Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: The last few days have been extremely trying. And sometimes, when the world feels like it’s folding in on itself, people turn to the movies for a pick-me-up or some other kind of self-care.
To that end, we asked our panel of critics to select their favorite comfort film. Their choices run the gamut from Busby Berkeley musicals to “The Tree of Life.”
When things seem at their worst or even when I’m having a bad month (or year), “13 Going on 30” is one of my go-to comfort films for many reasons. There’s the idea that no matter how bad things may seem and no matter the mistakes made, things can get better and sometimes all you need is a major wake-up call. Jennifer Garner gives a standout performance as Jenna, a young teen who finds herself stuck in an adult’s body. She’s charming and captures the right amount of childlike innocence with the hard lessons learned as an adult. It helps that she and Mark Ruffalo have fantastic chemistry, so it’s hard not to fall in love with them.
“13 Going on 30” is full of light and feel-good moments that never get old, from the lovely romantic montage to the party that gets everyone dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The film is equal parts heartwarming, touching, and full of youthful energy that helps you drown in it and reminds me to never forget my inner child, that girl who thought being an adult would be far cooler than the actual reality of adulthood. Knowing everything is going to be ok in the end is all part of what makes “13 Going on 30” so comforting. It’s kind of like a familiar blanket–warm, cozy, and ready to wrap you up in its nostalgia and happiness, sadness and regret.
When everything feels a bit much, the one film I always turn to and can never be bored of is Richard Curtis’ “About Time”. Its warmth and charm calm me down immediately, and one specific sequence reminds me to find joy in the little things.
Upon learning he can travel back in time, Tim (Domnhall Gleeson) goes back and relives each day and enjoys the small things he may have overlooked. He asks the kind barista how her day is going, he air guitars to the man playing his music too loud on the tube, these actions are scored by the beautiful ‘Gold In Them Hills’, covered by Rex Goldsmith. A perfect accompaniment to my personal reminder to enjoy each day as it comes.
Fully aware of what its detractors argue against it with valid concerns, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amélie” remains the pinnacle of rapturous joy in this film lover’s eyes. As a young kid in Mexico City, the popular French delight was my first encounter with international cinema outside of the Hollywood machine. Surely, most people have heard filmmakers or critics who were engrossed by “Star Wars” in their childhood, compelling them to chase the magic of the movies. Watching Jeunet’s stunning -and admittedly highly unrealistic- depiction of Paris and romantic relationships was an epiphany of the same caliber for me. Today, nearly 17 years later, rewatching it is an escapist pleasure. Amelie’s world is one of peculiar characters battling loneliness and finding hope in the kind actions of a stranger or acquaintance who’s taken it upon herself to spread kindness. Her whimsical escapades, enlivened by Yann Tiersen’s transporting score, are life-affirming. Darkness fades away momentarily when “Amélie” is playing, and you let yourself be illuminated by its happy glow.
At some point in the last two years, I lost count of the number of times I’ve re-watched Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina.” Though in no way comforting in terms of source material, the second the film starts––the orchestra tuning, the rise of the curtain, the needle-drop of one of Dario Marianelli’s best scores––I’m immediately at ease. (It helps, as well, that the film has been on Netflix for as long as I can remember and won’t be going anywhere soon.) Its lush costuming and theatricality never fail to transport me out of whatever dreary and wildly depressing reality I’m annoyingly trapped in and into something grander and more beautiful and less, well, real.
For me, I often derive comfort, if sad or depressed at the state of the world, from returning to works that affected me deeply when I was younger. The act of watching a movie – or reading a book – that meant something to me when life was less complicated is enough to raise the levels of dopamine and/or oxytocin in my system (or at least make me feel like it does, which is the same thing). As such, some of my early favorites include “Back to the Future,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The King of Hearts,” “North by Northwest,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Sting.”
