Netflix movie guide: triple features for self-isolation

Genre+benders+%22Scott+Pilgrim+vs.+the+World%2C%22+%22Swiss+Army+Man%2C%22+and+%22Strictly+Ballroom%22+make+a+great+triple+feature+of+bizarre+surrealism.

Ransom Bergen

Genre benders "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "Swiss Army Man," and "Strictly Ballroom" make a great triple feature of bizarre surrealism.

Wesley Stenzel, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Self-isolation can be lonely, dull, and uninspiring. One silver lining: there’s a seemingly unlimited amount of movies to watch, and very little reason to feel guilty for watching them. Here’s a guide to some of the greatest movies currently available on Netflix. I’ve broken the titles into groups of three — each category could make for a great triple feature, and if you like one of them, you’ll probably enjoy the other two as well.

 

High school dramas

“20th Century Women,” “The Edge of Seventeen,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Whether they depict cafeteria hijinks or first loves, these coming-of-age high school movies perfectly capture the breadth of heightened emotions that come with adolescence. All three have stellar period-appropriate soundtracks.

If you miss Montecito, “20th Century Women” portrays a loving circle of women that raise a teen boy in 1970s Santa Barbara. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and features perennial Oscar-nominee Annette Bening as the boy’s mother, as well as future “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig as a scene-stealing, free-spirited photographer. 

The Edge of Seventeen” stars Hailee Steinfeld as a Portland high schooler who is embittered by a horrific betrayal: her best friend and brother have begun dating. Woody Harrelson continues his snarky-mentor schtick from “The Hunger Games,” as he plays Steinfeld’s teacher and reluctant confidant. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is perhaps the most quintessential coming-of-age piece of the trio, as a young Logan Lerman grapples with self-acceptance and friendships in the wake of a traumatic past. “Perks” is something of a Hollywood anomaly, as novelist Stephen Chbosky adapted his own book, despite never directing a major movie before.

Animated adventures

“The Castle of Cagliostro,” “The Adventures of Tintin,” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Animation is an incredible medium for adventure stories: its boundless nature allows for beautifully creative visuals, fantastical world-building, and action scenes that defy real-world physics. These animated adventure films could not possibly exist in live action, and represent visual storytelling at its best.

Stuffed with gravity-defying car chases and thrilling heists, Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro” tells the tale of a noble thief who sets out to rescue a princess from an arranged marriage. This movie inspired Pixar founder John Lasseter to pursue animation, and, if the rumor is true, is a favorite of Steven Spielberg, who allegedly called it “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time.”

Spielberg’s own “The Adventures of Tintin” lives up to its name, as its titular young detective embarks on a globetrotting quest in pursuit of a lost treasure. Based on a beloved Belgian comic, “Tintin” was a collaborative effort between some of the biggest filmmakers of the last two decades, including Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”), Steven Moffat (“Sherlock”), Kathleen Kennedy (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”).

In an era of impending superhero fatigue, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” set itself apart from the pack with its revolutionary comic-book animation style and playfully self-aware storytelling. “Into the Spider-Verse” sees a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, team up with a bizarre crew of interdimensional web-slingers to face an existential threat. It’s funnier than most comedies and more heartfelt than most dramas.

Feel-good comedies

“Always Be My Maybe,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Julie & Julia”

We all need a little pure, unabashed joy in a movie sometimes. These lighthearted comedies have no shortage of conflict, but maintain a jovial tone throughout and end on a high note.

Stand-up comic Ali Wong and “Fresh Off the Boat” patriarch Randall Park (who’s also known as the Alternate Jim from a memorable “Office” episode) team up in “Always Be My Maybe,” a recent romantic comedy set in San Francisco. Wong and Park wrote the screenplay together and star as childhood friends who stumble back into one another’s lives at a critical moment for both of them. This movie has one of the best celebrity cameos in recent memory.

While Matthew Broderick’s titular character gets the spotlight in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” he ultimately serves as the Nick Carraway to Cameron’s Gatsby –– a narrator who moves the plot forward. Although we must stay home for the time being, we can still live vicariously through Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane as they embark on the ultimate day in the city, with art museums, baseball games, restaurants, and much more. It’s almost as good as leaving the house. Almost.

From “When Harry Met Sally” to “You’ve Got Mail,” Nora Ephron never fails to create hilarious, fast-paced dialogue, and “Julie & Julia” is no exception. In Ephron’s final film, Amy Adams stars as Julie Powell, a woman cooking through the recipes of the renowned Julia Child (Meryl Streep). “Julie & Julia” is like two movies in one, as Ephron jumps between Julie’s modern story  with Julia’s journey throughout 1950s Europe. If you want to start cooking or blogging, look to this film for inspiration — it has an abundance of both.

