Now that winter is officially upon us, you may be experiencing escapist fantasies of sunny beaches and warm sidewalk cafés on a daily basis. With temperatures dropping, we’d like to interrupt your rising Netflix queue with these 50 films that will surely help you get away from it all while bundled up at home. From stunning cinematography to warmhearted narratives and beyond, these staycation-worthy movies are all streaming on various platforms for your viewing pleasure. Why not take advantage of the long winter nights to let a little light into your life (even if it glows from the television or computer screen)?
The Pierce Brosnan voice-over offers some interesting information, but muting this gorgeous eco documentary to appreciate its immersive underwater photography without distraction is highly recommended.
Fellini’s childhood reimagined as a picturesque island of time — idyllic, absurd, and charming.
A breathtaking immersion in an unusual culture, this practically silent Iranian film — with rapturous nature photography — is a transcendentally beautiful allegory about a fictitious, superstitious, theocracy-based nomadic community.
You’ll want to run away and live in a small boat in Venice after watching Silvio Soldini’s 2000 romantic comedy. The film romanticizes Italy as a place to impulsively flee from the grind and start over, eat well, find new love, and hide out without repercussions.
An island-set romantic comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Yves Montand that delights in its light fantasy and doesn’t use the remote location to bring out the worst in its protagonists. The film’s “we must co-exist here” plot is funny in its exasperation and lands Deneuve in the lap of Montand’s island recluse.
Woman in the Dunes director Hiroshi Teshigahara offers us an immersive tour of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí’s surreal, living works of art. It’s easy to become lost in Gaudí’s lavish buildings thanks to the enthusiastic director as our unofficial guide.
Sexy with wonderful photography, but hardly a pretty film, Nicolas Roeg’s anti-Blue Lagoon shows us what it’s like to live on an island with a red-bearded and belligerent Oliver Reed and a breathless Amanda Donohoe.
Primarily set in Turkey, this nostalgic romantic drama about Greek/Turkish relationships was a huge hit in director Tassos Boulmetis’ home country of Greece. Boulmetis’ autobiographical film is sensual, full of longing, and complements a laid-back Mediterranean attitude toward romance, food, and sex.
Actor and filmmaker (and former comedian, if you can believe it) Takeshi Kitano has made a niche for himself with brooding, violent gangster dramas. But this sweet buddy comedy, in which Kitano’s crotchety double (named “Kikujiro Kitano,” even) escorts an adolescent boy to see his estranged mother, was originally titled Summer for good reason. This is “sunny” done Kitano style — moody, but full of beautiful landscape photography highlighting the Japanese countryside.
David Lynch’s only G-rated film is a humbling, personal testament to human perseverance that also happens to be a leisurely road movie. The Straight Story’s episodic narrative is unhurried, assured, and graceful — revealed through images of lightning, starry night skies, and a sprawling view of America’s heartland as seen from one man’s tractor.
Liv Tyler’s character travels Tuscany and refashions herself after her mother’s suicide. She searches for her father and bonds with her mother’s friends, but also focuses most of her attention on losing her virginity (depicted in that typically unsentimental Bertolucci way). A sensual film beautifully captured, Stealing Beauty is for the traveler who just sort of wings it and worries about making sense of things later.
Comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves in this semi-fictionalized anti-travelogue comedy about the impossibility of finding yourself on a road-trip from director Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs, 24 Hour Party People). The duo poke fun at themselves while wandering around a windswept countryside, which revels in its uniquely British solitude.
Beautiful nature photography contrasts with the troubled emotions of the film’s monk protagonist, a criminal who tries to flee from the outside world in Kim Ki-duk’s elegiac tone piece. Perfect for those who want to clear the mind in a secluded spot but don’t really want to leave home.
John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest delves into the impossibility of natural reunification — a polemic immersion into the lush Amazon rainforest where the landscape becomes a lover in an unrequited romance. Mystical in passages, Variety called it “visually fantastic.”
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s blissful romance set in the dark, deep woods of the Thai forest unfolds at a relaxed pace. The story’s naturalistic tone reflects the film’s rural (and deceptively tranquil, albeit meditative and inviting) setting. Water caresses rock, trees bend to the breeze, lovers come and go.
Yimou Zhang’s lavish Chinese wuxia saga is rich with beautiful costumes, picturesque sets, gorgeous nature photography, and period-specific intrigue.
Mexico through the eyes of lazy, rich kids slumming it along the impoverished back country, seeking thrills and finding comfort in confused, earthy pleasures. Swimming pools, back-seat philosophy, cheap motels, and sex pervade the senses.
