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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Truly Excellent Movies You Can Stream for Free Right Now

Watch Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance, go retro with old-school sci-fi and comedy gems, or get immersed in a cinematic mind-bender — all without spending a cent.
By Sarah Ward
May 01, 2020
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Ten Truly Excellent Movies You Can Stream for Free Right Now

Watch Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance, go retro with old-school sci-fi and comedy gems, or get immersed in a cinematic mind-bender — all without spending a cent.
By Sarah Ward
May 01, 2020
  shares

Gone are the days when film buffs got their fix in one of three ways: at the cinema, via the video shop and thanks to whatever happened to pop up on TV. Lately, streaming platforms have become a cinephile's best friend — especially with COVID-19 restrictions keeping everyone at home.

We say 'platforms', plural, because there's just so many to choose from. Netflix may be the industry's big gun, but Aussie audiences can also subscribe to Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, DocPlay, iWonder, Quibi and OzFlix, too. And, as even the most casual movie fan probably knows, that isn't even the end of the list.

Feeling spoiled for choice? Can't pick which platform to splash your cash on? There is an easier way. Australian viewers can also access a number of free streaming services such as SBS On Demand, Tubi and Kanopy — which don't skimp on film options, but won't cost you a cent. And in the interests of budget-friendly movie marathons, we've rounded up ten excellent flicks you can stream for free right now.

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BAD GENIUS

Mark our words: in the next couple of years, an English-language version of this Thai thriller will reach our screens. A high-stakes high-school exam flick, it's smart and slick, funny and fast-paced, as well as tautly made and tension-filled — and it turns a situation we can all relate to into a nail-biting heist caper. Straight-A student Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is the misbehaving high-achiever of the title, who first hatches a plan to make money by feeding her classmates test answers, and then bands together with her customers to cheat at the biggest test there is. The premise was taken from reality, and part of the movie was shot in Sydney, but the real highlight is Bad Genius' lively style and thoroughly entertaining narrative.

Bad Genius is available to stream via SBS On Demand.

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YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

In Lynne Ramsay's long-waited fourth feature, an ex-soldier and former FBI agent grapples with his own trauma while trying to save others from theirs. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) rescues children abducted and abused by pedophile rings — and if that sounds like an astonishing story, just wait, because You Were Never Really Here isn't done yet. Indeed, it's hard to pick what's more stunning here: Ramsay's empathetic and expressive direction, which keeps making unexpected choices to immerse viewers in Joe's headspace, or Phoenix's internalised performance, which won him the best actor prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Call it a tie, and call this film an exceptional achievement that isn't easily forgotten after watching. Phoenix might've won an Oscar this year for Joker, but this is his best performance.

You Were Never Really Here is available to stream via Kanopy. Read our full review.

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THE FIFTH ELEMENT

The 90s didn't shy away from big-screen sci-fi, but there's nothing quite as entertaining as The Fifth Element. Forget Independence Day, Armageddon and Men in Black — if you're eager for a film about humanity battling aliens and trying to save the planet, Luc Besson's action-packed flick is the best pick. Come for Bruce Willis and a pre-Resident Evil Milla Jovovich at their kick-ass best. Stay for the eye-popping set and costume design, with the latter by Jean-Paul Gaultier. And, story-wise, get immersed in an ambitious and entertaining futuristic tale about a taxi driver saddled with finding four mystical stones to fend off an intergalactic attack.

The Fifth Element is available to stream via SBS On Demand.

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BRIMSTONE & GLORY

It's human nature to stare at the sky whenever fireworks ascend to the heavens. We hear the popping sound, spy the bright flashes of light and simply can't help ourselves. Set in Tultepec, the tiny town at the heart of Mexico's fireworks industry, Brimstone & Glory captures that feeling more effectively than anyone could've expected. Indeed, the gorgeous documentary commits the vibrance of watching colourful explosions twinkling above to film as it charts the locale's National Pyrotechnic Festival, explores the lives of those both working and watching, and proves as spellbinding as the substance at its centre.

