It's become the trump card in movie talk. "Yeah, that movie was good, but this movie made me cry."
It's no good to say a movie's brilliant, or the best ever. For grizzled movie watchers -- those of us who aren't given to weeping at the more dramatic Glade plug-in commercials -- it says a lot if a movie makes us cry. In fact, the movies that have made me cry rank almost uniformally with my favorites. After all, that's what movies are supposed to do: move us. There is nothing more beautiful than when a movie gets under our skin so much that it forces tears. To have that lack of emotional control is exhilirating.
What follows is a list of all the movies that have ever made me cry, and my best guess as to why they did. Now, I'm not talking about a single tear, or tearing up slightly, or just feeling sad or overjoyed. I'm talking about crying, people. Show me any of these babies, and get ready for a disturbing sight. They are ranked in terms of how inconsolable they made me, starting with the most sob-o-rific first. Some I'm proud made me cry, others made me feel like a fool. Please comment on your own personal list as well.
1) WIT (2001). Toward its end, it features the most moving scene I've ever experienced in any medium ever. Mike Nichols directs this adaptation of Margaret Edson's play, with Emma Thompson starring as a hard-nosed, uncompromising literature professor.
2) MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004). It features three characters that became more real to me than the seat I was sitting in. Why have you waited so long to see it?
3) HEART & SOULS (1992). My earliest memory of ever being overtaken by a movie. This movie was built to tearjerk. Look at its parts: Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick and Tom Sizemore as four people who are killed in a bus accident but are left stranded in this world, invisible to the living and inexplicably tied to a newborn baby, who grows up to be Robert Downey Jr. The movie is about finishing unfinished business, and the ghostly quartet uses Downey Jr. as a vessel to realize thwarted dreams, check in on children and right wrongs before they are ferried to the afterlife via David Paymer (who else?) as a nebbish grim reaper in a bus driver's uniform. Four lovable people getting a second chance after death? It's a veritable snotfest.
4) MONSTER (2003). I am still very grateful to this movie and its filmmakers. One of the finest, compassionate final sequences in movies.
5) ROCKY (1976). This isn't an attempt to fortify or redeem my masculinity. When I first saw it, I liked it throughout and was as invested in the final fight as anyone. But when Talia Shire tries to push her way through the crowd after the fight is over and Stallone is bellowing for her and she finally pushes her way into the ring, Bill Conti's score hits its final stride. Realizing at the very end that 'Rocky' had been a love story all along is one of my favorite memories of watching movies. Tears of joy.
6) REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000). Ellen Burstyn rung me out like a sponge. Watch the "I'm alone" scene at her kitchen table. You'll notice that the camera starts to drift as she talks about how empty her life is. It's because the cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, couldn't see through his tears. Needless to say, they kept that take.
6) WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998). It's a beautiful movie no doubt, but I'm slightly embarrassed to have cried at it. The second-chance-when-you're-dead thing gets me, though. Can't help it.
7) FOREVER YOUNG (1992). She's still alive and waiting for him! (Interesting note: J.J. Abrams, writer-creator of 'Alias," wrote the movie.)
8) SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). It's not its horrors. It's seeing Schindler tell himself he could've done more. Watch Liam Neeson as he accepts the ring with his defenses up, drops the ring (and his defenses), and stands back up completely exposed.
9) CINEMA PARADISO (1989). I wasn't liking it until the end. And what an end.
10) YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). Because it ended.
Conclusions? Music. All these films pack additional punch because of their scores. When I think back, the score is what I remember; it's what tips the emotional scale from wet eyes to wet cheeks. Henryk Gorecki's plaintive, hymnal piano in 'Wit' as Emma Thompson stares down the void. Clint Eastwood's spare guitar in 'Million Dollar Baby' as a shattering decision is made. BT's rock 'n' roll licks in the courtroom scene of 'Monster.' Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet underlining the virtuosity of 'Requiem for a Dream.' The lush, soaring strings of the late Michael Kamen's 'What Dreams May Come' score. It's the music that pushes us over the edge.
Would 'Young Frankenstein' be the same without its theme? Or "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life," for that matter?