Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September of 2013 as “The 10 Best Criterion Collection Movies on Hulu.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to voice your favorites in the comments.
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If you’re a subscriber to Hulu Plus, one of the side benefits is free access to the many dazzling jewels of the Criterion Collection, which restores classic films, mainly from other countries, many of which are not available on Netflix. The vast majority are seldom shown on cable or pay TV. Of the 869 Criterion titles currently available on Hulu Plus — the full list is available here — these are ten of the best.
10. Burden of Dreams (1982)
A crazy ode to the love of filmmaking stars the gifted and driven German director Werner Herzog as he struggles to make his baggy masterpiece Fitzcarraldo, which originally starred Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger until both dropped out. The film is about a demented genius who attempts to drag a full-sized ship over a mountain in the Amazonian rainforest, and being the perfectionist he was Herzog decided, using rudimentary native tools and muscle, to do the same. The film has a rating of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. The Great Dictator (1940).
The first satiric attack Hollywood ever launched on Adolf Hitler is still the best. In his first-ever talkie, Charlie Chaplin (who also wrote and directed, at a time when there was an informal rule against provoking Germany with anti-Nazi films) spoofs “Adenoid Hynkel” as the madman he was. Chaplin also plays a Jewish barber with amnesia unaware that anti-semitic forces have taken over his country.
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8. Three Colors: Red (1994)
The best of the trilogy of movies by Poland’s Krzysztof Kieślowski named after the colors in the French flag, this brilliantly plotted drama about seemingly unrelated lives that turn out to be intertwined stars the startling beauty Irene Jacob as a model and the legendary Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour) as the mysterious retired judge she meets after she runs over his dog. Nominated for three Oscars including two for Kieślowski for best director and screenplay.
7. Love on the Run (1979)
France’s François Truffaut made somber melodramas, Hitchcockian thrillers and a film about being obsessed with death, but this romantic comedy is a superb piece of light entertainment. It’s the fifth and last film in Truffaut’s series about his alter ego Antoine Doinel, who was introduced as an alienated juvenile delinquent in The 400 Blows but grew into a thoughtful romantic with a habit of falling in love far too easily.
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6. My Life as a Dog (1985)
One of the most endearing films about childhood ever made, this one marked the arrival of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (who got his start directing ABBA videos and later turned into a Hollywood hack). Though the central character, an adolescent boy, is about to lose his mother to disease as the story begins, he typifies the resilience of youth as he develops a crush on a local tomboy (who pastes him in the boxing ring) and begins to wonder about his place in the world. Sweet but not cloying, this one brings back childhood in all its confusion and wonder.
5. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Another one about childhood and movies, this film by Victor Erice has a much more eerie, somber tone. It explores the inner life of a little girl who, in a sleepy corner of 1940 Spain, develops a fascination with the 1931 classic big-screen version of Frankenstein, which has just come to town. Life starts to take on the quality of a movie when she befriends a fugitive soldier who parallels the Hollywood monster.
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4. Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
Among the greatest film noirs ever made, this nasty, lean one by Louis Malle stars the durable temptress Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as a couple of adulterous lovers plotting to kill her husband, Double Indemnity-style. Things begin to go wrong almost immediately in this twisty delight.
3. Hoop Dreams (1994)
By turns exhilarating, depressing and ultimately heartbreaking, this monumental documentary takes in the entire adolescence of two talented young boys from the streets of Chicago who are so skilled that they could be future NBA players. Neither of them makes it, and this painstakingly detailed document makes it clear just how hard it is to climb that mountain.
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2. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Everyone knows Ingmar Bergman made pretentious, ponderous works about death and insanity. But he did make one bright, fizzy comedy (albeit one that contains a Russian Roulette scene), this nutty lovers’ farce that was later adapted into the Broadway musical A Little Night Music. It’s about a frustrated middle-aged man whose young bride won’t give him any love as his son lusts after the maid and he rekindles the spark with an old girlfriend who is now the mistress of a scary military officer.
1. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Truffaut’s second film after the overrated The 400 Blows, this hybrid anticipated Quentin Tarantino in its mix of gruesome noir and comedy. A wry Charles Aznavour plays a down-on-his luck piano player working in a shabby dive who gets mixed up with gangsters.