10 best movies offering big entertainment in small spaces
Like many of us now, the characters in ‘Rear Window,’ ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘Panic Room’ and these other great films seldom stray from one location
Many if not most of us are still spending our days and nights staying home and staying safe, riding out the COVID-19 quarantine. We’re turning to new streaming series and great movies we never got around to seeing — and rewatching some of our all-time favorite films and shows.
In the latest “Best Movies” podcast, Roe Conn and I pay tribute to movies set entirely or primarily in one location. As for including films with a handful of scenes that take place outside the primary setting: That’s kind of like everyone is doing, right? We’re in one setting most of the time, but every once in a while, we have to venture outside.
In chronological order, some of the best Homebound Movies ever:
Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental psychological crime thriller unfolds in near-real time in a Manhattan penthouse apartment, and was filmed in a series of long, unbroken shots. Based on a stage play loosely inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb “thrill-killing,” this is the story of two arrogant elitists who carry out a murder as an intellectual exercise. James Stewart was never a big fan of this film, but he’s outstanding as the killers’ former teacher, who is horrified to find out what they’ve done.
‘Rear Window’ (1954)
Six years later, Hitchcock and Stewart reteamed for another homebound story — and the result was one of the greatest films ever, regardless of genre. Stewart is photographer Jeff Jefferies, who is quarantined-by-injury after breaking his leg and becomes fascinated, or is it obsessed, with voyeuristically eavesdropping on the lives of the neighbors in the apartment building across the courtyard. Grace Kelly is exquisite and sublime as Jeff’s socialite girlfriend, Lisa, and Raymond Burr is the menacing Lars Thorward, traveling salesman — and suspected MURDERER. (For a blood-soaked, lurid take on “Rear Window,” check out Brian DePalma’s “Body Double.”)
‘12 Angry Men’ (1957)
A still-timely look at social and class warfare, as filtered through the deliberations of a jury in the case of an 18-year-old accused of stabbing his father to death. Featuring some of the best character actors of the mid-20th century — Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and Ed Begley—and the perfectly cast Henry Fonda as the one holdout who refuses to join the chorus of “Guilty” votes until these men go through the evidence and debate the strength of the case. After all, a young life is at stake.
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
Another classic on our list that started as a stage play — in this case a 1963 Broadway production starring Kirk Douglas, who bought the film rights to the story and eventually bequeathed those rights to his son Michael, who was a producer on a film that won the rare Big Five at the Oscars: best picture, best actor for Jack Nicholson as Randle P. McMurphy, best actress for Louise Fletcher, best director for Milos Forman and best adapted screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The most “Nicholsonian” of Jack Nicholson performances — a perfect marriage of devilish rebel actor and devilish rebel character.
‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985)
A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse are all serving a Saturday detention, and over the course of one long day, the stereotypes are shattered as these kids get real. Like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Sixteen Candles,” this John Hughes high school classic is set at the fictional Shermer High School in the northern Chicago suburbs, which has me wondering if Emilio Estevez’ Andrew knew Ferris, or if Molly Ringwald’s Claire knew Molly Ringwald’s Samantha from “Sixteen Candles,” and how would that even work??
‘Home Alone’ (1990)
Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin’s reaction to being home alone essentially mirrors our own: at first he’s alarmed, then he’s thrilled to have all this free time to himself, then he gets bored, then he’s scared, and finally he can’t wait to be reunited with his family — even the ones who annoyed him.
‘The Others’ (2001)
This one’s been playing on premium cable a lot recently, and I’ve rewatched snippets here and there — and it’s still one scary-ass gothic supernatural psychological horror film. Nicole Kidman delivers maybe the best performance of her career as a mother of two young children who will do anything to protect her children, who have a severe form of photosensitivity and thus can’t leave the house. I love the slow, creepy build to a brilliant final reveal.
‘Panic Room’ (2002)
The supremely talented David Fincher makes great use of space, sound and light as we hold our breath watching Jodie Foster’s Meg and her 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart!) immersed in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakum) who will stop at nothing to get to the millions in bearer’s bonds in a floor safe under the panic room. Foster is magnificent as a fiercely protective Alpha Mom, and Whitaker creates one of the most complex and intriguing villains of the 21st century.
‘The Hateful Eight’ (2013)
Yes, there’s that extended opening sequence set in the wintry countryside, as Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren hitches a stagecoach ride with the notorious bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) — but the bulk of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody Western is set in a lodge where a variety of characters with shady pasts and questionable motives have holed up to ride out a blizzard. You could see someone turning “The Hateful Eight” into a stage play.
‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016)
This neat little psychological thriller is the second installment of the “Cloverfield” franchise, set in a world where aliens have invaded Earth. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle has just broken up with her boyfriend and is hearing reports of blackouts on the car radio when she’s in a crash. She wakes up in the bunker of one Howard Stambler (John Goodman, tearing up the screen), a survivalist who says he saved her life and if she goes outside, she’ll be toast within seconds.
That may or may not be the truth.