By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Since I am in a “lockdown” due to the coronavirus I began watching a lot of movies. That’s obvious. But how does one organize their viewing list? Well, one could binge watch a bunch of modern shows, or even go back and watch Lost or The Wire or some of those old shows. One could really reach back and watch Tinker Tailor, the original TV series with Alec Guinness.
One theme that immediately comes to mind during the lockdown is to watch films that have to do with the subject matter.
That might include
We could start with Interstellar (2014) or Twelve Monkeys (1995), each of which has some parallel with today’s events. One, because it involves being stuck in space and another because it relates to a pandemic. If you go down this rabbit hole then why not check out Logan’s Run (1976) or some other futuristic films such as Gattaca (1997). If you’re into being stuck on a space station, which is exactly like being locked down you could slog through 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) but watching Alien (1979) is preferable. Aliens is excellent. If you want to be disturbed then watch Soylent Green (1973) and then watch the Twilight Zone’s ‘Time Enough at Last’ (1959).
Pandemic movies, like Contagion (2011), Outbreak (1995) or 28 Days Later (2002) are a somber way to begin a lockdown. Contagion comes a bit too close for comfort.
You could go full Orwell and watch 1984 which actually came out in 1984. I’d stay away from things like the Matrix or Terminator. There is the 1983 film The Day After which does a good job describing a nuclear war.
A tour of Americana
My lockdown experience has gone back into American history for some good films. I watched Gods and Generals (2003) which is a prequel to Gettysburg (1993) but came out after. I recommend Gods and Generals because of the story arc and some of the brilliant scenes such as the Union army crossing the Rappahannock River (video above). It depicts part of the life of Stonewall Jackson. Gettysburg is an excellent film if you haven’t seen it.
The Oliver Stone film JFK (1991) is a very good movie, if one isn’t too interested in the idiosyncrasies of the conspiracy theory it presents. It has an amazing cast including Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland, Walter Matthau, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Sissi Spacek, Ed Asner, John Candy, Wayne Knight, and others. Perhaps no film combines so much talent. If you’re hooked then check out Nixon (1995) next and then Platoon (1986) and Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979) and then The Good Shepherd (2006). And why not Das Boot?
Once you’ve transitioned from the political drama of the Vietnam era to the spy drama I like Zero Dark Thirty (2012). The central character, who is chasing Bin Laden, lives a studios lockdown kind of life, telling one co-worker she never eats out because it is too dangerous. That movie could bring you to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) if you want more Global War on Terror movies.
A grab-bag of great choices
Another way to go after Zero Dark Thirty is back into some futuristic stuff. Check out Watchmen (2009) and Dune (1984). There is also a Dune TV miniseries from 2000.
From there, enough future stuff, I like to go back and watch Spotlight (2015) and Unforgiven (1992). Clint Eastwood is excellent in Unforgiven, one of the best westerns in my view. It has none of the flair of some other westerns but the film unrolls well. Mystic River (2003) is a nice way to round this off. I like mystery and investigative movies, including some of those older ones such as Death on the Nile (1978).
Some levity? I like Anchorman and its sequel for some reason. Also I went back and watched Airplane (1980). Rum Diary (2011) is also a gem, as is Sideways (2004). Also Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Six Degrees of Separation (1993) are excellent. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is also pleasant. There’s Something About Mary (1998) is also fun. The Guard (2011) should be given a gander too.
Then it is back to Moneyball (2011), Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Black Hawk Down (2001). Scarface, Apollo 13, Shimmer Lake, and the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are all enjoyable. So is 1994’s Disclosure and Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999). A series of films based on Tony Hillerman novels are all worth watching. They take place on the Navajo reservation and are about a cop investigating crime. Check out Coyote Waits, Thief of Time (2004), Skinwalkers (2002) and The Dark Wind (1991).
I like Taylor Sheridans films Wind River (2017), Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015). This brings me to the two Tommy Lee Jones films, No Country for Old Men (2007) and In the Valley of Elah (2007).
An interesting group of films to watch together is Zodiac (2007) and Nightcrawler (2014) both with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Since I’ve mentioned Spotlight above it’s worth mentioning Kill the Messenger (2014), a good movie about a journalist. Also Shattered Glass. That brings to mind Clear and Present Danger (1994), Hunt for Red October (1990) and Patriot Games (1992). It also brings to mind The Informant (2009) and A Serious Man (2009). Serious Man pairs well with the suburban tragedy Election (1999).
If you want to go back to some dystopian cult films, check out the original Red Dawn (1984) and then the cartoons: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Wizards (1997).
Return to the greats
It is worth taking a step back and check out some great collaborations. Night of the Generals (1967) was produced by Sam Spiegel, directed by Antole Litvak and has a screenplay by Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn. A look at other films by these men reveals a plethora of excellent drama. Dehn had a role in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), and The Deadly Affair (1967). He later wrote the screenplay for the four Planet of the Apes .
For some relaxation check out some of John Ford’s Westerns such as The Searchers (1956). Of course The Godfather (1972) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) must be on any list. Also Akira Kursosawa’s Ran (1985) and Kenneth Brannaugh’s Henry V (1989. Deliverance (1972) is also excellent.
Remember True Lies and the El Mariachi series starts in 1992 with El Mariachi and is followed by Desperado (1995), and subsequently the final chapter, Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). The last one and the first are ok. Also Clerks (1994) is always worth a watch Star Trek VI is also watchable. The Italian 2007 film Girl by the Lake is interesting. The disturbing Come and See (1985) is Russian and is excellent but disturbing. For Quentin Tarantino, I like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction as well as Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight. The new version of True Grit is fine as well. What about A River Runs Through it or Into Thin Air for some outdoors movies? Both are ok. If you can find it Indictment: The McMartin Trial (1995) is good. Michael Clayton (2007) and Red Corner (1997), why not?
Also a must: Adaptation.
Some films I recently re-visited include Any Given Sunday which is watchable and brings to mind a whole sports genre such as Jerry McGuire, and Draft Day (not great) and The Program (1993). Then there is the excellent documentary The Armstrong Lie and the film about Lance Armstrong called The Program (2015). Trouble with the Curve (2012) is also watchable. Also Contact (1997) and the excellent Southern Comfort (1981). Also Usual Suspects and Fight Club are always good, as well as Pitch Black. The whole raft of films by Guy Ritchie from Lock Stock to Snatch are also fine, as is Fish Called Wanda. Also Scent of a Woman.
Gathering Storm is good. Full Metal Jacket is one of the best war films in terms of sight and sound. The Right Stuff is excellent. Casablanca is always worth it. There Will Be Blood.
There are some good military investigative films such as The General’s Daughter, Courage Under Fire, A Few Good Men, Rules of Engagement, and Basic (2003). Napoleon Dynamite, Bat 21, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek: Undiscovered Country, Swingers, Ninth Gate, Rocky, Predator, Generation Kill, Get Shorty, True Romance, Burn After Reading, Tin Men and Pushing Tin, Seinfeld, Lighthorsemen, Naked Gun, Shoot the Messenger, A True Story, Animal House, Looming Tower, Path to 9/11, Flight of the Intruder, Truth (2015), Young Guns, Wild Things (1998), Wargames (1983), Path to War (2002), Lean on Me, Stand by Me, Waterloo, Harry Met Sally, Die Hard and The Day After.
Starship Troopers and Enders Game are ok.
Good documentaries include The Armstrong Lie and The Inventor: Our for Blood in Silicon Valley about Theranos.