My first exposure to the essential works of cinema, the films you absolutely need to have in your professional vocabulary, happened when I was 7 or 8 years old.
Television was a new arrival in my part of the world and one night a week the CBC would run a feature film without commercials under the title "Great Movies". My dad would make popcorn and the whole family would gather around the B&W set as Toronto Star film critic Clyde Gilmour introduced classic films.
It was through him that I was introduced to "Casablanca", "A Night at the Opera" and "How Green Was My Valley".
In later life, Vampira clones hooked me on horror and Sc-fi while Elwy Yost on TVO's "Saturday Night at the Movies" filled in the gaps in my education with hard to find films like "Nightmare Alley" and "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp".
These days, if I had to get by with just one TV channel, it would be Turner Classic Movies, where great movies never stop unspooling.
TCM does a seasonal selection of its own "Essentials" introduced by a film luminary with a selection of films that made them who they are or taught them what they know. This season, that's Alec Baldwin, who perfectly defined what makes a movie "Great" a couple of weeks ago, describing them as the films you can watch 4, 5 or 50 times and always discover something new.
Despite the mass availability of almost every film that's ever been made these days, it seems to be getting harder to see them as they were intended. There are fewer revival houses and even fewer TV channels that don't chop or change films to fit commercial breaks or their perceived audience.
The other night, I stumbled across a screening of "Goodfellas" with all the swearing removed and even iconic lines like "You lost your cherry!" corrected for polite company to "You lost your virginity."
What's the point?
And between high-priced DVDs, over-priced Video on Demand and soon to get out of hand rates for streaming or downloading films, building your cinema vocabulary threatens to become something only those with a lot of disposable income can do.
But I just found a way for you to build your movie collection with at least a year's worth of essential films BEFORE those higher stream rates kick in.
The Open Culture website has just provided links to 225 great movies FREE to stream or download from completely legal online sources. The selection ranges from silent classics to foreign films like Georges Fanju's "Eyes Without a Face" to "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas".
Many of the film links also take you to sites with even more great free movies available.
I've always held that there's no such thing as a bad movie, that inside even the worst of them there is something you can learn. And great movies make the learning so much more enjoyable.
This is your free ticket to hundreds of them.