Top 10: Feel-Good Movies

If you’re having a bad day, or are sick beyond belief, nothing feels better than snuggling up with a feel-good movie. A movie that never fails to make you smile or lift your spirits. Everyone has those certain special ones, and here’s a few of mine.

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1. My Neighbor Totoro

If this movie doesn’t make you smile, you’re basically not human. Hayao Miyazaki is a master storyteller, and Totoro is no different from his other woks that capture the simple magic of childhood. Totoro is a playful mystical creature that brightens the lives of two little girls, taking them on a magical adventure while also teaching them about the realities of life. It can’t get any cuter than this. With gorgeous animation and adorable magical creatures, My Neighbor Totoro is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

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2. When Harry Met Sally

Harry and Sally are pretty much my #relationshipgoals. Sure, they didn’t really like each other at first and it took 10 years for them to finally get together… but they end up fitting together perfectly. These are smartly written and all around great characters. Sharply played by the actors, Billy Crystal’s cynical Harry and Meg Ryan’s cheery Sally have fantastic interplay with an infectious wit. And that monologue at the end always gets me. “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Don’t we all want to hear that? When Harry Met Sally set the standard for romantic comedies that very few have ever reached.

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3. Clue 

Clue is a zany physical comedy that will leave you in stitches from side-splitting laughter. Tim Curry is a huge standout, leading the wacky gang in pratfalls and mishaps throughout the sprawling mansion. Madeline Khan is also deviously funny as Mrs. White, particularly her hilarious monologue on her loathing of Yvette “Flames…on the side of my face!” It is frantic and silly, and feels more like a stage farce than anything. I’ve always thought it would be an excellent play. If I ever need a laugh, all I have to do is pop Clue in the DVD player.

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4. Adventures in Babysitting

Adventures in Babysitting starts out with a fun bang in a magnetic opening. (which I wrote about here) Is it silly and unbelievable at times? Yes. But it’s a lot of fun. The kids singing ‘The Babysitting Blues’ at a downtown Chicago blues club, encountering a Thor-esque mechanic, running into the mob, and so on. Also, the 80s was a time where kids and family movies could get away with a lot more, such as a sub plot where the babysitter looks strikingly similar and keeps getting mistaken for a Playboy model. Adventures in Babysitting is fun and absolutely lovable.

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5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This is a John Hughes classic, sold by Matthew Broderick as the charming lead character. It’s about being young and having fun, with a touch of serious moments as well. Jennifer Grey is hilarious as Ferris’ jealous younger sister. Jeffery Jones nearly steals the show as Ed Rooney, determined to catch Ferris Bueller in the act of skipping school. From the sing-along at the parade, to crashing a fancy restaurant, to a joyride in the Ferrari, there are so many memorable moments. Ferris and his friends have the best day of skipping school ever. And as Ferris says, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Why not have fun while you can? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off makes you feel like you are a part of that ride.

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6. The Emperor’s New Groove

This is Disney’s funniest film, hands down. An all-star hilarious voice cast, David Spade, Eartha Kitt, John Goodman and Patrick Warburton bring to life the colorful characters. Kronk’s spy song and when he olds the one note leaves me in stitches EVERY time. There are too many knee-slapping moments in this. The Emperor’s New Groove is a whimsical and funky Disney feature that warms your heart and never lets you stop laughing.

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7. Back to the Future

How can you not love Back to the Future? It’s one of film’s most inventive, rousing, and all around entertaining adventures. Michael J. Fox is beyond charming as Marty McFly, and Christopher Lloyd will always be remembered as the zany time-travel inventor Doc Brown. One particular moment that will always leave you smiling is Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” solo.  Despite being set in the 80s, it really is a timeless classic.

