The beginning of April: the snow has melted, the sun shines strong, and the flowers begin their bloom. Life returns to the air and a spring returns to our step. But as luscious as the weather may be in the real world, a cloud hangs over the world of cinema. The awards race is long over and the summer blockbusters still remain a month away. The months of January through April are little more than a dumping ground for the studio’s most disappointing releases. But luckily, we don’t live in the Stone Age. You don’t have to go out to the theatre for a great movie experience. In fact, your chances of finding a truly quality film stand far better on the Internet than at the cinema. So why not take the $8 you were planning on throwing away to see Divergent and, instead, invest in a month’s worth of unlimited movies on Hulu Plus. And while you’re there, might as well make the most of it. Instead of re-watching old episodes of Real Housewives that you’ve already seen three times, hit the “Criterion” tab and try out some classics that you’ve never seen before.
Hulu Plus has a vast stock of films from the Criterion Collection, a home-video distribution company that specializes in important, classic, and seminal films from all time periods and corners of the globe. The size and scope of the collection is daunting, but it also provides you with a myriad of options and has something to please everyone, whether you’re normally into romantic comedies, thrillers, or character dramas. To get you started, here are my personal recommendations for anyone willing to test the waters of high-culture cinema.
If you’re looking for…
A Charming Coming-of-Age Tale:
Watch MURMUR OF THE HEART (France, Louis Malle, 1971)
Murmur of the Heart quietly follows the adolescence of Laurent in bourgeois France and his burgeoning sexual awakening at a sanatorium during his struggle with scarlet fever. Augmented by an enchanting jazz score, Malle’s masterpiece feels strangely quaint and universally personal, touching despite its controversial content. This is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the bildungsroman genre.
Also check out: My Life as a Dog, The 400 Blows, Fanny and Alexander, Ivan’s Childhood, The Children Are Watching Us, and The Spirit of the Beehive; as well as two of Malle’s other youth-centric works, Au Revoir Les Enfants and Zazie in the Metro. Yes, it appears Criterion is a big fan of the child’s perspective.
Something Ruminative and Philosophical:
Watch: PERSONA (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
Perhaps the greatest filmmaker of all time, it feels unfair to select one of Ingmar Bergman’s films to recommend over the others. Bergman’s excelled particularly with his writing; his pictures are often called “filmed plays” because of their almost exclusive focus on dialogue and actors. Persona stands out from his filmography for its untouched visual style. Kubrick, a big fan, would probably consider Persona film-student porn, and Bergman’s writing is just the icing on the cake. This minimalist story of a nurse and an actress on an island together losing sight of the differences between reality and fiction, life and art, love and guilt, and of course identity and persona, will surely bend your mind.
Also check out: The rest of Bergman’s extensive selection available, including The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, Wild Strawberries, and Scenes from a Marriage, all masterpieces.
A Gripping Character Study:
Watch: A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (USA, John Cassavetes, 1974)
It’s an absolute shame that Gena Rowlands does not have the status of her contemporaries like Meryl Streep or Faye Dunaway, as she certainly has earned it. A Woman Under the Influence is her magnum opus, as it is of her husband, director-writer and overall independent cinema icon, John Cassavetes. Rowlands plays a mother and housewife, Mabel, crumbling through a mental breakdown that only worsens when her family tries to intervene. Rowlands absolutely loses herself in the character, as does the rest of the cast in their supporting turns, and you’ll quickly find yourself lost in her world. The masterful way this was written, shot, and performed could not be a better representation of realism.
Also check out: Opening Night, My Night at Maud’s, The Fire Within, Les Enfants Terribles, My Dinner with Andre
Something Surrealist and Inexplicable:
Watch: THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Spain, Luis Bunuel, 1962)
Bunuel is the king of surrealism; his films are the closest we have to a tangible representation of the world of dreams. They live in reality, or a version of it, but everything seems curiously off by just a bit, yet the plots always remain engrossing and themes relatable despite the seeming absurdity. The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel’s classic about the classy dinner party at which the guests find themselves inexplicably trapped in the dining room with no way to exit even though nothing is stopping them, is a great place to dip your toes into the surrealist genre.
Also check out: David Lynch’s short films, Eraserhead; and Bunuel’s Viridana, That Obscure Object of Desire, Simon of the Desert, Belle De Jour, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Something Quirky and Romantic:
Watch: JULES AND JIM (France, Francois Truffaut, 1962)
The French New Wave: It may have happened over fifty years ago but it still couldn’t be more hip, and its most iconic image might be the stunning face of Jeanne Moreau. Here, Moreau plays Catherine, the layered love interest of both the eponymous friends amidst the epic backdrop of World War I across Europe. Catherine’s the quintessential girl you know you should hate but can’t stop yourself from falling in love with. She did Zooey Deschanel before Zooey was born. Here’s a story that is sure to entertain even the most easily bored, and the love triangle will engross even the hardest of souls.
Also check out: Breathless, The Lovers, Elevator to the Gallows, Shoot the Piano Player
A Thrilling Crime Noir:
Watch: M (Germany, Fritz Lang, 1941)
M can get so taut that it’s inconceivable to think it was made so early in film history; it almost feels like a thriller out of the 90s. There’s no denying the influence Fritz Lang had on world cinema, particularly on Hollywood. Lang’s first sound film follows the effect of a child killer, played eerily and with uncomfortable sympathy by the great Peter Lorre, on Berlin’s community members, playing up fears and paranoia, and following the chaos of the police’s manhunt to identify and catch him. After seeing M, you’ll never hear a simple whistling tune quite the same again.
Also check out: Europa, Knife in the Water, Diaboliques, Eyes without a Face
Something Heartwarming and Emotional:
Watch: WINGS OF DESIRE (Germany, Wim Wenders, 1987)
Sometimes it feels like all the great movies have to be heartless, cynical, and bleak, but that isn’t always the case. Wings of Desire begins about as sad as can get, but gradually shows you not the meaning of life, but something more important: its value. It’s almost Berlin’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life, but with a more poignant twist: instead of a man valuing life after seeing the divine, it’s about an angel valuing life when he gets to experience it no longer as the divine, but rather as an ordinary man.
Also check out: La Strada, The Great Dictator, Hoop Dreams, Umberto D.
A Contemporary Classic:
Watch: THE GREAT BEAUTY (Italy, Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
Watching the best films of past times is culturally enriching from a historical perspective, but that doesn’t make modern films, which capture the environment in which we live at this very moment, any less important, especially when the modern film is as well-made as the classics. Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty presents the crisis of Jep Gambardella, an aging writer who still relies on the success of his youth to maintain his affluent lifestyle. His parties may be popping and his conversations brimming with philosophical knowledge, but he still feels an emptiness in him. This subdued examination of art, love, and joy in life was the last film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and now even Criterion has recognized its quality.
Hope these suggestions can help you find a new favorite! What do you recommend from Hulu’s Criterion Collection?
Article by Matthew D’Innocen