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The 10 Heart-Achiest Films of All Time

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | February 14, 2012 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | February 14, 2012 |

Heartache is not just heartbreak or heartsickness, although it can be those, too. Heart-achiness can also describe joy so profound that it feels like it’s splitting your heart in half, or simply a heaviness that ruminates around in your chest like a Wilco or a Regina Spector song, or that leaves your soul wounded, craving a cigarette even if you’ve never smoked. Like the very best romantic relationships, heart-achy movies hurt in both good ways and bad. These are, in my mind, the 10 Heart-Achiest of them all.

imgmoulin rouge5.jpg10. Moulin Rouge - What elevates the film from a simple romantic fable is its built-in destruction of the happiness the two leads have found. The prologue to Romeo + Juliet spoke of the imminent and unavoidable deaths of the title characters, and Luhrmann borrowed that same idea by having Christian announce to the viewer at the very beginning that he would fall in love with Satine, and that she would die. Luhrmann spends the rest of the film tracing “the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,” which begins to unravel not long after Christian and Satine get together. There’s a beauty in the story’s inevitability as Luhrmann carries it to its rightful conclusion, and despite the late presence of an old-Hollywood rendition of “Like a Virgin” for comic relief, Moulin Rouge! stays firmly on course for tragedy: Through a series of lies and betrayals, Christian and Satine are torn apart and come together again, and Luhrmann perfectly fuses the tenderness of a love story with the pain of loss. — Daniel Carlson

punch-drunk_love-05.jpg9. Punch Drunk Love — Among Paul Thomas Anderson’s works, Punch-Drunk Love is frequently and unfortunately neglected. It’s a romantic comedy that abandons all conventions, that creates characters that are both real and absurd, and that shows a relationship that you find yourself completely enraptured by. The film is also a massive source of frustration, as Adam Sandler, playing the temperamental, reclusive, morose Barry Egan, is nothing short of perfect in his performance, making you hate his oafish and insidiously stupid Happy Madison creations even more. It’s a subdued, almost gentle character whose social ineptness leads him to painful fits of rage, and who finds the only calm and order in his life in the form of Lena (Emily Watson). Filled with the type of bizarre and surreal characters and plotlines that could only ever work in one of Anderson’s films, at it’s heart it’s a simple tale of two people who can’t find their place in the universe, who find complications and stumbling blocks (both external and internal) at every turn. Except, of course, when they’re with each other, and all of a sudden the madness that surrounds their lives (particularly Sandler’s) dims into the background. The buildup of their relationship is beautifully timid, and their jagged and mishap-laden courtship is hard to watch because, from the very beginning, you want it to work, but the climb is a steep one. Through all of the chaos of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s deranged crooked mattress salesmen and phone sex and pudding, Punch-Drunk Love is just a love story, and a brilliant one. As Barry says, in a line that carries more emotional resonance than any lofty proclamations of love and devotion, “This is funny. This is nice.” — TK

500-days-of-summ.jpg8. (500) Days of Summer — 500 Days of Summer isn’t an easy movie to describe. Try explaining to a friend why you’re in love with your significant other. You might say, “She’s beautiful; she’s got a great sense of humor; she’s wicked intelligent; and she has a great rack,” but this won’t do your significant other justice. They’re just words, and words rarely stack up to the effervescent giddiness you feel when you’re falling in love, or the crushing heartache an unexpected end to relationship can often leave.500 Days of Summer, like few movies I’ve ever seen, accurately captures the range of emotions that accompany falling in love and then having your heart shattered. And while the dialogue is witty, and real, and funny, and smart, it’s director Marc Webb’s attention to the details that make 500 Days of Summer such a deeply authentic movie. There are a lot of movie about love, and even more that think they are, but very few successfully capture that helpless uncertainty attendant to a new relationship — the overwhelming need to pin it down, to label it, to gain a sense of security, to know that what he or she is feeling is not fleeting. — Dustin Rowles

Waitress.jpg7. Waitress — Waitress has a plot, but it’s not plot-driven. It’s driven by a fairy-tale whimsy. And this infectious floaty feeling that seeps into you while watching Waitress, a light emotion that hovers in the pit of your stomach and gently rises until the suffocating triangle of Jenna’s life traps it in your chest. And then the finale releases it, like a popped cork, unleashing every emotion within you like … like … waking up and realizing, for the first time in ages, that there is someone lying next to you in bed, lit by the sun seeping through the shades — groggy and halitosic, but striking nonetheless. If you allow yourself to give into it, to get swept up by its charm, you’ll walk out with an achy heart and a smile that may not fade for days. — Dustin Rowles

inamerica.jpg6. In America In America is an amazing film, about life and death and letting go, based on Jim Sheridan and his wife’s experiences after losing a child. There are a lot of great moments in the film, but the final scene will sneak up on you and just … it will just murder you. It’s this grand epiphanic moment, where Paddy Considine’s character somehow acknowledge’s his child’s death, lets it go, and decides to live. To live for himself. To live for his family. To live for life. If it doesn’t leave you in big puddle of your own human-manufactured saline solution, then just give it up, man. Go back to your emotionally detached life of Adam Sandler flicks and episodes of “Big Bang Theory,” because you don’t deserve to see films as good as this one. — Dustin Rowles

