A year ago, I responded to a tweet (from @jamesd7004) asking what 5 movies I’d select if I could program my own film festival. I don’t recall if I was in a great or awful mood at the time, but for whatever reason, I chose to program “Kern’s Feel Good Fest”—a festival of curated films that are virtually conflict-free and offer boundless joy. I adore all of these films. Each one brightens my day and puts a smile on my face in a distinctly different way. With everyone feeling stressed and anxious right now, I hope that sharing my Feel Good Fest with the world can offer some comfort for those that need it. [Kern Wheeling]
We open the festival with Sherlock Jr., a swift but potent introduction to a day of delight. It’s the oldest and shortest film of the five by a mile, but also the most fast-paced and energetic (though the closing film puts up a good fight). Buster Keaton plays a love-struck movie theater projectionist who dreams—figuratively and literally—of being a detective, but the plot is mostly a delivery system for a series of incredible set pieces, each more astounding than the last. Every time I watch it, I come away with a new favorite scene, most recently the billiards sequence which is jaw-dropping, but the seamless match cuts in the scene where Keaton enters the movie theater screen blow my mind, and the finale with the motorbike is simply dazzling. It’s barely a feature film, clocking in at a brisk 45 minutes, but it’s packed to the brim with excitement. [Kern Wheeling]
Available for free on YouTube
There may not be another film that fits the definition of “feel good” more than Singin’ in the Rain. Everything about this film is absolutely joyful, and there’s barely an ounce of cynicism to any of it. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor make a fantastic musical trio, with Kelly and Stanley Donen’s direction bringing forth some magnificent sequences that hold up nearly seventy years later.
I mentioned the film doesn’t have cynicism, but that isn’t entirely true. There’s a funny story at the heart of it about passion overcoming pride. Lina, the rivaling figure of pride, is one of the most legitimately annoying characters put to film. Don, Kathy and Cosmo’s efforts to cement their own passions in the film industry are motivations that can still be well felt today.
In all movie musicals, the songs are the most important element for me. Do they fit the rest of the film, are they well done in the first place, is there a creative visual component to go with them? The answer to all of these questions in regards to Singin’ in the Rain is yes. When watching this for the first time I didn’t even realize how many of the songs I already recognized, many of them cemented into pop culture before I ever learned the source. An incredible film that displays the best of what film and music can do when put together so seamlessly. [Jen]
$3.99 to rent on VOD
Kiki’s Delivery Service isn’t quite Miyazaki at his lowest stakes (that title belongs to My Neighbor Totoro), but it’s close to it. The story of a young witch in training is a simple one, as Kiki must learn how to live an independent life. It’s coming of age where the only conflict is understanding independence, and it’s animated with so much attention to detail that it removes the stress of growing up entirely.
No self-revelation is instant, and no character is left hollow. It’s about young women learning from one another, and sharing interests and talents, with nothing attacking them. There are no contrivances for plot, it’s just an entire film where we are content with the action of a pet cat or a broomstick ride instead. Character design is key to why it’s so lovable out of all the films in the Ghibli catalog, with Kiki’s iconic red bow and dark dress being a cosplay favorite. Our thirteen years old protagonist’s tiny setbacks are relatable even to our mundane, magicless selves, so this world of witches is all the more real to us, if only for a couple hours. The most poignant part of the film now is the focus on working through sadness and loneliness. “I think something’s wrong with me. I make friends, then suddenly I can’t bear to be with any of them. Seems like that other me, the cheerful and honest one, went away somewhere” Kiki says, but even this depression is solvable in a world of magic. Connections are shown through the smallest of things, making it all the more hopeful that the world can be good sometimes. [Sarah]
$11.99 to rent on VOD
Richard Linklater describes Everybody Wants Some!! as a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 last-day-of-high-school comedy Dazed and Confused, and it’s not wrong. Both movies don’t have much going on, yet they’re brimming with a lot of charms and joy. But where the former is about a group of high school kids trying to hold on to their youthful desire, Everybody Wants Some!! feels a little more mature, though it still shares the same energy. Throughout the movie, the characters are only partying, hanging out, and having fun before their classes begin. Not much else is happening, yet the dialogues are real and rich with philosophy — exactly the kind of stuff we’re talking about with our college buddies. The point of the movie, however, is not about the stuff that the characters are discussing. More about the fun that they do. They don’t refuse the pressure of being college students, but they also do not forget about having fun. It’s overall a wholesome movie, one that will make you want to revisit your old college buddies and have fun with them for the sake of old time. [Reyzando]
$2.99 to rent on VOD
The explosive finale to the Feel Good Fest also happens to be one of the all-time greats. Where the first film explored a darker side to the world of stripping, Magic Mike XXL sheds most of that to provide a riotously fun stripping movie that sees Channing Tatum’s titular character returning to the game after leaving it three years earlier. It has the energetic choreography that made the first a blast to watch, now ramped up to an unbelievable level, while it plays out like a road trip movie, a buddy comedy, a musical, and a heist movie, all centered around female desire. Mike goes to one last stripper convention with his old friends and has moments with each of them, resolving the rifts created when he unexpectedly left them all earlier to start his own furniture business. Better than most any other movie, it explores the kinds of dynamics that arise between people who care deeply about each other when they have suffered a long time apart, finding the balance between jealousy, animosity, and a deeply held love that leads to fighting but an unbreakable brotherly bond. It is exactly what I feel every time I see old friends of mine and every time I watch Magic Mike XXL, it gives me that same jolt of energy as being reunited with an old friend. Especially this time, as it prompted flashbacks to the wonderful night I recently had seeing Magic Mike Live with some friends who I won’t see for a while. [Henry Baime]
$2.99 to rent on VOD
Quarantine Film Fest buster keaton channing tatum dazed and confused debbie reynolds donald oconnor everybody wants some gene kelly gregory jacobs hayao miyazaki kikis delivery service magic mike xxl my neighbor totoro richard linklater sherlock jr singin in the rain stanley donen