10 life affirming movies

Film selections with more meaning than most!

Written by Colm McCall


Even in this seemingly new golden age of television, I have always maintained the prowess of the big screen versus its smaller screened counterparts. In my opinion, television shows are primarily made for entertainments sake, whilst cinema is produced for similar reasons of entertainment. Its predominant purpose as an art form, at least for the most part, is to convey a message. The art house genre aside, successful films should attempt to achieve equilibrium between entertainment and meaning. Quite unlike television, film ought to feel like an experience; whether you are watching in a packed theatre or alone on the couch, the viewer wants to feel that they have been through something. Film can convey so many emotions from both sides of the spectrum, the following is a list which can help raise the human spirit during the times we need it most

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

In many people’s eyes, this Frank Capra picture is the penultimate holiday classic. Featuring one of my favourite performers of all time, Jimmy Stewart, this is beyond a movie in many households, but is rather a Christmas tradition. A beautiful screenplay which is both heart tugging and warming, capped off by genuine portrayals, with one single viewing it is not difficult to acknowledge the allure of this film. The story goes, as a frustrated and disenchanted businessman contemplates the worst, an angel shows him the world had his presence never have been felt. It certainly isn’t difficult to note why this film has stood the test of time and so many inferior imitators have fallen by the wayside.

Forrest Gump (1994)

There are few things more frustrating than people who speak ill of this Tom Hanks hit. Albeit, a comedy drama, several people relegate this film to a pure dim-witted and simplistic comedy. The multi-Oscar winning triumph is worth far more and should always be recognised as such. This is without a doubt, Tom Hanks’ and Robert Zemeckis’ best work. The two would later again pair up for Cast Away (2000). A delightful story blended with loveable characters, coincided with real historical events and footage, teaches us to play the hand you’re dealt in a world where life truly is “like a box of chocolates”. 

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

First and foremost, this Frank Darabont/Stephen King adaptation is my favourite film of all time. It seems too, that many others share this same opinion, as it sits at the top rated film on the esteemed imdb top 250. Strangely, this film never claimed Oscar gold, largely due to the fact that its predecessor staked a claim to most of the plaudits that year. Equally strange, was the fact that Tom Hanks passed on the role as Andy Dufresne in order for him to concentrate on his role in Forrest Gump. This film offers a realistic, yet slightly sentimental, insight into not only life “on the inside”, but also the resilience of people, as they utilise hope in a bid to overcome the entrapment of fear and isolation.

Good Will Hunting (1994)

Following the untimely passing of the wonderful Robin Williams, Pieta House showcased this Oscar winning movie at various participating cinemas across the nation. There are few films as life affirming and wholeheartedly captivating than this Gus Van Sant hit. At its raw core, this film radiates inspiration, with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck penning the Award winning screenplay at the age of just 21. Its dialogue and penetrating messages have a universal applicability which can translate to all facets of society. Not to mention, the array of fantastic performances by the ultra talented cast. None more so than Robin Williams, who also picked up an Academy Award for his efforts; somewhat picking up where Dead Poets Society (1989) left off.

Finding Forrester (2000)

On the back of some cinematic disappointments such as the abysmal colour remake of Psycho (1998), Gus Van Sant returned to a winning formula in 2000. He recruited another established star to help tell the story of a talented youth from the wrong side of the tracks, and encourage him to see his potential. Despite, being almost painfully similar to Good Will Hunting (with a Matt Damon cameo to boot), this film still packs an inspirational punch regardless.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

From the off, I said to myself that I would strive not to include any sort of hackneyed or niche sports movie in this particular list. But I just couldn’t resist including the final round of the acclaimed Rocky franchise. Following the negative reaction to the fifth instalment, Stallone felt a compulsion to reignite the series and finish on a high. Did he ever do it. Chocked with awe inducing dialogue and heart pounding action, this movie is sure to get even the most cynical amongst us pumped.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

The best Will Smith movie performance ever. I think with this showing, Smith peaked and his career has never been the same since. Seven Pounds (2008) was a decent outing but in hindsight, was at the top of steadily declining gradient. I just adore the contrast between the scenes in which Chris Snr. is imploring his son to chase his dreams no matter the obstacles, where dim lighting is used in front of a deery looking chain link fence and the concluding scene at the top of the city, draped in beautiful sunshine, topped off by an appearance by the real life Chris Gardner.

The Bucket List (2007)

This film emphasises the importance of allocating time to enjoy the activities and endeavours which you draw most joy and satisfaction. All too often, people attempt to live vicariously through others, or vice versa, thus I believe this feel good flick duly acknowledges this necessity. Needless to say, work is important, but so too is living. However, if that metaphorical connotation falls short, one can easily be enamoured by the on-screen combination of two of Hollywood’s best ever talents.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

This brilliant coming-of-age piece should be the rigid standard by which Zach Galifianakis attempts to emulate with all his future work. Albeit, not the central protagonist, he shines brighter than any comedic ventures he has ever taken part in. Following the second instalment of The Hangover, I find his particular style of comedy to be quite exhaustive and repetitive. Also, I just love when typecast comedic actors stray from their comfort zone and bring us something totally different. The best example one can consult is Robin Williams in the unsettlingly creepy One Hour Photo (2002). Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts also have some really enviable on-screen chemistry, it really makes me wonder as to why neither stars have made better use of their talents so far.

The Way Way Back (2013)

One of my favourite films of last year, which unfortunately didn’t get the credit it deserved – at least not in this country. Another coming-of-age film, so powerful in its simplicity, that I feel it can rival the finesse of The Perks of being a Wallflower (2013). One of the fantastic and well thought out features is the apparent role reversal between the adults and the teenagers. Steve Carrell does a great job of being a jerk; it boggles the mind as to why he doesn’t attempt to reach these heights more often. For me, typecasting is partly self-inflicted. Sam Rockwell also hands in his best performance to date; he is very underrated in mainstream cinema. One quick recollection of his filmography, and one is enraged that he hasn’t quite reached the heights of the A-List stratosphere. Or perhaps that’s a good thing, especially since we’re getting treated to performances like this and Seven Psychopaths (2012).

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