There are a lot of modern illnesses for which we don’t have any cure and, often, for which we don’t even have a name. Without medicine and marketers, we are often left to our own devices to deal with, e.g., the emptiness after bingewatching to the end of a cancelled series, or the mixed feeling you get when you look at an ugly car in a beautiful colour.
And then there are the sharper feelings: of estrangement from nature; of dispassion; of a life lacking in surprise; of either a surplus or lack of fantasy; of moving past materialism but missing the comfort of QVC; of adulthood; of distrust; of losing your moral compass to the group; of not being in charge of one’s future; of forgetting whether it was the last Captain America where the large thing fell out of the sky or if that was the Avengers (but which Avengers?); of forgetting where you left so many things.
If you find yourself wanting for the comfort everyone deserves, you might contemplate movies as a kind of soft medicine. There are numerous advocates for art or literature as therapy; I’d like to suggest film for your consideration. Movies can’t solve every problem and, as in the repeat case of alien invasion, are sometimes preoccupied with worries largely absent from modern life (at least mine). What they can do is brighten and cheer and move you. The best ones can leave you feeling changed, if only briefly, as you leave the cinema for the sunlight — and change is an endangered species.
Some conditions and prescriptions follow. As every film here is filled with pleasures, think of these as Flintstones Vitamins rather than banana-flavoured Calpol (a cure worse than the disease). No trailers here as most trailers vandalise a film’s best bits and rob you of the surprise that is part of the point.
Hardly definitive, both in symptoms and cures.
To Cultivate and Reward Patience
Goodbye Dragon Inn | This film is brief by Tsai Ming Liang’s standards, or indeed, at 82 minutes, by anyone’s. But it is full in spite of its slightness and silence. If you fall into its rhythm — and I’d grant that it’s not for everyone — the final moments are incredibly moving and more exciting than all the Transformers films stacked end-on-end.
off-label use: regaining lost appetites, believing in something in absentia.
To Aid in the Feeling of Wanting to Start Over
The Passenger | Antonioni is similarly deliberate, but whereas Dragon Inn is limited to one faded theatre, here we have access to what feels like the entire world. Jack Nicholson plays a man who discovers the suicide of someone with whom he shares enough of a resemblance to pull a switch. He sets out reborn, only to find that his new life comes with its own mysterious past, unpleasant, ticking, deadly. Maria Schneider exceeds her rôle as The Girl.
Off-label uses: cultivating patience, appreciating the importance of third acts.
To Combat Homesickness
Local Hero | There’s no place like home. The movies have used the journey home as a plot device since the Golden Age. This is more than a MacGuffin. It is universal and the stuff of good stories from The Odyssey to 2001. Local Hero has less of that travel and more more of the sense of destination: of local people; of place; of a sense of belonging, even for Mac, our American guest. It’s a perfect film, part of a small tradition of excellent Scottish slice of life films that includes I Know Where I’m Going and Whisky Galore!
Off-label use: Joy. Also: Homeward Bound.
To Help with Wanderlust
Charade | A lot of travel is wrapped up in sex and a fantasy, possibly related, of reinventing ourselves abroad. This is also the basis for a good espionage thriller and a good screwball comedy. All these fixings are mixed into Stanley Donen’s excellent film, sometimes referred to as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made.”
Also consider, but for very different reasons: Phantom India.
To Help with Worries about a Lack of Empathy (A Placebo Effect)
Short Cuts | First off, worrying that you’re not caring enough about people is solid proof that you care far more deeply than your average man. But if you do want to watch a film that calls on you to care for a wider slice of life, rent or buy Short Cuts. Consider it a counterpoint (antidote?) to the easy, unnamable films about isolated, colliding Los Angelenos; Altman never condescended to his audience (see Popeye) and he didn’t start here. As cliche has it, worth watching again and again, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, a rollicking ride, two thumbs,…
Also: Baises Voleurs, Atlantic City.
To Temporarily Alleviate Feelings of Sadness
A Fish Called Wanda | More than just one of the funniest films of all time. It’s a working thriller, an impossible romance, something completely unique in tone. Full of achievements, not the least of which is having you spend most of the film cheering for a barrister.
Also: Harold and Maude, Alpha Papa.
To See that Change is Possible, Even If Slight
Tender Mercies | This film begins where many would. Then it sets about slowly filling in all the hard parts — the struggle, life too — as Robert Duvall’s Mac picks himself up off the floor and redeems himself to those he loves. Small steps look heroic on the big screen. As they are.
For Dealing with Buildings
Mon Oncle | It was Socrates or Snapple who said “a fool becomes wise when he shuts his mouth.” Monsieur Hulot goes through this film in a fluent silence as he bungles with machines, consumables, and some puzzlingly awful modern architecture. There’s great dignity there (in Hulot; not the wretched buildings we’ve been left with).
Also, when ready: Tati’s equally wonderful film Playtime. In 70mm if you ever get the chance.
To Remind you of Nature
Burden of Dreams | This is such a great film. A documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, and a variation on all of that film’s themes — only the madness and the jungle are real. I recognise that there’s a commitment involved here as you might not have seen Fitzcarraldo itself. Both films stand (stratospherically) on their own.
I’ve included a clip to try and tip the scales. In it, Werner Herzog describes what the jungle has come to mean to him as he struggles against it and not without some shame at believing it could be tamed by will.
Off-label uses: for ambition, for remembering your responsibility to yourself.
Full Metal Jacket | Chances are you’ve already seen this. But chances are you’ve also grown up since then. If you assemble a group of guys you will often find that they can quote pages of dialogue from Kubrick’s anti-war flick, possibly taking turns one upping each other, possibly not even taking turns. That is precisely the kind of male hivebrain Kubrick aims his camera at, only in Vietnam they had guns, slim orders, and a gap of hope. Very worth revisiting, and far more ironic than the rest of Kubrick’s (often ironic) oeuvre.
Off-label use: for keeping your head when those around you are having theirs removed.
To Diminish Crippling Sensations of Adulthood
Pinocchio | So much about growing up here and the unintended consequences of outsourcing your conscience to a cricket. Unthinkable that it came out in 1940! You can always return to this one.
To Encourage a Healthy Desire to Dance Where None Existed
Singin’ in the Rain | Some self-medicating: I don’t enjoy dancing, but, as I have been told countless times, it is my loss. Fine. To combat this and remain to be seen as open-minded, I am taking double doses of Singin’ in the Rain. I have run through three-and-a-half couches in the process but feel some improvement. A movie about movies and could be enjoyed for its important lessons about self-regard, self-mythologising, and a delicate amount of smugness which would be intolerable/presidential in real life.
Also: Footloose, Russ Tamblyn in The Fastest Gun Alive
The Browning Version | Deeply moving. It sounds so meagre when in synopsis so I will spare you. Leap as it is never too late.
Also: Dancer in the Dark, The Lion King, Le Ballon Rouge.
Muriel’s Wedding | If you know what it does then it won’t work. Not perfect by any means, especially in the as-if-obligatory third act. But you'll mainly remember the delirious high points. Such is life.
Off-label uses: as a panacea, apply directly to the eyes