222 Best Uplifting Movies to Watch (Page 10)

Staff & contributors

Nothing cures the blues like a feel-good movie. If you need a pick me up, the following list will be sure to turn that frown upside down. Here are the happiest movies and shows to stream now.

The story of Antwone Fisher as told by Denzel Washington (in his directorial debut) may be a bit too straightforward for its own good, but it only proves the strength of his eye and ear for performance. In addition to turning in his own understated yet authoritative performance, Washington gets a powerhouse turn out of Derek Luke, who allows every new revelation about Fisher to strengthen every aspect of his work. What the film gets right about talking about mental health (that other movies get so wrong) is that it knows that providing an explanation for why someone is the way they are shouldn't be a dramatic climax. What Antwone Fisher emphasizes is healing, community, and the dignity of the person working through these issues.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Charles Robinson, De'Angelo Wilson, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Earl Billings, Gary A. Jones, James Brolin, Joy Bryant, Kente Scott, Kevin Connolly, Leonard Earl Howze, Malcolm David Kelley, Novella Nelson, Rainoldo Gooding, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Stephen Snedden, Sung Kang, Vernee Watson-Johnson, Viola Davis, Yolonda Ross

Director: Denzel Washington

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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.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Botti, Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer, Lou Adler, Lynn Mabry, Merry Clayton, Mick Jagger, Patti Austin, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Tata Vega

Director: Morgan Neville

A portrait of an Alabama high school wrestling team springboards from a sports documentary into an encompassing exploration of the American working class and institutional racism. The film operates on both levels as it zooms in on the lives of four students and their friendly yet overbearing coach. From the opening moments, Coach Sribner makes it clear that the State Championship is about much more than sport. A failing and underfunded school system all but ensures that a sports scholarship is one of the few chances for these youth to have access to higher education and a path out of poverty. 

This is further exacerbated by the racial dynamics at play, as we watch these mostly Black youth experience casual racism as well as institutional harassment from the police. Even their well-meaning coach is not exempt, he at once can acknowledge his white privilege but is not above baselessly accusing one of the boys of stealing his sunglasses. Herbert’s up close and personal style is immersive and passionate and builds to an exciting sports film climax while maintaining a piercing awareness of the severe economic realities that hollow out any victory on the mat.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Suzannah Herbert

A documentary told entirely through animated avatars can be a hard sell, but instead of playing into the expected jokes, director Joe Hunting takes this digital environment extremely seriously, and that makes all the difference. He doesn't downplay how absurd it is to see what are essentially 3D characters going on dates and having bellydance classes together, and yet Hunting still takes time to emphasize how freeing this virtual existence is for all involved. It's disappointing that the film never addresses the many real concerns people have about purely online relationships (deception, exploitation, and abuse, among others), but as a positive and perhaps overly romanticized view of this new, 21st-century social space, the documentary remains fresh and vital.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: DragonHeart, Dust Bunny, DylanP, IsYourBoi, Jenny0629

Director: Joe Hunting

Rating: R

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Going to sleep is something we do every day, though, when we were kids, it certainly wasn’t easy. With family-friendly source material and a new (and adorable!) sleepytime ensemble, Orion and the Dark plays with this fact of childhood, but screenwriter Charlie Kaufman transforms it into something more as the title characters journey into literal midnight dreams, tell stories-within-stories, and return back home with a poetic repetition. It still has some of his existential despair– after all, the overly imaginative Orion literally contemplates the possibility of death through his many, many anxieties– but it doesn’t just play with the classic childhood fear. Kaufman transforms the bedtime story, and the act of storytelling itself, as co-creation and connection between generations of filmmakers and viewers, with this film’s surprisingly layered writing.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Aliki Theofilopoulos, Amy Hill, Angela Bassett, Aparna Nancherla, Carla Gugino, Colin Hanks, Golda Rosheuvel, Hira Ambrosino, Ike Barinholtz, Jack Fisher, Jacob Tremblay, Matt Dellapina, Nat Faxon, Natasia Demetriou, Nick Kishiyama, Paul Walter Hauser, Ren Hanami, Sean Charmatz, Shannon Chan-Kent, Sky Alexis, Toru Uchikado, Walt Dohrn, Werner Herzog