This is Argentina as seen through eyes of a pubescent girl who doesn’t understand her hormonal sister’s obsession with boys. She befriends a boy going through some serious life changes of his own. “Their blossoming friendship is set to the beautiful background of rural Argentina, which accentuates perfectly the overall sparseness of dialogue,” Sound on Sight observes.
“We found love in a hopeless place,” say a disenchanted professor and a ranch owner’s daughter in Donna Deitch’s lesbian opus Desert Hearts. Here, the desert landscape is a counter to the opulence of ‘50s consumer heaven — a contrast to the hetero normalcy of it all. What appears to be a naturally inhospitable environment is ripe with emotion.
A long, strange road-trip across America with David Byrne, our highly eccentric guide. What more do you need?
“Much of the film takes place in the vibrating cockpit of Takatoshi’s truck (he leaves the engine on while he sleeps there) and the viewer enters with those characters into this tiny hermetic space (the use of a DV camera aids this sense of closeness considerably), looking out at the bleak, snow filled landscapes outside and the characters relationship has all the intensity of that closed-in space,” the Digital Fix writes. “There are moments of happiness and warmth, but the film is principally charged with those raw emotions and breakdowns — sudden, bitter and unexplained.” But this is a perfect road movie in that the destination is of little importance, but the bonding through trips to diners, gas stations, and other pit stops is key.
The erotic Easy Rider, with a heroine who drops out of society after realizing her happiness is behind her. A fatalistic and romantic film, in which “the motorcycle sequences, directed beautifully by Jack Cardiff, have a kind of baroque musical quality, with tangles of traffic, trees, leaves, tunnels and overpasses resolved in ways that produce a cheery escalation of mood,” critic Renata Adler noted in her 1968 New York Times review.
Inspired partly by David Lean’s Passage to India, Wes Anderson’s travelogue uses the backdrop of a train trek through India to unite three estranged brothers. Since this is an Anderson film, expect India to be an exotic projection of the characters’ yearning for escape and magical flights of fancy in an otherwise depressing time.
Set primary in Havana — in modern-day and postwar/pre-Castro Cuba (a time of youthful idealism) — the animated Chico & Rita follows lovers as they move away from each other (a proximity fostered by Cuba’s isolation), but reunite in New York. “Each and every frame drips with the rhythm and spirit of Cuban life in the mid-twentieth century,” says Little White Lies.
Two British academics, played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsey Duncan, try to find love again in Paris — a city that they take for granted in light of their past experiences. But the couple also reignites the flame of life when they explore the urban terrain out of their comfort zone and attend a party thrown by Jeff Goldblum’s character, a rival of Broadbent’s.
Beautifully realized and expressive illustrations of classical music pieces done the Disney way. A visual odyssey through surreal fantasy worlds, re-exhibited as a psychedelic movie in 1969 for the ultimate trip.
Rob Meyer’s quirky coming-of-age story centers on a teenage birder who drags his family, including his soon-to-be remarried dad, on a trip to find the supposedly extinct Labrador Duck. “The duo journeys through the great American Southwest together, paving their own path toward friendship, self-discovery, and a new definition of family. The wide open expanses are perfect analogs for two blank slates starting over, certainly make a picturesque backdrop,” writes the Austin Chronicle.
Owen Wilson’s character seeks to escape into the past, but finds that there is no magic period where everything is perfect — not even in a romanticized vision of Paris during the ‘20s. Still, the city looks stunning in the care of cinematographer Darius Khondji.
A contemplative documentary portrait of the Carthusian Order of monks, who live secluded lives in an Alpine monastery and have taken vows of silence. The film shows how they find pleasure in routine, and their ascetic lives. “Natural light is used to euphoric effect, inevitably summoning the old masters, and Gröning’s frames are balanced and symmetrical, in Renaissance-ready emulation of God’s perfection,” writes the Village Voice. “[Director Philip] Gröning traces the passing of the seasons with beauty shots of God’s creations, from snow drifts and rain puddles to flower petals and kitten whiskers, while life inside is constructed as a series of human set pieces: monk cuts a new robe from a bolt of white fabric, monk mops the floor, monk gets a haircut, and — big finish — monk eats lunch by his window. The simplicity begins to seduce, so that when a nosegay of celery arrives in the kitchen, brilliant and translucent green against the clay and gray of its surroundings, the mere fact of it feels like a revelation.”
Two disaffected British women during the ‘20s flee to an Italian castle and find sisterly camaraderie while reexamining their lives. “The reason everything works out so well is that the villa, which is called San Salvatore, is sort of magical or something,” writes the Washington Post. “’Enchanted,’ you might say. At any rate, everyone who visits becomes infused with tranquility and happiness; they blossom, in other words, revealing the better angels of their natures. Why? We don’t know. Perhaps it’s all that Italian sun.”
