• Paulina Garcia in her acclaimed role as the energetic lonely heart Gloria. (SBS)Source: SBS
Last year was a dumpster fire. Here are some feel-good films to give you the cinematic hug you need.
Stephen A. Russell

20 Jan 2021 - 10:25 AM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2021 - 9:34 AM

So 2020 continued to go from bad to worse. But you know what? Humans are resilient. We bounce back and, quite often, find daily joy in even the most morose of unfortunate historical moments. 

One thing’s for sure: movies kept us sane during extended lockdowns. And we weren’t necessarily searching out the highly stressful thrillers or super-upsetting emotional dramas either. Nope. We were looking for a much-needed shot of optimism, a window of escape into a more hopeful space. It’s in this spirit that we’ve collected 10 of our favourite feel-good films on the SBS World Movies channel and at SBS On Demand so you can binge-watch the bliss back into your life.

Professor Marston And The Wonder Women

Forget the less than impressive superhero sequel and turn instead to this sex-positive, queer-themed origin of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and the women who inspired the Amazonian princess: his wife Elizabeth Holloway (Rebecca Hall) and their polyamorous partner Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Written and directed by out filmmaker Angela Robinson, the film offers a welcome female gaze, stands against kink-shaming and for loving families that flourish outside of supposed social norms.

Professor Marston And The Wonder Women screens on SBS World Movies on Thursday, 28 January at 9.30pm. 



As fans of Bridgerton might have gathered, the UK was not a Caucasian monolith in centuries past, particularly not given the Empire’s industrial slavery complex. Outstanding British filmmaker Amma Asante uncovers the fascinating story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay taken in by aristocratic relatives and therefore having one foot in polite society while still being held at arm’s length. It’s an empowering tale of proud identity in the face of adversity, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw sparkling in the lead role alongside Sarah Gadon as her cousin and bestie.



Ageism can get lost as far as we are concerned. Which is why we blooming love Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s big-hearted drama about a free-spirited, middle-aged woman. Gloria happily takes herself out to nightclubs and opens herself up to new romantic adventures. Though the director shot an English-language re-do with Julianne Moore, this luminous original starring the magnetic Paulina García is unbeatable.


Things to Come

While we’re on the subject of life-affirming films about mature age women refusing to be vanished by a society that all too often tries to make them invisible, we absolutely adore French legend Isabelle Huppert in prolific young filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s fifth feature. Huppert plays a high school philosophy teacher who, far from crumbling when her husband walks out, learns to appreciate all the joy life can bring us when we fly solo.



If music is your lifeblood, then dive headlong into the joyous abandon of Scotland’s illegal rave scene of the ’90s via director Brian Welsh’s (mostly) black and white love letter to the heady days of friendship and getting effed-up. A glorious coming-of-ager, it sees two young lads, Johnno and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald and Cristian Ortega) who are about to go their separate ways make the most of one mighty night out. And you’ll wanna be right there with them.


The Straight Story

As brilliant a cinematic genius as David Lynch is, you usually brace for impact when heading into his latest filmic nightmare. But this true story about a mid-Westerner with failing eyesight (Richard Farnsworth) mounting a snail’s pace lawnmower to reconnect with his estranged brother after the latter has a stroke fully embraces the lighter side of the Twin Peaks’ creator’s ever-present quirky sense of humour. Less Lost Highway and more Little Miss Sunshine.



Iranian director Jafar Panahi is to be celebrated for his undaunted, guerrilla-like approach to filmmaking in the face of state censorship, smuggling a bunch of brilliant films out of the country, including 2011’s This Is Not a Film on a flash drive hidden in a cake. This cracker was shot on the fly and depicts the great lengths five young women go to to watch Iran’s 2006 World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain while banned from entering the stadium. Funny and fierce in equal measure.


The Bélier Family

Imagine being a teenager and having to be across the intimate details of your parents’ sex life? Horrendous, yes? And yet that utter mortification is at the heart of this rather delightful French comedy by Éric Lartigau. It casts Most Promising Actress César-winner Louane Emera as Paula, the hearing kid of an all-deaf family (including the fabulous Karin Viard). She has to translate everything from their farm business deals to sexual health check-ups. Reality TV fans will love the dilemma as Paula’s distinctive voice sees her snapped up in a national singing competition that could lead to a new life. But can she leave the Béliers behind?


Frances Ha

Mumblecore alumna Greta Gerwig, who went on to direct Lady Bird and Little Women, co-wrote this stylish New York comedy with her director and partner Noah Baumbach. She also stars as the couch surfer of the title, drifting from one temporary abode to another, hoping against hope her ambitions towards creative excellence will come true. Walking a fine line between a warts and all look at lost causes and the whimsical fantasy of what could be, there’s something glorious about her series of misadventures – we’ll all recognise fragments of our own dreams.



Before Sam Neill and Michael Caton had a go at the Aussie remake, this Icelandic original from documentary-turned-feature filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson cast Sigurdur Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson as estranged brothers working neighbouring sheep farms. They struggle to keep their livelihoods intact when a virus (not corona) sees a local government order to get rid of their flocks. If that sounds a bit grim, then trust us, the deeply human, kookily observational dramedy that unfolds will wrap you up like a chunky knit.


Follow the author @SARussellwords

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