The Ford Fifteen: Weirdest Films I’ve Seen
For one time only (hopefully), the Ford Five has been expanded to fifteen. Why? Because this is a countdown of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen too many to fit into a list of five (even fifteen was a struggle!). There’s a long list of criteria for a film being weird; a lack of narrative, quirky humour, lack of sense, a dream or nightmare like quality, over the top performances, and so forth. I’m sure there are even weirder films out there than some that make this list, but I made the conscious decision to only include the films I have seen and know enough about to judge them. Without further ado, here’s the list!
I decided to exclude the works of David Cronenberg, for the simple reason that I have already written at length about his films and decided that no more could be said on the subject. Similarly, I didn’t include The Loved Ones, because it has already been mentioned in previous articles. Shane Carruth, currently in cinemas with Upstream Colour, first made his name with the baffling Primer, which I decided not to include for the simple reason that I don’t understand any of the film, and for all I know, makes perfect sense if I were a physicist.
A mash of Cronenbergian horror, Lynch-like suburban menace and pitch black post-Heathers high school comedy, Excision is a disturbing and bloody tale of a teenage girl with dreams of becoming a surgeon to save her sister. Through dreams of necrophilia and brutal murders, plenty of bad taste dialogue and supporting turns from such controversial figures as John Waters and Tracey Lords, Excision is an outlandish and utterly demented film that provokes as many shocked laughs as it does gasps.
Zombie films have always seemed like straightforward propositions; at least, they did until Pontypool came along. Criminally underseen, Pontypool focuses on a radio presenter trapped in the studio with his assistant as an outbreak of infected people begin to take over the small titular town. This wouldn’t be so odd, if it wasn’t for the fact that the infection is spread through terms of affection; presenter Grant has to stop his assistant from being infected by convincing her that words have different meanings. Canadian Bruce McDonald managed to conjure an atmosphere of dread and desolation through phone ins and the French language, and should have received more plaudits for his unique effort.
The Beaver (2011)
After Mel Gibson’s infamous meltdown, his career seemed all but over. Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, which gave him his first starring role after all the trouble, was a perfect match for his inner turmoil, a strange, offbeat black comedy about a depressed man who, after failing to kill himself, takes on the persona of a beaver puppet, inexplicably with a cockney accent. Despite the fact that Gibson gives a brilliant, bewildering performance, The Beaver is an inconsistent effort that comes across as an average suburban comedy that took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2010)
Nicolas Cage has become an icon of the internet due to his crazy, all out performances, bizarre quotes and strange choice of films, and with the amount of memes and videos he’s inspired, it is easy to forget just how good of an actor he is, and this, Werner Herzog’s waking dream of a cop film, in which Cage plays a lieutenant constantly out of his mind on drugs, is up there with his best performances. From threatening an old woman in a wheelchair with a gun, to shooting at a corpse because “his soul is breakdancing”, Bad Lieutenant is one of the most hallucinatory films about drugs ever made, and would be Cage’s weirdest, if it wasn’t for a certain film he made with the master of weird screenplays…
Charlie Kauffman, who will make plenty of appearances in this list, is one of the few true originals in Hollywood, and Adapatation. is one of his finest and most emotional scripts. A baffling adaptation of The Orchid Thief directed by Spike Jonze, Adaptation. follows Kauffman himself, and his fictional twin Donald (both played by Nicolas Cage in his finest performances to date) as they attempt to adapt an impossible book. It occasionally goes beyond meta into a strange new dimension, but rather than indulgent, Adaptation. is a beautifully crafted film about sibling rivalry, and perhaps the craziest winner of a Best Adapted Screenplay award there ever will be.
Donnie Darko (2001)
The definition of a cult film, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, the tale of the titular teenager who sleepwalks out of his house the night a jet engine falls through his room, was a flop on first release and hated by most who saw it, but eventually came to be a huge seller when released on DVD. The breakthrough film for both Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as the debut feature of Seth Rogen, Donnie Darko is an often confusing and intricate film in which Donnie, a troubled and disturbed young man, is told by a figure in a bunny costume that the world will end, and goes about stopping it, through mind bending paradox and time travel. Numerous viewings of the film still won’t make it much clearer.
The Fountain (2006)
One of the most divisive films of the decade, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is a heartbreaking tale that spans the entire length of the universe. The tale of three separate men in time, all played brilliantly by Hugh Jackman, The Fountain is a bold and creative story that features scientist Tom attempt to cure his cancer ridden wife (Rachel Weisz) while she writes a book about conquistador Tomas, searching for the tree of life, and a third strand sees space traveller Tommy float about in a biodome. Too slow for some tastes, too arty for others, The Fountain requires a lot of patience, but there’s no denying it packs an emotional punch.
A Field in England (2013)
New British favourite Ben Wheatley only makes films to please his creative vision, and A Field in England is quite clearly the work of somebody not interested in the mainstream. The basic plot sees some English Civil War soldiers (including Reece Shearsmith) forced to dig for unknown treasures by a bizarre alchemist (Michael Smiley), but this is just an excuse for some baffling and creepy moments. One character is pulled on by rope, there’s a living tableaux and, when Shearsmith is force fed high levels of drugs, he undergoes one of the most terrifying transformations seen on film. It makes very little sense, but it looks and sounds fantastic, and is an atmospheric and intense piece.
