Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Hidden Gems: Tarik Saleh’s Metropia

Who loves dystopian SciFi in the tradition of George Orwell? Who also loves fresh, innovative animation styles that bring worlds to life in new ways for the eyes to savour and absorb? Tarik Saleh’s Metropia has both of the above boxes checked and more, it’s a relatively star studded futuristic hidden gem that came and went with no fanfare whatsoever but definitely deserves another look.

Set in a drab, grey saturated Europe of the not too distant future, giant mega corporations rule industry and infrastructure while a vast, sprawling subway system interconnects the entire continent and heralds in a new age of depressingly humdrum office drone jobs and stifling urban monotony. Roger (cult favourite Vincent Gallo) is one of these nine to fivers trapped by the system, stuck in a daily rotunda of riding this mammoth transport system to and from a dead end job, until one day he hears voices inside his head, particularly that of Stefan (Alexander Skarsgard) a mysterious whistleblower and fellow office drone who may or may not be real. Then he’s entranced by Nina (Juliette Lewis) a sultry fellow passenger who seems to know something about what he’s experiencing. This leads him down a spooky rabbit hole of global corruption, conspiracy theories and some of the most dryly hilarious social satire this side of Terry Gilliam.

If you look at posters and promo stills of this you’ll see the intensely specific level of work put into the animation of these characters, a slightly uncanny valley esque devotion to hyper realism that both leaps off the screen and blends in perfectly with the CGI cities, offices and tunnels they exist in. The filmmakers *could* have easily made these people look like their famous and uniformly eccentric voice actor counterparts but instead only threw in the odd glance, mannerism or slight characteristic, letting these talented folks bring entirely unique performances to life. Gallo is a strange dude and always picks off the beaten path projects so he fits right in. Lewis has slinky fun as the sort of femme fatale sort of love interest with her own snaky agenda. Udo Kier, another beloved cult icon, has a ball in a scenery chewing turn as the evil megalomaniac CEO of a company that uses everyday household products for fiendish mind control, and Stellan Skarsgard makes droll, dangerous work of his head of security. There’s oh so sublime and subtle dark humour, a real sense of place and a decidedly European flavour to it all despite the varied cast. If you enjoy unique outings in the animation genre, cerebral SciFi or just a great corporate espionage yarn you’ll dig this, I really want to get it more exposure and eventually the cult pedestal status it rightly deserves.

-Nate Hill

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James Gray’s Ad Astra

James Gray’s Ad Astra. It’s difficult for me to get my thoughts out on this one while still dodging spoilers but here goes. This was kind of a disappointment for me, not because it’s a particularly weak or mediocre film but rather it was something wholly different from what I was expecting. That too isn’t necessarily a cardinal sin but when your trailers and marketing campaign suggest one thing and your film blatantly does another, that’s a problem. In any case this wasn’t the ‘reach for the stars’ mysterious, ponderous SciFi epic that I got the impression of off the bat, but perhaps that’s just me.

Brad Pitt gives a grounded, meditative, cleared eyed performance as Roy McBride, earth’s most accomplished astronaut save for his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has taken up residence somewhere near the rings of Neptune and caused quite a bit of trouble in a decades long campaign to contact extraterrestrial life. So begins Roy’s voyage out past the moon, Mars and towards the edge of our solar system to locate his dad’s research project, put a stop to the havoc it’s causing and set to rest the personal turmoil raging inside him, which is my fancy way of saying considerable daddy issues. There’s many diversions and they’re all handled nicely including an attack from vicious baboons in swooping zero gravity, a politically fuelled mutiny aboard a transport craft and a moon rover chase that feels comfortingly like Mad Max. Others provide supporting talent including Donald Sutherland as his dad’s ex pal hired to babysit part of his journey until that arc is cut disappointingly short. Liv Tyler is wasted on the thankless wife role that has no depth or vibrancy beyond looking worried, while Ruth Negga, Loren Dean and John Ortiz fare better as others he meets along the way.

