We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but you’re worried that you won’t be able to find a humans-only multiplex now that the aliens have arrived and are swarming all over like they own the place. But you can have a multiplex-like experience at home with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday, “Hey, did you see District 9 this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I stayed on my humans-only couch and watched some of the movies that inspired it instead.”
INSTEAD OF: District 9, the startling new science fiction movie about extraterrestrial refugees who washed up in Johannesburg 20 years ago and never quite got assimilated into South African life…
WATCH: Just get it out of your system already and watch 1988’s Alien Nation — about ET refugees who wash up in Los Angeles and do get assimilated into the Southern California way of life: it doesn’t bear much resemblance to D9, and it’s not even a very good movie (the Fox TV series is much better, if you’re looking to be entertained in a thought-provoking way, but it looks even less like D9). Better: do a double feature of Cloverfield — last year’s faux-reality Manhattan monster movie — and Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott’s more-real-than-real action drama about American soldiers in Somalia. If you could combine those movies, you’d have something that starts to approach D9.
INSTEAD OF: The Time Traveler’s Wife, the achingly romantic story about a boy (Eric Bana), a girl (Rachel McAdams), and the nasty tricks quantum physics can play on a relationship…
WATCH: 1980’s Somewhere in Time, perhaps the most romantic time-travel movie ever, in which Christopher Reeve journeys back in time to woo Jane Seymour; if you know where the pocketwatch came from, please let me know. I’m in a minority on this one, but I really like 2006’s The Lake House, in which Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock write each other love letters from different years while living in the same house at different times. For more dreamy Eric Bana-ness… well, geez, he’s almost always been scary and creepy before this, but 2007’s Lucky You comes closest: he plays a compulsive gambler who’s kind of a sleaze yet kind of charming too. If you can’t get enough of Rachel McAdams, lovers of weepy rom-coms swear by 2004’s The Notebook (though I’m not a fan of this one: it’s way too schmaltzy for me).
INSTEAD OF: Bandslam, an earnest high-school drama about kids competing in a rock competition and just trying to figure out this crazy thing called life…
WATCH: Two teen music movies films last year could have been a coincidence; with Bandslam, we’ve got a trend. In the deeply wonderful Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings spend a night on the town chasing down a secret concert by their favorite band and unexpectedly finding each other; it set a high bar for the current crop of teen flicks that few movies will be able to leap. High School Musical 3: Senior Year is better than anyone over the age of 12 had a right to expect it to be: its sweet, watered-down emoness is similar to Bandslam’s feel, plus everybody dances! (Vanessa Hudgens stars in both, too.) The Bandslam kids are just about the right age to have attended the School of Rock in 2003, where Jack Black would have taught them to rock on.
INSTEAD OF: Ponyo, the latest from Hayao Miyazaki, the master of Japanese animated filmmaking…
WATCH: Disney’s 1989 animated adaptation of The Little Mermaid, which isn’t just a lovely film itself, but also shares roots with Ponyo in the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name. For more of Miyazaki’s genius, don’t miss 1988 My Neighbor Totoro, an indescribably strange and lovely film about wood spirits in rural Japan; and 2001’s Spirited Away, in which a little girl finds herself trapped in a bathhouse for spirits. See one of the voice stars of the English-language version of Ponyo — Cate Blanchett — in 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which is practically a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon.
INSTEAD OF: The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, a comedy about a used-car salesman (Jeremy Piven) who does something or other that’s supposed to be funny…
WATCH: I’ve never seen it, but apparently the only other movie ever made about used-car salesmen is 1980’s Used Cars, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by him and Bob Gale (they also wrote Back to the Future) and starring Kurt Russell as a used-car salesman who needs money to run for state senate. No, wait, there’s also 1990’s Cadillac Man, in which Robin Williams’ used-car salesman is taken hostage by Tim Robbins. It’s a comedy, of course: no one would make a drama about a used-car salesman, would they?
Where to buy:
Alien Nation [Region 1] [Region 2]
Black Hawk Down [Region 1] [Region 2]
Cadillac Man [Region 1] [Region 2]
Cloverfield [Region 1] [Region 2]
High School Musical 3: Senior Year [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Lake House [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Little Mermaid [Region 1] [Region 2]
Lucky You [Region 1] [Region 2]
My Neighbor Totoro [Region 1] [Region 2]
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Notebook [Region 1] [Region 2]
School of Rock [Region 1] [Region 2]
Somewhere in Time [Region 1] [Region 2]
Spirited Away [Region 1] [Region 2]
Used Cars [Region 1] [Region 2]