Here at Oxford we don’t always need help when we want to have a cry, but there’ll always be a place in our film collection for those movies that earn a sob or two. These are our top 5 tearjerkers:
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain is a tale of forbidden love between two cowboys, Jack, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ennis, a brilliant and gruff Heath Ledger. The beauty of the Wyoming landscape, the masterful direction of Ang Lee and the soaring soundtrack all add to a narrative that’ll wring a tear (or at least a lump in the throat) from even the most hard-hearted viewers. The final scene alone should have a support group associated with it; without spoiling too much, the phrase ‘Jack, I swear’ is enough to reduce most to pieces, as the mournful score sweeps back into force. The only thing sadder than the film itself is the fact that it lost the 2006 Academy Best Picture award to Crash, a robbery of legendary proportions. At least we have the undisguised disgust on Jack Nicholson’s face after announcing the result to comfort us.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
That Lord of the Rings: Return of the King left you in emotional tatters is not an easy thing to admit for a film snob, but much like Jonny English Reborn being the finest comedic spectacle of the past decade, just because it’s embarrassing doesn’t make it less true. Yes it may not be a foreign arthouse masterpiece with poorly translated subtitles, but it’s hard to suppress the tears when Frodo sails off to the Undying Lands, parting even from Sam. Howard Shore has a lot to answer for this, with his epic score surely representing one of the most powerful film soundtracks ever composed. The rest of the trilogy also has its fair share of emotional moments, but for the climactic catharsis of The Return of the King, it’s been included here (and no, The Hobbit is not remotely a contender).
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies is all the proof you could ever need of animation being able to fully contend with the rest of cinema. Set in World War II Japan, the Studio Ghibli production is unflinching in its portrayal of the conflict’s horrors, presenting the heartrending tale of a brother and sister attempting to survive in extreme hardship. Isao Takahata, the director, designed it as a warning about the consequences of an uncaring society. So if you cry and wonder how anyone could let this happen, then you’re on the right track.
Given director Michael Haneke’s almost unbreakable uniform of black clothes from head to toe, it’s perhaps not surprising that doesn’t go after the feel-good factor in his films. Out of all his work however, Amour is perhaps the hardest film of his to watch. It’s about a sudden decline in an elderly woman’s health, and her husband’s efforts to help her as her life and mind slips away. Limited almost entirely to the couple’s cavernous apartment, the gruelling, claustrophobic action of the film is a difficult spectacle to bear. It certainly provoked even the most fearsome critics to wheel the whole range of superlatives, with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal hailing it as a ‘masterpiece’. Having watched the film, it’s hard to disagree.
Brief Encounter (1945)
Brief Encounter is a classic for good reason. Although perhaps overshadowed by David Lean’s other work, such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, this rather more contained affair still packs a punch. It’s a very British film; two strangers meet in a railway station, fall in love, and then part without ever having consummated their desire. That agonised restraint however, lies at the heart of why it remains so moving. The crashing chords of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 act as its iconic soundtrack and make it even harder not to dissolve into a puddle of tears.