Welcome to “What to Watch,” a column dedicated to movie recommendations generated specifically for each week of the quarter. Each week of the quarter has a distinct feeling, from the adjustment period of Week 1 to the chaos of Week 10. This column seeks to explore those sentiments and to provide well-timed movie recommendations to push you through the quarter and past the Finals Week finish line.
The pumpkins are rotting, the rain is falling and the dorm heaters are finally working. This can only mean one thing: The beast that is Week 8 has arrived.
Week 8 is the last academic week before Thanksgiving break, a grueling stretch of time that epitomizes the phrase “so close, yet so far.” With the sun setting before my third class of the day and midterms perpetually hanging over my head, a sunny spirit is hard to come by. Due to the general lack of warmth during this challenging week, this week’s focus is on comfort films.
These are the kinds of films that can imbue the viewer with the unique comfort and relaxation that only comes with holding a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day. Their stories radiate pure delight and are guaranteed to transform even the worst mood in less than two hours.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) Directed by Wes Anderson
This lively stop motion is possibly the quintessential fall film. With punchy dialogue and vibrant set pieces, this film simply reminds me of the nostalgic and truly joyful satisfaction that is jumping into a pile of crunchy autumn leaves.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is centered on a community of animals and a feud with their human farmer neighbors. The cunning Mr. Fox (George Clooney) decides to steal food from the farmers and puts the safety of his family and the entire animal community at risk.
With a bright soundtrack and a beautiful animation style, it’s hard not to feel at peace in the countryside landscape of this film. The heavy emphasis on autumnal colors in the set and character design makes the film feel even more warm and cozy.
Underneath the initial amusement of Mr. Fox’s wit and charm, the film does communicate some very sincere messages about self-reflection, doubt and community. It even addresses imposter syndrome, something that many of us here at Stanford are familiar with. Through its amalgamation of imperfect characters and relationships, this film encourages viewers to accept their own quirks and insecurities, ultimately helping us all to realize just how fantastic life can be.
“When Harry Met Sally” (1989) Directed by Rob Reiner
Nora Ephron is a screenwriter known for romantic comedy films often set during autumn. (Imagine Hallmark holiday movies but with more sarcasm and less Christmas.) “When Harry Met Sally” is one of Ephron’s finest works and is sincerely charming in a way that will leave you laughing, crying and cringing in all of the best ways.
The film’s plot follows the chance encounters between Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) over the course of 12 years. The film is centered around Harry’s decently problematic assertion that a man cannot be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. Sally disagrees and their friendly relationship becomes a test of this hypothesis.
“When Harry Met Sally” encapsulates the uncertainty of postgrad life and the transition into becoming a full-fledged adult. The characters seem thoroughly fleshed out, and each of their struggles is relatable in some regard. They grapple with everything from moving to a new city to worrying about turning 40 (even when that milestone is a decade away). Put simply, the film feels very human.
What I think is most reassuring about this film is how it portrays the act of falling for another person. It somehow manages to represent this scary dive into the unknown in a way that is both all-consuming and consoling. It does not pull any punches when addressing the harsh realities of romance, but it also does not hold back on the overwhelmingly delightful comfort that comes with finding love.
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2022) Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is a particularly difficult film to properly describe. It contains both stop motion and mockumentary, a unique blend of genres and mediums.
The film is based on a short film series of the same name posted to YouTube in 2010. These shorts were written by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp, both of whom eventually co-created the feature film. In the seven years that it took to produce the feature film, Slate and Fleischer-Camp married and divorced.
Throughout the film, but especially by the end, the emotions of tenderness and loss from their relationship become remarkably clear. It is truly a spectacle to witness two people fall in and out of love both on and off of screen.
The protagonist, Marcel (Jenny Slate), is a one inch tall talking shell who lives with his grandmother, Nanna Connie (Isabella Rossellini), in the alcoves of an empty Airbnb rental. A human named Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp) moves into the Airbnb, upon which he discovers Marcel. Dean decides to help Marcel in the quest to find his long-lost shell community, and he documents the process through short online videos.
Despite the silly premise of its protagonist, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is one of the most emotionally impactful films I have ever had the privilege to watch. The film guides the viewer through concepts of hope, family and self-discovery with unbelievable passion. It exposes you to a personality not yet jaded toward the world, one that is rooted in a rare kind of unadulterated joy.
Stanford can sometimes feel like a bubble of similitude. Going to the same dining halls, lecture halls and dorm room for months on end can take its mental toll. However, through the eyes of the ever-positive Marcel, even monotony can seem marvelous. “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” will force you to see the world around you — and the people in it — with a refreshing and necessary new perspective.
Whether you watch these films while wrapped in a cozy blanket in bed or while anxiously sitting in Green Library, these three comfort films are sure to transport you to fictional worlds of genuine contentment and ease. The overwhelming warmth of these films will transform even the most stressful week into one of pure delight.
“Spirited Away” (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)
“School of Rock” (Richard Linklater, 2003)
“The Princess Bride” (Rob Reiner, 1987)
“Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, 1952)
“Paddington” (Paul King, 2014)
“Big Fish” (Tim Burton, 2003)
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.