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21 Movies to Curl Up With

Comfy visual chestnuts for the psychologically attuned.

Jan Vasek, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Jan Vasek, Pixabay, Public Domain

As life finally slows between Christmas and New Year, we’re more likely to take the time to curl up and watch a whole movie. Psychology Today readers might particularly appreciate these comfort-and-joy chestnuts. The list includes mostly films that are psychologically rich and look at love, especially appropriate to the season.

These films are old chestnuts but not so old that they feel dated.

Lest the list be too idiosyncratic to my taste, films are included only if they have an average Amazon user review of 4.5 or higher. They average 4.8.

The Sound of Music. It has it all: supreme music, acting, a love story we care about, the iconic performance by Julie Andrews, and a powerful anti-Nazi message.

Fiddler on the Roof. Another music- and humor-leavened examination of a tough psychological issue: parents (Chaim Topol and Norma Crane) seeing their children adopt values that are very different from their own.

Moonlight. This is the coming-of-age story of a black gay teen (Ashton Sanders) triumphing over his drug-infested neighborhood. It won the Oscar for best picture.

Annie Hall. Neurotic Jew (Woody Allen) and insecure Midwesterner (Diane Keaton): A match made in heaven? Not quite. A psychotherapist would have a field day with those two. Indeed, Allen’s character is in his 15th year of psychoanalysis: “I would have killed myself but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian, and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.” We laugh and may wryly nod. The American Film Institute rated it the second funniest romantic comedy of all time. (Charlie Chaplin's City Lights was ranked #1.)

E.T. E.T. symbolizes “The Other,’ forbidding yet if you take a little time to know him, he's lovable. That may not be as easy in real life. Masterfully rendered by Steven Spielberg.

Parasite. This South Korean, Robin-Hoodesque black comedy is about a poor family that inveigles itself into a rich family's life. It won the Oscar for best picture.

Hachi. Even if this weren't a top-rated dog movie, pit bulls couldn’t keep this off my list. Spoiler alert: When Hachi’s owner (Richard Gere) stroked out at work, guess how long Hachi waited for him at the train station? Ten years. I named my doggie Hachi.

When Harry Met Sally. Written by Nora Ephron and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, it addresses, without pat answers, the question of whether a sexually attracted man and woman can be just friends. It intersperses scenes of older married couples.

Forrest Gump. This is an early entry into the disabled-are-worthy category, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) wears leg braces and is “slow-witted.” Spoiler alert: Yet he ends up an All-American football player who meets President Kennedy, after which he joins the military, saves lives, and gets the Medal of Honor from President Johnson. Gump then buys a shrimping boat and gets rich. All that strains credibility but, hey, we’re entitled to a feel-good movie, especially around the holidays, when such movies have plenty of company. For example, in It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart is inspired to take down a bank by an angel.

Mary and Max. This animated adult film again honors the challenged, in this case, two obese people, one with autism. The film explores issues of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Silver Lining Playbook. This is another positive portrayal of the mentally ill. Bradley Cooper, who has bipolar disorder, is released from a psychiatric hospital. Jennifer Lawrence, who has an unnamed disorder, convinces him that it would be healing to enter a dance competition.

As Good As It Gets. This is yet another optimistic look at a mentally ill person. Jack Nicholson, whose character has OCD and is homophobic, is shown the path to love by a gay man who introduces him to Helen Hunt. Spoiler alert: Their complicated relationship ends with Jack and Helen walking down the street, he steps on a pavement crack, which was one of his fears, and this time, he merely shrugs.

The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight.) In Before Sunrise, two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) agree to spend their last 12 hours in Vienna together anonymously to get to know each other without constraint. At the end, they agree to meet again in six months. In Before Sunset, they meet nine years later. In Before Midnight, they meet nine years after that, and that film explores long-term relationships, family, and aging.

The Prince of Tides. Nick Nolte tries to deal with his Southern dysfunctional family with the help of psychiatrist Barbra Streisand. The film derives from Pat Conroy’s screenplay and book of the same title.

The Illusionist. This well-executes the time-honored romantic theme of two would-be lovers, (Edward Norton and Jessica Biel) separated by social class. Norton is a magician and ghostly machinations intervene.

Titanic. Winner of 11 Oscars including best picture, this is another attempt by rich and poor to couple up. This time, it’s Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet on the doomed ship. A subtheme is another common Hollywood target: the evil of cutting-edge technology. Ironically, the film was lauded for its use of cutting-edge technology.

Like Water for Chocolate. In this magical-realism story of unrequited love, a woman, Tita (Lumi Cavazos), sublimates her passion into cooking. Her complicated relationship with her formidable mother, Mama Elena (Regina Tome), makes for a spicy stew of a movie.

Love Actually. This film consists of ten separate relationship stories played out over the last five weeks before Christmas. It has an all-star cast led by Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Hugh Grant. Some critics dismiss it as a too-complicated confection but audiences love it, especially around the holidays.

Sleepless in Seattle. A lonely man (Tom Hanks) meets the girl of his dreams (Meg Ryan) by chance. Yeah, yeah, it’s sappy, but don't be Grinchy at the holidays. Embrace your inner sappiness.

The takeaway

Watching a great movie is one of life’s simpler pleasures, made even easier today thanks to streaming. We can, in the comfort of our home, wearing what the heck we want, talking aloud when we want, for free or a couple bucks, with popcorn near free, curl up.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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