From ¡Alambrista! to Z: Political films available for free this weekend on Hulu

Get ready, movie fans: Hulu has offered up for free, for this weekend only, a number of Criterion Collection films that are usually behind its paywall, a service called Hulu Plus.

I looked through the offerings and put together a list of films covering subjects like racism, political organizing, espionage, migration, war, counterinsurgency, authoritarianism, fascism, resistance, surveillance, and technology. They are all available on Hulu for free this weekend (the links take you straight to the Hulu pages for the films), and after the weekend at the Hulu Plus site for a fee.

Cozy up and check them out! (All descriptions of the films come verbatim from Hulu; please don’t throw popcorn at me if you don’t like them.)

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¡Alambrista!

In ¡Alambrista!, a Mexican farmworker sneaks across the border to California to make money to send to his family back home. It is a story that happens every day, told here in an uncompromising, groundbreaking work of realism from American independent filmmaker Robert M. Young. Vivid and spare where other films about illegal immigration might sentimentalize, Young’s take is equal parts intimate character study and gripping road movie, a political work that never loses sight of the complex man at its center. ¡Alambrista!, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s inaugural Caméra d’Or in 1978, remains one of the best films ever made on this perennially relevant topic.

 

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The Battle of Algiers

One of the most influential political films in history, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (La bataille d’Alger) vividly re-creates a key year in the tumultuous Algerian struggle for independence from the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. Shot in the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film is a case study in modern warfare, with its terrorist attacks and the brutal techniques used to combat them. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Gillo Pontecorvo’s tour de force—a film with astonishing relevance today.

 

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Carlos

Olivier Assayas electrified the Cannes Film Festival with CARLOS, his epic and definitive portrait of the notorious international terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, who masterminded a wave of terror attacks in Europe and the Middle East in the ’70s and ’80s. Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez stars in the title role. Co-written by Assayas and Dan Franck, CARLOS illustrates the evolution of contemporary terrorism as it examines the life of its title character, a Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez. Tracing the arc of Carlos’ criminal activities across two decades and several nations, the film features a dynamic cast of international talent and was shot in numerous countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Death of a Cyclist

Upper-class geometry professor Juan and his wealthy, married mistress, Maria José, driving back from a late-night rendezvous, accidentally hit a cyclist, and run. The resulting, exquisitely shot tale of guilt, infidelity, and blackmail reveals the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Spain, and surveys the corrupt ethics of a society seduced by decadence. Juan Antonio Bardem's charged melodrama Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) was a direct attack on 1950s Spanish society under Franco’s rule. Though it was affected by the dictates of censorship, its sting could never be dulled.

Down By Law

When fate lands three hapless men—an unemployed disc jockey (Tom Waits), a small-time pimp (John Lurie), and a strong-willed Italian tourist (Roberto Benigni)—in a Louisiana prison, their singular adventure begins. Described by director Jim Jarmusch as a “neo–Beat noir comedy,” Down by Law is part nightmare and part fairy tale, featuring fine performances and crisp black-and-white photography by esteemed cinematographer Robby Müller.

 

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Europa

“You will now listen to my voice . . . On the count of ten you will be in Europa . . .” So begins Max von Sydow’s opening narration to Lars von Trier’s hypnotic Europa (known in the U.S. as Zentropa), a fever dream in which American pacifist Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) stumbles into a job as a sleeping-car conductor for the Zentropa railways in a Kafkaesque 1945 postwar Frankfurt. With its gorgeous black-and-white and color imagery and meticulously recreated (if then nightmarishly deconstructed) costumes and sets, Europa is one of the great Danish filmmaker’s weirdest and most wonderful works, a runaway-train ride to an oddly futuristic past.

A Generation

Stach is a wayward teen living in squalor on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Guided by an avuncular Communist organizer, he is introduced to the underground resistance—and to the beautiful Dorota. Soon he is engaged in dangerous efforts to fight oppression and indignity, maturing as he assumes responsibility for others’ lives. A coming-of-age story of survival and shattering loss, A Generation delivers a brutal portrait of the human cost of war.

