Fed up with scrolling Netflix? It’s hard to work out which film to watch when there are so many streaming services to sift through, especially if you’re searching for something well suited to the current moment — whether that’s an escapist fantasy, a film you can learn from, or just something to make you laugh out loud. To help you curate your lockdown watch list, we spoke to nine movie experts including managers and film programmers at London’s independent cinemas, as well as the head curator and creative director of the British Film Institute (BFI). Read on for our experts’ picks on what to watch right now, including Quentin Tarantino’s go-to documentary, art-house comedies, epic blockbusters, and cult classics.
“A terrific documentary and unbelievable true story. It’s also genuinely uplifting, which we need right now, and a pertinent look at censorship and freedom. [It’s] framed through the story of two of the nicest people you will ever meet, who inadvertently ran the biggest gay-porn bookstore in Los Angeles.” —Andrew Woodyatt, marketing and development manager at the Rio Cinema in Dalston. If you would like to support the Rio Cinema directly, you can pick up a membership, which entitles you to three months of free streaming on MUBI, or buy a gift voucher. The cinema is also asking for support through a GoFundMe fundraiser — the Rio is a nonprofit and registered charity, so all donations are tax deductible.
“For a bit of an escapist-fantasy reset, courtesy of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, animator on hits such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, I would recommend you brew a cup of something soothing and take some time out for the utterly lovely Mary and the Witch’s Flower.” —Rosie Greatorex, cinema and programme director at the Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise. If you would like to support the Lexi Cinema directly, you can pick up a membership, which entitles you to three months of free streaming on MUBI. The Lexi is also hosting a series of watch-alongs via their Facebook page throughout the shutdown period.
“The film for which the term ‘so bad it’s good’ was invented. Ed Wood’s cult creation has aliens, zombies, and doomsday weapons. It’s got crime, conspiracy, and romance. It has literally everything, and it’s also the reason Jerry [Seinfeld] lied to his uncle and went to the Chinese restaurant one fateful evening, because ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space, one night only, the big screen. My hands are tied.’” —Paul Vickery, head of programming at the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho. If you would like to support the Prince Charles Cinema directly, you can pick up a membership or buy a gift voucher.
“This film is 39 minutes of perfection. An ordinary Parisian family enjoys their annual day out in the country: The men fish; the mother frolics; Henriette is seduced by Henri. Renoir pays homage to his father, Auguste, re-creating the painting of the girl on a swing, carefree and lovable in dappled Impressionistic light. Nature itself is a character, the river central to the action, the sunshine giving way to clouds and torrential rain, telling the story of everything that could have happened. Sylvia Bataille as Henriette completely owns this film. See it.” —Heather Stewart, creative director at the BFI. If you would like to support the BFI directly, you can also pick up a membership or make a tax-deductible donation.
“Such an epic, visually stunning, and impressive film. The film is a great retelling of King Lear, and it’s my favourite from the influential filmmaker.” —Callum Pawlett Howell, duty manager at Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green. If you would like to support Genesis Cinema directly, you can pick up a membership, which entitles you to three months of free streaming on MUBI, or buy a gift voucher.
“People may have caught Portrait of a Lady on Fire before the world turned corona, but if they didn’t, this is an incredible film. A beautiful, tasteful, thoroughly enjoyable film about lesbian desire, with a feminist twist. This film delivers — that’s all I can say!” —Chris Hart, marketing manager at ArtHouse in Crouch End. If you would like to support ArtHouse Crouch End directly, you can pick up a membership, which entitles you to three months of free streaming on MUBI, or buy a gift voucher.
“The Servant is a hugely enjoyable subversive tale of class relations. Joseph Losey directs Harold Pinter’s screen adaptation of Robin Maugham’s novella of the same name. Edgy and unpredictable, the film exudes suppressed and unacknowledged desire … its homosexual subtext was ahead of its time for film storytelling. A memorable depiction of Chelsea in the 1960s, the film won three BAFTAs.” —Billy Watson, executive commercial director at the Regent Street Cinema in Marylebone. If you would like to support the Regent Street Cinema directly, you can pick up a membership, which entitles you to three months of free streaming on MUBI.
“Force Majeure opens with an avalanche. A real one. First, it looks like an interesting spectacle and then starts to look rather more worryingly dangerous as it approaches Tomas and his family, dining outside a restaurant in the French Alps. In a panic, Tomas runs, leaving his family (but not his phone) behind. As it happens, the avalanche doesn’t hit the restaurant, but it certainly damages his marriage. A perfect comedy of manners and morality when we’re all being tested about how we react in a crisis!” —Jake Garriock, head of distribution strategy and group publicity at Curzon (locations across London). If you would like to support Curzon directly, you can pick up a membership. Curzon Home Cinema is also hosting a series of online events throughout the shutdown period.
