Why so glum, chum? Movies are fun and they need watching.
In the immortal words of Shane Black via Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, “Life is pain. Get used to it.” These days life has been really painful though, and it’s not so easy to get used to it. Thankfully movies are always here to pick us up when we need it, or bring us down if we’re looking to wallow. This month we’ve made a list of movies that will leave you smiling and feeling good about humanity after you watch them – at least for a little while. Click on their titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
It’s possible that Big Trouble in Little China might be the stupidest movie ever made. It’s about a fast-talking, rock-stupid, man-child truck driver battling Asian mystics over the fate of his pilfered big rig and a nonsense prophecy about a Chinese girl who has green eyes, after all. That said, because the blowhard white guy is being played by Kurt Russel, the decrepit bad guy is being played by James Hong, and the whole thing was put together by John Carpenter, it just can’t help but be one of the most fun dumb movies you’ll ever see. Any time you’re in a bad mood you can put this movie on, sit back, crack open a beer (domestic), and rest assured that you’ll spend the next couple of days casually dropping Jack Burton quotes into your conversations and humming sections of Carpenter’s score in your alone moments. The music in this movie is some of the best struttin’ music ever written. Big Trouble in Little China is pure movie popcorn at its saltiest and most buttery, and can always be counted on to lift you out of even the funkiest of funks.
One of the easiest ways to add good feelings into your mental diet is to inject a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia. Everybody seems to like looking back to the 80s for some reason – even super-young people who didn’t live through them the first time. A lot of the movies that were popular in the 80s run solely on nostalgia, and aren’t actually very good when viewed in a bubble though. Well, not Adventures in Babysitting. There’s a subplot about a Playboy pictorial that’s a little problematic in here, but in general this is just a really sweet, really nice adventure comedy that develops memorable characters, puts them through an entertaining gauntlet of perfectly paced obstacles that never get boring, and that then wraps up with an inspiring ending that leaves you feeling that maybe “the other” isn’t really so scary after all, and that maybe a group of wide-eyed suburban kids really can make it in the big city.
Doubt this movie’s ability to lift your mood? Just picture that opening scene where Elisabeth Shue is dancing around her 80s as shit bedroom, singing into her hairbrush, and putting on 80s as shit clothes. You’re smiling already, right?
Amélie is all about romance and orgasms and the strange little corners of the world where quirkiness lives. It’s about a person living in the comfortable little nest they’ve made for themselves finally stepping out into the big world and finding out that there are even better things out there than the already awesome stuff they’ve surrounded themselves with, if they just take a chance. This movie is funny, it’s gorgeous to look at, and it doesn’t have a cynical bone in its cinematic body. It finds weird things to love about even the most normal-seeming street characters who we all come across in our day to day lives. It takes the world we live in and turns it on its head until it starts to look more interesting and more magical than the basic, depressing drabness we perceive around us as we’re slogging through our daily routines. It’s a gift given to us by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet that basically works as tonic for the soul whenever we’re feeling low.
Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
Not very many movies that start off with a kindly old farmer getting crippled in a terrible accident are uplifting, but Babe: Pig in the City is one of them. Pretty much any movie about a cute, talking animal going on an adventure is going to give you the warm fuzzies while you’re watching it, but that doesn’t mean that most of them are necessarily good movies when you break them down critically. Babe is one of the rare talking animal movies that’s not just adorable, but is also actually good, and Babe: Pig in the City is one of the rare sequels that might actually improve on its predecessor. What the heck is this country bumpkin pig going to do in the city? He’s completely out of his element! Completely out of his element, but worming his way right into all of our hearts. Am I right? Also, can we talk about how fun the city Babe visits in this movie being a giant amalgam of every famous city in the world is? Pig in the City has production design for days.
There are few things out there that are able to fill hearts quite so full of joy as underdog sports stories, and there few stories more underdog than that of a ragamuffin group of Jamaican sprinters trying to break into Olympic-level winter sports while pushing around a rickety old bobsled. This movie has it all – lovable heroes, Scandinavian villains, the unique comedic stylings of Doug E. Doug, John Candy doing that thing he’s able to do where he plays a slobby scumbag who you end up loving anyway, and, most importantly, an inspiring story about a group of outsiders working hard to gain respect and acceptance, and eventually seeing their hard work pay off. If you want to watch an uplifting movie, you want to watch a movie that includes at least one slow clap, and Cool Runnings delivers on that front as well as so many others.
