1. Breaking the Waves
Lars von Trier is a tormented guy. This doesn't always equate to good films, but this time it did. From the ugly soil grew the flower. You could cry into your potted plants to water them and have them immediately wilt and rot and still not scratch the polish of this movie's teary-eyed gaze. The plot is simple, and it's emotionally-oriented, not story-oriented, so I won't feel bad spoiling it. The plot is some oil-rig working guy gets crippled after marrying a devout religious prude. He is paralyzed and on the verge of death, and wants his batshit fundamentalist type bitch to fuck around with as many men as she can and give him the details. This naturally, conflicts with her faith. As she enters the world of whoredom, her fate and his get progressively worse. Emily Watson gives the most impressive and vulnerable acting I've seen. That's right, the coveted title of "Best acting performance ever" from some random internet stranger goes to this woman in this role. She conveys so well naivete, hope, and its inevitable heartbreak, it cements Breaking the Waves as my saddest picture pick. All this and I haven't even mentioned the movie's more heavy, tragic happenings. This movie is more sad than 4 children drowning in a pool of their own tears over their dead dog.
2. Cries and Whispers
When it comes to broken sadsacks Ingmar Bergman is the go to guy, or was. He died alone on an island he owned, where he visited his own movie theater and walked amongst a bunch of meek animals. His films, over time, for the most part, got progressively better. In 1982 he stopped making movies after his five-hour, tour-de-force of wistful sorrow, Fanny & Alexander. His true masterpiece came 10 years prior, the appropriately titled Cries & Whispers. The man bought or rented a mansion and had it painted blood red, just as an example, and the colors were purposely over-saturated if that didn't bring the point home. The idea was that the film would feel like being inside the darkest chambers of the heart, and although it only tells the story of a family, it contains more turmoil than a war movie. The self-loathing contained in this here picture is unparalleled. The honesty is so unflinching you'll cringe. This film is no less than a snapshot of the extremes the psyche. The movie's about a dying woman, crippled with pain, with siblings too self-involved and hurt to help her cope in any capacity. Despite the travesties of a family unable to communicate emotion, despite their collective nightmare existence, despite a slow, agonizing death, it's a movie that preaches all of it was worth enduring, even for only the memory of a single peaceful day. And what's painful will never be nearly as sad as the story of sadness overcome, because that story comes with a beauty and acceptance and love and lack of cynicism that seems so rare. Yeah, it's that sad. This movie is sadder than my vague attraction to cellulite. This movie is sadder than eating at a Subway inside of Walmart. Alone. On your birthday. Which happens to be on New Year's.
3. To Live
Zhang Yimou, also known as that guy who directed the excellent Chinese Olympics opening ceremony and that really good director whose name I can't pronounce did a few sad masterpieces. Masterpieces of heart-breaking, old-fashioned melancholy they were. This guy could coax a tear out of a rock. First with his Raise the Red Lantern film. That movie was about tyrants being brutal, power-hungry thugs, with women as the subject of their abuse and metaphors for the casualties of the globe's most destructive force, the love of power. Still, it can't hold a candle to the sadness exhibited in To Live, however, a movie film that's basically a script similar to if two guys sat around and said, "Hey, I've got a funny idea for a game. Let's try to one-up each other by seeing who could come up with the most absurdly tragic thing possible." The conversation was then written down, and scripted to all happen to one family, meanwhile highlighting the very worst aspects of a culture. I don't much believe the notion that Yimou's films are subversive critiques of communism and Chinese culture, rather attempts at an honest reflection of them. That's why this movie is so powerful, it doesn't give a message, but merely relays grim realities with pitch-perfect accuracy. I highly suggest you see this soon if you wish to feel like dogshit. In the sadness category, I give this movie 10 dead moms out of 10.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
Sam Cooke is a terrific songwriter, but despite this I don't give a shit because the overwhelming cheeriness is too one-sided to not make me sick. Now, he has nothing to do with Grave of the Fireflies, but he's playing in the background and I'm a lazy writer and this makes for ample filler. Now, I don't have much to say about this movie, so it's good that I'm talking about this upbeat oldie pop rocker's songs. Most sad movies can make me cry, but this movie did not. No, I absorbed the depiction of World War II's tragedy moreso due to the fact it's animated. Cartoons plus tragic subject matter make for a good counterpoint. It animates well the loss of innocence when a young brother and his 5-year-old-ish sister are cast aside by society and shit on repeatedly by metaphorical and literal bombs. They slowly starve together. It's not a sad movie, no. Instead, I felt a depression for the two months proceeding my initial viewing of this downer of a movie. If you're a goth who likes to get all lawn mower-like on your arms and cut, be a grown up and watch this movie instead. The mental scars pierce twice as keep. Self-mutilation is only skin-deep which is shallow, this depiction of dreary hellish misfortune pierces through to your soul. These siblings get the worst brakes, and they get the shaft from society, and run over by war. War here represents a total detachment from what it means to consider basic human need. If people could see the endless consequences of their actions, they'd shriek in horror if they were responsible for such an atrocity. What kind of an atrocity? Worse than Sam Cooke's talent wasted on only one good song and 200 one-sided easily digestible pop songs over the course of a career.
5. Leaving Las Vegas
Now, admittedly this entry is a little forced. But, as a culture, we like symmetry, and thus this list must be a top five despite five being an odd number. Realistically the list could've been easily comprised of Bergman's Light Trilogy, Autumn Sonata, and Cries and Whispers. Lars von Trier made Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork that's also deeply depressing and with an ending equivalent to bathing your eyes in citric acid. But no, I don't want to put the same director twice, so my final pick is Last Tango in Paris. If heartbreak, self-loathing, misery and death tried to heal itself with sexual depravity, celebrated pain and open dishonesty, you'd be scratching the surface of Brando's best performance. Wait, no, I forgot about Leaving Las Vegas, a movie centered in crippling despair that certainly deserves a qualified spot on this list. If you dwell in desperation, meander in melancholy, and took holiday off work to visit a Holocaust museum, this is the film for you. To borrow an expression, you can keep a baby's heart in a jar of tears by your bedside and still have nothing on the guy who wrote Leaving Las Vegas. The man killed himself not long after scripting it. A drunk fuck up loses his family and finds solace in the one woman who can understand him, an escort. But aside from the torment of watching a man willfully drink himself to death, what drowns this film in tears of assassinated mascots? It's the rapport, it's the understanding between the drunk and the whore. There is no accusations, no nagging, just affinity, sympathy and acceptance. And unwavering kindness creates more tears for me than tragedy ever will.
And there you have it
Some honorable mentions include The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which is the tops of the bottom blues you'll feel regarding World War II's genocide. Strozek, the story a man who digs himself out of the ditches in Europe for the sake of prosperity, then travels halfway across the world to end up in rural Wisconsin, a premise so sad in itself it deserves a spot. Sad films aren't always downers if they're done right. They put things in perspective, alright? When you're wounded and recovering in the hospital, you'll want the warmth of Through a Glass Darkly, not Death Race. You'll want The Darjeeling Limited, not The Bourne Identity. When you've got the blues you'll want something that puts how lucky you are into perspective, not a mindless distraction from your feelings. Whatever, most these movies are worse than The Transporter 2. Cry about it, pussy.