Film and Television Features

Hulu Plus gets Criterion!

Maybe you haven’t heard the news, it almost slipped by me, but The Criterion Collection has made their entire library of classic films available through Hulu Plus, a streaming video service similar to Netflix.  Hulu advertised this bonanza with a free weekend in February where you could geek out completely for nothing if you had that kind of time.  I was only able to squeeze in long stretches of Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.  But when I found out that this treasure trove would be available even after the weekend ended, and for a meager $7.99 a month, I was induced to sign up for the service as every film buff should for the mere price of, say, three cups of ridiculously expensive coffee.  Up to this point, Hulu’s primary selling point has been streaming TV series, allowing you to watch your favorite shows on your own schedule.  I like the option of catching Saturday Night Live at my convenience if I’m hitting the clubs hard that night (rarely) or if I fall asleep drooling on the couch midway through the opening monologue (typically).  But now they are taking a serious plunge into the movie streaming world, going head to head with Netflix.  I’m not sure how this will turn out as a business decision but as an aesthetic one it is a masterstroke.

If you’re not familiar with Criterion, let me clarify exactly what has just been placed at your fingertips for the price of two lattes.  Now you have instant access to almost every major film by directors such as Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Truffaut, Varda, Fellini, Rohmer, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Antonioni, Cocteau, stop me before I lose control.  It just keeps going and going.  I think as a collection of films under one banner it is nonpareil, and if you care about movies at all you’ve probably stopped reading and are signing up right now.  Here, I’ll give you a link to make it easier.  I hate to make this into some kind of commercial since I’m not getting paid, but really this kind of endorsement is a no-brainer for the price.  I’ll even make a few recommendations to get you started (the New Yorker did this already but a few more options can’t hurt)

Beauty and the Beast – Jean Cocteau

Movies don’t get more enchanting than this.  Cocteau was a film magician before George Lucas was born, starting with Le Sange d’un Poete (The Blood of a Poet).  Here he takes on the classic fairy tale and makes it into a film experience unlike any other.

Au Hasard Balthazar – Robert Bresson

What?  You’re going to make me watch a movie about a donkey?  Yes, I’m going to make you watch a movie about a donkey.  The French can make great art from the simplest of ingredients (see The Red Balloon), and here is a perfect example.  If it’s not getting dusty in your living room by the time this movie ends, please have your heart checked out.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp – Powell and Pressburger

If I neglected to mention perhaps the greatest British filmmakers above I’m making up for it here by recommending this delightful movie, which Criterion rightly calls “moving and slyly satirical”.  It’s a powerful combination.

The Passion of Joan of Arc – Carl Theodor Dreyer

Need a film from the silent era on here so I go with this one.  Everything you might have heard about Renee Falconetti’s performance is true.  After five minutes you will never forget her face.

Love in the Afternoon – Eric Rohmer

I don’t know if I can put my finger on what makes Rohmer’s films so satisfying, but if you threw a dart at a board with his filmography on it, you’d have a good chance of walking away a winner.  This is the last of his Six Moral Tales and while you may want to veg out to the Avengers, it’s good to feel like an adult once in a while with a movie like this.

F for Fake – Orson Welles

This pseudo-documentary, with a mischievous “performance” by the man himself, is the one great Welles movie many of his admirers haven’t seen.  It really defies all description and it moves so fast and furiously you may have to watch it again to get everything he throws at you.  The Artist on the great mystery of art.

Scenes from a Marriage – Ingmar Bergman

You’re not getting out of here without a Bergman recommendation and there’s so much to choose from, but I’ll go with this “made for TV” movie (yes, you heard that right), that packs such a wallop over its six parts that you’ll realize what great TV was made long before Mad Men.  Again, only grown ups need apply.

High and Low – Akira Kurosawa

Nearly every Kurosawa film is at your disposal, and I can vouch for at least twelve of them being near great to spectacular.  If you think all his films are about samurais you need to see this one, which presents us with a classic moral dilemma and forces us to ponder how we would react.  And then throws in wonderful acting and riveting suspense to boot.

Stolen Kisses – Francois Truffaut

400 Blows is clearly the essential choice but this sequel of sorts follows our hero Antoine Doinel as a young man, searching for love and a calling.  At any age, Jean-Pierre Leaud is a delight to watch.

Homocide – David Mamet

Sure, the whole Jewish identity crisis at the center of this film appeals to me personally, but I really think this criminally overlooked Mamet gem is one of his best.  Mantegna and Macy are great together in this unconventional take on the cop-buddy movie that really is a thoughtful exploration of religion and manhood – with guns.


I literally could do this all day but I’ve got shit to do so I’ll leave it at that.  Looking forward, I need to round out my viewing of some directors I’ve only heard about but have never seen, like Varda and Mizoguchi.  I’m not sure where all this streaming stuff is going and what’s the next wave, but I know that what Hulu has just scored can keep a committed movie fan busy and satisfied for years to come.  And all for the price of a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at Ray’s Café in Philly.