My Favorite Feel Good Movies
There is no sugar coating it the year of 2020 has sucked. It has sucked hard. Australia burned, yet another war loomed, protests against police brutality hit a boiling point, the economy tanked, and of course COVID 19 shut down the world. While the movies I normally write about for this site are of the horror and noir variety I am not immune to the power of cinema to uplift and inspire. There are some movies I can always rely on to boost the spirits and bring a great deal of cheer.
The Thin Man: When it comes to funny movies, this one is my all-time favorite. Featuring the iconic cinema couple of William Powell and Myrna Loy as the quick-witted, alcohol-loving and utterly charming Nick and Nora Charles. After a businessman has disappeared, Nick Charles is pulled away from his new life of luxury and back into the sleuthing ways he left behind. For her part, Nora is thrilled to see this side of her husband reemerge and jumps in to help him. Naturally the mystery is merely a narrative tool for the couple to toss out sharp verbal barbs and share a sparkling chemistry. Rather than the stuffy portrait of marriage commonly showcased onscreen at the time, Nick and Nora were fun and exciting in a movie which showcases what people love about Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Superman: Nowadays a big budget superhero movie is a regular occurrence but in 1978 it was unheard of. Director Richard Donner blazed new ground by bringing the Man of Steel to the big screen. Unlike modern filmmakers, Donner did not make Superman into some moody edgelord, rather he realized the strength of the character was that he was; charming, honest, and selfless. The timeless tale of Superman’s origin was brought into a contemporary setting and Christopher Reeve gave one of cinema’s greatest performances bringing the character to life. The hopeful tone combined with John Williams’ iconic score makes it impossible not to be uplifted. Behind the scenes, the movie saw Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster finally receive their credit for the creation of Superman.
Monkey Business: Take madcap lunacy and antics of the Marx Brothers and confine it to a cruise ship and you have the makings of a hilarious flick. Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo have stowed away on a cruise ship and once it sets sail the upper class passengers are trapped with them. As per the course each of the brothers plays to their strength; Groucho uses his quick wit to flirt, Harpo has no shortage of physical gags, Chico struts around as the tough guy, and Zeppo tries his hand with the ladies. There is not a scene in this film that is not a piece of comedic brilliance. Granted you could insert any number of Marx Brothers film in this spot and it would still work just as well.
City Lights: One of the great minds of cinema, Charlie Chaplin plays his famed Little Tramp who brings his usual madness to the city. Along the way he falls madly in love with a blind flower girl. She believes he is wealthy, and the Tramp does not have the heart to tell her otherwise. When an operation which would allow her to see is discovered, he vows to pay for it for her….he just has to get the money. A series of mishaps ensues which all lead to a tearjerker of an ending with the movie’s iconic final shot. Being made so shortly after the passing of his mother Chaplin poured his heart and soul into this classic which many regard as possibly his best work.
A Matter of Life and Death: British fighter pilot Peter Carter was supposed to die during a bombing raid in World War II. Instead he miraculously survives and fall madly in love with, June the American woman he was on the radio with as his plane crashed. In heaven this mistake has not gone unnoticed, and a messenger is sent to collect Carter but he refuses to leave June behind. This leads to a trial in the afterlife when Peter Carter puts forth his case that he deserves a second chance at life because he has found true love. While the movie wants you to debate whether this is happening or if it’s the effect of a head injury; it is compelling watching an average guy make a stand a stand against the supernatural for the sake of a loved one. Adding to the feel-good nature of a Matter of Life and Death is the Fact that heaven is showed to be a place filled with people of all: races, creeds, genders, and spiritual convictions.
The Princess Bride: A sick day for a kid being watched over by his grandfather turns into a memorable experience as he is regaled with the tale of the Dread Pirate Roberts and his quest for the true love of Princess Buttercup. Kidnapped shortly before her wedding to a horrible princess, Buttercup needs a hero. One arrives in the form of a masked man who she fell in love with years ago when he was a stable boy. When the prince she is betrothed too will not allow her to follow her heart, Roberts and his motley crew of Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, must rescue her. This beloved film is a fun swashbuckling adventure with a touching romance and its core. There is a reason the Princess Bride has been a favorite of countless people for years and its popularity is not going anywhere.
