My propensity to cry in 90% of the movies I watch has been well documented. For a very brief time, Rogue Auteurs had a recurring YouTube video where I dubbed myself the “crying critic” and discussed the amount of tears I freely wept while watching certain films. There was a shift in my early twenties where I went for casually crying in a few movies a year to consistently weeping at the conclusion of any movie with a remotely happy ending. And that is a quirky part of my frequent sobbing: it rarely comes at the end of a sad movie. I am a sucker, instead, for the movies where the lovers reunite or the broken family is magically repaired or the underdog sports team completes an impossible rally to grab the unlikely victory. I cannot say if this characteristic stems from becoming more sensitive as I have gotten older or more mature as I have gotten older or just less discerning as I approach 40. I only know that sometimes it can be embarrassing as the lights come up and the people begin to stream out of the theater and I sit there with a damp face and brutally red eyes. As the movie winds to an end, I work so hard to keep my sniffling to a minimum (it’s a tell-tale sign). And since I got glasses two years ago, they fog up terribly, which is solved easily by wiping them and putting them away, but which seems to taunt me.
With that context, I have made a short list of the five movies that have made my cry the most. I have taken into account the volume of tears and the violence of my heaving, as well as these movies abilities to make me cry again on a second watch (and a third and a fourth). The repetition of the initial reaction assures that it was genuine emotion. (Just missing this list: The Princess and the Frog, when Ray gets his star in the sky. Whoa. What a beautiful moment. If this was a list of 6, Ray would be discussed right here.)
5. Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph features one of my least favorite movie cliches: when one character destroys something valuable that belongs to another character for their “own good,” but we as an audience know that it is based on false information. Check that: any time a character is acting rashly based on false information, it drives me crazy. Often, all it would take is a little bit of slowing down and processing to rectify the error or perhaps the character with the false info could just explain the situation to the other character instead of just being hasty. But no, the audience needs the drama and the story needs the conflict. I mention this simply to set up the final moments of Wreck-It Ralph, which never fail to (ahem) wreck me. In generating the earlier betrayal, the script sets up the eventual reconciliation of Vanellope and Ralph, which leads to the poignant final scenes as Ralph celebrates his opportunity to be thrown off the roof every day because it affords him a view of Vanellope’s game. He delivers the line that never fails to make me cry: “Turns out I don’t need a medal to tell me I’m a good guy, because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” Something about the simplicity of the declaration and the earnestness in which John C. Reilly delivers it make it break free of its cliched roots and become something much more moving. Because these lines and images are the legitimate final frames of the movie, it always sends me into the credits with blurred vision and quivering abs. But I crave it. Perhaps it is my paternal instincts as an oaf of a father who sees the outlines of my own children in Vanellope’s worry about being an outcast or goofy excitement as she pursues something she realizes she loves or perhaps it is just my hunger for redemption, but whatever it is, it is the perfect cocktail for me. This movie sits at the bottom of this list because, though it always elicits my sobbing, it only does so for the final few seconds of the film. Those tears are deep and soulful and continue through the credits, though, securing the fifth spot of my list.
4. Inside Out
Inside Out is a special movie. I pity those that do not appreciate the balancing act that this script pulled off in telling a fun and sometimes silly story of the emotions in the head of a young teenager named Riley that also doubles as a compelling study of the psychology of human development. It is nothing short of astounding. Kids can be delighted by the bright colors of the world created by the Pixar animators and adults can enjoy that while contemplating the insightful ideas posited by the metaphorical aspects. All that being said, this movie features on particular scene that always makes me cry. Joy and Bing Bong have ended up in a deep cavern with no way to escape except for Bing Bong’s rocket ship, which has been abandoned and forgotten as Riley has grown older. So the movie has already laid the groundwork for the audience to contemplate the way that they have moved on from “childish things” in their youth to more acceptable and mature things in their older age. But the literal embodiment of that metaphor, when Bing Bong jumps off of his rocket ship to allow Joy to get back up the main part of Riley’s mind is still somehow more shattering that it has any right to be. I am always riveted by the exploration of the way we move on in our lives and pass through phases that require us to shed toys or clothes or even habits. There is something so emotionally devastating about this to me. (You’ll see it explored even more in the next movie on this list.) Bing Bong knows that he is no longer important to Riley and he selflessly sacrifices himself because Joy is essential in anyone’s life, but especially Riley’s at this time and for the movie to literalize the love that Bing Bong has for Riley in the most self-sacrificing way is beautiful. Credit to Richard Kind for empathetic and affecting voice work; he really imbues Bing Bong with dignity and tenderness. This scene stands above the conclusion of Wreck-It Ralph because I start to tear up earlier in the movie when my mind travels ahead to what’s coming. Just the knowledge of this scene around the bend already moistens my tear ducts.
3. Toy Story 3
What to say about the Toy Story trilogy that hasn’t already been said? Nothing, obviously. When I mention to people that I wept almost uncontrollably while watching this movie, nine times out of ten they assume I cried when the toys are all heading toward their death and they hold hands. Apparently, that is the more traditional scene in which to cry. However, that scene had no tangible effect on my emotions, though I feel it is extremely well done. No, I sob when Andy plays with his toys one . . . last . . . time. I marvel at what Pixar accomplished with the Toy Story trilogy, but it would not be complete without this scene as Andy passes his toys on and the toys are ecstatic and so joyful to be played with again like they used to be played with. It reaches my heart is such a melancholy way and I think about all the gifts I discarded and the stuffed animals I lost and the houses I used to live in and I am just overwhelmed by the sadness and beauty of life and the inexorable and indelible passage of time which no one can escape. The brilliance of this scene is the sole reason I still have not seen Toy Story 4. That is not an exaggeration. When I watched Andy play with the toys for the last time (tears are moving to my eyes as I type this), I felt like this trilogy was one of the best one or two trilogies of all time, with all sincerity. The trick they pulled of making each movie its own fascinating story and yet connected explicitly to every single member of the audience in some way via memories it was conjuring up, is fantastic. Nowhere is Pixar’s intelligence as a studio demonstrated more clearly than when Andy plays with his toys before going off to college. I crave the poignancy of that scene weekly.
