Quarantine Movies! By Robert Cordaro.
As America stays home taking up new hobbies — cooking, deep-cleaning, reading, taking part in stupid social media challenges and binge-watching, I thought it was a good time to make up a list of some of my favorite movies from the last decade that may have flown under your radar.
None of these movies exist to make you feel better about the world that appears to be collapsing around you so if you need a good, old fashioned cheer-me-up flick than I suggest checking out some of the fine titles available to you on Disney+.
But if you’re looking for dark, funny, darkly funny, dry, cringe-inducing, thrilling, frightening, off-beat and original movies to truly take you out of the moment and make you feel something real (but not so real as to make you remember what is happening outside your living room (whether that something be good, bad or in between is open to interpretation)) then there is something on this list for you.
Thunder Road (2018) — Available on Amazon Prime
Written and Directed by Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings Kendall Farr and Nican Robinson
Based on the short film of the same name, Jim Cummings parlayed his Sundance Film Festival victory into funding for this character study on a southern man balancing grief and fatherhood that will make you want to cry, cringe and laugh all within seconds of one another.
The story of a small town police officer trying to connect with his young daughter as he mourns the loss of his own mother, Thunder Road starts with one of the most beautiful train wrecks ever committed to screen (I mean that both metaphorically and in the best possible way) as Officer Jim Arnaud has a mental breakdown on the altar while eulogising his dance instructor mom with an interpretive dance to her favorite song, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen.
Watch the original short consisting of that scene here to see if it suits your taste. While self-distributing his film, Cummings’ marketing research showed him that his biggest fans were adults who enjoyed both Danny McBride and Pixar movies. That just about describes the tone better than I could ever hope to.
The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected (2017) — Available on Netflix
Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman
Even before 2019’s Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach had established himself as the world’s leading authority on cinematic family dysfunction. Throughout his critically-acclaimed career, the Oscar nominee has a knack for identifying the eccentricities, flaws and shortcomings we see within ourselves and our loved ones as well as the way we allow ourselves to accept them.
Hoffman stars as an aging sculptor whose adult children struggle not only to deal with their relationship with him, but also with the way his ego, insecurities and emotional handicaps have affected their relationships with each other and their own kids. Baumbach has often responded to people who ask why his movies are always about dysfunctional families by asking what qualifies as a functional family. Once you’ve spent some time with the Meyerowitz kids, you may be wondering that yourself.
The Bling Ring (2013) — Available on Netflix
Written and Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Leslie Mann
It would have been easy to feel bad for Hollywood-scion Sofia Coppola had her only contribution to cinema been the historically bad performance she turned in as Mary Corleone in her father’s notoriously disappointing The Godfather Part III. Luckily for her, and the rest of us, she found her artistic voice behind the camera and went on to become one of her generation’s best filmmakers.
Taking its story from real life events, Coppola’s The Bling Ring follows a group of privileged teens who used the internet to identify vacant celebrity homes and stole around $3 million in jewellery, clothing and cash. Knowing the story won’t end well from the start adds an extra layer of anxiety to the scenes involving the lifestyle-obsessed teens snapping selfies in the homes of Paris Hilton and other stars. With each mistake you find yourself wanting to scream at the characters through the screen, even though you don’t necessarily root for or like them very much. If at all.
Lady Bird (2017) — Available on Amazon Prime
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges and Timmy Chalamet
Independent film queen Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut was one of the most acclaimed movies of 2017, earning five Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Lead Female Actor, Supporting Female Actor and Screenplay. So I’m not sure how this one would have missed you but if it has, now is the time to watch.
Arguably the best coming of age movie of my lifetime, if not ever, Lady Bird is centered around a rebellious teen trying to figure out what type of life awaits her once she is freed from her Catholic, lower-middle class upbringing in Sacramento. Filled with all the know-it-all posturing that most high school seniors employ to get their nervous parents off their back along with the uncertainty that lies just beneath all that phony posturing, Lady Bird ranks up with Dazed and Confused, The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and any other high school flick you could think of.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) — Available on Amazon Prime
Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman
Depressing, gray and shepherding you through a seemingly endless cycle of disappointment, the meandering tale of Llewyn Davis isn’t going to make you stand up and clap. Think of it as the anti- Bohemian Rhapsody.
While the worn-out assembly line plot of the standard Hollywood musical biopic zips us through the successes of its subject and into super stardom, the Coen Brothers and their tale of a fictional musician trying to make a name for himself in 1960s Greenwich Village focuses more on its star’s (many) failures. Both personal and professional. Making it more like the true arc of most artistic careers than any film made about any actual existing artist.
A fantastic soundtrack, top of the line supporting turns from an eclectic roster of actors and their signature bone dry humor all make this a sleeper of the Coens’ filmography. Oh, and, it also has Adam Driver meowing at a cat.
Good Time (2017) — Available on Netlfix
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Safdie Brothers may have reached a new level of notoriety with last year’s Uncut Gems, but it was this Robert Pattinson-starring adrenaline shot to the heart that gave the New York brothers the pull they needed to get their passion project off the ground.
