6. The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)
For one week in 1971, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducted a psychological experiment involving fifteen male students to test his hypothesis that personality traits of prisoners and guards are directly linked to abusive behavior. A mock prison was built in the basement of a the psychology department and the students were assigned randomly the roles of prisoners and guards. However, the students playing the guards take their roles too seriously, becoming abusive almost instantly towards the prisoners and seemingly forgetting that this was just an experiment. The experiment was shut down after only six days.
Based on a true story, which has gained notoriety over the decades for the disturbing conclusions that can be drawn from what occurred, The Stanford Prison Experiment replicates the events that occurred faithfully, with the inherent drama and suspense that the experiment inspired. For students of history and those who enjoy films based on true events, The Stanford Prison Experiment is a chilling look at human nature and how our roles inform our actions more than we’d like to believe.
7. Starry Eyes (2014)
Being an aspiring actress in Los Angeles can be a pursuit filled with crushing rejections and nearly endless negative feedback from agents and friends alike. Or so Sarah, the young actress and protagonist of Starry Eyes, has found. Stuck waitressing at a humiliating restaurant and surrounded by a group of “friends” who are backstabbing, selfish actresses that undermine Sarah’s efforts, Sarah finds her life a frustrating endeavor, one that’s hampered by her trichotillomania (a disorder that involves pulling out one’s hair).
This seems to change when a mysterious and powerful production company begins pursuing her for an undefined role, one that involves her enacting bizarre and terrible acts during her audition. As she gets closer to securing the role, her behavior becomes erratic and her body begins to deteriorate. But that’s just the beginning of her gradual transformation into something completely different–and sinister–than what she started out as.
This 2014 film is a disturbing body horror film and a potent metaphor of the rigors and difficulties actresses face in Hollywood. With a riveting performance from Alexandra Essoe as Sarah, this Kickstarter-funded indie is a striking and original horror film with a subtle commentary on the seedier sides of Hollywood.
8. We Are Still Here (2015)
Following the death of their son, Anne and Paul move to a rural New England. Hoping the quiet isolation of rural life will help his wife, who has fallen into a deep depression, instead Anne begins to claim that their son is present in the house while a neighbor warns them to leave the property. Inviting spiritualist friends to their house to hold a seance, the nature of what the house represents to the town and its true nature is revealed, winding up with a bloodbath and strange conclusion.
Released to critical acclaim and named one of the best horror films of the year, We Are Still Here is a stylish twist on old horror tropes, with an obvious love of the genre displayed throughout by writer-director Ted Geoghegan. Horror fans will find We Are Still Here an underseen modern classic that should find a bigger audience now that it’s on Netflix.
9. J. Edgar (2011)
J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and had a long career as the top man of one of the most powerful government organizations in the US. He was also a repressed homosexual who spent his entire life both hiding and rejecting his sexual orientation. While Hoover was one of the most powerful men in the country, often using amoral techniques to intimidate those he deems dangerous to the country’s interests. But even with all of his power, J. Edgar couldn’t lead a coherent or even enjoyable life, instead living in denial and fear of his own nature.
Portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar is a hateable character for whom the actor nonetheless injects pathos and sympathy. Directed by Clint Eastwood, who frames the character with nuance, and portraying a controversial person in American history with honesty and his trademark rich style, J. Edgar is a film for those with an interest in 20th century American history and want to watch one of its most powerful and controversial figures brought to life.
10. Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
When is a documentary not a documentary? With 2010’s Exit Through The Gift Shop, this question becomes central for the viewer to work out, as its initial subject–elusive street artist Banksy–disappears from sight as the documentary begins focusing in on its documentarian Thierry Guetta as he becomes an artist known as Mr. Brainwash and finds a bizarre sort of success himself by aping Banksy’s satirical pop culture style.
While the first half of the film plays like a true documentary on Banksy and the street artist movement that was becoming popular at the time, when the film begins to turn on its own filmmaker as its main focus and details how his quick ascent in the art world as his persona, the audience has to wonder if they aren’t being conned. Like Orson Welles’ F for Fake, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a meta documentary where the filmmaker seems to pull the rug out from under the audience’s feet, and after it concludes leaves them wondering what kind of movie exactly they just watched.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer whose work has appeared on numerous websites and maintains a TV and film site at MeLikeMovies.com.