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.
Black Panther (2018)
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the newly crowned king of Wakanda, must not only contend with threats to his people at home and abroad but also the deeds of those who came before him. I enjoy a Marvel movie as much as the next person. However, they’re not exactly the kind of movies you go to for thoughtful political critique. “Creed” writer/director Ryan Coogler crafted the exception to that rule with “Black Panther”. It does have the CGI-laden action sequences and clever quips that you’d expect to find in your standard superhero blockbuster, but this film isn’t afraid to question the ethics of a powerful and futuristic society hiding itself from the world rather than leading it by example. Throw in a stunning performance from Michael B. Jordan and an Oscar-winning score, and you have one of the strongest and engaging superhero movies ever made.
An added note: Chadwick Boseman is extremely underrated in this movie. The understatedness of his performance gives T’Challa an enormous amount of confidence, integrity, and kindness. It’s something you wouldn’t get from most leading men in an action movie. He was a truly unique movie star and words cannot express how much he will be missed. Rest in power.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Ryan Coogler made his feature film debut with this retelling of the events leading up to the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant by transit police in Oakland. Michael B. Jordan stars as Grant, in his first of three collaborations with Coogler. “Fruitvale Station” is not interested in being a tragic sob story or an “issue drama”. Instead it simply spends a day with Oscar Grant, an actual human being who has struggled and made mistakes, but is doing his best to be a good father to his young daughter Tatiana. It’s undeniably relevant to our times, yet presents its tragic story with humility and empathy. The film’s lack of self-importance makes its inevitable ending all the more devastating.
Mission: Impossible – The Brad Bird/Christopher McQuarrie Trilogy (2011, 2015, 2018)
Though there is plenty of fun to be found in every installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, it’s the three most recent entries that have really upped the ante when it comes to pulse-pounding action blockbusters. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” are the gold standard when it comes to upping the stakes and tension in big-budget action movie sequences. Through some truly masterful directing, editing, and stunt work each film finds a new death-defying way to top the last. Tom Cruise – a man physically incapable of giving anything less than 110% – shows no signs of slowing down in any of them. He’ll probably be putting his life in danger in the name of filmmaking until the day he dies. Given what these films ask him to do, that could be any day now.
Colorado Springs police officers Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) work together to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and bring them down from the inside, despite the fact that Stallworth happens to be black. Spike Lee’s period crime drama pulls no punches depicting the brutal and insidious nature of racism in the United States, and its disarming sense of humor helps it all go down smoother. Though it’s set in the 1970’s, Lee makes sure you walk away knowing just how dangerous and prevelant white supremacist ideology still is today.
Inside Man (2006)
Spike Lee earns another spot on this list with his gritty and unpredictable heist film. Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his crew take hostages during a daring bank robbery in Manhattan. Hostage negotiator Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) attempts to reason with Russell and avoid any casualties among the hostages. But something about this particular heist doesn’t seem right, and soon enough it appears that Russell and his crew may not be the only ones interested in the contents of the bank’s vault. “Inside Man” is full of engaging performances and its many twists and turns will keep you guessing until the very end, unsure of exactly who you should be rooting for.
The Farewell (2019)
After discovering that their grandmother only has months left to live, a Chinese-American family decides to keep the diagnosis a secret from her and stages a wedding as an excuse for all of them to get together one last time before she dies. The premise of writer/director Lulu Wang’s family drama may seem absurd at first, but once you spend enough time with Billi (Awkwafina) and her family you just might find yourself agreeing with their course of action.
“The Farewell” is partially based on events from Wang’s own life, and is bursting with love and empathy for nearly every one of its characters.
First Reformed (2018)
Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is not only struggling with dwindling attendance at his small church in upstate New York, but also a crisis of faith. After a member of his community asks him to counsel her depressed activist husband, Reverend Toller suddenly finds that faith challenged like never before. “Taxi Driver” writer Paul Schrader flew under the radar in 2018 with this excellent spiritual successor to his 1970’s classic. “First Reformed” questions the politicization of Christianity and is full of metaphors and symbolism that are sure to resonate with current and former Christians alike. In a world where faith-based films are often pandering to and exploiting their audiences, “First Reformed” challenges its audience just as much as it does its main character and is all the better for it.
