15 of the best films to watch free-to-air on SBS On Demand

A scene from the Australian comedy Ali's Wedding. Picture: Madman
A scene from the Australian comedy Ali's Wedding. Picture: Madman

There is a trove of quality films to watch free-to-air on SBS On Demand, 650 titles to catch up with or revisit. The catalogue offers an astounding range of quality films but also a bewildering choice, even though SBS has curated them in a variety of ways for niche appeal.

With so much bewildering choice, here are 15 titles I can recommend.

SBS On Demand has curated their vast collection into helpful genre categories including feature documentaries, movies about feisty females, movies for gay audiences, cinema classics, animation, and the as yet little-known hidden gems.

Here's a selection from And the Oscar goes to. This category guarantees a film that's good on one level at least, having achieved an Oscar nomination, not necessarily for best film.

Virginie Ledoyen, in green, centre left and Diane Kruger in Farewell, my queen. Picture: Supplied

Virginie Ledoyen, in green, centre left and Diane Kruger in Farewell, my queen. Picture: Supplied

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010), an Oscar foreign language film nominee, is a powerful, atmospheric drama about Canadian siblings who travel to the Middle East to solve a family mystery. Villeneuve has since directed outstanding films like Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, and his take on Dune is due to release this year.

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004) takes you along on a meandering road trip through South America with a young Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), the Marxist revolutionary. It won an Oscar for its music.

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004) is an account of the final days of Adolf Hitler and inner circle in his underground bunker. A provocative, thoughtful perspective on an arch-criminal guilty of heinous crime.

Talk to Her (2002) is from the wonderful Spanish writer-director, Pedro Almodovar, whose unique vision creates a sensual, extravagant world of its own.

Gene Hackman in The Conversation. Picture: Supplied

Gene Hackman in The Conversation. Picture: Supplied

From Roman Polanski, Rosemary's Baby (1968), stars Mia Farrow as a pregnant wife fearful that a coven of witches plans to steal her child. Its menacing atmosphere and disturbing psychology are unforgettable.

Mon Oncle (1958), a classic of French cinema created by Jacques Tati that won the best foreign language Oscar. It's a witty but gentle send-up of bourgeois pretention that is a classic of comedy in any language.

In the World Movies section there's Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, 2011) with Rhys Ifans demonstrating surprising depth. This is a clever concoction for those who enjoy an enduring mystery. Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? Of course he did but it's still good fun exploring who else might have done it.

A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012) is the story about a young queen of Denmark (Alicia Vikander) who falls for the court physician (Mads Mikkelsen). It's a thoughtful, delicate romance that deserved more recognition on its release.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983), is a strange, striking film that features a mercurial performance from David Bowie as a British major in a Japanese prison of war camp in World War II.

A Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2019) offers a light, whimsical touch on weighty subjects as a woman archer steps up to take on corporate vandals destroying the Icelandic environment.

Ali's Wedding (Jeffrey Walker, 2017) is a terrific Australian comedy. At its heart is a smart, funny performance from co-writer and lead actor Osamah Sami as the dutiful young Muslim struggling with life choices.

Zain Al Rafeea in Capharnaum. PictureL Madman Films.

Zain Al Rafeea in Capharnaum. PictureL Madman Films.

Capharnaum aka Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018) is the powerful, haunting story of a 12-year-old living in a Beirut slum who sues his parents for neglect. It has become the highest grossing Arabic films ever.

Farewell My Queen (Benoit Jacquot, 2013) is a sumptuous period drama on the last hours of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution. Filmed in the palace of Versailles itself, it is told from the perspective of a court reader (Lea Seydoux).

Then there's the niche category Essential 70s. The 1970s are not well represented by the films in this SBS category, but it does offer two of the best.

The Conversation (1974) a highly esteemed thriller written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, lost the best film Oscar to The Godfather Part II, also directed by Coppola.

Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973) is based on the true story of a New York cop who exposed police corruption. Al Pacino is ferocious and righteous in the lead role.

This story 15 of the best films to watch free-to-air on SBS On Demand first appeared on The Canberra Times.