A League of Their Own (1992): I had to go with at least one baseball movie and this may be a controversial take, but A League of Their Own trumps all the others for me for obvious reasons. This is one of those few movies that I can completely recite from memory and it holds a special place in my heart as a woman who loves baseball. In the absence of the game we all love, I can’t think of a more fitting movie to spend your time with than one that harkens back to another time in history when folks were trying to grapple the absence of the game as they knew it. It features fabulous acting performances from some giants in the craft, too many quotable moments to count, and lessons about baseball and life. There’s no crying in baseball!
The filmography of Hayao Miyazaki: If you haven’t watched any of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, you are in for a treat. They are full of the most gorgeous animation you will find anywhere along with masterful storytelling. Best of all, there’s really a Miyazaki film for everyone because they range from true “kids’ movies”—My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service—to dark films about the horrors of war and humanity’s impact on the Eart—Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky. What unites them all though is a fierce belief in the power of love and friendship to guide us through turbulent times, which I think is a message that resonates right now. If you’ve never seen any of Miyazaki’s films here are my three favorites, which I recommend as a good place to start:
1. Spirited Away (2001)
2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
3. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Inside Out (2015): I knew I had to include a selection from Disney/Pixar on my list and I landed on Inside Out because I think it is a criminally underrated Pixar film. At its core, it is a coming of age story about learning how to deal with complex emotions, which the film brings to life in the form of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, little creatures living inside the protagonist’s head. When the world seems uncertain, as it does right now, even the most emotionally mature among us face challenges navigating the torrent of emotions we’re feeling, which makes this film seem especially salient.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): In a sea of identical syrupy rom-coms, this cult classic is a refreshingly authentic look at love and human relationships. It features a star-studded cast, including Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Jim Carrey—in a rare serious role—as the film’s protagonist, Joel. It has a bit of a sci-fi flavor to it, as the main premise of the film is centered around technology that is capable of “erasing” a person from one’s mind. As Joel uses the technology in an attempt to erase his ex-girlfriend from his memory, the viewer is taken on a journey through their beautifully turbulent relationship as Joel remembers it. It is a film which requires the viewer’s undivided attention, as the plot takes many ontological twists and turns, but those who give it that will be rewarded with an experience that stays with you for a long time.
Airplane! (1980): I knew I wanted to include a comedy on my list for some light-hearted variety and this classic is perhaps my favorite comedy of all time. As a parody of the disaster film genre, it’s also perfect for the current moment, in my opinion. The slapstick humor in this film comes fast and furious and it won’t leave you too many moments to catch your breath from laughing. Like A League of Their Own, many of the most classic scenes and quotes from this movie have stood the test of time and for good reason.
Moonlight: Many will remember Moonlight as one of the two movies that was behind all that drama at the Oscars that one year. It’s a bit of a shame that La La Land mistakenly being awarded Best Picture overshadowed all the post-awards discussion that year, because it should have been about the historical win of a historical film. Moonlight tells the story of a young gay black boy/man during three different times in his life. Most of us probably live very different lives from the one that Chiron lives in the movie, but everybody should be able to appreciate the story’s examination of the pain and trauma that comes when we are forced to hide our truths. It is a sad, gorgeous film that everyone owes it to themselves to see.
Her: If you’re looking at the basic premise of this movie—it takes place in the near-future and involves a man getting into a romantic relationship with a Siri-like artificial intelligence—and thinking that it sounds way too weird for your taste, I implore you to reconsider. What Her is really about is the basic human need for connection and joy in our lives, regardless of where it comes from. It doesn’t totally ignore the strangeness and potential problems of a human/A.I. romance, but nor does it pass judgment on the main character for his desire for intimacy. Those who love Charlie Kaufman movies like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will appreciate the fact that writer/director Spike Jonze (who directed a couple of Kaufman’s movies) picked up a thing or two from him. Above all else, he shares the same keen insight on human nature that Kaufman possesses, and that is evident in this film.
Field of Dreams: There is a certain faction of ill-reputable villains in the online world—including former Met Jerry Blevins—who are trying to convince people that Field of Dreams is not a good baseball movie. Reader, these individuals are liars. Field of Dreams is in fact a great baseball movie, and its message about the everlasting joy that baseball brings to us all is one that we need now more than ever. Is its plot a bit vague at times? Maybe. Is it overly saccharine at others? Probably. But does it still make me teary-eyed whenever I watch it? Absolutely. Check your cynicism at the door, listen to James Earl Jones wax poetic about the healing powers of this marvelous game, and then call your father and tell him that you love him.
