Not going to ruffle any feathers to say it’s a very, very bleak time in our culture. Nobody is in a good mood after a year that’s given us a hostile election, global economic strife, hate upon hate, and more. We are in need of catharsis. That’s where the arts can come in and save us. There are many great movies that serve the purpose. But say you’re tired of throwing on The Shawshank Redemption or It’s a Wonderful Life. Surely there are other unsung ones worth pursuing. That’s my goal here. I’m focusing on movies from the last 10 years, FWIW. There are many great ones from the past but I’m feeling recent.
1. Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Nobody thinks of the Duplass brothers as warm fuzzy filmmakers. They’re the mumblecore guys. Which is probably why it’s all the more effective that they were the ones to pull off this intensely sweet film about a manchild (Jason Segel) whose strange quest winds up ending in victory for not only himself but his brother (Ed Helms) and their mother (Susan Sarandon). This little 83 minute gem leaves you feeling unexpectedly happy, likely because it’s laced with a healthy dose of cynicism, making the joy feel earned.
2. 127 Hours. The ending of this movie might make its inclusion suspect. It does end in a rather intense amputation that’s hard to watch. It’s also profoundly cathartic. This is a testament to the human will. The protagonist has to do more than a few disgusting things to survive, but he does. Life is hard but it’s worth it if we fight on.
3. Stranger Than Fiction. This will be a podcast soon, so I’ll avoid saying much on it as a film. What makes it a must for this list is how effectively it captures the notion of living fully despite knowing our own mortality. The protagonist knows he’s doomed and in knowing this finds the will to live anyway. It’s a release.
4. Happy-Go-Lucky. A testament to optimism even when it’s hard. This movie should’ve launched Sally Hawkins into the stratosphere of greats but instead it’s almost forgotten. It’s pure joy that deserves better. The heroine insists on keeping her spirits up even amidst actual problems. By contrasting a bubbly heroine with the real world, writer/director Mike Leigh celebrates the strength it takes to pull that off.
5. Her. OK, this is an Oscar winner so feel free to debate if it fits. I’m still arguing it does because it’s not a film you’d think to throw on to feel better. But wow does it work! This film celebrates connecting with others. The central relationship isn’t a conventional one but it is a real, effective one. Spike Jonze pulls off a level of optimism heretofore unseen in his work.
So those are my picks. What are yours? Sound off in the comments!