17 Best Lovely Movies On Max (HBO Max)

Staff & contributors

Sometimes we want to bask in drama, and other times all we want a movie to make us feel good. If you’re looking for a sweet and sincere watch, here are the best lovely-themed movies and shows to stream.

Based on a classic Japanese folktale, Isao Takahata’s last film will break your heart. This adaptation, of course, follows Princess Kaguya from her being discovered in a glowing bamboo stalk to her departure to the moon. However, while faithful to the original tale, Takahata’s direction turns this historical fantasy into a heart-wrenching coming-of-age film as ethereal as the titular character. The film doesn’t focus on the crazy pursuit of her suitors; instead, we’re drawn to the simple experiences Kaguya herself is drawn to and wants more of, as she tries to balance her life with the societal expectations places on women. All of which is rendered through the film's lush watercolored scenes of the blowing wind or the opening of plum blossoms.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aki Asakura, Atsuko Takahata, Hikaru Ijūin, Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Isao Hashizume, Kengo Kora, Mirai Uchida, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ryudo Uzaki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shinosuke Tatekawa, Takaya Kamikawa, Takeo Chii, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tomoko Tabata, Yuji Miyake, Yukiji Asaoka

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amber Batty, Amy McAllister, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Gary Lilburn, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Marie Jones, Martin Glyn Murray, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Nika McGuigan, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: PG-13

Sisters Martine and Filippa, daughters of a founder of a religious sect, live a simple and quiet life in a remote coastal village in Denmark. Throughout the course of their lives, they reject possible romances and fame as part of their commitment to deny earthly attachments. This is upended by the sudden arrival of a French immigrant named Babette, who served as their house help to escape the civil war raging in her country.

Babette’s Feast is an inquiry into simplicity and kindness, and whether these would be sufficient to achieve a life of contentment. The religious undertones perfectly fit with the film’s parable-like structure, where bodily and spiritual appetites are satisfied through a sumptuous feast of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Asta Esper Hagen Andersen, Axel Strøbye, Bendt Rothe, Bibi Andersson, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Cay Kristiansen, Ebbe Rode, Else Petersen, Finn Nielsen, Gert Bastian, Ghita Nørby, Ghita Nørby, Holger Perfort, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Lars Lohmann, Lisbeth Movin, Pouel Kern, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Stéphane Audran, Stéphane Audran, Therese Hojgaard Christensen, Thomas Antoni, Vibeke Hastrup, Viggo Bentzon

Director: Gabriel Axel

Rating: G

Forlorn longing envelops Days of Being Wild, where the act of dreaming is as valuable as its actual fulfillment. “You’ll see me tonight in your dreams,” Yuddy tells Su Li-zhen on their first meeting, and indeed, this line of dialogue sets the film’s main contradiction: would you rather trap yourself in the trance-like beauty of dreams or face the unpleasant possibilities of reality? Wong Kar-wai’s characters each have their own answers, with varying subplots intersecting through the consequences of their decisions. In the end, happiness comes in unexpected ways, granted only to those brave enough to wake up and dream again.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alicia Alonzo, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Carina Lau, Hung Ling-Ling, Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Maritoni Fernandez, Rebecca Pan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: Not Rated

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito, Masahiro Itou, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Michie Terada, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Minowa, Yuuki Masuda

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and many other big names star in this comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker.) The story spans multiple generations but starts in 1979, where Dorothea Fields (Bening) is finding it increasingly difficult to raise her son alone. She enlists the help of two other women, one her son’s age and the other a New Yorker in her twenties who is very active in the punk scene. The three women, of three different generations and personalities as well as takes on the concept of “only a man can raise a man,” play different roles in this kid’s life. 20th Century Women is based on director Mike Mill’s own upbringing in Southern California.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Wexo, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott, Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Britt Sanborn, Cameron Gellman, Cameron Protzman, Christina Offley, Christopher Carroll, Curran Walters, Daniel Dorr, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Elle Fanning, Eric Wentz, Finn Roberts, Gareth Williams, Greta Gerwig, Ian Logan, J. Francisco Rodriguez, John Billingsley, Joshua Burge, Kai Lennox, Kirk Bovill, Laura Slade Wiggins, Lucas Jade Zumann, Matthew Cardarople, Matthew Foster, Mike Mills, Nathalie Love, Olivia Hone, Paul Messinger, Paul Tigue, Randy Ryan, Rick Gifford, Thea Gill, Toni Christopher, Victoria Bruno, Victoria Hoffman, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Waleed Zuaiter, Zoë Worth

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: R

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

This charming documentary about one of the most brilliant, groundbreaking comedians alive strikes a delicate balance between accessible and deeply appreciative, making it both a great gateway for those yet to be uninitiated into the Albert Brooks fan club and a satisfying retrospective for us confirmed devotees. It’s directed and fronted by Rob Reiner, celebrated director himself and one of Albert Brooks’ oldest friends, and the choice is perfect: his rapport with Brooks is warm and easy, extracting real sincerity from the famously deadpan comedian-writer-actor-director.

