222 Best Uplifting Movies to Watch (Page 3)

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.

Small, Slow But Steady is a quiet, contemplative film about a deaf boxer named Keiko. Keiko is determined to become a professional boxer, but she faces many challenges; the pandemic, the closure of her boxing club, and the illness of her aging coach. The film's director, Sho Miyake, excellently captures the slow, deliberate pace of Keiko's training; and the quiet moments of her life outside the ring. 

With serene wide shots of the Japanese countryside and small intimate moments in the boxing ring, the film lives up to its name, giving a tender portrayal of the need for connection and community in (and outside) of the pandemic. The steady performances from Yukino Kishii as Keiko and Masahiro Higashide as her coach make this slow-burning film a rewarding and inspiring story about perseverance and the power of dreams.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Himi Sato, Hiroko Nakajima, Makiko Watanabe, Masaki Miura, Nobuko Sendo, Tomokazu Miura, Tomomitsu Adachi, Yukino Kishii, Yuko Nakamura, Yutaka Shimizu

Director: Sho Miyake

Simple but lovely movies like Fallen Leaves are hard to come by these days. While others rely on complicated dialogue or overly ambitious premises to be deemed deep or important, Director Aki Kaurismäki trusts that his material is strong enough. After all, its silence speaks volumes; the characters don’t say much but when they do, you can be sure it’s something hard-hitting or funny. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but when it makes a turn, it moves you instantly. And the leads, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) barely move their features, but their eyes convey more emotion, more longing and ache and joy, than one can hope for. Some movies can be challenging, exhilarating, or exhausting to watch. This one is simply delightful. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alina Tomnikov, Alma Pöysti, Eero Ritala, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juho Kuosmanen, Jussi Vatanen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Heiskanen, Martti Suosalo, Matti Onnismaa, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Rating: NR

After experimenting with multiple storylines in The French Dispatch, the inimitable Wes Anderson goes one step further with the mind-bendingly meta Asteroid City. Framed as a TV documentary about the making of a play, Asteroid City’s Russian doll setup reflects the neurosis of its period (the Cold War-struck ‘50s), art-making, and the intimidating vastness of outer space.

The play takes place in a tiny desert town where atom bomb tests routinely rattle the doorframes and where a convention for young geniuses is being held, attended by a host of typically idiosyncratic characters (played by Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, and many, many more). Still, it retains a central focus: the grief of new widower Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and his kids, and the connections he and his son (Jake Ryan) forge with a visiting actress (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter (Dinah Campbell). Asteroid City draws much of its poignancy from this story (and its behind-the-scenes goings-on), as these people stare into the cosmic wilderness and a future without their loved one. Shot in gorgeous bleached postcard tones and full of the imaginative flourishes we’ve come to expect from Anderson, this is a profound rumination on existential angst that miraculously finds hope amidst all its characters’ nihilism.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Aimee Mullins, Ara Hollyday, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Damien Bonnard, Deanna Dunagan, Dominique Fouassier, Edward Norton, Elena Uriz, Ella Faris, Erika Godwin, Ethan Josh Lee, Fisher Stevens, Francisco Javier Gomez, Grace Edwards, Gracie Faris, Hong Chau, Hope Davis, Jack Eyman, Jake Ryan, Jarvis Cocker, Jason Schwartzman, Jay Lau, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, Maya Hawke, Palmira Ferrer, Patricia Colin, Paul Kynman, Randall Poster, Rita Wilson, Rodolphe Pauly, Rupert Friend, Sam Marra, Sandy Hamilton, Scarlett Johansson, Seu Jorge, Sonia Gascón, Sophia Lillis, Stéphane Bak, Stephen Park, Steve Carell, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, Tom Hudson, Tony Revolori, Truman Hanks, Wendy Nottingham, Willa Skye, Willem Dafoe

Director: Wes Anderson

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adam Carolla, Al Unser Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser, Chase Austin, David Hobbs, Doug Boles, Geraldine Ribbs, Ian Brown, Nate Adams, Paul Newman, Phillip Ribbs, Willy T. Ribbs

