Finding the best movies Filmstruck —the streaming platform from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection—has on demand is all part of the fun of having a subscription to the service. A godsend for cinephiles, Filmstruck features an eclectic smattering of everything both companies have to offer, presented in crisp and clear HD, with transfers usually taken from the most recent restoration works.
For those unfamiliar with Filmstruck’s subscription options, a basic account comes with all of the films Turner Classic Movies claims, while some Criterion titles are available, but a separate upgrade allows you to access a considerable chunk of the rest of the Collection for a couple of extra bucks a month. Accordingly, the films on this list that require the Criterion Channel will have a ”(C)” next to the title.
Moreso, one of the most charming and distinctive features that Filmstruck offers over other streaming services is a monthly series of interviews with prominent actors, filmmakers, writers and other cultural figures about their favorite Criterion Collection titles (called “Adventures in Moviegoing”). August’s subject was Michael Cera, who shows off his formidable pedigree as a cinephile by picking a wide variety of great titles. While you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed with any of Cera’s recommendations, Akira Kurosawa’s seminal detective thriller High and Low (listed below) is the clear standout of the bunch.
Anyway, rather than attempt to put together a definitive Top 10, we’ve compiled the following movies with the hope that each will inspire a deeper dive into a specific genre, director, country, era, and more. Be it classic or curio, Filmstruck has plenty to discover.
Here are 10 great movies to watch on Filmstruck this month:
10. A Boy and His Dog
Director: L.Q. Jones
Writer/director Jones’ nihilistic, morbidly droll post-apocalyptic cult classic is the only film Jones ever directed. An instantly likable character actor who’s usually known for portraying sleazy/scrappy bandit types in some of Sam Peckinpah’s best films, Jones left an indelible mark on genre cinema with the trippy A Boy and His Dog. Based on Harlan Ellison’s infamous novella, the flick follows the plucky adventures of an always horny and borderline feral teenager named Vic (pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson, baby-faced) and his always-hungry telepathic dog, Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire), scavenging for food and looking for fun (i.e. rape and murder) in a desert wasteland. The terms of their alliance is simple: Vic finds food for Blood, who lost his sense of smell after gaining his telepathic powers, and Blood finds women, a rare commodity in this barren hellscape. After a mysterious girl with sinister plans (Susanne Benton) lures Vic into an underground nightmare version of a 1950s style all-American town, the partnership between the boy and the dog is shaken to its core. Jones shows equal disdain for the anarchy of the desert and the fascism of the underground town, effortlessly skewering both extremes.
9. Blood Simple
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers’ lean and gloomy debut is still an essential neo-noir, dripping with style and attitude, unapologetic about its loyalty to the raw genre gods. The premise is as simple as it gets: A forlorn bartender (John Getz) falls in love with the abused wife (Frances McDormand) of a rich asshole (Dan Hedaya), who hires a private detective/hit man (M. Emmett Walsh, in full sardonic glory) to “take care” of them both. Enough plot twists, deadly misunderstandings and back-stabbings will wholly satisfy fans of the genre—the long sequence which painstakingly lays out how hard it would be to get rid of a body in real life, capped off with a chilling burial scene that won’t leave your nightmares anytime soon, is the clear highlight—but the self-confident execution and airtight grasp on tone sets the film up as a truly impressive first. Find out just how much blood a common kitchen towel will absorb.
8. A Hard Day’s Night
Director: Richard Lester
When United Artists put A Hard Day’s Night into production, they didn’t care much if the film was a box office success. What mattered to them were the profits from the soundtrack LP, which, considering the fact that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus at the time, was going to be massive even if the accompanying film was a nonsensical celluloid turd. The creative freedom that was given to director Richard Lester because of this expectation (or lack thereof) was a blessing in disguise, allowing him to create something that turned out to be the perfect way to encapsulate the spirit of the band. Lester’s breezy and joyful docudrama approach adopts a fly-on-the-wall perspective in capturing the Fab Four’s happy-go-lucky adventures while on tour, mixed it with a touch of irreverent and absurdist humor. John, Ringo, George and Paul all playfully exaggerate the one-note characteristics with which their fans associated them, constantly winking at the audience and only adding to A Hard Day’s Night’s already natural magnetism.
Director: F.W. Murnau
F.W. Murnau was one of the pioneering names in German expressionism, alongside Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene. Even though he died at an early age, which robbed the world of a further expansion of his genius, he’s responsible for some of the most iconic expressionist classics ever made. Filmstruck currently offers a considerable chunk of his filmography for streaming, with still profoundly effective masterpieces like Nosferatu and The Last Laugh included among them. As much as I would immediately recommend that you check out those titles if you’ve never experienced them, Sunrise, Murnau’s tender yet emotionally potent melodrama about seemingly trivial moral choices that might end up defining the rest of a person’s life, might be his crowning achievement. The narratively simple yet morally complex story of a man (George O’Brian) who has to choose between his loving but chaste wife (Janet Gaynor) and his sensual but conniving mistress (Margaret Livingston) is communicated almost entirely through the pure visual language of cinema, as Murnau uses particularly timed and designed dissolves, superimposed images, suggestive edits, etc… to effectively communicate the inner turmoil the characters are going through, as well as the liberating feeling of love that they’re struggling to find.
