by Emalie Soderback
Sometimes, you know that nothing would be better for your emotional and physical wellbeing than a darn good cry. Not a silent-weeping-on-the-bus-home cry, or a hide-in-the-backroom-at-work cry (believe me, you won’t feel a hundo percent after those kind of cries)—but a solid, be the king or queen of your living room or bedroom, in front of a sizable screen, THAT MOVIE JUST DESTROYED ME cry. Sometimes you need one of those, and how many times can you watch Up before you start becoming numb to that heartbreaking first ten minutes? Here are a few cinematic treats that make me absolutely lose it. If these films can crack open my usually tough as nails exterior, I’m sure they’ll emotionally wreck you (just kidding, I’m actually a giant sensitive baby who cries at cute dogs.)
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Elia Kazan’s cautionary love story about high school sweethearts Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (a PERFECT Natalie Wood) is weirdly relevant to my romantically melodramatic instincts 55 years later. Teen Natalie Wood basically is just head over heels, crazy in love with her rich boyfriend, but reluctantly doesn’t have sex with him, even though she really really wants to, because of dumb 1928 sexual oppression and feminine expectations and all that. You guys, she’s super in love with him in the most intense way that seems only possible when you’re a teen. I mean, this is where the iconic, girl leans against the door after he leaves and slowly sighs and slides down the door, thing comes from. Anyway, this movie GETS me. In particular, there is a scene where Deanie is basically suffering a post-breakup breakdown and is talking to her mother as she soaks in a hot bath. Then, she totally loses her mind, as her horrified mother tries in vain to make her feel better, but is ultimately blown away at just how affected her daughter is and how little she can help her. Kazan is delivering the romantic-crazies in a way that hits me hard. Anyone wanna date?
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
One year before Leo’s huge break as a poor artist, drawing Kate Winslet like one of his French girls and causing trouble on his way back to America, he donned a floral button-up and seduced Claire Danes through a fish tank in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. There’s a lot of hate towards this movie, and if you’re familiar with the director you can guess why. It’s so over the top! Set in modern Los Angeles, the gangs have guns instead of swords, crash costume parties, and take ecstasy. Why do I love this so much? Why does it make me cry? Besides being beautifully shot, and having two leads with excellent cry faces, the soundtrack is what does it. The definitively ‘90s track listing includes Garbage’s “#1 Crush”, Des’ree’s “Kissing You”, The Cardigans’ “Lovefool”, and Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host”. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I write this post, to set the mood. And the score? THOSE STRINGS!
It’s not just romantic dramas that have yanked plentiful tears from my eyes in my years of movie watching. It could also be subjectively “bad” gory, psychological torture films. But you know what? Saw is not bad, because I think it’s great, and when I was 14, it made me sob. I wasn’t always into horror movies. I mean, I wasn’t always super into movies at all besides the few DVDs and VHS I owned—and whatever my best friend had at her house (a constant cycle of Out Cold, Ghost Ship and Murder by Numbers)—until probably mid-high school. James Wan’s debut feature Saw really shook me, though. I watched it in the basement of my childhood home and I remember feeling physically unsettled. I actually started straight weeping behind shaking fingers when Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Mr. Princess Bride himself) has to saw off his own foot (SPOILER, but not really, come on guys it’s Saw.) This was the first time I’d seen a gross-out, showing the violent action stuff on-screen, really in-it-to-win-it, horror film. Poor little teen Emalie, I wonder what would happen if I had jumped straight to Martyrs instead?
La Dolce Vita (1961)
I went to college for film studies, and besides watching the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin a zillion times (I will straight up fight you if you think that’s an exciting, fun scene) we also watched a fair amount of Fellini. At first I was like, La Dolce Vita? Whatever, this movie’s too long, it’s about an arrogant, intensely insecure womanizer, there’s too much weird religious symbolism, and not enough actual sex. BUT THEN, it became my favorite movie. Just like that. I’m not sure what happened—maybe I finally watched it enough times for it to click? Maybe I heard enough discussion on it to crack open some ah-ha moments? But all of a sudden, the Trevi Fountain scene started making me bawl. So beautifully filmed. The sound design, loud and then silent, with Marcello’s whispers—perfect. His desperation and aimlessness paired with her carefree yet super sexually aware presence; the combination is dynamite. Watching this movie, and in particular this scene, makes me emotional about film itself.
Upstream Color (2013)
If you ask me what Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color is about, or what happens in it, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Like, at all. When I watched this movie a couple of years ago, I had just moved back in with my parents for a summer. It was a post-break up move, and I was staying in what used to be my little sister’s baby room. Surrounded by half unpacked boxes and bright yellow walls (insert “The Yellow Wallpaper” joke here), a few things would happen in succession that would make watching this movie especially weird. First, I fell down in the middle of an intersection for no reason and basically broke my ankle. And then, I had to get all four of my wisdom teeth taken out. Then, I got an infection that made my jaw feel like I was wearing the reverse bear-trap contraption from the aforementioned Saw. Laying on my mattress on the floor, with my parents’ newly adopted three-legged dog Doug, my ankle rendering me motionless, all of the Vicodin I was on rendering me even more motionless, I soon realized I for sure wasn’t EMOTIONLESS. Upstream Color felt like a fever dream, and I have no idea the plot, or what happened, or anything, but after I watched it I couldn’t stop crying and feeling sick. I felt alone, and weird about the ideas of intimacy and time and honesty. I was basically destroyed. But who even knows what that movie’s about. I’ll keep recommending it, though.
Here are some runner-ups that always yank some tears from my eyes but I don’t think warrant a full paragraph.
I’ve seen this movie a million times; it’s my favorite version. No matter what, the songs make my heart swell. Especially the song “Maybe”. Oh, ho ho, you know the one. “So maybe now it’s time/And maybe when I wake/They’ll be there calling me ‘baby’/Maybe…”
Blue Valentine (2010)
One time at work this scrawny 21-year old looking kid brought up Blue Valentine to rent and I was like “Woof, hope you’re not watching this on a date,” and he responded “Well, yeah. I’m gonna watch it with my girlfriend tonight.” And I asked him if he had ever seen it before, found out he hadn’t, and then sincerely wished him luck. It’s too real, ya know?
I watched this in the front row at the IMAX theater in the Seattle Center and during the scene where Noomi Rapace basically gives herself an abortion, I was completely overwhelmed by emotion.
Chungking Express (1994)
I mean, just play “California Dreamin’” or “Dreams” and I’ll get all weird around you.
The Bad Seed (1956)
Mother-daughter relationships portrayed in film really get me, probably because I’m so close to my mom. I used to have chronic nightmares about her leaving or getting kidnapped when I was younger; it was the worst. Anyways, sometimes I tell my mom that I know she would throw my tap-shoes in the incinerator, and if you’ve seen this creepy and weirdly sad horror movie about evil little Rhoda and her conflicted mother Christine, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Emalie Soderback writes for SIFF and works at Scarecrow Video.