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The Most Comforting Movies Ever Made — IndieWire Critics Survey

Looking for a movie to help distract from the horrors of reality? We asked more than 50 film critics to pick their favorite comfort film.

“Paddington 2”

Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned), The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week

“Logan”

When things are bad, I usually just go on Twitter and stew in the badness, but if I’m too exhausted for that and I need a break from mind-racing, I’m most apt to flip around cable (yep, I still have cable!) for a movie I can join in progress, and for some reason I find the “X-Men” movies, even the couple of bad ones, even the great but actively depressing “Logan,” soothing in this respect. I’m not exactly sure why. I’d think that with all the real-world problems, the simplified good-mutants-versus-militant-mutants-versus-humanity triangle of so many of these movies would strike me as reductive, and sometimes it does, but sometimes it’s nice to fantasize about an alternate world where optic blasts and metal claws are viable options for fighting prejudice and fear. Plus, the often-sprawling casts of these things makes me feel like I’m hanging out with a bunch of old buddies. Rewatching “X-Men: Apocalypse” doesn’t restore my faith in humanity, but it does let my brain downshift without going into self-loathing mode. I sure hope this summer’s “Dark Phoenix” is good, because I’m going to be watching it three or four times on cable even if it’s not.

Courtney Howard (@Lulamaybelle), Freelance for Variety, FreshFiction

MacGruber

“MacGruber”

Universal

I typically lean on comedies in the face of oppressive darkness. After my mom died in 2009, it took me awhile to enjoy watching movies again. I still went to see films in hopes they’d help me work through the grief, but nothing filled the numbing sorrow inside my soul. I was worried I was depressed. Not even my stable of favorites (like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” or “Idiocracy”) could pull me out of my funk and provide the type of consolation needed to heal. Then, months later, “MacGruber” was released and it felt like a course-correct. The astute action movie spoof brought me back to life. It was the exact kind of hilariously absurd, puerile lunacy to snap me out of my comatose state. I laughed so hard, I cried – and still do, at all the same jokes. Whenever my world resembles a hellscape, I’ll cue it up and within minutes, its laughter-inducing charms work like a trick.

Clint Worthington (@alcohollywood), Consequence of Sound, Alcohollywood

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

This has been a trying week for just about everyone, which is the perfect time to immerse yourself in films that remind you as little as possible of the world you’re currently living in. For me, that’s sci-fi – give me pew-pew lasers and some interesting production design, and I’ll take it, no matter how mediocre the script or thin the characters. Whether it’s “John Carter” or “The Fifth Element” or “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, I’ll happily lose myself in their intricately designed worlds and the comforting hum of a bombastic score.

If I had to pick one, however, it would simply have to be “Mad Max: Fury Road” – George Miller’s thrilling, unrelenting descent into cinematic madness. More than the fun, but brain-dead, space spectacles I tend to gravitate towards, “Fury Road” finds surprising intelligence in its pulp machinations, bolstering its brilliant visuals with bang-on intelligent filmmaking that is, as they say, “perfect in every way.” Somewhere, out in the bright orange desert of the wastelands, on some desolate stretch of the Fury Road, is my respite from the horrors of our current world. And this week, of all weeks, I think we could all stand to watch Charlize Theron smash the patriarchy a little bit.

Deborah Krieger (@DebOnTheArts), Pop Matters, Bust, White Hot Mag

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

While it may seem ironic to turn to a movie about international political intrigue as a way to distract myself from stressing over national and international political intrigue, the movie that is my popcorn and candy bar and comforter combined is Guy Ritchie’s undersung 2015 spy caper “The Man From UNCLE.” It’s a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be–frothy, witty, stylish–and then goes ahead and does it with panache. Daniel Pemberton’s jaunty score helps keep things moving briskly along, even during the tense chase scenes, and it’s clear that Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, and Elizabeth Debicki are having a blast with this throwback. More fun than recent Bond and more sophisticated than “Kingsmen,” “The Man From UNCLE” uses its pseudopolitical plot as an excuse to give us the ultimate “enemies to friends to lovers fake dating” trope-tastic adventure. Plus, Henry Cavill in three-piece suits doesn’t hurt.

