The Upside (2017)

Bryan Cranston’s talent is a given. However, though this a different Kevin Hart than audiences have previously seen (as of this post), he strikes just the right comedic note without endangering the story’s tone. Hiring a self- sabotaging deadbeat with a criminal record to be a quadriplegic’s live-in caretaker was meant to stick it to his secretary, who ignored his “Do Not Resuscitate” directive. Funny enough, they turned out to be just what the other needed. While such an unlikely friendship did exist, “based” on a true story is a bit of an exaggeration; it’s more like a biopic twice removed. But make no mistake: it’s still entertaining and poignant.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

When the speakeasy that employs many musicians gets busted, many performers find themselves job hunting. Moreover, when they witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,  two friends in particular find themselves on the run from the mob. As revenge for their playboy antics, their connection at the employment agency pairs them with an all-female band. At least it’s headed out of state! With no choice but to make the most of the opportunity, the duo must pass themselves off as women. But can they keep their cool while surrounded by pretty girls?

I Think We’re Alone Now (2018)

To pidgeon- hole this as a post- apocalyptic story would be too crass for such a nuanced satire that intimately explores the Human Experience; few films capture such a raw and visceral perspective. One of its co-leads compared this to Harold and Maude, which is apt given its subtle dark humor. However, the isolation the characters […]

Maze Runner: the Scorch Trials (2015)

This sequel to The Maze Runner effectively plunges its characters deeper into increasingly dark and twisted places that help train them for the ultimate test to be faced in the final installment. The continued portrayal of relationships as mutually respectful and fiercely loyal– absent of any hormone- fueled delusions– more than make up for the […]

The Maze Runner (2014)

Unfortunately, I need to preface this by saying that, despite being both sophisticated and dark, this was supposed to be a kids’ movie. It’s a significant consideration because, for some reason, it seems to garner recurring criticism over the supposedly impossible group dynamic. If we’re going to split hairs, it’s only fair to point out […]