It’s Christmas time, which means I’m once again reflecting on life. Poor old sap. And it’s not the “what’s the meaning of life” question that’s got me thinking – it’s the “life is good” feeling that is giving yours truly the gumption to write. I recently read a profound statement in a book I’ll never finish: “home isn’t where you live, it’s where you are loved.” Maybe this isn’t your thing over the holidays, and if this is you, I’d ask you to consider some simple advice, free of charge. The key to feeling loved is some good soul food: a warm bowl of goodness, with just a dollop of tears. Reality used sparingly. Your baker’s dozen recipes are below.
My feel-good movie list is constructed with the following criteria:
So what constitutes a feel-good movie? It should be pretty obvious, right? I’ll spare you the dopamine thesis, but at the heart of it, the film must have answered one simple question: did the movie give me hope for people? We all need hope. We want it to feel good about this broken world, and if some make-believe actors give me a few hours of hope-believe, I’ve won. So without further ado, grab a box of Kleenex. I present to you my top feel-good movies of all time.
13. Rudy (1993). Dude, has it been this long? If you can’t root for the gritty, under-sized dreamer I don’t know what to say. The “I’ve always been told I can’t do XYZ” themes gets a little long in the tooth, and there are plenty of cheesy moments – the slow clap for Rudy’s return, the crowd yelling his name – until you watch the chilling scene in Dan Devine’s office, where there’s the steady stream of Notre Dame football players, like the steady stream of tears down my face. Is someone cutting raw onions in here?
12. Stand By Me (1986). I felt compelled to put a coming of age flick on a feel-good list, if only to avoid having rom-coms dominate the list. But it’s a good one. Call me crazy for thinking any good feeling can come out of four pubescent boys on a search for a dead body, but Stand By Me reminds me of a life long ago, when being a kid was just hanging with your friends and having each other’s backs. And the renaissance of Ben E King was a pretty cool side-benefit.
11. Once (2006). The only indie film on the list, and it’s a good one from John Carney. If it feels like you’re watching a real-life story develop before your eyes, it’s because you are. Down-on-his-luck vacuum repairman pursues his musical passion and enlists a flower saleswoman and other street musicians to make an album. There are romantic undercurrents between the guy and girl, but thankfully they’re not the main story. So well done. And the music makes me feel good!
The Guy Gets The Girl? Didn’t See That Coming!
10. Ghost (1990). I haven’t looked at clay the same way since this movie. Technically, Sam doesn’t get the girl at the end, but this love story has a little bit of everything, from Godfather violence to Close Encounters of the Third Kind alienism. Kidding, but there is a little bit of fantasy world in the movie, which somehow gives it out-of-this-world charm. Or is it out-of-the-body charm?
9. Pretty Woman (1990). Fairy-tale story of a Hollywood prostitute who falls in love with a rich banker. What’s not to like? And if you weren’t a Mystic Pizza-fan boy like my friend Steve, then this was your welcome-to-Julia Roberts movie. That laugh. The big smile. The gold standard for every romantic comedy.
8. Definitely, Maybe (2008). Let me get this out of the way first – I’ve got a man-crush on Ryan Reynolds. This clever plot intertwines fake names and three women in a story told by a dad to his young daughter about how he met her mom, who he’s divorcing. Perfectly cast. A surprise ending. Reynolds has come a long way since his Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place days.
7. The Wedding Singer (1998). He handles a wedding crisis like no other, and he sings better than Boy George. There were enough iconic 80’s songs to allow me to remain stuck in the past. (Side note: when did Don’t Stop Believing become a millennial’s oldie? Screw you, Stranger Things.) And we now know who broke up Duran Duran and how Billy Idol feels about fancy cars and CD players. But really the kicker is the chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore. Rhett and Scarlett. Harry and Sally. Noah and Ally. And now, Robbie and Julia.
He Embraces His Insecurities, And That’s Why We Love Him
6. Dan in Real Life (2007). “Someone very wise once told me that if you want to be completely honest, sing.” The corollary to that is I find that I’m most honest when nobody’s around. Widower Dan writes a family advice column and finally meets the girl of his dreams, only to find out she’s dating her brother. I’ve yet to watch a Steve Carell movie where I don’t love the guy (Crazy, Stupid, Love almost made this list.). The guy is a classic dork, which is why many of us identify with him, and you just can’t help but root for him to get the girl. He should have had her at the “Let My Love Open the Door” scene. So freaking good! The good news: he gets the girl, and his daughters totally approve.
5. Notting Hill (1999). I think we’ve all been there – chance encounter with global movie star who then falls in love with you. I know what you’re thinking; Anna Scott was MEAN to Thacker. She was, but c’mon now…she’s just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
4. Love Actually (2003). I’m a sucker for British accents and the nine sub-plots that all intersect at the end of the movie. Do we start with Jamie he of the cheated-on variety and who oddly finds love with Portuguese-speaking Aurelia? Or do we begin with gold old Billy Mack, the self-aware but socially-awkward pop singer who finally realizes that his manager is the only one who cares about him? Nope, we turn to the Prime Ministah, who manages to get the girl AND deliver the best political speech in cinema history.
Women Want to Be WITH Him and Men Want to BE Him
3. Dave (1993). Never would have thought Kevin Klein and Sigourney Weaver could pull it off. This movie has feel-good consistency all throughout. Who couldn’t root for a man whose job is to help the unemployed find jobs, and then uses this experience as his presidential platform when he subs in as the President’s look-alike? I think deep down in each of us is a part who wants to just help as many people as we can. Dave stands for integrity, goodness, and innocence. Favorite scene: he accompanies the First Lady at a shelter for kids and steps away to perform a magic trick for a shy child. He whisks the cameras away, asking for privacy in what could have been a ratings-bonanza moment. Spoiler alert: Dave ain’t in it for the glory!
2. The Family Man (2000). Probably the movie I’ve watched most in my life because I wish everyone got just “a glimpse.” You want lines? This movie’s full of them. Wished your career had gone as you’d imagined? So did Jack. Already married and think the single life is better for you? Meet Kate. “But things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this, I will take these kids from a life they love and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared together and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you, and that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us.” Kleenex.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Pure classic, and the only black and white on this list. What happens when a man’s job dictates his self-worth and he tries to take his own life? “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Mary doesn’t marry George, the kids don’t exist, and the whole town he touches and cares for goes to crap. Why dream about the life you want on the greener side of the lawn, when the life you have is the best one you’ll ever have. You just don’t know it. To George Bailey, the richest man in town.