Rosie Knight (@rosiemarx), Nerdist, Slashfilm, IGN, Ms En Scene

“Message from Space”

My favorite comfort film is the 1978 Star Wars knock-off “Message From Space.” Directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring icons like Vic Morrow, Sonny Chiba, Mikio Narita and Hiroyuki Sanada the film is a fantastical journey with flying pirate ships, evil witches and magical walnuts that fly through space to find heroes.

Though the Toei studios film is clearly derivative and vaguely follows a similar narrative to the original Star Wars film it somehow manages to craft something completely unique and wildly original. The sets are unbelievable, huge practical space castles, barren planets and cool sixties dive bars are just some of the places you’ll discover as you journey along with the heroes sent to help the princess Emerlida and the struggling planet of Jelucan.

I only discovered “Message From Space” in the last couple of years, but it’s honestly one of my favorite films and I often put it on when I can’t sleep or am lost in the horrors of the world. It also has incredible soundtrack by Ken Ichiro Morioka which again begins by trying to ape John Williams but ends up becoming its own wonderful thing.

Katie Rife (@futureschlock), The A.V. Club

Big Totoro ("My Neighbor Totoro")

“My Neighbor Totoro”

For me, nothing beats a rewatch of “My Neighbor Totoro” when I’m feeling sad or scared or overwhelmed. But although they’re undeniably soothing, it’s not not just Hayao Miyazaki’s guileless character designs, nor the film’s bucolic watercolor background paintings, that make me feel like everything is going to be okay. It’s also the gently episodic nature of the story itself. It’s a narrative designed to entertain very young children without overstimulating them, the opposite of loud, manic kids’ entertainments seemingly designed more to distract than engage. Miyazaki’s film also deals with the very real fear of losing a parent in a similarly benevolent way, reassuring them that although the world can be scary sometimes, it’s also full of magic and wonder and friendly cat busses that will take you home when you get lost in the woods in the middle of the night. Usually by the end, I’m bawling, clutching the Totoro-shaped pillow I brought back from a trip to Japan a few years back.

Hannah Woodhead (@goodjobliz), Little White Lies

“Paddington 2”

This is a deceptively difficult question, isn’t it? I have a lot of films I turn to in times of trouble, but maybe it’s easiest to think of the one that gives me the warm fuzzies every time, without fail – and it’s got to be “Paddington 2,” which I’m sure will be a hot selection on this list.

Bluntly put, I don’t trust people who don’t love this film. I think they must lack the capacity to find joy in their lives. From the impeccable casting of Hugh Grant as a nefarious alt-universe version of himself to Ben Whishaw’s softly-spoken voice which makes him perfect for the role of the Little Bear That Could, the film’s driving message – ‘If we’re kind and polite, all will be right’ – should be adopted as some sort of UN motto. I like Paddington’s vision of London better than the reality, where neighbours get along, houses are multicoloured, there’s no Brexit or Trump or Impending Global Doom, and a little bear finds acceptance despite sometimes being a bit of a pain to everyone around him.

I was a skeptic, you know – I held off on seeing this until the last minute, and when I did…I cried on my own at the kid’s screening I was at. I cried like a baby. Remember how Paddington was dispatched to London with a note saying “Please look after this bear?” Maybe we all need that note attached too, because people seem to forget, and the world’s a scary place, even when you stop being small. But Paddington seed the good in it. And I’m trying really hard to do that too.

Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet), SlashFilm, Shadow and Act, Mediaversity Reviews

“Planet of the Apes”

I usually go for classic movies when I’m looking for comfort. My favorite comfort movie is 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.” Technically, the entire “Planet of the Apes” series is comforting for me, but the original “Planet of the Apes” manages to capture something intrinsically unique about the fraught times in which it was made. There was so much political and social unrest, and it’s amazing to me how a film that could easily have been a throwaway sci-fi film managed to become one of the most politically-charged films of the early 1960s by including America’s fear of nuclear war as well as the country’s trauma from the McCarthy Trials and racial injustice.

