I ran across one of my favorite movies, “The Natural,” the other night, and as usual, got sucked in and watched the whole thing. I’ve probably seen it 35 times. As I found myself wiping away tears at the end, I landed on the idea to write this post.
Aging is weird in multiple ways, not just the obvious ones like losing hair where you want it and growing it where you don’t. As if troublesome physical changes aren’t enough, I find that I’m becoming, well… a woman. Not in the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner sense, mind you, but emotionally. It seems that my standard Big-Tough-Man-No-Cry rule is going by the wayside. In fact, I can get misty at practically anything these days. So much so that my kids enjoy watching me instead of the movie if they think I might get weepy, which then makes me mad and weepy at the same time.
So in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I’d just embrace this phenomenon by listing the top movie moments (or scenes) that make me hide my face in a couch pillow. Please add yours in the comments and let’s see how they compare. I’ll include YouTube links where possible.
10. About the last 10 minutes of Sergeant York (1941). I’ve always been touched by Gary Cooper’s humble portrayal of WWI hero Alvin York. Sure, it’s Hollywood and the accent is a little corny, but Cooper plays it with a quiet, straightforward dignity that is authentic and wonderful. It also helps that York’s tiny hometown of Pall Mall, Tennessee, is one of my favorite places and I have good friends there.
9. The last shot of Scrooge (1971) with Albert Finnery, as he tells the Marley doorknocker that he’s going to spend Christmas day with his family. This is my favorite version of Dickens’ classic, and Finney is heartbreakingly sweet and awkward as the changed Scrooge. I never miss watching it, and every year, I’m reaching for the pillow.
8. The Natural (1984), as Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) circles the bases through the falling sparks and Wilford Brimley looks on in disbelief from the dugout. This is the type of scene that gets guys where they live. It is the ultimate sports victory moment, and Brimley’s expression is one of “I’m witnessing something that will never happen again.” The fact that Roy Hobbs was inspired to crush that home run because he just found out that he had a son AND the son was watching from the stands amps it all up several notches. Randy Newman’s thundering, epic score raises every hair in my ears (because that’s where they are now) and makes the whole scene breathtaking. I can choke up just listening to the soundtrack alone. Damn you, Randy Newman!
7. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), when the housekeeper, Annie, donates her “husband money” which makes Donna Reed laugh/cry. Also, when Harry Bailey enters the room. Some of these choices are pretty obvious, I’ll admit, and this scene is one of them. I love how Good (the townspeople) conquers Evil (Mr. Potter) in such a small, poignant way. I also love how Harry forfeits what should be a hero’s welcome for himself by focusing all his attention on his big brother, George.
6. Field of Dreams (1989), when Kevin Costner asks for a catch with his dad. Yes, it’s plainly obvious and yes, the movie is known for this, but I had to list it anyway. It’s a guy thing. You see, ladies, until that moment, neither Costner nor his dad had acknowledged the fact that this was his father. And then, of course, all those years of regret dissolve away in a simple game of catch. Sure, his dad is a ghost, but we can overlook this minor detail.
5. Apollo 13 (1995), when the capsule makes it through re-entry and Mission Control erupts in cheers. Again, this is pure guy stuff. We love victory. We love when guys cheer and give each other bro hugs. We love when the toughest guy (Ed Harris’ character) dissolves into tears, if just for a moment. We love the brash American spirit of the 1960s Space Race. And, most of all, we love it when Tom Hanks survives. An honorable mention is the final shot of The Right Stuff, when Gordo Cooper rockets into space as the “greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.”
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998), when the old man version of Ryan asks his wife if he’s been a good man. First of all, Tom Hanks did NOT survive. That’s Sucky Fact No. 1. Any scene where Tom Hanks dies is uncalled for. Sucky Fact No. 2 is that Ryan had apparently gone through life tortured by the question of whether he had lived up to the sacrifices made by Sgt. Miller (Hanks) and the other members of the outfit who hadn’t lived through the mission. As an old man who should be happy, Ryan still questioned his own survival many years later. I’ve personally known veterans who are EXACTLY like this as old men and it is heartbreaking. This may be a movie, but it is certainly not fictional.
3. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), when the Governor introduces Mr. Holland’s masterpiece and pulls back the curtain to reveal the orchestra. This is where I go into full-on ugly-weep mode. As a musician who spent around 15 years trying to “make it” in the music business, I can very much relate to Richard Dreyfuss’ character in this. For all of his former students to give him this gift upon his forced retirement, and to see his reaction (Richard Dreyfuss is awesome) is like someone pounding me in the heart with an emotion sledgehammer.
2. Lonesome Dove (1989), when Gus dies with Woodrow at his bedside. You don’t have to be a guy or a lover of Westerns to sob at this scene. You just have to be a human. Gus McCrae might be the single most endearing character ever created, either in a book or in a film. Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is my favorite book ever, Gus is the greatest character, and Robert Duvall is the greatest actor. But what makes this scene so incredibly difficult is Tommy Lee Jones. His character, Woodrow Call, is, for most of the movie, tough, ornery, and emotionless. But to lose his oldest and closest friend is just about more than Woodrow can handle. My wife, Holly, wasn’t right for about a week after seeing this the first time. We tried to discuss it afterwards, but we only sounded like a couple of toads croaking at each other. It was bad. (By the way, I know this was a TV miniseries and not a movie, but this is my list so I can do what I want.)
1. Monsters Inc. (2001), when Sulley sees Boo at the end. I saved this for No. 1 because everyone in my family loves the fact that it makes me cry. Hilarious animated movies aren’t supposed to make us cry, right? I suppose so, but this one ruthlessly breaks the rules. Sully is essentially me. Big, gruff, often grumpy, but really just a big softy. (Sometimes, I wear purple polka-dots, too.) I have a daughter, now a teenager, who used to be a little girl like Boo, and Sully being forced to say goodbye to her forever near the end of the movie had me in fetal position when I first saw it. But then, when Mike surprises Sully with Boo’s door (at the expense of his poor, splintery hands), and then Sully gets to peek in her room and hear her exclaim, “Kitty!” well…that’s just messed up. AGAIN, Randy Newman’s score rips away any defenses you have left and stomps them. *gulp*
OK, now that we’ve all composed ourselves, let me know what I missed, what you agreed with, etc. Guys, don’t leave me hanging.