39 hidden movie gems to stream in lockdown

Think you've exhausted everything on Netflix, Amazon Prime and NOW TV? Think again. Adam White, Alexandra Pollard, Annabel Nugent, Annie Lord, Jacob Stolworthy, Jake Cudsi and Louis Chilton dig beneath the surface for films to recommend

Thursday 14 January 2021 11:36
From Julia Roberts to Studio Ghibli, we've got you covered
From Julia Roberts to Studio Ghibli, we've got you covered

Once upon a time, shutting yourself indoors for a lengthy period of time seemed like a dream – something you booked holidays just to do.

Sadly, it’s becoming the norm for swathes of people following the coronavirus outbreak, and while self-isolating can be a lonely experience, there’s plenty to do to make it less so.

You might think you’ve exhausted the bursting catalogue of films on Netflix, Amazon Prime and NOW TV, but we’re willing to bet you haven’t.

Below are some hidden gems that won’t just make the time go quicker, but will also take your mind off the news.

Babyteeth (2020) – Netflix

You may have heard rumblings about how brilliant this Australian drama is; believe every word. Eliza Scanlen stars as a teenager whose life is upended, not only by cancer, but by the arrival of an idiosyncratic friend of whom her parents disapprove.  The emotion and laughs that ensue are balanced perfectly in Shannon Murphy’s knockout drama. JS

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) – NOW TV

This drama focuses on Fred Rogers, the beloved host of classic American pre-school show Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood. Instead of making a straightforward biopic, though, director Marielle Heller explores the TV personality’s hypnotic effect via a cynical journalist who is tasked with profiling him for Esquire. Tom Hanks’ performance as the enigmatic Rogers is up there as one of his very best. JS

Blue Ruin (2013) – Netflix

When Dwight (Macon Blair) learns that the man who killed his parents is being released from prison after twenty years, he sets out to enact a more intimate form of revenge. The debut feature from Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) is brutally, shudderingly violent, with a knife-edge tension sustained throughout. Those with the stomach for intensity may well find Blue Ruin one of the most sharply crafted thrillers in recent years. LC

Brooklyn (2015) – Amazon Prime

The film equivalent of a slice of apple pie, Brooklyn follows the homesick Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) as she tries to make a living in New York. Along the way, she finds love, friendship, and eventually, home. AL

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – NOW TV

One of the greatest Westerns of all time stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as a pair of outlaws on the run. Also ranking as one of the all-time great bromances, the film sees Newman and Redford blaze a trail through the Americas as they run from a fate that won’t let up. The interplay of the two leads is astounding in a simple, moving way. The interchanges are so lazily cool, the pair may as well be improvising their lines as they struggle to think and shoot their way out of another quandary. JC

Captain Fantastic (2016) – Netflix

Viggo Mortensen is quietly brilliant in this dramedy about an eccentric off-the-grid family who are forced into the slipstream of society when a death rocks their foundations. Captain Fantastic does everything you want a movie to do – it is equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining, heartbreaking and funny. Appearances from Kathryn Hahn, Ann Dowd, Steve Zahn and Frank Langella fill out this pitch-perfect film. AN

The Contender (2000) – Amazon Prime

Barack Obama once said that Jeff Bridges’ US president in The Contender – for which the actor earned an Oscar nomination – was his favourite on-screen leader. The film surrounding him is just as effective – an against-the-odds political drama charting a sexist smear campaign aimed at Joan Allen’s vice presidential candidate. Perfect viewing not only in lockdown, but as Donald Trump’s presidency becomes an aftertaste. JS

Daisies (1966) – BFI Player

This Czechoslovakian comedy is an absolute joy. Emerging out of the experimentalism of the sixties, Daisies follows two girls, both named Marie, as they upend the trappings of polite society – and of existence itself – in a series of effervescent vignettes. LC

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020) – Netflix

When her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, documentary filmmaker Kirsten Johnson decided to celebrate his life – and examine his impending death – the only way she knew how: by filming it. Dick Johnson is Dead sees its subject, a retired psychiatrist, stage elaborate re-enactments of his own demise, in clips which are interspersed with footage of Johnson’s home life. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny and profoundly moving throughout, this Netflix original documentary is unlike any other.

