Movies that kicked my heart’s ass

I have been somewhat keeping tack of the films I’ve been watching that have left me feeling particularly tender and reflective. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there was some profound message in each of them; sometimes you just see things at just the right time in your life and it triggers an emotional response you might have not seen coming. Sometimes movies are just really good at making you cry (and also make it hard to recognize your puffy face in the mirror.) All of my picks so far are pretty recent, but I also have an extensive, almost never-ending “to watch” list, so don’t write me off yet if nothing. Here’s my list so far:

1. Moonlight (2016)

You the only man that’s ever touched me. You’re the only one. I haven’t really touched anyone since.

Winning 3 Academy Awards at the 2017 Oscars, including Best Picture (suck it, La La Land), Moonlight follows Chiron through 3 influential stages of his life as a child (his identity as Little), a teenager (here going by his name, Chiron), and a young man (his persona as Black). He grapples with his attraction and then love for another man, his best friend Kevin, growing up with a elusive, drug-addicted mother, being bullied, finding family and mentorship with his neighborhood drug kingpin, and more. This movie was really beautiful not only in the acting performed by all three of the Chiron characters, but also in how just pretty of a movie it was visually. When Vi and I saw it in theatres, there was only one other couple present, and the controlled emotion of the film + accompanying soundtrack really brought a story that isn’t often allowed to be told to life. Moonlight deserved every reward it’s received, and seeing a gay, black boy’s story told with such raw authenticity was truly rewarding to be able to experience.

2. The Handmaiden (2016)

My savior who came to ruin my life. My Tamako, my Sook-hee.

Do you love a good lesbian, gothic, Korean psychological thriller? Who doesn’t! The Handmaiden (not to be confused with The Handmaid’s Tale) is a film based on the book Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but changes the setting to create an exciting story of twists and aching. In Japanese-occupied Korea, an orphan pickpocket Sook-hee teams up with a con-man to get close to and steal the inheritance of a Japanese heiress. This is a film you don’t want to blink watching. Love, sex, mystery, deception, revenge- everything that makes an engaging thriller PLUS LESBIANS!!! Which, of course, makes this thrill-seeking bisexual all but foam at the mouth. I promise you’ll be hanging off the edge of your seat, rooting for the heroines by the end of this one.

3. Amorous (2014) (Previously titled Hide & Seek)


Amorous is a film that I found by accident, not knowing much about the plot or premise. And honestly, it had a bit of a slow build up before I became too invested in the characters. A quick internet search showed me that this movie is pretty low profile and also on the mediocre side when it comes to critic reviews. SO why is it included on this list, you ask? Great question! In general, I don’t judge a movie based on its professional reviews- I’ve loved some TERRIBLE movies and not been too keen to some high-rated major motion pictures as well (I’m looking at you, The Shape of Water). In Amorous, 4 friends, 2 couples, retreat to an isolated house to leave behind societal constructs surrounding their relationships, in hopes of finding community and warmth in each other. Bluntly, the 4 have scheduled partner swaps each night, between hanging out as a group. That means each of the 4 (2 men and 2 women) spends intimate time with each single other person. It might be the polyamorous bisexual in me, but the dreamy, open sexual intimacy between the friends was so admirable to me, I just couldn’t keep from following along.

4. Before I Disappear (2014)

Dear Vista,

I have stumbled upon a part of me that wants to see the sun rise tomorrow. A part of me that has been buried deep inside for so many years.

Before I continue, know that this movie had heavy suggestion of suicidal and self-harming tendencies. It was raw, it was tough to watch sometimes, but as someone who has and still sometimes struggles with depression and not always wanting to see the sun rise, it was also really relatable and even darkly funny at times. Before I Disappear hit so close to home, in fact, that I had to pause it a few times and come back to watching it after emotionally grounding myself. The movie follows self-medicating Richie, who writes letters to his missing girlfriend Vista. During a suicide attempt, Richie gets a call from his sister, asking him to watch her daughter Sophia while she handles a problem. The rest of the movie follows Richie and Sophia as they adventure through a night in the city, with the two finding solace the longer they spend time together. I like this movie because it doesn’t shy away from the reality of sadness and hopelessness, but it also has a realistically uplifting message of  redemption.

5. Train to Busan (2016)

Seok-Woo gazes lovingly at his daughter Soo-An.

Okay, I didn’t think a zombie movie would make me cry as hard as this movie has all 5 times I’ve watched it so far. Another deserving award-winner, Train to Busan shows the expanse of a father’s love for his daughter amidst a fast-paced race to safety. Although you get introduced to the supporting characters fairly quickly, you become so emotionally invested in their fight and the sacrifices they face on the journey towards towards the city of Busan. I’ve pushed for most everyone I spend more than a few hours with at a time to watch this movie; I love it so much. I can’t help but be amazed also at the acting of all the zombies in this film- the snarls, the body contortions, the make up is all amazing. This is no average monster flick. Plus, the leading man Gong Yoo? A gorgeous, gorgeous man.

6. Holding the Man (2015)

You are a hole in my life – a black hole.
Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Holding the Man is another happy accident, that I found while housesitting for a professor this past winter. An Australian film based on a memoir of the same name, this heart wrenching true story follows the relationship of Timothy and John in the 80s, from high school sweethearts to dedicated lovers as young men. Break-ups, homophobia, HIV, and overall fear trouble Tim and John through their relationship, but their love holds binds them to each other through to the bitter end. Could you watch the love of your life fall apart right in front of your eyes? The chemistry between the two leads is not only electric, its tender in a way that chokes you up long after the credits roll.

7. Wind River (2017)

It is here, in the cradle of all I hold dear, I guard every memory of you.

Wind River was recommend to me by my friend Selena a while ago, but she warned me it would emotionally destroy me so I kept putting off watching it until recently, when I could give it the attention it deserved. The film is a murder mystery that takes place on Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, written in reference to the thousands of indigenous women who are sexually assaulted, missing, and murdered all across North America. As an indigenous women, I know that our stories are rarely told and this one was brutal. While I appreciated and enjoyed the attention of a film so focused on finding some sort of justice for Native women and commenting on injustices of reservation life, there was still a lot about this movie that picked at me. The two white leads (although Jeremy Renner exemplified a good ally to his character’s indigenous children’s family) were given a romantic sublimity that I feel was unnecessary and distracted from the point, Native boys were shown as primarily criminals, and sexual assault against the Native victim in the film was explicit in a way that echoed the pain-porn that black and brown folks are often the main subjects for. It does feel a bit like this was more a film for white people to feel sad over, but it still struck my heart in a way that feels like the heavy hand of intergenerational trauma.

Those are some of the recent movies that have been keeping me up at night. Have you seen any of them and had similar emotional responses? What are some of your favorite movies to watch when you’re in the mood to feel?

2 thoughts on “Movies that kicked my heart’s ass”

  1. Oh, great recommendations and thoughts Jas! I love the diversity within this list, both racial/ethnic diversity of leads as well as the diversity of types of relationships displayed (polyam, queer, etc.) I’ve only seen Moonlight which I really liked, Holding the Man has gotten me interested too. Hope you’re well, sending much strength and warmth your way.

    Liked by 1 person

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