Netflix may get most of the attention, but it’s hardly a one-stop shop for cinephiles looking to stream essential classic and contemporary films. Each of the prominent streaming platforms caters to its own niche of film obsessives.
From the boundless wonders of the Criterion Channel to the new frontiers of streaming offered by the likes of Disney+ and HBO Max, IndieWire’s monthly guide highlights the best of what’s coming to every major streamer, with an eye toward exclusive titles that may help readers decide which of these services is right for them.
Here is your guide for February 2022.
“The Sky Is Everywhere” (dir. Josephine Decker, 2022)
Grief is a fertile, if uncomfortable topic, and Jandy Nelson’s YA novel “The Sky Is Everywhere” — the story of a teenage girl sifting through the messy aftermath of her older sister’s death — approached it with the kind of open-hearted honesty it deserved, wrapped up in a careful package that made it accessible enough for the audience it was meant to serve. A cinematic version? It could be maudlin or silly, leaning too much into the pain or way too much into the more cutesy elements of the story (its leading lady, musical prodigy Lennie, is prone to penning her thoughts on leaves and napkins and closet walls, a creative if potentially too zany way to show how she processes her pain). But in the hands of “Madeline’s Madeline” director Josephine Decker, a filmmaker uniquely suited to depicting personal expression on the big screen, the film version of “The Sky Is Everywhere” makes for a satisfying and special take on a particular sub-genre of YA story. —Kate Erbland
Available to stream February 11.
“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (dir. Melvin Van Peebles, 1971)
The Criterion Channel reliably highlights classic and contemporary Black cinema all year round, but the service’s programming during Black History Month — a rich and diverse celebration of Black film artists that runs the gamut from Abderrahmane Sissako and Gordon Parks to documentarians Stanley Nelson and Rosine Mbakam — offers a perfect illustration of how the depth of the service’s library and the insight of its curation elevates it above the rest of its competition.
The Harry Belafonte series alone is worth the price of a subscription, as it finds him picking up where Paul Robeson left off with his first film appearance in 1953’s “Bright Road” (co-starring Dorothy Dandridge as a teacher with a troubled student in rural Alabama), and runs the gamut all the way through Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” some 40 years later. A spotlight on Melvin Van Peebles complements his recent Criterion box set (“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” only gets better with age), while those in search of less familiar landmarks can get acquainted with video artist Ulysses Jenkins, whose experimental short film work is collected here in a digital riot of lo-res high-art on subjects ranging from mythmaking in the African Diaspora to modern media portrayals of Black men.
Available to stream February 1.
“Never Been Kissed” (dir. Raja Gosnell, 1999)
Streaming services aren’t exactly bending over backwards to provide down-the-middle Valentine’s Day programming this year, so even a half-decent ’90s rom-com feels like a gift from the gods of love. Fortunately, even the half-decent ’90s rom-coms have become iconic in their own way, and that’s especially true of a film like Raja Gosnell’s “Never Been Kissed,” which has very much become a cultural touchstone in spite of its quality (and because of its extreme “of its time”-ness).
The premise alone is enough to make you appreciate the movie for the throwback relic that it is: A 25-year-old copy editor played by Drew Barrymore goes undercover as a high school student in order to write a story about contemporary youths, but really she’s there to crush on her fully adult English teacher (Michael Vartan!) in super uncomfortable ways and get a second crack at teenage popularity. John C. Reilly plays her boss! Jessica Alba plays one of the cool girls! David Arquette is an absolute legend as her burnout older brother! Jimmy Eat World and Remy Zero are on the soundtrack! Your move, Boba Fett.
Available to stream February 4.
“The Killing Floor” (dir. Bill Duke, 1984)
Film Movement Plus is honoring Black History Month with a variety of essential deep cuts, starting with Bill Duke’s sharp and resonant 1984 PBS drama “The Killing Floor,” about a Black sharecropper’s fight to establish an interracial union in the Chicago stockyards. Shot during the five-year gap between Duke’s iconic performances in “American Gigolo” and “Commando,” this vital film is a stirring reminder that Duke’s presence behind the camera has been as strong as his presence in front of it.
