WARNING ... spoilers. In no particular order:
1. Old Yeller
It was kind of a tradition in my elementary school. Periodically they'd round us all up and herd us into the auditorium, where they rolled in a film projector and put on a movie. I vividly remember when they forced us all to watch this timeless classic. In that moment, our teachers got their revenge for all the crap we'd put them throughout the year.
I'll never watch Old Yeller again, and I won't revisit The Yearling, which my dad persuaded me to watch on T.V. These experiences led me to one unassailable conclusion. The adults in my life were sadists. :-) And when anyone says, "You'll want to watch this. It's a classic" ... run the other way.
Favorite Scene: The last time I saw this was during the Carter administration, so I don't remember. My favorite part was getting out of class, probably.
2. My Girl
All I ask from a movie is that children and dogs don't die ... O.K.? If adults are murdered in a gratuitous fashion, I'll roll with it. Bring it on. But I hate it when kids and animals suffer on screen.
The child's death in this movie is definitely a tear-jerker -- even Paul admitted this one makes him cry. Every. Single. Time. However, what makes the memory particularly brutal for me is that I happened to watch it a few days before my son Joseph was stillborn. I am definitely never revisiting this one.
Favorite Scene: Again, I don't remember. I saw it in 1992. But the kids were adorable.
Ma Vie en Rose
Speaking of seeing children suffer ... this memorable Belgian film was gut wrenching for me. Under increasing pressure from their community, Ludovic's parents are unwilling -- or unable -- to accept their transgendered child, who is biologically male, for who she is. This leads to escalating efforts to bully him into "being a boy." Ludovic's unrelenting innocence and increasing despair -- in the face of continual rejection and disgust from her family and neighbors -- are devastating to watch.
Favorite Scene: Any time young Georges Du Fresne was on screen -- I was quite taken with his performance.
The overall gist of this movie -- that growth and healing is possible even after the most devastating experiences -- is uplifting. I remember discussing this with Alex, about a year ago.
However, because of the severity of the abuse Antwone suffered as a child, at the hands of his foster mother and her family, I'll never be able to sit through this film again. Having been a youth counselor with a public agency, I thought I'd seen and heard it all. But when the child was beaten with a flaming newspaper, I was completely undone.
The movie was based on a memoir titled Finding Fish. The real-life Antwone Fisher was asked, in an interview, whether the brutality of his foster family was portrayed fairly. He replied, "No. The reality was much worse."
Favorite Scene: Antwone's reunion with his biological mother. After years of struggling with her abandonment and fantasizing about his "real" family, Antwone discovers that his mother is a sad, broken woman who would have been incapable of raising a child. He seems to feel nothing but compassion for her. I suspect that's the moment when he truly becomes an adult.
Breaking the Waves
Early in this film, set in the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s, we see a funeral. As they lower their former parishioner into the ground, the church elders loudly proclaim: "You have earned your place in Hell!" They sound like a pleasant bunch of people, don't they?
In this grim, stoical community, unguarded expressions of emotions are taboo. Newlywed Bess (Emily Watson), who experiences life with unfiltered emotions, doesn't fit in, but she finds her place in the church. The early days of her marriage are happy and passionate. But when her husband Jan is paralyzed in an accident, he makes a bizarre request. This sends her life into a horrifying downward spiral, because when it comes to expressing love, she truly has no boundaries. This is both her weakness and her strength.
I am not a huge fan of this movie, which is one of Sarah's favorites, but I love the performances, especially Emily Watson in her debut role. And I can't deny that certain aspects of this film were powerful and unforgettable for me. But Bess' degradation and suffering make it too brutal for a second viewing.
Favorite Scene: Bess and Jan in the movie theater. Bess reacts to the film with unbridled wonder and delight, and Jan is absorbed in her watching her childlike joy. These moments speak volumes about her character and their relationship. Y'know ... before everything goes to hell.
Warning: #6 contains a huge spoiler for Broadchurch, a mystery/drama series I've been recommending to everyone. (I reviewed Episode 1 HERE.) And when I say "huge spoiler," I mean that I reveal whodunnit. Proceed at your own risk.
Broadchurch: Final Episode
I do love a good murder mystery, and I quickly became a fan of this well crafted British mystery/drama. Olivia Colman and David Tennant were brilliant in this program, which also included outstanding performances by Jodie Whittaker, Arthur Darvill, and many others.