The Great Dictator

In Charlie Chaplin's Oscar-nominated satire of Nazi Germany, dictator Adenoid Hynkel has a double: a poor Jewish barber who one day is mistaken for Hynkel.

 

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La Haine

Mathieu Kassovitz took the film world by storm with La haine, a gritty, unsettling, and visually explosive look at the racial and cultural volatility in modern-day France, specifically the low-income banlieue districts on Paris’s outskirts. Aimlessly passing their days in the concrete environs of their dead-end suburbia, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé), and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui)—a Jew, an African, and an Arab—give human faces to France’s immigrant populations, their bristling resentment at their marginalization slowly simmering until it reaches a climactic boiling point. A work of tough beauty, La haine is a landmark of contemporary French cinema and a gripping reflection of its country’s ongoing identity crisis.

Hearts and Minds

A courageous and startling film, Peter Davis’s landmark documentary Hearts and Minds unflinchingly confronts the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Using a wealth of sources—from interviews to newsreels to documentary footage of the conflict at home and abroad—Davis constructs a powerfully affecting portrait of the disastrous effects of war. Explosive, persuasive, and shocking, Hearts and Minds is an overwhelming emotional experience and the controversial winner of the 1974 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Hopscotch

Miles Kendig knows too much. One of the CIA’s top international operatives, he suddenly finds himself relegated to a desk job in an agency power play. Unwilling to go quietly, Kendig, with the aid of a chic Viennese widow, puts himself back in the game by writing a memoir exposing the innermost secrets of every major intelligence agency in the world. The CIA wants Kendig dead, but he refuses to cooperate—he’s having too much fun. Based on Brian Garfield’s best-selling novel, and starring the inimitable comic team of Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, Ronald Neame’s Hopscotch is a smart and stylish tale of international intrigue and a cat-and-mouse comedy.

Ivan the Terrible

Navigating the deadly waters of Stalinist politics, Eisenstein was able to film two parts of his planned trilogy about the troubled sixteenth-century tsar who united Russia. Visually stunning and powerfully acted, Ivan the Terrible charts the rise to power and descent into terror of this veritable dictator. Though pleased with the first installment, Stalin detected the portrait in the second film, with its summary executions and secret police, and promptly banned it.

Jubilee

When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.

Kanal

“Watch them closely, for these are the last hours of their lives,” announces a narrator, foretelling the tragedy that unfolds as a war-ravaged company of Home Army resistance fighters tries to escape the Nazi onslaught through the sewers of Warsaw. Determined to survive, the men and women slog through the hellish labyrinth, piercing the darkness with the strength of their individual spirits. Based on true events, Kanal was the first film ever made about the Warsaw Uprising and brought director Andrzej Wajda to the attention of international audiences, earning the Special Jury Prize in Cannes in 1957.

 

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Koyaanisqatsi

A motion picture essay which takes a revealing and shocking look at modern life and its imbalances. The first film in a trilogy which was followed by Powaqatsi.

Lacombe, Lucien

One of the first French films to address the issue of collaboration during the German occupation, Louis Malle's brave and controversial Lacombe, Lucien traces a young peasant's journey from potential Resistance member to Gestapo recruit. At once the story of a nation and one troubled boy, the film is a disquieting portrait of lost innocence and guilt.

 

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Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is famed theater director Peter Brook’s daring translation of William Golding’s brilliant novel. The story of thirty English schoolboys stranded on an uncharted island at the start of the “next” war, Lord of the Flies is a seminal film of the New American Cinema and a fascinating anti-Hollywood experiment in location filmmaking. As the cast relived Golding’s frightening fable, Brook found the cinematic “evidence” of the author’s terrifying thesis: there is a beast in us all.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

When Katharina Blum spends the night with an alleged terrorist, her quiet, ordered life falls into ruins. Suddenly a suspect, Katharina is subject to a vicious smear campaign by the police and a ruthless tabloid journalist, testing the limits of her dignity and her sanity. Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta’s powerful adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s novel is a stinging commentary on state power, individual freedom, and media manipulation––as relevant today as on the day of its release in 1975.