Another major highlight of Film Movement Plus’ February programming is Catherine Gund’s “Dispatches from Cleveland,” a street-level documentary in five parts that shines a light on the racial divide along America’s rust belt in the wake of Tamir Rice’s murder in 2014. The film’s horror is as self-evident as the injustices it chronicles, but Gund’s camera also observes the stirrings of change in motion — slow and harrowing as that change might be.
Available to stream February 4.
“Kimi” (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2022)
A surveillance thriller for an age when everyone knows they’re being spied upon at all times — even, perhaps, by the same device on which they’re watching it — Steven Soderbergh’s “Kimi” is a simple but satisfying genre exercise that uses its agoraphobic heroine to ask what people are supposed to do with their paranoia now that virtually everything is out in the open. Her name is Angela (Zoë Kravitz), she works as a “voicestream interpreter” for a company whose Alexa-like product (Kimi) is refined by human beings rather than algorithms, and she hasn’t stepped foot out of her gorgeous Seattle loft since the pandemic came to town. When Angela hears a Kimi file that contains audio evidence of a murder, she’ll either venture out into the real world to share the evidence with someone first-hand, or stay home and be murdered as part of an $100 million cover-up.
Part 21st century “Blow Out” and part COVID-era “Panic Room” (the script is by David Koepp), Soderbergh’s latest starts with the premise that invasive tech is here to stay, and has a pulse-pounding good time asking how we’re supposed to live with it.
Available to stream February 10.
“The Beta Test” (dirs. Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe, 2021)
The biting tale of an engaged Hollywood agent who receives a mysterious letter in the mail offering him anonymous sex with a secret admirer, Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe’s “The Beta Test” is a frantic nervous breakdown of a film-industry satire with a mad soufflé of a plot that starts with a Hollywood murder, climaxes in a nationwide sex conspiracy, and touches on everything from Harvey Weinstein to the WGA’s fight against packaging fees in between. At its heart, however, this endearingly overstuffed indie hinges on a simple observation that has nothing to do with digital growth, belittled assistants, or the Tiger Woods-directed all-dog reboot of “Caddyshack” that’s mentioned in a throwaway line by a talent agent who only speaks in throwaway lines: It’s never been easier to feel like your life isn’t good enough, and yet it’s never been harder to fuck around and find out. Literally, in this case.
“I just want to be cool and happy and come off like I’m successful but I’m just fucking cheesy!,” the film’s hero shrieks as he inches closer towards the core of his corrupted persona. “I want it to be the early 2000s again!” You’ll understand.
Available to stream on February 4.
“The Hunt” (dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
“Another Round” fans, take note — that wasn’t the first time that Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen collaborated on a sobering (sorry) drama about a middle-aged man in crisis. “The Hunt” stars Mikkelsen as a divorced kindergarten teacher named Lucas whose already difficult life is made all the more so when a misguided student falsely accuses him of exposing himself to her. The truth of the matter is eventually made clear enough, but the stain of sexual impropriety proves hard to wash off, and Lucas — labeled as a predator by those he’s known all his life — falls prey to their paranoia.
Like “Another Round,” “The Hunt” is a thorny yet sympathetic and unnervingly honest film about decent people searching for a better way to live with each other and themselves. Mikkelsen is phenomenal, and the movie around him refuses to pull its punches, all the way until an ending that’s as memorable as the one Vinterberg brewed for “Another Round,” albeit in a much less cathartic sense.
Available to stream February 22.
