The other day former Manrepeller writer Haley Nahman, the editorial force behind the Maybe Baby newsletter, posted an instastory soliciting calming/ASMR movies a la Portrait of Lady on Fire or Marie Antoinette. It seems like there were quite a few responses, and the movie most recommended to her was Kogonoda’s Columbus. Calming isn’t the first word I’d use to describe these movies, but I can surmise what she’s after: something contemplative, visually serene, without much in the way of plot, and possibly slow. (That last bit is important as it speaks to general moviegoing public’s openness to longer-takes.)
I’m always encouraged by people seeking movies outside of their comfort zone and down to shill some choice flicks, especially if it means more eyeballs towards the cinema and less fixated on streamable fillers, so I quickly put together this list of what might fit bill. (You won’t find any Uncle Boonmee here… yet. This is best for those whetting their cinematic appetites, an artsy cinema starter pack if you will.) Pass it along, and subscribe for more future movie recs.
Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010): Elle Fanning preparing a considerate breakfast of eggs Benedict at the Chateau Marmont and a demo version, then unknown, of a Strokes song are both klonopin straight to my veins.
Anything by Terrence Malick
Magic hour. Any time you see someone photographing sunlight through the trees in effort to capture poetic beauty, they’re aping Malick. Recent movies include the additional calming sight of beautiful people. **I actually find this distracting, but you may not.** Ben Affleck! Christian Bale! Natalie Portman! Javier Bardem! Pick your poison- I mean barbiturate.
Museum Hours by Jem Cohen. Try this if you liked Columbus.
A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
Rooney Mara grieve-eating an entire pie may or may not be the food ASMR you want. The rest of the movie, a meditation on grief, however, is palatably soothing for everyone.
Paterson (Jarmusch, 2018): Paterson writes a few poems, walks his dog, gets a beer in Paterson, NJ every. single. day. Also Paterson is ADAM DRIVER. I wrote more about this movie, which has a pace I’d categorize as a determined saunter, rendering it a cinematic lullabye. (It is my first choice movie to fall asleep to.)
Kelly Reichert movies
For beginners: First Cow (2020). An American myth in Oregon Territory. In the lush forageable forest: the rustle of leaves, the soft thud of falling berries, the delicate sizzle of hot oil in a most well-loved skillet of darkest cast-iron — you will not secure this vision of rustic Americana no matter how much raw-edged furniture and enamelware you buy.
For experts: Meek’s Cutoff (2010). Pre-Batsheva prairie dresses on the Oregon Trail.
Chantal Akerman movies
For the uninitiated: Letters from Home. A landscape documentary of 70s New York in 35mm. Scenes of Tribeca, 10th ave, neon storefronts, the subway at Time Square pass by while the director reads letters from her maman back in France. A distinct feeling of homesickness emerges.
For the adventurous: Jeanne Dielman (1975). A few days in the life of a single mother going about her domestic chores and then some. Mesmerizing in its mundanity (you literally just watch her make schnitzel at one point), then mind-blowing in its radical feminist vision.
And for me personally
Anything from the French New Wave (1960s) puts me at ease, not just because of high levels of cinematic innovation on display. I love the hyper-specific click-clacking of heels, unplated baguettes in bare-boned kitchens, and the sight of no hosiery in the dead of winter — those women have my greatest respect and admiration.