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The List Thus Far (Certified Weird Movies)

3 Women (1977)

8 1/2 (1963)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Akira (1988)

Alice [Neco Z Alenky] (1988)

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Allegro non Troppo (1976)

Altered States (1980)

The American Astronaut (2001)

Antichrist (2009)

Archangel (1990)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Barbarella (1968)

Barton Fink (1991)

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Begotten (1991)

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Belle de Jour (1967)

Black Swan (2010)

Blood Diner (1987)

Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Branded to Kill (1967)

Brazil (1985)

Bronson (2008)

Careful (1992)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

The City of Lost Children [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

Clean, Shaven (1993)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Cowards Bend the Knee, or, the Blue Hands (2003)

Daisies [Sedmikrásky] (1966)

The Dark Backward (1991)

Dead Man (1995)

Dead Ringers (1988)

Delicatessen (1991)

Dillinger is Dead (1969)

Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012)

Dogtooth [Kynodontas] (2009)

Dogville (2003)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Don't Look Now (1973)

Elevator Movie (2004)

Enemy (2013)

Enter the Void (2009)

Eraserhead (1977)

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Evil Dead II (1987)

Eyes Without a Face [Les Yeux sans Visage] (1965)

Fantastic Planet [La Planète Sauvage] (1973)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Final Flesh (2009)

Forbidden Zone (1982)

Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Gothic (1986)

Gozu (2003)

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Greaser's Palace (1972)

Gummo (1997)

Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] (1922)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Help! Help! The Globolinks [Hilfe! Hilfe! Die Globolinks] (1969)

Holy Motors (2012)

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Horrors of Spider Island [Ein Toter hing im Netz] (1960)

House [Hausu] (1977)

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I Can See You (2008)

Idiots and Angels (2008)

I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK [Saibogujiman Kwenchana] (2006)

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

L'Immortelle (1963)

Ink (2009)

INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

John Dies at the End (2012)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Keyhole (2011)

Kontroll (2003)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Kwaidan (1964)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

The Legend of Suram Fortress [Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa] (1984)

Lisztomania (1975)

Little Otik [Otesánek] (2000)

Lost Highway (1997)

Love Exposure (2008)

Lucifer Rising (1981)

Maelstrom (2000)

Malpertuis (1972)

Maniac (1934)

Marquis (1989)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

The Milky Way [La Voie Lactee] (1969)

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nostalghia (1983)

O Lucky Man! (1973)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Paprika (2006)

Performance (1968/1970)

Persona (1966)

Phantasm (1979)

Pi (1998)

The Pillow Book (1996)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Floyd the Wall (1982)

Prospero's Books (1991)

The Red Squirrel [La Ardilla Roja] (1993)

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Repo Man (1984)

A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

Repulsion (1965)

Robot Monster (1953)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Rubber (2010)

Run Lola Run (1998)

The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

Sans Soleil (1983)

Santa Sangre (1989)

The Science of Sleep (2006)

A Serious Man (2009)

Shanks (1974)

Shock Corridor (1963)

Silent Hill (2006)

Sin City (2005)

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

Skidoo (1968)

Solaris [Solyaris] (1972) -

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

Stalker (1979)

Steppenwolf (1974)

Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)

Suspiria (1977)

Sweet Movie (1974)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987)

Taxidermia (2006)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tideland (2005)

Time Bandits (1981)

The Tin Drum (1979)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

El Topo (1970)

Toto the Hero [Toto le Heros] (1991)

Trash Humpers (2009)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Trial (1962)

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Tromeo & Juliet (1996)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Upstream Color (2013)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Vertigo (1958)

Videodrome (1983)

Visitor Q (2001)

Waking Life (2001)

Weekend (1967)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Yellow Submarine (1968)

You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007)

Zardoz (1974)

QUIRKY, NOT WEIRD

“Quirky” can be defined as “full of quirks.”  A “quirk”  is “a strange attitude or habit” (synonyms: oddity, queerness, crotchet).

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, about the time of the rise of the Sundance Festival, “serious” (as opposed to exploitation-style) independent films exploded in the United States.  “Quirky” comedies quickly became a staple of independent movies and low budget movie festivals.  These films had light tones but serious, life-affirming themes, were witty and gently wry (but never ruined the mood by going so far as to be biting), and were filled to the brim with eccentric characters.  The fast-developing sub-genre became a darling of film critics.

