Not Fun, Part II

18th October 2006

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s entry, so please read that first.

Though one of my strongest beliefs is that any individual can make a profound difference in society, movies seem to be less entertaining all the time. I pulled the quote below because it had me shaking my head, but then nodding a little. I get what he means. There’s a right place for fun, and if the entertainment industry isn’t the right place, then what the hell is?

At one extreme, you have Hotel Rwanda, and at the other you have Nacho Libre. What do you watch when you’re too exhausted to delve into the social implications of genocide, but you’d still like to keep your brain switch set to “on?”

That’s been a real frustration for me. Not enough movies in the last few years have made me feel both happier and smarter. In fact, only Amelie and Junebug come to mind–and Junebug isn’t everyone’s idea of a feel-good flick.

So I guess I’m wondering if this is a real trend, or just my personal experience. What movies have left you feeling smarter and sunnier afterward?

138 thoughts on “Not Fun, Part II

  1. Alissa

    I agree with Tink! “Little Miss Sunshine” was the first recent film to come to mind that fits the bill. I agree with Amelie and Junebug as well, I’ll throw “Lost in Translation” into the mix.

  2. Cate

    I second the motion for Little Miss, and I’d also suggest Everything is Illuminated. It’s odd and light enough in the beginning to get you hooked, contains a meaningful story, and ends in a heartwarming way.

  3. megan

    You’re right on this one. ‘Happy’ I could provide, but ‘smarter’ too? Um, no, not lately, not in English. Although “Goodbye Lenin” and “Herr Lehman” were good here, over the pond…

  4. mhoneybee

    I agree with Lost in Translation but also Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, oh and Garden State!

  5. Ami

    My husband has been after me these past few weeks to go see “An Inconvenient Truth.” He is astounded I don’t want to see it, since I generally am interested in substantive issues and I love Al Gore so much that I want to put him in my pocket. I told him that I get that it’s an important movie, but I don’t want to leave work, rush home, get a babysitter, rush to a movie only to be reminded again about how pointless all this is because my son is going to be roasted alive by the 100+ temperatures we can expect to occur in the next 50 years.

    A few movies that left me feeling happy and smarter:
    (1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
    (2) Little Miss Sunshine.
    (3) Lost in Translation.

    As you said about Junebug, some of these are not per se happy movies, but I enjoyed them, learned something and they may me either think positively about the future or remember fondly something from my past.

  6. BreadboxB

    Off of the top of my head, here are a few movies that have inspired me, and made me think, while not leaving me an angst ridden mess aterwards. These films run the gamut from Canadian vignettes,to existentialist musing, with a little coming of age and New York Angst thrown in for good measure.

    The Five Senses, I Heart Huckabees, Monsoon Wedding, Quinceanera,
    The Squid and the Whale.

  7. luke

    smarter like I learned something about the human condition from them?

    This year has been awful. Not one mainstream release has been good to me. The high school noir “Brick” was the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year, and that movie is certainly not sunny.

    The last movie I saw that made me happy in all the ways a movie can make me happy was an 6 hour Italian film, “The Best of Youth.” (But who has 6 hours?)

    I hold out hope for “Stranger than Fiction” and “The Science of Sleep.” We will see…

  8. staceymay

    I would have to Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. By far one of the best movies. I loved it for more reasons than I can explain. I don’t know that there are many other movies that resonate with me like that one has. It’s thought-provoking, smart, and so many things. Fantabulous!

  9. kristen

    The only movies I’ve really, really enjoyed the past few years have been:

    About a Boy
    School of Rock
    The Incredibles

    The funny thing about this is that they’re all “family friendly” films, and I never thought myself to be a “family friendly” person. Aside from these really great, fun and joyful films, just about everything else on my “I love it” list is a gothic horror film or monster movie. Or something by Lars von Trier.

    Oh: “Slither” is also quite good. And “Shaun of the Dead”. Two funny/smart horror films, also with a real sense of joy and purity that infused the filmmaking.

  10. Amanda

    I’ve got to agree with the votes for Little Miss Sunshine.
    Also, I saw Science of Sleep lately and loved it– it isn’t the moooost feel good, but it is sort of warm and fuzzy in its own way, and so pretty! :-)

  11. Imanitusid

    I disagree about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a great movie, a love story even, but it’s *work* to watch. That does not make me “happy.” The ones that immediately came to my mind were oldies (and I am SO dating myself here): St. Elmo’s Fire and With Honors. Which brings me to point two. Wait until the little one gets here and gets mobile, and you too will be remembering movies from decade(s) ago b/c that’s the last time you saw a movie!

