Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with FilmStruck. Developed and managed by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in collaboration with the Criterion Collection, FilmStruck features the largest streaming library of contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films as well as extensive bonus content, filmmaker interviews and rare footage. Learn more here.
These are dark times. Dark times for those of you dismayed by recent developments in American politics, and dark times for those of you who aren’t, but still have to reckon with the fact that the sun is going down while you’re still at work (daylight savings is a bi-partisan effort to depress the hell out of you every fall). But movies were meant to be watched in the dark, which makes us all the more grateful that FilmStruck is finally here, offering subscribers a thousand different ways to light up their lives.
Backboned by the Criterion Collection and powered by Turner Classic Movies, every cinephile’s new favorite streaming service already boasts a lineup that includes many of the greatest films ever made — films that once seemed as if they existed only in myth or memory are now available at the click of a button. Of course, anyone who’s spent an entire night idly flipping through their Netflix queue knows just how overwhelming it can feel to be confronted with such an embarrassment of riches. But the movies on FilmStruck have a way of speaking to each other, of whispering hints into your ear about what you should watch next as they guide you from one new discovery to another.
It’s enough to make you feel good about the future of film, even if the past is doing most of the heavy lifting.
With that in mind, and in keeping with the idea that cinema is inter-connected in more ways than genre labels could ever account for, we thought we’d get the ball rolling by offering a guided tour through seven wildly different movies that all inspire their own kind of hope for the future. Zigzagging from silent films to Oscar-winning comedies, this mini-marathon consists of movies that will make you feel good about the beauty of hope and the value of looking on the bright side of life even when it feels like the world is closing in on all sides. These are movies that prove that there’s always something more to see. And when you’re done with these, there will be hundreds more films waiting at your fingertips.
There had never been a character quite like Pauline “Poppy” Cross, and there hasn’t been one since. Not even “Inside Out,” which starred Joy herself, could match the immaculate buoyancy that Sally Hawkins brought to the lead role of “Happy-Go-Lucky” — indeed, the character could have easily been a cartoon if not for Hawkins’ ability to show us a little bit of her soul with every smile. Written and directed by Mike Leigh (of all people), the film follows a relentlessly cheery London gal as she irritates almost everyone around her with her perpetual positivity, eventually sending her driving instructor (Eddie Marsan) into a violent rage that’s as raw as real life and a touch more relatable than most of us might care to admit. A charming comedy that isn’t afraid to stare unpleasantness in the face, “Happy-Go-Lucky” knows that some of us can’t always afford to laugh at life, but that happiness is always a little bit easier to see than it seems.
There are truly any number of reasons why “Modern Times” might cheer you up, and most of them have nothing to do with the plot of the Little Tramp’s last adventure — some things are just so perfect and pure that their very existence is enough to restore your faith in the future. But Charlie Chaplin, in a film that found him negotiating between a silent past and a deafening future, happened upon a beautiful way to send his alter-ego into the sunset. Modern times can be confusing, they can be frightening, they can leave you out of sorts and accidentally blasted out of your minds thanks to that mountain of cocaine you mistook for salt, but tomorrow is always just on the other side of the horizon. It’s up to you whether or not you walk towards it.
“One Wonderful Sunday”
Akira Kurosawa’s career spanned six decades and at least a dozen different genres, but his legendary body of work is bound together by a peerless belief in humanism, by the undiminished conviction that people hold the power they so regularly pass off to their gods. You can see it in the wistfully defiant films he made in the 1990s, and you can see it in the most urgently hopeful film he made in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Set in the ruins of post-war Japan and unfolding like one of Richard Linklater’s wistful two-handers, 1947’s “One Wonderful Sunday” follows a day in the life of a middle-class couple as they stroll around Tokyo and look for reasons to soldier on. It’s a modest film, sentimental in a way that fans of Kurosawa’s later work might not recognize, but few movies have ever done so much to reach out of the screen and plead with you to believe in the future.
“Shakespeare in Love”
Fun fact: “Shakespeare in Love” deserved to win Best Picture — at the very least, John Madden’s delightful bit of revisionist history was worthy of the honor in a way that few other winners have been since. An alternate telling of how the Bard beat writer’s block and delivered the most famous tragedy in all of Western literature, the rollicking romantic drama imagines that Shakespeare put more of himself into his work than we might have imagined. Built around a magnificently droll script by Tom Stoppard and boasting unforgettable performances from the leading players and the supporting cast alike (Geoffrey Rush doesn’t get to do much, but he’s never been better), “Shakespeare in Love” is a timeless testament to the idea that even the briefest of love stories can last forever in our hearts.
“The Times of Harvey Milk”
Rob Epstein’s iconic documentary portrait of Harvey Milk might not seem like much of a pick-me-up, as Milk was famously martyred for his role in the gay rights movement, but few films inspire such conviction that it’s never futile to fight for the future. Through a mix of original interviews, news reports, and the heartbreaking audiotapes that Milk recorded of himself from his San Francisco home, Epstein cuts together an unforgettable tribute to a man whose death galvanized a community to continue the struggle of their lives. Milk was assassinated in 1978 by a homophobic (and potentially closeted) politician — in 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. “You gotta give them hope!” Milk would say. And he did.
“Three Colors: Blue”
Any discussion of Krzysztof Kieślowski is bound to be at least a little reductive — his films covered the entire human condition, often in the span of a single scene — but it would be particularly myopic to dismiss the legendary auteur as dour or depressing. Sure, “Dekalog” has its share of bleak moments, and “Blind Chance” ends in what might be the single most horrifying shot in movie history, but the late auteur was able to carve warm and stunningly beautiful moments from even the coldest Polish winters. “Three Colors: Blue,” which opens with Juliette Binoche surviving the car crash that kills her composer husband and their young daughter, may not seem like much of a pick-me-up, but the immaculately directed film builds like a baroque symphony, crescendoing in a profound testament to what’s possible when someone refuses to resign to their fate. And fans of Kieślowski’s work know that Binoche’s character would be seen again, her life-affirming journey echoing well beyond the end credits of these perfect 94 minutes.
“Wings of Desire”
These are the three most hopeful words in the English language: “To be continued.” But Wim Wenders certainly makes you work for them. The achingly wise and wistful “Wings of Desire” surveys all of human existence from the skies above West Berlin (just before the Wall came down), following an angel played by a ponytailed Bruno Ganz as he decides to give up eternity and experience the wonders of life on Earth for the first time. He sees color, he falls in love with a trapeze artist, and he learns that it’s possible to fly without wings. One of those rare movies that seeps into your soul and grows with you for as long as you’re fortunate to stick around, “Wings of Desire” is like a lucid dream, a convincing reminder that life isn’t always easy, but that it’s better lived than watched from afar. And to think, Wenders managed to accomplish all of this without even needing an assist from the Goo Goo Dolls.