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.
Good Time (2017)
When his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is arrested after a bank robbery gone wrong, Connie (Robert Pattinson) must scour New York City for the bail money he needs to free him. Josh and Benny Safdie’s grimy neo-noir offers a completely unsympathetic protagonist in Connie, whom Pattinson infuses with a unique kind of scrappy, jittery energy. His one redeeming quality seems to be his desire to free his brother after getting him involved in a serious crime. Though Connie may be an unquestionably bad person, you might just find yourself rooting for him to come out on top, if only for his brother’s sake.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
NYU Professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) travels with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his home country of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Upon meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is shocked to learn that they are one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. John M. Chu’s romantic comedy is unbelievably charming with a winning ensemble cast that includes Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, and Gemma Chan. But the standout performance by far comes from Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, Nick’s mother and matriarch of the Young family who is skeptical of Rachel’s social status and suitability for her son. “Crazy Rich Asians” is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming in ways that you just don’t see from major Hollywood movies anymore.
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Alejandro Murietta (Antonio Banderas) trains under Diego de la Vega (Anothony Hopkins) to take up the mantle of the masked hero Zorro and avenge his murdered brother. Unfortunately this film is riddled with white non-Hispanic actors playing Mexican and Spanish characters, including Anthony Hopkins in brownface. Despite this, it still manages to be incredibly entertaining in 2020 thanks in large part to Banderas’ wonderfully charismatic turn as the titular masked vigilante. Made in the last days before Hollywood action blockbusters fully embraced CGI, “The Mask of Zorro” showcases plenty of practical stunts and thrilling sword fights, delivering a sexy swashbuckling spectacle that few films have been able to replicate since.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Lilo (Daveigh Chase) and her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere) have been on their own since their parents died in a car accident, until they unwittingly adopt a destructive alien creature. Although it is a beloved childhood classic to many, “Lilo & Stitch” is almost underrated when it comes to its incredibly intelligent approach to grief and family. The way it thoughtfully depicts the different ways in which children and adults experience loss and grief is unlike any other kid’s movie out there. I was shocked at how much it affected me on a recent rewatch; I was brought to tears more than once. Whether you’ve never seen it or it’s a childhood favorite, “Lilo & Stitch” is a profoundly beautiful film that deserves your attention.
The Big Sick (2017)
Struggling comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) contends with his Pakistani heritage and the expectations of his immigrant parents while dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), who becomes seriously ill and is put into an induced coma. Based on the actual story of now-married Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s actual romance, “The Big Sick” is not only of the most charming and hilarious films of the last ten years, but features thoughtful commentary about reckoning with the disapproval of the people you love most. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano give standout performances as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry, who grow closer to Kumail during Emily’s hospitalization. It can be difficult to balance great comedy with such genuine empathy and humanism, but “The Big Sick” manages to pull it off marvelously.
When mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Mar, a shall-Green) is paralyzed from the neck down after a mugging that resulted in the death of his wife, he agrees to receive an experimental implant known as STEM that enables him to walk again. But STEM seems to have a voice and mind of its own. “Saw” and “Insidious” writer Leigh Whannel brings his horror background to this futuristic action revenge thriller. There are multiple action sequences where STEM takes control of Grey’s body allowing him to fight with a brutal and merciless efficiency that leaves him mortified, yet intoxicated with his newfound power. It does bear some similarity to 2018’s ‘Venom’, but if you’re going to watch a movie where a guy who looks like Tom Hardy is granted powerful abilities by a mysterious being living inside him, make it “Upgrade.”
Union officer Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is charged with forming and leading the Union Army’s first black regiment during the American Civil War. Though this story is told from a decidedly white perspective, “Glory” does not shy away from the racism and cruelty that these black soldiers faced from white officers and enlisted men alike, even as “free men” fighting against slavery. It also features two knockout performances from Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington, who won his first Oscar for his role as Silas Trip, a former slave eager to fight against the Confederacy but unsure if a Union victory will mean a better life for his people. Though there are certainly more grounded and nuanced movies about racism in America, “Glory” shines a light on the vital role that black Americans played in defeating the Confederacy and ending slavery, a narrative often ignored in favor of the deeds of white generals and politicians.
