Sifting through a streaming service is an especially regretful way to waste time during lockdown. With so many movies, and currently, so much time in the proximity of a screen, a sort of ennui begins to foment. Instead of slipping into paralysis-lite when confronted with a barrage of choices, we turned to our local community of filmmaking connoisseurs to steer us toward some of the best things they’ve seen recently. Curation, after all, evokes that sense of a human touch, which many are craving more than ever.
The range of genres and periods they selected from was wide, if niche—from sweeping period dramas to contemporary revenge fantasies, but nearly all indie-minded. There were also common themes and threads—deep introspection, social uprisings and solidarity, angst!—which can’t help but hook themselves to our social distancing moment.
One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk Selected by Taylour Chang, director of Doris Duke Theatre Where to watch: Mubi
The latest from filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (best known for his film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature made entirely in Inuktitut), One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (2019) is a timely tragicomedy of Inuit-settler relationships. It dramatizes a true story of an Inuk hunter who was approached by a government agent to give up his traditional lifestyle and assimilate into a modern settlement. A fitting viewing during times of physical isolation when our pace of life slows down, Kunuk’s slow-burning cinema inspires deeper observation of social disconnect. Piugattuk highlights the humor of communication failure and takes notice of what’s at stake when we too quickly assimilate to an assumed normalcy. The film premiered at the Canadian pavilion in the 58th Venice Biennale and was included in the Toronto International Film Festival’s 2019 Top Ten List.—T.C.
Double Feature: Salt of the Earth and Embrace of the Serpent Selected by Chris Kahunahana, writer-director of Waikiki and Lahaina Noon Where to watch: Mubi, Kanopy
I’ve been watching a lot of revolutionary shit these days. Director Herbert J. Biberman’s Salt of the Earth (1954) is a feminist drama that was banned for a period of time—blacklisted for being supposedly communist. It’s a simple, hardcore story well told. The film deals with wage disparity, laborers striking, and also has shades of mana wāhine, with mothers taking up arms in a time of a lockdown. Embrace of the Serpent (2015), directed by Ciro Guerra and released in 2016, is a period story following an expedition of explorers looking for a medicinal plant. The film deals with man’s relationship to nature and amplifies an indigenous viewpoint on the world. It also has trippy, dream sequences. Both films have forced me to think about how the future would look like for our society, and if we need to have the same economic systems we had in place, prior to the pandemic.—C.H.
Lady Vengeance Selected by Nicole Naone, artist and producer of Waikiki Where to watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes
One of my all-time favorite films for a number of reasons, the red eye shadow being number one. But especially for this time we find ourselves in, Lady Vengeance (2005), directed by Park Chan-wook, is definitely my top quarantine pick. I much prefer being able to inhabit an attitude of “Just wait till I [expletive] get out of here” versus the alternative, which is wallowing and just “I hate being stuck here.” Thinking of this time as preparation for a reckoning helps me stay sane, and it provides me with the illusion of productivity.—N.N.
Marathon: Jean Vigo’s Canon Selected by Vincent Bercasio, artist and filmmaker Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime
There are moments throughout Jean Vigo’s films where I think to myself, “I would have never thought to place a camera there!” or “If only I would’ve thought to shoot this like that.” And it’s that sheer inventiveness, the sense of play and wit and wonder, that make his relatively modest tales—of newlyweds on a canal barge in L’Atalante (1934), rebellious schoolboys in Zéro de conduite (1933), the townspeople of À Propos de Nice (1930)—so captivating. But Vigo’s playfulness does not trivialize his concerns with social inequity at the heart of his work or render his poetic flourishes insincere. He effortlessly struck the balance between truthfully representing the grit of real life and embracing the transformative possibilities of cinema. His work just works. If you only have time for one, L’Atalante is my personal favorite. As far as I know, there’s no character in film sweeter and more honest than the captain’s first mate Père Jules.—V.B.
Double Feature: Paterson and Kaili Blues Selected by Bradley Tangonan, writer-director of Wilder Palms Where to watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes
Paterson (2016) by Jim Jarmusch and Kaili Blues (2015) by Bi Gan are films that come from vastly different cultures and auteurs that nevertheless share something vital and unusual: Each film contains poetry and is itself a poem. As someone who finds most poetry opaque and hard to access, I’m captivated by the films’ use of the written and spoken form to expand the possibilities of cinema. Paterson employs poetry as a method of reflection that allows the protagonist, a bus driver whose life runs on a schedule as predictable as his route, to find meaning and wonder in repetition and routine. Kaili Blues uses poetry as a signal of and entry point into the main character’s dreams and memories. These departures from reality swirl together with literal life to form an unsettling and mesmerizing elliptical journey through place and time. Both films are grounded firmly in their respective locales—Kaili Blues in the city of Kaili in southeastern China and Paterson in the city of Paterson, New Jersey—and this sense of place forms the foundation of the personal meaning for the sets of characters in both of these wonderful films.—B.T.
Bonus: TV show reccs! Marathon: Channel Your Inner Teenager Selected by Ciara Lacy, director of Out of State Where to watch: Netflix
There is nothing more hallmark to the teenage experience than being grounded, so I’m not surprised that the current shelter-in-place state of affairs has resurrected all the angst, frustration, and stuffing-my-face-with-Oreos feelings from my youth. Thank you, Netflix and series creator Jonathan Entwistle, for creating two delightfully adolescent, girl-driven series to indulge my inner turmoil. In The End of the F***ing World (2017-19), James and Alyssa are two dysfunctional teens on the run with the kind of up-and-down, hormonally driven romance that makes you glad you’re now adulting. The performances and writing feel fresh and grounded and complex and the twists and turns of the overall story arc will keep you on your toes. Then there’s I Am Not OK With This (2020)—If only my moodiness were a super power! Series creator Entwistle dives deep into the idea of the angry teen superhero amidst the blah of the suburbs. Mix in references to iconic filmmaking—think Carrie level horror!—and you’ll have just enough new and just enough nostalgia to make you mad season two wasn’t already binge-able.—C.L.