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100 movies to watch during the pandemic (part 2)

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.

Parasite (2019)

Though Bong Joon-ho is one of the most celebrated filmmakers working today, it wasn’t until last year’s Oscar-sweeping phenomenon that he finally began to become a household name in the United States. Bong has never been the type to shy away from balancing multiple tones and genres in his films, and ‘Parasite’ feels like the culmination of his entire career since his first feature ‘Barking Dogs Never Bite’ in 2000. It can be hard to finally sit down and watch a movie after hearing people rave about it for months, but I promise you that ‘Parasite’ lives up to all the hype.

The Prestige (2006)

A year and some change after “Batman Begins”, Christopher Nolan released a film even dorkier than comic books: two stage magicians desperately trying to one up each other by mastering the ultimate magic trick. It might seem like the last thing you want to see, but by the time the end credits roll you’ve seen a healthy dose of scheming and murder.  “The Prestige” stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two partners turned bitter rivals whose obsession with destroying each other leads to the destruction of everything and everyone around them. It can be tough to follow the many twists and turns of Nolan’s best movie, so you might want to pay extra attention to Michael Caine’s opening monologue.

Sing Street (2016)

John Carney, writer and director of ‘Once’, harkens back to the 1980’s Dublin of his childhood with one of the most criminally underseen movies of the past decade. “Sing Street” is a charming and heartfelt dramedy about a boy named Conor who forms a band to impress Rafina, the girl who lives across the street from his Catholic boys school. Other films might roll their eyes at this kind of indie boy-meets-girl cliche and portray it ironically. “Sing Street”, however, is not the least bit ashamed to be exactly the kind of movie it should be: a sincere and rowdy love letter to musical rebellion, young love, and following your dreams. Oh, and the soundtrack is full of some of the best original songs ever written for a film.

Drive (2011)

Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s slick neo-noir stars Ryan Gosling as a nameless Hollywood stuntman who spends his nights as a getaway driver for robberies. He’s content with his lone-wolf lifestyle until he starts spending time with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio. He soon finds himself willing to do anything to protect the only good things in his life. Gosling brings his signature understated energy, and is joined by a strong supporting cast that includes Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and Bryan Cranston. “Drive” is a gripping film, combining the neo-noir aesthetics of Michael Mann’s “Thief” with the stoic violence of a Clint Eastwood western. 

Marriage Story (2019)

In most cases, divorce is ultimately a good thing. But it’s a painful process, and there aren’t many movies that illustrate just how painful better than the Netflix film “Marriage Story”. Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson play Charlie and Nicole Barber, a married couple that has recently decided to split up and are just beginning to realize how difficult it actually is. One of the most impressive things about “Marriage Story” is that it doesn’t take sides. In fact, things seem quite amicable at the start. But between family, lawyers, suppressed emotions, and a custody battle, things get ugly fast. It’s incredibly emotional and has some of the best performances of last year. Plus, Adam Driver sings Sondheim, so now you have to watch it.

Booksmart (2019)

Last year, Olivia Wilde showed us a whole new level of talent with her feature film debut “Booksmart”. I’ve heard this film described as “Mean Girls” meets “Superbad”. While it’s not totally incorrect, it’s pretty reductive. Yes, “Booksmart” is about two best friends trying to get to their last high school party before graduation and the different cliques of kids you find at the typical American high school. The influence of these films is definitely there, but a unique combination of teen comedy tropes, empathy, a queer lead character, and its moving depiction of friendship help “Booksmart” rise to levels that those films cannot. No movie has made me laugh and cry this much in a very long time.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

It took me until last year to finally watch this one, and I can’t recommend it enough. Paul Thomas Andeson (a.k.a. Maya Rudolph’s husband) has been one of the most celebrated American filmmakers for nearly 25 years, and “There Will Be Blood” is a testament to that. It captures the toxicity of “American dream”-type ideals and how it destroys both land and people. Daniel Day Lewis gives one of his most impressive performances as turn of the century oilman Daniel Plainview, one moment charming his way into acquiring drilling rights and another screaming in his rival’s face like a lunatic. It’s grim, appalling, and occasionally hilarious.

