Lost in the Movies: Recommended Cinema: Hulu, Criterion & Beyond

Recommended Cinema: Hulu, Criterion & Beyond

Many of you know (and the rest of you should know) that The Criterion Collection has offered all of its content for free on HuluPlus between Valentine's and President's Day. This treasure trove of films includes many not available in their DVD catalog. With only two days left, choices must be made.

I add my voice to the cacophony of recommendations, with the proviso that I've chosen films a tad more overlooked than, say, Breathless, Modern Times, or Seventh Seal (that said, some of my picks are hardly obscure). Needless to say, I hope this guide remains useful long after the Hulu promotion has ended.

As for myself, I've flirted with the notion of a 12-hour marathon on Monday (I don't work until evening, my sad equivalent to a day off), exploring films that I haven't seen yet and live-tweeting screen-caps from each movie I view, perhaps with brief comments. Would anyone be interested in following this exercise? I have other tasks I should prioritize, but I hope you'll encourage me to be irresponsible. ;)

Anyway, on with my dozen recommendations for Hulu/Criterion bliss. I've included excerpts from previous reviews or fresh thoughts on films I haven't discussed before. It's up to you, of course, which ones you want to watch.

Except for Paris Belongs to Us.

That one's mandatory.

Evocatively capturing the moment when innocence dies, Pialat's film sets itself up as a sexual memoir, an adolescent coming-of-age, but slyly subverts this motif by showing only the foreplay and aftermath of each encounter. As the story progresses, the happy young teenager who opens the film slowly transforms into a wise and frustrated young adult, grown up less through her amorous adventures than the collapse of her family which surrounds these desperate attempts at intimacy and escape. The director doubles as her father onscreen and barges into the dining room during one startling sequence that was improvised on the spot. Pialat had told the cast that his character was dead, only to interrupt their meal in mid-shot; their astonished reactions are less acting than reacting. The movie is full of such moments, rich with invention and poignant emotion; A Nos Amours is one of cinema's saddest, truest portraits of tumultuous youth. In its jagged scenes, we catch glimpses of reality like light caught in the fragments of a broken mirror.

The film is featured as a video clip in Searching for Answers

"This is a film to be experienced more than 'understood' - a wild ride through colors, cuts, iconic images, jagged suggestions, lavish set pieces, roundabout dialogue, and alarmingly incessant and aggressive noises ... Daisies is one of the true gems of the decade, an aesthetically radical film that sums up the era both stylistically and thematically. Chytilova employs an intensely irrational, non-narrative approach to her screenplay - these 'characters' do not exist in a world of plot, motivation, or development, but rather in a series of gestures, expressions, and impulses. The unfolding of sequences is dictated by a pictorial/kinesthetic sense of the flow of images, with the tempo set by a musical spirit rather than a dramaturgical mind."

Entries on this, the second-most featured film on this blog: A dirty dozen (imaginary double feature with Pandora's Box), No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (visual tribute), The Sunday Matinee - Daisies (full review of the film), There's Something Happening Here (video clip), 100 of My Favorite Films (brief capsule at #40), Island of Lost Pictures (bonus screen-caps left off visual tribute)

"From its earliest scenes, there's an uneasiness to the restless, impatient energy onscreen, manifested both in the lurching performance of Castel and the film's own aesthetic, filled with rumbling handheld shots, fluid but pushy camera movements, and cuts loaded with spatial and temporal ambiguity. We aren't sure if we're watching a tragedy or a black comedy, because what we see is often very funny. You are never quite certain where the film will go next - and this uncertainty puts you on the edge of your seat, allowing you to laugh, but simultaneously filling you with anxiety."

Entries on this, the most featured film on this blog: Shaking the Foundations (visual tribute), The Sunday Matinee - Fists in the Pocket (full review of the film), That Total Film (video clip), 100 of My Favorite Films (brief capsule at #28), Lovely Paola (visual tribute to star Paola Pitagora), I am My Brother's Reaper (my first video essay)

I found this tale of British boot shops and booze hounds on television, while visiting my grandmother in Florida. We were both thoroughly entertained. David Lean is a filmmaker of more diverse talents than is usually credited, and  his greatest work - from the epic and exotic Lawrence of Arabia to the slice-of-life Hobson's Choice - exhibits both a romantic engagement with life (conveyed wonderfully in the sequence when Laughton drunkenly pursues the moon in a midnight puddle) and a keen interest in sharp personalities and psychological forces. Laughton's great but the top performer here may be Brenda de Banzie as his shrewd daughter. Her seduction - if it can be called that - of John Mills is at once hilarious and poignant. The film even contains touches of Powell & Pressburgeresque surrealism (the giant white rat sees, matches, and tops the towering bottles in Small Back Room) alongside Lean's ever-present fascination with dreamers and romantics, however hardnosed and workaday.

