Life-Affirming Movies for When Things Look Bleak

Still from Harold and Maude

The Covid pandemic has been rough for everybody, and some days it hits you harder than usual. Make a tub of popcorn, cozy up with a loved one (including pets), and put on one of these movies recommended by the team at The LA Beat. They are not just heartwarming G-rated films; some will get your heart pumping with exciting action scenes, and some will tug at your heartstrings. Some of them will even make you cry like a baby. But by the time the credits roll, you will have a new appreciation for life.

Alien (1979)/Aliens (1986) & Terminator (1984)/Terminator II (1991)

These movies inspired me growing up and continue to do so because Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) are such unusually good characters: strong women with kind hearts that survive the most incredible odds. I love that Ripley goes back to save the cat in Alien and risks everything to save Newt in Aliens, and I love when Sarah Connor says, “On your feet, soldier!” in Terminator to keep Reese going when it seems like neither of them will make it. Not to mention how much of a badass she has become in Terminator II! My heroes, especially in hard times. – Simone Snaith

Awakenings (1990)

The true story of renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks’ experiments with waking people after they were in decades-long comas. With star power like Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, you know it is gonna be good. The story teaches you not to take even the simplest pleasures for granted.  I first saw this in a movie theater near the beach. Afterwards, we were compelled to walk straight to the beach and stand with our feet in the water. Live each moment to its fullest. – Elise Thompson.

Casablanca (1942)

Number one on the list has to be Casablanca. Of course, having Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman makes for amazing characters in this 1942 romantic drama. But face it, how could any movie be more life affirming than have the line, “Here’s looking at you kid,” followed a few minutes by the uplifting strains of “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” – Ed Simon

Children of Paradise (1945)

On a boulevard reserved for criminals and actors in 19th century Paris, a  five-sided romance unfolds: a murderer and aspiring playwright (Marcel Herrand), a womanizing actor (Pierre Brasseur), a count (Louis Sorel), and a street mime (Jean-Louis Barrault) each vie for the hand of Garance (Arletty), who wants to live on her own terms. Marcel Carne’s three-hour French drama is adored by hopeless romantics and clear-eyed cynics alike for its forward-thinking take on love, and by diehard moviehounds for its sprawling scope and scale and remarkable performances (Barrault’s heart-rending performance dispels any stigma attached to mime). And if that’s not enough to move you, the production history is a miracle unto itself: made during the height of Nazi occupation, Carne kept members of the French Resistance safe by hiring them as extras, and kept his composer and designer – both Jews – out of harm by allowing them to work under assumed names from hiding. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is the best presentation of this film, and includes interviews with Carne and the cast from 1967. – Paul Gaita.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

If you like character studies and five & dimes, James Dean and jukeboxes, female fascination and frenemies, then you’ll like this film. It’s about friendship and illusion, gender constructs and sexuality, celebrity and fandom, the fragile psyche and the vulnerable body. The soft grain of the film is so beautiful, 16mm blown up to 35mm! The way scenes are connected through mirrors and flashbacks is weird and pretty. Forget about linear narrative, it’s all about the series of moments. – Lucretia Tye Jasmine.

Harold and Maude (1971)

I have seen this Hal Ashby dark comedy at least 100 times. It’s that movie for me. Harold is a relatable if offbeat young man with an overbearing, wealthy mother. Harold is obsessed with death until he meets Maude, a fearless, eccentric, and inspiring elderly woman who teaches him how to become obsessed with living. Before the final redemptive scene, though, you will be ugly crying. Hard. It helps to like Cat Stevens. – Elise Thompson.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Muriel’s Wedding is a hysterical comedy about a bleak reality. The Muriel of the film’s title is immediately recognizable as the town laughingstock, the person that everyone expects to screw up, which she inevitably does right on cue. But this is a much more big-hearted film than its premise would suggest, and as Muriel begins to shake off her delusions and grow up, it starts to become evident how much of the “real life” she yearns for and strives to be part of, is based on other peoples’ more serious delusions. Coming of age stories are rarely this poignant, profound or hilarious. – Bob Lee.

The Right Stuff (1983)

This film version of author Tom Wolfe’s marvelous book. Ed Harris as John Glenn, Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, along with the rest of the cast of the seven Mercury astronauts, bring many life-affirming moves as the world prepares to go into space. Chuck Yeager goes his own way, showing that you don’t have to be an astronaut to get to space. And it’s hard to keep a dry eye as Glenn becomes the first man to orbit the earth, with his view causing him to say, “Oh Lord, what a heavenly light.” Bill Conti’s score, too, is one of those uplifting ones that just make you feel good about mankind. – Ed Simon

Uncut Gems (2019)

Right now, the film that filled me with the perfect combination of distraction, hope and joy is Uncut Gems. It may seem like an odd choice to some, but the film is suspenseful, witty, and yes, hopeful. I mean, you’re rooting for this degenerate gambler the entire time, even though he’s a total jerk! It makes me feel like if he can ultimately, finally win (spoiler alert) after being such a loser in every aspect of his life, then so can I. Plus, there’s the whole Adam Sandler resurrecting his career after countless flops angle that you can’t help but be happy for. I can’t think of another film that fills me with a love of life and all of its ups and downs. The unpredictable rollercoaster of emotions Uncut Gems puts me through is both thrilling and so beautifully distracting; it makes a great conversation starter too. As a bonus, I get to see my beloved NYC streets, the gorgeous Idina Menzel, and watch clips of one of the most exciting NBA finals of my lifetime. – Myra Aceves

Wind (1992)

This film is loosely based on the America’s Cup races where Dennis Conner lost the Cup for America to the Australians, but won it back a few years later. Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey do a wonderful job, so you can’t not keep rooting for them. Plus, the 12 minutes of actual sail racing, filmed by Cinematographer John Toll and Director Carol Ballard, are considered some of the best sailing sequences ever filmed. When you watch it, you feel as if you’re actually on those boats speeding across the water. The triumphs become yours, too, and it again affirms that man or woman can accomplish anything if they really want to. It’s a great feeling. – Ed Simon

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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