70+ movies that messed with my head (or at least made me think)

/ 03 January 2017 /
I absolutely love films that offer some mental exercise. I also love lists. So here, a list of films that offer some mental exercise -- whether they're mystery, sci-fi, romance, or even comedy; whether they're good or bad or ugly. I've added my own amateur comments for fellow amateur viewers. :) Also, despite its length, this list is far from definitive -- Shutter Island isn't even on it. With your recommendations, who knows, I might make a Part 2.

Here goes. My top three:
  1. Coherence
    • Quick synopsis: A dinner party takes a turn for the bizarre when a comet passes close to Earth.
    • Keywords: Schrodinger's Theory, doppelgangers
    • Quick review: This neat little low-budget gem is easily one of my favorites in the mind-fuck category. In turns cool and claustrophobic, chilling and exciting, it poses both mind-boggling questions and moral dilemmas that last long after viewing. Supreme goosebumps delivered.
  2. Primer
    • Quick synopsis: A group of friends invent a time machine but soon face consequences that change their friendship and their lives.
    • Keywords: time travel, friendship, secrets
    • Quick review: Another low-budget film that has become a personal favorite, mostly for the sweet, sweet complexity of it. I really have a thing for movies that make me want to view it a second or third time (with pen and paper in handy just to make a chart of the plot) – and with this one, a second viewing is definitely required.
  3. The Prestige
    • Quick synopsis: Two competing magicians try to beat each other with escalating tricks that affect their personal lives.
    • Keywords: magic, rivals, love
    • Quick review: This is my favorite plot-twist movie so far. Sleek, simple, yet effective story-telling, great acting from a great cast, and refreshing plot devices that are far from overused.
      The rest of these titles are in no particular order.

  4. Enemy
    • Quick synopsis: A man's repetitive life is turned upside-down after he meets another person who looks and sounds exactly like him.
    • Keywords: routine, symbols, spiders
    • Quick review: Many call this a puzzle film, trying to make sense of the events that lead up to the shocking final scene. I feel it's more an allegorical think piece that should be seen beyond the literal. Trigger warning for those who are afraid of spiders because those crawlies are stars in this movie.
  5. Requiem for a Dream
    • Quick synopsis: The lives of various persons are changed when they get addicted to drugs. (That really sounds like one of those anti-drug slogans your teacher made you memorize in grade school – and this film is like an anti-drug video campaign for grownups.)
    • Keywords: drug addiction, relationships, tokhang
    • Quick review: If you can stand the jarring directorial style and the ultra-graphic violence, drug use, and sex throughout this film, it pans out to be a simple yet beautifully executed piece. I even cried. Just say no to drugs, kids.
  6. Predestination
    • Quick synopsis: A time-traveler working as a hired killer discovers astounding truths about his job and his life.
    • Keywords: time-travel, past, loop
    • Quick review: This movie came highly recommended by practically everyone I asked, but I have to admit it's not my cup of tea. After the first Whoa moment, it becomes predictable and even quite silly.
  7. Trainspotting
    • Quick synopsis: A group of friends become trapped in a life of drug abuse.
    • Keywords: drug addiction, relationships, Scottish
    • Quick review: No mind-bending here at all, but that freaking scene with the freaking baby kept me awake for days! Other than that, this is a great gritty film for those who'd like an edgier, less dramatic Requiem.
  8. Filth
    • Quick synopsis: A cop vies for promotion by acting alpha and sabotaging his contenders, but instead has to battle with his personal demons.
    • Keywords: asshole cop, mental, Scottish
    • Quick review: This movie starts out as a comedy and ends as a tragedy – or was that last shot still pretty funny? Let's just say it's a dark comedy that's actually really sad... I can't decide.
  9. Enter The Void
    • Quick synopsis: A man gets shot due to his involvement in drugs, and travels through the scenes of his life.
    • Keywords: drugs, first-person, tripping balls
    • Quick review: What? Another drug movie? I know, I know, but this isn't just another drug movie, I swear to you. I'd even go as far as saying it's probably one of the best drug films out there. The beautiful, trippy, first-person visual style alone makes this film, but I also love the debate it sparks about whether the protagonist [beeps] or not.
