Here’s what I like to do sometimes: I watch the movies on this list for a little pick-me-up. They’re life-affirming, wonderful and bittersweet at times, but totally warming to the soul. So here’s a list of heartwarming movies.
But of course, if you were around in the noughties, you would have watched this French movie. It is twee, romantic, and old-fashioned, but boy does it make me smile. The leads are a dream to behold, with Audrey Tautou capturing millions of hearts along the way, mine quite firmly. Mathieu Kassovitz does a fantastic turn as a scatter brained man in love with the obscure and the eccentric, groomed to be the right partner for the brilliant Amélie. The director brings something so rare to the screen, a movie that has all the right elements of storytelling and colour, a mildly melancholic soundtrack, and gentle wit. I remember first watching it and feeling completely overwhelmed that this movie actually existed, and promptly called my girlfriend in the middle of the night to convince her to watch it as well.
2. The Fisher King
Terry Gilliam has produced some of my favourite movies of all time. I mean, have you watched The Adventures of Baron Munchausen? It’s a dream sequence of floating heads, strange islands, death on wings, theatrical folk, Oliver Reed as Vulcan (!!!), and that fantastic old goat of a hero, Baron Munchausen, the unreliable narrator to end all unreliable narrators. But I digress. This is the ultimate Terry Gilliam movie for me. I’m sorry, but this one beats Brazil. The latter is rather less subtle for me, although it brims with great ideas. The Fisher King has my favourite Robin Williams performance. His energetic turn as Parry is one for the ages. And Mercedes Ruehl… Oh my god, I wanted to worship her. She plays a salt of the earth character, Anne, and her acting is so natural. It’s like watching a real person, not actorly or Jersey Shore, contrary to the costume she’s got on. Jeff Bridges is also capable of conveying the cynicism and fear in those yuppie corporate types who have all that self-hatred festering away in their little minds. The Fisher King can sometimes border on the dark side, with a medieval plot streaked through, but it is oh so entertaining without being saccharine.
3. All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre)
Let’s get this out of the way first: Pedro Almodóvar’s works aren’t for everyone. Some of the films have graphic sequences, others have problematic situations. However, All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre) is one of his more accessible movies. I understand that some who’ve watched it might question my decision to place it on this list of heartwarming movies, seeing as there is death, a lot of heartache, melodrama, and violence. And lets not forget Penelope Cruz’s character is diagnosed with aids… Despite all that tearful stuff – believe me, I bawl my eyes out every time I watch this – the story just drives you to the promised land of hope and happiness. It is absolutely life-affirming in the best possible sense. And I think Cecilia Roth is the glue that holds everything together. She’s amazing!
4. In the Bleak Midwinter
Kenneth Branagh’s take on Hamlet might be considered a modern classic, and as an English major I went through the rite of passage by watching it and learning to appreciate it for what it is: bloody brilliant! So yeah, I might be a bit biased here, but his other movie is as good, of not better (if you happen to dislike his Danish prince). In the Bleak Midwinter, aka A Midwinter’s Tale, was one of those movies I watched by accident. It was on TV one night when I had nothing to do beside mug for the exams, and voila, I was screaming with happiness inside, and smiling very often for a few days whenever the scenes replayed in my mind. I absolutely fell in love with the cast of Branagh regulars playing some skewed version of themselves. Basically the story goes that a jobless actor decides to put on the play Hamlet for Christmas and the ensuing struggles involved in casting, producing, and managing every one of the mad hatters prancing around with their splendid opinions on how he should do his job, etc., etc. Look out for Nicholas Farrell as the extremely self-assured actor who intends to play the prince, particularly his audition scene. I laughed for ages.
5. Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto)
The Italian mama has a bad rep in the popular imagination. She’s domineering, her cooking is divine, which earns her the hatred of the future daughter-in-law almost instantly since the spineless son is unable o overcome his love for her pasta despite moving on from her. This movie is about the aftermath, where there’s no daughter-in-law and the protagonist is a rather ordinary man with little prospects, living on the good will of the community. One thing he does have is pretty sweet skills in the kitchen. A bunch of little old ladies invade his home during the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary (aka Ferragosto). As a favour to his doctor and his landlord, Gianni agrees to care for their very old mothers and an uninvited aunt. Nothing radical happens in the midst of a minor health scare, constantly worrying over money, and having to put up with people because you owe them. Yep, pretty much life as it is, eh? The women behind this mild and amiable home invasion are each different, and one of them is also given to throwing her entitlement about quite a lot. It all ends with the lunch from the title, and a dance. Quiet stuff, but surprisingly genuine and hopeful.
6. My Afternoons With Margueritte
Gérard Depardieu, Russia’s biggest movie star, plays Germain enfant, a little boy in the body of a grown man. He does odd jobs around a parochial little town and due to habit, spends his afternoons at the park. Margueritte is a 95-year-old lady whose sole delight in life is in reading books. Somehow, the two bond over a couple of pigeons. The rest of the story examines Germain’s struggle to learn how to read – he was dubbed an idiot by his teacher and given up by all in the village. His bond with Margueritte grows to something stronger over time and the two achieve a happy ending of mutual trust and love. Sure, the film verges on the sentimental but it is a crowd-pleaser, with a touching message about caring for the elderly, whether they are your relatives or not.
7. Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari)
If you don’t mind the slight toilet humour, than give this one a go. It’s a Japanese movie based on the light novel written by Novala Takemoto, someone highly regarded in the Lolita subculture. Featuring a lovely Anna Tsuchiya and the ever youthful Kyoko Fukada, the story is about the unlikely friendship that forms between a Yankee girl and a Lolita girl, two outsiders who have very different world views. Ichigo (Tsuchiya) is a friend who has your back no matter the consequences while Momoko (Fukada) is an ice queen fashionista with a detached outlook about life. One is warm and blustering, the other, aloof and mercenary. But these two find each other under a ridiculously hilarious scenario and the bond never breaks. Both have lessons to learn and teach each other. The denouement is as hilarious as the rest of the movie, and you can’t help wishing you knew these girls yourself.
8. Fried Green Tomatoes
I remember seeing the trailer for the movie when I was a kid, and wondered what it was about. Then I forgot all about it until I watched it a few years ago for the first time. It’s that kind of 9s American movie; you know the type: there’s this huge lovable family, a close-knit community, racism, better-than-you protagonists, and a comforting soundtrack carrying the entire movie to the end. Like Kamikaze Girls, this one is about female friendship, and while the novel by Fannie Flagg was very clear about the two main characters’ sexuality (newsflash: they’re a lesbian and a bisexual), the movie steered clear of the whole thing. It’s only during the scene when the two leads take a dip in a muddy river did I realise it was a secretly gay movie. Other than that cop-out, the movie is fantastic. The story deals with four different women. There’s Kathy Bates’ Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged overweight woman having trouble with her marriage, and the spry Jessica Tandy playing her mentor-storyteller, Ninny Threadgoode. And in another lifetime, there are Idgie Threadgoode and her soulmate, Ruth Jamison. Ninny meets Evelyn in an old folk’s residence by chance and the two connect through the story of Idgie and Ruth, the unlikeliest Southern ladies in their little town. Elements of the Southern Gothic are streaked through and make for some black comedy. It’s a bit more visceral in the book, but 90s America would have baulked if the movie had been more faithful to the original material.
9. Shawshank Redemption
What? You thought this wouldn’t be on a list of movies which aim to warm your cynical, black heart? Are you nuts?! I mean, if you haven’t already watched it, why not? Why would you deprive yourself of this masterpiece? The tagline for the movie is burned into my consciousness: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” I mean, come on! “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Dude, shall I continue, or do you want to do yourself a favour and go watch it?