Quarantine Film Festival, Part III
By Noah Gittell
The opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” are set against a shot of the front window of a travel agency advertising excursions to the French Riviera, where the romantic thriller starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is set. It’s a clever visual and a statement of purpose: “To Catch a Thief” is a vacation movie, a genre of film that offers viewers a virtual trip to a breathtaking locale for the price of a single ticket. Now more than ever, we need vacation movies.
Here is a curated streaming film festival that will take you to all corners of the globe without ever leaving your couch:
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Since I already used “To Catch a Thief” in the intro, how about this Steve Martin-Michael Caine comedy for a trip to the French Riviera? A hilarious remake of the inferior 1964 “Bedtime Story”, this Frank Oz-directed diversion chronicles the rivalry between two con artists who prey on unsuspecting female tourists in a beatific seaside town. It doesn’t feature as many sweeping vistas as “To Catch a Thief”, but it’s set largely at a gorgeous estate perched over an inlet with its own private beach. Between the setting and the laughs, you won’t want to leave.
This underseen indie drama chronicles the misadventures of two senior citizens — one brash and outlandish and the other a bit more reserved — who take a trip to Iceland to get their groove back before it’s too late. It’s not nearly as contrived as it sounds, thanks largely to the winning performance by Earl Lynn Nelson. It was the septuagenarian’s only major film role before his death in 2018, and he’s captivating as a big-hearted, big-mouthed American eager to sample the best wine, women, food, and scenery that Iceland has to offer.
The “Before” Trilogy”
With these three films, “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight”, writer/director Richard Linklater did something no filmmaker had ever attempted: chronicle a long-term fictional relationship in real time. Each film was released nine years after the prior one, allowing him and his stars and co-writers, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delply, who based the films in part on their own experiences with love, time to generate material that feels achingly true to life. It’s one of cinema’s great romances, and it helps that the films are set in Vienna, Paris, and the southern coast of Greece, offering plenty of architectural eye candy as background to this timeless love story.
“Lost in Translation”
Sofia Coppola’s sophomore feature is the story of two Americans in Tokyo — an aging movie star (Bill Murray) and a young photographer (Scarlett Johansson) — who forge the kind of intense friendship that can only exist between two outsiders. Their relationship mostly unfolds in hotel rooms, bars, and taxicabs. Tokyo exists on the other side of windows. As such, “Lost in Translation” is more of a business trip than a vacation, but it perfectly captures the somber side of foreign travel, from the jet lag to the isolation of being a stranger in a strange land.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much”
This Hitchcock blockbuster offers a tour of two continents, with protagonists, an American tourist family composed of Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as husband and wife, stopping first in Morocco, and then in London. At the North Africa stop, they befriend a mysterious man who is murdered before their eyes, before becoming embroiled in an assassination plot in the U.K. This one might make for too stressful a vacation, but it’s an absolutely gripping film and one of Hitchcock’s most entertaining works.
“50 First Dates”
For a trip to Hawaii, there are plenty of cinematic options, from “Punch-Drunk Love” to “From Here to Eternity”, but I have a soft spot for “50 First Dates,” one of the better Adam Sandler vehicles. In the film, Sandler plays a veterinarian who gives up wooing drunken tourists when he falls for a woman who, after a car accident, has lost the ability to form new memories. In essence, he has to make her fall in love with him every day. It’s surprisingly sweet and romantic, due largely to the chemistry of Sandler and Drew Barrymore. It was also the movie in which Sandler figured out that setting a film in an exotic locale means he, his family, and his friends get a free vacation. He would return to Hawaii with the lackluster “Just Go With It” and finagle a trip to Hawaii for “Blended”. It is a brilliant strategy, but right now, just like the rest of us, he has to rely on the movies for his escapist thrills.