OK, so you have binged all of “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix (if you haven’t, do this immediately; you’ll feel better), you finally caught up with “Game of Thrones” and you can only rewatch “The Great British Baking Show” so many times before hunger sets in. What to do? Sink your teeth into a movie franchise. A lot of us think of superhero sagas when we hear the term, but franchises come in many flavors — and you can also create your own franchise by taking a deep dive into one director’s work, or maybe that of a favorite actor. Here in the Seattle Times features department, we’ve all got our favorite franchises (spoiler alert: “The Thin Man” is the BEST); read on for our recommendations, all of which come with our best wishes for a healthy, happy and socially distanced week.
Megan Burbank, outdoors/general assignment reporter
Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Boyhood” (save “Before Midnight” for when you’re in a better mood)
When I was an introspective 16-year-old, Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” about a chance European meeting between 20-somethings Jesse (Ethan Hawke at peak ’90s floppy-haired stardom) and Céline (Julie Delpy, patron saint of anxious perfectionists everywhere) flew straight into my heart, lodged permanently and led me straight back to the video store to rent its sequel, “Before Sunset.” I’ve seen these movies over and over again since, and can attest: They make an excellent back-to-back watch, complete with beautiful shots of Paris and Vienna that’ll make you feel a little less homebound.
But tread carefully with the trilogy’s third installment, “Before Midnight,” which, while an objectively good movie, is a rough watch in the best of times, a brittle, jarring coda to Linklater’s preposterously romantic prequels. Instead, consider a spiritual sequel: Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Filmed almost in real time over the course of several years, it portrays the everyday life of a boy as he grows up, the casual misery and sublime moments of childhood, and the constraints of masculinity. (It also includes one of the first hints at Hawke’s recent resurgence as an actor to take seriously; aged out of his adolescent beauty, he’s got a grizzled thing going on here that forecasts his excellent turn in “First Reformed.”)
Like the first two “Before” movies, “Boyhood” is nuanced and emotionally honest without going relentlessly dark, and captures the complicated reality of being a person, of navigating ordinary moments that defy the easy closure of the end-credits kiss and fade to black. These movies are in many ways about sitting comfortably with uncertainty — something we could all use more of right now.
And it isn’t penance. As Céline says in “Before Sunrise,” magic happens in the liminal space between people, a place you can only inhabit by being fully present with whatever reality is unfolding around you.
Bethany Jean Clement, restaurant critic/food writer
“The Thin Man” series, because sometimes things are better in black and white
Well, here we are in coronavirus lockdown, attempting to stay semisane while running down the middle of empty streets and cutting our own hair. How about a little time travel to an era when wits were quick, the sartorial was taken seriously, cocktails were frequent, parties were wild and every mystery was solvable, with all the fun in the world had throughout the solving? Meet Nick and Nora Charles of the 1930s-40s “The Thin Man” film series. William Powell is Nick, dashing and kind and extremely droll, an excellent shot and excellent at pulling faces. Myrna Loy plays Nora, sly and glamorous and every inch a modern woman, tossing back drinks and tossing out one-liners while wearing the most astonishing outfits.
Based on Dashiell Hammett’s final novel, the screenplay for the first film happens to have been written by a married couple, and how happily married they must have been. Nick and Nora’s chemistry somehow manages to be both teasingly comfortable and flirtatiously electric, their love for each other woven through as the plot thickens, then nicely thins again. (The first film in the series also got a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture; the magical screenwriting couple, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, wrote the second and third pictures in the series as well, and the first three are the best three.)
Everything in Nick and Nora’s world is all aplomb and banter and how-do-you-do; gunfights are brief and anti-frightening, while alcoholism apparently does not exist. Also, they have an adorable terrier named Asta played by an exceptionally talented dog actor called Skippy, and — tiny, adorable spoiler alert — later in the series, puppies happen.
Stephanie Hays, features page designer
The “Harry Potter” series. There’s nothing better than a classic (or eight) right now.
It may be one of the most obvious picks, but when I’m stuck indoors and cut off from most social contact, it’s comforting to turn to those lifelong-loved stories and to characters who have become friends in their own right. The “Harry Potter” series is one of those stories. The eight movies have their ups and downs, as all adaptations do, but diving into a tale that is so thoroughly removed from our lives right now is refreshing. Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t have to worry about viruses, they get to learn about potions, magical beasts and the complex art of splitting your soul. It’s thrilling when Hagrid says, “Yer a wizard, Harry,” horrifying when Voldemort reassumes his human form and exhilarating when Harry and Voldemort duel in the finale. And you see three 11-year-olds (played by actual 11-year-olds) grow up, all the while battling Basilisks, dragons, Inferi, Death Eaters and, of course, Lord Voldemort. The characters are delightful, the banter is witty and the storyline is detailed and exciting. And watching it all come to life on the big (or small!) screen? Priceless.
