Any year that features a new movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky is sure to be a banner year in cinematic weirdness, and 2014 certainly qualifies. It was also a banner year for the British Isles, which gave us four weird movies (three made by Englishmen and one by an Irishman, with one set entirely in Scotland and one in England in the 17th century). France chipped in two surreal movies, while Spain, Chile and Canada gave us one apiece. An Israeli director helmed the last weird movie. For the first time since we’ve been keeping this yearly list, no American movie made the list, although big name Hollywood actors— Robin Wright, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Fassbender—did dominate the slate, giving a false impression that the state of American strangeness is better than it actually is. In reality, in 2104 domestic producers shied away from surreality. In short, gentlemen, I am afraid we have a weirdness gap. America needs to start weirding it up once more, so we can return to being the weirdest nation on Earth (with apologies to the Japanese, who remain the weirdest populace on a per capita basis).
Besides the invasion of foreign surreality, the other big weird story of the year was the sudden increase in doppelganger sightings. These rare creatures inexplicably showed up in two of the year’s weirdest movies, as well as in three lesser films (+1, Coherence and The One I Love).
Besides the invasion of foreign surreality, the other big weird story of the year was the sudden increase in doppelganger sightings… oh wait.
Without further ado, here is our list of the ten weirdest movies of 2014, presented, as always, in random order—the weirdest of orders.
9. Under the Skin – Scarlett Johansson stars (and, yes, disrobes) as an alien sent to Scotland to pick up lonely men and take them to her loft, where she sinks them into a pit of black goo for reasons only space aliens understand (makes as much sense as anal probes, at least). She (it) gradually, and reluctantly, learns what it means to be human. In April commented “the action moves slowly, but is filled with wonderfully bizarre imagery and powerful space-y scoundscapes” and said it was “easily among the best of 2014, and may well turn out to be the weirdest.” It certainly does end the year among both the best and the weirdest.
10. Witching & Bitching [Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi] – Alex de la Iglesia must have been drinking henbane infusion when he came up with the plot to this battle-of-the-sexes allegory pitting on-the-lam bank robbers against a coven of witches. A golden Jesus totes a shotgun, a punk witch humps a broomstick while drizzling herself with toad’s blood, and the Goddess herself shows up for the finale, looking a little bloated. Forget the horrible English-language title. This is the movie From Dusk Till Dawn wants to be when it grows up: wall-to-wall frenzy, without the smug egos.
5. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani follow up their erotic giallo Amer with this even more stylized and surreal tribute to murder, Eurotrash style. explains that ‘[w]ith its influx of surreal imagery, bizarre plot twists, aggressive soundscapes, and grunge-decadence sets, the weirdness of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is not in question” but also demurs that “its weirdness doesn’t quite compensate for the dragged-out pace, irrelevant script, and unnecessary repetition.” Nonetheless, Tears was a runner-up (by the thinnest of margins) in our latest reader’s choice poll, and will get serious consideration to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.
7. The Congress – It starts out as a live-action Hollywood satire when Robin Wright, playing an actress of a certain age, agrees to be digitally scanned so her beauty can be preserved for the ages (for the studio’s benefit). Things take a strange turn in the end when reality turns virtual in a psychedelic, animated final act. said that “underneath the bitter satire and trippy visuals, The Congress is ultimately about identity, and how it becomes another commodity to be bartered,” while added that it’s “definitely weird, distinguished by its ever-fluctuating landscape and psychedelic colors, populated by people who are limited only by the reach of their imaginations.”
8. Frank – As much as I enjoyed Frank, as I was leaving the theater I was wondering if it could make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies based solely on Michael Fassbender’s performance inside a giant fake head. Then a wide-eyed stranger accosted me with the observation, “that was one frickin’ strange movie.” (Yes, he actually said “frickin’”). That unsolicited endorsement of the film’s oddness, from a man who was obviously open-minded enough give a movie about a musician inside a giant fake head a chance in the first place, is enough for us to give Frank consideration for the List.
3. The Double – A timid clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) named Simon James finds his vocational and romantic opportunities are being seized by a confident co-worker named James Simon, who looks exactly like him. Based on Dostovevsky, but the mood of this unsettling existential black comedy is much closer to Kafka (with plenty of nods to Brazil). The dystopia feels familiar, but hauntingly so. I’m not ashamed to make the obvious joke: this would make a great “double feature” with Enemy. This Certified Weird bizarro classic was good enough to make #10 on my mainstream top 10 list.
1. Enemy – My vote for #1 weird movie of 2014 goes to Denis Villeneuve‘s fascinatingly obscure psychological doppelganger movie. A history professor becomes obsessed with finding a man who appears to be his exact double. is excellent in both roles, and two-time Certified Weird director Denis Villeneuve creates a sense of existential dread that rivals David Lynch (or fellow Canadian ). The mysterious ending has already fueled a minor interpretation industry. (I suspect it’s all ultimately about Anthony’s fear of fatherhood). Underrated by most critics, this also made #5 on my “mainstream” list.
6. A Field in England – It’s a historical drama about four deserters from the British army during the English Civil War searching for buried treasure. It’s a drug trip movie. A Field in England is both. called it “a grimy, trippy gonzo costume adventure, one of the least heroic and most eccentric swashbuckler narratives I’ve been privy to.” You’ll call it damn weird.
2. The Dance of Reality – Alejandro Jodorowsky begins his imaginary autobiography with a bare-knuckle boxing match against an effeminate circus clown dressed as a carrot, a father who’s the spitting image of Joseph Stalin, and a mother who only communicates through operatic singing, and it only gets stranger from there. Jodorowsky’s unexpected late-season movie has all of the weirdness and occult spirituality of his cult hits El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, but there’s something different, too. He’s lightened up in his old age, and now brings a consistent sense of humor and playfulness to cinema. If this is the 85-year old director’s last film, it’s a beautiful swan song that sits comfortably alongside his best work. Certified Weird, of course, and also made #9 on my overall movie list of 2014. Jodoworsky’s return to filmmaking was shamefully overlooked by the mainstream press, who preferred to mention his new movie only as a footnote to their discussion of the Jodo-centric Dune documentary. The majority of film fans are more comfortable with movies about Jodo than ones by him; he is more admired in theory than in reality. Not so with us.
4. Mood Indigo – brings us the most insanely overstuffed movie of 2014. Pianococktails! A man who’s literally addicted to the writings of “Jean-Sol Partre”! Water lilies that take root in newlywed’s lungs! A doorbell that scuttles around like a beetle! About a third of the movie is either stop-motion animated or undercranked. It’s an adaptation of Boris Vian’s surrealist novel “L’Écume des jours” (“Froth of the Daydream”), and unless you have a high tolerance for whimsical surrealistic excess, you may find yourself overstimulated before the opening credits are finished.