Saying Goodbye to the Year I Learned to Cry at the Movies Again

By  · Published on December 31st, 2013

It started in January, like many movie-related things do, in a small movie theater in Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival is the traditional kick-off point for new movies, artfully positioned during the first month of the year (which is a damn fine starting point for just about anything), approximately when movie lovers are starting to shake off the stupor of an awards season that’s still not quite done and exactly when the regular box office is flooded with some not-so-good stuff (I’ll be returning to non-Sundance life just as I, Frankenstein opens in theaters, and that does not please me in the slightest). To me, Sundance is the perfect film festival, with a slate that combines known talent, emerging names, and wholly unpredictable new quantities. It’s the place to go to find something new that you can talk about all year, even if it finding the latest diamond in the rough involves plenty of guesswork and keeping your eyes and ears open for good buzz.

Which is all a very long way of saying that this year’s big Sundance hit, Fruitvale Station (back then, it was simply known as Fruitvale), was a last minute addition to my schedule, a shoehorned-in selection that I made time for simply because everyone told me I had to make time for it. And that’s why I found myself, in January, in a small movie theater in Park City, Utah, crying my eyes out. It was a new thing, and one that set the course for the rest of my tear-stained movie-going year.

Over the past few years, my movie-crying had been confined to animal documentaries (Born to Be Wild 3D and Chimpanzee nearly killed me) and more personal documentaries that seemed built to make people sob (How to Die in Oregon encapsulates this pretty well). When it came to features, I could be stirred and moved, but it had become increasingly hard for me squeeze out any salty ones, even when everyone else around me was sobbing uncontrollably (the one notable exception to this rule was Wall-E, which made me cry the first time I saw it and then never again). I remember crying at the end of Titanic, because that’s just what you did after ninety-seven hours (that’s the runtime of that one, right?) of emotion and opulence and anger at Kate Winslet (so much for never letting go), but after 1997, my ability to cry at romance appeared to be gone. Let’s put it this way – I laughed the first time I saw The Notebook.

Let’s put it another way – I rewatched The Notebook earlier this year and cried like I was being murdered. This year’s movies cracked something open in me, and the floodgates haven’t been shut up just yet.

Sometime over the summer, I huffed and puffed my way through Short Term 12. The same thing happened a few weeks later at Enough Said.

At the Toronto International Film Festival in September, I cried at three movies – 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and Dallas Buyers Club. Admit it, that’s a pretty solid run of movie-crying right there. Both 12 Years and Gravity feature final scenes that are built for catharsis, and crying at events you are watching happen to someone else on screen is nothing if it’s not cathartic. My reaction to Dallas Buyers Club was a bit more limited, as all my tears came care of Jared Leto’s stunning turn as Rayon, a performance so moving that actual water was moved out of my eyes.

Later that month, and into October, was no different, as the New York Film Festival sopped me with another series of heavy-hitters that packed a (hanky-carrying) punch, including All Is Lost, About Time, Her, and Captain Phillips. I was basically a wet rag for much of the festival, crying into my hand or my notebook and attempting to look at least somewhat professional amongst my peers. I still get choked up when I think about Tom Hanks’ final moments in Captain Phillips, which just might be the best example of actual in-movie crying that I’ve ever seen (however, points to Blue Is the Warmest Color star Adele Exarchopoulos, who this year provided the most believable in-movie crying I’ve ever seen, a richly rendered combination of snot and shame so potent that it made me want to not cry myself).

It didn’t get even better as we moved into the holidays because, yes, I even cried during the last act of The Best Man Holiday. (It’s manipulative, okay?!) The shame of crying during that press screening may have provided a temporary stop-gap measure, as I haven’t cried in a film since November (and, yes, that probably would have turned out differently if I had seen this year’s festival offerings during their actual release months). I still, however, pack tissues in my purse, intent on not drenching my notebook or lap again anytime soon.

Of the films that made me cry this year, four made my top ten list (Her, 12 Years a Slave, Short Term 12, and Fruitvale Station), and another four rounded out my honorable mentions (Enough Said, About Time, All Is Lost, and Captain Phillips). 2013, it seems, will always be the year of big movie emotion for me, with plenty of films reaching out to touch me in a literally physical manner. Will the same thing happen in 2014? I hope so.

What movies made you cry this year (if any)?