Right now, it seems like everything is bad. Bad and scary. Coronavirus is likely to be hanging around for a good while, getting worse before it gets better. We’re socially distancing from each other and quite a few of us are going to be self-quarantined for weeks at a time.
It’s a stressful time, and one of the things films can be best at is helping us disconnect from the outside world for a few hours. With all this in mind, the HeyUGuys team has some thoughts on films that might help ourselves, and you, find a little chink of light in a difficult time.
Below, you’ll find a list of films that we’ve chosen to recommend simply because they make us happy. Each of these films is available to stream in the UK, so hopefully as you go through it you’ll find a few old favourites, perhaps a few you don’t know, and some films that will simply help brighten your day.
Enjoy, and stay safe.
What’s Up Doc? (Amazon Prime Video)
Peter Bogdanovich loves classic Hollywood. He’s played with a lot of its genres, but this might be his most successful exercise in a style that, even in 1972, was pretty antiquated. This screwball comedy is perhaps even more fast and furious than the classic examples of the 30s and 40s, as it throws us headlong into a plot about four identical bags, each of which gets stolen and mixed up. The story is really just an excuse to throw people, most notably Ryan O’Neal’s stuffy music professor and Barbra Streisand’s madcap, free-spirited con artist, together in a series of manic comic set pieces both verbal and visual.
Joke for joke, from Streisand pretending to be O’Neal’s fiancé at a very important dinner, to the destruction of an entire hotel room and from cinema’s most chaotic trial to a huge car chase down the many hills of San Francisco, this might be the single funniest film ever made. The stars play perfectly off one another, the chemistry clicking from the first moment, whether O’Neal wants it to or not.
The supporting cast, led by Madeline Kahn (in her debut), Austin Pendleton and Kenneth Mars, are priceless and the farce is as precisely choreographed as the dialogue is razorwire sharp. What’s Up Doc?, in the grand tradition of screwball, is nonsense, but it’s impeccably controlled and absolutely hilarious nonsense.
The Apartment (Amazon Prime Video)
Nothing has given more pleasure throughout my life than the repeated viewing of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. Whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps, procrastinating or just in need of a good old movie for inspiration, it is the one film I’ve often turned to for that fuzzy familiarity. Released in 1960, the lasting power of this beautifully intricate tragicomedy illustrates Wilder’s incredible genius and will forever hold a place in my heart.
The story is a fairly simple one, a man (Jack Lemmon) tries to rise in his company by letting his married bosses use his apartment for illicit affairs. Hilarity and much soul-searching ensues when he falls madly in love with Shirley MacLaine’s sassy lowly secretary, forcing him to come to terms with his own issues.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (NOWTV)
There are comedy films, andthen there is the world of Ron Burgundy and his Channel 4 new team and frankly, 90 minutes in their company is the best hour and a half you could spend with anyone. Burgundy does have a voice that could make even a Wolverine purr, after all
Endless quotable and outrageously funny, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s first team up is a joy from start to finish – with Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate along for the ride – and will have you howling with laughter as they chat sexual politics, male ego, love, pandas, bears, jazz flute and throw down with some wonderfully eccentric cameos from their many friends. One of the greatest comedies of all time; sequel’s not bad, either…
Amanda Keats (an asthmatic big bird)
Spy (Netflix UK)
Melissa McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA agent stuck at her desk until the death of a colleague throws her out into the field. What follows is one of the funniest, silliest and smartest comedies of recent years. With a killer cast list to boot, including Rose Byrne, Jude Law and Allison Janney.
This film was a revelation because I’d never grasped how freaking hilarious Jason Statham could be. His character has some of the funniest dialogue I’ve ever seen and he delivers it to perfection.
Please note (if you’re still at work) that the following clip is very NSFW.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Sneeze and it’s goodbye Seattle!” Number nine in a series of 25 – even though Roxanne would have you believe it’s 20 – and every one a zinger! It’s the scene that everybody remembers from the 1987 Steve Martin comedy but, in truth, this is a film full of memorable moments to make you smile, laugh and get that prickly feeling in your eyes.
A modern-day version of Cyrano de Bergerac, with Martin as the small town fire chief with the distinctive facial feature, it’s unashamedly romantic, with the underdog winning the beautiful love of his life through his skill with words. It’s gloriously funny too, thanks in no small part to the Keystone Cops antics of his bumbling firemen. And threading it all together is a joyous celebration of words – the wit, the banter, the arguments, the misunderstandings – in a deliciously playful script by Martin himself. Happiness personified.
