With most of us now in lockdown, the life that we had outside of work is coming back to us. That project that we have been putting off for too long might just be calling out louder than ever, Youtube queues are packed with recipe and workout videos, and suddenly every hobby seems to be a poking stick, urging you to get started on something constructive at home for once. There, I see you pulling away – getting back to staring at the wall or to re-watch that drama for the seventh time in defiance and fatigue from all forms of productivity. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Feeling mentally drained is only the everyday norm in our ticking time bomb of a world right now, regardless of a pandemic. Believe it or not, we really are not machines, and we definitely are not obliged to feel tough everyday to “kick our difficulties in the nuts”. There’s nothing wrong to seek out comfort and to admit that it’s time for a break, be it with a good cry or a quick nap. As for me, graduating from film school has wired me to find all my solutions in cinema, even if it was just to understand why I suddenly thought Japanese would look really good-looking as a language. (Thank you, From Up on Poppy Hill)
So, for all of you out there who just need something to warm you, act as motivation or even serve as an adventure you have been yearning for – clear your to-dos for the next 2 hours, rest your mind, get some snacks, and find comfort in these films that would assure you that in one way or another, things are going to work out.
The “warm you-s” – For all the hot soups in your tummy and warm blankets on rainy days
1. Morning Glory (2010) dir. Roger Mitchel
There is not one single boring moment in this film! Becky Fuller is a young and devoted television producer who lands a job as an executive producer for Daybreak, a failing morning show, after being fired from her previous job. Morning Glory might ring a bell to some of you, being that one title you always skip when choosing for movie night or that one Youtube trailer that surprisingly has a few big stars in it. Regardless, this film is a guaranteed pick me up. Though it stands on the line of predictable or clichéd, it delivers one of the sincerest and most engaging performances in such comedies that I have seen in awhile – Harrison Ford as former news anchor Mike Pomeroy, the “third worst man in the world” turns grump into the new empathetic, and Diane Keaton as the original co-host of Daybreak amplifies how “go big or go home” comedic tropes still do, define the genre.
However, it is Rachel McAdams that joins the dots here, turning typically forgettable entertainment into something special. She herself is Becky Fuller, the optimistic producer that has an annoyingly huge capacity to fight in her – and man, she fights. Her chemistry with her colleagues (and love interest) turn from pure chaos to the best blend, and you could not help to root for them throughout. Morning Glory is a ride to behold – one that would leave you grinning even after the credits roll.
2. Ratatouille (2007) dir. Brad Bird
I might be being a little biased here, considering how Ratatouille is my favourite Pixar film. However, till now, I have yet to come across anyone that actually disliked this film. Ratatouille is about Remy, a rat who aspires to be a chef despite all odds and disapprovals, who finds himself in one of the most recognized restaurants in Paris. It is mostly acclaimed for what most other Pixar films are praised for – it’s beautiful animation and unique plot – but what really stands out for me is how humble a flaunt it plays out to be. Drama in the story takes a step back, allowing for its characters to really propel the story forward.
Rather than getting tense about action sequences or huge emotional cry-fests that many Disney films entail, Bird’s direction maneuvers our attention from drama to simply respecting the crafts of its characters instead, be it Remy, the (painfully relatable) clumsy Linguini or even the seeming opponent, Anton Ego. It has one of the best ending speeches and a few of the most re-watchable scenes I have seen in cinema. Yet, as elegant as it is, with witty humor and slapstick moments, the story retains as much fun for everyone else. You might not have watched it, you might have, you might also have gone on a full Pixar binge and this was the latest one you caught – still, just watch Ratatouille.
3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) dir. Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Little Miss Sunshine is the darkest film in this category, but also one of the most fitting in this list. A family of 5 decides to travel across the country together when their daughter aims to participate in the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant. You might be thinking now: It’s a road trip film, how can this be dark? Well, here’s the thing – our family of 5 consists of an overworked mother, her gay brother who just attempted a failed suicide, a father working as an unsuccessful motivational speaker, a drugged up grandfather and a son that pretty much hates his entire family.
The only textbook favorable character might just be Olive, the youngest child in the family, the source of cheers, dance and music in the house. Little Miss Sunshine is a film about repressed dreams and feelings, those that are confined in the small tight space called reality, seemingly never able to be fulfilled or voiced. Yet, add in one little girl’s aspirations, an aging Yellow Volkswagen minibus and several unpredictable accidents popping up along the way, and you get a dark comedy – on one hand commentating on the social issues of image, and on the other, the understanding and relationships between family and oneself. Is Little Miss Sunshine really well, a “little miss sunshine”? The pageant, nope. The story, definitely.
