In a way, the potential of movies is defined by times like these, as surreal and unprecedented as the current moment is.
As the Centers for Disease Control continue to encourage limiting non-essential travel and theaters across the country temporarily shutter their box offices to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus – or COVID-19 – you might be relying more than ever on streaming services to get your entertainment fill.
But movies can still provide something new as well, if the walls of our homes start to feel too familiar. We can still learn a little more about the world around us, even if we’re not walking through it with our own two feet. The comfort of our favorite Spielberg or “Star Wars” is a click of the button away, but the well of film history, perspective and insight that’s immediately accessible has also never been deeper.
With that in mind, here’s a list of movies, broken down by genre, that are currently available on streaming platforms for you to consider checking out. We’re leaning a little more toward discovery with this list; you’re more likely to see an international-language movie or small-budget indie than the latest “Avengers” flick or “Toy Story 4.” We’re going to be adding to it on most days, too, as we continue minimizing leaving our homes and maximizing what we watch.
“A Most Violent Year” (2014, dir. J.C. Chandor)
One of the more under-beloved movies of the 2010s is a stark diorama about the dogged pursuit of the American Dream in 1980s New York City—to morally-questionable ends. It’s fueled by powerhouse performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, who play Abel and Anna Morales, an urban couple trying to keep their business afloat amid legal prodding from the assistant district attorney and targeted attacks from seemingly-invisible competitors.
But the spark of “A Most Violent Year” comes from J.C. Chandor’s thrillingly old-fashioned filmmaking. In subject matter and style, he’s doing his best Francis Ford Coppola impression…and the result is an anxiety-inducing story about family and straddling the moral code to protect yours.
Stream it on: Netflix
“Happy As Lazzaro” (2018, dir. Alice Rohrwacher)
To call this movie a fable would be to neglect its urgency, but calling it a drama is a bit dismissive of the delightfully surreal touches that so powerfully charge Alice Rohrwacher’s movie. Adriano Tardiolo play the self-destructively loyal Lazzaro, a farmboy whose family works under the literal and metaphorical shadow of a far wealthier clan, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of time itself. You’ll naturally ask some questions about where and when exactly the movie takes place, and it’ll provide some unexpected clarity in that regard. More memorably, “Happy as Lazzaro” holds back on fully explaining itself, instead allowing its urban fantasy to take over. There’s a few sequences in this movie’s second half that are among my favorite in any film of the past five years, including one that suggests a self-awareness and newfound power of art itself. It’s as if Vincent Van Gogh had dabbled in cinema.
Stream it on: Netflix
“Water Lilies” (2007, dir. Céline Sciamma)
One of the last movies that had rolled out to theaters across the country, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” was also one of the very best films of 2019. Writer-director Céline Sciamma’s feature debut, “Water Liles,” is another compassionately-crafted tale about budding infatuation and things that go unsaid but are acknowledged nonetheless. Exploring a love triangle against the backdrop of teenage curiosity, You get a sense of the visual style that would later lead to the ravishing shots that fill “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” and also a whiff of the same emotional intensity as well.
Aside from absorbing where Sciamma began as a feature filmmaker, “Water Lilies” also stars “Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s” Adéle Haenel in what is just her second lead role. She’s exceptional, as are Pauline Acquart and Louise Blachére, who play the other local kids caught in a sensuous web. Just 85 minutes long, “Water Lilies” is a relatively brief watch, but a must-watch for anyone else who was swept up by “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” earlier this year.
Stream it on: The Criterion Channel
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019, dir. Céline Sciamma)
Earlier this week, I recommended Sciamma’s directorial debut. Since then – on Friday to be exact – her latest movie, as ravishing as anything that cinema has produced since 2000, hopped onto Hulu much earlier than it was initially expected to, in a surprise move. So…you’re welcome.
In all seriousness, believe the hype when it comes to the emotional intelligence of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which documents blossoming attraction between two women in 18th-century France: Adéle Haenel’s Héloïse and Noémie Merlant’s Marianne, the artist who’s been hired to paint Héloïse for a potential suitor, but without her knowledge. A mesmerizing tale of lesbian love that gives new meaning to the cliché that every frame of a movie could pass for a work of art, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is also one of the medium's strongest testaments to the power of art to come about in some time. We turn to art for the images, stories and feelings they transport us into. We also turn to it for the moments we wish we could stay in forever. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” realizes this, to roaringly operatic and mythically heartbreaking levels. It’s incredible a masterpiece.
Stream it on: Hulu
“It Comes At Night” (2017, dir. Trey Edward Shults)
Trey Edward Shults has emerged as one of the most versatile young filmmakers working today, with an uncanny ability to ensnare viewers in the emotionally claustrophobic situations of his characters. His second feature, an exercise in restrained paranoia, takes place after an unspecified catastrophe has ravaged the world, and focuses on a small family that never completely trusts the strangers they’re providing refuge to.
The movie leans a little more toward thriller than outright horror (and there was a minor bit of backlash from people alleging the marketing made it seem like more of the latter than the former) but it’s nonetheless a challenging, grim watch about when we’re forced to compromise between our instincts and our humanity. Check it out.
