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How to Get the Most Out of the Criterion Collection Before It Leaves Hulu

Clockwise from upper left: A Woman Under the Influence, The Seventh Seal, Eraserhead, Black Orpheus, Grey Gardens, and Yojimbo. Photo: Faces See, Kurosawa Production Co., Portrait Films, AFI, Svensk Filmindustri, Dispat Films

After five years on Hulu Plus, the Criterion Collection will jump ship from the streaming service on November 11. The impeccably curated selection of films will be moving to FilmStruck, a new joint venture with Turner Classic Movies that promises themed programming, bonus features, and other attempts to justify yet another monthly subscription fee. Now that the Criterion Collection’s days on Hulu are numbered, the prospect of catching up on all those movies may seem too overwhelming to even attempt. Luckily, Vulture is here to help.

From now until November 11, here is one essential Criterion viewing per day, with plenty of suggestions for further exploration. Hulu only hosts a fraction of the total Criterion Collection, and this is not an attempt to list the 17 best films on the service — that would be madness. Instead, we’re giving you an eclectic buffet of options, to demonstrate just how vast and magnificent this selection is, and how much will be lost once it becomes another walled garden. (A note: Criterion may be phasing out some of these films earlier than expected, so keep an eye on the calendar and shuffle this order around if there’s something you’re absolutely dying to see.)

Get ready to dive in.

October 25: Black Orpheus (1959) 
Start your journey with one of the most purely entertaining films in the entire collection. A bossa nova reimagining of the myth of Orpheus set during Rio’s Carnaval, Marcel Camus’s colorful, pulsating epic puts an incredibly attractive cast on a journey to the underworld. Though made by an outsider, and criticized over the years (including by Barack Obama) for exoticizing Brazilian favelas, it’s hard not to see in Black Orpheus a genuine love for the people and the mythology of its setting.

Further Viewing: Other rip-roaring adventures await those brave enough to find them. The Thief of Bagdad, one of the first true special-effects blockbusters, and Stagecoach, the film that essentially invented the Western as we know it, aren’t just film-history curiosities, they’re tremendous fun in their own right.

October 26: Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962)
A vain young pop singer awaits a medical diagnosis. What follows is 90 minutes of a real-time stroll through Paris’s Left Bank, as both Cléo and the various people she meets on the streets feel their lives infused with a newfound sense of urgency and meaning. Agnès Varda made a lot of formal innovations with her French New Wave drama, paving the way for feminist film theory and the cinematography of Birdman, but her grandest invention was simply to show her city anew, through the eyes of a woman who needed a personal crisis to appreciate its beauty. 

Further Viewing: The collection offers six other Varda favorites, including La Pointe Courte, Vagabond, and The Young Girls of Rochefort.

October 27: The Seventh Seal (1957)
For those with only a passing familiarity with his work, Ingmar Bergman’s name may conjure up images of moribund Swedish chamber dramas. Even with a massive quantity of Bergman movies to choose from, the best place for a newbie to start is this Crusades-set fantasy epic, which features that famous chess match between Max von Sydow and Death. That indelible cinematic image is the string that links the entire film, as Sydow’s knight attempts to escort a group of innocents to safety while outwitting the fate that’s coming for all of them anyway. It culminates in a tragic and profound visual metaphor for coming to terms with mortality. In other words, pure Bergman. 

Further Viewing: Where to start with this insane library of Bergman greats? Can I convince you to watch all five hours of his magic-realist generational fantasia Fanny and Alexander? Or even just the three-hour version, still a life-changing piece of art in its own right? If not, Wild Strawberries, Persona, and Cries and Whispers would make one whopper of a triple feature.

October 28: Cronos (1993)
The breadth and depth of Hulu’s Criterion selection extends to horror films as well, including Guillermo del Toro’s supernatural creepfest, an early work that sets the tone for the filmmaker’s future genre experiments. The drum-tight plot concerns an elderly antiques-shop owner who discovers an ancient scarab device that grants the user eternal life — but claims its price tenfold in blood. Marvel at the skin-peeling makeup, the brilliant pacing, and the affecting performances by Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman, helping to elevate a B-movie premise to something haunting and otherworldly. 

Further Viewing: David Cronenberg has your taste for the grotesque covered. Two of his selections, the head-exploding sci-fi number Scanners and the bloody family film The Brood, are available for your sick pleasure. 

October 29: Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece is about one of the most elemental of horrors: impending parenthood. Amid the industrial clanging on the soundtrack, our poofy-haired hero (Jack Nance) discovers he and his girlfriend have produced a strange, infantlike creature (“They’re not sure if it is a baby!”), whose utterly alien presence seems to threaten both him and us in some wordless, elemental manner. The mind trip that follows refuses to give us a solid ground of normalcy to cling to, and by the end we may find we most closely identify with the mysterious Girl in the Radiator, who sings softly about some faraway heaven no one in this film will ever see.

