8. Enter the Void (2009)
“Enter the Void” is perhaps the ever-controversial Gasper Noé’s most challenging film. Set across a neon-lit Tokyo, an American drug dealer is killed and has an out of body experience where he continues to linger on in this world, watching the effects of his death over the city and the people he knows. It doesn’t get trippier than this.
Abandoning traditional storytelling for sheer experience, the film takes place and is shot from the point of view of its protagonist. We hear his thoughts, see what he sees, and hear what he hears. “Enter the Void” is an assault on the senses and features some of the most amazing and beautiful images ever shot.
The camera floats and the neon lights flash, giving the viewer a surreal experience. It’s a technical achievement that you can’t help but admire, even if you despise the film. It can be sickening at times, but remains captivating and like all of Noé’s work, it’s not for everyone.
7. Primer (2004)
Time-traveling films in general can be complicated, but Shane Carruth’s debut film is something else entirely. Made on practically no budget, the film revolves around two engineers who accidentally discover time travel. A discovery that could bring them financial rewards, but will ultimately test their friendship. They test the machine and try to figure out the practical mechanisms, and we all know what happens when you start messing with time.
Carruth wrote, directed, shot, scored, edited and starred in the film. This is what great independent filmmaking is all about. As a former engineer, Carruth does not dumb down the script or spoon feed the audience, a decision that, while extremely confusing, works wonders in experiencing the film. Plus, it can be just as fun researching and trying to figure out the time-traveling intricacies.
6. Enemy (2013)
When a mild-mannered professor watches a movie that was recommended to him, he notices an actor who looks exactly like him. He sets out to find out who this actor is, and his life is turned upside down. Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” is such a laid-back and simple film that you barely notice yourself entangled in its mysterious web. Which is probably the point.
Jake Gyllenhaal gets to play the actor’s dream role and ultimate challenge: playing two characters that look the same and but are different in personality. One can’t help but shake the feeling that something is off in this seemingly normal world.
The professor’s lectures seem to hint at a totalitarian government, but how could an expert on the matter not be able to see one taking over his city? Yet the opening text of the film, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered,” can’t be ignored and it puts things into perspective.
5. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
It wouldn’t be a Charlie Kaufman film it didn’t involve a fair share of head scratching and glorious weirdness. Kaufman has a knack for taking the most ordinary and mundane parts of life and twisting them into something mind-bending. But with “Synecdoche, New York,” he takes it to extreme levels and made what can only be described as the filmmaker’s magnum opus.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theatre director who gets a grant for a play and decides to make something epic that he’ll be remembered for. He constructs a mock city with multiple actors playing multiple characters throughout the city in an ongoing play. As things keep getting complicated, the line between fiction and reality, inspiration and imitation begin to blur until it’s hard to know what’s what. It’s a reflection of all great art and our greatest and worst fears.
4. The Holy Mountain (1973)
Man oh man, where does one start with “The Holy Mountain” or any of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s works? His previous film “El Topo” was a regular staple for midnight screenings. Audiences couldn’t get enough of his mind-fuckery, so he decided to up the ante on his follow-up. At its simplest form, the story is about an alchemist who leads a Christ figure and seven people, each representing a planet in our solar system, on a journey to the titular Holy Mountain to seek enlightenment.
But it’s not that simple and clean-cut. We’re treated to one amazing set piece after another, one insane ritual after the next, edited with hypnotic and mesmerizing precision. Visual and literal metaphors fill the film on thee many things people use to seek enlightenment: religion, money, sex, etc. It has one of the most famous images in cinema with Jodorowsky handling most aspects of production himself.
Although it can be graphic, it’s also insanely hilarious. A viewing experience you won’t forget any time soon.
3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
“Mulholland Drive” is both a dream and nightmare to anyone with aspirations of working in show business. On one side, we have the typical rise-to-the-top story of a young talented actress, and on the other, the harsh realities that come with not making it. From “The Elephant Man,” “Lost Highway” and “Inland Empire,” David Lynch has made a career out of messing with people’s heads, but this one is too close for comfort.
Multiple storylines and characters all seem to play out randomly, giving us different mini-genres of entertainment before revealing that nothing is as it seems. The final part of the film is like a fever dream or the greatest hits of your worst nightmares, all combining for one last hurrah. And by its end, it leaves you exhausted, but with a more poignant appreciation for what can be achieved with film and the light and the dark, the good and the bad of life.
2. Persona (1966)
Ingmar Bergman had a talent for making simple and intimate stories feel epic. “Persona” is his crowning achievement and perhaps his most involving work, which is saying something since it features about four locations and two primary actors. Themes of identity, duality and insanity revolve around a young nurse taking care of an actress who’s suddenly stopped speaking. Personalities and faces merge in what features some of the two greatest performances, like ever.
In what’s become one of the most analyzed and debated films, “Persona” can mean something totally different with each subsequent viewing. Bergman’s tight grip on the film ensures there’s not a single cut out of place or a single line of dialogue wasted. There’s nothing greater than watching Bibi Andersson ramble from one monologue to another, or watching Liv Ullmann simply react with her body language and facial expressions.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“2001: A Space Odyssey” is the Mount Everest of mind-fuck movies and all movies in general. Tracking the human existence from our ape ancestors to our limitless future among the stars, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke created an odyssey of note. It still stands as the most ambitious and audacious film ever made. Can you imagine watching this for the first time when it came out?
With themes of existentialism, technology and evolution, “2001” provides a viewing experience like no other. It offers a diverse spectrum of emotions with the only repetition being amazement. The first act plays out like a twisted episode of National Geographic. The stargate sequence is the closest you can get to an acid trip without taking acid. And the final act brings everything full circle, in a sequence of haunting and strikingly beautiful imagery.