Lindsey Romain (@lindseyromain), Freelance For /Film, Thrillist, and Vulture

“Practical Magic”

My favorite warm blanket film is “Practical Magic,” which I return to with a voracious frequency this time of year, when the leaves crackle and the seasonal mood shifts. It’s been an extra solace lately, as women’s voices are picked at and silenced, for it’s a movie about the very opposite: finding power in marginalization, and sisterhood in the name of danger. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play the Owens sisters, a pair of witches who are stricken with a terrible family curse: as soon as they find true love, their partners will die. After her husband’s passing, Sally (Bullock) moves herself and her daughters (one of whom is played a sprightly red-haired Evan Rachel Wood) in with her kooky, witchy aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest). Almost as soon as they’re re-settled, their normalcy is once again disrupted when Sally accidentally kills and resurrects her sister Gillian’s (Kidman) abusive, predatory boyfriend. Returned from the dead, the man stalks the women and their family, and possesses Gillian’s body, stripping her of autonomy and depriving her of the vengeance she sought.

This may not sound like a light romp, but the power of “Practical Magic” is how it uses magic, the self-actualization of women, and the power of female unification to rid Gillian’s body of her boyfriend’s evil. Sally also uses her own preternatural talent to break the family curse, and allow love back into her life. To the untrained eye, the movie may feel light, but there’s a richness in these women and in this place. I could get lost in the film’s aesthetics: the beautiful house by the sea where the Owens witches live, the tincture-walled apothecary Sally runs downtown, the quaint New England streets full of tiny shops and picket fences. The movie oozes comfort and solidarity, and boasts a Stevie Nicks-centric soundtrack. If I could live in the frames of any film it would be this one. One midnight margarita, please!

Katey Stoetzel (@kateypretzel), The Young Folks

“Pride & Prejudice”

2005’s “Pride and Prejudice,” hands down. Everything from the romance, its imagery (rolling green hills and wonderful stormy days), its peaceful, hypnotic music, and its lingering pace.

Andrea Thompson (@areelofonesown), Freelance, The Young Folks, The Chicago Reader

Colin Firth And Jennifer Ehle In The Television Programme Pride And Prejudice.Colin Firth And Jennifer Ehle In The Television Programme Pride And Prejudice.

“Pride and Prejudice”

Lyons/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

I know it’s basic, but it’s the “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries I pull up whenever I’m feeling stressed. Not only is it a more modern fairy tale with an active heroine who knows her own mind but is also allowed to make mistakes. The series also does what so many subsequent adaptations failed to do and honor Jane Austen and her humor while updating her work. Austen is often thought of as the ultimate romantic, but money and rank are the subjects of constant, casual discussion in her novels, and she also poked fun at many romantic-not to mention social-conventions.

Austen also gives us more unhappy marriages than happy ones, and quite a lot of bad behavior goes unpunished. People also fail to perceive that unlike in other romantic stories, Elizabeth still doesn’t regret rejecting Mr. Darcy after she learns more about him. It’s only when she sees that he has decided to change his behavior and show kindness and consideration that her heart begins to soften towards him. It’s the ultimate love story that’s perfectly cast with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, that also caters to the female gaze (that lake scene, come on) while giving Lizzie Bennet Austen’s ideal happy ending, both in terms of morality and situation. So whenever I’m feeling stressed, “Pride and Prejudice” is always there as a kind of escape where I feel catered to but not condescended to, with a satisfying ending that also feels earned.

Aaron White (@FeelinFilm), Feelin’ Film Podcast, FeelinFilm.com

“The Princess Bride”

When it comes to the perfect comfort film for me, there can be only one (and it’s not “Highlander”). Many films can offer good humor, or romance, or fantastical exciting adventure, but none do all three as well as the most perfect fairy tale ever told – Ron Reiner’s adaptation of a classic William Goldman story, “The Princess Bride”. The genuineness of relationships in “The Princess Bride” make it an uplifting joy to watch at any time. It’s a love story that puts as much importance on the romantic relationship driving its plot as it does on the friendship between a drunken swordsmen out for revenge and an out-of-place giant with nowhere to call home. And then there is the love story between sick grandson and patient, caring grandfather, making it more than just another fantasy tale and providing us a unique way to relate.

Typically a comfort film is one that a viewer has a lot of history with and there may be no other film I’ve seen more than “The Princess Bride.” I can quote every bit of dialogue during its 98-minute runtime and all of those memorable lines make me smile and laugh, bringing back happy memories of childhood time spent sharing this film with family and friends. It transports me to another world, one that I want to continually explore and spend as much time as possible in. If the definition of a comfort film is one that brings contentment in times of frustration, “The Princess Bride” satisfies the criteria during every viewing without fail. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have fun stormin’ da castle.