Brimstone & Glory is available to stream via Kanopy.

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THE TRIBE

Writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's first feature was always going to be a hard sell. The film runs for more than two hours without a word of dialogue, a hint of music or even any subtitles, with its characters — a group of classmates at a Ukrainian boarding school for the hearing impaired — communicating only through sign language. And it's not just a difficult concept; in an effort that becomes both violent and haunting — all the more so because it demands audiences pay the utmost attention to what they can see — it's also difficult to watch. Reports of fainting are widespread, but those who can stomach its brutal sights will find a movie completely unlike anything else they've ever seen before.

The Tribe is available to stream via Tubi. Read our full review.

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HEATHERS

These days, Heathers is a stage musical, a TV series and (in Brisbane at least) a regular dance party theme. If you've ever wondered why this dark high school-set tale just keeps spawning new adaptations and celebrations, then you owe it to yourself to watch or rewatch the original 1988 movie. For Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), every day at Westerburg High School is hell. Even though she's part of the popular clique — with her three closest friends all called Heather — that still proves the case. Then brooding loner JD (Christian Slater) arrives at school, instantly shaking up the status quo. The result: murder, mayhem, teen angst and one incredibly acerbic, sharp and amusing satire.

Heathers is available to stream via Kanopy.

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HOLY MOTORS

Cinematic mind-benders don't get much better — or more strange, eccentric and surreal — than Leos Carax's Holy Motors. Following a man called Oscar (Denis Lavant) who rides around in a limousine, attends unusual appointments in various costumes and plays an array of different parts, it's the type of film that can't be neatly summarised. Indeed, as Oscar goes about his day, anything could happen. Sometimes, he's dressed up as a beggar in the Parisian streets. Later, he's an old man listening to Eva (Kylie Minogue) sing. As it hops between kaleidoscopic vignettes, Carax's vibrant film ponders and probes identity and individuality, all while serving up dazzling visuals, exuberant performances and constant surprises.

Holy Motors is available to stream via SBS On Demand.

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RIVER OF GRASS

Kelly Reichardt boasts quite the filmography. She explored the companionship only a pet can bring in Wendy and Lucy, delved into the western genre in Meek's Cutoff and contemplated eco-activism in Night Moves. Then, she brought Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart together for contemplative triptych Certain Women, and stepped back to 19th-century America for her stellar latest film First Cow. Before all that, though, Reichardt spun a story of social isolation and disconnection in the Florida suburbs, all thanks to her debut feature River of Grass. And as with every entry on the director's resume, this not-quite road movie couldn't feel more authentic or keenly observed.

River of Grass is available to stream via Kanopy.

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PURPLE RAIN

'Purple Rain', the song, is one of Prince's all-time greats. Purple Rain, the album, ranks just as highly. And Purple Rain, the 1984 film, is exactly the kind of movie that a Prince-starring rock musical should be. Focusing on an aspiring musician trying to balance his troubled home life with his band and his girlfriend, the storyline is straightforward — but when you plonk a charismatic star like Prince in the middle of it, bathe the flick's frames in plenty of purple, and crank up the killer soundtrack, sparks fly. Given the narrative, the array of live concert scenes also work a treat. And while the sequel, 1990's Graffiti Bridge, doesn't reach the same heights, this is a mighty entertaining, toe-tapping way to spend 111 minutes.

Purple Rain is available to stream via Tubi.

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THE CONVERSATION

In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola directed a little film called The Godfather Part II. Yes, everyone has heard of it. But that was just one of his movies that year — and with zero scorn aimed towards the Oscar-winning crime flick, which is rightfully considered one of the best sequels ever made, The Conversation is actually even better. Winning the Cannes Film Festival's top gong, this Gene Hackman-starring thriller delves into a topic that's still very relevant today: the moral dilemma around surveillance. Hackman is fantastic as the film's conflicted protagonist, while Coppola crafts a tense, moody and brooding masterpiece. Keep an eye out for a young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford, too.

The Conversation is available to stream via SBS On Demand.

Published on May 01, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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