Here’s my personal picks for top ten weird movies of the decade (setting aside the fact that it may be more reasonable to consider the decade as ending in 2010, rather than 2009). This list only covers movies we’ve actually reviewed, so if you read on you’ll also find the top 10 movies we didn’t get to, the top 10 weird movies of 2009, and my top 10 picks for 2009 (regardless of weirdness).
TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF THE DECADE (2000-2009)
10. Elevator Movie (2004) – A loser is trapped inside an elevator with a former slut turned Jesus freak, for months on end, in a compelling low-budget surrealist drama mixing No Exit and The Exterminating Angel with a touch of Eraserhead.
9. Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) – A jumbled up series of surreal short movies and music videos, linked by common characters and themes, but refusing to make sense; no one forgets the scene where the schoolgirl inserts a tube in her navel to give birth to a miniature sushi chef.
8. I Can See You (2008) -A neurotic, romantically frustrated loner goes on a camping trip with his advertising company buddies, and loses complete contact with reality. Features a wonderfully bizarre musical sequence; an oily, omnipotent ad pitchman who talks to the protagonist inside his head; and a 20 minute psychedelic freakout at the climax.
7. Tideland (2005) – Terry Gilliam’s dark and controversial riff on Alice in Wonderland tells a bleak and frightening story of a young girl abandoned to the world of her imagination. There’s nothing explicit shown, but the nuanced and challenging scenes implying child abuse and molestation were too intense and downbeat for mainstream viewers.
6. Ink (2009) – Visually impressive low-budget fantasy about a mysterious figure who snatches a sleeping girl into a world of dreams. The nightmarish incubuses, with their smiley-faced facades displayed on malfunctioning LCD screens attached to their heads, are unforgettable, and the payoff is emotionally satisfying.
5. Kung Fu Hustle (2004) – This totally off-it’s-rocker martial arts comedy/fantasy became a smash international hit, to the point that some people consider it’s popularity evidence that it can’t possibly be weird. But it’s hard to look at this collection of singing and dancing ax gangsters, absurdly exaggerated wire-fu, visual puns, mystical assassins who shoot swords from Chinese guitars, “Looney Tunes” inspired comic set pieces, and heroes who sail into the clouds before returning to earth to deliver a killing blow as anything but weird.
4. Synechdoche, New York (2008) – Charlie Kaufman works without a net in this absurdist, recursive, and dreamlike story of a sad-sack theater director who builds a replica of New York City inside a warehouse. Truly mind-bending stuff, with an actual philosophical basis to it.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful fairytale; a girl completes quests at a faun’s behest, while her “real” world Fascist stepfather is a monster beyond all fantasy. Only mildly weird (it’s the nightmarish Pale Man that puts it just barely over the top), but it’s such an exemplary and ambiguous fantasy that it merits a prime spot on any list of weird movies of the past ten years.
2. Donnie Darko (2001) – The embodiment of teenage angst comes in the figure of Donnie, a teen suffering tormenting visions sent to him by a six foot tall demonic bunny rabbit; a lovable jumbled mess of a movie with a convoluted plot that packs an emotional wallop and leaves most people trying to figure out what really happened for weeks or months afterward. Flawed, but all the more lovable for its flaws.
1. Cowards Bend the Knee, or, The Blue Hands (2003) – Typically surreal modern silent from the inimitable Guy Maddin mixing melodrama, Greek tragedy, psychosexual guilt, and hockey highlights. Groundbreaking, dreamlike and absurdly hilarious; this may be Maddin’s masterpiece.
