5) The Pink Panther (1964)
The Pink Panther mixes a bemused comic spirit with ambitious and farcical comedic set pieces. But the film’s most comforting element is Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau. There’s something inherently relatable about him. At times, I feel as though the universe can’t help but want to pull the rug from under him. But often, his incompetence and hapless nature get the better of him. In this way, the character is an amusing stand-in for impostor syndrome. Clouseau is a cathartic reminder of how we all just tumble through life trying to look mildly sensible. But no matter how hard we try, we often end up looking silly.
4) Dawn of the Dead (1980)
On the surface, a zombie apocalypse is not the most comforting thing in the world. But amid the chaotic and often cynical portrait of the end of the world, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is infectiously fun. The stretch of the movie where the main group play around in an empty mall is like a sugar rush of frivolity and childlike high jinks. By leaning into this aspect, Romero adds fuel to his satire of consumer culture and its fleeting nature.
But the director outdoes himself with an outrageous finale that combines a large biker gang, pie fights and gags involving a blood pressure machine. These moments of utter disorder often make me forget that Dawn is a horror movie. Instead, I often think it’s a comedic film that happens to be about a zombie outbreak. And with the film’s occasionally zany score and comic book ascetic, Romero seems to think so too.
3) The Elephant Man (1980)
In spite of the cruelty that John Merrick (John Hurt) undergoes, The Elephant Man is a touching and resonating depiction of the aspects of life that we take for granted. Merrick’s integration into society is like watching someone who’s afraid of dipping their toe in a pond. But through patience and acceptance, he gains the confidence to put his best foot forward. Hurt’s measured performance is truly heart-rendering as Merrick experiences kindness, friendship and fulfilment. The film is a baptism of empathy that never ceases to move me.
2) Beetlejuice (1988)
Honestly, it was a coin flip between this and Ed Wood, but Beetlejuice won because it’s a film that gave me enormous comfort during my teenage years. Tim Burton’s takedown of yuppie culture and their obsession with appearance really appealed to me. Lydia’s (Winona Ryder) detached but perceptive character spoke to me. And Micheal Keaton’s central performance as the live wire title character was the entertaining cherry on top.
1) Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
No matter how I’m feeling, Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox always lifts me up. The film is energetically edited, consistently funny and moving in its journey of someone, who has to learn to curb his instincts, to preserve his family and community. Anderson’s ability to deflate the earnestness of his characters by reminding you that they’re animals never fails to make me laugh. And the film’s moments of revelation and transcendence (elevated by Alexander Desplat’s beautiful score) are second to none.