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Train to Busan
Train to Busan

17 great movies to stream on SBS On Demand

Bring the popcorn – some of the best flicks of the century so far are screening for free on SBS

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The trouble with Netflix (apart from not being free) is that it's not as strong as it could be when it comes to, you know, flicks. They have great TV shows, of course, but not so many actually great films to watch, when you want to get that movie-night thrill of a truly immersive movie you've never seen before.

Well guess what? SBS is here to help, with an extensive catalogue of European, Asian, South and North American movies that includes stunning films you may have missed. And it won't cost you a cent in subscription fees. Check out Time Out's expert reviews of some of those great thrillers, dramas, comedies and horror pieces – and there are plenty more where that came from.

Movie night sorted

1. The Lives of Others

Film

Set on the cusp of the Cold War’s thaw-out, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut feature revisits an East Germany and the glory days of the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s secret police force composed of men like Captain Wiesler (Ulrich Mhe) – dangerously efficient, emotionally detached and able to spot subversives before they’ve uttered a single word. Assigned to keep tabs on a popular playwright (Sebastian Koch), the officer wiretaps the author’s apartment. The more Wiesler hears, however, the more the eavesdropper develops an empathy for both his prey and the writer’s actor girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). You can pick out the works of others in Von Donnersmarck’s drama – America’s paranoid ’70s thrillers, British espionage flicks and various dour nail-biters featuring overcoated spies coming in from the cold. But it’s the performances (especially Mhe’s spook) and the film’s sharklike forward momentum that make The Lives of Others a compelling look at the psychic toll incurred by a society obsessed with security.

2. Frances Ha

Film Comedy

‘I’m not a real person yet,’ blurts out Frances, who’s 27, lives in Brooklyn and has got that lurchy, what-the-hell-am-I-doing feeling about her life. Frances (Greta Gerwig) doesn’t have a proper job or a boyfriend (‘undateable’ is how she describes herself). What she does have is a best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter). ‘We’re the same person with different hair’, says Frances. They live together, hang out together and fall asleep together in Sophie’s bed watching movies. But Sophie is outgrowing their friendship – and when she begins dating a banker and becomes a dinner-party-girl, she ditches Frances. This charming, drifty indie comedy, shot in gorgeous black and white, feels totally honest. The script, co-written by Gerwig, is full of spiky-real one-liners – like this, when someone compares Frances to Sophie: ‘Are you older than her? You have an older face.’ 

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Cold War
Photograph: Opus Film/Amazon Studios

3. Cold War

Film Drama

If you’ve ever been stuck hundreds of miles from the love of your life, wondering if it’s really worth all the heartache and phone-checking, Pawel Pawlikowski has made the movie for you. With a monochrome love story spanning two decades and four countries in post-war Europe, the Polish filmmaker has conjured a dazzling, painful, universal odyssey through the human heart and all its strange compulsions. In 1949, twentysomething singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) and middle-aged pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) meet in the least auspicious of settings – an austere Polish musical academy that could easily double as a prison. Wiktor is charged with assembling a troupe of folk musicians to extol the greatness of the motherland, but he’s had his fill of songs about agricultural reform. Zula’s defiant spirit catches his eye, they fall for each other and he promises her a new life on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But when he defects to Paris, she surprises him by staying behind, setting in motion a 20-year love affair.

 

4. Volver

Film Comedy

Almodóvar has long been interested in the varied terrain of ‘women’s troubles’ (as the film’s funniest line ambiguously describes them), and his 16th feature offers another fable of long-suffering drudgery overcome by domestic homicide and the whiff of quotidian magic. Penélope Cruz's Raimunda is a working wife and mum holding down several jobs to support her adolescent daughter and makes regular trips back to her home village with her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) to tend their mother’s grave. But when Raimunda’s husband suddenly dies and Sole starts receiving visitations from their mum (Carmen Maura), both have to learn to live with death and the practical as well as emotional challenges it brings. Volver masterfully interpolates tragedy and farce.

