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Home » Culture and Criticism

Cinemarch Madness: Intro and Nomination Round

Submitted by on March 4, 2013 – 9:58 AM307 Comments


Greetings, friends and cinephiles, and welcome to Cinemarch Madness: the TN bracket that crowns the most heartbreaking film of all time.

The idea began years ago, at a bar that doesn’t exist anymore, with a scribbled napkin list Scrapper and Couch Baron and I could never quite recreate, thanks to a discussion about Breaking the Waves and the idea of those movies that you feel lucky to have survived — the beautiful, awful movies you will never ever watch again. The ones that you love but that leave you drenched. “Difficult,” let’s call them.

Over the years it’s gone through various names and interations. “The No Hope Film Festival”; “The NC Double The Dosage”; “Two Movies Enter, The Will To Live Leaves.”

Enough already. It’s time to pick a “winner.” But we need your help.

Right now, I need your nominations — the films you consider the saddest or bleakest of all time, so I can cross-check it against my list and see if I overlooked any obvious entries. Please keep it to five (5) per comment; it’s more digestible that way. (Yes, you can re-comment.)

“I don’t know where to start/what you’re looking for!” Fair enough. I don’t either, that’s why I’m sending it to committee. Hee. Here’s the “I” entries from the list so far, for context:

Ice Storm, The
Illusionist, The
Indian Runner, The
In the Company of Men

Challenging subject matter, an ending (or non-ending) that makes you queasy, an utter lack of faith in humanity, unrequited love, ravages of age…when I say it’s a tough watch, I don’t mean stuff like a seventh Transformers sequel that’s just straight-up bad. This may be a pornography/”I know it when I see it” thing, but that’s why we spitball it now, before finalizing the list.

Foreign-language and docu noms both welcome. We may have to do a separate documentary bracket, but I’ll jump off that bridge when I get to it.

Feel free to make your case for a non-obvious nomination in the comments. I didn’t think of Vincent and Theo as that dark, but a friend argued it onto the list; he didn’t think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was that bleak, but I insisted. I’ve ixnayed and then re-added Casablanca four times.

Once I have a master list, you’ll have a chance to choose the final 64.

Questions? Ask them. Stalking horses? Nominate them. Want a crack at writing up the match-ups? You got it; when the final bracket is set, I’ll definitely need some help. And by all means forward/RT/solicit suggestions from friends and FB. You’ve got ’til the end of the week. Let’s do this.





  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I forgot to mention that pre-auteur-era films are way underrepresented. If you’ve got some noir you want to see on the list, sell me on it.

  • MP says:

    No question – Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

  • Kizz says:

    I absolutely co-sign on In the Company of Men (went to it with a 15-year-old on the rec of her friend, was destroyed, didn’t even know how to address it with her)
    Notes on a Scandal
    My top pick forever and ever, though, Gallipoli.

  • Jenna says:

    Mystic River
    Requiem for a Dream

  • Karen says:

    This is a category I can get behind — movies where you leave them saying, “That was so good. And I never ever want to see it again.”

    Hotel Rwanda
    Last King of Scotland

  • Jas says:

    The last movie that I watched that I described as “terrible” in the way that it wrecked me, and not that it was a bad movie was “The Changeling”.

    To me, the whole movie was one big “oh no, oh God, oh no”. Kidnapped kid, the unbelief of the cops, the insane asylum, the ending that is not even an ending because you don’t know if that’s what really happened…the whole thing is just one big example of how a normal life can twist horrifyingly off the rails and the impact that one small child’s life and disappearance or death can have on so many people.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    Seconding Hotel Rwanda and Requiem for a Dream. Also, The Iron Giant.

  • Melissa says:

    Once Were Warriors. Wonderful, yet so awful and hopeless and heartbreaking!

  • Once Were Warriors: Sure, there’s the rousing, prideful speech at the end, but awfully hard slogging until then.

    District 9: So glad I saw it, grateful it was made (even if the metaphors aren’t exactly subtle), never want to see it again.

    An Angel at My Table: The biopic of New Zealand author Janet Frame.

  • Allison says:

    Jude (So, a Thomas Hardy adaptation is the obvious place to start and this is the obvious adaptation to go with. A bleak landscape and a hopeless story capped with child suicide. Mr. Hardy, what the hell?)

    Tess of the d’urbervilles (Thomas Hardy, again. Good gracious, that man. Are made-for-TV adaptations up for grabs? Because I’m thinking of the 1998 Justine Waddell version that made me hate everyone.)

