6. Ghost World (2001)
A coming of age dark comedy directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch (Enid), Scarlett Johansson (Rebecca) and Steve Buscemi (Seymour), Ghost World was adapted from a series of comic books by Daniel Clowes and was even nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Academy Awards.
Ghost World details the life of two best friends who recently graduated from school and are outcasts who only dream of getting jobs so they can live together, despite having no real plan on how to do either. The girls befriend a forty-something record collector who is socially awkward and eccentric and Enid soon grows close to him, with their relationship helping the both of them comes to terms with harsh realities of their lives, what they want to do in the future and dealing with their share of insecurities.
A powerful contrast is depicted between Enid’s cynical character, emphasizing her sarcastic and non-conformist ideals, compared to her somewhat more conventional and practical friend Rebecca. Their friendship dynamic and wit is unique and their shared abhorrence for not being considered mainstream is where so of the comedic relief in the movie lies, as the friends tear apart quirks in the world and people around them. Their off-kilter banter fits the mood of the movie perfectly and is an honest representation of people who chose to not conform to societal norms.
Zwigoff manages to capture a bittersweet quality in the movie, portraying the hard journey of growing up, feeling out of place and searching for a purpose. The use of atmospheric music further adds depth to the movie, especially when it comes to Enid’s character, with distinct 1980s and 90s alternative music following her in the beginning and shifting to contemplative blues at the end, mimicking her maturity.
7. Filth (2013)
Based on the 1998 novel by Irvine Welsh who you may know from his other novel, Trainspotting (1993), Filth stars James McAvoy in what was regarded his best acting performance, especially before his work in 2016’s Split.
The movie is narrated by the lead, Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) who is a drug-addled unapologetic detective desperate for a promotion at work and is willing to get it by any means necessary, in hopes he will win back his wife and daughter. When tasked with solving the case of a violent murder of a Japanese student and at risk of having the promotion go to other coworkers such as Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell), Bruce begins to manipulate them and turn them against each other. Bruce’s unstable personality, made worse by a series of severe hallucinations, makes solving the case even harder.
Filth can best be described as a dark comedy meets psychological thriller, with its ability to balance disturbing topics with irony and satire, and showing the depth of Bruce’s trauma and internal conflicts. Bruce’s mental decline and outlandish behavior is both funny and unsettling, putting the audience in charge of the extent to which they choose to support his characters’ actions and leaves them questioning morality and societal norms surrounding issues like addiction.
8. Assassination Nation (2018)
Written and directed by Sam Levinson (the writer of Euphoria), Assassination Nation is set in the historic city of Salem and centers around four teenage girls— Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Reagan (Bella Thorne)—who find themselves grappling with the news of a hacker who is exposing the residents’ personal information. Unsure of who the hacker is, the townspeople turn against each other and all hell breaks loose, with the girls being targeted in a modern day witch hunt by an aggressive mob seeking revenge.
What is so interesting about Assassination Nation is its ability to use humor as a social critique on privacy and to highlight aspects like politics, prejudice, exploitation and hypocrisy. The teenagers that the story revolves around are self-aware, which in turn is depicted in their sarcastic tones, and the movie very much plays into that by taking several bizarre turns and having the characters navigate the ludicrousness of the witch hunt. Levinson’s use of neon and bold colors, starting the movie with a provocative montage of all the different trigger warnings and disturbing subjects to expect from the movie, immediately sets the tone for what to anticipate from the movie and does an excellent job at engaging the audience from the very beginning of the movie.
To wrap up, Assassination Nation is a great example of a movie deeply rooted in satire and it wastes no opportunity poking fun at social media, the right to one’s privacy, objectification of women, discrimination against minorities, to name a few, making the audience come to terms with numerous uncomfortable truths and having them reevaluate their position in society, both online and off.
9. Thoroughbreds (2017)
The directorial debut of Cory Finley (who you may know from 2019’s Bad Education), premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received generally positive reviews by critics. The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy (Lily Reynolds) and Olivia Cooke (Amanda) as two childhood friends who grew apart and now reconnect after years. Amanda is aware Lily has been paid by her mother (Francie Swift) to spend time with her, despite Lily denying the claims and confesses that she does not feel any emotions due a mental illness. The girls rekindle their friendship and decide to kill Lily’s controlling stepfather (Paul Sparks) and hire a drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) for the job over the weekend.
The movie has a very distinct unsettling undertone to it, that gradually increases in intensity and creeps up on the viewer. Friendship, privilege, societal expectations and morality are at the center of the movie and Finley’s ability to build a sense of unease and tension in the movie by juxtaposing the claustrophobic house with vast open shots of the lawns surrounding the estate, further display how truly isolated the world the girls are living in is.
Amanda’s deadpan delivery and blunt honestly, coupled with her brusque demeanor, points out the irony of the situation the girls find themselves in and how truly detached they are from others, given their privileged upbringing. In fact, so much of the comedy in this movie focuses on that divide and whether or not what they plan to do is morally just.
10. Carnage (2011)
Based on the play, Le Dieu du carnage by Yasmina Reza and directed by Roman Polanski, Carnage details the events of a single afternoon and stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. The movie begins with Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) going to Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope Longstreet’s (Jodie Foster) apartment after their sons had a fight. The majority of the movie is filmed inside one apartment and focuses on the interactions between both sets of parents, as they try to sort out the issue politely, however things soon take a turn for the worse and they begin to fight amongst themselves and each other.
Despite gathering to talk about their children and resolving a petty issue, they instead find themselves caught in passive aggressive exchanges which soon develop into full-fledged verbal battles and one ridiculous situation after another, unveiling the issues in both of the couples’ marriages. The humor in Carnage is dry and sharp, relying heavily on the delivery and the actors make sure to stick to the meticulously written script, illustrating their own third-dimensional flawed character to the fullest extent, while not overshadowing others.
Despite no location changes, the setting of the movie never seems boring, with it transforming from a regular New York City apartment in the beginning, to a claustrophobic place where tensions reach an all-time high, mimicking the character’s mental journey. This is similar to Polanski’s use of a disintegrating house in one of his older works, Repulsion (1965). Carnage though focuses on more on the absurdities and pretenses people take up for societal approval and is a must watch for people who love theater.