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8. About A Boy

About A Boy is not only wickedly funny, but also very touching. Hugh Grant stars as the jaded Will silver-tongued sleaze with a hidden inner decency. He loves living life with no strings attached. He manages to get involved with a young boy and his depressed mom. Along the way, he learns that you shouldn’t seal yourself off from the world, or as he says in his mantra, be an island. One of the best parts is when he plays with Will at his school concert, “Killing Me Softly With His Song”. About A Boy is a tender and charming British comedy that reminds you the importance of human connection and relationships,

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9. Frankie and Johnny

I just love this movie so much, it’s vastly underrated. It’s emotional and all-around delightful romantic comedy. Frankie and Johnny has fantastic performances by the two leads, played by Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. They have incredible chemistry and really sell the intricacies of the two characters. Frankie and Johnny deals with the complications of life, how it can beat you down, yet there is still the hope of connecting with truly good people. It’s a simple but beautiful little story.

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10. Down With Love

Down With Love is a stylish romp that homages 1960s classics such as Pillow Talk. It’s basically like a chocolate bar, (pretty much like the one Ewan McGregor seductively unwraps in one scene) deliciously light and sweet and guaranteed to make you feel good. It’s unabashedly silly, cute and charming movie fluff.

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Top 10: Coming-of-Age Movies

Growing up is terrifying, confusing, exhilarating, and heartbreaking all at the same time. It is truly the best of times and the worst of times. And once it’s gone, you can never get it back. At times growing up can be pretty hard to navigate. But luckily there are films that so finely depict the adolescent experiences, those turning points in life that everyone goes through.

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1. The Breakfast Club

Really, any of John Hughes movies can be on this list. His films were the defining films of the 80s and the teenage experience. Whether you’re a geek, a jock, a rebel or the popular girl, underneath it all we are all going through the same struggles of youth. The stereotypes strip away to reveal that we are all just as confused and troubled as the next person. Funny, sincere and insightful The Breakfast Club is the quintessential high school movie.

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2. Stand By Me

Nothing means more to a kid than summer. No school, no responsibilities, just the freedom to have adventures with your friends during those hot sticky days and breezy summer nights. But these group of friends are growing older, heading to middle school now, and the end of summer means the end of their innocence is looming. And the most definitive way to mark the end of innocence is the boy’s adventure to go look at a dead body for the first time. Click here to see more thoughts on this renowned coming-of-age film.

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3. The Graduate 

Growing up doesn’t end as soon as you graduate high school, it doesn’t even end when you’re in college. Graduating college is just as confusing of a time, probably one of the most imperative moments where you grapple with the end of youth and the beginning of true adulthood. Benjamin Braddock deals with that awkward post-grad summer in Mike Nichols’ stylish classic. See more of my thoughts on The Graduate here and here.

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4. Boyhood

Quite possibly one of the most genius achievements in cinema. If you don’t know by now, Boyhood was filmed with the same actors over a period of 12 years, so we literally see them growing up before our eyes. We follow Mason from the age of six to eighteen. And it is quite a marvel to see him grow. Boyhood is not a sappy look at the typical milestones of growing up, but instead an intricate portrait of the human experience, true-to-life and fascinating. This film will truly stand the test of time.

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5. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now is an authentic and sensitive portrayal of teenagers, wonderfully led by Miles Teller accompanied by Shailene Woodley. . This isn’t a typical teen movie, it’s not quite a love story but more about loving yourself. It is honestly mature and moving, but also funny and charming. Hands down one of the best teen movies in years, and something that John Hughes would be quite proud of. See my full review here

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6. Ordinary People 

I think this movie is incredibly overlooked as a coming-of-age film. Perhaps because most coming-of-age stories deal with innocence being lost, and this is innocence being regained. We enter the life of Conrad Jarrett, home from a stay at the mental hospital after a suicide attempt. He is dealing with depression after the death of his brother. And having an emotionally stunted mother doesn’t help. Conrad deals with returning to high school and therapy, adjusting to life after “the accident”. Being a teenager does not mean you are susceptible to mental illness or depression. And Ordinary People shows the importance of regaining what you have lost in dark times, to see the light for your only time of youth.

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7. Perks of Being a Wallflower

The book is immensely popular, and the film does it justice. Of course, it helps that it was directed and written by the book’s author. And thank goodness it was, because this faithful adaptation boasts a great soundtrack and strong performances. Some of the dialogue can be a bit eye-roll inducing to it’s overexposure (We get it – you felt infinite. I’ve seen the quote 1,000 times on Tumblr.) But most notably, it is one of the most sensitive and honest portrayals of teenage angst, bravely delving into issues of incest, depression, and homophobia that other teen films rarely-if ever- touch upon.