    Precious (Some may say there was some hopefulness here, but I stumbled from the theater like a shell-shocked WWI vet.)

    Casualties of War (Maybe I was way too young when I saw this on HBO while my parents were out and I was alone in the house, but this movie is seared in my memory as utter horror. It just keeps getting worse and worse and just when you think you can’t take any more, they stab the girl and throw her off a bridge. What the hell did I just watch?)

  • Lulu says:

    – American History X
    – The Crying Game
    – Boys Don’t Cry (pretty much any crying transgender movie)
    – Sunset Boulevard (maybe. sorta Casablanca level. I wouldn’t mind rewatching it, but it is pretty bleak, with the creepy faded starlet and the guy dead in the first scene.)
    – I know other people will disagree, but I think “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of the bleakest movies of all time. It has that big happy ending, but the strategy to get you to a place where is to put you through the ringer the rest of the time, and the whole thing has this overarching message of “You Will Never Achieve Your Dreams.”

  • Jenn C. says:

    Oh, this is going to be wicked fun. And I love this genre, so just seeing the nominations are going to be excellent.

    House of Sand and Fog
    Life is Beautiful

  • threeattic says:

    Seconding One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because Brad Dourif, oh god
    The Wind that Shakes the Barley (watch for Cillian Murphy’s real accent, get to the end completely incapable of even appreciating it anymore)
    Titicut Follies
    Foreign language entries? If so, Marianne and Julianne and M

  • Kristin says:

    Come and See (Russia, ’85)
    Breaker Morant
    Grave of the Fireflies*
    Welcome to the Dollhouse

    I’d like to heartily second ‘The Illusionist’ and ‘Gallipoli’.

    *Have never actually watched this, but only because I know it would break me.

  • clobbered says:

    Grave of the Fireflies

  • Ami says:

    Pan’s Labyrinth.

    Brilliant and horrifying combination of fantasy creatures and real-world villains – somehow the way the movie put the two together made them both more compellingly real and nightmarish than either could have been on its own. This is a movie that knows there are monsters; it makes you believe it. One of the best I’ve seen, but yeah, no desire to ever see it again.

  • joan says:

    My list
    1. Amour
    2.the Vanishing–original version, not the American remake
    3. the Cove
    4. The third Man
    5. Wuthering Heights

  • Kasey says:

    The movie that immediately came to mind was “A Simple Plan” with Billy Bob Thornton. The scene in which Billy Bob says he wanted to be rich just so someone might be with him, even if it is just for the money, just killed me.

  • JR says:

    Atonement was that for me. The ending is horrible, and you’re depressed about that, and then it gets worse. Then you find out that the horrible ending is a story that the character tells herself in order to deal with the even more horrible ACTUAL ending.

    And, Boy with the Striped Pajamas. I mean, it’s a Holocaust movie, so – SPOILER ALERT! – it ends badly. But even though it was predictable, it was still gut-wrenching. I still cried for like three days afterwards.

  • Ellie says:

    Snow Falling on Cedars
    Schindler’s List
    A Simple Plan
    Sin City

    Apparently I have an issue with films that start with S!

  • Vix says:

    Requiem for a Dream! Still haunts me to this day.

  • Amy says:

    North Face. (It’s German) I remembered it as an emotional endurance test, and then watched it with some students in class. Egads.

    Another German one: Head On.

    Jacob’s Ladder.

    +1 Requiem for a Dream

  • Jennifer says:

    House of Sand and Fog. I remember feeling…bruised after that one.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    Number one with a bullet: The Killing Fields

    Betty Blue is pretty dang depressing as well.

  • Jack says:

    Atonement immediately comes to mind.

    As far as older movies go, Ace in the Hole is pretty damn bleak. And I haven’t seen in 10 years, but I remember thinking that In a Lonely Place had a downer of an ending.

  • Leah says:

    Funny Games (1997)and probably the 2007 English language remake too.

  • Deanna says:

    Todd Solondz’s Happiness, which I saw right before I read your review and wish I had read your review first
    Breaking the Waves
    Up (heh, just kidding–but those first ten minutes, though…)

  • Leah in SoCal says:

    I’m seconding Grave of the Fireflies (I had to teach that!), Boys don’t Cry, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

  • Toby says:

    Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Like getting punched in the gut only to stand back up and get hit by a truck.

