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13 Of The Best Mind-Bending Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 4, 2013 at 3:30PM

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival will likely go down in history as one of its finer years, with a nearly unparalleled programming slate of movies that got festival goers excited not just about the festival, but cinema in general. And perched at the top of the list of the festival's best movies (one of the ones that got people excited about cinema as a whole) is easily Shane Carruth's lyrical mind-puzzler "Upstream Color" (review here). A film about inceptions, no wait, pig farmers, orchid thieves and dysfunctional relationships, or is it about the nature of love via the nature of all things? The interconnectedness of our daily lives? “Walden?”
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The Holy Mountain
“The Holy Mountain” (1973)
Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean-French filmmaker behind “El Topo” and “Santa Sangre,” is one of the undisputed kings of the cinematic mind warp. His movies, all of which were destined to become midnight movies and cult classics of varying degrees of notoriety/infamy, feature the kind of hallucinogenic imagery and nonsensical narratives that drive intellectual grad students’ discussions long into the night. His movies are the kind of thing that should come with their own small Tupperware jar full of hash brownies. And the trippiest, most outrageous movie in his entire canon might be “The Holy Mountain,” a movie that was partially funded by Beatles manager Allen Klein and befuddled film festival audiences the world over. You can get a contact high just watching the trailer – birds flying out of bullet holes, a crucified toad, a hippo in a water fountain and an eyeball in the center of a flower are just some of the surrealistic images on display.The plot, in as much as there is one, concerns characters based on tarot card glyphs and some kind of quasi-mystical journey (it’s based, in part, on a bizarre French novel and a 16th century Spanish religious treatise, because, of course). You can’t take your eyes off of its profound weirdness, even if you are helpless in figuring out what is going on.

Jacob's Ladder
“Jacob’s Ladder” (1990)
One of the reasons that “Jacob’s Ladder” is such a mind-bender is because it seemed, from the outset at least, so ordinary. This was marketed, after all, as a psychological thriller from the director of “Fatal Attraction,” Adrian Lyne and the writer of the following year’s hit supernatural romance “Ghost,” starring the perennially lovable Tim Robbins. But “Jacob’s Ladder” is a far stranger affair altogether, weaving the story of an emotionally bruised Vietnam vet through a whole host of increasingly surreal, often nightmarish situations, as his grip on reality comes undone and he begins to question his very existence. (Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the bible will be able to decipher its “big reveal” a mile away, just based on its title, but it’s still a lot of fun.) Lyne eases you into the weirdness of “Jacob’s Ladder” in a way that feels natural and emotionally resonant, so that when the stranger stuff starts to happen, you’re tethered to both the characters and their stakes. Lyne is often overlooked as one of the most exciting visual stylists of the period and here he really lets things loose – in particular there is a scene where the Robbins character starts hallucinating on a dance floor that is truly unforgettable. Sex, death, life, love, it’s all intermingled (and not easy to untangle) in “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Honorable Mention
As usual, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are just as many other movies, of course, that have melted our frontal lobe just as completely – things like “Clean, Shaven,” Lodge Kerrigan’s film that puts you inside the mind of a schizophrenic; Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady,” a movie that is half gay romance, half mystical vision quest; “eXistenZ,” a wild virtual reality-based thriller from David Cronenberg that had the severe misfortune of opening the same year as “The Matrix;” Nicolas Roeg’s “Eureka” (or his equally bendy “Don’t Look Now” or “Bad Timing” or anything else by him really), a trippy meditation on greed and power anchored by one of the great unsung Gene Hackman performances; Louis Malle’s “Black Moon,” an oddly dreamy post-apocalyptic doodle, is largely considered a commentary on the women’s rights movement of the period; Stanley Kubrick’s immortal “2001: A Space Odyssey” still has people discussing its vagaries and contains maybe the single greatest “trip” sequence in the history of motion picture; “Vanilla Sky” (and its Spanish counterpart “Open Your Eyes”) questions reality fractured through the lense of popular culture and doomed relationships and remains one of Cameron Crowe’s most deliciously elliptical films; “Donnie Darko” is a neato suburban nightmare that’s equal parts metaphysical dream-space and trashy horror novel (filmmaker Richard Kelly has yet to get the balance right again); plus there are the filmographies of filmmakers like Canadian director Guy Maddin, French filmmaker Michel Gondry and Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, all of whom regularly bend our perceptions of reality in wonderfully unexpected ways. -- Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez, Tess Hoffman, Kevin Jagernauth

This article is related to: Features, Upstream Color


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