“Love Affair” (dir. Leo McCarey, 1939)
MUBI’s Valentine’s Day programming may not be especially wide, but good lord, does it cut deep. The wrenching one-two punch of Leo McCarey’s “Love Affair” and Sarah Polley’s “Take this Waltz” is guaranteed to leave you doubled over with the bittersweet agony of giving your heart away, though whether your heart is still beating inside your body or bleeding on the floor at the end of this double-feature will almost entirely depend on the order in which you decide to watch it. Anyone reeling from a difficult breakup is encouraged to start with Polley’s film and go backwards in time from there, or maybe just skip over these brutal love stories in favor of decidedly less romantic offerings like Abel Ferrara’s “Ms .45” and the Safdie brothers’ “Heaven Knows What,” both of which will leave you feeling like it would be totally fine if you never came in contact with another human being for the rest of your life.
Available to stream February 14.
“jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (dir. Coodie Simmons & Chike Ozah, 2022)
A fly-on-the-wall doc with a time-spanning expansiveness to rival the “Up” series, “Jeen-yuhs” takes us on one of the great thrill rides in music. Chicago comic and public access TV host Coodie Simmons amassed nearly 400 hours of intimate handheld camera footage of Kanye West as he hustled, grinded, and rapped through even a wired-shut jaw to make his debut album, “The College Dropout.”
Later partnering with Chike Ozah, Simmons was there for stunning moments: West storming Roc-a-Fella Records to spit some rhymes face-to-face in a bid to get a record deal, recording “Slow Jamz” at Jamie Foxx’s house because Roc-a-Fella wouldn’t give him the studio time, having a heart-to-heart with his mother Donda, and so on.
Coodie had decided that this nerdy “backpack rapper” was worth following closely, even if it meant moving to NYC to keep filming him. The fact that West became one of the biggest artists on the planet is a payoff he could never have imagined (the third episode of this four-and-a-half hour, three-part epic sees West spiraling back down to earth). Simmons and Ozah have sculpted a narrative arc as endearing, and tragic, and harrowing as anything Hollywood could have scripted. —Christian Blauvelt
Act 1 available to stream on February 16.
“My Brother’s Wedding” (dir. Charles Burnett, 1983)
The impact that “Killer of Sheep” filmmaker Charles Burnett has had (and continues to have) on American cinema is all the more remarkable considering that his work has been so frequently disrespected — even jeopardized — by an industry that has been slow to appreciate its full value. That he was forced to screen an unfinished cut of “My Brother’s Wedding” at the 1983 New York Film Festival, the mixed response to which led to the movie being shelved for decades on end, is par for the course in the story of Burnett’s career.
Fortunately, the DVD and streaming eras have earned Burnett a sliver of the spotlight has always deserved. A sharp and sensitive tragicomedy about a South Central man’s search for purpose during the most turbulent phase of his rudderless existence, “My Brother’s Wedding” received its long overdue theatrical release in 2007, and the beautifully restored version of the film streaming on OVID.tv this month further clarifies how close we came to losing one of the most vital movies of its time.
Available to stream February 10.
“Robocop” (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
Forget Amazon’s (charming) new Charlie Day/Jenny Slate rom-com “I Want You Back,” real hopeless romantics know that nothing says “Valentine’s Day” like Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop.”
Available to stream February 1.
“I Blame Society” (dir. Gillian Wallace Horvat, 2021)
Genuine compliments are in short supply in Hollywood, so it’s easy to understand why struggling filmmaker Gillian (Gillian Wallace Horvat) can’t shake the ones she does receive — even the strange ones that might creep other people out, like that she’d “make a good murderer.” Gillian is so taken with this little piece of praise — and that she considers it praise is perhaps the first thing you need to know about her — that she opts to turn it into the driving force behind her next project, a mockumentary following her exploits to become a (fake) murderer in a town built almost entirely on artifice.
What follows is a biting, often hilarious send-up of the Hollywood machine that sees Horvat gamely tackling everything from bad pitch meetings to true crime obsessions and the corrosive power of creativity, all in one original package. —KE
Available to stream February 8.
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