Hot Fuzz: If you’re looking for laughs at this dark time, then you can’t go wrong with Edgar Wright. To my mind, his best films are still the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy he did with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and Hot Fuzz is my personal favorite of the bunch. It’s a pastiche of cop movies, simultaneously poking fun at the tropes of the genre while also offering an excellent entry to it. Wright possesses an idiosyncratic humor that nobody else is capable of replicating, and the chemistry between Pegg and Frost is the perfect vehicle for that humor to hit its mark. And this movie has the added bonus of Timothy Dalton having a grand ol’ time getting his villain flag on. If you want a movie that you’ll be quoting from for months and years to come, give this one a try.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: We’ve had plenty of Spider-Man movies by now, and everybody knows the story of how Peter Parker got his powers and became a friendly neighborhood superhero and all that jazz. What makes Into the Spider-Verse so special is that is takes steps to celebrate the history of the character, but it also shines a spotlight on a newer generation of Spider-Man characters like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen. Embracing the comic book multiverse allows the film to pair these and other Spider characters (Spider-Ham!) in a trippy, thrilling adventure that is perhaps better than any of the live-action Spider-Man movies that came before it. And if that wasn’t enough, the animation is also on par with just about any other animated movie out there.
Memento: Before Inception, before The Dark Knight Trilogy, before Dunkirk, there was Memento, the movie that put Director Christopher Nolan on the map. For those who are only familiar with his most recent works, this is up there, if not better, than the rest. The movie centers on a man with anterograde amnesia (played expertly by Guy Pearce) who tries to figure out who attacked him and murdered his wife while using Polaroid photos and tattoos to remind himself of important clues before his memory resets. Because of the nature of the character’s disease, you are as much in the dark as the lead, figuring things out as he does, which adds to the thrill and suspense of the film. Memento constantly keeps you guessing and delivers some great twists along the way. Don’t Believe His Lies.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Picking one MCU film is a herculean effort, both because there’s so many and because they all connect to form one cohesive narrative. Most people are inclined to suggest Iron Man, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or Black Panther, but I stand by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as the best in the bunch and the most underappreciated in the MCU library. It deals with some of the heaviest topics of any MCU film, from the effects of losing a parent at a young age to child abuse to trying to come to terms with you brokenness to finding a family who understands you and accepts you, and it gives each one room to breathe and connect with the audience. In addition to the laugh-out-loud dialogue, the soundtrack is absolute fire, and the last ten minutes is an emotional gut punch. If that’s not enough, this film gave us Baby Groot.
Major League: Recommending Major League to baseball fans seems almost senseless, since 99% of baseball lovers have probably seen it, but it’s worth it for those who still haven’t. Bob Uecker’s iconic performance as announcer Harry Doyle is worth the price of admission alone, as he delivers a laugh every time he speaks (“One hit. That’s all we got? One goddamn hit?! … Don’t worry, nobody’s listening anyway.”) Beyond that, the cast has a ton of fun bringing this team to life, featuring memorable performances from Dennis Haysberg, Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen, and the late James Gammon. And honestly, what Mets fan can’t relate to rallying around an underachieving team of misfits with a loathsome owner?
Wall-E: When it comes to Disney properties, I’m a Pixar stan all the way, and when it comes to Pixar films, there’s none better than Wall-E. What makes Pixar elite is their ability to use a child-friendly premise to deliver a thought-provoking and timeless message to audiences, connecting with both kids and adults alike. The film uses a cute, love-stricken robot who’s programmed to clean garbage as a means to deliver a dark warning about human consumerism and wastefulness leading to society’s untimely destruction. If anything, Wall-E’s message is as pertinent today as it was when in was released in 2008, as proven by this recent story.
Being John Malkovich: Spike Jonze is perhaps best known for his stunning film Her, or for his work directing the iconic music videos for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” or The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”. But somewhere in the middle was his directorial film debut, Being John Malkovich, which takes an unconventional set-up about an unemployed puppeteer living an unfulfilling life and tells a surreal tale about control and identity. Charlie Kaufman’s script is one-of-a-kind, and John Malkovich’s performance as himself is a showstopper, especially in one particular scene (you will know the scene right away when it comes up). It is a mind-bending trip that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end.