So where does this falter? There’s a type of science fiction film that expands outward as characters explore their universe and reach for the great unknown while also feeling inward, finding themes of love, relationships and intimacy through something so grand as a journey into space. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris are probably the best example of this. This one ultimately fails at that, or at least going all the way and achieving something as profound as the examples I’ve given. Many elements work, including Pitt’s impressively centred, soulful performance, a beautifully atmospheric original score by Max Richter, stunning visuals and clever world building (somehow the fact that Virgin Atlantic does commercial flights to the moon in the future seems hilariously on point). But there’s an absent nature to the overall arc that can’t be overlooked. It’s sadly ironic that a film whose title translates to ‘To The Stars’ falls so, so far short of actually reaching them. You take this trip with Roy, experience everything he does and just when the penultimate moment approaches and you prepare for some soul nourishing pay off… your grasp closes on emptiness, and what’s worse is that was what Gray was actually intending, in a way. I get what he was going for and appreciate the effort this is the wrong film to pull a stunt like that with. Didn’t work for me overall.

-Nate Hill

No One Can Hear You Scream: Nate’s Top Ten Horror Films set in Space

If space really is the final frontier then there’s going to be all sorts of scary shit lurking out there we’ve never heard of, a notion that Hollywood has taken full advantage of in exploring the SciFi genre. The chief threat would of course be extraterrestrials and naturally loads of fun films have been done on that but I also like to observe how it’s branched out into things like rogue A.I., evil alternate dimensions or haunted planets for some really imaginative ventures. Here are my top ten personal favourites!

10. Christian Dugay’s Screamers

This one’s pretty cool, if a bit low budget and schlocky. So basically in a distant galaxy there’s an interplanetary war going on for decades and one side invents something called Screamers to hunt their foe and turn the tide. They’re self replicating, blade wielding, problem solving machines called Screamers but eventually they get too smart and instead of just hunting down enemy forces they pretty much go after anything that moves, not to mention start evolving themselves and it’s up to one squadron of soldiers to wipe them out. The creatures themselves are actually pretty frightening and man do they ever scream so it makes for a neat horror flick. Plus Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller plays the military commander and you can never go wrong with him.

9. Rand Ravich’s The Astronaut’s Wife

This is admittedly an odd choice because of its hour and forty minute runtime only about ten minutes is actually set in space, and only just above the earth’s atmosphere. However, the ambiguous evil force that astronaut Johnny Depp encounters there infects and follows him back down to the surface and the resulting film has an exceedingly unearthly feel to it. Charlize Theron classes up the joint as the titular wife whose keen intuition red flags his creepy behaviour early on and adds tension to the proceedings. Tom Noonan, Joe Morton, Donna Murphy, Nick Cassavetes and Clea Duvall add further pedigree as well. This is a critically shunned film for the most part but I enjoy it, there’s a slick Rosemary’s Baby vibe, Depp and Theron do very well in their roles and the otherworldly presence, although felt and never seen, is apparent in every shadowy frame.

8. Andrej Bartkowiak’s Doom

You can all fight me on this one. It’s a shit film no doubt, but I consider it hella great entertainment, even if it has little to nothing in common with the games. Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban leading a team of rowdy marines on a Martian extermination mission? Yes please. Rosamund Pike as a sexy scientist? Absolutely. Never mind that we only see actual Martian landscape for a ten second establishing shot, that can be forgiven when I consider the bitchin’ soundtrack, hardcore creature gore, wicked cool first person shooter sequence and scene stealing supporting work from cult favourite Richard Brake as the obligatory perverted loudmouth mercenary in their ranks.

7. John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Another Martian outing yay! And another universally reviled film that I absolutely love double yay!! In case you haven’t noticed by now I’m trying not to always aim for the obvious choices here, which can be controversial. However, I will never compromise and choose a film that I don’t like just to be contrary, these choices genuinely reflect my taste and I own them. This film is a heavy metal induced bundle of fun, a B movie western gem that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a solid cast, gnarly SFX makeup and one headbanger of a score from Anthrax. Plus, Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube make one badass buddy team-up to take down vengeful Martian spirits possessing the corpses of slaughtered miners.

6. Jim Isaac’s Jason X

Jason Voorhees in space!! This is one of my favourite franchise entries, mostly because of Jason’s epic new gear upgrade and also the awesome cameo from David Cronenberg who, yes, gets mauled by our hero. Jason has been in cryogenic suspension for hundreds of years and awakens in the 25th century to wreck havoc aboard a spaceship full of intergalactic college students. You pretty much improve any franchise by making one that’s set in space but you also have to have a fun production to back up the concept (check out Leprechaun in space for a failed example) and this one is dope. Foxy Lexa Doig from Continuum makes a cool Final Girl, there’s a spectacularly gruesome kill involving liquid nitrogen and two slutty camper chicks get what may be the best lines of the whole series. Also, Jason just looks so fly here with his space grade machete and chromed up super-mask.

