We all have our favorite relaxing movies that help us unwind. After a bad day, week, month (try year), we call upon that one movie, or Netflix binge, that brings us some peace and quiet. There are movies we love, and then there are certain movies we need. Perhaps a Coen Brothers comedy or Steven Soderbergh classics are the chill movies of choice for you. There are always characters and filmmakers that can flip a switch in our minds and brighten up our day. Feel-good movies check that box, and in the same vein, so do “chill movies.” By chill movies, we mean relaxing or lighthearted stories told about laid-back characters or movies clearly made by laid back people. More often than not, the movies are heavy on goodness and kindness.
Before reading this list, imagine going to a concert of one of your favorite bands later on in their careers. There are probably a lot of songs we all want to hear, right? Just like with a list, you can’t always get what you want. We all have our own ideas of what’s chill about a person, a character, or movie. Below, in many of the movies listed, we’re talking about characters who spread kindness or are genuinely pleasant and peaceful to observe.
A warm, colorful blanket of a movie about enjoying the little pleasures in life and being good to your community and yourself. The shy but animated Amélie (Audrey Tatou) works in a café and lives a little more in her imagination than the great big world outside her mind. She’s hesitant to step outside of her comfort zone, but once she does, she starts doing the chillest act of all: helping others. Amelie’s kindness lights up almost everyone she crosses paths with and, based on director Jean-Pierre Jeanuet’s vision of Paris, the city itself. Amélie is achingly heartfelt and nutritious eye candy about a lovely character without a mean or cynical bone in her body simply spreading happiness. She’s a superhero in Paris, lighting up every shop, street corner, and subway stop she graces with her iconic presence.
Before Sunset (2004)
Many, many Richard Linklater movies could go on this list. The filmmaker creates such lived-in, relaxed but tightly constructed stories that drop in on characters we wish or maybe we even do know in real life. Before Sunset is Linklater’s peak relaxation film in his romantic trilogy not without its highs and lows. The reunion between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a movie full of light that radiates off the screen every single second, though. It’s a serene walk-and-talk with Celine and Jessie at their most relaxed with one another. There are awkward moments, complications, and some unhealed wounds, but for the most part, Before Sunset is a triumphant reunion between two iconic characters at their most comfortable with themselves and one and another. The honeymoon phase isn’t quite over in Before Sunset. Not that perfection matters, but it is Linklater’s closest shot to perfection.
Being There (1979)
Hal Ashby’s classic is gentle. The story still has Ashby’s and star Peter Sellers’ biting wit, as well as their more tragic qualities as storytellers. The satire resonates strongly today, watching Chauncey Gardiner (Sellers) become the popular kid among political royalty as he says nothing of substance. He’s just a man who enjoys gardening and watching television, but then again, maybe he’s more than that. The iconic final shot suggests so. Like everyone Chauncy meets, we always gravitate towards him and hang on to his every word. Maybe it’s pointless to search for meaning in Being There, but what isn’t pointless, is exactly what the title says. Sometimes being there is enough, even to get ahead in the world of politics. Satire, politics, and the buzzing but possibly inconsequential questions aside, Being There is also a movie that’s as delicate as Chauncey Gardiner. “Life is a state of mind,” is one of the many doses of wisdom that Being There leaves its audience with.
Car Wash (1976)
The comedy classic keeps things loose. Wonderful characters pop in and out of the story, the laughs never cease, and director Michael Schultz lands an unexpectedly poignant ending. Every character is an MVP and could be the star of their own movie. All of screenwriter Joel Schumacher’s — may he rest in peace — characters entertain. Car Wash is a great ensemble movie with loads of energy and personality to spare. It’s Schultz’s near-perfect hangout movie, although shout out to Krush Groove and Cooley High. For a movie set almost entirely in one location, the filmmaker created a movie so high-spirited and easy on the eyes. The camera is unrestricted and free to follow different characters, tangents, and even a neighborhood kid on a skateboard (which is a strange, almost unexplainable highlight in the movie). Schultz’s best movies go with the flow, just like his sparkling characters.
