8. The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
The Mirror consists of a series of flash-backs, memories and fragments of Russian history to illustrate the retrospective journey of a dying man in his forties. The man remembers his childhood in Wold War 2, his adolescence, his family and especially his mother and details that describe the Russian society of that time.
A very personal and autobiographical film which explores the historical time in which Tarkovsky grew up and memories of his country and his family. The lead character is living through his last days and it is like his life flashes before his eyes. It is not randomly named “the mirror” as it is like a reflection, a look back in time, past and its’ connection to the presence. The film, however, doesn’t force the story on the viewer but rather lets each person decide how they feel about it depending on their own thoughts and experiences.
The whole film is a dreamlike journey in the character’s memories and fantasies, as if we’re in his head. A genuine and unique masterpiece which feels like pure poetry.
9. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
In industrial settings, Henry is a factory worker living with his girlfriend, who is always angry and unhappy. They both have to deal with their newborn baby, who doesn’t seem to stop screaming and crying. But the most interesting detail is their baby is a deformed and ugly creature with non-human features.
Just like many of his films, Lynch’s Eraserhead is a study on the bizarre human mind. It is highly unsettling and uncomfortable, the characters are eccentric and the setting unforgettable. Shot in black and white, full of allegories, chilling imagery and surrealistic elements, the film creates the feeling of falling into an intense nightmare.
Despite of the surrealism, Lynch doesn’t seem to try too hard to impress. He creates this haunting experience through remarkable simplicity and no plot twists. This disturbing nightmarish debut was definitely ahead of its time. It’s an ultimate cult film and one of Lynch’s best.
10. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
A young shy girl, Pinky, starts working in a spa in California where she tries to become friends with her coworkers, and especially Millie, an extroverted woman working in the spa.
When they become roommates, Pinky becomes more and more attached to Millie and sees her as a role model. The both hang out at the bar of an eccentric pregnant woman and her husband. After some unusual events, the three women change their behavior and seem like trading personalities.
3 Women is a film that definitely stays with you. The storyline and the ending are chilling and open for interpretation and the development of the strange characters is perfect thanks to the great performances by Spacek and Duvall. Millie seems like an extroverted girl but she doesn’t actually have any real friends and her popularity exists only in her imagination, while Pinky is already a young woman but behaves like a child. The only male character is presented as the enemy and the women appear to be suppressed.
Altman claimed that the film was inspired by a dream he had and it does indeed feel like a dream. The scenes shot like dream sequences and the bizarre fluidity of the characters’ identity create a dreamy (or nightmarish) and surreal feeling.
11. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
Nina is a ballerina living with her strict mother who always tries to control and restrict her. Artistic director Thomas Leroy casts Nina for the leading role in Swan Lake but when Lily, a new impressive dancer, appears, a competition starts between the two women. They develop a strange relationship, as they are friends and rivals at the same time, which starts to affect Nina’s behavior and personality. She starts to explore her dark side and feels intrigued and at the same time threatened by Lily’s presence.
One of the greatest features of Black Swan is the complexity and the development of Nina’s character, perfectly portrayed by Natalie Portman. At first, Nina is perfect for the role of White Swan as it fits her innocent, graceful and hesitant personality, while Lily is more sensual and mysterious and therefore fits the role of the Black Swan. But Nina, gradually, explores her sensuality and dark side in her obsession to become perfect for the role.
Brilliantly directed and acted, the film explores the dark sides of the human mind through the perspective of a deranged young woman. Illusions and insanity are combined with classical music and ballet and depict the struggle not only with perfectionism in art but also personal identity.
12. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
After a Christmas party, doctor Bill Harford’s wife reveals that she had sexual fantasies about a stranger, which shakes Harford and makes him constantly thinking about her with another man. That night Harford goes through a bizarre adventure. A patient’s daughter flirts with him, a prostitute takes him to her flat, he encounters a strange costume shop owner and his daughter and finally goes to a masked ball which turns out to be an orgy of wealthy men and models and might put him in danger.
Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick’s most underrated film as it was promoted as an erotic thriller but it was actually much more than that. It’s a film about marriage, sexuality, infidelity, hidden fantasies and thoughts but also, modern life and people’s obsession with money and status – it would be interesting to count how many times Tom Cruise says the phrase “I’m a doctor” and throws money everywhere he goes.
A beautiful and mesmerizing film with a haunting score, Kubrick’s characteristic long shots and intense dreamlike atmosphere. One of the scariest non horror films that gets under your skin and stays with you.
13. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
After a car accident in Los Angeles, a young woman, Rita suffers amnesia and enters a random apartment. The owner’s niece, Betty, arrives at Hollywood the next day to pursue a career in acting and when she realizes Rita’s situation, she decides to help her find out who she is. But soon, the story takes an unexpected twist for both women.
Mulholland Drive has been repeatedly compared with Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard as both films are about the dark side of Hollywood and the way the actors are washed up by the industry. The lead character is a woman whose dreams have been crushed, her life has become a nightmare and she now finds comfort by living in an imaginary world.
David Lynch is known for his confusing films and Mulholland Drive is not an exception. It is a challenging film that possibly requires several viewings until the viewer can put all the pieces together. Full of unexplained plot elements, such as a blue box, a mysterious man behind a coffee shop and a night club called Silencio, the film is suspenseful, surreal and strangely sensual.
14. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)
An author writes a futuristic novel in which a mysterious train leaves for 2046 where people go to recapture old memories. It was said that in 2046 nothing ever changed and nobody ever came back. Meanwhile, we watch the stories of the women in the author’s life after he had lost the one woman he truly loved.
Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love and 2046 are an unofficial trilogy by Wong Kar-wai, known for his romantic and lyrical cinema. Many of the characters and especially Mr. Chow, the lead character, are probably the same persons in the three films that explore their life stories throughout the years.
The film is a combination of memories, dreams, love stories and fantasy, as the personal experiences the author goes through are mixed with his fantasies on the science fiction novel he writes and many of the characters have a futuristic alter ego. With a complicated storyline, excellent use of color, lighting and music, beautiful cinematography, 2046 is definitely Kar-wai’s most daring and enigmatic film.
15. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)
Two parallel stories of two women who don’t know each other and are not related but are identical and their lives seem to be connected. Weronika lives in Poland, she becomes a singer and dies after she collapses on her concert. Veronique lives in Paris and she’s working on becoming a singer, when suddenly she decides not to, for no apparent reason. At the same time, a strange man sends mysterious objects to her and tries to meet her.
The Double Life of Veronique can be explained in many different ways. It can be seen as a ghost story and Weronika may have died so that Veronique can live, or maybe the two women are like God’s puppets and their lives are predestined just like the marionettes are manipulated.
Irene Jacob shifts beautifully between the two characters and Kieslowski creates a dreamlike atmosphere by using reflections, lenses, mirrors and distorted images. The use of light is excellent and it’s almost like the film contains only specific shades of colors, which takes the viewer out of reality and into a dream world.
Author Bio: Georgia Christodoulou lives in Greece. She’s a philosophy student and a cinephile.