Classics to stream while on quarantine

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

To quote the great Ron Burgundy: “That escalated quickly.” Over a period of about 14 days, millions of Americans have effectively been grounded, including Tech students and faculty. These days good news is scarce.

Perhaps the only silver lining is that the 21st century offers an overabundance of entertainment outlets for one’s home. There might not be a better time to dig into some of the cinema classics that Netflix users have been putting off for years. Here are a few of streaming services’ best options for those trying to catch up on decades of movie history.

“Goodfellas” (streaming on Netflix)

Without a doubt, Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver”) is one of the best filmmakers in American history. Before he recently became known for likening Marvel productions to amusement parks, the director was best known for a handful of crime and mob films. Currently streaming on Netflix, his 1990 treasure “Goodfellas” ranks among the best movies of all time.

Starring Ray Liotta (“Narc”), Joe Pesci (“Raging Bull”) and Robert De Niro (“Mean Streets”), the movie chronicles the life of mobster Henry Hill (Liotta). Through his eyes, Scorsese explores the American fascination and seduction with the criminal lifestyle. The iconic opening quote from Hill says it all: “As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” In masterful brushstrokes and brilliant camerawork, Scorsese conveys the electric appeal of such a lifestyle, peaking in the legendary Copacabana scene. But just as quickly as that life brings joys and thrills, it also descends into madness and terror.

“When Harry Met Sally” (streaming on Hulu)

One of the quintessential romantic comedies is the 1989 hit “When Harry Met Sally.” Written by the late Nora Ephron (“Julie & Julia”) and directed by Rob Reinere (“A Few Good Men”), this classic pioneered a slew of tropes that have been commonly adopted by the genre.

The titular Harry (Billy Crystal, “Forget Paris”) and Sally (Meg Ryan, “You’ve Got Mail”) are lifelong friends, although they were not always so close. Sally first found Harry to be a repellant, sex-obsessed bro. Over time and circumstance, though, they grew together and forged an unlikely friendship. When they both become single, the film quickly adopts a classic “will they or won’t they” storyline. The film is incessantly charming and quippy, and it sneakily sparks emotional reactions for most.

“Cleo from 5 to 7” (streaming on Kanopy)

For those who are unaware, Kanopy is a free streaming service that many Americans and Tech students have access to via public and student libraries. Going to its website, students can create an account by following the prompts and logging into their respective library. This cool service offers a number of indie, artsy, foreign language and classic films.

Among its selection is Agnes Varda’s beautiful “Cleo from 5 to 7.” Widely acclaimed for her contributions to the French New Wave film, the Belgium native filmmaker’s 1962 drama follows the eponymous woman through a couple hours of her day while she awaits a possible cancer diagnosis from her doctor. Cleo, played terrifically by Corinne Marchand (“Les evasions celebres”), is a popular singer, so she constantly receives attention from passersby. Acquaintances and strangers fill her time, sometimes with chastisement and others with care. All the same, her journey towards a potentially life-altering diagnosis is a spellbinding portrait of human life.

“The Manchurian Candidate” (streaming on HBO)

Before being reimagined with Denzel Washington in the 2000s, this 1962 spy thriller shocked viewers and critics alike. Directed by John Frankenheimer (“The Island of Dr. Moreau”), the plot details a prisoner of war, who was unknowingly brainwashed and hypnotized by communists into being a sleeper assassin, as he attempts to reassimilate to life in the United States. Laurence Harvey (“The Alamo”) stoically plays the manipulated soldier, Raymond Shaw. Opposite to him, Frank Sinatra (“From Here to Eternity”) is Major Bennett Marco, Shaw’s superior who is trying to unravel the mysteries.

For such an old movie, it is remarkable how tense and thrilling it plays out. Frankenheimer’s direction features intense patience and nuance. Scenes remain still while the wheels in characters’ minds start to turn. The resultant suspense leaves viewers on edge, without any inkling of what will transpire. More than just a thriller, though, the inclusion of Shaw’s politically active mother — the incredible Angela Lansbury (“Anastasia”) — offers social commentaries that feel resonant even today.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (streaming for free on Amazon Prime)

Directed by John Ford (“The Quiet Man”), “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a classic American western about a politician who rose to fame after killing the titular outlaw. Where such a plot sounds almost cliche to the genre, the film finds its groove in a dialogue between two visions of America. 

John Wayne (“True Grit”) plays the sharpshooter Tom Doniphon, a stand-in for the old, lawless days of the west. Jimmy Stewart (“Rear Window”) is a civic-minded and politically-inclined senator named Ransom Stoddard. The two egos clash almost immediately, offering different perspectives on how society should look. It is a thought provoking film that does not sacrifice the genre’s hallmarks and thrills.

“Good Will Hunting” (streaming on Hulu)

Even those that live under a rock have likely heard of this popular drama as it has been spoofed and referenced numerous times over, namely in “Step Brothers” and “Family Guy.” The movie was a launching pad for Boston buds Matt Damon (“The Departed”) and Ben Affleck (“The Town”), who co-wrote the script. Directed by Gus Van Sant (“Elephant”), the film follows a secretly genius janitor at M.I.T. who solves complex mathematics problems on chalk boards in the evenings.

Matt Damon is the protagonist, Will, and Ben Affleck plays his blue-collar best friend, Chuckie. The two goof off and hit bars with their unambitious peers, stirring up trouble and picking fights. As a result, Will receives a proposition to attend therapy with Robin Williams (“Dead Poets Society”) and mentee under an M.I.T. professor. He also has a love interest, played by Minnie Driver (“Grosse Pointe Break”).

“Good Will Hunting” has a lot to offer. For one, it is hilarious. The actors shine higher than any of them have since. In brilliant and compelling dialogue, the script is chock-full of monologues and personal conversations. It incites questions of meaning, purpose and ambition. And the narrative explores trauma, psychology and the difficulty in overcoming one’s past. Through and through, “Good Will Hunting” is a masterpiece.

“Bicycle Thieves” (streaming on Kanopy)

Following World War II’s devastations, much of Europe experienced deep poverty. The 1948 Italian classic “Bicycle Thieves,” directed by Vittorio De Sica (“Umberto D.”), portrays and reflects that.

Desperate to support his family, Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani, “The Last Judgment”) uses the last of his family’s money to purchase a bike that will enable him to commute and work. As the title suggests, that bike is then stolen. Antonio and his son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola, “The Barefoot Contessa”), are then left to roam the streets looking for it and the man who took it. The plot is simple and mundane. Despite this, its realness and the beautiful, patient cinematography keeps the movie compelling and interesting. Without giving anything away, the conclusion sheds a new perspective on the meaning and purpose of the film’s title.