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A Educadora de Infância (2018)
©Outside the Box

5. The Kindergarten Teacher

Film Drama

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s teacher, Lisa Spinelli, is a vaguely dissatisfied wife and mother who struggles in the poetry classes she takes with charismatic lecturer Simon (Gael García Bernal). But everything changes when she hears Jimmy (Parker Sevak), one of her pupils, reciting a poem he has written. She becomes convinced that he is a prodigy and believes she must nurture his talent, whatever it takes. Director Sara Colangelo avoids easy answers as Lisa goes to more and more extreme lengths to clear a path for Jimmy’s genius – if that’s what it is. Maybe his verse is a six-year-old’s nonsense, and Lisa and her friends are just pseuds for admiring it. It’s a quiet film that offers a powerful look at the heavy expectations we place on children and the inevitable disappointments of adult life. It’s also a powerful reminder that we need to be alert enough to balance the two. 

Black Book
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

6. Black Book

Film Thriller

Starring Carice 'The Red Witch' Van Houten, Paul Verhoeven's 2007 World War II thriller gives one of the stars of Game of Thrones an early shot at European movie immortality. The film holds a glass to the little-examined period of Dutch history around the end of WWII: Rachel, a former singer, falls in with a Resistance cell, is given a new identity and infiltrates the local SS HQ via a liaison with senior officer Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). As the Nazis crumble and Rachel begins to glean the contents of the titular logbook, however, she realises she may have less to fear from the disarmingly decent Müntze than the ‘heroes’ of the underground or a vengeful public. Black Book charts the progress of a woman set on survival and independence and willing to use sex to keep them; Van Houten’s performance is barnstorming.

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7. Certain Women

Film

A slow-burn, low-key indie drama made up of three tales linked by geography and the inner lives of its female characters, Certain Women offers writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s three precise, emotionally direct tales of promise and despair. The setting is Montana in winter, where a lawyer (Laura Dern) has to deal with a client on the verge of losing his mind, and a wife and mother (Michelle Williams) meets an elderly man (René Auberjonois) about buying some vintage sandstone, and has to cope with her husband’s tactlessness. But it's the final story that hits the hardest, as an isolated horse trainer (extraordinary newcomer Lily Gladstone) wanders into a night class on education law and promptly falls in love, or something like it, with the teacher (Kristen Stewart).

Donnie Darko
Photograph: Newmarket Films

8. Donnie Darko

Film Drama

Richard Kelly’s intelligent, enchanting slice of ’80s-throwback Lynchian emo-angst has Jake Gyllenhaal all glowering gothic intensity as Donnie, the wayward son of a well-to-do middle-American family who begins to suspect that his hallucinations of a giant rabbit are in fact transmissions from an apocalyptic future. It’s the jukebox soundtrack and crisp, inventive photography you remember, but what’s perhaps most remarkable about Donnie Darko is how Kelly manages to take a bleak story of adolescent mental illness and make it funny, resonant and entertaining – without ever sacrificing integrity.

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9. Angel Heart

Film Horror

Private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by the mysterious and malevolent Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing crooner who dabbled in the occult; but Angel's leads all wind up dead in a series of ritual murders. A demonic and erotic thriller from the late Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Fame, The Commitments, Evita), Angel Heart offers extraordinary visuals of a scuzzy 1950s, complete with the symbolism of squeaky ventilation fans (representing a crucifix that has an unnerving habit of turning upside down). Keep an eye on those as Harry's search becomes a decent into a personal hell. Excellent performances include Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling as a shadowy tarot reader.

Una mujer fantástica
Foto: Cortesía Cine Caníbal

10. A Fantastic Woman

Film Drama

This taciturn Chilean character piece is a quietly devastating story of prejudice that often seems to be powered solely via the infinitesimal registers of its lead, startling newcomer (and the country’s first transgender actress) Daniela Vega. You barely need to refer to the subtitles to know what’s going on: it’s written all over her face. Vega plays Marina Vidal, a trans lounge singer seeing a much older man. Little does she know, but she’ll soon be stripped of her stake in their life together by his grasping, disapproving family – right down to their beloved dog. Director Sebastián Lelio shows us just how fragile Marina’s grip on her life is as a trans person – and he’s found the perfect canvas to do it in Vega. The result is a cry for compassion, very much a film for our times.

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11. Let the Right One In

Film

This angular and lusty tween horror movie, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s bestseller, has lonesome, whey-faced 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) smitten by a young vampire named Eli (Lina Leandersson). After initiating an adorable romance in the snow-coated forecourt of their glum housing complex, they soon realise that both of them are baying for blood. He’s privately fantasising about stabbing up his schoolyard tormentors with a pocket knife and she needs to sate an appetite for the red stuff that keeps her from dropping dead… again. The bashful, impassive hue of the central performances also gives the film an anything-could-happen edge: feelings of anger and desire don’t provoke hysterical outbursts but remain bewildering within the minds of the juvenile cast.

