When one mentions weird movies, it conjures to mind the Burtonesque — who has not heard of his films like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice” and “Corpse Bride”? Gothic horror aside, weird covers a gamut of sub-genres – romance, science fiction, historical fiction — with examples being “The Lobster,” “The Fountain” and “Cloud Atlas.” Overall, weirdness creates a certain mood.
As you leave the theater, a weird movie latches on like a gremlin that’s at the same time slightly unsettling yet inherently entertaining. Then, hiding shyly behind the Weird is a distinctly more unique creature not unlike the Mowgai — a less unsettling, more adorable younger sibling of the Weird — the Quirky Movie.
Quirky movies tend to be charming and celebrate uniqueness as well as the foibles of human nature. The best quirky movies set the mood to draw you into its world of quirky characters and walk you through their shoes. These movies often evoke nostalgia and are visually distinct. They often make you feel better about your own quirks. So, here are some of the best quirky movies of the 21st century to date. Leave a comment if you have more to add!
10. The Royal Tenenbaums
This Wes Anderson classic tells the story of a dysfunctional family with three overachieving children whose life is marred by their terrible father. The family patriarch, played by charming scoundrel Gene Hackman, who won a Golden Globe (Best Actor) for his efforts, decides to step in and mend his relationship with his family after years of strained relations.
The story is simple enough, but the magic is in the attention to details and mood, chased with a big dose of deadpan humor. The color palette Anderson used is a muted sepia with a decidedly 50’s/60’s feel. The costumes are detailed and distinct for each character. The colors and details work to bring out depth and an intensity of feeling about the complicated feelings between the family members.
The cast has incredible chemistry and play up each other’s quirks beautifully. Gwyneth Paltrow in particular is memorable as the adopted daughter who is a chain-smoking, fur-wearing playwright. Anderson based the story on his parent’s divorce with influences from French movies and his former work. The movie covers a gamut of issues from grief, incestuous love, and negligent parenting issues, and yet is beautiful and melodic at the same time. This, by far, is the Wes Anderson movie with the most heart.
9. Everything is Illuminated
Watching Elijah Wood play an American navigating the alien and seemingly hostile landscape of Ukraine is a charmer of a movie and laugh-out-loud funny at times. Based on an autobiographical novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Wood plays the author who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape Nazi persecution.
Upon arrival, Jonathan hires a Ukrainian translator, Alex (a droll Eugene Hütz), whose eloquence should leave you in stitches. Alex and Jonathan are driven around by Alex’s blind, temperamental grandfather who only ‘thinks he is blind’ and is guided by his ‘seeing-eye bitch’, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.
Wood’s blank nervousness and earnestness in the face of cultural misunderstanding drives the movie forward and ups the quirk factor. This is helped by hauntingly beautiful visuals which highlight the visceral horror of the Holocaust. Alex, his grandfather and Jonathan eventually find the sister of the woman they are looking for.
In one memorable scene, they visit her home, located in a field of sunflowers where a town destroyed during the Holocaust once stood. The story twists at the end as memories of actions taken come back to haunt. This directorial debut by Liev Schreiber is a beautiful study of human quirks.
8. Little Miss Sunshine
This delightful caper centres on a family road trip to bring a sweet little girl, Olive (Abigail Breslin), to a child beauty contest. Squeezed into an iconic yellow Volkswagen Type 2 Van are Olive’s parents, her heroin-sorting grandfather (Oscar-winning Alan Arkin), her suicidally-depressed gay uncle (Steve Carell) and moody teenage brother (Paul Dano).
The yellow van is just as much a main character, and it behaves like a cranky, uncooperative grand-uncle. The directorial debut of husband-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the story pokes fun at the idea of success, which Olive’s father (Greg Kinnear) is obsessed with, and the ridiculousness of child beauty pageants.
This little road trip of a movie is fun and does not take itself too seriously, yet it hits all the right notes. Its Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is well deserved and its ensemble cast all works together to make Olive’s loss seem like a win. This sweet, funny movie deserves its place high in the list.
7. (500) Days of Summer
This is a tale of a breakup, but with the gender stereotype reversed. Directed by rookie Marc Webb, the ever-quirky Zooey Deschanel plays The Girl (a dreamy eyed Summer) who leaves The Boy, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt shines as the heartbroken, pining boyfriend, Tom.
At first glance, it seems a story of ‘cruel woman dumps man.’ But on closer examination we see a story of a man projecting the trope of ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ onto a woman. Gordon-Levitt’s character learns through his heartbreak that he had placed his ex-girlfriend on a pedestal instead of seeing her as a complex human being with her own troubles.
With a strong storyline and cast, the movie also boasts some fantastic dream sequences and a catchy soundtrack to boot. Not your usual romantic fairy tale with a happy ending, the movie settles into a bittersweet happiness that is more grounded in reality and makes it worth watching.
6. Captain Fantastic
Directed by Matt Ross, this is indeed a fantastic and unconventional tale. “Captain Fantastic” is Viggo Mortensen at his most soulful as Ben Cash who, together with his wife, rebelled against the American capitalistic way of life. They set up camp in the wilderness of Washington. There, they raise their six children and use an array of books and physical skills to teach the how to survive and think for themselves.
It is indeed impressive in the movie to see children spout the US Bill of Rights and leftist philosophy; one wonders whether the education system has it all wrong. However, tragedy strikes when Ben’s wife is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and eventually takes her life. His wife’s parents blame him and refuse to let him attend the funeral.
The movie criticizes the trope of ‘The Philosopher’ when Ben realizes that his training has left his children woefully unprepared for the real world. The realization that he has to let them go is sweetly poignant and yet heartbreaking.
“Captain Fantastic” is vividly coloured with Ben and the children attired as colourful bohemians with flowers and feathers in their hair. It almost feels like they are stuck in the 60s and are playing catch-up with modernity. The plot is helped along by solid performances from the child actors and an interesting soundtrack: look out for the lovely cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”