By this point in time, life during the COVID-19 pandemic has set in. Classes are being held remotely, popular restaurants are operating on a to-go order basis, and most frighteningly for us movie enthusiasts, all movie theaters are shut down which means all major film releases have been postponed until further notice.
With all of this in effect, unfortunately, I won’t be bringing you a review of the next Spongebob movie, Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” or even the next James Bond flick any time soon. In addition, with all public libraries closed, it seems we would all be confined to our expensive digital streaming services or our DVD/Blu Ray collections to fulfill that movie fix.
But wait: there’s no need for despair. A digital library consisting of streaming content is available to any library cardholder or college student, all available for free. It’s called Kanopy, and has dozens of titles at the ready for any interested student.
Granted, Kanopy is a service more closely aligned with classic movie fans. Most of the films on it are old or in a foreign language. While you’re not going to find the latest Marvel movie or Blumhouse horror offering on it what you will find are some of the greatest films ever made, and even some titles you would otherwise never make the effort of seeing. Here are my recommendations to get you started on becoming a hardened cinephile:
“The Kid,” 1921
“The Gold Rush,” 1925
“Modern Times,” 1936
d. Charlie Chaplin
A name like Charlie Chaplin hardly needs any introduction to movie fans. A comedic genius of the silent movie era and a successful convert to the sound era as well, Chaplin is one of those rare filmmakers where nearly every one of his features can arguably be called a masterpiece. Kanopy happens to have three of his on tap. They’re each fantastic, my favorite being his farewell to the silent era, the ironically timeless “Modern Times.” In it, he plays the part of an Everyman who has trouble living in a world dominated by an abundance of mechanization.
d. F.W. Murnau
The oldest remaining film version of the classic vampire novel “Dracula,” “Nosferatu” is all the more horrifying thanks to its silent nature and reliance on chilling visuals. The direction by Murnau is impeccable, but the show-stealer is the lead performance by Max Shreck and his fantastic makeup.
“The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” 1933
d. Fritz Lang
“Metropolis” is Fritz Lang’s great achievement in my mind. It’s an extraordinary film out of time that transcends the silent film format and is thematically still relevant 93 years after its release. “M” is similarly forward-thinking, exploring how society can create a child murderer in a time when it was a topic that wasn’t talked about.
“Bicycle Thieves,” 1948
“Umberto D.” 1952
d. Vittorio De Sica
De Sica was one of the founders of ‘neo-realism,’ a filmmaking movement in Italy following World War II. It was marked by plots and characters showcasing the extreme poverty of that place and time, meaning to highlight the extreme cultural shift occurring in the country. “Bicycle Thieves” sits on many film critics’ lists as one of the best movies of all time, taking a deceptively simple plot of a poor man desperate to recover his stolen bicycle needed for his job. “Umberto D.” covers similar ground, following an old man and his dog as he desperately attempts to gather enough money to pay his overdue rent.
“Seven Samurai,” 1954
d. Akira Kurosawa
Perhaps the most internationally famous director to come out of Japan — aside from Hayao Miyazaki — Kurosawa frequented the Samurai as characters in his films. “Rashomon” introduced the radical idea of subjective narrative in a film, while “Seven Samurai” is frequently picked as one of the best films ever made. “Yojimbo” further cemented his legacy as Japan’s top director.
“Wild Strawberries,” 1957
d. Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman was a writer and director whose films often concerned the extreme emotions of his characters. This can make his work somewhat difficult to sit through, but ultimately rewarding. “Wild Strawberries” follows an old doctor as he looks back on his long life, and reflects on how he became so lonely. “Persona” is a psychological drama concerning a mental inmate that blurs the lines between who is the nurse and who is the patient.
“The 400 Blows,” 1959
d. Francois Truffaut
The debut feature of acclaimed French director Truffaut, “400 Blows” stars a young boy much like how many of us might have been at a young age. He is abused by his teacher in school, has a distant relationship with his parents, and cuts class to enjoy movies with his friends. It’s a film light on plot and more about dealing with the pains of growing up, so don’t expect a heavily involving story.
“Don’t Look Back,” 1967
d. D.A. Pennebaker
One of the seminal early documentaries on a rock musician, “Dont Look Back” (sic) chronicles Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, right in the midst of his controversial switch from folk music to electric rock and roll.
“Super Size Me,” 2004
d. Morgan Spurlock
Controversial from the day it was released, “Super Size Me” garnered fame and infamy from director Morgan Spurlock’s extreme experiment of eating nothing but McDonald’s food for thirty straight days. While it may have been somewhat misguided, Spurlock’s exposé of McDonald’s unhealthy menu and encouragement to consume more and more of their product got the public thinking more about what they put into their bodies when eating out.