Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The crying game

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?

To the lumberyard!


Middento said...

I admit weeping to Burstyn's speech in Requiem for a Dream as well. Most recently, I cried at Vadim Perelman's House of Sand and Fog. A great melodrama -- and the funny part was, I actually cried more the second time I watched it than I did the first time.

I also regularly weep at the close of Peter Weir's Fearless, which is not just due to music, but to sound in general. If you haven't seen it, the final sequence is a flashback to a rather graphic plane crash where, by this point in the film, we already know who lives and dies. The kicker is that we see explosions, screams, the plane being ripped apart -- and hear nothing except the rising strains of Gorecki's Symphony #3. It breaks me up every single time. Sick.

J.J. said...

I can't believe I left out 'House of Sand & Fog.' Ben Kingsley's is one of the finest performances ever; when he is being hauled away from his wounded son... It's amazing how thick the drama is in the last 15 minutes, and how it never collapses on itself.

J.J. said...

I left out 'About Schmidt' too. When he's sitting on top of his RV, asking for a sign from his dead wife. And the end too. (Rolfe Kent's score is also ability.)

Anonymous said...

When I was a little kid I cried at "Baby Boom" and "Look Who's Talking Now." Hahahaha. Now I can't think of any grown-up movies that have made me cry, but then I have no soul.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, I don't tend to cry at movies. Not that that limits my movie-enjoying experience, or being able to register what is sad and what is moving. The movie that managed to crack through.... that's right, House of Sand and Fog. The beautiful score does a good job of wrenching emotions around. Yes, Ben Kingsley is phenomenal in this film, but who knocks it out of the park is Shohreh Aghdashloo.... that ending sequence of her and Sir Ben sitting together on their roof watching the sunset and her falling asleep and spilling the tea: talk about an emotional vortex. Whole lot of crying. Also the ending with Jennifer Connelly finding them both on the bed; her reaction to seeing Shohreh's character is heartbreaking. More cyring. And to agree with the poster above, the second time hit me much much harder than the first. Funny how that works out.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man.
What a great post! This is the first time I read it.

There are three times I always cry during IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE:

1. When Mr. Gower is slapping young George on the side of the head because he didn't deliver the medicine, as young Mary hears it as well.

2. That incredible phone conversation outburst, when a frustrated George takes out all his frustrations on Mary. That is SO human and awful, I'm just streaming lachrymal fluid... but then we segue immediately to their wedding day, and I'm laughing and smiling and shedding tears of joy.

3. The ending when George is running through town saying hello to the Building and Loan, seeing everything returned to normal.

Go, Capra-corn!

And holy crap, apparently I needs me to see some HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG!

Anonymous said...

i, too, have no soul. but these babies get me every time-

1- gorillas in the mist: partially for the obscene cruelty to the animals, and partially for the burial scene.

2- la bamba: when ricky's mom screams out his name by the clothesline. oh MAN. this movie is always on some 2nd rate cable channel, so not only do i feel like a tool for watching it for the 238th time (edited & with commercials) but there i am crying at the same exact part again, like it's the first time i've seen it.

3- the green mile: i'll be honest; michael clarke duncan had me crying so much, i dont even remember most of the last third of the movie. but that was several years ago, and as good as the movie was, i can't bear to go through that emotional turmoil again.

Reel Inspiration said...

The best of all worlds are movies that make me laugh and cry. There's a scene in Strictly Ballroom where the beginning dancer and champion overcome their fears and dance their new style. When an old school judge pulls the plug on their music, the dancer's father keeps the rhythm going by clapping until the whole audience joins in. They follow the beat of their hear and dance for the sheer love of it. Gets me every time.


Ms☆Go said...


Thank you, for reminding me how much I freaking LOVE that movie.

Adi said...

Thank you for sharing.
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