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.
This sweeping romantic epic, based on the Ian McEwan novel of the same name (which is worth a read, though you won't find the book on Netflix), sends Robbie (James McAvoy) off to fight in World War II, and he finds himself in the middle of Britain's retreat from the Germans on the shores of Dunkirk Beach. Director Joe Wright pulled off a tragically beautiful five-and-a-half-minute tracking shot of the whole ordeal that'll break your heart if Robbie's separation from his love Cecilia (Keira Knightley) didn't already.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
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.
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.
Bright Star (2009)
The Piano director Jane Campion gives the life of English poet John Keats, and his romantic relationship with Fanny Brawne that fueled his writing up until his untimely death at the age of 25, the pastoral treatment it deserves. Between the succulent photography, delicate score, and Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish's hushed poetry readings, Bright Star is a beautiful tragedy, and one of the most unsung dramas of the past decade. As Keats says in the film, "The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought." Bright Star is a lake of a movie.
This film about a Brazilian favela's descent into criminal rule leaves a haunting note echoing in the wake of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The harsh reality City of God portrays, one in which gang logic trumps all, will not make for an uplifting night in, but the movie is much more than a shoot-em-up thrill ride -- Brazil's natural beauty and the hope of youth always serve as heartbreaking counterbalances to violence.
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.
In the '80s, a five year old boy named Saroo found himself separated from his brother in rural India, and in searching for him, sent himself on a long, tragic journey to find his way back home. Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir, A Long Way Home, Lion chronicles young Saroo’s unintentional, dangerous trip to Calcutta, eventual adoption by a family in Tasmania, and attempt as an adult (played by Oscar-nominated Dev Patel) to track down where his birth mother and where he came from. The film feels like two -- its first half an extremely heartbreaking look at a little boy lost and on his own, and turns into what can only be called an inspiration story, seeing one man work tirelessly to find his way.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell’s first collaboration -- and the film that turned J-Law into a bona fide golden girl -- is a romantic comedy/dramedy/dance-flick that bounces across its tonal shifts. A love story between Pat (Cooper), a man struggling with bipolar disease and a history of violent outbursts, and Tiffany (Lawrence), a widow grappling with depression, who come together while rehearsing for an amateur dance competition, Silver Linings balances an emotionally realistic depiction of mental illness with some of the best twirls and dips this side of Step Up. Even if you're allergic to rom-coms, Lawrence and Cooper’s winning chemistry will win you over, as will this sweet little gem of a film: a feel-good, affecting love story that doesn’t feel contrived or treacly.
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.
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