Time travel romances

“About Time,” “Groundhog Day,” and “Kate & Leopold”

Time travel is frequently used as a plot mechanism in action-adventure movies like “Back to the Future” or “The Terminator.” But time travel can also be utilized to great effect in romance stories. Whether it allows characters to undo relational mistakes or bring temporally separated characters together, time travel plays a fascinating role in these romantic movies.

What would you do if you could relive any moment from your entire life? This is the question at the heart of “About Time,” a British romantic drama by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “Notting Hill”). When Tim (Domnhall Gleeson) discovers that the men in his family possess the ability to return to any point in their lives, he immediately tries to re-do missed romantic opportunities, but quickly discovers dire consequences. This movie superbly balances romantic comedy with family drama, and may be the biggest tearjerker on this entire list.

Self-isolation may feel repetitive, but pales in comparison to Phil Connors’ experience in “Groundhog Day.” Bill Murray shines as a selfish weatherman who’s inexplicably forced to repeat the same day forever … or perhaps until he learns a lesson. Harold Ramis’ airtight screenplay and Murray’s romantic chemistry with Andie Macdowell make “Groundhog Day” a redemption story for the ages.

Meg Ryan’s Kate inadvertently crosses paths with Hugh Jackman’s Leopold, an accidental time traveller from 1876, in the aptly-named “Kate & Leopold.” Written and directed by James Mangold (“Logan,” “Ford v. Ferrari”), “Kate & Leopold” is tonally and conceptually similar to fish-out-of-water comedies “Enchanted” and “Elf,” with a little more romance and a little less humor.

Oscar-winners

“Her,” “Roma,” and “Moonlight”

It’s hard to keep up with Oscar-nominated movies, especially since the Academy opened the Best Picture category to 10 slots. Luckily, Netflix has some of the best winners of the 2010s.

Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for “Joker” this year, but he gave an equally great performance in 2013’s “Her.” Spike Jonze’s refreshingly unique script won Best Original Screenplay, and features an all-too-familiar dynamic for couples separated by social distancing: trying to maintain a relationship with a phone. Keep an eye out for a pre-”Guardians of the Galaxy” Chris Pratt as one of Phoenix’s coworkers.

Alfonso Cuarón already won Best Director for 2013’s “Gravity,” but managed to top this achievement with 2018’s “Roma,” for which he received Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Film in addition to his second Best Director Award. His wins were well-deserved: Cuarón’s intensely personal film about life in 1970s Mexico City is beautifully crafted and deeply emotional. Pay attention to the filmmaker’s long, uninterrupted takes.

Don’t let the “La La Land” fiasco detract from the legacy of “Moonlight.” The victory of Barry Jenkins’ 2016 Best Picture winner was a monumental moment in Academy history, as it was the first top-prize winner with an all-black cast and an LGBTQ+ focus. “Moonlight” is told in three distinct chapters with three actors portraying the protagonist, and also won awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. Jenkins’ empathetic poeticism and gorgeous lighting make any viewing of “Moonlight” a soothing yet cathartic experience.

Mind-bending thrillers

“Inception,” “Enemy,” and “Ex Machina”

One of the best ways to take your mind off of the world’s problems is to immerse yourself in an utterly confusing movie. These thrillers utilize unconventional storytelling mechanics to keep viewers on their toes, and aren’t afraid to ask big questions about reality, identity, and humanity. 

Christopher Nolan is best known for his “Dark Knight” trilogy, but many consider “Inception” his magnum opus. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a stellar ensemble of thieves and con artists who enter dreams to extract information from the subconscious. Nolan’s signature non-linear storytelling pairs nicely with the heist, noir, and sci-fi elements of “Inception.”

With excellent movies like “Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Prisoners” under his belt, Denis Villeneueve is one of the most consistent filmmakers working today. “Enemy” is much smaller than Villeneueve’s later work, but still showcases his mastery of suspense. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a troubled man who discovers his doppelganger, and delivers masterfully nuanced dual performances. Probably the most confusing movie on this entire list, “Enemy” is open to a lot of interpretation, and has one of the most haunting closing shots in cinematic history.

Science fiction doesn’t always need massive budgets and visionary spectacle to make an impact. Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” is a brilliant example of low-budget sci-fi done right. The entire film takes place in one futuristic house, and only has four cast members, including Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander as an enigmatic android and “Star Wars” costars Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac as opposing tech experts.

Epic dramas

“Magnolia,” “The Irishman,” and “The Hateful Eight”

Sometimes a two-hour movie feels insufficient. These dramas each last at least three hours, but don’t seem much longer than the average movie. Throw one of these on if you want to kill an entire afternoon.

Few contemporary dramas are as ambitious as “Magnolia,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s intricate tapestry of the overlapping lives of broken Angelenos. Anderson’s film lacks a true protagonist, and instead gives equal attention to numerous members of its remarkable ensemble, including Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly. Filled with surreal coincidences, it’s a beautifully heartbreaking — but ultimately hopeful — exploration of humans’ capacity to both hurt and help one another. 

