The 10 best films on Toronto Public Library’s free Netflix-style streaming service

The 10 best films on Toronto Public Library’s free Netflix-style streaming service

Photograph by Getty Images

Every year, the Toronto Public Library becomes an ever more solid reason to live in the GTA. Case in point: the library recently struck a deal with the Criterion Collection, a distribution imprint that, since the bygone days of Laserdiscs, has helped establish (and expand) the canon of classic cinema, with a catalogue that’s boasted everything from stately John Ford westerns to austere art cinema to Michael Bay’s The Rock. What does the TPL’s Criterion deal mean? Well, you can now stream hundreds of Criterion titles for free, with nothing but a library card. Here, 10 excellent films from the sprawling library.

The original Magnificent Seven
Seven Samurai 1954

Director: Akira Kurosawa
This year, TIFF will open with a remake the 1960 American western The Magnificent Seven. But even that film was itself a sort-of-remake of this Japanese historical epic, about a group of ronin who band together to help defend a small farming village. Granted, this one doesn’t have Chris Pratt, though what it lacks in Pratt, it makes up for in extended sword fight sequences.


The pitch-black social satire
The Exterminating Angel 1962

Director: Luis Buñuel
In Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel’s masterful social satire, guests at an upper-crust dinner party find themselves inexplicably trapped in a parlour, devolving into barbarism and suicide. It’s a lot funnier than it sounds.


The not-so-happy hour flick
Cléo From 5 to 7 1962

Director: Agnès Varda
In Canada (well, Quebec anyhow), a “5 à 7” is what you might call a happy hour—a chance to enjoy some marked-down drinks and appetizers with your office colleagues. But in Varda’s film, happiness isn’t exactly the order of the day. The film follows a beautiful singer (Corinne Marchand) as she waits to find out if she has cancer. It takes place over just a few hours, but Cléo zeroes in on heavy themes of despair, the changing roles of women, and the ever-vexing question of how to lead a meaningful life.


The housebound retrospective
My Night at Maud’s 1969

Director: Éric Rohmer
This summer, TIFF is mounting a retrospective honouring French New Wave master Éric Rohmer. But why bother putting on a clean shirt and hoofing it down to the Lightbox when you can stream many of Rohmer’s films from home? The fourth of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales” sextet, My Night at Maud’s grapples with the dilemmas of a staunchly Catholic engineer who finds himself torn between two women.


The twist to end all twists
Don’t Look Now 1973

Director: Nicolas Roeg
The less said about this suspenseful, supernatural, utterly gorgeous thriller, the better. Here’s what we will reveal: it’s an utterly unforgettable movie, and you get to see Donald Sutherland’s naked haunches. How’s that for Canadian content!


The May-December romance
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 1974

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder’s film is a highly affecting example of the New German Cinema—films by a generation of socially curious filmmakers working on shoestring budgets in the 1970s. It stars Brigitte Mira as a widowed West German cleaning lady who falls in love with a young Moroccan guest worker. In its tender exploration of their scandalous romance, Ali is as attuned to the social realities of West Germany as it is to the melodramatic moods of 1950s American cinema (it’s essentially a remake of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows).


The (literally) mind-blowing piece of CanCon
Scanners 1981

Director: David Cronenberg
Beloved Canuck weirdo David Cronenberg began his transformation from schlockmeister to serious auteur with this horror sci-fi cult classic. The film follows a super-powered telepath waging war against a security firm that’s trying to control him, and another super-powered telepath who must stop him. It’s also infamous for a scene in which—well, you’ll know it when you get there.


The genre bender
Close-Up 1990

Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Cinephiles mourned the passing of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami earlier this year. His work—challenging, inspiring and deeply humane—endures, investing quotidian life with a confounding complexity. Blending documentary and fiction, Close-Up is the profoundly engaging story of a fraudster impersonating a famous Iranian filmmaker.


The political junkie’s pick
The War Room 1993

Director: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker
It’s almost impossible to fathom how The War Room got made. It’s a revealing behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign and the backroom strategists (especially James Carville and George Stephanopoulos) that engineered the candidate’s public image. It’s an incisive—and damning—account of the manipulations of politics, and the spin-doctors who mastermind our civic leaders’ public personas.


The too-topical classic
La Haine 1995

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
A ’90s crossover art house hit, La Haine resonates today because it feels sadly prophetic. Set in and around a housing project in the suburbs of Paris, the film follows a group of young men from different ethnic backgrounds as they quarrel with gangs and attempt to duck police brutality. Its gritty, stylized depiction of the realities of urban life, and the difficulties of different groups attempting to get along peaceably, seems to speak directly to Europe’s current predicament.