5 Most Life-Affirming Flicks

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How good is that feeling when a film finishes and you’re left silent and brooding; contemplating messages within the story, clinging to those moments of meaning, and swiping furiously at hot tears that seem to spring out of nowhere. So, in honour of great movie moments that leave me feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ve handpicked 5 of the best life-affirming flicks. Cast your minds back…

1 Lost in Translation, 2003
Sofia Coppola’s award-winning, career-defining movie – released exactly a decade ago – is an all-time favourite of mine for its subtle poignancy. It’s about transience, loneliness and frustration in life and the brilliance of this film is how the silent moments speak the loudest; Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte sitting on a ledge overlooking the city as the sun comes up, watching cars weave their way around the streets. Feelings that cannot be expressed. Messages that cannot get through. To Charlotte and Bob, two strangers who meet in a Tokyo hotel, it’s a foreign place that exacerbates their displacement in the world. The tale is delicately weaved, and made ever more mesmerising by superb editing, great cinematography and a hauntingly memorable score.
AWESOME FACT: Coppola instructed Murray to perform the kiss in the final scene without telling Johansson, so she reacted without preparation. The whisper was also unscripted but too quiet to be recorded. Coppola considered having audible dialogue dubbed in at first, but then changed her mind, deciding it was better to keep it “between the two of them”. Exactly what is said is a subject of ongoing speculation. WATCH THE SCENE.

2 Little Miss Sunshine, 2006
This cutesy, feel-good film, warmed through by the adorable, bespectacled 7-year-old Olive (played by Abigail Breslin), has a message at its heart important enough to make it more than sentimental fuzz. Its basis of a family’s journey to a child beauty contest and how “life is one big beauty contest” stands central to the themes of judgement, acceptance and self love.

Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.
Frank: I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.

The moral of the movie is that real happiness and success is found in the pursuit of our dreams – not pleasing other people. And that is what it means to win; to have the guts to give your dream a go, while having a hell of a lot of fun along the way. It’s a well worn message but fights through any cheesiness, thanks in large part to the brilliant directing of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – and of course an excellent Michael Arnt script.

3 Garden State, 2004
Zach Braff’s 2004 comedy-drama afforded Natalie Portman the opportunity to draw on that playful, quirky-cute quality that suits her so well (and which made Leon so memorable) while screwball comedy actor Braff confirmed his serious talent in not just acting but also writing for the screen and directing – at only 29  (these bloody over-achievers). If you haven’t seen this movie, you must. I laugh and cry at the same time in this film, it’s the sweetly powerful dialogue that does it.

Andrew Largeman: I think we’ve corrupted this innocent girl enough for one day!
Sam: I’m not innocent.
Andrew Largeman: Yes, you are! That’s what I like about you, okay? And I don’t want this guy taking you to some sketchy quarry in the middle of Newark to find crack whores huffing turpentine or pit bulls raping each other or whatever else is down here!
Mark: Man… that’s the most worked up I’ve ever seen you.
Sam: He’s protecting me.
Andrew Largeman: So?
Sam: He *likes* me!
Andrew Largeman: Don’t be cute.
Sam: He’s my knight in shining armor.
Andrew Largeman: Don’t talk about knights around Mark, it’s a sore subject.
Mark: I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!
Andrew Largeman: Pun intended?

COOL FACT: Gary Gilbert, a former mortgage banker, financed the film with $2.5 million of his own money. At Sundance, the film was bought by Miramax and Fox Searchlight for $5 million. (At which point, my guess is there was some rubbing together of hands.)

4 Kramer versus Kramer, 1979
I first watched this movie on a plane and sobbed so much that an air stewardess came over and checked I was ok. Embarrassing. But that’s how much this film gets me. It just kills me. Dustin Hoffman is excellent as a newly-divorced dad who has to learn how to take care of his son, brilliantly played by a 7-year-old Justin Henry. Even today, he remains the youngest person ever to receive an Oscar nod (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and it’s almost impossible to believe the boy had never actually acted before.

Billy Kramer: Daddy?
Ted Kramer: Yeah?
Billy Kramer: I’m sorry.
Ted Kramer: I’m sorry too. I want you to go to sleep because it’s really late.
Billy Kramer: Daddy?
Ted Kramer: Now what is it?
Billy Kramer: Are you going away?
Ted Kramer: No. I’m staying here with you. You can’t get rid of me that easy.
Billy Kramer: That’s why Mommy left, isn’t it? Because I was bad?
Ted Kramer: Is that what you think? No. That’s not it, Billy. Your mom loves you very much… and the reason she left has nothing to do with you. …I think the reason why Mommy left… was because for a long time… I kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person. A certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be. And she just wasn’t like that. She was… She just wasn’t like that. I think that she tried for so long to make me happy… and when she couldn’t, she tried to talk to me about it. But I wasn’t listening. I was too busy, too wrapped up… just thinking about myself. And I thought that anytime I was happy, she was happy. But I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted because she loves you so much. And the reason why Mommy couldn’t stay anymore… was because she couldn’t stand me. She didn’t leave because of you. She left because of me. Go to sleep now because it’s really late, okay?

5  Good Will Hunting, 1997

Friendship. Loyalty. Fulfilling our potential in life. Just some of the hard-hitting themes of this awesome film of the late ’90s. The acting is top-notch from Robin Williams and co-writer leads, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – and then of course, there’s Minnie Driver. Authentic, natural and utterly charming. God, I love her. But the script is truly what does it for me. Some of the dialogue between Will and Sean (Robin Williams) pulls pretty heavy on the heartstrings.

SEAN
My wife’s been dead two years, Will. And when I think about her, those are the things I think about most. Little idiosyncrasies that only I knew about. Those made her my wife. And she had the goods on me too.  Little things I do out of habit. People call these things imperfections, Will. It’s just who we are. And we get to choose who we’re going to let into our weird little worlds. You’re not perfect. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you met isn’t either. The question is, whether or not you’re perfect for each other. You can know everything in the world, but the only way you’re findin’ that one out is by giving it a shot. You sure won’t get the answer from an old fucker like me. And even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.

Will smiles. A beat.

WILL
Why not? You told me every other fuckin’ thing. You talk more than any shrink I ever met.

Sean laughs.

It’s poignantly humorous moments like these, as the two men lay bare life’s most indignant and beautiful truths that make this film one of the best and most life-affirming movies of its decade.

Which film moments reduce you to tears? Did Silver Linings Playbook do it to you most recently? Captain Phillips, maybe? Let me know!

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