It is a new year, and there are resolutions to be made. I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions myself, but allow me to suggest one for you, dear readers. Repeat after me: “I hereby resolve to watch more thought-provoking and artistic films this year.” Abandon your "Twilight" DVDs, throw Michael Bay in the trash, and swear off Adam Sandler forever. Here are ten alternatives to get you started:
Breaking the Waves – The first in Lars Von Trier’s “Golden Heart Trilogy,” this film is about a simple woman named Bess who loves her husband to the point of obsession – so when he becomes paralyzed and asks her to take lovers to fulfill his fantasies, she reluctantly (at first) complies. It is a beautiful and troubling film rife with intriguing religious symbolism.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover – Four players: the crude and demeaning thief, his beautiful wife who is sick of him, the bookstore owner she takes as her lover, and the cook in whose restaurant all this comes to pass. This is a dark and philosophical film about sex, violence, and food, and it keeps the viewer gripped until the shocking finale.
Dancer in the Dark – Björk is quoted as saying that director Lars Von Trier “broke my soul” to obtain her gut-wrenching performance as Selma, a Czech immigrant who is trying to raise enough money for an operation for her son’s eyes. She gets joy out of life by imagining herself as living in a musical, and tries to hold on when her whole world goes to hell. If you don’t bawl your eyes out, you have no soul.
Henry & June – The true story of the love triangle between Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and his wife June in Paris in 1931. This is a deeply beautiful and erotic film which explores the idea of sexuality as an essential life experience rather than merely an expression of love. (Bonus suggestion: read Miller’s amazing novel “Tropic of Cancer” and Anaïs Nin’s collection of erotic fiction, “Little Birds.”)
Inland Empire – David Lynch’s latest offering is about a woman named Nikki who is cast as the lead female in a film. Any semblance of narrative quickly crumbles as we are plunged into a horrific labyrinthine world where nothing makes sense and reality itself comes into question. It is like watching a nightmare, and the viewer comes away feeling brain-raped – and yet it is so beautiful in its own way. (Pro tip: watch Lynch’s short-lived television show “Twin Peaks” beforehand for some possible hint on what may be going on here.)