Trevor Lenzmeier, travel and books coordinator
Christopher Nolan’s brain teasers — “Memento,” “Insomnia,” “The Prestige,” “Inception,” “Interstellar”
Anterograde amnesia. Black holes and relative time. Dreams within dreams, duplicitous magicians, a very tired Al Pacino and an evil Robin Williams.
There are brain-bending qualities in each of these five Christopher Nolan movies, and there’s surely something for everyone — because Nolan’s true talent is collaboration, building lush worlds with the circle of masterful filmmakers around him. (To name only a few: producer/wife Emma Thomas, composer Hans Zimmer, muses Michael Caine and Christian Bale.)
In “Memento,” two plotlines run toward each other — one chronological, the other reversed — and meet in the middle, developing as an amnesic man hunts his wife’s killer. In the visually disorienting “Insomnia,” a homicide detective is called to Alaska, where the constant sunlight and resultant sleeplessness cloud his judgment. Bale is a cutthroat magician and the world’s worst husband in “The Prestige,” which reveals its devastating twist with a devilish sleight of hand. There’s Nolan’s best puzzle, “Inception,” with its magnificent, intricate worlds and narrative that folds and unfurls (plus that iconic “BWAAAAAAHH” in the score). And finally, “Interstellar,” in which a former NASA pilot leaves his family on Earth to find a future for humanity. If you struggled with time and paradoxes in “Inception,” buckle in. This movie is about both, plus gravity, love, isolation, Matthew McConaughey in space and, maybe most importantly, another timeless score from Zimmer.
Nolan’s films are enthralling, challenging, thrilling. They’re not entirely self-serious, but they aren’t your typical blockbusters. Stunning visuals, complex characters, worlds and motivations, plus impeccable filmmaking, from score to cinematography and sound; if you haven’t already, take some time to wander this loosely bound universe. You have all the time in the world.
(But you should watch now, before “Tenet” comes out this year. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on — spies, time manipulation, maybe World War III — a sure sign of a great Nolan movie.)
Moira Macdonald, arts critic
The best and most bingeable film franchise, period, is “The Thin Man,” and I shall be taking no further questions at this time. However, Bethany managed to write it up as her choice before I got around to it (no wonder we get along so well at Dinner at a Movie!), so here are a few lesser-known ones that will do in a pinch.
“The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy,” “The Trip to Spain”
Imagine a semidocumentary in which two very funny British actors (Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon) travel around eating enviable restaurant meals and doing top-notch impressions. That’s basically all these movies are — and what better time than now to go on a trip? The Michael Caine impressions alone (the last movie even has Brydon imitating Mick Jagger imitating Brydon imitating Caine, if you can follow that) are worth the trip that is “The Trip.”
I suppose this is technically a TV series, but this gripping, moody crime drama was released as three separate movies in the U.S., back in 2010, so there you go. (It’s maybe five hours total; call it a minibinge.) Set in windswept, barren Yorkshire, it’s based on three novels by David Peace; each episode, titled for the year in which it takes place — “1974,” “1980,” “1983” — stands alone, but calls out to the others. Should you be in the mood for dark, contemporary noir, this might be your cup of British tea. (Bonus for “Downton Abbey” fans: Both Michelle Dockery and Jim Carter, i.e. Lady Mary and Carson, have recurring roles.)
“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Ocean’s 8”
Oh, you want something a little lighter? A nice heist movie always cheers me up, and this franchise starts off with a bang (the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” starring George Clooney, is endlessly rewatchable gentleman-thieves fun), faffs about a bit in the middle, and then finishes strong: “Ocean’s 8,” with its all-female cast, is a delight. Gowns too. Happy watching!
Crystal Paul, travel & communities reporter
The Studio Ghibli Collection
Either you’re a die-hard Studio Ghibli fan already or you’ve seen at least one of the beautiful animated films from this collection and never knew there were more where that came from. Directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata co-founded the animation studio in 1985 after the success of their film “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” and since then, their whimsical artistic style and otherworldly stories have become an unmistakable trademark of the studio. “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Princess Mononoke” are probably the best known of Miyazaki and Takahata’s films, but there are plenty of hidden gems among the 22 films that make up the collection.
