So. You’ve been quarantined. For many of us in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, we find ourselves locked in our houses, with not much to do. We can’t report to our jobs, or our jobs are being done remotely, or our ability to work is vastly restricted. And with all of this free time we have on our hands now, this is the perfect time to catch up on all of those movies we’ve been continuously putting off for a “rainy day.” Well folks, it’s pouring outside, so let’s watch some movies!
These picks are all based on my own subjective opinion, but I’ve compiled a list of different films of different genres across Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and Hulu that I think everyone should watch. If you’ve already seen them, watch them again! These are the movies that, in my opinion, can’t steer you wrong.
1 | Alien (1979) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
Premise: After a space merchant vessel receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.
Alien is an all-time classic, and one of my favorite movies. I see it as the ultimate slow burn film. It takes a very long time to get where it’s going, building the suspense and anticipation. But once you reach where it’s ultimately going, it has all been worth it. It is a master class in horror and suspenseful film-making. It shows how quintessential crafting atmosphere is, and how teasing the idea of something can be far scarier than actually showing it. It’s this psychological approach to the film (fueled by a low budget) that gives Alien its lasting impression. This is an especially interesting one to watch while quarantined, because of the close-quarters nature of the film (and lack of quarantine).
2 | Aliens (1986) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Horror
Premise: Ellen Ripley is rescued by a deep salvage team. The moon that the Nostromo visited has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, colonial marines have impressive firepower, but will that be enough?
Aliens is one of the greatest sequels ever made. It fundamentally understands what a sequel should do: take the existing first film, expand upon it, and enhance it, while simultaneously creating something new and unique. James Cameron takes a low budget horror monster movie in Alien and builds up on all of the rich mythology. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is transformed from a survivor in the first film to a warrior in this one, all while retaining her humanity. Aliens has the great action scenes you’d expect from Cameron, but it’s his particular use of horror in this movie that really puts it over the edge for me. Alien and Aliens are a fantastic double feature!
3 | Always Be My Maybe (2019) | Netflix
Directed by: Nahnatchka Khan
Starring: Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves
Genre: Comedy, Romantic
Premise: Everyone assumed Sasha and Marcus would wind up together except for Sasha and Marcus. Reconnecting after 15 years, the two start to wonder — maybe?
Always Be My Maybe doesn’t do anything to shake up the romantic comedy formula, but it is endlessly entertaining. Ali Wong and Randall Park have magnetic personalities on screen and have excellent chemistry together. The story isn’t revolutionary, but my investment in the movie came from the characters, brought to life by compelling performances. There are a lot of great laughs and fun moments, especially a scene in a restaurant involving Keanu Reeves. I won’t give any details away, but it is by far the highlight of the movie for me. If you are a fan of romantic comedies, Always Be My Maybe is certainly a fun one to check out!
4 | Candyman (1992) | Peacock
Directed by: Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Premise: The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.
Candyman is sort of an amalgamation of different urban legends and horror characters, but it’s effective, as the titular antagonist has a menacing screen presence. This is a film that clearly came out in the slasher craze of the 80s and 90s, but it definitely has some unique elements to it. The intriguing mystery of who and what Candyman is draws you in, as it does with the main character, Helen. There is a distinct terror in how he is able to psychologically manipulate and torture her. I won’t reveal the ending, but the way the movie concludes is chilling and is probably the film’s strongest part. This is a great time to watch this movie too, as its remake/pseudo sequel was recently released.
5 | Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
Genre: Drama, Suspense, Biopic
Premise: When writer Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.
When people say Melissa McCarthy is a terrible actor, I immediately point them to the two movies she received Oscar nominations for: Bridesmaids and Can You Ever Forgive Me?. With this film, both McCarthy and Richard E. Grant turn in fantastic performances. As Lee makes worse and worse decisions, you can’t help but fall deeper into her web of lies and path of deceit. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch, as you know the consequences of her actions are eventually going to catch up with her, but that only draws you more into the film. This movie is a great showcase of McCarthy’s abilities as a dramatic actor.
6 | City of God (2002) | HBO Max
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Matheus Nachtergaele
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Premise: In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, two kids’ paths diverge as one struggles to become a photographer and the other a kingpin.