All the Marvel Movies (Disney+): Some are better than others but they are all fun popcorn movies. Plus there is a bonus Citi Field cameo in Avengers: Endgame and who wouldn’t love to see the stadium right now even if it is empty and abandoned? Seriously what are you waiting for? There are 23 films in total so if you need to fill up some time this series could help with that. However, skip The Incredible Hulk.
Moana (Disney+): If you are at home with kids this is the perfect movie to watch together, and even if you don’t have kids still watch it. It blows Frozen out of the water and has far superior music. In true Disney fashion there is an underlying message that comes across well, and of course tissues will be needed. However it is totally worth it. What can I say except you’re welcome.
42 (Amazon Prime Video): I made the mistake of watching this movie on HBO late at night and ended up crying through the whole thing. It’s a biopic of Jackie Robinson and the vile racism he faced after breaking the color barrier in baseball. It’s heartbreaking to watch but ultimately inspiring and hopeful at the same time. If you are looking for baseball and something uplifting 42 checks both boxes.
Zootopia (Disney+): Again the perfect movie to watch with the kids plus you will see Shakira’s Super Bowl Halftime performance in a whole new light.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World (Amazon Prime Video): If you have seen the cat burglar episode of the Simpsons you have seen a parody of this classic movie. Pretty much every noted comedian from the 1960s makes up the cast with endless cameos from start to finish. Not only is it hilarious, it has not one, but two car chases and really what else do you need.
Brazil (Starz on Demand): I love a movie that asks more questions than it answers, and that is Brazil in a nutshell. Part mistaken identity story, part surrealistic daydream, the film is visually gorgeous, absurdly hilarious, and genuinely heart-rending, for reasons that are hard to articulate. But every scene makes you feel something, and ask questions about what you’re feeling, and why you are feeling it.
Director Terry Gilliam had to sneak a print from Universal Studios to show the film to critics and students without their permission. Despite its challenges, the film became a huge critical hit, and is considered one of the classic ‘cult’ films of the 1980s. This is such a weird time in our history, allow yourself some beauty, some time to ponder, and some amazing performances.
The Three Colors Trilogy (Criterion Channel): Krzysztof Kieślowski created this trilogy based on the three political ideals of the French motto: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The films, all in French or Polish, are all quite different, but all retain some connective tissue between them in the form of cameos or themes. All three are visually stunning, full of amazing performances, and go beyond what you think of when you think about a tragedy (Blue), a comedy (White), or a tragedy (Red). The films are transformative and mesmerizing, and absolutely worth your time.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Disney+): Whether you loved or hated The Last Jedi, you need to watch it again. It is both the most visually beautiful Star Wars film, and the most challenging. Every character comes out of the film significantly different than they entered, and expectations were subverted at almost every turn. Some people hated that, some people loved it, but more than any other film of its kind it made you think. Lucasfilm did an about face and made a sequel that involved no personal struggle or journey whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean The Last Jedi doesn’t work. It means it may have worked too well.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Netflix): Edgar Wright is one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World may be his most underrated, yet impressive feature yet. A seamless integration of video games, music, action, romance, and comedy, the film takes its comic book source material and manages to not just adapt it, but build upon it. It puts meat on the comics’ bones without sucking the joy and imagination out of it, like so many adaptations do. People may prefer the comic over the film, but I haven’t met anyone who likes one without the other. It is the perfect complement to the comic, and the perfect antidote to a world that, sadly, doesn’t have one-ups hanging in the air or stage vs stage battles of the bands.
Stop Making Sense (Amazon Prime): When it comes to concert films, there are a lot of good ones, but just two great ones: The Band’s The Last Waltz, and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. Stop Making Sense is more than just a concert film. It is a (false) narrative about Talking Heads as a band, and tells real stories with almost no words that aren’t song lyrics. Each song is presented in a visual way, though using mainly just lighting and some light choreography, and each song is perfectly represented visually. With these humble tools, there is absurdity, sex, joy, anger, euphoria, fear, fraternity, and relief on display, along with some of the best music made in the 20th century.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: While I’d strongly recommend both of the new Jumanji movies, it obviously makes sense to start with the first one. If you want to be pretentious about fine films, steer clear, but if you’re just looking to have a good time, hop on your favorite streaming device and rent this. The core cast—The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillian—is outstanding as they act through the characters they’re portraying.
Kubo and the Two Strings: Perhaps the second-best stop-action movie to The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’m sad to say that I’ve only watched this movie once. But it was a damn masterpiece, one that lived up to the hype that it had gotten before I saw it. To get this combination of visuals and story is rare.
