The world kind of sucks right now. There’s really no delicate way to put it. Many of us find ourselves self-quarantining in our homes, with a lot more time on our hands than ever before. To help you fill that spare time, Spencer has spent the last few weeks compiling a list of films that deserve to be seen. Before he knew it he had a list of 100 films, and he’s going to do his best to sell each and every one of them.
Come by every Friday for a list of 10 recommendations to fill your time over the weekend.
The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
I figured I’d start the list out strong with Jonathan Demme’s terrifying masterpiece. ‘The Silence of The Lambs’ is a must-watch for any film fan. The central relationship between haunted FBI Trainee Clarice Starling and the menacing Dr. Hannibal Lecter plays host to some of the most striking visual language (the famous “Demme Close-up”) and pitch-perfect editing that you’ll see in a film. The ways in which Starling and Lecter trade verbal blows with one another practically set the template for nearly every single bad-guy-helps-the-good-guys-catch-another-bad-guy police procedural TV show that has come around since.
Knives Out (2019)
I’m certainly not the first person to recommend Rian Johnson’s twist on the whodunit genre to you, and I definitely won’t be the last. ‘Knives Out’ has one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled: Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon make up just some of the wealthy and dysfunctional Thrombey clan. Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a hilariously deep-fried take on the gentleman detective character. Johnson’s affection for these kinds of stories is apparent from the very beginning. And yet, being the bold filmmaker that he is, he is not afraid to play with familiar character tropes and story elements in order to venture into unfamiliar territory, as many people found out with our next entry.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Yes, I’m one of those people. ‘The Last Jedi’ takes the Star Wars saga to exciting new places in terms of character growth, story structure, and the true nature of the Force. Our heros are challenged in unexpected ways, and more often than not are met with failure and must learn from their own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others to keep the spark of hope alive in the galaxy. Rian Johnson took Star Wars into uncharted territory. Although it rubbed many people the wrong way, I couldn’t help but love it.
That’s right, you’re still reading the same list. I will never forget the first time I saw ‘Cats’: opening weekend, the theater surprisingly full considering that ‘Star Wars’ was playing on every other screen. The lights dimmed, the two middle-aged women next to me whispered excitedly. From the opening shot, there was a smattering of quiet laughter. By the time we were halfway through the first number, the entire audience was either roaring with laughter or shouting in terror at what we were seeing. Tom Hooper’s adaptation is many things, but boring is not one of them. Watching it without such a responsive audience is certainly a different sort of experience, but it’s still one that is well worth your time.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
I like Joe Dante’s ‘Gremlins’ as much as any other person, but his sequel is a sight to behold. He saw the things that made the original work, and instead of falling into the usual sequel trap of “well let’s just do that again,” he wisely decided “well let’s just do that again, but more.” This Key and Peele sketch pitches the movie better than I ever could, so you’ll just have to take their word for it.
True Grit (2010)
In 2011, I took my first girlfriend to see Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the classic John Wayne western. Good date movie? Maybe not. But it’s one of those movies that has stuck with me ever since, and has only gotten better every time I’ve seen it. Its spot-on cast includes Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, and even a young Hailee Steinfeld years before she joined the Barden Bellas. The Coen brothers deliver a tale of vengeance and redemption that is darkly funny, tense, and moving. You may need to turn on subtitles for that Jeff Bridges performance though.
Slow West (2015)
Don’t let the title fool you, John Maclean’s 2015 coming-of-age film is only a brisk 84-minutes. In that short time, the film covers the loss of innocence, the inescapable consequences of one’s actions, the ruthlessness of the American frontier, and an outlaw’s redemption. Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Ben Mendelsohn star in this deliberately paced western featuring stunningly beautiful landscapes captured by cinematographer Robbie Ryan. It’s the closest thing to a film adaptation of the videogame ‘Red Dead Redemption’ that we’re ever going to get.
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
The late Jonathan Demme earns his second spot on this list with a gut-wrenching and at times cringe-inducing depiction of recovering alcoholic Kym (Anne Hathaway) coming home from rehab to be in her sister Rachel’s wedding. Demme was an incredibly empathetic filmmaker, and ‘Rachel Getting Married’ is maybe his most empathetic film. There is no shortage of conflict, but everyone gets their moment in the spotlight; you know where they are coming from and why they act the way they do. The film’s naturalistic tone and digital video camera aesthetic make it feel like the most dramatic wedding video that you’ve ever seen.
The John Wick Franchise (2014, 2017, 2019)
I have already waxed poetic about John Wick before, so it’s no surprise that all three of these movies found their way onto this list. Though its brutal melees and precise firefights have made the franchise famous, it’s the suave and deadly world of John Wick that has always stood out to me. The first film is a fairly straightforward revenge tale, with glimpses of a mysterious world of assassins. Throughout the course of the two sequels the worldbuilding gets progressively more expansive and downright insane. By the end of ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (what a title) you’ll practically be an expert on the traditions, economy, and power structure of this murderous underworld.
