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Lin-Manuel Miranda, ‘Moonlight,’ ‘This Is Us’ & Everything That Made Me Cry in 2016
It was a year that made some people angry, some people inspired, and some people indignant. Me? I never stopped crying. Spoilers… for everything that happened this year.
Because it’s so fresh
This Is Us
All of it. Just kidding… sort of, but especially: Dr. K’s speech to Jack in the pilot, the family keeping vigil over Dr. K when he’s in the hospital, 85 percent of scenes between Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones, and when Randall takes his first step in forgiving his mother and old-age Mandy Moore has a full-on breakdown in the doorway.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tonys Speech
“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside,” he said, before collapsing into Carole King’s arms—which was really just rude, considering the rest of us didn’t have any Grammy-winning icon’s bosoms in which to console ourselves.
Poussey’s fate on Orange Is the New Black
Often, we’ll write about the way TV shows handle characters’ death and call it “beautiful.” Not this one. It was ugly, and disturbing, and terrifying—and, unfortunately, utterly real.
For me, it was when Chiron is arrested and is led out of the school. What was it for you?
Kelly Clarkson performing “Piece by Piece” on American Idol
Clarkson’s voice is so powerful we always fear it’s on the verge of breaking. So when it does—and she does—while performing this beautiful song about a parent’s love (while eight months pregnant), we did, too.
The entire second act of Falsettos
Have you ever sobbed in public for an entire hour?
When someone explained to me the plot of Me Before You
I couldn’t even see the film.
Taylor runs to his mother after the school shooting in American Crime
Connor Jessup and Lili Taylor are revelations in this scene, which is at once disturbing, heartbreaking, and, somehow—for all the circumstances that lead to it—relatable, in the almost carnal consoling of a mother to her son.
The end of Florence Foster Jenkins
The end of A Monster Calls
But only sometimes.
Barack Obama presenting Ellen DeGeneres with the Medal of Freedom
“Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place, so long as we just keep swimming.” Beautiful, deserved words, and a reaction befitting such an honor.
The flashback sequence in Manchester By the Sea
Manchester By the Sea is a wrenching film, that begins cracking your heart like an ice pick in the first act, driving it deeper and deeper over the next two hours and 17 minutes until it finally shatters. A meditation on how trauma lingers and never escapes us, it’s the film’s flashback sequence which reveals the source of that trauma that took our breath away.
The first season of Queen Sugar
Loss and pain bubbles throughout the entirety of Ava DuVernay’s sweat- and grief-soaked Southern drama, and so did our tears.
The medal ceremonies during the Olympics
Every last one of them. Didn’t matter who won.
Tiny Dory fears for her future
At the beginning of Finding Dory, a young, adorably-voiced Dory realizes what it means to have memory loss. Terrified, she looks up at her parents: “What if I forget you? Will you forget me?” I can’t.
The Color Purple on Broadway
When Nettie and Celie are reunited, when Cynthia Erivo belts “I’m Here,” when the cast reunites to sing “The Color Purple” finale: It’s a journey of resilience, healing, and, in the end, spirituality that moved me in ways theater never has done before.
Gabriel blows the horn for Troy in Fences
The way Viola Davis harnesses the full spectrum of human emotion and manages to explode it out of every pore of her body as Rose Maxson in Fences will be studied by aspiring actors for decades. It’s a performance that so expertly builds that, in the film’s final moments, when on the day of Troy’s funeral his brother Gabriel returns to open the gates of heaven for him—and succeeds—the way Davis’s Rose gazes up at the clouds telegraphs wonder and relief in a way I’ve never seen in film. She transmits catharsis so vividly that watching her do it becomes a visceral, physical experience. You simply melt.
Andrew Rannells’s arc on Girls
It was really beautiful, and heartbreaking.
Raquel’s breakdown on Transparent
My least favorite person in television is whoever is making Rabbi Raquel sad at that given moment.
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Give me a devastated Sally Field and I’ll give you all my tears.
