It's Election Day – and this year, it's a day that's likely going to extend for much longer than that (which is totally normal and expected and not a cause for alarm or fraud claims). And it's going to FEEL even longer with the deluge of news updates, projections, tweets, legal dramas and more turning a day of civic pride into a cardiac arrest. 2020: It's truly the gift that keeps on giving ... suckerpunches straight to the kidney, that is.
While I consider myself a person who likes to stay up to date on current events, I'd also like to not age 79 years in a single 24-hour stretch by gluing myself to the news and popping stress balls in my hands like balloons. So instead, now that I've placed my vote (a super-easy and good thing everyone should do, by the way, in case you haven't heard) I'm going to disconnect from the breathless chaos of election night. I'm going to get lost in a fort built out of boxed wine (it's like a house you can drink!) and watch something relaxing – and I recommend you do the same.
Sure, considering this year's election, "Uncut Gems" or a "Saw" movie would technically qualify as relaxing compared to the news. That being said, here are 13 actually relaxing movies that are nice, kind, sweet and maybe just the therapeutic balm you need for this messy process we call democracy in America.
1. "Bathtubs Over Broadway"
Now streaming on: Netflix
Even non-musical fans will cheer this endearing documentary about the most bizarre musicials you've never seen: behind-the-scenes corporate productions featuring Broadway-scale tributes to the likes of Miller beer, silicones and diesel fuel. Performed exclusively for company employees at past corporate gatherings, they've mostly been forgotten in the dust bin of time – save for one man, a former writer for David Letterman, who spends his time trying to collect the forgotten records that serve as their only relics and talk to the people who put their passion and genuine musical prowess into such seemingly laughable shows.
It sounds simply silly, but by the end, the unabashedly sincere "Bathtubs Over Broadway" delivers a moving tribute to the importance of oddballs and pursuing something with your whole heart – as well as the first time you've ever heard a heartfelt ode to bathroom fixtures.
2. "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon"
Now streaming on: Netflix
True story: At the beginning of this pandemic, I – like many out there – felt scared, confused and doom-scrolled my way to a sense of suffocating depression. Then I popped on this lovely animated adventure, and it played like a true beam of sunlight cutting through the clouds of our grim existence.
Told almost entirely without words, this claymation creation follows a rascal sheep as he tries to get a lost intergalactic blob bunny back home to its parents while his bumbling farm owner recruits the other animals into creating a UFO-themed amusement park. It's sweet, inspiredly funny, kind-hearted and energetic without becoming loud and manic like many children's films can get. And it's from the geniuses at Aardman, who created the timelessly inventive Wallace & Gromit films – and while those are unfortunately nowhere to be found on streaming (that's a lot, future of entertainment), this is the next nicest thing.
3. "Singin' in the Rain"
Now streaming on: HBO Max
One of the great joys in cinema history, "Singin' in the Rain" still holds up almost 70 years later as one of the greatest things to happen to the smile industry since the invention of the toothbrush. A tale about the very real and often very painful film industry transition from silent film to sound, the double Oscar nominee doesn't come off on the page like a jubilant experience – but that's before you add in the musical's iconic songs ("Good Morning," "Make 'em Laugh," the title track) and some of the finest performers of the era, like Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor, turning each number into an ecstatic, loose-limbed celebration of good vibes, weather be damned.
4. "Pick of the Litter"
Now streaming on: Netflix and Hulu
Politics? Doom-scrolling? Running out of alcohol? No matter what ails you tonight, puppies are the cure – and "Pick of the Litter" has 20ccs of precious to pump into your veins, following a pack of puppies as they grow up and train to become seeing eye dogs for the visually impaired. Yes, it's adorable, but it's also surprisingly informative as the dog doc takes the viewer on the wildly intense training required to beccome a person's eyes, tracking these animals as they learn nuanced commands – like even learning how to disobey if their human partner is taking themselves unknowingly into harm's way. It's not just fluff ... but also, it's so fluffy I'm going to die.
Now streaming on: Hulu, Hoopla and Kanopy
You're probably gonna be drinking a lot on Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning ... and Wednesday night ... and so on) so you might as well pop the cork on a movie about wine to go with your bottle(s) of wine. "Somm" makes a perfect pairing, following several young wine whiz kids as they attempt to pass the very intimidating Master Sommelier exam, making them some of the world's finest minds on merlot. The pleasant documentary goes behind the scenes with these expectant experts as they battle notecards upon notecards of information, testing each other mentally and emotionally while guzzling delicious grape squeezings. It's a lightly tense blend, with (*sniffs glass*) notes of humor, illumination and a newly opened can of tennis balls. Plus, there's two sequels taking you further into the world of wine, both on Hulu – so get drunk on watching wine documentaries instead of getting drunk while watching maps turn red or blue.
Now streaming on: Amazon with Starz and DirecTV
Halloween was last weekend, so you know what that means: It's Christmas! (And also you probably have an incredible stockpile of fun-sized candy bars to get you through tonight.) Celebrate both of those wonderful things by watching the joyfully silly Will Ferrell and his modern holiday classic "Elf," about a jumbo-sized pointy-eared pal at the North Pole who discovers he's a human and ventures from Santa's workshop to New York City to find his father – all the while spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear. Normally, we'd all eye-roll starting the Christmas celebrations in early November, but considering this week – heck, this entire year – I think we can give it a pass.
