While Netflix may have a reputation as a seemingly infinite repository of rom-coms, sometimes you're in the mood for a good cry. When that feeling hits you, sit down with one of these tearjerking dramas, which range from deadly serious to schmaltzy and uplifting -- something for everyone.
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True Detective Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga’s wartime drama is not a movie you put on in the background. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, this visceral character study tracks a preadolescent after he’s recruited to be a child soldier in an African civil war (its specifics are left purposefully ambiguous). Lorded over by a gruff commander (Idris Elba), the movie is loud, tender, and violent -- a coming-of-age story in which the characters may not live to come of age.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Sometimes it's impossible to pinpoint where a relationship went wrong. They can be messy and self-destructive, but comfortable and familiar when you’re in them. Derek Cianfrance's (The Place Beyond the Pines) Blue Valentine is a case study on one relationship in particular: a working class couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, whose marriage is hanging by a thread. Cutting between the present and their past as hopelessly enamored young lovers, their relationship at its best and worst is placed under a microscope to show what happens when you fall hard, then fall apart. Blue Valentine is hot and cold -- so cold watching love freeze over.
Richard Linklater spent a decade with the same actors to shoot bits and pieces of his coming-of-age story as an experiment in seamless onscreen aging. The result is a subtly funny, troubling, and true portrait of how special each person's "normal" life can be, with all the challenging and melancholy moments included.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Historical events often appear differently through the eyes of a child. For some, events are especially devastating, while others may be privileged enough to be ignorant to what’s really unfolding around them. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the latter sort of story, following the experience of 8-year-old Bruno in Nazi-occupied Germany. The film, adapted from John Boyne’s novel, follows the innocent friendship between Bruno, who happens to be the son of a concentration camp commander, and a young Jewish boy held captive in the camp, and the unexpected consequences of their relationship. The fictional period piece is a heartbreaking look at youth’s naivety in times of crisis at the hands of adults, and the humanity that exists in everyone.
Pixar's Oscar-winning film the Internet earnestly can't get enough of is relatively new to Netflix. The studio's best movie in years, Coco is a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage -- specifically around El Día de los Muertos -- as our young Mexican protagonist, Miguel, finds himself trapped in the land of the dead after defying his family's longstanding rule against becoming a musician. It's beautiful both in its story and on-screen imagery, and a tender, must-have viewing experience for all ages that only Pixar in top form could pull off.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
The movie that earned Matthew McConaughey his Best Actor Oscar (and gave the world that brilliant speech and white tux) tells the true story of Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient in Texas who smuggles treatment from Mexico during a time when the disease still carried a stigma and had few effective treatments. McConaughey's performance is reason enough to watch; Jared Leto's Oscar-winning role as a transgender woman who forges an unlikely business relationship with McConaughey's Woodroof is a bonus.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
When Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), three half-siblings from three different mothers, gather at their family brownstone in New York to tend to their ailing father (Dustin Hoffman), a lifetime of familial politics explode out of every minute of conversation. Their narcissistic sculptor dad didn't have time for Danny. Matthew was the golden child. Jean was weird... or maybe disturbed by memories no one ever knew. Expertly sketched by writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) this memoir-like portrait of lives half-lived is the kind of bittersweet, dimensional character comedy we're now used to seeing told in three seasons of prestige television. Baumbach gives us the whole package in two hours.
Sean Penn won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the openly gay public official who galvanized San Francisco's activist movement. Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Milk is a traditional, yet elegant biopic that keeps two fingers firmly placed on the pulse of 1970s Castro Street while mirroring debates and actions we're still (still!) witnessing today.
Chronicling the boyhood years, teenage stretch, and muted adult life of Chiron, a black gay man making it in Miami, this triptych altarpiece is at once hyper-specific and cosmically universal. Director Barry Jenkins roots each moment in the last; Chiron's desire for a lost lover can't burn in a diner booth over a bottle of wine without his beachside identity crisis years prior, blurred and violent, or encounters from deeper in his past, when glimpses of his mother's drug addiction, or the mentoring acts of her crack supplier, felt like secrets delivered in code. Panging colors, sounds, and the delicate movements of its perfect cast like the notes of a symphony, Moonlight is the real deal, a movie that will only grow and complicate as you wrestle with it.
