Big List

20 Films to Make You Love the World

In these strange and conflicted times, we highlight a selection of humane and life-affirming films, from features to documentaries

If the world seems like such a terrifying and unwelcoming place right now, it's not surprising that so many of us will turn inwards and look to film in order to find comfort and meaning.

On the basis that you can actually muster the motivation to sit through a feature film, though, there's a chance you're looking for something that celebrates our world at its best: artistic achievements, the beauty of the natural world, or people just going about doing nice things for one other.

Pure joy, is the gist here: 20 films that paint the human race at its most generous and wholesome. The idea is that, at the very least, each and every one of these picks leaves you with a little more hope…

 

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Almost seventy years after its first release, there's a reason Singin' in the Rain is still viewed as one of the most purely pleasurable films ever committed to celluloid. It's endlessly creative, funny, and high on life, whilst its iconic, rain-drenched Gene Kelly dance sequence could well stand as the purest evocation of movie magic in the medium's entire history.

 

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Every Jonathan Demme picture came to us enriched with a deeply humanist sensibility, but this 1984 Talking Heads concert film is the most purely joyful thing he ever did. It's basically impossible to watch David Byrne dancing with a lamp without thinking, “Wow, humans are brilliant,” while the songs and production design are exceptional.

 

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Never trust anyone who has a bad word to say about My Neighbour Totoro. This short, sweet ode to the joys of childhood from Japanese icon Hayao Miyazaki is a beautifully animated and poignant flight of fancy that perfectly captures the feeling of being a kid with boundless energy and an overactive imagination. Did we mention there's a cat bus?

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Yes, there is conflict and darkness in this portrait of post-war life in an Italian village, but all the time it pushes a deeply optimistic view about the spirit of the human race. A brilliant meditation on the intersection of life and cinema, it builds to one of film's most beautifully-realised endings – a montage of kisses sliced from an array of films that will make you weep.

 

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)

Where to watch it: Home video only

This behemoth of a documentary – running at a whopping 225 minutes – carves out of a journey through the history of American cinema with Scorsese as guide. It's surprisingly soothing – a perfect film to fall asleep to. Scorsese's knowledge is endless, his passion is infectious. And what an education!

 

Microcosmos (1996)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Sometimes it helps to get some perspective. Strange, beautiful documentary Microcosmos offers a mesmerising, eye-opening opportunity to do just that, casting its eye on mother nature's fascinating array of insects, bugs, and creepy crawlies, set to a wonderfully evocative and alien score.

 

Amelie (2001)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Amelie's brand of excessive quirkiness might not be to everyone's taste, but there's no denying that this film retains a certain joie de vie that few other films have managed. The titular character, played by a pixieish Audrey Tautou, lives each and every day like it's her last – and she'll inspire you to do the same.

 

To Be and to Have (Etre Et Avoir) (2002)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The quietly powerful documentary about a teacher in a remote French mountain region is a thing of heart-swelling beauty. Its depiction of one man's remarkable and honest approach to his profession – and the intimate relationships he holds with every one of his pupils – will leave you sobbing. A lesson in pure humanity.

 

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Werner Herzog's idiosyncratic adventure into one of the world's oldest cave systems is mind-blowing in its historical implications and awe-inspiring in its camera work . If you're going to head deep underground into a place that few people will ever venture, Herzog might as well be your guide.

 

Wadjda (2013)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Helmed by the first woman to ever shoot a Saudi Arabian feature film, writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour's Wadjda is basically impossible-to-dislike. The inherent circumstances of its story are depressing – 10-year-old Wadjda enters a competition in order to win a bike and upsets the community at large – but from an oppressive world Mansour creates an infinitely warm and truly life-affirming tale.

 

Chef (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Almost devoid of big incident, Chef is a film that defies all the rules of conventional Hollywood movie-making. Instead it pushes a mantra of “life is good!” as Jon Favreau- writing, directing, starring – rustles up truly mouth-watering morsels from the back of his food truck and generally has a nice time with his pals. A celebration of life you'll want to experience again and again.

Boyhood (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Life is simply left to unfolds in Richard Linklater's groundbreaking portrait of a boy's journey from childhood to teenager, shot on and off over a period of twelve years. Nothing major happens and there are no climatic showdowns. But there is something so very comforting and universally appealing about watching a normal life rendered with such authenticity.

 

Paddington (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

It's basically impossible to sit through Paddington without feeling some level of affection for the human race. This is what one might call a “lovely film” – a picture that transcends its standing as mere kiddie entertainment to become something bigger. A cure for cynicism if ever there was one – and to be followed up with (the arguably superior) Paddington 2.

 

Faces Places (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

French New Wave icon Agnes Varda's final film was this absolutely lovely documentary-travelogue that saw her travelling around France in a van, pasting huge portraits of those she met on buildings and landmarks. Varda's lust for life is truly inspiring, whilst her friendship with street artist JR makes for a brilliant and unlikely pairing.

 

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

In the US, Fred Rogers became a hero and icon for kids and adults alike thanks to his frank and groundbreaking children's TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. This wonderful documentary celebrates the man's legacy and – thankfully – confirms he was, in fact, the real deal.

 

I Lost My Body (2019)

Where to watch it: Netflix

It's true that this French animated film is about a severed hand trying to reconnect with its owner, but it hums with existential goodness. Far from the macabre horror show promised by its title, it's a spiritual and life-affirming odyssey, beautifully scored and animated. And you'll never look at your hands in the same way again (read our full review).

 

Amazing Grace (2019)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

This documentary captures the 1975 concert that birthed one of Aretha Franklin's greatest albums. For years, a technical error rendered the footage unusable, but a recent restoration resulted in this lost gem finally getting the release it deserved. Aretha sings like nobody else; the audience are enthralled; goosebumps are guaranteed. Pure soul.

 

Little Women (2019)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Greta Gerwig's second film is a fully-fledged masterpiece: an adaptation that upended the chronology of Louisa May Alcott's original novel and proved that even the most well-worn property is never truly exhausted. It's so rich and full of life – the sort of film that makes you want to stand up and shout “Oh, cinema!” at the top of your voice. We recommend doing so, in fact.

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