This time of year, life is hard. As flu season takes us into its clutches, as the temperature both outdoors and inside our bodies fluctuates with staggering abruptness, we encourage curling up with your DVD player, a good movie, and some hot chocolate—or a hot toddy, depending on your particular ailment.
Here are some of the films we’ve recently enjoyed in the throes of illness.
Tony Scott’s incendiary film adaptation of AJ Quinell’s dark novel Man on Fire features two hands full of reasons to pop this one into your video appliance more than once or twice. Denzel Washington gives a moody and restrained performance as a haunted ex-secret-agency assassin turned bodyguard, Christopher Walken as his friend, and Mexico City as a picturesque set. Tony Scott’s direction is in turns languid and restrained and frenetic and muscular, Dakota Fanning does a convincing turn as the body that Denzel is guarding, and the always lovely Rachel Ticotin as a magazine reporter trying to expose official and police corruption. And more and more. —Robert Birnbaum
When I was a kid, my weird Marxist parents forbade me from enjoying most fun things: Monopoly (capitalist propaganda), G.I. Joe (American military propaganda) and McDonald’s (obesity) were all contraband, as was most TV. Sesame Street, meanwhile, was less encouraged than prescribed. With the best of Sesame Street’s golden years available in two collections, 1969-74 and 1974-79, I’ve lately been revisiting the show to figure out what my parents saw in a bunch of bizarre puppets shrieking the alphabet at one another. Hey, guess what? It’s totally amazing. Particularly this. —Pasha Malla
Having recently been laid up for some time, I gained a distaste bordering on obsessive for TV commercials. Netflix was my saving grace in this matter, and yet, when I caught the first few moments of Hitchcock’s Rear Window on AMC—despite the fact that I could have typed it into my queue and received the film, commercial-free and uncut, in a matter of days—I sat through every ad in order to watch it right there and then. It’s hard to go wrong with Jimmy Stewart (that voice!); once you add in a headstrong Grace Kelly and a dead dog, I’m hooked. —Bridget Fitzgerald
As a child, I feared Better Off Dead because it had the word “dead” in the title. But my dad took my brother and me to see it anyway, an act that could have led to scores of therapy fodder. Instead, I laughed like a manic cartoon weasel throughout. Fronch fries, fronch bread… I want my two dollars! Even today, let me hear these lines coming out of my television and I feel like John Cusack after his character’s triumphant ski victory. If being sick means I can stay home and watch this movie, I will run from flu shots and keep my hands unwashed all winter. —Lauren Frey
Our mainstays are Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes or David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Granted, my wife and I have seen all the episodes—most twice—but at least one of us will have forgotten who murdered whom. Recently we’ve been re-watching The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, not as good but just as entertaining as Prime Suspect; there’s also the plus that it’s still running. The evolution of Havers’s haircut is reason enough to tune in. —Rosecrans Baldwin
Since I’m pretty easily entertained when it comes to home entertainment, it’s kind of difficult for me to recommend a good movie to take in on the couch. In fact it would probably be more useful if I provided just one recommendation of a movie not to watch on the couch.
Do not watch We Own the Night on the couch.
Do not watch this movie anywhere—not even on cross-country flights or laying in traction.
Never, ever, ever watch this film.
Thank you. —Eric Feezell
For the better part of a decade, people have been pestering me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d loved Joss Whedon’s short-lived Firefly series and its movie spinoff, Serenity, but the prospect of watching seven seasons on DVD—how many hours is that, anyway?—was just too overwhelming. Nevertheless, about a month ago, my boyfriend got into a car accident and for a few days was too bruised and achy to go out, sleep, or do much of anything but lie on the sofa. That weekend we watched most of the first season, and I was hooked. Whedon’s smart, quirky dialogue is as strong in Buffy as it was in Firefly—and rivals Aaron Sorkin’s for speed and literacy. Now, I join Buffy, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Angel, and Giles for a spot of slayage and snark nearly every night. —Liz Entman
While not exactly celebrating isolation or insanity, a fond recent discovery of mine is the 1950 film Harvey, which is as much a comfort on a cold night as it is through a cold-medicine-induced delirium. Following eccentric Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart (incredibly likable, as always), the story, adapted from a sharply written play by Mary Chase, hinges on the question of whether this affable sot actually has a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch rabbit named Harvey following him around (what he calls a Pooka), or if it’s merely an affectation he’s created to have a bit of fun, or if he’s actually crazy. Elwood’s beleaguered sister tries to have him committed, and some comedic errors ensue. As Elwood tells his frustrated psychiatrist, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I’m happy to state I’ve finally won out over it.” Charming. I imagine, like Dowd, that you’ll come to prefer Harvey’s company, too. —Erik Bryan
At the end of the final episode of the first season of Twin Peaks, Leo Johnson is shot, but only after setting fire to the mill (and only after trapping Shelley Johnson and Catherine Martell inside), Nadine Hurley is in a coma, Audrey Horne is trapped at One-Eyed Jack’s, and Agent Cooper takes three slugs in the chest. That’s one heck of a cliffhanger, especially when you consider that it lasted 17 years for those waiting for the DVDs—the second season was only released in digital format last year. And for everyone who can’t remember what happened when the show returned in the fall of 1990, know this: There were valid reasons for the cancellation of David Lynch’s beloved series. But these episodes are still favorites, even after things go all Dallas with Ben Horne’s three-episode Civil War reenactment, Nadine’s newfound super-strength, and yes, an alien abduction. —Andrew Womack
A rainy Saturday and a perennially picked-over DVD shelf at my local library led me to the discovery of one odd bird of a film: Russian director Aleksandr Rogozhkin’s Cuckoo. Set in the waning days of World War II, it tells the story of a Finnish sniper and a disgraced Russian officer who make their way to the remote farm of a Sami woman—that’s a Laplander, for all you politically incorrect types out there. None of the characters speak the others’ language, leading to an hour-and-a-half of miming, misunderstandings, and long monologues set against the Finno-Russian landscape. Yes, it sounds like terrible art-house cinema, and maybe it is. Still, the scenes of the Arctic summer, as well as Anni-Kristiina-Juuso’s acting, will keep you wishing for more subtitled finds like this. —Beth Milton