Everybody who’s seen an Edgar Wright film knows that Nick Frost is always lovable when playing the goofy sidekick. What wasn’t clear until Cuban Fury came out was whether or not he could support a film as the lead. Well, maybe he can’t open a film financially, because this one came and went without anyone really noticing, but he sure as shit can handle the challenges of being a leading man creatively. This movie is an absolute delight. It makes you so invested in salsa dancing that you’re likely to audibly cheer whenever that big teddy bear of a man scores some kind of dancing-related victory. It’s pretty much impossible to see how much fun Frost is having here busting his ass in a very earnest dancing picture and not come away from it smiling and feeling inspired. Also, in addition to Frost killing it as the lead, Cuban Fury also treats us with Rashida Jones and Chris O’Dowd killing it in supporting roles, and they’re as likable and crush-worthy as anyone alive has ever been.
Sure, sure, the end of ET manages to get a little weepy, so it’s not fully a pick-me-up sort of movie, but the rest of it is filled with so much Spielbergian wide-eyed wonder and wholesome Amblin charm that even as you’re wiping away your tears, you’re likely to come away from any sort of re-watch of it feeling emotionally fortified and experiencing a strange craving for peanut butter-based candies. People don’t think about the bittersweet moment of growing up and letting things go that the film ends on when they think about ET anyway. They think about the triumphant, sticking your middle finger up at the man moment where Elliott and his little brown potato-looking friend take flight on their bike and avoid the evil authorities, all while striking a wicked-awesome silhouette in front of the moon. Steven Spielberg – the dude made pretty movies. Damn the man! Little alien friends for everyone!
What exactly is it that makes human beings happy? It’s not binge watching reality television, peacocking on social media, and hoarding stockpiles of slickly marketed consumer goods, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t know that from looking at our pathetic, miserable, modern lives though. Happy is a documentary that tries to delve into the mysterious state of happiness by going around the world and talking to weirdos who have much better heads on their shoulders than the typical idiot who participates in mainstream Western culture. Okay, so it talks to some scientists too, but it’s much less interesting listening to them prattle on about dopamine and whatnot than it is listening to a hard-nosed rickshaw driver and a sun-fried surfer dude shell out homespun wisdom. There are lessons to be learned by watching this movie, but also it’s just really uplifting watching so much footage of people smiling while doing the things that bring joy to their lives. Is it possible that happiness loves company just as much as misery?
What’s the best thing Judd Apatow has ever done in his career? Unless you answered, “co-write the script for Heavyweights,” you don’t know what you’re talking about. One of the themes that ties a bunch of these feel good movies together is that they’re often stories about underdogs triumphing over adversity, and who’s a bigger underdog than the school fat kid? Get the fat kids from every school together in one place like this movie does and you’ve got a recipe for inspiration. Heavyweights is wholly wholesome, but it’s also subversively clever. Ben Stiller gives what’s easily the funniest performance of his career as the fit and villainous Tony Perkis. The kids are all great and not annoying. Tom Hodges became a movie legend thanks to his portrayal of pasty and foreign camp counselor Lars. Heavyweights even gives us an always welcome dose of Tim Blake Nelson. Pretty hard to get all of that and not come away feeling like you’ve been stuffed full of comfort food.
There haven’t been very many good Woody Allen movies in recent years, but Midnight in Paris is the bright shining star as far as his modern work is concerned. What makes this movie such a good time is how obsessed with escapism it is. The main character is a wannabe writer played by Owen Wilson who’s obsessed with the moveable feast that was the artsy cosmopolitan scene in Paris in the 1920s, and who spends his nights magically being transported to this time period so that he can spend time with characters as interesting and iconic as Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). Sure, this sort of escapism plays to a pretty niche audience, but if you happen to be in that audience then it really plays to you. There are few things I can think of more comforting than retreating to the city of lights of yesteryear alongside Owen Wilson’s delightfully crooked nose and comfortably relaxed drawl. Watching this one feels like being a baby who’s being coed by a particularly adept maternal figure of some consequence.
Wes Anderson movies are always able to establish a really unique Wes Anderson tone. There’s an element of bittersweet melancholy to them, for sure, but they also contain a celebration of the diverse array of humanity-defining quirks and neuroses that can’t help but make you thankful to be a part of the species. His movies are also often imbued with a strong sense of nostalgia for childhood, and that’s especially true in Moonrise Kingdom, the story of a couple of childhood sweethearts who decide that they’re too rebellious and cool for their mundane surroundings, so they run off into the forest to get away from it all. An adorable manhunt led by Cub Scouts, a ridiculous dance to sexy French music, plans for a guerrilla wedding, and a blossoming relationship between a surrogate father/son pair follows. So much adorableness gets packed into this one movie that Anderson probably could have saved some and made two more adequately adorable movies with the leftovers.
Even after the very public and very unfortunate sex scandal that Paul Reubens went through, his Pee-Wee character was still able to exist as a teflon, untouchable icon of innocence and childlike glee who wouldn’t go away. That’s a testament to just how unique and memorable the character and the exaggerated world that exists around him is. There’s nothing mean or bad in any Pee-Wee property. It’s one of the brightest, shiningest examples of inclusivity in modern popular culture. That his message of joy gets presented to us in the charming trappings of camp weirdness makes it even more appealing. Is this the best movie Tim Burton ever directed? No, that’s Ed Wood, but it’s certainly the second best movie he ever directed, and it’s certainly the most important piece of the Pee-Wee franchise. People will be watching this one with their kids for generations, and it will still keep putting smiles on everyone’s faces, because it’s just so danged strange, and just so danged nice.
We’re living in the age of snark and sass and Meta commentary, so it’s rare to find a piece of entertainment that’s not trying to be funny or cool, but that’s just plain earnest. The recent remake of Pete’s Dragon is exactly that movie. Not only does it have a big, derpy mystical figure as its star who will appeal to little kids and grown-ass animal lovers alike, but it’s also got a heart of gold. This is a movie about family ties, and good people fighting for what’s right, and it manages to still be entertaining without even having a sassy sidekick or a big mess of bathroom humor. Could it be possible that we might be about to experience a new wave of movies that honestly try to touch us without being ironic or detached about it? Probably not, but it’s nice to think about.
Is Reptilicus actually a movie pick-me-up? No. It’s a terrible creature feature that came out of Denmark in the early 60s, and it’s nearly unwatchable. It gets a heck of a lot more fun when it’s lovingly mocked by the minds behind the classic cult comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000 though, and that’s relevant here because it serves as the cheesy movie that gets skewered in the first episode of Netflix’s new MST3K revival. Back in the 90s this TV show not only created a whole generation of movie nerds, it defined the comedic sensibilities of an entire generation of nerds in general, and to have a revival that recreates the heart of what made the original work so well in 2017 feels too good to be true. Nonetheless, before the first act of Reptilicus ends, it becomes pretty undeniable that this new MST3K feels just like going back home again.
One of the easiest ways to feel uplifted is to laugh. One of the easiest ways to laugh is to laugh at the stupid behavior of morons. This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary about a group of stupid, arrogant, silly morons (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) bumbling their way through a rock & roll lifestyle, and it’s been making people laugh and feel better about themselves for decades. There may be more funny lines and ridiculous throwaway gags that get quoted in this movie than any other comedy that’s ever been made – which is especially the case if you’re anywhere near a college campus. Put this one on in a room where a group of people are hanging out and its pretty much guaranteed that they’ll be laughing and comparing favorite scenes in no time.
People love Sing Street. I’ve literally yet to come across anyone who doesn’t love Sing Street. That’s been frustrating for me, because I seem to be the only person on the planet who didn’t fall for the charms of this movie, but it’s enough evidence to make it an easy recommendation for a list of movies that are meant to leave people feeling good. What do people like in this movie? It harkens back to that early teenaged time in everyone’s life where the world couldn’t be more confusing, but that just meant that the world couldn’t be anymore filled with possibility. It works as a love letter to a period of time where popular music was wildly experimental, rapidly changing, and in general just very interesting. It’s also full of catchy, ear worm tunes that tend to make the heart soar, which is great if you happen to be the sort of person who isn’t disgusted by catchy, ear worm tunes that make the heart soar.
Seriously, people love this movie, and even us curmudgeons can appreciate how good Jack Reynor is as the older brother with the cool record collection. Anyone who grew up with an older brother who had a cool record collection had a real leg up on everyone else in the neighborhood.