Friday, October 16, 2009

10 List: Surreal Films

Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer

sur·real (sə rē′əl) having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal, bizarre; fantastic; grotesque

It's not unusual to notice the stunned silence after viewing a surreal film. Lots and lots and lots of silence. None of the, "I totally didn't expect that ending!" or "That was so much funnier than his last film!"

10 films to ponder, meditate on, and mull over. Oh, and at least one to hate.

1968- The Swimmer

Based on a John Cheever short story, Burt Lancaster stars as Ned Merrill who has taken it upon himself to swim across his neighborhood in Connecticut by dropping in on friends swimming pools. Initially, Ned appears robust and dynamic, although a bit eccentric. As he makes his way from pool to pool, the people he encounters and the conversations he has with them, reveal Ned is in very troubled waters.

1920-Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

A traveling circus visits a small German village, with the hypnotist Dr. Caligari starring as one of the featured performers. A shocking murder and kidnapping occur, before locals realize the 'doctor' is much more sinister than talented.

By the light of the moon, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

1977- Eraserhead

The story of a new father told through the lens of his terror and panic. David Lynch wrote and directed this black and white film that is puzzling, bizarre and uncomfortable no matter how many times its viewed. If nothing else, it will change the way you see a roast chicken forever.

What's for dinner? Eraserhead

1980- The Tin Drum

On his third birthday, Oskar receives a shiny new tin drum. After observing the unhappiness of the grown-ups around him, he rejects adulthood and vows to stay a child. Oskar lives in rural Germany prior to WW2. As a reaction to the stress of his circumstances he beats his drum, screeching should anyone attempt to take it away. The audience experiences Oskar's many horrors before he decides to grow up.


Anyone who has suffered the misery of a desk job will relate to the main character of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), is a man working at a boring job, living in a tiny, awful apartment in a world that seems comprised of endless tubes and pipes leading nowhere. His one distraction is trying to find the woman who appears in his dreams.

Life is but a dream. Brazil

1995- After Life known in Japan as Wonderful Life (Wandafuru Raifu)

What if we've already experienced Heaven within our lifetime? At a rustic lodge, the spirits of the recently deceased are assigned to various social worker residents who interview them about their lives in an effort to determine their happiest memory. Afterwards, each worker spends the rest of the week making a short film, recreating the 'memory' which is carried into the individuals eternity.

1983- Liquid Sky

Possibly the worst film I've ever seen, it will leave most viewers in a state of utter dismay; how did this film make millions and sell out at theaters? Why did it receive awards of any kind? Degenerate, drug addicted, bisexual models are the unwitting subjects of a tiny, shapeless alien who extracts endorphins produced in the brain during orgasm. Fortunately, the extraction causes their untimely deaths.

1969- Satyricon

Set in Imperial Rome, where there are slaves, poets and insatiable appetites for debauchery, Satyricon defies linear storytelling. Fellini was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. If you don't blink, you can catch an uncredited and still obese Richard Simmons during the famous food orgy scene.

2008- Synecdoche, New York

Caden Cotard is a theatre director and a depressive when he unexpectedly receives a MacArthur genius grant that affords him the time to create an artistic work of greatness. Caden spends the rest of his life gathering an ensemble cast in an enormous warehouse, directing them to live out their mundane existence. Fascinating and heartbreaking to watch, it is a reflection on life and death and randomness and failure and misinterpretation and the elusive nature of time.

1976-The Man Who Fell to Earth

David Bowie is cast as Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to find a way to bring water back to his home planet which is suffering a catastrophic drought. Newton uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and rises to incredible wealth but is soon corrupted by television, alcohol, women and a devious government agency.

Bowie as the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth

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