These Are The 13 Best Feel-Good Films, Because We Need Them Right Now

Tom Nicholson
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From Esquire

What with what we're going to very broadly call 'one thing and another', we could all do with a bit of a lift right now, and film is probably the most copper-bottomed medium for spirit-rousing.

Feel-good films that actually succeed in making you feel good are rarely straightforwardly happy, stress-free experiences though. Sure, they exist – the most worrisome thing that happens in Local Hero is when an unfortunate rabbit is turned into a casserole – but generally you need a bit of grist in there to make the redemptive high of the end carry some wallop. Even Paddington 2 has that bit where Paddington very nearly drowns. All we're saying is: be prepared.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Twenty-two-year-old Zak, who has Down's syndrome, makes a break for it from his assisted living facility to try and make his dream of being a wrestler come true. While stowed away on a fishing boat, he becomes mates with Shia LaBeouf's fisherman (and thief) Tyler, and the two runaways stick together in the hope of getting to Florida. This rambling, kind-hearted fable is buoyed up by Zack Gottsagen's brilliant performance as Zak, who makes sure the whole thing never tips into schmaltz.


Your Name (2016)

Small-town teenager Mitsuha daydreams about meeting a sophisticated Tokyo boy. Then, suddenly, she wakes up in the body of Taki, a not-quite-sophisticated Tokyo high schooler. It turns out he's body-hopping too, and the pair start communicating and making each other's lives better in the original owner's absence. They get closer and closer until – would you believe it? – a falling comet hits Mitsuha's hometown and Taki tries to piece together what's going on. Lyrical, funny and moving, Your Name is a magical realist masterpiece that's grounded in the awkwardness and excitement of growing up.


Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016)

Taika Waititi's breakout hit put a deadpan Kiwi spin on the odd couple buddy comedy, forcing wayward teen Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) – "a real bad egg," according to his child welfare officer – and his gruff, solitary foster 'uncle' Hector (Sam Neill) together after the death of Hector's wife Bella. Ricky's fairly rubbish attempt to fake his own death to avoid going back into care leads the pair into the New Zealand forests, where they try to evade capture and scatter Bella's ashes.


Local Hero (1983)

When Texas energy company Knox Oil and Gas decides it wants to buy up a vast wedge of unspoilt Scottish coastline to turn into an oil refinery, it sends its most Scottish employee – Mac, who's actually very slightly Irish – to lead negotiations with the townspeople of Ferness. Far from being horrified by the idea, they're absolutely delighted and can't wait to spend their millions. But the wonder of the landscape and the gentle, welcoming nature of the people give him second thoughts about helping destroy it all, and reconsider if his life in the city is the one he wants. If you're into Local Hero, get on Bill Forsyth's other masterpiece, Gregory's Girl.


Paddington 2 (2018)

It feels a little bit unnecessary to say it, but the Peruvian bear's second outing should be available on prescription. Its complete lack of cynicism, plus the crowning achievement of Hugh Grant's late-period renaissance in frustrated actor Felix Buchanan, make it pretty much irresistible. Paddington's saving up to buy a rare pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy, but when it goes missing he's chucked in jail for its theft.


Sing Street (2016)

The only thing more uplifting than a coming-of-age story is a coming-of-age story with mid-Eighties synth-pop bangers retrofitted to it. Set in 1985 Dublin, Sing Street follows 'Cosmo' Lawlor and his gang of misfits as they try to escape boredom and the souring influence of the Christian Brothers who teach them at school via their band, whose 'Drive It Like You Stole It' is the greatest single Hall & Oates never wrote.


Pride (2014)

The story of the unlikely allies who backed each other in the face of brutal treatment by Margaret Thatcher's government during the miners' strike of 1984 is fresh, funny and uplifting in spite of the darkness of the time, which it doesn't shy away from. It's about the founding of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a fundraising group led by LGBT activists who found common cause with the striking miners of Onllwyn in south Wales, and the broader struggle to get anyone in mainstream politics to take gay rights seriously.


Say Anything... (1989)

The image of Lloyd Dobler turning up at his crush Diane's house blasting Peter Gabriel from a boombox is one of the definitive images of Eighties the teen movie boom, but Say Anything... is a thoroughly different prospect to most of them. John Cusack's Lloyd is a high school underachiever, but one who's helping raise his single sister's child and who has to fight against snobbish adults who don't think he's worthy of dating a valedictorian. And, in the end, he decides to put his hang-ups aside to support Diane. "The world is full of guys," Lloyd's friend Corey tells him. "Be a man. Don't be a guy." Sage advice.


Mamma Mia! (2008)

No, it doesn't make any sense. But really, if you're not battered into a kind of joyous submission by its sheer exuberance, fully committed performances and Christine Baranski doing the watusi across a beach while singing 'Does Your Mother Know?', you might be medically dead. Mamma Mia! is the most intensely concentrated shot of joy ever committed to film.


Love, Simon (2018)

Teenager Simon's trying to work out which of his classmates he's fallen for online – he goes by the name 'Blue' – while trying to stop a blackmailer from outing him to the rest of his school and family after an email-based snafu. It's smart, sweet and sensitive in equal measure, and Bleachers' Jack Antonoff provides a storming soundtrack too.


Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Sheryl Hoover's family haven't got much going for them: her brother Frank's just attempted suicide; her husband's a fairly insufferable life coach; her nihilist son Dwayne's taken a vow of silence until he can become a fighter pilot; and her father-in-law's just been chucked out of a retirement home for snorting heroin. What could bring them together? An 800-mile road trip to California to support little 'un Olive in a beauty pageant.


It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

No, it doesn't matter that it's not Christmas. You know the story: Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey has a moment of crisis when it looks like his building society's about to close, but just as he's about to kill himself his guardian angel, Clarence, shows him how much worse his town would be without him. The first two thirds are pretty unremittingly bleak, but the revelation of how many lives a single person can touch is incredibly profound. Plus, Clarence's final message that "no man is a failure who has friends" is one to bear in mind when you start getting bummed out about having not touched that stack of Tolstoy you were going to get through.


My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

When sisters Satsuki and Mei move into a big old house with their dad to be nearer to their mum while she's in hospital, they discover a world of woodland spirits which coexist happily with the modern world. As you'd expect of Studio Ghibli, every frame is beautiful, and ripples with optimism and warmth. That's just as well: when it was originally released it was part of a double-bill with the unbearably bleak Tokyo firebombing story Grave of the Fireflies.


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