Further Viewing: Hulu also offers a large selection of David Lynch’s early short films, some of which he made during production of Eraserhead.

October 30: Eyes Without a Face (1960)
That mask. That mask! Even if you know nothing else about Eyes Without a Face, you likely know its mask, the one hiding a young woman’s horrible disfigurement from the world. As the woman glides, ghostlike, through her father’s mansion, the daddy proves himself a movie villain for the ages, tearing through victims in an attempt to make his daughter whole again. Yes, people’s faces are getting torn off, but there’s real soul here, lurking deep in that piercing stare.

Further Viewing: Diabolique, the grisly tale of a crime of passion gone wrong, will scratch your French-horror itch even more.

October 31: House (1977) 
This is the one to put on at the Halloween party, once all your guests are all inebriated. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Nobuhiko Obayashi’s mind-melting horror flick, know that it’s the kind of film midnight movies were made for: As a posse of seven girls settles in for a weekend at a creepy mansion in the woods, they meet a series of fates that aren’t quite scary so much as they are totally insane. A flesh-eating piano, a cat that spews blood, a dashing hero who turns into a pile of bananas — it’s enough to make you gasp, laugh, and glance over at your friends to confirm you all just saw the same thing. If those descriptions didn’t it make clear, the Saturday-morning-cartoon special effects will confirm that House isn’t concerned with taking itself seriously; only with giving you the ride of your life.

Further Viewing: If you’re looking for more horror that errs on What?!? over Boo!, check out the ’80s-era cannibal comedy Eating Raoul and the pre–American Horror Story sideshow Carnival of Souls.

November 1: Ashes + Diamonds (1958)
Andrzej Wajda, who died in October, was one of those impossibly prolific filmmakers whose work spanned generations, cultures, and historical epochs. He began his career in the 1950s, making WWII dramas in Stalinist Poland, cranking out thrilling battles and human dilemmas all underneath the thumb of Soviet censors. Ashes + Diamonds is Wajda in peak form, telling the story of former soldiers who become hired assassins and find their loyalties split between family, party, and morality. Heavily influenced by the stylish freedom of American trailblazers like Citizen Kane, the film confirms its maker’s place in history.

Further Viewing: Hulu’s library has only a small sampling of Wajda’s seven-decade career, but you can delve more into his war films with Kanal and A Generation, or skip ahead to his globalist period with Danton, shot in France with Gérard Depardieu.

November 2: Touki Bouki (1973)
Hulu’s Criterion selection has slim pickings from black filmmakers, and you’d be foolish to overlook Djibril Diop Mambéty’s punk odyssey about two small-time Senegalese grifters trying to scrape together enough money to flee to Paris. The comic set-pieces are rich in postcolonial satire (the couple attempts to steal a chest of funds for a “Charles de Gaulle memorial”), and the editing style is so abstract it’s practically pointillist. Waves crash on the shore, a bike plows through fields up close, and a fresh breed of pan-African cinema is born. 

Further Viewing: If Touki Bouki seems an odd stand-in for African cinema, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, William Greaves’s wackadoo counterculture experiment, is an odder (but equally worthwhile) representation of stateside black film.

November 3: A Short Film About Killing (1988)
The anniversary of a death is a peculiar time to celebrate a life, but in the case of Krzysztof Kieślowski, whose work often grapples with the idea of the individual in uncertain times, it feels oddly appropriate. For the 20th anniversary of Kieślowski’s death, take in the most celebrated installment of his epic ten-film Dekalog sequence: a brutal two-act parable of a man who commits a senseless act of violence and is immediately, mercilessly, executed by the state. Washed-out colors and a sense of exaggerated reality permeate every frame of this uncompromising film. 

Further Viewing: Hulu also offers Kieślowski’s entire “Three Colors” trilogy; his magisterial The Double Life of Veronique; and more of his Polish films, including Camera Buff, a delightful account of a factory worker who falls in love with filmmaking. 

November 4: Grey Gardens (1975)
Big and Little Edie Beale, relatives of Jackie Onassis, spent their days entertaining each other in their crumbling East Hampton mansion, reminiscing about the good old days even as the very roof over their heads crumbled around them. For its perfect rendering of character and setting, and capturing of indelible moments (Little Edie, in her distinctive bobby-pinned “costumes,” emptying a bag of bread in the attic for the raccoons), Grey Gardens is one of the most memorable, and widely imitated, documentaries ever made. You can’t take your eyes off it.