7. "Blinded By the Light"
Now streaming on: HBO Max and DirecTV
A warning to the lactose intolerant out there: This big-hearted music-loving indie gem is dangerously cheesy. It's so cheesy, it comes on a board with various charcutie and wine pairings. It's so cheesy, Packers fans are wearing it as headgear. It's so cheesy and corny ... and fully delightful. Ignored in theaters, this lovely indie follows a young British-Pakistani boy as he finds his voice in both society and in his strict family with the help of Bruce Springsteen's music. It's an unrelenting crowd-pleaser that may test the critical functions of your brain but will totally win over your heart as it tells its winsome story, unapologetically giddy about the universal power of music and that feeling of hearing a song or artist that just gets you. Sure, it's so cheesy the Swiss classify it as fondue – but honestly, who turns down cheese, especially on a night of mandatory comfort food and stress eating?
Now streaming on: HBO Max and DirecTV
Did someone mention music? One of my favorite music movies of all time, "Once" is a lovely lo-fi odyssey through the streets of Dublin as a struggling street performer meets a poor immigrant by chance and the two roam around for a week, fighting off lonely nights by making music together, talking about life's disappointments and pushing each other to make the changes they've put off in their life. Made for a whole $150,000, what "Once" lacks in a production budget it makes up for in warm sweetness, lovely humanity and some of the most soul-soaring music you'll ever hear in a musical. It's so wonderful, by the end, you'll fall in love with who or whatever is closest to you. (Bad news, lamp.)
9. "Paddington 2"
Now streaming on: TNT and TBS
A literal cinematic bear hug, "Paddington 2" is a bright, sweet, funny and charming movie about the power of being kind and considerate in the face of hardship, following our marmalade-loving bear-tagonist as he goes to prison for a robbery he didn't commit. No, really, the sequel to "Paddington" goes behind bars ... and somehow is an even nicer, cuter and more whimsical movie as a result. No matter which chapter of this talking bear's story you choose, you'll watch a delightful movie and a total gift that's perfect for reminding yourself of the greatness of goodness – and also have you Google searching for marmalade recipes.
10. "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
Now streaming on: Peacock
It wouldn't be a proper nice movies list without the Patron Saint of Kindness: Mister Rogers, whose big heart gets the big-screen treatment it deserves with this gracious documentary portrait from Oscar-winner Morgan Neville ("20 Feet From Stardom," which also wouldn't make a bad viewing choice tonight for those wanting to tune out Election Night chaos with a great soundtrack). Going through his life and surprising rise to cultural phenomenon, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" tenderly shows the importance of kindness, generosity and listening, and how he taught those lessons to generations – lessons we could maybe use again these days – without condescending to his young audience.
The dramatized version of Mr. Rogers, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," streaming on Starz, is also lovely – and even features America's dad, Tom Hanks, in the lead – but it's a much more complex and occasionally dark look at the power of niceness and how hard it can be for that to break through. For mainlining goodness, you'll want to stick with the documentary tonight.
11. "Ocean's 11"
Now streaming on: Netflix
The only choice for the eleventh spot on this list, "Ocean's 11" is slick Hollywood escapism made at its absolute apex. It's cool, with a cast of some of the biz's most charismatic and charming stars, plus a score and production design that's jazzy and glamorous. It's smart, with a heist storyline that weaves itself in and out of knots without breaking a sweat. And it warms your heart with that beautiful ending sequence at the fountain making you wish you had ten other friends to rob three casinos with. (Note: Do not do this.) It is what we love Hollywood for, starry and seductive entertainment made crisper than one of Terry Benedict's suits and slicker than a Danny Ocean con. Nothing will pass two hours faster tonight than this heist hero.
Now streaming on: Netflix
You can't not smile and cackle watching "Airplane!"; it's a force of funniness that the human body simply wasn't made to resist. One of the most relentlessly silly movies ever made, the parody flick constantly throws gags at the audience as if the writers' room meeting didn't bother to edit out a single joke pitch. And you know what? Thank god they didn't, because despite there being a joke every seven seconds, the movie's hit-to-miss batting average is insanely high. Just like the plane, almost every gag lands – from the crass to the clever, the cheap pun to the brilliant punchline – and the performances are legendary, including the late great Leslie Nielsen, who makes an iconic deadpan meal out of what's really a fairly small supporting role. It's the most fun you'll ever have during an emergency landing.
Now streaming on: Netflix and Disney+
USA! USA! USA! Want to top off your day of fulfilling your patriotic duty with some feel-good patriotism? Pop on this sports movie favorite, recounting the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's miraculous run to the gold medal – including their incredible upset victory over the Soviet Union's red goal-scoring machine. (Spoiler alert, I guess.) Meat and potatoes filmmaking from Gavin O'Connor that knows it has a great story and stays out of its way – the same approach he busted out for this year's inspirational sports movie, "The Way Back" – "Miracle" will make you proud of the red, white and blue no matter how the election results turn out this week.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.