A good piece of art should always provoke an emotional reaction, cinema is perhaps the best equipped of the arts when it comes to inducing emotions. It can achieve so through such a variety of ways, that even a bad film is likely to cause the viewer to have a reaction to it, most likely hatred. However, a film can easily make its viewer have a negative emotional reaction to it and still be a great film.
This unique ability of cinema to emotionally involved its viewers through an innumerable variety of ways often makes some movies incredibly hard to recommend, despite their quality, and the reasons as to why a film can be hard to recommend is as varied as the ways it can make the viewers react to it.
Sometimes the plot of a movie alone can make it hard to recommend it, think Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson 1997) or Locke (Steven Knight 2013). A movie could also be hard to recommend based on how uncomfortable it is, like Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky) or Hard Candy (David Slade 2005).
Moreover, the reasons as to why a film might be uncomfortable to watch are also unfathomably varied, maybe the film is extremely graphic, maybe the subject matter itself is uncomfortable, perhaps the film is intensely depressive or simply downright weird.
This list was made with an attempt at finding a balance between highly depressive films, explicitly violent and/or sexual ones and simply bizarre movies, therefore some obvious choice for such a list were left out in order to make place for some less obvious choices, even though most of the films in this list should not come as any surprise to any cinephile.
10. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
The heartbreaking story of a young boy and his even younger sister is one of the most realistic depiction of war put to film. This is precisely why the movie is hard to recommend, nothing good happens it, ever, it is an extremely depressing film and it will rip your heart out.
The story of Grave of the Fireflies revolves around a succession of tragic events that happens to the siblings, the moments of happiness are short and far in-between, and the movie makes sure to absolutely run through those moments like a bulldozer with new horrors every single time.
Grave of the Fireflies is a great movie about how war affects the innocents, and how they are unprotected by their own people from tragic events, it is a strong anti-war film, but when the only thing that can be said about it is how heart-wrenching it is, recommending it is not an easy thing to do.
9. The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond has no plot to speak of, except that a woman (Catriona MacColl) inherits an old hotel that happens to have a portal to hell, but that is simply used as an excuse to show a succession of horrific and graphic images.
The Beyond is an extremely surrealist film, the whole point of the movie is simply to show you a lot of shocking images, thus the plot is irrelevant, but somehow despite having a superfluous plot, everything works. It is also a strangely fun film to watch, despite its graphic content, which is most likely due to the fact that the gore in The Beyond was done rather cheaply.
While it is a great introduction to Fulci’s work, the film is so out of left field that recommending it is a rather weird thing to do, again the whole movie is just a succession of horror imagery shown in order to shock the viewers, but it is surprisingly entertaining.
8. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)
Plot wise, Dogtooth is not that hard to recommend, it is about three teenagers being isolated from the outside world from their over-protective parents, however anyone who saw the film and talks about it will end up saying that it is an uncomfortable and bizarre movie to sit through, and that they never want to see it again. Just like in any Yorgos Lanthimos film, it has a great twisted dark sense humour and the characters are unlikeable, even more so in this one.
Dogtooth also has a relatively unnatural and bizarre vibe that is hard to explain, you have to experience it to truly grasps the unique atmosphere that the film has. Not only is the film’s vibe hard to describe, it also has some graphic sex scenes and brutal violent scenes, which adds to the difficulty of recommending Dogtooth, but the film is extremely hard to recommend solely on the basis of how uniquely insane it is, making any attempt at an actual description of the film entirely futile.
7. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
Synecdoche, New York is about a theatre director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) working on an increasingly elaborate play whose commitment to realism starts blurring the line between reality and fiction. While some people find the film be a very depressive one, there are others who seem to find Synecdoche, New York quite quirky and funny.
It is this dichotomy in people’s interpretation that renders the film quite hard to recommend, it is a strange film that does have its fair share of scenes that somehow manages to be both sad and joyous at the same time (the pretending to be a fairy retelling by Ollie is such a scene), how someone would react to the movie is impossible to gauge, and recommending the movie is just as hard.
On top of not knowing how someone will react to Synecdoche, New York, the film is also a highly philosophical one, inspired by Jungian psychology, it is a brain teaser that requires more than one view to truly grasp the film in its entirety.
6. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
Michael Haneke’s Amour tells the story of how Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) takes care of his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) at home, as she wishes, after she had a heart attack. Throughout the movie, Anne’s condition gets worse and the bond of love between the octogenarian couple is tested. While this may sound like a beautiful love story at first glance, it is rather a love story that is much more focused on the pain and suffering that comes along with love.
Amour is a grim and highly emotional tale about how much suffering can the bond between an elderly couple take before being shattered into pieces. Seeing Anne’s condition worsen during the film, and Georges’ increasing emotional incapability to deal with his wife deteriorating sate is uncomfortably sad to watch, mostly because of how real the characters feel.
Amour does not get any happier during its runtime, Haneke smashes all hopes of a happy ending to smithereens (although an argument could be made that the movie actually has a happy ending, however the way to reach it is quite sad). Amour can only be described as an intensely depressing movie about an elderly couple, it is not a fun movie to sit through, and recommending it is an arduous task, regardless of how beautiful the movie is.