Grizzly Man (2005)
Long before he was hiring Mandalorians to hunt Baby Yodas, Werner Herzog made this award-winning documentary about Timothy Treadwell, an environmental activist who spent 13 summers living with and studying grizzly bears in Alaska before he and his girlfriend were killed by one of the bears in 2003. The documentary is almost entirely composed of footage that Treadwell himself shot over the years, plus interviews with Treadwell’s friends and loved ones. Werner Herzog is often parodied as some kind of nihilistic poet, but ‘Grizzly Man’ is an extremely empathetic look at an eclectic and troubled man’s undeniable love for nature.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
In 2007, this parody of the music biopic was a complete bomb. But in the years since it has obtained cult status and is considered by many to be the film that “broke” the music biopic genre. Once you’ve seen it, it’s difficult to take any other music biopic seriously. John C. Reilly is fantastic in the lead role, lending his wonderful singing voice to the film’s near entirely original soundtrack. Written and produced by Judd Apatow, there are more than a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, and Jonah Hill. If that’s not enough for you, it also features fictionalized versions of legendary musicians like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, making for some of the best cameos you’re likely to see in any movie.
Anyone who has seen this movie will tell you how great it is, but ‘Creed’ still feels like an underseen masterpiece. It probably didn’t help that it came out just a few weeks before ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ the other seventh movie in a franchise that uses familiar story structure to reckon with the legacy of what came before it to come out in 2015. Writer and director Ryan Coogler did the impossible with ‘Creed’, not only breathing new life into an effectively dead Rocky franchise but delivering its most emotionally powerful entry as well as one of the best films of the previous decade. It made Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson A-list movie stars, and netted a much-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Speaking of long-awaited sequels, five years ago “Happy Feet” director George Miller returned to his roots to continue his groundbreaking “Mad Max” franchise nearly thirty years after its last entry. .“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a movie that absolutely no one was asking for, but only because we didn’t know how badly we needed it. It’s a chaotic symphony composed by a madman and performed by lunatics. However, it’s also one of the most efficiently written and well-structured movies out there. Though it takes little time to breathe over the course of what is effectively a two-hour chase sequence, you are given all the information you need even if you’ve never seen a Mad Max movie before. It’s quite possibly the best movie of the last decade and if you can get on its insane level you’re in for one hell of a ride.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Robert Eggers, director of the 2015 period horror film ‘The Witch’ returned last year with this cabin fever character study about two lighthouse keepers in the 1890’s. Like his previous film, ‘The Lighthouse’ is so aesthetically and linguistically committed to the time period in which it is set that it adds to the ever-increasing sense of dread. The unfamiliar ways in which these characters dress, talk, and behave leaves you completely unsure of what they might do next. Eggers’ brilliant use of a narrow aspect ratio gives every scene a feeling of claustrophobia, ensuring that the audience feels just as uneasy and on-edge as Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s lighthouse keepers feel on their tiny island in the middle of the ocean.
Who knew that jazz could be so damn stressful? Damien Chazelle’s breakout film won three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons for his iconic performance as an abusive and ruthless jazz band leader who will settle for nothing less than perfection from his students. ‘Whiplash’ is an engrossing and tension-filled drama about how jazz drummer Andrew’s (Miles Teller) reckless pursuit of validation threatens to destroy his life in more ways than one. Its many rehearsal and concert sequences are among some of the most anxiety-inducing scenes that you’ll see in a movie, especially if you’re a musician.
La La Land (2016)
Chazelle followed up his film about an abrasive white guy who loves jazz with…another film about an abrasive white guy who loves jazz! That’s about where the similarities end for ‘Whiplash’ and this homage to the movie musicals of old Hollywood. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have unbelievable chemistry and use it to make their characters’ unexpected (and rather unhealthy) romance feel genuine even as they dance through the air inside the Griffith Observatory. ‘La La Land’ is not afraid to use abstract imagery to make some scenes feel fantastical or dreamlike. However, it’s Justin Hurwitz’s wistful and moving score that really steals the entire show, especially in the finale.
First Man (2018)
Damien Chazzelle makes his third and final appearance on this list with his surprisingly cynical and unceremonious biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong. ‘First Man’ underperformed at the box office and fell short of most award season ambitions. This isn’t very surprising, seeing as most of this 141 minute movie is not concerned with America’s victory in the space race, but rather the countless failures and tragedies that the engineers and astronauts of NASA endured in order to achieve it. Ryan Gosling’s stoic and broken portrayal of Armstrong, who loses his two-year-old daughter to a tumor at the beginning of the film, hardly seems like the great hero who first stepped foot on the moon. Though it seems audiences were expecting something more exciting and inspiring, ‘First Man’ is one of the more moving biopics in recent memory.
After reluctantly finishing his third and final Batman movie, Christopher Nolan gave us a glimpse of a bleak future where nearly every kind of crop on Earth has stopped growing, and the only hope for humankind’s survival lies at the other side of a wormhole to a distant part of space. Jaw-dropping visual spectacle, an operatic score, and a powerful emotional core make this sci-fi odyssey a lot to handle, especially at nearly three hours long. Matthew McConaughey alone is nearly worth the runtime, giving the best performance of his career. If that’s not enough, you have an incredibly stacked supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.
Every one of these movies deserves to be seen, even if you don’t end up liking all of them. Even if you hate every single one, you’ll learn a little bit about yourself and how you should never listen to my movie recommendations ever again. I hope you do like them though because I’ll be back soon with even more!