Check out our Tom’s rundown of the best feel-good movies you might not have watched.
When I wrote our list of the Best Films to Watch In Quarantine, I offered it as a list of suggestions to help tackle the boredom of being cooped up inside. As I write this in mid-May, I feel it’s no longer sufficient. The global situation has scarcely improved, and particularly here in the UK there seems to be no reprieve from the incompetence of the Government and the sense of impending doom.
Since there’s very little for common folk like us to do to help the situation, the only recourse is to keep our heads above water, and not succumb to the void of despair. With hard drugs both illegal and expensive, the next best thing is to consume some audiovisual serotonin in the form of feel-good movies.*
But here at UDS, we like to keep it alternative; you won’t find any When Harry Met Sallys or Ferris Bueller’s Day Offs here (although they are both fine movies). Instead, check out our rundown of the Top 7 Alternative Feel-good Films.
*Movies nor illegal drugs should replace good mental health practises or professional advice. It was a dumb remark but an even dumber writer.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Napoleon Dynamite is one of those films that’s hard to recommend. Not because it’s bad, but because very little happens in it.
Essentially a window into the life of a gormless teen in the backwater town of Preston, Idaho, there’s no real plot or major conflict to deal with. Instead we follow the titular character through school dances, bullies and dealing with his kooky family.
After meandering through these seemingly benign events, the film does reach somewhat of a climax when Napoleon has to perform a dance routine to secure his friend Pedro the votes needed to become student body president. Not the highest of stakes.
But to look for a plot is to miss the point of Napoleon Dynamite. It makes it all the more relatable, believable and endearing that most of us will have had similar experiences to Napoleon, even if perhaps he’s more of an oddball than the regular highschooler.
Like I said, it’s not the easiest film to recommend. However if you’re looking for a film with relaxingly low stakes, moments of hilarity and one of the most quotable scripts ever written, take a leap of faith and give it a go.
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)
My editor has banned me from including more than one Star Wars movie in this list, so begrudgingly I limit myself to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Although it garners a mixed reaction among fans and critics (to put it mildly), The Phantom Menace is always the first Star Wars movie I turn to if I’m in need of a pick-me-up.
Firstly, like Napoleon Dynamite, it probably has the lowest stakes of any film in the franchise. It’s set years before either the Galactic Civil War or the Clone Wars, instead taking place during a period of relative peace in the galaxy. As such it has a relatively low body count, at least compared to the terrorist attacks of Attack of the Clones or the outright war of Episode III onwards.
That isn’t to say there isn’t action to be enjoyed. From the excitement of Podracing to arguably the coolest villain of the series in the form of Darth Maul, there’s enough going on to keep it from ever feeling boring. In fact, the former was so good it spawned the cult classic video game Star Wars Episode I: Racer.
It might not be the best Star Wars film, but it’s definitely one to watch if you’re just looking to chill out and have a good time.
The Room (2003)
Often regarded as the best ‘worst movie’ of all time, watching The Room is an experience. Funded, produced, directed by and starring enigmatic autere Tommy Wiseau, it’s another film that could be considered a hard sell.
A threadbare, borderline nonsensical story of love triangles and betrayal, not to mention the countless other plot points that are disregarded as soon as they’re brought up (17 years later and we still don’t know if Lisa’s mum survived breast cancer) doesn’t make for the most enticing pitch. However it’s these reasons that make the The Room a cultural phenomenon all these years later. The entertainment derives from mocking the terrible script, woeful acting and gratuitous, abundant and lengthy sex scenes. So devoted are the fans of the film, that screenings quickly descend into quote-a-longs, with the throwing of plastic spoons being just one of the many forms of audience participation that take place.
It’s a film-watching experience like no other, and the ludicrousness of it is enough to put a smile on even the most stoic face. But more so than that, dig into the behind the scenes story of the film and you’ll discover that despite its many flaws, it is the culmination of Wiseau’s lifelong goal to break into film. Whatever critics might say about the final result, he crafted his magnum opus the way he wanted, and refused to compromise (or listen to reason). An inspirational meta-story that has been captured in the biopic The Disaster Artist – another thoroughly recommended flick!
