This week, Mark Kermode covered feel-good films on his podcast.
It got me thinking about the films that I turn to when the world is a little consistently too much. If you need an example of a time when that might have been the case, now would be a good time.
I read elsewhere that people have turned to things they know, the familiar, comfort in all kinds of forms. I find the reclusive life fits me just fine (up to a point) and it’s been a great opportunity to work on some projects.
That said, these are my go-to feel good films.
When Harry Met Sally
I was originally introduced to WHMS (as I’m sure everyone else calls it) by my grandfather. He told me that there was an important lesson in there, that men and women can never really be friends because sex always gets in the way. When I had got over the shock of my grandpa even mentioning sex, I put the video on and was blown away by so many aspects of it. It’s one of, if not the best, romantic comedy of all time. Both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are fantastic. There’s a believability to their relationship and Harry’s “dark side” is something I can specifically feel in my cold, bleak soul. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Harry Connick Jr. soundtrack or the Pictionary game that wills Baby Fishmouth into existence, it’s a wonderful, funny and comforting joy.
There was a time, and I’m not proud of this, when I would put Almost Famous on if I was entertaining and wanted to make my move. I have a very good friend who would put Super Troopers on so I don’t feel like the worst person in the world as a result of my choice.
My thinking was that the free love nature of the 1970s would surely lead to some loosening of the belt buckles.
What I came to learn is that Almost Famous means more to me that the simple frustrations of a horny, teenage boy. It’s a love letter to music and everything that comes with it. With an incredible cast, some great songs and a legacy of dialogue that loops in my day-to-day, Almost Famous is a film for the ages. I certainly won’t be selling it to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer.
When I was a child, Robin Williams was magic to us. So much so that when we went to see Jumanji at the cinema, my brother was confused about why Williams didn’t fly away from the baying alligators when the monsoon floods the old Parish place. He knew Williams as Pan. That comes from his smashing tights. I know Spielberg isn’t a fan of it but Hook is an unbridled, melodramatic joy from start to finish. Dustin Hoffman is so crooked and evil, Bob Hoskins is fantastic alongside him. Maggie Smith makes a wonderful Wendy and I recall having weird and confusing feelings about Tinkerbell. I can’t wait to show this film to my niece and nephews in the hopes that the fantasy carries them away in the way it did for me.
If I am in the need for a good cry then Richard Curtis is always a good person to turn to. I know he gets flack but there’s a reason he is in the position he is and it’s because his ability to set up and destroy is beyond the majority of other talents. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but that scene towards the end with the table tennis absolutely destroys me each and every time I watch it. Family dynamics in film turn me from a solid to a liquid.
About Time also has the second-best use of Mr. Brightside in a rom-com that I know of.
(In case you are wondering, the best use is when Cameron Diaz is singing it in The Holiday).
When I first started trying to impress people by being a pretentious little know-it-all, Amelie was an easy win for me. It was another shot in the heart for my love of Paris and it introduced me to Audrey Tautou.
I once visited the cafe from the film in the hopes of getting a Creme Brûlée and living my bohemian best life. The service was terrible.
The film is a study of character and people and it’s so festive in tone that it’s hard to separate it from Christmas.
While there is a lot of Shawshank before you get to the Redemption, the pay off is astounding. It makes me want to stand on the sofa and salute the television as if I’m an errant schoolboy in another feel-good classic and scream “Oh Captain, my Captain” at the wonder of its storytelling.
It’s one of those films that just happens to be on and there’s no way to avoid sitting with it until the end. It was several years of watching it before I ever saw the opening credits. It’s aged very well and remains an important lesson on patience and time. Saying that, Brooks’ storyline is the saddest element of the whole thing.
