Keep calm and carry on with some soothing cinema.
This is it, the last day of the 2016 US presidential election. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or possibly somehow some third party or write-in candidate will win the seat in the Oval Office, hopefully by night’s end. And if your candidate is the loser, you’ll need something to calm you down. If your candidate is the winner, you’ll need something to help you with the relief. Either way, whether you’re booing or phewing, it’s time to say sayonara to this election cycle with the most serene and relaxing and bright and happy and hopeful movies possible. Here are a dozen:
Employees Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895)
That’s it, it’s closing time on this election and we can all go home. Watching this film, one of the earliest ever made, we get that same happy feeling of clocking out of our own jobs at the end of the day. Also it’s great to see all these women employed, symbolic of Clinton’s career (and punching out on it, if that’s the case and you like that) or Trump being a great employer of women (whatever you think of this claim). There’s also a positive element to the kind of factory this is. OK, so film stock is no longer something being produced on a substantial level, but the movies (and other visual entertainments derived from the Lumiere’s beginnings) are thriving. It’s quite short, so put it on a loop.
What is more soothing than a rainy day, provided you’re not caught in it or otherwise dealing with the sogginess or dangers of wet weather? City symphony films are typically tranquil, if sometimes a little too fast for total relaxation, but this one that has a simple synopsis of “rain falls on a Dutch city” and is co-directed by Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken is like a lazy day sitting at the window watching a drizzle turn into a shower and that’s it. The only conflict is that of a storm versus Amsterdam, and not too wildly, but this is a film that on screen and off is about nature always being in control. And if you can’t get enough water-themed experimental cinema, follow this with Slavko Vorkapich and John Hoffman’s Moods of the Sea.
City Lights (1931)
Charlie Chaplin’s most lovable feature is also arguably the greatest romantic comedy of all time. While its ending isn’t completely certain (situated between the Tramp character’s usual solo walks into the distance at the end of his movies and later Modern Times’ definite happy ending with Chaplin and Paulette Goddard walking together down the road, it’s hard to tell which way this one would go if it didn’t finish so abruptly), City Lights does leave you hopeful, wishing to believe the Tramp gets the girl. Even if he doesn’t, though, he’s put in a great effort, just like during a boxing match he loses and just like how he winds up in jail despite doing nothing wrong. And all that effort is enough to make this silent classic a masterpiece of uplift.
You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
It may be not be the most popular Best Picture winner, but Frank Capra’s film of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a delightful ideological romp that makes social anarchy seem like a plausible and peaceful and altogether perfect way of life. Watch it and wish you too were invited into the Vanderhof/Sycamore/Carmichael home, allowed to focus on your dream of making toys or fireworks or music or art and not paying taxes and being able to convince cranky old bankers to lighten up.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
A lot of us like to cheer ourselves up with a musical, and there are plenty that’ll do, but no others are as bright and colorful and happy as a Jacques Demy film, with this one in particular winning above all. Gene Kelly co-stars, for anyone who needs that bridge to French cinema, with sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac playing twins looking for love. Follow Bjork’s character’s lead in Dancer in the Dark by turning it (or any other musical) off after the second to last song so the movie and your happiness keeps going.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Spoiler alert: the mom doesn’t die. That’s not going to ruin the movie for you if you don’t already know that, but it does take away any anxious concern that Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic will be like Disney and Pixar features, which tend to go in that direction. And you can just focus on the magical story of two little girls encountering cuddly Japanese forest spirits and a catbus while coping with their mother being in the hospital. It’s a light story considering that sad element, and it’ll have you grinning wider than that fantastical feline transport from beginning to end.
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)
Maybe Kurosawa’s most underrated film, there’s no argument for it being his best but it’s still pretty terrific. As the title suggests, this film is dreamlike and plural in its components. There are eight vignettes based on the filmmaker’s own dreams and some of them are clearly inspired by nightmares, one of them apocalyptic. But even the bad dreams have mesmerizing visuals, and maybe because they’re obviously not realistic they don’t stray too far from the general serenity of the whole movie. Plus Kurosawa finishes with a sublime, contemplative episode that wraps up the movie and life on a melancholy but positive, celebratory note.
The Straight Story (1999)
David Lynch calls this G-rated Disney feature his most experimental movie, and it is quite different from his normal. Based on a true story, it stars Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight, a man traveling across two states on a lawnmower to reconcile with his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) before he dies. There’s some sadness with the film, especially if you look up the fates of either Farnsworth or the real Straight, but it’s a beautiful kind of sadness that makes your heart feel better for having experienced it. The Straight Story is also an extraordinary portrait of the good in America.
Winged Migration (2001)
Bird watching is considered one of the most relaxing pastimes, so a movie that allows you to watch many kinds of birds in flight and other migratory travel is also very therapeutic in its calmness. This one has some controversy tied to it regarding how it was made (and with a hunting scene), so if that bothers you, try another bird documentary instead. There’s March of the Penguins and the bird watchers films Birders: The Central Park Effect and Big Birding Day. And some other migration docs could work, too, such as Sweetgrass. But Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life might be too harsh for now.
Lost in Translation (2003)
For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. And make it Lost in Translation time, because Sofia Coppola’s second feature goes down so smooth and easy and delicious, as well. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play unhappy strangers, each on a non-vacation stay in Tokyo, who find comfort in each other’s company and peace in and outside the busy city. The only potentially stressful thing with this movie is not knowing what Bob (Murray) says to Charlotte (Johansson) at the end. Does he tell her he loves her? That the Cubs will win one day? To keep calm no matter who becomes president? Just allow it to be whatever you want it to be on this occasion. It can be as simply optimistic as everything’s gonna be all right.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003)
There is killing and there is groping in Kim Ki-duk’s cyclical story of an apprentice turned master whose life is depicted over five seasonal segments, but what we come away with from the film more than the blood, sex, and death are the magnificent views of a floating monastery amidst nature and the Buddhist teachings that are practiced there. Much happens, big things, but it’s also still a simple, small, quiet feature, and quite different from Kim’s prior works. It is meditative drama. It is pure Zen cinema.
Technically a music video, the 24-hour version of Pharell Williams’s “Happy” is the longest of all time (recognized by Guinness) and much longer than most feature films. While not for anyone who can’t stand even the four-minute version of the super poppy pop song, especially if you associate it disagreeably with Minions, this is otherwise an infectious work that might make you so happy by the end that people will think you’re dead. You’ll just be catatonic, but you’ll be smiling and maybe even still dancing. And even if this does sound more like Hell than Heavenly, it’s better than experiencing another minute of the 2016 presidential election.