The film is featured as a video clip in The Restless Fifties

"Il Posto is a film of youth; not a film of restless, ruthless rebellion nor exuberant romanticism (Fists in the Pocket and Before the Revolution would arrive on the scene soon enough) but a film of youth nonetheless. It belongs to the Italy of the early 60s rather than the mid 60s, when the tendrils of neorealism still clung to the visions of Fellini and Antonioni, when postwar Italy was still warming to the fact of its economic recovery and development, when filmmakers were moving past the portraits of desperation and a yearning for security, into the realm of dissatisfaction and alienation - indeed, Il Posto hovers uneasily between those two sensibilities, mostly conversant with the first but hinting at the approach of the second. It is a film of youth not just because Domenico Cantoni (played with a wonderful wide-eyed, unpresuming soulfulness by Sandro Panseri) is young, but because he embodies youth."

-from my review of Il Posto

The film is also featured as a video clip in Sixties Rising

Way underrated, this is a raw, nervy, thrilling, operatic, and nakedly emotional work by Pasolini. The ending remains, to me, one of the most powerful in all of cinema, featuring a devastating cut from Magnani's frenetic energy to the immobile, imposing cityscape out the window, but I won't spoil the context here. Another scene that lingers in memory arrives much earlier in the film, as the title character's (a retired middle-aged prostitute's) son wanders amidst rock formations on the outskirts of Rome. The aching strings on the soundtrack seem at once to evoke a substream of myth and history, capture the effervescent engagement of the present moment (a moment that perhaps teenagers know how to live in better than anyone), and a feeling of impending tragedy as if the future is already foretold. That's the magic of filmmaking in a nutshell: fusing past, present, and future into the magical moment onscreen, pregnant with possibility, resonant with meaning, and as heartbreaking as it is beautiful.

The film is featured in a brief capsule at #25 on 100 of My Favorite Films, and as a video clip in Runaway Cinema.

"Notably, he does not place their resistance in the context of what they are resisting... (Not for nothing does he screen the 'Babel' sequence from Metropolis near the end of the movie; even if the world seemed to make sense twenty years ago, Rivette seems to be saying, it has disintegrated into an impenetrable web of cross-talk and cross-purposes.) In Rivette's universe, political commitment becomes a matter of existentialism rather than pragmatism. These revolutionaries are not fighting for the proletariat, but for themselves. This is perhaps the strongest way in which Paris Belongs to Us foreshadows the sixties. If the narrowness of the film's focus makes an odd fit with the breadth of its concern, this combination nonetheless remains compelling, exciting, and intriguing. The film's ethos is summed up by the opening Peguy quotation: 'Paris belongs to no one' - and yet through the adventurism of its style and the ambition of its vision, Paris Belongs to Us earns the ironic affirmation of its title."

-from my review of Paris Belongs to Us

Like Mamma Roma, the moment in The River I remember best is a transition, in this case a dissolve rather than a straight cut. It also revolves around a character's sorrow, contrasting it with a worldly coldness. The dissolve demonstrates both Renoir's humanism - a sophisticated spiritual explanation of death's value makes way for a simpler, purer expression of grief - but also his ambiguity: while I interpret this moment one way, it's by no means clear that Renoir himself shares my opinion. Even beyond its colorful surface (this is the director's first film in color, and hence the one in which he gets to fully claim his father's visual legacy) and fascinating information (an outsider's view of India in all its exoticism and excitement), the film is rich in character and story. In its own way as revealing as Rules of the Game, it is to me a much warmer experience. The acting's a bit ropey at times, but somehow that's part of the charm, and the film's sincerity is very winsome.