Further Viewing: Directors Albert and David Maysles are roundly considered some of the greatest documentary filmmakers in the history of the medium. The collection also offers two more must-sees from their career: the Altamont chronicle Gimme Shelter and one of the finest cinematic depictions of American commerce, Salesman.

November 5: The Great Dictator (1940)
Of all the Charlie Chaplin greats in the Collection, the most politically urgent (for obvious reasons) is his bold and anarchic Third Reich satire, in which Chaplin plays both a grotesque, power-mad dictator and a Jewish barber who swaps places with him. There’s a certain poetic justice to Chaplin’s depiction of an all-powerful despot as a small-minded, thin-skinned clown incapable of performing even the most basic tasks.

Further Viewing: So many of the Chaplin selections here are essential viewing, not just for their comedy but also their sheer filmmaking prowess: Modern Times, The Gold Rush, City Lights, The KidYou can follow Chaplin’s line of influence all the way to Jacques Tati and his beloved cinematic contraption Playtime. 

November 6: La Collectionneuse (1967)
When Lena Dunham makes movies about privileged young people, she gets accused of shallowness and narcissism; when Éric Rohmer did it 50 years ago, he won worldwide acclaim. Remind yourself there’s nothing wrong with breezy angst by watching this sun-drenched story of a beautiful young “collector” of men, and the sad, shallow dudes who fall to pieces once they enter her orbit.

Further Viewing: Aimless romantics, Rohmer is here for you. Several of his features and shorts are available, including My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee, and Love in the Afternoon.

November 7: Yojimbo (1961)
Few things in the movies are more pleasurable than a samurai tale, and you could hole up for weeks just watching Criterion movies in which armored Japanese dudes duel. If you just want a taste of what the genre has to offer, enjoy Yojimbo, in which a charismatic sellsword stumbles upon a village of warring clans and cunningly plays them off each other. Akira Kurosawa’s film is nihilistic about human conflict, but it’s also sly enough to make us root for its antihero, who dispatches his adversaries in some of the most thrilling fight sequences you’re liable to come across. 

Further Viewing: Just trying to take in all of Kurosawa’s work is an impossible task. Seven Samurai is waiting to wash the recent Magnificent Seven remake out of your brain, but you can also go for Throne of Blood, Ikiru, Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress — there’s literally no bad choice.

November 8: The War Room (1993)
As the 2016 election reaches its climax, why not return to the faraway time of 1992, when staying “on-message” was considered a virtue, and when appeals to racial resentment were slightly more subtle. Directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus got an unprecedented level of access to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, shadowing strategists James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they set out to make their boss palatable to the average voter, even as scandals and missteps forced them to constantly think on their feet.

Further Viewing: Can’t get enough documentaries? Les Blank has you covered; Hulu has seven of his films, including the Werner Herzog meltdown chronicle Burden of Dreams.

November 9: A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
John Cassavetes’s name seems to be everywhere these days, as the influence of his ultra-low-budget, heavily improvised domestic drama can be felt in every corner of the American indie scene. His epic of mental illness and marital malaise stars Gena Rowlands as a bipolar housewife who cracks under the stress of keeping her family together — and once we get to know her abusive yet terrifyingly needy husband (Peter Fonda), it’s easy to see how her illness emerged. Scene after scene unfolds with an operatic timbre, with the family’s forced conversations and cartoonishly strict code of conduct producing a sad parody of domesticity that refuses to right itself. 

Further Viewing: Cassavetes’s Shadows offers a slightly more manageable taste of the director (it’s an hour shorter). If you want more melodrama, one logical next step would be Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose Ali: Fear Eats the Soul presents a doomed cross-cultural, cross-generational romance.

November 10: Taste of Cherry (1997)
End your Criterion tour with an unorthodox choice: a recent selection that uses modernity as a (literal) vehicle for musings on the nature of life and purpose. Abbas Kiarostami’s Cannes winner is a simple story of a man driving through Tehran, coaxing strangers into his car to ask a very specific favor. His motivation is less important than the conversations he elicits from his companions, deeply personal arguments about death and life. Why would anyone choose to die when there’s so much of the world to see? That simple question casts a spell over Kiarostami’s Tehran, where it always seems to be hovering just around the magic hour, and the film’s revelations are left for you to decode long after the sun sets.

Further Viewing: Two more Kiarostami films, Close-up and Where Is My Friend’s House?, encourage active participation from their audience, a “lean-forward” viewing style that reminds you that watching movies is supposed to be stimulating. And because they’re less than three decades old, finishing with them will give you a sense of elation about the present and future of film. Thanks for the taste of cherry, Criterion on Hulu. 

A Last-Minute Criterion Collection Hulu Guide