222 Best Uplifting Movies to Watch (Page 9)

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.

Silver Dollar Road isn’t a new story– it’s one of many that comes as a consequence of systematic Black land loss that continues to happen to this day. Director Raoul Peck tells it in a new way, completely focusing on the Reels family and hearing their story entirely, from the initial confusion to two of the homeowners’ incarceration, and remembering the good old days when they used to enjoy the land. The land dispute has escalated to years of harassment, imprisonment, and being taken advantage of from opportunistic legal counsel. While it could have benefitted from from detailed legal proceedings, Silver Dollar Road still powerfully depicts an intimate family story that outlines the systemic racism enabling Black land loss today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Kim Renee Duhon, Mamie Reels Ellison

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG

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It’s rare now to hear the phrase “girl power” without being immediately suspicious of its intentions, reduced as it were to cheesy adspeak and empty platitudes. But in the case of Rocks—a movie helmed by a predominantly female crew and co-written by the teenage cast themselves—the slogan fits. There is power in this type of girlhood: open, collaborative, and supportive, and that’s just what happens off-screen. 

On-screen, what unfolds is even more complex and beautiful. As Rocks struggles to take care of her younger brother all on her own, as she’s forced to grow up and face ethical dilemmas normally reserved for adults, she is backed unwaveringly by her friends Sumaya, Agnes, Yawa, Khadijah, and Sabina. It's their specific bond, unsentimental but deeply considerate and loyal, that keeps the film as solid and grounded as the title suggests.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow, Aneta Piotrowska, Bukky Bakray, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, D'angelou Osei Kissiedu, Kaine Zajaz, Kate Isitt, Kosar Ali, Layo-Christina Akinlude, Mohammad Amiri, Ruby Stokes, Sarah Niles, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson, Sharon D. Clarke, Shola Adewusi, Tawheda Begum, Tina Chiang, Umit Ulgen

Director: Sarah Gavron

Rating: TV-MA

, 2014

I always seek out Icelandic films; something about the quality of light and quirky sensibility that appeal to me. Having developed a fondness for sheep on a recent Welsh trek, "Rams" had a double attraction. A tale of brothers divided by life but ultimately united in and by their deep, tender, inspiring love of their rams. Close to perfection. Sigurdur Sigurdurjonsson is luminous in the lead role.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Þorleifur Einarsson, Charlotte Bøving, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Jonsson, Ingrid Jonsdottir, Jon Benonysson, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Thorleifur Einarsson, Þorsteinn Gunnar Bjarnason

Director: Grímur Hákonarson

Rating: R

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We’re familiar with dick jokes from stand-up comedians, especially male stand-up, but Jacqueline Novak’s 90-minute show about the blow job feels completely new. Get on Your Knees feels like casual storytelling from someone experienced yet distant enough to be a cool authority on it (say, your best friend’s older sister’s best friend), but funnier. It’s like a gossip session about a first experience, except the breathless, dizzying stream of thought is peppered with philosophical thought and points out the absurdity around the language and common attitudes about sex. And as she does so, and as she talks about self-conscious fumbling and unanswered questions, she strides back and forth, in an easy, self-assured way, the way we’d like to feel going into the act.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Jacqueline Novak

Director: Natasha Lyonne

Rating: R

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While more known for their fantastical children’s stories, Studio Ghibli occasionally serves a down-to-earth, domestic film set in the real world. One of them is From Up On Poppy Hill. On the surface is a story of two student activists who fall in love while fighting to keep their high school club’s Latin Quarter from demolition. Of course, with this in mind, the most surprising event in the film is the incest scare. However, this seemingly random plot point feels important in the sense that everything is resolved once they've fully understood the past. And because of the 1960s post-Korean War Tokyo setting, the film is nostalgic yet dares to question whether or not Japan has fully processed and acknowledged their losses in a war that isn't theirs.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Aoi Teshima, Goro Miyazaki, Haruka Shiraishi, Jun Fubuki, Jun'ichi Okada, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita, Masami Nagasawa, Nao Ōmori, Rumi Hiiragi, Shunsuke Kazama, Takashi Naito, Teruyuki Kagawa, Tsubasa Kobayashi, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Rating: PG

