Let’s face it: Many movies are substandard because they’re based on outlandish gimmicks. Then again, sometimes an outlandish, risky gimmick is exactly what a film needs to invigorate the viewer. It can keep their eyes glued to the screen. With that in mind, here are 10 of the greatest movies with incredibly risky gimmicks that totally worked!
10. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman” is a thoroughly watchable movie. That’s a bit surprising, though. “Birdman” employs techniques and themes which, in a lesser director’s hands, might have easily soared over people’s heads (and not in the good way).
To begin with, much of the movie could come off as gimmicky. It appears to have been filmed in a single shot, which could have some critics eye-rolling. Nevertheless, the approach helps “Birman” seem like a continuous narrative, and possibly reduces confusion during the film’s stranger moments (which accrue as the story progresses).
Another obvious factor? Most of the film’s music score is solo jazz percussion, performed by Antonio Sánchez. While the drumming is not bad, it’s definitely a unique approach to scoring a film. Fortunately, it works, and gives the film a unique rhythm.
Finally, the film’s themes could have been a tough sell, as they deal with acting itself. Michael Keaton’s character, Riggan Thomson, is burnt out and tired of being known for playing the superhero “Birdman.” At the same time, he’s acutely aware that the character propelled his career, even as he’s trying to move beyond it, into a serious stage production.
Meanwhile, as his sanity slips, Riggan seems to gain Birdman’s super powers. He increasingly clashes with his production’s cast, his critics and even his fans. Still, the quirkiness of “Birdman’s” elements are what make it a memorable film. Also, Mchael Keaton’s and Edward Norton’s performances don’t hurt.
9. The Birds (1963)
Over the years, Hitchcock’s “The Birds” gained controversy due to Hitchcock’s treatment of its star, Tippi Hedren. However, this fine, feathered movie could have been equally controversial for its various gimmicks — that is, if Hitchock wasn’t a master.
To begin with, you have a movie with almost no music in it. How many movies try such a thing? Very few, whether they’re successful or not. However, “The Birds” would be a very successful example of this technique. The lack of music — the general quiet — builds tension and makes the viewer focus on the characters. While the film starts as a romantic comedy of sorts, it becomes about sheer panic and a world turned upside down.
This is where the birds come in — both as a visible threat and as a source of sound. When you hear them, you get a sense of their power and the gradually intensifying fear they generate. Other than rare moments of source music ( music occurring naturally in the character’s universe), Alfred Hitchock and sound consultant Bernard Herrmann let the birds do the talking. It’s part of why it’s a timeless classic.
8. Donnie Darko (2001)
“Donnie Darko” is about doomsday visions, wormholes, time travel and a freaky looking giant rabbit named Frank. Still, despite all that, it’s surprisingly easy to follow. How did writer and director Richard Kelly manage that? Style!
“Donnie Darko’s” the rare stylish movie where style never tramples substance. There are countless 1980s culture references (including soundtrack), but these help establish atmosphere brilliantly. Partly because of the music, the film’s dark tones are omnipresent, and Jake Gyllenhaal comes across as sort of the coolest nerdy kid in school.
The cool imagery, unique concepts, and misfit kid gaining hallucinatory powers would be tough to convey even in a comic book. Richard Kelly, however, manages to make it look easy…because looking at it is so easy!
7. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Eli Craig’s “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” is quite a funny film, and unique. It deals with social preconceptions in a slapstick horror comedy context. Specifically, it’s about hapless college kids accidentally killing themselves, in ways which can be pinned on the lovable rednecks,Tucker & Dale.
That description makes it sound like the worst movie ever made, right? Well, it isn’t, and it’s difficult to describe it better than that. No matter how you slice it, “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” is a very gimmicky movie, but its gimmick is highly unique.
Also, it’s not as tiring as it sounds, because the main characters are likable guys. As you watch the tragic silliness unfold, you have a vested interest in seeing how the “misunderstandings” — that is, the trail of accidental dead — will be resolved. Oh, and it’s a love story of sorts, too.
6. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
In the early 2000s, Larry Blamire set out to make a bad B movie spoof. He sure made one! “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” is its name, and groan-inducing dialogues (and monologues) are its game. Shot in faux black-and-white, “Lost Skeleton” takes us back to a more innocent time. You know, when sci-fi was new, effects budgets weren’t needed, and wooden acting was king.
Blamire exaggerates these qualities, taking them to a higher level. The results are either comedic, boring, or they’ll make people leave the room. Still, those who stay will love “The Lost Skeleton,” amd find it an instant classic with endlessly memorable and quirky lines. B movies are still being made, but few are as successfully self-parodying as this.