Feeling down? You won’t be if you watch these, says Joe Gill
Great art can change the way you feel. That’s the test for a feel-good movie. As a proud part-time curmudgeon with a taste for gritty dramas and thrillers, I prefer the emotional payoff in a film to be earned, rather than just given away. Still, even a cold-hearted rationalist can be caught off guard and find themselves crying unexpected tears of joy over something that they would not normally be caught watching. It happens, and these are some of the films that are most likely to do it to you, whether you want them to or not.
Groundhog Day (1993)
We’ve all had them. Days that seem to repeat themselves over and over. In this extremely funny and touching romantic comedy, Bill Murray plays an ultra-cynical TV weatherman sent on a hated assignment covering the annual titular event in Punxsutawney, and finds himself literally trapped in a time loop. After losing himself in booze and then attempting multiple – hilarious – suicide attempts, he re-examines his life and finds love with Andie MacDowell.
Love Actually (2003)
It’s unashamedly romantic, but if you set aside all cynicism you will be swept up in Richard Curtis’s uplifting romantic comedy. I remember happening across the movie while feeling a little sorry for myself and by the end I found myself smiling so much it almost hurt. The film follows eight couples and their struggles to find or re-find love in the run-up to Christmas. It’s like a massive injection of dopamine that refuses to let up until it overwhelms you.
The opening few minutes of this animation pack a huge emotional punch, as we watch the life of the elderly Carl in fast forward, as he meets a girl, grows up, marries, then becomes a widower. It contains more genuine feeling than ten average films can hope to evoke. In the face of encroaching developers, Carl’s house is lifted off the ground by hundreds of helium balloons, taking an awkward boy – a younger version of the old man – along for the ride. A surprisingly grown-up adventure with enough thrills for the youngsters.
French Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet said he wanted to make a film with no hatred or violence. That explains the uplifting bliss you feel as you watch the beautiful, intense colours and the exceptionally French score by Yann Tiersen as elfin Audrey Tatou, with her famous fringed bob, cycles through Paris helping one person after another in her quirky joyful way. As an adult you are transported back to the safety and innocence of childhood where the world is a hopeful place that you are happy to be in. Poignant, romantic, lyrical and funny – this really does make you feel very good indeed.
As Good As It Gets (1997)
A great example of how to make something original, fresh and eccentric out of nothing but a few good characters. The role of an obsessive-compulsive is an easy one to ham up, but Jack Nicholson gives it style, humour and his usual unmatchable flair. Helen Hunt has never been better as a waitress and mother who yearns to do something for herself for a change, while Greg Kinnear gives a great turn as a gay artist who has to rely on his irascible neighbour for help after a break-in. Sentimental, for sure, but authentically heartfelt.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
A sports agent on top of his game suddenly has an epiphany about his superficially successful but soulless existence. The next day he writes a morality statement and distributes it to the entire company, leading to an unforgettable fall from grace when he tries to take the whole team with him. Rene Zellwegger gives a wonderful performance as the accountant with a secret crush on Cruise. Director Cameron Crowe manages to pack so much wit, feeling and insight into his script and characters, that the film stays with you long afterwards and rewards multiple viewings.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
A love letter to film and the magic of childhood, the film begins with a famous director returning to his childhood village in Sicily for the funeral of a projectionist, who sparked his lifelong love of film. We return to his boyhood when he was assistant projectionist at the town’s only cinema, the one place of escapism from the hardships of village life. It’s a joyful meander through the memories of the screenwriter Giuseppe Tornatore, on whose childhood it is based. A magical, nostalgic masterpiece.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
David Niven plays a wartime pilot who is critically injured in a crash, only to find himself placed before a celestial court where he must argue for his life. From the team of Powell and Pressburger, some of the great minds from history are brought out to argue Niven’s case, as his counsel insists that his love for an American radio operator (Kim Hunter) gives him a right to return to life. Shot in early colour and black and white (for the heaven scenes), the brilliantly imaginative screenplay has rarely been equalled. At the heart of it is a moving story in which only arbitrary death lies between a man and a woman’s love for each another.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
A rags to riches tale that manages to avoid sentimentality while still making you cry. Will Smith plays real-life father and failing businessman Chris Gardner who, in a last, desperate bid to avoid disaster, takes an unpaid internship at a stock broker. At work he is the charming besuited broker, having to deal with ultra-rich clients who have no idea he cannot even pay his cab fare. Some have questioned its very American message that the relentless pursuit of riches is the answer to life’s woes. On the other hand, it is an inspirational story of a man’s determination to overcome extreme adversity to provide for his son.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
We may have included it in a previous list, but it deserves to be here, as few films have ever captured the awkwardness, exuberance and sheer intensity of young love. There is an exquisite nostalgia to the early 60s summer camp setting, where Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is holidaying with her family and falls for dance instructor Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, sporting a shocking mullet. The soundtrack is terrific and the grand finale dance off set the pulse of a generation of teenage girls racing..