From one absolutely bonkers movie to another, we have 1974’s Zardoz. Directed by John Boorman (who only two years prior had been nominated for an Academy Award for Deliverance) and starring screen icon Sean Connery, you’d think it’d be the recipe for another cinematic success. Instead we got one of the weirdest science fiction films ever.
I won’t dwell on plot points for too long, as I still struggle to comprehend what’s going on. In short, Sean Connery has a receding ponytail, wears nothing but skimpy pants and a cross bandolier and rides a horse. Ok there’s more to it than that, but surely that’s enough to entice you?
But what makes Zardoz great for taking your mind off the horrors of reality is that it tries to cram every sci-fi theme it can think of into its 100 minute runtime. Telepathy, immortality, eugenics, societal segregation and gene manipulation are just some of the topics it tries to tackle, making it one of the most heady films of its time. You’ll be too busy trying to keep track of what’s going on to give the real world a second thought.
Plus what could be more mesmerising than moustachioed Sean Connery?
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
In my humble opinion, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is Edgar Wright’s best film. For a director with an almost flawless filmography, this is high praise indeed (and is sure to draw the ire of Shaun of the Dead fans around the world), but it’s an argument not devoid of validation.
An adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the movie chronicles the titular character’s struggle to win the heart of Ramona Flowers by defeating her 7 evil exes. Taking direct influence from manga and 16 bit video games, it’s a heavily stylised film that has a dreamy, otherworldly vibe, offering a unique aesthetic to explore more grounded themes of young love, friendship and jamming in a garage band.
And speaking of bands, the soundtrack to SPvtW is outstanding. Featuring the likes of The Rolling Stones, Beck, Frank Black and many more, not to mention original tracks performed as part of the film’s battle of the bands segments, it’s a selection of tracks that are still in regular rotation on my phone.
Combine all this with Wright’s trademark kinetic editing style, a floppy disk’s worth of heart and my spirit animal Michael Cera, and you’ve got a film to in lesbians with.
The Nice Guys (2016)
From one stylish film to another, we have Shane Black’s black comedy The Nice Guys. Set in the 70s and starring the odd couple pairing of Ryan Gosling as a cowardly private investigator and Russel Crowe as a no-nonsense enforcer-for-hire, what starts as a search for a missing teenager eventually becomes a mission to expose a corrupt government conspiracy.
Like Pulp Fiction or Drive, it’s one of those films that just exudes cool, with a well paced plot, vibrant period setting and trope-busting humour. Seeing Gosling step out of his usual role of brave leading man to become a comically inept deadbeat father, who screams like a little girl at the slightest scare is a delight I didn’t think I needed.
If you don’t mind poking fun at death, organised crime and shady governments, then it’s sure to perk your mood.
Why is a violent horror film about a psychopathic killer who tortures people with elaborate traps to prove they don’t take life for granted on a list of the best feel-good films? I did warn you it’d be an ‘alternative’ selection, didn’t I?
But much like the Jigsaw Killer, there’s a method to my madness. Seeing unfortunate souls going through horrendous suffering gives us a healthy dose of perspective. No matter what you’re going through in real life, at least you don’t have to saw your own foot off to survive (unless you do. If so, Saw might be a tough watch). It also helps that none of those caught in the traps are particularly likeable or sympathetic, meaning you’re not overly perturbed by their wails of agony or cries for help.
The first Saw film also happens to be a fantastic psychological thriller, balancing exciting plot twists and intrigue with the buckets of blood. It might not be for everyone, but I defy anyone to come away from a viewing without a newfound appreciation for your current situation.
And that’s a wrap on our rundown of the Top 7 Alternative Feel-good Films! Did we miss your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!
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