  12. Katie

    1. Thank-you for Smoking
    2. Friends with Money (I know I know.. give
    it a chance)
    3. Secretary
    4. The Squid and The Whale
    5. Little Miss Sunshine ( seems to be a

  13. jen

    god – a few:
    Little Miss Sunshine
    Death in Gaza (ok, not so sunnier but somewhat lifted)
    Monsoon Wedding
    Supersize Me
    Born into Brothels (again, not so sunny but certainly hopeful)

    It is a hard combo, but i’ll take smarts over sun.

  14. Stacey Severson

    I’d have to say my feel good sunny movie of all time would be “Amelie” as well. I grinned the whole movie. A movie that I just find amazing is “Dancer in the Dark,” although it is by no means a happy movie.

  15. Jennie

    Little Miss Sunshine, yes. Garden State, yes. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, YES! Almost Famous (obviously not recent) always makes me feel better and wiser. But, other than a handful of the ones that have all been mentioned, you’re right — movies are missing something that I think TV is nailing, lately. Just turn on The Office or Studio 60 and you laugh while wishing you were smart enough to think of the same lines.

    This is my first comment — I’m becoming a fast fan of your site!

  16. Brock

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been taken with Little Miss Sunshine. And that I Heart Huckabees made it up here before I came round.

  17. lena

    i agree with some of these. also, babette’s feast is smart and sunny, and i admit i think some movies that others might put down are too. for example, those that are based on shakespeare plays (clueless, 10 things…) are smart and sunny, and i think that ghost world was too, in a junebug way. i also think the sweet heartafter ultimately was. this is good to think about!

  18. dithers

    Very much in agreement.

    Greenfingers (2003?)- A British Shawshank Redemption, Clive Owen proved himself as a leading man on this one.

    Rumor Has It was fun, though not overly smart. Shirley Maclaine plays the character of Mrs. Robinson 20 years after “The Graduate”.

    If the phrase “Existential Comedy” gets you excited, I Heart Huckabees is a winner.

    Romantic Comedies that are a bit smart:
    Just Like Heaven (Mark Ruffalo/Reese Witherspoon)
    Get Well Soon (Vincent Gallo/Courtney Cox)
    Dream for an Insomniac(Ione Sky/Jen Aniston)

  19. juliloquy

    Thank you commenters! I now have a list of 13 films to see (although toddler + work + relationship = no time).

    A great Icelandic film from about 10 years ago is “Cold Fever.” Since you’ve recently been to Iceland, you’ll probably enjoy it that much more.

    Another smart/fun film that happens to have “Cold” in the title is the British film “Cold Comfort Farm” (also a decade old. Eeep).

    Books continue to be good; that’s something to be happy about!

  20. Sarah

    The original Ghostbusters. Because, hey, thanks to that movie, I ain’t fraid of no ghost! Most filmmakers are not ambitious enough to compare New York to a twinkie. It was stunning.

  21. alkali

    I second “Garden State” (a bit too precious but ultimately successful), “Lost In Translation” (ditto) and “Eternal Sunshine.”

    I would throw in “Citizen Ruth,” “Election” and “Sideways.”

    “Shattered Glass” (about ethically challenged New Republic writer Charles Glass) was surprisingly entertaining in all the ways I didn’t think it would be.

    “You Can Count On Me” was wonderful in every respect. (Don’t be put off by the title; the movie is about whether that very nice sentiment is actually true with respect to the characters involved.)

  22. Aaron

    I am so glad somebody else suggested the original Ghostbusters. Real Sumerian history and Bill Murray. Hard to beat for substance/humor.

  23. faith

    I know exactly what you mean, here, and I am so excited about all these suggestions! It’s like looking for the movie equivalent of a Thumping Good Read – not too fluffy, but gripping enough to engage your heart, mind, and emotions.

    Put me down for Monsoon Wedding and anything else by Mira Nair.

    TV box sets sometimes do this for me: Sports Night complete series, and Newsradio.

    Also, I’m a sucker for some BBC stuff: adaptations of Our Mutual Friend, North & South, Wives & Daughters, Bleak House, Love in a Cold Climate, and Daniel Deronda.

    Some others that I’ve enjoyed: The Long Hot Summer, His Girl Friday, The Thin Man, Empire Records, The Dancer Upstairs, Jet Lag, The Cooler, Tampopo, Croupier, Run Lola Run, The Boondock Saints, Mostly Martha, High Fidelity, Bright Young Things, Tristram Shandy

  24. sarah

    I’ve seen a lot of movies I would ditto, but another I would add is “The Royal Tennenbaums”
    That movie is hilarious and lovely! (And a great soundtrack too)

    Also, I really enjoyed the new “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira almost as much as the 6-hour BBC miniseries with Colin Firth. If Jane isn’t smart, I don’t know what is. And I was certainly entertained!

