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The Ten Best Movies About Insanity

Insanity is a common subject in film, and can be difficult to address clearly. Insane persons have a very unique and twisted worldview, and a director would need to know a lot about the subject to portray that view accurately. The following list is the ten films which, in my opinion, deal with the subject best. Note that there are dozens of others that could’ve made the list, and if you’d like to name some please leave a comment below.

10: The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining addresses insanity as a product of alcohol, and it is the only film on this list to do so. The book by Stephen King addresses it in a much clearer, more startling manner, but there is no denying Kubrick’s glorious cinematography and creepy vibes are just as effective. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career as the mentally unhinged Jack Torrance, whose alcohol addiction and short temper invite the demonic forces of the Overlook Hotel into his head, and convince him to kill his family. Still as haunting as ever over thirty years after its initial release, The Shining remains a film which is a study more on things that lead to insanity, than insanity itself.

9: Rejected (2000)

Rejected, in case you have not seen it or even heard of it, is a 9-minute short film directed by Don Hertzfeldt detailing an animator’s descent into insanity through his short cartoons, which increasingly grow more disturbing and disgusting. I completely love the change of pace in this movie. The first few minutes are absolutely hilarious and completely random, but as the film goes on we begin to realize how sick and saddening it really is. The film’s visceral conclusion is poetically brilliant, an amazing representation of mental instability finally kicking into overdrive. The film isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a watch:

8: Inland Empire (2006)

Even if you’ve seen this, which surprisingly few people I know have, you wouldn’t expect to see it on the list. Sure, it’s easy to label any of David Lynch’s movies “insane” but you’d expect to see Mulholland Dr. on a list of insane movies, not Inland Empire, right? Well after hours and days of studying the film, I’ve determined that it has a much more effective and memorable stance on insanity than its more well-known predecessor. It’s about a woman, an actress (Laura Dern) who sinks into the role of a boozed ex-prostitute reflecting on her demented past with a spiteful attitude yet with no particular impulse to change. I’ve always thought it’s one of the best movies ever made (except for the whole DV-shooting thing, which I still don’t get), and I’m probably one of very few people who think that, but the reason it’s so difficult to understand is because insanity is difficult to understand. Lynch goes straight for the gut, heaving disturbing images at us and forcing us to confront them. I’m praying for the day when he makes another film, but if he doesn’t, this would be a fitting conclusion.

7: Citizen Kane (1941)

While labeling any one film ‘the greatest movie of all time’ is an incredible overstatement (though Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog comes closest), one can’t deny that Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is pretty damn close. He plays the eponymous Kane, the ruthless patriarch of a newspaper empire (a character based on William Randolph Hearst, but who seems eerily similar to the Rupert Murdoch of today) whose greed and power are ultimately his downfall. In the end, as we all know, he dies, and on his deathbed all the regrets of his life flash before his eyes in an instant, and all he wishes for is the simplicity of his childhood (*wipes tear*). I don’t believe Kane was really insane, but for a few, fleeting, manic moments we see insanity in his eyes, in his attitude, and for Welles to display that so calmly, so cooly, is the artwork of a cinematic God itself.

6: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Werner Herzog’s astonishing breakthrough is one of many tales of maniacality fuelled by greed. Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) at first accepts his place as a secondary character before suddenly, shockingly and mercilessly usurping the position of leader. He leads his men on a lethal journey into the jungle in search of the mythological city of El Dorado, a place as incredibly difficult to find as any logic or reason in the film’s protagonist: very difficult. He’ll let his men die so long as he gets to his destination, and as they are ruthlessly picked off by natives and eaten by monkeys, he stands triumphantly, as if their rotting corpses are the fruits of his discoveries, the gold of El Dorado, and as if the long trek into the jungle will last forever, until ultimately his own life is taken by his second-hand desires and unstable tendencies.