12. A Prophet

Film

A Prophet is nearly three hours of shanking, squealing and surviving: a riveting narrative about the nature and accrual of power. Arriving at a noisy French prison is 19-year-old Malik (the deeply sympathetic Tahar Rahim), who resembles less a hard-timer than a yummy cupcake. He quickly toughens up under the brutal tutelage of Corsican kingpin Csar (Arestrup) and the movie’s grueling tale multiplies in complexity. Razors are stashed in mouths, the yard divides racially, and Malik learns to score drugs and favors. The movie zings along with perfectly-paced verve, punctuated by Tarantino-esque title cards. Never before have the steps to thugdom been so rigorously detailed.

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13. Their Finest

Film Comedy

An Education director Lone Scherfig's witty, sophisticated and unexpectedly sober romcom pays tribute to Britain's WWII propaganda filmmakers and slips in a spry, timely investigation of women's roles in cinema for good measure. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) comes to the attention of the Ministry of Information as a copywriter for newspaper cartoons. They're looking for someone to script a series of propaganda short films urging the women of Britain to work in factories and grow vegetables, and she's looking for a way to support her moody artist boyfriend Ellis (Jack Huston). But it's not long before Catrin is assisting writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on an inspirational feature film script inspired by a pair of Southend sisters who stole their father's boat and headed to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. Like its film-within-a-film, Their Finest might so easily have been sentimental hogwash, but while she's thoroughly committed to serving both the rom and the com, Scherfig somehow never falls into any of the obvious traps.

14. Train to Busan

Film Horror

Inexplicably, this South Korean horror film – set on a speeding locomotive – is not called ‘Zombies on a Train’. Director Yeon Sang-ho keeps it simple as several stock characters board the high-speed express from Seoul to Busan amid some unheeded omens. There’s a scumbag hedge-fund manager and his daughter, a pair of old ladies, a pregnant woman and a high school baseball team. And finally, one sweaty teenager, obviously unwell, who jumps on at the last minute. It’s not long before her eyes go rabid, her neck cocks and her bloodlust rises.

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15. Florence Foster Jenkins

Film Drama

Meryl Streep stars in this ridiculously watchable comedy, playing filthy rich socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, a deluded diva who sang at private recitals in New York, warbling opera, blissfully unaware that her hilariously awful singing voice might shatter the chandeliers at any moment. To sing this badly must stretch as many acting muscles as all that Oscar-winning emoting. Protecting her from the truth is Florence’s younger second husband, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), his mission in life to keep the ‘mockers and scoffers’ at bay, bribing audiences and paying off critics. 

Suspiria
Alessio Bolzoni/Amazon Studios

16. Suspiria

Film Horror

The best horror movies, just as major as the more reputable stuff, work on a primal level, beyond plot or words. They grab at your bowels. Dario Argento’s 1977 stunner Suspiria, an explosion of colour, gore and vaulting stylistic ambition, is undoubtedly one of them. Still, it wasn’t quite a slam dunk when it was announced that a fellow Italian – even one as gifted as Call Me by Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino – would be re-imagining Suspiria. But it’s a miracle that he seems to understand Argento’s witch-centric original on an almost molecular level. Ohio-born Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) attends a Berlin dance school that may be overrun by witches. Tilda Swinton's visionary instructor Madame Blanc could pass for either a black-clad succubus or simply one of those self-serious 1970s artists who says things like, ‘Today we need to break the nose of every beautiful thing.’ And break it they do.

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17. Wild Tales

Film Drama

Comedy seldom travels well from one culture to another, but young Argentine writer-director Damián Szifron has a knack for latching on to ideas and characters with a humorous dimension that is pretty universal. The opening sketch, about an almost surreally improbable situation – a planeful of passengers is miraculously assembled by a single unseen individual bent on revenge – demonstrates not only Szifron's taste in ultra-black humour but his preferred strategy of combining outrageous excess with a perverse but unavoidable logic. So, grudges, minor insults, found-out flirtations and the like repeatedly lead to mayhem and murder on a cataclysmic scale. The funniest of the six stories is probably a brilliantly extended riot of absurdly brutal road rage. 

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