Dolemite is My Name: Having just watched this one for the first time a couple days ago, it’s clear that Eddie Murphy and the rest of this loaded cast had a good time making a movie about making a movie. Murphy certainly hasn’t been dormant over the past decade-plus, but this performance stands out among all of his recent work.
Ex Machina: The isolation here might hit a little too close to home right now, even though it has nothing to do with a pandemic. But this is a thriller, and Oscar Isaac—who is better known for his work in the new Star Wars trilogy films and Inside Llewyn Davis—is outstanding in this movie. And for another link to Star Wars, Domhnall Gleeson, who portrays General Hux, is in this movie, too.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: In my experience, you can’t go wrong with anything affiliated with Taika Waititi, but this was one of my introductions to his work. Having been fortunate enough to take a trip to New Zealand, there’s an affinity for things that are made there for me, too. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison are both great, and it’s a funny and touching movie from start to finish, even when things get a little dark.
Lord of the Rings: This is some real low hanging fruit. The best fantasy movie series of all time (the third installment is still the only fantasy film to ever win best picture), Lord of the Rings is simply a masterpiece. J.R.R. Tolkein was a master world builder and storyteller, and Peter Jackson did a masterful job of bringing the story of Sam, Frodo, Aragorn, and the ring to the screen. Despite being almost 20 years old, the practical effects wouldn’t look out of place in today’s movies, and the epic scope of the tale will have even fantasy haters glued to the screen. As an extra bonus, the extended versions of the films—which are really the only way to go—brings the total run time up around 12 hours, an excellent time killer for those of us stuck at home.
The Red Violin: Violin-making is certainly a niche interest, but the story of the red violin is a fun one for anyone who likes mysteries. Produced in 1720 by Antonio Stradivari, the most famous violin maker of all time, the red violin disappeared for 200 years before reappearing in the early 20th century. It’s passed through the hands of several notable violinists, including Joseph Joachim, a descendant of Felix Mendelsohn, and Elizabeth Pitcairn, who currently owns it. The Red Violin takes this story and adds a good deal of poetic license, along with a poignant score beautifully performed by Joshua Bell. It’s a great movie for fans of classical music, and an enjoyable film even if that’s not your bag.
Cloverfield: I’m a sucker for kaiju movies, having grown up watching all those old, objectively awful Godzilla movies from the 80s and 90s. Cloverfield takes the genre a different direction, portraying the struggle of four party goers as they attempt to escape New York City as it is ravaged by a mysterious creature. It’s filmed from in a first person, camcorder perspective, which makes the whole thing a lot more gritty than most other monster films. There’s a bit of camp and some scary bits, so if that’s not really your thing you might want to skip this one, but it’s a worthwhile watch even if this isn’t a genre you usually care for.
Contagion: Fair warning, if you’re looking for a film that won’t remind you we’re currently suffering through a pandemic, don’t watch this movie. On the other hand, if you’d be interested in watching a well-produced film that does a credible job of representing what a global pandemic—with a virus far worse than COVID-19—would look like, this is a good movie for you. Pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow plays patient zero—something comment about irony would fit well here—while a star studded cast jostles for screen time. Certainly no master piece, but a fitting film to watch while we’re all social distancing.
Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan has produced a long list of incredible films, but Dunkirk might be his best work. It’s a World War II movie unlike any other, and but the setting isn’t really what this movie is about. Rather, it’s an exercise in constant tension building, a two hour journey where you’re so on the edge of your seat you’re practically falling out of your chair. This is accomplished with both Nolan’s typical style for manipulating time and an incredible score from Hans Zimmer featuring a couple cool audio tricks. It’s an experience rather than a film, one that you really shouldn’t miss.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Netflix): I remember when the first trailer dropped, I saw the jarring animation style and laughed to myself that Sony was about to mess up Spider-Man yet again. Three viewings and one Halloween costume later, I can safely say that I was 100% wrong (or 97% wrong, if you want to go by the Rotten Tomatoes score). If I had known at the time that it was a Lord / Miller production (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie, 21 and 22 Jump Street), I would have no misgivings about its quality. Not only is it the most beautifully animated movie I have ever seen, it is also the best, most fully-realized adaptation of Spider-Man on the big screen, and almost certainly on my comic book movie Mount Rushmore.