  10. The Lobster
    • Quick synopsis: In a world where unmarried humans must be turned into animals, a man tries to come to terms with his life and his impending transformation.
    • Keywords: loneliness, escape, absurdist cinema
    • Quick review: Welcome to the theater of the absurd, from where you leave with more questions than when you entered. Acclaimed movie, and I can see how it's supposed to be a comment on human society and alienation, but I can't be bothered with this genre, honestly.
  11. Under The Skin
    • Quick synopsis: An alien being masquerading as an attractive human female preys on human males for sustenance, but is also being hunted herself.
    • Keywords: alien, seduction, cat and mouse
    • Quick review: This movie see-saws between touching human moments and weird-ass WTF-is-going-on scenes. The weirdness wins in the end and makes you want to forget the whole thing.
  12. The Mist
    • Quick synopsis: When a mysterious and dangerous mist wraps a small town, a group of people trapped in a store face both unknown monsters and familiar enemies.
    • Keywords: society, survival, fanaticism
    • Quick review: Billed as a horror film, the true monsters in this movie aren’t those giant flesh-eating creatures but some utterly human traits – and that’s why it’s so much fun to watch those people trapped like bugs in a shaken glass globe. The austere atmosphere of the film is just perfect as well. The unforgiving ending, however, is what really messed me up and will scar even those who have read the book.
  13. A Scanner Darkly
    • Quick synopsis: A narcotics agent struggles to distinguish between his real life and his undercover life.
    • Keywords: drugs, undercover, rotoscope animation
    • Quick review: The animation style catches your attention, but the twisty plot keeps you tuned in until the tragic, if somewhat hopeful, ending.
  14. Memento
    • Quick synopsis: A man with limited memory relies on his tattoos and notes to search for the murderer of his wife.
    • Keywords: memory loss, tattoos, murder
    • Quick review: By now, this should be a classic revenge film. You can’t help but love the progression from “Who killed his wife?” to “Wait, no, don’t do that!”
  15. Looper
    • Quick synopsis: An assassin for a time-traveling mob faces a dilemma involving his older self.
    • Keywords: time travel, hired gun, consequences of actions
    • Quick review: A fun ride with just enough thinking required, this movie appeals to both the puzzle fan and the action fan in me.
  16. Inception
    • Quick synopsis: A group of thieves try to mess up a business tycoon’s mind through his multi-layered dreams.
    • Keywords: dreams, ideas, limbo
    • Quick review: Upon first viewing, this movie seems really, really complex, but the more you think and hear and talk about it, it becomes pretty straightforward. Thank you, endless internet articles. Nevertheless, the stunning visual effects and the unmistakable booming score make this a fun watch every time.
  17. Who Am I
    • Quick synopsis: When he becomes involved with an ambitious and mischievous hacker group, a gifted man tries to make a name for himself and get out of trouble.
    • Keywords: hackers, double life, German
    • Quick review: This is Mr. Robot and Now You See Me combined, dipped in a batter of teen-flick comedy and sprinkled with a dash of… erm, Fight Club? Not as amazing as it sounds.
  18. Fight Club
    • Quick synopsis: A plain insomniac meets a charismatic mischief-maker, and together, they lead an underground club of violence and destruction.
    • Keywords: insomnia, mayhem, soap
    • Quick review: I’m not supposed to talk about it.
  19. The Machinist
    • Quick synopsis: A sleepless industrial worker starts witnessing violent crimes and strange glitches around himself.
    • Keywords: identity, insomnia, mental state
    • Quick review: I am so tempted to compare this with one of the aforementioned movies, but that would be giving away too much. Just know that this one is a film of its own and a lot sadder.
  20. Se7en
    • Quick synopsis: Two detectives, a veteran and a rookie, try to catch a serial killer whose crimes are based on the seven deadly sins.
