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The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Plus

November 7, 2012  |  4:54pm
dinner-andre.jpg10. My Dinner With Andre
Director: Louis Malle
Year: 1981
A conversation between two friends Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn—playing versions of themselves—shouldn’t be this engaging, but the dialogue is so lyrical and so full of unique storytelling and so focused on cutting through life’s bullshit that it never drags. Gergory is the spiritual traveler, and Shawn is the cynical skeptic surprised by a much-needed stirring in his soul. It’s a film about connection and perception and pushing back against the distractions that numb.—Josh Jackson

knife-in-the-water.jpg9. Knife in the Water
Director: Roman Polanski
Year: 1962
Roman Polanski has never seemed particularly interested in the better angels of our nature. The dark side of men’s souls has been a central theme in almost every Polanski film, but it was his first feature-length film, 1962’s Knife in the Water, that distilled the basic cruelty of human nature to a spare three-person cast and the claustrophobic confines of a sailboat. It’s a multi-layered study of the simple and subtly barbaric extremes to which humans can stray. The film is the tale of a well-to-do couple, Andrzej and Kristyna, who take a day trip to sail Poland’s lake country. On the way to their boat they nearly run over, then befriend a hitchhiking student. The ensuing conflict plays out with masterful skill, establishing suspense with controlled pacing and brilliant composition of frame.—Tim Sheridan

joan-of-arc.jpg8. The Passion of Joan of Arc
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Year: 1928
In the early 15th century, French saint Joan of Arc (Renee Maria Falconetti) goes on trial for heresy—for believing that God gave her a mission to force the English out of France. The ecclesiastical jurors find her guilty, resulting in public execution. Roger Ebert said, “You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti.” I’ll take that a step further and say you can’t know the history of film in general unless you know her face. From chronological documentary style, to the large close-ups, to one of the best performances ever captured on screen, The Passion of Joan of Arc marked a milestone in film history. Dreyer confirmed that film could be more than entertainment—that it could be art.—David Roark

seventh-seal.jpg7. The Seventh Seal
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1957
It’s fitting that for Criterion’s sterling new edition of The Seventh Seal—a pillar of world cinema ever since its release in 1957—the troubled brow of Antonious Block (a role that made Max von Sydow into a star) graces the cover, rather than the portentous silhouette of Death (Ekerot). Long-standing comedic shorthand for art-house existential seriousness (see Monty Python, Conan anniversary shows or Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, etc.), the emphasis shifts back to the haggard solitary figure of Block and his mortal question: what is the meaning of life? Amid black plagues, witch hunts, passion plays and bawdy songs, the knight (and Bergman himself) digs deep into such dark ages and finds a kernel of affirmation.—Andy Beta

wings-of-desire.jpg6. Wings of Desire
Director: Wim Wenders
Year: 1987
Wim Wenders’ depiction of a couple of angels and the humans they observe has a dream-like quality, no doubt aided by shooting most of the scenes in a sepia-toned black-and-white. A romance at heart, Wings of Desire also represents a recognition of and exercise in the power of the narrative perspective to shape the audience’s experience. Angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) spend so much time observing and pondering what it means to be human—viewers of the film can’t help but do the same.—Michael Burgin

babettes-feast.jpg5. Babette’s Feast
Director: Gabriel Axel
Year: 1988
There’s not much excitement in the this tale of a strict Danish religious sect, whose internal divisions are melted by an extravagant feast (one they fear for all its exotic French origins)—but this winner of the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar is a exquisite celebration of the joys of food and community and a marvelous parable of grace.—Tim Regan-Porter

17.Memento.NetflixList.jpg4. Memento
Director: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2000
During a brutal attack in which he believes his wife was raped and murdered, insurance-fraud investigator Leonard Shelby (played with unequivocal intensity, frustration and panic by Guy Pearce) suffers head trauma so severe it leads to his inability to retain new memories for more than a few minutes. This device allows Nolan to brilliantly deconstruct traditional cinematic storytelling, toggling between chronological black-and-white vignettes and full-color five-minute segments that unfold in reverse order while Pearce frantically searches for his wife’s killer. The film is jarring, inventive and adventurous, and the payoff is every bit worth the mindbending descent into madness.—Steve LaBate

my-life-as-a-dog.jpg3. My Life as a Dog
Director: Lasse Hallström
Year: 1985
Lasse Hallström directs this tale of a young boy sent to live with relatives during his mother’s illness. Filled with off-beat characters and situations, My Life as a Dog is a funny, touching, endearing picture that engages some of life’s biggest questions through the eyes of a 12-year-old without being overly sentimental or trite. (Warning: an early dubbed version is so horrible that it can actually ruin the film. Deal with the subtitles.)—Michael Burgin

paris-texas.jpg2. Paris, Texas
Director: Wim Wenders
Year: 1984
In a career-redefining performance by Harry Dean Stanton, 1984’s epochal Palme d’Or-winning Paris, Texas also placed West German director Wim Wenders at the fore of the decade’s art-house cinema, a position later cemented by Wings of Desire. Harrowing yet nuanced, breath-catching and heart-rending, infused with a humanity rarely captured on celluloid, none of the film’s emotional power has dimmed in the last quarter-century. No wonder it was reportedly a favorite of everyone from Kurt Cobain to Elliott Smith, and an artistic touchstone for U2’s The Joshua Tree. Wenders’ bleak, unique vision of an emotionally estranged America is a cinematic masterpiece.—Andy Beta

fanny-alexander.jpg1. Fanny and Alexander
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1982
The culmination of the career of one of cinema’s true masters, Fanny and Alexander glides through childhood memories with a keen sense of feelings—be they joyous, mystical, tragic or astonishing. When it came out, Ingmar Bergman viewed the film as a sort of finale to his life’s work. Of course, he couldn’t flat-out stop, and continued to write screenplays and direct for Swedish television for another two decades, but Fanny and Alexander has a grandiosity suited to cap such a storied career. Bergman studies three generations of a family and visits settings ornate and austere, effortlessly moving from one virtuoso scene to the next while creating an engulfing sense of mystery and awe.—Jeremy Mathews

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