In a scene from the 1993 film Sleepless In Seattle, Rita Wilson famously breaks down while describing the plot of An Affair To Remember to a skeptical Victor Garber and Tom Hanks. The boys go on to mock her mercilessly by giving The Dirty Dozen the same tear-soaked treatment. But, despite its beauty, I can’t put An Affair To Remember on this list. That ending? That emotional ending? Oh it’s a cake walk compare to this list. They life happily ever after for f*ck’s sake! Where’s the soul-scraping despair in that?
And what is it, exactly, that drives us to revisit movies that have made us weep? Or, worse yet, why would we watch a movie in the first place knowing how devastating it will be? If you know anything about the tragic history of Alan Turing, you’ll know that there’s not enough tweed and buttery leather attaché cases in the world to make up for the tears that are going to gush from your face when you see the upcoming biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
So why? Why do we put ourselves through this? Is any exquisitely composed shot or searing performance worth reducing ourselves to gibbering idiots? I’m not talking about that gross, manipulative Nicholas Sparks nonsense; I’m talking about movies that really earn your sobs. If you’re going to lose it over any films, these 14 are a good place to start.
Land Girls: This overlooked ’90s gem stars Rachel Weisz, Catherine McCormack and Anna Friel as three young women who do their bit for the war effort during World War II by joining the Women’s Land Army. The movie pulls no punches in showing the devastating affect the war had on the home front, for men and women alike.
Brief Encounter: A classic tear jerker about two married people who fall in love and decide to do the right thing. A mere shoulder squeeze shouldn’t break your heart, but it does.
Iron Giant: THIS MOVIE IS FOR CHILDREN? SERIOUSLY?!
Head-On: Anyone who thinks Game Of Thrones’s Sibel Kekilli is a terrible actress obviously hasn’t seen this bloody, German valentine. Blame the role (Shae) not the performer, because she’s stunning in this.
Cranford: Before George RR Martin there was Elizabeth Gaskell, who made 19th century readers caution “everyone you love will die.” (Dickens and Hardy knew that trick, too.) I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did while watching this BBC miniseries …
… and no amount of Hiddleston forehead crinkles in the sequel could make up for it.
A Single Man: Why Colin Firth won the Oscar for The King’s Speech is beyond me when this was clearly the finest work of his career. Gorgeous and devastating.
Bright Star: As with Turing, I knew the Keats story before I went into this movie. You’d think that would prepare me, harden me somehow. No, this movie will daintily, poetically rip your guts right out and then dance a little jig on them.
The English Patient: Most of what people remember of this movie is Juliette Binoche and Sayid from Lost scampering about peering at frescos. But Kristen Scott Thomas died alone and cold in a cave somewhere because Ralph Fiennes couldn’t get to her in time. It’s a heart pulper.
Moulin Rouge!: Baz Luhrmann’s pageantry should get in the way of the story here (basically a retelling of Camille). But Ewan MacGregor is just the right amount of over-wrought to break you into smithereens.
Splendor In The Grass: A tragedy that wouldn’t exist were it not for the sexual politics of the time. Once again, we get the perfect amount of melodrama from Natalie Wood and a soul-shaking, unhappy ending.
Brokeback Mountain: Thankfully, you can’t tell a story like Splendor In The Grass set in the modern day. In fact, you can’t even tell a story like Brokeback Mountain set in the modern day. The sexual politics are too liberal for such angst. But Brokeback takes place in the not-too-distant past, when the shame and burden of this socially unacceptable love was enough to ruin many lives.
Once: Restrained and upsetting. I can barely listen to the soundtrack let alone rewatch the film.
Atonement: I read the book so I knew what to expect, but something about the way Kiera Knightley and Janes McAvoy played this story out absolutely wrecked me.
In The Mood For Love: Possibly the most devastatingly beautiful movie ever shot. No happy endings for anyone. Just beauty and noodles and longing and noodles and despair.