15 October 2020

Movies That Make Me Cry (Actually None Do, But Some Choke Me Up -- A Little)

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

I recently saw a filler on TCM in which the hosts each shared which movie makes them cry. Naturally this prompted me to think of movies that cause me to sob. Well cousin, first of all I don’t do crying. I’m not proud of this. It's on my long list of emotional issues. From the time I was a small child until my late teens, I didn’t cry a drop. Not a single tear. There wasn’t a lot of blubbering going on in my twenties, thirties of forties for that matter. Deaths of kin and good friends has caused the waterworks to get going but I’m unable to sustain it for very long. (In other words, I'm a typical Finn.) But at least there’s something. So shedding a tear or two over something like a movie is pretty rare but it has happened. Sports causes me to tear up a bit, such as when the Giants finally won the World Series. But again we're talking getting choked up not bawling. All that being said I thought I'd share some movies that — while they don’t make me cry, nor necessarily even shed a tear -- can at least get a good-sized lump going in my throat.

(Warning: there are spoilers aplenty to follow.)

Philadelphia (1993) Demme - I’m sure I’m not alone here. It’s a superbly done movie and the ending -- which some stone hearts might call emotionally manipulative, is natural and essential to the story. Plus it gets me every time. I used to show Philadelphia as part of a two-week-long unit on Homophobia my middle school used to do and at the end of the movie I’d always have to look away. It wouldn’t do for students to see their teacher red-eyed -- espeically because of a movie. A large part of the emotional impact of the film comes from Tom Hanks' transcendent Oscar-winning performance as Andrew Beckett, the gay lawyer with AIDS.

The Searchers (1956) Ford Saw it recently and the ending got to me again. The wife mistakenly thought this was a reaction to the character of Ethan Edwards being left all alone while everyone else was happily grouped together. That contributes to the effect but it’s really all about the exquisite beauty of the final shot and how it bookends the opening shot and draws to a close the epic story. Perfection in film often touches me emotionally as happened when I last watched Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Lumet and Chinatown (1974) Polanski.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) Capra Something of a cliche to be sure and actually I’ve seen it so many times that the power to choke me up is pretty much gone, but it did the trick for years. It is a heart-tugger of a story with a man realizing how rich his life how much he's loved and how lucky he is. I think about it sometimes when in a blue mood.

Sean Penn as Milk
Milk (2008) Van SantWhile an inspiring story, it is also unquestionably a sad one and the ending captures that. But it gets me also because I remember those times and how so many of us were so powerfully struck by the assassinations of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. This is another film highlighted by a bravura Oscar-winning performance, this time by Sean Penn as the title character.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) Malle — Heroism. Injustice. Youth. The rending of a youthful friendship is tough, when it’s done in the name of genocide it is brutal. It is a great film with an emotionally powerful ending.

Umberto D (1952) De SicaIt’s the one work of Italian Neo-realism that most moves me emotionally. In fact I feel like pitching forward and crying like a baby right now just thinking about the ending and the wonderful character of the old man and his love for his dog. It is a movie stripped of sentimentality being instead a powerfully real slice of life

Ride the High Country (1962) Peckinpah I refer to the death of Joe McCrea’s character a noble man if there ever was one  (he utters one of my favorite lines in all of filmdom: I want to enter my house justified). It’s a cruel fate for such a good man.

The Last Picture Show (1971) Bogdanovich There is a pervasive sadness to this film (a true American classic) and it really comes to the fore in certain scenes. Learning of the death of Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the final emotional outburst by Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the death of Billy (Sam Bottoms) and the final parting of Sonny (Tim Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges). A lot of moments in Picture Show tug at my heartstrings.

Giulietta Masina 
Nights of Cabiria (1957) FelliniAs with most films that get to me, it is the ending. I’m not so much moved by the injustice of what happens to the title character, played by Giuletta Masina, but the beautiful way she responds to it. Surrounded by joyous people she slowly breaks into a soft, tearful smile. It's one of the greatest moments in movies.

The Big Parade (1925) Vidor There are two scenes that get me every time. The first is when the protagonist, James (John Gilbert) goes off to battle leaving behind the French farm girl, Melisande (Renee Adore). She chases the truck he is on as through their tears they blow kiss after to kiss to one another and James tosses her gifts. Meanwhile soldiers march past her. The truck eventually picks up speed and Melisande is left disconsolate on the road. The second scene is the conclusion when they re-unite. James’ return to France and rediscovery of his lost love is no surprise but in the hands of an artful director like King Vidor, it is grand film moment.

Radio Days (1987) Allen -- It’s not just a celebration of when radio was king, it is a celebration of childhood, family and nostalgia. It’s a wonderful film and it touches me in a million ways and by the end I could have a good cry. (I don’t, but I could.) 

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