By: Jim Weekes
Get out the tissues and the chocolate ice cream, you’re spending valentine’s day alone are you? No fear, your first thought would be to watch something funny to cheer you up, but I believe quite the contrary is true. Why watch people having a good time when you’re not? It’s more helpful to watch people who are in an even worse predicament. Although most “professionals” wouldn’t recommend this course of treatment for loneliness, it works just fine, in moderation. So celebrate this valentine’s day with my list of the top 20 most depressing movies.
Please note I’m omitting foreign films, war films, or films based on real tragedies like 9/11 with the exception of one.
It may seem odd to anyone who hasn’t seen this movie that a movie named Happy-Go-Lucky would be on this list. This 2008 British “comedy’ featured a protagonist so optimistic that it hurt so many people around her, including her unhappy sister, and an enraged driving instructor whose desperate outbreak in the film’s latter half really brings a tear to your eye.
19. The Graduate
Humorous, quick witted, and a tad outdated at times, The Graduate is a film that shows not all love stories have a happy ending. The film is quite depressing throughout but the film’s final sequence will make you lose all hope.
18. Donnie Darko
There are few cult classics that deserve their praise, but Donnie Darko is one of them. This sleeper hit with an ensemble cast examines teenage life in the 80’s, time travel, existentialism and loneliness to name a few themes. The film follows a troubled young teen that has visions of a 6 foot tall bunny rabbit that predicts the apocalypse, lives with a dysfunctional family, and has a complicated relationship with the town newbie. The film’s final scene with Michael Andrews’ cover of “mad world” is enough to make you weep.
What’s that? An animated movie on this list? If anyone has seen Pixar’s 2009 masterpiece, Up, then you can attest to it’s placement on this list. The film is very colorful and has some cute characters, but beneath its fun exterior lies something so much deeper. A sad, crotchety, lonely old man fulfills his wife’s lifelong dream of moving to Peru. That plot point is touching enough, but the first 8 minutes will have you bawling your eyes out.
16. Raging Bull
It should be noted right away that most Scorsese films are depressing, but none of them are as depressing as the 1980 masterpiece, Raging Bull. Not much has to be said here except, an erratic and troubled boxer lives through his rise, plateau and ultimate downfall; the classic Scorsese formula.
15. Up In the Air
Here’s another film that was rather mis-advertised as a comedy. This film shows some of the darker sides of corporate downsizing through the eyes of an emotionless protagonist whose job is to fire people all over the country. All is fine and dandy until he finds himself paired up with a moralistic sidekick, entangled in a love triangle, and in turn begins to question his own life. You’ll be laughing at many moments throughout the film but you will also be sitting there in silence and getting watery eyed over uncomfortably familiar circumstances.
14. American Beauty
This 1999 Best Picture winner is suburban-wide dysfunction at its best. American Beauty is a great character study and a look at a pathetic middle aged man’s bizarre final days on earth. The film could be defined as a dark comedy but its ending is very heartfelt, and with Thomas Newman providing the score, expect to feel very depressed by the end of this tragic suburban tale.
Before there was Black Swan there was Spider, David Cronenberg’s film about a mental patient whose dark past (the way he remembers it) begins to come back to haunt him and to consume his life. The real brilliance of the film is how betrayed you as the viewer feel by the end of the film. You really feel sorry for this character and you find yourself thinking throughout the whole movie, “well he’s not that crazy.” Then you root for him all the way, until you find out the tragic truth, and why in the end, he’s just another loony.
12. The Shawshank Redemption
This film is about…..you guessed it, redemption. Director Frank Darabont (more commonly known for his hand in The Walking Dead television series) paints a beautiful portrait about the human limit. The film isn’t just a story about its main protagonist but about its whole cast of characters. The film does in fact have a slightly triumphant outcome but its journey is hardly anything happy. Not only is it one of the most depressing films, but arguably one of the best films ever made.
