8 Sweaty Tropical Films to Watch on Your Sad Sack Winter Staycation

Escape without leaving your house! Forget that, you can even stay in bed!
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Trista Crass
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Escape without leaving your house! Forget that, you can even stay in bed!

I like to think that I am inherently adjusted to Alaska’s extreme winters; I don’t mean extremely cold—after -20F, it’s all the same. But the bleak, 3-hour days are starting to get to me. I have an itchy, creeping feeling, the very same that one gets from watching a clock for too long. Days have smeared together a bit, the few shreds of daylight lost to low, grey clouds and the static-y Great Indoors. 

People generally combat the space madness with happy lights, dark beer and bonfires. If you are really just #blessed with time, you’d go skiing and fishing during the daylight hours. I obviously prefer just leaving for a period of time.

I get it, it's magical.

I get it, it's magical.

Deep winter IS a magical time, and after 30 years I get the gist of it. But sometimes obligations mean that instead of getting on the next plane to somewhere near the Equator, you have to wait it out. When seemingly everyone you know (it’s actually just like two bastards that are in Colombia for three months) on social media posting pictures of their decadent holidays to warmer climes, escape without leaving your house! Forget that, you can even stay in bed! Here is a pile of films to keep your sweaty ass busy.

Metro Manila

This gritty independent film is a clear departure from your average City film. Centering around a young couple moving from rural Lampung to Manila after their jobs at a rice plantation dry up, the family struggles not to be swallowed up by the city. 

Usually with low-budget films, you can choose between a good story and good production quality—this film nails both. The carefully-crafted plot and top-notch acting transitions seamlessly from drama to thriller. The award-winning film is captured with lots of jittery, manual shots, giving a documentary feel. It’s mostly in Tagalog, and feels like a complete immersion into life in Manila.

10 Canoes

Ten Canoes is special for so many reasons; it's the first feature film completely in Aboriginal Australian languages (several dialects are represented), and it's also the first film co-directed by an Aboriginal Australian to win a massive pile of awards—including one at Cannes in 2006. 

Relayed through a storyteller, this tale of murder and revenge is set in gorgeous Arafura Swamp. Told through three different timescales, you have to pay attention to appreciate the clever nuance as well as get the intertwined connection between people past and present. 

If you love this film, check out Charlie’s Country—it’s also directed by Rolf de Heer, but it’s a lot more topical.

Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus

Director Sebastian Silva takes his time with long shots and improv dialog, stretching some kids spending a weekend trying to get high as balls on San Pedro cactus into a stark look at modern self-absorption. Michael Cera hooks you immediately with his portrayal of selfish douchebag traveler Jaime, and indie darling Gabi Hoffman’s character Crystal Fairy is masterful. Silva’s brothers round out the cast as the affable, surprisingly tolerant Chileans. 

Filmed along the Chilean coast, the cast moves from van to the beach—where the majority of the film takes place. It’s surprisingly relaxing, entertaining, and gorgeous at times. Crystal Fairy also kind of worms her way into your heart, even though she’s annoying AF.

The Beach

This bastion of early 2000s travel culture is often forgotten because it was just an alright movie made from Alexander Garland’s stunning, best-selling thriller of the same name. With a soundtrack is to die for, you’ll be treated to not only sweaty Leo and Tilda Swinton, but also some rather beleaguered Frenchies as a group of spoiled expats decide to keep the Full Moon Party going by living out their own version of Lord of The Flies on a hidden beach in Thailand. 

The film does capture the keyed-up excitement of Bangkok’s Koh San Road, as well as breathtaking scenery from southern Thailand.

Splinters

Move over, Endless Summer, this is the new king of surfing movies. Filmed entirely in Papua New Guinea, this documentary doesn’t lean on corporate sponsors or semi-pros for intensity. Full of wicked-hot surfers, it’s both the story of the history of surfing in the small village of Vanimo, and coverage of the first National Surf Competition. 

It lacks the curated nonsense that I’ve come to expect from the propaganda ‘documentaries’ about how awesome it is being super white, rich and ‘authentic’ that have been belched out by the dozen the last few years. Instead, Splinters completely transports you to island life. showing you what ‘paradise’ looks like to the people who actually live there. It starts slow, but it’s the sports film that doesn’t pull any punches.

Before Night Falls

Dark and poetic, Before Night Falls is an absolute masterpiece. Directed by the hideously talented Julian Schnable, it’s as poignant and beautiful as you’d expect. Set during the tumultuous Cuban Revolution, it follows playwright, novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas, offering intimate snapshots from his early life, into his struggles against the rising tide of homophobia in Cuba in the ‘60s. 

Javier Bardem’s outstanding performance and the artistic cinematography will keep you in your seat. And if not, Johnny Depp in drag might.

Mosquito Coast

A fascinating story of egotistical lunatic Allie (played perfectly by a young, bronzed Harrison Ford) dragging his poor, unsuspecting family to Central America. Fed up with America’s consumer culture, Allie’s stirred up mind decides that buying a small village and forcing the villagers to build his version of a utopia is a solid plan. 

Unsurprisingly, the people whose town he purchased are not enthusiastic, and shit goes awry. Features Helen Mirren and baby River Phoenix, as well as canoeing.

Predator

Didn’t expect that, did ya?! The original Predator film was shot outside of Guadalajara, which is fitting because it’s a veritable fiesta of one-liners. Nearly two hours of poorly-scripted action, the highlight is absolutely super-hunk Carl Weathers in a tiny vest, the gloriously green vegetation, and knowing that Arnold is going on to be Governor of California. This was one of the first R-Rated movies I saw, and it taught me how to properly drop F-bombs.

If you need me, I’ll be experimenting with hibernation. Do you have a favourite film from a warmer location? For the love of dogs, enlighten us!

My preferred location mid-winter.

My preferred location mid-winter.