The Best Movies to Watch in Quarantine, According to Famous Directors

Marlene Dietrich in 1937’s comedy-drama Angel, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Famous filmmakers? They’re just like us — holed up in their homes (and, in some cases, parents’ homes), desperate for some form of entertainment to distract them from the realities of COVID-19-induced quarantine. Over the past several weeks, we’ve been speaking to filmmakers across the globe about how they’re coping in a socially distanced world, and for most if not all of those filmmakers, movies have been an essential tool in their quests to escape the consequences of coronavirus. So in the interest of our readers, we’ve put together a list of the films Luca Guadagnino, Claire Denis, Michael Mann, Issa López, Aneesh Chaganty, and more are watching at home. Behold, the best movies to watch in quarantine, according to famous directors.

(Note: We had a little help putting this list together from Guillermo del Toro, who put a call out on Twitter for movie recommendations from his colleagues.)

Luca Guadagnino

I finally got to see Waves, which stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., who I found to be one of the most intelligent actors working today. I like him so much, and it was wonderful to see yet another transformation from him. I’m planning on watching all the movies of the great Taiwanese director Edward Yang.

Edgar Wright

I have definitely been disappearing into a lot of movies … My girlfriend is Swedish, so I’ve been watching a lot of Swedish film, which has been delightful. Some things I’m seeing again, like the films of Roy Andersson, who I adore. And I’d seen a number of Ingmar Bergman films, but I certainly hadn’t seen them all. I had that Criterion box set and had not cracked into it. So in the space of one weekend, I watched Cries and WhispersFanny and AlexanderShameScenes From a Marriage, and also the documentary Bergman: A Year in the Life. You would think that in a time of uncertainty and crisis, you would go for escapism and stuff, but I’ve found the existential dread in both Ingmar Bergman and Roy Andersson quite soothing.

Claire Denis

Last night, I watched a Michael Mann movie, Thief. I have all around my bed the DVDs I’m watching, and it’s great. I thought I was going to watch a lot of [Yasujirō] Ozu movies, and I watched a few, but then I realized that, given my situation, it would be hard if I only went back to the films I have a very strong relation to. I’ve also tried to catch up with some films through Apple TV. Sometimes old films, sometimes new; I don’t want to watch one type of movie. I did watch Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World, a very important film for me. I saw Shaft, the original, by Gordon Parks. I saw two films by Marguerite Duras. I watched the films of Oshima Nagisa and a few films by [Shōhei] Imamura like Vengeance Is Mine. I think I saw six or seven films by Imamura last week — an orgy of Imamura!

Michael Mann

I started getting serious about going back and looking at some great films, like That Obscure Object of Desire and The Phantom of Liberty by [Luis] Buñuel, and Hiroshima Mon Amour, by [Alain] Resnais. And Asphalt Jungle by John Huston and Out of the Past by Jacques Tourneur. When was the last time you saw Asphalt Jungle? I have seen it about three times. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t [get the respect today that it should].

Paul Schrader

My daughter is living with me up here in the country, and every single night we watch a classic movie. And these are all the movies that informed me. So we watched [Michelangelo Antonioni’s] Red Desert, [Jean-Luc Godard’s] Masculin Féminin, [Bernardo Bertolucci’s] The Conformist, [Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s] Performance, Tokyo Story, [Kon Ichikawa’s] Makioka Sisters. I say, “This film made me,” and she would never watch these films otherwise. You gotta pick the right movies, and you have to say, “Your father would not have been who he is if he hadn’t seen this movie.” For a young person, Masculin Féminin is amazingly accessible. So is [Ingmar Bergman’s] Persona. I showed that to my daughter three nights ago, and she was stunned just by the politics and the visual genius of it. So you can walk your children through a film education they wouldn’t have had unless they were isolated.

Issa López

I delivered last week the second draft for a Guillermo del Toro–produced movie, which is a Western. Now I’m doing the second draft of the script that I’m writing for Noah Hawley as a producer. It’s about the end of the world, so it’s not exactly what you need in your mind some of the evenings, but on the other hand, I believe this script is going to feel so real. For that, I’m watching Rosemary’s Baby. I’m about to turn that [script] in, and I’m going to a new project that I just closed for. It hasn’t been announced, but it’s going to be so exciting, and it’s about real stories. So I’m gearing up for that, and I’m watching movies like [Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s] Mother Joan of the Angels and The Devilsby Ken Russell. My home movie experience is going from High Noon to Rosemary’s Baby to The Craft, so it’s a little bit of everything.

