It’s nearly a year since we reformatted this column to be streaming-led: what was once an add-on to our home entertainment coverage has grown into a world changing faster than even a dedicated weekly check-in can fully encompass. While 2018 has been a tumultuous year in streaming, 2019 looks to be a busier one still, with a number of major companies poised to crowd the party with services and innovations of their own.
For now, however, one name looms above all others in the field like an obelisk in a rock garden. If it feels like I write disproportionately about Netflix these days, that’s how comprehensively their original content has ruled the roost across the commercial spectrum – whether shaking up the staid world of film festival programming by feuding with Cannes over distribution strategy, or setting younger corners of the internet abuzz with instantly meme-ready romcoms such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
Cinema and streaming became so entwined this year that the film currently being declared the year’s best by massive critical consensus is, well, a Netflix movie. Alfonso Cuarón’s stirring, sweeping Mexican memory piece Roma won the Sight & Sound global critics’ poll, was awarded best film by both the New York and Los Angeles critics’ circles… and can be watched right now from the comfort of your living room, even as purists plead for audiences to experience its 70mm monochrome images on a big screen. If it takes the best picture Oscar – and pundits are predicting a tight race between Cuarón’s film and the more traditionally released smash A Star Is Born – Netflix’s plan to become the biggest film studio in the business will be right on track. Even if it doesn’t, all eyes will be on Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming £140m gangster saga The Irishman to take Netflix to the next level in 2019.
In a cosier way, boutique service Mubi made its own attempt to bridge the streaming/theatrical divide in 2018 by launching its Mubi Go service – providing subscribers with free cinema tickets to a selected film of the week, maintaining its curatorial spirit while encouraging film lovers to venture beyond the couch. Expect more such platform-mixing in the year to come. But there was disappointment for arthouse chain Curzon: its own Curzon Home Cinema service continues to bubble along nicely, but in the classics-oriented outlet Filmstruck, it backed both the year’s most exciting new arrival and its most loudly mourned casualty. Scrapped globally by the purse-holders at Time Warner, it was an unhappy reminder that streaming can still be a fragile medium.
However, Filmstruck’s demise, drawing protests from film-makers such as Barry Jenkins and Guillermo del Toro, gave way to one of the brightest hopes for 2019, as cinephile-beloved DVD label the Criterion Collection announced that it will be launching its own streaming service next year – first in the US, but with other regions to follow – giving an online home to an extensive library of sleekly presented classic, independent and world cinema.
The more blockbuster-inclined, meanwhile, will be anticipating the long-hyped arrival of the Disney+ platform. Exclusively incorporating a vast range of properties from the Mouse House and 20th Century Fox, it’s the future player that is giving Netflix execs the most sleepless nights; though Apple’s planned global launch of its own streaming service in 2019 ought to make things interesting, too – with new projects from Damien Chazelle, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey on its planned slate. If that all sounds a bit daunting – not least if one of your new year’s resolutions is to get out more – we’ll do our best to keep track of it all. See you next year.
New to streaming and DVD this week
They Shall Not Grow Old
(Warner Bros, 15)
A godsend for last-minute Christmas gifters: Peter Jackson’s first world war doc is an extraordinary, model-changing feat of archival reanimation that ought to dazzle all manner of amateur historians.
It’s been widely hailed as a return to premier form for Spike Lee, but this busy, brashly entertaining comedy of undercover Ku Klux Klan investigation doesn’t have the rhetorical fire or stylistic verve of his greatest, fiercest work.
Idris Elba makes a respectable directorial debut with this coolly soundtracked tale of a Jamaican expat surviving the rough streets of east London in the early 1980s – it falls into familiar guns-and-geezers territory, but its swagger just about pulls it through.