  25. Cody Clark

    I appreciate all the reminders/suggestions above. I will add:

    Before Sunrise
    Gross Pointe Blank
    Almost Famous
    Off The Map (little known and magical)
    The Ref
    In America
    What About Bob?

    And I learn and laugh a lot with my kids:

    Spirited Away
    Finding Nemo
    The Iron Giant
    and I second The Incredibles

  26. Amy

    Not a movie, but a TV show/DVD set: Arrested Development. Hands down the funniest show in a long time, and it rewards the viewer who is clever and pays attention.

    Otherwise, definately Thank You For Smoking. Oh, and The Education of Shelby Knox is really good and encouraging, too.

  27. K

    I have to chime in agreements on the Iron Giant and Shaun of the Dead (the only movie I’ve seen wherein I laughed out loud and was genuinely fearful!). I would add The Philidelphia Story if you like Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart and fast 1940s melodrama with lots of words. While not happy per se Hero is a smart fun (if you like wire-fu) film that is a feast for the eyes. Whale Rider is about Maori traditions in modern times (a little New Zealand flick not by Peter Jackson :^) that is very touching.


  28. jen

    I have to second What About Bob? We quote that movie around here all the time. And I must add Whale Rider to the list. I thought it was magical!

  29. K

    Gah, I forgot the Hudsucker Proxy; probably my favorite of the Cohen Brother’s films (O Brother Where Art Thou is second, and the rest, while interesting, are alot of hard work.)

  30. maybeknott

    Easy. Easy easy easy.

    Spirited Away and The Triplets of Belleville are INTENSLY wonderful.

    Your brain, your soul, and the rest of your years will thank you.

  31. Narineh

    Goodnight and Good Luck.
    Syriana — the subject matter won’t necessarily make you feel sunnier. but the fact that films like it still get made surely will.

  32. ~A

    I’m tempted to join in and just post favorite movies but I’ll only post the two that came to mind (though it’s already here): The Squid and The Whale and You, Me and Everyone We Know.

    Now, neither one is particularly “cheery” and, come to think of it, I don’t know that either one actually made me feel “smarter”. I mean, I felt the high of being so very liberal and hip and indie immediately following the close of both films but that’s ’cause I’m a sucker. I did, however, think About the films for a good long while after watching them. Somethings I wanted to figure out, reconsider and reorder while other things concerned what I thought the director intended, what the writer was going for… I’d like to believe that coming away from a movie just thinking at all (versus only running through favorite scenes) is proof of a smarter film and something that could affect my overall perspective if even for only a short while. Of course, there are plenty of “thought-provoking” manipulative movies that get you thinking but not in any progressive way.
    I’m really surprised, still, at the popularity of Northern State. After I got over the sloppy use of songs in the film I watched it again and couldn’t get at what was so spectacular about this film. I like everyone involved with it and thought it was okay – didn’t mind paying to see it in the theater (twice) – but I just don’t get the thrill others have for it. (I will, however, try and see some of the other faves mentioned here though.)

  33. Marielle

    The French seem to get it right with “Amelie” and “To Be and To Have”. The latter is sure to bring on baby lust in even the most surly man, except that he might want to have French children. What’s more enchanting than a one-room schoolhouse in the French countryside?
    Also: Spellbound; Me, You, and Everyone We Know; Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind; Donnie Darko; V for Vendetta

  34. Blake

    Garden State. As Good As It Gets. Primer (only because I feel slightly more intelligent knowing I understood more than 30% of the movie)

  35. Kasey

    Certain documentaries do the trick for me. Best Boy (from the early 80’s I think) was wonderful. Funny and sweet. The Sound and the Fury is not exactly happy but it is really really interesting. I think a sequel is coming out soon. Oh and the 7-Up series is great as well! Did anyone mention Mad Hot Ballroom?

  36. Trixie

    You’ll have to netflix it, but Chan is Missing is a really enjoyable, really thought-provoking movie.
    Also, Lovely and Amazing, and Walking and Talking–Nicole Holofcener’s first two movies, also really good movies about female friendship–better than Friends with Money, I think.
    I second Shattered Glass–I expected it it make me smarter, but I really enjoyed it to.
    And Secretary! If anyone said that already, I missed it.