The South's post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Director Dee Rees rectifies the overlooked stretch of history with this novelistic drama about two Mississippi families working a rain-drenched farm in 1941. The white McAllans settle on a muddy patch of land to realize their dreams. The Jacksons, a family of black sharecroppers working the land, have their own hopes, which their neighbors manage to nurture and curtail. To capture a multitude of perspectives, Mudbound weaves together specific scenes of daily life, vivid and memory-like, with family member reflections, recorded in whispered voice-over. The epic patchwork stretches from the Jackson family dinner table, where the youngest daughter dreams of becoming a stenographer, to the vistas of Mississippi, where incoming storms threaten an essential batch of crops, to the battlefields of World War II Germany, a harrowing scene that will affect both families. Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present.
P.S. I Love You (2007)
First and foremost, P.S. I Love You is a sob-fest: When the love of Holly’s (Hilary Swank) life Gerry (Gerard Butler) dies of illness, she finds that he's left her a series of letters to help her through her grief. And as tragic as that is, his words help her to not only learn that his love will always be with her, but to love herself. Eventually inspiring her to go on a journey with her friends to lush and lively Ireland, this oddly therapeutic film feels like a heavenly romantic meditation on love and loss. (Just don’t cry too, too much.)
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Sometimes, you just want to watch a great actor explode. With Mad Men soaring, maybe we didn't need Sam Mendes' adaptation of the acclaimed Richard Yates novel, but the descent into suburban malaise offered Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet the reunion of a lifetime. Their bitter feuds lay waste to ceramic kitchenware. Their looks, bubbling in living portrait after living portrait, scorch harder. Revolutionary Road is stage acting worthy of Broadway. On screen, it's a salvo of in-your-face confrontations, DiCaprio and Winslet pushing themselves to extremes.
All those billions Netflix spent paid off in the form of several Oscar nominations for Roma, including one for Best Picture and a win for Best Director. Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón's black-and-white passion project seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm -- with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration -- and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón's artful pans aren't just layered for the sake of complexity: He's often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there's an image of Cleo and the family eating ice cream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that you won't be able to shake. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions.
The big-screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue's best-selling novel, about a mother raising her son in captivity after being abducted as a teenager, has built-in challenges. Most of the film takes place in an 11x11 garden shed. And the drama plays out from the perspective of a 5-year-old. But Lenny Abrahamson's film version is as much a cinematic triumph as the book was a literary one. Anchored by stirring performances from young Jacob Tremblay and Oscar winner Brie Larson, who cements her status as one of the finest actresses working today, Room is a haunting tribute to survival in the most horrific of circumstances.
Schindler's List (1993)
A passion project for Steven Spielberg, who shot it back-to-back with another masterpiece, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who reportedly saved over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Frank, honest, and stark in its depiction of Nazi violence, the three-hour historical drama is a haunting reminder of the world's past, every frame a relic, every lost voice channeled through Itzhak Perlman's mourning violin.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
In his Oscar-winning performance, Eddie Redmayne portrays famed physicist Stephen Hawking -- though The Theory of Everything is less of a biopic than it is a beautiful, sweet film about his lifelong relationship with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). Covering his days as a young cosmology student ahead of his diagnosis of ALS at 21, through his struggle with the illness and rise as a theoretical scientist, this filmillustrates the trying romance through it all. While it may be written in the cosmos, this James Marsh-directed film that weaves in and out of love will have you experience everything there is to feel.
Cancer always sucks, but it's a different kind of suckiness when you find out you're diagnosed in your 20s. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this dramedy as a young man who learns he's dying of a rare form of spinal cancer, and is understadably pissed. But with the comfort of his best friend, played by Seth Rogen, and a young, unconventional therapist (Anna Kendrick), he finds strength and humor despite his jaded worldview to just embrace life as it comes. The somber comedy may give a harsh look at mortality, but it proves humor and connection is sometimes enough to get us through hardship -- so don’t worry, you’ll be laughing through the tears.