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The Top 10 Best Movies Released During Quarantine

by Nick Kush
Quarantine

The last movie I saw at a theater before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down every theater was Bloodshot. Sad, right? As we are bombarded with news of Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan deciding to release Tenet in July, then early August, then late August, then off the slate entirely, then split between late August and early September (for now) while theaters try and figure what the hell they are supposed to do, I often find myself thinking that one of the last images I saw on a big screen before the quarantine was a CGI Vin Diesel fighting a guy with robotic appendages as they fall down an elevator shaft while things are exploding around them. I live a sad existence.

But contrary to the beliefs of some, movies have persisted during the COVID-19 quarantine, even if the closure of movie chains and the shelving of major blockbusters may have you think otherwise. So let’s take a look at some of the best movies to release during the shutdown. But first, a rule: no movies released before the shutdown of movie theaters will be factored into this list, even if those films were only in theaters for a few days and available later on premium VOD. My apologies to First Cow and Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Also, movies that release only in theaters will not be included. (Sorry, Nolan bros.)

This list will be updated consistently for the duration of the quarantine, however long that takes (please, make it stop). So check back in regularly!

Honorable Mentions

Athlete A

Bad Education

Babyteeth

The Beach House

Beats

Black is King

Circus of Books

Crip Camp

Deerskin

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

The Half of It

Mucho Mucho Amor

The Old Guard

Palm Springs

Relic

Selah and the Spades

Shirley

Showbiz Kids

Spaceship Earth

The Wretched

#10: Tesla

Where to Watch: Available to rent on VOD

This may firmly be the “one for me” film on this list, and I’m perfectly fine admitting that. Truth is, I don’t think anyone likes Tesla as much as me. (But if you do, let’s build together.) Michael Almereyda’s anachronistic biopic on the famed inventor received middling reviews at best from just about everyone, leaving more utterly bewildered and angry than anything else.

As for me, I adore this oddity of a film. By typical biopic standards, Tesla breaks just about every rule, implementing Google, deadpan humor, and a winking sense of direction that threatens to tear itself apart at the seams in the process of exposing its own fakery. Tesla is anything but a standard biopic, and it chastises us for falling for something as generic and hollow as Bohemian Rhapsody.

This movie has Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison engaging in an ice cream cone fight. How could you not at least appreciate it a little?

#9: Feels Good Man

Where to Watch: Available to rent on VOD

If you’ve read any of my writing on this very site, you know I like a good meme. But watching Feels Good Man has me second-guessing my affinity for them just a bit.

In many ways, this documentary has its finger on all the problems with internet culture right now. How many things start with a heaping dose of irony, only for different groups to strip that irony away and morph something innocent into a symbol of hatred.

That’s exactly what happened for Matt Furie and his creation, Pepe the Frog. The character started as an entirely earnest cartoon made by a very laidback guy, but then, somewhere down the line, 4chan came into the picture, and now Pepe is marked by The Anti-Defamation League as an official hate symbol commonly used by the alt-right. Feels Good Man shares this timeline in terrifying detail, later showing how Pepe played a part in the 2016 election.

Feels Good Man examines a worst-case scenario for how an artist’s creation changes forms after the general public begins to consume it. But even worse than that, while some measures can be taken to protect the artist’s interests, there isn’t a way to fully fix their creation’s reputation.

#8: i’m thinking of ending things

Where to Watch: Netflix

Watching i’m thinking of ending things and then explaining your affection of the film by saying something to the effect of, “this movie requires multiple viewings” is already a parody of itself, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Unfiltered Charlie Kaufman (i.e. Kaufman as a writer and director) is always a treat, in that you know you’re about to watch something you probably haven’t seen before. There’s a very strong chance there’s an element of frustration that comes with it (especially for newcomers to his work), especially in i’m thinking of ending things, where taking things literally is a fool’s errand. But, he always finds an inventive way to land the plane, making all the meandering, self-hatred, and abject depression undeniably compelling.

Kaufman is working at a new level of misery that plays like a thought still in process; it’s had no time to rationalize, or the time to clearly present itself. Multiple viewings will be rewarding in that sense, and what you’ll find is an unbelievably depressing, cynical film ridiculing the self-pitying man. In other words, it’s a Kaufman film.

 

#7: The Vast of Night

Where to Watch: Prime Video

I find it slightly odd that, for a movie that isn’t about much on the surface, The Vast of Night is one of the movies I find myself thinking about a lot during the quarantine.

It’s all about director Andrew Patterson’s filmmaking, using the most out of his very small budget to keep you glued to the screen. After a whirlwind of a first act, which is so wonderfully hectic in setting up just how small this town in New Mexico is that I had to turn on the subtitles to keep up, The Vast of Night is a radio drama made up of very long and still dialogue sequences. The presentation is so unbelievably confident in every way, each pause in a sentence pulling you in closer. Patterson takes a Spielbergian setup of aliens possibly invading a small town but injects all the wonder in awe into each long monologue instead of a display of visual effects. Imagine what he could do with a few more dollars in his piggy bank!

#6: Da 5 Bloods

Where to Watch: Netflix

Is there any director better at working at a “fuck you” level of anger than Spike Lee? Da 5 Bloods may have a few too many plot threads for its own good, but it also has a few of the best scenes of the year (my god, the landmine scene). Watching Lee operate with the safety off at all times is breathtaking. He’s right in step with the moment, capturing the anger held by many Black Americans that has echoed for generations. There have been plenty of great movies about the Vietnam War, but seldom do they capture the immediacy of war and the multigenerational pain that comes after.