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8. Say Anything

The 80s brought a slew of incredible teen films, and Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything is one of them. And you can’t get more 80s than John Cusack holding up a boombox to a Peter Gabriel song. The summer after high school is another confusing time, you’re old life as you knew it is ending- something new and exciting (or something new and awful) is on it’s way, changing your life completely. And what happens when you meet the love of your life the during that life-altering summer? What happens if you’re both from two completely different background? School vs. love vs. obligations to parents…Say Anything covers it all in this heartfelt romance.

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9. The Last Picture Show

The three teen characters in The Last Picture show are fresh out of high school in the year 1951. , Confined in their dead-end town, they are in a rush to grow up as quickly as possible. Jacy deals with her budding sexuality and quest to lose her virginity, in the wake of her realization that she is the prettiest and most sought-after girl in town. Sonny has an affair with the depressed wife of his football coach. Duane enlists for the fight in Korea. Their community is in shambles, and so are they. They only realize before it’s too late that their youth is truly over. The picture show is gone, no more movies or fun at the pool hall.

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10. Mermaids

Mermaids is a charming, funny, and heartwarming film led by Winona Ryder in her adolescent prime. The perfect picture of the moody teenager. But her angst has a sweetness and innocence to it. She deals with her flamboyant mother, her desire to be the most devout Catholic (even though she’s Jewish) and the temptation of a sexy older groundskeeper. Not only a great coming-of-age story, but also a mother-daughter story that perfectly depicts the friction that mothers and daughters go through during those tough teenage years.

Top 10: Movie Music Moments

The marriage of two different art forms- the sounds in our ears and the image on screen- can take a scene far beyond what was written on paper. The power of music can be used to touch our hearts and minds. With a well-placed song or piece of music, a moment in film can be experienced on all levels, sticking in our head long after the credits roll. Here are just a few of them.

This list does not including dance or sing along moments, but a time when the soundtrack is used to heighten the moment. Also, there are far too many Quentin Tarantino music moments to choose from for this list. Opening titles of Kill Bill? The torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? Pretty much everything from Pulp Fiction? How can I even choose? Tarantino is a true genius at putting music to film. Just watch any one of his films.

1. The Sound of Silence – The Graduate 

The famous Simon and Garfunkel tune plays several times throughout the film, including the famous opening airport sequence. But it’s particular use here is the most effective, with the dream-like quality of the tune matched with the monotony of the heated and confining summer. His parents are constantly over his shoulder…and that once passionate and dangerous affair? It’s becoming listless and repetitive. The lyrics seem to be expressing the inner thoughts of Benjamin, we can understand the confusing thoughts he has inside but does not tell.

2. Don’t You Forget About Me- The Breakfast Club

John Hughes has many iconic music moments in his films- Oh Yeah from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, If You Leave from Pretty in Pink, If You Were Here from Sixteen Candles…the list goes on. The nostalgic songs and John Hughes ingenuity for flawlessly capturing the teenage psyche make for a perfect match. As the brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal all part ways, the Simple Minds hit starts to play. The princess kisses the criminal goodbye. They won’t say hello in school next morning. But for now, they have this. All of them had this one moment of abandoning their labels for a human connection. And it’s something they won’t ever forget.

3.  Where Is My Mind – Fight Club

The Fight Club ending has just taken you for a wild ride- revealing a mind-boggling twist and leaving the Narrator with his face half blown off. But for the first time in his life he believes that everything really is going to be fine. The drum intro of the Pixies song kicks in just as the buildings start to detonate. I don’t think there’s been a music moment so perfectly harmonious. Marla and The Narrator hold hands as the high rises collapse around them- the remnants of the anarchy and chaos that have just been inhabiting his mind. A very strange time in his life indeed.

