I love to understand and explore what goes behind making films, studying films that create profundity through visuals. Films which contemplate on our inscrutable emotions. Films that don’t shirk from the hard reality. But, every now and then, I return to films that cheer me up and are an instant, if only short-lived, cure for life’s blues. Particularly, films that make a compelling argument against my ‘dog-eat-dog’ world view. This year, we’ve had a fair share of fine feel good films, that left us with a big smile.
Not all films I’ve listed here are family-friendly, but they are sure to warm your heart.
13. The Meddler
Lorena Scafaria’s film does feel like a cutesy, melodramatic tale with rigid sentimental layers. But Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne’s brilliant performances diffuse the film with nuances. It turns the film into a refined study of loss and misery.
The Meddler explores the turbulent relationship between widowed, meddling mother Marnie Minervini and her early 30s, depressed, screenwriter daughter Lori. Furthermore, Lori carries the extra baggage of losing her longtime, actor boyfriend. Despite a predictable premise, director Scafaria doesn’t treat the narrative like a standard issue, parent-without-boundaries comedy. She gives the wonderful actresses space to bring out their own profound, emotional fireworks.
12. Eddie the Eagle
Dexter Fletcher’s tale of eccentric British underdog ski jumper Eddie Edwards packs every formula you’d expect in a template inspirational drama. But the narrative has enough charm that, at times, subverts formulaic conventions.
Eddie was a plasterer who learned skiing only in his early 20s. He took on a wildly unconventional path to represent Great Britain in Calgary Winter Olympics 1988 (breaking the British ski-jumping record twice).
There are routine montages, slow-mo movements, stereotype characterizations. Despite such flaws, the narrative doesn’t get stuck in a sentimental swamp. Egerton and Hugh Jackman’s (as Eddie’s coach) performances are consistently engaging. The undeniably emotional intensity will certainly cheer you up.
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story didn’t quite summon up the magical feeling in me. He treats the renowned material with respect and has meticulously constructed the world of giants. What I missed from this old-fashioned children’s tale is the wow factor. I was kind of immune to the tech wizardry in display. The visuals don’t stop the narrative from plunging into a state of dullness.
For all its flaws, BFG wasn’t boring like some of other Spielberg’s lesser works. It’s occasionally delightful, thanks to newcomer Ruby Barnhill (as the precocious kid Sophie) as well as Mark Rylance’s performances. In fact, it was Rylance who allows the gentile, complex nature of the giant to shine through the motion capture technology.
10. The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau’s feel-good spectacle deserves credit for creating this manufactured profuse world and its jungle dwellers. Most importantly, he is able to sell the drama and emotions with grace. Rudyard Kipling’s text elements are well visible. The movie slips at times due to the lack of thematic cohesion. The narrative feels a bit episodic and few interactions leave us wondering when the next big action set-pieces would come along.
The giant serpent Kaa episode (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) didn’t work for me; it never brought the sense of unease it should have. However, Neel Sethi has done wonderfully well to blend in with the digital world. If only the script was compelling enough, it could have been more than a mild piece of family entertainment.
9. Kubo and the Two Strings
“If you must blink, do it now,” says the opening passage of this mesmerizingly engaging stop-motion animation picture. The words aren’t just a trick as director Travis Knight’s spellbinding visuals keep the whimsicality flowing end to end.
The story takes place in fantasy-ridden ancient Japan, where our artistically gifted 11-year-old protagonist Kubo lives with his bereaved mother in a cave. A series of supernatural occurrences push Kubo to embark on a mythical quest with a snow monkey and a warrior beetle. The magnificently detailed animation derives a lot of characters and situations from Japanese folklore.
The director perfectly blends storybook simplicity with real complex emotions. Kubo’s journey may appeal to the adult audiences too. The dazzling visuals function as a metaphor for individual loneliness and loss.
The narrative shifts feel erratic at times, especially towards the end, but it’s more profound than the usual family-friendly animated films.
8. Captain Fantastic
Ben Cash’s (Viggo Mortensen) captivating, unorthodox ideologies and his children’s immensely likeable qualities made this a wonderful experience. Captain Fantastic is the tale of a father who wants his children to be independent. Yet, like every parent, he’s insecure to let go, at the due stage. This inherent conflict infuses soul and energy to this well-constructed indie drama.
Those with non-conformist ideologies about child-rearing, politics and socioeconomic, would revel in protagonist Ben Cash’s vision. The script veers towards a Hollywood-style melodrama in the third act. But the family’s endearing journey serves as an antidote for our gloomy thoughts.