Ten hidden gems on Kanopy, the Toronto Public Library’s new movie-streaming service
Stay-at-home cinephiles are used to losing nights combing through Netflix’s catalogue, hoping against hope to find something good they haven’t already seen. They’re in luck: Kanopy, the Toronto Public Library’s new streaming service, has 30,000 movies—a trove of indie flicks, art-house classics, foreign films, CanCon, First Nations titles and LGBTQ discoveries. Here, 10 essential films you can watch now with a library card.
Born in Flames 1983
This micro-budget sci-fi film by Lizzie Borden, a powerhouse in New York’s No Wave art scene, is a feminist classic. Set in a future America after a democratic-socialist uprising in which (mostly black) women have taken control, the film tackles issues of racism, classism, police brutality and other subjects as timely today as they were in 1983.
The movie that revolutionized cinema—jump cuts! natural light! self-reflexivity!—is still an entertaining watch 58 years later. In his first and most influential film, Jean-Luc Godard took his camera into the streets of Paris to tell the story of a movie-buff criminal and his long-suffering girlfriend. It captures the energy of Paris—and of the city’s then-burgeoning film culture—like no other movie.
Cléo from 5 to 7 1962
Those who know Agnès Varda from her Oscar-nominated 2017 documentary, Faces Places (or from social media, where she has become the Betty White of art-house cinema), should check out her most famous film. Following a day in the life of a young singer who worries she may have cancer, this is one of the most playful films of 1960s French cinema, and it brought the New Wave a much-needed feminist voice.
The Color Wheel 2011
Few comedies are as corrosive as this unforgettable indie about two dysfunctional siblings on a road trip—characters who would be utterly loathsome if they weren’t so funny. Writer/director/star Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip) embraces his film’s paltry budget with grungy-but-beautiful 16mm black-and-white cinematography.
Dementia 13 1963
Before he made The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola shot this cheap, moody thriller about an axe murderer in three days. If the chance to see a future master cutting his teeth doesn’t entice you, how about the fact that this contains the first on-screen decapitation in American cinema?
Fireworks (Hana-Bi) 1997
In Japan, Takeshi Kitano is known as an actor, comedian, author, painter and game show host (he created the game show that became Most Extreme Elimination Challenge). On North American shores, he has a reputation as the Japanese Clint Eastwood, the director-star of stylish, mordantly funny gangster movies. His 1997 film, Fireworks (Hana-Bi), is an ideal entry point: a witty, melancholy thriller in which shocking violence alternates with deadpan comedy.
I Am Not Your Negro 2016
James Baldwin, one of America’s most important public intellectuals, gets his due in this timely documentary. Based on 30 pages of Baldwin’s unpublished writing about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and supplemented by footage from his speeches and talk show appearances, the film proposes that America’s systemic racism has barely improved since the civil-rights era, and that most of Baldwin’s writings could be describing the modern world.
The Look of Silence 2014
In his 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer challenged death-squad leaders from the Indonesian genocide to recreate their crimes for the camera, hoping to prod their consciences. In this follow-up, he took a more direct approach, following a survivor who confronts the people responsible for his family’s deaths. This white-knuckle documentary is an act of defiance in a culture of silence and complicity.
Modern Times 1936
Charlie Chaplin takes a kaleidoscopic view of Depression-era America in one of his best-loved films. Ping-ponging from factory assembly lines to prisons to a shantytown to an affluent department store, the class-conscious comedy captures the scale of American inequality while also featuring some of Chaplin’s most intricate slapstick.
Mountains May Depart 2015
Jia Zhangke is the most essential cinematic chronicler of China as global superpower, capturing the people, communities and traditions swallowed by the country’s embrace of capitalism. His ambitious but intimate Mountains May Depart follows the evolution of a family in 1999, 2014 and 2025, using his characters to tell a larger story about their country.