Living in a pandemic leaves you with little to do to keep yourself entertained. To help combat impending boredom, Prospect has launched a series in which our Staff recommend content and creative outlets to keep you occupied while you’re stuck in your home. This week, our writers and editors watched some hilarious and heartwarming movies to round off the final week of classes. Here are the films that we recommend you watch during quarantine.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Recommended by Prospect Writer Sreesha Ghosh ’23
In this 2016 gem, Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics professor in charge of an elite team of investigators attempting to communicate with whatever intelligent lifeform is behind the landing of 12 bizarre alien spaceships around the world. Based on the award-winning novella, “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang and set to Max Richter’s heartrendingly beautiful musical score ‘On the Nature of Daylight,’ “Arrival” is moving, gripping, and, by far, one of the finest pieces of science fiction I have ever had the privilege to come across. It’s probably best not to say too much about the plot, except that it’s incredibly satisfying to feel it unfold. “Arrival” is serious and smartly crafted, and often feels like a Rubik’s cube in the hand of a maestro, nothing quite making sense until it all does, and when that happens, it is absolutely worth it.
The film’s premise hinges on the idea that we do not all experience the same reality — and this is argued, in most part, linguistically. It takes inspiration from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that suggests our categorizations of reality take on different shapes depending on the linguistic tools we use to frame it, that each language personalizes the way we imagine and perceive the world around us. This hypothesis gives language consequence: in arguing that the different ways in which we speak can set us apart, it also makes the point that language is the only way to potentially bring us back together. But the importance of this premise turns even more significant when the film marries language with the linearity of time. If that sounds over-cryptic, it’s because the twists and turns of “Arrival’s” story are so delicate that I have to be as careful as I possibly can. It also means that the final third of the film, and its aftermath, will come at you like an emotional typhoon, adorned with revelations and epiphanies that will have you up all night thinking about them.
Ultimately, “Arrival” is a film with demanding questions and infuriatingly transient answers. But it also makes for excellent quarantine existentialism. And, in a time like this, perhaps nothing is more perfect than that.
“Arrival” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
“Free Solo” (2018)
Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00
Recommended by Prospect Writer Annabelle Duval ’23
“Free Solo” tells the awe-inspiring story of Alex Honnold’s climb of the sheer rock face El Capitan in Yosemite National Park — without a rope. The documentary, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2019, follows Honnold’s journey to climbing what has been called “the most impressive wall on Earth.” What’s great about the documentary, aside from Honnold accomplishing an incredible feat of human history, is how it captures the daily challenges and preparations required for such an achievement. The documentary shows Honnold’s diet, intense workouts, and painstaking memorization of every foothold and hand placement on the wall. It also discusses the moral challenges involved in attempting — and filming — such a dangerous endeavor. At any moment during his climb, Honnold could make one wrong move and fall to his death. Yet, free soloing, the practice of climbing without ropes or safety nets, is his passion, and he cannot bear quitting.
Now is a great time to watch “Free Solo” for a number of reasons. The breathtaking shots of El Capitan and Yosemite National Park might inspire you to get out into nature when quarantine is lifted. Honnold also created the Honnold Foundation to support clean energy initiatives around the world. The documentary shows that Honnold is not only a stellar athlete, but a generous person who uses all his resources to help others and preserve the planet’s beautiful environments. Lastly, “Free Solo” reminds us of the power and potential in people working together and supporting one another. Although Honnold climbs alone, he is supported by fellow climbers who help him to map out his route up the wall, loved ones who keep his spirits up, and friends who document his greatest accomplishment.
“Free Solo” is available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu.
“In the Mood for Love” (2000)
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Recommended by Prospect Editor Cammie Lee ’22
Characteristic of Wong Kar Wai’s atmospheric style, “In the Mood for Love” is lush and viscous, seducing the viewer into a game of unrequited love. Celebrated as a staple of Hong Kong cinema, the film transforms painful longings of the heart into a beautiful portrait of the transience of love. Two neighbors find companionship in each other through the adultery of their partners, and at moments they too almost seem to be on the cusp of giving in to desire — but by one way or another, restraint, memory of what once was, or moral obligation always pulls them apart. Music composed by Shigeru Umebayashi conducts a meditation on time, cueing a deceleration of movement choreographed to match the tempo of a lilting waltz. The repetition of everyday routine becomes marred by loneliness and the sense of helplessness that comes with it. Timeless, erotic, and melodramatic, “In the Mood for Love” makes one nostalgic for heartbreak, asking: to love and to lose love -- of the two, which is more beautiful?
“In the Mood for Love” is available to stream on Kanopy (access provided by Princeton University).
“Knives Out” (2019)
Directed by Rian Johnson
Recommended by Prospect Writer José Pablo Fernández García ’23
I first watched “Knives Out” during the fall semester’s final exams period. My friend Cecilia Zubler ’23 and I Ubered to AMC Marketfair 10 to watch it to celebrate her having finished her math exam. I watched it a second time at home with my family during spring break. Both times, the movie was an absolute delight, and I would even dare to say that the movie gets better with each viewing as I noticed more things that further enriched the movie.
“Knives Out” is an original whodunit film that exceeds all expectations I had before watching it. In a movie industry that is filled with mega-franchises and huge commercial blockbusters, “Knives Out” is a fresh and creative story. As the movie’s writer and director, Rian Johnson has clearly put tremendous effort into carefully crafting this movie. It leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat and is full of surprises before the mystery is fully revealed in a rewarding end to the plot.
