Friday, March 27, 2009

The Hulu Top Twenty

Hulu has added a bunch of strong new movies this week, and the viewing audience has responded by gobbling them up like candy. Morgan Spurlock's famous documentary takes top honors, and we also see some suspense, anime, and and a couple of strong political thrillers, which are entering cyberspace long after their heyday. For the first time ever, the top six of Hulu movies are all new offerings.

1. Super Size Me (2004)
Last Week's Ranking: 1
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: Just weeks after documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock was nominated for a Hulu Award for his reality series "30 Days," his hit documentary film takes the number one spot on the Top Twenty for the week. Could this be a sign that Hulu viewers are brainier and more health conscious than the country at large? Maybe. At any rate, if you haven't seen this fantastic movie, you should. Spurlock uses himself as a guinea pig to answer the question: What will happen when an otherwise-healthy man eats nothing but McDonalds for a month? The answer to that question is probably somewhat obvious, but the film gets us to think about the factors that go into the decision to pull into that drive-thru.

2. Inside Special Forces (2003)
Last Week's Ranking: 10
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: Military geeks will enjoy pretending they're alongside the US Special Military forces spotlighted in this movie.
It's a lot closer to gun porn than you might expect from a classy outfit like National Geographic, but they do bring their signature awesome videography skills to the table.

3. The Blue Lagoon (1980)
Last Week's Ranking: 5
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: This movie has become notorious for two things: naked young people in the titular lagoon, and being very, very bad. Christopher Atkin's curly blond locks make him the iconic surfer boy, while Brooke Shields shows us why, after a quarter century,she still fails to engage the audience in any way that is not sexual.

4. Confessions of a Superhero (2007)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: This is a great little human interest documentary, with a spotlight on four different people who make their living by dressing up as superheroes and posing for pictures with tourists. When we see a man dressed like Superman trying to help other street performers, we're tempted to give him props as a real-life version of the comic hero. But the film keeps adding layers of humanity, evoking both pity and contempt for him by the time the credits roll. Also features Wonder Woman, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk.

5. Origin: Spirits of the Past (2006)
Last Week's Ranking: 2
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: This massive 2.5 hour anime feature didn't receive much attention outside of the target genre audience. It's nice to see that Hulu is adding this to the rolls, but if you're new to anime, you probably won't want to cut your teeth on this behemoth.

6. Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag (2004)
Weeks on List: 1 (9)
Notes: There must be something I'm not getting about this I-Max documentary featuring fighter pilots. It keeps coming back to our Top Twenty list, like a bad case of herpes. The message board for the movie has a lot of military folks chatting it up, so that may have something to do with it.

Last Week's Ranking: 7
Weeks on List: 20
Notes: Jim Carrey goofs it up in a decent comedy that puts all of his face-stretching talents on display. If you can get through his current offering, "Yes Man," without puking, then this will give you paroxysms of delight. With over 4 months in the top 20, this is probably going to be the most popular Top Twenty selection of all time.

8. Air Force One (2001)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Hulu has really been blurring the line between movies and television program episodes lately. This "movie" debuted on National Geographic television not too long ago, and I don't see what differentiates it from any other hour long episode of one of their flagship documentary series. At any rate, this spotlights the titular presidential plane from the days of FDR to the days of GWB.

9. In the Line of Fire (1993)
Last Week's Ranking: 3
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: Sixteen years ago, people were already saying that Clint Eastwood was getting too old to be an action star. But "In the Line of Fire" was the presidential assassination thriller that shut all of those critics up. Eastwood plays a secret service agent who was on hand when JFK was shot. Now, decades later, he faces another threat to another president, this time from ace crackpot John Malkovich. Rene Russo and Dylan McDermott give supporting roles in this extremely well-done genre exercise.

10. His Girl Friday (1940)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy are the iconic actors of a bygone era doing what they do best: it's a wacky, broad comedy with a senseless (yet romantic) love story in the middle. A newspaper editor is worried about his best reporter when the reporter's ex-wife seems to be on the cusp of remarrying. The editor does his best to prevent the newspaper-threatening union.

11. Before the Music Dies (2006)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: This sometimes comes off like an old man's lament about the next era of pop culture. Instead of featuring Bill Cosby talking about the way that rap has lost its role-modeling soul, we have a laundry list of big music stars (Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Elvis Costello, for example) ripping on the modern pop-music factory industry. The musicians have a point about the assembly line production of the best-selling music stars and their crappy tunes, but the line between the old stars and the new stars is so blurry that the argument sometimes falls flat.

12. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)
Last Week's Ranking: 9
Weeks on List: 13
Notes: A goofy spoof of kung fu films in which director Steve Oedekerk digitally inserts himself into an already-laughable action flick. Critics largely hated the comedic effort, with the main criticism being that it's a 2-minute joke stretched out to an excruciating 80 minutes.

13. Saints and Soldiers (2005)
Last Week's Ranking: 8
Weeks on List: 7 (13)
Notes: A Mormon sniper and an atheist medic clash as their platoon struggles to survive behind Nazi lines in this 2005 actioner. Stars Corbin Allred and Peter Holden. It looks decent, but I'm not sure what the lasting appeal is.

14. Great White Shark: The Truth Behind the Legend (2000)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: Another supposed feature, this 54 minute National Geographic documentary is exactly what you would expect to see on television during Shark Week. It's good enough, and professional enough, but nothing you haven't seen before

15. National Lampoon's Spring Break (2007)
Last Week's Ranking: 19
Weeks on List: 8 (9)
Can you really call a 53 minute comedy a movie? Hulu has longer clips. The boobs of the hour belong to Nikki Ziering. Be sure to consider this one for the "Worst Movie" in the Hulu Awards, where it has been recognized as a finalist.

16. Picture Perfect (1997)
Last Week's Ranking: 11
Weeks on List: 13
Notes: This romantic comedy is a predictable trifle, but critics were pacified by the sweet match up of Jennifer Aniston and Jay Mohr. The plot involves Aniston inventing a fictional fiancee in an effort to get ahead at work. This one is set to expire, after which it will be included in the Hall of Fame.

17. Single White Female (1992)
Last Week's Ranking: 13
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda both got a big career boost from this oft-imitated tale of obsessive adulation. Leigh is the shy, seemingly nice roommate who eventually gets so fixated on Fonda's life that she decides she must have it for her own.

18.American Virgin (2000)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1 (13)
Notes: Bob Hoskins and Mena Suvari star in the lowly-regarded 2000 comedy. Why has it done so well? I'm guessing it's PSMSBs (People Seeking Mena Suvari's Boobs). You can see them in American Beauty, folks. They weren't anything special then. What, you think she retrofitted them with subsonic woofers or something?

19. The Family Man (2000)
Last Week's Ranking: 18
Weeks on List: 13
Notes: Studio workhorse Brett Ratner directs this Nicolas Cage vehicle to predictable results. It's a Christmas story in which the financially successful but morally bankrupt Cage gets an opportunity to live an alternate version of his own life, one in which he is an average schmo happily married to Tea Leoni. The movie is well done, but brings nothing new to the table, and we know the outcome of the movie before our asses hit the theater seats (or, in this case, our computer chairs). Don Cheadle has a role as the mystic author of Cage's personal journey.

20. Reefer Madness (1937)
Last Week's Ranking: NA
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: No doubt the name alone has caused stoners to put this campy cult-classic into Hulu's top charts this week. Notorious for the way in which it wildly overstates the dangers of marijuana, it gives us all a hearty laugh when the featured teens descend into lunacy. Madness, I tell you!

Notably Absent:
These movies have dropped off the list this week.

The Lost Coast (2008)
Last Week's Ranking: 4
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: According to Hulu, "High school friends reunite for Halloween in San Francisco and become forced to confront their unspoken sexual history." The sexual tension exists mainly between the two men, who aren't prepared to fully accept their sexuality. Writer/Director Gabriel Fleming gives us this indie flick, which stars mostly newcomers to the big screen.

We Are Wizards (2008)
Last Week's Ranking: 6
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: This movie spotlights an interesting corner of the nerdy fanfic world. Buffy fanfic readers look down on Harry Potter fanfic readers, who will no doubt kick Twilight fanfic readers around as soon as that trend gets rolling. At any rate, this is about the "wizard rockers" who have made a phenomenon out of singing about the characters in the Hogwarts universe. It doesn't provide much insight, but it does come with a lifetime supply of rhymes for "Hagrid."