  37. Meredith

    Definitely Eternal Sunshine for me. Though I am surprisedthat other people thought so. So many people found it depressing ( while I found it uplifting… that they had chosen that the pain was worth the experience… even if it was destined for failure)

    American Splendor is another

    High Fidelity ( maybe not quite as high brow.. but i think extremely well done)

    the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset series (and maybe even Waking Life)

    oh yeah

    and Jackass: Number Two.

  38. Bethany

    No Maggie you are right. I only make it through about 50% of the movies I rent and I don’t even GO to the theatre anymore. I too am becoming progressivly disappointed with the entertainment ind. I also liked Junebug, the only person I know who did but still.

  39. Maggietoo

    Great suggestions! I have to add Eat, Drink, Man, Woman as an all-time fave. Also Adaptation, better than Eternal Sunshine in my opinion.

    I loved Junebug! I wish more people I know had seen it because it has some great lines. And 2 huge thumbs up for Little Miss Sunshine! Superfreak! I was crying from laughing so hard. I have to agree with the person who didn’t love Garden State…I thought it tried to be a smart movie, but was really dumb.

  40. Lori

    Oh the family films are where it’s at! Akeelah and the Bee is totally a feel good movie that glamorizes spelling bees – how much better does it get?! And Wallace and Grommit…Wererabbit gets me every time. Who doesn’t love a little claymation bunny howling into the air?!

  41. Kate

    Lost in Translation


    Pride and Prejudice (I love a story re-told well)

    About a Boy

    Triplettes of Bellville I second

  42. veg4me

    Everything is Illuminated was a good watch. I’m a fan of Gogol Bordello, so I watched it for that reason…err, hopefully I’m not the only person who’s heard of them.

    Some movies make me feel funnier, sunnier and smarter, just because they are so weird. I end up feeling quite normal afterwards.

    Donnie Darko.

    Some movies just make me happy to own a DVD player and have a Netflix subscription.

    Whale Rider.
    Station Agent.
    Hotel Rwanda.
    A Mighty Wind/Best in Show/any Christopher Guest film.

    Finally, because it’s getting close to that time of year again- A Christmas Story.

  43. Kimberly

    Great thoughts, my sentiment exactly! I’d say my few are…

    1) Shower
    2) You Can Count on Me
    3) Donnie Darko
    4) Almost Famous
    5) American Beauty…still sits near the top of my list of films.

  44. Carly

    Oh, Mad Hot Ballroom. My face hurt from smiling.
    Spellbound, and the now unoriginal Eternal Sunshine, Little Miss Sunshine, About a Boy..

  45. L

    movies that absolutly shaped my worldview and everything i wanted love to be are L.A. Story, before sunrise and before sunset, and when harry met sally.
    my newest favorite is science of sleep, it is just beautiful and fun.
    i really liked mad hot ballroom, very hopeful and fun. the big chill is wonderful.

  46. Kristin

    Funny how I have a mile-long list of movies I need to see, yet the next time I’m in Blockbuster I’ll be stumped. And sad how much time gets wasted watching mindless movies only because that’s what the people you’re with want to watch, or because you only have the choice of what’s on someone’s shelf. Life is too short for me to have seen Hitch and Stick It.

    A few gems that weren’t mentioned:
    1) The Straight Story– beautiful, slow-paced film following an old man crossing the state to see his estranged brother, on his 4 mph tractor. Fantastic cinematography.
    2) Jakob the Liar– Not an upper, but so human and moving. In a WWII Jewish ghetto, the one man with a radio lies to the community about what he’s hearing to keep their hopes alive.
    3) New York Doll– Fabulous oddball documentary about a former rockstar turned Mormon, interviews with Morrissey etc.

    Also love Big Fish and Reality Bites.

  47. KarinGal

    Wow, I just filled up my Netflix with about 20 titles! Anyway, a movie I just recently discovered and have watched no fewer than three times already is “Gray Gardens,” a ’70s cinema verite cult gem. Wow. Cannot stop thinking about that one–it reveals iteself in layers.

    Also loved Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Whale Rider and, as you’re about to become a Mommy, Finding Nemo. Happy viewing!

  48. Elise

    Hmm, some of the movies mentioned above I found rather dark and depressing. Anyway, here’s my list of flicks that exercised my brain and lifted my spirits:

    Run, Lola, Run – fantastic techno music that matched the pace of the film perfectly

    Wordplay – who knew Bill Clinton completing the New York Times Sunday crossword (in pen) could be so entertaining. Or that there are literally hundreds of people who train for crossword puzzle competitiions.

