This post was originally written for Taste of Cinema – http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2019/10-great-movies-to-watch-when-you-feel-lonely/?fbclid=IwAR2ElDYHwcbe6CGv1nRP2cHv9l-ibMRmUsEjOUwffrb8EbBM0p2Qbi8jfb8
Not to open the list on too much of a sour note, but loneliness is just something that we all encounter from time to time. Whether it be separation from those we love, a feeling of not fitting in, or just a general feeling, loneliness can be one of the tougher emotions to be comfortable feeling, however, as with any emotion, the movies are always there to help us come to terms with these feelings, whether it be by showing us characters who feel the same way or by presenting something that simply manages to take the feeling away. Here are ten great films you can watch when you’re next feeling lonely, at least one of them are bound to help!
1. Lost In Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
Maybe the most obvious choice of all of these for a film that is good to watch when lonely (right next to Jonze’s Her), Lost In Translation may be a massively predictable entry, but it has earned that reputation for good reason, being one of the best portrayals of the loneliness that can infect people even when they are surrounded by others.
Chronicling the intimate friendship created between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson whilst they’re in Tokyo, leading up to some of the most gently touching moments in twenty first century cinema and then one of the most infamously agonising enigmatic endings ever put to screen, Lost In Translation is a stripped back and simplistic film that doesn’t seem concerned about much other than supplying the emotion and the intimacy between the characters.
The chemistry between the two leads is second to none, starting off strong and ending at the point where it feels as though the characters are as genuine as they could possibly be, making for one of the more touching films about loneliness made recently. Interestingly, Sofia Coppola would go on to make another film on the subject of loneliness despite fame in Somewhere, arguably a better film, though this one is much easier to recommend to just about anybody.
2. Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi, 1997)
Iranian cinema is hard to come by, but almost always more than worth the time investment. Majid Majidi’s gorgeous Children of Heaven is no exception. To keep it frank, this is one of the most beautiful movies ever made, following a brother’s quest to help his sister after he loses her shoes.
Though it definitely isn’t always completely peachy, with some surprisingly harsh scenes spread throughout, the positive energy more than outweighs the bad here, especially in the observation of the bond that comes from family and the beautiful childlike innocence from the children in the film.
The use of colour is also magical, and so welcoming, with the vibrancy working as a way to see the world from the perspective of the characters in such a simple yet intimate and effective way. The ending is one of the best of all time, simultaneously overwhelmingly charming and brilliantly frustrating/upsetting.
3. My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
A Ghibli film was bound to show up on here somewhere, and why not make it one of their most popular, and one of their most charming films? It’s difficult to try to capture the incredible charm that My Neighbour Totoro has, it’s stunning how quickly the beauty manages to creep up on the unassuming audience, largely thanks to Miyazaki’s gorgeous animation and creativity.
Miyazaki has said many times that he tries to make his films charming to try to remind children that life is always worth living for the little things, and sometimes that’s exactly the kind of message that people need to be reminded of.
Many of the different Ghibli titles could be in its place, but My Neighbor Totoro will always hold a special place in the hearts of many, and came to mind before literally any other film when thinking of what to include here, so it had to have the spot in the end.
4. Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
A trigger warning is necessary here considering that some of the content in Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting is quite difficult to sit through, and the fact that it stars Robin Williams admittedly doesn’t help at times (though he is just excellent here, maybe his heartiest performance, though it’s hard to say with there being so many), but Good Will Hunting is one of the better films about overcoming past struggle.
Whilst it is quite cheesy at a few points, the leading performances by Matt Damon and Robin Williams are just incredible, and the film feels more than sincere in the statement that it is trying to make.
Featuring music from Elliott Smith, direction by Gus Van Sant and both Casey and Ben Affleck in supporting roles, the cast and crew certainly have a lot to offer in terms of talent, and the film itself acts as a truly consoling work. Most of you are probably well aware of this one, but it still has its charm, that’s for sure.
5. How Green was My Valley (John Ford, 1941)
Whilst John Ford is likely known more among film fans s a director of westerns, and admittedly he does make some of the greatest, it’s actually in his dramatic work that his versatility really shows, pulling back from the beautiful landscapes and fun cowboy characters and working on a series of family dramas, including How Green Was My Valley (which won the best picture award from Citizen Kane at the time!), The Quiet Man and the even more overlooked The Long Gray Line (maybe the best of the bunch, but it’s hard to say – seek this one out if you can!).
How Green Was My Valley also focuses on a family, through the lens of Huw Morgan, the youngest child, as the Morgan family try to provide the best life possible for their children in a mining town.
The heart of the film comes in the overall atmosphere, that of a sentimental, nostalgic, homely nature that will remind almost anyone of growing up in the best of ways, and also in the small moments, like how Huw’s family offer to help him with school when he comes back from the first day having been attacked, and his later triumph over the same group, as well as the gorgeous cinematography (another trademark of Ford’s dramas, something he carried over brilliantly from his westerns).
