portrait of a lady on fire

Image courtesy of IMDb.

Welcome to the W Movie Club, a new series in which W magazine's editors pick five iconic films they'd recommend you watch while in quarantine. This week, associate digital editor Brooke Marine chooses her go-to's, including some films that make her nostalgic for "pre-quarantine" life.

We have to be careful with nostalgia. It functions by implementing a dreamlike haze that clouds your memory, making you forget the realities of history while longing wistfully for the past. But in this quarantine, I’ve had trouble visualizing the future and its unknown occurrences. I’ve had a serious hankering for “before” even though we’re lucky to at least be living through a global pandemic with modern medicine at our fingertips. For many, life has historically been precarious enough and there is much about our previous maladjusted status quo that needs to be revolutionized if we want to survive and live in a progressive future.

But I hope I am not alone in saying I feel unnerved at the sheer mention of next month, let alone next year. The films I look to for comfort in a time like this that project and map ideas onto the future haven’t really been hitting the way they used to—for me, anyway—because they feel like warnings we didn’t even bother to heed and are now facing the direct consequences of as a species. The last thing I want to watch right now is Blade Runner or Gattaca or Snowpiercer! I don’t want to scare myself by rewatching Contagion or Safe (although, in keeping with the theme of this list, I could recommend another Julianne Moore-led Todd Haynes film: the Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven). And just to say it, the only film of the “fantasy” genre I’ve found comforting while in quarantine has been Shrek, which is worth a revisit, by the way.

I’ve admittedly been lulled into tranquility by some comforts of the past. Nearly every film on this list either presents its own interpretation of the past through the lens of present, or is just something I first saw when I was way too young and all of its brilliant subtext went over my head, which is exactly the type of film I always find fun to revisit as an adult. Even the most contemporary film mentioned here takes place in a bygone era, when the practice of “social distancing” was a necessary act for queer survival. And maybe there is something to be gained from looking back at the past.  


Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me


I’m starting this list with something some might call controversial, others may call just plain stupid. But this is my selection and you’re here now, and I don't care if this is too low brow because nothing is too low brow when you're in quarantine, as far as I'm concerned. You might think I would choose the first film in this trilogy of Mike Myers-led Bond spoofs, but the second installment, The Spy Who Shagged Me, won for a few reasons. Obviously, you should watch the first one before you see the sequel, especially so that you can understand the concept of a fembot. But in the second installment, rather than a hairless cat, Dr. Evil gets a new sidekick, and rather than the fish-out-of-the-wrong-decade narrative we see in International Man of Mystery, Austin must travel back to the ‘60s, a time when all of his mod-ish flower power mojo reigns supreme. But when he meets the American bombshell agent Felicity Shagwell—Shagwell by name, shag very well by reputation—he can’t perform because his mojo has been stolen, barring him from doing the one thing he’s really, really good at. The genius of casting Heather Graham, who had just played a rollergirl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s coke-fueled Boogie Nights not five years prior, as a horny riff on a Bond villain who just wants to get the job done so she can go home and shag, cannot be understated. Thanks to the Quincy Jones theme song, an original song by Madonna, a Burt Bacharach performance, and a couple of gags that made me laugh just as hard as I did when I was 12, I think it is safe to say this movie holds up, and we should all get to have a little fun with what we watch in quarantine. Was I nervous to delve back into Austin Powers on the basis of it possibly revealing itself to me as too offensive to watch in 2020? Sure. Does it remain a groovy camp masterpiece? Yeah, baby. 

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Watch it on Netflix.

Clueless

I've never read or seen Emma, but I don't have to—because I have memorized every line of Clueless, an iconic mid-90s riff on the Jane Austen classic starring Alicia Silverstone. What is there not to love about this movie? The looks, the soundtrack, the ever-so-earnest performance from the late, great Brittany Murphy, an ageless Paul Rudd—there's so much to reminisce on when it comes to this film. Criterion, if you’re listening: I will not rest until you put Clueless in your collection. I will bang these proverbial pots and pans until you situate this movie where it belongs, right up there with Grey Gardens and Cléo from 5 to 7. Clearly, this is all practice for when I am one day invited to make my Closet Picks, after Clueless has been properly inducted into the Criterion Collection. Also, obviously I'm going to watch the Autumn de Wilde version of Emma soon, too.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Even if you’ve never seen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, you have reaped the benefits of witnessing its cultural impact. Paul Mazursky’s romp around the social and sexual politics of the swinging '60s has inspired countless television episode titles and film plots. And a bonus fun fact is at the Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood premiere last summer, Britney Spears showed up—which is just an amazing occurrence on its own—and posed right in front of the poster for this iconic movie). Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a laugh out loud funny film starring Natalie Wood—and who doesn’t love Natalie Wood? It opens with a scene that always makes me think about Don Draper trying to open up at the Esalen Institute in the final season of Mad Men. Also, I can't help but think that there are enough small groups of people who are quarantined together that might see this movie and, uh, get some ideas about how to spend their time with each other, if you know what I mean.

Watch it for free on Crackle.

Daughters of the Dust

Julie Dash made history when she released Daughters of the Dust in 1991. If you haven't yet seen it, you have probably heard by now that Beyoncé took inspiration from it for Lemonade, but you should also know it was the first film made by an African-American woman to get a wide theatrical release. Yes, it really, shamefully, took that long for that to happen. Daughters of the Dust concerns itself with the Great Migration of African-Americans, who descended from slaves, from the southern United States to the North at the turn of the 20th century, the Gullah women living in a matriarchal society off the coast of South Carolina, and the Diasporic struggle between inheriting a legacy and moving forward into the future. The cast and crew reads like a who's-who of contemporary black art: Kerry James Marshall was the production designer, and Arthur Jafa served as DP. When you watch this film, your eyes will feast on every long take. Thankfully, it was restored a few years ago and can now be watched in 2K resolution, making it all the more aesthetically breathtaking.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Speaking of sumptuous visual feasts, get your eyeballs on Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire already. It’s been on Hulu for weeks now. The daughter of a famous painter, who is also a very talented artist in her own right, is hired by a matriarch in northern France to paint a portrait of her daughter so that she may advertise her to a suitor in Milan. The challenge is that the artist must never let her subject know she is being painted. By now, I assume it has inspired enough social distancing mood boards on Instagram, but every shot is an exquisite painting, every word uttered wastes no breath, and the entire story is a sensual dagger to the heart. As far as I am concerned, it is a perfect film.

Watch it on Hulu.

Related: Goodfellas and Legally Blonde: W Editors Pick Their Favorite Films