    Mad, Hot Ballroom – fifth grade dance class on film, with a city-wide competition, it doesn’t get better than this.

    Spellbound – I would so have done the National Spelling Bee if I hadn’t grown up in rural Canada and been forced to do rodeo instead.

    Murderball – raw, honest, a healthy Canada/USA sports conflict, gotta love it. Guaranteed to change the way you think about paraplegics.

    March of the Penguins – love those little guys.

    Alone in the Wilderness – this PBS documentary is timeless. This guy lived alone in a cabin in Alaska for 40 years, making everything by hand. If he was alive today he’d have the mother of all craft blogs.

    Happy Accidents – a terrific take on love, trust and fate.

    The Station Agent – a dwarf, his trains and a sandwich truck.

    Transamerica – hilarious, honest, touching and real.


  49. Gigi

    Pieces of April is touching.
    If you have Netflix, check out The Weeping Camel and Murderball.
    I also recommend:
    Akeelah and the Bee
    To Be and To Have
    About A Boy and
    Love Actually

  50. Jess

    They obviously aren’t recent, but the old screwball comedies are great for getting to laugh but keeping your brain engaged (how else to keep up with the witty dialogue?). I especially recommend Bringing Up Baby (my favorite movie of all time) and Arsenic and Old Lace.

  51. Jenne

    Groundhog Day!
    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    A Hard Day’s Night
    Bagdad Cafe
    A Fish Called Wanda
    L.A. Story

  52. Jennifer

    If you don’t mind films with subtitles, Bread and Tulips and The Spanish Apartment are wonderful stories. In both, the protagonists learn about themselves by moving to a new city. They find themselves interacting with people who are outside of their usual social circle.

  53. ave

    “The Science of Sleep” is a new favourite of mine. My friend April did a slendid review of it at

  54. Bits

    Best movie….BIG FISH…of all time. He reminds me of my father. Movie’s have been so blah for me. I saw Departed in the theater and the plot was fine but all of the killing…I don’t know. Don’t we see enough of that on CNN every day. Yeah, Big Fish wins it for me.

  55. Alison

    Gosford Park is wonderful, and I’ve heard good things about The Science of Sleep (though I haven’t seen it yet).

  56. Rae

    I would have to say that “Rivers and Tides” about Andy Goldsworthy and his art, made me happier than I’d been in a long, long time when I watched it. Sometimes I find that documentary makers have more of that hope of being entertaining but also showing hope and interest in humanity.

  57. Steph

    Oo, oo, great thread.

    Movies That Stretch Both Head and Heart, in a Good Way (not ranked in order):
    * What the *&^*? Do We Know?
    * Peaceful Warrior
    * The Family Stone
    * Field of Dreams
    * I Heart Huckabees
    * Best in Show
    * Thank You for Smoking
    * Almost Famous
    * Good Will Hunting
    * Sneakers

    That’s quite enough. :)

  58. a

    The Gleaners and I; Winged Migration; To Be and To Have; The Story of the Weeping Camel; Kontroll; Strings; After Life; Microcosmos; American Splendor; Serenity; The Fast Runner; Secret Ballot

  59. Belle

    Good suggestions, all….and I, too, love Junebug (if you live in N.C. as I do, the movie rings oh-so-true). I would just like to add that your particular frustrations regarding movies hit me about the same time they seem to be hitting you – when I was pregnant with my first child.

  60. annie

    I agree with Mad Hot Ballroom and Station Agent and Triplets of Belleville.

    One that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is Millions, a movie about two U.K. brothers who find a bag of (stolen) pounds and try to figure out what to do with it. One of the boys speaks to saints! It’s so cute and interesting and intelligent.

  61. Vikki

    With two kids 5 and under, I don’t get out much. I will say that I did really enjoy Friends with Money (as a previous commenter mentioned). Of course, I am a sucker for a movie that explores something from multiple perspectives. Plus, I adore Frances McDormand. I also love Monsters, Inc. which I watched A LOT this summer. I find it to be an incredibly clever kids movie.

  62. justmel

    I’m so glad someone said Off The Map. It was in the $5 rack at Target and one of my new favorites. What a sweet movie.

    I didn’t like I Heart Huckabees. I guess I didn’t get it…

    Some good oldies:
    Mr Hollands Opus was touching.

    Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, and Patch Adams (I’m a Robin Williams fan)
    Chocolat and Finding Neverland (Johnny Depp)

    so many others, but you’re right, none of them were recent.

