15 Movies Like Happiest Season (2020)

Staff & contributors

The Fabelmans is often described as director Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical movie about his inauguration into filmmaking, and while it certainly is that, I’d venture to say that it also functions as a universal coming-of-age tale, with protagonist and Spielberg stand-in Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) learning harsh truths about identity, family, and passion for the first time.

Here, we see how so much of filmmaking is intertwined with his life, and how the movies inspire his personality (and vice versa). Whether you’re a fan of Spielberg or not, this movie will surely win you over with its beautiful imagery, impressive technique, and big, big heart.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adriel Porter, Alejandro Fuenzalida, Alex Quijano, Alina Brace, Ari Davis, Art Bonilla, Brinly Marum, Cameron Hennings, Carlos Javier Castillo, Chandler Lovelle, Chloe East, Cody Mitchell, Connor Trinneer, Cooper Dodson, Crystal the Monkey, David Lynch, Ezra Buzzington, Gabriel Bateman, Gabriel LaBelle, Greg Grunberg, Gustavo Escobar, Harper Dustin, Isabelle Kusman, James Urbaniak, Jan Hoag, Jared Becker, Jeannie Berlin, Jonathan Moorwood, Judd Hirsch, Julia Butters, Julyah Rose, Kalama Epstein, Keeley Karsten, Kendal Evans, Lane Factor, Larkin Campbell, Mason Bumba, Max David Weinberg, Meredith VanCuyk, Michelle Williams, Nicolas Cantu, Oakes Fegley, Orion Hunter, Paige Locke, Paul Dano, Rob Shiells, Robin Bartlett, Sam Rechner, Seth Rogen, Sophia Kopera, Stephen Matthew Smith, Taylor Hall, Tia Nalls, Trang Vo, Vera Myers

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: PG-13

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Brett Eidman, Fredi Bernstein, Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: PG-13

Legendary Talking Heads frontman David Byrne returns with this enigmatic stage show, and with Spike Lee in tow, the film reaches for the heights of the iconic concert doc Stop Making Sense. For those unfamiliar, Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the Talking Heads’ invigorating live show in their early eighties prime, and is often considered one of the best concert films of all time.

Now nearly forty years later Byrne attempts a resurrection of that spirit or a form of it given his former bandmates notably absent from the project. His propellant energy is on full display as he goes through the ‘Heads catalog with a backing band that dances in intricately choreographed sequences around him. Most notable, however, is the sparseness of the stage production which brings to mind a dirge-like atmosphere. Byrne’s righteous thrashings against Reagan’s America carry renewed weight in the despondency of the Trump-era. So despite his attempts at optimism, aching futility runs through the heart of the show; most pointed when Byrne sings the famous lines from in Once In A Lifetime: “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Angie Swan, Bobby Wooten Iii, David Byrne, Jacqueline Acevedo, Mauro Refosco, Tendayi Kuumba

Director: Spike Lee

, 2015

Watching Carol is like reading a really interesting book while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those movies that you probably heard about during its Oscar run, and have since delayed actually viewing it. Well now that it is on Netflix and other streaming services you have no excuse! It’s refreshingly unique, incredibly charming, and features a kind of story that hasn’t been told very often – a love story between two women. Both characters played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara attempt to live true to their own principles while facing unjust yet severe backlash from society. If you are open to it, the love story in this will stay with you forever.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Warner, Anita Farmer Bergman, Ann Reskin, Annie Kalahurka, Carrie Brownstein, Cate Blanchett, Chelsea Carnder, Christine Dye, Chuck Gillespie, Colin Botts, Cory Michael Smith, Deb G. Girdler, Douglas Scott Sorenson, Gary Chinn, Giedre Bond, Greg Violand, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Kay Geiger, Ken Strunk, Kevin Crowley, Kk Heim, Kyle Chandler, Liberty Fraysure, Linnea Bond, Michael Haney, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Mike Dennis, Nik Pajic, Pamela Evans Haynes, Robert J. Ashe, Rooney Mara, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Sadie Heim, Sarah Paulson, Steven Andrews, Tanya Smith, Taylor Marie Frey, Todd Haynes, Trent Rowland, Wendy Lardin, William Cross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

A man is struggling to mourn his passing wife in this slow-burning Icelandic drama. The story starts with him converting an abandoned electricity station into a house, in an effort to find peace. Soon, however, questions about a possible extramarital affair that his wife disturb this peace and make it seem unattainable. 

