There's nothing better than getting lost in a great movie. They want nothing more than to entertain. All they ask in return is that you stay awake and try to remember the hero's sidekick's name if you can. Other movies, however, aren't just satisfied with helping you kill 90 minutes. They want to grab you by the remote and hold you face down in a puddle of fear, confusion, and terror.
Source: Celluloid Dreams
Note: SPOILERS abound!
10. Funny Games
Whether you see the 1997 Austrian original or the 2008 shot-for-shot remake of Michael Haneke's Funny Games, odds are you're going to end up confused, angry, and wondering why the hell they ever made this movie. Obstensibly a horror flick, Funny Games starts out with a tried and true horror premise. Two young psychopathic teens hold a family hostage and put them through a night of torture and terror. Sounds great so far, right? But as the movie unfolds, things start to happen that suggest Haneke isn't interested in giving you an hour and a half of thrills and chills. He just wants to screw with your head.
First off, the two psychopaths (variously called Paul and Peter, Tom and Jerry, and Beavis and Butthead) seem to know from the start that they're characters in a movie. They talk to the audience, asking you if you're enjoying the show and what you think will happen next. Besides having self-aware characters, Funny Games breaks every single rule in the horror movie bible. The little kid gets killed first, there are long scenes where nothing happens, and every single chance the victims have to fight back is snatched away before they even get started. At one point one of the killers even rewinds the movie when things don't go his way. Funny Games never once lets you forget that you are watching a movie. It also never stops doing exactly the opposite of what you expect it to.
Haneke, like any artsy-fartsy European worth his caviar, has said the movie is an "examination on violence in cinema." That may be, but it's also an incredibly ballsy middle finger to anyone who plunks down $4 at the local Blockbuster to watch it.
9. Mulholland Drive
Source: Universal Pictures
The films of America's favorite weirdo David Lynch could have filled out this entire list. Despite a couple forays into mainstream, non-insane, sensical cinema, Lynch has made a nice career making movies that simultaneously arouse, confuse, and bewilder. A lover of all things abnormal, Lynch fills his movies with a cavalcade of oddball characters doing oddball things in an oddball world just enough like our own to be disturbing. Never much a believer in silly, outdated things like plot, Lynch threw the narrative book out the window for his 2001 head-scratcher Mulholland Drive.
Originally conceived as a TV pilot, Mulholland Drive tells the fractured story of several sexy characters who try and fail to navigate their way through an otherworldy, noir Hollywood. We're being generous using the word "story." It's more like a bunch of things that happen in no particular order to a bunch of characters who may or may not be figments of each other's imaginations. Naomi Watts plays two similar characters (a favorite trick of Lynch's), there's no sense of time, and if you can figure out what it all means, you're a lot smarter than us. Several of the actors, including Watts, admitted that they had no idea what Lynch thought the story was about. Film critics have tried for years to come up with a coherent interpretation of the flick and there are as many theories as there are theorists. And all the while, David Lynch has refused to answer any questions and insists that the story makes perfect sense.
And in his subconscious funhouse it probably does. For the rest of us, watching Mulholland Drive is like trying to put together an amazing looking jigsaw puzzle with a several pieces missing. You'll go nuts trying to figure this movie out, but at least you get to see Naomi Watts make out with another chick. It's worth sitting through anything to get a look at that.
Source: Universal Pictures
The oldest film on the list, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is the twisted old granddaddy of movies who want to blow our minds and freak us out while they entertain us. Released in a time when most horror flicks revolved around dudes in cheap rubber suits, Psycho trades in a sophisticated brand of psychological horror that had never been seen up until that point.
For all the disturbing places it ends up, Psycho starts out as a pretty conventional genre picture about a woman on the run and the people who are looking for her. Young heroine Janet Leigh plays a woman who steals $4,000 from her employer and while on the run, stops at a rundown motel with a really creepy night manager played by Anthony Perkins. After a weird conversation, Leigh--who, remember, was the star of the film--decides to take a long, relaxing shower. Then, in one the most famous scenes in movie history, she has a very short, very unrelaxing shower that ends with her dead on the bathroom floor. And that's it. 40 minutes into the movie the main character is dead.
It's hard to conceive of now since even tribesmen living untouched by modern civilization in the darkest jungles of Borneo know the basic story of Psycho, but imagine the people who saw it in 1960 without knowing what was going to happen. Hitchcock had the stones to totally pull the rug out from under the audience's feet. After Leigh gets killed, they had no idea what was going to happen next. The person they were rooting for is at the bottom of a lake, and the only character they know is the nutcase who put her there. On top of the shock of the shower scene, now they felt lost and disturbed. Hitchcock could literally take the story anywhere he wanted. And because he was a sick monkey, he took it to a mummified old lady in a basement and a psycho killer in a wig. Good times.
7. The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie
Souce: Rialto Pictures
Another artsy flick from our betters across the Atlantic, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is basically an opium dream masquerading as a movie. Directed by renowned nutcase Luis Bunuel, it's full of the surreal imagery he was famous for. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he was the guy who went freak-to-freak with Salvador Dali to make the 16-minute Un Chien Andalou--arguably the best short movie about slicing eyeballs ever made.