    I’m redoing my netflix queue now…

  63. aili

    First of all, so happy to have read the previous comments. They reminded me of movies I loved, those I’ve been meaning to see, and gave me some new ones to try. But now I’ll add my two cents:

    Saved-Shows people overcoming prejudices and finding acceptance, is really well acted and uplifting. Of course, I bawled at the end, but only because I am pregnant right now. Maybe it didn’t make me any smarter, but it didn’t make me any dumber, either. (I know it’s not exactly new, but it was on cable).

    The Price of Milk-Another New Zealand film (this one with a Russian soundtrack)this is an amazing film that centers around the romantic relationship of a young couple, but has so much more to it than that.

    No Such Thing-Also, really not new, but not all that well known either. Sarah Polley discovers a monster in Iceland and brings him to America. This film has darker moments, but not depression inducing ones.

  64. Tricia

    Fantastic thread here. A couple I haven’t seen on the list:

    Tortilla Soup – fun remake of Eat, Drink Man Woman.
    Real Women Have Curves – young woman learning to love life and herself.
    Adrenaline Drive – Japanese parody of silly romances.
    Benny and Joon – Johnny Depp is always good.
    Shall we Dance – The Japanese version.

    I’ll second:
    Mostly Martha
    AHLWe Rider
    Good Will Hunting
    Billy Elliot
    And the Colin Firth Pride & Predjudice

    Now to update the Netflix.
    Thanks for this Maggie.

  65. edith

    henry fool. not the sunniest all around movie but at the end you feel surprisingly happy. (and smart.)

  66. Leah

    “Shopgirl” because it was so well done. I find that even if a movie isn’t feel-good in the traditional sense, I usually feel good if it was a nice piece of filmmaking. Also, yes, “Pieces of April” and ohmygod “Junebug.”

  67. Amy

    I am a first-time commentor, but I had to add The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Loved it. Not necessarily “smart” but left me with a lot to think about and is entertaining.

  68. mhoneybee

    I’m hoping that when someone *finally* gets around to making The Time Traveler’s Wife (Brad Pitt & Jennifer Anniston bought the rights years ago…) it will make me feel smart and happy! It’s one of my favorite books of all time (I’ve read it 3x and still cry at the end!)I’m dying to know who will be cast as Henry and Clare.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog, Maggie! I’ve been visiting daily since hearing you on KFOG. You rock!

  69. April

    Bright Leaves: Documentary about tobacco (so funny and sweet, I swear!) by Ross McElwee, who did Sherman’s March.

    American Splendor: One of my favorite movies of all time. Bittersweet. Lovely. Smart.

  70. Peggasus

    Thanks for all these are all great suggestions, I am adding them to my list! (Yeah, I keep a list…so what?)

    I will 2nd, 3rd, and maybe even 7th some of the above nominations:

    The Triplets of Belleville
    Iron Giant
    Toy Story, 1 & 2 (I sure do like me some animation)
    The Straight Story

    And add two that have not been mentioned:

    Still Breathing

    No one’s ever heard of Still Breathing, but I love it. It stars Brendan Fraser as an eccentric artist who believes in true love. It makes me swoon.

  71. Laura

    One to add that hasn’t been mentioned yet (I don’t think!): In Her Shoes. Yes, I know, it looks like a mindless chick flick and that’s exactly what I was expecting when I rented it, but I was happily surprised at how well done it was. The message was really positive, the dialogue was smart, there was a really good storyline there, and it’s definitely a feel-good film.

    I’d have to second Sideways, Garden State, and Shopgirl.

    I totally do not get I Heart Huckabees though. Weirdest. Film. Ever. And not in a good way! Can someone please explain why they consider this a good movie? I clearly missed the point.

  72. Sherman & Luka's dogma

    Another vote for Mad Hot Ballroom. The Red Violin might not make you happier, but its definitely a brainy kinda decade-old movie. And if you have to pick between Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, go with Best in Show. First, it is SPOT ON of the real dog show world and secondly, AMW is simply the same story and characters, reworked with a folk-music bent.

  73. Katie

    While everyone is coming up with their slightly more deeper movies, I’d like to put in a vote for “Mean Girls.” Because not only did the reality of girl life in high school nearly make me pee my pants from laughter, I learned a lot about survival skills. Even though I’m not in high school. But I feel the same principles could be applied in a office setting.

