6. Grand Hotel
This example is a bit different, whilst being one of the more blatant cases of any film having an uncharacteristically realistic ending. One of the first cases of a star-studded affair in film history, Edmund Goulding’s “Grand Hotel” is a multi-plotted tale of the many guests within the titular hotel located in Berlin. The film starts off with a declaration that “nothing ever happens” within the Grand Hotel. That is a fair way to start the film, as you can only imagine that events will then counter what was previously assumed.
As the film gets going, you are convinced that this is exactly the case, as you spy on the many candid moments from the many new guests of that evening. The residents include Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and more; grand suddenly seems like an understatement. The film finally wraps up, and things are bittersweet (mostly sweet) for all of the guests. The film then surprisingly comes full circle, by once again stating that “nothing ever happens” in the hotel.
The statement suddenly clicks: this wasn’t a claim that everything is uneventful in this establishment. This is a take on life being important to all of its stars, but barely to the entirety of a production. Nothing happens to the hotel, but everything happens to those that stay there (as it will to anyone anywhere). Grand Hotel is life, because you never know the scope of anyone’s story unless it is your own.
7. Ordinary People
The title of Robert Redford’s family drama should be an indication that familiarity is what he aimed for with his directorial debut. “Ordinary People” hones in on the traumatic experiences of a suffering family after a boy dies during a boating accident. The father (Donald Sutherland) is at a loss of control as he tries to be the anchor between his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and his son (Timothy Hutton).
Hutton’s character is in need of psychiatric help, as he feels guilty for his brother’s death (he believes he could have saved him if he tried). Moore’s mother is bitter and cold, because the very child she birthed and raised feels stripped away from her. All three characters combat one another for the entire film, and you can only hope that they all three find peace. That isn’t how life works sometimes. With a series of other problematic events (one of the son’s friends commits suicide, for instance), the family perseveres as best as they can until the bitter end; something has to change.
All of the turmoil causes the father to stop loving his wife, and she leaves as a result. You are left with a father and son – both still grieving – wondering what will come of them. These are ordinary people, because everyone suffers in different ways behind closed doors. Sometimes, these feuds never surface. Other times, the damage cannot be mended.
8. Raging Bull
If “Rocky” is a whimsical love letter to the underdogs of the world, Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” is a slap to the face to remind you that life works differently. Robert De Niro plays Jake LaMotta, a champion boxer with a hot temper and a delusional mind. LaMotta feels as though he has nothing when he has everything, and he continuously pushes his loved ones as far as possible (either away or over the edge).
The film starts off with a current look at LaMotta: he’s overweight, full of battle scars, and finally aware of all that he has lost. You see his rise and fall as a world famous boxer. You finally get back to the modern day LaMotta, and you have a greater insight of just how much he really did let go of. He tries his best to recite Marlon Brando’s iconic speech in “On The Waterfront,” as he, too, was a boxer that lost everything due to bad decisions.
While there was mob interference in LaMotta’s life as well, most of why LaMotta becomes a “bum” is his own doing. You see him poorly recite the monologue in front of a mirror, before he is to go out and say the speech for a small crowd in a club. We see him box the air in a way he used to as a means of preparing himself. Behind closed doors, he still wishes he was the title holder of the world, instead of this empty shell of a man. You finally see LaMotta experiencing humility (one other noticeable moment is his jail scene), and it’s heartbreaking.
9. Two Women
You can place many films by Vittorio De Sica here, as the Italian director was known for his confrontations with devastation (which, in return, calls for realistic endings). “Two Women” wins the spot here, because the rest of the film is arguably triumphant in comparison (which is unconventional for De Sica, whose films are usually dismal throughout).
Sophia Loren’s Oscar-winning performance (as Cesira) is commanding in spirit, and so you feel like you are protected by her. So does the daughter character Rosetta. The mother and daughter flee Rome during World War II and seem to find a new way of living in the province of Ciociaria. Of course, there are conflicts while they are there, but Cesira’s charm and wits seem to help you coast throughout these issues.
At the end of the film, however, the two decide to return to Rome as the German occupation had been dissolved. The two of them are jumped by a gang and are brutally raped, thus impacting Rosetta. Rosetta is frozen with trauma, and begins to act mindlessly. At this point, Cesira’s inability of resolving the situation as a hero is gut-wrenching. When Rosetta finally breaks down, Cesira tends to her merely as a mother; that alone is enough. “Two Women” is a harrowing depiction of what unexpectedness life can throw at you, and the varying ways that each trauma can be salvaged.
10. No Country for Old Men
This is considerably the darker equivalent of what “Grand Hotel” was trying to say about life. With “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers interpreted Cormac McCarthy’s novel as a means of explaining death. Anton Chigurh is death personified, as he chases after his prey and never ever loses. He sometimes lets his victims go away alive, but that’s all due to chance (the flick of a coin). Chigurh gets into a car accident, and two young boys do nothing to stymie his path, as they actually help him.
Meanwhile, time has gotten to Sheriff Bell. He has experienced a world war, and all of the crimes of the world. He is due to retire in the near future, and he cannot stop Chigurh before any of his eventual murders. We witness Bell telling his wife two dreams by the film’s end. His last words “and then I woke up” end the film.
The ending is notorious for stopping a thrilling story abruptly. However, what else is there to tell? Death and crime can never be stopped permanently. A sheriff can only do so much good in a world of bad. A hero can save a day, but not an eternity. “No Country for Old Men” is a reminder that we are only so capable, and that death is the only absolute ending to any of our stories.
Author Bio: Andreas Babiolakis has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies, and is currently undergoing his Master’s in Film Preservation. He is stationed in Toronto, where he devotes every year to saving money to celebrate his favourite holiday: TIFF. Catch him @andreasbabs.