Mala Noche

With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant’s debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant. Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director’s work.

Night and Fog

Ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, filmmaker Alain Resnais documented the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz. One of the first cinematic reflections on the horrors of the Holocaust, Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) contrasts the stillness of the abandoned camps’ quiet, empty buildings with haunting wartime footage. With Night and Fog, Resnais investigates the cyclical nature of man’s violence toward man and presents the unsettling suggestion that such horrors could come again.

 

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El Norte

Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa flee persecution at home in Guatemala and journey north, through Mexico and on to the United States, with the dream of starting a new life. It’s a story that happens every day, but until Gregory Nava’s groundbreaking El Norte (The North), the personal travails of immigrants crossing the border to America had never been shown in the movies with such urgent humanism. A work of social realism imbued with dreamlike imagery, El Norte is a lovingly rendered, heartbreaking story of hope and survival, which critic Roger Ebert called “a Grapes of Wrath for our time.”

The Organizer

Organized by Marcello Mastroianni, textile factory workers in Turin, Italy go on strike.

Overlord

Seamlessly interweaving archival war footage and a fictional narrative, Stuart Cooper’s immersive account of one twenty-year-old’s journey from basic training to the front lines of D-Day brings all the terrors and isolation of war to life with jolting authenticity. Overlord, impressionistically shot by Stanley Kubrick’s longtime cinematographer John Alcott, is both a document of World War II and a dreamlike meditation on man’s smallness in a large, incomprehensible machine.

The Proud Valley

By the start of World War II, Paul Robeson had given up his lucrative mainstream work to participate in more socially progressive film and stage productions. As David Goliath, in the popular British drama "The Proud Valley", Robeson is the quintessential everyman, an American sailor who joins rank-and-file Welsh miners organizing against the powers that be.

Purple Noon

Thirty-nine years before Matt Damon portrayed Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (and, indeed, a decade before Damon was born), Alain Delon essayed the same role in Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (1960), based on the same book. Beautifully photographed and benefiting from Delon’s charisma, plus Clement’s (and the script’s -- which he co-wrote) less judgmental look at the action and characters, Purple Noon is a sharper, more piercing “take” on this story of murder and duplicity.

 

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Rashomon

Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, Rashomon is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature as four people recount different versions of the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife. Toshiro Mifune gives another commanding performance in the eloquent masterwork that revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema to the world.

Robocop

Detroit...in the near future. A cop who dies in the line of duty is transformed into a chrome-plated, indestructible, crime-fighting cyborg.

Rome Open City

This was Roberto Rossellini’s revelation, a harrowing drama about the Nazi occupation of Rome and the brave few who struggled against it. Though told with more melodramatic flair than the other films that would form this trilogy and starring some well-known actors—Aldo Fabrizi as a priest helping the partisan cause and Anna Magnani in her breakthrough role as the fiancée of a resistance member—Rome Open City (Roma città aperta) is a shockingly authentic experience, conceived and directed amid the ruin of World War II, with immediacy in every frame. Marking a watershed moment in Italian cinema, this galvanic work garnered awards around the globe and left the beginnings of a new film movement in its wake.

Schizopolis

Fletcher Munson has a doppelgänger in dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. In his only starring performance to date, acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh inhabits both roles: Munson, onanistic corporate drone and speechwriter for New Age guru T. Azimuth Schwitters, and the swinging Korchek, Muzak enthusiast and lover to Munson’s disenchanted wife. Meanwhile, mad exterminator and part-time celebrity prima donna Elmo Oxygen seduces local housewives in secret code and plots against Schwitters. Placing the onus squarely on the viewer (“If you don’t understand this film, it’s your fault and not ours”), writer/director/editor/cameraman Soderbergh presents a deranged comedy of confused identity, doublespeak, and white-knuckled corporate intrigue, confirming his status as one of America’s most daring and unpredictable filmmakers.

