Throughout my life, art – and cinema in particular – has provided me more than just a source of mere entertainment. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with watching a movie for its entertainment value alone, cinema has provided a dependable place for me to turn to in my darkest times and biggest trials. Though I often turn to stories that reinforce and validate my current feelings as a form of catharsis – tragedies when I’m feeling sad, comedies when I’m cheery… – sometimes a little escapism is what the situation truly demands. So, while we are all stuck at home doing our part and practicing safe social distancing, I thought I would put together a list of eleven movies that offer slightly lighter fare during these difficult times. As cinemas and theaters have made the responsible decision to halt operations for the time being, I hope this list provides something to enjoy with the people you are already close to.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Nothing evokes a sense of escapism quite like the fantastical worlds created by Wes Anderson, and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. His entire filmography exists within a pastel world where things may get dire, but human kindness prevails and ultimately wins the day.
Entirely charming and often hilarious, this coming-of-age story of one “beige lunatic” and his first love on a quest for romance offers both an ensemble cast of beloved actors and breakout performances from both its young stars. Whether totally unfamiliar with or a lifelong fan of Anderson’s body of work, this heartwarming tale will lift your spirits and is an excellent reminder of the importance of human compassion and understanding.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
We could all use a bit of a break these days, can’t we? And while we’ve been advised to stay inside for the time being, why not enjoy the city life vicariously via John Hughes’ quintessential comedy? Few characters are so quick to see the silver linings as Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller, and his infectious positivity could be just what we need.
After deciding he could use some respite from his boring suburban life, Ferris enlists his friends for an eventful romp through the city of Chicago. Though his best friend Cameron is dealing with his own episode of cynicism, nothing brings down Ferris’ spirits as he “borrows” a Corvette, tours the famous Art Institute of Chicago, and leads the whole city in a televised parade in one of cinema’s most memorable musical numbers. While so much of our lives have been put on hold for the past and coming weeks, maybe it’s a time to remember Ferris’ immortal saying, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
What better way to keep up one’s spirits than watching a movie whose very title epitomizes optimism in the face of adversity? Full of timeless jokes and some of cinema’s best choreography and musical numbers, Singin’ in the Rain is an absolute joy through and through. Few numbers make me laugh as hard as “Moses Supposes”, and few romances are quite as charming as that between Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood and Debby Reynolds’ Kathy Selden.
Directed and choreographed by Kelly, this film radiates with his sense of humor and optimistic personality. Dubbed the American Film Institute’s Greatest Movie Musical and ranked as the fifth-greatest American motion picture of all time in 2007, this classic is an easy recommendation and even easier watch in any circumstance.
Greener Grass (2019)
Though far more recently released than other entries on this list, Greener Grass is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for some laughs and a bit of brevity in these trying times. With an absolutely absurd sense of humor and an aesthetic reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s, this directorial debut from comedy duo Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe will have anyone with an appreciation for the unconventional in total stitches. An extremely sharp and witty satire of performative suburbia and all of its trappings, Greener Grass reminds us that tenacity can be found in even the most unexpected of places.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Please, tell me, what is more uplifting than a young, in love Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing about a sunny Los Angeles to Hall & Oates’ classic You Make My Dreams? A creative twist on the romantic comedy, (500) Days features not only one of Hollywood’s more relatable and realistic romances, but standout performances by stars Gordon-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel, a beautiful urban backdrop showcasing some of LA’s best architecture, and one of the decade’s greatest soundtracks.
Following the development of a romance from the male point of view, this film offers not only a new perspective on the romantic comedy, but also an unconventional narrative structure any film lover could come to appreciate. If the artful cinematography doesn’t hold your attention, the excellently curated soundtrack will keep your toe tapping and head bobbing from beginning to end.
Space Jam (1996)
How better to escape the day’s trials than with an extra heavy dose of nostalgia? And what better way to relive the halcyon days of one’s youth than with childhood heroes Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny? Recently added to Netflix’s library, Space Jam has never been easier to enjoy once again than right now. All the better for this Looney, who during his childhood watched the original VHS so many times on repeat with his brothers, we actually wore out the tape.
