Last, but at least in my mind not least, I bring to you my suggestions for what to watch while you are (hopefully) self-isolating to help reign in COVID-19. These picks generally reflect movies and television shows that I find greatly entertaining while also being superbly made. I dropped in one or two that are a little heavier just in case that’s what you’re looking for, but currently I am looking to laugh and be thrilled, and so, without further ado, my picks.
Full disclosure, most of this movie consists of a couple spending a weekend at an isolated house together. They walk outside of the house. They swim in the pool. But most of the time, they are more or less stuck inside together. So, this is not a movie I recommend for couples self-isolating together, but other than that, it is a sublime puzzle-box of a hybrid that pulls in tropes from rom-coms and thrillers. Such a mash-up leads to many pleasures, but the purest one is to watch Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play off one another as a couple. Their performances find a rhythm that makes their situation utterly believable: a couple in therapy isolating themselves to work through their issues. It would be a treat to see this alone, but when the movie flips and turns into something entirely unexpected it is all the better for it. I’ll say no more in the hope of telling as little as possible. 91 minutes, available on Netflix.
I first saw Morning Glory on my second ever movie date way back freshman year of high school. (If you’re wondering, the first date was to see Paul Blart Mall Cop (2009), but don’t hold that against me.) Morning Glory is not a great movie, but it is an effortlessly charming rom-com that will bring a sparkle to your day. Rachel McAdams plays Becky, a television producer, who jumps from local television to a flagging morning show that desperately needs new blood to reverse the downward spiral of its ratings and general quality. McAdams in a rom-com should be enough of a draw, but what makes the movie truly worth the stream is the supporting cast around her. This includes Jeff Goldblum as a surly executive, Patrick Wilson as the romantic interest, and legendary turns from Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton as warring co-hosts of the eponymous morning show. Morning Glory is pure fluff, but everyone seems to be having so much fun doing it that you cannot help but feel the same. 107 minutes, available on Amazon Prime.
Admittedly, I came late to the Killing Eve fandom. Like my colleagues I watched, re-watched, and obsessed over Fleabag (2016-2019) and everything that Phoebe Waller-Bridge achieved within it as writer and producer, but without access to BBC America or Hulu, I trailed behind in the quest to see her other bona fide masterpiece, Killing Eve. Thankfully, I caught up. Killing Eve details the story of brilliant but unstable assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and the obsessive MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) who has decided to track her down. Equal parts James Bond and The Favourite (2018), Killing Eve has all the markings of Waller-Bridges signature wit while never failing to lean into the darker corners of the implications that spending time with these two women brings up. There is so much to love about the show, but if I am to pitch you on anything, it is the pair of performances that Comer and Oh give. The tension between Villanelle and Eve is the central conceit of the show, and Comer and Oh navigate it with ease through every twist and eyebrow raising decision. It is some of the best acting on television today, and you owe it to yourself to dive fully into their work. Two seasons, 17 episodes in total, available on Hulu.
Though I have never written about it for the site, I am an avid fan of stand-up comedy. My love started when I discovered that Robin Williams did more than voice genies and play Peter Pan and has continued spiraling out ever since. Over the past however many years, Netflix has become quite the hub for stand-up comedy, churning out specials from established names and new faces alike. These are often hit or miss, falling into the unfortunate quantity over quality reality that plagues Netflix’s original programming, but every now and then you find a beautiful surprise. Ryan Hamilton: Happy Face is one of these, and has endured as one of my favorite stand-up specials of recent years. Hamilton’s comedy has some similarity to Jerry Seinfeld’s observational style, but Hamilton is simply weirder than Seinfeld. Some of this is his appearance, which supplies the title and is something he addresses immediately by saying he “thinks [he] could sell ice cream in the 50s.” It’s a wide-ranging special covering everything from what it’s like to be young and not drink to the oddity of hot-air balloonists. If you need a laugh, check it out. 56 minutes, available on Netflix.
