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Movies

Tired of the mainstream? An alternative guide to watching movies at home

Family watching TV
If the COVID-19 quarantine has you tired of your usual cinematic menu, here’s our guide to watching more adventurous films at home.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

In an earlier article, we offered an intro to the video-on-demand marketplace for novices, who might be confused about how to buy or rent recent theatrical releases like “Emma,” “Birds of Prey” or “The Invisible Man.” In that article, we pointed readers to the major digital retailers: Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube and Apple’s iTunes (or Apple TV).

But these aren’t the only options for consumers who want to buy or rent much-buzzed-about recent movies. And buying or renting aren’t your only options. Here’s a little more about the world of watching movies at home, including some boutique retailers — and subscription streamers — you may want to explore.

 “Sorry We Missed You”
Kris Hitchen and Katie Proctor in “Sorry We Missed You.”
(Zeitgeist / Kino Lorber)

I prefer art films. Where can I find them?
Generally speaking, once a movie is made available digitally, it’s available widely. For example, if you want to rent or buy the Oscar-winning “Parasite” — which hit home video in January — you can find it at whatever your favorite major digital retailer may be. (It will be on Hulu beginning Wednesday.)

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But if you’re interested in foreign and art-house cinema, you may have heard that some of the acclaimed movies that were playing before the COVID-19 crisis hit — like the stylish and strange Brazilian genre film “Bacurau,” or Ken Loach’s urgent U.K. working class drama “Sorry We Missed You” — are being made available online earlier than planned. And for now, those titles aren’t on the likes of iTunes.

Thanks to a program called “Kino Marquee” that shares revenue with independent cinemas, both “Bacurau” (Laemmle Theaters) and “Sorry We Missed You” (Film Forum) are streaming. Powered by venerable art-house distributor and home video company Kino Lorber’s digital retailing arm, Kino Now, Marquee charges consumers $12 for a five-day rental. Viewers pick the movie and their favorite theater — which will then receive some of the rental fee.

Grasshopper Film has a similar program in place for Pedro Costa’s new film “Vitalina Varela.” Grasshopper distributes some of the most adventurous feature films and documentaries from around the world and is a good gateway to some superb cinema.

Vitalina Varela in the movie ‘Vitalina Varela’
Vitalina Varela in the movie “Vitalina Varela.”
(Grasshopper Film)
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What if I want to watch a bunch of arty movies for one set price?
You mean like a subscription? No problem. If you’re not looking for any particular film — and if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee for a curated selection of some of the best movies past and present — you have multiple options.

The most obvious place to start is the Criterion Channel, which offers a robust cinema education in a single streaming service. Classic films, foreign films, contemporary classics, experimental shorts, special interviews, video essays …. Criterion is a gift that keeps on giving.

But it’s not the only choice. IFC Films, Fandor, Mubi, Magnolia Selects, Shudder, Cohen, Indiepix, Strand, Docurama, Shout! Factory …. There are almost too many superb boutique subscription services to list them all. If you’re an Amazon Prime Video subscriber, go to the Channels page and poke around some of these services to see what they have. You can easily add a subscription via Amazon Prime, and some of the best services are also available as add-ons to Apple TV — including the highly recommended art-film streamer the Arrow Video Channel.

And don’t neglect Kanopy, a service that partners with local libraries and universities to offer new and classic movies and TV series to stream — for free — via an app that works with set-top boxes and mobile devices, just like any other subscription streamer. If you have a library card or a student ID, you may already have access to Kanopy and not realize it. It costs nothing to give it a try.

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Jimmie Fails in the movie “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Jimmie Fails in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
(Peter Prato / A24)

Can’t I just wait until the movie I want to see is on Netflix?
This depends on the movie. Some studios and distributors have preexisting relationships with certain subscription streaming services; and some cut short-term deals for certain films. Some movies — most movies, really — will never be on Netflix. Even the films that do make it to Netflix don’t necessarily stay there forever.

That said, Netflix doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves for buying and distributing excellent foreign and independent films and documentaries, many of which premiered at the top international film festivals. Netflix original movies like “The Irishman,” “Roma” or “Dolemite Is My Name” rightly get a lot of attention; but if you’re a subscriber, do dig deeper for movies such as “Atlantics,” “My Happy Family,” “The Edge of Democracy” and others.

The same could be said of Hulu, which is currently streaming last year’s beloved film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” or Amazon Prime, which has critics’ faves like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “The Report.” Even the relative newcomer Disney+ has been aggressive in the early going about making available its parent company’s recent theatrical releases such as “Onward” and “Frozen 2.”

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Times’ critics Justin Chang and Kenneth Turan recommend “Parasite,” “Knives Out,” “Les Misérables” and more as the best new releases to watch at home.

Granted, subscriptions require commitment and a bit of faith they’ll be worth your money in the months ahead. But as the multiplexes remain closed, you should stream however you choose, provided you can afford it. That’s one of the best ways to ensure the kind of films you like will still be an option once the cinemas reopen.


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