While the end-of-year holiday is a great time to go hiking, biking, diving, surfing or more, it’s also a great time to kick back and just chill. And what better way is there than to line up a bunch of seriously feel-good movies, make some popcorn, open a bottle of something fizzy, and curl up on the couch surrounded by friends and family, with at least one pet snoozing gently on your lap?
Here’s a list of some lesser-known, slightly quirky, and a tad off-the-wall movies that will remind you why family and community are so important. If it’s not on Netflix, you may find it at your local video store (remember those?) or almost certainly for sale somewhere online.
The Angel, the Bicycle and the Chinaman’s Finger (South Africa, 1992)
A mythical Karoo dorpie on the eve of democracy is chosen at random to produce a nativity play to prove to international investors that South Africa is truly becoming a non-racist country. Written and directed by Nicholas Ellenbogen, this zany, offbeat comedy perfectly captures the heart and soul (and funny bone) of South Africans. It’s timely with the nativity theme, but it’s unlike any other ‘Christmas’ movie you’re likely to see.
The Castle (Australia, 1997)
This classic David-and-Goliath movie pits a hilarious but loving blue-collar family against the government that wants to expropriate their (actually rather tacky) home on a semi-toxic site to extend the adjacent airport. It’s all about values – love, family and home.
Secondhand Lions (USA, 2003)
If Texan Renée Zellweger can play British Bridget Jones, there’s no reason why Michael Caine can’t play a Texan. His accent is delightful but that’s not the real charm of this movie about a tween left for the holidays with his two eccentric uncles who – for reasons that are never really disclosed – buy a lion. Yes, a second-hand one. Robert Duvall’s exposition on how to be a man should be watched by all boys (of every age). While it’s a classic coming-of-age movie featuring a young lad (with an authentically breaking voice, incidentally), it’s also about living – really living – and dying so that those left behind can truly say of you: ‘They really lived.’
White Wedding (South Africa, 2009)
This South African romantic comedy addresses all the discriminatory skeletons lurking in our cultural cupboards, and reveals them to be as flexible as rubber Halloween bone puppets. It’s a masterpiece showing how we can celebrate our differences while acknowledging our universal humanity – and it’s also just downright hilarious. With a happy ending, like all good rom-coms.
Little Miss Sunshine (USA, 2006)
Possibly the most dysfunctional family ever embarks on a road trip that features actual death, and the death of their dreams, but is ultimately a healing and uplifting experience. And also hilarious – you just have to love that kiddie beauty pageant hypocrisy.
As it is in Heaven (Sweden, 2004)
Unlike most of the others in this list, this movie is not a comedy. It’s a very serious look at how we deal with the challenges life throws our way. A retired world-famous director returns to his home town (where he had a pretty miserable childhood) and reluctantly coaches the awfully discordant church choir. The process of creating both musical and social harmony within the choir heals the director, many of the truly dysfunctional choir members, and – quite possibly – the whole town. Watch this on a set with really good sound because the music is transcendent.
Bagdad Café (Germany, 1987)
Bringing together an unlikely cast of characters in a place that is bleak to the extreme, this gentle movie re-examines the concept of friendship, community and love. After being stranded in the middle of the desert in the USA, an unprepossessing German tourist moves into a dilapidated motel, and – literally and figuratively – performs magic, slowly transforming herself and everyone around her.
The Gods Must be Crazy (South Africa, 1980)
Made with no international funding or talent (except for the voice-over artist who dubbed over Sandra Prinsloo’s Afrikaans accent), this is the most commercially successful South African movie ever made. Combining the classic hero’s quest and a true-to-type romantic comedy with some typical local slapstick, the deceptively simple story relates the adventures of a madcap cast of characters, including a Bushman who travels to the end of the world to return a Coke bottle to the gods. It was big in Japan – breaking box office records there, and in Europe – and it developed a cult following in the USA.
Love, actually (UK, 2003)
It’s not remotely obscure, but I had to include it. With a high-octane cast featuring more stars than the planetarium, it’s probably the best rom-com ever made, and rom-coms are the best feel-good movies. And, anyhow, we had to have another Christmas movie. This one will have you laughing and crying, and laughing and crying, and happy to be alive.
Here’s wishing you all a festive season filled with … love, actually.