    • Keywords: detectives, serial killer, mystery box
    • Quick review: This whodunit is both sleek and graphic, with a cold atmosphere that chills to the bones, characters that are compellingly human, and a conclusion that’s just the perfect cherry on top.
  21. Zodiac
    • Quick synopsis: A newspaper artist tries to help the cops catch a serial killer who leaves puzzles as clues.
    • Keywords: serial killer, puzzles, cold case
    • Quick review: Like Se7en, this film’s chilling atmosphere is just pitch-perfect and its characters are interestingly flawed. The ending is less satisfying though.
  22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    • Quick synopsis: A mysterious monolith aids in the evolution of prehistoric animals, then fast, fast forward into the future and humans are now space tourists, then the spacecraft AI becomes evil, then… space baby? Um.
    • Keywords: space, intelligence, Open the pod door, HAL
    • Quick review: I’ve browsed multiple online forums and found no consensus as to what the fuck everyone just watched. Of course, you can say it’s open to interpretation, and my interpretation is that the whole thing is about the grand, grand development of intelligence (not just human), but please, no more of that terrifying score. T-T
  23. Interstellar
    • Quick synopsis: A former astronaut must get back on the job to examine a potentially habitable planet that’s eons away from Earth.
    • Keywords: space, family, Muuuuurph!
    • Quick review: Forgive me, but I don’t understand why this is more than just an Okay movie. It’s cool and interesting, yes, but the plot isn’t inventive, the visuals aren’t new, and everything else is usual Hollywood fare. The thing that really ticks me off about this movie is that it can’t seem to decide whether it’s a family drama, a sci-fi adventure, a metaphysical exploration, or a Space Odyssey-ish space theater piece. And it’s not even a smooth fusion of those – it’s a disjointed film and that’s just distracting.
  24. Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (Norte, The End Of History)
    • Quick synopsis: In this take on Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, a man gradually descends into madness after committing a crime.
    • Keywords: murder, insanity, long shots
    • Quick review: This film fucked me up real bad. Never mind that it’s four hours long. It’s the starkness of the crimes and their resulting insanity that excruciatingly drill through your skull. What’s more, you are unwittingly immersed in the whole thing because the film is full of lingering shots that force you to just look and listen. It’s definitely not a lazy, Sunday-afternoon watch.
  25. Lost In Translation
    • Quick synopsis: A young American woman living in Tokyo befriends a visiting American celebrity.
    • Keywords: tourist, loneliness, unlikely romance
    • Quick review: I expected a love story when I shouldn’t have. Despite the romantic tension between the two main characters, I was left waiting for a seal-the-deal declaration of love all the way to the very end (seriously, the ending doesn’t even let you hear what they’re saying). But upon re-watching, I came to enjoy the quiet aloneness of it – the soft, reflective moments amid Tokyo’s neon lights and karaoke nights. This is no romantic flick but a sweet little exploration of loneliness and the need for human connection in a big, big world.
  26. The Truman Show
    • Quick synopsis: A man is born and raised in a made-up world that is actually a TV show watched by millions.
    • Keywords: reality, show, reality show
    • Quick review: Apparently, this movie has made a lot of viewers think twice about the mirrors in their homes. :) Try to enjoy this as a comedy posing a huge “What if”, instead of a sad story of a guy whose entire life is wasted in a cage built by capitalist pigs and… oh, dammit, let’s move on.
  27. A Clockwork Orange
    • Quick synopsis: A young man leads his friends in committing ultra-violent crimes, until an unexpected night turns his life around.
    • Keywords: brutality, conformity, milk
    • Quick review: This film duly delivers the in-your-face brutality that it promises and retains the main moral of the book it is based on. I recommend turning on the subtitles to help with the unique “nadsat” language it uses.
  28. 1984
    • Quick synopsis: In a totalitarian dystopia, a government worker discovers a chance to join a hopeful rebellion. (Not Star Wars.)
    • Keywords: dystopia, surveillance, Big Brother
    • Quick review: I remember getting so angry and dejected when I first read the book and realized where it was going. Well, this movie is as close as it gets to how I imagined the scenes to be.
