First, let me address the fact that I am writing this as if the mandatory COVID quarantine is now subsiding for the most part. I realize that many of you would still consider yourselves in quarantine. However, I am from Indiana, and we went into Phase 5 of reopening on July 4th. Which essentially means no more quarantine for us. For those of you in states that are still quarantining, congrats, you have more time to build out your own top 10 list!
I also want to clarify what movies and shows I considered for this list. I watched a total of 50 or so movies, and 5 TV shows start to finish. Many of those I had seen my times before, and thus I did not include in my list. Included in my top 10 are only movies and shows that I watch for the first time during the COVID quarantine, beginning in my mind when the NBA shut down on March 11th and ending when Indiana went into Phase 5 on July 4th. Even with those parameters I still had plenty to choose from!
A Netflix Original that came out in April, the Willoughbys was fun but lacked anything to set it apart from other animated comedies.
Anastasia was the last success from legendary animator and filmmaker Don Bluth. I finally got around to watching it during the quarantine and I am glad I did. While it is a fun watch, it struggles to balance the “Bluthy” dark aspects of the villain and the magic surrounding him, with the obvious attempt to follow a Disney Princess type movie formula.
Song of the Sea
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Tomm Moore/Cartoon Saloon film and it was definitely a lot of fun! It had a very heartfelt message and a cute design but failed to really get me invested in the emotion of it all.
Rise of the Guardians
This Peter Ramsey film (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse) isn’t particularly breathtaking in any given category, but it’s got some heart, some humor, and some pretty darn good action sequences. It’s a solid movie that I’m kind of shocked I hadn’t seen sooner.
The Top 10
Midway is a war movie on the WWII Battle of Midway and the man who bombed two different Japanese aircraft carriers in one day. The cast is a solid one, though no single character is given enough weight for the acting performance to stand out as memorable. I really liked the way this movie is written. It seems to be quite accurate to the historical event, which is also a big positive for me when it comes to war movies. I also liked how it tried to humanize the Japanese side of the war just a little. A lot of WWII movies make Japan look like crazy people that just want to create chaos and kill as many Americans as possible. Midway tries a bit to tackle their side with a bit more clarity. These people had families they were trying to protect as well. Sure they weren’t afraid to fly a plane straight into a carrier in kamikaze suicide attacks. However they had motives that weren’t just in the nature of creating chaos and killing people. The biggest thing going against this film is the visual appeal. It is almost entirely green-screened. When it comes to comparing a green-screened and CGI infested movie like Midway with the incredible cinematography and real-life settings of a movie like 1917, there is truly no comparison.
9. Back to the Future: Part II
My brothers and I watched all three Back to the Future movies in a week back in April, and I was shocked to find out that I actually hadn’t seen Back to the Future Part II. I have seen the original film at least five times and the third film once or twice but as I watched the second one I noticed that I definitely hadn’t seen it before, and it was really good! I absolutely love Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in the Back to the Future trilogy and it has always amazed me how well thought out the timelines are. It’s like they had time-travel all figured out way back in the 80s. I guarantee the Russo Brothers looked hard into what was done in this trilogy in order for everything to make sense when they brought time travel into Avengers: Endgame.
8. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
I have long wanted to see the 2005 Best Animated feature winner but never got around to it. Truth be told, I have actually owned Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit on DVD for a couple years now but have never convinced myself to watch it because I thought it would be boring. Well with nothing else to do this spring I finally got around to it and was certainly pleasantly surprised. Claymation fan or not, this movie is super clever and quite funny. The British humor really stands out and I found myself laughing out loud many times. I mentioned in Episode 27 of the podcast I co-host that I think Howl’s Moving Castle should have won the award for Best Animated Feature that year, but upon viewing this film I am not surprised at all that it took down the award.
7. An American Tail
Animation legend Don Bluth left Disney in the late 70s and went on to make The Secret of Nimh. His style was wildly acclaimed as being a step up in detail, scriptwriting, and plot complexity than Disney at the time. He rode that momentum into 1986 with An American Tail, a story about a mouse from a Russian-Jewish family that emigrates to America for freedom in 1885. He gets separated from his family and encounters many trials on his journey to find them again in the big city. It is really such a sweet movie but has a lot of Bluth’s signature dark aspects and intense moments. It might just be my favorite Don Bluth movie, but I’ll have to watch it again sometime to decide for sure.
6. Waking Sleeping Beauty
I had been meaning to watch this documentary for a long time. It focuses on the rag-tag team of Disney animators that brings Walt Disney Animation back to animation prominence after the dark ages of the 60s and 70s. If you know me then you know this movie is right up my alley. I absolutely love learning behind the scenes stories from the top movie studios about classic movies. Waking Sleeping Beauty begins with the release of one of Disney Animation’s biggest debacles in The Black Cauldron and leads up to the release of The Lion King in 1994. At the beginning of the movie there is just a small team of almost nobodys working at the studio, only still making animated movies because it was Walt’s greatest passion. However, by the end of the film Walt Disney Animation has found their grove and cemented themselves as the foremost studio for animation. There are ample stories I had never heard before and a surplus of really interesting fun facts about some of my favorite movies.
