222 Best Uplifting Movies to Watch (Page 14)

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.

Robyn Davidson decided to cross 1,700 miles in the Australian desert with four camels and her trusty dog, and this film recounts her real-life journey. In many ways this is a companion piece to Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, also released in theaters in 2014. While I enjoyed Wild, it went out of its way to make the protagonist’s journey understood to audiences. Tracks gives Robyn some light shading and backstory, but unlike Wild it almost focuses solely on her journey across the desert. And what a desert it is! The scenery is shot beautifully and we feel as though we are truly on this daring journey with her, traveling alien landscapes with little to depend on beyond our animal companions and our wits. We know the outcome (since this is a true story) but we are still thrilled to see how it unfolds. What does it all mean, and what was the journey’s purpose? Thankfully, in the end, the answer is left as enigmatic as the heroine herself.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Bryan Probets, Daisy Walkabout, Emma Booth, Felicity Steel, Fiona Press, Ian Conway, Jessica Tovey, John Flaus, Lily Pearl, Melanie Zanetti, Mia Wasikowska, Philip Dodd, Rainer Bock, Robert Coleby, Rolley Mintuma

Director: John Curran

Rating: PG-13

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In 1980s Dublin, a young Irish catholic-school boy, whose family is facing financial problems starts his own band with the sole objective of impressing a mysterious femme fatale. The film takes you on a beautiful and witty journey through the band’s path to success and our protagonist’s quest in conquering his love all to the rhythm of some of the biggest 80’s pop-rock hits and the band’s own original soundtrack. Without a doubt this film is the long awaited passion project of filmmaker John Carney (Once, Begin Again).

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Aidan Gillen, Ben Carolan, Des Keogh, Don Wycherley, Eva-Jane Gaffney, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ian Kenny, Jack Reynor, Karl Rice, Keith McErlean, Kelly Thornton, Kian Murphy, Kyle Bradley Donaldson, Lucy Boynton, Lydia McGuinness, Marcella Plunkett, Maria Doyle, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Mark McKenna, Paul Roe, Percy Chamburuka, Peter Campion

Director: John Carney

Rating: PG-13

Starring a sad-sack Steve Carrell and an ensemble cast with brilliant timing and real heart, Little Miss Sunshine is a rare understated comedy that brings laughter and tears. As a dysfunctional family's youngest member gets chosen to be in a pageant in California, the family must come together and support her through her journey. Along the path that they take, they learn and cope with each other. A great movie filled with phenomenal acting and writing with a real heart that will leave you breathless.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Beth Grant, Brenda Canela, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Geoff Meed, Gordon Thomson, Greg Kinnear, Jerry Giles, Jill Talley, Joan Scheckel, John Walcutt, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Justin Shilton, Lauren Shiohama, Marc Turtletaub, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Matt Winston, Mel Rodriguez, Paul Dano, Paula Newsome, Steve Carell, Steven Christopher Parker, Terry Bolo, Toni Collette, Wallace Langham

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Rating: R

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Champions is as formulaic as it gets, but it’s impossible not to smile watching it. It’s based on a 2018 Spanish movie of the same name, but it feels a lot like the 2023 Korean movie Dream too. In both (and indeed a lot of other) films, we follow a sad sack antihero who, by virtue of being exposed to less fortunate people, is magically transformed into a good guy who gets all the glory he wished for by the end of the story. You know where it’s headed and you even know how it gets there, so it’s devoid of genuine twists and thrills. But the ways in which it gets there, however familiar, are sometimes funny and heartwarming. If you can stomach the cheesiness and predictability of it all, then Champions comes as an effectively hopeful and feel-good film that’s worth tuning into if you want a light laugh. Otherwise, it's all familiar fluff you can skip for better fare.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandra Castillo, Alicia Johnston, Ashton Gunning, Barbara Pollard, Champ Pederson, Cheech Marin, Clint Allen, Ernie Hudson, Heath Vermette, Jacob Blair, Jalen Rose, Jean-Jacques Javier, Kaitlin Olson, Kevin Iannucci, Lauren Cochrane, Lois Brothers, Matt Cook, Mike Smith, Scott Van Pelt, Seán Cullen, Stephanie Sy, Woody Harrelson

Director: Bobby Farrelly

Rating: PG-13

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Even if it follows nearly every trick in the playbook, American Underdog positions itself on a big enough scale that makes it work like a charm anyway. Following the story of legendary undrafted NFL quarterback Kurt Warner (Zahcary Levi), the film elevates its familiar beats through stunning, wide-angle football sequences that make the sport feel as thrilling as ever, and a particularly solid performance from Anna Paquin, as Warner's long-suffering partner. But what ultimately becomes American Underdog's real secret weapon is the fact that this isn't a sports movie about skill, strategy, or success; Warner becomes an inspiring figure because of how long he had to persevere with his dream just barely out of reach.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Adam Baldwin, Anna Paquin, Beau Hart, Bruce McGill, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Dennis Quaid, SerDarius Blain, Steven Chester Prince, Zachary Levi

