By Cory Phare
Just because you’re social distancing or in self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t mean you have to be bored. There’s a wealth of entertainment available to “quaran-stream,” whether you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or all of the above.
Here are 22 picks from Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“Family-friendly” and “Martin Scorsese” don’t usually go together in the same sentence, but this 2011 steampunk fantasy follows an orphaned boy living in a Paris railway station in the 1930s and is appropriate for all ages. “It’s a great film on its own, but it also serves as a history lesson,” Piturro said. “One of the characters is Georges Méliès, one of the founding fathers of film.”
The original movie interpretation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book starring Gene Wilder should be required viewing for anyone and provides two starkly different viewing experiences depending on your age, Piturro said. “Kids love it for the singing and dancing – and of course the Oompa Loompas – but it’s a completely different lens when viewed as an adult,” he said. “It’s creepy, weird, scary – and fun.”
A modern classic about justice and race relations throughout decades. Piturro also noted the movie’s length as a good immersive quarantine watch that asks the viewer to consider keeping faith and hope in the face of great tragedy. “Another great tidbit is that it was nominated for the Academy Awards’ Best Picture in 1995 alongside ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ – what a lineup!” he said.
“Breaking Bad” is a seminal series in the new golden era of television. We love watching the steady transformation of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from geeky science teacher into methamphetamine kingpin in a gorgeous long-form narrative. “People can’t believe it when I say it, but I actually think the production value of (spinoff series) ‘Better Caul Saul’ makes it a better show,” Piturro said.
Other Netflix picks: “The Crown” (Season 3), “Narcos”/“Narcos: Mexico”/“El Chapo,” “American Factory,” “Mindhunters”
Piturro discussed this 2018 sci-fi horror film directed by Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) and starring Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson at a recent Sci Fi Film Series sponsored by Denver Film. “It’s an expertly made movie about a group of female scientists investigating an alien entity that lands on and infects the entire Earth; very timely, in a weird way,” he said.
This documentary uses never-before-seen 70-millimeter footage from NASA that tracks the famous mission of the 1969 spaceflight that turned out to be “one giant leap for mankind.” “Even though we know the outcome, it’s got a super-compelling narrative structure – you’re asking yourself, ‘They’re down to zero fuel; are they going to make it?’” Piturro said. “Beyond documentaries, it’s one of the best films of the past few years, period.”
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The lauded series imagining of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopic novel is absolutely required viewing, Piturro said. “From story to acting to set design to cinematography, it’s the single best show I’ve ever seen on television,” he said.
Other Hulu picks: “Das Boot,” “Grave of the Fireflies”
David Simon was a police reporter before creating the acclaimed crime drama – and it showed, bucking the staged artifice of television for a gritty tale of life in urban Baltimore. “‘The Wire’ really set the bar for TV realism,” Piturro said. “It really puts you on the streets with all the characters, from drug dealers to crooked police, politicians and reporters. And everyone who lived those actual realities said those depictions were spot-on, exactly how it was.”
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“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (2017-present)
Set in the 1950s, this Emmy Award-winning period comedy follows a housewife who discovers a penchant for stand-up. “I don’t normally recommend comedies, but the writing and performances really are spectacular,” Piturro said.
This 2019 horror film is from director Ari Aster (also of “Hereditary”) and features an ensemble cast of a group traveling abroad to Sweden to participate in a festival that devolves into darkness. “It’s an interesting, stylized take on horror and black comedy; people really seemed to love it,” Piturro said.
Other Amazon Prime Video picks: “Sneaky Pete,” “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Farewell,” “Ladybird”
Piturro, who writes the monthly movie-review column Indie Prof for Northeast Denver’s Front Porch publication, will be launching a two- to three-minute mini-cast “communal film class” to provide ongoing film recommendations via his Twitter account (@vincentpiturro).
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