The period between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve is a strange time which can leave us feeling useless. These are the films or series our writers watch to brighten these darker days.
Toast of London (2012-)
Dir: Michael Cumming
Chosen by Henry Edwards, Sports Editor
YouTube / Channel 4
Starring Matt Berry as a hapless actor struggling to make ends meet, Toast of London is a ridiculous comedy that, for my money, is the perfect medicine for anyone feeling even remotely blue. Most episodes begin with our irritable protagonist, Steven Toast, reluctantly lending his voice-over talents in a plush studio overseen by hipsters Danny Bear and Clem Fandango. Watching the pair routinely grind Toast’s gears neither grows stale nor fails to put a smile on my face. I also garner great comfort from the melody of the theme song – ‘Take my hand’ – written and performed by Berry himself.
Throughout the 19 episodes, the bumbling, pessimistic actor tries his hand at some erotic historical literature, develops an infatuation for ‘the Madman’ (Jon Hamm), and regularly butts heads with his nemesis – Ray ‘bloody’ Purchase. The quirky, bizarre, but also gentle feel of the programme make it something I regularly revisit when my mood needs a lift.
Dir: Tom Bancroft & Barry Cook
Chosen by Leah Martindale, Third Year, Film
IMDb / Disney Pictures
Ever since I was a little girl, Mulan has made my dullest days bright. When I was young and poorly I would watch it on VHS and when it ended I would rewind it and put it in for another go round. Maybe it is the strong message of female empowerment and a willingness to do whatever is necessary that always uplifted me. The message of camaraderie and friendship despite people’s differences that gave me hope. The message of love for one’s family and an evercaring afterlife that gave me an existential hope. Or maybe it is just pretty. The music is rousing and the songs are fun and Eddie Murphy is a dragon, ‘Dra-gon! Not li-zard!’. What about that wouldn’t make anyone happy?
The Only Way Is Essex (2010-)
Produced by Lime Studios
Chosen by Nikki Peach, Deputy Editor
Photo courtesy of ITV
If I were to say The Only Way Is Essex is my guilty pleasure I would be telling a lie. There is not one part of me that associates guilt with perfectly produced, heart-warming Sunday night entertainment. It is one of the few TV shows I watch where, if interrupted, I actively and insistently shush people. It is reality TV at its finest: relatable, reliable and ridiculous. What distinguishes TOWIE from others in the genre, for me, is its unapologetic unpretentiousness. Every time a phone is answered with ‘yeah, I’m alright, you alright?’, a top 40 chart topper immaculately merges one scene with the next or a couple breaks up at their engagement party, I just feel content.
Lest we forget it is also the birthplace of Gemma Collins’ career as a pop-culture icon and national treasure. I can testify that despite shameless scripting, fake tan the colour of a ripe easy-peeler and clumsy nightclub ‘bump ins’, the quality has done nothing but soar over the years. It is the single greatest mood lifter on a Sunday night.
Almost Famous (2000)
Dir: Cameron Crowe
Chosen by Ethan Luc, Chief Proofreader
IMDb / Columbia Pictures
There is a scene about halfway through Almost Famous where love emanates so powerfully from the characters, between each other and through the screen to us, you will smile and sing openly with joy. Several arguments having recently occurred, the fictitious rock band Stillwater, a baby faced 15-year-old journalist named William and the truly enchanting Penny Lane make their way to their next tour stop.
As the coach trundles along in somber silence, Elton John’s classic ‘Tiny Dancer’ shifts from non-diagetic to within the bus itself. A band member takes the plunge and starts singing. One by one, the others follow. William, feeling he has outstayed his welcome, turns to Penny Lane to confess: ‘I have to go home.’ And seemingly with all the knowledge of the mysterious world, she replies, ‘You are home’. That’s just one scene — need I say more?
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Dir: James Gunn
Chosen by Ollie Smith, Features Editor
Marvel Studios / Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Initially something of a dark horse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be one of the franchises most successful films. The opening scenes are among the best in showcasing how a film can start, with the direction, music and titles all giving an early indication that the audience can expect a fun time. The excellent soundtrack is feel-good in itself but when combined with the ragtag band of wacky characters and colourful visuals it all comes together for some top notch comedic moments and all-in-all a deeply enjoyable experience.
The casting of comedy actor Chris Pratt in the lead role was a brave but excellent decision and the chemistry he brings to his co-stars is clear. Hiring Vin Diesel just to repeatedly say one line as a talking tree and having Bradley Cooper as a loudmouth racoon are just more examples where the film showcases its fun absurdity. Zoe Saldana’s badass assassin and Dave Bautista’s literal talking Drax complete the band of misfits which by the end of the film has gelled perfectly and leaves you wanting more. This is a film I know I can put on at any time to bring a smile to my face.
Featured Image Credits: YouTube / Channel 4, IMDb / Disney Pictures, ITV, IMDb / Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios / Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Collage via Canva
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