You're at a social gathering, in a classroom, at a weekend getaway. Someone makes a reference and everyone gets it but you. It happens, so what? No one can possibly have seen all the films, read all the books, heard all the albums. But when a movie consistently appears on the top 10 film lists of critics and directors alike (including this one), you might consider it worth your time to see it. If that movie is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2—a film, writes Alexander Sesonske at the Criterion Collection, "in which almost every scene is memorable"—you won't regret the time spent, and thanks to the Criterion Collection's many free films available on Hulu, time will be your only cost. You won't have to work to find it either. Simply hit play on the video above, and voilà! Or should I say "asa nisi masa"? (We're crossing our fingers that these aren't geo-restricted!)
It is with 8 1/2 and its predecessor, the equally stunning La Dolce Vita, that "what we think of as Felliniesque," that rare combination of suavity, lustiness, and surrealism, "comes to full flower." So wrote Roger Ebert in his review of the film, a self-referential romp about a director's crisis of confidence and "one of the most tightly structured films Fellini made." You can see it at Hulu, where you'll also find by the great modernist Italian director other exuberant masterpieces like Amarcord and Juliet of the Spirits, as well as the excellent neorealist film La Strada (which AFI called "one of the most influential films ever made") and the 1953 comedy I Vitelloni.
If, in hanging out with Fellini, you learn that mid-century Italian neorealism is your thing, you can also watch Luchino Visconti's 1957 Le notti bianche (starring Fellini's favorite actor Marcello Mastroianni), which takes its title and story from Dostoevsky's "White Nights." Or you can see many other classic films Criterion curates, like John Ford's Stagecoach, The Who-inspired Quadrophenia, Steve James' affecting 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, and Tokuzō Tanaka's samurai adventure about a blind swordsman, New Tale of Zatoichi. Unless you have a Hulu subscription, you will have to suffer the occasional ad, but it's worth it, I'd say, to see some of the greatest films ever made for free at the click of a few links. As with all such services, Hulu may impose some restrictions on viewing in certain countries.
Hulu offers other, non-Criterion films for free as well, such as 2011 documentary The People Vs. George Lucas and the brand-new Lyle, a horror comedy The Guardian calls a "lesbian Rosemary's Baby" (age restrictions apply). If you're new to the service, you might also want to check out the variety of free TV shows Hulu offers. Basically, anything without a little green "subscribe" box in the corner isn't nailed down and is free for the watching. Enjoy.