  29. Synecdoche, New York
    • Quick synopsis: An aging theater actor takes on a grand piece for his final production.
    • Keywords: theater, growing old, life
    • Quick review: You know it’s going to be out there when “life” is one of the keywords. This film is a maze that melds the protagonist’s real life with the life of his final theater character. Or maybe that theater character is really him and his final production is literally his life? What I know for sure is that this was confusing to watch and left me depressed.
  30. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
    • Quick synopsis: An aging theater actor takes on a grand piece for his final production. (Hey, this sounds familiar!)
    • Keywords: theater, dying, life
    • Quick review: The one thing that keeps this and Synecdoche, New York apart is the vastly different directorial styles. This film looks like it’s one big take, which makes it feel like a behind-the-scenes footage of actors preparing backstage before the show starts. And I think that’s the genius of it: it captures the crazy, frantic, hot mess of the backstage, yet that backstage is life itself (whoa).
  31. The Virgin Suicides
    • Quick synopsis: Five adolescent sisters grow up isolated by strict parenting, and are observed by the neighborhood boys.
    • Keywords: teenagers, strict parents, suicide
    • Quick review: Rose-tinted cinematography and languid, melancholic scenes somehow soften the subject of suicide(s) in this film, turning it from a shocking occurrence into a poignant and even thought-provoking episode.
  32. Melancholia
    • Quick synopsis: Two sisters try to cope with a major astronomical event that affects all life on Earth.
    • Keywords: depression, family, planet
    • Quick review: Aside from its somber premise, what really makes this film so deeply depressing is the sense of isolation, being trapped, and impending doom all throughout. A main character’s severe depression brings an incredible heaviness to the film, but it’s the visual style, tone, photography, and score combined that plunges you into a thick, murky void and doesn’t let go even after the movie is over. If you easily get sad, do not watch this film.
  33. American Beauty
    • Quick synopsis: A man takes a look at his life, the people around him, and their various desires.
    • Keywords: dad, family, teenager
    • Quick review: Take a family sitcom and add a hefty dose of angst and sarcasm, and you get this movie. There is, of course, the underlying exploration of beauty here, whatever the characters deem it to be – non-conformity, power, sensuality (even the gross, jailbait kind). Yet, for all its insightfulness and subtlety, this film feels a bit like it was Oscar-baiting – and was effective, apparently.
  34. Awake
    • Quick synopsis: As a heart surgery goes wrong for a wealthy young businessman, he discovers truths about the people close to him.
    • Keywords: surgery, doctor, money
    • Quick review: This movie has just the right tone, just the right exposition, just the right plot-twist, but something is off. Maybe it’s the supernatural stretch that the plot has to make, or the weird dynamics between the characters. Still, when justice is served towards the end, it’s rightfully satisfying.
  35. Cloud Atlas
    • Quick synopsis: Various personas live through different time periods, making decisions and actions that affect their futures.
    • Keywords: time periods, past and future, greater scheme of things
    • Quick review: This film is more art than sci-fi, more drama than mind-fuckery. It’s ambitious, it’s grand, and at times, it’s beautifully poignant. Tip for first-time viewers: try to take note of the actors and the characters they play in each time period.
  36. Donnie Darko
    • Quick synopsis: A teenager has to deal with family life and school while being plagued by hallucinations and inexplicable occurrences.
    • Keywords: teenager, imaginary friend, hallucination
    • Quick review: Know that there is no way to make sense of this movie without further reading (i.e. forums and director interviews). The plot seems disjointed, the hallucinations and inexplicable occurrences are mostly unexplained, and the ending just adds to the confusion. But fans insist this movie is genius and have written endless theories about it (some of which I’ve read and only made me shrug). Warning for those who have heart problems: this movie has several terrifying cuts.
  37. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    • Quick synopsis: Heartbroken from a previous relationship, a man goes through a procedure to have his memories of his ex-girlfriend erased.
    • Keywords: memory, heartbreak, power of love
    • Quick review: It’s easy to like a film with a fresh and interesting premise, and that’s what this romantic drama is built on. Add a couple of compelling (if somewhat one-dimensional) characters, and you have me glued.
  38. Black Swan
    • Quick synopsis: A ballet dancer pushes herself to deserve the lead role but is plagued by its effects on her psyche.
    • Keywords: competition, ballet, identity
    • Quick review: “Intense” is something I never thought I’d use to describe a film about ballerinas, but this one is just that. It’s a psychological exploration of the deep, dark side of one’s persona. Remember to come up for air throughout this movie.
  39. Mr. Nobody
    • Quick synopsis: A man experiences many different versions of his life with every decision he makes.
    • Keywords: parallel timelines, futures, decisions
    • Quick review: This would have been a straightforward film if not for its confusing exposition, jagged cuts, and chaotic characters. Now that it’s far from straightforward, it’s mind-bendingly good.
  40. Paprika
    • Quick synopsis: A therapist uses her skills in dreams to recover a stolen machine that is used to enter psychiatric patients’ minds.
    • Keywords: dreams, bizarre, animated
    • Quick review: Holy mother of mind-fuckery, this film is just so bizarre yet so interesting! The puzzle plot gets all the more complex because of the WTF scenes and imagery that will burn themselves onto your brain. Thanks, Japan.
  41. Nightcrawler
    • Quick synopsis: Sorry, this isn’t about the X-Men character -- but about something more psycho. A sociopathic self-made crime journalist blurs the line between being an observer and a participant in the incidents he covers.
    • Keywords: sociopath, crime, cameraman
    • Quick review: I have to mention the bone-chilling performance of the lead actor here, because that by itself makes this film. The movie may be a social commentary of sorts, but I prefer to look at it as a character study featuring a protagonist that may just be pure evil.
  42. The Jacket
    • Quick synopsis: A man is experimented on using a straightjacket, and gets visions of his future and his death.
    • Keywords: race against time, human experiment, asylum
    • Quick review: The heavy gloom and the dire conflict in this film somehow become a stark background to an unlikely romance between the main characters. Overall, though, it’s still a good running-out-of-time movie.
  43. The Ides of March
    • Quick synopsis: At the height of the elections campaigns, a staffer for a presidential candidate learns the ropes of dirty politics.
    • Keywords: politician, scandal, schemes
    • Quick review: Who knew politics could be so smartly delicious? There’s enough scheming in this movie to make Gossip Girl proud, but after watching, instead of feeling like you’ve lost several brain cells, you feel awed, revolted, and clever all at the same time.
  44. The Usual Suspects
    • Quick synopsis: Five longtime con-men get called in by the police regarding a seemingly simple case of truck hijacking.
    • Keywords: crime, alibi, Keyser Soze
    • Quick review: I just love how this movie piles on layer after layer as it progresses, and the plot twist here is a fun one. However, the movie didn’t leave a huge impression on me, mostly because -- call me shallow -- many of the scenes are visually bland. (Sorry! Gonna go hide in a corner now.)
  45. Wicker Park
    • Quick synopsis: A man is drawn to a woman whom he believes is his long-lost love.
    • Keywords: obsession, identities, flashbacks
    • Quick review: This is a psychological puzzle masquerading as a love story, or vice versa. Either way, it’s a unique take on the usual obsession plot.
  46. Los Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes)
    • Quick synopsis: A man unintentionally travels back in time and, finding himself doubled, sets out to fix the accident.
    • Keywords: time travel, horror, Spanish
    • Quick review: Here’s a sci-fi movie that has the smarts of Primer and the terrifying feel of a ‘90s slasher-horror flick. I liked its puzzles and paradoxes, but hated the unrealistic characters and cheesy cliches. Also, I watched it without any idea it would be scary, so PSA for those who are easily spooked: prepare someone to hide behind while watching this.
  47. Her
    • Quick synopsis: In a high-tech future, a man forms a bond with his female AI virtual companion.
    • Keywords: technology, loneliness, voice
    • Quick review: Poignant, thought-provoking, and incredibly sad. Worse, there are moments in this film that feel scarily relatable.