It’s one of the most beautiful films of all time, both in spirit and in the image itself, and it’s one that absolutely everybody should see – it won over Citizen Kane for a reason.
6. One From The Heart (Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)
Despite the fact that a lot of it focuses on the break-up blues, Francis Ford Coppola’s often overlooked musical One From The Heart is one of the best films ever made. That may not sound too convincing, however, with the addition of music from the always excellent Tom Waits and some of the most conspicuous set design ever put to screen, blasting with vibrant colours and exaggerated shapes, it’s almost too easy to fall under the dramatic spell that this one casts.
Detailing the day (and an extra morning) after a break-up seen at the start of the film, Coppola’s film is shockingly different from his previous work in the 1970s making the leap from sprawling epics to something that has such a personal feeling to it that it’s difficult to explain, but of course he manages to make the shift seem trivial anyway. It won’t be a film for everyone, some will be too distracted from the story and characters by the intensely over the top visuals, but hey, so long as it works for someone.
7. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
With one of the best casts ever put to screen (no surprise when you realise that James L. Brooks is behind the camera, the man seems to be able to acquire any number of talented performers), Terms of Endearment is simply about growing up, following the Greenway family and those who they interact with over their entire lifetimes (okay, there are big leaps at the start and the majority takes place during Emma’s adulthood, but the childhood and teenage moments are undeniably there).
Having such a large scope, of course, there is a huge range of emotions encountered throughout, loneliness even being one of them specifically for Shirley MacLaine’s character in the first half until she becomes more acquainted with Jack Nicholson’s brilliant astronaut character, Garrett Breedlove. (Seriously, one of Nicholson’s best performances, he manages to hit the nail on the head for everything from the insane drunk to the hurt and betrayed. it’s a wonder watching him perform here.)
All that being said, there’s also a great camaraderie here between the characters, each having their own quirks and their own chemistry with one another, like the comedy that come from the relationship between Jeff Daniels and Shirley MacLaine when MacLaine becomes his mother-in-law. This film is incredibly memorable, just as uplifting as it is heartbreaking, wonderfully acted (with one of the best ensemble casts…ever?), and it should be seen by anybody, lonely or not.
8. Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh, 1990)
Hopping over to Britain for a minute, Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet is another film that focuses on the relationships between a group of characters and is more focused on just observing their interactions and their character quirks as opposed to creating turmoil and tension through the plot development.
Leigh is, of course, well known for his films focusing on dialogue and character rather than plot, and this film may just be the prime example of this style, with barely any plot other than a few vague strands that are only really there to force the characters into additional interaction with one another.
With a terrific cast who all have impressive chemistry with one another, Leigh’s film is touching, tender, hilarious and upsetting all at once, with just the right amount of conflict fuelled and wholesome interaction to match the perfect level and make it a pleasant experience. As much as almost any Leigh film could go here, with a few exceptions, Life is Sweet may just be his most pleasing films, and it’s one bound to help anyone feeling alone.
9. The Koumiko Mystery (Chris Marker, 1965)
The shortest and the most obscure film on this list, Chris Marker’s short documentary about a friend he made – the titular Koumiko – whilst in Tokyo, making a film about the olympics there is just beautiful.
Making the audience feel involved in the friendship in a way that so few films really manage to do, The Koumiko Mystery is one of the most easily enjoyable short documentaries out there, despite some of the subject matters.
With so many intricate quirks to it that only serve to make the bond between Marker, Koumiko and the audience that little bit stronger and that little bit more personal, it’s one of the most memorable representations of friendship, especially long distance friendships, with Marker’s wonderfully curious camera capturing stunning images of Tokyo, the people there, and Koumiko herself, and even a few scenes of back and forth dialogue between the two about what they have been doing, creating this adorable pen pal relationship that is shared in such an innocent and guileless way to the audience, with Koumiko at one point narrating a letter of questions and answers that she sent to Marker.
There is something so intimate in this film’s simplicity, being certainly the most laid back film of the bunch here in terms of film form, that just lets the audience naturally observe this friendship, welcoming them to feel the same bond that the characters do for each other. Whilst very difficult to find, it was recently shown on Le Cinema Club, and should hopefully be making its way around a little bit now.
10. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
This film just had to have a spot here, because what better for someone feeling lonesome than to find a film that they can easily become completely immersed in? And, furthermore, are there many films more immersive than Edward Yang’s sweeping masterpiece A Brighter Summer Day?
Released in 1991, focusing on Xiao S’ir, played by Chang Chen in one of the finest child performances ever, if not the finest… it’s seriously impressive, as he grows up in Taiwan during the 1960s, encountering just about everything that a child could hope (or not) to encounter throughout their childhood/teenage years. It’s just stunning, difficult to describe as the four hour runtime is just so incredibly enveloping and immersive, but it has to be seen to be believed.
When feeling lonely, or when in any mood, grab a copy, make some (or a lot of…) time, pop it in and lose yourself in this incredible world for the next four hours. You won’t regret it.