  74. jenny betty

    Napoleon Dynamite
    Strictly Ballroom(1992)
    Muriel’s Wedding(1994-early Toni Collette)
    Room With a View (1985-Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands)
    Spinal Tap (1984-Christopher Guest)
    Enchanted April(1992-Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence)
    Man in the Moon (1991-EARLY Reese Witherspoon)
    Life is Sweet (1990)
    Dead Again (1991-Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh)
    Little Shop of Horrors (1986-Rick Moranis)
    Any of the Pixar animations

  75. SAE

    The Big Lebowski
    O Brother Where Art Thou
    Dr. Strangelove
    Good Will Hunting
    This is Spinal Tap

  76. Undercover Librarian

    This is a great thread! Delurking to participate: I have to add Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (2003) — it’s in Hebrew with English subtitles. Witty dialogue, lots of character development, moving story that revolves around Shlomi keeping his family together that made me think about it for weeks after I saw it the first time. I’d also like to add Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Bend It Like Bekham if they haven’t already been mentioned. Finally, I second many of the films already listed, such as Good Will Hunting, Run Lola Run, Real Women Have Curves, and Akeelah and the Bee (even though it was produced by Starbuck$!). Happy viewing. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

  77. amy.leblanc

    i think woody allen movies are fun and usually make me feel smarter, although i think that’s just from listening to intellectuals talk for 2 hours and not from actually learning anything.

    other recent films i recently enjoyed (fun) and learned something from (mostly documentaries, as other ones have already been mentioned several times):

    Sketches of Frank Gehry (documentary about the architect)

    The Notorious Bettie Page

    Touch the Sound (documentary about a deaf musician that is quite incredible)

    Paris is Burning (documentary about drag queens in NYC who invented “vogueing”)

    Me and You and Everyone We Know

    The Yes Men (documentary: infiltrating corporations and playing subversive jokes on them)

    the rest are good recommendations – added a bunch to my netflix queue. thx!

  78. Tim

    Somewhat newer, The worlds fastest indian

    Somwhat older, Waking Ned Devine

    Both great movies with funny old guys.

  79. Victoria

    In no particular order…

    01. Me, You & Everyone We Know.
    02. Little Miss Sunshine.
    03. Everything is Illuminated.
    04. Broken Flowers.
    05. Goodbye, Lenin!
    06. The Sea Inside.
    07. Big Fish
    08. Rushmore.

  80. hapa-banana

    The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
    Raising Arizona
    The Breakfast Club

  81. you da mom

    my husband and i are constantly berating hollywood for producing such crap! however, these i like:

    eternal sunshine…
    the tao of steve
    true romance
    norma rae
    moonlight and valentino

    then again, i also like me, myself & irene, little nicky, and old school, so…

  82. eliza

    Big Fish!! And Finding Neverland (although that’s a weepie in the end, it’s very uplifting) and Pleasantville (intelligent, artistic film) and dig out Strictly Ballroom, if you can find it. That movie is BEAUTIFUL.

  83. Turnip Trucker

    Dear Maggie Mason Berry,
    Your blog was the 1st ‘blog’ first i ever read so many years ago. Heather and Leta are so groovy. please be adventurous next time and eat the durian. If the durian stinks think of our emperor.

  84. Beckky Fuller

    Hi Maggie-
    I’m a long time reader who has rarely, if ever, posted here. I’m very picky about movies, and find Hollywood often lacking, so I’m loving this list! I’d like to add a couple of gentle all time favorites of mine, The Princess Bride and also Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I love a little fantasy and whimsy for good escapism.

    I recently saw you post on my friend Andrew Falconer’s new baby site…I was so tickled and also wondered how he managed it!

  85. Lori

    I read the first 30 or so comments — enough to know that a couple of my recommendations (Election, the first two or three Thin Man movies) were listed by others. Not sure if a few other favorites — All About Eve, Sense and Sensibility, Bound, Party Girl — have been mentioned yet. My sister recommended the remake of Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, and I was suprised to find that I really liked it. Mean Girls is also a winner. What have I seen in the theater recently that I could recommend? Well, I have a toddler, so not much… but Syriana was entertaining and thought-provoking. Not exactly light material, though, and the scene with the pool was so horrifying I almost had to leave the theater. Cars was very entertaining — I’d definitely watch that again. Among others I see listed above, Muriel’s Wedding, Strictly Ballroom, and the Tao of Stever are all favorites.

  86. Dana

    You’re so right; the only “recent” movies I could think of were Eternal Sunshine and Sideways. Oh, and don’t flog me–I loved Napoleon Dynamite. Everything else on my list is either old or way-old. For all fun and no thought, Little Shop of Horrors. For more thought and feeling good, Holes, Big Fish, O Brother, Princess Bride, Billy Elliot, Finding Forrester, Benny and Joon. Most obscure: The Draughtsman’s Contract (very thought provoking but kind of dark); and my favorite movie of all, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1950’s film, NOT animated, by Dr. Seuss).

