Really serious movie people, like the kinds who write for newspapers and magazines and want to be taken really really seriously when it comes to opinions on movies (which they would of course refer to as "films", or "cinema"), usually prefer movies that are serious so they can talk about them in a serious way and demonstrate how serious they are. If you take a look at the yearly top ten lists for most critics, they'll be comprised of many serious dramas. I'm guilty of this.
It's understandable why these movies can be divisive. Opinions naturally split on whether a dramatic movie works or not. The same is true of comedies, perhaps even more so, because comedy is often an even more particularly subjective experience. People differ on comedic takes rather strongly.
And yet there are some movies that seem to be impossible to dislike. They have a spirit of general enjoyment, a tone of happiness that is overwhelming, though not to the point of being suffocating. There are lots of movies that try too hard to be cheery, and that can be annoying, so it should not be discounted just how difficult it is to pull off a truly happy, universally-appealing movie. But there are a number to draw from, that frequently end up in people's lists of all-time faves.
Here is a list of 8 happy movies that I have yet to hear complaints about, except from angry people who genuinely hate life and detest joy. Taste the happy, Michael.
1. The Artist
I get that people could find a movie like The Artist overrated when it wins Best Picture and everything. It's understandable. I also completely understand why someone who hasn't seen it would think that it's probably the dumbest, most pretentious piece of artsy-fartsy Oscar bait since The King's Speech. You've got Hollywood history being told in a low-budget film featuring French talent (sacre bleu!) in effing black and white. All signs point to annoying, right?
These are all things I thought before I saw it, but then Jean Dujardin smiled at me. And damnit if I didn't lose all sense in that moment. It's like that moment in Ratatouille when the food critic tastes his meal and all of a sudden he's a little boy who had fallen off his bike. Reality melts away and you're left with a dumb grin on your face and all you can think about is why can't everything be this happy all the time.
Oh, also there's a dog who does tricks. And Dujardin's character treats him like he's a person. The goofy pantomime, the exaggerated expressions and silly sight gags end up making this potentially pretentious picture an absolute delight. If a movie like this can win over a heartless bastard like me, surely it can bring a smile to the face of the most hardcore cynic.
For that matter, let's get over our collective irritation with Argo. Let's fast forward to a time when we've forgotten that it won an Oscar because people felt sorry for Ben Affleck, because darn it he's just been through so dang much! Can you imagine what it would be like to not get good movie parts anymore? It's desperate times like these where a community needs to band together and help a brother out. And so we got to see him cry on stage. It was genuinely sweet I guess and I'm sure Matt Damon was giving him the thumbs up from wherever he now exists.
As a movie, Argo is just really good, and really fun. It's a mostly light romp (I say this because now I can only see it in comparison to the decidedly grimmer Zero Dark Thirty) about the CIA's oddball solution to a dire situation involving Americans in Iran consisting of creative writing and the chance for failed actor Tony Mendez to finally apply his true craft to his new super spy job. I think I have that right. Really though, one reason it was deemed a good choice to vote for by the Academy was surely just how universal its appeal is (well, maybe not to Iranians so much, and maybe even not necessarily to Canadians, but you knowâ€¦to everyone else). It's got that rhythm and pacing that everyone loves so much and a sleek look and everything. It sounds like I'm denigrating it but I sincerely enjoy this movie. I think I'll watch it again this weekend.
3. Almost Famous
Movies that don't only feature music but are actually about music, and art, and criticism, and identity, these are movies that are hard to mess up, but they're also hard to make into real lasting and effective pieces of filmmaking. Almost Famous is a bit of a wonder. It takes you to the heights of magic that befit a kid who is catapulted into the middle of the waning days of the pinnacle of the 70s rock scene, which makes his disillusionment our disillusionment. It captures the allure of stardom and drugs and then shows their weighty downsides.
Cameron Crowe is clearly at his best when dealing with the topic of music, which he showed again (for the first time really since Almost Famous) in his recent documentary Pearl Jam Twenty. He seems most suited for understanding and reproducing the narcissism and eccentricity that comes with the madness seemingly necessary for real artistry. This movie creates a world that you want to be a part of, and our surrogate William Miller gets to enjoy it the way we would hope we would. And if that's not enough there's lots of great little poetic moments that are beautifully handled, and a cast that surely propelled a great many careers.