Empire Records (1995) – Amazon Prime

Few films released in the recent past feel as much beamed from an entirely different universe as Empire Records. Set in an independent record shop threatened by the impending arrival of a nefarious CD chain, it’s about as familiar to the present day as something with cavemen in it. Somehow it is still incredibly powerful, though – buoyant and silly, and sharing DNA with Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused in its hazy charm. A pre-fame Liv Tyler and Renee​ Zellweger are among the record shop’s employees. AW

The Farewell (2019) – Amazon Prime

With The Farewell, writer and director Lulu Wang created one of the decade’s best films. The heartwarming flick stars Golden Globe-winner Awkwafina as the Chinese-born and US-raised Billi who returns to Changchun to find that their family’s matriarch Nai-Nai has not been informed that she has only weeks to live. It’s an emotional fistfight of a film so heads-up, you will be crying – but for all the right reasons. AN

Fighting with My Family (2019) – Netflix

They might be body slamming each other in the wrestling ring, but this family film gets seriously warm and fuzzy. Centring around punky WWE wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh), Fighting with My Family  follows the teen as she digs deep in order to find what it takes to become a star. Based on a true story. AL

Frances Ha (2012) – Amazon Prime

Frances Ha is a breezy, black-and-white look at New York life. Following the lead character as she navigates her way through singledom, unemployment and the dissolution of her most meaningful friendship, Noah Baumbach’s comedy is simply told but wildly effective – and a tour-de-force for Greta Gerwig. JS

The Fugitive (1993) – Amazon Prime

Harrison Ford has never been better than in this propulsive action thriller, playing a doctor wrongly convicted of murdering his wife who goes on the run from ace fugitive hunter Tommy Lee Jones – all while hunting down the real killer. Ford and Jones are dynamite, and The Fugitive leaps gamely between memorable set-pieces. LC

Gloria Bell (2018) – Netflix

Raise a glass: Julianne Moore is stunning in ‘Gloria Bell’ (A24)

Julianne Moore’s performance as the free-spirited divorcee of the title is a high-point in what is admittedly a career full of them. Gloria Bell – Sebastian Lelio’s English-language version of his own Chilean-Spanish film – is an admirable remake filled with moments that’ll have you smiling, cringing and shouting at the screen in equal measure. JS

The Handmaiden (2016) – Netflix

Loosely based on Sarah Waters’ lesbian crime novel Fingersmith – a riveting read with more twists than M Night Shyamalan could shake a stick at – this South Korean erotic thriller is stylish, sophisticated and just a little bit ridiculous. AP

Mother (1996) – Amazon Prime

Albert Brooks is one of America’s unsung heroes of black comedy, whose pioneering films (including Real Life and Modern Romance) are studies in love, nihilism and fate. His Nineties work is probably the best entry-point for Brooks newcomers, notably the zany afterlife romcom Defending Your Life, which co-stars a luminous Meryl Streep. Then there’s Mother, his lovely two-hander with Debbie Reynolds, about a directionless middle-aged man determined to reconnect with the overbearing mother he’s spent much of his life resenting. That phone call to your parents you’ve been putting off because you just can’t be bothered? Watch Mother and you’ll immediately recognise the error of your ways. AW

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – Netflix

Netflix really added the Studio Ghibli collection at the right time. With every one of its titles set to be available to stream next month, might we suggest the extremely pleasant Kiki’s Delivery Service? The film, which follows a young witch-in-training as she moves away from her family home, is a vibrant choice to keep you company at such dark times. JS

Leave No Trace (2018)– Amazon Prime

Anchored by two sublime performances from Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and Thomasin McKenzie (JoJo Rabbit), Leave No Trace tells the story of an unhoused war veteran suffering from PTSD and his teenage daughter. Beginning in the lush forests of an Oregon park, Debra Granik’s acclaimed follow-up to Winter’s Bone is a vibrant, heartbreaking exploration of a life lived defiantly off the grid.

