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New Year’s Movies

Since Covid-19 has squelched our traditional New Year’s parties, many of us are going to spend the big night playing games and/or watching movies with our families. For those of you who aren’t binge-watching film series like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, we’ve got some suggestions for family viewing that can help you escape from reality or give you hope for the future. (We’ve listed movies for younger viewers first.)

Movies that Inspire Hope

If 2020 has left you reeling, movies that dispel fear of the future are just what the doctor ordered. Here are some of our favorites.

Wall-E Pixar’s brilliant animation tells the story of an ecologically devastated planet earth, from which all humans have been evacuated. Wall-E is a trash compacting robot who discovers that it’s still possible for plants to survive on the planet – a discovery with massive implications for the space-ship dwelling human survivors. Disney+ G, Grade: A-

Up Widowed and lonely, Carl Fredericksen faces losing his home and being forcibly sent to a seniors’ home. In a last act of defiance, Carl inflates hundreds of balloons that lift his house into the air, only to encounter a young stowaway. This film is a great reminder that we’re never too old – or too young – to make a difference, even in difficult circumstances. Disney+ PG, Grade: A

Star Trek: Generations Most of us are desperate to return to the “normal” of our pre-covid lives but would we commit violent acts to get there? This instalment of the Star Trek franchise features a supervillain who’s willing to destroy planets to get back to a world he misses. Only Captain Picard and the Enterprise can stop him – and learn to accept reality instead of chasing the impossible. This isn’t a story of bright, glossy hope, but of a grounded, hard-won optimism. Amazon Prime, PlutoTV, PopcornFlix, CBS All Access, Plex, Crackle PG, Grade: B

Harriet is the story of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery and led dozens of her fellow survivors to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Uplifting and profoundly touching, this film puts a human face on one of the darkest parts of American history. HBO Max, Digital on Demand PG-13, A

Darkest Hour In May 1940, Britain stands alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Militarily unprepared and demoralized, the country receives a morale boost from its brand new prime minister, Winston Churchill. But even Churchill’s optimism can’t disguise the disaster unfolding across the channel in Dunkirk… Digital on Demand PG-13, Grade: A

The Pursuit of Happyness Chris is a salesman who’s broke and homeless. His new job is an unpaid internship, so he has to juggle work, raising his son, and finding a bed at night for six months. This is an uplifting story of grit, determination, and love. Amazon Prime, Fubo, Tubi Philo PG-13, Grade: A-

The Last Holiday When Georgia Byrd is told that she has a lethal growth in her brain, she decides that she’s going to live her life instead of just exist. Cashing her savings account, she takes a “last holiday” to an expensive European hotel. Her impact on everyone around her is touching as is her example of living life to the full. Digital on Demand PG-13, Grade: B

Escape Films

Sometimes we just want movies to transport us to another world so we can forget the stresses of real life. Hollywood excels at providing cinematic escape routes for viewers of all ages and there’s plenty to choose from.

Terra Willy: Unexplored Planet is thankfully suitable for young viewers and won’t bore their parents. In this stunningly animated film, a young boy gets separated from his parents while escaping their damaged spaceship. Marooned on a planet with only a survival droid to help him, Willy cultivates hope and resilience as he explores his beautiful new home. (This movie is sometimes released under the name Astro Kid.) Digital on Demand Unrated, Grade: A

Beauty and the Beast We have never settled the debate on which is better – the animated or live action versions of this Disney classic. This year we’re recommending the live action version for its rich settings and intriguing backstory. (That plague mask really strikes a chord now.) Disney+ PG, Grade: B+

Sky High Will Stronghold has a secret – he doesn’t have any powers, which is a problem for the son of two superheroes. Sorted into the “sidekick track” at Sky High, Will learns about friendship, loyalty, and cooperation. This campy superhero flick is great fun for older kids and the rest of the family. Disney+ PG, Grade: A

Stardust When Tristan crosses the Wall that surrounds the mysterious kingdom of Stormhold, he enters a world with witches, murderous princes, and a fallen star whose heart can confer immortality. Full of magic, romance, and adventure, this story lets viewers escape into a fantasy world with lots of suspense and laughter. Netflix PG-13, Grade: B-

Godzilla: King of the Monsters If you’re looking for dumb fun, this monster mash flick ticks all the boxes. With over two hours of monsters fighting each other and stomping cities, this surprisingly good movie lets you turn off your brain and enjoy the mayhem. HBO Max, Digital on Demand PG-13, Grade: B-

What’s Up, Doc? Great screwball comedies don’t come around every year and this one is in a class all its own. With a zany plot, quirky characters, superb actors, and the funniest car chase in cinematic history, this movie is not to be missed. Suitable for tweens on up. Digital on Demand G, Grade: B+

Fiddler on the Roof Pre-Revolutionary Russia isn’t a place most of us would want to escape to – but this tale takes us to the home of Tevye, a Jewish milkman, and his family. With one of the most memorable soundtracks ever, this film tells the story of Tevye’s three oldest daughters and their attempts to marry for love. Funny, tender, and filled with pathos, this is a treat for teens and adults who love warm, human stories. Netflix, Hopla G, Grade: A

Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again These films aren’t going to suit all viewers – they have lots of innuendo about an illegitimate birth and unmarried sexual relations. On the bright side, this story of a bride-to-be trying to identify her father and (in the sequel) preparing for the birth of her own child, reinforces the importance of family ties. And the films are shot in a sun-drenched Greek island with a relentlessly upbeat ABBA soundtrack to cheer even the gloomiest soul. For those of us who can’t take a winter vacation, this is the next best thing. Fubo, Starz, Digital on Demand Mamma Mia! PG-13, Grade: C; Digital on Demand Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, PG-13, Grade: B

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…