When this video resurfaced after George Michael’s death
He’s rehearsing “Somebody to Love” for a tribute to Freddie Mercury following his death.
Oh my god, Pete’s Dragon.
Lorelai’s monologue in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
No one cries like Lauren Graham, but just saying that is a disservice to the complexity and nuance she brings to a lengthy monologue in which a daughter mourns her father, apologizes to her mother, and reconsiders her role as a mother and potential wife, all at once. It’s one of the year’s greatest acting accomplishments. And, yes, I cried.
It’s a shame that the powerful performances in the remake of Roots didn’t get more attention. Never did I feel their urgency more than when Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Belle breaks down as her daughter is taken away.
This line of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech
“To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
Kate McKinnon’s SNL “Hallelujah”
“I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”
The end of Lion
After a lifetime of searching, Dev Patel’s Saroo finds his birth mother in India. Lion is one of those films we’ll likely forget about in a few years, but the stranger I was sitting beside on the Amtrak train when I watched this will always have the memory of the weirdo next to her heaving guttural sobs.
When Katherine gets proposed to in Hidden Figures
I feel guilty that, in this wonderfully inspiring film that celebrates intelligence, work ethic, and bravery, it was a moment in a character’s love life that made me cry. But, damn, Taraji P. Henson, you got me in that scene.
The Pulse shooting special episode of Ellen Page’s Gaycation
Page and co-host Ian Daniel travel to Orlando five days after 49 people were killed in the worst incident of violence against LGBTs in U.S. history, visiting survivors, mourning with families of victims, and lending a shoulder for the grieving to cry on. It’s a celebration of life, a call to arms for a community, and an emotional portrait of the marriage between strength and sadness.
Judy Hopps graduates from the Police Academy in Zootopia
I’m a blubbering fool when it comes to proud parents.
Katya’s speech in the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars finale
“You let me show the world that I’m good enough. And here, you let me believe it myself.” A speech by a Russian hooker named Katya Zamolodchikova in a contest to be America’s greatest drag superstar might have been the most touching thing I saw on TV this entire year.
Molly Shannon in Other People
The SNL alum’s devastating, fully alive performance as a mother dying of cancer is the most underrated of the year, especially if you’re measuring by volume of sobs as the credits roll.
Jennifer Hudson’s “I Know Where I’ve Been” in Hairspray Live!
As gorgeous and moving as we all knew it would be.
The twist in the pilot of Pitch
I actually gasped… and then cried.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
I really did. What is wrong with me?
Lady Gaga’s Oscars Performance
Lady Gaga gathered 50 survivors of sexual violence as she belted “Til It Happens to You,” her ballad from the campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground,” each of them linking arms in a powerful display of strength that left the audience, from inside to the ceremony to my living room couch, in compassionate tears.
Every single second of Everything Is Copy
We’re all better for watching Jacob Bernstein’s documentary about his mother, Nora Ephron.
Meredith Grey attacked on Grey’s Anatomy
Shonda Rhimes knows her way around a stunt episode, and that’s by grounding it in the horror and resilience of humanity. “Sound of Silence,” which found Meredith Grey brutally attacked by a patient, was no different.
When Louie Anderson won an Emmy
Vanessa Hudgens performing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”
She played Rizzo in Grease Live! the day after her father’s death.
Celine Dion at the Billboard Music Awards
Four months after her husband, René Angélil, died, Celine Dion delivered a triumphant performance of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” at the Billboard Music Awards. She then accepted the Icon Award, only for her knees to buckle when her son Rene-Charles surprised her and for me to start crying again as I typed all of this up for you.
Sometimes nothing was happening, really, on Pamela Adlon’s FX series. There was something about the existence of the show, and the mood it conjured, that made us suddenly feel tears streaming down our face while watching it.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The movie sucked, but it was still about a veteran returning to his hometown after a war to be honored. I’m not a monster.
At some point in Bridget Jones’s Baby
Honestly, I can’t remember if I did, but it sounds like something I would do so I’m including it in this list anyway.
“Hold the Door”
And I don’t even watch Game of Thrones.