4. Amelie (2001) dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
If any of you are looking to get into French cinema, or has plans to experiment with some arthouse films, this would be a great starting point. Amelie is an imaginative young waitress who aims to find happiness and spread joy for the people in her neighborhood, all while trying to find love in the process. Packaged like a coming-of-age romantic comedy, Amelie’s eccentric plot details and peculiar characters deliver so much more.
It is almost similar to a children’s book, short stories of the different lives of its little town’s various individuals – from an old artist’s yearly tradition of painting the same painting to the widow who was abandoned by her husband – all weaved together by the hopeful eyes of our heroine, determined to find a solution for all their seeming problems. Rid of any form of malice or bubbling social problems, its fantastical elements, theatre-esque score and warm purposeful mise-en-scene amounts to an effortlessly whimsical look for joy and love in this piece – a rose-tinted distraction we just might be needing now.
5. Roma (2018) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
I hesitated on watching Roma for a pretty long time, mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t the biggest fan of black and white films. Yet, 2 hours 15 minutes later, I was hugging my pillow, a wide smile stuck on my face as I wiped away tears in my eyes. It has a simple premise: the life of a domestic worker, Cleo, working for a family of six in 1970s Mexico City. It is so easy to simply brand such features intriguing – intricate character profiles and empathetic life stories, along the lines of the recent Joker or even Disney’s Finding Nemo – but it is the uncensored carefully crafted characters and story of films like Roma that makes them timeless.
It is the exact opposite of Amelie, social problems, the steaming cause of the story, and its authenticity being the root of its underlying charm. There’s nothing rose-tinted about Roma, yet it is the portrayal of heartbreak, strength and reality in our characters and their relationships that exudes hope. Recommended viewing: A dark room, undivided attention and a whole day off – you will not stop thinking about Roma.
The “you got this-s” – For the pushes when you are in a rut
6. Julie and Julia (2009) dir. Nora Ephron
With its bubbling optimism and constant delight in this film, Julie and Julia could have easily been part of the previous category. Yet, it is the hard-headed, “I’m doing this and no one is stopping me” spirit of it’s two characters that makes it the first choice of this one. Julie and Julia jump between two real-life timelines of the different characters of, well, Julie and Julia. Julia Child, portrayed here by Meryl Streep, is known as the 1950s renowned figure for introducing French cuisine to the American middle class, and Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, is the 2000s blogger who attempts to cook her way through Child’s recipe book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.
A story as simple as the premise, this film is a pure depiction of two people giving their all, and working hard against any odds. And it’s so so wholesome. To all of you struggling to get out of a rut, this might just be what reignites your hope for any form of craft again. An advice though, don’t watch this at night – or any time you don’t plan on eating.
7. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
I re-watched this recently to reminisce my emotions with this film, and damn, did it hit different. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Ghibli film about a 13-year-old witch, Kiki, after moving to a new town alone for the traditional witch training of independence, where she sets up her own courier service. I remember watching this film due to it being one of Youtuber Charlieiscoollike’s “films that changed (his) life”, where he had described it as the perfect analogy of losing passion for something you used to love, due to it having becoming a job. The first and subsequent times I have watched it; it did not resonate too much.
However –I’m pretty sure as many of us are trying to do – while I try to transform something I love into a professional aspiration, Kiki’s Delivery Service struck a chord. Beneath the consistently beautiful animation of the tranquil town by the ocean and miraculous events throughout the film, there is the underlying theme of dreams and the struggles that comes along with it, something that many of our generation are encountering right now. How do I love what I initially loved, but now have come to dread? Here, Miyazaki does not offer any blatant or preaching form of advice, but rather a sense of hope that in our own ways, each of us will come to find.
8. The Devil Wears Prada (2006) dir. David Frankel
You know how some people like to refer to some films as an anthem? Personally, I believe that this film should be every young person’s anthem. The Devil Wears Prada follows Andie, an aspiring journalist who lands a job as a personal assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor-in-chief of the top-tier magazine Runway, despite her detest for the fashion industry. Contrary to popular belief, The Devil Wears Prada is, in no way, just a chick flick. It is the embodiment of the typical workaholic trope in cinema, all while renewing it into one that is driven by actual passion and the want to do well in their jobs, rather than just because “that is their one-character trait”.