Before Christopher Nolan was a household name, there was a little noir known as Memento; a classic crime tale with a brilliant twist. A man suffering from short term memory loss is on an endless goose chase to find the man who raped and killed his wife. A complicated plot device alone but the film is told backwards; Starting with the final scene and ending at the beginning. There’s nothing more depressing than watching a man chase something with lost clues and false leads while he’s none the wiser, and you can’t even help him. It’s the equivalent to watching a wounded deer trying to get up and walk. What makes matters worse is what you ultimately find at the end (or beginning,) because the truth behind the chase is the hardest thing for both you and the main character to digest, and it will leave you shaken.
10. The Wrestler
This is a melodrama at its best. The idea may seem cliché but it’s executed so wonderfully. This film starts on a road of redemption and ends in a pit of despair. Nothing happy happens in this film and it is out to make you feel like crap. And I mean that in the best way possible.
9. 21 Grams
Almost anything that Spanish director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu touches is horribly depressing, and 21 grams (the only film of his to be entirely in English) is no exception. All I have to do is tell you the plot and you will understand why it’s so depressing. A man dying of heart disease receives the heart of man who was killed in a car accident with his two young daughters. The story centers on the heart recipient, the grieving wife, and the man who killed her husband and daughters. And like most dramas, these characters all collide in unpredictable and catastrophic ways. This is what Crash wish it could have been and unfortunately it’s rather overlooked.
David Lynch is known for his “unique” style of filmmaking, but nothing beats his horrific and just plain unsettling film debut, Eraserhead about an obscure individual caught in a very odd crossroads, complete with a premature baby that looks literally like E.T. a singing chipmunk lady in a radiator, and an apocalyptic village. This film doesn’t have much of a point, you either get it or you don’t. And even if you don’t get it, you’ll still feel entirely depressed at the end of this art house masterpiece.
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Another film that kind of just slipped under the radar, The Assassination of Jesse James is a film centered around a cast of complex characters. From the eerily creepy and unpredictable Ford, and the brutal yet kind Jesse James, This film boasts great performances, terrific soundtrack and a story that will make you want to break out the tissues. Ford’s story is similar to John Wilkes Booth in that he though what he was doing was heroic. Not only do you feel terrible for Ford, but you really feel for James as well and that’s accomplishment in many ways.
6. Brokeback Mountain
As soon as you’re done mocking the film for its homosexuality and get over yourself, sit down and give this epic masterpiece a chance. The film is not only great, but horribly depressing. The film is more about friendship and forbidden love than anything else. And for any of you still doubtful, this movie has less homosexuality than most comedies and other dramas people didn’t make a peep about.
5. The Social Network
One of this year’s front runners for the academy awards is less of a biopic and more of a moral lesson, and damn depressing one at that. Whether or not the events in the film are mostly fictitious shouldn’t be the center of argument here but it’s the fact that one of the most inspirational stories of our generation is being used as a benchmark for the tale of corruption. The film is entirely sympathetic and incredibly emotional (although humorous at times.) Any college student present or past can relate somehow to the characters in this film, and not for your high points in life, but for the time’s you feel you’ve hit rock bottom.
A very similar film to 21 grams, Monster’s Ball is ten times more depressing. This film centers on a racist prison guard who lives with his troubled son, even more racist father, and comes into clash with the African American community which leads to tragic consequences.
3. The Fountain
This third film by Black Swan director, Darren Aronofsky is arguably his best film; unfortunately it was destroyed by critics and made next to nothing in the box office. It’s a very symbolic and metaphorical love story that is one of the most tragic films to be released to date and has some of the most compelling performances you’ve never heard about.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece Fargo is often tagged as a black comedy. And although that is fairly true, this film is just unsettling to the point it’ll make you cringe. The whole ‘plan” laid out in the film by a desperate Minnesota car salesman has nothing but fatal and catastrophic effects. What makes the movie so polarized is its chipper female police officer protagonist. By the end of the film, even her smile has disappeared.
There’s not enough to be said about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the sympathetic and estranged author, Truman Capote. The film does such a good job making you cry for cold blooded killers and for a tortured author who goes insane getting emotionally tied to the case which is the basis for his book, in cold blood. This film is so depressing, I’ve only had the guts to watch it once.
So there you have it. What’s that? The summaries alone are making you sad? Well maybe you’re not ready to tackle this list but if you’re ever feeling really sad or really happy, pop one of these in, Cause things could be much much worse.