5. David Twohy’s Pitch Black

This launched the epic Riddick franchise that I will always champion and went on to traverse space opera, animation and video game territory but the catalyst is this lean, mean creature feature showcasing Vin Diesel in probably his best role. As a ragtag crew m crash lands on a distant world with three suns, all about to plunge the planet into nighttime for months, while hordes of vicious extraterrestrial predators who can’t stand light come crawling out of caverns to hunt. Perfect timing right? Riddick & Co must set aside their dysfunctions and work together to fight back, survive and repair a damaged ship so they can ditch this dangerous rock for good. It’s good old fashioned mid level budget SciFi horror fun, before the series took off and soared to new heights in the equally fun but different Chronicles Of Riddick.

4. Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

This film was overlooked and I can somewhat see why. It’s a horror to be sure but there’s a quiet, contemplative nature to the exposition and I think people weren’t expecting something so complex as opposed to a straight up deep space monster flick. Two astronauts (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) awaken on a mammoth derelict space station stranded somewhere among the stars. Where were they headed? Where’s the rest of the crew? What are those chilling animalistic noises emanating from the hallways? This is a fun, frightening one to figure out, it’s got truly freaky creatures, a weird psychological aspect and one kicker of an ending.

3. Tobe Hoopers’s Lifeforce

Who doesn’t love vampires from space?! This one is a real oddity, cobbled together with various elements and ideas but dementedly committed to its singular vision and as a result comes out an inspired winner and one of the absolute weirdest SciFi flicks out there. Steve Railback leads a team of astronauts who discover slumbering bloodsuckers about a gigantic alien craft, which they very foolishly bring back to earth. Cue rampant chaos, global collapse and some extremely unsettling zombified makeup effects. Oh, and Patrick Stewart too. Grab the boutique Blu Ray if you can find it, I promise you there’s noting out there quite like it.

2. Paul WS Anderson’s Event Horizon

One of the spookiest and most infamous horrors ever made sees a salvage crew attempt the rescue of a missing prototype spaceship that somehow got itself into a black hole and brought back the entire Hellraiser universe with it. This one is unapologetically gory, over the top and filled with enough grisly images to make even die hards nervous.

1. The Alien Quadrilogy

I know I know, it’s cheating to give one spot on the list to four films but they really do feel intrinsically linked as one saga. Ridley Scott’s atmospheric, suspenseful initial shocker. James Cameron’s rootin tootin mercenary safari action blowout follow up. David Fincher’s deliberately unsettling, nihilistic prison flick threequel. Jean Pierre Jeunet’s ultra gooey, deadpan entry packed with ooze, one liners, character actors and deranged alien lore. They’re four very different films set against the same template and idea of this Xenomorph but honestly they are all brilliant in their own way and I couldn’t pick a favourite. The haunted, silent corridors hiding unseen horror that Scott gave us. Cameron’s lovable, rambunctious squad of colonial marines teaming up with Ripley and scene stealing Newt. The acrid, eerie penitentiary world Ripley finds herself clawing for life on in Fincher’s nightmarish vision. That horrific Butterfly alien hybrid and the original blueprint for Joss Whedon’s Firefly Space pirates led by Michael fuckin’ Wincott and Ron friggin Perlman in Jeunet’s funhouse of gore and dark comedy. Just so, so much to love.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Ghosts Of Mars, there’s a title that better get lived up to with the film therein. John Carpenter has stated himself that he never meant to make something for people to take seriously and one need only look at the title to surmise that brainpower won’t be mandatory here and you essentially get an escapist space opera set to bangin’ heavy metal music without much of a brain in its head. I feel like had this been made back in the 80’s when most of the filmmaker’s flagship stuff came out it would have been received better. I mean, all of his films have headline grabbing, B movie titles and are essentially genre driven entertainment, but this being released in 2001, maybe people expected something a little different. Anyways I had a ton of fun with it, I mean how can you not enjoy a flick called Ghosts Of Mars for fuck sake.

