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Posted at 01:33 PM ET, 12/30/2011

Best films of 2011: The year’s 10 weepiest movie moments

(Dale Robinette for Disney - Via AP)

As the year comes to a close, the cinema-obsessed start compiling lists: lists of the best films, the top money-makers, the biggest flops, the worst performances or the most underrated movies of the past year.

Post film critic Ann Hornaday already weighed in with her list of the best films of 2011. And mine will be posted here soon. (Like a neurotic and obsessive list-maker, I am still pondering mine.)

In the meantime, I’ve put together another list: some of the weepiest moments from the past 365 days of movie-watching.

I’m not talking about the movies that made me weep because I just wanted them to end (“Jack and Jill”) or because they were making my ear drums bleed (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”) I refer to the 2011 movie moments that genuinely moved me, causing my often stubborn tear ducts to produce a watery substance despite all best efforts to resist.

I share this list with you at the risk of total embarrassment and the possibility of bursting into tears again simply by recalling these lump-in-the-throat movie scenes from the year that was. Happy end of 2011, fellow movie lovers. Oh, and can you pass the Kleenex?

10. The dinner scene in “The Beaver”

Given its unusual premise and the presence of the controversial Mel Gibson, “The Beaver” never had much chance for mainstream success. But the film, while uneven, contains some truly moving moments, including this sad scene in which Jodie Foster pleads with her husband (Gibson) to pull himself together, at which point it becomes very obvious that — given the beaver puppet perched on his hand during their anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant — he simply can’t.

9. The regretful testimonials in “Project Nim”

(Harry Benson)

The strange relationship that developed between Nim — a chimpanzee essentially raised as a human child — and his various caretakers is what may have enticed some people to see this documentary. But what ultimately resonates is “Project Nim’s” sad commentary on this misguided experiment and what it says about both the primate and the people involved. By the time Joyce Butler, one of Nim’s sign language instructors, tearfully declares that “We did a huge disservice to him and his soul, and shame on us,” it’s hard to hold back the tears yourself.

8. Vera Farmiga’s confession scene in “Higher Ground”

Farmiga’s admirable directorial debut was notable for tackling a subject rarely explored in Hollywood endeavors — the lifelong struggle to find a spiritual center. It also gave us a an emotionally affecting performance from Farmiga, whose character — in a scene that definitely made my eyes well up — stands bravely in a place of worship and confesses that she still hasn’t fully found faith.

7. The Muppets sing “Rainbow Connection” in “The Muppets

(Scott Garfield)

I’m not too proud to admit it: Kermit the Frog can make me cry. As someone old enough to remember when the first Muppets movie came out, and who spent many an elementary school music class singing “Rainbow Connection,” there was something undeniably moving about seeing all of Jim Henson’s fuzzy creations together again on a big screen, crooning hopefully about “the lovers, the dreamers and me.”

6. Matt Damon looking at photos of his late wife in “We Bought a Zoo”

Yes, “We Bought a Zoo” is an overly sentimental, often unrealistic film in which Damon earnestly says things like “I would like to declare us all modern day adventurers, and sponsors of animal greatness!” But I totally bought it, goofy monkey gags, earthy Scarlett Johansson and all. And no scene made me more verklempt than the one in which Damon musters the courage to finally look at old photos and videos of his late wife while the music of Jonsi soars on the soundtrack. Emotionally manipulative? Maybe. And it worked.

5. The deaths in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

After eight movies (not to mention the seven books that preceded them), the “Harry Potter” era came to a close with the climactic defeat of Voldemort, the most evil force in a major film franchise since Darth Vader. But that triumph was undercut by the sacrifices made during that battle, including the loss of a Weasley. A lot of round, nerd glasses undoubtedly misted up when Ron realized brother Fred was a casualty.

4. Viola Davis’s confession in “The Help”

“The Help” was not the least bit shy in its attempts to jerk tears from its audience. Its most effective tear-jerker moment came when Aibileen (the phenomenal Viola Davis) finally opened up to Skeeter (Emma Stone) about the death of her son. Expect to see this clip during the Oscars, as Davis has pretty much locked up a best actress nomination for her work here.

3. George Clooney speaks to his wife in “The Descendants”

(Merie Wallace)

At the risk of spoiling the movie, I won’t reveal the context of the scene in question. I’ll simply say that Clooney is heartbreaking and more vulnerable than we usually see him onscreen. And that a Clooney tear is almost guaranteed to result in a Chaney tear.

2. The last 15 minutes of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

This adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel is out in New York and L.A., but doesn’t release widely until January. Already, however, the 9/11 drama has been criticized by some critics, including Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, for being too emotionally manipulative. Indeed, once you leave the theater and let the brain assume control over feeling, you may agree that this film, as Dargis suggests, drains 9/11 “of its specificity.” At the same time, watching “Extremely Loud” is definitely an emotional experience, particularly because of a crusher of a scene (and plot twist) that comes late in the movie. It involves our young protagonist (newcomer Thomas Horn) and his widowed mother, played by America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock, and will probably keep the tear rivers flowing for the remainder of the movie. You may want very much not to cry. But resistance is futile, especially if you happen to be a parent.

1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt reaching out to mom Anjelica Huston in “50/50”

(Chris Helcermanas-Benge for Summit Entertainment - Via AP)

Plenty of movie scenes may make you swallow a little harder or clandestinely wipe away tears. (“It was, uh, the salt from the popcorn. It got on my eyelash.”) But every once in a while, a scene will punch you in the gut so hard that you start sobbing, sobbing in a way that strongly suggests you will start making weird wailing noises really soon and get ejected from the theater for disturbing other patrons.

For me, in 2011, that scene was the moment in “50/50” when Gordon-Levitt’s character realizes it’s time to get wheeled in for potentially life-threatening surgery and panics, reaching out for the mother he has tried so hard to keep at a distance throughout his cancer treatment. Why did this scene get to me so much? Gordon-Levitt and Huston were both wonderfully authentic in it. So that’s part of it.

But as with all truly weepy movie experiences, it must have touched on something personal for me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been in the hospital and watched loved ones cope with disease, and “50/50” captures that sterile, anxious environment just right. Maybe it’s the fact that Gordon-Levitt looks a lot like a close friend of mine. Or maybe I was just having a weird day and I needed a good cry.

That’s the funny thing about weepy moments. Sometimes we can’t explain them. But when we feel them deeply, we don’t forget them.

What were your weepiest movie moments of 2011? Go on and confess to them by posting a comment.

By  |  01:33 PM ET, 12/30/2011

Categories:  Movies | Tags:  2011 in Review

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