Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch At Home This Weekend (January 25-27)


Sundance is winding down now, and while much of the film world has had their focus strictly on the village known as Park City, Utah, it’s time for eyes to move off of the festival circuit, and directly at the doldrums of winter. Half baked action films and romantic comedies abound, all of relatively low quality. However, it’s the hay day of home entertainment. With the weather outside being as frightful as possible, and the big screen offerings not giving much of a reason to trek out into the great unknown that is the outside world, here are five films that will make staying home with a blanket, a cup of coffee (or whatever warm, adult or non-adult beverage you appreciate) and a remote control all the more likeable. Who needs fresh air when there are new films on Netflix?

5. Shoeshine (Netflix)

The forefather of the Italian Neorealism movement, Vittorio De Sica’s film from 1946 may not be as “heavy” or as brooding a film as those crafted by the movement’s deity, Roberto Rossellini, but this coming of age tale is a touching meditation on youth. One could, with the film’s conclusion, posit that this is the very end of the sentimentality found within the previous generation of Italian cinema, and that nation’s cinematic loss of innocence. A violent and, ultimately, an angry picture within the body of a sweet coming of age tale about the ending of a friendship, this film helped light a fire under the collective ass that was Italian cinema at the time, and helped spawn one of the most thrilling and to-this-day vital cinematic revolutions in the medium’s history.

4. Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (Hulu)

Considered one of the Czech New Wave’s masterpieces, Valerie is currently available on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page, and is likely that movement’s next entrant within the Collection. Thought to be the glaring omission from the Eclipse box set looking at that movement, one has to imagine that Criterion has big things planned, and one can’t help but see why after viewing the picture. A Lewis Carrol-esque fairy tale, the film blends Godardian playfulness with the style and Freudian eroticism found in a picture like Black Moon. A really provocative picture, the film may not be as aggressive or confrontational as this writer’s favorite film out of this movement, Daisies, but it is no less exciting for those who are seeing it for the very first time.

3. The Lottery (Fandor)

While non-fiction films have become the breeding ground for some of the film world’s greatest efforts, some still get shoved to the wayside for impossible to understand reasons. Be it they just don’t hit the right button with the public, or they just don’t see it, these films are some of the most powerful pieces of cinema, that very few people have seen. One of these films? The Lottery. Following a handful of families as they await the results of a lottery that would find their children the golden ticket giving them entrance into one of NY’s best schools, the film is a startling look at today’s educational system and one of the best documentaries of the past few years. One that not enough people have seen, the film is currently available to stream on Fandor, and should be hunted down by anyone, and everyone, who has a heartbeat.

2. 5 Broken Cameras (Fandor / Hulu)

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Oscar nominated 5 Broken Cameras. Currently on DVD from Kino Lorber, the film is a stupendous documentary look at the life of a Palestinian farmer as he chronicles his resistance to the Israeli army, by using footage shot on the titular cameras. It’s a beautiful look into a world, and a resistance, that we don’t get to see very often, and with the Oscar nomination now in the bag, this is easily one of this past year’s most talked about documentaries. Stunningly shot, 5 Broken Cameras is currently available to be streamed on Hulu and Fandor.

1. Hitchcock In The ‘30s (TCM, Sunday 8pm-12:45pm EST)

Following this past year, or as 2012 should be known “the year of Hitch,” it should come as absolutely no shock that appreciation for the work of Alfred Hitchcock is still growing to even higher reaches. TCM, this Sunday, will be airing three films from his collection of films released in the 1930s, including The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. All three films are works of genius, and prove that while Hitchcock may be better known for his later works, it is his early pieces that may prove to be his most fruitful. Vanishes is a personal favorite of mine, as it is not only a lively thriller, but one with a great sense of pace and tone, and is a fantastic early work from Hitchcock’s career. Oh, and what follows as their Silent Sunday Night pick? Lon Chaney’s The Penalty. TCM is making it really hard to do anything but become a physical extension of my couch.