One of the first quirky comedies was the early Coen brothers effort, Raising Arizona (1987).  Holly Hunter played an infertile cop with a male name (“Ed”) who falls in love with peaceful burglar Nicolas Cage, who also has an odd name (“Hi”) and occasionally speaks in Shakespearean dialogue.  These characters were highly eccentric but essentially harmless, and although the movie was actually a little bit weird (with Tex Cobb as a mystical biker/bounty hunter with supernatural abilities that surpassed the merely quirky), once the Coen’s more bizarre proclivities were snipped away, Raising Arizona served as a template for quirky movies to follow.  (That quirky and weird can still coexist in the same movie was proven by Chan-wook Park’s I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK [2006], though notably it took an outsider to the American independent film tradition to pull it off.)

The first movie I think of when I think of the modern quirky formula is Baghdad Cafe (1987).  It’s an exemplary cast of quirks: a stranded German housfrau who does magic tricks, a sassy and irritable black woman, an Indian short-order cook, a tattoist, Jack Palance as a retired Hollywood set painter.  It’s set in the desert, the quintessentially quirky locale.  It’s light (real danger never raises its head) and life-affirming (in the end the characters learn and grow from each others’ diametrically opposed quirks).

Other movies that clearly fall into the quirky genre are Roadside Prophets (1992), Benny & Joon (1993), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Clerks (1994) (a bit more profane and piquant than typical quirk), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), the recently reviewed Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006), and of course, anything by the reigning King of Quirk, Wes Anderson (Rushmore [1998], The Royal Tennenbaums [2001], The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004]).  You can probably come up with other examples on your own (study the Sundance channel lineup for ideas).

I enjoy a good quirky comedy–although in the hands of an inexperienced or derivative director “quirky” can quickly turn into “annoying”–but I always distinguish the genre from the weird.  I recently ran across an interesting 2007 Atlantic Montly article (“Quirked Around”) by Michael Hirschorn on the quirk aesthetic that perfectly explains why:

Quirk is odd, but not too odd. That would take us all the way to weird, and there someone might get hurt.

After reading the entire article, I think Hirschorn is ultimately too hard on quirk.   I also don’t think it’s nearly as omnipresent a cultural paradigm as he does, at least if you actively seek out non-quirk circles outside of NPR or the self-consciously “indie” scene.  There is a legitimate criticism to be made of the quirky aesthetic; it’s largely old-fashioned sentimentality inked up to appear hip.  It’s also, as Hirschorn points out, too easy for the writer to achieve–simply give your characters a smattering of random eccentricities, and suddenly you appear to be a keen observer of the human condition–and therefore encourages creative laziness.  And it shirks the deeper, scarier aspects of existence (a task gladly undertaken by the weird, thank goodness).

But, as I said, I enjoy a good quirky comedy–with the emphasis on comedy.  Funny covers up a multitude of sins.  One of Hirschorn’s prime exemplars/targets is the canceled TV comedy “Arrested Development,” which I found to be quite entertaining, light, and never full of itself.  As a recognizable style of relatively sophisticated humor, I think the “quirky” comedy can serve roughly the same function in today’s society as the “screwball” comedy did in the 1930s and 1940s.

They aren’t weird, though.

3 comments to QUIRKY, NOT WEIRD

  • Filipe A.

    This article reminded me of Caro and Jeunet’s Delicatessen. But maybe it can be considered fully weird and not just quirky. I believe it would be a nice one for your list anyway.
    Thanks for all the suggestions. Will try to get Roadside Prophets and Benny & Joon, never seen those.

  • Don’t worry, Delicatessen is fully weird, and it will be reviewed in the future.

    Honestly, I can’t recommend Roadside Prophets; it’s a good example of the quirky genre, but not a good movie.

  • dave

    a very pleasing perspective on Quirk. My reason for visiting your sight is, I looking for movies to watch containing Quirk. I’ve added 2 of you suggestions to my Netflix’s queue. Please consider adding, Station Agent, The Sinking Of Santa Isabela.

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