It’s actually a film I saw when in my twenties, however, that provides the most relief: “Babe” (Chris Noonan, 1995). This delightful fantasy of the pig that made good – excuse me, “sheep-pig” – filmed with an amazing combination of both animatronic and real animals, has everything one could hope for in escapist cinema: a clear beginning, middle and end; a dramatic arc accentuated by big beats; an extraordinarily engaging protagonist and equally charismatic supporting players, including a near-silent James Cromwell (deservedly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar); powerful emotions; and a profoundly cathartic happy (and comic) end. What is there not to love? Feeling blue? Watch “Babe” immediately. I guarantee your mood will improve.
Not to sound like a prototypical Millennial, but when my parents showed me “Back to the Future,” I knew they had given me something special. I instantly fell in love with the outdated slang, the kitschy 50’s costumes, and the 80’s-era obsession with science fiction and time travel. The movie, released in 1985, was a pop culture staple of my parents’ college years, and watching it now as a college student makes me wonder what kinds of pop culture I’ll pass on as a parent. There’s something very comforting about a formulaic plot and a simple resolution, yet a kind of inventiveness and newness that doesn’t exist anymore, or perhaps not as much, in our modern brand of action movie. (And given the state of our national politics, I’d love more than anything to jump into a time-traveling DeLorean.)
Vincente Minnelli’s 1960 musical “Bells Are Ringing” is the definition of happiness. I watched this thing 8 times in a month because honestly….smiling from ear to ear for two hours straight is a rarity these days. The film feels like a warm hug and it’s all thanks to the phenomenal talent of Judy Holliday. She’s a comedic genius, and someone I think people should talk about more. She had such raw talent and a way with expression that I’ve never encountered on screen by an actor before. The way she sings, the way she dances – pure delight. And I can’t forget to point out Dean Martin! Can the man do no wrong? Songs like “Drop that Name”, “I’m Going Back”, and the more well known “Just in Time”, will get you through your Monday commute every week, guaranteed.
“Bend It Like Beckham” has all the elements I need to feel better when
the entire world feels like it’s on fire. Yes, the Spice Girls are on
the soundtrack and this was the peak time for feeling like “Man,
Jonathan Rhys Meyers might be too intense, but he is a babe,” but what
really soothes with “Bend It Like Beckham” is the determination, wit,
and natural charm of protagonist Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra, who
should have been more famous after this). As a young British-Indian
woman who desperately yearns to play soccer professionally, she knows
how much this dream will hurt her parents, and so every step she takes
toward that goal is measured by her knowledge that her mother and
father won’t approve. Her father is sure she’ll face racism, and she
does. Her mother is worried that all the other British-Indian families
will look down on them, and they do.
But it’s Jess’ grit and humor that cements her best friendship with fellow player Jules (Keira Knightley, not in a period piece!), her romance with her onetime coach, Joe (Meyers), and the respect of her parents, particularly her father (Anupam Kher). We’re living in an enraging time when being a woman with a mind and a voice is treated like a transgression. “Bend It Like Beckham” smashes that thinking. Even if the name of the film references one of the world’s most famous male soccer players, it’s female strength that is the most comforting thing about the film. The movie may be named after David, but at its heart, it’s really about Victoria.
I confess, I don’t use movies for comfort; good movies provide comfort on their own, whether times are good or bad, and one of the useful things about working as a critic is watching a wide range of movies, and falling under their sway, amid a variety of circumstances, as infuriating and distracting as those circumstances may be. That said, I wasn’t always a critic, and certain habits–as much of mind as of action–are ingrained. Something that I do turn to for comfort is music, and the best musicals by the best director of musicals, Busby Berkeley, were made during the Depression and the Second World War–and though they make direct allusion to the troubles of the times, Berkeley’s production numbers also take the long and deep view, a philosophical vision of social and intimate life that, in its own endurance, proves its own point.
