Welcome to The Penny-Pinching Cinephile, a weekly spotlight of the best free flicks on the web. ‘Cuz sometimes you gotta eat.
1. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
With this pick, I am truly biased: Dead Man just happens to be one of my all-time favorite films. Jim Jarmusch’s “acid Western” is a beautiful, surreal, black-and-white road movie along America’s disappearing frontier. Johnny Depp plays William Blake (no, not the poet), a young man from the East who comes West only to get mortally wounded and end up a wanted man. Saved by a Native American outcast named Nobody (Gary Farmer), the two try to outrun the bounty hunters on Blake’s trail. Boasting superb black-and-white cinematography by Robby Müller and featuring, arguably, Depp’s best performance, Dead Man is like a dreamy, drug-induced coma of a Western. As Blake lapses in and out of consciousness, Neil Young’s intoxicating electric guitar score sets a pace like the gentle lapping of waves on a beach. I can’t recommend Dead Man enough, and now that it’s streaming free, you really have no excuse not to see it.
Watch on Hulu
2. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Bunuel, 1977)
Bunuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire, betrays no signs of aging in the master of surrealist cinema. Indeed, the film is as challenging as many of the director’s earlier, more obtuse movies. Here, Bunuel is consumed by the idea of the unattainable woman and the man who ruins his life and abandons his dignity and good sense, to attain her. It is the story of Mathieu, a wealthy, middle-aged business man, and Chonchita, a beyond-beautiful French/Spanish virgin, vixen, vexation. Amid this cat-and-mouse game of conquest, Bunuel weaves a thread of domestic terrorism; the film is beset by bombings, hijackings, muggings and daily headlines of the world going to hell in a hand-basket. The couple’s tête-à-tête itself is a kind of sexual terrorism–but who is the victim and who the perpetrator? The film is a delicate balance of liberated, feminist thinking and conservative oppression. The tension is only mitigated intermittently by objects of surreality–a bucket of water, a dwarf, and a chastity belt. David Lynch, eat your heart out.
3. Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991)
Much like every teenager should read The Catcher in the Rye before they leave high school, every 20-something should watch Slacker before they turn thirty. Richard Linklater’s indie classic hits all the right notes about that post-grad, pre-”real life” period of one’s mid-twenties. Pre-mumblecore (and without the pretension), Linklater drifts from character to character, chronicling one day in the life of the slackers of Austin, Texas. Austin is the co-star of the film; it’s almost impossible to imagine the easy-going, lackadaisical tempo of the film amidst the youth of New York of Los Angeles. Slacker is a triumph of mood and tone, but it also mines the very deep emotional contradictions of the quarter-life crisis: the longing to connect mixed with the innate self-centeredness of a person who isn’t fully grown up. The characters in Slacker aren’t aimless, they just don’t know where they’re going yet.
4. It Might Get Loud (Davis Guggenheim, 2009)
If you play music, like music, or have even ever hear music, you’ll want to stop what you’re doing and go watch It Might Get Loud. Documenting three electric guitar legends–Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and Jack White–Guggenheim’s film goes deep into the passions of the guitar player, chronicling their obsessions, their inspirations, their failures and triumphs. Subtextually, the main question of the film is: Why them? What makes these three so good at guitar? Of course, there is no answer. The answer is left to the viewer. The joy of watching three guitar gods jam acoustic is probably what rock ‘n roll heaven must be like. The look of love and admiration on Jack White’s face as Jimmy Page plays “Whole Lotta Love” right in front of him reminds us of the pure joy and awesomeness of music and the people who create it. The entire movie is suffused with that kind of wonder, from the fetishistic precision the men have for their instrument, to the unfettered, childlike joy they each still have for a hobby that became a profession.
5. Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009)
Unfairly maligned as “that movie with the Amanda Seyfried/Julianne Moore lesbian sex scene,” Chloe is a good bit more than that. Seyfried gives an intriguing performance as Chloe, a high-class call girl who falls in love (or does she?) with the woman (Moore) who hires her to seduce her husband (Liam Neeson). The Sphinx-like unknowability of Seyfried’s performance is the film’s greatest strength–like Moore’s character, you never quite know when she’s lying, telling the truth, playing a role or being herself. Does Chloe even have a self? Director Atom Egoyan does a good job sustaining the pseudo-mysterious tone in the first half of the movie, while providing plenty of teasing eroticism. (Yes, there is a lesbian sex scene, okay.) The film’s divisive ending tanked Chloe for many critics, but I think the majority of the movie is an interesting character and mood piece, and recommend it, despite its abrupt and perplexing final moments.
6. Running Stumbled (John Maringouin, 2006)
Hard-hitting verité documentaries don’t get much more painful than Running Stumbled, an unflinching look at the disintegration of the director’s pill-addicted father and his terminally ill wife. Admittedly, it’s not very fun, but the storytelling here is so riveting, so train-wreck-compelling, the film practically dares you to judge these terrible people even as their wretchedness engenders pity and disgust. How did Maringouin’s Louisiana-based clan get so messed up? He plunges you in medias res into a whirlwind and only snatches of back story–a car crash here, a jail term there, an attempted murder here–come to light. This isn’t an expose–it’s an exorcism. Maringouin sticks his finger down their throats and expels all the family’s long-buried secrets, simmering resentments, and even, their abandoned dreams. Running Stumbled is an ugly film about ugly people, but the truths it unearths are impossible to ignore or forget.
7. The Blob (Irvine S. Yeaworth, Jr, 1958)
If you’ve ever wanted to see a nearly thirty-year-old Steve McQueen pretend to be a teenager who fights off translucent Silly Putty with a stick, boy, have I got a movie for you: the infamous, the original, the king of gelatinous, outer space horror schlock–The Blob! Courtesy of no less than the Criterion Collection, you can now watch the “indescribable, indestructible” alien goo wreak terror on small town America. Revel in the film’s lurid Technicolor, marvel (really!) at the impressive special effects, gasp in delight at one of the goofiest endings in all movie history! The Blob is a classic for a reason, and now available it’s for free, what better time to let The Blob envelop you?