The Devil Wears Prada successfully uses the terms “modern working lady” and “The Iron Lady” to propel a character’s qualities – Andie’s fight between personal life and her increasing capabilities at her job, Miranda’s struggles beneath her strong high-standard career profile and even Emily’s weaknesses through her workaholic personality and emphasized dreams for Paris. Packed with spirit, style and cheer-worthy montages, The Devil Wears Prada is a strutting force of power whether you like fashion or not.
9. Happy Old Year (2019) dir. Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
At some point in our lives, we have probably heard the phrase, “Clean room, clean mind”. Along with the Marie Kondo’s worldwide known and (too often) executed “Spark Joy” cleaning techniques, we all have probably been thrown into a time where we thought cleaning would be the solution to all our problems. Happy Old Year finds itself manifested in this social phenomenon – a story about the journey of Jean, who hopes to clear the first floor of her house so as to build a minimalistic office.
More than just the story of a girl struggling through cleaning, it is also a sentimental piece for the meaning of memories and memorabilia, as the initially cold-hearted Jean rids of anything impractical in her wake. Yet, as the story continues, as she recovers seemingly unimportant knick-knacks from previous friendships, relationships and family, she faces an ongoing conflict between letting go and holding on. In a time where we are encouraged to clean our spaces whenever we have the time, Happy Old Year questions the point of it – is a clean room ultimately really a clean mind? Its resolution is debatably a happy one, but it is definitely one that would let us ponder; and perhaps push us to, actually for once, try cleaning our room.
10. Whiplash (2014) dir. Damien Chazelle
You might be familiar with La La Land, the wrongly called out best picture during the 2014 Oscars. Now, turn your attention to the director’s previous feature instead – a music drama about Andrew, an aspiring drummer who gets coached by the militaristic band instructor, after enrolling in a music conservatory. Driven by painful yet comical insults, and tense moments led by the constant beat of Chazelle’s direction and story, Whiplash is a profile story of the struggling perfectionist and artist.
Mind-blowing, epic and violent, there is no space for a breather. Every scene, dialogue and performance (musical and acting) delivered is as memorable as it is similar to a military training camp. Before you know it, you are at the edge of your seat, bracing for any wrong beats of the drum. Then the performance ends, and you are applauding at the marvel of what you have just watched. Whiplash will make you want for more. For the creatives, the perfectionists and the ones seeking comfort for struggles and doubts, here’s to you.
The “adventure-s” – For the ones who are craving a little excitement in the current monotonous humdrum of your neighbourhood
11. Kung Fu Hustle (2005) dir. Stephen Chow
We all know Stephen Chow in one way or another, especially for those in the Chinese community; that funny man, that comedian that grandmothers either love or hate, but most commonly, that guy whose films are always in the television programme line up during Chinese New Year that always becomes background noise. I remember every time “A Stephen Chow film” pops up on our television screen, my mother would scream at us to switch the channel. “Nothing of his makes sense.” Yet, a few years later, as the credits of Kung Fu Hustle rolled across the screen on my first Asian Cinema class film viewing, I realised for all my childhood, I have misunderstood the greatness of Stephen Chow.
Kung Fu Hustle follows Sing, an aspiring gangster who pretends he is from the notorious Axe gang, so as to terrorise an innocent town to no longer feel like a loser. Here’s the twist, housed in the innocent town is 3 of the world’s greatest martial artistes, and they all want revenge on the Axe gang. My mother says it right; this film really does not make sense. It has the most ridiculous action sequences, people flying across the air, jumping on roofs, shooting needles just by playing the guzheng.
Everyone is either too loud or too quiet or really just someone who has too extreme of a character trait, and every comedic moment relies on slapstick – people getting bitten by snakes, falling into big buckets or crashing into tables. Stephen Chow takes no breaks here. However, isn’t that the charm of action comedies? To be baffled by how dramatic a simple event can play out to be, or even just to mutter “This is so stupid”, but yet have the time of your life as everything impossible in real life becomes possible here. Treat yourself to some exaggeration and slapstick, let yourself grin uncontrollably at the most nonsensical antics. After all, the best part of an adventure is always the fun.
