list before it even opened in theaters. It may have been inexplicably overlooked at the Oscars, but we’ll be watching it for ages to come. Here’s whatDeputy Editor Kate Erbland wrote about Wang’s beautiful and bittersweet Sundance hit for our decade-in-review feature:
Lulu Wang’s breakout is predicated on a lie — a good one, perhaps the best kind — that the filmmaker herself propagated within her own tight-knit family circle, likely never dreaming how it would actually end (in real life) or what it would spawn (in movie life). Starring Awkwafina in a rightly lauded dramatic turn, “The Farewell” follows shiftless Chinese-American twentysomething Billi, who is horrified to discover that her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (a charming Zhao Shuzhen) is dying of cancer. But Nai Nai doesn’t know that and, if her family has any say, she’s not going to. Unable to stay away and with little rooting her to her current life, Billi hijacks her parents’ trip to China to spend Nai Nai’s final days with her — again, days that Nai Nai has zero idea have any special meaning — and discovers a family dealing with life in all its messy, unexpected glory.
A true dramedy (a less graceful film would shout, “just like life!” at every turn, and “The Farewell” doesn’t have to), the movie flows between crowded doctors’ appointment, one wonderfully over-the-top wedding, and enough scenes centered on tasty dim sum to leave audiences in screaming hunger pains. Along the way, Billi and her family are forced to deal with both their lie and the imminent goodbye Wang’s title implies, pushing them into reckonings that go far beyond just the singular tragedy they’re anticipating. The film might be built on dichotomies — American versus Chinese life, lies versus the truth, family versus everything else — but it coalesces into a rich and relatable slice of life that illuminates every topic it touches.
Available to stream February 12.
“Like Me” (Robert Mockler, 2018)
Shudder, the online platform geared towards genre and horror cinema, is busting out the best month of new content in the streaming platform’s brief history. From unimpeachable classics like John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and “Escape from New York” to slightly more impeachable favorites like “Night of the Comet” and “Child’s Play,” Shudder is ready to scratch your itch for vintage horror. But the service has never been one to neglect contemporary work, and its February selections speak to Shudder’s well-curated sense of where genre cinema is going. Yeo Sang-ho’s “Seoul Station” may not be as satisfying as its sequel “Train to Busan,” but this animated nightmare about the dawn of Korea’s zombie apocalypse does things that would be impossible with live-action. And then there’s Robert Mockler’s criminally under-seen “Like Me,” a web 2.0 freakout that stars the great Addison Timlin as a physical manifestation of digital age desire and distress. When the time comes to nominate the movies that best captured what it was like to be extremely online in the second decade of the 21st century, “Like Me” should be at the top of the list.
Available to stream February 3.