Cinephiles tend to be indoor creatures—by nature, by trade or both. Relatively speaking, then, a pandemic isn't the worst conceivable interruption…minus that one giant misfortune of indefinite theater closures.
So like many film devotees, director, author and Portland State University professor Dustin Morrow is still consuming movies like mad this spring. For him, there's the professional side of the task: He's researching both a book project and creative ways to follow up his 2019 film Blackpool, a black-and-white thriller set almost entirely in a basement. Then, there are the necessary destressors: meditative documentaries, Hitchcockian thrillers and the Muppets.
We conferred with Morrow about his watchlist, with a few recommendations for yours, in the times of COVID-19.
"My last movie had only three actors in it, and I wondered if I could take this even further and cut my cast by 60 percent. Can you make a one-actor movie that's actually compelling? I was thinking about this before COVID-19 struck, but…maybe this is one of the ideal things you could do in the midst of a pandemic, as far as independent film.
"Buried (2010) is set entirely inside a coffin. [Ryan Reynolds] is a civilian contractor in the Middle East who's been buried alive by the Taliban. It's really visually interesting for a guy being on his back in a box throughout the whole movie.
"The best of these one-actor movies is probably The Guilty (2018). It's a Danish film about a 911 operator and tracks him for 90 minutes as he takes calls. He gets a call from a woman who's apparently been kidnapped and is with her kidnapper, and they're trying to communicate in such a way that doesn't give away that she's talking to a cop. It's shockingly riveting."
'70s and '80s genre movies
"I'm working on a book about how Hollywood took what was being done in drive-in, exploitation movies and, after looking down on them for decades, started to adopt and apply A-list budgets to them, giving birth to contemporary action and horror movies."
From this extremely deep pool of flicks, Morrow recommends:
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Over the Edge (1979)
Southern Comfort (1981)
Night of the Comet (1984)
Miracle Mile (1988)
"It's the best Hitchock movie that's not made by Hitchcock—essentially a twisty spy thriller, but light and fluffy. The dialogue is great. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are amazing. It's a lot like North by Northwest with a little more humor."
More "Hitchcockian movies for people who've exhausted all the Hitchcock":
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Blow Out (1981)
Road Games (1981)
Frederick Wiseman documentaries
"Kanopy, which everyone in Portland with a library card can access, has probably half the Wiseman movies. They're relaxing because they're so slow. Wiseman was the father of direct cinema documentary, or cinéma vérité. There's no commentary, no music, no fast cutting. He just points the camera at things and lets whatever happen. I just watched [The Store]. It's about a shopping mall and is one of the most '80s things I've ever seen. It's slow and meditative, but also, like, 'Oh yeah, this is what life was like before the pandemic.' And, hopefully, it'll someday be this boring again."
More Wiseman recommendations:
High School (1968)
Central Park (1990)
In Jackson Heights (2015)
Gurinder Chadha movies
"Her most famous is Bend It Like Beckham. Her movies are a ray of sunshine, but with substance to them—full of culture and music. She had a movie out last fall called Blinded by the Light, which was an adaptation of this guy who was obsessed with Bruce Springsteen and grew up in a working-class city in Great Britain."
"I'm always happy to endorse the Muppets. With Disney+, you can go to town. The Great Muppet Caper is my favorite. Charles Grodin has one of the funniest performances I've seen in a movie. I'll put it up against anything. He plays a jewel thief who falls in love with Miss Piggy. It's fabulous, man."