Life is Beautiful
In this classic Italian tear jerker, a Jewish man must help his family survive their time in a Nazi concentration camp, turning it all into a game for his young son, going to great lengths to preserve his child’s innocence until the very end. Though half of this movie is by all markers a comedy, something about the lightness of the first half makes the darkness of the second ever so much bleaker.
This 1979 film, about a broken down ex-boxing champion trying to win back a little glory for his adoring son, was actually scientifically proven to be the saddest movie in the world — or at least one scene of it, anyway. Rick Schroder won a Golden Globe for all that crying.
In this adaptation of Richard Yates’s first novel, you watch the dissolution of a marriage in 1950’s suburban America. The devastation in this film comes from how horribly everyday the problems are — a disappointed career, feelings of restlessness, lack of hope — all magnified into their logical extreme. This, the film suggests, is what lies underneath all that sparkling politeness in every home — the only question is how deep.
Dancer in the Dark
Selma, a Czech immigrant who works in a factory and loves dance and music, has a degenerative disease that is causing her to go blind, bit by bit. A hereditary illness, Selma saves up all the scant money she makes to pay for an operation for her son’s treatment, eschewing her own. When her neighbor steals the money and accuses her of theft and assault, she is sentenced to death, refusing to use her pennies to hire a lawyer and thus deprive her son. A truly stunning performance by Björk.
This was the first experience many of us had with the Disney movie dead mother standard, and unlike many subsequent films, you actually see it happening. Add the distant father and evil influence of the Man in there, and we’re willing to call this the saddest Disney movie ever, no matter how cheery the posters.
This despair-soaked Swedish film follows the deterioration of the life of a teenage girl in the former Soviet Union — first, her mother tells her they are emigrating to America, then leaves without her. Lilja is forced into prostitution, and meets Andrei, who promises to take her to Sweden and give her a job and a better life. This is not what happens. In the end, you are presented with two possible scenarios, one only a little less bleak than the other. Choose wisely.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
With the tagline “People are the ultimate spectacle,” this film is a deeply upsetting dance-marathon precursor to The Hunger Games. In Depression-era California, contestants compete in a sadistic dance hall for a promised $1,500, a sly and opportunistic MC exploiting their weaknesses for the audience’s amusement. The game becomes a death match, the willpower of the players dissolves, and in the end, mercy is almost more than you can hope for.
A different kind of depressing than many of these other films, the first thing that came to our minds at the end of the epic German war film was waste. After a nearly five-hour claustrophobic adventure story (in the uncut version), filled with enough tragedies of its own, the tale comes to an abrupt ending, shining a harsh light on the horrible pointlessness of war.
Requiem For A Dream
Yikes. Just as you might during a particularly wicked hangover, this is a movie that will have you swearing “never again.” Directed by the ever-terrifying Darren Aronofsky, the film chronicles the unraveling of four junkies as they hit rock bottom, any hope they may have once had dissolved to nothingness in their addiction. You’ll warn your friends, but they’ll watch it anyway.
Yes, we realize this is a hopelessly cheesy choice — but millions of teenage girls just can’t be wrong. No, wait, we know they can. Still, this film was a tear jerker for more reasons than just the tale of a blossoming love cut short: a youthful sense of adventure dashed, a very American hubris crushed against the forces of nature, one person’s ability to pay the ultimate price for another.