After being told that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has renounced his faith while doing missionary work in Japan, Portugese Jesuit priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) set out to find him. Martin Scorcese’s 17th century epic about the persecution of Japanese Christians is a long, harrowing, yet deeply moving experience. Even non-religious viewers can find value in its depiction of stalwart faith in the face of certain death. Though Garfield and Driver deserve plenty of praise for their performances, Japanese actors Issei Ogata and Yosuke Kubozuka are the standouts of Scorcese’s grueling drama. “Silence” was largely overlooked upon release, but it’s stuck with me ever since.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Let’s move on to something a little lighter, shall we? Steven Spielberg’s globe-trotting caper is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, a check forger and con man who eluded authorities for years. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Abagnale, a man who is nearly always pretending to be someone else. DiCaprio makes it look easy; effortlessly switching between different speech patterns and mannerisms all while believably emanating the raw confidence necessary to con his way around the world. Abagnale is pursued by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI Agent who will stop at nothing to catch him. One of Spielberg’s best, “Catch Me If You Can” is funny, thrilling, and endlessly watchable.
Wonder Woman (2017)
DC’s tumultuous cinematic universe was in freefall until Gal Gadot slung it across her shoulders as Diana, a powerful Amazon warrior who finds herself thrust into the middle of World War I. With American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine: the best Hollywood Chris (and don’t even try to argue with me on that one)) by her side, she is determined to put an end to the bloodshed and show humankind how to be better. Gadot gives Diana a kind of undeniable inner strength and indomitable integrity, and her chemistry with Chris Pine is some of the most electric that you’re likely to find in any modern blockbuster. The intense physicality she brings to the action sequences is nothing short of elegant and ferocious. All of it combines to imbue “Wonder Woman” with a sense of infectious sincerity and joy that many superhero films lack.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the lost prince of the kingdom of Atlantis, must return to his mother’s undersea home to stop his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) from waging war on the surface world. What ensues is two-and-a-half hours of unbridled, unashamed silliness. Wilson chews all the scenery, Pitbull covers Toto’s ‘Africa’, an octopus plays drums, Atlantians ride sharks and seahorses against an army of crab men, Julie Andrews voices a gargantuan sea monster, an octopus plays drums! There are many people who will dismiss “Aquaman” as “dumb”. I can’t say that they’re wrong (hell, they’re 100% correct) but it fully embraces the inherent silliness of the character, shotguns a Coors Light and shouts “Hell yeah he talks to fish and it’s cool as hell!” Also, an octopus plays drums!
The Matrix (1999)
A computer hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) must fight alongside the last of humanity against a race of oppressive machines that keep humans trapped in a simulated world. Lana and Lilly Wachowski were lightyears ahead of Hollywood with their sci-fi action masterpiece, channeling their love of Hong Kong action movies and innovative storytelling into one of the most influential films ever made. Its dazzling stunts, ground-breaking effects, and iconic performances still hold up over twenty years later. In fact, “The Matrix” may be more relevant than ever given that Lilly Wachowski recently acknowledged that the film’s core themes of fighting the system and claiming your own identity were influenced by her and her sister’s personal journeys as trans women.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), mute since childhood, works as a cleaner in a secretive government facility where she soon discovers a mysterious aquatic creature (Doug Jones) is being held captive and experimented on. Though they are both unable to speak, the two form a bond and before long they fall in love. Professional weirdo Guillermo del Toro’s strange yet touching twist on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture. The central romance between a human woman and a lanky fishman is an admittedly large hurdle. But if you can get over it, “The Shape of Water” is sure to win you over.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Giant alien monsters called Kaiju emerge from dimensional rifts at the bottom of the ocean and do battle with Jaegers, the giant robots that humanity has created to fight them. Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Japanese monster movies is just as good as it sounds. “Pacific Rim” is so full of distinct, colorful characters and crazy world building that it’s practically a live-action anime. Though it never takes itself too seriously, it doesn’t turn up its nose at its own ridiculousness either, making moments that would fall flat elsewhere feel exciting and intense. Not many movies can make lines like “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” work, but thank God that “Pacific Rim” does.