12. Totoro (1988) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Yes, another Miyazaki film. But really, who could resist the artistry of this man and his studio? Totoro is Studio Ghibli’s branding film, the one that really set Miyazaki on his path to success. However, unlike the previously mentioned Kiki’s Delivery Service, there is no meaningful story or lesson learning event that really happens here. It simply is the story of a family, a father with his two daughters, moving into a new house in the countryside so as to be closer to their mother, where they find the giant-like creature, Totoro.
There is no drama in here, and neither are there opposing forces, making life even the slightest more challenging for our characters in the story. Even the driving factor of the plot, Totoro, exists quietly – appearing only when he is needed by the girls, being a watchful figure rather than performing in the spotlight. Everyone is amiable and so friendly to each other, children taken care by the elderly, and the adults finding joy in the little ones. Every scene is a picturesque everyday life of a very normal village, with all fantastical elements as its backdrop. An old film, it’s innocent
imaginations and childlike warmth is today’s breath of fresh air. To explore, to experience and to believe, that is childhood – and that already is a great adventure itself.
13. Star Wars: A New Hope (1997) dir. George Lucas
Cue the fans and the merchandises and the conventions, and the million things that have surrounded this popular space franchise ever since its release. Pun intended, Star Wars is an absolute force. I don’t think we need an introduction here, the story the nephew of two moisture farmers, Luke Skywalker who bands together with the smuggler, Han Solo, who finds the mission of rescuing a captured Princess and destroying the galactic weapon, “Death Star”, all in his own hands. Watching it today, the lines are cheesy and it’s amazing how technology has come a long way since then.
However, this might just be the best adventure you can sign yourself up for – a Western epic, a journey through space, weapons, princesses and an entire empire. For those who have watched it, do yourself a favour and watch it again. For those who have not, buckle up, you are not going to want to miss this ride.
14. Tangled (2010) dir. Byron Howard, Nathan Greno
A girl stuck at home, fearing for the dangerous forces of the outside, with nowhere to go. What irony to relate to our long-haired heroine whose plight we have initially sympathised with! Tangled is the story of Rapunzel, a young girl overprotected by her mother, whose only wish is to get out of her tower – until she meets the wanted thief, Flynn Ryder.
Other than the additional options that we can now include in our “Killing boredom” checklist, this is a great lesson that not all princesses belong in the castle, and not all damsels have to be in distress. Rapunzel is a bull, charging and squashing through obstacles one after another, stubbornly standing her ground and bumping into walls, trudging through the muddy grounds of danger, and at times, even while breaking into song. Her hair is only secondary a magical power as compared to her built up element of surprise – defeating burly guys and guards with her three side-kicks, Flynn Ryder, her chameleon and a saucepan, all while actually not tripping over her tower-long hair, even after being trapped in a tower for nearly her whole life.
Flynn Ryder is also a revelation for the modern day “Prince Charming”, gifted with good looks, but also real- life human goals to actually, not just rescue the princess. Like any other Disney movies, the songs are addictive, the animation is unbelievably realistic and the happy-ever-after endings are as satisfactory as they can be. But, really it is such traditional-breaking characters of Rapunzel and Ryder that offers us a ray of hope and optimism even in the similar state of captive as shown in the film’s beginning, and an adventure that would hold you for its entire duration.
15. Inglorious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Here’s a heads-up: Don’t watch this with people who absolutely detest swearing. This is a Tarantino work, one that is filled with violence, cursed words and at times, incomprehensible tension even out of the simplest of things. Inglorious Basterds takes place in a Nazi-dominated France, as 2 different groups plan to take down the government for 2 different reasons – the Nazi-hating Basterds, well, because they hate Nazis, and the French Shoshana Dreyfuss, wanting to take revenge for the death of her family – but for 1 cause: To put an end to a war.
This is as tense a film as Whiplash, while at the same time, equally as funny. Every scene is as important as it is gripping, and every silence and stop is only followed by unpredictability. Not all its fights are brute, and not all its words are honest. Inglorious Basterds feels like an ongoing game played by two parties that can never read each other’s minds, and every calculation placed into each move is as genius as it is personal; and from that to watch how it all plays out at the end is a full treat on its own. At one point on the film the character Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt says “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Yes, Tarantino, it definitely is.
All films, except Little Miss Sunshine, Amelie, Whiplash and Star Wars, are available on the Singapore Netflix.
- 15 Of the Best International Movies of 2000s (Mostly) That You Can’t Miss - August 28, 2020
- How to Get Out of a Rut - June 1, 2020