Ant Timpson

I love a dystopian, depressing film as much as the next person. I’ve done them! I’ve done nearly every sort of cinematic portrayal of the end of the world. In times like this, especially if you’re hanging out with kids, you tend towards lighter stuff. Just the sound of your kids wetting their pants in laughter is a beautiful thing. Watching Melissa McCarthy shit out hot lava in a sink in Bridesmaids last night was the perfect antidote to the world turning to shit as well.

Baltasar Kormákur

I have been watching some things, but I was shooting until [a couple of Fridays ago], so I haven’t had too much time. I watched Tiger King on Netflix last night. I just got stuck in that quite trashy show. I also rewatched Come and See, by Elem Klimov, which is my all-time favorite movie. I’ve also rewatched The Favourite, and Border from last year, and Cold War. And Reconstruction, the Danish film. You know, I’m checking out older films rather than new ones. Such as Solaris, by Tarkovsky. When I need inspiration, I go and check out the stuff that I liked in the past.

Małgorzata Szumowska

Of course I’m watching films. I’m watching them with my son, who is 14 but very mature and smart. So, for example, we watched There Will Be Blood, which I love. Then we watched Blade Runner, the old one. It’s a masterpiece. That moment when Rutger Hauer is dying and the speech that he gives — it’s heartbreaking. I had forgotten these little details. Then we watched Seven. My son was like, “Too much. It’s too much.” Now I want to watch Mirror, by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was always my favorite film, and I’m ready to watch it again. It’s a dark time, so I’m watching only dark films. I said to myself that maybe the next film I do will be a comedy.

Aneesh Chaganty

For the last two or three weeks, I’ve been ensconcing myself in sub-genres similar to the projects I’m working on. I started with heists — Inside Man, Ocean’s Eleven, [1956’s] The Killing. The 1969 Italian Job is spectacular, and I had no idea it was that good.

Now I’m on a legal-thriller slash courtroom-drama kick. I rewatched A Few Good Men. That holds up. A Time to Kill was a surprisingly good Grisham adaptation. I thought Michael Clayton was incredible. I hated it when I was a kid — I obviously just didn’t understand it. It’s so thoughtful and quiet and sublime. I hadn’t cared about a lead character in a while as much as I did about Michael Clayton and the battle for his soul. I saw 12 Angry Men. That’s a masterpiece, no matter how you cut it. Three Kings was amazing. And as a brief trip outside [my work] sub-genres, I saw Bad Education. It’s hard to say “best movie of the year” because, like, only six movies have come out. But it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen all year.

Ava DuVernay

Okay, I’ll take yesterday as an example of my viewing habits — which make no damn sense at this point. Allow me to explain! I’m a Bela Tarr fan. Started craving Turin Horse a couple of weeks ago. I watched through and enjoyed. And have since come to just “having it on” at various times over the last few weeks. I find it comforting. Like we’re all in the house together. Wild. And Notting Hill. I mean, need I say more? Caught it last night on insomnia-time cable. Delicious. “[I’m] just a girl, asking a boy …” Horse & Hound magazine. His odd, great group of friends. Her smile where you can see every tooth. Bill Withers montage in the middle. I mean …

I’ve done less discovery and more comfort viewing. I’m watching the stories I’ve always loved over again … I guess I want to make sure what I’m watching embraces me back. Didn’t realize that until I just typed it. My fave thing I’ve rewatched lately is Belly. A classic in black cinema for its capture of our skin and of hip-hop’s golden era. Malik Sayeed should’ve received acclaim for his cinematography. Stellar! Hype Williams directed. It was dismissed by critics. They missed the beauty.

