SOME issues are even more important than the Scottish elections or rather some issues come along, blessedly, to provide a little distraction from the Scottish elections. Today that issue is cinema. After all, isn’t that what cinema is for? To distract us, take us away from the real world, reflect the lives we lead back to us in a way that makes the entire desperate horrorshow of human existence understandable and acceptable.

For the full span of my 50-long years on the planet, Citizen Kane has reigned as ‘the greatest film ever made’. Yesterday, Orson Welles’ 1941 study of power, politics and the media got pushed aside by a wee bear – Paddington. Until yesterday, Kane was the top-rated movie on the global film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Not any longer – Paddington 2 now holds that spot.

The cinephile snob in me should be outraged (Citizen Kane defined modern cinema; it’s glorious, beautiful; it’s art for God sake!) – but in truth, the plain old cinephile in me is smiling. Paddington is a masterpiece of delight. Its greatest value is found in the sheer joy it brings audiences. In terms of the art of cinema, it can go toe to toe with Citizen Kane anytime.

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I reckon some readers won’t have seen the Paddington films. I hadn’t watched them either until last year – thinking, like a dope, they were just for kids. But last year, I was ill for a while and the only films I could tolerate where gentle and light.

As a child in the 1970s, I adored the Paddington books and teatime cartoons, so I thought I’d give the movies a whirl. I fell in love with Paddington all over again. It wasn’t nostalgia that got me – Paddington isn’t a nostalgia trip – it was the sheer, splendid life-affirming virtuosity of the films.

The love affair took me by surprise. Anyone who’s read my film criticism knows I’m more than a little drawn to the dark side. I’m aware that for a Generation X film reviewer my tastes are pretty cliched on reflection: extreme cinema, French new wave horror, arthouse, blah, blah, blah – it’s all that hipster palaver that usually has me frothing and panting about the ‘latest, greatest thing in cinema’. Gaspar Noé, Michael Haneke – or even David Cronenberg back in the day – bring on paroxysms of near unbridled ecstasy.

But that kind of cinema is about challenge and shock – I sometimes like to see just what I can tolerate in terms of the raw brutality of film. How much can a movie rub my nose in the awfulness of life and still allow me to come out breathing – that’s often the attitude I bring to cinema.

HeraldScotland: Orson Welles in Citizen KaneOrson Welles in Citizen Kane

I recently got that jag of pain, anger and suffering from Promising Young Woman – a devastating take on female rage and revenge, with one central scene so prolonged and violent I had to stare at the floor until it was over. Before that it was Joker, a modern-day tragedy which anatomised the soul of the male outsider.

But do any of these films make my heart sing out loud? Certainly not. They make me think, hard – they produce an often physical reaction. But they don’t make me happy. And there’s nothing wrong with being happy. There’s nothing wrong with fun, either. Life can be bleak, we need to smile sometimes.

Paddington will make you happy. Paddington is fun. But so what? Lots of comedies make people happy – that’s the point; they provide distraction. But they’re essentially meaningless. They don’t make you delight in the simple act of being alive – that’s the difference. They don’t speak of hope and the joy of being human. Paddington does; that means it wields extraordinary artistic power.

The films aren’t merely some dose of positivity. Paddington is clever, nuanced and elegant. Director and writer Paul King and Simon Farnaby (who also wrote Ghosts, probably the best British TV comedy in decades) can make the most absurd slapstick deftly witty.

Paddington is Charlie Chaplin. That’s meant in a good way. Chaplin was the cinema of the people. Like Chaplin, the Paddington movies are beautifully, meticulously crafted, poignant and funny. Most comedies find balancing jokes and plot impossible – Paddington merges both seamlessly.

Nor are the Paddington films devoid of meaning. In the first film, Paddington makes his lonely way to London from darkest Peru, searching for a home, a family and a little love. It may well have gone over the heads of kids watching, but adults were left in no doubt that there was a thick wodge of subtext in Paddington about the treatment of refugees in modern Britain.

Paddington films aren’t ‘issue films’, however. We’re drowning in issue films these days. The recent Oscars were wall to wall with issue films – Judas and the Black Messiah, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Crip Camp, Promising Young Woman.

The Academy was clearly – rightly – making up for years of sidelining black, female, and disabled artists and issues. And don’t get me wrong, all these films are necessary and good – some even great – but they also wear their politics heavily.

In this age of rising extremism and bigotry, that’s clearly no bad thing, but there’s beauty in a film which carries a message without beating you over the head. There’s real beauty also in a film which can speak to both children and adults without confusing one and patronising the other. That’s rare and magical.

There’s been talk that Paddington is ‘painfully English’. That’s just daft. The spirit of Paddington reflects the one thing that truly holds all the peoples of these islands together: our humour. We all share a sense of comedy that’s simultaneously anarchic, silly, whimsical and bitingly satirical.

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Nor do the films reinforce some phoney 1950s vision of life. Paddington is a very modern phenomenon. If the films are saying anything, it’s this: be kind. In an era of hate, that really is a pretty radical proposition to push.

If you haven’t watched the Paddington films do so. Don’t be held back by cinema snobbery or some wrongheaded idea that these are movies only for kids. Paddington is art. There, I’ve said it.

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