198 Best Uplifting Movies to Watch (Page 2)

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.

Adapted from the Japanese film Ikiru, which in turn was adapted from the Russian story The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Living is a parable about, well, living. Specifically, it's about the importance of wonder and the magic of the mundane. It's also about legacy and the stories we leave in our wake, which live on long after we're gone. This familiar premise could have very easily been turned into another trite and cheesy movie that warns you to make the most out of your life, but thanks to a lean script, assured camerawork, and powerfully restrained performances, Living is elevated into something more special than that. It’s a technically beautiful, well told, and profoundly moving film, with Bill Nighy giving a career-best turn as a repressed man aching for meaning in his twilight years. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Bill Nighy, Celeste Dodwell, Edward Wolstenholme, Ffion Jolly, Hubert Burton, John MacKay, Lia Williams, Matilda Ziegler, Michael Cochrane, Nichola McAuliffe, Nicky Goldie, Oliver Chris, Patsy Ferran, Richard Cunningham, Thomas Coombes, Tom Burke, Zoe Boyle

Director: Oliver Hermanus

A seven year old Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) moves to a new neighbourhood across the street from a very spirited little girl named Juli (Madeline Carroll). She falls in love at first sight much to the dismay of the shy young lad. For the next six years, Juli overwhelms Bryce with her affections until a series of events and misunderstandings leaves her heartbroken and angry at him. Fed up, Juli begins to ignore him. However, her absence triggers a change of heart as Bryce realizes his fondness of her. He will do anything to win her back. The whole film, set in the late fifties holds the warmth and charm of small town living. With a balance of passion and playfulness, the extraordinary young cast are brilliant in their roles. Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, this endearing story of young puppy love, will make your heart melt!

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aidan Quinn, Anthony Edwards, Ashley Taylor, Callan McAuliffe, Cody H. Carolin, Cody Horn, Inga R. Wilson, Israel Broussard, John Mahoney, Kevin Weisman, Madeline Carroll, Matthew Gold, Michael Bolten, Morgan Lily, Patricia Lentz, Penelope Ann Miller, Rebecca De Mornay, Ryan Ketzner, Shane Harper, Stefanie Scott, Wallace Bridges

Director: Rob Reiner

Rating: PG

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show's eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who've already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It's a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anastasia Durasova, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray, Niegel Smith, Taylor Mac

Director: Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein

Rating: PG-13

Whether graffiti is art or not is the question guiding this fascinating documentary about the spray can-wielding artists of ‘80s New York. Wherever you come down in the debate — though this presents compelling arguments that graffiti is a medium worthy of critical attention — you’ll undoubtedly come away with a reverence for the kids who went hard with the paint on NYC’s walls and subway cars. Candid interviews with these young pioneers (whose cultural contributions are now less in contention) reveal that they’re not simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake: they’re largely motivated by a desire to make their mark on their beloved city — to stand out and have their work seen by the millions riding the subway every day.

The doc largely embeds itself with the artists, but it also interviews the “other side”: then-mayor Ed Koch and police officers, who were ramping up their aggressive “war on graffiti” campaign during filming. It’s clear that these interviewees have little interest in understanding what drives the kids to create their murals — a lack of curiosity that Style Wars blessedly counters. Not just a thoughtful contribution to its period and a fascinating time capsule, but also a thought-provoking reminder that art is art, whether it's made outside of the system or not.

Genre: Documentary, Music, TV Movie

Actor: Cap, Daze, Dondi, Ed Koch, Eric Haze, Gene Anthony Ray, Irene Cara, Kase 2

Director: Tony Silver

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jon Batiste, Suleika Jaouad

Director: Matthew Heineman

Rating: PG-13

Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is powerful, gripping, and any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Montrail 'Money' Brown, Montrail 'Money' Brown, O.C. Brown

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin

Rating: PG-13

Another fantastic documentary from 2012, this one tells the remarkable story of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Men’s Basketball team that received scant attention in the shadow of the renowned U.S. “Dream Team” of NBA superstars (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc.). The Lithuanians’ story is all the more fascinating in that it comes immediately on the heels of their country’s freedom from Communist rule. With little hope of participating in the Barcelona games, they received the most unlikely last-minute assistance from the Grateful Dead, of all sources. A really great true-life story, told with an exuberance and a verve not often expected from non-fiction filmmaking. I challenge anyone watch this one and walk away uninspired.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Arvydas Sabonis, Bill Walton, Chris Mullin, David Remnick, Greg Speirs, Jim Lampley, Mickey Hart, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Sarunas Marciulionis

Director: Marius A. Markevicius, Marius Markevicius

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

The Fundamentals of Caring is an offbeat comedy/drama starring Paul Rudd as a man attempting to overcome his looming divorce by becoming the caretaker for a teenager with muscular dystrophy (Craig Roberts, Submarine). The two develop an unconventional relationship based largely on sarcasm and profanity, delivering many laugh-out-loud moments, while also slowly exposing the pain each is carrying inside.

Together, at Ben’s urging, they embark on a road trip across the western United States for Craig to see the world. It’s somewhat formulaic but fun and touching road movie that covers much familiar ground, but also offers a fine illustration of caregiving, personal growth, and emotional healing. Paul Rudd is as good ever, and Roberts is utterly superb. One of the best movies on the Netflix Originals catalog, and an undeniable winner, all-in-all.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Boell, Alex Huff, Ashley White, Bill Murphey, Bobby Cannavale, Craig Roberts, Donna Biscoe, Fred Weller, Frederick Weller, James Donadio, Jennifer Ehle, Julia Denton, Matt Mercurio, Megan Ferguson, Paul Rudd, Rob Burnett, Robert Walker Branchaud, Samantha Huskey, Selena Gomez, Walter Hendrix III

Director: Rob Burnett, Robert Meyer Burnett

Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA