“I wrote 63 songs this year. They’re all about Jeter.” Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls’ Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don’t forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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.





  • BSD says:

    Odd choice, but:

    The Last American Virgin

  • Jill TX says:

    Winter’s Bone

    (The poverty and drugs wonder trio.)

  • Stephanie says:

    +1 to Leaving Las Vegas (fantastic acting, wouldn’t watch it again even if you paid me)

    Boys Don’t Cry
    Requiem for a Dream

  • J. says:

    ET. I went to the movies to see it when it first came out and have never watched it again. I won’t let my children watch it either…just to sad.

    Jacobs Ladder. Just weird and scary, and can’t explain why…

  • Seankgallagher says:

    Homicide (the 1991 David Mamet movie)
    Leaving Las Vegas

  • John Ramos says:

    Throwing support behind Never Let Me Go
    Boy A (also in the Andrew Garfield oeuvre)
    Tutti Stanno Bene
    They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
    London River

  • ferretrick says:

    Schnidler’s List
    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (See it for the best performances all 4 of the cast ever gave in their careers, and then take a shower.)
    Slumdog Millionaire (I know it had some “happy” Bollywood number at the end, but I never finished it because watching child abuse is not my idea of entertainment)
    Dangerous Liaisons

  • ferretrick says:

    This might be one you consider just straight up bad versus what you are looking for, but

    War of the Roses, with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.

    One of the most nasty, mean, flat out ugly pieces of “comedy” I’ve ever seen.

  • Alison says:

    Requiem for a Dream
    Winter’s Bone
    Dersu Uzala

  • Laura G says:

    Saving Private Ryan (“Did I earn it” = depression trigger)
    Birth of a Nation (historical moment in filmmaking, but *dude*)
    Duck Soup (such an important part of our cultural canon, but What. The. Actual. Balls.)

  • Kim says:

    @Katie…seconding Up Close and Personal..I still can’t hear Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” without thinking of this movie

  • Margot says:

    1) Boyz n the Hood
    2) Leaving Las Vegas

  • Emily says:

    “House of Sand and Fog”, because UGH.

    Don’t know if you will count it because it’s a BBC/HBO film, but “Stuart: A Life Backwards” was slowly unfolding flower of sad.

    “Sophie’s Choice”, obvs.

  • KTB says:

    Pan’s Labyrinth. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and everything in between. I own this, and still haven’t decided if I can ever watch it again.
    Black Hawk Down. I attempted a second watching of this one until the scene where they are attempting to wrangle the soldier’s femoral artery. Done, done, and never again.
    A Midnight Clear. Beautiful, simple, and far too painful to watch ever again, even with the plentiful eye candy.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Cable/VOD releases count. Miniseries, no.

  • PDM says:

    It’s My Party.

  • Another Sharon says:

    Schindler’s List
    Hotel Rwanda
    Buffalo Soldiers
    Boys Don’t Cry

  • Ooo, how could I have forgotten the special category for animation?
    Watership Down
    The Plague Dogs
    When The Wind Blows
    Never, ever, ever will I be able to watch any of those again.

  • cheryl says:

    Killing Fields
    Color Purple

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    A little watched film from 1988 called Miracle Mile, starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham. Dear God, never has real time been used more effectively, while wiping the notion of “two people in love can beat anything” off all the maps that ever existed. You will watch with you hands clenched onto your chair, then go outside to reassure yourself that the world hasn’t ceased to exist.

    Totally agree with the poster who mentioned In A Lonely Place. Bogart’s hangdog face was never more mournful or resigned.

  • J. says:

    Oh! I forgot to add Medea (1988).

  • Barb says:

    I second “The Fox and the Hound.”
    at age 25, maybe 30, I had to leave the theater!
    worse than Old Yeller! what is it with some disney films? They are supposed to be DISNEY!

    an oldie, French: Jules et Jim
    I felt like I was in shock for several days.

    YES! Please call it “The Seasonal Affective Disorder Film Festival.”

  • Anne-Cara says:

    Grave of the Fireflies and Schindler’s List for sure, and I’ll also throw in a vote for Swing Kids and Bridge to Terebithia (neither of them, perhaps, are great cinema, but both left me sobbing).

  • Gina says:

    Sophie’s Choice

  • Keckler says:

    Oooh, “Suddenly Last Summer.”

    Lobotomies, cannibalism, Somerset Maugham, and a line I will never, ever be able to erase from memory: “It looked as if — as if they had DEVOURED him!”

    Never again.

  • Kristin says:

    3rding (I think) Where the Red Fern Grows.

    Adding Gorillas in the Mist.

    The Lion King effed me up, I saw it right after my father died.

    Lastly, there’s a 1965 documentary-style short called The War Game that is incredibly terrifying. I saw it in a film class wayyy too many years ago for me to admit to, and I’ve never gotten over it.