“In a just universe, Philip Ridley would have directed more than three feature films in 30 years. Our loss. His debut, The Reflecting Skin, is set in rural Idaho in the 1950s. Seen through the eyes of a small boy, it’s an American gothic masterpiece — part horror, part black comedy, part family drama — that echoes The Night of the Hunter, David Lynch, and some of the riper moments of Tennessee Williams. No one will ever forget the exploding frog.” —Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI National Archive
“One of the most atmospheric thrillers you will ever see, from legendary producer Val Lewton. A masterpiece of stylish noir-suspense. Might make you think twice about using a swimming pool again.” —Andrew Woodyatt, marketing and development manager at the Rio Cinema in Dalston
“Endurance is the name of the game as 24 of the most weird and wonderful Texans you could ever hope to meet gather at a Longview car dealership. They place their scratchproof glove-covered hands on the body of a brand-new, top-o’-the-range truck with one goal in mind: to battle through 72 hours of intense pain, heat, and laughter to become the last man standing, because the last man standing gets to drive the beautiful Nissan Hardbody pickup home. And if that doesn’t sound tempting enough, it was also Quentin Tarantino’s go-to film recommendation whilst working at the famous Video Archives, which is about as high praise as a film can get!” —Paul Vickery, head of programming at the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho
“The Lord of the Rings: It’s great escapism for a few hours, which we all need. And they still hold up. Although we aren’t sure why they don’t have The Fellowship of the Ring to stream as well, guess you can kill a few hours reading that one first.” —Callum Pawlett Howell, duty manager at Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green
“I, like many people in the U.K., only ever knew of Andy Kaufman thanks to his captivatingly offbeat performance as Latka Gravas in Taxi, but I will be forever thankful to Miloš Forman and Jim Carrey for bringing the story of his life to the big screen, introducing me to all the incredible frustrations and wide-eyed wonder that made his life and career so utterly compelling and unique. From the moment the film ends, you’ll be straight off to YouTube to see if he really did take everyone out for milk and cookies after his Carnegie Hall special (he did), if he really did read the entirety of The Great Gatsby to a frustratingly vocal college audience (he did), and if Tony Clifton was real (he … is?).” —Paul Vickery, head of programming at the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho
“Italy’s answer to Larry David, the films of Gianni Di Gregorio celebrate (and lampoon) everything we are missing right now: deliciously cooked food and several glasses of Chablis with our family, then sneaking off to the bar to complain and moan about our family to our friends. Savour this re-creation of the joys and trauma of communal life until the real thing returns.” —Jake Garriock, head of distribution strategy and group publicity at Curzon
“A Japanese family in poverty discovers a homeless girl while shoplifting to get through their day. Despite their own struggles, they take her in. Hirokazu Kore-eda is a master at exploring family in his films. Shoplifters goes into what exactly it means to be family: Is it just blood? Asian cinema is brilliant, and the more films that break into the public consciousness, like Shoplifters, Parasite, Oldboy, and In the Mood for Love, the better!” —Chris Hart, marketing manager at ArtHouse in Crouch End
“This is a noirish drama about a trio of radical environmentalists who plot to blow up a dam. It didn’t quite get the acclaim it deserved on release. With more time on our hands these days, we have a chance to revisit films like this and, I think, in 2020, audiences have finally caught up with Kelly Reichardt’s quiet genius!” —Rosie Greatorex, cinema and programme director at the Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise
“A true masterpiece from director Federico Fellini. A haunting road movie set in postwar Italy, anchored by an incredible performance by Giulietta Masina and set to a haunting score by Nino Rota.” —Andrew Woodyatt, Marketing and Development Manager at the Rio Cinema in Dalston
“Blue Valentine is most noted for the devastating performances of its two leads, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. It launched the Hollywood careers of both stars, with Williams being Oscar nominated for her role. Told in flashbacks, the film looks at the journey of this genuinely likeable blue-collar married couple. Their relationship has allowed Cindy to grow over the years, whereas Dean has remained unchanged. The film deals with the characters’ realisation that nobody is to blame and that, sometimes, love isn’t enough.” —Billy Watson, executive commercial director at the Regent Street Cinema in Marylebone
“If I was forced to pin it down to a genre, then I’d probably tick the ‘horror’ box, but that doesn’t begin to scrape the surface of its crazed imagination. Set in the world of circus folk, it’s like the delinquent child of Fellini and Buñuel and crammed with plenty to shock and offend. But at its heart are moments of such astonishing cinematic bravura and strange beauty, and they are what lingers. Just wait for the elephant’s death and funeral. I’ll say no more.” —Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI National Archive
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