If you want a long-form drama with veteran actors at the top of their game, look no further than Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” This three-and-a-half-hour crime saga makes effective use of its length, as it spans several decades and captures the entire tumultuous life of teamster Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Though its de-aging effects don’t quite hold up to close scrutiny, “The Irishman” remains a must-see for fans of the crime genre.

While most won’t argue that it’s his best film, “The Hateful Eight” may be Quentin Tarantino’s most quintessential movie. It has all the hallmarks of his illustrious filmography: snappy dialogue, grisly violence, non-linear storytelling, racial tension, a period setting, and a cast of despicable characters that somehow manage to be ridiculously entertaining. It really doesn’t feel like three hours have passed at its conclusion. 

Great movies to watch with your parents

“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Avengers: Infinity War”

Many students have been forced to adjust to living with their parents for the remainder of the semester. One of the best ways to alleviate intergenerational familial tension is to watch a unifying movie together. The odds are good that at least one of these movies will appeal to at least one of your parents

Frequently cited as one of the best dad movies ever made, “The Shawshank Redemption” is the highest-rated movie on IMDb. It’s not only good for dads, though — Frank Darabont’s film, which is adapted from a Stephen King novella, is a beautiful tale of friendship and hope in a 1940s prison. Be prepared for a parent to cry at some point.

Period pieces can be great mom movies, especially when they star Colin Firth. “The King’s Speech” is one of his best movies, as he plays King George VI attempting to overcome a major speech impediment to lead the United Kingdom through World War II. Don’t let the R-rating deceive you — “The King’s Speech” is a movie appropriate for all ages, with one minor comedic scene where Firth spews expletives, earning the film its mature rating.

Avengers: Infinity War” is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining movies on Netflix, and watching it with parents could potentially enhance the viewing experience. There’s basically two potential scenarios that can arise: either your parents are already heavily invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will have a blast watching the superhero extravaganza, or will have no idea what’s going on and confusedly ask questions the entire time. It’s a win-win situation.

Dumb fun

“National Treasure,” “Burlesque,” and “Spider-Man 3” 

Whether earnest or ironic, some of the most rewarding viewing experiences come from cheesy movies that take themselves too seriously. These deeply flawed films aren’t the pinnacle of high art, but they can be incredibly fun if approached with the right mindset.

Is “National Treasure” the best bad movie or the worst good movie? Compelling arguments can be made for either position, but Nicolas Cage is undeniably captivating as mansplaining adventurer Ben Gates. The story nicely blends American history with heist conventions to create a thrilling, over-the-top adventure for the ages.

Christina Aguilera and Cher are definitely singers first and actors second, as demonstrated by the laughably uneven “Burlesque.” Despite its numerous flaws, including dialogue that seems like it was written by seventh graders and choppy editing, the movie is still a great embodiment of its titular subject matter because of its corny jokes, ridiculous sexual tension, and dazzling musical numbers. Its worst qualities are so preposterous that “Burlesque” is unceasingly fun to watch.

Sam Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” movies helped shape the superhero genre as we know it today. The third installment took the series hilariously off the rails, with too many villains, several unfitting dance sequences, and egregious character development. Yet these bizarre creative choices make “Spider-Man 3” one of the most watchable comic-book movies ever. The action is the best of the series, and Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman may be Spider-Man’s most sympathetic adversary.

Genre benders

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Swiss Army Man,” and “Strictly Ballroom”

Certain movies don’t fit neatly into any conventional genres. These films all heavily emphasize music and humor, but can’t quite be considered musicals or comedies. They also each contain several surreal elements, and have strong romantic inclinations. Watch these if you want to see a movie unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Based on a series of Canadian graphic novels, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” combines fast-paced comedy, comic book stylizations akin to “Spider-Verse,” video game flourishes straight out of “Wreck-It Ralph,” martial arts combat, battle-of-the-bands musical sequences, and Edgar Wright’s distinct kinetic editing style. Plus, it boasts one of the most stacked casts of the 2010s, including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and future Marvel Captains Chris Evans and Brie Larson.

It only took five years for Daniel Radcliffe to go from Harry Potter to a flatulent corpse with secret powers in “Swiss Army Man,” a truly bizarre debut from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Paul Dano’s Hank must escape a desert island with only the help of Radcliffe’s surprisingly helpful Manny. The opening scene sees Hank ride gas-propelled Manny like a jet ski, and it only gets weirder from there. Yet “Swiss Army Man” isn’t just a dumb comedy — it’s heartfelt, dramatic, and buoyed by a superb a capella soundtrack composed of the lead duo’s voices.