2. Cinderella Man
If this list were crafted simply by the amount of tears I cried the first time I saw it, Cinderella Man would be the clear winner by a landslide. My wife knows that I am a crier and she has been next to me countless times as my eye faucet was turned on full blast. But Cinderella Man represents the only time that she felt the need to audibly ask me, with genuine concern in her voice, “Are you okay?” I hesitated a bit in putting the movie this high because I have never been able to fully pinpoint what affected me quite so deeply about it. Like the other movies I have mentioned thus far, relationships and family come into play here as Russell Crowe’s Jim Braddock rises from the ashes of his boxing career to become a champion, driven by the compulsion to feed his family. That stuff just pushes my buttons, man! I recall that for the final 35 minutes of Cinderella Man, I was heaving and sniffling and basically unable to talk to breathe. (This, of course, prompted my wife’s question.)
I am not fond of boxing in real life, but it seems as if pugilists really steal my heart on the big screen: Rocky, Creed, Jim Braddock, they all demand my sympathy as lone figures looking for redemption through one of the most punishing sports of all time. Here, Braddock’s wife, portrayed by Renee Zellweger, hates that he continues to physically punish himself in the ring, but Braddock sees it as his only way to provide for his family. He has hit rock bottom (particularly in a scene where he begs for money from a room of rich people) and the only way left to ensure the safety and shelter of his family is by doing the one thing he knows how to do. When I saw Cinderella Man in the theaters, our son was younger than one year old and there’s no doubt that I worried about how we would provide for our little family and what I career I would have (boxing was not a possibility for me). I had just recently graduated from college and the reality of being the main provider for a family as a 25-year-old was looming over me every minute. Seeing Ron Howard’s film really hammered home the reality of what a man or a woman will do to make sure that their progeny has the same privileges that they have had (and hopefully more). Seriously, I was a wreck. No movie has ever given me such a blubbering moment, even though it has never pushed me as far to emotional brink as it did on the first viewing (which is why it sits at #2), it still lives on as the most moving movie moment for Chad Durham.
1. A Little Princess
A Little Princess was Alfonso Cuaron’s English-language directorial debut. Shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who was nominated for an Oscar), the movie is an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, which had been adapted previously into a Shirley Temple vehicle. In bringing a beautiful aesthetic to the novel, Cuaron and Lubezki crafted one of the best “family movies” of all time, without dulling the tough edges of the original story — with one notable exception. In the novel, Sara Crewe’s father is killed while he is away and Sara loses everything she has and is basically forced to be a slave for Miss Minchin before the plot conspires to return some semblance of happiness to her life. But, as fans of the movie know, in the cinematic version, Sara’s father simply has amnesia and is eventually reunited with Sara in one of the most heartwarming scenes in movie history (in this writer’s humble opinion). In the novel, though, her father is actually dead and there are no joyful twists. (When I read the book, I was warned by my wife beforehand that the dad was not coming back. I was grateful for that spoiler because I would have been destroyed after growing up with the movie version.) Back to my weeping: in the movie, Sara’s father ends up staying across the way from where Sara is living as a servant to the malicious Miss Minchin. In a dramatic scene, Sara is accused of stealing things from her ward and flees across the street to avoid arrest. While there, she recognizes her dad but he does not recognize her because of the aforementioned amnesia. So the police come to arrest her, with Miss Minchin, and Sara is crying, bawling, screaming for her dad to save her and declare that he is, in fact, her father. Miss Minchin knows full well that this man IS her father but, of course, refuses to help save this girl that she has hated since the moment Sara arrived at this boarding school. So the police begin to take Sara away as she continues her devastating protests and sobs. It is an excruciating moment.
And then, as if in a bolt of lightning, Sara’s father remembers everything and calls out her name in a strong and passionate voice. (GOOSEBUMPS RIGHT NOW!) It is glorious and I feel it every time like it is the first time. Credit to Liesel Matthews (who was in only one or two other movies in her entire career) and Liam Cunningham (who returned to prominence as Davos Seaworth in the insanely popular Game of Thrones) who convince me every time of their agony and helplessness. A Little Princess has been on in our car before on a long trip, with the kids watching while I drive, and I have begun to tear up with joy when Captain Crewe screams out his daughter’s name. The filmmaking (camera, editing, music, production design) combined with the emotion of the two actors creates beauty for the ages and speaks to this middle-aged dad who would be shattered if anything ever happened to any of my children. The reason A Little Princess sits at the top of the list is because of its intersection of masterful filmmaking and relatable familial relationships. It’s what I go to the movies for: transport me somewhere, make me believe with all of my heart that I am there, and then batter, besiege, and bombard me with deep and affecting emotions, all of which assure me that regardless of what is going on in our messed-up world, everything is going to turn out okay. Man, what a scene, what a movie, and what a wuss I am.