Speed Racer (2008)

You’ve just made two sequels to “The Matrix”, what’s next? A comic book movie? A prestige Oscar drama? Well if you’re Lana and Lily Wachowski, you decide to make a big-budget live-action adaptation of the 60’s anime “Speed Racer”. Unsurprisingly, it was a complete financial flop. But since then, “Speed Racer” has found its fair share of people willing to stick up for it as an overlooked masterpiece. The Wachowskis made something that is undoubtedly silly, but they present it in a way that is sincere and celebratory rather than ironic and mean-spirited. The lack of nearly any practical effects in favor of outrageous CGI make it a startlingly accurate adaptation of its source material; it’s effectively a live-action cartoon. This disregard for adhering to any sense of reality makes for frenetic and dazzling action sequences. You may not like “Speed Racer” as much as I do, but I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.

Collateral (2004)

You may not know who Michael Mann is, but I can tell you that your dad probably loves at least one of his movies. “Collateral” is a chilling neo-noir thriller starring Jamie Foxx as Max, an L.A. cab driver who unwittingly picks up a ruthless killer named Vince, played by Tom Cruise. Over the course of a single night, the cautious Max is plunged into a criminal underworld where he must act on instinct if he wants to survive. It’s rare for Cruise to take on a villainous role but he gives one of the best performances of his decades-long career, bringing a perfect combination of charm and intensity. “Collateral” is already a solid thriller without Cruise, but he elevates it into one of the most memorable of that decade.

The Insider (1999)

Your dad might also love “The Insider”, Michael Mann’s surprisingly enthralling fictionalized retelling of the efforts of tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and ‘60 Minutes’ producer Lowell Bergman to bring damning information on Wigand’s former employers intentionally making cigarettes more addictive. The film’s two leading men are giving it their all: Al Pacino gives one of his last great performances as Lowell Bergman, and Russell Crowe’s turn as Jeffrey Wigand netted him his first of three consecutive Oscar nominations. “The Insider” is one of the best examples of the “office thriller”. Yes, much of this 157-minute movie is men in suits talking to each other (sometimes even on the phone!), but it’s done with such precision and intensity that it feels like you could be watching the real events unfold. 

Heat (1995)

Michael Mann makes his last appearance on this list with “Heat”, the quintessential Dad Movie. Adapted from his own TV movie/failed pilot “L.A. Takedown”, this nearly three-hour crime drama is a game of cat-and-mouse between L.A. cop Vincent Hanna and professional bank robber Neil McCauley, played by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro respectively. While “Heat” was only a mild success at the time, it’s now widely regarded as one of the crime genre’s finest entries. The film’s two most iconic scenes–a confrontation in a cafe and a bank robbery turned lethal shootout–have been replicated and referenced in dozens of filmmakers in the two-and-a-half decades since its release, most notably by Christopher Nolan in “The Dark Knight”.

The Shining (1980)

Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) moves with his family into the remote Overlook Hotel, where he has been hired to serve as caretaker while the resort is closed for the winter. Though before long it seems the Torrences may not be alone. This is only the second horror entry on the list and wouldn’t you know it, this one is also about isolation. There is not much I can say about Stanley Kubrick’s chilling Stephen King adaptation that hasn’t already been said. It’s incredibly rare for a film to feel as deliberate as “The Shining”. There isn’t a single thing that feels out of place, even as Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrence is slowly driven mad by the spirits of the Overlook Hotel. From the opening credits, there is a sense of foreboding that only heightens once you arrive at the massive and empty Colorado resort, one of the most impressive feats of production design in the history of cinema. 