Chan Is Missing (1982)
Wayne Wang’s (The Joy Luck Club) noir is a timeless indie from 1982. At times, the Chinatown-set mystery without a solution looks either modern or straight out of the 1950s. It’s a stunning, less-is-more film about identity, life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, politics, and coming to America. For an 80-minute-long movie, it’s a dense piece of work that’s also elegant and relaxed. Chan Is Missing was a serious influence for director Richard Linklater. The inspiration shows in the film’s vignettes and random yet vital conversations. The detectives in the film, a cab driver named Jo (Wood Moy) and his nephew Steve (Marc Hayashi), are a low-key ball to hang with as they search for a missing man. It’s a simple but complex tale with more questions than answers and exchanges you’ll never forget. What a movie.
Jon Favreau is at his most easygoing and crowd-pleasing in Chef. Free of interference, Chef depicts an artist, in front of and behind the camera, doing his thing without constraints. It’s a cathartic movie, as well as a mouth-watering one. The food porn in Chef is delicious eye candy, but unlike most big studio eye candy, it’s hand-crafted and personal. It’s such a loving movie, too, about craft and fatherhood. Balancing one’s personal life and career, which I imagine is no foreign subject to any working filmmaker, is the main conflict in Chef. There are personal stakes and sadness, both of which are handled with the grace of an all-star cook. It’s a light meal not without substance. Chef is intimate but epic in terms of comfort.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005)
Michael Gondry’s doc is two hours of hanging out with Dave Chappelle and the likes of Erykah Badu, poet Jill Scott, Questlove, and the list goes on and on. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is like the Nashville of concert docs. It is a movie packed to the brim with charismatic and wonderful people, including the residents of Brooklyn and Dayton, Ohio. Everyone is a joy to meet and greet in this movie, whether they’re singing music, joking around, or having a kind exchange on a street corner or in a cigarette shop. It is a fantastic movie about harmony and strangers brought together by Chapelle for an unforgettable day of music and sheer positivity. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is a piece of lightning in a bottle to cherish. Everyone is having a great time in this movie, and it’s wildly infectious.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
In the same vein as Linklater, plenty of Jim Jarmusch movies could go on this list. There’s a calmness to his movies, even when he’s following a poet bus driver, hipster vampires, a Don Juan facing his past mistakes, or in the case of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a hitman living the life of a samurai in Brooklyn, New York. Jarmuch’s movie is impossible to break down in one sentence, though. The Forest Whitaker-led and RZA-scored samurai movie has a vibe of its own, pure Jarmusch yet drawing from a wide range of influences. There are bursts of violence in The Way of the Samurai, but the meditative tale is a reposeful look at self-discipline, honor, the power of knowledge, and yes, the life of an ice cream truck driver. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is Jarmusch’s samurai classic, which has a ton of great laughs and an all-timer finale. “This is the final shootout scene,” the samurai says. “Yeah. Well, it’s very dramatic… it’s very dramatic.” Even in death, there are laughs in Jarmusch’s movie.
Sally Hawkins is a blinding ray of sunshine in what’s maybe Mike Leigh’s most cheerful film. The world is dark, but nothing and certainly nobody can dim Poppy’s sincere enthusiasm for life. The North London school teacher’s joy is infectious throughout Happy-Go-Lucky. Even when Poppy faces misery, like a character played by Eddie Marsan, she stays resilient. Such a positive and wholesome character whose happiness in the face of misery is almost heroic. Somebody will always try to rain down on anyone’s parade, but Poppy is such a strong character, somebody who doesn’t let others deter her mood or outlook, as strange as it may look to others. The ending is one of the happiest endings I’ve seen. It is a long take of Poppy and a dear friend simply enjoying a lovely day out. It is pure peacefulness, just two friends on a boat relishing each other’s company. It’s a heavenly moment through Leigh’s eyes, especially after all the painful feelings touched on that we expect from Leigh. There is real misery in Happy-Go-Lucky, but Poppy is still Poppy in the end.