The Long Day Closes (1992) – Amazon Prime

With anxiety running high, you’ll want to spend time in the company of films emanating warmth. Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes is a perfect example – a lyrical snapshot into the life of a family in 1950s Liverpool. It’s the screen equivalent of drinking a cuppa. JS

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) – Amazon Prime via MUBI

Kelly Reichardt proved herself one of the world’s best independent filmmakers with this slow, thought-provoking revisionist Western, following a group of settlers who wind their way across the Oregon desert. LC

Modern Vampires (1998) – Amazon Prime

A garish smorgasbord of bad taste, arch dialogue and full-frontal nudity, Modern Vampires is the greatest B-movie you’ve never heard of, with a camp cast (including Casper Van Dien, Natasha Lyonne and Udo Kier) starring as various blood-suckers and stoned hangers-on. This is a movie in which Kim Cattrall plays an ancient vampire and Dracula runs a sex club, yet neither are the most ridiculous thing about it – that would be a subplot in which Van Helsing (Rod Steiger) recruits a gang of Crips to fight the Prince of Darkness. AW

My Days of Mercy (2017) – Netflix

This film – about the burgeoning attraction between an anti-death penalty campaigner (Ellen Page) and the lawyer daughter of a police officer (Kate Mara) – sunk without a trace when it first came out. Which is a shame, because despite that slightly laboured premise, it is thoughtful and affecting, and its two leads have startlingly good chemistry. AP

Next Goal Wins (2014) – Amazon Prime

American Samoa coach Thomas Rongen has his work cut out in‘Next Goal Wins’ (Icon Productions)

With the Premier League delayed until April at the earliest, football fans are no doubt on the hunt for things to watch. Stick on Next Goal Wins, a documentary chronicling the national football team of American Samoa – regarded as the world’s worst – as they attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. As gripping an underdog story as there is. These events will take centre stage in a new comedy from Jojo Rabbit director Taika Waititi that has Michael Fassbender in the lead role. JS

Nightcrawler (2014) – Netflix

This nocturnal thriller from first-time director Dan Gilroy is a masterclass in creeping an audience out. A perfectly taut script is buoyed by one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performances to date. The star, historically seen in rom-com territory, flexes his acting muscles as Lou Bloom, an aspiring cameraman in search of lurid stories to sell to TV stations. Riz Ahmed and Rene Russo are scene-stealing additions to this stand-out movie. AN

Parenthood (1989) – Netflix

Parenthood is basically Okay Boomer: The Movie, but more comforting than it is aggravating. Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy-drama is the type of film they don’t particularly make anymore: an all-star cast, low stakes, gentle humour. It concerns a group of siblings dealing with their individual neuroses and disappointments, all of which seem to be being replicated in their children. The cast is irresistible: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Dianne Wiest, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Joaquin Phoenix. Throw it on and forget the world. AW

The People vs Larry Flynt (1996) – NOW TV

Step forward one of the most underrated films of the 1990s. Woody Harrelson delivers a tour-de-force performance as pornographic magazine editor and larger-than-life personality Larry Flynt, whose sketchy dealings find him in trouble with the law. Breathlessly enjoyable from start to end. JS

Personal Shopper (2016) – Amazon Prime

Sex, grief, and technology come to a head-on collision in this compellingly sui generis drama from French director Olivier Assayas. Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen, a young American in Paris working as a personal assistant to a haughty celebrity, who spends her free time trying to communicate with the ghost of her deceased twin brother. Stewart’s work here is probably her best to date, and works in service of a script that’s thought-provoking and thoroughly original.

