As Italy continues to recover from a truly harrowing first half of the year, perhaps it’s time to tip our hats to the country’s resilience and cinematic wealth accrued over the decades. Here are a few titles to consider next time you’re looking for a decadent film to pair with a lavish meal at home — bottle of wine not included.
Call Me by Your Name (2017) (Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes)
In director Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous and impassioned love story set in northern Italy during the early ’80s, Timothée Chalamet finds love and heartbreak for the first time when grad student Armie Hammer stays at his family’s summer home. James Ivory deservedly took home an Oscar for his crafty adaptation of André Aciman’s novel — and it’s no surprise everyone involved is anxious to do a sequel.
The ultimate love letter to cinema, Giuseppe Tornatore’s most internationally beloved film charts the growth of a provincial Italian boy named Toto and the impact on his life from the town’s benevolent movie theater projectionist. One of Italian cinema’s most awarded films, “Cinema Paradiso” is worth revisiting over and over. Though if you’re a first-time viewer, be sure to start with the theatrical version and not the longer, more muted director’s cut.
Deep Red (1975) (Shudder)
Dario Argento, the king of Italian horror, knocked out moviegoers with this ultra-stylish murder mystery about a jazz pianist, played by David Hemmings, who witnesses an attack on a psychic and stumbles onto a macabre years-old puzzle. Featuring camerawork that will blow your mind, gorgeous location photography in Turin and a groundbreaking rock soundtrack by Goblin, “Deep Red” is just the thing if you like your visual banquets on the sinister side.
Django (1966) (Vudu, Tubi)
One of the most popular and influential spaghetti Westerns of all time, this star-making vehicle for Franco Nero — seen here dragging a coffin on a rope in an unforgettable opening scene — is one of the greatest lone gunslinger movies ever made. It went on to spawn countless European imitations for a decade and inspired Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” which even brings Nero back for a cameo.
8 ½ (1963) (The Criterion Channel, Kanopy, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime)
This phantasmagorical look at the world of moviemaking through the eyes of a filmmaker in crisis is one of Federico Fellini’s greatest achievements. Sparkling, surreal and intoxicating, this fantastical drama went on to inspire the hit Broadway musical, “Nine.”
Gomorrah (2008) (The Criterion Channel, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Sling TV)
Arguably a masterpiece of Italian gangster cinema, Matteo Garrone’s semi-anthological film depicts the impact of the Camorra, Naples’ branch of the Mafia, on the lives of those caught up in its web of violence. Roberto Saviano, the novelist whose work inspired the film, drew inspiration from his experiences undercover and earned lifelong police bodyguards for his efforts, which also led to an acclaimed TV series of the same name.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) (Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
It’s difficult to pick the best Western directed by Sergio Leone — many would rightfully point to “Once Upon a Time in the West” — but the best introduction to his work is easily the third and final installment of his stunning Man with No Name trilogy, which also made a major star out of Clint Eastwood.
In the movie, Clint, the “good,” crosses paths with the very “bad” Lee Van Cleef and “ugly” rascal Eli Wallach in a search for gold that leads right smack into gunfights, a massive battle and a cemetery finale no viewer has ever forgotten (complete with an iconic Ennio Morricone track later used many times by everyone from Metallica to “Jackass”).
The Great Beauty (2013) (The Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play)
Light on plot but loaded with gorgeous imagery, Paolo Sorrentino’s cinematic party is an elegiac but festive snapshot of Italian culture from the perspective of a man whose 65th birthday triggers decades of memories that reflect the country’s heritage — including its cinematic past.
The Leopard (1963) (Vudu, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play)
No Italian director delivers elegance quite like the legendary Luchino Visconti, whose masterpieces include “Death in Venice” and “Senso.” His most astounding epic stars Burt Lancaster as an aristocrat who finds his privileged world quickly fading in 1860’s Sicily, including a climactic ball sequence that will leave you reeling.
1900 (1976) (Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube)
Italian epics don’t come much bigger than Bernardo Bertolucci’s 5 hour and 20-minute magnum opus, which will easily immerse you for a whole afternoon. Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu star as childhood friends who grow up on opposite sides of the social and political divide. Not for the easily shocked, “1900” is a beautiful and harrowing achievement in filmmaking that feels like reading a great novel.