Director: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

, 2013

Chadwick Boseman who you might now know as the Black Panther had his break out role in 42, the true story of the first Black major league player Jackie Robinson. A story of expected struggle but also a humbling and humane account that is full of warmth. Jackie Robinson's coach is played by Dustin Hoffman, adding to the caliber of amazing performances in this movie, all put together by Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). From the baseball sequences to the personal life of Jackie Robinson, and of course his confrontation with racism, this is a powerful and uplifting movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Farb, Alan Tudyk, André Holland, Andre Holland, Andrew C. Mullins, Anthony S. Goolsby, Ari Blinder, Barry Suttle, Brad Beyer, Brett Cullen, Chadwick Boseman, Cherise Boothe, Christopher Meloni, Danny Vinson, Dax Griffin, Derek Phillips, Dusan Brown, Gino Anthony Pesi, Hamish Linklater, Harrison Ford, Hunter Clowdus, Jackson Walker, James Pickens Jr., James Rackley, Jamie Ruehling, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jesse Luken, Joe Inscoe, Joe Knezevich, John C. McGinley, Jon Kohler, Jud Tylor, Karole Foreman, Kelley Jakle, Kenny Cook, Linc Hand, Lou Criscuolo, Lucas Black, Marc Gowan, Mark Harelik, Matt Clark, Maury Covington, Max Gail, Michael H. Cole, Monnae Michaell, Nicole Beharie, Peter Jurasik, Peter MacKenzie, Rhoda Griffis, Ryan Merriman, T.R. Knight, Tobias Michael Finn, Toby Huss, William Flaman

Director: Brian Helgeland

Rating: PG-13

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Two months after its premiere in TIFF, Quiz Lady arrived on streaming this November. The comedy film has a sort-of buddy cop dynamic, with an anxiety-ridden, tightly-wound Awkwafina as Anne, and a chaotic Sandra Oh that lets loose with free-spirited Jenny. The film does take its time to get to the good part, and in certain scenes, it feels like it’s torn between the heartfelt and the humorous, but the leads’ acting smooths over some of the awkward writing. Quiz Lady still leads up to a fun watch, though better pacing and writing could have made this charming comedy a classic.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alan Heitz, Ammie Masterson, Amy Tolsky, Angela Trimbur, Atul Singh, Awkwafina, Betsy Holt, Camrus Johnson, Charles Green, Charlie Talbert, Choppy Guillotte, Christine Lin, Davina Reid, Derek Roberts, Eddy Lee, Holland Taylor, Jane Yubin Kim, Jason Schwartzman, Joe Chrest, Jonathan Park, Jophielle Love, Justiin A. Davis, Larry Weissman, Maria Bamford, Matt Cordova, Ned Yousef, Nicole Marie Appleby, Paul Reubens, Phil LaMarr, Sandra Oh, Shirley Chen, Summer Selby, Tawny Newsome, Tony Hale, Will Ferrell

Director: Jessica Yu

Rating: R

After Nimona's long journey to the big screen (involving the shutdown of animation studio Blue Sky, and Disney's resistance to LGTBQ+ themes), the fact that the movie has been completed and allowed to tell its story at all is something to be celebrated. The film itself is pretty standard fare for American children's animation, with a script that spends far too much time on quips, and visuals that don't take advantage of the movie's science-fantasy world. But if you can get beyond its more ordinary aspects, Nimona becomes a surprisingly thorough metaphor of Otherness and queerness—best represented in the title character's shapeshifting abilities, and how people fear and become violent with her before even trying to understand her. It's a film that's sadly become more relevant than ever now, addressing how prejudice is something that's taught and passed down, packaged in an easy, entertaining manner for younger audiences.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Beck Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Cindy Slattery, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Indya Moore, Julio Torres, Karen Ryan, Lorraine Toussaint, ND Stevenson, Nick Bruno, Riz Ahmed, RuPaul, Sarah Sherman, Troy Quane

Director: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane

Rating: PG

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 As glad as I am to see a film celebrating the complex joys of interracial love and debunking the stigma of arranged marriages, I can’t help but wonder how and why a film about love got to be so dry and passionless. Is dating really this painfully awkward? Is marriage really this burdensome? Realistically, yes, but when you’re trying to make a point about true love supposedly trumping it all, including cultural differences and age-old traditions, then you should at least make it seem like the winner. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too by serving us heaps of realism and fantasy on one plate, failing to understand that you only have to pick one to be palatable. “Love Contractually” is the title of Zoe’s documentary, but it’s also the name this movie should’ve gone with, seeing as how everyone acts like they’re obligated to be here. 