Harvey just turned 70-years-old. After all those years, this slice of life and magical realism hasn’t lost any of its powerful charm. James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a man who simply wants to drink and relish the company of his best friend in the world, an “imaginary” six-foot-tall bunny rabbit named Harvey. It’s a buddy movie in which one of the buddies doesn’t ever appear on-screen, not until one stunning moment that’s as much about the magic of friendship as the magic of movies. Harvey is a classic story of basic acceptance, learning to accept someone’s harmless quirks and let them enjoy themselves, no matter how silly they look.
There are few spies as chill as Miles Kending. He’s a happy-go-lucky man of no mystery. The veteran American spy is living it up in Hopscotch. Here’s a bouncy spy story without any collateral damage or the world in peril. Kending is all smiles in this wonderful movie, in which the agent is writing a memoir riddled with government secrets after he’s forced to retire early. As Kending goes on the run from his incompetent superiors, the good times keep rolling. Walter Matthau is the definition of chill in Ronald Neame’s Criterion classic. Matthau is one of those actors that you can tell when he’s having fun, and his glee and playfulness rubs off strong in Hopscotch. Matthau is a big guy, so sort of he’s a larger-than-life entertainer when he’s in comedy mode. Just thrilling to watch. Hopscotch is a spy movie that is masterfully light on its feet with one of the coolest and politest spies ever to ever grace the screen.
Local Hero (1983)
It’s difficult to describe the effect of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. It’s a fitting feeling, because two businessmen, Mac (Peter Riegert) and Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), don’t know quite how to describe the enchantment of the fishing village, Ferness, either The characters are often left speechless by the unexplainable sights they witness, just like the audience. Again, it’s tricky to explain Local Hero, as it’s an easier movie to feel than it is to intellectualize. What I do know is this movie has a euphoric effect on almost anyone who basks in the heavenly imagery and Mark Knopfler’s (Dire Straits) divine score. The movie just plays as one of the best dreams you’ll ever have. Another source of unbridled happiness in Local Hero: Burt Lancaster. He’s as delightful as the rest of Forsyth’s classic. Lancaster’s big businessman says and does such ludicrous things, but like Being There, maybe there’s something there… or not.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Dallas and the mopey kid are gone, so Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) and the boys of summer are free to cut loose and enjoy themselves more the second time around. Sure, there’s still a fear about financials and the future, but the dancing bros are at their most lax and enjoying others’ company more than ever in this low-key but rambunctious road movie. Director Gregory Jacobs’ sequel is a fun-loving sequel that saves most of the drama for another day. It’s a movie about the ride, literally and metaphorically. Jacobs cranks up the bromances across the board, too. The love all these former male strippers have for one another, the way they let past grievances go and live it up while they still can, it’s all pure feel-good fun without any of the first movie’s Saturday Night Fever-esque misery. There’s such a winning sincerity to Magic Mike XXL, even in the lingering reaction shots that show how all these characters truly feel about one another.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Speaking of Steven Soderbergh, there’s something about Ocean’s Eleven, especially on rainy days, that is calming. All the movie star charisma, bright lights of Vegas, the belly laughs, and heartfelt friendships, it’s a fully-packaged popcorn movie oozing with effortless cool. Danny Ocean and the gang provide all the fun you need in one movie and, surprisingly, contemplative moments. The farewell at the Bellagio fountain is such a soothing, surprisingly emotional goodbye between the Ocean’s 11. Fun fact: originally, the remake ended with the criminals dispersing through a crowd at a casino, but Soderbergh, despite some hesitancy from a cast member or two, delivered one of the all-time great Hollywood endings. Ocean’s Eleven strikes a tone that is endlessly entertaining and rare these days.