5. Ducktales (2017 Version)
I used to enjoy the original Ducktales as kid but not nearly to the extent that I’ve enjoyed the 2017-current reboot of the show. The characters are much more fleshed out and the jokes are far more relevant (naturally). I absolutely love what they did with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, giving them all distinct voices and personalities. They all have some very fun arc and hilarious moments (especially Launchpad McQuack). The voice cast is also great! David Tennant voices Scrooge and Danny Pudi (Community), Ben Schwartz (Parks & Rec) and Bobby Moynihan (SNL) voice the Huey, Dewey and Louie. I might have this a couple spots higher after the third season comes to Disney+.
4. Gravity Falls
People have been telling me for a while now that I needed to check out Gravity Falls. I have seen it on TV before but never really gave it a chance until the COVID lockdown. It is such a fun and well-constructed show that I am honestly shocked I never watched it before. The plot flows super coherently throughout the 40 episodes, with just about every episode having a purpose to help develop the characters or be used as a callback later in the show. Typically with shows like Gravity Falls I find myself disinterested in the “filler” episodes, just wanting to get through them to get back to the more exciting, plot-centric episodes. With this show, however, I found the episodes in the early-mid portions of each season to be significantly funnier than the more intense episodes. The ending of the show gets much darker than the rest of the show, with a surprising sense of peril that adds to the intensity. Soos is by far my favorite character as he frequently had me laughing out loud!
3. The Last Dance
My only exposure to basketball in the last few months (aside for rewatching all of the old games being constantly aired on NBATV) was the 10-part Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. I actually didn’t watch this as it was coming out, instead waiting for all 10 parts to be released and watching it in few days. It was really interesting from start to finish. The stories were captivating and the interviews did great in giving it all authenticity. I feel like a understand MJ and the dynamic of that team a lot better, and any doubt in my mind that MJ is the GOAT is all but vanished.
2. Avatar: The Last Airbender
This is another show that people have been pitching me for years. The thing was, I never doubted that I would enjoy Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I just wasn’t going to watch it until I could stream it somewhere. The chance finally came this May, and I didn’t waste any time getting into it. It definitely did not disappoint! Avatar: The Last Airbender is truly incredible! The way it developes and fleshes out so many interesting and complex characters is pretty much unmatched in animated television. Everyone in Team Avatar (and even many that aren’t) has a different story with unique motivations and complications. The show does a really good job navigating adult issues like war, loss, revenge, inclusivity, and internal identity. Zuko may have the most interesting and well-written character arc of any character EVER…not just in cartoons. It isn’t the funniest show I’ve ever seen, but it makes up for it in the way in which you are drawn in to the world. By the end I felt like I truly knew the characters and watched they grow up and develope as people throughout. It is truly an epic adventure and I can assure you all I will begin my rewatch of it very soon.
1. Your Name
This movie BLEW ME AWAY! After watching director Makoto Shinkai’s most recent film, Weathering With You, back in January and really enjoying it, I knew that I was going to have to check out Your Name as soon as I could. From watching the trailer and reading the initial movie description, I thought it was pretty much going to be your typical body-swap moving. I was picturing like Freaky Friday but in anime with a cute, high-school age couple of kids. The first 30 minutes are pretty much that. A cute story about two kids that were randomly switching bodies and their adventures in navigating their lives in each others bodies. What I wasn’t expecting was the turn this movie would take halfway through, giving me something far more intense, emotional, and sweet than I could have ever asked for. The animation is spectacular. It makes use of many vibrant colors and layers of detailed handrawn backgrounds on-top of a CG base layers. Your Name blew me away so much that I have already watched it a second time, and it was every bit as good on a rewatching. I even was able to marinate more on the musical score the second time around. It really does a great job accenting the most emotional and heavy-hitting plot points of the film. I have never been a person that is easily drawn in by romantic plot narratives, mostly because I I hate how American film constructs 99% of its chick flicks around the idea of romanticizing hook-up culture and sex as the basis of every relationship. Both of Shinkai movies I have seen recently center around innocent relationships that are built on the two main characters spending time getting to understand the other person better. They experience the highs and lows of each others lives and eventually get to a point where the characters start struggling to imagine life without the other (Stepping off my soap box). This movie has quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies, and if you can get past a few anime tropes, I am confident many of you will love it as well!
Thanks for checking out the Top 10 Things I Watched During COVID Quarantine. What have you been watching the last few months? What should I watch next? Let me know!
Want to hear me talk about more interesting topics and rankings in Film & TV? Check out the Banter? I Hardly Know Her! podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or pretty much anywhere else podcasts are found!