To some, sitting down to watch a film used to be a rare luxury – something you could only fit in every once in a while.
Now, with the coronavirus lockdown ongoing, films are proving a necessary reprieve to steer your mind away from the headlines (unless you choose to watch Contagion like a lot of people are actually doing).
If you’re hoping to use the quarantine as an opportunity to broaden your film horizons, might we suggest Mubi – a subscription service offering new releases like Portrait of a Lady on Fire alongside international masterpieces as well as rarities from acclaimed filmmakers. In other words, films you won’t be able to find anywhere else.
A monthly subscription – priced at £9.99 – will offer you a rolling list of 30 handpicked films at any one time. Better still, if you purchase the Amazon Prime add-on, you’ll have access to the entire library for an extra £7.99 a month.
Below is a list of the 15 best films you’ll find should you purchase the add-on.
Blood Simple (1984)
Pretty much all the hallmarks of a Coen brothers film are present and correct in their debut. Sporadic violence? Tick. Unexpected twists? Tick. Irreverent characters (it marked Frances McDormand’s first big screen credit)? Tick. Coens newbie? Blood Simple‘s proof that the best place to start is indeed the beginning. (JS)
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
A rabbit hole of a true-crime documentary that travels into increasingly dark places, Capturing the Friedmans marked the debut of Andrew Jarecki, who would go on to produce Catfish and The Jinx. Whether the film is essential or sleazily opportunistic is a question that has plagued both this doc and everything else Jarecki has done in the years since, but it undeniably forms part of this movie’s strange appeal, all the same. (AW)
The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005)
Now might not be the time to watch a film about an elderly man in ill-health being shunted from hospital to hospital by unsympathetic paramedics – in real time, no less. But The Death of Mr Lazarescu, a powerful indictment on health care in Romania, is as stunning as it is challenging, anchored by Ioan Fiscuteanu’s heartbreaking lead performance. (JS)
Les Doulos (1962)
Mubi has a wide selection of Jean-Pierre Melville films, but Le Doulos sits at the top of the heap alongside Le Cercle Rouge. An unpredictable crime film that twists and turns its way to a breathtaking conclusion, it's stars a slippery Jean-Paul Belmondo two years before he'd been elevated to icon status in Godard’s À bout de souffle. (JS)
A beloved Japanese drama that effortlessly glides between emotional character piece and violent crime saga, Fireworks (or Hana-Bi) is a star vehicle for the soulful Takeshi Kitano and warrants a spot on everyone’s watchlist. He plays a veteran cop who turns his back on the law to assist his leukeamia-stricken wife. (AW)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Had In the Mood for Love been made by any other director, the film would have most likely focused on the extra-marital affair. Instead, Wong Kar-Wai makes this a mere backdrop, showing how such an affair affects the cheated spouses, who find themselves inexorably drawn to one another despite their situation. Hypnotic and elegant, the film certainly wasn’t voted the second-best of the 21st century in a BBC poll for nothing. (JS)
Madeline’s Madeline (2019)
Helena Howard is flat-out tremendous in the lead role of Madeline’s Madeline, a beautiful and provocative film about a talented young actor who loses a grip on reality while rehearsing for a role. Without the heady, experimental approach applied by filmmaker Josephine Decker – redolent of early De Palma – the result here would have been nowhere near as enthralling as this. (JS)
Peppermint Candy (1999)
Nothing about Peppermint Candy is easy. Its non-linear structure, languorous pacing and sobering depiction of its lead character’s mental dissolution may even make you want to turn off at several points. Stick with it, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a searing character study from Burning director Lee Chang-Dong. (JS)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020)
Céline Sciamma’s French-language Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a sumptuous romance tale, a lesbian love story anchored by two astonishing performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) captures every emotion with heart-aching tenderness. Its setting – an isolated island in Brittany – inadvertently makes this the perfect lockdown watch. (JS)
Todd Haynes has always been one of our most diverse filmmakers, with his CV full of vastly different flavours. There’s an argument to be made, though, that Safe remains his most striking vision. Julianne Moore is a frail housewife who learns she is allergic to the world around her, her last hope of survival being a sinister new-age health retreat. Incredibly chilling – if maybe not ideal coronavirus-era viewing. (AW)
Lots of Brian De Palma’s key directorial flourishes are seen in this early entry in his filmography – voyeurism, split screens, doubles, random acts of sadism and Hitchcockian menace. Jennifer Salt is a reporter who witnesses a brutal murder in the apartment opposite her own, which appears to have been committed by one of a pair of mysterious twins, both played by the late, great Margot Kidder. (AW)
The 10th Victim (1965)
If you liked The Hunt, you may enjoy its earlier, Eurotrashier cousin. The 10th Victim, starring Ursula Andress, is set in an alternate world in which contestants murder one another on a TV game show. Ludicrous, sexy and filled with Sixties glam, it’s terrible but also oddly amazing. (AW)
Twentynine Palms (2003)
A perpetual feeling of dread hangs over this pseudo-thriller about a photographer and model roaming the desert outside California. There’s lots of graphic sex, shocking violence, and a mesmerising quality that keeps you entranced long after you’ve pledged to turn away. (AW)
Under the Skin (1997)
Samantha Morton stars in this mildly surreal 1997 coming-of-age drama, playing a fragile young woman discovering sex and the power in assuming different personas. Thematically, this slots in somewhere between Breaking the Waves, the later Samantha Morton vehicle Morvern Callar and, weirdest of all, the other Under the Skin (from 2013). Both this film and the Scarlett Johansson odyssey feature their stars dressed in strikingly similar outfits with very similar hair. Coincidence? (AW)
Under the Silver Lake (2019)
Andrew Garfield carries this mind-bending noir from the director of It Follows (David Robert Mitchell). The film tracks a young man’s search for a missing girl (Riley Keough), which takes him on a bizarre trek around contemporary Los Angeles. Most scenes are designed to induce an extreme reaction, whether positive or negative – think Alice in Wonderland given a psychedelic do-over. (JS)