As a nearly deserted freight train rolls into the Martian city of Chryse, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) is the only survivor and recalls in flashback how she and her team encountered something nasty out there that crawled out of a mining tunnel and wreaked havoc on the surrounding towns. After some trigger happy demolition work a door was opened to an ancient tomb, awakening a red cloud of what can only be called John Carpenter’s The Martian Fog. In it are evil, restless spirits who take over dead bodies and reanimate them with all the style and energy of something like Uruk Hai Orcs crosses with Cenobites by way of Rob Zombie fans. Hordes of self mutilated, angry goth punk undead storm the deserted mining camps and Ballard is forced to team up with convict Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) to survive. They’re joined by other Martian PD including Pam Grier, Jason Statham and rookie Clea Duvall who was one of my first crushes in cinema, is always low key awesome and always steals the show. Her playing a Martian Cop with uniform and gun is the height of cool and attractiveness for me and I suspect half the reason I have such a soft spot for this film.

Anyways, call it what you will but don’t expect serous entertainment here and if you do and end up disappointed you’re only letting yourself down and shouldn’t blame it on this blast of a flick. Henstridge and Sir Cube actually have pretty good chemistry whether running around blasting guns or taking a few moments of downtime. Statham gets an overwritten, goofy horn-dog role but his presence is enough to justify such hammy characterization. Grier isn’t around for long unfortunately but her very name in the credits alone is enough to land some cool points. This film has a score that sort of rips through your sound system like a bat out of hell and feels nothing like Carpenter’s usual brand of ominous, rhythmic synths. The director does do part of the composing but most of the work is delegated to NYC heavy metal band Anthrax and the result is a balls out composition that really accents the film with an edge and fits right in with the costume/set dec work, all spikes, nails, piercings and rusty sharpened melee weapons flung about. This film apparently caused Carpenter to shun the Hollywood vibe and go into exile until he made 2010’s The Ward. I wish audiences had had their heads a little less up their asses in going into it and remembered why Carpenter is so special and prolific in the first place. He makes high concept horror/action/SciFi for dedicated fans of all genres, and Ghosts Of Mars covers all bases just damn fine, no matter what years of bad press or Ice Cube himself had to say about it. It’s pretty rich for someone to go on record saying this is the worst film they’ve been involved with when they also did hot garbage like Are We There Yet, Ride Along, XXX 2, Torque and I could go on. Get real. Anyways I digress but as you can tell I love this scrappy little gem, consider it highly undervalued and would definitely recommend it. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Walken Performances

Whenever Christopher Walken shows up in a film you can practically feel the energy and interest go up in an audience, whether they know him by name and are studious of his massive career (raises hand) or they just remember that instantly recognizable face. Whether it’s a supporting role, cameo or star turn there’s something about his electric eyes, steady yet spooky voice and offhandedly eccentric mannerisms that make him something truly special. His career is an epic one that spans comedies, drama, musicals, stage plays, music videos (that Fatboy Slim dance marathon!!), a Bond movie, the odd horror flick and a good dose of obscure indies that I’ve always loved to hunt down. Here are my top ten personal favourites! Please share yours as well and enjoy:

10. Max Shreck in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

With a shock of electric silver hair and a razor sharp pinstripe suit, Walken embodies monstrous corporate evil as Gotham’s most corrupt business tycoon. I’m not sure if Shreck was a villain that ever showed up in the comics or if he’s something Burton dreamed up for the film, but in any case he makes just as much of a morbid impression as Danny Devito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in the baddie department.

9. Gabriel in The Prophecy Trilogy

Walken takes a decidedly darker approach to the Angel Gabriel here, playing him as a rogue operative at war with god and his forces and engaged in casual genocide of the human race to both achieve his goal and simply prove a point. The cool thing about Walken as an actor is that most of his career finds him playing characters in crime dramas, comedies, real people in the real world, no matter how wacky they get. But he also has the deft versatility to pull off something otherworldly and supernatural too, as you can see by this moody, intense characterization that definitely suggests something out of this world.

8. The Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

I had to. Roger Ebert wrote in his review of this film:

“ Note: No power on earth could drag from me the identity of the unbilled actor who plays the Horseman when he has a head. But you will agree he is the only logical choice. “

Is that not the perfect summation? He looks positively animalistic here as the big bad in Burtons best and most underrated film, sporting rock star hair, teeth whittled down to points and a thunderous roar which is the only actual dialogue he ever has in the role. Walken is a lot of things but one that you could boil his complex essence down to is ‘both scary and funny.’ If there’s one role that reinforces that it’s this, he’s somehow legitimately terrifying and ridiculously hilarious in the same note. That takes skill and charisma.

