Screen Junkies » Drama Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Fri, 28 Nov 2014 16:30:46 +0000 en hourly 1 The Film Cult Presents: Hard Candy Fri, 19 Sep 2014 17:27:29 +0000 Philip Harris The revenge Page’s character takes out on Wilson is calculated, diabolical. It’s hard to argue that Wilson's character doesn’t deserve it, so I won't. That said, there is a sense of the predatory to Hayley. She’s been working at this.

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Okay, kids. This week, we’re going dark. After reviewing Contact last week, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work the week before as a tribute to the recently passed comedy icon, I thought it was a good time to take a bite out of a weird, uncomfortable movie that also happens to be awesome.

Before she was Juno, Ellen Page was Hayley, a smart teen who at first glimpse seems innocent and vulnerable. We meet her through a flirtatious online chat she carries out with Jeff, played by the eternally beautiful Patrick Wilson, the all-round good guy photographer with the beautiful LA house and the smile to match. What follows, after they decide to meet in person, is a cat and mouse game that under the helm of any other, less-talented actors would veer into schlocky kitsch. But with Wilson and Page leading the charge, what we get is a psychological thriller about the atrocities of sexual child abuse.

I cannot understate how awesome Ellen Page is in this movie. I’m pretty sure she was born an acting genius. Her acting is acute, visceral. Still only a teen, her timing is perfect, and the breadth of her chops is masterful. From one moment to the next she’s vulnerable then vindictive, logical then irrational.

Her acting is most assuredly matched by Patrick Wilson’s, who’s been making amazing, understated movies for years. He plays the good guy with a secret so well that when you find out he ‘s a child molester you’re so disappointed you can’t help but start to root for Ellen Page’s character Hayley. He’s got that glint in his eye, that charismatic laugh. He’s got it all, just as so many predators do, the perfect blend of nice guy sexy to lure his victims.

The revenge Page’s character takes out on Wilson is calculated, diabolical. It’s hard to argue that Wilson’s character doesn’t deserve it, so I won’t. That said, there is a sense of the predatory to Hayley. She’s been working at this. She didn’t just find this pedophile in the street. She’s been hunting him, just as he’s been hunting his own victims. She’s been working overtime to concoct a trap for her prey. And what a trap it is. I’ve never seen a faux castration play so well on screen. She then, not unlike Hanibal Lector, goes straight for the mind. She knows how to get under Jeff’s skin, whispering what will happen if he doesn’t turn himself in, and ultimately, if he doesn’t kill himself, which is her ultimate goal.

I love movies in which there is no happy ending. For instance, my favorite movie of all time is Rosemary’s Baby. I love when no on wins. I get so sick of everyone living happily ever after. That’s not life. No, in a movie where the two main characters are both a little nuts, and one of them is an actual pedophile, motherfuckers are gonna die.

Using his ex-girlfriend against him, Hayley leads Jeff to the roof of his LA home where she slips a noose around his neck. This scene, in which she convinces him to commit suicide, is reminiscent of the famous scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca in which Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the new Mrs. de Winter to jump from the window of Manderlay. Thankfully, Mrs. De Winter doesn’t jump. Jeff—the beautiful photographer with the seemingly perfect life—does jump.

One of the great things about this film is what makes other films like Rosemary’s Baby so amazing. Not one moment of child abuse is depicted on screen. The abuse is only ever vaguely spoken of. I don’t like torture porn movies where young people are hurt. I can’t handle that shit. Not only do I think it’s unseemly, but I also think it’s more effective to leave it all to the imagination. That’s where the real danger lies, in our mind.

Hard Candy is a great, low-budget psychological thriller that everyone should see. You’ll never watch Juno in the same way again.

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The Film Cult Presents: American Gigolo Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:56:10 +0000 Philip Harris The Film Cult Presents: American Gigolo, the 1980 film about sex and fashion that became a cult classic for its eighties aesthetic.

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After a few weeks of overly personal, emotional Film Cult columns, I thought I’d write on just a plain old campy mess of a movie called American Gigolo. Many of the movies I write about aren’t particularly well made but have some sort of lasting resonance with a small, but devoted fan base. Well, American Gigolo is a poorly made movie that I’m not sure has any devoted fan base beyond those of us who love eighties fashion and over-the-top kitsch.

Not unlike other classic cult films, say Showgirls for instance, the film makers made American Gigolo in complete earnest. Paul Schrader wrote and directed the film and really thought it was going to be a provocative gem. You may know Schrader from his work as writer (and co-writer) of such greats as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. American Gigolo is not among his most well made films, but it’s certainly my ironic favorite.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s early 1980 in the City of Angels. Pastels rule landscape, and money flows down Rodeo Drive like cheap rosé. Women aren’t as powerful as they will be in the following decades and therefore are forced to stay home while their power-broker husbands work in wood-paneled offices in Century City. What’s a lonely and rich woman-of-a-certain age supposed to do with her days? Macrame? That was for their mothers. Soap Operas, sure, but all those commercials for wheel chairs and panty liners. Nope, in the land of palm trees and wide streets, a wealthy older woman with nothing but time on her hands wants one thing: to fuck a hot younger guy for money. The king of those male hustlers? Julian Kaye, portrayed by the baby-faced (but man-bodied) Richard Gere.

Julian is a man of distinguished taste and many languages. He owns a black Mercedes convertible, snorts only the best cocaine, and is exclusively bedecked by Giorgio Armani. He runs a fast life, zooming up PCH or out to Palm Springs for whatever adventures his clients have planned for him. But, is his life too fast? He encounters “rough tricks”,  run-ins with drug dealers. Is he dancing to close to the edge?

The short answer is yes, he is. There’s danger everywhere he turns, from drugs to his gay pimp, with whom he’s always slightly flirting but also slightly afraid of. Of course, back in 1980, the gay community was something to be afraid of–men in leather, making out in dark clubs with chains and loud music. But the true danger Julian encounters is not the gay men whom he’s always seemingly just about to join. The real danger is Michelle Stratton, played by the eternal Lauren Hutton, with whom he’s in danger of falling in love. There’s not much to say about the plot as there isn’t really a plot. There’s a murder, some running, and some rock-bottom moments, and then of course, Michelle vouches for Julian and they finally allow themselves to be together. One doesn’t watch American Gigolo for the plot. That is, of course, if one’s getting drunk with their friends and wants a good laugh for the night. No, one watches American Gigolo for the aesthetic.

Not unlike Grey Gardens, American Gigolo is one of those cult classics that really only has a life because it so perfectly captures a specific moment in fashion. In Grey Gardens it’s the quirky, DYI fashions of Little Edie, while in American Gigolo, it’s the ultra-glam Beverly Hills set of 1980s Los Angeles. Mr. Schrader really doused American Gigolo with syrup in this respect. I know many a designer who has been influenced by this film, many men and women who cite American Gigolo as their style muse for evening looks and seasonal fashion lines.

Having Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton wear all of these fabulous clothes doesn’t hurt. Lauren Hutton was (and is) a model for all time, a beauty discovered by legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland and heralded for not fixing the gap in her teeth. She is known for her philanthropy and activism, often spending months in Africa helping those less fortunate. All of that is ignored in this film however, since Mr. Schrader has essentially turned her into a mannequin. If she were a great actress, this would be different. Alas, she’s not. She’s beautiful, knows how to carry a woven red leather clutch, and is just vulnerable enough to believe she can crack Richard Gere’s muscled shell. And let me tell you, that’s enough reason to watch the movie.

Gere and Hutton dance around each other, surrounded by a world of shoulder pads, jersey dresses, and chunky jewelry. Their chemistry is real, which I can only imagine is another reason the movie was made. Re-watching it this week, I like to believe that if the movie were remade, Julian would be played by James Franco. Both are hams, and both are hot enough to pull off the whole vaguely gay hustler thing the character demands. Who would play Michelle? Hard to say. I think Idina Menzel would be great in the part. Maybe make it a musical and really gay it up.

God bless Paul Schrader. He had no idea he was making a mess, and he didn’t learn his lesson, seeing how he was also the director of The Canyonswhich was so awful it’s now masterpiece in debacle. That said, thank god Paul Scrader made American Gigolo. It’s the perfect post card for the fashion, decadence, and insanity of early eighties Southern California.

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The Film Cult Presents: Go Sun, 10 Aug 2014 18:32:56 +0000 Philip Harris Warning! Spoilers Ahead! In the spring of 1999, just before I graduated from high school, I met a young man named Zoe. He was a few years older and, I...

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Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

In the spring of 1999, just before I graduated from high school, I met a young man named Zoe. He was a few years older and, I thought, far worldlier than I. We met on a now defunct chat room late one night after my parents had gone to bed. I fell instantly in love with him and a few weeks later he took a bus into Hollywood one morning so we could meet. He had a black eye and over the course of that day he stole my watch, confessed that he lived in some detention camp for wayward youth, and told me he loved me. He’d told the authorities that he was going to his grandmother’s funeral. As an innocent kid from the LA burbs, all of this seemed terribly attractive and exciting to me. I lived with my parents in Glendale, where there was always fresh watermelon, newspapers, and plenty of protection.

Because of his lie to the authorities, Zoe was kicked out of his living situation and went to live with a friend who had a mobile home out in Yucaipa. The last time we spoke, after my parents’ banned me from seeing him, was on the phone one night after he’d gotten high with his friend, had sex with said friend, and called to tell me that he wanted me to see a movie called “Go.” He said this movie was exactly the kind of life he wanted us to live together—running wild, going to raves, taking drugs. As he spoke of this movie, of how much it meant to him, I realized that we would never be together. After all, I wasn’t even eighteen, and something about “Go” felt dangerous, like it had unleashed a devil in him from which I quickly withdrew.

I never saw Zoe again. I graduated from high school and went to community college. After Y2K failed to bring the melodrama it had promised, I became bored with life, caring nothing for my own future, giving no time to the venture of self. Then, one Saturday afternoon, my brother rented “Go” from Blockbuster.

“Go” is three interweaving story lines of multiple young people on the verge of danger at the end of the twentieth century. A girl tries to scam a drug dealer. A traveling Brit tries to outsmart a pimp, and two gay guys try to escape a pyramid scheme. The jokes are fast, not particularly smart, but always sarcastic, which resonated with me instantly. The plot is all right. It’s not brilliant, but it’s entertaining. The cast is phenomenal. Scott Wolf, Timothy Olyphant, Taye Diggs, Jay Mohr, and even Katie Holmes, each play major roles throughout. In fact, Wolf and Mohr are the aforementioned gay couple. It’s fascinating to watch each of these now mega-famous actors cut their teeth in a quirky film about a rave and drugs. Katie Holmes was still wholesome, while Timothy Olyphant made the perfect skeezy drug dealer who was equal parts hot and hilarious. Also, keep your eyes akimbo for a then unknown Melissa McCarthy toward the film’s end.

My brother and I loved it. We integrated quotes into our daily vernacular almost immediately: “Don’t go all 818 on me.” “I don’t even give my friends head.” “Look at your shirt, bitch. This ain’t Hawaii.” I saw what Zoe had loved about the film. None of the young characters appear to have parents. They all have cars and clothes and schedules fit for middle-aged, full-time workers. They were all pretending to be adults, not realizing that pretending to be something you’re not always turns out bad. Zoe wanted his life to be a movie in which beautiful teens are hit by cars and don’t die, in which your friends are always available to get high and go on adventures. As you can imagine, his life was not this. He was doing drugs in a mobile home out in the desert.

I knew my life wasn’t like the characters’ in “Go.” Hell, my life wasn’t even like Zoe’s. I didn’t do drugs and until then only ever did anything as dangerous as meet strangers off the internet, which, granted, was dangerous enough. Still, I knew that the characters in “Go” were still the cool kids in high school. That is, not me, which I’d grown to accept years earlier. Still, I wanted a taste of that life. The danger from which I’d originally detracted now seemed exciting to me.

Over the years, “Go” has actually become a family favorite. We watch it at least twice a year, each family member delighting in their own contained excitement of vicariously living a fictional character’s story arch. The jokes seem less funny, but the actors are all still beautiful, especially Timothy Olyphant who is shirtless throughout. I wonder if my family members ever wonder what their lives could have been had they gone on more dangerous adventures. To me, now a man in my thirties, “Go” seems almost innocent in its depiction of pre-2000 debauchery. Everyone thought the internet was going to take us to different worlds, never once thinking that it would eventually just make the world smaller. Justin Bieber was a six-year-old living in Canada. Facebook didn’t exist.

When my family now suggests we watch “Go” I always have to convince myself to watch it with them. I recently realized that the comfort of living vicariously through a character’s life is not something I need. In the years following my initial viewing of “Go”, I flew to Chicago to meet another man I met on the internet, spending a weekend with him in his dorm room and subsequently cheating on my boyfriend back in Los Angeles. I did the same a year later, this time going to a rave in San Francisco with a stranger, only to be stranded in a Sacramento parking lot at five the next morning. That same year, when I was nineteen, I popped a blood vessel in my right eye during a long weekend in Las Vegas. I shortly after dropped out of community college and soon found myself in Hollywood apartments at three in the morning with strangers, frequently allowing myself to dance in West Hollywood clubs until I was so dehydrated that I had to make out with bartenders for free bottles of water.

No, “Go” is not a way for me to live something I never got the chance to. “Go” is a reminder of the innocent kid I was and how that kid, because of a black-eyed druggie named Zoe, learned to never let any of my crazy, and sometimes idiotic, adventures go too far. For when I thought I might be in too much danger, when that devil would appear, I could hear Jay Mohr whisper a single word in my ear.   


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The Film Cult Presents: Elizabethtown Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:10:50 +0000 Philip Harris Warning! Spoilers Ahead! Five movies after the last of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he played eternally-fare, arrow-wielding Legolas, Orlando Bloom teamed up with Cameron Crowe to...

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Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

Five movies after the last of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he played eternally-fare, arrow-wielding Legolas, Orlando Bloom teamed up with Cameron Crowe to make a movie steeped in sentimentality, forced “moments”, and a pretentious soundtrack. Kristen Dunst looks like she’s competing for hipster of the decade, and I am not even really sure why Paula Deen is among the cast. That said, Orlando’s American accent not withstanding, Elizabethtown is one of those movies that never got a fair chance. Yes, everything I said is true, but Elizabethtown is one of those movies I can’t shake, and ever time I bring it up to someone who has seen it, they can’t help but gush about how much they love it. How can a movie so obviously flawed be so good?

The plot of the movie is pretty straightforward. Orlando plays Drew Baylor, a business and marketing genius about to launch a shoe that will change the world of covered feet. On the release of his grand invention, he discovers the product is a dismal failure which will lose his company over 900 million dollars. Later that night, his girlfriend dumps him, and just as he’s about to commit suicide, he gets a phone call from his sister telling him his father has died. He’s then asked to take his father’s favorite blue shirt to Elizabethtown, Kentucky for the funeral.

We never meet Drew’s father. We never see them together, and when the father appears in flashbacks or family photos, he’s so unfamiliar that one doesn’t really feel anything for him. A movie maker of Cameron Crowe’s caliber knows what he’s doing, however. The emotional thread of the film is that Drew, because of the flop of his multi-million-dollar shoe, can’t process his father’s death. He’s numb and can’t cry over the fact that his father has died. In this, Drew’s numbness mirrors the viewer’s apathy toward to the father character. I’m not sure that once Drew releases his emotions during the road trip that punctuates the film’s end is enough for us to have the same reaction, but I definitely shed a tear every time I see that moment, which we’ll get to in second.

On his way to Kentucky, Drew meets Claire Colburn, played by Kristen Dunst. Her over-familiar, bubbly hipster schtick is overwrought and borders on tedious throughout the whole film. In fact, I credit her strange character, and the subsequent relationship she has with Drew, with overshadowing the rest of the film as bad. Herein is the movie’s largest flaw. It’s marketed as a romantic comedy, when really it’s about acceptance and grief. Ignoring the banal relationship these two troubled, yet beautiful, people undergo is the best way to watch Elizabethtown. The relationship aside, there are some truly poignant moments in the film.

In Elizabethtown, Drew is reunited with the Southern family he’s never known. These are the first of the more poignant moments the film offers. There’s nothing quite as special as being welcomed by a group of people who love you and are related to you for no other reason than you are family. The montage of him being introduced to his family and friends in that big southern house reminds one of being a child, surrounded by all the adults I naturally took for granted but were gone too soon. You can almost smell the food and hear the gossip and television in the background.

The other poignant moment is the one I mentioned earlier, when Drew finally succumbs to the emotions of his father’s death while on the road trip Claire has constructed for his return to the west coast. With his father’s ashes seat-belted beside him, Drew takes his father on the road trip they never had, scattering his ashes at some of the country’s most important landmarks. The moments at the landmarks are cheesy, but the solo car moments are beautiful. It’s those moments in the car, those deep revelations only found on long car trips with oneself that bring Drew, and me, to tears. You can see Drew’s mind working through the past, letting things go, and yet despite the shoe debacle, the new girl with whom he’s about to reunite, and the huge family he just rediscovered, it’s when he’s by himself that he remembers a single moment playing with his father as a child. We see a young drew pumping his hand up and down, his father doing the same, and then we cut to adult Drew in the car, finally facing responsibility, doing the same gesture, crying his heart out.

Along with a few moments of pure comedy—Susan Sarandon’s eulogy and tap dance routine, the other guests at Drew’s hotel, and Alec Baldwin’s cameo—these aforementioned poignant moments make this movie a personal favorite and an un-heralded cult film. If you’ve never taken a road trip with your dad, if you’ve never allowed yourself to be swallowed by your family, you should watch this movie. And if none of those things sound appealing to you, you should watch it merely for the fact that Orlando Bloom is so beautiful in regular, non-elf clothing, that it’s almost uncomfortable to behold. Almost.

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The Film Cult Presents: Hanna Fri, 16 May 2014 17:54:11 +0000 Philip Harris Warning! Spoilers Ahead! I don’t normally review movies this recent, but having just seen it appear on another website’s list of ten movies one may have overlooked in the last...

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Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

I don’t normally review movies this recent, but having just seen it appear on another website’s list of ten movies one may have overlooked in the last several years, I thought I’d give Hanna some due diligence, as I believe/pray/hope it will become a cult classic in years to come. It certainly deserves cult film status. While not a blockbuster, it’s still considered a financial success, having brought in a worldwide total of $63,782,078. While the movie’s numbers are solid, the fact remains many still have never even heard of or seen this film, which is disheartening because I think it’s one of the best films made in the last five years.

The premise is your classic sixteen-year-old girl who lives in the woods with her dad and has been trained as a total bad-ass ninja then is told she must meet her dad in Berlin after he alerts the CIA to their whereabouts. Hanna is also told that a woman named Marissa will try to kill her, so she better have been paying attention during all those karate and hunting lessons. Well, everything goes to plan, and maybe this is the only flaw in the movie: the big “reveal” is seen from a million miles away and everything expected to happen generally does. But, what happens is so much fun and exquisitely shot that I give the movie a pass for running out of steam three-quarters in.

In no small part is Hanna’s awesomeness due to its cast, which includes the queen of everything Beyoncé isn’t, Cate Blanchett, who celebrated a birthday earlier this week. As Marissa, her steely eyes and perfect southern accent give her such a sinisterly fun quality, one can’t help but be seduced by her intensity and earnestness, knowing full well that she wants to kill Hanna and you, if she had the chance. It’s one of Cate’s more understated roles (no Oscar nods or monarchs here) but it’s one of her most underrated. Incidentally, for another underrated Cate Blanchett vehicle, you should rent Bandits. She’s hilarious.

Moving on, Eric Bana, who I’d love to be my daddy stuck in the woods with any day of the week, plays Hanna’s father with an iron jaw and focused precision that wreaks of strength and confidence. Little good it does him. Saoirse Ronan, whom everyone should go see in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as Hanna has an ethereal beauty to her, so much so that one can almost believe that, while she’s a cold-blooded killer, her innocence is completely intact. Speaking of cast, keep an eye out for Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary herself, in an almost missable moment.

Cinematography is the other main reason this movie is so engrossing. The opening shots of a snow-covered Finland give justice to the stark beauty inherent to a desolate landscape. The same can be said for the shots taken of the dessert when Hanna escapes the CIA. To start in a landscape that feels very “north of the wall” then to take the viewer to the desert, where you can almost feel your own arms begin to sunburn, only to end up in an abandoned amusement park in the German forest leads me to believe that the filmmakers knew the whole film couldn’t run, as no story can, on premise alone. Run out of story? Only have chases left? Perfect, use stylistic choices any serious Tumblr addict would go mad for.

In reviewing this film, I’d also be remiss to mention several fun sequences. The first is when an English family help Hanna escape the desert. Hanna finds her equivalent in this family, a girl named Sophie, who is the comic core of the whole film. She delivers her quips in such perfectly obnoxious way you can’t help but be sad when Hanna must leave them behind. Really, Sophie’s hilarious. Also not to be missed is a super-quick fight sequence with Eric Bana. Again, it’s really the style here that’s most important. I don’t think this scene is an ode to The Wiz, but I could be wrong, because it looks like the same set, to me anyway. And finally, the other great scene is the chase in the shipyard, where all those crates provide enough wacky opportunities to give the whole thing a Bond feel that is rad as fuck.

With that, Hanna is an awesome film about a teenager ninja with a face made for Instagram. She’s got a hot dad, a secret she doesn’t even know, and one of the greatest actresses of our time is trying to kill her. What more could the public want beside a plot and premise that saw its way through to the end of the movie? Everyone’s so picky these days. This is a fun movie with gorgeous shots, hot actors, and yes even some great one-liners.

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Coming of Age Movies That Make Men Cry Mon, 11 Jul 2011 19:58:30 +0000 Breakstudios Just in time to quench your oddly-specific thirst, here's a list of tried and true tearjerkers that have been known to make a man cry.

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Seeking out coming of age movies that make men cry can be risky business. After all, what man wants to cry during a movie, much less one about some kid learning about life or whatever? Still, sometimes you’re simply in the mood. So, just in time to quench your oddly-specific thirst, here’s a list of tried and true tearjerkers that have been known to turn men into cry babies. Not us, though. Just a guy we know.


My Life As A Dog

Ingemar in My Life As A Dog

This is a definitive coming of age drama from director Lasse Holstrom, and if it doesn’t make you cry, not much will. It really piles the misery on top of its young protagonist Ingemar, including but not limited to: a sick and dying mother, being separated from his beloved dog and an array of sexual humiliations. We won’t even blame you if you get a little misty-eyed just reading this.


Edward Scissorhands

Johnny Depp hugging Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands

OK, so Edward is an artificial being, so he doesn’t technically age. Still, the movie is about his movement from childlike innocence to bitter disappointment as he experiences the harsh world of love and loss, so it qualifies. And it’ll get you. Particularly the final scene where an elderly Winona Ryder remembers her life as a young girl with Edward and that sweet Danny Elfman score swells. Just try  not to blow your nose too hard if you have scissors for hands. We had an uncle who lost a nostril that way.


Boyz N The Hood

Cuba Gooding Jr. crying in Boyz In the Hood

This coming of age drama about kids growing up in a rough LA neighborhood could make even the hardest gangster (or Republican) shed a tear or two. It’s a classic story, featuring several kids who either try to escape the unforgiving neighborhood, or grow to coldly embrace what it takes to survive there. Plus, what is arguably Ice Cube‘s most badass performance alone is enough to bring tears to your eyes. “Domino motherf*cker!”


The Lion King

Simba trying to wake up Mufasa in The Lion King

Yeah, it’s a cartoon. You’re looking for movies that make a man cry, what do you expect? This Disney classic has been seen by practically everyone, including more than a few guys who claim to never cry during movies —a healthy percentage of these guys almost certainly teared up when Mufasa was murdered by Scar. Or maybe that was just dust in our eyes.


The Tree of Life

Sean Penn in the desert in Tree Of Life

This might seem like a weird choice, since The Tree of Life is a much more experimental movie than the other weepers on this list. Still, if you give it the concentration and focus it deserves, it’ll tug at those heart strings. The scenes depicting life in 1950s suburban Texas might get to you, specifically if you’re around the same age as Sean Penn’s character, whose childhood makes up the bulk of the narrative. Well, that and dinosaurs. And who among us is able to keep his composure when it comes to dinosaurs?

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