It’s getting harder and harder to blow peoples’ minds. With all the talk about magnets, it seems like just about anything is possible. But there are still some movies that rise above the clamor and stand as truly confounding works of art. These artifacts are–by proxy of filmmaking excellence or the sheer veracity of ideas–mindbenders. Here’s our picks from the ’90s on:
5. Dark City (1998)
We relive the same day, over and over, as part of an experiment run by a dying alien race known only as the Strangers. John Murdoch discovers what’s up and uses his psychokinetic powers to fight back, ultimately uncovering an even more horrifying reality. This film has a massive cult following, and for a reason. A stunningly original neo noir SF aesthetic, haunting imagery, and a fun performance by Keifer Sutherland make this a flick that will be remembered just as long as the Matrix, which was released the same year.
4. Moon (2009)
Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the ‘solitary’ over-seer of the automated harvesters which extract helium-3 from the lunar surface. After a near-death accident, Sam realizes he’s not alone, and his new friends are an awful lot like him. This film poses a complex biotechnological nightmare and follows it to its logical conclusion. Directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, Moon is a masterpiece that will receive its due thanks later this century.
3. Shutter Island (2010)
No, not Inception, Shutter Island, the other Leo DiCaprio 2010 mind-bender that is actually much better. Legendary director Martin Scorsese’s first thriller takes your mind out, rearranges your thoughts, puts it back in and then sits back and watches you scramble to make sense of reality. If you think you have this movie figured out watch it again and ask yourself what’s really going on in the lighthouse. If you’re smirking right now we’re talking to you.
2. Primer (2004)
This movie is about two guys who invent time travel in their garage. Beyond that, you’re on your own. Watching Primer is kind of like taking not enough bad acid.
1. eXistenZ (1999)
David Cronenberg’s impregnable tale of organic virtual reality gaming. You play by allowing a hole in your lower back to be penetrated by a rubber fetus-looking console. Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh are game players who are never sure what game characters they’re playing. Pinned against a cabal of neo-terrorists, they find themselves trapped in multiple levels of unreality- a game within a game within a game, etc. The audience, too, never discovers the objective environment of the film, who the good guys and bad guys are, or even what year it is, creating a near future in which truth and reality are mediated by apocryphal entertainment vendors.
Honorable mindbender mentions: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, 12 Monkeys, A Scanner Darkly, The 13th Floor, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cosmopolis, Inception, The Matrix, Prometheus