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Alexander Owen, Alice Orr-Ewing, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Ashenden, Emma Thompson, Jamal Andreas, Jeff Mirza, Lily James, Mim Shaikh, Munir Khairdin, Nikkita Chadha, Nosheen Phoenix, Oliver Chris, Peter Sandys-Clarke, Ravi Aujla, Sajal Ali, Shabana Azmi, Shaheen Khan, Shazad Latif, Sindhu Vee, Taj Atwal, Wasim Zakir

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Rating: PG-13

With whole franchises dedicated to cars and motorcycles, cinema has often regarded these individually-piloted machines as intrinsically linked with masculinity. Ustaad is the latest Telugu love letter to motorcycles and planes, as these have shaped protagonist Surya Sivakumar’s life. In debut writer-director Phanideep’s hands, Surya’s journey to becoming a commercial airline pilot is a long one, as Ustaad details Surya’s first motorbike, first romantic relationship, and the way he overcame his fear of heights. It’s a fun drive, and there’s plenty of moments where Phanideep’s style feels free and unrestrained. However, it’s a drive that takes too long, with predictable beats that have been seen before.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance

Actor: Anu Hasan, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Kavya Kalyanram, Ravi Shiva Teja, Ravindra Vijay, Sri Simha Koduri, Venkatesh Maha

Director: Phanideep

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The concept of Maaveeran is downright brilliant. As the timid comic strip writer is forced to be as brave as the hero he created, there’s something here that encourages its audience to listen to the yearnings already inside them. It allows for some cartoonish comedy that comes across as earnest. However, there's a certain hesitancy in the writing that makes the film’s second half a letdown. The film sticks too long to its protagonist’s cowardice that there’s so little time to wrap everything up. It’s still entertaining till the end, but a better sense of pacing would have kept the first half’s riveting comedy, and would have made a better case for being a hero.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: 'Jeeva' Ravi, Aditi Shankar, Balaji Sakthivel, Dhileban, Madhan Kumar Dhakshinamoorthy, Mysskin, Ravi Teja, Saritha, Semmalar Annam, Sivakarthikeyan, Sunil Varma, Suresh Chakravarthy, Vijay Sethupathi, Yogi Babu

Director: Madonne Ashwin

Composed of archival footage of the titular musical legend and testimonials from those who worked with him or whose lives were profoundly impacted by his courage, Little Richard: I Am Everything feels comprehensive but is also oddly lacking. The documentary makes a bold, confident claim: that all popular music today can be directly traced to his work. And when the film lets itself get into full music nerd mode, it's easy to be convinced. But after you accept that perspective on Little Richard, the rest of the movie seems like it's just spinning its wheels, covering key moments in the artist's life and career without really challenging or substantiating long-held ideas about him.

Chief among these is Little Richard's shifting feelings toward his own queerness—proudly expressing his true self one year, then openly denouncing his own homosexuality the next. This subject matter is ripe for difficult but insightful analysis, which the film just never gets around to. It begins to feel like the believes there is no more discussion to be had about him. And that may very well be true; he deserves the flowers that were denied him for so long. But this attitude doesn't necessarily make for the best documentary.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alan Freed, Billy Porter, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, John Waters, Little Richard, Mick Jagger, Pat Boone, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Valerie June

Director: Lisa Cortés

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A Million Miles Away sticks so closely to the Hollywood biopic template that it threatens to be less about José Hernández as a person with his own complexities and more about the idea of him as a one-size-fits-all inspirational figure. This isn't to say the film isn't effective when it really counts; Hernández is worth admiring not necessarily because of his ultimate success, but because how much he failed and got back up again. Director Alejandra Márquez Abella keeps the film's tone light and bouncy, flattening some of its more serious moments, but also helping make Hernández's long, hard road to space more of a process of discovery. It's easy, inspiring viewing that quietly tiptoes past harder questions about poverty and NASA's potentially discriminatory practices.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Ashley Ciarra, Blake Webb, Bobby Soto, Emma Fassler, Eric Johnson, Francisco Barreiro, Garret Dillahunt, Gerardo Trejoluna, Isaac Arellanes, Isabel Aerenlund, Jordan Dean, Jorge Briseño, Julio Cedillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Marilyn Uribe, Mercedes Hernández, Michael Adler, Michael Peña, Michelle Krusiec, Rosa Salazar, Sarayu Blue, Veronica Falcón

Director: Alejandra Márquez Abella

Rating: PG

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