What is Mubi? A Streaming Alternative to Netflix, Hulu and More.


Once upon a time, we were promised a movie lover’s utopia: a streaming universe where any movie you could want would be available at the click of a button. But with each passing year, that promise feels more like a pipe dream. The high-profile subscription streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Max, Hulu and others) have slowly decreased the volume of their cinematic catalogs to spend more heavily on original films. (They’ve now taken to deleting those originals, or not streaming them at all, for tax benefits.)

So what’s the serious cinephile to do? Those who are looking for more than shrinking libraries and perpetually shuffling titles are increasingly casting their eyes — and subscription dollars — toward the specialty services that offer more offbeat and niche movies. Each month, we’ll spotlight these services: what makes them unique, what kind of bang you’ll get for your buck and what some of their best titles are.

We begin with Mubi, which is one of the older streaming services, beginning in 2007 as the Auteurs and partnering with the Criterion Collection the next year as a video-on-demand platform. Now a subscription streamer, Mubi sells itself with one simple promise: “We show the best of international cinema.” But in this instance — as opposed to, say, the year-end awards race — “international cinema” is an all-inclusive label. The service showcases a robust variety of films, from America and abroad, mainstream and independent, award-winners and exploitation flicks, classics and new releases.

The only real qualification is quality; Mubi is wide-ranging, but it’s also well curated. For several years, the service was on a ticking clock programming plan, adding one new movie every day, streaming it for 30 days and then removing it. It kept its library vibrant, but caused anxiety for some viewers (and critics) who didn’t want to miss films before they were removed; it has since become a less time-sensitive format, with titles spending much longer in its regular collection, though films are still rotated in and out frequently. Regardless of the turnaround, the selection is wide — a Mubi representative pegged its current library at more than 750 titles. That’s less than Netflix or Prime, yes. But, key difference, they’re all worth watching.

Among the more permanent selections are Mubi’s own releases. In recent years, the company began acquiring well-received films on the festival circuit, for both theatrical distribution and streaming, including Park Chan-wook’s riveting “Decision to Leave,” Ira Sachs’s sensuous “Passages” and Aki Kaurismaki’s “Fallen Leaves,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

The service’s $14.99 price point is frankly a steal; it’s less per month than Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Max and Hulu’s ad-free tiers, but with a stronger library overall. Subscribers in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle can pony up an additional five bucks for the Mubi Go tier, which gives the subscriber a ticket for one theatrical title, selected by the service, each week. Aside from its own releases, Mubi’s recent picks have included “May December,” “The Boy and the Heron,” “The Taste of Things” and “How to Have Sex.”

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few recommendations:

Certain Women: Among Mubi’s regular features is Festival Focus, spotlighting movies that made their big splashes at film festivals. In conjunction with last month’s Sundance Film Festival, the collection includes this modest masterpiece from the class of 2016, directed by the great Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow”). Initially noted for the star turns of Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams — all of whom present lived-in portraits of women under emotional duress — it’s best known now as the public-at-large’s introduction to the “Killers of the Flower Moon” star and Oscar front-runner Lily Gladstone, who gives an achingly melancholy performance as a ranch hand thunderstruck with love.

Terminal Island: “Certain Women” is also part of the “Reframing: Women Directors” spotlight, along with everything from the broad comedy of Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader” to this delightfully disreputable 1973 actioner from Stephanie Rothman. Rothman is a fascinating figure, a rare female director of exploitation movies who slyly smuggled unapologetic feminist subtexts into such grind-house standbys as sex comedies, horror movies and women-in-prison flicks. This one is a blast, featuring muscular action, pointed social commentary and an early performance by (a mustache-less!) Tom Selleck.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin: “Terminal Island” is, in turn, cross-posted in the “Embracing Infamy: Cult Films” section, which boasts several offbeat gems, including this seminal 1978 Hong Kong martial arts epic from the director Lau Kar-leung. Gordon Liu — who Quentin Tarantino would introduce to a new generation of action fans via his reverential roles in the “Kill Bill” films — stars as a young student whose quest for vengeance leads him to the Shaolin temple to learn the art of kung fu. There, he is trained in the arts of sword-fighting, hand-to-hand combat and teaching the body to take a beating. The dialogue is tough yet witty, and the fights are fast and furious, breathlessly choreographed and gracefully executed.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty: The delightfully eclectic Black History Month collection “Cut to Black: Celebrating Black Cinema” mostly eschews recognizable choices for deep-cut treasures like this 2013 debut film from Terence Nance, who writes, directs and stars. Inventively intermingling animation, documentary, confession and music, it’s the kind of sui generis effort that’s all too rare even in the indie film scene.

Los Angeles Plays Itself: Unsurprisingly, Mubi offers up a wide array of excellent documentaries, and one of the best is this delicious 2003 essay film from the director Thom Andersen. Running nearly three hours and using more than 200 clips, “Plays Itself” explores how filmmakers throughout the history of cinema have used and presented the industry’s hometown onscreen. The result is one of the great films about film, and an appropriate selection for this essential movie-nerd platform.



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