As much as we all love a stunning tracking shot or an impeccably stylized thriller, even the most discerning cinephiles have to admit: Sometimes, you just want a good cry. Often it’s the most gut-wrenching movies that remain in our collective cultural memory the longest; “Sophie’s Choice,” “Terms of Endearment,” and “Schindler’s List,” to name just a few. Even in an age when auteur-driven driven sci-fi and superhero franchises reign supreme, Hollywood will always love a good old-fashioned tearjerker. Which is why we thought it necessary to single out some of the saddest movies of the century — so far.
Though it might sound trite, one doesn’t have to give up gorgeous cinematography or a tightly-wound script in order to be moved. Not only do the films on this list find beauty in the most heartbreaking of human experiences, but they represent some of the brightest auteur filmmakers working today, including Ira Sachs, Isao Takahata, and Asghar Farhadi. It wouldn’t be complete without a few blockbusters as well; studios have long perfected the art of making audiences weep.
“Amour” may be one of the saddest films ever made, but the saddest thing about it is ultimately the fact that it has a happy ending. People were understandably skeptical about a Michael Haneke film with such a disarming title — after all, this is a guy who made a hyper-disturbing meditation on violence called “Funny Games,” and then made it again in case we didn’t get the joke the first time.
Unfortunately, however, there’s nothing the least bit ironic about “Amour.” Yes, this confined relationship drama is a lot colder than your average love story. But this sobering portrait, the tale of an old Parisian man who is forced to care for his frail wife after she suffers from a stroke, is profoundly beautiful for its coldness. Hinted at in the startling first scene, this unforgettable film builds to a pure act of mercy, the husband putting his partner out of her misery.
It’s a devastating moment, to be sure, but — realistically — it’s also the best possible outcome for a healthy marriage. After helping each other through this life for so long, what better way to honor someone than helping them into the next one?
The indication that something is very wrong with Alice comes care of an ironic twist: the linguistics professor can’t remember a word. It’s a small thing, a tiny bump, a brain trick wholly relatable to everyone, but Alice instantly know it’s indicative of so much more.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s finely tuned drama follows Alice and her family as they attempt to navigate a world suddenly ruled by her early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease that damages all of them in very different ways. It’s the care and grace that every member of the production put into it.
Moore herself made it a priority to spend time with those effected by the disease and studied for months, co-star Kate Bosworth was clear with Glatzer and Westmoreland how personal the material was to her, and Glatzer himself was suffering from ALS during shooting — that set “Still Alice” apart and makes one of the most gut-wrenching movies.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin’s debut is vibrant and joyous, but it’s also terribly sad. All the aurochs and fireworks in the world can’t distract from the fact that, at its heart, this Bayou-set drama is about a little girl learning that her father isn’t immortal and she’ll one day be on her own.
Well, not entirely — the Bathtub is a singular community that takes care of its own, even with a great flood threatening to wash it away. Quvenzhané Wallis is heartbreakingly good as Hushpuppy, whose story vacillates between the hyperreal and the fantastical. We’re still waiting for Zeitlin’s follow-up five years later, and we’ll have tissues ready when the time comes.
Sad movies often get branded with the “guilty pleasure” label — sometimes unfairly. In the case of “The Help,” a blockbuster period drama about two black maids working for white families in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The movie centers the perspective of its white protagonist, who is inspired by the family of the source novel’s white author, and directed by a white man.
However, “The Help” is guaranteed to produce tears, and it’s all thanks to two stellar performances by Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. “The Help” launched Spencer’s career to new heights, and she would have run away completely with the movie if it hadn’t been for Davis, who received her second Oscar nomination for best lead actress for the film.
Million Dollar Baby
An elegy on paternal guilt, the 2005 Best Picture winner enlisted Clint Eastwood as director, co-producer, actor, and composer. Thirty-something Los Angeles waitress and aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald was born in the Ozarks, “somewhere between nowhere and goodbye.”
With much persistence, the lifelong underdog — she weighed just over two pounds at birth — finally convinces surly gym owner Frankie Dunn to train her, becoming a proxy for his estranged daughter while accumulating prize money.
Throughout the film’s three acts, Maggie endures a broken nose and neck, confinement to a wheelchair, plus bedsores and a leg amputation. When her actual family visits her hospital bedside, it is only to lay claim to her cash, after touring the local theme parks. Dunn, who attends daily mass, defies his priest by helping Maggie commit suicide, delivering the fatal adrenaline shot and revealing the meaning behind “Mo chuisle,” the touching, Gaelic nickname that she never understood. This is what makes it one of the saddest movies ever