The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

At the urging of a summer camper with Downs Syndrome who wanted to be a movie star, a pair of writers/ directors made a movie just for him! It’s rare for any dramatic movie to have just the right timing of genuine humor without being trite but to procure such big names, who bring the characters to life is a remarkable thing. Best of all, it illustrates the big joyous heart of a man searching for a place to belong while retaining the dignity of so many whom he represents. Only a small, independent film such as this could stay true to its message without wandering down rabbit trails of gratuitous content that would only distract from its engaging premise and compromise the believability of its likable characters. The consistency of its quality is evidence of talent, especially considering its budget constraints; this inspiration story lacks nothing.

Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991)

The perfect film for anyone who appreciates the dedication of an athlete and/or horse lore is set during The Great Depression. Headstrong orphan, Sonora struggles to find a place to belong; she even runs away from her aunt, who plans to turn her over to the state. Captivated by the pageantry of Atlantic City, she ends up joining the circus, where she aspires to be the rider of a diving horse. She agrees to start as a stable hand, falls in love with the horse trainer’s son then goes blind in a devastating accident. But, as the title implies… you get the picture.

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

It takes a delicate hand to capture modern relationships in all their complexities. That’s not to say there’s no place for humor; the skillful balance of drama–both poignant and entertaining– and humor–both silly and dark– keep this movie from being schmaltzy or condescending. Rather than resorting to flippant stereotypes, the characters are people we know (and perhaps are) and their realistic situation turns familiar tropes on their head. As they reveal what we’re afraid to admit, a little bit of honesty goes a long way and we’re all the better for it.

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Campy was never so astute as when former losers, Heather Mooney– still a dour loner– and Romy & Michele– two ditzy optimists, who are still BFFs– form the perfect yin and yang to face an intimidating 10 year reunion. Through facing their bullies, shedding their insecurities and appreciating their true selves (not to mention a little help from Sandy “The Frink-a-zoid” Frink), friendship blossoms.

Storm Boy (2019)

This realistic story is a blend of healing and compromise. The infusion of a conservation theme is quite different than typical films about animals, which tend to be preachy guilt trips. In this case, a fable bonds grandfather and granddaughter, who have more in common than she realizes, and serves as a bridge between past and present, which is a change of pace from the all-too-common use of random flashbacks to interject backstory. Furthermore, great pains were taken to respect indigenous culture, tradition and, appropriately, wildlife.

The Iron Giant (1999)

This easily passes for a children’s movie given its young main character and sentimental tone. However, the historic context is noteworthy. Long before adventures were musical– certainly before computer animation, cartoons (such as the earliest depiction of the original superhero, Superman) were infused with a wariness of technology, especially in the era of McCarthyism.

This story captures the intrusion of industrial experimentation upon optimistic innocence, a concept lost on kids. Moreover, the military’s response to a creature capable of humanesque emotions will likely be disturbing to young viewers. But for a relatively mature audience, the theme of self-sacrifice will underscore the sweetness of friendship between a boy a robot during a time when the world needed it most. Perhaps it still does.

Tootsie (1982)

It’s as relevant as ever when a man walks a mile in women’s shoes. Michael Dorsey’s a struggling actor who’s fed up with getting turned down for roles so he dresses as a woman to audition for a part on a soap. “Dorothy Michaels” lands it thanks to a pseudo feminist tirade projected at the chauvenist director. Michael becomes so convincing, even he buys into his own hype; his new-found empathy prompts “Dorothy” to insist women everywhere need his advice to stand up for themselves.

On a Clear Day (2005)

How “mad” (as they say in Glasgow) does a man have to be to swim the English Channel? Perhaps driven to despondency by long-term grief and strained relationships with his family then pushed to the brink by unexpected job loss. In need of a challenge, such a man sets his mind to accomplishing a crazy goal. Helping their friend achieve it invigorates orhers’ enthusiasm for their own unfulfilled dreams.

Though the premise of a midlife crisis isn’t original, the interwoven private insecurities of the characters make this particular story special unique and their genuine chemistry makes the it feel relatable. Though it’s inevitably predictable, you can’t help but invest in everyone’s personal struggles and thus rejoice in their triumphs.

Caroline? (1990)

That it was originally made for TV by a greeting card company shouldn’t dissuade you from giving this gem a chance. Before Hallmark had an entire channel of cookie-cutter romances, it was the only safe counter to modern political correctness that handles certain topics with patronizing forcefulness. Most movies portray the people they’re suppose to honor as characatures but, refreshingly, this film treats the issue of Special Needs (introduced by a suspiciously convenient long-lost relative, who stands to inherit a hefty sum) with such grace and tact the characters seem to live on after the credits roll.