Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and that certainly applies to readily available entertainment—movies, documentaries, television shows, and more—to watch while social distancing/self-quarantining/expanding one’s cinematic horizons during a global pandemic.
Below, the AN editorial team has compiled a pointedly eclectic list of screen-based diversions to settle down with. The overarching emphasis here is obviously on architecture, design, and urbanism. However, we’ve applied that focus broadly and opted to include everything from French New Wave classics to sordid 1980s thrillers to dystopian neo-noir epics to trashy (but oh-so-enjoyable) reality TV and more. And for good measure, we’ve thrown in a few serious architecture documentaries, too. All are currently available to stream on various platforms.
Sit back, relax, stay safe, and enjoy.
“Alphaville is easily my favorite Jean-Luc Godard film. Filmed on the streets of Paris in 1964, the story begins when a secret agent Lemmy Caution traverses the distant corners of the galaxy on a secret mission to a futuristic dystopian city, Alphaville. There, he seeks out an omnipresent scientist named Von Braun, the maker of Alpha 60, a mind-controlling computer that rules over citizens.”–Gabrielle Golenda, products editor. Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime and others.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
“If you can stomach languishing in a futuristic dystopia somehow worse than our own, Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel to the cult classic Blade Runner is certainly worth escaping into for three hours. The libertarian future of 2049 is populated by towering brutalist forms, mega-monoliths to greed, space-age pyramids, and a main villain’s lair inspired by Spanish architects Barozzi / Veiga looks so good you’ll forget that the world is dying outside of it. Consider it the anti-Wakanda.”–Jonathan Hilburg, web editor. Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and others.
Body Double (1984)
“There’s nothing like a sleazy, ultra-stylish erotic thriller from Brian De Palma to take one’s mind off the troubles of the world. Highly controversial on its release, Body Double, now a cult favorite, serves as both an homage to Alfred Hitchcock and a tribute to the architectural weirdness of Los Angeles. While numerous L.A. landmarks serve as backdrops including Tail O’ the Pup, the Farmers Market, and the Hollywood Tower Apartments, the real star of the film is John Lautner‘s Chemosphere House (1960), a space-ship-y octagonal lair mounted on a concrete pedestal high in the Hollywood Hills. Reached only by funicular, the home, declared a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 2004, is currently owned by publisher Benedikt Taschen.”–Matt Hickman, associate editor. Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.
“Korean-born, Nashville-based supercut maestro Kogonada’s feature directorial debut is a melancholy, but never despairing, romantic drama about love, loss, obligation, and modernist architecture. Filmed on location in the small Indiana city known as “the Athens of the Prairie,” this tender, haunting film stars John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson alongside works by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert A.M. Stern, Deborah Berke, and others. (Sorry Venturi fans but Fire Station Number 4 doesn’t make a cameo appearance.) Added non-architectural bonus: Parker Posey in a small but memorable supporting role.”–Matt Hickman, associate editor. ”Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.
“Grand Designs is a long-running British TV series. Each episode tracks the progress of some of the U.K.’s most ambitious and experimental self-built home projects. Host Kevin McCloud, a noted architectural journalist and architect in his own right, offers a succinct narration as he checks into each project at different stages. His advice and helping hand is often followed by bitting albeit constructive criticism.”–Adrian Madlener, interiors editor. Seasons 10 and 15 available on Netflix.
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) (2013)
“La Grande Bellezza is an Academy Award-winning film by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. While the movie follows a one hit wonder author and affluent playboy as he goes through the pangs of a late life crisis, its art direction casts Rome in a rhapsodic mise en scene. The capital city’s ancient and contemporary architecture is presented in an almost nostalgic way, devoid of its regular tourist hordes. The protagonist’s self-reflection is emulated in this dramatic backdrop.”–Adrian Madlener, interiors editor. Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.
Love Island UK, Season 6:
“The sixth season of British dating reality television show Love Island UK wrapped filming just as coronavirus was roaring onto the global stage, but watching it will transport you to a simpler world where a bevy of single twenty-somethings loll their days away while looking for love without leaving the confines of a South African villa. The house the contestants are kept in is a typical reality TV monstrosity (vapid slogans scrawled on the walls, 360-degree lighting, a riot of wall colors), but maybe this is where design is heading now that so many peoples’ houses have become backdrops for screen-mediated interactions. Or maybe the show is just a nice escape from the relentless news cycle. Either way, it’s worth a watch.”–Jack Morley Balderrama, managing editor. Available on Hulu.
“This French comedy follows director Jacques Tati’s character as he bumbles his way through the modern spaces of 1960’s Paris. It’s almost more of a dance than drama performance, with the spaces playing a significant role in each scene.”–Ian Thomas, art director. Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
Poltergeist III (1988)
“The third and final installment of the Poltergeist franchise moves the action from an evil spirit-infested tract house in the Southern California ’burbs—“The house looks just like the one next to it … and the one next to that … and the one next to that”—to an ultra-modern Chicago high-rise. (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s John Hancock Center plays the role of sinister supertall well). Taking place almost entirely within the confines of said high-rise, this distinctly urban horror film, despite being critically lambasted, managed to render subterranean parking garages, mirrored hallways, elevators, window-cleaning platforms, and skyscrapers in general completely terrifying to an entire generation of children.”–Matt Hickman, associate editor. Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more
Other selections include:
Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio (Sam Wainwright Douglas, 2010). Available on Amazon Prime.
Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011, Jason Cohn, Bill Jersey). Available on Google Play, iTunes, and more.
Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future (Peter Rosen, 2016). Available on YouTube.
Helevetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007). Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes. Director Hustwit is streaming all of his documentary films, which also include Urbanized, Objectified, and Rams, for free during the COVID-19 crisis.
Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story (Royal Kennedy Rodgers and Kathy McCampbell Vance, 2020). Available streaming on PBS.
How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? (Carlos Carcas, Norberto López Amado, 2010). Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more.
I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, 2009). Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.
The Pruit-Igoe Myth (Chad Freidrichs, 2011). Available on iTunes.
A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009). Available on Netflix.
Sketches of Frank Gehry (Sydney, Pollack, 2005). Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.
Unfinished Spaces (Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, 2011). Available on Google Play, Amazon Prime, and more.