Everyone needs a good cry once in a while. Movie crying is one of the most cathartic ways to do it. These five films never fail to make me weep:
1. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
John Madden’s Best Picture winner has been one of my favorites since I was twelve. Tom Stoppard’s unfairly clever, beautiful script seamlessly blends the spirit and magic of Shakespeare’s language with modern humor and a gender-confused love story. Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes give heartfelt performances, so much so that in moments like the one above, you truly believe they are head over heels. The rest of the stellar cast, including poor Colin Firth as the overweight unwanted suitor, make Stoppard’s lines ring with magic meaning. This movie is one of the reasons I so staunchly defend Ben Affleck whenever his acting skill comes into question. Yes, he can be wooden in dramatic roles, but his scene-stealing turn here is simply hilarious. I adore Shakespeare in Love because it makes me cry and also makes me deliriously happy. Such a beautifully made film cannot help but make a film lover happy.
The Moment That Always Gets Me: Will’s final monologue over the image of Viola walking across the sand. “Not for her a watery end, but a new life, beginning on a stranger shore. It will be a love story, for she will be my heroine for all time….and her name will be Viola.”
2. Children of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian fable is an evocative, thought-provoking exploration of a world without innocence. When women can no longer have babies and civilizations everywhere are following apart, the citizens of fascist, ravaged Britain are largely dispassionate and hateful. One such detached citizen is Theo (a beautifully understated Clive Owen), who is given the task of escorting a miraculously pregnant girl to safety with the possibly-fictional Human Project. Cuarón balances gritty visuals with lyrical moments of writing to give the sense that there is still beauty in this world, and it lies in humanity. His camerawork emphasizes Theo’s development, trailing behind him at first, in a manner as detached as his psyche, but then following him more and more closely as he becomes increasingly invested in the people around him and the fate of the world. We go on this journey with him, and when he finally allows himself a happy moment at the end, we cannot help but breathe with him.
The Moment that Always Gets Me: Theo is trying to get Kee and her baby safely through a refugee camp in the throes of battle. When the baby starts crying, everyone around them grows quiet and stares in awe. As Kee and Theo walk by, people reach out to touch the baby, murmuring in their different languages and worshiping the child. Then, when Kee and Theo walk out toward the lines of soldiers, all the gunfire stops. The soldiers take down their weapons and simply watch, careful not to hurt the baby. Much of this is done in one long take, and the complete and utter stillness at the sound of a baby makes me cry every time. Miriam says in the middle of the film, “Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices,” and here Cuarón makes you remember that line.
3. Schindler’s List (1993)
When you need a really hardcore tearjerker, it’s hard to do better than Schindler’s List. Stephen Spielberg’s Holocaust chronicle is a journey of a film, clocking in at over three hours and taking you through the ghettos and labor camps of Nazi-occupied Poland. Sir Ben Kingsley’s soulful performance as accountant Itzhak Stern never fails to tug on my heartstrings and even draw out a chuckle or two. Ralph Fiennes’s terrifying Amon Goethe is one of the most chilling screen villains of all time, his cold reptilian gaze accentuated by the black and white. The most impressive aspect of the film is its ability to create a strong sense of the ensemble. The huge cast of characters is hard to remember by name, but Spielberg makes each face memorable enough that we are able to track the journeys of a large number of figures. In this way, the film succeeds in creating both a sense of scope and a sense of intimacy, which are essential in portraying an event like the Holocaust.
The Moment that Always Gets Me: The ending. I mean, come on. When the survivors are walking toward shelter and they dissolve into the real life Schindler Jews, how can you not lose it? We are finally in color, and everything we have experienced over the past three hours feels so much more real. Obviously, we all know that these things happened, but to actually see the people whose stories we’ve learned is simply wrenching.
4. Field of Dreams (1989)
Now, I am not a baseball person at all. I used to watch the Yankees now and then, and I sometimes catch a game if it happens to be on a television near me. I have never been one of those people tremendously moved by the sport itself and the institution around it, but I love baseball movies. Bull Durham (1988) and A League of Their Own (1992) have been favorites of mine for years. It is Field of Dreams, however, that makes me bawl every time. Everyone likes to make fun of this movie because of its fantastical nature and its oft-quoted lines, but I always find myself succumbing to its irresistible sweetness. The sense of magic it creates around baseball carries you away, and you become wrapped up in the fantasy. Let’s not forget the magic of James Earl Jones either. “People will come, Ray. People will come.”
The Moment that Always Gets Me: Once again, it’s the ending. When Ray finally gets up the courage to ask his father for a catch, we see that this field is for baseball dreams great and small. The innocence of childhood is something we can regain, if just for a moment or two.
5. Spirited Away (2001)
I grew up on the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The magic and whimsy of his films, along with their sometimes-veiled environmental messages, never failed to affect me. I rode the cat bus in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), fought the boar gods in Princess Mononoke (1997), and in Spirited Away I cleaned the muck off the river spirit. One of the remarkable things about Spirited Away is the fact that its main character, Chihiro, begins the film as an extremely irritating, unexceptional child. Her journey over the course of the film and the way she eventually gets the entire bathhouse to rally around her never fails to move me and make me long for an adventure like hers. The cast of imaginative characters and the beautiful music don’t hurt, either.
The Moment that Always Gets Me: When dragon Haku is flying Chihiro back to the bathhouse, she tells him that she remembers where she met him: he was the spirit of the Kohaku River, and he saved her when she drowned. As soon as she finishes telling the story, Haku instantly changes back into human form, and the two cry as he finally remembers who he is. In a film filled with issues of naming and identity, it’s a beautiful moment, and the animation of the tears falling upwards is simply lovely.
Well, there you have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts – what movies tug on your heartstrings?