Entertaining, Informative, Inspiring Go-To Movies for Pandemic Shut-ins

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During our current pandemic-spurred lifestyle adjustment, we may be shut in, but we’re not shut down.

Even people who don’t regularly watch movies are finding that cinema culture is one effective key to staving off the effects of social isolation and resisting the onset of cabin fever.

Movies move you. They raise your spirits and relieve your stress by providing entertainment, inspiration and information. They allow you to escape to almost anywhere, without leaving home.

Almost everyone has a go-to movie, one that they watch over and over again — whenever they’re feeling a special need to break out of depressing circumstances.

Here’s AWFJ’s list of movies for shut-ins, compiled by members of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists who wish to share their favorite pick-me-up movies with each other and the world at large. Read the blurbs to find out what’s so engaging about each film and where you can see them on line.

Watch all the films. And, ENJOY!


AMELIE (2001), Recommended by Sherin Nicole

Picking a “go-to pick-me-up” movie is dizzying. Moment to moment, my choice of comfort film is more mood ring than dossier. For today’s troubles, I choose Amélie. The mixture of fantasy and whimsy that underscores an awkward young woman’s growth into herself (by literally stalking the sweetness of first love) makes this 2001 film perfectly attuned to me. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet drapes his ‘fairytale with teeth’ in saturated colors and absurdity, while the narrator guides us through the emancipation of one Miss Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou). Although she doesn’t look like me, it is a delight to see myself reflected on the screen. Now on Cinemax

THE BURBS (1989), recommended by Kathia Woods

The Burbs is my go-to movie for comic relief. It stars a very young Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, and Bruce Dern. As the film’s staycation begins, a new family moves into the neighborhood and a series of absurd events follows. The Burbs is hugely over the top, and that’s what makes it so funny. It takes stereotypes about living in the suburbs and magnifies them by ten. Hanks’s comedic timing is impeccable. Fisher counters as the perfect straight woman. Dern is fantastic as the weapon obsessed neighbor. The Burbs isn’t the best film. But, it’s a film that will help you forget how sad things are right now. Available on STARZ

CLUELESS (1995). recommended by Kristen Page-Kirby

Clueless is smart, snappy, and joyful, Amy Heckerling’s update of Emma is a guaranteed pick-me-up for entertainment and escape. Bonus: An excellent soundtrack and an opportunity to wonder how Paul Rudd hasn’t aged a bit since 1995. I watched it again last night! So good. Available on Prime Video

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), recommended by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

The thematic fascinations of zombie films have now collided somewhat spectacularly with our contemporary moment, and George A. Romero’s classic remains one of the best. Romero’s film is a hard watch right now, but feels like an urgent one. Available on Amazon
DEATH IN VENICE (1971), recommended by Marilyn Ferdinand

Luchino Visconti’s sumptuous, decadent, often brutal world is irresistible. I return often to his adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, a tale of a blocked writer whose retreat to Venice stirs more than his creative imagination—it overwhelms him with longings for the beauty of an adolescent boy. The film changes writer into composer, a profession more in keeping with Visconti’s emotional filming style. I find this style, wallowing in beauty, to be a ravishing, enveloping balm in times of turmoil. Dirk Bogarde’s pathos-filled performance lets me feel sorry for someone other than myself and returns me to reality with a refreshed outlook. Death in Venice is my cloudy skies movie. Now on Prime Video
FIRST WIVES CLUB (1996), recommended by Jennifer Merin

Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler present a master class in comic timing as they bring to life three BFFs-since-college who reunite after their husbands have left them for younger women, and together find a forward-thinking way to take sweet fiscal (not physical) revenge. Based on Olivia Goldsmith’s novel, the script smartly touches on feminist issues of self esteem, women’s subservience to men and fidelity to show how female friendship can conquer adversity. And the exuberant soundtrack makes you want to dance! Entertaining and inspiring, First Wives Club is a first rate pick-me-up. Available on Netflix

FUNNY GIRL (1968), recommended by Loren King

Is there a better marriage of star and role than Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, one of the great original Hollywood musicals? Streisand does it all: comedy, romance, drama, following Brice’s career from vaudeville to the Ziegfeld Follies, singing Jule Styne/Bob Merrill songs, one better than the next-I’m the Greatest Star, People, Don’t Rain on My Parade. The finale, Streisand singing My Man, runs the emotional gamut from heartbreak to defiance. It’s as perfect as film musicals get. Funny Girl is for anyone who’s ever felt like a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls. It forever reminds us of Streisand’s singular gifts. Available on IMDb TV

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), recommended by Betsy Bozdech

Hidden Figures, the story of NASA’s pioneering black women mathematicians and computer experts is the perfect choice for femme-film-loving folks suddenly thrust into homeschooling by the pandemic or any surprising circumstances. It’s like wrapping Family Movie Night, STEM class, and a history lesson into one inspiring package. Available on Prime Video

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). recommended by Diane Carson

Screwball comedies lift spirits come rain or shine, and nothing is better than watching Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant lock horns in His Girl Friday, based on Ben Hecht’s play The Front Page. The breakneck pace, the verbal and nonverbal comedy, and Howard Hawks’ superb direction make this a classic that never fails. Even better, the character, Hildy, was originally written for a man, but switched to a woman as a stroke of genius by Hawks. Enjoy. Available on Prime Video
THE LITTLE FUGITIVE (1953), recommended by Ann Lewinson

The movie calling to me now is Ray Ashley, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin’s The Little Fugitive, perhaps because it’s about a little boy who runs away to Coney Island, which seems appealing at this cooped-up moment. He rides the merry-go-round, gets photographed as a gunslinger by the future Mr. Hooper, and takes innumerable pony rides. And all that takes money! So he starts collecting bottles. Married street photographers Engel and Orkin followed up with Lovers and Lollipops (1956), about a little girl dealing with her mother’s new boyfriend, taking us to MOMA and the Central Park Zoo. Now on Amazon
MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979), recommended by Carol Cling

