Friday, July 22, 2016

My Favorite Melancholy Films

Herein follows a list of some of my favorite melancholy films. The list is by no means exhaustive, or all inclusive, nor does it contain every favorite melancholy film of mine. This is a first blush list off the top of my head. 

The reason I enjoy watching these films is because, paradoxically, they make me feel good. Although I love many types of films, realism and character-driven stories are my first true love. Honest, well-developed plots and characters should attempt to explore all emotional aspects. No one is devoid of conflict and melancholy.

I'm starting with my absolute favorites and working my way from there. 

Never Cry Wolf 

This is my favorite film of all time. The film follows a biologist into the wild as he searches for a link between the decline of the caribou population, with wolves being the expected culprit. The film is slow. The photography is fantastic. The music is amazing. And the protagonist winds up being very introspective, learning more about himself than he does about the world around him. A masterpiece. 

Winter Passing

Another favorite of mine. The film follows the troubled female protagonist, Reese Holdin, back home as she considers collecting her famous writer parents' love letters and selling them to a publisher for 100K. Upon returning home she finds her father living in a ramshackle shed after her mother's suicide, with two troubled younger caretakers living in her childhood home. The film has echoes of J. D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, with names like Holdin, a troubled protagonist coming home, nervous breakdowns, and suicide. It even had a few primary color choices here an there that help set the mood on film. An overlooked masterpiece. 

The Big Chill

Lawrence Kasdan's masterpiece is about a group of 30-something friends coming together after a friend's suicide. I've loved this film since I saw it as a kid in the 1980s. Eventually, I lost my best friend from childhood to suicide, adding another poignant layer to this film. I never tire of this film and I am always down to watch it again. 

Inside Llewyn Davis

After decades of fantastic filmmaking, the Coen brothers manage to top themselves fantastically with this nod to folk music. The film has a slightly surreal looping feel and explores being an artist without any marked monetary success, recognition, or direction. Suicide is also a theme in this film as Llewyn Davis's musician partner has killed himself before the events of the film take place. This aspect of the film mirrors The Big Chill. Great writing, photography, acting, and music make this film a contemporary classic. 


Woody Allen's homage to Ingmar Bergman is a bleak and lonely film. The film revolves around three adult sisters after their father decides to leave their troubled mother. The film is slow. The dialogue feels very real. And the film ends on a very downbeat note. I love it! 

Husband's and Wives

Woody Allen himself has mentioned Husband's and Wives as one of his own personal favorites. I agree. The film follows four middle-aged friends after one couple decides to separate. The film is an entirely honest and unflinching deconstruction of what it can mean to be married. Infidelity, loneliness, isolation, fantasies, arguments, and reconciliation are all peppered throughly throughout this fantastic film. 

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Another great Woody Allen film follows a group of people marred by disfunction, loneliness, murder, suicide, infidelity, and generally depressing malaise. One of Allen's best. Woody Allen has many more great films that could easily be added to my list. I'll stop here though. 

The Royal Tenenbaums
All of Wes Anderson's films are great. He's yet to make a bad film. The Royal Tenenbaums, for my money, is his best. The funny/sad film follows a dysfunctional family where three middle-aged children return home after their father fakes his impending death to try and make up for a troubled past. The opening five minutes of the film are better than most directors' entire catalogue of films. Wes Anderson is the greatest American filmmaker alive and never shies away from depression, drugs, suicide, death, infidelity, sexual disfunction, and the overall conflicts that he uses to make some of the greatest films I've ever seen. Perfect writing, photography, acting, songs, and mise-en-scène are always present. 

Wonder Boys

Based of the Michael Chabon novel of the same name, Wonder Boys centers around a group of writers during a weekend writing festival at a university in Pittsburg, PA. Writer's block, sexual confusion, suicide, infidelity, theft, divorce, and a dead dog weave throughout this wonderfully comedic film. A personal all-time favorite of mine. 

Being There

Being There follows a simple-minded older man, Chance, who is thrust out into the world after living as the isolated gardener of an older, wealthy man. It's implied that he was possibly the wealthy man's illegitimate child. As the film unfolds, Chance wanders aimlessly and manages to avoid desolation by finding his way into the good graces of a wealthy dying banker and his wife. The film explores how chance and luck are often behind the directions our live's take. The protagonist's willingness to accept what comes his way without question is also behind his good fortune. Despite the good luck of the main character, the film still has an overall melancholy feel that deals with death, adult sexual needs, and the randomness of life. 


A largely unknown film explores the writing of Franz Kafka. A mysterious castle, bureaucracy, terrorism, loneliness, writing, and science punctuate this exploration into the human condition. 

The Double

A recent favorite. This film is an adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel of the same name. The film revolves around an introvert protagonist with a bleak existence. He comes to meet his doppelgänger who possesses all the traits he wishes he had. Introversion, suicide, loneliness, isolation, unrequited love, and the directionless trail life often takes are all explored in this wonderfully sorrowful film. :)

Smart People

This film revolves around a dysfunctional literature professor who is coming to terms with the death of his wife. His intelligent college-aged kids, burned-out adopted brother, and a lonely female doctor all help to bring this small unknown film together. Death, incest, dysfunction, drugs, loneliness, and intelligence with no wisdom pepper this film and make it a hidden melancholy gem. 


A documentary that explores the dysfunctional life of the famous cartoonist, H. R. Crumb, his family, and his art. Beyond my simple description, you should just go see this fantastic film right away.

Little Miss Sunshine

A very funny film that follows a family while they attempt to bring their awkward daughter to a beauty pageant. Suicide, nihilism, divorce, bankruptcy, sexual disfunction, infidelity, jealousy, nervous breakdowns, and financial insecurity are just a few of the themes that weave through this wonderfully bleak film that uses comedy brilliantly to soften the subject matter. 

Ghost World

Ghost World follows two aimless female high school graduates as they come to terms with social and societal pressures to conform. 

American Splendor

The film follows the bleak day-to-day existence of the real-life cartoonist, Harvey Pekar. A lost voice, loneliness, dysfunctional people, cancer, creative problems, and financial issues all work well together in this wonderful film. 

Thanks for reading.