City of God is a brutal and heartbreaking movie about the realities of gang violence. It really doesn’t hold back in terms of its graphic nature, so that is something you should be prepared for before watching it. But it keeps character at its center. You become attached to the two leads, and following them on their diverging paths is riveting to watch. Meirelles and Lund also incorporate a lot of really interesting stylistic choices that make the film stand out. It’s an emotionally charged film that I think everyone should watch at least once.
7 | The Descent (2005) | Amazon Prime, Hulu
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
Genre: Horror, Suspense
Premise: A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and are pursued by a strange breed of predators.
I mentioned before that Alien would be a fun movie to watch during a quarantine because of its close-quarters nature. The Descent takes that to a whole other level. This is not a good film for people who are incredibly claustrophobic to watch, but for those who are not, a certain anxiety-inducing thrill accompanies seeing the protagonists squirm and struggle in the tightest of tunnels to escape bloodthirsty cave-dwelling monsters. It’s a terrifying movie to watch, and one that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
8 | Detroit (2017) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Premise: Set during the 1967 Detroit riots, in which a group of rogue police officers responded to a complaint with retribution, rather than justice, on their minds.
Detroit is an absolutely shattering depiction of police brutality and racism in the United States. I saw this movie in theaters just a couple days after everything that happened with the Nazi march in Charlottesville, and seeing this film while I was still so emotionally raw from that broke me. Bigelow brilliantly puts you in the position of the main character, witnessing the vile carnage of police brutality and then leaves you with several questions. Where you can go? Who can you turn to? When it is authority itself that is so desperately in the wrong, what can rectify it? This is a staggering film with a performance by Will Poulter that is so good, you will spend every second of the movie wanting to punch him in the face.
9 | Don’t Think Twice (2016) | Amazon Prime, Hulu
Directed by: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Premise: When a member of a popular New York City improv troupe gets a huge break, the rest of the group — all best friends — start to realize that not everyone is going to make it after all.
There aren’t too many movies that so perfectly showcase how necessarily intertwined comedy and tragedy are as Don’t Think Twice. Following a group of best friend “improv-ers,” we get to see the dark places their comedy comes from. The film also does a brilliant job in setting in the reality for budding comics: that many of them won’t make it. And for some of these people who have dedicated their entire lives to this, what happens to them when it doesn’t pan out? For a film about comedians, it’s a really sad movie, but it’s one I think more people should see.
10 | Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Premise: On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a film that few people paid much attention to when it came out, but it is a really funny and emotionally-resonating movie looking at pain and anguish, and how they can be turned into beautiful things. Joaquin Phoenix never disappoints as an actor, and here he turns in a sweet and nuanced performance. This is a movie that really highlights the close relationship comedy and tragedy have with art, and how important it is for us to be able to laugh at the things in life that cause us pain, even to the most severe degree that John Callahan experienced.
11 | The Farewell (2019) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao, X Mayo
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Premise: A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark following a cancer diagnosis, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.
The Farewell is one of those movies that expertly poises the question of, “What would you do in this situation?” How would you handle this? But it dives deeper than that. It explores themes such as how we, as human beings, handle and process death, and in the period of time when a person is dying — asks who we look out the most for — the person dying, or the people surrounding them who will go on living? It traverses all of these existential questions with such ease, and is led by a charismatic performance from Awkwafina. It’s one that was overlooked from last year that more people should definitely see.
12 | Happy Death Day (2017) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Comedy
Premise: A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
Happy Death Day is that great combination of horror and comedy we don’t get too often nowadays. It takes on a Groundhog Day style story of the main character reliving the same day over and over again, but with a slasher twist. Jessica Rothe (the lead) is one of this film’s best aspects, as her comedic timing is razor sharp and her charm is infectious. But this movie also takes the time to develop its characters and introduce true emotional hooks and arcs that elevate it beyond some basic slasher movie. If you watch this one and enjoy it, I highly recommend its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U. I like it even more than the first one!
13 | I, Tonya (2017) | Hulu
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Biopic
Premise: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.