Zoolander: Growing up me and my two siblings were always game for a ridiculous movie, and this movie his really damn ridiculous. Ben Stiller plays the really, really, really ridiculously good-looking model Derek Zoolander. After a gasoline accident claims the lives of his friends, Derek wants to give back to society by founding the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Want to Learn How to Do Other Stuff Good Too. This lands in the midst of a conspiracy perpetrated by those who want to prey on his simple mind. To survive, Derek has to learn to trust a critical journalist and a fashion rival. Many have tried to read deeper into Zoolander than is on the surface, but it does not change the fact that this is a brilliantly silly movie.
Harvey: They do not make many people like Elwood P. Dowd, a man whos kindness borders on naivety as he regards every person he meets as a potential new friend. Of course no friend will mean as much to him as his best friend Harvey, an invisible 6 foot 3.5 inch pooka or rabbit. While most people are completely charmed by him, his family wants him committed to a mental hospital. While this movie may sound ridiculous, Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood with an earnestness and kindheartedness that can not be faked. If his monologue about choosing between being smart or pleasant does not touch you in the heart strings you may need to see a doctor.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans: When legendary silent director FW Murnau made his Hollywood debut, he did so with one of the most touching love stories ever put to film. When a Man from the country is seduced by a travelling Woman from the City, he is reluctantly prepared to end his marriage. The temptress tries to coerce him into murdering his wife, but he can not bring himself to do so, rather the feelings he has for her are reignited. Wordlessly we follow this couple as they journey into the city and watch as they fall in love all over again. Easily one of the best and most emotionally touching films of the silent era, Sunrise more than deserves the reputation it holds.
Once: Filmed guerilla style on the streets of Dublin with a microscopic budget, director John Carney told a beautiful and heartfelt love story of two people bonding over the power of music. When a guitar player on the street meets a Czech woman who sells flowers a spark of chemistry is instant. Both of them have had their share of heartbreak but through playing together they are able to emotionally lift each other up. Under the encouragement of his new companion the guy records his work in a studio to hopefully share with the world. While they can not be together this couple forms the kind of bond which is found once in a lifetime. Once is an emotional movie made even more powerful by it’s award winning soundtrack highlighted by the song “Falling Slowly”.
Wizard of Oz: There is no place as comforting as home and that is where Dorothy wants to return in one of the greatest fantasy films of all-time. After a storm uproots her from her home, Dorothy is whisked away to the fantastical Land of Oz. While initially greeted as a hero, she finds herself the target of the Wicked Witch of the West. If she hopes to avoid the Witch and return to Kansas, Dorothy must find the Wizard of Oz. She is joined by her iconic companions; the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. This love of this movie has been passed down for the past 80 years becoming a generational touchstone. In my hometown, there is a summer tradition at the historic Orpheum Theater of showing the Wizard of Oz to a crowd which sings along and cheers loudly creating a memorable communal experience.
Brittany Runs a Marathon: All the 5Ks, 10Ks, and Half-Marathons I usually participate in have been cancelled this year, but my love of running remains. As a runner I connected with this film about, Brittany who vows to get her life together and run the New York Marathon. What follows is a slow and steady, but ultimately life-changing journey. Actress Jillian Bell gives a tremendous performance showing both the heartache and ultimately the triumph which comes with being a runner. Seeing a realistic portrayal of the power this sport holds gives me the famous “runner high” just by watching this flick.
Singin’ in the Rain: Arguably moviedom’s greatest musical led by the great Gene Kelly. Set in the time where silent films gave way to talkies, Don Lockwood is prepared to bring his tested and proven musical talent to the big screen. Too bad his frequent co-star Lina Lamont is far from ready to be heard by audiences. Lockwood’s life is changed when he meets aspiring actress Kathy who has a stellar voice the studio wants to dub over Lamont. But Lockwood has fallen for her, and with his friend Cosmo he makes plans to ensure Kathy gets the credit she deserves. Granted in real life Betty Noyes, went uncredited as the voice of Debbie Reynolds, mirroring the plot of the film, but that does little to change the unbridled joy this movie inspires. Key musical numbers like “Moses”, “Make ‘Em Laugh” and of course the title track have become some of the most beloved in movie history.
Avengers: If there is one kind of work I like it is teamwork. Each person bringing their particular skills together in order to beat a problem. So it did not take much to get me pumped when Marvel was prepping to bring their biggest superhero team to the big screen. Avengers lived up to the years of hype by taking characters we all already loved and putting them together in the face of an obstacle they could not face alone. When I saw the film for the first time my stupid face had a stupid grin starting with that awe-inspiring shot of the team all together and it did not go away. Even still each time I watch this movie I give a little fist pump during the big climactic battle.