Princess Cyd (2017) – Amazon Prime

For anyone who claims they’ve mopped up every last indie film on Netflix, Princess Cyd is the perfect ace. In fact, this little-seen drama, following the sexual awakening of a teenage girl visiting her aunt in Chicago, sits top of the heap, with an indelible performance from Rebecca Spence, who must be years away from a high-profile TV role that’ll shoot her to worldwide recognition. JS

Running on Empty (1988) – Amazon Prime

The cruelly curtailed life of River Phoenix makes Running on Empty, which scored the actor his sole Oscar nomination, an undeniably melancholy watch. This is also a masterpiece on its own terms, however, and a film that takes its time to craft a deeply human story about missed chances, bad choices and familial wounds. Phoenix is the teenage son of two Sixties radicals (Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti) who’ve been on the run from the FBI for decades, with the family moving locations and changing their names every few months. Then comes the day when Phoenix’s character wants to stop running. Yes, you will cry, but it will feel so good. AW

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) – Amazon Prime

Sixto Rodriguez made two incredible albums in the early 1970s and then disappeared. A ghost-like figure clad in all-black who would play to half-empty rooms in Detroit dive bars, Rodriguez barely made an impression on the city, let alone the States. He was forgotten about. But in a time before the internet, and with Rodriguez unaware of his stardom and rumoured to have killed himself, bootlegged copies of his album made their way to apartheid South Africa and became anthems in the struggle for peace and equality. JC

She’s Gotta Have It (1986) – Netflix

Spike Lee’s first film was adapted by the man for himself for a Netflix series, but it didn’t really work out. No, She’s Gotta Have It is best enjoyed in all its 1986, original, monochrome glory. The film follows protagonist Nola Darling as she navigates relationships with three men. Like pretty much all of Lee’s work, it proved quite divisive, but in under an hour and a half it shares fascinating perspectives on themes such as sex, race, and society, much like Lee’s later works explored. JC

Shoplifters (2018) – All 4

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, arguably Japan’s foremost live-action filmmaker, this richly emotional drama about a Japanese family living below the poverty line has many profound things to say about the bonds of family, sex, capitalism and the inescapable passing of time. LC

Sorry to Bother You (2018) – Netflix

Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield in ‘Sorry to Bother You’ (Annapurna Pictures) 

Just what is Boots Riley saying with his directorial debut Sorry to Bother You. Touching on white privilege, the evils of capitalism, and identity politics, this film is loud, fearless and important. It’s also a great watch, with Lakeith Stanfield playing a worker slowly waking up to the injustices of society around him. Spliced with comedy, this thoughtful, thought-provoking film will have you simultaneously laughing at its incredulity, and crying at its likeness to our world. JC

Spy (2015) – Netflix

Spy is one of those lightning-in-a-bottle movies, its cast and crew immaculately selected for peak comic chemistry. Melissa McCarthy is the undervalued CIA agent suddenly sent out on a field mission, with Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart and 50 Cent the unlikely ensemble surrounding her. For arguably the greatest studio comedy of the last decade, Spy hasn’t had an enormous legacy. It’s time to rectify that. AW

Support the Girls (2018) – Netflix

Andrew Bujalski’s slice-of-life comedy transports viewers into the middle of a Texan sports bar. Regina Hall leads the cast of talent (particular mention for Haley Lu Richardson’s convivial waitress) with a breezy charm. Films don’t come less taxing than Support the Girls. JS

Thunder Road (2018) – Netflix

Jim Cummings steals the show in ‘Thunder Road’ (Netflix)

This dark comedy stands out for its nuanced performance from Jim Cummings, who also wrote, directed, co-edited the film. Based on his short film of the same name, Thunder Road charts a police officer’s meltdown in the wake of a divorce and the death of his mother. Proof of the excellence you can create on a smaller budget. JS

Wake in Fright (1971) – BFI Player

Part of the Australian New Wave film movement, this sun-baked thriller – considered lost for many years until it was remastered in 2009 – is a bona fide classic, the story of a teacher trapped in an Outback town of oppressive machismo and bottomless beers. LC

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? (2018) – NOW TV

If you saw Tom Hanks’s delightful turn as kids’ TV presenter Fred Rogers in this year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, then I urge you to learn more about the real-life Fred Rogers with this wonderful documentary. You might not think it possible for someone to be more avuncular than Hanks. You’d be wrong.​ AP

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