OK, so everything is just flat out weird right now. We’re all stuck at home, (or at least we should be) with a huge amount of free time suddenly on our hands. Odds are, you’re probably looking for some new stuff to watch. And lucky for you, the Daily Trojan has got you covered with some essential Los Angeles-based media.
Whether you’ve left the city to wait out the coronavirus in your hometown, or you’re still hanging out by campus just stuck inside your apartment, you’re probably craving some semblance of normalcy. You may be wishing that you could be adventuring through L.A. again. Or (especially if you’ve left) at least just be back among the vibrant city’s vibes.
The cool thing about going to USC is we live in the birthplace of American entertainment. Naturally, a lot of content produced in Hollywood will take place in L.A., but some of these films and TV shows will be centered around the city as more than just a neutral backdrop — L.A. is almost presented as its own character. So if you’re missing your second home or even your home home, check these classics out!
“Chinatown” — Hulu
OK, Roman Polanski is not a person we should be celebrating, let’s get that out of the way. That being said, he has given us an acclaimed body of work, one that includes the 1974 widely-regarded masterpiece, “Chinatown.” Set in 1937, “Chinatown” is a nostalgic neo-noir mystery thriller starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is a private investigator hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) to follow her husband. But he soon learns that this is more than just a case of a broken marriage and an unfaithful husband. The movie is simultaneously a whirlwind of drama, an edge-of-your-seat mystery and a riveting psychological thriller. “Chinatown” is a dark portrait of the early days of L.A. and reminiscent of the dominant styles of filmmaking of the era.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — YouTube (rent for $5.99)
You’ve definitely heard of this one. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year and took home Best Production Design and Best Supporting Actor for Brad Pitt’s suave performance as stuntman Cliff Booth. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film follows several storylines in 1969 Los Angeles, and finishes off in climactic final act. If you can sit through the two-and-a-half hour run time, it’s well worth it.
The movie paints a campy portrait of the ’60s through the lives of a colorful film star Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). You are transported to an entirely different time as scenes emphasize a vintage L.A. and the revelatory aesthetics of counterculture. The movie didn’t win Best Production Design for no reason. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a must-watch for anyone who likes a bit of late 20th century nostalgia and is a bit of a Hollywood buff.
“La La Land” — Amazon Prime (rent for $2.99)
This one’s in the present day! And it’s an absolute delight of a picture. Damian Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film “La La Land” is a dreamy story of modern day Los Angeles and two young artists who stumble into each other’s lives and fall madly in love. The color palette is riddled with pastel pinks, blues, yellows and purples and the soundtrack is a whimsical mix of piano ballads and uptempo jazz numbers. Chazelle takes us all over the city, from the lengths of the Santa Monica Pier to the heights of the Griffith Observatory. And hardcore Angelenos will recognize some of the more obscure locations like Angels Flight Railway and the Lighthouse Cafe.
It’s a movie for those who like a challenging romance and formalist cinema. Fantasy-sequences are smoothly rolled into a realistic portrait of being a fresh-faced struggling hopeful in the City of Stars, the city where dreams come true. It’s a movie that’s obsessed with the movies. And Hollywood loves nothing more than itself, so you can trust in its escapism.
“Blade Runner” — Netflix
Finally! A movie that doesn’t refer to L.A. in the title! “Blade Runner” is set in 2019, but the film came out in 1982. Why it thinks we could have been that technologically advanced by now beats me, but it’s an electrifying thriller that takes place in a futuristic dystopian version of Los Angeles where synthetic humans are bioengineered for the sole purpose of labor.
The story is that of a gritty former cop who is tasked with hunting down a group of fugitive replicants. “Blade Runner” has some of the most magnificent cinematography of ’80s sci-fi thrillers, depicting imaginative and incredibly thorough worldbuilding. It’s not one that will comfort you if you miss L.A. per se, rather it’ll get you re-imagining it.
“BoJack Horseman” — Netflix
Netflix’s critically acclaimed original series “BoJack Horseman” is a modern classic and has cemented itself as a cornerstone in adult animated television through its mature themes and the nuances of its intricately clever world. If you have a high tolerance for anti-heroes, a perfect way to spend the quarantine might be getting invested in BoJack Horseman, a washed up celebrity struggling with, well, being an all around terrible guy, or rather, horse.
The show takes place in a world where humans and animals coexist. BoJack, in six seasons, goes through an incredibly raw and human character arc. The show’s message stays consistent: Growth is nonlinear. The series plays up the drama and grit of everything he does and goes through, and it gets away with it by being a “fun cartoon” at first glance. “BoJack Horseman’s” parody of L.A. is especially colorful and unique and plays into many stereotypical Hollywood character archetypes and plotlines.
“Barry” — HBO
To cap off our list is a second eponymous anti-hero-centered TV show. This one’s a little more violent and a little less colorful, but just as fun. HBO’s “Barry” has only had two seasons but has already received immense recognition and acclaim with 30 Emmy nominations, including two Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series wins for Bill Hader. Hader plays a hitman from Ohio who, for his most recent assignment, is hired to take someone out in L.A. But he ends up staying when he accidentally stumbles into an acting class and discovers a new love and talent he never knew he had.
With an absurd plot that makes way for some truly hilarious scenes and characters, “Barry” is a show that definitely leaves a mark on the viewer. A huge part of this is because Barry draws deep sympathy from the audience while revealing very little about himself or his past. The show is not so much about Los Angeles as it is about its magical ability to inspire artistic passion in almost anyone.