I have not been a regular movie goer since college. The occasional blockbuster will get me out to a cineplex, where I’ll typically leave feeling cheated for spending $14 on popcorn. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the explosion of incredible TV have provided plenty of substitutes to dissuade me from the incredible costs of going to see an Avenger. Although, here is still one itch that those services don’t quite scratch. An itch further irritated by COVID-19. Where do you go to see art films when the local art-house is closed? The independent and foreign films being lauded by Cannes or Sundance rarely make it onto the premiere streaming services. And while Amazon Prime has certainly added some classics to it’s catalogue, there is a serious lack of these masterpieces on Netflix or Hulu.
The competition is out there and the user experience is catching up to the big three streaming sites.
If you’re not already familiar with the Criterion Collection I’ll provide you with a quick primer; since the early ‘80s, the Criterion team has been publishing and restoring movies and films of the highest quality. Ensuring that the films remain true to the artist who created them. These are the gatekeepers, in a sense. If a film makes it into this collection you can be guaranteed of its greatness. For decades, they have provided a mail order and online shop to buy films out of print in remastered format. Now they have waded into the streaming world.
For $10.99/month or $99.99 annually, you can now have access to this service. With a fantastic website and a user-friendly app for android or apple devices, you can take Criterion’s collection anywhere. Sadly, there are some drawbacks. It seems they are still struggling to get the app to operate on smart TVs and streaming devices, which is a huge letdown and a straight dealbreaker for many people. The lack of a customizable profile and personal recommendations could be a boon to the explorer or a real drag for someone wanting a suggestion.
If you prefer a more curated experience, like that of an art-house theater, you may want to look into MUBI. Even better than your local indie theater, MUBI offers a new movie everyday. The films stream in excellent quality and offer the ability to download to watch later. You’ll never have to suffer a bad airplane movie again! The catalogue offered is an endless supply of foreign masterpieces and cinema classics. I particularly like their description of the catalogue: “Our film library is brimming with visionary films that wouldn’t fill a single cinema in Belgium for a week – not even a day.” As someone who used to live in a film desert I am drawn to the avant garde that I would have never experienced without the internet. With MUBI, I can see those films with the quality their creators intended.
MUBI was created to provide not just a streaming service, but a community. With MUBI, you gain access to their “Notebook”; a magazine/blog with regular columns, interviews, and features, to discuss MUBI and the greater cinematic world. You’ll also have the ability to rate and review films you’ve seen and comment on others. For the same price per month as Criterion (but $5 cheaper annually), you’ll get unlimited access to their library. The community is free for anyone who wishes to sign up, but I doubt anyone could stay away from the promise of a new film every day. I see it as a challenge for the most ardent movie goers. Can you keep up?
If your budget is tight and you don’t find value in a curated service or the depths of a collection that’s been growing for almost 40 years, I understand. Get to your local library and sign up for a membership. That’s all it takes to register for Kanopy. A streaming service that partners with libraries throughout the United States. It’s a phenomenal concept. During a time when libraries face a troubling future, this could be the easiest way to support one of America’s greatest institutions. Kanopy offers a collection that includes popular indie films, well known documentaries, and more classics than your grandparents can remember.
Now, some caveats and tips on using Kanopy; more than likely, you’ll have a limited number of views per month depending on your library’s membership. For college students, it can be unlimited. I currently only get 6 per month. On more than one occasion, I’ve used those up on short films in a single evening. Always do a check on your other streaming services before using those precious credits you get on Kanopy each month.
The quality of the app is good, most of the time. I’ve had my fair share of difficulty on both Roku and Amazon Fire devices. The mobile app has always worked great and with Kanopy’s new offering of “Kanopy Kids”, I expect some parents would rather those little ones watch their library’s approved children’s shows than whatever youtube has to offer. Bottom line: Kanopy is a free service with a solid catalogue of foreign, indie, and classic films that every American should take advantage of.
For folks with a DVD collection taking up too much room, and a basic knowledge of computer science, then I suggest you check out the Plex app. Rip those DVDs to your computer (or a NAS if you’re going big) and set up a Plex server to stream those movies anywhere in the world. You’ll have full control over your media library, including movies, music, tv, and photos. Build playlists and categories, set special movie posters, and share your collection with your friends. Add as many users as you want, send them the welcome email, and they will be able to interact with your library as if it were any other streaming service. Just be prepared to have it drain your computer if too many people are online at once.
Unlike the three services mentioned above, Plex does require a good bit of work before going live. Plex has the ability to turn your computer into a server that will interact with the Plex app for anyone with access. This is a well documented project, so should you get stuck, youtube and reddit will provide you with more than enough help. For your first foray into Plex, I suggest you stick with the free service. It gives you all the access you’ll need before you decide whether it’s for you. Once you’ve committed to Plex, the costs start to roll in. It becomes as much of a hobby as being a cinephile. So be prepared to buy a plex pass, buy extra storage, or even build a server on your own.