Stream it on: Netflix, Kanopy
“Train to Busan” (2016, dir. Yeon Sang-ho)
You thought the undead in “28 Days Later” were speedsters? Just wait until you’re terrified by the ghouls of “Train to Busan,” one of the more inventive entries in the zombie subgenre of recent years. As you might expect, Yeon Sang-ho’s movie keeps the action largely limited to the setting suggested by its title, and manages to keep the thrills coming at an excruciating pace. Think “Speed,” directed by George A. Romero.
But there’s also a resilient soul at the center of “Train to Busan,” in the form of a father-daughter dynamic that horror hasn’t too often explored. The grim, morbid atmospheres we usually associate with zombie flicks are pulled back to let an emotional force take center stage, and the result is a staggeringly entertaining fusion of horror, action and drama. You won’t listen to “Aloha ‘oe” the same way again.
Its quality aside—a spiritual sequel to “Train to Busan,” titled “Peninsula,” is expected from Sang-ho this summer, if you needed some extra incentive to catch up with this one.
Stream it on: Netflix, Shudder, Amazon Prime Video
“Logan Lucky” (2017, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
After you’ve finished your requisite revisit of “Contagion” – Steven Soderbergh’s soberingly-relevant 2011 procedural about a global viral outbreak – why not stay in the director’s wheelhouse with something much less…dire?
“Logan Lucky,” about two bluegrass brothers planning a heist at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, puts a country-twang spin on Soderbergh’s glitzy “Ocean’s” films while keeping the same lighthearted spirit. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver have delectable deadpan chemistry, and Daniel Craig’s southern-accented, chemistry-inclined criminal steals so many scenes that it’ll make the prolonged wait for the actor’s final Bond outing just a bit easier.
Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video
“The Squid and the Whale” (2005, dir. Noah Baumbach)
If you’re someone who thought last year’s “Marriage Story” felt a bit too rosy for its subject matter, there’s always writer-director Noah Baumbach’s excellent first divorce drama. “The Squid and the Whale,” about a New York family sparring as they figure out the logistics of a domestic breakdown, has uniformly great performances across the board (with a fantastic Jeff Daniels leading the way) and a tone that can only be described as acidic sweetness. Or is it sweet acidity? This is one of the best screenplays from one of the best contemporary screenwriters, packing every line of dialogue with hilarious, laser-focused, nuclear-level wit. No one in the Berkman family is totally culpable for their new reality and yet everyone is. This is a quiet riot, from beginning to end.
Stream it on: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Kanopy
“The Road to El Dorado” (2000, dir. Don Paul and Eric “Bibo” Bergeron)
This stunningly-animated adventure celebrates its 20th birthday this month, and yeah, it holds up. The epic story about mythical cities, empirical conquest and lust for fame is as good as any 2-D animated movie to release in the 2000s, and Tulio and Miguel are still an irresistible pairing—perfect foils, and perfect companions. Colorful visuals bring pop to a children’s movie with real depth, and “Road to El Dorado” also contains just the right amount of daring as a cinematic spice to hold adults over as well. It’s as delightful as it was at the turn of the century.
Stream it on: Hulu
“Over the Garden Wall” (2014, dir. Nate Cash)
I’m cheating here…just a bit. The so-ambitious-it-needs-to-be-shown-on-a-big-screen “Over the Garden Wall” is actually a limited series, but with 10 episodes that are each 11 minutes long, bingeing it is practically like watching a movie.
It feels like one too, with thematic intention and aesthetic bravura so heady that it can sometimes feel like Pixar adapted a Grimm Brothers tale in 2-D fashion. The story, which follows two young brothers as they try to find their way out of a mythical forest, is stuffed with strange quirks and memorable characters. But it’s bolstered by one of the most expert blends of haunting atmosphere and melancholic sentiment since “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” It’s just as good as Tim Burton’s classic, as well.
Stream it on: Hulu
“Police Story/Police Story 2” (1985/1988, dir. Jackie Chan)
A warning: It might be tough to return to “Fast and Furious” after sitting through the high-octane, humorous, insatiably entertaining “Police Story” movies. Relying on practicality and the God-given physicality of Jackie Chan, the films are a perfect concoction of serious action that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The drama? Better than you think or remember. The set pieces? The first 15 minutes of “Police Story” alone is a riveting accomplishment. Chan? Legendarily good, but you already knew that. Get to it!
Stream it on: The Criterion Channel
“The Killing” (1956, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Before Stanley Kubrick’s characters went to space, Vietnam or an isolated hotel in the Colorado mountain, they robbed a horse-racing track. “The Killing” is one of the earliest works from one of the most groundbreaking directors, setting a course for future heist films much in the way same “2001: A Space Odyssey did for science fiction fare.
Sterling Hayden’s Johnny Clay leads a team of men in executing a daring job that’ll have them set for life, but Kubrick deals less in moral specifics and more in procedure, expertly crafting a movie that bounces back and forth in time while revealing the threads of the plan not in some early exposition dump, but as they’re actually being tugged at in the moment.
To say “The Killing” is a confident movie would be doing it a disservice (and calling a Kubrick film confident is like calling a Spielberg movie proficient), but there’s an undeniable thrill in how all 80 minutes of it feels like the entire third act of any other robbery movie we’ve seen. It’s almost comical how cliché it feels – the deadly-serious narration, the deadpan of its tone – and yet to watch it is to hop on a 1950s noir ride that barely lets up, except for when it reaches its satisfyingly blunt conclusion.
Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video