“I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.”
Admit it, you love tragedies, inspiring tear-jerkers, and difficult break ups. Well, maybe not in real life, but certainly it has crossed your path in the world of cinema. We all have our favorites or “best of’s” that just grab us by the emotions and never let us go. They are the ones that stick with us, because they make the biggest impact. Well, today we will be venturing into the saddest of sads. The Top 15 Saddest, in fact.
Any film can have sad, heartbreaking, or devastating plot elements or endings. But it takes a special kind of despair to find the perfect element of loveable characters, containing hopeful ambitions, meeting tragic endings. These are the special films that make us feel the painful and numbing truths that bad things happen in this world. They also are the very films that keep us watching animated films and comedy sitcoms…all as a ploy to feel gleeful and optimistic. Yes, there are MANY honorable films I can mention (The Green Mile, UP, The Impossible, Forest Gump, Hotel Rwanda, The Pianist, A Streetcar Named Desire, Dead Poets Society, We Are Marshal, Old Yeller – to name a few), and while there are a handful I have yet to get up the nerve to put myself through (The Passion of the Christ, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Fruitvale Station, and Requiem for a Dream) I hold the position that these 15 choices will more than help you feel at your most heartbroken or helpless…
15. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
I know, I know. I am just fanboying at this point. But it was a grueling and unflinching finale to our beloved Fellowship and Middle Earth nonetheless. It was done so perfectly that it was devastating to say adieu to such a marvelous spectacle. Finalizing with the much-mocked 5 endings or so (which I loved), made it all just that much more sentimental. If you haven’t seen this film, shame on you! It is your humble host’s very favorite…
14. The Remains of the Day
I don’t like admitting that I go for romance every so often, nor that the genre can in fact “move me” occasionally. But this one is special. What makes this particular moody period-piece stand out in devastation is the world it presents. A world in which the only way to present any “respectable” feeling or mourning is in a look, a whisper, or behind closed doors, not in boldness, discussion, or screams for attention as we are so accustomed to. It is these dyer truths that leave our lovable two leads in dyer times. And while there are many desperate films that show a “Oh-what-could-have-been” predicament, this one cuts to the quick due to the stunning Emma Thompson and the talented Anthony Hopkins, who are at their very best.
13 Tie. A Man For All Seasons / The Stoning of Soraya M.
I put these two tragedies together because of their similarities. While one is a borderline family friendly historic classic (…maybe for 10 on up), and the other displays one of the most disturbing execution scenes in cinema, there are similarities. Mostly, because they both display frustrating and helpless tales of individuals who had to endure false testimony against them that led to their unsettling demise. While one shows it in emotional heart wrench, and the other in graphic visuals, they both put you through the tiresome and suspenseful hope that things hopefully will be made right…
12. The Elephant Man
This is a stunning film. One that shows the horrors of a society who had little affection for the human life, and would much rather scheme against, laugh, and mock at the disabled (I’m looking at you, TLC!). What makes it so moving is how polite, how caring, how fragile, how hopeful, and ultimately how human Joseph (Jack) Merrick was. The display makes for one of the most sympathetic movie characters, as well as historical figures on screen. It makes his, “I…Am…A Human Being!” scene so heartbreaking…
There are a host of “epics” that could have made it on this list (like Gladiator, which is in my Top 3), but Braveheart takes the cake. Granted, this is one of those highly inspirational films that just gets my blood kicking, but any old epic can tell the tragic tale of love and loss. No, in order to truly move you, it needs to blend tragedy, conviction, blood/guts, beauty, and dedicated characters to pristine perfection. That is exactly what’s found in this stirring epic about William Wallace; the man who lost everything, and responded by sacrificing everything. It’s inspirational speeches and moving soundtrack makes just about anyone want to take up arms and fight for “freedom!”
This is going to be one of a few I’m not sure I can recommend. For starters, it is incredibly depressing (duh), but also the many themes and plotlines involved are pretty messed up. Yes, the film is beautifully shot, the story well directed, and the acting exquisite. But this film takes on the tragic roll of not just showing individuals falsely accused with horrific consequences, but also demonstrates the results bestowed upon the accuser, a young girl. It shows the downside and the conscience battle that not only does this young couple have to endure, but the grief and humility that will always follow this individual for the rest of her days. Truly, truly depressing.