Little Women (2019)
Greta Gerwig followed up “Lady Bird” with a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of the life and times of the four March sisters. Though Alcott’s work has seen numerous adaptations on both stage and screen, Gerwig manages to tell the story in a way unlike any that has come before. Jumping back and forth in the original timeline of Alcott’s novel we are able to see the March sisters as children and adults in an almost side-by-side manner. Gerwig uses color, lighting, and costumes to further contrast the innocence of youth with the harsh reality of adulthood. An all-star cast including Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Laura Dern cement “Little Women” as a must-see for any fan of Alcott’s story.
A Star Is Born (2018)
Rock star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers a talented singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) and thrusts her into the spotlight. The two quickly fall in love, but as Ally’s star rises Jackson realizes how much his own has fallen. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Actress for Lady Gaga in her feature film debut. Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry is infectious, especially when Jackson and Ally first meet. They sing much of the film’s fantastic original soundtrack together, and take this otherwise boilerplate story of love and fame to magical and emotional heights.
American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) sees all kinds of people at his popular nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. But when his former lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly turns up with her husband, a Czech resistance leader on the run from German officers, Rick must reckon with both his feelings for Ilsa and his self-imposed neutrality concerning the war in Europe. “Casablanca” is one of the most iconic films ever made, with countless lines and scenes that have been endlessly referenced and parodied in the nearly eight decades since its release. Bogart and Bergman imbue the two ex-lovers with nuance and believability, while still fitting in with the film’s melodramatic tone. “Casablanca” more than earns the status of timeless classic.
The Raid: Redemption & The Raid 2 (2011, 2014)
Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais exploded onto the international scene nearly a decade ago with “The Raid: Redemption”, in which an elite tactical squad must fight their way through a Jakarta high-rise to neutralize a notorious drug kingpin who has put a price on their heads. Featuring some of the most astonishing fight choreography and stunt work, both “The Raid: Redemption” and its sequel are shockingly violent and unrelentingly brutal. “The Raid 2” in particular is exceptionally creative with its violence in a way that few movies are. If you’re not a fan of ultra-violent action movies, give these ones a miss. If you are though, you’re in for a treat.
After climate change brings about a new Ice Age, the last of humanity is confined to a train that travels around the globe. The train’s poorest residents are forced to live in inhumane conditions in the rear section, and idealistic Curtis (Chris Evans) leads them in a revolt to gain control of the train by fighting their way to the engine room at the front. Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut is a violent and emotional metaphor for classism disguised as a sci-fi action movie, encouraging its audience to consider the lengths that those at the top will go to in order to maintain control of those at the bottom.
Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat) (2014)
Most of Europe has fallen to mysterious aliens known as Mimics. After Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is killed during humanity’s massive invasion to take back the continent he suddenly wakes up the day before the attack. After a few more deaths, he realizes that time resets whenever he is killed and only he is aware of it. He teams up with Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to get to the bottom of his new ability and use it to stop the Mimics once and for all, dying many more times along the way. This sci-fi twist on “Groundhog Day” was somewhat of a flop upon release, but has since found some traction on streaming and home video. It manages to take a somewhat tired concept and utilizes it to maximum dramatic — and even comedic — potential.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
A barber (Johnny Depp) returns to London on a quest for vengeance against the man who took everything from him. Tim Burton’s unique visual style and sense of humor proved to be a near-perfect fit for this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical. Though some songs and scenes had to be left out of the film, “Sweeney Todd” remains faithful to the gleefully disturbed spirit of its source material. While this may seem like heresy to some purists, it makes the film much more accessible to newcomers who might not have the time or money to experience the show live on stage. It may not be the most musically impressive iteration of the show, but strong performances from Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman help make this abridged version extremely watchable.