5: American Psycho (2000)

Can you remember the expression on your face when Patrick Bateman said, “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” Or how about: “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!” Or most memorably: “It’s even got a watermark!” They’re all lines representing the typicality and tiredness of his insanity, how it is so fully developed and fleshed out that it is not his soul that has been taken over, but his entire physical form. There is not one iota of sanity from Bateman in the entire film; strange, since usually all films about insanity have at least one moment when the insane protagonist looks momentarily normal. This is the beauty of Mary Harron’s representation of the character. He is insane to the point where acting sane would be insane, to him. This is very difficult to represent on screen, but Harron does it with ease, style, and a helpful handful of pop culture references. Bale embodies Bateman, to the point where it is difficult not to be reminded of Bateman every time we see him. Bateman is one of those characters that was probably always insane, but what makes it especially shocking is how physically similar he is to the film’s other characters, which suggests subtly that his insanity is normal, that he is not alone, and that it is typical of the rough, threatening shark-in-a-suit attitude which has become so stereotypical.

4: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Randal Patrick McMurphy is not insane. He is as normal as apple pie or cinnamon buns, and there is no reason for us to think any different? So why is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on this list? Because this is a list of films about insanity; dealing with it as a subject, not necessarily as characterisation. McMurphy is isolated in a world of supposedly crazy (“Creeps! Lunatics! Mental Defectives!”) people, but as the film passes by, we realize how we have completely overestimated the meaning of the word insane. Insanity does not necessarily mean dropping a chainsaw from fifty feet and hitting a prostitute splat on the head (see #5), it can mean something as simple as basic paranoia or just thinking in a different manner to what we would consider ‘normal.’ Insane is a stupid word. Literally, it would mean ‘the opposite of sane,’ but what is sane? Normal? What is normal? How can you factually define these words without using opinion? There is no way. Definition is supposedly fact, but opinion is a part of almost everything we say and mean, rendering the words ‘insane’ or ‘sane’ moot. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals with insanity as normality, determined by a group of probing doctors and physicians, taking notes and giving pills that have no effect other than to render the person in an almost catatonic state of ignorance. The film screams out against the system of imprisonment and the definition of insanity, and this is how it is a film which deals with the subject.

3: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Sure, milkshake metaphors and bowling-pin beatings warrant us to issue an insanity warning, but the film is so much deeper than that. Daniel Plainview, like Charles Foster Kane and Don Lope de Aguirre, is driven by greed. At first he is represented as a normal man, but his descent into insanity is shocking and unnerving. While not the best film to deal with the subject, it is definitely one of the most effective. Paul Thomas Anderson confidently directs his masterpiece, and Robert Elswit’s Oscar-winning cinematography perfectly captures the madness in his mind. The film’s harrowing final half hour is a poetically stunning final message about greed and insanity. I think it is brilliant that Anderson can so amazingly capture that insanity in 30 minutes, let alone two and a half hours. The final confrontation between religious faith and atheistic disbelief is like God and Satan bickering, except this time Satan wins. Seeing Plainview in a ragged, drunken state in the film’s finale, screaming lines like “DRAAIIIINNNNAAGGEEE!” and “I told you I would eat you!” is the embodiment of a loss of soul, dignity and care. At this point, it’s not even about his greed for oil anymore. All he wants now is to hate, to kill. Compassion takes effort, and he is lazy. Looking into Plainview’s maniacal eyes we realize that anything that is not hate and selfishness will never exist in there, and it is a sombre and haunting moment indeed. Gordon Gekko once said “Greed is good.” He was NOT referring to Daniel Plainview.

2: Taxi Driver (1976)

Some would argue that Travis Bickle’s attitude was not insanity, but just tiredness. Then again, would you go and do what he did? No, you wouldn’t. Most would consider it sane not to go to such drastic measures, am I correct? Then that means what Bickle did was, by public definition, insane. But this is no time for argument. The image of Bickle with his fingers pointed at his head (“Boom! Boom! Boom!”) is him at the height of his insanity, breaking through all walls to rid his city of scum. The path to insanity is paved by Scorsese slowly, as an eventual downward spiral. This seems to be the most common way to track insanity (see #10, #9, #7, #6 and #3 on this list), and it works. Bickle’s character is a man we can all relate to; many of us can easily see ourselves doing what he does, but most of us just don’t have the insanity and conviction in our heads to actually proceed with the acts. Sure, if you saw a sadistic madman like Sport (Harvey Keitel) pimping and abusing the underage Iris (Jodie Foster), you’d want to do something, you’d want to stop it, right? Well this is where Bickle differs from everyone else; he actually does something, and it quite something indeed. He doesn’t report him to the police, he just goes right ahead and kills him because that is his mindset, the wasy he thinks, and what he considers the rational thing to do. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

