10 Inspirational Movies to Watch on HBO Max

10 Inspirational Movies to Watch on HBO Max

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With HBO’s focus on high production values and mature themes, “inspirational” content might seem a little frivolous for the network. But even with a content library that’s been fluctuating in quality due to decision-making by new management, HBO Max still offers a slate of films that should serve as a good pick-me-up, in contrast to the heavy movies and TV shows they’re usually known for. And thanks to HBO’s high pedigree, these inspiring films come from a variety of sources, proving that motivation and the triumph of the human spirit doesn’t only have one face, and that there can be something extraordinary in the ordinary, too.

10. Wild Rose (2019)

7.3

Country

Canada, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Tom Harper

Actors

Aly Bain, Ashley Shelton, Atta Yaqub, Benny Young

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Inspiring

A simple movie about a Scottish country singer with a dream to go to Nashville, U.S.A and reach stardom. It starts with her leaving prison to return to her mom’s house, where her kid was being raised in her absence. Heavy stuff, but this girl is determined to let nothing get in the way of realizing her dreams. Will she make it? At what cost? Wild Rose answers those questions with a warm script that’s designed to make you feel good without completely misleading you. Think of it as a more grounded A Star is Born.

9. 20 Feet from Stardom (2013)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Morgan Neville

Actors

Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Botti, Darlene Love

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

For the background singers featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, music is a vocation. It is not merely an occupation or a pastime; it is a way of life, a “higher calling,” as the legendary Lisa Fischer would say. For 90 minutes, director Morgan Neville superbly maps out the development of back-up singing in the US throughout the decades, exploring its deep connection with African-American culture and women’s history. It’s fun to finally put names and faces on the oohs and aahs we hear on records aplenty, but the film always finds its grounding on the singers’ own unique voices, where its true soul lies.

8. Just Mercy (2019)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Destin Daniel Cretton

Actors

Adam Boyer, Al Mitchell, Alex Van, Andrene Ward-Hammond

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Inspiring

This drama is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard graduate who moved to Alabama in the 80s to defend wrongly accused prisoners on death row. He’s played by Michael B. Jordan, who brings to the surface the unstoppable determination and ambition of the character. Components that were necessary to go on such a difficult task, especially with the racist barriers at the time. Not to mention, no one had ever been released from death row in the history of Alabama at that point. An inspiring and well-acted movie, made by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton.

7. Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)

best

8.0

Country

Denmark, Finland, Sweden

Director

Janus Metz, Janus Metz Pedersen

Actors

Anders Berg, Bjorn Granath, Bob Boudreaux, Colin Stinton

Moods

Inspiring, True-story-based, Uplifting

Shia Laboeuf and Stellan Skarsgård star in this true story about one of the greatest tennis matches in history: the 1980 Wimbledon final. The movie dissects what drives both competitors (one played by Laboeuf and the other by Sverrir Gudnason). Their personalities, considered opposites, are studied through their paths and how they got into tennis. All this leads to that one match, in this beautiful story of dealing with competition and fear of failure. Don’t stop watching when the credits roll, read what they say!

6. A Most Violent Year (2014)

best

8.0

Country

United Arab Emirates, United States of America

Director

J. C. Chandor

Actors

Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Annie Funke, Ashley Williams

Moods

A-list actors, Inspiring, True-crime

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in this slow-burning but impeccable crime thriller.

Abel Morales (Isaac) owns a fuel distribution company in 1980s New York. His competitors are violent and corrupt, and the feds are after him. The temptation to resort to unlawful methods is high, especially that his wife (Chastain) is the daughter of a mobster.

A Most Violent Year is about how this temptation of corruption unfolds and whether Abel will surrender to it or not.

5. Woman at War

best

8.2

Country

France, Iceland, Ukraine

Director

Benedikt Erlingsson

Actors

Björn Thors, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Bersi Björnsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring, Sunday

A calm choir leader lives a secret life as eco-warrior in this visually stunning and intelligent story about our complex times. If you’re familiar with Icelandic movies, this one has just the right amount of that Icelandic quirkiness – making it a proper feel-good movie with a message. This is added to the superb acting and an off-beat musical score. Not to be missed.

4. Diego Maradona (2019)

best

8.4

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Asif Kapadia

Actors

Alberto Bigon, Ciro Ferrara, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive

Asif Kapadia, the genius of biopics who gave us Senna, is back with this documentary on an even bigger sports personality: Argentinian soccer player Diego Armando Maradona. Considered as possibly the best soccer player of all time, Maradona’s footage on the pitch is pure wizardry, and you’ll feel that way whether you are a soccer fan or not. But that’s not the focus of this documentary. What happens outside the pitch is more interesting: from Maradona’s modest beginnings to the passionate hatred (and love) that entire countries develop of him. And it doesn’t make his story less interesting that during his time in Naples he was affiliated with the mafia.

This is an excellent documentary that distills 500 hours of footage into 2, giving you all you need to know about a character who captured the imagination of a big part of the world for decades. 

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

best

8.5

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akio Otsuka, Chika Sakamoto, Haruko Kato, Hiroko Maruyama

Moods

Heart-warming, Inspiring

Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to the fantastical. Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away conjure worlds of spirits and demons, monsters and witches, imaginary wars and extraordinary heroes. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the real magic arises from the mundane.

The titular teenaged Kiki leaves home, setting out to become a better witch. She arrives in the idyllic seaside town of Koriko with only her broom and best friend, a black cat named Jiji. When she serendipitously meets Osono, the gentle owner of a bakery, Kiki begins a delivery service as part of her training.

Kiki’s Delivery Service may be one of Miyazaki’s more understated films, but it’s a beautiful reminder that believing in oneself is a magical act of courage that we should all undertake.

2. Shiva Baby (2021)

best

8.6

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Emma Seligman, Female director

Actors

Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Inspiring

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

1. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

best

9.2

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Chris Smith

Actors

Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann’s legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film’s director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

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