I know the lines from “Bridget Jones’s Diary” so well that I no longer need to watch the movie; I can just play it in my head if I wanted. (Though, that would be a bit tedious.) Since I first saw the movie, it has been my number-one go-to “comfort film.” I watch in the good times, and I definitely watch it in the bad times. Back in DVD days, I watched my first copy of the Bridget Jones DVD so many times that it broke. (My best friend thankfully gifted me a second one.) It’s hard to pinpoint what I like best about the film; more than anything, it’s just a fun movie to watch. It’s an uplifting one.
Bridget, a down-on-her-luck thirty-something takes life by the horns, leaving her mundane job for a better one, leaving a bad boy for a good one, and finding comfort and grace in her “urban family,” as she calls her endearing circle of friends. I think what I like best about the character of Bridget is her flaws, and her vulnerability and bravery in owning those flaws. She’s an everywoman. And yet, in an extraordinary way, she shows how an everywoman can rise above their presumed lot in life, and make their life into a masterpiece (in this case, a comedic masterpiece).
The soundtrack is pretty killer, too. Who can forget the scene of Bridget pedaling furiously on a stationary bike at the gym while Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” blares, or when Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You” plays as Bridget runs after Mark Darcy – sans pants – in the dreamy snow, and then kisses him. Bridget, in all her flawed, wonderful ways, shows us that fortune favors the bold. And, that blue soup with dear friends will always make for a good night.
Heartbreak isn’t the most peaceful emotion, but somehow “Call Me By Your Name” feels like the most reliable answer for my favourite comfort film. If a movie can have so much to give that it still gets better after three, four, five viewings, it then simultaneously cuts deeper each time and brings back the same glorious pleasures to bask in, soothing any form of stress without fail: the heat of a lazy Italian summer, the taste of chilled apricot juice, the porous pressure of an impromptu back rub. The hedonistic setting offers a perfect backdrop for a pleasant story, providing relaxation in its environment. But past the holiday glow, I watch Call Me By Your Name to remember that I’m not alone, to remind myself that any obsessive anxiety trying to isolate my thoughts is the same one that affects everyone else too. It doesn’t make the disappointment of losing someone you love any easier, but there is great peace of mind in seeing a film that honours reality so truthfully. It’s a miracle that there’s not a hint of resentment or cynicism in anyone’s desire or hurt feelings in this film, and it’s one that reminds me that, yeah, if Elio will be okay, I will too.
In my many movie discussions with my audience, my circle of friends, and everyone in between, I find myself having to either put on or take off the “film critic hat” to fit the conversation and setting. Maybe it’s the school teacher in me that works in a world full of objectives, but I’m becoming, for better or worse, the kind of film critic that admirably tries to sort or separate “favorites” from “best” when it applies. I can personally love a guilty pleasure, comfort film, or piece of trashy entertainment to pieces as a well-worn personal favorite without it being a museum piece that advances the art. At the same time, there are dozens of five-star films and borderline masterpieces that I’ll never watch more than once after earning their top ratings and “best” labels on craft/technical achievement alone. It’s rare and welcome when a “best” can also be a “favorite.” My Twitter handle probably gives it away, but “everyone comes to Rick’s.”
My all-time favorite film is also the one I consider the best ever, and it’s Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca.” Every seasonal re-watch brings new appreciation, reminded reverence, and an immediate lift of spirit. Across its rich ensemble acting, engaging war-time intrigue, left-field star turns, touching musical threads, dynamite dialogue, and soaring romantic flair, “Casablanca” is the total package and a thematic exemplar of on-screen and off-screen triumph. That’s the kind of movie that takes me to another place and another time, where I fall in love with the escapism and joy of movies all over again.
A strange choice, but I pick “Cinema Paradiso”. The two reasons I like to revisit it often in times of loneliness or pain is because of how much I personally relate. It’s a film that reminds me of my father, who grew up close to Bagheria, which is what Giancaldo is based off of. The sense of community and mannerisms feel like home, as well as Toto and Alfredo’s mutual love of film. “Cinema Paradiso” does make me cry, but it’s rather therapeutic and makes me hopeful for my own personal future and how I interact with the world. Sure, there’s better choices of films that are far more feel-good and work in a quick fix, but the sheer humanity and cautious optimism that the film emits is wildly comforting and keeps me chugging for days on end.