In numerous cases, the scariest films are made by non-horror directors. This is certainly true of Danish auteur Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, a gruesome, arty horror film that takes the cliché cabin-in-the-woods story and turns into something much more macabre. Boasting haunting performances from indie favourites Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist is a film that’s impossible to forget once seen. Opening with graphic sex and a child’s death, Antichrist seems almost close to normal until a fox turns up and begins to talk. From there, the film becomes a brutal slasher as Gainsbourg goes violent against numerous sexual organs and Dafoe tries to stay alive. Antichrist is too unpleasant for the mainstream and, like most Von Trier films, goes too far, but it’s certainly different, and has a strange, tense atmosphere.
Up there with The Human Centipede for being one of the most infamous and talked about horrors of the decade, Teeth was a rather sleazy and unpleasant film which received mainstream attention and notoriety for its bad taste storyline. In the film, by first timer Mitchell Lichtenstein, a teenage girl discovers she has a set of teeth in her vagina, which she uses to fend off various sex attackers in her small town. Though Teeth portrays rape, paedophilia and incest as comic foils, and I found it mostly pretty garish and offensive, it is certainly innovative and unlike any other major horror film of recent years, and should probably be seen once for curiosities’ sake.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
The directorial debut of Charlie Kauffman, Synecdoche, New York is one of the most confusing and complicated scripts ever written. Phillip Seymour Hoffman brilliantly plays a theatre director who erects a huge, living world in a studio and sets out creating his entire life, including actors playing him, the people he know, and the actors playing the people he knows. As the film goes on, events spiral out of control and all sense of reality is lost. It requires numerous views to really follow the final section at all, and many people really hate the film’s, complicated and self satisfied style, but if you’re willing to go along with the ride, it’s a rewarding experience. Strangely though, it isn’t actually the weirdest Kauffman film…
Being John Malkovich (1999)
The third film scripted by Charlie Kauffman and proof that he is one of the pioneers of the bizarre, Being John Malkovich is one of the most out there films ever dreamt up. Meta before meta was popular, Being John Malkovich involves a puppeteer, played by John Cusack, who finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich and begins renting out his mind. Famous for its scene of Malkovich entering his own head and seeing an entire world made up of himself, Being John Malkovich is hilarious, baffling and strangely poignant, as Malkovich begins to lose his slip on his own body. It must be seen to be believed.
Possibly the finest of all the video nasties of the 80’s, Possession is an ultra-intense, blood soaked horror that takes in Cronenbergian body horror, Lynchian nightmare suburbia and one of the finest performances in any film by Isabelle Adjani. The basic plot revolves around a messy divorce between Adjani and Sam Neill, but as he begins to spy on her strange activities, he soon discovers she’s having an affair with a hideous squid-like creature. To reveal any more would spoil the fun, but all that needs to be said is that Possession is an uncomfortable, unforgettable film that features some of the most startling imagery of horror cinema.
Holy Motors (2012)
So far the weirdest film of this decade, Leos Carax’s unexplainable film revolves Oscar, an ‘actor’ who spends his day riding to various locations around France, performing a variety of unusual characters. Starting off as an old beggar woman, Oscar is, at various times: a sexual motion capture artist; a sullen father picking up his teenage daughter; a Chinese gangster; and a scary tramp called ‘Mr. Shit’. In turns funny, scary, bloody and just downright peculiar, Holy Motors may lose steam towards the end, but it never stops being a completely demented, unique vision that was one of the finest films of 2012. It would have claimed the top spot, had a certain auteur not been making films as strange as Holy Motors for nearly four decades…
Every David Lynch film
Okay, I know it’s a cheat, but honestly, how can you try and choose the weirdest film from Lynch’s extensive back catalogue? Every single one of his films has been baffling, creepy or inexplicable, and I decided it would be best to group them all together. Starting with 1977’s Eraserhead, with its deformed mutant baby and the singing lady in the radiator, Lynch has made a living out of tapping into suburban nightmares. Think of 1986’s Blue Velvet, with Dennis Hopper huffing gas and screaming “Baby wants to fuck!” Think of 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, in which school girl Laura Palmer discovers the demon that has abused her for most of her life is her own father. In the later stages of the decade, he made Lost Highway, in which Bill Pullman and his girlfriend receive sinister video tapes from the inside of his house, and Pullman meets a man who talks to him fron inside Pullman’s house, whilst staring face to face with him. In the noughties, he made Mullholland Drive, his masterpiece that featured two interweaving narratives and the insidious Club Silencio, while Inland Empire was his most confusing yet, with performances upon performances and a subplot set in 1930’s Poland. David Lynch has had a terrific, genre defying career that has made him one of the most respected filmmakers in the world, and here’s hoping he’ll continue to make disturbing, weird films for the rest of his career.
Thanks for reading, and join me next time where I’ll be ranking my top five Dario Argento films!
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: The Ford Five
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