  48. Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare)
    • Quick synopsis: A man and a woman grow up together playing escalating dares, until a romance blossoms between them.
    • Keywords: childhood friends, poor girl rich boy, crazy dares
    • Quick review: This is such a cute and quirky love story… until you get to the end where they [beep] themselves in [beep]. That was the part that made me put this freaking film in this list.
  49. Damsels in Distress
    • Quick synopsis: A transfer student joins a sorority that aims to help other students but whose members are themselves problematic.
    • Keywords: sorority, clique, college
    • Quick review: I don’t understand. Is this movie supposed to be satire? A philosophical piece? A quirky comedy? I watched the whole thing and ended up lost. One undeniable gem, though, were the nuances between peers that were so deftly captured by the cast.
  50. Gone Girl
    • Quick synopsis: A man finds himself in the spotlight when his wife, a celebrated woman, goes missing.
    • Keywords: marriage, missing, murder (ah, those classic three Ms)
    • Quick review: Please stop arguing about feminism when discussing this movie because this isn’t a statement piece. It’s just a straight-up psychological thriller and when you watch it as just that, you’ll find that it’s a really, really good one. The cold, sharp vibe of the film is just as pitch-perfect as the lead character’s heartless maneuvers.
  51. The Departed
    • Quick synopsis: A cat-and-mouse chase between a cop and a mole takes them both through a series of complicated plans and counter-plans.
    • Keywords: undercover, betrayal, double lives
    • Quick review: This is a fast-paced crime thriller, but I couldn’t help but laugh out loud during certain scenes. The twists and turns here escalate almost to the point of being absurdly silly, and I think that’s what makes this hard-boiled film so entertaining.
  52. 12 Monkeys
    • Quick synopsis: A man must travel back in time to stop a group from spreading the virus that destroyed the world.
    • Keywords: time travel, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk
    • Quick review: The unreliable characters and the mental-cyberpunk kookiness of this movie add some complexity to the classic yet mind-bending plot.
  53. The Village
    • Quick synopsis: An idyllic yet isolated village gets disturbed by strange events among its members.
    • Keywords: seclusion, monsters, puritans
    • Quick review: While this film got so much flak, I loved the elegant eeriness of it and the unique dynamics among its characters. That plot twist impressed me so much as a kid, but now, I can understand why many dismiss it as farfetched or silly.
  54. Cashback
    • Quick synopsis: Unable to sleep after a breakup, a young man uses his extra time working the night shift at a store and immersing in the art of everyday things.
    • Keywords: insomnia, art, nudity
    • Quick review: You could forget this flick as just another slice-of-life piece, but let’s face it, you’ll remember this as “That Movie Where The Insomniac Sees A Lot Of Boobies”. I swear I tried to find a deeper meaning to the movie -- and I’m sure it has one -- but it ended up feeling pretentious to me.
  55. Now You See Me
    • Quick synopsis: A group of professional magicians delight their audiences by staging heists while being hunted by the authorities.
    • Keywords: magic, heists, The Eye
    • Quick review: If/when the plot twist in this movie becomes obvious to you, you can still enjoy it as a fun adventure/cat-and-mouse flick with enough tricks in the special effects department to keep you entertained.
  56. Slacker
    • Quick synopsis: None. The camera just roams around a city, switching perspectives now and then among the characters, which are mostly teenage misfits and yes, slackers.
    • Keywords: day in the life, dialogue, misfits
    • Quick review: If you feel utterly bored one afternoon and have absolutely nothing else to do, that’s the time I recommend to watch this movie. It has no plot whatsoever that I can make out -- it’s just a series of commonplace interactions among the characters. It relies a lot on dialogues, naturally, and while that seems even more boring, some of those dialogues are (slightly) interesting. Overall, I daresay this is a forgettable cult classic.
  57. Somewhere
    • Quick synopsis: An actor waddles through his career, personal life, and relationship with his young daughter.
    • Keywords: dad, daily life, boredom
    • Quick review: Here’s another film that makes you go “That was it?” after the first viewing. I guess you’re supposed to reflect on it, but all I got was a gracefully captured picture of ennui sprinkled with touching dad-and-daughter moments.
