Their doors may be closed, but you can still support independent theaters and Philly’s rich movie culture.
Consider getting a membership to your local theater, taking in online programming or simply watching any of the many alternately timeless (Rocky!) and cringe-inducing (Mannequin!) made-in-Philly flicks.
Here, local film buffs share their wisdom and recommendations on what movies to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Prime and other outlets while you’re in self-isolation.
Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, is undoubtedly the greatest cheerleader for the Philly film canon, so it’s no surprise that she opted to focus on made-in-Philly films for her recs.
“The filmography for Philadelphia is extraordinary. It’s very broad, very robust, very varied,” she says. (Take one look at Pinkenson’s IMDB entry, and you’ll see just about every Philly movie!)
You could try to see every M. Night Shyamalan movie, but in terms of family movies, Night’s very first movie is a great one to watch with kids. Wide Awake is the story of a little boy, presumably Night’s alter ego, whose grandfather has passed away; the little boy doesn’t understand where his grandfather went and what happened to him. It’s actually very uplifting, and it’s a comedy, too. Rosie O’Donnell plays the teacher in the Catholic school, which is actually the real school that Night went to. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
12 Monkeys is an amazing movie. Amazing. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
The Mannequin movies—there are two of them! I was actually the wardrobe supervisor on the second Mannequin movie. That’s one of the silliest movies you’ll ever see—it will help keep you from thinking about the craziness of our world right now! (Available for rent on FandangoNOW)
Philadelphia. Of course. (Available on Netflix)
Up Close and Personal, if you’re interested in a kind of funny, odd love story. It’s a romance, but the idea of seeing Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer is kind of fun. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Jersey Girl—I mean, how fun is that? (Available on HBO streaming services)
Limitless is such a fabulous movie, set in New York but shot in Philadelphia, with Bradley Cooper. (Available on Netflix)
Shooter is a really cool film. It’s about an assassination attempt on the president. It stars Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover, which is really fun, and Kate Mara before she was really well known. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Silver Linings Playbook—how could you not want to watch that again? (Available on Netflix)
Law Abiding Citizen is just terrific. F. Gary Gray, who’s actually originally from Philadelphia, directed this film, and it’s with Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
I will never forget that we shot so much of this at night, in the dark, in the street, and Gerard Butler flirted with every girl who came by. It was just unbelievable!
We were closing Market Street and closing JFK and women were coming from all over just to try to see him. At one point, there’s a swearing-in ceremony in the mayor’s office, and I got Michael Nutter, who was mayor at the time, to get into that scene, playing an assistant to the new mayor and holding his family bible. I love that.
Rock School (available to rent on iTunes) is a documentary about the beginning of the School of Rock. Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott are Philadelphia filmmakers who’ve been at Sundance winning prizes like every year, and they’re just amazing. They also did Art of the Steal. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Invincible! That’s a terrific film for people to watch while there’s no football now. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
The Upside is such a great film. I love Kevin Hart. (Available to rent on FandangoNOW)
Dispatches from Elsewhere is not a movie, but I strongly recommend that people watch this show. It’s so Philadelphia. It’s fun, it’s kooky, it’s uplifting, and it was shot on so many locations that everybody will recognize, which makes it especially great. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Servant by M. Night Shyamalan is another TV series that I strongly suggest. (Available on Apple TV)
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Flicks with a foreign twist
Kenneth L. Metzner is the executive director of The Colonial Theatre, the Phoenixville movie house most known for its annual Blobfest, but also for its ongoing showings of first-run independent and classic films, as well as concerts and community events.
Some of his favorites to stream right now are:
La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful): “The 1997 film directed by Roberto Benigni, who also stars in it and received the Best Actor Oscar, speaks to the triumph of humor, imagination, and love over brutality. The score, by Nicola Piovani, is also gorgeous.” (Available to rent on Amazon)
Baraka: “The 1993 film by director/cinematographer Ron Fricke is a magnificent, non-narrative documentary without words, born of Fricke’s fascination with ‘humanity’s relationship to the eternal.’ Its imagery of nature, humankind’s rituals, triumph, and destructive practices, shot across six continents, is at turns disturbing and breathtaking. It’s one of my favorite films of all time!” (Available to rent on Amazon)
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Jacob Mazer, special programming manager at Bryn Mawr Film Institute shares some family-friendly flicks to watch while you’re stuck at home during the quarantine.
