The winter packs a double punch for us sensitive souls. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, the days get shorter and the nights get longer while the temperatures drop. We're forced to unnaturally socialize while wearing woolly sweaters with menorahs on them, travel in small tubes full of recycled germy air and avoid discussing politics with our loved ones.
It's also the time of year when most of the fancy prestige films come out; these are the movies angling for awards season gold, and more likely than not, they are depressing. Even if they come out earlier in the year, it's a fact: Serious Films are Seriously Depressing. Let's not be totally glib, though; there's a certain catharsis in watching a movie that allows us to let it all hang out. And sometimes you really need to get upset and riled up to make a difference in the world about the issues that some of these movies investigate.
If you want a list of movies to only watch on sunny days or with a tissue box close at hand, we've got you covered. Welcome to our top 10 most depressing movies of 2012!
"Bully" is a doc that reminds anyone who's forgotten or luckily has never known how cruel kids can be. It offers an up close and personal look at the effects of bullying on several teens, their families and their community; even more damning is how the adults around them handle the bullying, or more to the point, don't do anything at all. "Bully" was also the subject of a scuffle between the MPAA, which wanted to give the doc an R for language, and distributor The Weinstein Company, which refused to trim it and released it initially as unrated; TWC later edited it for a PG-13 so the people most affected by bullying could see it.
You might think a film starring Jason Segel as a pothead who lives in his mom's basement would be funny. In reality, a grown-ass man who's too much of a mess to run the most menial errand for his hard-working widowed mom (played by Susan Sarandon) is just sad and annoying. Ed Helm plays his supposedly more mature brother, but he's a selfish jerk whose wife (played by Judy Greer) dumps him. Frankly, we'd like to dump this movie.
8. The Master
To be fair, "The Master" isn't depressing per se. Its main character Freddie Quell, on the other hand, is a serious bummer. Joaquin Phoenix gives an outstanding performance as a PSTD-crippled alcoholic who literally stumbles into a cult run by Lancaster Dodd, a charming and highly manipulative fellow played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd is somewhat tormented himself, as evidenced by his interesting relationship with his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), who's all too willing to lend him a hand when he needs it most. Then again, Dodd in't the one cooking up paint thinner moonshine.
A lil moppet nicknamed Hushpuppy lives in The Bathtub with her dad Wink, but the glaciers are melting and ancient animals are rousing from their slumber to threaten her home and everything she loves. This coming-of-age fairytale stars newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis as a little girl who learns how to "beast out" in the bayou to prepare for the coming storms and the inevitable death of Wink (Dwight Henry). "Beasts" is actually a joyous, awesome movie, but much like growing up, living through it can be emotionally devastating. The original music by Dan Romer and co-writer/director Benh Zeitlin is also sobworthy. (In a good way.)
"Anna Karenina" is right up there with "Madame Bovary" when it comes to doomed love affairs and tortured heroines. Keira Knightley stars as the gorgeous young countess who is married to a sensible older man, played by Jude Law, but falls madly in love with a sexy young cavalry officer named Vronsky, who is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his facial hair. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard set this adaptation in a theater, with extravagant sets and dance numbers that drive home the heady romance and scandal of it all. If you don't know how it ends by now, well, go back to high school.
In the mid-'90s, three teenage boys were jailed for the brutal murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Ark. The case caught national attention when directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky went down to document the trial for HBO for what would become a damning trilogy of docs called "Paradise Lost." Amy Berg's "West of Memphis" is a grand, poetic and grueling overview of the cases against Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley and Damien Echols, and their long, hellish road to freedom. From the advocacy of supporters like doc producers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson and stars like Johnny Depp and Henry Rollins to the ongoing work to fully exonerate them, this doc is a wholly terrifying look at a bungled (at best) case. It's also a beautiful love story between Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, who met as pen pals when Echols was on Death Row.
If you were old enough to watch the news in 1989, you remember the case of the Central Park Jogger, an anonymous woman who was brutally raped and beaten nearly to death. Five young teens were charged with the crime and vilified by the media and people on the street with race-charged language (i.e. animals, wilding out, etc.). Years later, a chance meeting prompted the real Central Park attacker to confess. The now-grown Central Park Five are free men, but their exoneration got an iota of the attention that their verdicts did. This doc, borne out of co-director Sarah Burns's initial investigation and book about the case, is a shocking look at how completely mishandled the investigation and court cases were, as well as the political and racial climate of New York City itself. Tellingly, no one from the city of New York agreed to work with Burns and co-directors Ken Burns (her father) and David McMahon on the doc, although a subpoena was filed for all of their film, including outtakes and notes. The five are still embroiled in a civil suit against the city.
In case you weren't already incensed and distraught by the previous two docs, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering's documentary about rape in the military will have you reaching for your tissues. An overwhelming number of interviews with soldiers who were sexually assaulted by other soldiers while on duty are interspersed with chats with aggravating military honchos who refuse to take responsibility for this epidemic. The filmmakers also follows a handful of survivors closely as they wrestle with the fallout from their attacks, like Kori Cioca, whom we see battling the Veterans Affairs Administration for treatment of longstanding injuries stemming from her assault. "The Invisible War" clarifies the inner workings of a strange and byzantine military court system that makes these crimes so difficult to prosecute, in addition to the environment that makes such widespread sexual violence possible. It's so thorough in its portrayal of this systemic problem that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made an immediate change in policy just days after seeing the movie.
Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts play two terribly broken people and unlikely lovers who find a way back to some sort of wholeness with each other. Stéphanie is left a double amputee after a show at a marine park, where she works as an animal trainer, and Ali is a Belgian boxer who moves to Antibes with his son to avoid some nasty personal business. Their somewhat casual sexual relationship invigorates them both, even as it complicates their lives. Co-writer and director Jacques Audiard is known for his wrenching, award-winning dramas like "A Prophet" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," while Schoenaerts is a hot breakout star from last year's surprise Oscar nom "Bullhead." You'll never listen to Katy Perry the same way again.
Writer/director Michael Haneke doesn't suffer movie-going fools lightly. His resume is littered with hard-to-swallow dramas like "Funny Games," a fourth-wall shattering horror about preppy kids tormenting a family, and "The Piano Teacher," a drama focused on a self-abusing lovelorn woman who has a tryst with her student. "Amour" is possibly the most harrowing film Haneke's ever foisted on us, and the most celebrated. The vibrant, independent lives of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva from "Hiroshima, mon amour") screech to a halt when Anne has a debilitating stroke. Even as Anne's condition gets worse, Georges refuses to put her in a home or a hospital because he promised her he wouldn't. "Amour" is an intimate movie about the biggest things humans think about: love and death.