In his 1972 feature The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Bunuel gives his tortured mind a full 102 minutes to stretch out in all it's mind-twisting glory. The bare bones plot involves a group of upper class French people trying and failing to have dinner. As they move from house to restaurant to house, their plans are interrupted by a neverending parade of progressively weirder people and events.
They go to someone's house for dinner, but they have the date wrong. They try the restaurant of a local inn, but the owner has died that day. They find a tea house that has run out of everything except for water. Along the way, bizarre characters drop in to tell long, pointless stories that have nothing to do with anything. Their dinners are delayed by ghosts, drugs, a priest, sex, and even an entire battalion of soldiers.
With its countless scenes of hungry people not eating, the movie plays like the worst episode of No Reservations ever made. Despite its unashamed strangeness, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was actually a hit. It did well at the box office and won the Oscar for best foreign film the same year The Godfather won best picture. There is a valid criticism of European middle class hypocrisy buried underneath all the oddity, but don't worry, we won't tell anyone you noticed.
6. Fight Club
Source: 20th Century Fox
It may be hard to believe now, when watching Fight Club is almost a right of passage and every guy between the ages of 17 and 30 secretly wishes he was Tyler Durden at some point in his life, but Fight Club was actually a flop when it was first released. No one knew what to make of its over-the-top violence, anti-consumerist message, and frequent close-ups of Meat Loaf's enormous boobs. The studios didn't help much. Initially marketed as a violent action flick, gung-ho movie-goers expected to see Brad Pitt kicking ass with his shirt off. They got that, but underneath they found a deep, pessimistic exploration of the difficulties of being a man in 1999.
Mainstream critics didn't know what to make of it. People called it "irresponsible and appalling." They warned of copycat crimes and waves of violence and vandalism inspired by the film. But most of all, Fight Club made people uncomfortable. If you have a penis between your legs, it's impossible to watch the movie without feeling a little disturbed. A pointed critique of male identity in the modern world, Fight Club is one of those rare movies that lays the audience's soul bare. People saw their Ikea- and Starbucks-saturated lives mocked and skewered on the screen. Fight Club points a bloody, broken finger directly at the viewer's life and says, "the world is turning you into a pussy!"
Fight Club promised a Hollywood thrill ride but delivered a kick in the crotch. But the good kind of kick in the crotch. The kind of kick in the crotch that makes you think.
Oh, and the twist! Brad Pitt and Ed Norton are totally the same dude!
5. The Vanishing
Source: Argos Films
Unlike Funny Games, it really does matter which version of the mindbending thriller The Vanishing you see. Forget the crappy 1993 remake starring a pre-awesome Keifer Sutherland and go straight to the 1998 Dutch original. The Vanishing starts out pretty normal. Are you seeing a theme here?
A young Dutch couple go on a tour of the French countryside. After a weird conversation where the woman tells her boyfriend about a bizarre dream she's been having involving golden eggs in outer space--they're Dutch, give them a break--they stop at a roadside gas station to fill up and grab a couple drinks. While the dude is pumping the gas, the woman goes to get the sodas. And then she (wait for it) vanishes!
He searches everywhere and asks everyone, but she's gone. Cut to three years later, and even though the guy has a new girlfriend, he's still obsessed with what happened to the first one. He goes on TV to tell the world and then things start to get odd. The guy responsible for her disappearance gets in touch to tell the hero that he did it. At this point audiences may be forgiven for checking their watches and wondering why the mystery has been solved so early. But this ain't your ordinary, everyday whodunit. This is a whydunit.
For the rest of the film, the kidnapper reveals in a series of flashbacks exactly how he planned the crime. As he gets to the end of the story, he offers to tell the guy exactly what happened to his girlfriend as long as he drinks a cup of drugged coffee first. Tormented by not knowing, he gulps down the spiked brew and in one of the greatest shock endings in movie history, he finds exactly what happened. And brother, it ain't pretty.
If you're tired of the kind of warmed-over thrillers Hollywood churns out, check The Vanishing out. You'll never drink drugged coffee the same way again.
4. Week End
Source: Athos Films
If Fight Club is a mainstream Hollywood movie that uses slick production values and big stars to satirize consumer culture, then Jean Luc Godard's Week End is the same movie made by a black turtleneck-wearing, weird cigarette-smoking hipster who shouts things like "Jesus was a fascist" to old ladies on the street.
A surrealist blend of '60s Marxism, French artsnobbery, and good old-fashioned smart assedness, Week End is a movie that revels in its own perverted take on modern society. The story revolves around a middle class French couple who are taking a weekend trip to the country to visit the man's father. But these aren't your ordinary yuppies trying to escape the city for some fresh air and fun. Both of them are having affairs, both of them are planning to kill one another, and the real reason they're going to visit the old man is make sure their inheritance is sorted out. Sounds like a fun couple, right?