1: The Hour of the Wolf (1968)

I don’t think there’s a single person who would ever read this article who will agree with me on #1. I am bracing myself for the “Hey, how can you put that ahead of Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver?” Well, as we all know, lists like these are opinionated so this is simply my opinion. Ingmar Bergman’s delve into the realm of horror film proved deeply influential (watch it back to back with Scorsese’s Shutter Island and you’ll see what I mean) and starkly terrifying. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann (Bergman’s two most talented collaborators, if I may say so) are a married couple living on an island whose lives are changed by the island’s strange inhabitants. They draw in von Sydow, humiliate him, trick him, and convince him he is losing his sanity. As the film goes on, this is exactly what happens. Any film can track an eventual loss of sanity, but Bergman punctuates it with a mixture of both subtle scenes of sanity loss and outright obvious moments of von Sydow losing it. The film is sporadic and shocking, unpredictable and unforgettable, and portrays the subject of insanity in a manner that is impossible to replicate, making the film not only powerful but unique and special, impossible to remake, fun to homage and incredible to watch.

Well, that’s my list. Anything you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

1910-2010: The Best Movie of Each Decade

Each decade has produced some fantastic films, and picking the one best film from each of those ten years is a difficult choice. However, I’m going to voice my opinion, and make an attempt.

The 1910s: Intolerance (1916)

After the disaster that was Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith repented for its racist overtones with this blockbuster hit, one of the first ‘epics’ of all time, and towering overtop any other effort of the era.

1920s: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

A 16-minute masterpiece of surreal, deep, imaginative imagery, headlined with a nonsensical title and opened with a striking image of a woman’s eye cut open by a razor, Luis Bunuel’s debut motion picture is probably his best, and easily the highlight of the decade, whether you think you understand it or not.

1930s: M (1931)

Fritz Lang’s follow-up to the monstrously awesome Metropolis is the even better (in fact, fantastic) thriller about vigilante justice and the crazed mind of a serial killer, played with perfect unease by Peter Lorre. Who can forget his fantastic final monologue, and even more difficult to dismiss is the fantastic scenes that lead up to it. A masterpiece, and probably the best movie of the first 50 years of the 1900s.

1940s: Citizen Kane (1941)

Okay, this decade was easy to pick. Proclaimed by many including AFI to be the best movie ever made, that statement is not far from the truth. And when you consider that it was made by new-to-cinema Orson Welles in his twenties, it makes its presence all the more surprising and mighty. It towers over all of cinema with a formidable presence.

1950s: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Filled with quotable lines, memorable scenes, fantastic cinematography and stunning acting, Billy Wilder’s masterpiece is one awesome movie, full of everything a decent Hollywood film should have. A “parody” of Hollywood life and existence (reflected later in Altman’s The Player, among others), it’s brilliant to watch and marvellous to behold.

1960s: Persona (1966)

Better than any Hollywood movie of the era (many of which were the dawn of exploitation), the exploitative enough Swedish film from Ingmar Bergman contains a lot of strange, deeply rich imagery (reminiscent at times of the Bunuel selection on this list), a strong plot, decent acting performances, beautiful monologues and fantastic filming techniques.

1970s: Network (1976)

Although the best film of the 1970s is probably The Godfather, I think that’s a little too obvious, so I’m going to settle for the runner up, which is equally as good (if not better?). A thought-provoking analysis of the television industry whose revelations about the truth of the newsroom are as relative today (if not moreso) than they were thirty-five years ago.