A great substitute for the inability to go forth into the world and do your own exploring right now is to step into a narrative that hinges on vast world-building. Based on a series of science fiction novels that is still being published, The Expanse takes place in a near future where the solar system has been colonized by humans, resulting in a cold war between Earth and the settlers of Mars with the inhabitants of the Asteroid Belt caught in between. While you may initially imagine this description puts it somewhere between Star Wars and Star Trek, The Expanse knows the cultural touchstones it’s drawing from while succeeding in feeling like a fully original vision. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that it is hard sci-fi. This means that it is interested in the political realities of running a solar system, the way that science works down to the injections and gadgets that make survival on the Belt possible, and roots everything back into explainable science. With echoes of noir abounding, The Expanse is a thought-provoking and engrossing mystery that will provide plenty of discovery even in your isolation. Four seasons, 48 episodes in total, available on Amazon Prime.
Coming off the one-two punch of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), Taika Waititi is now a household name. But, 2016 is my vote for Waititi’s best movie because it is when he made Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A New Zealand native who spent the beginning of his career making short films and independent features, he worked up to Hollywood by sticking to his brand. Much of his success can be attributed to his raucous vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014) (which I also highly recommend) that made him an indie darling in cinephile communities worldwide. It is funny, absurd, and really unlike anything I have ever seen. Hunt for the Wilderpeople followed two years later, and it is unequivocally a love letter to his home country while also functioning as a side-splitting variation on the buddy comedy that replaces the usual cops or detective with an unlikely pair: curmudgeonly foster father Hector (Sam Neil) and hip-hop obsessed orphan Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison). Through a series of events I will leave you to discover, Hector and Ricky end up on the run in the wilderness as they are pursued by child services and the police. Everything Waititi accomplishes here is impressive, but I particularly nod to the blend of heartfelt drama and humor that he presents. Plus, I can attest to the success of this as a self-isolation movie because I made my brother watch it and he loved it. So, be like Aidan and watch this movie. 101 minutes, available on Hulu.
First off, I want to be clear. I don’t think that either of the Bad Boys moves are particularly good. The editing is almost headache-inducing, the writing is nonsensical, and Michael Bay’s constant obsession with women in bikinis is problematic at best. Even so, desperate times lead to the need for corners of filmmaking you never knew you needed, and last week I discovered that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence quipping at each other and blowing things up was exactly what I required to hold onto a measure of my sanity while locked up in my room. I was as surprised as you are, but there is something undeniably comforting about what those two men pull off onscreen. Smith is at the top of his charm and action hero phase, and watching these movies it’s easy to understand why so many thought of Lawrence as the funniest guy in America for a long time. The plots of both movies are your basic action fare about crime lords wanting money, but that’s not what you watch these movies for. I suggest a long double feature, as my mother and I did last Sunday night, to fully appreciate the ridiculousness of Bad Boys. You might not believe it, but they may just be what you need. 119 minutes & 147 minutes, both available on Netflix.
I tried to make most of my picks on this list stories that would be comforting or amusing in this time of madness, but I have to slip one in that runs more to the side of a demanding watch. High Life is my pick in this regard. A recent meditative science fiction piece starring a superb Robert Pattinson, the movie focuses on a group of death row inmates who agreed to be sent off on a one-way mission into the cosmos for the sake of science. Most of the movie focuses on Pattinson and his infant daughter, but director Claire Denis also weaves in stretches that fill out the story of how they ended up in their particular situation. Nearly all the movie takes place in the confines of their spaceship, so it is not an escape from our current situation, but I think it’s worth the discomfort for the philosophical journey that the movie takes you on. High Life deals with issues of free will, individuality, and morality all within the visual feast of Denis’ directorial style. For all the starkness of the narrative, there is a lushness to the production design and cinematography that asks you to consider the tension between beauty and misery. High Life is not an easy movie to watch, but if you’re looking for something to challenge you and ask more of your cinematic brain, then look no further. 113 minutes, available on Amazon Prime.