Filled with creative shots and sharp dialogue that reveal just the right amount of information, the movie follows Detective Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig, as he investigates the sudden death of Harlan Thromby, a successful mystery novelist played by Christopher Plummer. At stake is Thromby’s large estate which his scheming family, played by a star-studded ensemble cast including Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans, is very keen to inherit. However, stuck in the middle of all this is Marta Cabrera, Thromby’s nurse played by Ana de Armas, who accompanies Blanc throughout much of the movie and is also heavily invested in figuring out the truth behind Thromby’s death.
If you’re looking for an entertaining movie that plays out like a gripping, modern version of the board game “Clue,” then “Knives Out” is the movie for you.
“Knives Out” can be rented for $5.99 on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play Movies & TV.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019)
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Recommended by Prospect Editor Paige Allen ’21
Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis fully hit campus, I went to see director/writer Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu” (translated as “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and subtitled in English) at the Princeton Garden Theatre. Those two hours watching the film felt much longer as I was transported to 18th century France, concluding with a moving final sequence that left me crying in the dark movie theater. Seeing “Portrait of a Lady” with a group of friends is one of the best memories I have from campus this semester, and I am so grateful I was able to see the film in theaters before everything shut down.
Fortunately, the streaming gods answered our prayers, and I can now have an equally moving experience rewatching “Portrait of a Lady” in my own home — after midnight, curled up in my pajamas, and sobbing into a bowl of ice cream.
The film follows the growing relationship between Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a young noblewoman promised to marry a Milanese gentleman she’s never met, and Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an independent young artist. Héloïse has refused to sit for the wedding portrait solidifying her forced marriage, so Marianne is commissioned to paint Héloïse secretly from memory while pretending to be Héloïse’s hired companion.
In addition to being a breathtaking film for so many reasons (check out this previous Prospect article for my in-depth reflections), “Portrait of a Lady” is the perfect quarantine watch. The film largely takes place in and around Héloïse’s manor home, and the slow-burn romance of two women momentarily isolated from the rest of the world feels particularly fitting in this time of social distancing. For those missing the outside, Claire Mathon’s award-winning cinematography captures the picturesque beaches and cliffs of Brittany as Marianne and Héloïse take their daily walks.
Sciamma’s critically acclaimed screenplay unfolds slowly and carefully, drawing you in and almost suspending time as you become deeply invested in the lives of the women onscreen. When you’re looking to spend a night deep in your feels, I recommend “Portrait of a Lady.”
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is available to stream with a Hulu subscription or for purchase on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and Google Play.
“The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” (2004)
Directed by Garry Marshall
Recommended by Prospect Writer Monique Legaspi ’22
As we find ourselves deep in the throes of Week Twelve, it is inevitable, and, dare I say, necessary, that we temporarily abandon our academic responsibilities in favor of devouring movies with the speed and hunger of an Alaskan Bull Worm. And since many of us are at home, I feel compelled to recommend something old-school and sentimental, something with a happy ending. I am, and always have been, a firm believer in the healing power of princess movies. I also am, and always have been, a staunch supporter of Anne Hathaway’s ability to bring to life any and every role she takes on. Naturally, then, the “Princess Diaries” duology is the perfect intersection of my (admittedly very basic) taste in feel-good films. The twist: I recommend to you not the first installment, but its wonderfully self-indulgent sequel, “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.” There is absolutely no need to watch the former to enjoy or even understand the latter; it is so well-done that it can stand on its own with no issue.
“The Princess Diaries 2” focuses on newly-realized princess Amelia “Mia” Thermopolis Renaldi, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, as she arrives in the fictional country of Genovia to succeed her grandmother, Queen Clarisse, portrayed by Julie Andrews. However, as per a stipulation in Genovian law, Mia cannot assume her rightful position as queen unless she marries — within 30 days. Following a string of failed suitors, she thinks she has found her perfect match in Nicholas Devereaux, portrayed by Chris Pine, but he and his scheming family may have ulterior motives in store…
This movie isn’t much of a thinker — it’s tropey, and you don’t have to strain yourself to comprehend anything — but it’s still one of my favorite movies to this day. It’s witty, it’s funny, and it has a killer soundtrack. As Queen Clarisse says, “A queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early.” So it’s never too late to experience the greatest princess movie of our generation!
“The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” is available to stream on Disney+.
“A Quiet Place” (2018)
Directed by John Krasinski
Recommended by Prospect Editor Auhjanae McGee ’23
I was late to watch this film — nearly two years late — but I had heard great reviews about John Krasinski’s directorial debut, and I wanted to be ready for the sequel, which is now slated to be released in September. For those who don’t know, “A Quiet Place” is set in a contemporary Earth that has been invaded by voracious, man-eating aliens, who only hunt by sound. The story itself follows a family of four who have adapted to living in near complete silence in order to survive. For me, it lived up to the hype, and I would definitely recommend it!
Emily Blunt, who plays the pregnant wife of John Krasinski’s character, is such a compelling, emotive actress, to the point that I was honestly convinced she was terrified and having intense contractions at the same time. The way that sudden sounds break the barrier, specifically the transitions between what the deaf daughter, portrayed by Millicent Simmonds, hears and what the audience is supposed to hear, are clever post-production effects. Without spoiling for those who haven’t seen it, the stakes are set very early on, and they effectively contextualize the love and protection that Krasinski’s character has for his children.
While the movie was marketed as a horror film, there is very little gore, and the monsters do not show up that often. And, when they do, they are no more intense than the kinds you have become accustomed to if you are a “Stranger Things” fan. At its core, it is the story of familial love, of sacrifice, and of the limitations of human adaptation in the face of extreme circumstances. Though there are sad moments, I would ultimately pin this as a feel good film. It is an opportunity to lose yourself in imagining a world where the apocalypse is imminent and juxtapose it with our own almost dystopian realities.
“A Quiet Place” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.