4. Layla – Goodfellas

Martin Scorcese is a master of choosing music for his film. Where do you even start? Into the Fire from Goodfellas? De Niro’s entrance to Jumping Jack Flash from Mean Streets? Shipping Up to Boston from The Departed? t’s impossible to even pick one for this slot. Layla’s use in Goodfellas seems to be the most deserving. The wistful piano and wailing guitar of the second half of the Derek and the Dominoes tune brilliantly synchronizes with the camera slowly gliding over disfigured corpses and bloody murder scenes.

Two others I can’t help but mentioning use two of my favorite songs. The dreamy bubbegum pop song Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals plays with a flowing tracking shot as Henry charms his date- using a valet, skipping the line for the back entrance, getting the best table. Who could resist this glamourous life?

And the Mean Streets opening, (while it is mostly just a title sequence) Harvey Kietel’s character is having a late-night crisis- as he lays his head on the pillow The Ronnette’s Be My Baby kicks in as film footage of familial neighborhood moments play.

5. God Moving Over the Face of the Waters – Heat

The ending of Heat gives the audience the final culmination of the Pacino/De Niro showdown. The chase is over, and somehow it is perfectly expressed in this beautiful piece of music by Moby. Vincent has shot down the only man he has ever respected and understood. He didn’t want this to happen, he wanted to catch him, not kill him. But Neil would rather die than go to prison. In a heartbreaking final moment, they hold hands. That beautiful last shot combined with the rising score of Moby’s song makes for visual poetry.

6. Mass in C Minor, K. 427 – Amadeus

Several Mozart pieces are used in this scene, including Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 20, Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299, and Symphony Concertante, K. 364. But it’s the beautiful rising notes of the Mass in C Minor that really drives this scene home. Salieri both hates and loves Mozart’s genius, and we hear the beauty in Mozart’s music and can understand the tortuous pain Sailieri is going through with never being able to achieve such mastery.

7. La Mamma Morta- Philadelphia

1993’s Philadelphia was one of the very first mainstream films to bring the issues of the AIDS crisis, homosexuality, and homophobia to light. In this scene, with it’s stunning cinematography, Tom Hanks’ character is overcome with emotions while listening to Giordana’s opera Andrea Chénier. He narrates the aria’s lyrics for Denzel Washington’s character, his lawyer Joe Miller. “A voice filled with harmony. It says, Live still, I am life. Heaven is in your eyes. Is everything around you just the blood and mud? …I am love.” The lyrics and heartbreak in the aria touch his soul as he feels the sting of his deteriorating mortality. Joe Miller- who has been dealing with his own reservations and judgements about homosexuality- finally opens his eyes and just sees before him another human being. A human being who his suffering. And all questions he ever had about representing him are quelled.

8. A Real Hero – Drive

From the very beginning with the title scene set to Nightcall, Drive has an amazing soundtrack. In this scene, College feat. Electric Youth’s A Real Hero sets the tone for Irene’s day out with the enigmatic Driver. With the beautiful orange and yellow tinted landscape, you can almost feel yourself in the car with them, the breeze blowing in your hair. This and the song matched with the slow motion shot of the Driver carrying her son- you can feel the impact he is leaving on her.

I can’t not mention the other two scenes as well. Desire’s Under Your Spell plays as the camera slowly pulls in on Irene at her husbands party, distracted by her thoughts as it cuts to the Driver in his room. The lyrics “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I do nothing but think of you…” we can feel and understand the two of them being pulled to each other.

And the pairing of Riz Ortolani feat. Rina Ranieri’s Oh My Love with Ryan Gosling in that mask makes for an eerie shot and sequence.

9.  Don’t Stop Me Now- Shaun of the Dead

Beating zombies to death in time to the music of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now? That’s comedic genius!

10. In Your Eyes- Say Anything  

Cameron Crowe is another master of matching music to film, Tiny Dancer or pretty much any music in Almost Famous, Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire, Everything In Its Right Place from Vanilla Sky, the list goes on. But the most iconic moment is Llyod Dobbler’s romantic gesture using Peter Gabriel’s beautiful song In Your Eyes, making the song a legendary symbol of youthful love.