  58. Blue Valentine
    • Quick synopsis: After a passionate courtship, a young couple struggle with the hardships of family life.
    • Keywords: unplanned pregnancy, fading romance, reality bites
    • Quick review: A chick-flick that can make guys experience what a girl feels during her period: fatigued, restless, and depressed as duck. Emotional impact aside, there were several moments in this film that were so ridiculous, it got me angry. (Come to think of it, getting angry over trivial things is a menstrual staple, too.)
  59. Once
    • Quick synopsis: An immigrant and a busker form a romantic bond despite their difficult circumstances.
    • Keywords: musical, love, Irish
    • Quick review: This isn’t a typical romantic film and is in fact really sad, but it’s sweeter, gentler, and more affecting than most love stories out there. What drove me nuts, however, are the ending and that line that the female lead delivered in a foreign language without subtitles!
  60. The Spectacular Now
    • Quick synopsis: A carefree student breezes through high school but now have to face hard decisions involving his family, his girlfriend, and his future.
    • Keywords: teenager, coming-of-age, jerk
    • Quick review: The protagonist in this film is such an a-hole, it made me angry upon first viewing. But when I calmed down (after rage-eating a ton of fries), I appreciated it for being more realistic than idealistic. This coming-of-age story is frustrating only because the main character’s decisions are what a flawed person would likely choose in real life, too.
  61. Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) (Swedish version)
    • Quick synopsis: A journalist and a tattooed gifted hacker team up to solve a decades-old family mystery.
    • Keywords: murder, family, hacker
    • Quick review: This would have been another run-of-the-mill murder mystery if not for its unique and highly interesting anti-heroine. The mystery at the center of the plot becomes merely a venue to showcase her skills and her story. The movie even retains the strong feminist undertone of the book it was based on. However, like the book, you may want to read/watch the sequels to satisfy a few unanswered questions.
  62. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (US version)
    • Quick synopsis: (See above.)
    • Keywords: (See above.)
    • Quick review: A lot of people dislike this ‘remake’, but I think that’s only because it’s a ‘remake’. This English-language version actually delivers everything the Swedish did, but with a sleeker, more artistic style (as compared to its no-frills, straightforward Swedish counterpart).
  63. Hanna
    • Quick synopsis: A teenage girl raised in the wilderness uses her enhanced fighting skills to find her father and avenge her family.
    • Keywords: CIA, father, survival
    • Quick review: A well-acted heroine, an interesting premise, and a couple of stylized action sequences unfortunately can’t make this a good movie. Plus, that reveal towards the end just comes out of nowhere and yet is so cliched at this point that it doesn’t really impress you.
  64. Only Lovers Left Alive
    • Quick synopsis: A vampire couple takes on the modern world at a time when vampires must adapt or die.
    • Keywords: vampires, lovers, sister
    • Quick review: This is an off-kilter comedy with humor as coolly pale as its undead protagonists. It tries to charm you not with the supernatural aspect of its characters, but with their cultured rockstar vibe -- complete with electric guitars, wayfarers, book piles, and a trip to Morocco. That combination would have hooked me any other time, but I couldn’t get past this movie’s unconventional humor and tone.
  65. Exit Through The Gift Shop
    • Quick synopsis: Notorious street artist Banksy puts the spotlight on the making of another street art persona, Mr. Brainwash.
    • Keywords: street art, capitalism, documentary
    • Quick review: This documentary is so deliciously tongue-in-cheek that it made some wonder whether it is in fact a mockumentary. It’s a smart rant against the superficiality and hypocrisy in the street art scene and the art world in general, but for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out where that title came from.
  66. Spring Breakers
    • Quick synopsis: A group of young female friends commit a crime to fund their spring break, then get entangled with a gang of criminals.
    • Keywords: teenagers, party, runaways
    • Quick review: This is a movie of substance and not just an excuse to display bikini-clad girl criminals. (Repeat 500 times or until you convince yourself.)