What Space Jam lacks technically in comparison to its contemporary Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it more than makes up for with its “so bad it’s good” gags, jokes, dialogue, and unabashed cheesiness. Despite being dubbed by many as a mere marketing ploy for Jordan brand and Warner Bros., you will never find a more entertaining feature length shoe commercial than this.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Few movies so expertly strike a balance between such serious themes and such a whimsical and lighthearted tone as Little Miss Sunshine. Following the Hoover family as they make their way to Los Angeles for a children’s beauty pageant, Sunshine explores each family member’s traumas as they learn the only way to overcome their shortcomings is to accept and support one another as a familial whole.
Beautifully written and expertly performed, this ensemble piece earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for first-time writer Michael Arndt and a long-deserved Academy Award for the wonderful Alan Arkin. With a cast rounded out by Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and breakout performances from a young Paul Dano and even younger Abigail Breslin, this cast of complex characters shows the best way to surmount life’s many obstacles is with love, acceptance, and the support of one another.
Cool Runnings (1993)
“Rise and shine! It’s butt-whipping time!” Let me start by saying, I love Cool Runnings. As a child in grade school, my teacher had only two movies to watch during rainy day recess, and while my whole class always voted for The Sandlot, I always voted Runnings, knowing few movies could lift one’s spirits quite like it.
Based on the true-life story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut during the 1988 Winter Olympics, the film rises above other formulaic sports movies with charming performance, light humor, and its uplifting tone. Not to mention it was John Candy’s last film to be released within his lifetime. If any actor is known for bringing out the joy in a stressful and difficult situation, it’s Candy. Not only does Runnings offer laughs appropriate for all ages, but a timeless lesson on how our differences from one another are also what make us exceptional.
Spirited Away (2002)
For me, the works of Hayao Miyazaki are the ultimate cinematic comfort food, and I mean that with the highest regard. And while it maybe be cliched, my most favorite of his films has always been Spirited Away. Equal parts contemplative and exhilarating, Spirited Away is quintessential Miyazaki, incorporating all elements he has come to be known for, including Japanese folklore, gorgeous animation, and nuanced characterizations rarely seen in other animated works for children.
The first of Miyazaki’s films to be introduced to a western audience by Walt Disney Pictures, the project went on to win Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards and over a dozen more accolades internationally. Exploring grounded themes of human growth in an entirely fantastical setting, this emotionally stirring work exemplifies why Miyazaki is such an essential contributor to the anime genre.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Sit back, relax, and light up with Richard Linklater’s indispensable stoner comedy, Dazed and Confused. Following the misadventures of a bunch of high schoolers (read: very high schoolers) on their first day of summer, Dazed and Confused sets a chill, laidback vibe like few other movies can. D&C so expertly nailed its stoner troupe’s easy-going personalities and delightful banter, Linklater has repeatedly defended how much work meticulously writing and accurately performing such a believable cast of characters requires. Pulling from some of the past’s best rock hits and showcasing performances from some of the future’s brightest stars, Dazed and Confused is both endless fun and infinitely rewatchable.
Ocean’s 11 (2001)
Rounding out our list of eleven uplifting films and easy watches is none other than, well, Ocean’s 11. Featuring an absolutely star studded and often hilarious cast, Ocean’s 11 might be one of the most thoroughly enjoyable modern heist movies – despite being a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name. Striking a perfect balance between effortlessly cool yet totally self-aware of its over the top premise, the film is just unrestrained, unabashed fun. Ocean’s is almost perfect escapism, occupying a world where everything goes to plan, and everyone looks cool as hell pulling it off. Plus, there few better distractions from the world’s hardships than heartthrobs George Clooney and Brad Pitt occupying the same frame, at both their respective primes, trading witty banter back and forth as if it’s their second nature.