49 out of 50 US states have snow on the ground right now.
I happen to live in the only state without snow and ice, but it’s still been a damp and chilly winter here at times. In other words, this has been the perfect winter, no matter where you live, for staying home and watching movies.
To celebrate the spirit of hibernation, of cuddling up on the couch with a big furry blanket and becoming immersed in the fantasy land of a great film, I’ve compiled a list of 15 of my favorite movies, most of which weren’t huge blockbusters although they are excellent stories with superb acting and directing.
Several of these are free on Netflix Streaming, which is how I found them, and others I ran across by accident on TV or through the recommendations of friends.
1. Ruby Sparks —This story about a brilliant, young writer whose creation of the perfect girl comes to life resonates as it illuminates the ways in which we seek to control others in our romantic relationships, with disastrous results. Often funny, sometimes a little disturbing, Ruby Sparks entertains while teaching an important lesson about what it means to love someone.
2. Lars the the Real Girl—A profoundly moving film about grief and compassion’s ability to heal even the deepest wounds. When a troubled young man falls in love with a life sized, sex doll, his friends, family and the people in his town rally with unexpected kindness and understanding.
3. The Fairy—A silly French comedy almost sounds like an oxymoron, but The Fairy is just that. When a peculiar woman (who might be mentally ill) arrives at a hotel and offers the porter three wishes, saying she’s a fairy, hilarity (and love) ensues. Often slapstick and filled with physical humor, this movie will lift your spirits and make you giggle.
4. Moonrise Kingdom—Gorgeously filmed, subtle, magical and supremely weird, this movie is Wes Anderson at his finest. It’s a story of first love, teen angst, rebellion and possibly a little Asperger’s, but it’s also a story of flawed individuals who’ve made some mistakes but who, in the face of a crisis, finally make the right decisions. I could watch this over and over.
5. Sleepwalk With Me—Mike Birbiglia stars in this film, adapted from his memoir of the same name, about his real-life struggles as a sleepwalker, a stand-up comedian and a commitment-probic boyfriend to a really cool girl. While the movie is hilarious, it’s also endearing as Birbiglia honestly and vulnerably reveals his flaws and humanity.
6. Pecker—This John Waters classic is one of my all-time favorites and I watch it whenever I’m grumpy. Edward Furlong plays an aspiring photographer who unexpectedly finds fame in the art world with candid photos taken of his ridiculously quirky, Baltimore family. You will laugh straight through this film and by the end, you’ll find yourself surprisingly touched by this film’s sweetness.
7. The Muppets—I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but forced to watch it by my three year old, I found myself quickly enchanted by this 2011 reunion of Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the whole Muppet gang. Written by and starring Jason Segal, The Muppets honors the true spirit of Jim Henson’s Muppets from our childhoods. It’s a hysterical, musical, satirical caper that will bring back old memories and create new ones. Watch it with or without kids.
8. The Great Buck Howard—I found this movie in a hotel’s On Demand viewing and ended up loving it. Colin Hanks plays a law school drop out who finds a job as the personal assistant to Buck Howard, hilariously played by John Malkovich, Howard is a has-been magician with delusions of grandeur who drags Hanks around the country as he tries to make his grand come-back with disappointing results.
9. Whip It—Late one night, while nursing my then infant, I came across the fantastic movie directed by Drew Barrymore and starring Ellen Page and wondered how on earth I’d never heard of it. Ellen Page plays a teen, rebelling against her pageant mom, who comes of age and finds her passion in roller derby. By the credits, I wanted my own skates and my own bad-ass roller derby name.
10. City Island—I lived in New York for many years and never even knew this place existed, but this movie brings City Island charmingly to life. Andy Garcia is a prison guard who hides how he longs to be an actor. In fact, everyone in his family has a secret of some kind and an important lesson to learn about the value of candor and honesty.
11. The King’s Speech—This one won 2010’s Best Picture Oscar and deservedly so. I’m including it on this list because it is currently free on Netflix Streaming and totally worth watching. The King’s Speech (the title being a double entendre) is the true story of Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, who suddenly became King when his brother refused the crown. George VI never expected, or wanted, to be king and suffered from severe shyness and a speech impediment. With the help of a speech therapist who sees the King as an equal and eventually a friend, George VI is able to rise to the occasion, overcoming his fears and his stammer to inspire his country during wartime.
12. Our Idiot Brother—I was surprised at how much I liked this movie where Paul Rudd is an amiable slacker who wreaks havoc on the lives of his three sisters, while inadvertently teaching them some much needed lessons about love. This movie will make you redefine your definition of “loser” and bonus, Zooey Deschanel plays one of Rudd’s sisters.
13. Let the Right One In—I’m not usually one for scary movies, but this is the best horror movie I’ve ever seen, hands down, so I’m including it for the horror fans. Ultimately an allegory about bullying, this vampire movie, which will make you think, set in a dark and icy Swedish winter is, well, chilling. Ignore the bad special effects and focus on the acting and plot. The ambiguous ending will leave you wondering about the mysterious Eli’s motives long after the movie is over.
14. Adventureland—Jesse Eisenberg finds his path in life through a miserable summer job at a past its prime amusement park. I liked watching the young people in this movie learn important life lessons in an unusual setting and I enjoyed the story’s balance between dark humor, melancholy and the angst of young love.
15. Frozen River—Frozen River is a gritty and serious drama about a desperate woman who makes a difficult choice in order to help her family. Impoverished Ray, whose gambling husband has disappeared and left her with two sons, turns to smuggling immigrants over the Canadian border to support her family and buy them a new trailer, but there are serious consequences.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman