Author: Sherronda J. Brown
My lovely sisterfriends asked me to write about films that bring me comfort in one way or another. You will quickly learn from this list that I mostly find comfort in the bizarre and the ominous, rather than the warm and fuzzy. I am undoubtedly revealing a lot about my own existentialism and nihilism and general peculiarities with this list. I willingly admit that some of these films are weird, obscure, and unsettling, but I love them, unabashedly. Every time I watch them, I feel a sense of tranquility at their culmination. Maybe others will be able to find some comfort in them, too. Here are eight of the films that I like to watch when I need self-care, in no particular order.
*Minor spoilers ahead*
It’s Such A Beautiful Day (2012)
A poignant and dark little comedy about a neurodivergent stick figure.
Told in three chapters solely with stream of conscious narration, it is disjointed and dissonant and unpredictable and chaotic. The story is about Bill, who is neurodivergent in some unnamed way, and it has themes of death, family, memory, mental illness, (im)possibilities, and reality vs. imagination. With a minimalist art style and child-like drawings, it essentially boils down to an unreliable narrator telling stories that he heard from another unreliable narrator. I think it’s beautiful.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A stunning Spanish language film by Guillermo del Toro that will ruin you.
Set in Spain circa 1944 during the still-violent aftermath of the civil war, it has been described as a “disobedient fairy tale”. Our main character, Ofelia, dissociates from this world to escape her unhappy existence in it. She meets a magical faun who claims to come from another world — Ofelia’s true home. I like to believe that the faun’s world is real and that she finds true peace there, but the genius of Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece is that the viewer is left to decide that for themselves. The score for this film is one of my favorites of all time. Specifically, “Long, Long Time Ago” and “Mercedes Lullaby.”
Set It Off (1996)
A severely underappreciated heist film that speaks to all the Black women in me.
This is the only film that consistently makes me cry. It’s such a masterpiece and I believe that it deserves far more hype. The cast. The themes explored. The hood feminism. The sisterhood. The queer visibility. It is ultimately a narrative about Black womanhood, in my opinion, and the abuses that we endure as victims of misogynoir — state violence, police brutality, reproductive violence, sexual coercion, and especially the violence of capitalism. I firmly believe that this film possesses the best performances from all four of its main actresses: Jada Pinkett Smith, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, and Queen Latifah. Tears. Every time. So many tears. It’s always a cathartic viewing for me.
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
An Avengers-style tale about the mythological figures of childhood.
The only children’s film on this list. It’s about memory and youthful joy and the importance of having someone there to believe in you and your gifts. Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Sandman, The Man in the Moon, and Jack Frost (Chris Pine) going up against Pitch Black aka the Boogie Man (Jude Law). Santa is Russian. Bunny is Australian. Tooth Fairy looks like a hummingbird. Pitch is British. And Jack Frost wears a hoodie and actually looks like Chris Pine. The animation is amazingly detailed — the best I’ve seen from DreamWorks — and it’s just a beautiful film to look at. It also has a great musical score that’s fun and energetic, but also very sweet. I’ve been watching it with my little sister since she was four years old and so I think of my bond with her whenever I watch it, but also, watching this film just feels like getting a hug.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
A wholesome story about a small-town man and his sex doll.
To describe this film as “quirky” would be an understatement. Lars is kind and sweet and adorkable in the best way, and he’s in love with a sex doll. There is some tragedy and some heartbreak involved, but this story is one of my all-time favorites because of the humanity in it. It’s a candid look at mental illness through a lens that I believe is far too rare. Ryan Gosling gives a captivating performance. No human being has ever given me butterflies the way that Lars and the Real Girl has. I cannot sing its praises enough.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
A haunting and satisfying tale about petty Black ghosts.
I cannot discuss too much about this story without spoiling major parts of it. Listen. Just know that this is not your typical ghost story. I wrote about this film in my graduate thesis because it is the only story about Black ghosts that I have ever come across that I find satisfying. It is about far more than just the ghosts who inhabit this singular narrative. It’s timeless. It’s justified. It’s phenomenal on multiple levels, calling back to ghosts of a history that continues to haunt us. I think of this as a direct ancestor to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and maybe I’ll write about that connection one day.
A perfect, violent, bittersweet modern Shakespearean romantic tragedy.
Critics and film enthusiasts loved it, but the average film-goer pretty much hated it. One woman even filed a lawsuit because she felt that it was too boring and lacking in car chases. I’m serious. Google it. The problem was that Drive was marketed as a high-speed thriller, when it is very much not. It’s brutally, brutally violent at some points, but it is also slow, and quiet, and intentional. Ryan Gosling is immaculate, as always, but this is my favorite performance of his. The cinematography is perfect. The script is exceptionally well-written. The imagery and the symbolism are amazing. The soundtrack feels like a heartbeat. This was my favorite film of 2011, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Mary and Max (2009)
An animated dark comedy based on a true story about two unusual pen pals who bond over chocolate, cartoons, and depressive isolation.
A lonely girl in Australia picks a random address and sends a letter. A man in New York answers it. They change each other’s lives forever. Full of absurdities and childish notions about how the world works, it tells a story with very adult themes – alcoholism, neurodivergence, abuse, suicidal ideation, and more – in a way that feels like pure innocence.
Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in English, Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She primarily writes pop culture and media analysis through a black feminist lens, and is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work by donating to www.paypal.me/SherrondaJBrown.