Director: Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Rating: Not Rated

This coming-of-age story based on the bestseller by the same name starts fun but veers towards darker territory. It's about a high-schooler who makes two older friends, played perfectly by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson. But as he gets closer to one of them, his anxieties and past trauma come to the surface. The impressive depth to which the makers of The Perks of Being a Wallflower were able to take it is what elevates it to greatness. It's the perfect mix between easy and challenging. If there is ever such a thing, it's this movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Hagenbuch, Brian Balzerini, Chelsea Zhang, Dihlon McManne, Dylan McDermott, Emily Marie Callaway, Emma Watson, Erin Wilhelmi, Ezra Miller, Joan Cusack, Joe Fishel, Johnny Simmons, Jordan Paley, Julia Garner, Kate Walsh, Landon Pigg, Leo Miles Farmerie, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Mark McClain Wilson, Melanie Lynskey, Morgan Wolk, Nicholas Braun, Nina Dobrev, Patrick de Ledebur, Paul Rudd, Reece Thompson, Stacy Chbosky, Stephen Chbosky, Tom Savini, William L. Thomas, Zane Holtz

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Rating: PG-13

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Silicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of the love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it's produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Alison Cimmet, Andrew Pang, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Celeste Arias, Charles Gould, David Alan Grier, Ed Herbstman, Holly Chou, Holly Hunte, Holly Hunter, Isabel Shill, Jack Corrigan, Jack O'Connell, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Jeremy Shamos, Keilly McQuail, Kerry Flanagan, Kuhoo Verma, Kumail Nanjiani, Kurt Braunohler, Lauren Patten, Lawrence Ballard, Linda Emond, Marilyn Torres, Matthew Cardarople, Mitra Jouhari, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Myra Turley, Rahul Bedi, Ray Romano, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Shana Solomon, Shenaz Treasury, Shunori Ramanathan, Sophia Muller, Spencer House, Susham Bedi, Vella Lovell, William Stephenson, Zach Cherry, Zenobia Shroff, Zoe Kazan

Director: Michael Showalter

Rating: R

By remaining totally committed to its quiet, drama-free, observational style of documentary filmmaking, Mr. Bachmann and His Class ends up teaching us a whole lot about the way we view educational spaces and difficult students as well. While the titular German teacher is mainly there to teach language, the way he patiently handles disagreement and conflict—reorienting the immature or harmful beliefs they may have learned from home or from elsewhere—is truly inspiring to witness. We never see these home lives and the film's director, Maria Speth, knows better than to romanticize anybody in this classroom. But over the film's lengthy runtime, it really begins to feel like we get to know and understand each of these kids, and to root for their ability to change their views and become more open and appreciative towards one another.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Maria Speth

Using the documentary form with supreme clarity and righteous fury, Lakota Nation vs. United States distills hundreds of years of American history into two powerful, consistently engaging hours of film. The information presented in this movie has always been available to the public, but directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli do an excellent job at allowing these historical accounts and more recent headlines to cumulatively take on a truly emotional—almost spiritual—resonance. The enormity of the losses that Native Americans have endured physically, culturally, and economically is genuinely horrifying, and every new obstacle that the Oceti Sakowin peoples face feels heavy with the struggle of all of their ancestors before them.

Short Bull and Tomaselli stick to a generally conventional structure, but are able to weave together together personal stories and factual legal arguments through archival footage, majestic shots of the frontier, and the poetry of Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier. The whole film, then, begins to take on more of a lyrical quality—as if every tragic moment has permanently become part of the tapestry of Native life, impossible to forget and always driving efforts for reparation forward. Still the Native struggle continues, but with much more hope than despair.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Candi Brings Plenty, Krystal Two Bulls, Layli Long Soldier, Nick Tilsen, Phyllis Young

Director: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. 

Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

Genre: Comedy, Music

Actor: Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Amy Sedaris, Ayo Edebiri, Ben Platt, Caroline Aaron, David Rasche, Dean Scott Vazquez, Donovan Colan, Jimmy Tatro, Kyndra Sanchez, Luke Islam, Max Sheldon, Molly Gordon, Nathan Lee Graham, Noah Galvin, Owen Thiele, Patti Harrison, Priscilla Lopez, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson

Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

Rating: PG-13