  • liz says:

    Zero Dark Thirty.
    Black Hawk Down – where I didn’t actually get past the scene where they drag the pilots out of the downed chopper. Can’t imagine it got more uplifting from there…
    I second Atonement
    Never Let me Go
    Old Yeller

  • Kim says:

    I second It’s a Wonderful Life
    Sophie’s Choice

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    I don’t know whether this counts, but I practically went into a depressive coma after watching Benjamin Britten: War Requiem in class. That was 17 years ago, and I’m still not over it.

    Burnt by the Sun
    In the Valley of Elah
    When the Levees Broke
    Blue Valentine

  • Kizz says:

    Coming back to second A Simple Plan and Schindler’s List.

    Also to add, Terms of Endearment. When you couple Shirley’s medication demands with that little kid’s wobbly chin you’re totally fucked.

  • slices says:

    The Wrestler and Monster

  • Keckler says:

    Coupla Disney entries here:

    Dumbo (try not to cry during “Baby Mine” because I am tearing up just typing it! Okay, I’m also pregnant.)

    The Fox and the Hound

    (I’m leaving off Bambi because I’m sure you already have it and I personally find these movies far more affecting than that one.)


  • Lisa says:

    The Champ (Ricky Schroeder, y’all.)

    Phenomenon (When Kyra Sedwick *thinks* he’s dying and pats his cheek going “Wait. Wait. I’m not ready. Wait.” Dude. I had to lie down.)

    Where the Red Fern Grows (Dogs. DYING OF A BROKEN HEART.)

  • Vicky Lee says:

    The Last King of Scotland
    Seven (Se7en?)
    Boys Don’t Cry
    No Country for Old Men

  • Sharon says:

    Casting my vote for Atonement and would add Leaving Las Vegas

  • Otter says:

    Ran (Akira Kurosawa’s take on King Lear)
    Nth-ing Grave of the Fireflies

    When I was in college Brazil and Ran were 2/3 of our conceptual Doom and Gloom Film Fest, but damned if I can remember the third.

  • scout1222 says:

    When a Man Loves a Woman

    I had the messiest sobbing attack AT THE THEATER during that movie, and it continued even after I got home. If you’ve got alcoholism in the family it will probably be too close to home.

  • Jill TX says:

    Jude/Jude the Obscure
    The Pursuit of Happyness

    Film noir in general is so bleak it’s hard to pick one or two, but I’d say Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice stand out.

  • WDD says:

    Schindler’s List – it might feel cliche but I will cry for 2 hours if I watch it.

    Atonement – the end KILLED me. (and Evil Cumberbatch makes it even worse)

    Never Let Me Go

    Blue Valentine

  • Another Sarah says:

    For your consideration: Naked (Mike Leigh). All Quiet on the Western Front. Both of these have final images that are just devastating, for entirely different reasons.

  • Anlyn says:

    Party Monster. Loved it. Cannot watch it again.

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    Lost in Translation

    I actually own the last two, but I can’t seem to bring myself to watch them again. Almost as if I would ruin the experience I had watching them the first time.

  • Plantie says:

    The Killing Fields. I watched it once, decades ago — I will never forget it and I will never watch it again.

  • Katie says:

    I’d like to second Atonement and Where the Red Fearn Grows. I also feel that way about Antonement the book. IIRC, I threw it across a room in despair.

    I’d like to add some fluffier material that guys me personally though they are not maybe the best movies Meet Joe Black (walking over that hill? I never want to see that again ever). Up Close and Personal (shoelaces! It makes you cry over shoelaces!)
    And lastly My Sister’s Keeper (full disclosure: I understand the movie to be different from the book, but the book so destroyed me I cannot bear to watch.)

  • zuhn says:

    The Laramie Project. Sometimes hope is the most heartbreaking of endings.

  • Nomie says:

    Mysterious Skin. I felt like I’d been punched in the heart.

  • WDD says:

    I second the nomination for “Shame”. So sad.

  • Liz C says:

    I’ve always wanted to do a variant of this, featuring heartbreaking and depressing films set in the dead of winter, “The Seasonal Affective Disorder Film Festival.”
    On the list: The Sweet Hereafter, A Simple Plan, Fargo, The Ice Storm, Affliction.

    @Keckler, I just want to second “The Fox and the Hound”. Last May, I was contemplating when it might be the end for 15 1/2 year old dog. I was waiting in line at the bank, and they were showing the end of “The Fox and the Hound” in the kids area, and I had to explain to the teller why I was crying.

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