Andrew Todd (@mistertodd), Birth.Movies.Death, Slashfilm, Polygon, IGN

“Roller Boogie”

The film that gives me the most true comfort is likely Mark L. Lester’s “Roller Boogie.” One wouldn’t expect a roller disco movie from the director of “Commando” to be that way, but it is. “Roller Boogie” is a perfect fad movie, tuning out all other concerns but the desire to skate and to win a dance competition. Even its “A” plot, involving – what else? – unscrupulous land developers, is treated with a mischievous sense of humour. All the while, a middling but game cast – including leads Linda Blair and competitive skater Jim Bray – laugh and love their way through the film, their worries only extending to their youthful romance. Lester treats the whole thing with breezy exuberance, with colourful cinematography by legendary Carpenter, Zemeckis, and Spielberg collaborator Dean Cundey, and best of all, a killer late-disco soundtrack sweeps all your cares away. I dare you to watch the “Cunga” sequence without a smile on your face.

Somehow, I’ve never gone roller skating, but “Roller Boogie” elevates it to an ideal the real thing could never live up to. I got a chance to thank Lester for the film in person a few years ago at a screening of the vastly different “Class of 1984.” I think he was a little bemused that anyone would bring it up. But I did.

Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects, Birth.Movies.Death., Bright Wall/Dark Room

“The Royal Tenenbaums”

“The Royal Tenenbaums” has never failed to give me respite. My soul always responds to it as if it’s the perfect blend of strange lightness, sorrow, quirky humor, artful taste, celebrity involvement (Bill Murray on screen is always a good start for catharsis), pacing, and curated soundtrack (which plays a heavy role for my music-obsessive self). I’m like none of them, yet I see a bit of myself in almost every character, whether beautiful or abominable. I get some of my best cries of the year out of the Nico-adorned Greyhound reunion between Margot and Richie and the Van Morrison-laced finale. I laugh hysterically, and often realize I’m smiling without thinking. I routinely sit frozen through the credits as the burdens of life seem to voluntarily dismiss themselves, and a bigger picture accompanied by a waterfall of happy-sad feelings, which comfort me, sets in. I know it’s the answer to this question because the idea of writing anything else makes me feel immediately and wholly dishonest. And, like a close, loyal friend, I know I can trust it to be there for me as strong as ever when I need it next.

Sarah Welch (@dodgyboffin), Bright Wall/Dark Room, Think Christian

“Serenity”

I’ve actually written about this very topic for Bright Wall/Dark Room. My comfort movie is Joss Whedon’s “Serenity”. I know the entire thing practically by heart; my family quotes it in everyday conversation, and it’s the baseline we measure all other movie nights against. It’s a zombie conspiracy space Western, a weird continuation of a brief weird TV show, and a snapshot of all my teenage self’s interests. I imprinted on it the first time I watched it, and I credit it as one of the major reasons why I returned to science fiction after a years-long love affair with Tolkien. “Serenity” is comforting in its familiarity, but it’s got a rebellious streak a mile wide, too. The government in “Serenity” is up to no good, and the crew of the ship find themselves reluctantly playing whistleblower. Some policies can only be fought. I, like the crew, aim to misbehave.

Aaron Neuwirth (@AaronsPS4), We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu

“Shaun of the Dead”

While I would love to have some nuanced answer that stems from an early childhood favorite I’ve since come to see as something more valuable thanks to the way it taps into my psyche, the film that comes to mind when considering the joy of comfort I get is Edgar Wright’s 2004 debut, “Shaun of the Dead.” The first entry of Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” remains an absolute delight for a variety of reasons, but it’s also a film that I know I have watched more than many others, even movies I would call some of my favorites of all time.

Perhaps it has to do with the mentality of the characters. Pegg’s Shaun and Nick Frost’s Ed are slackers forced to put up a bit more effort upon realizing a zombie outbreak is taking place. Their tactics are handling the situation are crude but essential when it comes finding a way to save the day. They end up being even more proactive than the more responsible people (Shaun’s ex-girlfriend, her roommate, and her roommate’s dickish boyfriend) they have come to save. It all makes for a wonderful look at what ordinary people (with a dry British sense of humor) would end up doing in a dire situation such as this.