I have a whole list of comfort movies that I turn to for various reasons, from “Scream” to “Bridesmaids.” It usually depends on the severity of the situation. Am I sick? Tired? Depressed? Just feeling sorry for myself? All of the above? However, over the past few years, I’ve been turning more and more towards “Clerks 2” no matter the particulars of the crisis at hand.
Whether I’m freaking out because I feel like my career is going nowhere (an ever-present fear), or that the world is in chaos, or I simply don’t have enough money to eat, that movie provides an escape for 90-odd minutes into a world I recognize and feel at home in that still, crucially, is not my own. It always makes me cry, too, which usually relieves some of the stress (the jail fight between Dante and Randall is heartbreakingly brilliant).
The flick boasts some of Kevin Smith’s best writing, his funniest jokes, and his wisest ruminations on lifelong friendship, the choices we make, and the ways in which we shape our futures together with, or perhaps in spite of, our closest friends. No matter what’s going on in my own life, if it’s Sunday night and I’m dreading even getting out of bed the next morning to face another week, “Clerks 2” is my go-to.
“Clueless.” It’s hilarious, surprisingly sweet, and empowering. Plus, it has some of the most memorable one-liners ever. You can’t not walk away from this film without a smile on your face.
Boy howdy, what perfect timing. When I need the world to go away, I subsume myself into “Desk Set,” the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn comedy set at a 1950s TV network (that just happens to have its offices at 30 Rock), where he’s an efficiency expert installing a new computer (or, in the film’s parlance, “electronic brain”) in the reference department that she runs. The banter is brisk and witty — the stage play was adapted by Phoebe and Henry Ephron — and the Technicolor (and the champagne) pops. Throw in seasoned second bananas Joan Blondell and Gig Young, plus new-to-the-screen ingénue Dina Merrill, and it’s just the perfect antidote, for me anyway, to the 21st century.
Honestly, I watch a lot of truly daunting documentaries on a regular basis, and that’s what tends to cheer me up. It’s terrible to admit (I’m sure to get some nasty responses for doing so), but after viewing death and destruction in films about foreign wars or the real drama of families coping with kids with severe emotional problems or anything else that’s harsh or heartbreaking in subject matter, I feel better about my own life. How could I not?
It’s not so much in a gloating way but just having a perspective of thankfulness and not wallowing in the First World problems of my privileged life. In addition to being moved by those stories and being empathically enlightened and informed about the world and what is in need of change, of course. And sure, the docs that either end with or are focused on positive solutions or change or inspiring subjects are also more blatantly comforting.
If I need something more escapist for comfort, I guess any Marx Brothers movie, but “Duck Soup” in particular, will do the job. Their anarchic antics especially while satirizing war and politics to the extreme with their brilliant combination of wit and nonsense sort of washes away the real world’s actual awfulness regarding war and politics.
My comfort film is without question “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. So many classic moments and just so many laugh out loud moments. Anytime I need a pick me up, that’s the movie I go to.
I always go back to “Fletch” because it makes me laugh, no matter how many times I see it. And I’ve seen it many, many times. When I want to forget my cares, a little of Chevy Chase in one of his roles does the trick.
Year after year, I often return to “Good Will Hunting” for clarity and laughter. It reminds me to drop assumptions about people, and to try and understand the larger picture.
There’s a constant clash of perspectives: Will/Skylar, Will/ Sean, Will/Professor Lambeau. Will clashes with himself, too, as he fears navigating beyond his comfort zone — he fears that state of feeling vulnerable when life gets tough. He’d rather bond with his buddies than “log off,” so to speak.
Today, on Twitter, the daily “end of days” narrative seems to be a defense mechanism for many individuals, and the repetitive act of bonding via negativity, out of routine, can’t be healthy.