1980s: Fanny and Alexander (1982)

While the 80s were a decade that provided a difficult choice, I find myself falling back on Bergman again with this epic masterpiece that spans one year into three magnificent hours filled with glorious imagery and some of the best cinematography ever filmed (thank you, Sven Nykvist), as well as a compelling, classic tale. The perfect way to end Bergman’s career in feature films.

1990s: Goodfellas (1990)

This decade is possibly the hardest one to pick. While I admit it isn’t exactly my favourite movie of the ten years, but it’s certainly the most deserving and socially accepting. Scorsese deserves an Oscar which he was cruelly robbed of for this excellent, compelling gangster tale which is probably the best of its time, inspiring a legion of others and confirming Scorsese as a force to be reckoned with.

2000s: There Will Be Blood (2007)

I’ve already written that this is my favourite film of the recent decade, and I stand by that statement. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant, giving an amazing performance as charismatic, narcissistic oil man Daniel Plainview whose control and hatred for humanity overcomes him in a spectacular Paul Thomas Anderson hit, which is nowhere near as recognized as it should be.

Leave a comment below with what you thought of my choices, and tell me what your favourite movies of the decade/s are.

Thanks for reading.

Ten Movies That Define Me

The following list is ten movies that ‘define me.’ These are movies that changed the way I looked at cinema, and helped to craft my perspective on film in general. These are not necessarily my Top Ten favourite films, but one or two from that ten will be present.

In no particular order:

There Will Be Blood

From the moment I first saw Daniel Day-Lewis in In The Name of the Father, I knew I was looking at one talented man. Then I saw this movie, and I was blown away. This is one of the few movies that actually caused my jaw to drop at its aching perfectness. A masterpiece.

Citizen Kane

Proclaimed repetitively the best movie of all time, Citizen Kane may not be that, but it is breathtaking in its painfully honest portrayal of greed and heartlessness, the carelessness and ignorance of the human soul. It was the first film ever to touch upon issues such as this in the manner which it did, and coming from a twenty-something man, that was something rare indeed.

A Serious Man

Admittedly not my favourite Coen brothers movie, A Serious Man is nevertheless a vitally important reason why they are so great. Though I’m not a Jew, this movie spoke to my inner emotions and frustrations. I think of myself as a very different man to Larry Gopnik, though his distraught plight and repressed dislike of his own selfish situation is brutally honest and without mercy.

Dancer in the Dark

From its unique opening of various collaborations of beautiful art pieces as a fantastic score plays in the opening, to the depressing ending which I’m not ashamed to say is the ONLY film ending that has ever made me cry, Lars von Trier’s dogme-influenced musical masterpiece is a unique event that manages to capture something more than a camera could convey.

Magnolia

You probably know that this is my favourite film of all time. It’s an achingly hard decision to make, but all things considered, I’ve NEVER felt the way I felt while watching this movie. Every single tiny aspect of the way it was made was life-changing for me, and helped to confirm the suspicion that I was destined to watch and love movies.

Persona

A lot of movies have changed the way I look at films, but Persona changed the way I looked at “cinema.” There is a difference. Bergman reminds us we’re watching a film, and the film itself features some stunning acting and breathtaking cinematography, all thanks to Bergman, Sven Nykvist, Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson, as well as everyone else involved. No one had the brains of Bergman, and it’s due to his creative vision that films are made like they are today.

Eyes Wide Shut

An often ignored and hated Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut is actually a feast for the senses, and contains important messages about society, living, marriage, jealousy, hatred and discovery. Whether its Nicole Kidman’s brilliant (no, fantastic) adulterous monologue or Gyorgy Ligeti’s creepy piano theme whose notes play with a striking tune like a slap in the face, this slow-paced masterpiece which seems to go nowhere is actually a film to be re-examined and thought about.

Mulholland Dr.