harold_and_maude.jpg5. Harold and MaudeHarold and Maude is quintessential life-affirming movies, strangely and perversely celebrating life by embracing death. Maude (Ruth Gordon), a Holocaust survivor about to turn 80, believes in living. She brings Harold (Bud Cort), a depressed, suicide-obsessed, hearse-driving 19-year-old into her life. In a short amount of time, Maude instills into Bud a desire to live, to find love and adventure and grace in life and living and being and experiencing and loving and believing and existing, before shuffling off to her own mortal coil. It’s weird, a little twisted, romantic, sometimes dark, kind of icky, deeply morbid and yet, ultimately, Harold and Maude is a profoundly moving, life-affirming burst of cinematic soul that will leave your heart floating in equal parts ache and happiness. — Dustin Rowles

paristexask.jpg4. Paris, Texas — Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas could be misinterpreted by the impatient viewer as being boring, when it’s really anything but. It is slow, though, the kind of luxuriously paced film that demands your attention. At 147 minutes, Paris, Texas is long enough in its running time and obstinate enough in its unfolding to create an authentic, textured world that wraps around the viewer like the heat baking off the hardtop. A man wanders out of the desert as if God put him there: It’s Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), an amnesiac. He moves in with his brother (Dean Stockwell) and begins to put his life back together, which means reconnecting with his son and tracking down his wife (Nastassja Kinski). Wenders and cinematographer Robby Müller (Down By Law, Dead Man) exult in the simmering expanses of Texas wasteland, and the formal framing and lengthy takes underscore Travis’ spiritual isolation. After half an hour, what once felt slow feels perfectly natural, as if the film had been waiting for you to calm down and slip into its own gentle but constant rhythm, waxing and waning with the Texas sun, building to a heartbreaking reunion. Ry Cooder’s score is fantastic, his slide guitar evoking the mournful strains of Blind Willie Johnson, one of the greatest Texas bluesmen who ever lived. It’s a calmly dazzling film. — Daniel Carlson

blue_valentanythingatalline.gif3. Blue ValentineBlue Valentine is a hauntingly effective work, one that defies encapsulation. Because at times it’s a relationship drama, at times it’s comedic, at times it’s typical indie romance, at times it’s straight up rom-com, and at times, it’s a tragedy. It’s so real, it’s such an honest portrayal of two people who come together and tear apart. It’s not like two pieces of driftwood in a riverbed — there’s no drifting. This is like a Band-aid being attached with superglue being torn off and reattached. It’s not the feel good film of the year, and it’s damn good. It’s sour and sweet, and that’s what helps it go down. I couldn’t endure another viewing and it has nothing to do with the quality of the picture. Derek Cianfrance has simply created a haunting valentine to the pain couples endure when they’re lives don’t turn out like they hoped. — Brian Prisco

eternal_sunshine_of_the_spotless_mind.jpg2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry’s (and Charlie Kaufman’s) 2004 gem, represents perfectly the beautiful disasters we create through relationships, romantic and otherwise, with its look at the oddly matched Joel (Jim Carrey in the best thing he’ll ever do) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), who each opt to have their memories of each other erased after their painful breakup. As each memory of Joel’s slips away, though, he and Clementine — in a Kaufmanesque manner — view with new eyes everything they in fact had as a couple, and they can’t help but be drawn to each other all over again. A secondary plot ends the same way, with a girl (Kirsten Dunst) again loving the man (Tom Wilkinson) she had erased from her mind. In a depressed state you could take these plots the wrong way, in that you’ll never get over your former love, but it’s best to view the positive truths they represent on what it means to love unconditionally. It is not about loving someone in spite of their flaws; their flaws come with the package. You just love them, and that’s why we all take the gamble in the first place. And if the person who just broke your heart can’t see that, well, screw them. You’re better off without them, right? … Right? — Sarah Carlson

brokebackwww_u.jpg1. Brokeback Mountain — Calling Brokeback Mountain “that gay cowboy movie” is about as reductive as calling The Godfather”that mafia movie.” It contains aspects of Westerns, gay coming-of-age films, and romantic melodramas, but to apply a facile label would be to underestimate its majestic sweep and its heartening and heartrending depth. It is, at its base, a film about the conflict between what a man is and what he needs. The movie’s source is the final story in Annie Proulx’s book Close Range: Wyoming Stories, a collection of narratives about difficult lives lived in difficult circumstances by people who mostly don’t expect better. Her characters tend to be of two types: the dreamers who either buy into the romance of the West or can’t wait to escape it and the realists who accept their lot with stoic resilience. Brokeback Mountain has one of each: Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), starry-eyed and caught up in heroic myths, and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) a pragmatist who just lives his life the only way he knows how. In outline, the film is simple: Boy gets boy; boy loses boy; boy gets and loses boy over and over again across a lifetime — but there’s a whole world of suffering and grief in all that getting and losing, a permanent sense of loss, of possibilities forever forestalled, happiness perpetually found and then denied, lessons learned too late. — Jeremy C. Fox

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.