The way A White, White Day's brilliant story unfolds might catch you off-guard a couple of times. Still, it's slow and requires a little bit of patience. Make sure you're in the mood for that to be rewarded with unmatched insight on how differently people process grief.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson, Björn Ingi Hilmarsson, Elma Stefanía Ágústsdóttir, Haraldur Ari Stefánsson, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Laufey Elíasdóttir, Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sverrir Þór Sverrisson, Thor Tulinius

Director: Hlynur Palmason

Your Name Engraved Herein is a melancholy and emotional film set in 1987 just as martial law ends in Taiwan. The film explores the relationship between Jia-han and Birdy, two boys in a Catholic school who are in a romantic relationship. The movie tackles homophobia and social stigma in society which evokes a bleak and rather depressing atmosphere, emphasised by the movie's earthy aesthetic. There is a rawness in the film’s narrative and dialogue, topped off by the lead actors’ successfully raw performances. Your Name Engraved Herein is tender as well as heartbreaking, occasionally depicting the joy of youth.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, Romance

Actor: Barry Qu, Cheng-Yang Wu, Chih-ju Lin, David Chiu, Edward Chen, Erek Lin, Fabio Grangeon, Honduras, Hui-Min Lin, Jason Wang, Jean-François Blanchard, Jing-Hua Tseng, Leon Dai, Lin Chih-ju, Lotus Wang, Lung Shao-Hua, Ma Nien-Hsien, Mimi Shao, Qu Youning, Siu Wa Lung, Soda Voyu, Stone Yang, Tseng Ching-hua, Waa Wei, Wang Shih Sian, Yi-Ruei Chen

Director: Kuang-Hui Liu, Liu Kuang-hui

Rating: N/A

It would be understandable if it only occurs to you midway through that Little Girl isn't actually a narrative feature but a gorgeously made documentary. Director Sébastien Lifshitz approaches his main character of Sasha not just with respect and empathy for her identity, but with a dedication to bring out the euphoria of feeling comfortable in one's skin. As a result, Lifshitz seems to intentionally avoid any and all scenes where Sasha may face discrimination (especially at school), but even if this choice occasionally make the material feel thin, getting to see Sasha gradually learning to express herself more—or even just just seeing her enjoy a quiet moment on her own—is more precious than anything.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sébastien Lifshitz

Named after the Celtic concept of heaven, Summerland is a rare queer period drama that feels hopeful rather than despairing. The film takes us to the countryside in World War II, where our protagonist, the reclusive writer Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton), studies the folklore about Summerland. We know that her isolation wasn’t fully chosen; her refusal to marry causes adults to gossip and causes children to speculate that she’s a witch. But this all changes when a young evacuee is entrusted to Alice’s care.

Gemma Arterton shines as a reluctant guardian stifled by repressed grief, and she makes Alice’s dynamic with Frank (Lucas Bond) and her former lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) incredibly believable. And while it would have been lovely to see more of Vera, even just their first meeting easily captures that heady sense of pure enchantment with another person. It’s no wonder that Alice has to cling to folklore the same way we do. For many of us, it’s the only way we can express our hopes, fears, and dreams.

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Amanda Lawrence, Amanda Root, Casper Allpress, Daniel Eghan, David Ajao, David Horovitch, Dixie Egerickx, Fergal McElherron, Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessica Gunning, Joshua Riley, Lucas Bond, Martina Laird, Nimmy March, Penelope Wilton, Rakhee Thakrar, Sally Scott, Siân Phillips, Thomas Coombes, Toby Osmond, Tom Courtenay

Director: Jessica Swale

Rating: N/A, PG

A simple movie about a Scottish country singer with a dream to go to Nashville, U.S.A and reach stardom. It starts with her leaving prison to return to her mom's house, where her kid was being raised in her absence. Heavy stuff, but this girl is determined to let nothing get in the way of realizing her dreams. Will she make it? At what cost? Wild Rose answers those questions with a warm script that's designed to make you feel good without completely misleading you. Think of it as a more grounded A Star is Born.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Mitchell, Aly Bain, Ashley McBryde, Ashley Shelton, Atta Yaqub, Benny Young, Bob Harris, Carolyn Calder, Craig Parkinson, Daisy Littlefield, David McGowan, Gemma McElhinney, Helen Katamba, J. Thomas Bailey, James Harkness, Jamie Sives, Jane Patterson, Janey Godley, Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Kacey Musgraves, Kern Falconer, Louise McCarthy, Martin Docherty, Maryam Hamidi, Matt Costello, Maureen Carr, Neill MacColl, Sophie Okonedo, Tracy Wiles

Director: Tom Harper

Rating: R

In The Kid Detective, Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a once-beloved child prodigy turned pathetic P.I. stuck in the glory days of his past. At 32 years old, he’s still solving petty mysteries and coasting on his parents’ money, but things start to change when he is finally dealt with a real, adult case: a murder that confounds even the local police. As Abe uncovers more details about the case, he also unwittingly finds a connection to his traumatic past and begins a long-overdue coming-of-age journey. 