Paddington (2014) & Paddington 2 (2017)
Wherever Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) goes, he makes friends. The bear in London always leaves behind a trail of marmalade and happiness. Paddington is just one peaceful bear beloved by almost all his neighbors and all audiences, no matter their age. The character has such a bright outlook on life that director Paul King expresses through a colorful, borderline poppy vision of London. Both movies are such heart-warming experiences that value kindness and acceptance. Even when Paddington is facing certain death, he accepts what life throws at him. Just one chill little dude. The iconic bear is an animated zen master who lifts everyone’s spirits, even when his own is down in the dumps. The Paddington movies are such dreamy, wide-eyed experiences with uproarious jokes and a sensitivity that never fails to lead to cases of extreme smiling.
The ultimate piece of food porn. In fact, there is literally food porn in director and star Juzo Itami’s feast of a film, combining food and sex, as well as food and love. It’s a masterpiece that embraces a multitude of genres, even the western. Tampopo is, on the surface, about a band of misfits coming together to craft the best damn ramen spot in town, owned by the titular character (Nobuko Miyamoto). It’s hilarious, it’s moving, and it’s oh so loveable and mouth-watering. Tampopo is a magical experience. Even when characters smile or experience the simplest of pleasures, Itami creates fireworks with his merry band of characters. Tampopo is a grand treat to the senses that leaves you with a never-ending supply of joie de vi·vre. It’s a work of wondrous imagination. Inspiring to watch.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Characters don’t get much more chill than Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski. He’s a man who doesn’t have any serious wants or needs in life, at least not beyond bowling, a carpet that really ties the room together, and a joint to go along with every glass of White Russian. None of the wild events in the Coen Brothers’ story change the dude. He just is, accepting everything that happens to him or around him. He knows how he likes to live, what brings him joy and what does not. The Big Lebowski appeals to Buddhists for good reason. For anyone who wants to delve further into the zen-ness of The Coen Brothers’ iconic character, check out “The Dude and the Zen Master,” in which Jeff Bridges and his Zen Master Bernie Glassman discuss the zen lessons to glean from everyone’s favorite cinematic stoner.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
A list of chill movies isn’t complete without at least one of Hollywood’s iconic rom-coms. They’re usually filled with the most charming of fast-talking characters, never at a loss for laser-sharp quips and epic comebacks. Almost everyone is the most clever person in the room in the best of the best classic romantic comedies. It’s pure, cinematic pleasure. Even though the would-be lovers in The Shop Around the Corner, played by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, spend most of the movie bickering and at odds, they both couldn’t be more endearing. They’re simply bliss to watch in Ernst Lubitsch’s 80-year-old classic. It’s an uproariously funny movie that couldn’t be easier or more relaxing to watch again and again. The Shop Around the Corner is an always reliable food-good classic
The Straight Story (1999)
David Lynch’s nightmarish images usually chill to the bone. The Twin Peaks creator can craft frightening nightmares, but with The Straight Story, he wrote and directed a story that’s more of a kind-hearted dream. It’s a deceptively simple tale following a man, Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), and his lawnmower traveling across the land. The original story lives up to its title, for the most part. Lynch’s Disney movie is about an old man on the road, but it’s also about thinking about the past and seeking redemption. The emotions are understated but powerful. It’s such a quiet and reassuring movie that, of course, came from a filmmaker who not only practices transcendental meditation daily but also tries to have it taught in schools around the world.
The Thin Man (1934)
Classic detectives are often riddled with regret and live in the dark. They’re often chain-smoking drunks, hardened by years of bad choices. Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) are not those kinds of detectives. They smoke, they drink, and they laugh it up in their iconic film series. The drinks never stop flowing, the cigs never go out, and the laughs never go quiet. No matter the murder mystery to unravel, the loving couple have the time of their lives in one another’s company, as well as their dog’s company, Asta’s (played by Skippy). Couples, as well as detectives, generally don’t get much cooler than Nick and Nora. They’re wonderful party animals and very good at their jobs. Their drunken adventures are the perfect movies to kick back to and enjoy on a Sunday-funday with a drink always in arm’s reach.
Feeling down? Let these movies pick you back up.
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