Unfortunately for them, they decide to take '60s French Movie Directed by Jean Luc Godard Highway and run into some trouble on the way. Their journey is interrupted by the longest traffic jam in history (which Godard reveals in a famous 10-minute shot), several horrible car accidents, fictional characters, cannibal hippies, and Godard himself. Several times during the film, Godard puts up title cards with things like "a film found on a scrap heap."
It's all very intellectual, very strange, and surprisingly, very watchable. In fact, we're willing to say that it's the most watchable satirical French movie about a bourgeois couple whose drive to the country is waylaid by radical cinematic experiments and cannibal hippies ever made.
3. The Idiots
Source: Zentropa Entertainment
Lars Von Trier is a jerk. Hear us out. In his long, successful career, he's never made a movie that wasn't either a catalogue of abuse, or a prolonged "up yours" to whoever has the misfortune of walking into a theater playing his latest celluloid misanthropy. Unfortunately, Lars Von Trier is also an incredibly talented filmmaker who makes original, thought-provoking movies unlike just about anyone else working today. If only they weren't so difficult to watch.
Case in point, his 1998 WTF masterpiece The Idiots. The story follows a group of wealthy, upper class people in Denmark who live in a commune and explore alternate ways of living. Sounds a little snooty, but so what, right? Who hasn't felt alienated by the soul-destroying machines of the 20th century? Who hasn't wanted to rebel against the arbitrary rules of modern living? Maybe these crazy kids are on to something?
Well, unfortunately for the audience, their best idea for a new way of life is to act like they are mentally retarded in public. Yes, this is a movie about non-mentally handicapped people pretending to be mentally handicapped people and it's every bit as uncomfortable to watch as you might imagine. Von Trier makes you swallow the bitter, ugly premise in the first few minutes of the movie and then plays it out far past the limits of taste, decency, and endurance.
We see the people acting handicapped in a local swimming pool, at restaurants, and on a tour of a factory to the shock and horror of everyone involved. Worst of all, the "idiots" engage in an orgy as mentally handicapped people. We haven't checked with any official type of institution or anything on this, but we're pretty sure this is the least arousing multiple partner gangbang scene ever committed to film. Including the one in Steel Magnolias.
Sure, Von Trier has some skills, but unfortunately he uses them to make movies that leave you wishing there was a way to revoke your membership in the human race. Lighten up for once, guy!
2. Southland Tales
Source: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's Southland Tales is an abstract, jumbled mess of sci-fi, politics, and religion full of all kinds of strangeness. It says something that the strangest part of the movie isn't the terrible/awesome lines like "teen horniness is not a crime," and "pimps don't commit suicide." It isn't that it features mainstream Hollywood stars like Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Geller, and Justin Timberlake playing freaked-out weirdos. It isn't that it features just about every single former Saturday Night Live cast member in supporting roles. It isn't that the story revolves around a genius inventor who may be the Antichrist and Seann William Scott is the second coming of Jesus. No, the weirdest thing about Southland Tales is all the other stuff floating around.
It's full of scenes that have no obvious connection to the main plot, yet feature prominently. In the middle of the movie, for no reason whatsoever, Justin Timberlake's Iraq War veteran gets high and does an elaborate musical number in a bloody t-shirt. SNL also-ran Jon Lovitz shows up as a blond haired racist cop who kills a mixed race couple. Bai Ling plays a sexy, seductive Chinese woman who does nothing but slink around looking sexy, seductive, and Chinese.
It's as if Kelly spent a summer dropping peyote while flipping back and forth between CNN and MTV, wrote down every half-baked idea that came into his head, and somehow convinced a major Hollywood studio to bankroll the results. Arguably one of the strangest American movies made in the last 20 years, Southland Tales is definitely worth a look. Just don't expect anything to, you know, make sense.
Source: Vitagraph Films
Like Psycho before it, Takashi Miike's 1999 Japanese flick Audition starts out a hell of a lot more normal than it ends. For the first 30 minutes or so, it's a story of a lonely widower who decides to "audition" potential wives under the guise of casting a film. After seeing several women who don't interest him, he's captivated by a young woman who claims to be a former ballerina. Despite the warnings of his buddy and the fact that none of her references hold up, the widower decides to start a relationship with the younger woman.
And this is where things get strange. Not a little strange--like he finds out she has 17 cats or is really into Barbie Dolls--but absolutely, nutsy-cuckoo, wash-your-eyeballs, cry-out-for-your-mommy bizarre. After a seemingly normal dinner date, he decides to call her up for another one. As the phone rings, we see her sitting perfectly still in the middle of a room next to a large burlap sack. As the phone rings, the sack--and whatever poor bastard is in it--moves and gurgles. She answers the phone, charming-as-you-please, has a pleasant conversation, and hangs up. In about one minute, the slow romantic drama has taken a sharp right turn into crazytown.
For the rest of the movie, freaky stuff happens at an alarming rate. Horrible pasts are revealed, several feet are removed, and once the girl puts on her rubber gloves and apron, we dare you to make it through the last twenty minutes without wishing you never heard of Takashi Miike, this movie, movies in general, the nation of Japan, and everything else you used to think was great.
Watch it if you think you can handle it, but beware. This is the movie that Rob Zombie said disturbed him. And that guy is nuts!