With the November shutdown and talk of Christmas restrictions, you could be forgiven for wanting a good dose of escapism right now.
If that’s you, here’s our guide to the best films to watch when you’re feeling fed up and want a break from it all:
North by Northwest (1959)
Preserved by the United States Congress as a film of cultural significance, Hitchcock’s 1959 spy caper has been dazzling moviegoers for much of the past century, currently holding an enviable 99 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And quite frankly, its praises have been sung more than enough.
Having said that, it’s worth noting that this classic sparkles just that little bit more during lockdown. Perhaps it’s the cocksure dialogue and constant high-glamour (you certainly can’t imagine Cary Grant lazing around in his pyjamas on furlough), or perhaps it’s the constant ducking and diving to evade those clueless authorities, but watching it back provides the perfect antidote to the dreariness of lockdown.
It could be worse though, couldn’t it? That’s the thought that went through my head when, some weeks into the first lockdown, I watched as the Kim family folded their takeaway pizza boxes in the opening scene of Parasite before handing them to their thankless teenage boss.
Within fifteen minutes I was asking myself another question: just why did I take so long to watch this film? Not only is Parasite an absolute romp, it’s also a delightful skewering of (almost) everything that’s wrong with big city life. If you’re feeling frustrated, Parasite is the friend that hears you out, clinks your glass, and then offloads both barrels. A delight in other words.
Ever since the invention of the internet, the humble kitty cat has served as a byword for escapism. From googling pictures of kittens after a crap day at work from those oddball cat memes that once defined internet humour, there’s something about furry felines that takes us (well, most of us anyway) to a happier place.
The charming Kedi (the Turkish word for cat) is a narrated documentary about the plucky street cats who scrounge a living amongst the bustling streets of Istanbul. It’s a wonderful film – as much about the great city as it is about cats – that never fails to tug at the heartstrings. If you’re really touched, look up Dost Animal Protection, which my Istanbul-resident friend says is the best local NGO for rescuing vulnerable cats and dogs.
El Camino (2019)
If it’s nothing else, El Camino – the first film from the Breaking Bad universe – is a film about freedom. Or more specifically, the efforts of a loveable rogue to leave behind his troubles (which include being manipulated by a criminal mastermind and kidnapped by the Aryan Brotherhood, to name but two) and make a new life for himself.
Is it as good as Breaking Bad? Far from it. But it’s still a welcome coda to Vince Gilligan’s neo-Western masterpiece that will have even casual viewers rooting for Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman as he tries to leave behind the scorched earth of New Mexico for the last frontier of Alaska. It’s a story of redemption – and a well deserved one too.
Spirited Away (2001)
Sometime in my mid-20s I watched Spirited Away with some trepidation. As someone who’d never seen an anime film in his life, I assumed I’d have no truck with what I naively assumed was essentially a quirkier and more exotic Disney film.
But like young Chihiro who ignores the warnings to turn back before sunset, I soon realised what a foolish mistake I’d made. To call Hayao Miyzaki’s 2001 masterpiece ‘enchanting’ manages to be both a cliche and gross understatement at once (the equivalent of calling Casablanca ‘romantic’). If there’s one film that can banish those lockdown blues, it has to be this.
All the Money in the World (2018)
Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg star in this pacy Ridley Scott thriller set in Rome. Plummer proved an inspired replacement for Kevin Spacey whose scenes were cut from the film after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
The result is a pleasingly escapist yet gritty Italian setting combined with a gripping premise: the 16-year-old grandson of an oil tycoon is kidnapped in the 70s while his rich but miserly grandfather refuses to help his distraught mother secure his release. Plummer is utterly villainous and infinitely watchable (indeed, there are plans for him to star in a spin-off film) while Williams successfully gives the film its emotional core. It’s edge-of-your-seat viewing.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Cast-off the darkness of The Shining by tucking into one of the most charming and exuberant films ever made – the wonderful Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. After all, what could be more joyous than watching a youthful Matthew Broderick as he declares polite rebellion on the rules and reality of the adult world?
As with North by Northwest, there’s something about its jaunty defiance that seems particularly pleasing at the moment. Just think of curmudgeonly blowhard Rooney, the school dean and the film’s primary antagonist, as the Christmas-snatching tyrant Matt Hancock and you’ll see exactly what I mean.