The Art of Self-Defense (Hulu): Starring a game Jesse Eisenberg as a man who becomes obsessed with a cult-like self-defense class, this quirky black comedy snuck up on me to become one of my favorite films of 2019. Its idiosyncrasies are certainly not for everyone; the humor is drier than a saltine, and the sudden bursts of violence may turn some viewers off. But pretty much everything about it worked for me, so if you’re me, check it out!
Booksmart (Hulu): I’ve seen many people refer to Booksmart as a female Superbad, and while that is true in some ways, it’s a lazy comparison in other ways. While the structure and premise is basically identical, and it even stars Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein, alongside Kaitlyn Dever (of Justified fame), there are also some important differences. I do not find Booksmart to be quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Superbad, but I do think it does a better job of landing its emotional beats. Superbad is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I see the comparisons as a major compliment to Booksmart, but also as something that can set up fans of the former to be disappointed by the latter. Booksmart is a great movie in its own right.
Wild Rose (Hulu): This musical drama tells the story of a woman recently released from prison who is struggling to raise two children in Glasgow while attempting to follow her dream of becoming a country music star. It is equally heartbreaking and uplifting, as is the tremendous leading performance by up-and-coming Irish actress Jessie Buckley. Notably, the film features a great original song that was written by Mary Steenburgen after the actress struggled with debilitating mental side-effects of a minor surgery that “made all her thoughts become musical” - a story that would make for a great film adaptation in itself.
Onward (Disney+): The last movie I saw in theaters before the quarantine started, Onward’s reviews were somewhat disappointing; among Pixar movies, its 61 Metacritic score ranks it above only the two Cars sequels. And while it is certainly not an all-time classic like the top tier of Pixar movies (which, to be fair, probably consists of about half of Pixar’s movies), I have to disagree with the critical consensus here. If you go in expecting a fun, exciting adventure film with a good sense of humor, you’ll probably enjoy it. Most importantly, the emotional gut-punch you know you’re getting from a Pixar movie feels earned. Disney has already released it to Video On Demand, and it will be streaming on Disney+ on April 3.
Inglorious Basterds (Netflix) - Is this Tarantino’s magnum opus? I certainly think so, but I’m a sucker for westerns, especially the spaghetti westerns that Tarantino based this movie on. The story (mostly) centers around Brad Pitt as the commander of a select group of Jewish Nazi-hunters in France, as their path intersects with an escaped Jewish refugee living a second life, and the Nazis hunting both. The movie is more like a series of vignettes, with the wide sweeping shots of the French countryside making up the first part, to the tight and mystertious Hitchcock-like barroom scene. Some people won’t like its delve into surrealism, but it’s a cathartic watch to me, and I catch something new every rewatch.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Birdman is a movie I find myself thinking about a lot. It’s a difficult movie to unpack and the resonance of its themes are probably going to depend on the individual watching. Besides the stunning single-shot cinematography, the backstory of Michael Keaton as the actor behind fallen-from-grace superhero Birdman coming to grips as he tries to revitalize his career on the stage is sometimes zany, and most of the time surreal. You’ll ask yourself “what am I watching?” pretty often. It’s almost a pick your own adventure with a jazzy score!
The Hurt Locker: One of the seemingly most-forgotten-about Best Picture winners in recent memory, The Hurt Locker is sure to raise your blood pressure. It’s a very visual movie, and is able to communicate what goes on inside the mind of someone who disposes of bombs for a living, in the middle of war-torn Iraq. The movie delves deep into the minds of people who are forced to work under the highest level of pressure possible, from those who work by the rules, to those who refuse to acknowledge rules exist, and on the other side it explores the people of Iraq who are being sucked into the vacuum of war.
Coco (Disney+): Get some tissues ready for this one. Set on the backdrop of Dia de los Muertos, Miguel’s family rejects his desire to become a musician, despite their lack of openness as to why. When Miguel accidentally discovers the true story, the story explodes into a suspenseful and tearful escape as he reunites with his family, both living and dead. Pixar’s take on Mexican family life and celebration of Mexican culture is rich and dazzling array of colors and even the most cold-hearted will find themselves moved.
Rogue One (Disney+): Bridging the gap between the Prequel Series and the Original Trilogy, Rogue One brings something into the Star Wars franchise that hadn’t been there prior - realism. It’s much more tragic and less idealistic than its predecessors in so many ways, but its gritty take never dives so deep that it becomes unrecognizable as a Star Wars movie. Its battle scenes make it worth the watch alone, and its got some beautiful cinematography that’s unlike anything else in the Star Wars world. Oh, and it’s got the best Darth Vader scene in the series - you could watch just for that.