Life of Brian (Netflix)
In times of Mickey Mouse absurdity and foggy existential crises, Life of Brian swallows both poison and antidote at once. In this unashamedly silly and cuttingly critical piece of comedy genius, Monty Python achieves a spiky embrace of both hilarity and hopelessness. They show the dangerous nonsense in a world that’s forsaken logic, yet they laugh at its historical transparency. They examine the deepest theological and philosophical questions of humanity, poke holes in the apparently ineffable teachings of the Bible, and teach one of the most important lessons in life: to think for yourself.
But at the same time, they mishear the Sermon on the Mount (“I think it was, ‘Blessed all the cheesemakers!’”), get hitched by aliens, sing on crucifixes, and become risibly amused by a very gweat fwend in Wome called Biggus Dickus. All in 90 minutes.
“You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves”, says the reluctant false-prophet Brian to his horde of deluded disciples. In this current world of algorithmically formed opinions, bouncing bleakly around tailored Twitter echo-chambers, Brian’s speech feels more relevant then ever.
Comedy is often placed on a lower shelf to its better-loved sibling Drama, but there’s something so honourable, intelligent, and comforting about those who make jokes in bleakly ridiculous situations. Life of Brian acknowledges these silly and depressing systems and makes them funny. We all need a bit of that right now.
Daddy Day Care (Netflix)
Daddy Day Care for me is nostalgia on a plate. It’s cosy, familiar and absolutely hilarious. It’s always something I go to when I’m having a bad day or I want that feeling of home. The cast are great and the kids just make it even better. Eddie Murphy and the little boy who plays his son Ben (Khamani Griffin) are a delight to watch. Griffin is honestly one of the cutest kids I’ve seen in a film. He’s also a great actor and a joy to watch.
I’m a huge daddy’s girl and love kids, so for me it melts my heart to watch it. It’s filled with warmth and love and the story is simple yet brilliant. It’s a feel good film that’s always on in the background. It’s like comfort eating for me, having it on. All you want to do it root for the good guys. Literally.
Singin’ in the Rain (Amazon Prime Video, YouTube)
Come rain or shine, the show must go on. That’s the feeling which courses through every moment of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain, the technicolor explosion which is at once completely in love with the idea of Hollywood and acutely aware of its hypocrisies. This movie about movies follows the production of a film – The Duelling Cavalier – caught between the silent era and the ‘Talkies’. Though nearly seventy years old, it’s blessed with an impish sense of humour and is also beautifully lacking in peril. Singin’ in the Rain’s main, pressing issue is that one of the actors doesn’t have a nice voice. That’s it. Yet the romanticism of Hollywood makes that appear to be the worst fate of all in the era of the Talkies.
Of course, this is the king of musicals, and from Donald O’Connor’s freewheeling Make ‘Em Laugh through to the playfulness of Moses Supposes, the dance sequences are the natural highlight. But it’s surely when the trio – Kelly, O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds – bring the house down with Good Morning that the film is at its kinetic, optimistic best. A peerless sequence which sweeps you along in believing that saving The Duelling Cavalier, and the stardom of its actors, is all that could ever matter. If that wasn’t enough, the next scene is one of cinema’s most iconic. Gene Kelly singing in the rain, prancing on lamposts, gleefully bursting with hope. It’s Hollywood’s greatest film.
Love, Gilda (Amazon Prime Video)
Actress/SNL comedienne Gilda Radner (Hanky Pany, The Woman in Red, Haunted Honeymoon) was one of comedy cinema’s unsung greats whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 42 in 1989 after she passed away of Ovarian cancer. Documentary film-maker Lisa D’Apolito delves into an immense archive of recordings, interviews, home movies and Radner’s personal diaries to craft an inspiring, edifying and rousing account of Gilda from her childhood to early career years on Saturday Night Live and those heartfelt, final moments in hospital (which Radner caught on camera) with her husband Gene Wilder by her side.
Love, Gilda shows us how brilliant, brave, radical and talented Radner was as an artist, but also how she had such an overwhelming passion for life and making people happy. Radner’s personality permeates this film and makes it extraordinary, as does D’Apolito’s talent in shaping the archive material into such a bursting work. D’Apolito channels Radner’s mantra and while LG may not immediately seem like the escapism one might seek/need in such times, it’s a stunningly encouraging, loving refined and life-affirming account. Love, Gilda makes us realise that it doesn’t take much to love in this world while reminding us how to appreciate life, those we share it with and what we have that makes our short time on this planet so unique and amazing.