While “Good Will Hunting” is certainly a flawed film, it serves as a reminder (for me) that it’s OK to stray from the pack for peace of mind, and maybe for a little perspective as well. Variables!
I actually have an entire comfort film list for times of both inner and outer turmoil, that ranges from “Guardians of the Galaxy”, to “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, to “Space Jam”, and “21 Jump Street”, but my top pick will always be “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Not to be “that unoriginal bitch” but Wes Anderson is absolutely my comfort director, and starting as a teenager I took solace in his eccentric, cutesy filmmaking style, a sugary coating encompassing a bitter pill, the contents of which consists of dramatic, uncomfortable narratives about dysfunctional relationships and people. That being said, I think “Grand Budapest” is Wes Anderson’s bleakest, most hopeless movie, but it’s also the one that gives me the most comfort. It ends in death, sorrow, and the inescapable fact that someday our lives will be near-empty and left with nothing but bits and pieces of our past selves and faint recollections of a better time; that the world is a horrible, unforgiving place, and there is nothing we can do to escape this fact. “We were happy here, for a little while.”
The good things are fleeting and the bad things will always be lurking nearby, waiting to replace them. But that’s the other message in “Grand Budapest:” that there are still good things regardless. Life is worth it for the good things, even if they only last for a little while. It’s a dark movie, but it’s a sincere movie, and it doesn’t wallow too much in its own brutal honesty, reminding us that the goodness in life and in people like Mr. Gustave is what keeps us going. The movie is a reminder that kindness does exist through despair, and even the deepest trenches of hopelessness are not without flickerings of light. “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”
Two films are always on stand-by for this, and I’ve seen both countless times for that reason: “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Guys & Dolls”. We all know the former is basically a perfect movie: the bright artificiality of the soundstages, the incredible songs, the jokes that still land after the umpteenth time, the high-1950’s costume design, Gene Kelly’s megawatt grin, that Technicolor. “Guys & Dolls” probably seems like its lumbering unpopular cousin, but I adore it: Frank Sinatra is the perfect wiseguy in the role of Nathan Detroit, Brando’s big sexy shoulders fill out a suit even though his warbling singing voice is awful, and the NYC soundstages are hilarious and colourful and evoke that mythic working-class Manhattan of the mid-century. I wanna wrap myself in both of these films like they’re blankets. They’re the cinematic equivalent of a hot bath and a big glass of Pinot.
I don’t know if I’m the only one but I usually turn to music to comfort me more so than film. More often than not, it’s The Beatles because they gave us some of the best music in the world. Sometimes, it’ll be Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel. If I really want to get a flavor of home, I’ll listen to Jukebox the Ghost (singer Ben Thornewill and I graduated in the same high school class).
I think back to this past December when I was dealing with depression while being away from home for the holidays once again because I’m a transgender woman–that and not having any plans at all on December 25th. When you’re Jewish and away from home, this is the worst possible day to spend it all alone. I distinctly remember watching the Marx Brothers’ “Horse Feathers” on Christmas since I had it sitting on the DVR after recording it on TCM.
I moved by plane to Chicago in early 2016 so the large bulk of my movie collection didn’t move with me. Coming out as transgender in a small religious community isn’t quite an option and my parents weren’t exactly going to help move me to Chicago and deal with the Chicago winter. Going on almost three years later, I still don’t have the large bulk of that collection, including the movies that would cheer me up. Most of the times, those films tend to be comedies and if I want to watch something really badly, I’ll have to see if the library has it if it’s not available on TV.
As an older 90’s kid who spent way more time watching movies and tv than playing outside, I associate animated movies as comfort films. Somehow they take me back to times in which the world seemed overall ok. Yeah, there was still war and men kidnapping small kids for organ traffic on the background, but still. One of my favorites comfort movies is “Lilo & Stitch.” It’s fun, its animation is gorgeous, it’s focused on a little girl, her older sister and their alien pet, and it’s heartwarming.
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