7. Caesar The Exterminator in Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt

There’s something in the way one observes a crazed Walken crawling along the floor adorned in a headlamp and tactical gear, tasting dried mouse droppings to learn the gender of his quarry. Only he could take a ten minute exterminator role intended as comic relief and turn it into the kind of bizarre, deranged performance art that steals an entire film. I’ll also add that the film overall including his presence is one of the most overlooked of the 90’s and a misunderstood dark comedy/fairy tale that was unfairly billed as a kids film and lost on many dismissive viewers. Time for re-evaluation.

6. Frank Abagnale Sr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can

A family man whose reckless decisions lead to a radically different lifestyle and a diminished self image, Walken nails both the fierce pride and detrimental flaws of this character while infusing a deep love for his wife and son. It’s a complex portrayal that despite being a sideline supporting character, fills the film with humanity and humility. Don’t even get me started on the “two mice fell into a bucket of cream monologue.”

5. Paul Rayburn in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire

Another performance filled with subtly sorrowful regret, Rayburn is an ex military man who shares a past connection with Denzel Washington’s John Creasy, and the two share several central scenes of mutual remorse and guilt that land hard. Walken is good at masking deep set emotion with a joke, cloudy half smile or idiosyncratic anecdote, but the intention burns bright beneath whatever deflection tactic he employs, and his work here is no exception.

4. Vincenzo Coccotti in Tony Scott’s True Romance

Like many actors in this film, Chris only gets one scene or so to strut his stuff, but the nasty verbal showdown with Dennis Hopper here is not only one of the most memorable of the film but of cinema itself. He’s an apex predator here, a sociopathic mafia don who’s used to getting his way and accustomed to nobody standing up to him. His simultaneously bemused and aghast reaction at essentially being owned by Hopper’s wily ex cop is something for the ages and provides the film with some it’s best humour and scariest violence. “You’re a cantaloupe!”

3. Brad Whitewood Sr. in James Foley’s At Close Range

Walken has portrayed a lot of villains, scumbags and less than desirable dudes but Brad takes the fucking cake. Leader of a rural band of small time thieves, he re-enters the lives of his two sons (Sean and Chris Penn) he left years earlier and from the moment they become involved with him nothing good comes of it. He’s charming and affable at first but when the heat shows up it becomes very clear this guy will kill anyone, including his own sons, to keep himself afloat. This is a mean, sad and bleak spirited film with a cold, ruthless central performance from Walken. But it’s worth it to observe just how far human nature can go into extremes that all of us hope we don’t ever have to encounter.

2. Nick in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter

One of several young men who go from life in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania to the horrors of the Viet Nam war, he brings all the subtleties of the world into his work here, showing how the darkness out there can smother someone’s soul to the point that they don’t even know who they are anymore. One of my favourite moments in Walken’s entire career is in this film, where a nurse in a military hospital asks him who he is and who to contact in this situation. The actor expertly but unobtrusively displays a quiet, confused and utterly devastating mental breakdown as the reality of what has happened to him sets in. It’s showcase Walken for how believable it is and one of the finest scenes he has ever crafted.

1. Frank White in Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

The most introverted criminal kingpin ever to show up in cinema, Walken plays a recently paroled crime kingpin who’s ready to take back the territory he lost while in the slammer, with some help from his rambunctious crew headed up by a fearsomely unstable Laurence Fishburne. The performance I picked for top spot isn’t a weird one, a hyperactive comedic turn, a funny scary villain or anything that he’s outright known for. There’s something remarkably compelling and down to earth about Frank, something very ‘street.’ His name is fitting because that’s how he approaches both business and relationships: with a blunt, no nonsense and vaguely sadistic air. Ferrara directs one of the best NYC crime dramas ever made here, he and Walken make the moody final scene ring with unexpected, grim poetry.

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Starman

John Carpenter usually has a flair for the macabre and the darkly mysterious forces that our world and others have to offer, but such is not the case with Starman, a touching, tender science fiction story showcasing one knockout of a performance from Jeff Bridges.

When an extraterrestrial spaceship crashes somewhere in the Midwest, the being living inside wanders out and takes the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) deceased husband to make her a little less jumpy, which is an interesting strategy. So begins a road trip to an extraction point in Arizona with her sort of held hostage but quickly warming up to this curious, childlike extraterrestrial who slowly learns what earth life is all about. Meanwhile various factions of the government including an amoral NSA asshole (Richard Jaeckel) and a pacifist scientist (Charles Martin Smith, terrific) pursue them all over the region but mostly just trip on their shoelaces. Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the alien, infusing a truly otherworldly quality into his gentle, restrained performance full of distinct mannerisms, expert physicality and beautiful subtleties. The chemistry between the two of them is so good you can practically feel it sparkling around the in the air. Allen’s performance works wonders too, beginning on a sorrowful note and eventually opening up to hope and happiness once again.