Ari Aster

I’ve been rewatching Sopranos season 3, which is a supreme work of art. Also been rewatching the TV version of Scenes From a Marriage. It’s been a comfort to watch two morbidly disenchanted people decimate each other in the comfort and privacy of THEIR homes. Recently watched Reds on Amazon Prime, which also has the benefit of being long and is swooningly romantic, which, as a single person, makes me want to cut off my hands and replace them with my feet (also a comfort in these trying times). Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill is a treat. Also going back through all of Jacques Tati, which is great because it reminds you that everything is absurd (while lying to you that everything is also adorable).

Ruben Östlund

Even without a lockdown in Sweden, things have slowed down in pace. Which allows us to embrace the kind of rhythm you find in older movies. I like a lot, and I’ve been using that to look at some classics. The last film I watched was Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? It was my first time watching it. I saw Taking Off, by Milos Forman, on DVD. I’ve also been watching [Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s] The Vietnam War TV series.

Coralie Fargeat

The only thing I was able to watch and really enjoy was Jumanji. I wanted to see [Welcome to the Jungle] that somebody told me about it, but before I watched itI said, Okay, I have to watch the original [Robin Williams] one. It was a very fresh, happy bubble. Entertaining and very funny and moving. I really liked both of them.

Guillermo del Toro

Been rewatching Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living, Death Takes a Holiday, Midnight, Hold Back the Dawn, etc., etc. Leisen was (in his time) relegated as being a “Stylist” and unfavorably compared to [Preston] Sturges or [Billy] Wilder (sometimes by Wilder himself), with whom he collaborated. But every time I rewatch (specially Easy Living or Dawn), it’s clearer and clearer just how precise and smart and complete it is. I think he needs to be reappraised. I love him!

Kleber Mendonça Filho

[My wife, Emilie Lesclaux, and I] have two 6-year-olds. We’ve been watching a film every day at 5:30 p.m., which is something that I always wanted to do. We saw the Pink Panther cartoons from the ’60s and ’70s, which is something that I grew up watching. I showed them The Kid, by Chaplin, on Saturday, and they were very impressed. Yesterday, I showed them The Wizard of Oz, and they were intrigued/frightened because it’s really a weird film.

Most nights, we have a second film screening for the adults, usually older films. I see people on Twitter or Facebook or even friends saying that they have a list of postapocalyptic titles, and I just do not understand. We’re going the opposite direction. We saw this amazing, brilliant film by [Ernst] Lubitsch — Angel, with Marlene Dietrich — and for an hour and a half, we were completely in another dimension. We forgot about everything.

Rian Johnson

[Robert] Altman’s 3 Women. I had always imagined this was an impenetrable artsy slog … it is insane and hilarious and ultimately touching. Duvall is great in it, but Spacek is the real MVP for me. It’s stuck with me. Rewatch: Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Which not only holds up but is even BETTER than I remembered (and I remembered it being great.) It’s tight as a drum and still somehow freewheeling and light. And in the tail end of the optical compositing era, the FX are incredible. Oooh, and also the other night we rewatched The Prestige, which I’ve seen a ton but gets better every time.

Brad Bird

I’ve been watching old films and rediscovered the pleasure of reading books — some about the making of certain films I love (Chinatown, Casablanca).

James Mangold

Red Desert and [Kenji Mizoguchi’s] Ugetsu.

Taika Waititi

Revisited [Armando Iannuci’s] Death of Stalin, which I adore.

David Lynch

I have no plans for the screen right now, but let’s hope that shared group experiences will never go away.

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In Our Time (1982), That Day, on the Beach (1983), Taipei Story (1985), The Terrorizers (1986), A Brighter Summer Day (1991), A Confucian Confusion (1994), Mahjong (1996), and Yi Yi (2000) Andersson’s movies include A Swedish Love Story (1970) and his “Living Trilogy” — Songs From the Second Floor (2000), You, the Living (2007), and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014). Wright has also watched Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday, Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear, Alberto Cavalcanti’s Went the Day Well?, Bryan Forbes’s Whistle Down the Wind, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem, Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. His movies include Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953), Floating Weeds (1959), and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). Her films include India Song (1975), The Lorry (1977), Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977), and The Children (1984). His films include Cruel Story of Youth (1960), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968), In the Realm of the Senses (1976), and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). His film’s include The Big Day (1947), My Uncle (1958), Playtime (1967), and Traffic (1971).
The Best Movies to Watch Now, According to Famous Directors