10 Free-Spirited Films to Help You Through Quarantine

These movies each transcend boredom and isolation in their own unique ways.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, those of us safely self-isolating at home have what The Wire’s Marlo Stanfield once called “one of them good problems”: How do we fill up all this time indoors, sequestered from the outside world, without going absolutely stir-crazy? Puzzles, novels, Zoom hangouts, TikTok dance challenges—options abound. The gift of film tops them all, we submit to you—the escapist titles below more than others.

There’s no sense in seeking movies that simply mirror our current situation; there’s plenty of cabin fever to go around already. Rather, the following films each tap into the freedom quarantine sorely lacks in different ways, whether by offering adventure, romance, peace, togetherness, or any combination of these. Some are lengthy, all the better with which to pass the long, quiet hours; others fly by, but not before doling out some exhilaration.

Here are ten fantastic quarantine films and where to find them.

The Beach Bum

This Harmony Korine joint’s near-plotlessness renders it decidedly not for everyone, but at ninety-five minutes, it’s an easy, breezy daydream of a comedy that follows perma-stoned, PBR-guzzling poet Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) wherever he may wander, counting Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett among its supporting cast. One minute, Moondog is passed out on a Key Largo houseboat; the next, he’s wading into a Miami mansion’s fountain fully clothed (during his daughter’s wedding, no less), or climbing, cross-dressed, into a seaplane with a legally blind pilot. Moondog is the embodiment of both mental and physical freedom, i.e., any quarantiner’s avatar.

Watch it on: Hulu

American Honey

“What are you doing today? You wanna go to Kansas City?” That fateful invitation is at the wild heart of Andrea Arnold’s Cannes Jury Prize–winning 2016 road film, which stars Sasha Lane (in her superlative screen debut) and a seldom-better Shia LaBeouf as members of a traveling “mag crew,” hustling their way across America in pursuit of its seemingly unattainable Dream. DP Robbie Robertson’s handheld camera stays close—you’ll feel like you’re the one loitering in sun-baked motel parking lots; watching Midwestern plains roll past in the rain; squinting at an oil well burning in the inky night; squatting to pee beside the Grand Canyon. American Honey is anything but locked down, a distinctly American travelogue bursting with free spirit.

Watch it on: Netflix, Kanopy, Hoopla

The Darjeeling Limited

One of the most overlooked entries in Wes Anderson’s filmography, this heartfelt 2007 dramedy stars Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman as estranged brothers traveling India by rail, their quest both spiritual and emotional. Though old tensions flare, resulting in the Whitman brothers being booted from the titular train, the trio gradually learn to trust each other and let go of their (literal) baggage. Whether packed into a tight compartment or praying over a peacock feather on a rocky hilltop, their shared history surrounds them; no matter how lost they find themselves, they go on together. (Also, keep an eye out for the late, great Irrfan Khan.)

Watch it on: HBO


There are few romantic-comedies in memory quite as effortlessly charming as Amélie, in which Audrey Tautou’s eponymous Parisian decides to anonymously brighten the lives of some of her fellow Montmartre residents. In doing so, she breaks out of her solitary routine and learns to live a fuller life, finding beauty in the mundane wherever she looks. Her story is relentlessly lovely (and, at turns, surprisingly horny), and though “times are hard for dreamers,” Tautou’s wonderful portrayal of one is a prism that refracts happiness through both the City of Light and this film.

Watch it on: Cinemax, Hoopla

Do the Right Thing

Recommending Spike Lee’s masterpiece is hardly a hot take, but there’s something uniquely, timelessly vital about its sweltering Saturday in the heart of Bed-Stuy, especially as viewed through the lens of this pandemic. Mookie (Lee)—an essential worker!—walks his block delivering pizzas, rubbing sweaty elbows with the many denizens of his multicultural neighborhood under the sun, then the streetlights. Lee peers into America’s deepest divides while simultaneously emphasizing the beauty of community, a concept that’s all but abstract at the moment. It’s your world.

Watch it on: Starz

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Peter Weir’s Oscar-winning 19th-century naval epic is an engrossing experience that manages to stretch its tension over a one-hundred-and-forty-minute frame. The charismatic Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) leads England’s H.M.S. Surprise on a harrowing mission to capture or destroy the formidable French privateer Acheron, their chess match unfolding all along the South American coast. The film spends most of its ample runtime on the open ocean, and it excels at both large-scale spectacle (the battles are breathtaking) and intimate character-building (Crowe and Paul Bettany’s chemistry is key). Even its language, littered with nautical terminology and seamens’ superstition, is transportive.

Watch it on: Starz

Holy Motors

Part dream and part nightmare, Leos Carax’s 2012 fantasy-drama comprises a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a mysterious man whose professional “appointments” find him vanishing into various disguises, performing for no ostensible audience but us, defying reason and, at times, the laws of nature. An obvious tribute to the chameleonic power of actors and the cinema they animate, Holy Motors is an uncompromising kaleidoscope of tone, character and setting, like a dozen films rolled into one. You’re as unlikely to understand it as you are to ever forget it.

Watch it on: Kanopy, Vudu

Romancing the Stone

Unfairly dismissed as a pale Indiana Jones imitation (though it was scripted years before Raiders of the Lost Ark’s release), Romancing the Stone melds action, romance, and comedy into an eminently enjoyable ’80s romp. Soon after finishing her latest romantic adventure story, author Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) finds herself living one, joining forces with snarky soldier of fortune Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) to locate a legendary treasure and rescue her kidnapped sister. Their quest through the Colombian jungle, pursued by mercifully ineffective villains (including a scene-stealing Danny DeVito), is just the right kind of straightforward fun for viewers with much on their minds.

Watch it on: Hulu, Starz

Call Me By Your Name

Beautiful from its opening credits, Luca Guadagnino’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel is the love story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), serene and full of yearning. At Elio’s family’s idyllic home “somewhere in Northern Italy,” there isn’t much to do but “wait for summer to end.” Time in the film moves much like it does in quarantine, just sort of sliding by unnoticed; meanwhile, Elio and Oliver’s love ripens, like a peach from the family’s orchard, until Elio decides to speak, rather than die. We’re all Elio, overwhelmed by how much he wants and knows he can’t have, watching the sunny days slip through his fingers.

Watch it on: DirecTV

Stop Making Sense

Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed performance film is widely identified as the peak of the form, making it an on-screen oasis for those of us desperately missing live music. A feat of lighting, sound, choreography, and especially editing, the 1984 film near-seamlessly combines footage from four Talking Heads shows at LA’s Pantages Theater, blending them into one indelibly dynamic performance. A lone David Byrne is joined by one bandmate at a time, as if the eccentric bandleader is building the show in front of us as he performs. Demme’s meticulous direction never stagnates, offering a fresh, immersive view of each infectiously upbeat song.

Watch it on: Vudu, Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime


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