This is essentially a story of loss, and how one can deal with it. Granted there’s not a lookalike space alien out there for everyone who has lost someone but Bridges’s presence feels like an essence that could be any type of good, helpful quality that enters someone’s life following such an incident. This is the type of compassionate, heartfelt film that leaves a warm glow in the living room when the credits dim, and Carpenter blesses it with his trademark touch while giving it a slighter, brighter atmosphere than usual. The score by Jack Nitzsche is also a brilliant composition that adds to everything I’ve outlined above. Great film.

-Nate Hill

All That We See or Seem: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Dreams and the Subconscious

What happens to us when we sleep? How does our collective and individual subconscious influence the way we exist both awake and dreaming? It’s roughly half our lives, so time spent in the subconscious realms, land of the dead and places beyond mean a lot to our existence as a complete life cycle. There are many films out there that explore these concepts. Some visually, some emotionally but always with a good deal of creativity and imagination. From virtual prisms to nocturnal demons to tangible alternate realities and the deities that dwell therein, it’s a complex, mysterious sub-genre! Here are my personal top ten..

10. Neil Jordan’s In Dreams

A psychic link is established early on between a small town housewife (Anette Bening) and a bizarre, elusive serial killer (Robert Downey Jr). But why are they connected? What do the visions she has even mean, manifesting to her in vague images and abstract impressions that only suggest the evil lurking out there? Jordan is a filmmaker obsessed with mood and style but also dutiful in making sure that such things serve that story and have weight. This is a gorgeous looking psychological fairytale with an avant-garde performance from Downey, breathtaking visuals and excellent supporting work from Aiden Quinn, Stephen Rea and Paul Guilfoyle.

9. Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler

This abnormally surreal piece of midnite movie madness sees a stoic Dermot Mulroney as the titular Rambler on a post-prison meander through a version of America’s southwest that’s been poisoned by abstract qualities and turned on its head. It isn’t explicitly about the subconscious other than a subplot in which a bemused scientist (James Cady) records people’s dreams onto a VHS doohickey, an endeavour that goes wrong in the most hilarious of ways (think Scanners except bloodier). However, I’ve rarely seen a film that captures nightmare logic like this gnarly little piece does. It isn’t ever said whether the Rambler’s journey is all a dream or not, but the feeling one gets as he ambles dazedly from one bizarre encounter to the next, the nonsensical fashion of language used and the overall feeling that one has been lost in some threatening netherworld where sensory input has been scrambled and people are indistinct grotesqueries is overpowering. Be warned with this one, there’s nothing pleasant about it, it exists purely to shock, disgust and disorient, areas in which it thoroughly earns its keep.

8. Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

The most playful film on this list sees Dennis Quaid as a young psychic recruited by government scientist Max Von Sydow to enter the dreams of the US president (Eddie Albert), who has been having some disturbing nightmares. There’s a conspiracy afoot involving a shady government big-shot (Christopher Plummer) and time is running out to decipher the mystery. This is a colourful kaleidoscope of a flick with dazzling special effects, especially in the impressive dream sequences. A giant cobra rears it’s head, mutants leer out from a nuclear wasteland, an eerie, endless staircase descends into darkness and the visual aspect overall is exceptional.

7. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street

Dreams get the slasher treatment with lucrative and legendary results in this lean, mean horror flick that would go on to span a mammoth franchise. Using clever practical effects, an ambient score and Robert Englund’s now iconic performance as dream demon Fred Krueger, Craven sculpts an atmospheric aesthetic for the ages. Johnny Depp’s first role in cinema as well, and he gets eaten by a bed no less. I dare you to google the true story that inspired Craven to write this film, you might just have some nightmares of your own.

6. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika

Dreams as a collective and quite literal parade come tumbling into our world when a therapist’s machine to enter them is stolen by a terrorist. This film truly breaks some boundaries in what storytelling can do and show with animation, and requires several viewings to appreciate the full scope of vision. Kon and his animators thoroughly paint in all the corners and write a dense, chaotic script full of moving parts and wild ideas in telling the story of dreams run amok, with a deft subplot about cinema itself thrown in seemingly just for fun.