“Shaun of the Dead” is also a film that blends its slacker comedy sensibilities with the whiplash-inducing editing style of Wright, who pushes through the runtime at an incredible pace to keep things exciting, while everything remains so mildly irregular for these British folk (zombie outbreaks do tend to upset things a bit). My peace of mind comes from enjoying so much hilarity from the reactions taking place, the warmth found in Shaun’s attempts to be a good friend, (ex) boyfriend, son, and person. Even when the situation gets exacerbated to its most extreme, the film compensates by way of clever filmmaking and turns of phrase.

Most of all, for a film about one form of an apocalypse, the idea of comfort may seem odd with this, but it does end with a sense of hope. Even after having shot his mom, roommate, and almost his best friend, Shaun ends the film somewhat triumphant, getting his life in order, to some degree, and pushing forward in a world that has become mad. I could use that kind of peace of mind these days, but at least I don’t have red on me.

Daniel Joyaux (@thirdmanmovies), Freelance Contributor for Vanity Fair, The Verge, MovieMaker

Roger Moore

“The Spy Who Loved Me”

EON/UA/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

My first inclination when I read this prompt was to pick one of my favorite comedies, like “City Slickers” or “Groundhog Day.” But even those films are still about the painful realities of life. They’re about not really knowing what to do or how to make things feel better. And in the context of the week/month/year/decade/epoch we’re all currently flailing through, I need a comfort movie to portray a real sense of moral absolutism. I need a movie where no one can “both sides” the villains, because the villains are nice enough to clearly identify themselves as such. Basically, I need classic James Bond movies. In James Bond movies, the villains actually came clean about their goals of world domination, rather than just deceptively consolidating power through election tampering and Fox News.

It’s hard to identify the apex comfort entry in cinema’s longest-running comfort franchise. I’ve never been a huge “Goldfinger” fan because I prefer to pretend that James Bond has never been to Kentucky. “From Russia With Love” is probably the best one from a cinephile perspective, but a cinephile perspective is antithetical to this question. The two Bond movies that offer the most archetypal James Bond experience are probably “You Only Live Twice” and “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and from there I’ll take “The Spy Who Loved Me” as the ultimate comfort movie. Even though “You Only Live Twice” has the single best Bond theme song (I will not budge on this point), “The Spy Who Loved Me” has everything else going for it–the most iconic Bond girl (Barbara Bach as Agent XXX), the most scenic locations (Egypt, Italy), the most incredible stunt (the ski parachute jump in the pre-credit sequence), the most absurd car (the White Lotus that turns into a submarine), the most ridiculous henchman (Jaws), and, of course, the most comfort-food of Bonds (Roger Moore). A small handful of Bond movies are better than “The Spy Who Loved Me,” but none more perfectly fulfills the promise of what watching a James Bond movie should feel like.

Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), Freelance for The Guardian, The Times of Israel

No Merchandising. Editorial Use OnlyMandatory Credit: Photo by SNAP/REX/Shutterstock (390919hj)VARIOUS

Patrick Stewart in “Star Trek.”

SNAP/REX/Shutterstock

I am quite lucky that my preferred filmed entertainment product that acts as an emotional crutch is so vast: an entire galaxy’s worth of “Star Trek.” At this point in my relationship with the property, I don’t even really “watch” the films or shows anymore. I’m simply near it, like a freezing person by a fire. (Or, if you will, Lt. Sulu heating a rock with his phaser while trapped on Alfa 117 in “The Enemy Within.”) It’s the sound effects and (with the old ones, especially) the wash of bright colors that can form an abstraction as I kinda gaze through the adventures of Kirk, Spock and Bones when I need a mental time-out. “Visual klonopin” as some of Trek’s more celebrated enthusiasts and I coined it one night in a hotel room during a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. Star Trek’s palliative properties were put to the test two years ago when my sister was dying of cancer (for me, not her; she hated the show) and, if interested, you can read more about how the 23rd and 24th centuries got me through that rough time).

Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), Freelance for Little White Lies, The Ringer, Vague Visages

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886230bl)John C Reilly, Will FerrellStep Brothers - 2008Director: Adam McKayColumbiaUSAScene StillComedyFrangins malgré eux

“Step Brothers”

Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

I knew I would be depressed on my flight back to London after my week in New York. It had always worked out that way, and there was nothing for me to do but accept it and let the sadness pass through me. Nothing, except watch “Step Brothers” on the plane’s tiny screen. I was well familiar with Adam McKay’s masterpiece, but hadn’t re-watched it in a while, and it hasn’t lost any of its power to baffle so thoroughly as to make you forget not only your problems and your feelings, but the very logic of the world, gravity, causality and time itself. Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) are 39 year old men still living with their parents, which already stretches credibility, and the many activities they get up to after being forced to live under the same roof push any and every boundary. When the stewardess’s voice on the plane monitor interrupted the film just before the iconic bunk bed accident, my sister (who was watching the movie simultaneously on her own monitor) and I knew true happiness at last. On that flight, “Step Brothers” kept the blood pumping through my fragile heart.

Last Thursday’s trash fire of news and tweets was too distressing and horrifyingly absurd for anyone with any sense to handle. A victim of sexual assault having to tell the entire world about her experience; her attacker losing his temper like a child and proving he lost his humanity long ago; a series of men justifying the crime that the accused himself denies having committed, because even if he didn’t do it, boys will be boys. Perhaps the spectacle of grown-up children defying reason to make you laugh, as seen in “Step Brothers,” instead of bending the rules and the truth to harass you and refuse you your rights, could help some of us breath again. Brennan and Dale are stupid as hell, but they’re kind and generous too, and they beat up the teen bullies at the end. Let the step brothers stand up for you.

Elena Lazic (@elazic), Seventh Row

Step Brothers Will Ferrell John C Reilly

“Step Brothers”

Columbia Pictures

I re-watched “Step Brothers” on a plane just last week, and I’m still to get down from that high. No other film has ever made me this happy.

I’ve always found it strange that the very specific kind of juvenile but very, very intelligent humour in this masterpiece never became more popular — I think it is quite different from the more straightforward jokes in “Anchorman” and other Will Ferrell movies. When I first watched “Step Brothers,” it felt like the movie had been made for me. Like the first time you hear the Beatles and you think you’re finally hearing the music of your life.
That’s probably just because Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are literally playing grown up kids — you don’t need to be very smart or to know weird American popular culture to get the jokes. This is the purest of all comedy to me. Nothing comes close.

This would be enough for “Step Brothers” to be not only the most comfortable, but the most delightful movie of all time (it can make you happy, and not many films can do that). But to top it all off, the film also has a wonderful core message that, as cheesy and impractical as it is, we end up buying completely: never lose your dinosaur. The sudden shift from Brennan and Dale being completely impossible men-children, to their new identity as corporate shells of themselves, is much more brutal than I can anticipate on every rewatch. This bluntness and violence is always present in the film’s absurdist humour, but here, it morphs into the cruelty of adult life. That sad section of the film would be genuinely traumatising if it lasted any minute longer, but Adam McKay grants us the happiest of happy endings. It‘s completely ridiculous, but it’s also a little miracle, as if McKay was telling us “come on, you deserve it.” I don’t know if we do, but it’s nice that he would think so.

Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse

“Tea with the Dames”

Typically, when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed—as has happened a lot this past week—I find it hard to turn to movies or other media. As someone whose anxieties can ride fairly high even at the best of times, my first instinct is to reduce the amount of external stimulation I’m exposed to, turn things off, and try and gain control of my thought spirals.

However, I would like to use this opportunity to highlight a recent movie that encapsulates the kind of environment that I seek when the world feels all too much. Roger Michell’s “Tea with the Dames” has a very simple concept. It’s largely a filmed conversation between four icons of British acting: Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith. Taking place on Plowright’s charming countryside estate as a gentle summer rain falls outside, they exchange stories from their prolific careers on stage and screen, discuss the lessons learned through their lives, and share a sliver of the fruits borne from a lively, weathered friendship. There’s a firm assuredness to the proceedings, as Michell only very occasionally cuts to archival footage or prompts a question of his own choice, leaving us in the company of these four legendary women, interacting with a relaxed and comforted ease. Consequently, the movie is captivating in a rather unique way, but still evokes many of the same feelings that I turn to when everything piles up—seeking solace in fond memories and the company of loved ones, re-centering my outlook through the things I know are true.