Released during the first year of the pandemic, The Kid Detective understandably flew under the radar when it first came out, garnering sufficient critical praise but not enough fanfare. It will no doubt find a second life among film lovers, though; it’s too smart and riveting to go unnoticed. Most impressive is how director Evan Morgan, in his feature debut, deftly balances multiple genres in a movie that often feels as if Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and modern stoner humor were somehow rolled into one. The gags consistently amuse, the drawn-out mysteries pay off, and the human element persists throughout. Adam Brody, himself a kid celebrity back in the day, expertly carries this delightful and sobering film. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Brody, Alan Catlin, Alicia Brand, Amalia Williamson, Avery Esteves, Barbara Rajnovich, Bethanie Ho, Brent Skagford, Bruce McFee, Dallas Edwards, David Rosser, Deborah Tennant, Devin Myler, Giovanna Moore, Isaac Kragten, Jake Bell-Webster, Jesse Noah Gruman, Jonathan Whittaker, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Kaleb Horn, Kevin Hoffman, Kira Gelineau, Lisa Truong, Marcia Bennett, Marcus Zane, Marlaina Andre, Maurice Dean Wint, Peter MacNeill, Sarah Sutherland, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Nélisse, Steve Gagne, Tracy Rowland, Tyler Duke, Tzi Ma, Wayne St-George, Wendy Crewson

Director: Evan Morgan

Rating: R

While most media outlets would rather talk about Taylor Swift’s love life and never-ending feuds, the fact remains that Swift is a dedicated artist. She’s a prolific songstress and an astute writer, and regardless of what you think of her, it’s always a treat to see someone with that much passion and talent delve deep into their craft. 

This is precisely what she does in Folklore. Between cozy conversations with co-producers and rustic live sessions, Swift lets her guard down to reveal how she works on each song, from the backstory to the melody. The result is a mesmerizing documentary about how Swift spent the secluded year of 2020 working on a record that would go on to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift

Director: Taylor Swift

Rating: TV-14

An uplifting and inspiring movie with Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. Jones stars as Supreme Court Justice Associate Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this biopic centered around her hallmark case against sex-based discrimination. While it doesn't feel like it truly conveys the power of Ginsburg's story, her determination, or all the odds that were stacked against her, it serves as a mellowed-down preview of her remarkable story. Watch this if you're in need of a good dose of inspiration.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Amanda MacDonald, Angela Galuppo, Armie Hammer, Arthur Holden, Ben Carlson, Cailee Spaeny, Callum Shoniker, Chris Mulkey, Dawn Ford, Felicity Jones, Francis X. McCarthy, Gabrielle Graham, Gary Werntz, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Jack Reynor, Jeff Lillico, Joe Cobden, John Ralston, Justin Theroux, Karl Graboshas, Kathy Bates, Michael Dickson, Ronald Guttman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sam Waterston, Stephen Root, Wendy Crewson

Director: Mimi Leder

Rating: PG-13

This is Me…Now is more than just a glorified music video. It’s a personal confessional for one, and a surprisingly effective comedy for another. In parts, Jennifer Lopez speaks to her therapist (Fat Joe) about the dreams she’s been having, which then give way to surreal sequences of Lopez singing songs off her latest album, all about love and personal growth. You’d have to be a fan of Lopez’s pop style to appreciate the music, but the choreography is mesmerizing and, dare I say, Lopez’s true strength. When she’s not regaling us with her thoughts on love, we have the Council of Zodiac Signs, played by a stacked cast that includes Jane Fonda, Sofia Vergara, and Trevor Noah, to humor us with their genuinely funny observations. Lopez obviously has a vision, and it’s admirably big and earnest, but the technical side of the film fails her. Except for the ornate storybook opener, most of the dream sequences are gray and sludgy, and they rarely reflect Lopez’s rose-tinted view of life. I wish the film had more light, but instead, we get melty, inferior CGI work that is just painful to look at. Some people might be able to forgive this, but because film is largely a visual medium, I find that it ultimately detracts from the experience.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alex West, Alexander Pelaez, Alix Angelis, Ashley Versher, Ben Affleck, Brandon Delsid, Carlito Olivero, Danielle Larracuente, Derek Hough, Fat Joe, Idaliz Christian, Jane Fonda, Jay Shetty, Jenifer Lewis, Jennifer Lopez, Jocelyn Marie, Keke Palmer, Kim Petras, Malcolm Kelner, Matthew Law, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paul Raci, Post Malone, Sadhguru, Sofia Vergara, Trevor Jackson, Trevor Noah

Director: Dave Meyers

Rating: PG-13

In Love and Deep Water is torn between multiple concepts. There’s a murder, sure, and a butler trying to figure out who’s the killer, but there also happens to be a romance plot where the same butler falls in love with the passenger that informs him of their partners’ infidelity. The film also tries to squeeze in comedy with the way the killers try to hide the dead body, the ridiculousness of some passengers, and cheeky but contextless commentary. While the romance is lovely, In Love and Deep Water isn’t the fun and chaotic murder mystery promised, as it drowns itself with interesting ideas that never really fully pans out.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Airi Matsui, Aju Makita, Amane Okayama, Aoi Miyazaki, Hatsunori Hasegawa, Hidekazu Mashima, Ken Mitsuishi, Ken Yasuda, Kento Nagayama, Michiko Tomura, Miyu Hayashida, Nahana, Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Yoshizawa, Saki Takaoka, Takashi Okabe, Tomu Miyazaki, Yasuomi Sano, Yoh Yoshida, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Izumisawa

Director: Yusuke Taki

Rating: R, TV-MA