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James Gunn's Movie Recommendations For Coronavirus Self-Quarantine

There's never been a better opportunity to bulk up one's credibility as a cinephile, and James Gunn is here to help you out on that journey. 

With self-quarantines abound across the United States as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Suicide Squad sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy director has shared to his Twitter account a list of ten deep-cut movie recommendations for those stuck at home to watch. The list encompasses new Asian cinema and lesser-known classic American gems, but those with even a passing knowledge of Gunn's artistic stylings won't be surprised that these are all movies he would name among his favorites. To state it more plainly: there's a whole lot of violence, a hefty helping of black comedy, and a tasteful dash of the unironically hopeful.

Gunn was courteous enough to ensure all of these films, though obscure, are available for streaming, since going to what few movie rental places remain is ill-advised at the moment. (We'll list the particular services for each entry.) Now, let's get into the ten hidden gems James Gunn chose for us to enjoy while sequestered away in our homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

Watch Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice during self-isolation

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is probably the most surprising selection on Gunn's list, because it features no monsters, murder, or mayhem. 

This 1969 dramedy focuses on two couples — Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood), and opposite them, Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon) — at a critical point in their combined friendship and individual marriages. Bob and Carol, after going away to a very 1960s cultural institution dedicated to humanist philosophy, have decided to make the contemporarily bold choice to open their marriage. Their more conservative friends, Ted and Alice, are made privy to the choice. What results is a test of both marriages and friendships alike, all wrapped up in the relatable farce that is being middle-aged and yet still searching to understand both oneself and the spouse they chose. 

In recommending the film, Gunn noted, "The naturalistic acting was a huge influence on me, and the Elliot Gould/Dyan Cannon bedroom scene is one of my all-time favorites." You can find Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice on Amazon Prime Video.

Stream The Villainess from home during the COVID-19 outbreak

In the wake of both Parasite's historic Oscar wins as well as racist backlash surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, Gunn appears to have made a quiet point to include a number of Asian films on his recommendation list. The first he chose is the 2017 action thriller The Villainess, starring Kim Ok-vin. In his tweet, he describes the film as being "as revolutionary to action films as was The Matrix, Fury Road, and The Raid." 

In a story told with a non-linear narrative using multiple flashbacks, the young but lifelong assassin Chae Yeon-soo (Kim Ok-vin) is given an opportunity to break away from her life of killing at last... for a price: ten years of devotion to the South Korean intelligence service. The deal seems plush enough until her assignments begin crossing wires with the shadows of her past as a child killing on a freelance basis. Everything begins to devolve into a struggle simply to survive and resolve the long trail of bad blood behind her.

The fast-cut, frenetic fight choreography is the standout facet of The Villainess, though be warned tht multiple reviews cite the violence as being quite over-the-top, bordering on gratuitous. However, that that might not come as much of a surprise (and, in fact, could be an endorsement) to fans of movies like Gunn's Slither. You can find The Villainess on both Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

James Gunn recommends watching Pretty Poison during the coronavirus shut-in

Starring Anthony Perkins (y'know, from Psycho) as Dennis Pitt and Tuesday Weld as Sue Ann Stepenek, Pretty Poison is another against-the-grain recommendation from the late '60s. When it was first released in 1968, it flopped terribly in theaters both because its principle actors refused to go on a press tour for it after a terrible production experience, and — according to director Noel Black — the studio paled at widely releasing a film so violent in the wake of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassinations. However, those critics who did see Pretty Poison – including the esteemed Gene Siskel, who put it on his top ten list in 1969 — lavished the movie with praise in their reviews.

What counts for "too violent" in 1968 doesn't exactly hold up today, but the themes of Pretty Poison certainly are dark. It's the story of a mentally ill man (Perkins' Dennis) who seduces a teenage girl (Weld's Sue Ann) to become his girlfriend — and also convinces her that his grandiose delusions of being a secret agent are real. After an imagined "mission" for the CIA goes terribly wrong and Sue Ann gleefully murders a man, Dennis finds himself locked into a spiral of psychosis-driven murder from which he cannot escape. You can find Pretty Poison on Amazon Prime Video.

Watch The Wanderers if you're staying in during the coronavirus pandemic

The 1979 coming-of-age film The Wanderers is another surprise hidden gem from Gunn, who describes it as "a populist art film." Directed by Phillip Kaufman (of Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 remake fame), the film stars Ken Wahl as Richie Gennaro, John Friedrich as Joey Capra, Karen Allen as Nina Becker, and Toni Kalem as Despie Galasso. It's adapted from Richard Price's novel of the same name, and tells the story, set in 1963, of four young Italian-American men in New York City who are part of a gang: the titular Wanderers. 

While The Wanderers is adorned in all the usual trappings of a film featuring gangs — inter-gang violence, school drama, even death — the exploits of edgy teens are merely the frame around a very normal journey we all take towards adulthood: how we all must cope with life and the way it can change, inwardly and outwardly, so suddenly and without our permission. You can find The Wanderers on Amazon Prime Video.

Stream Mother while staying indoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Given all the fawning over Bong Joon-ho of Parasite renown lately, Gunn sought to include in his recommendation list his personal favorite film by the Korean director: the 2009 mystery-thriller Mother, starring Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin. 

When a young woman turns up dead on the roof of a parking structure, blame for the murder immediately turns to local intellectually-challenged recluse teenager Yoon Do-Joon, who has a history of explosive violence towards those who dare to mock his disability. With only circumstantial evidence placing him near the scene of the crime, Yoon's unnamed, widowed mother takes up a crusade to prove her son's innocence, employing questionable tactics and a whatever-it-takes attitude that begins to take on an almost obsessive tilt. It's a murder mystery and psychological thriller all in one meant to leave you questioning just who exactly is innocent and just right up to the very last moment of the movie. You can find Mother on Amazon Prime.