Back to Richard Curtis, and a film that it so aware of what it is doing that it comes close to Ocean’s 12 levels of meta. It might not be the first of his films that you think of but the combination of a blustering Hugh Grant at his floppiest, Julia Roberts being lovely, Rhys Ifans being weird and the backdrop of a part of London that looks more beautiful that I can ever recall it, there’s nothing not to enjoy about this.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
As a teenager, I wanted to be Ferris. His slacker persona was a go-to and his version of Twist & Shout is the second-best I’ve heard. When you accompany that with Sloane Peterson being a stone-cold fox, and Cameron Frye being one of the best sidekick characters of all time, it’s a celebration of what it means to be young and how to get one over on those square old teachers and parents.
There had to be a John Hughes film in here because he defined the time.
School Of Rock
There are lines in this film that live rent-free in my head. Dialogue that has become a running joke with my brother for the last decade. I wonder what it looked like on paper and if anyone other than Jack Black could have pulled it off. While he had a list of credits to his name, there’s no doubt that it sent him into the stratosphere and hopefully introduced a lot of kids to a lot of cool music via the soundtrack. I wonder what the uptake in guitar lessons was after this came out.
It’s a reminder to salute the gods of rock and that you’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore.
The Social Network
A film about Facebook shouldn’t work. I reacted to news of it in a similar way to the announcement of The Emoji Movie. Janky attempts at a cultural development that would be old before it could land (I’m looking at you, Wreck It Ralph 2).
Instead, we got one of the best films of the last twenty years.
I don’t know where to begin with this film. It’s got one of the most incredible combinations of young talent starring in it. Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Dakota Johnson. On top of that, it was directed by David Fincher, from a script by Aaron Sorkin and a book by Ben Mezrich. The soundtrack is by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. It’s high calibre all along the way. A fast-paced legal drama that stung like a fall into a hornet’s nest.
So why have I put it in a list of feelgood films?
For a year, and I’m not exaggerating, I fell asleep with The Social Network on. I would put it on and the witty pace of the dialogue and the pulse of the score would send me off. I became the equivalent of that woman who confessed to watching Bee Movie 357 times in a year.
I watch it awake and am astounded by it. I watch it asleep and am comforted by it. I rest my case.
When it comes to comfort, and probably also letting the boohoos out, nobody does it quite like Pixar. I hear that they have a formula to which they build all of their films out and it’s designed to exhibit the highest emotional response. If Soul, Onward, Coco, Toy Story 4, Inside Out, Toy Story 3, Up, Wall-E, Monster’s Inc, Finding Nemo have one thing in common, it’s that they made me sob. The fact is they have many things in common including beautiful cinematography, great score, clever characters and concepts, driven stories and barely any humans.
I wish I could gift myself Inside Out when I was around ten, and very confused about the various sad feelings I had. The way they’re able to explain the need for all feelings and to validate them is astounding. I cannot praise this film enough.
If you don’t love Matilda then you are wrong. I was just the right age for it. I was also a bookworm who dreamt of having superpowers and escaping my family (who aren’t anything like the Wormwoods). It’s narrated by and directed by Danny DeVito, who I found out recently cared for Mara Wilson (alongside his then wife Rhea Perlman) during filming after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. DeVito even took a rough cut of the film to the hospital so Suzie Wilson could see her daughter’s portrayal of Matilda.
DeVito being a wonderful human being aside, Matilda is a physically magical film. It’s got so much charm and love thrown at it. It’s silly and scary in a way that practical effects seem to cover better than their computer-generated counterparts. Pam Ferris is absolutely terrifying as Trunchbull and Miss Honey was an obvious crush for me.
Seeing what an amazing woman Mara Wilson has become only makes me love it more.
It’s A Wonderful Life
No list of feel-good films is complete without this story of attempted suicide.
To sandwich my list nicely, this film was introduced to me by my grandmother. She was amazed that there was a colourised version of it and told me I had to watch both, starting with the black and white.
George Bailey feels trapped by the world he has created for himself but the gift that Clarence gives him, in showing him what the world would be like if he wasn’t there to partake in it, gives me a joy I cannot lasso for myself.
This week, Mark Kermode covered feel-good films on his podcast.