Baz Luhrmann may be best known for his adaptations of “The Great Gatsby” and “Romeo + Juliet” with Leonardo DiCaprio, but his signature strain of energetic, theatrical camp first shone in his debut “Strictly Ballroom.” Luhrmann’s music-focused style alone makes this movie difficult to categorize, but the plot makes it even harder: it takes place in the world of Australian competitive ballroom dancing and falls somewhere between a classic romance and sports drama.

Filmmaker spotlights

Steven Spielberg: The “Indiana Jones” series, “Hook,” and “Minority Report”

Aaron Sorkin: “The Social Network,” “Steve Jobs,” and “Molly’s Game”

Noah Baumbach: “Marriage Story,” “While We’re Young,” and “Frances Ha”

If you want to take a deep-dive into the career of a particular filmmaker, Netflix has multiple great movies from several renowned directors and writers.

With an eye for marvelous action scenes and a consistent sense of childlike wonder, Steven Spielberg excels at creating thrilling adventure films with movie stars at the peak of their fame. A perfect introduction to his work is the four-part “Indiana Jones” series, especially the all-time greats “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Last Crusade” (though “Temple of Doom” and “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” have their merits). Harrison Ford shines as the iconic whip-wielding archaeologist, searching for artifacts and battling Nazis. Another family-friendly Spielberg endeavor is “Hook,” his reimagining of “Peter Pan” starring Robin Williams and featuring a wonderful depiction of Neverland. “Minority Report” is one of Spielberg’s best late-career movies. Set in a future Washington, D.C., where crimes can be prevented before they occur, the film sees a cop (Tom Cruise) go on the run after being wrongly accused of murder. All three of these projects contain beautiful musical scores by John Williams, a frequent Spielberg collaborator.

Aaron Sorkin’s fast-paced, witty dialogue and famous walk-and-talk scenes make him one of the most captivating screenwriters in Hollywood. His most acclaimed movie, “The Social Network,” details the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, and earned him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. This movie’s success led to another tech mogul biography, “Steve Jobs,” which tells the story of the titular Apple founder’s life during three major product unveilings. Sorkin’s most recent film, “Molly’s Game,” stars Jessica Chastain as the coordinator of an ongoing underground celebrity poker game, and also served as his directorial debut. The density of Sorkin’s dialogue means his scripts tend to be much longer than most screenplays, even though his movies aren’t longer than the average film.

Noah Baumbach, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, excels at finding the poetry and symbolism tucked into everyday life. His work might be best approached in reverse order, because his best movie is “Marriage Story,” which came out last year and depicts a family adjusting to a painful divorce. 2014’s “While We’re Young” sees a couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) experience a midlife crisis after befriending a younger, hipper couple. Lastly, 2013’s “Frances Ha” tells the story of a young woman in New York who can’t quite figure out what to do next in life. Cowritten by and starring Baumbach’s partner Greta Gerwig (of “Little Women” and “Lady Bird” fame), it’s a perfect movie for college students who are anxious about the future. Baumbach’s greatest strength is his ability to construct strong, flawed characters. They speak with immense profundity and wit, but always manage to feel like real, living people — the dialogue never seems heavy-handed or theatrical, but instead reflects the best ways that real people talk.

End of the world

“Cloverfield,” “Snowpiercer,” and “Bird Box”

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the end of the world, but it can still be very stressful. In anxiety-inducing times, it can be oddly comforting to watch people survive disastrous scenarios that are much, much worse than COVID-19. These movies present unique apocalyptic catastrophes and recognize the importance of interpersonal human drama. 

While typical monster movies unfold from the perspective of an action hero or fearless leader, “Cloverfield” follows a small group of New Yorkers who try to survive the destruction wreaked by a mysterious giant creature. Director Matt Reeves (“War for the Planet of the Apes”) and writer Drew Goddard (“The Martian”) pay special attention to the ground-level logistics of a disaster and the ways regular people would react to supernatural crises. Don’t watch this one if prone to motion-sickness — it’s presented in a shaky, first-person found-footage format.

Bong Joon-Ho recently gained international fame for “Parasite,” but he’s been making stellar thrillers for years, including 2014’s “Snowpiercer.” Following an apocalyptic ice age, the remnants of humanity (including a rugged Chris Evans) battle to survive on a socially stratified train. A phenomenal piece of speculative fiction, “Snowpiercer” is gorgeously shot, energetically edited, and masterfully designed. It’s a magnificent example of everything a dystopian drama can be.

While it’s not nearly as well-executed as “Cloverfield” or “Snowpiercer,” “Bird Box” has an equally fascinating premise: what if supernatural forces were so strong that they could kill people as soon as they’re seen? Sandra Bullock leads an eclectic cast of survivalists who must constantly wear blindfolds to avoid glimpsing their terrifying enemy. Though it’s full of clichés, “Bird Box” excels at building tension and terror, especially as director Susanne Bier refuses to reveal the creatures at the heart of the conflict.