6. The Wages of Fear
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
The Wages of Fear, Henri-Georges “French Hitchcock” Clouzot’s nerve-wracking anti-capitalist masterpiece, is the story of four desperate men willing, for a wad of cash that might turn their lives around, to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin through the perilous and astoundingly unsafe dirt roads of South America. Clouzot cleverly spends a good chunk of his film forcing the audience to step into the decrepit shoes of his four protagonists, trapped inside a desolate border town, so that when their deadly trip begins, and each seemingly minor but actually fatal obstacle signals instant doom, the intimate connection that’s been made between the audience and the drivers makes sure we can’t find comfort in any emotional distance we might build between us and the screen. We can only pretend that we’re merely looking at a group of genre archetypes, of expendable cardboard cutout characters. And in that pretending, The Wages of Fear is still as nail-bitingly intense as it was over 60 years ago.
5. Elevator to the Gallows (C)
Director: Louis Malle
What better way to honor the elegant and luminous memory of the late Jeanne Moreau than to experience her smoldering presence as the ultimate French femme fatale in Louis Malle’s noir classic? Just like any example of the genre, Elevator to the Gallows’ story starts with the “perfect” crime, only to inevitably unravel into a serpentine plot full of bad decisions and worse consequences. In true Barbara Stanwyck fashion, Moreau’s discontented wife character wants her rich husband (Jean Wall) dead so she can lead a prosperous life with her war veteran lover (Maurice Ronet). In meticulous detail, in as much of a dry and procedural manner as possible, Malle presents each step of the lovers’ intricately planned murder—involving, at one point, climbing the side of a building with rope and hook—making it all the more chilling for its lack of stylization. The ultimately tragic series of unlucky coincidences and misunderstandings that begin with a simple elevator malfunction slowly tightens the nooses around the couple’s necks, leading to a multifarious climax that always felt inevitable.
4. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (C)
Director: Peter Yates
Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a career criminal and loyal friend to the Boston crime world. He doesn’t live the extravagant life of crime that Tony Montana enjoyed, he’s just like any other working class stiff in the twilight of his life, worn out and resigned to the cruelties of his day-to-day existence, such as running guns for a gang of bank robbers while doing anything he can do avoid jail time after getting pinched. Does he rat on his friends and risk getting killed, or live the rest of his days behind bars? The beauty in director Peter Yates’ approach to adapting Boston crime writer George V. Higgins’ novel is the viciously honest de-romanticizing of crime life. There are no elaborate shootouts or car chases in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, very little graphic violence, and the film’s most tense sequences typically involve two schlubby-looking middle-aged men quietly discussing the minute details of their jobs. Through its many natural performances, led by one of the best and most underrated turns in Mitchum’s legendary career, the film manages to tap into the ugliness of a life that can only end in pointless tragedy.
3. High and Low (C)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
There’s a reason why Kurosawa’s known as the “Emperor of Cinema”: You can trace the core of almost every well-known genre trope and iconized imagery to one of his many masterworks. In the case of High and Low, pretty much any procedural that’s centered on a kidnapping, from Ransom to episodes of Law & Order, can trace their roots back to this impeccably executed and tightly-wound adaptation of Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom. Kurosawa skillfully splits his film into two distinct sections, the first an intense chamber drama about a shoe mogul (Kurosawa muse Toshiro Mifune) who is pressured into paying the ransom to rescue his chauffeur’s son after the kidnapper snatches the wrong kid, and the latter a painstakingly detailed focus on the police’s hunt for the kidnapper. The most tension-filled ransom exchange sequence ever filmed works perfectly as the midpoint break between the two halves, which eventually begin to converge as a potent study on the psychological effects of income inequality disguised as a straight genre piece.
2. Eraserhead (C)
Director: David Lynch
There’s no better time for a deep dive into the unadulterated dream logic of David Lynch, which began with the nasal king of American kitsch-based surrealism’s feature debut, Eraserhead. This grainy black-and-white piece of nightmare fuel cannot be justifiably summarized within a short blurb, or pretty much any other analytical text for that matter. If you’ve never experienced Eraserhead, the only thing to do is to schedule some uninterrupted alone time, turn off the lights, turn up the volume and invite Lynch’s insanity into your probably unsuspecting mind. (Filmstruck also has the extras from Eraserhead’s physical release, complete with a comprehensive collection of Lynch’s short films.)
1. Brief Encounter
Director: David Lean
David Lean’s stirring, wistful, melancholic romance is practically ground zero for many films about repressed and misunderstood married people who find the possibility of an exciting and invigorating new life in strangers’ arms. Based on Noel Coward’s play, Brief Encounter is about two upper class Brits, the introverted housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) and the charismatic doctor Alec (Trevor Howard), both of whom are happily but boringly married to other people but fall madly in love with each other after a chance meeting at a train station teashop. The premise is ripe for a sordid bus stop romance novel, but Coward and Lean never veer into cheap melodrama. Alec and Laura are never victimized, nor are they portrayed as antagonists. They’re not soulless people who enjoy sleeping around; in fact, their crushing guilt always goes hand in hand with their invigorating love for each other. Accordingly, their home lives are not portrayed as abusive or loveless—even if the passion’s gone, they both love and respect their spouses, which brings a considerable amount of inherently human conflict to an otherwise archetypal story.