  87. Chrissie

    Memoirs of a Geisha made me feel smarter about Japanese culture, and it had a happy ending too… That’s my vote!

  88. SarahL

    I absolutely second most of what’s already been mentioned above, but especially Monsoon Wedding, Triplets of Belleville, Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipi? It’s Italian), The Croupier, and Sense and Sensibility.

    For my own $0.02, I suggest:
    -any Merchant Ivory Film (I recently enjoyed ‘Le Divorce’, their latest)
    -Howl’s Moving Castle, the latest from Hayao Miyazaki (go for the Japanese version with subtitles rather than dubbed)
    -Serenity (thoughtful sci-fi with humor)
    -‘Poirot’, ‘Midsomer Murders’, and the new ‘Miss Marple’ mystery programs (check the Biography channel or netflix)

    Sit, relax, and enjoy!

  89. jtl

    1. Edward Scissorhands (okay, not so new)
    2. Wordplay
    3. Spellbound
    4. Little Miss Sunshine
    5. In America (devastatingly heartwrenching in the middle, so hopeful by the end)
    6. Election
    7. March of the Penguins

  90. ~m

    Three more movies that come to mind:

    Thumbsucker (sweet teenage angst)

    Transamerica (wonderful is so many ways)

    Broken Flowers (funny in a melancholy way)

    also Billie Elliot is the best feel good movie ever. I own it and watch it whenever I’m feeling down.

  91. Meredith

    I keep on thinking about this post and coming up with more and more movies.

    I’d like to add anything with Alan Rickman in it. (Truly Madly Deeply, Love Actually and especially that one where he goes to space with Tim Allen)

  92. Dawn

    I don’t know about smarter, but these made me happy.
    Garden Sate
    The Royal Tennenbaums
    Almost Famous
    Mad Hot Ballroom
    Thank you for Smoking
    Everything is Illuminated

  93. Cheryl

    No one mentioned “Mindwalk”? Older, yes, maybe not smarter, well…yeah…, but leaves one questioning.

  94. bridget

    I read always but never post, I love this thread….

    my vote is for Friends with money- made me happy

    under the tuscan sun- looked pretty and also made me happy!

  95. hubs

    too many comments to read them all but “little miss sunshine” was a BLACK COMEDY, there is nothing “sunny” about that but the title.

  96. Gillian

    I don’t think I saw a couple of my favorites ‘Sliding Doors’ and ‘The Shipping News’. Not so cheerful but a movie that treats your mind a bit like the game Twister always left your body is ‘Memento’.

  97. aubriane

    Am I mistaken in seeing American Beauty mentioned only once? This must be a mistake. American Beauty is absolutely wonderful.
    Other movies that I can only watch every once in a while, so as not to ruin the magic:
    Garden State
    Donnie Darko
    Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door(German, totally worth the subtitles.)
    These five make my day three times better, every single time I watch them.

  98. Kristina

    Can’t believe no one mentioned Almodovar. All about my mother, Talk to her, or Bad Education. They all make you laugh and think (and sometimes cry – all about my mother really made me cry and laugh at the same time, it is my all time favorite)

  99. dani

    What a great question; smarter and sunnier are usually mutually exclusive characteristics. I would have to agree with some of the above:
    1) Amelie – cos the french always seem that little bit smarter
    2) Lost in translation – Sofia rocks
    3) Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind – great for that ‘ahah’ moment
    4) American Splendour – for the interaction with the real life people and characters
    5) The Power of One – although the book was better
    6) The Castle/The Dish – two aussie films about simple things that have the best characters
    7) Lantana – again an aussie film but so good
    8) Love Actually – nice feelgood stuff
    9) Dead Poets Society – and oldie but goodie

    and probabley the one that has affected me the most…
    10) New York Doll – my partner is alwyas on me to watch punk stuff; this blew me away emotionally and cerebrally.

  100. steph

    I agree with all the ones listed that I have seen. And to whomever: Garden State (as any movie) either speaks to you or it doesn’t. Sometimes you don’t get it, and that’s OK.

    As for my input, I have consistently been impressed with flicks from Focus Features. I’d watch just about anything with their name on it. Sticking with the smaller movie houses and independent films you tend to find a bit more meaning and less formula…

  101. Nic

    Seconding some already mentioned:
    * Adaptation
    * Wonder Boys

    ..and adding:
    * She’s the One
    * Being John Malkovich

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