Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top 15 Emotional Movie Moments

Hi, my name’s Amy and I am a big fat cry baby. I don’t cry at anything and everything, but the stuff that has me weepy is sometimes surprising, always varied, and often kind of strange. But by far the most tear-inducing entity for me is movies.

As Toy Story 3 has grown men bawling in the aisles, I share now my Top 15 Emotional Movie Moments (with links!), in no particular order:

Gene Kelly sings in the rain Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

This one is kind of a no-brainer when you’re giant musical nerd, like me. This moment, more than any other in film history (I do declare), is. Just. So. Freaking. PERFECT. It’s a moment featuring everything a good musical should aspire to – Gene Kelly’s character, Don, is so in love with Debbie Reynolds' Kathy, that he just has to sing and dance about it. There’s simply no other way to express his love. This is what musicals are all about: emotions so overwhelming that there is nothing left to do but sing. Bring on the tissues.

Elliot flies with ET on his bikeET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

This one has a special place in my heart – ET is the first movie I really remember watching as a kid. I watched it with my Mum, and most of it went well over my head (I was confused and scared by the scientists), but in that very same sense, you can’t deny the genius of Spielberg. Go ahead, watch ET again. It’s from the perspective of a child, even filmed at their lower eyeline, with adults not making a whole lot of sense. Amazing. And this moment, accompanied so beautifully by another brilliant, swelling, John Williams score, is enough to put a lump in the throat.

Paikea's speech for her grandfather - Whale Rider (2002)

This is how much little Pai’s (Keisha Castle-Hughes) speech in Whale Rider gets me weepy – I just cried watching about 5 seconds of the clip on YouTube. This extraordinarily touching New Zealand film, about a 12-year-old girl struggling to become the chief of her Maori tribe, contains some of the most honest and raw acting I’ve ever witnessed on screen. There are many weepy moments (not least of which is Pai actually riding the whale near the end of the film), but this one, as Pai speaks of her deep respect for her grandfather who has not shown up for her school concert, gets me every time.

Jenny dies - Forrest Gump (1994)

There were several moments from Forrest Gump I could have picked here too – Bubba dying, or Lieutenant Dan diving in the ocean as he makes his peace with losing his legs, for example. But Jenny (Robin Wright) passing away, leaving Forrest with little Forrest, is a powerhouse of great understated Tom Hanks acting (in a movie where, let’s be honest, understatement is not the name of the game). *tear*

Why didn’t you write me? - The Notebook (2004)

The one chick flick that everyone agrees on, there are many moments from The Notebook that could get the tears flowing (the ending!). But this scene, with terrific performances from Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling (it’s easy to see how the pair was a real-life couple after filming this), is sexy, heartbreaking, and uplifting. Finally, Noah and Allie admit their love and can be together. What a payoff.

One Hand, One Heart - West Side Story (1960)

One Hand, One Heart is my favourite musical song, and conveniently features in my favourite musical, West Side Story. Tinged as it is with humour and sadness, as though Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are all too aware of their fate, this is the last happy moment the pair will truly share. Maria and Tony’s “wedding”, accompanied by that gorgeous Bernstein and Sondheim score, has me in a ball of tears. “Only death will part us now...”

The end - United 93 (2006)

It’s hard to believe sometimes that Paul Greengrass pulled off this harrowingly realistic (we imagine) portrayal of the events onboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. But he did, and there’s never been a film quite like it. Featuring a docu-drama approach, some “characters” playing themselves, and overlapping, realistic dialogue, this final scene of the passengers trying to take down the highjackers, had me crying more than I ever had at the movies. Heartbreaking.

Juno and her dad at the hospital Juno (2007)

Sometimes I think moments in films make us emotional simply because they’re so true. Juno has a sparky, Oscar-winning script showcasing terrific dialogue from Diablo Cody, and a remarkable breakthrough performance from Ellen Page. But it’s this moment, without any clever or knowing dialogue, that breaks my heart. Juno’s behaviour and chilled, charming demeanour as she navigates the very adult world of pregnancy, divorce, and adoption makes her a true original, but the immeasurable drain of her experiences are perfectly captured when she lets her dad (J K Simmons) be just that.

The opening montage Manhattan (1979)

Manhattan has the most perfect beginning of any film, in my completely biased NYC-loving opinion. Aside from a voice-over from Woody Allen’s writer Isaac Davis, the opening sequence has little bearing on what follows. It’s simply about a love for the Big Apple. Set to the rousing perfection of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Allen undercuts flawlessly with iconic images of the city he adores so much. Cue chills up my spin.

The horse Artax dies in the Swamps of Sadness - The NeverEnding Story (1984)

This one had me bawling as a kid. I remember my poor parents having
to explain to my sister and I that in fact, the horse was just an actor, and that it hadn’t really died. Still. “He has to give me a new name. He's already chosen it. He just has to call it out.”

Tears turn to laughter - Steel Magnolias (1984)

Steel Magnolias is a big fat emotional chick flick, and I love it. It gives several female powerhouses, including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis, the chance to shine. And none more so than in the scene following Shelby’s (Roberts) funeral. As Sally Field’s M’Lynn runs the gamut of emotions over the death of her beloved daughter, a perfect comic break involving the testy Ouiser (MacLaine) will have your tears turn to laughter, just like the ladies onscreen. Sublime.