A fictionalized account of the rivalry between Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), court composer to Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), an undeniably talented young upstart who balks at musical conventions and traditions, both bewildering and infuriating Salieri. Not all that concerned with being historically accurate, “Amadeus” likens Mozart to a genius rock star, dressing him in flashy clothing and colorful wigs that seem garish and insulting to Salieri, yet amusing and endearing to his colleagues and patrons. The film succeeds in making Salieri a tragic protagonist, cursed to be just talented enough to be able to see the true genius of Mozart’s work before anyone else yet obsessively jealous of the young composer, sabotaging him wherever he can. Few films capture the beauty and power of music and the often soul-crushing work put in by those who create it, but “Amadeus” nails it right on the head.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Brothers Toby (Chris “The Best Chris” Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) carry out a series of bank robberies in rural Texas to save their family ranch, stealing from the same bank that threatens to foreclose it. “Hell or High Water” is a terrifically atmospheric film, using Western tropes and imagery to create a modern-day cops-and-robbers tale out in the rolling, dusty hills of Texas. The motives of the Howard brothers, pushed to a life of crime by the bank’s predatory practices, resonate all the more loudly these days; it’s hard to sympathize with the Texas Rangers chasing them down. Beautifully shot, incredibly well-acted, and sharply written, “Hell or High Water” is a tragically underseen classic.
Minority Report (2002)
In 2054 Washington, D.C.’s murder rate has dropped to zero thanks to its experimental PreCrime division, which uses the abilities of three mutated humans called “precogs” to predict murders before they happen. But are they always right? Steven Spielberg’s sleek sci-fi action thriller wrestles with some heavy themes rarely found in blockbusters, questioning whether free will can truly exist if the future can be so accurately predicted. Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, and Max von Sydow with music by John Williams, it brings expensive Hollywood flair to heady and mind-bending subject matter, leaving you unsure of who to trust and what might happen next. Iconic visual effects, brilliant production design, and memorable action sequences should put “Minority Report” on anyone’s watchlist.
Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather have spent years raising a genetically modified “superpig” named Okja for the Mirando Corporation. When Mirando comes to take Okja to New York City to present her to the public, Mija will stop at nothing to save her best friend. A collaboration with Netflix, Bong Joon-ho’s second English-language film is simultaneously endearing and disturbing, telling a winning story of love and friendship while shining a light on the dark side of the livestock industry. Though it has its serious moments “Okja” is quite funny, especially with its rather hapless band of self-righteous American animal rights activists and a performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that’s just…something else. Throw in a wonderfully hammy villainous CEO (Tilda Swinton) and you have an engrossing and delightful underdog story that’s overflowing with love for it’s titular superpig.
Clint Eastwood directs this dramatic retelling of airline pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) daring emergency landing in the Hudson River after his engines are disabled by a bird collision. Though he is hailed as a hero, Sully is haunted by what could have happened and his actions have put him under intense scrutiny. “Sully” goes beyond the near tragic incident of January 2009 and offers a deeper look at the man himself who, while imperfect, seems like just about one of the most decent people on the planet thanks to Tom Hanks and his uncanny ability to bring both levity and gravitas to just about any role. The “Miracle on the Hudson” is recreated in dynamic and terrifying fashion, highlighting the danger the passengers faced even after landing in the water, and the people of New York coming together to mount a rescue attempt. Sure, you know how this movie is going to end, but it’s thrilling and inspiring to see it play out.
Michael Clayton (2007)
When his mentor and colleague (Tom Wilkinson) suffers a mental breakdown while working on a major case for their prestigious law firm, “fixer” Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is drawn into a tangled web of conspiracies and cover-ups that make him question his sense of loyalty and morality, if he even has any left. A somewhat forgotten gem of the 2000’s, Tony Gilroy’s engrossing legal drama taps into the same energy as Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” making heated boardroom discussions about contracts and financial dealings feel like action setpieces. Clooney is in full movie star mode, driving the film’s winding narrative forward with the best performance of his career. Full of legal jargon and endlessly quotable monologues, “Michael Clayton” deserves to be seen as soon as possible.
FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) undergoes an experimental surgery to transform into his captured nemesis Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) and foil Troy’s gang’s latest terrorist plot. While he’s on mission, Troy escapes and forces the surgeons to transform him into Sean Archer. Hong Kong director John Wu brings his balletic and over-the-top action style to the film’s B-movie premise. People dive through the air firing guns in slow motion, cars explode at the lightest touch, and little regard is given to the laws of physics. The real reason to watch “Face/Off,” however, is the stellar performances of Cage and Travolta. It’s not just swapping roles either. For example, there are multiple scenes where Travolta as Castor Troy has to sell himself as Sean Archer; Travolta has to essentially play Nic Cage’s role playing Travolta’s role and vice versa. It’s an absolutely absurd work of art.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) exchanges emails with an anonymous man that she met in an online chatroom unaware that the man is Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), a chain bookstore executive who’s newest megastore is threatening Kathleen’s independent children’s bookstore. Viewers of a certain age are certain to feel a twinge of nostalgia upon hearing the iconic AOL email notification and get a glimpse of an early form of online dating. Watching Hanks and Ryan’s bitter professional rivalry play out alongside their online romance makes for some clever jokes and plenty of dramatic irony. Both Kathleen and Joe are given rich inner lives, which they reveal to each other through their anonymous correspondence while assuming the worst of each other whenever they interact face-to-face. It may be one of your mom’s favorite movies, but don’t let that stop you from giving “You’ve Got Mail” a shot.