If Delroy Lindo doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (if the Oscars even happen), then exactly what purpose does The Academy hold? Frankly, this is one of the most arresting performances of the last decade, centered on a character who is fascinatingly flawed and complex.

#5: Yes, God, Yes

Where to Watch: Available to rent on VOD

To echo my review of the film, I grew up Catholic, so you could say this movie spoke to me.

Yes, God, Yes wonderfully rails against religious practices, following Alice (played perfectly by Natalia Dyer) who goes off on a Catholic retreat meant to bring everyone closer to God. Instead, it has the opposite effect. Writer/director Karen Maine skillfully finds humor in the awkwardness of each interaction without turning it into a farce, whether it be Alice’s innocent moments as a peeping Tom or any of her interactions with Wolgang Novogratz’s Chris (who almost steals the show in his supporting performance).

But the movie isn’t as much of a condemnation of religion as a whole (it’s worth noting I had a very meaningful and positive experience on my retreat), more so the cycle of unnecessary fear and self-loathing created in restraining ourselves during perfectly natural periods of growth as teenagers.

#4: Welcome to Chechnya

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Welcome to Chechnya is the scariest movie you’ll watch all year, and it’s all real. The HBO documentary goes undercover to show the horrible torture and sometimes execution of members of the LGBTQ community in Chechnya, and the brave acts a select few are doing to save them and get them out of the country altogether. It’s the most harrowing film experience you’ll encounter in 2020.

How any of this footage is available is unprecedented unto itself, but an incredible feature in Welcome to Chechnya is the use of deep fake technology to mask the faces and voices of the people fleeing the country instead of the usual blurred-out face and voice modulation technology. Not only does this make for more possibilities in documenting crises that need to be seen around the world, but it could also legitimately save lives in the process.

#3: Driveways

Where to Watch: Available to rent on VOD

Sure, overwhelming emotion in movies makes me cry when done correctly. (Re: my thoughts on Babyteeth above.) But you know what else makes me cry? Genuine human kindness.

Kathy (Hong Chau) and her son Cody (Lucas Jaye) come to town to clean up Kathy’s deceased sister’s house, leading them to befriend war vet and next-door neighbor Del (the venerable Brian Dennehy). Driveways is 83 minutes of people finding ways to be nice to each other. There’s no big revelation, no tragic death, just a few people coming together and enriching each other’s lives. It’s a beautiful thing to see. You see Del quietly mourn the death of his wife as he sits at his dinner table; Kathy will let out a sigh as she questions her direction in life; Cody will struggle to fit in with other kids his age. Director Andrew Ahn plays every dynamic honestly. It shows how far human decency can go in this world.

Although Brian Dennehy will appear in a few more movies postmortem, Driveways is just about as perfect of a sendoff to a great actor (and person) as you’ll find.

 

#2: On the Record

Where to Watch: HBO Max

It’s disappointing the controversy over why Oprah and her producing team backed away from the project overshadowed On the Record‘s initial rollout, both at Sundance earlier this year and when it finally hit HBO Max during the quarantine. Regardless, the film from Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick is unquestionably one of the most important documentaries of our time.

The film examines the sexual assault cases against Russell Simmons with multiple brave women speaking out against years of abuse while also scrutinizing misogyny within the hip-hop industry as a whole. It’s so painful to see so many women being forced to remain silent for years, but profoundly rewarding to see them find their voices once again. On the Record also deftly covers the fear many survivors have in coming forward, showing how power dynamics and societal pressures sadly still get in the way of many more women speaking their truths.

#1: The Wolf House

Where to Watch: KimStim Virtual Cinema

A few months later, I still don’t think I have the words to properly explain my feelings towards The Wolf House. It’s beautiful, disgusting, entrancing, utterly repellant, expertly crafted, and downright depressing. It’s also one of the most distinctive movies you’ll ever see.

The Wolf House is inspired by Colonia Dignidad, a Chilean colony founded by Nazis in the years after WWII. So yes, it’s not a great hang. But it is great. A Chilean girl escapes the community (which was notorious for torturing people attempting to leave) and goes off into the woods, where she stumbles upon a house. We then spend the rest of the film in this house, seeing her grow up and have a family. The film is also a stop-motion multimedia animated film that progresses in one continuous take, and literally everything on screen is slithering or changing its form. It’s absolutely horrifying.

The movie takes elements of “The Three Little Pigs” and blends it into a surrealist-horror-fantasy-animation mashup. You’ll become entirely transfixed on the screen, unable to look away and unable to forget it long after.


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5 comments

Kali Tuttle September 16, 2020 - 7:56 pm

bUt wHeRe Is tEnEt????

Reply
Nick Kush September 17, 2020 - 9:04 am

Time is actually inverted so I’ve added it in the #1 spot but…it hasn’t happened yet!!!!

Reply
Patricia Henderson August 14, 2020 - 11:02 pm

Thank you for this! So many of these look amazing to me.

Reply
Nick Kush August 16, 2020 - 5:10 pm

You’re very welcome!! 😉

Reply
Nick Kush August 6, 2020 - 9:23 am

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