The Road (2009)
In this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s classic novel, everything is barren, grey and haunting, and the world as we know it is coming to a slow, painful death. If the flashbacks to studying the book in A‑level English aren’t enough to bring you to tears, then Viggo Mortensen’s turn as a grimly determined father protecting his son (Kodi Smit McPhee) from maniacal, baby-eating cannibals should get you there. The characters don’t even have names – we know them only as “Boy” and “Man”, which is pretty sinister in itself. There’s not even any animals in this parallel universe, and barely any signs of life. There’s only survival. The Road is brutal, edge-of-your-seat anxiety for two whole hours.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
In what could quite possibly be the saddest entry on this list, Casey Affleck plays Lee, a Boston janitor who returns to his hometown after his brother’s death to reluctantly look after his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The pair share some dry patter which offers a bit of light relief, but don’t be fooled. Manchester by the Sea is a sprawling, bittersweet exploration of grief, and how the tedium of everyday life keeps ticking over in the face of unimaginable loss. You know you’re in for a bawler when Michelle Williams (who plays Lee’s wife, Randi) is involved, too.
Clapham Junction (2007)
Inspired by the tragic murder of Jody Dobrowski, who was beaten to death in a 2005 homophobic attack on Clapham Common, this indie gem was initially broadcast on Channel 4 to mark the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Directed by Adrian Shergold, it’s now reached cult status for its compassionate portrayal of gay life in London; the unbridled hedonism of it on one hand, and the harsh reality and danger of rampant homophobia on the other. Deftly weaving together the stories of five gay men over 36 hours in the city, Clapham Junction is a sensual film that crescendos into something darker, a provocative look at discrimination that can have deadly consequences.
NB: the film is so indie there are no official trailers on YouTube. So enjoy the one below, made by a fan, and featuring a backing track of Ellie Goulding’s Starry Eyed (Jakwob Remix)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Arguably the apex of animated films, Finding Nemo is also, as THE FACE’s features editor Olive Pometsey puts it, “one of the most upsetting and stressful films I’ve ever seen.” She compares it to the experience of watching it to losing your parents in a giant Toys“R”Us: “I can’t rest until Nemo is back where he belongs, not to mention Marlin is struggling with the pressure of being a single dad following his wife’s death. And Dory is stupid.” It’s true: when daddy fish realises he’s lost his beloved son, it’s a pretty distressing moment. Luckily, the rest of the film makes up for that.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Medically-licensed erasure of bad memories? Go on, sign us up. In Michel Gondry’s classic heart-wrencher, peace of mind doesn’t come so easy to Joel (Jim Carrey) and his orange then blue-haired girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winset), who decide to have their brains wiped clean from one another after their relationship goes south. If only things were so easy, eh? Except they aren’t, as the pair slowly find their way back to each other, learning all there is to know about the pain that comes with heartbreak. The painful parts of ourselves are what make us who we are, and getting rid of them means we’ll never learn from what we go through. Oof.
Beautiful Boy (2018)
Revived over the last year or so as prime TikTok fancam fodder, Beautiful Boy, at its (broken) heart, is a story about family. Nic (Timothée Chalamet) is a high achiever whose life crumbles under the weight of his addiction to meth, which also threatens to destroy his relationship with his dad David (Steve Carrell), who’s committed to doing everything he can to save his son. Based on David Sheff’s memoir of the same name, the film faced justified criticism for leaving out key moments from his and Nic’s life. Still, its harrowing account of addiction and love in the face of such an unforgiving disease hits home.