Defending My Life features plenty of talking heads gushing about Brooks’ dazzling multi-hyphenate talents (among them Steven Spielberg and Sharon Stone), a standard convention for documentaries of this kind. But what elevates this into a portrait worthy of its subject are the scenes from a dinner shared by Brooks and Reiner, during which the former opens up about his childhood, reflects on his career, and divulges the autobiographical elements that informed his work. Their tete-a-tete flows with all the unforced rhythm of conversation between good friends; Reiner’s presence coaxes illuminating insight from Brooks, which makes watching the documentary feel as close to pulling up a seat at their table as you’d hope for. The 90 minutes just fly by.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alana Haim, Albert Brooks, Anthony Jeselnik, Ben Stiller, Brian Williams, Chris Rock, Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, James L. Brooks, Jon Stewart, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow, Larry David, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nikki Glaser, Rob Reiner, Robert De Niro, Sarah Silverman, Sharon Stone, Steven Spielberg, Tiffany Haddish, Wanda Sykes

Director: Rob Reiner

Rating: PG-13

When thinking about one’s family, we tend to remember our parents as parents, and rarely as people of their own. Ethel & Ernest, based on Raymond Briggs’ beloved graphic memoir of his own parents, instead focuses on two ordinary spouses in extraordinary times, sharing some of the day-to-day moments that show their affection, but is clearly marked by the times they’re in, materially and politically. The watercolor design is a cleaner, more modern update of the original illustrations, while Briggs’ handwritten speech bubbles still retain their character through Jim Broadbent’s and Brenda Blethyn’s voices. It’s just a loving, but still honest, depiction of one’s parents, one that makes you think about your own.

Genre: Animation, Drama, War

Actor: Alex Jordan, Brenda Blethyn, Duncan Wisbey, Gillian Hanna, Harry Collett, Jim Broadbent, June Brown, Luke Treadaway, Pam Ferris, Peter Wight, Raymond Briggs, Roger Allam, Simon Day, Virginia McKenna

Director: Roger Mainwood

Arrietty may not be as epic as other Ghibli movies, both in the literal and figurative sense, but its tiny world is so richly detailed that you could spend hours studying a single frame of the film. In Arrietty’s lovely house-underneath-a-house, stamps are hung on the walls like paintings, a flowerpot serves as the hearth, a tea canister is a cabinet, an olive a chair, a sewing pin a sword, a clothespin a hair tie, and so on. The possibilities are endless, but the film tries to exhaust them as much as it can. This alone makes Arrietty a delightful watch, but the simple story at the heart of it—one of survival, empathy, and faith—elevates into a timeless classic.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, David Henrie, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Takeshita, Kirin Kiki, Mirai Shida, Moises Arias, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinichi Hatori, Shinobu Otake, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Will Arnett

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Rating: G

The Automat is a charming documentary about the historic place it names—a spacious self-service cafeteria that fed thousands of people during a good part of the 20th century. Through nostalgic footage and delightful interviews with the likes of Mel Brooks, Howard Schultz, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Automat successfully convinces you that more than just some gimmick, it was a cultural landmark, a piece of Americana whose existence alone taught an entire generation integral values like democracy, diversity, and hard work. It’s also straight-up hilarious, especially when Brooks attempts to direct the film himself, or other subjects salivate as they recall the Automat’s unbeatable menu. It’s more anecdotal than academic, so if you’re looking for a sweet, sentimental, and simple watch, this is it.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Carl Reiner, Colin Powell, Elliott Gould, Howard Schultz, Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Director: Lisa Hurwitz

Rating: TV-PG

While more known for their fantastical children’s stories, Studio Ghibli occasionally serves a down-to-earth, domestic film set in the real world. One of them is From Up On Poppy Hill. On the surface is a story of two student activists who fall in love while fighting to keep their high school club’s Latin Quarter from demolition. Of course, with this in mind, the most surprising event in the film is the incest scare. However, this seemingly random plot point feels important in the sense that everything is resolved once they've fully understood the past. And because of the 1960s post-Korean War Tokyo setting, the film is nostalgic yet dares to question whether or not Japan has fully processed and acknowledged their losses in a war that isn't theirs.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Aoi Teshima, Goro Miyazaki, Haruka Shiraishi, Jun Fubuki, Jun'ichi Okada, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita, Masami Nagasawa, Nao Ōmori, Rumi Hiiragi, Shunsuke Kazama, Takashi Naito, Teruyuki Kagawa, Tsubasa Kobayashi, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Rating: PG

Far From the Madding Crowd is a classic tale, but in terms of story, it has the familiar thread of a lady having to choose between multiple swoon-worthy suitors, which is a common story of many lengthy, overly melodramatic period dramas. However, with the restrained direction of Thomas Vinterberg, and the writing of David Nicholls, known best for his decades sprawling romance in One Day, the fifth film adaptation captures the magic of the classic countryside novel, elevating the old-fashioned romance with an easier, faster flow, and carried by the powerful performance of its cast. Fans of the novel or the 1967 adaptation might feel disappointed at how much was removed, but overall, Far From the Madding Crowd is an exemplary drama adaptation.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Bradley Hall, Carey Mulligan, David Golt, Dorian Lough, Eloise Oliver, Harry Peacock, Hilton McRae, Jessica Barden, Jody Halse, Jon Gunn, Juno Temple, Mark Wingett, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Pauline Whitaker, Richard Dixon, Sam Phillips, Stuart Davidson, Thomas Arnold, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Sturridge, Victor McGuire

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: PG-13

When Castro took over Cuba in the 1950s, Havana’s nightlife shifted as clubs and casinos were closed down, leading to certain traditional step-based genres like son, bolero, and danzón to decline. A few decades later, prominent American musician Ry Cooder travelled to Cuba with his friend documentarian Wim Wenders, to pay homage to traditional Cuban music in an album and its respective documentary. Wenders weaves in illuminating interviews and shots of Cuba today in between the band’s Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall performances, with a certain intuition that makes each song feel like a triumph. While the documentary does focus more on Cooder, Buena Vista Social Club is a delight to watch, even with its 90s digital grain.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, Ibrahim Ferrer, Joachim Cooder, Omara Portuondo, Ry Cooder

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: G