With cinemas largely closed around the country, families are relying on streaming services (and, if you’re like me, Blu-Rays and DVDs) for home entertainment. If you subscribe to even a few streaming services, the number of options can be overwhelming. Beneath the most popular titles, however, are buried treasures that might not otherwise pop out. Here are some feel-good selections from Netflix, Hulu and The Criterion Channel to help get your family through this period.
For the Entire Family
Hugo (Rated PG, Netflix) – Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning children’s film Hugo was one of my favorite movies of the past decade – and yet, somehow, it remains unheralded when it comes to both family entertainment and Scorsese’s canon. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young boy living in the walls of a Parisian train station in the 1930s, discovers that an automaton left for him by his recently deceased father (Jude Law) may unlock the mystery behind George Méliès (Ben Kingsley), an unhappy elderly man who owns a toy shop in the train station. What Hugo and his newfound friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), Méliès’s goddaughter, gradually discover is that Méliès is one of the original pioneers of cinema, the director of over five hundred pictures and a revolutionary filmmaker. However, most of his films are believed to have been destroyed and melted at the rise of World War I. Scorsese weaves his passion for film preservation into the narrative of Hugo – the film is all about time, cruel time that batters away at celluloid. As the clocks tick-tock away in Hugo, it’s ultimately the children who help preserve the memories and prevent time from destroying Méliès’s films. Hugo gets you caught up in the magic of moviemaking, and it’s a wonderful adventure for children and adults alike.
City Lights, The Gold Rush and Modern Times (Rated G/ Not Rated, The Criterion Channel) – Speaking of classic silent cinema, The Criterion Channel has nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s films available in their series Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Full of equal parts physical comedy and emotional resonance, these movies are wonderful for family viewing. What better time than now to introduce your children to some of the most entertaining and innovative cinema from the silent age?
Babe (Rated G, Hulu) – Everyone’s favorite talking pig is still as charming as ever in Chris Noonan’s Oscar-winning children’s classic. With wonderful voiceover work for the talking animals and a great performance by James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett, Babe is a delight. There’s a possibility that a newer generation of kids haven’t seen this film, and they’re in for a treat. I also recommend the stranger and more out-there sequel, George Miller’s Babe: Pig in the City (1998), which is available to stream on HBO.
For Teens and Adults
Tootsie (Rated PG, Netflix) – Unquestionably one of the funniest movies of all time, Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie stars Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, an unsuccessful actor who decides to dress up as a woman (with the stage name Dorothy Michaels) and audition for a soap opera. He gets the job, and the role makes ‘Dorothy’ a sensation. Co-starring Jessica Lange (in an Oscar-winning performance) and Bill Murray, Tootsie is the perfect American comedy – beautifully acted, hysterically funny, and ultimately deeply moving. It was one of my favorite films growing up, and it’s still as fresh as ever.
Love and Mercy (Rated PG-13, Hulu) – Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is a wonderfully unconventional biopic of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. Paul Dano and John Cusack portray Wilson at two very different points in his life – Dano during the creation of the masterful album Pet Sounds in the 1960s, and Cusack in the 1980s, when Wilson was in terrible mental health and under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy misdiagnoses Brian as a paranoid schizophrenic, and keeps him estranged from his family for years. When Brian meets his future wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) while buying a car from her dealership, he finds not only a soul mate empathetic to his mental illness, but someone willing to fight against the tyrannical Landy to help Brian find his way back to himself. Although critically celebrated when released, Love & Mercy is another film adults and teenagers may have missed. It’s one of the most caring and understanding films about mental illness I’ve ever seen, and, for anyone young or old experiencing bouts of depression, it’s an incredibly comforting film.