Lynch’s most famous and probably his best film, this strangely scary and atmospherically surreal 150-minute masterwork is a strange, puzzling riddle with disturbing thematic echoes of the heartless mouth of Hollywood, rejection, sexuality and emotion. It’s a real ride.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Often mistakenly filed away as ‘long’ and ‘boring,’ Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi is in reality a beautiful analysis of human evolution, the creation and existence of life, and possibilities for the daunting spectre of the future, as well as alien existence and extraterrestrial intelligence. Embrace your inner Star Child.

Paths of Glory

If I had to pick a war movie that ‘defined me,’ I would scan through all the possibilites, but they all lead to Paths of Glory. It is a moving, determined and no holds barred awesomely truthful analysis of war and the tumultuous toll it has on its survivors, as well as the people who watch and run it all. Very powerful.

There you go. Ten Movies that Define Me. Some interesting picks there, I’m sure you’re thinking. Please, leave a comment with your thoughts and tell me what your ‘defining’ movies are.

Thanks for reading.

The Checklist: Movies I Must See

 

Let’s get a couple of things straight: I am a movie fanatic. I love movies. If ever there were movie lovers, I would make the list by a mile. But alas, I have not been a movie lover my whole life. It was only at the end of 2009, I decided to make a New Years resolution: get more into movies. And so, over the course of 2010, I scoured through all the shortlists of great movies and tried to knock off as many as I could. Of the famous 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I have seen 193 movies, and counting. When I first purchased the book at the beginning of 2010, I’d only seen 51. I was not experienced with movies, they’d never really interested me. But when I delved into the complex and invigorating wonderland that is film, I fell in love with it. Now more than a year later, I am a fanatic. Every day I watch two movies, minimum, and 80% of the time they are movies I’ve never seen before. I have a Hell of a time checking all those movies off my must-see list and I believe I’ve only ever seen around 600-700 movies in my entire lifetime. Not many. I keep a regular log of the movies I watch, and always write reviews of at least three or four sentences. I give the films a rating on a scale of one to ten, and there are only about 25 movies I’ve ever rated ten. I’m relatively young, too, so I have my whole life ahead of me to complete the difficult challenge of becoming a true movie know-it-all. This is my goal. Before 2010, I barely ever went to the theatre. Now I go at least two or three times a month, wisely choosing which I view. Though it’s healthy to watch a substantial amount of rubbish movies (to help you better appreciate the definition of a good movie), I tend to stick more to classics and more well-received movies.

I have a Top 10o Movies List, ranking my favourite one hundred movies, and I intend to post the list to my blog soon enough. Until then, I will keep watching the movies, reviewing and letting my opinion be heard. Here’s a checklist of movies I really want to see, and I will gradually check each one off.

In random order:

The Seventh Seal

The Third Man

Come and See

Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi

Gone With the Wind

It’s A Wonderful Life

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Citizen Kane

Wild Strawberries

Cinema Paradiso

Singin’ In The Rain

Braveheart

Metropolis

Oldboy

Ran

Judgment at Nuremberg

Platoon

Any of the films of Federico Fellini, but particularly La Strada and 8 1/2

Any of the films of Woody Allen (I’ve only seen Annie Hall, gasp!)

Intolerance

Greed

The King of Comedy

Mean Streets

The Godfather: Part III

Rosemary’s Baby (well, not necessarily this, but anything by Polanski)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Spartacus (the only Kubrick I haven’t seen!)

The Straight Story (the only Lynch I haven’t seen!)

Any popular sport movie that does not star Rosie O’Donnell

Carlito’s Way

All About My Mother

The Decalogue

Any movie that lasts longer than 3 hours (I’m a freak for excessively long movies!)

Nashville

On The Waterfront

Any of the great, surreal cinematic masterpieces of the 1920s or 1960s, the two most eventful periods for film development.

That one with that guy who was in that movie that was out last year?

So I think, off the top of my head, that’s basically the list. Please, tell me in the comments what you think of these movies if you’ve seen any of them. I know I’ll get around to watching them all eventually. Did you like them? Did you hate them? Inform me, and when I check them off, I’ll be sure to write a review. BTW, if I had to place one of these at the top of the list of must-sees, it would be Nashville. I’m a complete Altman whore.

Thanks for reading.