"Imagine a nightmare when you had to relive your adolescence," says Cecilia Aldarondo at the beginning of her third film, You Were My First Boyfriend. Indeed, the scene recalls a teen prom that could easily be yours (if you were one of the unpopular girls): neon lights, prettier dresses that are never yours, disapproving looks, and the impression that everyone around you is having the time of their lives, while you sit awkwardly in a corner. This image sets the tone for a self-exploration in documentary form that relies on a simple, yet imaginative premise, what if you could re-enact the formative events from back then, but do so today, by directing actors to step in for your past selves. Aldarondo approaches the topic sincerely and with curiosity. Not a pang of nostalgia there, but the heartfelt doc manages to reflect on the pasts that shape us in a witty way to promote self-acceptance and, ultimately, healing.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Cecilia Aldarondo, Gabriel Kristal, Laura Gallegos, Melissa Baker, Sarah Baker Butterfield

Director: Cecilia Aldarondo

Rating: PG

This uplifting Canadian sports drama is based on a true story set in the remote Nunavut town of Kugluktuk. The small community has the highest teen suicide rate in North America, as it suffers from intergenerational trauma, and the resulting alcohol and drug abuse. A new young history teacher who is sent by the government is shocked by the state of the school and the lives of the teenagers. He realizes that he can't engage the kids with history, and turns to his passion for Lacrosse to try to ignite change.

The teacher and director of the movie are both white, which, added to the story, raise red flags about white savior tropes. But thanks to First Nation producers who made sure the kids had time to develop their characters, The Grizzlies narrowly misses disaster. Instead, it gives a voice to communities that are rarely heard from. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anna Lambe, Ben Schnetzer, Booboo Stewart, Brad Fraser, Eric Schweig, Fred Bailey, Jack Anawak, Madeline Ivalu, Natar Ungalaaq, Seth Burke, Tantoo Cardinal, Will Sasso

Director: Miranda de Pencier

Rating: R

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Nowadays, more people might know the cartoon character Yogi Bear or the saying “It ain’t over ‘till its over,” more than they know Yogi Berra, the larger-than-life baseball player who originated the character and the phrase. But in his prime, Berra was one of the most recognizable faces of major league baseball. He was so beloved that he appeared in countless commercials and effortlessly won the hearts of Americans. It Ain’t Over, however, makes a case about Berra being more than just a public figure and how he was one of the best players of all time. The documentary, which is equal parts stats, archival footage, and anecdotes, is convincing without ever being forceful or desperate about its arguments. Berra’s innate warmth and charm carry over in this biography, regardless of whether he’s telling the stories himself or his friends and family regale us with tales of the icon. You don’t have to know much about baseball to enjoy Berra’s life story unfold; having a basic appreciation of storytelling and kindhearted people will suffice. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Billy Crystal, Bob Costas, Derek Jeter, Hank Aaron, Lindsay Berra, Willie Randolph, Yogi Berra

Director: Sean Mullin

Rating: PG

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Friday Night Plan resembles many a classic teen film (most notably, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Booksmart), but it also doubles as a thoughtful inquiry into the delicate bond between siblings who could not be more different from one another. Sid and his younger brother Adi (Amrith Jayan) have different ideas of what matters most in life, ideas that get tested when their mother’s car gets towed away during their night of fun. Sid thinks it’s only right to come clean and retrieve the car no matter what, but Adi believes this can all wait until tomorrow morning: tonight is Sid’s night to celebrate and finally connect with peers he’s shut off all his life. This tension comes as a surprise in what otherwise looks like an ordinary teen movie, but it’s also a welcome addition that helps Friday Night Plan stand out from the rest. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Aadhya Anand, Amrith Jayan, Babil Khan, Juhi Chawla, Juhi Chawla Mehta, Ninad Kamat

Director: Vatsal Neelakantan

Rating: TV-14

As biopics go, Cassandro skews towards the conventional. It follows a template familiar to anyone who has seen a life-story movie about the underdog climbing up the ranks thanks to their unmatchable heart and talent. But it’s also a template that’s elevated by Bernal’s wonderful performance and Roger Ross Williams’ careful and naturalistic direction. Save for a few melodramatic moments, many parts of Cassandro feel fresh and authentic, not least of which is Saúl's heartwarming relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa). It’s unapologetic joy is another element that sets it apart: instead of being punished for his flamboyance and cheer, Saúl is rewarded for it. This seems like a rare triumph in LGBTQ+ stories, and on that merit alone Cassandro deserves to be seen. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bad Bunny, El Hijo del Santo, Gael García Bernal, Joaquín Cosío, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

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