  • Lois says:

    Two additional votes for Requiem for a Dream and Mysterious Skin. I would also add Heavenly Creatures. I have watched this multiple times, but find it difficult nonetheless.

  • DMCD says:


    Bleak, cheerless. Thoroughly depressing.

  • Krista says:

    The Prestige! That movie still haunts me. I bought it because it was wonderful but it is still plastic wrapped because I can’t bring myself to actually watch it again.

    The Painted Veil. It’s been on Starz lately and I’ve watched bits but can’t bring myself to experience it all again.

    I’m seconding earlier suggestions:

    The Fox and the Hound – that song by itself gets me!


    Beaches – it is the first movie I thought of when reading the intro

  • DMCD says:

    Snowtown – sorry

  • Ami says:

    +1 for Jacob’s Ladder. Holy crap.

  • Haras says:

    Piling on to the “Jude” nomination. Saw it over a dozen years ago and still have certain moments burned into my brain. Never want to see it again.

    Dancer in the Dark

    Kramer vs. Kramer

    Trip to Bountiful


  • ferretrick says:

    I’ve never seen it (and don’t care to) but I guess that infamous Salo film by Passolini has a place in this.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    I second many of the entries here. Adding “Pi” and (if we’re allowed documentaries) “How to Survive A Plague.” The latter one, I cried intermittently from about five minutes in until about an hour after it ended. And was kinda catatonic the rest of the day.

  • Erin says:

    All the mentions of Snow Falling on Cedars has reminded me how sad I felt after watching that movie!

    Also, A Very Long Engagement. So beautiful and sad and I still get sad thinking about it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    …and if that “place” is in a face-off against “Dumbo,” I officially retire from the internet.

  • Shanchan says:

    Sophie’s Choice
    The Fox and the Hound- that last look between them… sob.
    Million Dollar Baby (I hated that movie so. so. much.)
    The Killing Fields
    Nthing Grave of the Fireflies

  • LauraBeth says:


    Awakenings– You’re healed! Just kidding, back to catatonia with you.

    Children of Men– I’m surprised no on else mentioned this. I know it’s supposed to be hopeful, but it completely sucked my soul.

  • DMCD says:

    If you’re including documentaries, then: Sharkwater. I cried for weeks. I didn’t see The Cove, but I am sure that one applies as well.

  • attica says:

    Yeah, I gotta give ups (or downs, as the case here is) to Happiness. I do not ever want to meet Todd Solondz.

    I sat in the theater for a good ten minutes after the credits of Terms of Endearment with a box of Kleenex in my lap (I’d been warned; my companions all laughed at me for bringing in A BOX OF KLEENEX, but they all cadged off me, every one.) trying to gather the will to get up and go home.

    The Boys of St. Vincent. Vintage child-rape by clergy.

    The Magdalene Sisters. More religious abuse, this time with Irish accents.

    Out of Africa. The first time I saw it, I cried from the time Meryl gets syphillis to the end. Now, I don’t start crying until she begs the new governor for a place for her African workers. But I always cry.

  • patricia says:

    Thirding or whatevering Atonement.

    Kids – I saw this in a midnight showing when I was in college and it is just so freaking bleak.

    Million Dollar Baby

    Boys Don’t Cry makes my list too, which I think means Hilary Swank makes a bunch of downer movies.

  • John Ramos says:


    The Wedding Banquet (controversial, but I find it devastating)
    The Days Of Wine And Roses
    The Sweet Hereafter
    Farewell My Concubine

  • Jenny K says:

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. So beautiful, so wrenching.

    The movie that made me sob the most was Wit, but that wasn’t a theatrical release. It was on HBO or an HBO-like channel.

  • Bess says:

    Closet Land, with Madeline Stowe and Alan Rickman. It’s an amazing film, but terrifying, and though I’ve never been able to watch it again since that first viewing I felt compelled to buy a copy. Thinking about it now still gives me the shivers.

    Also, Grave of the Fireflies because holy hell.

  • Laura G says:

    @Barb: March SAD-ness?

  • Anlyn says:

    I can’t even READ “Where the Red Fern Grows” again, let alone watch it. Excellent choice.

  • Mary says:

    Dead Poet Society – man, when I saw that one I sat sobbing for a good 15-20 min afterwards

  • Shanchan says:

    LauraBeth- I was more angry than sad after “Children of Men”-visually beautiful, well acted, but so so stupid. First baby born in 20 years and people are going to start shooting when the baby is still around and the mother- first woman capable of bearing a child in 20 years- is not treated like a Goddess? Aging population that is constantly dying off and the country is not begging for refugees to take over their jobs? I mean, seriously. The filmmakers clearly had the same hatred of humanity as the ones who made “Million Dollar Baby.”

  • Jenny says:

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

  • Melissa says:

    Brokeback Mountain

    And, as others have said, Dear Zachary, if documentaries are making the list.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>