Former underground fighter Cain Burgess (Scott Adkins), forced to become a violent killer in order to survive years in England’s most dangerous prison, escapes police custody and goes after his loan shark brother who betrayed him by setting him up. English martial arts star Scott Adkins shines in this brutal and visceral revenge tale in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Taking place largely in a single room and told through a series of flashbacks, “Avengement” not only has plenty of vulgar cockney dialogue and violence played for laughs but also serves as a damning indictment of punitive prison systems everywhere, highlighting Cain’s tragic transformation from a decent man into a scarred and ruthless tool of vengeance at the hands of the criminal justice system.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
College students Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan), first meet on an awkward cross-country carpool arranged by a mutual friend where they argue about whether or not a man and a woman can really be friends. Over the next twelve years they keep running into each other at different phases in their lives. Chances are that your parents love this movie, and how could they not? Crystal and Ryan’s chemistry is off the charts, even when their characters can’t stand each other. Nora Ephron’s witty dialogue makes for some of the most quotable romantic comedies ever made. It’s accompanied by a fantastic score of jazz standards performed by Harry Connick Jr. “When Harry Met Sally” feels like snuggling on the couch with hot tea and a blanket on a cold autumn day; your parents are probably right about this one.
Men In Black (1997)
NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) is recruited into a top-secret government organization dedicated to protecting Earth from extraterrestrial threats. Based on a comic book series, “Men In Black” seamlessly combines the science fiction and buddy cop genres into one of the most purely entertaining movies ever made. Will Smith takes over the screen with his unparalleled charisma and Tommy Lee Jones is the perfect straight man, meeting Smith’s quips and one-liners with a stone faced and resolute grimace. The real star of ‘Men in Black’, however, is Vincent D’onofrio. Playing a huge alien stuffed into the skin of an upstate New York farmer, D’onofrio delivers a disturbingly hilarious performance, contorting his face and body in seemingly inhuman ways. With an outlandish voice to match, it’s one of the most impressive physical performances ever given and helps make “Men In Black” one of the most memorable blockbusters of the last 25 years.
Triple Frontier (2019)
Five former Delta Force operatives get back together for a daring heist against a South American drug lord, hoping to solve their individual financial woes. Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, and Garret Hedlund star in this wonderfully stoic film from J.C. Chandor. Rather than an action-packed heist movie, “Triple Frontier” chooses instead to have the same haunted and deliberate energy as its main ensemble; five men who were used up and thrown away by a government who turned its back on them. It’s strangely comforting, even at its most intense moments. Sweeping wide shots of foggy rainforests and snow-capped mountains in between the film’s brief and dispassionate bouts of violence make it feel like some kind of nature documentary gone horribly wrong. While “Triple Frontier” largely flew under the radar last year, it’s absolutely worth checking out as soon as you can.
The Social Network (2010)
The story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from his days at Harvard to the founding of
Facebook. David Fincher’s biopic made a big splash upon its release ten years ago, making nearly $225 million and earning eight Oscar nominations. It plays much differently –and stronger– in 2020. Given the decade since its release, the selfish and vindictive kid depicted in the film suddenly doesn’t seem too far off from the real thing. Eisenberg is excellent in portraying the future billionaire, making you hate his guts nearly every step of the way. Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake give strong supporting performances, shining even more light on the choices made and people hurt during Facebook’s creation. Armie Hammer delivers two terrific and underrated performances as the Winklevoss twins, using nuance and body language to differentiate between them. In 2010, “The Social Network” was a glimpse into the inner life of a fascinating success story. In 2020, it feels more like the supervillain origin story that “Joker” wishes it was.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
The temperature rises along with racial tensions between the Italian-American owners of a local pizzeria and some of the residents of a mostly black Brooklyn neighborhood during a summer heatwave. Though it was only his third film, Spike Lee’s comedy-drama shows an intimate understanding of complex character relationships. His vision of summer on the streets of Brooklyn is exceptionally rich, full of unique and vibrant characters that reflect different aspects of the black experience in America. The neighborhood’s idiosyncratic residents are brought to life by a stellar cast that includes Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Samuel L Jackson, Danny Aiello, Martin Lawrence, and John Turturro. “Do the Right Thing” is the last film on this list because I believe it’s the most important one to watch. The way it tells its story of escalating racial tension has not only made it an American classic, but a film that is incredibly (and unfortunately) relevant in 2020. If you only watch one movie on this list, it’s crucial that you make it this one.