The Kanopy deal with the New York Public Library is pretty damn awesome, allowing anyone with a New York public library card access to their streaming video collection for free. Reviews emphasize their library of Criterion collection films—which is an impressive selection of 420 films—but there is plenty of other stuff from Kino Lorber, Shout Factory, Flicker Alley, and other imprints. I thought of doing a Top 100, although there’s more than enough material to do two different lists: 100 notable English language films, and and 100 notable foreign language/ silent films.
Horror/ Science Fiction/ Fantasy
There are some decent choices for anyone who likes genre movies. Kino Lorber EDU provides the 1931 pre-code Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde that won Claude Rains an Oscar for Best Actor. Notable directors with films available for streaming include David Cronenberg (The Brood), Mario Bava (Black Sunday), Brian De Palma (Sisters), George Romero (Day of the Dead) and David Lynch (Eraserhead.) Other classics include 1940’s The Devil Bat with Bela Lugosi, The Corridors of Blood with Boris Karloff (from Criterion’s Monsters and Madmen box-set, all four of which are available), The Blob with Steve McQueen, Deathwatch with Harvey Keitel, Dreamscape and Criterion’s cut of Carnival of Souls. There are quite a few notable genre films in the silent and foreign language categories as well.
Classic comedies include Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (we’ll hear more from him in the Silents entry), the Veronica Lake vehicle I married a Witch, the classic Alex Guinness troubled artist comedy The Horse’s Mouth, the Charles Laughton vehicle Hobson’s Choice, and the pop culture satires of the Kentucky Fried Movie, a collaboration by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker before they went on to do Airplane. Eating Raoul is a black comedy with an unconventional source of restaurant funding. The Marx Brothers pop up with A Night In Casablanca.
The collection includes a lot of documentaries for all sorts. You have classics like Grey Gardens, about delusional relatives of Jackie Kennedy, God’s Country by Louis Malle, and Salesman, showing the day to day life of a travelling bible salesman in the 1960s. Political documentaries include The War Room, about the Bill Clinton campaign, and The Times of Harvey Milk. Musical documentaries include Gimme Shelter: The Rolling Stones 1969 tour, and Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, essentials for their fans, as well as The Decline of Western Civilization, about the Los Angeles punk scene. Hoop Dreams explores the lives of two African American teenagers and was one of Roger Ebert’s favorite films of the 1990s. Burden of Dreams explores one of the most chaotic movie shoots ever (Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.) Burroughs: The Movie was the result of years of interview with the Beat writer. For All Mankind features impressive footage from NASA’s space expeditions.
Recent documentaries include the Anita Hill spotlight Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, and 56 Up, the latest entry in the 7 Up series, as the filmmakers return to their subjects return to their subjects every seven years. James Baldwin is spotlighted in the Oscar nominated I Am Not Your Negro, as well as PBS’s The Price of a Ticket. Can We Take a Joke? explores political correctness and comedy. Super Size Me tackles the obesity crisis in the film that made Morgan Spurlock one of today’s most noted documentary filmmakers. Who is Dayani Cristal? explores the plight of undocumented immigrants, through an exploration of the life of a man whose body was found in the Arizona desert. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child takes on the difficulties of an African-American LGBT painter. For the Bible Tells Me So has 98% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and explores the bible’s view on homosexuality. Tower looks at one of America’s first mass school shootings, while Stonewall Uprising covers the events leading to clashes between the police and gay citizens. The Red Pill – A Feminist’s Journey Into the Men’s Rights Movement is rather self-explanatory.
Unforgivable Blackness, Ken Burns’ spotlight on the heavyweight champion Jack Johnson won him several of his many Emmies. There is a lot of Ken Burns’ work in the library, as well as Mark Cousins’ 15 episode series The Story of Film.
Fans of British music might check out the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, and the Who’s Quadrophrenia. Other highlights for Anglophiles would be the animated fantasy adventure Watership Down, Peter Brooks’ The Lord of the Flies (courtesy of the Criterion collection) and The Spy in Black, which appears to be the only Michael Powell film available. Le Weekend stars Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as a long-married couple visiting Paris to rejuvenate their relationship.
Notable American classics include two John Ford/ John Wayne collaborations Stagecoach, and the lesser-known The Long Voyage Home, as well as the 1934 adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, the 1946 adaptation of The Corsican Brothers, and the Paul Robeson vehicle The Emperor Jones. The mystery The Death Kiss reunited the cast of Universal’s Dracula. The Devil and Daniel Webster adapts the famous short story with Walter Huston as Satan. Foreign Correspondent is the most notable Hitchcock film available. The Naked City is an influential noir, while Frank Borzage’s History is Made at Night provides a late 1930s love triangle. Fear and Desire is the rarely seen first movie by Stanley Kubrick. Orson Welles is represented with The Stranger, Mr. Arkadin and The Trial. More recent entries include 1999’s Boondock Saints, and Casino Jack, with Kevin Spacey as lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
John Cassavettes is represented with Faces, Shadows, and A Woman Under the Influence. Samuel Fuller films include Shock Corridor, and the Baron of Arizona (with Vincent Price.) Other independent highlights include David Gordon Green’s George Washington, and John Huston’s Flannery O’Connor adaptation Wise Blood. Jim Jaramush gets a few films, including Mystery Train, courtesy of the Criterion adaptation. There are quite a few recent indie films thanks to the Samuel Goldwyn collection. 2 Days in Paris, East Side Sushi, the biographical crime drama Whistleblower and the coming of age drama I Capture the Castle are highlights from that supplier.
Some innovative films include Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shaun’s film-long conversations My Dinner With Andre, Orson Welles’ treatise on art and counterfeiting F For Fake, Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth’s cinematic duel Five Obstructions, and William Greave’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm.
The 1939 Pygmalion that got George Bernard Shaw his screenwriting Oscar is available, as is David Lean’s adaptation of Shaw’s Major Barbara. Thanks to Kino Lorber’s collection, we have the highlights of the American Film Theater series, including John Frankenheimer’s version of The Iceman Cometh, and Peter Hall’s Homecoming. Something else that seems interesting in the 1985 TV adaptation of Death of a Salesman with John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman that got a ton of Emmies. Another notable adaptation is the film adaptation of The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave as the lead.
Notable Shakespeare adaptations include Lawrence Olivier’s Richard III, Orson Welles’ The Chimes at Midnight (which adapts several plays to turn Falstaff into the lead), and the recent David Tennant Hamlet.
The Trip to Bountiful netted Geraldine Page an Academy Award, while The Private Life of Henry VIII gave Charles Laughton his an Oscar. Carol Kane was nominated for Best Actress for Hester Street. The Stunt Man and The Ruling Class feature Academy Award nominated performances by Peter O’Toole. Summertime featured a nominated performance from Katherine Hepburn.
Walkabout is one of the most notable Australian films. Jane Campion’s debut Sweetie is also available.
Journey to Italy is an English-language film produced in Italy and Spain starring Ingrid Bergman, considered one of Roberto Rossellini’s best.
Animated films and comedies seem to be a bit underrepresented, but considering the cost of this service is free for the individual, that’s not a big deal. There are quite a few notable films that I haven’t covered, and further exploration will likely reveal some hidden gems. The selections come from various collections, so it’s interesting to see what’s featured and what’s not. Some actors are well-represented (Charles Laughton/ Orson Welles/ Norman Reedus) due to their work in material likely to be included in particular film libraries. Other top talents aren’t covered to the same extent (you’re not going to find much work from Jack Nicholson, or Cary Grant.)