Summer is upon us. When I say “us,” I mean most of the colleges in Indiana. If there is anything that properly reflects college life, it is getting the most out of cheap or free sources. Just because you’re on a fixed income doesn’t mean you stop liking movies. It only means you are less likely to see “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” in theaters, and that’s not a bad thing. This is the beginning of a new series showing where you can find great free movies legally. First up is looking at Hulu.com.
Hulu is a website that was one of the first ones to specialize in legally streaming TV shows. It’s still my go-to guide for catching up on NBC and FOX shows if I miss them when they air. Slowly, Hulu is trying to get more into movies — especially with the introduction of Hulu Plus, which has let them build a better library; Hulu just made a major deal with the Criterion Collection to host their entire library.
Hulu Plus is a paid service, but the site is currently offering one-week free trials and if you have a .edu email address, you can try it for free for a month.
Here are a bunch of recommendations of films that are now available.
“Bob Le Flambeur”
Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the greatest directors of all time. His films “Le Samourai” and “Army of Shadows” often pop up as some of the best French films ever, but I’ve always taken a liking to this one about a gambling addict named Bob. His is a classier form of gambling, where the stakes are really high. The film never seems to move in the direction you would expect and what results is a very enjoyable film.
I love this movie way more than I should. I’m a big Dave Barry fan, and this is an adaptation of his first novel. Much like the novels of Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey, “Trouble” is about a lot of random people in Florida who get into a ridiculous farce. It fell off the radar because it was supposed to come out in late 2001, and one of the major plot points is about putting a bomb on an airplane. It’s not offensive; just wonderfully silly. Features Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Johnny Knoxville, Patrick Warburton, Ben Foster, Jason Lee and Zooey Deschanel.
Greg Mottola (“Superbad,”“Adventureland,”“Paul”) got his start with this 1996 independent film. Inspired by a number of French New Wave films, “The Daytrippers” is about a wife and her family who decide to travel into the city to see if her husband is cheating on her. It’s full of actors who are great in films like this, including Hope Davis, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber and Campbell Scott. It’s clever and always engaging.
Just a further reminder that Michael Keaton still needs to be in more films. It’s an interesting film from a handful of years ago. Keaton is a playwright who should be focusing on opening night of his new show, but instead decides to watch game six of the 1986 World Series. Robert Downey Jr. plays a very strange theater critic that doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the movie, but thanks to strong writing, there are more strengths than misses.
I was surprised how much I liked this film. This is Doug Liman before “The Bourne Identity.” It’s about a set of stories all happening at once. After a spontaneous drug deal, the lives of a lot of people are dramatically altered. Very good performances by Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, William Fichtner and even Jay Mohr. It has a fast energy to it and is a lot of fun.
“Husbands and Wives”
This is one of the better Woody Allen films that people don’t talk about enough. It’s brilliantly acted by the leads (Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) and captures true relationships in the way his earlier films did. One marriage is ending, which causes the others to look at their relationship in a true light. The writing is very strong, and it is the late Pollack’s best performance in my mind.
“The Living Wake”
This is one of my favorite films from last year. Oddly, there were two films last year about attending your own funeral while you are alive. This was way better than “Get Low.” This was a very odd but likable comedy with a new comedic voice. K. Roth Binew is certain that he will die at the end of the night. So he walks around his timeless town inviting everyone to his wake with the help of his loyal biographer, played by Jesse Eisenberg. Hilarious, charming and surprisingly insightful. Please check it out.
Why do people adore Richard Linklater so much? It’s because he was one of the leading filmmakers in the ’90s independent movement. His film “Slacker” was electrifying. It takes place during one day in Austin, Texas, while the camera jumps around to various people in the city. The conversations range from comedic to dramatic. Bizarre to mundane. No one is a professional actor, but every moment is fascinating and inspiring. Everyone needs to see this.
“Super High Me”
This is such a flawed documentary, but it’s very watchable. Doug Benson is one of the more entertaining comedians working today. (If you aren’t listening to his hilarious podcast “Doug Loves Movies,” you’re missing out.) A spoof on Morgan Spurlock’s “Super-Size Me,” Benson decides to test the effects of marijuana by not using it for 30 days and then using it all day for 30 days. The best content is when the camera is just following Benson; too often, the film brings up issues it can’t really follow through on.
I love this film! David Wain from “The State,” “Stella,” “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models” directed this hilarious anthology film about each of the 10 commandments. Paul Rudd plays the emcee to the stories, which include great bits like Winona Ryder falling in love with a ventriloquist dummy and Liev Schreiber becoming obsessed about buying MRI machines. One of the most underrated films of the past decade.
Hulu Plus (Available for a one-week free trial; one month if you’re in college)
“The Browning Version”
This is one of the greatest stories about a teacher because it’s about a teacher who isn’t the best one at the school. It’s about a teacher who’s grown tired and grumpy with age. On the last day of the job, he has a short connection to a student that has him re-examine a few aspects. There is time for a speech at the end, but the film never resorts to clichés. Great story.
“Burden of Dreams”
It’s the documentary covering Werner Herzog and his famed difficulties of making “Fitzcarraldo,” the movie where he took a ship over a mountain. Fans of Herzog have to check this out.
There are a lot of Charlie Chaplin classics on Hulu Plus. My favorite is still “City Lights.” It has some of the funniest running bits like the man who only remembers The Tramp while he’s drunk. What it’s best known for is the romantic connection between The Tramp and a blind woman. The ending is still pitch perfect.
“The 400 Blows”
Perhaps the greatest first film ever made (and yes, I do know about that Welles fella). Francois Truffaut tells the semi-autobiographical story about a child who has difficulty growing up. His parents or his school does not understand him, so he causes mischief around the city. Sweet and realistic in a way that is almost impossible to capture. One of the easiest films to rewatch.
Before David Gordon Green was the guy associated with “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness,” he was a critically beloved independent filmmakers. This was his first film, which shows the tragic story about a group of children who have to cope after a death in their group. The best filmmakers can capture the truth from non-actors, and Green was one of the best.
Remember when I talked about Jean-Pierre Melville? Put Robert Bresson high up on that list as well. I don’t know why these two aren’t talked about as much in this country, but they are both very slick and very cool filmmakers. His most accessible film is this one, which is about the romantic life of a pickpocket.
I feel I keep talking in hyperbole, but The Criterion Collection really does have a great set of films. This is one of my favorite documentaries. It doesn’t have a narrator or editing to sway any point of view. It just shows the lives of door-to-door salesman and the sad lives they lead. It was always fascinating and it has a lot to talk about afterwards.
“The Seventh Seal”
One of my all time favorite films. It’s the best way to break into Ingmar Bergman’s filmography. It’s about a knight who returns home from the Crusades to find Death waiting for him on the beach. He delays his fate by challenging Death to a game of chess. While they take turns playing, the knight travels around the town seeing how the world is. It’s very emotional while also having time to be touchingly funny. Just a beautiful film.
“The Thief of Bagdad”
One of the earlier ventures by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s so entertaining. It’s incorporating some of the elements from “Arabian Nights” to tell the famed story of the Thief of Bagdad. The special effects are still jaw-dropping because of the magnificent color and scale. Much like “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” this is a film that is a ton of fun for the entire family to watch.
“Wings of Desire”
Sometimes, films are just beautiful from frame to frame. Wim Wenders created a wonderful tale about an angel that falls in love with a human woman. Yes, it was poorly remade with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, but this is the one worth seeing. It’s a dream like movie that is just wonderful. Also, Peter Falk is in it!