What to Watch Between FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel

FilmStruck is dead. It’s replacement, The Criterion Channel, won’t go online until spring. And when you consider the problems of developing a complex website, that may mean October.

So how will you stream classic films in the coming months?

Here are some alternatives to keep you going until The Criterion Channel goes live. All of them work with Chromecast and Roku (and probably Amazon and Apple), so you can stream the movies from the Internet to your television.

Fandor

Before FilmStruck, this was the best streaming service for cinephiles. Providing a large selection of recent independent and foreign films, with a less impressive collection of classics, it goes more for the unusual than the respected masterpieces.

When I checked it recently, I found nothing by Akira Kurosawa nor Charlie Chaplin, and only two by Lubitsch, both of them little-known silents. On the other hand, Fandor has 15 films by Agnès Varda.

Their website has the best genre browser I’ve seen. By clicking the All Genres & Sub-Genres option, you can drill down into subgenres. You can also select for Popular or Top Movie Reviews.

You can also select by Film Festivals. Click on the San Francisco International Film Festival, and you can find 16 films that played at our local event, including Stop Making Sense, Marwencol (the documentary that inspired the upcoming narrative), and The Seduction of Mimi.

Other films worth considering include Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Saangre, Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen two-film saga, and The Mill and the Cross (read my review).

Fandor costs only $6 a month or $50 a year. Better yet, FilmStruck members get a discount: only $25 for the first year.

Kanopy

For the time being, this is your best bet for a Criterion fix. It has a huge selection of classics, including something close to Criterion’s complete library.

Better yet, it’s free. All you need is a library card…assuming that your local library supports Kanopy. Mine doesn’t, so I wasn’t able to try this seemingly wonderful service.

Note: Since I posted this article, I’ve discovered that I can get a library card from another California city (thanks Brian and Vicky). I now have a Berkeley card, and can use Kanopy. I will write about it at a later date.

Note 2: You can now read my Kanopy article.

Mubi

Most of these services force you to pick between hundreds or even thousands of titles. Mubi narrows the options to 30.

A curated service, Mubi adds one movie to its library and removes another each day. As I write this, the films in that constantly-changing library include Wim Wenders’ Pina, Joseph Losey’s King & Country, Steve McQueen’s Hunger, and The Lion in Winter. By early January, none of those will be available.

At $9 a month, it’s a bit steep, but that may the cost of the continuous curating.

Sundance Now

You can find a lot of very good movies on this service, but few recognized classics and nothing really all that old. Even the Classics page has only a smattering of films from before 1980. The one respected classic I could find on the list was Tax Driver (my Blu-ray review).

But while they may not have classics, the site has quite a few very good films worth seeing or seeing again, including Whale Rider, The Woodsman, Chasing Amy, and Heathers.

The service costs only $5 a month.

Netflix

I know, Netflix isn’t where you turn for classic cinema. But you probably already have a subscription, and it does have some classics.

As I write this, Netflix’s Classic Movies page has 53 movies. The oldest of these are films are World War II documentaries made during the war, many by top Hollywood filmmakers, and a collection of works by Pioneers of African-American Cinema. Other films include The Godfather
(and Part II), Schindler’s List, The Crying Game, and The Third Man.

But the collection is very heavily weighted towards recent decades. The page has only three narrative features made after 1970.

Getting out of the stream

Streaming isn’t the only way to watch movies. Netflix still has their DVD/Blu-ray rental service. You probably don’t have a local video store anymore, but your library likely has a selection of DVDs and Blu-rays.

And, of course, the best way to see a movie is always in a theater. Check my weekly newsletter for Bay Area recommendations.

With all these, I think we can get by until the Criterion Channel opens.

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