However, since this series deals with -- you guessed it -- the death of a child, it was a tough one for me. And I was truly sad when I learned the identity of the killer, a character I'd liked from the first episode. Watching Ellie (Olivia Colman) learn that the murder had been committed by the person she trusts most -- and seeing her confront Joe -- is heartbreaking.
Favorite Scene: The conversation between Detectives Miller and Hardy when she asks him when he first suspected Joe. For the first time, they make an emotional connection. "You have no idea how much I wanted to be wrong."
The Killing: Season 3: "Six Minutes"
Ahh ... The Killing. My other mystery/drama addiction. With great sleight of hand, the authors of this series give us a twisty plot with plenty of red herrings. I love the intriguing, morally ambiguous characters. Somehow they manage to make me simultaneously loathe and cry for them.
Peter Sarsgaard's appearance in the 3rd season was a welcome surprise for me. He does an amazing job of playing Ray Seward, a cold, sociopathic madman who -- as his execution day approaches -- evolves into a terrified, helpless child.
Ray isn't a good guy. He has a long history of violence, and he didn't kick the habit after he entered prison. He physically abused his wife, often in front of his young son. He's basically a piece of shit, and he knows it. But he may not be responsible for the murder for which he has been condemned to death, and I rooted for Sarah Larsen (Mireille Enos), who's trying to get a stay of execution. I also felt compassion for Ray, and I wanted him to be redeemable.
I admired the brilliant combination of acting, writing, and directing that went into creating Ray Seward. Sarsgaard's performance never sugar coated the dark nature of this character, but it never let us forget his humanity. And watching his terror during his last moments was probably the most difficult scene I've ever watched on television.
Favorite Scene: Sarah Linden and Adrian Seward standing outside the window during Ray's death march.
Not just one but two brutal dog deaths ... and that isn't even the worst part of the story. Need I say more?
That said, this is an absorbing drama with wonderfully complex, morally ambiguous characters and memorable performances by Peter Mullen, Olivia Colman, and Eddie Marsan. This film was a labor of love for its writer and director, Paddy Considine. He has said that this film was very personal to him -- creating it felt like an exorcism. He considers it a love letter to his mother and a quest to understand his troubled, angry father.
Nevertheless, there is no way I'd ever sit through this film again.
Favorite Scene: Perhaps my favorite part was the moment I realized Hannah's husband James had met a violent end. I'm sorry, but that guy needed to die.
This is an adaptation of Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, an author whose novels are pimped out by English teachers for their dark, fatalistic themes. The climax of this story is unforgettably brutal. It was especially startling since I hadn't read the book. This is the Hardy novel I didn't read when I was a senior in high school. Damn! And I thought Tess of the D'Urbervilles was rough.
Favorite Scene: I have no idea. It's definitely a worthwhile film, though.
Boys Don't Cry
Transsexual Brandon, who is biologically female, struggles to find her place in the world and experience love and intimacy. But he incites the wrath of several nasty rednecks, and the police, inexplicably outraged by her male identity, refuse to protect him. The horrific things that happen to Brandon are particularly agonizing to watch because this is based on a true story.
I could never watch this again, and to his credit, Peter Sarsgaard (as nasty redneck John Lotte) made my skin crawl every time he was on screen, even before he became full-on violent. And Egads ... the way he looked at and touched his young daughter made me physically ill.
Favorite Scene: I don't know, but I did like the budding romance between Brandon and Lana (Chloë Sevigny). As a point of interest, a physically intimate scene between these two characters brought down the wrath of the MPAA, which rates films (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17), despite the fact that it regularly gives the nod to movies with all kinds of gratuitous violence. They threatened to give the movie a NC-17 rating, which would have decreased its marketability. It cited, among other things, the fact that Sevigny's character has an excessively long orgasm. Director Kimberly Peirce said, "Who was ever hurt by an orgasm that was too long?" I think she had a point. But such is American society.
Other Contenders for this List: Dead Man's Shoes; Brokeback Mountain; Trainspotting; Dances With Wolves (I don't like it when the animals die!); The Mission; The Green Mile (the execution scene!); Ladybird, Ladybird; Oranges and Sunshine; Red, White and Blue; Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.
What movies did you appreciate that are too sad or disturbing for a second viewing?
See Also: Top 10 Movie Scenes I've Been Trying to Scrub From My Brain