Ethan Warren (@ethanrawarren), Bright Wall/Dark Room

“Sunset Boulevard”

Whether I’m overwhelmed by a personal crisis, having trouble falling asleep, or just need a hit of soothing pleasure, nothing does the job quite like “Sunset Boulevard.” It’s a film I’ve seen so many times that I can just watch ten random minutes and feel all the cathartic relaxation of slipping into a warm bath. It has all the pleasantly slow-paced early-1950s rhythms that are so seemingly anathema to most 21st century filmmaking, but running throughout are some of the most devilishly grotesque ideas and images of the era—how many movies of any era would dare feature a surreptitious midnight chimpanzee funeral before the end of Act One?—keeping me too fascinated and engaged for my mind to wander back to my woes. If I’m not mistaken, “Sunset Boulevard” was my gateway to classic film decades ago, and in the ensuing decades its power has only grown for me.

Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Freelance for SlashFilm, Observer

“They Came Together”

Interior, Bar, Night.

Bartender: My favourite comfort film is David Wain and Michael Showalter’s “They Came Together.”
Paul Rudd: Yeah, tell me about it.
Bartender: Well, it’s an absurd send-up of Rom Com tropes and “New York movies” while also acting as its own entirely sincere love story.

Paul Rudd: You can say that again.
Bartender: Well, it’s an absurd send-up of Rom Com tropes and “New York movies” while also acting as its own sincere love story.
Paul Rudd: Yeah, tell me about it.
Bartender: Well, it’s an absurd send-up of Rom Com tropes and “New York movies” while also acting as its own sincere love story.

Ad infinitum.

Joel Mayward (@joelmayward), Cinemayward.com, Freelance

“The Tree of Life”

My preferred aesthetic lies at the dual extremes of bleak and blissful, of existential dread and awe-inspiring hope. Somehow, I love when films hit me with the worst and heaviest life has to offer–questions of pain, evil, suffering, and doubt–interspersed with wondrous glimpses of genuine hope, love, and grace. So it makes sense that my favorite comfort film is also my favorite film, period: Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” a cinematic prayer about the strained marriage between the Way of Nature and the Way of Grace. At-once intimate and expansive, the recently released extended cut from Criterion further enriches the depiction of loss framed within the birth and death of the cosmos. It is a filmic wave of beauty and heartache, of honest questions about our place in time and eternity. I am a film critic, but I am also a theologian, so Malick’s meditative magnum opus is right in my wheelhouse. It offers me the comfort that I can ask my deepest, angriest questions about pain and suffering and injustice, and that there is some sort of transcendent meaning and love behind it all. It teaches me that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end; it reminds me that the only way to be happy is to love. Love is smiling through all things.

Chad Perman (@everybody_cares), Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Bright Wall/Dark Room

The Tree of Life

“The Tree of Life”

For many years, I thought of “comfort movies” mostly in terms of silly comedies (I’m likely the only person you’ll ever meet willing to mount an impassioned defense of “Spies Like Us”), childhood favorites (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”), or pure escapist fare. But the past two years have changed all of that—no longer do I really look for comfort movies that merely feel pleasant or familiar, but instead find myself seeking out movies that remind me of life’s grander scope and vast expansiveness, about how small and short our lives on earth are, compared to the scale of the universe we live in.

To that end, the film I find myself returning to most lately, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the world, is Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” It’s been one of my favorite films since its release in 2011, but when I seek it out lately, I rarely watch the whole thing. Instead, I dip in at random moments, and more or less just let it wash over me. There are many moments to get lost in, but my favorite—the one I return to almost like a prayer some days—is its opening scene As Tavener’s “Funeral Canticle” plays over the simple, ethereal images onscreen, and Jessica Chastain’s voiceover reminds us of simple, deep truths (“The nuns taught us there were two ways through life—the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”), Malick’s film quickly establishes itself as a film outside of time in many ways, or perhaps more accurately, a film attuned to deep time.

I haven’t been a religious person in many years, but returning to “The Tree of Life” gives me the same feeling I used to feel as a kid, sitting in church, half-understanding what’s happening, but deeply moved and comforted by the things all around me. In troubling times like these, it feels steadying, patient, and most importantly, full of grace.

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “A Simple Favor”

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