TEN MOVIES FROM 2000-2009 WE HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO YET
Your favorite weird movie of 2000-2009 didn’t make it? That may be because we haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. Here’s ten movies from the past ten years that we probably should have considered, but just haven’t had time to cover in this site’s short existence.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, d. Michael Gondry
- The Gamblers, 2007, d. Sebastian Bieniek
- Amélie, 2001, d. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Spirited Away, 2001, d. Hayao Miyazaki
- Requiem for a Dream, 2000, d. Darren Aronofsky
- The Reason for My Life, 2008, d. Gustavo Charif
- Sin City, 2005, d. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
- Mind Game, 2004, d. Masaaki Yuasa
- Poi, 2006, d. K. Balachander
- Genius Party, 2006, multiple directors
TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2009 (SO FAR)
There are still a number of very weird-sounding movies released this year that we haven’t had a chance to see, like After Last Season, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done?, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Panarsuss, and A Town Called Panic. Still, of what we have covered, here are my top 10 weird movies of 2009:
- Ink – our official selection for weirdest movie of the year!
- A Serious Man – The Coen brothers retell the Book of Job as an absurdist comedy
- Cold Souls – Paul Giamatti loses his soul, to the Russians, natch
- The Limits of Control – Jim Jamursch’s experiment in plotlessness is interesting, but will frustrate most viewers
- The Box – Richard Kelly’s sci-fi ethical fable divided critics, but it’s firmly within the weird genre
- Watchmen – long-awaited movie adaptation of the groundbreaking graphic novel deconstructing superheroes as a flawed bunch of sadists, perverts, and vigilantes in an alternate history where the Cold War still rages
- Ponyo – Miyazaki’s anime retelling of The Little Mermaid is aimed at wee ones, but adults can enjoy the pretty pastel pictures
- Where the Wild Things Are – the furry but finicky monsters of a child’s mind brought onscreen
- Thirst [Bawkji] – high expectations for Chan Wook-Park’s foray into vampire mythology weren’t quite met, but it’s still a worthwhile weird view
- The Land of the Lost – firmly mainstream Will Ferrel will never again be as weird as he was in this campy and scatological adaptation of the children’s TV series about a land of dinosaurs, apemen and Sleestaks. A deserved box office flop, but it won’t hurt you to check it out and see what all the flack was about.
WEIRDNESS ASIDE: TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2009
There’s more to the movie-going experience than just watching for weirdness. Here are my overall top 10 picks for the year passed, geared towards the mainstream viewer:
- The Hurt Locker -The adventures of a three man American bomb squad in Iraq led by an unhinged adrenaline junkie. Great character development is just a bonus to this thrilling film that thrives on incredibly tense and believable wartime set pieces.
- A Serious Man – Considered strictly on movie quality, without factoring in weirdness, this one leapfrogs Ink, our Weird Movie of the Year.
- Up – Flying a house buoyed by balloons, a grumpy old widower and a stowaway cub scout go on an adventure to a fantastic land. Lots to love in this old-fashioned childrens adventure with memorable, emotionally resonant characters, thrilling animated action sequences, and plentiful comic relief in the form of dogs with collars that allow them to talk.
- Inglorious Basterds – A Jew-hunting Nazi and a elite squad of Nazi-hunting American Jews cross paths in occupied France in WWI. This is a mature Tarantino effort, often reminiscent of a bloodier Sergio Leone; there are extremely tense, subtle and well-managed suspense episodes, and a morally complex tone to the whole movie.
- Watchmen – enough said about this one already!
- The Hangover –Three men awaken the night after a Las Vegas bachelor party up a tiger and a baby, and down a tooth and a bridegroom, and must reconstruct the previous night to find their missing friend. An outrageous comedy that goes way over the line of good taste at times, but is consistently hilarious with an involving mystery plot that keeps the viewer hanging on each new revelation.
- Ink – maybe the movie story of the year, considering it’s humble beginnings and effective grassroots campaign. It deserves to appear on lots of mainstream critics top 10 lists.
- District 9 – When aliens are stranded on earth, the South African government houses them in shantytowns, in an obvious allegory about apartheid and xenophobia. Falls apart a bit when it changes from cold-hearted satire to action movie halfway through, but it’s still one of the most original movie concepts of the year.
- Cold Souls – Paul Giamatti deserves, but is unlikely to receive, an Oscar nomination
- An Education – A 16-year old Oxford-bound schoolgirl falls in love with a worldly older man. Well-done, believable coming-of-age tale with excellent performances and realistic characterizations.