5. Jamin Winans’s Ink

This is one I’ve been championing for years, a low budget indie that defies description in ways that you won’t see coming. The multifaceted story is free from the bonds of time and space and sees a mysterious supernatural demon named Ink kidnap a young girl (Quinn Hunchar) and drag her off into the dream realms for some vaguely nefarious purpose which soon becomes appallingly clear. Meanwhile, the forces of light and darkness that rule over our unconscious bodies while we sleep both race to track Ink down and engage in a furious war for the girl’s soul. That seems like a chunk of exposition, doesn’t it? Well it doesn’t even hint at the wonders, revelations, trips to alternate dimensions, flashbacks to several different pasts and narrative twists to come. This is a gorgeously moving fantasy film that works wonders with a scant budget but also gets surprisingly deep and psychological in exploring its human characters, a mini masterpiece that I will recommend until the end of time.

4. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

This is technically my favourite film of all time but I’m trying to gauge this list on which films provide a provocative and comprehensive view of dreams and the subconscious, so here we are at #4. Lynch’s challenging masterpiece involves many aspects and moving parts, but a big influence on narrative is the creeping presence of mysterious spiritual beings that reside in the mythical plane of The Black Lodge and manifest in dreams. Protagonist Laura Palmer has harrowing nightmares that present an illogical, fractured view of the dark forces amassing against her and others who live in the Pacific Northwest town that is filled with secrets. David Bowie also shows up, literally escaping a tangible nightmare very briefly to incoherently warn his FBI buddies about something before being dragged off back to the netherworld.

3. Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky

Yes this is a remake of a Spanish film that also starred Penelope Cruz in the same role she plays here, and I’ve had the discussion many times on which film is better. This one speaks to me far more than the original though, Crowe’s hazy hued, autumn in New York aesthetic is gorgeous and don’t get me started on the amazing soundtrack. Tom Cruise is a bratty publishing heir who discovers the danger of his ways in encounters with two very different women, angelic Cruz and unstable Cameron Diaz. The story is about much more of course but to say too much here would be to ruin it. It’s a fantastic piece of heartbreaking filmmaking with a haunting conclusion and solid supporting turns from Jason Lee, Tilda Swindon, Michael Shannon, Timothy Spall, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Alicia Witt and Kurt Russell.

2. Christopher Nolan’s Inception

An obvious choice no doubt, but this is every bit the magnificent game changer its reputed to be, and a blockbuster with a brain in its head. Combining elements of corporate espionage with dreaming, Nolan tells a magisterial, hugely ambitious tale of Leonardo DiCaprio’s thief of the subconscious and his crew in pulling off a dangerous, near impossible task. What really makes the film work for me though is the relationship with his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard) and how it highlights the toll that entering dreams would take on your psyche as the forces that sculpt reality begin to crack and there’s danger of getting lost in these realms. It’s so much more than just a pseudo heist flick that happens to take place inside a dream world, there’s psychological depth, a rubik’s cube of a narrative to feast on and some truly heartrending moments when we discover just how much power the unconscious mind has over our souls.

1. Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

The hunt for a heinous serial killer ends with his dramatic capture in a spectacular FBI raid. End of story? Not so much, as he’s in a permanent coma and his last victim is still out there somewhere in captivity, with time running out. Jennifer Lopez is a compassionate child psychologist who uses futuristic technology to enter the man’s terrifying subconscious and look for clues, as well as appeal to the side of him that still retains innocence. Singh is a master stylistic storyteller and the images, sound, costumes and visual dreamscapes on display are like eye candy for the spirit and tell this story in an otherworldly fashion that I can’t even describe here. Vincent D’Onofrio is hauntingly complex as the killer, Vince Vaughn grounded and intense as the agent spearheading the search and the eclectic cast includes Patrick Bauchau, Dean Norris, Tara Subkoff, Peter Sarsgaard, Jack Conley, Dylan Baker, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Pruitt Taylor Vince, scream queen Musetta Vander and the late great character actor James Gammon. This is top of my list and one of my favourite films of all time, partly for the gentle yet arresting way it dives into the psyches of several characters, also the pure artistic innovation present in the visuals that are constantly changing, shaping and mapping out the subconscious using picturesque poetry, startlingly graphic horror and an ever present, bewitchingly ethereal score from Howard Shore.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share some of your favourites of this genre in the comments!! More to come as well!

-Nate Hill