Filled with brilliant performances, excellent sequences of triumph and horror, a great deal of comedy, and an overarching feeling of suspense, I, Tonya has something for everyone. It flirts with breaking the fourth wall in a really compelling way, intercut with genuine moments of drama and video interviews. I, Tonya is brimming with entertainment, but it doesn’t hold back when it comes to the dramatic beats. If for nothing else, watch this film for Allison Janney’s performance and her parrot.
14 | Late Night (2019) | Amazon Prime
Directed by: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, John Lithgow
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Premise: A late night talk show host suspects that she may lose her long-running show, and so she brings on a new writer to give the show new energy.
I’ve always been fascinated by the world of late night shows, and I can’t begin to imagine the challenge of writing consistently funny and timely material on a daily basis. Late Night is a really good window into that world, with fantastic performances from Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson. The sort of uncompromising optimism Kaling’s character has as a brand new writer is common for many people starting out in the business, and the resulting clash she has with Thompson’s cynicism makes for some great moments. This is a really fun movie with strong laughs and a lot of heart.
15 | The Nightingale (2019) | Hulu
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
Genre: Thriller, Supsense
Premise: Set in 1825, a young female Irish convict chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.
Jennifer Kent directed one of the greatest horror movies of recent years with The Babadook, and her follow-up film The Nightingale is incredibly well made. This movie contains one of the most brutal, hard-to-watch first acts I have ever seen, and not in regards to its quality. People who have a hard time with sexual assault and violence in movies should certainly look into this film more before seeing it. But I think, in the case of this film, it is all about who is telling the story. With Kent writing and directing, the meaning behind the film’s events shift focus and serve a larger purpose. Do a little research before watching The Nightingale, but I think it is one people should see.
16 | Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) | Netflix
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergio López
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Premise: In the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.
Guillermo del Toro crafts a beautiful yet horrifying gothic fairy tale with Pan’s Labyrinth. It contrasts the horrors of war with the imagination of a young girl, but that horror slowly but surely seeps into her fantasy. It’s creepy and terrifying yet endearing and moving. The practical effects in this film are outstanding, and one of its most memorable aspects. Paired with breathtaking production and costume design, Pan’s Labyrinth is a truly unforgettable movie. This remains one of del Toro’s finest works, and one that everyone should see.
17 | Snowpiercer (2013) | Netflix
Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
Genre: Action, Drama, Science Fiction
Premise: In a future where a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life except for the lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, a new class system emerges.
Snowpiercer is the first Hollywood-produced film by Bong Joon Ho, who just recently swept the Academy Awards with his movie Parasite. Until some of his other films like Memories of Murder and The Host become available on streaming, Snowpiercer is one to check out to delve deeper into his filmography. It features a similar class warfare theme to Parasite, but it has more of an action bend to it. It’s a really smart and clever science-fiction film with a lot to say, and should satisfy your need if you’re looking for an intelligent action movie.
18 | Tragedy Girls (2017) | Hulu, Amazon Prime
Directed by: Tyler MacIntyre
Starring: Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Kevin Durand
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Premise: A twist on the slasher genre, following two death-obsessed teenage girls who use their online show about real-life tragedies to send their small mid-western town into a frenzy, and cement their legacy as modern horror legends.
Tragedy Girls is a really entertaining dissection of the horror genre and commentary on the new age of social media. It plays with a lot of horror tropes, and features a lot of brutal, gory violence. Those who are easily affected by that should do some research prior to watching. The two lead characters are charmingly psychotic, and their apathetic nature yields some great laughs. But with that, it draws comparisons to apathy created from social media, and how viewing something through a screen can ultimately desensitize us. This is a film that horror fans especially will appreciate.
19 | When Harry Met Sally… (1989) | Hulu
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Premise: Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin their friendship.
When Harry Met Sally… is my all-time favorite romantic comedy. Nora Ephron’s writing is just so ingenious, witty, and razor sharp. Every line of dialogue is beautifully crafted and brilliantly performed. It is one of the most authentic and hilarious explorations of a heterosexual relationship I have seen on screen. And because of how much is drawn from Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s own personal lives in creating the characters of Harry and Sally, everything feels natural and real. This is a movie that you fall in love with when you watch it.
Author: Nathanael Molnar, originally published [3/19/2020]