  67. Safety Not Guaranteed
    • Quick synopsis: A girl agrees to be a man’s time-travel companion, despite suggestions that his experiment is only a crazy man’s fantasy.
    • Keywords: experiment, small town, comedy
    • Quick review: Not another time-travel movie! However, this one’s less sci-fi and more offbeat romcom. Critics love it, but for plebeian viewers like myself, satisfaction not guaranteed.
  68. Full Metal Jacket
    • Quick review: A group of soldiers undergo the brutal training and first-hand experience of the Vietnam War.
    • Keywords: war, violence, death
    • Quick synopsis: A war film, saturated. You get unrelenting violence (both physical and verbal), head-spinning chaos (thanks to the eccentric, disjointed directorial style), and underneath it all, a drama.
  69. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
    • Quick synopsis: Forced into a mental institution, a man leads the patients to fight the oppression they are subjected to.
    • Keywords: mental, friends, nurse
    • Quick review: This film is crazy, and not just because its characters are not quite right in the head, but also because of that eccentric plot that can make you laugh then cry.
  70. Femme Fatale
    • Quick synopsis: A con-woman is double-crossed by her companions, then later lives a different person’s life.
    • Keywords: erotic, heist, new life
    • Quick review: Honestly, this really looks like a sleazy, late-night cable movie, but at certain points, it did make me ask questions. I think there are only two types of people who might enjoy this: the ones who are hooked by the mystery in the plot, and the ones who are hooked by the lesbian action/strip dance/hate sex. Everyone can agree, though, that this film’s denouement is a bit too childish.
  71. Salt
    • Quick synopsis: A CIA agent runs after she is accused of being a Russian spy working to bring down the US government.
    • Keywords: spy, double agent, chase
    • Quick review: Though not exactly ‘intelligent’, this movie is actually more than tolerable and can somehow keep you seated. Of course, as this is a conspiracy movie, you don’t set your standards too high -- you take it with a grain of salt. (See what I did there? I’m brilliant, ha ha.)
  72. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
    • Quick synopsis: In a series of sketches, Monty Python explores, well, the meaning of life.
    • Keywords: comedy, philosophy, satire
    • Quick review: Monty Python movies are always WTF-funny, but this one has just a liiiiittle more WTF in it. I would have wanted a better wrap-up to all the sketches here, but that doesn’t take anything away from the excellent satire and the attempts at philosophy.
  73. Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There)
    • Quick synopsis: A young man who refuses to speak deals with his romantic interest, his family life, and his past.
    • Keywords: music, trauma, manic pixie dream girl
    • Quick review: As a Filipino film, this can easily come off as pretentious (English-speaking characters at risk of sounding konyo) and hipster (obscure vinyls, obscure art, vintage everything). Don’t watch this for a plot twist, either, because that thing is obvious from the get-go. But get past the debatable initial impression and you’ll find a sweet, affecting story of self-discovery and healing. If not, just enjoy the film for its high aesthetic value. And if that also fails, you can still steal this brilliantly cheesy line: “You like your boys the way you like your comics: Lots of issues.”

Some of these directors in a nutshell:
  • David Fincher for cold, atmospheric crime films
  • Christopher Nolan for mind-bending puzzles
  • Sofia Coppola for soft, ennui-filled, yet poignant slices of life
  • Darren Aronofsky for intense explorations of the psyche
  • Stanley Kubrick for non-apologetic, in-your-face, eccentric WTFs
  • Harmony Korine for nonsense bullshit that insists it isn’t
  • M. Night Shyamalan for plot twists you either love or hate
Some of these actors and actresses and their staple roles in a nutshell:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal for intense, damaged roles that make you worry for him irl
  • Leonardo DiCaprio for solving puzzles
  • Kirsten Dunst for depressing, nihilistic non-heroines
  • Jared Leto for damaged characters with a sensitive side
  • Christian Bale for protagonists that get fucked over but try their bestest to survive

There you go, my little list of mind-fuckery. Again, recommendations and comments are totally welcome. It's nice to mess up our heads together sometimes. :)


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