2009 was a wild year: a plane landed in the Hudson river, America got its first black president, and Michael Jackson did his last moonwalk. Somewhere in the midst of that, YouTube began showing full-length, Hollywood films. Most of these are streamed on a rental basis for a modest fee (usually in the $1.99 – $3.99 range, an extra buck or so if you want it in HD). Some of them you can actually purchase to watch as much as your little heart wants (as long as your heart wants to pay $17.99 for “Snow White & the Huntsman”). If you’re like me though, you’ll watch anything they’ve got…as long as it’s free.
But for every “OC Babes & the Slasher of Zombietown,” there is also a lot of what the sophisticated, fat cat movie reviewers call “crap.” And with thousands of films to choose from, sometimes your eyes get a little glazed over and all your quality movie-watching time is spent just looking for something to watch. Fear not though; I’ve done the legwork to bring you five of the best free films to watch when you should be working.
1. Groundhog Day
Forget funniest free movie on YouTube — this might just be the funniest movie of all time. Everybody’s favorite curmudgeon, Bill Murray, stars as Phil, a real bastard of a weatherman who gets his karmic comeuppance when the galaxy forces him to relive the same day over and over until he learns to be a better person. Along the way, there’s some love, some death, some heartwarming stuff, and a truck-driving groundhog. I dare you to write a smarter movie.
Turns out David Bowie’s kid is a filmmaker. Duncan Jones, son of “The Thin White Duke,” has his directorial breakthrough in this Kubrick-inspired meditation on life, work and reality. In case you couldn’t guess, it takes place on the moon. Also, listen for the soothing sounds of Kevin Spacey as GERTY, a HAL-like robot who looks after Sam Rockwell’s beleaguered cosmonaut. To say more would be to spoil the fun.
3. Air Guitar Nation
Have you ever wanted to get famous for doing something really, really stupid? Who knew that there was an established competition for air guitar in the United States? Who knew that there was an established world championship of air guitar? Who knew that someone was willing to make a documentary about these people? The kicker is, this documentary makes air guitar look cool. Follow two American slackers on their varying quests to shock the world; you’ll be stoked you did.
4. Kung Fu Hustle
Merge the beautiful wire work and scenery of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” with, oh, I don’t know, “Spaceballs,” and you’ve only just begun to glimpse the wild ride that is “Kung Fu Hustle.” When young dreamer Sing desires to join the ruthless Axe Gang in 1940s China, he stumbles into a whole mess of shit. Life is rough down in Pig Sty Alley.
Remember what I said earlier about daring you to write a better film than “Groundhog Day”? Well, Charlie Kaufman actually did it. Probably the smartest screenplay of all time, Kaufman lets it all go when he is tasked with adapting an unadaptable book into a movie. Things take a turn for the strange when Kaufman ends up writing himself into his own movie. Oh yeah, and he invents a twin brother for himself. If you only have time to watch one free film while you’re supposed to be writing articles for an online magazine, make it this one!
Susan Orlean: “I don’t know, but it was fat!”
-The Gods Must Be Crazy
-Hellraiser II: Hellbound