Who's Harry Crumb? (1989)
Last Week's Ranking: 12
Weeks on List: 1
Notes: John Candy is a goofy, bumbling detective who goes through as many goofy disguises as the plot can handle in his attempts to foil a kidnapping masterminded by Jeffrey Jones.
This falls somewhere between the dry wit and semi-realism of Chevy Chase's funny "Fletch," and the horribly unfunny antics of Dana Carvey's "The Master of Disguise." Candy is a likeable actor, but he doesn't really get the material to carry enough scenes.

National Lampoon's Blackball (2004)
Last Week's Ranking: 14
Weeks on List: 2
National Lampoon has become a textbook example of how a brand name can go from a selling point to a dumping ground. Like any other movie that the franchise has released in the last ten years, Blackball promises wild partying, campy sexuality, and raucous comedy, but only delivers on the partying. The plot involves a Happy Gilmore-like culture clash around the sport of Bocci. Vince Vaughan is in the movie, looking a little embarrassed to be there, but at least he makes his scenes worth watching. James Cromwell looks equally embarrassed as the stiff establishment player, but the script doesn't give him anything to work with (unless you like the idea of the guy from Babe yelling "fucking wanker!").

Species 3 (2004)
Last Week's Ranking: 15
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: TI want to dismiss this one without even thinking about watching it, but now I've gone and looked at the cast, and seen that the excellent Robert Knepper (Prison Break's creepy "T Bag") is one of the headliners. The premise is marketable, if ridiculous: an alien species has come to earth, represented by a beautiful woman with an insatiable libido and a biological imperative to reproduce.

Dragonheart (1996)
Last Week's Ranking: 17
Weeks on List: 7 (9)
Notes: Dennis Quaid is a dragonslayer. But Sean Connery is Draco, his secret dragon pal. How can the two of them pull off a revolt against the evil king? The consistent presence of this one on the Top Twenty may mean that Hulu is connecting with a family niche on a regular basis.

Pulse (2002)
Last Week's Ranking: 20
Weeks on List: 2
Notes: This movie has a very respectable, if not a box-office burning cast, with the likes of Madeline Stowe, Jonathan Rhys-Myers, and Bijou Phillips supporting Mischa Barton as a girl who is kidnapped from the bosom of her family by a bizarre cult. The cast can't save the film, which tries to cash in on the worst trends in modern horror, to no great effect.

Hall of Fame:
These are the movies that have had the longest run on the list in the past. Right now, the threshold for inclusion is 7 weeks, but I anticipate that it will go up over time. Two new inductees this week.

The Fifth Element
Weeks on List: 13
Notes: Bruce Willis is a cab the future! Kind of. He and Milla Jovovich tear it up in this pure action adventure that keeps drawing in the Hulu viewers. With "The Girl Next Door" gone for good, this is the most popular movie of all time on Hulu. Strange, innit? I chalk it up to the promo picture on Hulu, which features Jovovich in a skimpy white costume. I think it's utterly unflattering, but I recognize that it will appeal to a certain group of people. Even with an expiration date stealing this movie from Hulu viewers before they were done watching it in droves, it will live on in the Hall of Fame.

Basic Instinct (1992)
Weeks on List: 11
Notes: Sixteen years on, Sharon Stone's hoohoo is still drawing eyeballs in massive numbers. I hope she has that thing insured! At any rate, this is showing some serious staying power on the list. I guess vagina never really goes out of style.

Black Knight (2001)
Last Week's Ranking: 20
Weeks on List: 10
Notes: Martin Lawrence stars in this godawful stinker of a movie about a man who travels back through time to the days of King Arthur. Lame jokes, shameless mugging, and a general shredding of the comedic movie genre are the hallmarks of this effort, although calling it an effort may be too kind. Now it's going to make the Hall of Fame. Boo.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Last Week's Ranking: 14
Weeks on List: 9
Notes: Do we give points to movies for excelling at depressing us? I'm not sure. But Ellen Burstyn in a downward spiral is too horrific to turn away from. Also: how about that arm? Features Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto, and one of those Wayanses.

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Weeks on List: 8
Notes: There must be something I'm not getting about this I-Max documentary featuring fighter pilots. The message board for the movie has a lot of military folks chatting it up, so that may have something to do with it. After weeks near the top of this chart, it finally lost its lift.

Someone Like You (2001)
Last Week's Ranking: 17
Weeks on List: 7
Notes: Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman star in this 2001 romantic comedy, which features the requisite setting of a high-powered magazine company, and lots of schmaltz. It's nothing special, but the leads, along with Greg Kinnear and Marisa Tomei, are always fun to watch.

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