The film is featured in a brief capsule at #77 on 100 of My Favorite Films, a comment in Fragments of Cinephilia, and as a video clip in A Violent Release

The Maysles' view of their salesmen subjects, a Boston bestiary - a Badger, a Bull, a Rabbit, and, um, a Gipper ("one of these things is not like the others...") - is at once admiring and alarmed. Or maybe that's our view since, as always, these most talented documentarians step back and let their subjects talk and act, choosing - along with equally talented editor/collaborator Charlotte Zwerin - what we will see and hear, but with a subtle pattern and structure which builds ambiguity rather than resolution. The excitement of selling is here along with the misery, the way the world can alternately seem the wind at one's back in one moment, and the impenetrable barrier in one's path the next. Traipsing from the sludgy working-class neighborhoods of New England to the sunburnt retirement villas of Florida, hawking bulky Catholic Bibles to the distorted warbling of Beatles records and against the patter of ethnic jokes, we get a rich, troubling, and fascinating portrait of American life.

The film is featured as a video clip in Shadows of '68

"I was always unable to take the raggedness of his work in stride, to embrace it as not just a necessary evil but somehow fundamental to the work's appeal. All of which is preface to my enthusiastic viewing of Stromboli. Rossellini's first film with his new (and newly controversial) wife Ingrid Bergman, it's bursting with energy, invention, and showmanship. The film ripples with rich tensions, between its desire to simply document village life and its allegorical overtones, between frustration with Bergman's spoiled character and sympathy with her own frustrations, between the melodramatic extremes (heightened by the literally incessant music which at one point pounded consistently for about half an hour!) and documentary naturalism. Certainly between Bergman's professionalism and glamor and the untrained 'performances' of the nonactors in the movie - a healthy balance is struck here, with the real people convincingly inhabiting their characters and a terrific Bergman dialing down her polish while turning up her acting chops. The provincial folks and the Hollywood goddess gel remarkably well."

-from my review of Stromboli

Really a trip, with its raw, almost French New Wave-y feel - no coincidence, as the movie had a huge impact on Cahiers du cinema critics-turned-filmmakers (take Pierrot le fou for example). And not just on them: Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom is an obvious riff (and twist) on the young-love-on-deserted-coastline theme. Harriet Andersson oozes sex appeal, which is one of those cliched pullquotes that just happens to be true. The "summer" in the title is key; much like the earlier Summer Interlude (also a gem) the characters' joy and passion pass with the season and we are reminded how the movie fits in well with Bergman's early oeuvre after all, stuffed as it is with anxiety over draining work, parental restrictions, unexpected pregnancy, and restless frustration. All of this would eventually be transmuted into more cosmic, metaphysical concerns as Bergman hit middle age, and a more mature grappling with aging, disease, death, and loneliness as he grew into an elder statesman of art cinema. Monika serves as a reminder of his roots, and his unexpected ties to other youthful, romantic filmmakers.

The film is featured as a video clip in The Restless Fifties

A very unusual Ozu, touching on tragedy, nervier and more on-edge than most of his work I've seen. The heroine, unlike usual Ozu protagonists (often played by Setsuko Hara, here relegated to support), cannot subsume her suffering or yearning beneath a stoic exterior and she is lost in a way his other characters may be as well, but could never admit to. It's been a long time since I've seen this movie and I remember fragments more than a whole - many games of mah-jong (or dominoes?) in upstairs game rooms, a girl sitting beside her lover by the still sea having just shared devastating news (we see the reactions rather than hear the revelation), a moment of startling violence so rare in Ozu's work. Above all, I remember a mood which I found moving - not the regular stoic acceptance which characterizes the director's sensibility, but something more unsettled and upsetting. Tokyo Twilight is an outlier in Ozu's oeuvre, as if visited by an alien who couldn't fit into the normal Ozu universe and who perhaps the director himself empathized with.

This is the first appearance of Tokyo Twilight on Lost in the Movies, although it is briefly mentioned in contrast to Tokyo Story.

And here are some others that popped out at me, as if you didn't already have your hands full:

F for Fake, La Haine, Claire's Knee, My Dinner with Andre, Stranger Than Paradise, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, The Spirit of the Beehive, Andrei Rublev, I Married a Witch, Pandora's Box, Socrates, Masculin Feminin, Bergman Island, A King in New York, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, I Vitelloni, My Night at Maud's, Juliet of the Spirits, Gertrud, Capricious Summer, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Summer Interlude, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Hearts & Minds. 


Doug's Blog said...

I also have tried ot concentrate on movies i've not seen before rather than the more well-known films one can usually find more readily. This is something I hope Hulu can do again.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, I'm only gonna watch stuff that unvailable on YouTube, Netflix or elsewhere online. Make the most of my limited time tomorrow...

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