The stunning art is what draws you into these films, but the fantastical stories whisk you away. A little high-fantasy and a lot of gorgeous art might be just the thing to feel like you’re getting “spirited away” from the confines of your 250-square-foot apartment. Since most of the films are both kid-appropriate and adult-friendly, a 22-film marathon might be just the thing to keep you and your little ones occupied for the rest of the stay-at-home order.
The “Die Hard” series
I know it’s not the holiday season yet (“Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, you can’t tell me otherwise), but watching Bruce Willis navigate confined spaces to single-handedly take down world-threatening terror plots might remind you of how staying at home in your own confined space is just as heroic right now.
My old college buddy and I used to have “Die Hard” marathons accompanied by a case of beer and the largest stash of popcorn we could cook up. It usually peaked with us jumping on couches and throwing popcorn to imitate John McClane’s heroics and ended with us passed out on those same couches sleeping to the lullaby of gunfire in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” Honestly, that was probably for the best. The “Die Hard” series wasn’t really made to watch all in one sitting, and you never really want to make it all the way to the fifth and — thankfully — final, film in the series “A Good Day to Die Hard,” but if you can make it fun, it’s a good way to relieve some of the stress and tension that’s probably built up in your house during this lockdown.
A Spike Lee Joint marathon
You can’t really go wrong with a Spike Lee movie marathon, no matter what you’re in the mood for. Looking for an excuse to raid your closet for your old dashiki and heavily shoulder-padded blazers? Settle in with a marathon of Lee’s best ’80s and ’90s films, like “School Daze” and “Do the Right Thing.”
Missing your friends and family? Curl up with the heartwarming “Crooklyn.” Forgot what it’s like to go on a date? Live vicariously through a woman with three lovers in “She’s Gotta Have it.” Did you manage to shower and get out of your pajamas today? Reward yourself with some of the critics’ choices, like “BlacKkKlansman” and “Summer of Sam” and, well, “Do the Right Thing” again.
Mad and ready to do something about it? Raise your fist alongside “Malcolm X” or mourn and remember the four little girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing with his documentary “4 Little Girls.” Actually, there’s no shortage of films in Lee’s oeuvre that can satisfy that urge to action. And even though we’re all stuck indoors, there’s still plenty to be mad and take action about.
Lori Taki Uno, features desk editor
Marvel Cinematic Universe movies
Marvel’s theme song gets me every time. Whenever I hear it, I know I’m in for a treat. The movies — from 2008’s “Iron Man” to 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” including, most notably, the Oscar-winning “Black Panther” — offer two (sometimes closer to three) hours of pure escapism: great characters, playful banter, striking visuals, humor and action galore. (Disney+ currently has a whopping 18 of them.) What better time to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and get lost in a world of superheroes saving the day.
Yasmeen Wafai, features news assistant
John Hughes movies
I am a sucker for teen romantic comedies/coming-of-age movies. Sure, they can be cheesier than your favorite Italian restaurant’s lasagna, but they also provide that warm, fuzzy feeling you can’t really get anywhere else, and let’s face it, we need ALL the warm and fuzzies right now. John Hughes was a master of making that feeling come across the screen. His collaborations with Molly Ringwald and other members of the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) “Brat Pack” — especially “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” — are among some of the most iconic. These movies are a fantastic escape from the real world as they allow us to focus on petty teenage problems and ‘80s fashion. Don’t you forget about these.
Wes Anderson movies
Sometimes, you just want to watch something so satisfying to the eye that you get lost in all the details. Wes Anderson can help you with that. His movies are marked by symmetry, quick camera movements and the use of miniatures that somehow make the scenes seem larger than life. Not to mention, the films are delightfully witty. If you’re not familiar with Anderson’s work, I would recommend starting with “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Amy Wong, features producer
Movies directed by David Fincher and scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The first time I remember being acutely aware of the importance of a movie’s score was when I watched “The Social Network.” The opening track, “Hand Covers Bruise,” is nothing more than a few piano notes overlaying a buzzy electronic noise, but it puts you directly into the mind of the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg. This ended up being an Oscar-winning score that beat “Inception” (and its game-changing “BWAAAAAAHH” noise)! That’s how powerful it was! And thus, a Hollywood match made in heaven was born. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and David Fincher collaborated again on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl” (and they’re working together yet again on the upcoming movie “Mank”). Fincher’s films are notorious for being meticulously shot and edited, the details feeling dark and sinister. Ross and Reznor’s scores complement his movies perfectly, feeling like a final twist of the knife, the haunting and memorable icing on a searing cake of a movie. Even though the three movies they worked on together are extremely different, they’re unified in the unnervingly sharp attention to detail that makes you feel like you need to lie down, wide-eyed, for an hour afterward just to collect your breath.