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Just a heads up that there will be spoilers in the article. It should be obvious, considering the title, but I will give the disclaimer anyway.
I do mention that a main character dies while briefly discussing the films, but I don’t go into much more detail than that. They are still worth watching, even if you haven’t seen ‘em.
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11. Reservoir Dogs
Pretty much everyone dies, so Reservoir Dogs was an obvious choice.
10. The Shining
This may be a cop-out choice, but The Shining is a classic. I had to include it, if not for the amazing still above, then for the fascinating psychological horror that unfolds throughout.
9. The Thing (1982)
My pops made my sister and I watch The Thing along with Alien, while I was in middle school for one of our movie nights. Being a middle school girl, I was skeptical (I mean this is the guy who made me watch marathons of “Star Trek” The Original Series as a preteen when I really just wanted to watch MTV). I ended up loving The Thing. It still has some of the most solid special effects to date. They were done by the venerable Robin R. Bottin, who’s done films such as The Fog (1980), Se7en, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club and more.
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
I owe my pops a thanks for introducing me to this one as well. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is another Jack Nicholson classic that I felt needed to be included. I recognize that this film has some vehement naysayers, so if you’re one of them, feel free to berate me in the comments. Nonetheless I felt it should be included, despite its mainstream success.
The ending of Eraserhead is obviously up to interpretation, but I would speculate that Spencer dies. I experienced Eraserhead the way everyone should experience it: in a dark, art-house theater at midnight. This is the first feature length of Mr. David Lynch’s surrealist oeuvre. And in my opinion, you can’t truly appreciate Lynch’s work until you watch Eraserhead, the film that set off an amazingly brilliant career.
Entrance is a relatively unknown mumblecore horror film. I wanted to include it because the film resonated with me personally. The whole (somewhat overtly obvious) theme of being consumed by a city that you slowly start to hate reflected some of the experiences I had when I first moved to NYC (I was fortunately never stalked). Nonetheless, Entrance is a pretty solid horror film, though it’s not entirely original and has many of the expected horror clichés. I’ve only seen this movie once, at a midnight showing, so I can’t be 100% certain if my memory of Entrance is tainted by a sleep-deprived, diet Root Beer fogged mind. But I don’t think I’d be steering any die-hard horror fans in the wrong direction if I did recommend it (which I do).
5. Breaking the Waves
Breaking the Waves is by far my favorite of Von Trier’s work. Bess’ death is incredibly visceral, and Von Trier’s portrayal of problematic sex, women, and relationships is at an all-time high. I debated between choosing this film and Melancholia. I ultimately chose Breaking the Waves because it seamlessly unites Von Trier’s thematic preoccupations in ways that some of his other films (such as Antichrist or the newer Nymphomaniac) don’t.
4. Grizzly Man
Well I had to include one documentary, didn’t I? What a better choice than Grizzly Man? The story of Timothy Treadwell is bizarre, enthralling, and tragic. It is a Werner Herzog documentary, so you can expect his (sometimes) unconventional documentarian narration throughout.
3. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Cool Hand Luke will always be one of my favorite films. Despite the annoying Christ references, it is a charming and heartbreaking story about a true American rebel. Luke (and more so: Paul Newman) is the ultimate badass. If you haven’t seen this, then you’re truly missing out on a Hollywood classic. Shit, it even has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, the only film on this list to have a perfect score (One Flew Over comes in second with 96%).
2. Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg is another favorite director of mine, so I had to include Videodrome. If you’re a horror fan and interested in the interplay between the psyche and technology, this is one you shouldn’t miss. Videodrome also has some awesome body horror (hence the above photo).
1. Nostalghia (1983)
Nostalghia was released the same year as Videodrome, but the two couldn’t be more different. Nostalghia is full of static, immobile shots characteristic of the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. It deals with the heavy themes of metaphysics and transcendence in subtle but eloquent ways. Nostalghia is by far the most depressing of Tarkovsky’s. Both main characters, Andrei and Domenico, die by suicide. What I admire most about is the effortless way Tarkovsky handles the suicides, they aren’t surprising but they aren’t expected either: a perfect balance. It’s as if this is the only natural course for Nostalghia and Andrei and Domenico.
Overall, these films are definitely worth the watch. Each have their own merits and, for the most part, the only thing they have in common is that a main character dies (you will notice some overlap). I tried to come up with a varied list.
In some ways, this ended up being a big thank you to my dad for always fostering my love of cinema (even when he insisted on certain movies and I begrudgingly had to relent). He introduced me to four of the movies on this list, helping me to discover my love of cinema.
Wild Strawberries (1957) – This would probably go on the list, but I saw it over seven years ago and my memory’s a little fuzzy. It definitely warrants a re-watch.
Citizen Kane (1941) – I didn’t include it because Kane dies early in the film and the twist ending is pretty much common knowledge at this point.
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969) – In my opinion, Cool Hand Luke is a better film from the same era.
Vertigo (1958) – I love Hitchcock and James Stewart, so of course this was a viable option. However I already felt the list was Hollywood-centric enough. If I had to choose, I suppose I would switch it out for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
If I missed one (which I’m sure I did, it was surprisingly difficult to come up with just what I have here), let me know!