Pattinson stars as a low-life Queens crook who races through the lower bowels of his borough over the course of one night in hopes of securing enough cash to bail his mentally disabled brother out of jail after a disastrous bank robbery attempt. You will not enjoy a single character in this movie and as a result, you may not “enjoy” the movie itself. But that will not stop you from sticking it through to the end and leaning forward the entire time as Pattison’s character jumps through hoop after hoop, each bad decision leading directly to another.
Mississippi Grind (2015) — Available on Netflix
Written and Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds and Yvonne Landry
No movie (no, not even Deadpool) has better utilised Ryan Reynolds’ smooth-talking charmer persona than this story of a gambling addict trying to claw his way out of rock-bottom who falls under the spell of a charismatic hustler.
While a lot of gambling movies up the ante (pun intended) by simply raising the dollar amounts, this movie forgoes big bankrolls and adds desperation to each hand by making you feel the gut-punch of every dollar lost by our “hero.” Taking us through the seedy backrooms of the American south, Mississippi Grind doesn’t make you feel like a winning hand will get you into the World Series of Poker as much as it makes you feel like a losing hand will land you in the E.R. with a few broken thumbs. Should you be so lucky.
Hereditary (2018) — Available on Amazon Prime
Written and Directed by Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Sharpiro and Gabriel Byrne
Immediately following the first time I saw Ari Aster’s feature debut I turned on The Office to cleanse my palate of the unnerving pathos that engulfs this horror story about family, mental illness, possession and, just as importantly, devil worshiping.
As I watched, my palms sweat and my stomach was in knots. After I watched, I knew that for no reason would I ever choose to watch this movie again. But that won’t stop me from recommending you put yourself through those same side-effects. No movie has ever filled me with such dread and in trying times like these, it helps to be reminded how to feel. Even if those feelings suck.
Eighth Grade (2018) — Available on Amazon Prime
Written and Directed by Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton and Emily Robinson
Not since Marky Mark has a white rapper pivoted more successfully from goofy hip-hop star to respected artist, though Bo Burnham’s transition from tapping the keyboard in his bedroom to acclaimed filmmaker may have contained less self-seriousness than Wahlberg’s lane change. His debut as a writer-director is a funny, sweet and sharp look at the age when health class becomes less and less about just eating your veggies and participating in Phys-Ed.
And even if the well-worn story is laced with things specific to modern times such as YouTube and Snapchat, it still manages to feel completely timeless with a story that will resonate with people who grew up when a device like the iPhone was considered science fiction. Awkward and uncomfortable but ultimately funny and heartwarming, Eighth Grade makes you feel pretty damn close to how you felt in eighth grade.
Honey Boy (2019) — Available on Amazon Prime
Directed by Alma Har’el
Written by Shia LaBeouf
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe and Shia LaBeouf
Knowing the backstory behind 2019’s Honey Boy makes it both more effective and more devastating. Written by troubled movie star Shia LaBeouf while he was in court-ordered rehab as a prescribed way to work through the post-traumatic stress brought on by his abusive father, LaBeouf pulls no punches in showing us the chaos that enveloped his childhood as a Disney star and the consequences it had on himself and his family.
In what has been described as one of the most cathartic and therapeutic filmmaking experiences ever, LaBeouf even plays his dad, acting out his hellish experiences through the eyes of the man who subjected him to them. It is not a fun movie by any means, but knowing where the story leads after the credits roll gives you a better understanding of the guy who had all the riches and fame Hollywood could offer then threw it all away.
Paddleton (2019) — Available on Netflix
Directed by Alex Lehmann
Written by Mark Duplass and Alex Lehmann
Starring: Ray Romano and Mark Duplass
Death is never a fun subject to sit down and spend an hour and half with, especially at a time like this. A fact you’ll need no reminder of once you’ve seen two middle aged friends struggling to cope with one’s terminal illness and subsequent choice to end his life before the disease does and on his own terms. We follow the two (Romano and Duplass) through an uneasy road trip to fill out a life-ending prescription that is only available in a handful of pharmacies due to its controversial purpose, euthanasia.
Ray Romano goofy sitcom dad is gone forever and Ray Romano respected character actor is hopefully here to stay. That paired with the subtle performance of co-writer Mark Duplass as a man at least pretending to be so at peace with the fact that he has a very short time to live that he decides to make that time even shorter. The understated humor and sweetness of the story ropes you in from the start and by the time you’ve realized this isn’t the heartwarming tale of a British teddy bear, you’ll want to stick it through to the end.
The Lobster (2015) — Available on Netflix
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrel, Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly
In all the interveiws I’ve listened to with him, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos seems to be a well-adjusted, happy and pleasant human being. You would not make those assumptions based off his movies. In a reality where if you cannot find a suitable mate you are transformed into a wild animal (of your choice, at least) Colin Farrell tries to find love before his time as a human is up. The resulting story is best described as dreadful.
Not dreadful as in bad or poorly made. Dreadful as in close to every inch of this movie will fill you with dread. From start to finish, you’ll find yourself with a pit in your stomach as your mind grapples with the idiosyncrasies of this film’s world and the truly depressing ways people react to their own loneliness. In the movie, I mean.
Honorable mentions: Frances Ha, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Inherent Vice, Spring Breakers
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