6. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Curtis Hanson, 1992)
If ‘Buried’ is 90 minutes of sheer panic and anxiety, ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ is a cult classic dripping in frustration and fear.
Following a family who hire a live-in babysitter, Rebecca DeMornay puts in a disturbingly sickly-sweet-nurse-turned-psychopath performance as the vengeful Mrs. Mott. The definition of a woman scorned, the audience is privy to Mrs. Mott’s schemes while the family carry on obliviously, until you are left with the simmering desire to reach out and shake the naive protagonists and alert them to the danger residing in their own house.
The film is purposefully enraging, and all the while, utterly horrifying in its implications. Its frank and clever explorations of the damage caused by someone infiltrating the home and manipulating everything to bend to their will, serves as an alarming and sobering tale. The film is simple and thus able to stir the deepest sympathies within the viewer.
If viewers of this cult classic aren’t scared to death or tearing their hair out by the time the credits roll on ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’, then they may be made of steel.
7. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
Beginning with Harry Dean Stanton meandering through the desert, the mystery of ‘Paris, Texas’ builds to an emotional crescendo in the film’s final third. While the decisions made by Stanton’s disturbed nomad are questionable, the core of the film remains its most heart-tugging point. The pull of family and the prolonged desire for reunion serves as an anchoring force tying any and all viewers to the plot of the film.
The tragedy of a family separated and splintered by financial misfortune, trauma and the deep ties that cross thousands of miles, is something every viewer can feel in the very pit of their stomach. The apprehension with which the audience is instilled as estranged lovers reunite in the film’s final third is palpable, and despite the misfortune the characters have faced, there remains the insatiable hope that they will work it out, against all odds.
Overall, the film effortlessly draws its viewer in with its well-paced plot, charming exchanges and enigmatic lead character. By the mid-way point of ‘Paris, Texas’ the viewer will undoubtedly find themselves rooting for a family reunion, and eagerly hoping for a happy ending.
8. Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
Similarly to ‘Paris, Texas’, ‘Manchester By the Sea’ further explores the ramifications of a family fragmented by tragedy. While Casey Affleck’s Boston loner may seem a little strange and tortured without cause at the film’s introduction, as the pieces of his character’s history are woven together, the outcome is devastating.
Perhaps the film’s most tear-jerking scene comes when estranged husband and wife (Michelle Williams) stumble across one another in the street. Both having tried to move on with their lives after the pivotal and horrendous tragedy, Williams’ Randi is laden with pram when she strays upon Affleck. What ensues is a muddled but emotionally-overwrought exchange that is brimming with unspoken regret. The said scene is arguably the film’s most powerful. The acting is incredibly heartfelt and hammers home the theme of two people still deeply in love but unable to move past the events that have befallen them.
As a whole, ‘Manchester By the Sea’ is a film that feels real in the most gritty and tragic way. Even it’s abrupt ending demonstrates the lack of resolution life presents. Conclusions aren’t smooth or common, and people have to live with traumatic events for the rest of their lives. Lonergan’s film is an emotionally raw reminder of this.
9. Casualties of War (Brian De Palma, 1989)
Of all the films on this list, ‘Casualties of War’ perhaps represents the most emotionally raw and unbearable plotline. Set in Vietnam, the film centers around a troop of American soldiers who capture a young girl () from her village and berate and assault her throughout the film’s first half.
The film deals with the inner struggle of Michael J. Fox’s Eriksson as he battles with the domineering commands of Meserke (Sean Penn) whose total disregard for the indigenous people is enraging to witness. Eriksson facing threats from his own comrades for attempting the free the girl makes for a nerve-jingling and stomach-churning watch, and when it culminates in that infamous bridge scene, it is hard to stifle one’s outrage and grief.
‘Casualties of War’ is one of cinema’s most challenging Vietnam films, for its frank exposure of the crimes committed by soldiers with an inflated sense of power. With great performances from both Fox and Penn, De Palma’s brutal piece of celluloid is sure to leave you frustrated, upset and, ultimately, reeling.
10. Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, 1953)
A more muted but equally as poignant film to finish off this list, ‘Tokyo Story’ is a moving portrayal of the widening generational gaps between family generations. What begins as a slightly hectic but jovial family trip, with grandparents arriving to the city for a long overdue visit, slowly unfurls into a saddening display of how the elders of the family feel lost, misplaced and even ignored by their children.
Often forced to travel alone in the city, the redundant struggle of the two grandparents is hard to witness. Perhaps even more difficult to watch is their bittersweet but resolute acceptance of their unimportance, as they realise that their grown children have their own lives, and living in the busy city has changed them.
The film pivots around the growing illness of the grandmother, and the way this tragedy must bring the members of the family together. Even then, the self-centred reality of some of the siblings is painfully apparent. Juxtaposed with the quiet and stoic performance by the grandfather in slowly accepting the impending loss, the viewer is made privy to the sobering and sadly unstoppable.
While ‘Tokyo Story’ may not be as immediately affecting as some of the other films on this list, it is a movie that is sure to sneak up on you and play with your emotions. Before they know it, the viewer is sympathizing with and invested in this broken family. It may even make them think about their own.