“It’s not impossible.” That’s what headstrong – in the best way – Sybylla (Judy Davis) insists when everyone scoffs at her determination to forge her destiny as a writer and follow her path to independence, despite stultifying strictures of life in 19th-century Australia. Gillian Armstrong’s breakthrough charmer boasts an unforgettable protagonist, stirring romance and thoughtful, insightful consideration of the pros and cons of Sybylla’s decision. Bonus for those feeling claustrophobic: Views of Australia’s wide-open spaces. I’ve seen My Brilliant Career so many times I’ve lost count (it premiered when I was 24 and, like Sybylla, trying to find my way) but it never ceases to amuse, inspire and captivate. Now on Amazon
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987). recommended by MaryAnn Johanson

In an era that demands comfort movies, I will be returning again and again to one of my most favorites: The Princess Bride, the ultimate in funny fantasy escapism. I will climb the Cliffs of Insanity, duel to the death with the Man in Black, riddle with Fezzik, and generally engage in all manner of inconceivable adventures. Let us let Princess Buttercup’s determination to keep up her sense of hope in the bleakest of circumstances — she insists her True Love will come for her even though that seems impossible — be an inspiration to us all. Available on Prime Video

PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005), recommended by Marina Antunes

Pride & Prejudice is one of my favorite romances: smart, well acted and gorgeous. It features a plethora of strong female characters, led by Lizzie, a whip-smart young woman well aware of the pressures imposed on the women of the time (Get married! The earlier the better!), but unwilling to sell her self short. More than a re-telling of Jane Austen’s classic, Joe Wright’s adaptation features a stellar cast, a wonderful script by Deborah Moggach and Emma Thompson, gorgeously understated cinematography from Roman Osin, and one of my all-time favorite soundtracks care of Dario Marianelli. Plus, there’s a happy ending. Now on STARZ

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017), recommended by Leslie Combemale

Directed and written by Angela Robinson, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an under-seen, yet wonderful amalgam of real life and imagination about American psychologist William Moulton Marston and the creation of his iconic character Wonder Woman. Was it inspired by a polyamorous relationship with his wife and assistant? Whether it was or wasn’t, the performances are engaging, hot, and highly entertaining, and it’s great escapism for these trying times. Available on HULU.

RBG (2018), recommended by Lois Alter Mark

This inspiring documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my go-to whenever I need a pick-me-up. At the age of 87, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice is an unlikely pop culture icon, and directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen present an intimate and riveting portrait of the woman affectionately known as The Notorious RBG. It literally makes me cry — and attempt to plank like her — every time I watch the movie. Available on Prime Video

SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), recommended by Maitland McDonagh

Edgar Wright’s clever, very funny zombie movie is a greatly entertaining disctraction for right now — because just looking at New York City’s depopulated streets, empty/shuttered restaurant and pharmacies/markets with denuded shelves makes me think of the zombie apocalypse. Available on STARZ

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952), recommended by Sandie Angulo Chen

Give me a classic sing-along-musical, and I’m all set. Singin’ In the Rain is a perfect combination of Gene Kelly’s athletic dance moves, Debbie Reynolds’ irrepressible charm, and Donald O’Connor’s perfect slapstick (Make ‘Em Laugh is as fun to watch without sound as it is with). Kelly’s signature number with an umbrella is the choreographed depiction of the joy of falling in love. My husband favors Kelly’s dream dance with Cyd Charisse, but I prefer romcom numbers featuring the trio whose early Hollywood adventures are antidepressants in four-four time. No one watches this movie without feeling better about the world. Now on Amazon Prime

THE WANDERERS (1979), recommended by Pam Grady

Phil Kaufman’s effervescent adaptation of Richard Price’s novel The Wanderers evokes a bygone era. Bronx teenagers Richie (Ken Wahl), Joey (John Friedrich), Turkey (Alan Rosenberg), and Perry (Tony Ganios) belong to the titular gang that’s noted for naivete. There’s rumble action, true-to-era sexism, and genuine tragedy, but the drama is shot through with humor, scenes of antic energy paced by a terrific classic rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. What emerges is an evocative portrait of friendship and a bittersweet depiction of youngsters making choices that will define their futures. Available on Prime Video

WHIP IT (2009), recommended by Roxana Hadadi

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut crackles with bone-crushing energy, following the coming-of-age of Bliss (Ellen Page) who bristles against her mother’s brand of femininity. Mom (Marcia Gay Harden) hopes she’ll will win a beauty pageant and go to college. But Bliss discovers the world of roller derby, joins the Hurl Scouts and, under Captain Maggie Mayhem’s (Kristen Wiig) wing, reassesses her hopes and dreams for the future. The excellent female ensemble includes Alia Shawkat, Zoë Bell, and a villainous Juliette Lewis. The soundtrack is a satisfying collection of country classics alongside alternative and punk groups. Now on Prime Video

YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998). recommended by Liz Whittemore

You’ve Got Mail is relevant now, when we’re communicating mostly through email. Playing a children’s bookstore owner standing her ground against a chain store moving into her neighborhood, Meg Ryan is the charming, funny leading lady we all aspire to be. Ironically, Tom Hanks, diagnosed with COVID-19, plays the chain store mogul. There’s much to adore about this remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940, based on a 1937 play). It’s about human connection, love, and communication dynamics between genders. Directed by Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail is delightful no matter the world’s circumstances. Now on CBS All Access


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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).