9. Saving Private Ryan
Like before, there were many War Epics I almost went with (Black Hawk Down, Letters from Iwo Jima, Gettysburg, and We Were Soldiers), but I think we all know this one stands apart. What’s so great about Private Ryan is that while it does show you gritty and inspirational emotions, it never does so cheaply by forcing it on you (as is the case for similar flicks). Rather, it merely presents the material in the most realistic and difficult manner conceivable, thus making it ground breaking. There are too many moments in the film that could, will, or have made your emotions stir. One scene always stood out to me; Wade’s (Giovanni Ribisi) confessional tale about how he would pretend to be asleep when his mother got home for no particular reason, and how he wishes he could go back and just talk to her one more time. It’s some gut wrenching stuff…
8. Finding Neverland
Goodness, I’ll never forgive you, Freddie Highmore. Once again, as with a few of these selections, here is yet another of my favorite films. This one uses the emotional punch by showing the relationship of a man (J.M. Berrie – Johnny Depp) who accidentally walks into the lives of a caring mother and her 4 rowdy boys. A mother suffering to keep stability, normality, and life in her little family. It is a sympathetic look at this man’s sincere desire to help, the woman’s struggling efforts to stay healthy for her boys, and of course, her unique son Peter’s ongoing emotional and individuality struggle. Young Highmore’s performance, in the final scene especially, is absolutely heartbreaking!
7. A Testament of Youth
This was a recent find for me, and boy was it difficult and thoroughly depressing. Before Alicia Vikander was just about everywhere, she appeared alongside many British performers in this completely devastating true story of the results and consequences of families during WWII. War brought nothing but separation, tragedy, and death. Vikander’s shattering performance is truly one to be viewed and appreciated, if you dare see a true life you wish to be far from yours.
6. Life Is Beautiful
Notice a lot of WWII films? Well, devastating times call for a plethora of devastating films, I suppose. I’ve already done my fair share of raving about this beautiful masterpiece (review here), so I won’t bore you with reiteration. But the innocence and love found in this stunning, sincere, and even comical tale of tragedy is one that OUGHT to be experienced. See it!
5. Pay It Forward
Some films can be accused of being overly sentimental. You know, the films that often are very preachy, and use emotion and tear jerking moments to manipulate you into believing and being inspired by the message preached. Yeah, well, this film is the closest to that formula on this list, but if you don’t think it worked, then I don’t particularly want to talk to you. The difficulty and sincerity found throughout in the characters (performed by Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and the great Haley Joel Osmond) is enough to bring you to tears, but when the “Story Book Ending” is all at once tarnished, you know you won’t rightly recover…
4. Road to Perdition
Yet another one of my favorites. This time we enter into the world of Crime Thrillers. While there are many popular and classic Crime dramas revolving around family, none are as emotionally driven as this masterpiece. The father and son dynamic between both the protagonist pair and the antagonist pair are both incredibly revealing about the downsides most father/son relationships have. But when the Sullivan’s are given no choice but to dwell with, depend on, and work alongside one another, their relationship evolves into an incredible cinematic spectacle. This beautifully shot and masterfully written tale is relentlessly drenched in the feels from start to finish…
3. Schindler’s List
Let’s face it, you know all about Schindler’s List. You know it is one of the grittiest films in Cinema History, you know it is the most shockingly realistic depictions of the abominable Holocaust, and you know that as far as filming and acting is concerned (particularly, the insufferable Ralph Fiennes), it simply can’t be beat. No, we understand all that. That is why: either one, you can’t muster up the courage to ever view it, or two; you’ve seen and appreciated it’s mastery, but at most, you’ll only see it once more. No, this isn’t a movie you enjoy, it is an achievement you honor, pure and simple.
2. Dancer in the Dark
With our final entries, I’m going to restate what I previously wrote, there are some I just can’t recommend. As is the case with the beyond quirky, low budget, and eccentric musical, Dancer in the Dark. In enters Selma (played by the equally eccentric musician, Björk), a sympathetic and naïve immigrant whose life consists of her ultra-devastating reality, as well as her highly fictitious love of Musicals, because if your life is a musical, the bad can never bring you down, right? I won’t lie to you and say that the cheap looking camera work is a distraction, because it works marvelously. I won’t lie and say that Björk’s quirkiness doesn’t make for one of the most fascinating performances I have ever seen. Nor will I say this film is dull, because that is far from truth. Instead, I will say, this is the epitome of a real life horror film. A story of a sweet gal who is forced to do something unimaginable, and live with the unimaginable consequences. I won’t lie and say you won’t feel physically sick watching this film, because it is just not true. Save your sanity, don’t watch this Indie Darling (a genre I usually love)
1. Sophie’s Choice
The top 3 were all so very close, but I have to go with this depressing classic. Yet another one, based off of the hopelessness, which is hard for me to recommend. Yes, it is every ounce worth watching if you are a Meryl Streep fan, who gives what is, in my opinion, the greatest film performance of all time. Her accent, her raw emotions, and even her beauty plays out to a ground breaking achievement…but that is the ONLY reason to watch this heartbreaker. Chances are you know about the “choice scene,” and chances are you know how cruel it is…Welp, it lives up to the hype. Not only that scene, but from start to finish, misery is the only company you will likely meet.
What are some heartbreakers I’ve forgotten? Any depressing tear fests I’ve overlooked? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks once again for reading my gibberish. Now, go cheer yourself up!
P.S. I’ve already taken to most Social Media already, but if you have yet to hear Onerepublic’s “Wherever I Go” (A “teaser” for their new album), be sure you remedy that ASAP!