Solaris

Ground control has been receiving strange transmissions from the three remaining residents of the Solaris space station. When cosmonaut and psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate, he experiences the strange phenomena that afflict the Solaris crew, sending him on a voyage into the darkest recesses of his own consciousness. In Solaris, legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky creates a brilliantly original science-fiction epic that challenges our preconceived notions of love, truth, and humanity itself.

Tanner ’88

In 1988, renegade filmmaker Robert Altman and Pulitzer Prize–winning Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau created a presidential candidate, ran him alongside the other hopefuls during the primary season, and presented their media campaign as a cross between a soap opera and TV news. The result was the groundbreaking Tanner ’88, a piercing satire of media-age American politics, in which actors Michael Murphy (as contender Jack Tanner) and Cynthia Nixon (as his daughter) rub elbows on the campaign trail with real-life political players Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, Bob Dole, Ralph Nader, Kitty Dukakis, and Gloria Steinem, among many others. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the complete eleven-episode television series—more relevant today than ever.

 

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The Times of Harvey Milk

A true twentieth-century trailblazer, Harvey Milk was an outspoken human rights activist and one of the first openly gay U.S. politicians elected to public office; even after his assassination in 1978, he continues to inspire disenfranchised people around the world. The Oscar-winning The Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Robert Epstein and produced by Richard Schmiechen, was as groundbreaking as its subject. One of the first feature documentaries to address gay life in America, it’s a work of advocacy itself, bringing Milk’s message of hope and equality to a wider audience. This exhilarating trove of original documentary material and archival footage is as much a vivid portrait of a time and place (San Francisco’s historic Castro District in the seventies) as a testament to the legacy of a political visionary.

Tout Va Bien

In 1972, newly radicalized Hollywood star Jane Fonda joined forces with cinematic innovator Jean-Luc Godard and collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin in an unholy artistic alliance that resulted in Tout va bien (Everything’s All Right). This free-ranging assault on consumer capitalism and the establishment left tells the story of a wildcat strike at a sausage factory as witnessed by an American reporter (Fonda) and her has-been New Wave film director husband (Yves Montand). The Criterion Collection is proud to present this masterpiece of radical cinema, a caustic critique of society, marriage, and revolution in post-1968 France.

 

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The War Room

The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House—and changed the face of politics in the process. For this thrilling, behind-closed-doors account of that campaign, renowned cinema verité filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker captured the brainstorming and bull sessions of Clinton’s crack team of consultants—especially James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, who became media stars in their own right as they injected a savvy, youthful spirit and spontaneity into the process of campaigning. Fleet-footed and entertaining, The War Room is a vivid document of a political moment whose truths (“It’s the economy, stupid!”) still ring in our ears.

Young Törless

At an Austrian boys' boarding school in the early 1900s, shy, intelligent Törless observes the sadistic behavior of his fellow students, doing nothing to help a victimized classmate—until the torture goes too far. Adapted from Robert Musil's acclaimed novel, Young Törless launched the New German Cinema movement and garnered the 1966 Cannes Film Festival International Critics' Prize for first-time director Volker Schlöndorff.

 

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Z

A pulse-pounding political thriller, Greek expatriate director Costa-Gavras’s Z was one of the cinematic sensations of the late sixties, and remains among the most vital dispatches from that hallowed era of filmmaking. This Academy Award winner—loosely based on the 1963 assassination of Greek left-wing activist Gregoris Lambrakis—stars Yves Montand as a prominent politician and doctor whose public murder amid a violent demonstration is covered up by military and government officials; Jean-Louis Trintignant is the tenacious magistrate who’s determined not to let them get away with it. Featuring kinetic, rhythmic editing, Raoul Coutard’s expressive vérité photography, and Mikis Theodorakis’s unforgettable, propulsive score, Z is a technically audacious and emotionally gripping masterpiece.

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