We're going to do these in no real order, except to start with recently-viewed films, and go where that leads us.
First up, "The Machinist", starring Christian Bale. This one gets a high recommendation from us. It's not exactly uplifting, and can be, in fact, painful. After seeing Christian Bale in this condition, you will want to see the new Batman movie just to make sure he's really OK now. Going with stream of consciousness, this is at least the second film of this just-made-up genre for Bale, the first being "American Psycho". Now, please do not watch "The Machinist", expecting the, in jenB's words, the "lickable" Bale from "American Psycho":
We doubt he weighed as much as he did in "Empire of the Sun", even. Yikes!
But it's an amazing performance on his part, and I hope he gets nominated for an Oscar for it. He deserves the nod, at least. And you must pay attention, because the movie is layered like an onion, and the layers aren't always revealed in order. Definitely watch it, especially if you are a Doestoyevsky fan, because the themes of guilt, torment, and redemption seem to come largely from the Mad Russian, and there are a couple of obvious references to him, as well.
Moving on...watching "The Machinist" put us in mind of "Memento", which we'd seen a couple of years ago, and we decided to watch it again, so we queued it up. It held up very well to a second viewing, and is still, for us, one of the most unique films ever made. The very premise of the progression of scenes is, to me, immensely clever. I feel like this movie really should have launched Guy Pearce to better things that we've seen him in of late. In case you have missed this one, Pearce plays a fellow with the inability to form new memories, who is trying to solve the rape/murder of his wife (his memory problem manifested itself from the time of the attack--his memory prior to that is intact). He gets through day-to-day life by taking Polaroids, making notes obsessively,
and tattooing the really important components of his investigation on his own body.
What makes this one so unique is that, while each scene is filmed in normal progression, the progression of the scenes is backward. So you see the end of the movie first, and go from there. This means you REALLY have to concentrate on what you just saw, because next you're seeing what led up to that. Brilliant. Thumbs way up.
This one gets Alex's vote as the #1 film that fits the category we've assigned these movies. My pick comes later.
Next, one we just saw the other night, and hadn't heard anything about beforehand (I really think that's the best way to see any movie, don't you?) , is "The Jacket", starring Adrien Brody, who I am coming to enjoy more and more with each movie he makes, and Kiera Knightly. The first line of the movie catches your interest right away: "The first time I died, I was 23 years old...", and it stays interesting throughout--if the plot didn't hold your interest, the performances would. Having both together is a treat. I don't want to spoil it by describing it in any way, so just watch it. Trust me.
The most recent "big impression" film for us was "Crash". Totally impressive performances, writing, cinematography, and lots of depth. If I had a complaint about this one, it is that the individual vignettes intertwined a leeeetle too conveniently, if you know what I mean. But that's kind of the point of the film, so there's no way around it, really. You'll just have to suspend disbelief for the number of "coincidences" in this one to make it work.
It's nice to see Matt Dillon "all grown up", and he puts in a good performance. Thandie Newton has never been an actress I've been particularly impressed with, but she brought it this time. Terrence Howard puts in an astonishing performance as her husband, starting off emotionally stilted and repressed, and winding up in a state of full emotional blow-out and pride.
Don Cheadle, not surprisingly, turns in an awesome performance--subtle, emotional, with amazing depth. I am falling in love with him more and more as an actor.
The performance I absolutely loved, the one that stole my heart, was the one by Michael Pena, who played a largely misunderstood Hispanic locksmith. He was the one who finally drew tears from me toward the end of this movie. Great performance, and I hope he gets more work based on it.
Ludacris and Larenz Tate played very well off each other, and the one scene with Ludacris and Terrence Howard and--believe it or not--Ryan Philippe, was electrifying. Ryan P. interacted seamlessly with Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate and Matt Dillon, as well, so this boy may be gonna grow up into a real actor. More power to him.
There's a huge, impressive cast here, including Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock (who I have really never cared for, but she does a good job in this role). "Crash" gets rave reviews from us. Watch it.
jenB, this movie is for Mark. No lie. Alex had an easier time keeping up than I did, but both of us did a lot of this: "WHAT? Run that back." This movie will HURT YOUR BRAIN. Except maybe for math and science geeks. That's just all I'm gonna say about it, because I couldn't explain it if I wanted to, except that it's kind of about time travel, and how avoiding paradox snowballs on time travelers until they are time-traveling purely to manage the paradox. It's a rough one. If you're feeling smart, watch this one.
All right, that's it for the recently-viewed reviews and recommendations. Now for our list of other films that fit this criteria.
Yeah, Baby. "Fight Club". SO much going on in this one! Lots of violence, yeah, and, well, there's Meatloaf to deal with, but what a provocative film with an amazing payoff. And they make soap! Pitt and Norton actually learned how to make soap for this movie. The soapmaker in me is waaaaay impressed. But that in no way influenced this film's inclusion in the "thinkers" list.
And while we're thinking of Edward Norton, what about the film in which he made his breakout performance? "Primal Fear" is just one of those movies that is a real thriller and a shocker, and if you're a reader, the books that these characters come from are enthralling. Highly recommended, all around.
"Run, Lola, Run" is just an all-time favorite of mine. I LOVE this film. It is shot in real time, with various scenarios of the fates of the characters. A real winner in my book.
NOW--My pick for the top film in this category of my own making is "The Usual Suspects". No one has ever figured out the "twist" on this one...Nobody has ever identified Kaiser Soze. And if someone tells you differently, they are a-lyin'. Alex's reasoning for disagreeing with my pick here is that "No one, no matter how much attention they're paying, is going to figure that one out until the payoff!" Well, my point is, you must have been paying attention throughout the film in order for the payoff to come together for you at the end. Discussion?
This is just the ultimate film for me. It's a little rough as far as violence and language go, but a smarter screenplay you'd be hard-pressed to find, or smarter performances. It has even worked its way into the common lexicon to the extent that on one early episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", Xander is heard to comment, "Does anyone else here feel like they're being Kaiser Soze'd?"
Elizabeth adds: "The Sixth Sense" (Of course!)
"Identity" (GREAT one!)
"Secret Window" (I have a grudge against this one since it varied so from the novella)
"Vanilla Sky" (Another great addition, but due to my feelings about Tom Cruise, I must insist that we defer to the original version of this film, "Open Your Eyes")