By: Daniel Reynolds
As 2015 has wound down, I’ve begun to reflect on my favourite movie experiences of the year. These recollections have me circling back, however, to the same notion: With one month to go, the year’s films have mostly been unable to push me into the most extreme of emotional spaces. I refer of course to the most private and embarrassing of response: crying.
Yes, I appreciate a film that can move me to tears. It says something special. This year Room has been the lone movie with the ability. As my review last week made clear, there are a few scenes – three immediately spring to mind – that wrecked me. The tears were from sadness, to a certain extent, but really they were from an overload of emotion, of thinking about what I was seeing and hearing, of absorbing this shared cinematic experience and empathizing with the participants. It’s been a rare feat this year, as some expected high-quality films (your Spotlight, your Steve Jobs) have been good, but not quite emotionally pummelling enough (in a good way).
It was Roger Ebert who said no good movies are depressing, only bad ones are. And Quentin Tarantino announced once, having seen Chungking Express, “I just started crying … I’m just so happy to love a movie this much.” That’s the understanding we’re working with. So, here are four of my favourites in this admittedly thin category, along with a Tear Guarantee rating for each.
Yi Yi (A One and a Two)
There’s something inherently sad about the arc of director Edward Yang‘s career. For close to 20 years he laboured away as part of the Taiwanese film movement in the 80s and 90s. Then, in 2000, he makes Yi Yi, wins the Best Director award at Cannes, and achieves international acclaim. His follow up? Nothing until his sudden death at 59 in 2007.
But if ever there was a director who went out on top, Yang is that guy. Yi Yi is his undisputed masterpiece. The film says just about everything it can about family relationships, modern living, generational divides, young love, marriage, careers, parental roles, romance, death, the whole thing. In just shy of three hours, Yi Yi builds to such a level of zen beauty, it’s hard not to be overcome with emotion by its end. And that’s just what happens to me when I watch it.
Tear Guarantee: 6 out of 10. It’s a slow boil on this one, and the emotional beats at the end are muted. But, I mean, come on, you’re not inhuman.
You are damn right Rocky is on the list. With all the recent Creed chatter (I haven’t seen the film yet, but will shortly), I went looking around Youtube for some famous clips. I settled on the final 4:35. Go ahead and watch, you’ve seen it before.
Even now, writing this, thinking about those moments–Adrian’s appearance in the tunnel, the Apollo shoulder slump, the soaring music, Rocky’s pained cry, the final beat before he announces his love–never fails to get me choked up.
Sure, it’s just a boxing movie, one that is at times totally ridiculous as an actual representation of boxing. But you get to that final moment, when everything pays off, and suddenly it doesn’t matter. We’re all standing in that ring, drained.
Tear Guarantee: 8 out of 10. If something’s not stirring inside of you while Rocky and Adrian are beginning their tentative relationship, or when the training montage begins, or in the film’s final moments, I don’t know what to tell you. You may be a psychopath.
The Iron Giant
If polled, I suspect the favoured cartoon to get people crying would be Bambi. And that’s fine, I suppose. But for me, the discussion starts and ends with Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant. Don’t remember it? The film has the unfortunate distinction of being released four years after the first Toy Story film, right in that anti-sweet spot when hand-drawn animation was on its way out and computer-generated images had become the standard. Oh yeah, and it was also set during the Cold War and involved a huge war machine.
What’s beautiful about The Iron Giant is its sense of wonder. It believably puts you in the shoes of young Hogarth, and has fun with the question: What would you do if you were a kid and found a huge robot? Of course, the subtext of the film, steeped in era-appropriate paranoia, governmental distrust, and a bit of the old Spielberg-ian family dysfunction, is what moves the film to a higher plane. By the time the iron giant (voiced by Vin Diesel, by the way) is rumbling about Superman, I defy you to find dry eyes in the place.
Tear Guarantee: 9 out of 10. Say it with me now, in a low guttural growl: “Suuuperrrmaaaan.” Yep, I’m crying right now.
In post-war Italy, times were tough. The country was rebuilding itself, work was scarce, and the national identity had taken a serious hit. Even old people, the men and women who had now survived two world wars, were having a tough go of it. Into this setting strolls Umberto D.
Directed by the neo-realist master Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D revolves around the titular old man, a retired civil servant, and his attempts to live his remaining years with dignity. He shares a small apartment in Rome with his dog, Flike, and spends the film’s run time doing what he can to stave off eviction and combat loneliness. Umberto falls ill, he gets separated from his dog for a time, his prospects get dimmer. The particulars of the film’s plot escape me now, as it’s been years since I’ve seen it. But I’ll never forget watching it with my Italian mother, sitting on our couch in the basement, seeing the look in Umberto’s eyes as he gazes at his dog and into the abyss of his own mortality; the film’s final minutes achieving the perfect bitter sweet note.
I own Umberto D on DVD now, from the Criterion Collection version. I could watch it any time I want and be moved, I’m sure, to tears once again.
I have yet to watch it a second time.
Tear Guarantee: 10 out of 10. An old man and his dog, hanging on. If you’re not crying, please consult with your doctor–you may be dead.