The Adventures of Robin Hood, from 1938. “This is a great way for parents to introduce younger people to classic movies,” Mazer says. “The film is directed by Michael Curtiz, who’s most famous for making Casablanca (available on Hulu) and is one of the slickest directors of the era. And even though it was made back in 1938, it still holds up really well and doesn’t feel old or clunky. It’s totally absorbing, full of action, suspense, and a little bit of family-friendly romance. It stars Errol Flynn, one of the great swashbuckling leading men, and the colors have been restored.” (Available to rent on Amazon)
Song of the Sea, from 2014. “This is an animated movie from an Irish studio called Cartoon Saloon about two young children who discover that some of the magical creatures they’ve heard about in folktales are actually true—and, as a matter of fact, their family has some magical secrets of their own. It’s a wonderful adventure story with a lot of heart, amazing Irish music, and a really unique sensibility.” (Available on Amazon Video.)
Mazer also has some favorite movies from yesteryear to get you through quarantine:
I Know Where I’m Going!: “This British film from 1945 was directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. “They were huge directors in Britain, responsible for some of the UK’s most beloved films and most famous ballet movie, The Red Shoes (available to rent on Amazon).This one is about a young urban woman who sets out for a remote Scottish island, where she is set to marry a wealthy older man, but she is waylaid along her route…and adventure ensues. It’s a romantic drama, and the kind of film that you leave saying ‘They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.’” (Available to rent on Amazon)
Sullivan’s Travels. Directed by Preston Sturges, this is an American film from 1941, and it’s a movie about movies. “It follows a director who is known for making lightweight comedies who decides that he’s going to make a serious, important drama about the have-nots in American society. For research, he decides he’s going to travel the country, and along the way he picks up a companion, an aspiring actress played by Veronica Lake. It’s an extremely funny movie with really sharp dialogue, but it’s also a comedy that makes a pretty serious case for why comedy is valuable and important. Coincidentally, the name of the film that this director aspires to make is called O Brother, Where Art Thou (see below), which leads me to my next recommendation….” (Available to rent on Amazon)
O Brother, Where Art Thou is from 2000, and directed by brother Joel and Ethan Coen. “It’s about a trio of convicts in the Depression-era American south who bust out of jail, and end up sort of accidentally becoming country music sensations—while still on the run from the law.
This is a really great Coen Brothers movie, and does something that those directors do really well, which is bring together disparate influences—in this case, it borrows equally from Southern Literature and the Myth of the American South, and also from traditional Greek myths, in this case Homer’s Odyssey. It has a great cast, including George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and others, and also a really killer soundtrack. It’s just a load of fun.” (Available to rent on Amazon)
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New Streaming Services to Try + Purple Rain (duh)
He recommends the streaming service The Criterion Channel, which is a place to find classics of world cinema. “They have all of the big auteur/directors like Fellini and Bergman. So if you’re looking to really beef up your knowledge of film history, that’s a great place to start.”
Another streaming option Trew points to: Kanopy. “Not enough people are aware of Kanopy, which can be accessed by anyone who has a Philadelphia library card or is associated with a university. Some people might think that since it’s free it must be crap, but it’s really not. Some of the biggest distributors—like A24—have all of their past titles on Kanopy.”
And one timely film: Purple Rain. “We’re coming up on the four-year anniversary of Prince’s death which is obviously a sad holiday to celebrate, but Purple Rain is on Netflix streaming. We did a screening of it at the Film Center within a couple of weeks after his death four years ago and sold out two screenings, so there are definitely a lot of Prince fans in Philly.”
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