Director: Sean Charmatz

Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused invites you back to 1980 with a group of college freshmen discovering and navigating their first taste of young adulthood. Linklater is best known for balancing authentic dialogue and earnest performances, both of which shine in this movie. Notable performances are given by all in this ensemble cast, whose chemistry is electric and infectiously light-hearted. Everybody Wants Some!! is as fun, loud, and wild as any good night you don’t want to forget.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Adriene Mishler, Alexandria Payne, Asjha Cooper, Austin Amelio, Beau Smith, Blake Jenner, Christina Burdette, Courtney Tailor, Cyndy Powell, Devin Bonnée, Diane Selken, Dora Madison, Forrest Vickery, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Johnson, Jason Liebrecht, Jenna Saab, Jessi Mechler, Jonathan Breck, Juston Street, Lizzy Pop Muro, Lynden Orr, Olivia Griswald, Paula Marcenaro Solinger, Rene Rhi, Ryan Guzman, Sophia Ali, Taylor Ashley Murphy, Tess Cline, Tory Taranova, Tyler Hoechlin, Will Brittain, Wyatt Russell, Zoey Deutch

Director: Richard Linklater

Rating: R

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Primarily, Cha Cha Real Smooth follows Andrew (Cooper Raiff) as he figures out what to do with his life post-college. But peripherally, it’s also about love, friendship, coming of age, and parenthood. Sometimes the movie wobbles under the weight of all it wants to be and you start to wonder whether it would benefit from a leaner script and a tighter focus. 

But ultimately, Cha Cha Real Smooth is endearing and a breeze to watch. Andrew is relatable as a know-it-all who doesn’t actually know it all, and Domino (Dakota Johnson) is moving as a young mother consumed by both her envy and love for Andrew. Despite its occasional unevenness, the film’s big emotional heart triumphs, and sometimes that’s the best that you can hope for in a story about one’s 20s.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brad Garrett, Chris Newman, Colton Osorio, Cooper Raiff, Corrie Danieley, Dakota Johnson, Evan Assante, John Paul Hurley, Kelly O'Sullivan, Leslie Mann, Odeya Rush, Raúl Castillo, Tommy Lafitte, Vanessa Burghardt

Director: Cooper Raiff

Rating: R

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As the first Zambian film on Netflix, Can You See Us? is an interesting portrayal of albinism. Inspired by the real-life story of musician John Chiti, the film’s plot feels grounded, even if it’s similar to other stories depicting discrimination. With newcomer Thabo Kaamba at the forefront, her performance of the albino boy Joseph shines brighter than even the older actors of the film’s cast. That being said, it is held back by repetitive dialogue and sped-up character development from certain characters. Despite this, Can You See Us? is still a remarkable film that stands out from the other tearjerkers available on the streaming platform.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chilu Lemba, Fransisca Muchangwe, Kangwa Chileshe, Ruth Jule, Thabo Kaamba

Director: Kenny Mumba

Bank of Dave is a simple but well-told film that feels utterly satisfying from start to end. Dave is the little guy who only wants to give back to his community, but stopping him from achieving his noble goals are the big guys in suits with vested interests and too narrow a focus to appreciate the good that Dave is after. The film is David versus Goliath, countryside versus cityside, socialist versus capitalist (or, if you like, ethical capitalism versus unethical capitalism). You know who will triumph in the end, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall enjoyability. The dialogue is smart and stirring, and you can’t help but root for the film’s small heroes to win big. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Lukis, Angus Wright, Cathy Tyson, Florence Hall, Harry Michell, Hopi Grace, Hugh Bonneville, Jo Hartley, Joe Elliott, Joel Fry, Naomi Battrick, Paul Kaye, Phil Collen, Phoebe Dynevor, Rick Allen, Rick Savage, Roger Morlidge, Rory Kinnear, Steve Edge

Director: Chris Foggin

Rating: PG-13

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The Queenstown Kings is a sports film that has plot points we’re all familiar with – alcoholic father trying to seek forgiveness from his son, a tempting offer for fame and riches, the standard training montage and more. These plot points sometimes go into melodramatic territory, but the film’s relationships make these scenes feel sincere, especially with the family dynamic that drives the film. And as Buyile strives to better himself to become a good example to the team, and Fezile makes different choices from his father, The Queenstown Kings feels sincere as a reminder of the better side of South African men, one that can be uncovered if they, and their community, believe in a higher dream.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa, Likhona Mgali, Patrick Ndlovu, Sandile Mahlangu, Tessa Twala, Thoko Ntshinga, Unathi Platyi, Zolisa Xaluva

Director: Jahmil X.T. Qubeka

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