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Young and idealistic cop Ed Exley butts heads with both his peers and his superiors in the Los Angeles Police Department. Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s cynical novel of the same name pulls no punches in its depiction of police corruption and brutality in 1950’s L.A. Exley, played by Guy Pearce, is torn between what he always thought a cop should be and the grim reality that most cops will break the law rather than turn in one of their own. “L.A. Confidential” is bursting at the seams with great costumes, set design, and a stellar cast that includes Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, and Danny DeVito.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

If there’s any movie on this list that will make you feel you can take on anything, it’s this one. On paper, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” seems like an impossible movie. It has to introduce Miles Morales, a beloved character that most audiences know nothing about. It has to explain the concept of a multi-verse and how it works in the world of the film. It has to have not one, not two, but seven versions of an incredibly iconic character, all with distinct designs and personalities. It has to do all of this while delivering a story about growing-up, not fitting in, friendship, father figures, family, loss, and learning that you have what it takes to be the best possible version of yourself. Through excellent voice performances, a moving soundtrack and score, and breathtaking animation, this film manages to pull all of it off with unbelievable emotional resonance.

Lady Bird (2017)

Speaking of growing-up, Greta Gerwig made a coming-of-age film a couple of years ago that’s pretty damn great. Saoirse Ronan (I swear I spelled it right on the first try), plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, in her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento who longs to attend a prestigious east coast college to become more “cultured”. She frequently clashes with her mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf, who wants her idealistic daughter to realize that their family will not be able to afford it and to be grateful for what she does have. Though Lady Bird goes through many other typical high school experiences like dating, friendship drama, and theater, it’s the relationship between her and her mother that is the beating heart of this film. Mother-daughter relationships are rarely portrayed with this much nuance or catharsis, and Ronan and Metcalf’s performances alone make “Lady Bird” more than worth the watch.

Prisoners (2013)

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve made his English-language debut with this haunting thriller. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a suburban family man whose daughter goes missing. Convinced that he knows who is responsible, Keller will stop at nothing to get his daughter back. Though it may sound like some paperback revenge-thriller, “Prisoners” offers a ghastly and disturbing vision of the darker side of suburbia and the dangers hidden among the green lawns and white fences. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of a man blinded by grief and rage is unlike anything he has done in his career. At times, “Prisoners” can be brutal to watch, but when the end credits roll you might just find yourself okay with the idea of not seeing other people for a while.

Sicario (2015)

Villeneuve’s third English-language feature stars Emily Blunt as FBI agent Kate Macer, who is assigned to a  joint task force with orders to take down a high-ranking member of a Mexican drug cartel. However, Kate quickly learns that things aren’t quite what they seem and that her task force’s true objective is much more sinister. It’s an incredible looking film, showing off Villineuve’s talent for composing shots and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ uncanny ability to make them happen. It also has an amazing cast that includes Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, and a pre-”Get Out” Daniel Kaluuya. Though it clearly has a lot on its mind, “Sicario” is, more than anything else, a war movie. The battlefield is America’s never-ending war on drugs where interventionist and often illegal tactics are brought to bear and innocents get caught in the crossfire.

Arrival (2016)

Villeneuve followed up ‘Sicario’ with his biggest hit so far in which a mysterious race of aliens lands on Earth with an unknown purpose. Experts from all over the world are called in, including linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to communicate with the aliens and find out what they want. Adams is absolutely phenomenal here, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of selling the film’s more cerebral and philosophical concepts. “Arrival” challenges viewers to consider the importance of language and how our primary method of communication can shape the way that we perceive reality. It’s one of the best science fiction films of the last 20 years, and is guaranteed to stick with you long after you see it.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Ryan Gosling appears yet again on this list as K, a cop in 2049 Los Angeles who specializes in hunting down and “retiring” rogue androids known as replicants. Ridley Scott’s classic “Blade Runner” was released in 1982, so no one expected a sequel released 35 years later to live up to the original, let alone surpass it. But Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” does just that. This movie is like a warm bath, inviting you to lose yourself in a grimy and melancholy future with long shots of deteriorating urban landscapes set to some of the most sublime work of Hans Zimmer’s career. Its pace is slow but contemplative, allowing you to dwell on the film’s moral and philosophical questions about what makes us human and if it truly matters whether we are or not. It was severely underseen upon release and is a must-watch for fans of existential science fiction. You might want to watch the original first, though.

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