Merriam-Webster anointed “surreal” the “Word of the Year” for 2016, so maybe the film world was just capitalizing on the zeitgeist when movies about a hotel prison for single people, a farting corpse, and an underage model devoured by the beautiful people all got major exposure on cinema screens this year. Old hands like and were joined by a promising crop of (often bloody) new blood: “ ,” , and Anna Biller. Pregnant druggies, greasy stranglers, and hooty-tooty disco cuties paraded across screens, while castaways rode corpses to freedom and Muppets assisted at the birth of Satanic alien spawn.
We had no problem filling out our list of ten weird ones for you to check out, and that’s not even counting the revival of 1973’s Belladonna of Sadness, the softcore psychedelic witchcraft rape-revenge anime that was so unseen it basically could count as a new release in 2016. We’re also leaving off a trio of features seen only at film festivals: the Polish mermaid musical The Lure; Psychonauts: The Forgotten Children, the feature-length expansion of the hit Spanish short film “Birdboy“; and She’s Allergic to Cats, the underground/avant-garde romantic comedy filled with grimy video art montages exploring the struggles of an L.A. dog groomer who wants to make a version of Carrie starring cats. (Plus the dialogue-free pharmaceutical horror [?] Atmo HorroX which, while not a favorite, beat everything in 2016 in terms of sheer weirdness). Any of those films would have made the list had they received actual distribution; hopefully, all of them will show up on next year’s list.
As for the choice of movies, I personally pick them using a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the level of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I rank them in whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that. As always, we list the films in random order—the weirdest of orders.
9. The Brand New Testament: God is alive and living in Brussels, and he’s a jerk. His 10-year old daughter hacks his computer and leaks humanity’s death dates, then goes to Earth to write a new Gospel. Literate and genially blasphemous comedy with bizarre touches, like Catherine Deneuve sleeping with a gorilla. Also #6 on our 2016 mainstream movie list, which should tell you that it’s quality exceeds its weirdness. Director Weirdest Movies of All Time.
1. The Lobster – Certified Weird! Dogtooth‘s strikes weird gold again with this utterly absurd parable about a future dystopia where being single is a crime. Those caught without a partner are shipped to a hotel where they either find their match or are transformed into an animal of their choosing; in their spare time, they hunt the bachelors and bachelorettes hiding out in the woods. An impressive lineup of ,
2. Swiss Army Man – Certified Weird! Universally known as the “ farting corpse movie,” Swiss Army Man came out of nowhere to stun unprepared viewers at the Sundance Film Festival and earn a theatrical release courtesy of daring distributors A24. The first feature film of music video directors “Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) stars Paul Dano as a suicidal castaway who re-learns the art of being human thanks to a very useful dead body that comes back to a semblance of life. As the song goes, “Rescued, I thought I was rescued/But you’re just a dead dude…” If that’s not enough, there’s a powerful homoerotic chemistry between the man and his new dead best friend. opined that “perhaps the weirdest thing of all is the film’s complete sincerity, which despite all its high-concept groundwork makes its audience care deeply about its central characters.”
10. The Love Witch – A California witch who casts magic spells to seek out her true love finds that her lovers keep dying in this tribute to 1960’s Technicolor spectacles. Samantha Robinson is enchanting, and this mixture of period camp melodrama, perverse witchcraft rites that could have been lifted from a overall top 10 of 2016 list. Is it weird, or just amazingly unique? Any movie where a witch kills her lover with passion (and a draught of belladonna) then leaves him a tribute of a used tampon in a jar of urine is playing by a different set of rules, that’s for sure. It won’t win mainstream awards, but director Anna Biller received a gratifying level of critical praise for this campy feminist statement dressed in Satanic sexploitation robes.
5. The Neon Demon – An ethereally beautiful 16-year old girl travels to Los Angeles to become a model; she’s an immediate hit, but not everyone in town wishes her success. Nicholas Winding Refn’s slow, surreal and saturated take on the horror genre makes for a beautiful movie, the kind you want to show off to friends, but the “Hollywood feeds on beauty” message is too shallow to commit to. Beauty isn’t the only thing, but it does count for a lot. Watch for the Illuminati catwalk, eyeball-eating, a scumbag Keanu Reeves, and a scene in a morgue that sent more than one sensitive soul rushing for the exit. Obviously intended as ‘s breakthrough “adult” role, although and the cinematography steal the show. Elle will have other chances.
7. High-Rise – Residents of a self-sufficient high-rise tower descend into anarchy when power outages and food shortages spark class warfare between the ground floor proles and the penthouse dwellers. Adapted from 1975 satirical novel. If you can buy into screenwriter Amy Jump and director ‘s bold choices—setting the movie in the swinging 1970s, stylized montages, deliberately disorienting editing, surreal excessive bacchanalias—it pays off big. Ballard fan called it “an extremely faithful—and blackly funny—adaptation” of the novel.
8. Antibirth – A hard living party-girl finds herself pregnant, without remembering how. A druggy update of Rosemary’s Baby with a bit of surrealism and body horror thrown in. is good, though not likeable, as the aging party girl inflicted with a fetal virus. We first met director Danny Perez with 2010’s Oddsac, the psychedelic, feature-length “visual album” for freak-folkers Animal Collective. It’s something of a surprise that he had to wait six years before giving birth to his first feature; hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long for his next. The Muppet birthing center is a highlight.
4. Eisenstein in Guanajuato – Certified weird! Imaginary biopic in which famous and flamboyant Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein gives in to his repressed homosexual urges while in Mexico to shoot a film. directs like he’s been possessed by the spirit of , who’s now obsessed with split screens and desperate to come out as gay, while Elmer Bäck hops around like a manic concoction of Yakov Smirnoff, Oscar Wilde, and Larry Fine. It’s something to behold, particularly when Palomino plants his flag.
3. The Greasy Strangler – Certified Weird! A repulsive old man and his son run a rip-off disco tour in LA; the grease-obsessed father is secretly a killer known as the Greasy Strangler, and when his son falls for a nice lady, he feels the need to take her for himself. This sicko comedy is grotesque, off-putting, and totally amoral. It’s hard to recommend to general audiences, even to those with a taste for the weirder side of cinema; but what it does, it does with unapologetic greasy verve. If you want to see a John Waters movie done with Tim and Eric‘s sense of humor, this is your only choice. A good movie to seduce the adventurous college-aged movie fan into plunging deeper into the strange possibilities of reality-bending cinema. A pig-nosed victim, grotesque prosthetic genitalia, and a very weird pronunciation of the word “potato” count among the greasy highlights.
6. Der Bunker – A student takes a room with a family who lives in a remote bunker and is convinced to become tutor to the very strange son, Klaus, by his even stranger mother (and the entity that lives with her). This claustrophobic nightmare is minimal but odd enough to keep your interest, and the four performers are all good. It looks like will be making one movie per year whose title starts with “Der,” which Artsploitation Films will then release in the U.S. Read our interview with director Nikias Chryssos for more insight.