Thomas J’s funeral - My Girl (1991)

There are a few character deaths on this list, and nothing guarantees tears like a funeral. Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) is allergic to bees. You can guess how he dies. One of the screens most emotional goodbyes as Vada (Anna Chlumsky) rushes up to Thomas J’s casket, her childlike denial as heartbreaking as her friend’s death.

The water comes on - Schindler’s List (1993)

Harrowing. Schindler’s List, the second Spielberg film to make my list, serves up the emotion and horror of the Holocaust thick and fast. But no moment stays in my mind as much as when the train carrying the Jewish women is accidentally redirected to Auschwitz. The women are taken to what they believe to be the gas chambers; only to weep with joy when water falls from the showers instead. We weep right along with them.

Dumbo visits his mother Dumbo (1941)

Another perfect Disney moment, this one about mums. Dumbo’s mother gets angry when her son is being picked on by a group of boys for his big ears, and is declared mad when she goes on the (elephant) defensive. She is locked up, and poor Dumbo is shunned. His new pal, Timothy Q. Mouse, takes Dumbo to visit his mother, and although she’s locked up, she manages to rock her baby with her trunk as “Baby Mine” plays. A perfect, tender moment.

The execution scene - Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Dancer in the Dark is a sad story before it's sadder ending: Selma (Bjork) is a Czechoslovakian immigrant, a single mother working in a factory in rural America in the '60s. Her salvation is her passion for classic Hollywood musicals. Selma is losing her eyesight, and her son Gene stands to suffer the same fate if she can't put away enough money to secure him an operation. When a desperate neighbor falsely accuses Selma of stealing his savings, the drama of her life escalates to this tragic finale. The Hollywood-musical breaks aren't enough to save Lars von Trier's film from my list, or from its truly distressing conclusion.

So that's my list for now! What are your Top Emotional Movie Moments? I've left plenty out so we'd love to hear what you think! Get commenting!


  1. Totally agree with many of these - Forrest Gump, My Girl and Dumbo in particular!

    My weirdest 'movie cry' had to be when I watched 'Suddenly 30'. Go figure! ha ha ha

    Baby Missy

  2. It all depends on the day for me too, Baby Missy! The scene in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", when Joel decides he wants to remember Clementine after all? WAH!

  3. Great list Amy!!
    One of mine is in the first Sex and the City movie, just after Carrie is left at the aisle by Mr Big. Their respective cars pass each other, both get out and Carrie hits Big with her flowers. The bit that gets me is Charlotte's reaction as Big tries to explain. So angry and upset for her best friend. Gets me every time!


  4. Goosebumps Erin! I love that scene too! For anyone who has a good girlfriend who'd do anything for them.

  5. Love it ladies! Agree with all that I'm familiar with - enjoy a good cry, so intend to check out those with which I'm not! I cry when someone wins on The Price is Right so I have a list as long as my arm of Top Tearjerker moments but I have to name a few more that get me everytime!:
    1. Karaoke for my dead husband - P.S I Love You: Holly sings 'Love you till the end' by The Pogues, to a crowd in a karaoke bar but sees only her dead husband Gerry sitting in the audience watching her...oooouch. Can't even hear that song without welling up!
    2. What do you wanna know? - Good Will Hunting: Will and Skylar break-up when he freaks out that she tries too hard to get inside his head and his life. "What do you wanna know? That I don't have 12 brothers? That I'm a fuckin' orphan? You don't wanna hear that... no, you don't wanna hear that."
    3. I wanna grow old with you - The Wedding Singer: Adam Sandler has never been sexier (and more tear-inducing!)than when he walks out of first class and into economy strumming a guitar and declaring, via a cute-as-cute self-penned song, that he wants to grow old with Drew Barrymore and that he'll get her medicine when her tummy aches and make a fire when the furnace breaks! Awww, **sniff, sniff**

  6. P.S. Erin, OMG. I just got a massive lump in my throat reading your description of the SATC scene! Totally agree, when Charlotte just says "NO!", her face and body languege is amazing: so strong and protective...and especially coming from Charlotte who is the one who is softer and always cheered for Big, it's just so powerful!

  7. That Good Will Hunting moment - total goosebumps! Is it too late to re-write the list? :) Love it - and Erin's description of that SATC scene - perfection.

  8. I know it's not a movie, but the scene in The West Wing when CJ's body guard gets killed and we hear Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley

  9. That West Wing scene gets me every time - we could do a whole other list of emotional TV moments! Maybe soon?

  10. Dayley - of course! P.S. I Love You. I needed a whole box of tissues for that one. Amy - maybe we need a Top 15 Emotional Moments (Chick Flicks) :)

  11. Top emotional TV moments - yes do that one! For me, three words: love. my. way. I cried for 2 days after THAT episode!

  12. OMG so did I Dayley! I also didn't see it coming. Cried and cried :(

  13. Good call on Dancer in the Dark Ames. I forgot how much I cried at the ending of that one!

  14. Oh man, I cannot watch most of Dumbo. I find the whole movie sad.

    For me, the part in Juno that got me was after she had given birth and Paulie comes to see her and they lie on the bed while she cries. Totally heart breaking.

    Gah, the swamp of sadness! I had totally forgotten about that!

  15. I seriously cannot watch Dumbo at all, even as an adult. It's so gut wrenching.

    For me, the part in Juno just after the scene with her dad when Paulie comes to the hospital and lies on the bed with her as she cries is so well done. It just makes me want to bawl!

    I think you'll have to do a TV list as well - there are so many great moments on television I suspect it will be a long list!