4. Everyone Says I Love You
I think this 1996 Woody Allen movie should appeal to everyone. If you don't like musicals, it agrees with you that musicals are stupid. If you like musicals, it agrees with you that song on film expresses something that simple spoken dialogue can't. If you like Woody Allen, his brand of humor and timing and human dynamics are all there. If you don't like him, you have Edward Norton. Literally everyone loves Edward Norton.
Sometimes humor can be really clever and you appreciate its wit with a knowing laugh as if to say "yes, I understand what you are saying and I approve!" There's some of that in this movie. But mostly, it's just nonsense. Fun, unadulterated nonsense. Singing, dancing ghosts. Housekeepers playing hockey. Edward Norton being in love. Alan Alda singing about how much he wants Edward Norton to be his son-in-law. Goldie Hawn flying through the air and Woody Allen clumsily running after her. Basically it's a movie that is good to watch when you want to hate the world a little less.
5. High Fidelity
There are few actors who possess the inherent likeability of someone like John Cusack. High Fidelity operates on this assumption, and it succeeds on the merits of such, because the character in the movie is kind of a douche at times but our loyalty to him never really wavers. Maybe part of it is because he's confiding in us and so we want to be a good friend, even if we're captive listeners. Most of it is because he's so damn charming and his observations can be insightful and humorous.
Possibly the greatest joy of the movie though is watching Jack Black before he was crazy bearded icon of buffoonery that is the Jack Black of today (although he still manages to do interesting work; see: Bernie). Here he's not a cool party animal. He's a manic record store employee that is obnoxious and annoying. It's funny to see him be rude to customers, but you also realize he's kind of an ass. His character Barry is beautifully counteracted by the meek and soft-spoken Dick. Their relationship is a riot, but the key relationship between the Cusack character Rob and his on-off girlfriend Laura is the heart of this thing, and provides us with both truthful insights into relationships and a satisfying conclusion.
6. Garden State
There exists a sizeable contingent of people who don't like Garden State. I don't deny their existence. All I deny is their human capability to feel. This movie expresses something about feelings experienced by people in their 20s that eludes most movies depicting folks in that demographic. At least, it's been a while since something came along that spoke to issues in this way. The last one I can think of before it was Reality Bites, which is charming today but feels a little dated.
Zach Braff uses music to really great effect here, but also some compelling visual tricks and true moments that depend on solid performances. It's a hard movie to place because it tries to balance comedic elements with heartfelt drama, and it's not always done completely effectively. Still, it's a movie with a lot to say, and is completely earnest in the way it says it, which is a rare thing.
7. Singin' in the Rain
Singin' in the Rain is just nuts. It's similar to The Artist in terms of issues pertaining to Hollywood transitions from silent movies to talkies and everything, and both feature a fair share of tapdancing. It's also similar in that before seeing it you're expecting it to be one thing and it's kind of a weird little thing all unto itself.
I feel like one scene sort of sums up the whole movie. A diction coach is teaching the Gene Kelly character proper enunciation by repeating the phrase "Moses supposes his toeses are roses which Moses supposes erroneously". Donald O'Connor arrives and they decide, as one does, to ridicule the teacher by turning the silly phrases into a rhythmic song, and then proceed to dance like crazy people. It's glorious. That's pretty much what the whole movie is like, and I can't imagine a person responding to it with anything but, for lack of a better word, glee.
Here's one movie that I can understand, maybe even expect people to hate for the first few scenes. We have a character, Poppy, who would probably be characterized by many as "bubbly", having an almost suffocatingly positive disposition and seeming utterly carefree. As things progress though, we see her encounter less than positive individuals, some that are downright creepy, and we learn that she's not just a peppy Poppy unaware of her surroundings and oblivious to how people might perceive her.
She's instead an incredibly savvy, people-smart person who has made a conscious choice to try to maintain positivity and give people the benefit of the doubt. We expect her to be naive but she's anything but. So she eventually wins us over with her good spirits and humor, but this little wrench thrown in by writer-director Mike Leigh actually makes her extremely admirable. This is one that requires a little more patience but the payoff is worthwhile.
Happy movies like Happy-Go-Lucky, which goes a bit dark but then returns to the light, are underrated. They're also more than mere escapism, which today tends to rely more on awesomeness and overwhelming action instead of simple but strong enjoyment. It also takes more than a Disney sensibility where the cute supplants the smart and the fun suffers. It would be great to see more movies that are both happy and serious, because these are not antithetical concepts, get recognized for their quality and appeal as broad works that can still be just really good.