Thrill-seeking documentarian Jeff Johnson retraces the steps of adventurers Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, who in 1968 traveled by boat to Patagonia and hiked up the dangerous Corcovado Volcano.
Italian woman Stefania travels to a Greek island with her horny teenage niece, who winds up trying to lose her virginity with Stefania’s ex-boyfriend, causing confusion and missed connections that inadvertently lead to romance on the sunny and beautiful “isle of love.”
A man with a debilitating eye disease travels to Yellowstone Park with his wife, trying to catch a few fleeting glimpses of its natural beauty.
A 1970s porn comedy in which two horny guys drive around in a van looking for busty hitchhikers to pick up. Silly, softcore, and dated. A juvenile vacationer’s dream.
A woman in a loveless marriage (Kate Bosworth) goes to the Italian island of Ischia, has an affair with a younger man, but concludes that she doesn’t need to define herself against the company she keeps or her surroundings. Our own Jason Bailey appreciated the film’s cinematography (despite a few issues with the movie): “The black-and-white photography is luminous, and the Italian locations are (expectedly) to die for.”
The Manakamana Temple in Nepal is the sacred place of the Hindu Goddess Bhagwati, who grants worshipers their wishes. Filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez use static long takes to capture pilgrims on their way up and down the cable car to the Temple, emphasizing the stillness and calm on the road to enlightenment.
A film crew is granted unprecedented access to China, capturing the area’s natural beauty and cultural history, using geographical details to highlight changing face of the country.
British documentarians go beyond the televised accounts of contemporary Mexico that fixate on crime and political corruption for a musical tour of the country and its people.
Take a sky-high documentary tour across America: “This epic series offers rare glimpses of our nation’s most treasured landmarks, all seen from breathtaking heights. From busy cityscapes to quiet landscapes, we capture the history and the pageantry of our amazing country, which is as diverse as the people who occupy it.”
A teenage girl tries to break the world record for being the youngest person to sail around the globe. The documentary follows her and argues that her aspirations and goals were achievable, not just a spoiled, adolescent fantasy (the Dutch media painted the young woman in a not-so-flattering light and the government tried to stop her journey). If your idea of a vacation is braving the open seas, this girl will show you how it’s done. “Freedom is when you’re not attached to anything,” she reminds us.
Werner Herzog co-directed this documentary portrait of animal trappers in the snowy forests in Siberia. Time seems to stand still for the inhabitants there. Dmitry Vasyukov and Herzog reveal some of the harsh realities of isolated living, but also capture “some stunning images — of ice breaking up and moving downriver, and of trappers snowmobiling across twisty woodland paths.”
A snowboarding documentary that centers on the sensations of the sport and its shared experiences. The film features iconic snowboarder Travis Rice, who is known for his big mountain and freestyle skills.
Filmmaker Bruce Brown narrates the influential 1966 documentary about two surfers on a trip around the world in search of the perfect wave. “Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, and a good amount of reality-television programming owe Brown back royalties and still haven’t improved on the framework he refined here,” writes Slant. “We never hear Hynson or August speak, relegating the audio strictly to Brown’s narration and the Sandals’s score, and yet we completely understand their trajectory: They are chasing what they love, what they are dedicated to, and, like Brown, have great focus when it comes to their sport.”
Pioneering American wildlife documentarian Gordon Eastman filmed his travels with his two sons through British Columbia. It’s a classic film about outdoorsmen doing what they love (note: there are scenes of hunting and fishing). Think of it as the mountaineer’s version of The Endless Summer.
An influential but goofy American International Pictures flick that spawned several sequels, and exploits fun-loving kids who like to go to the beach, hang out, and flaunt their bikinis. The surfing scenes and high-energy vibe will have you packing for the beach (possibly even in the cold) before the movie is over.
Patrick Swayze initiates Jennifer Grey, who is vacationing in the Catskills, in scenes of working-class dancers with risqué moves. The mega-popular soundtrack for the teen romance movie transported audiences back to the innocent days of the 1960s.
A small Serbian town anticipates the arrival of half a million people for its 50th-anniversary celebration of the world’s largest trumpet festival. A cultural melting pot of music and tradition.
Jonathan Berman’s 2005 documentary paints a historical portrait of Black Bear Ranch — a decades-old California commune founded by countercultural drop-outs who, in contemporary interviews, still speak with great affection for the 80-acre oasis and its shaggy-haired community.
A documentary about families who own vineyards, and both the process and tradition of winemaking in Burgundy, France. BYOB.
A multicultural sex comedy about a vanilla Frenchman whose world opens up when he moves in with roommates from around Europe — including a life lessons on how to have sex. Lighthearted, charmingly hyper, and starring a young Romain Duris (Mood Indigo, The Beat That My Heart Skipped). Also check out Russian Dolls, the sequel.