Harvey (Amazon Prime Video, YouTube)
The film which lifts me out of the dreary slog of reality and makes me happier than any other is Harvey (1950). Harvey is the story of amiable bar regular Elwood P Dowd (James Stewart), his best chum Harvey and the chaos their friendship creates.
Harvey is a 6 foot 3 invisible rabbit. I defy you not to love this beaming smile of a film!
Monsoon Wedding (Amazon Prime Video)
Directed by Mira Nair, the film revolves an arranged marriage in India, which sees immediate and extended members of the Verma family from around the world come together to help prepare the occasion with bold colours and wonderfully eclectic music. The family and its acquaintances each have their dramas, but they essentially put them aside to celebrate the union.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Now TV)
The Fugitive (Netflix)
When the call came in for us HuG contributors to recommend a film as some sort of movie ‘happy place’ to revert to in these troubling times, I scanned through Netflix, looking for the film I knew would distract me the most, and provide me with a moment of joy that nothing else could. And here it is. The Fugitive.
I know what you’re thinking – why the hell would watching Harrison Ford getting framed for his own wife’s murder, being put on death row and having to run around Chicago as an escaped convict lead to any semblance of joy?
I’ll tell you for why. It’s one of the best examples of taut storytelling in Hollywood history. There isn’t a second wasted in its 90 minute runtime. Thanks to some fine editing, the pacing is incredible. Each shot, sound and word giving essential information and helping to rattle the plot along like a runaway freight train. You won’t have time to think about anything else.
And there IS good feeling in there. Dr Richard Kimble just wants someone to believe him. That’s all. And for me, having someone in a movie or TV show believing the unbelievable (like when Sam Beckett occasionally explained he’s a time traveler in Quantum Leap) – it’s the ultimate lump-in-throat moment. So when “I don’t care” turns into “I know” I get a feeling that almost no other film can compete with. And you can feel it too. Want to know how I know? Cos you haven’t thought of the C word since you started reading this.
Long Shot (Netflix)
Jonathan Levine’s slept-on romantic comedy from last year is the ultimate treatment for loneliness and anxiety in this era of self-isolation. Starring Charlize Theron as a formidable presidential candidate and Seth Rogen as her inept but charming speechwriter, Long Shot freely references the types of movies that inspired it, above all Pretty Woman. But it’s got a modern edge and a pragmatic philosophy that inspires its inclusive politics as well as the titular long shot. (Co-writer Liz Hannah did the first draft of The Post, so Serious Politics is well within her range.)
O’Shea Jackson Jr, Bob Odenkirk, Lisa Kudrow, Andy Serkis and Alexander Skarsgard complete a stellar supporting cast of friends and enemies, with one or two doing the best work of their careers; who they are, I couldn’t possibly comment.
When you’re hauled up in your social distancing paradise/hellscape these coming weeks and months, you can relate to Secretary Field (Theron) and Fred Flarsky’s (Rogen) own entrapment during a suspected terrorist threat. Amid that intensity, Flarsky is forced to confront his own issues with Field’s helping hand. Let Long Shot be your helping hand.
Barefoot in the Park (NOWTV, Amazon Prime Video)
It seems mildly troubling that in eleven years of HeyUGuys I’ve never written about one of my most favourite films. It is a film I can always rely on to transport me away, and no matter how often I see it, it never fails to make me happy.
It is the story of fledgling marriage of Corrie and Paul Bratter (Jane Fonda and Robert Redford), and how they navigate the slings and arrows of low-rent/high-rise apartments, exuberant neighbours in the attic, the proper way to eat knichi (the trick is to pop it – otherwise it gets sour), synchronised sleeping and the ongoing uncertainty that they will last as a couple.
Director Gene Saks had two huge elements in his favour: Neil Simon’s energetic, if stagey adaptation of his Broadway play, and a sterling cast. Redford and Fonda are magic together, pinballing Simon’s dialogue with the perfect amount of ridiculousness, while Mildred Natwick’s Oscar-nominated turn as Corrie’s mother is a triumphant mix of hysterical hypochondria and soft-pedalling self-belittling. It’s a wonderful dynamic, and Saks, who would direct The Odd Couple the following year, makes the most of the small cast.
It’s a film I heartily recommend to everyone in need of a lift, and if you’ve not seen it just take a look at the clip below for, in particular, the perfect pacing of the physical comedy and Redford’s hilarious gasping for breath while being smothered by affection.