James Gunn recommends watching One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead — originally entitled Don't Turn Off The Camera! in its native Japan — is a low-budget zombie-horror comedy from 2017 made famous for achieving unexpected, stratospheric success. It originally debuted in a six-day showing at one theater and garnered such critical acclaim that it lead to selection at the prestigious Udine Film Festival, which is specifically designed to celebrate Asian cinema in Europe. For being made on a budget of $25,000 and generating nearly $28 million worldwide, "rousing success" is a bit of an understatement.

On top of being hilarious, One Cut of the Dead stands out for utilizing a simulated one-take film narrative like Sam Mendes' 1917 upheld as part of its march to the Oscars in 2020. This is no somber battle story, however. A beleaguered zombie movie director struggling to finish his newest schlock encounters the greatest boon a horror director could ever have: an actual zombie apocalypse. He insists on continuing to film and keep his actors performing even while attempting to flee from the oncoming, shambling plague. Plot twists and delayed-gratification jokes are abound in this one, giving value to repeat viewing. You can find One Cut of the Dead on Amazon Prime Video.

Watch The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans during self-isolation

It'll probably shock no one to learn James Gunn is a Werner Herzog fan, but the particular favorite he chose from the director's long, bizarre career might: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which Gunn celebrated in his coronavirus self-isolation movie recommendation list as "one of the greatest films of the 2000's."

Released in 2009 as a not-really-a-sequel-or-remake of the 1992 crime thriller Bad Lieutenant (there's a whole story about that worth looking into on its own), The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans features a cast that couldn't get more interesting — bordering on bonkers: Nicolas Cage, Ava Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Val Kilmer, Xzibit (yes, the rapper), and Brad Dourif all appear in this tale of police corruption. Cage gets to put all his best method-acting insanity on display as Lieutenant Terence McDonagh, a sleazy, painkiller-addicted police officer that earned his high rank and status off the back of a single instance of heroism during Hurricane Katrina. When he's tasked with solving the quintuple homicide of Senegalese immigrants, however, the corruption only deepens. Even this officer scraping by on rock bottom is forced to ask himself just what he's willing to put up with, and when and where justice really should prevail even if he cannot rise above his own personal demons. 

You can find The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans on Amazon Prime Video.

Staying in during the coronavirus outbreak? James Gunn recommends watching The Yellow Sea

The Yellow Sea is another Korean film selection from Gunn — this time, a gritty street crime thriller from director Na Hong-Jin, starring Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yoon-seok. 

Gu-nam (Jung-woo) is a blue-collar gambling addict — Korean in ethnicity but a Chinese national — living in Yanban Prefecture, China when he becomes overwhelmed by his debts to bookies and loses his job. With his wife seemingly having abandoned him under the premise of emigrating back to South Korea to find work, Gu-nam has no other way to make money. That is until a gangster (Yoon-seok) approaches him with a proposition: travel secretly to South Korea and assassinate a businessman, and he can consider his back gambling debts paid for. He takes the offer, but after the assassination attempt completely falls through, Gu-nam is forced to flee the pursuit of the gangsters he owes to as well as the police searching for the attempted murderer. 

Gunn makes a particularly peculiar citation in recommending The Yellow Sea: it has "perhaps the greatest non-car chase scene ever." We'll let you find out exactly what that means. You can find The Yellow Sea on Amazon Prime Video.

Hail the Conquering Hero is another coronavirus self-isolation recommendation from James Gunn

Gunn evens out the grit and violence on his list with the lighthearted Hail the Conquering Hero, a 1944 wartime farce comedy starring Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, and William Demarest. Though Gunn says he adores all of director Preston Sturgeon's films, this one is his very favorite. 

In Hail the Conquering Hero, Bracken is the nobly-named Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, son of a decorated WWI Marine who died overseas. Now that WWII's come around, Truesmith naturally enlisted for the Marines, as was expected of him, but was quickly discharged on account of severe hayfever. Ashamed and unwilling to own up to his mother, he begins a charade, writing that he's serving overseas while secretly working in a shipyard until he meets a clutch of Marines on leave from the Pacific Theater. After telling them his story, they are willing to help Truesmith out, crafting a tale of a medical discharge from the Pacific so his mother won't have to worry about him anymore. A well-meaning deception to help a young man go home with untarnished pride soon spins wildly out of control, and Truesmith finds himself at the center of a mayoral election, a love triangle, and one great big unwieldy lie. 

You can find Hail the Conquering Hero on Amazon Prime Video.

Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite) is James Gunn's final recommendation for the coronavirus shut-in

Gunn's final recommendation comes from a very familiar genre and equally familiar director, but is an oft-forgotten selection from his otherwise illustrious filmography. Duck, You Sucker! – a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite – is the middle chapter of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time triptych and the last Spaghetti Western he ever made. 

Released in 1971 and starring Rod Steiger and James Coburn, this Western is set in the depths of Mexico's 1910 revolution. Juan Miranda (Steiger) is a wandering outlaw robbing at gunpoint the wealthy dispersed by the war for the benefit of his gang, which is mostly composed of his children and other relatives. John Mallory (Coburn) is an Irishman who had been forced to flee his homeland years earlier for crimes related to his participation in the Irish Republican Army as a bomber. After being thrown together by fate, the two are driven to embrace a new kind of morality using their respective ill-gotten abilities to defend the poor revolutionaries doomed to be overrun by the Mexican government. Loyalty, sacrifice, and desperation are the heart of this frontier tale, and though its legacy has been somewhat hidden by its more famous cinematic kin, it's worth taking the time to seek out no matter your experience with the Western genre. 

You can find Duck, You Sucker! on both Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.