Top 5 Movie Guide: Mindbenders

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, with the release of this weekend's "Trance", we decided to compile a list of some of our favorite Mind-Bending Movies! "Trance" is the latest film from director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting", "28 Days Later"), and stars James McAvoy as a fine art auctioneer who teams up with a criminal gang to steal a painting worth millions of dollars. But after suffering a blow to the head during the heist he awakens to discover he has no memory of where he hid the painting. When physical threats and torture fail to produce answers, the gang's leader hires a hypnotherapist to delve into the darkest recesses of his psyche. As she begins to unravel his broken subconscious, the lines between truth, suggestion, and deceit begin to blur.

That last line really sums up the entire philosophy of this genre: blurring the line between truth and reality. The films we took a look at below are ones that are generally a bit different that your usual, mindless Hollywood fare. While we'll all admit to a certain love for a summer blockbuster that forces us to do nothing more than have our faces melted with the amazing special effects and action displays, every now and then, we look for something that's a bit more stimulating. While many of the films in this category leave some scratching their heads, they also invite others to soak in repeat viewings, desperate to crack their hard-to-decipher codes. The films featured below are movies that don’t just make you think, they change the way you think; movies that hit you on a visceral and intellectual level.

So without further ado, hit the jump to see which titles made each of our lists!

Alex Schopp -
So many great titles available for this list. I generally went with films that I most enjoy watching, not necessarily the ones I think are most "bendy". But that's the point of this site, right? Anyway, I hope my colleagues below can pick me up on some of the titles I was forced to leave off.

     1. Total Recall (1990)

I've always really loved this film, and surprisingly (or maybe not), the recent remake only heightened my appreciation for it. Derek does a great job below of laying out exactly why this is an amazing film. I'd throw in the use of awesome practical effects as well, but otherwise, he sums it up perfectly.
     2. The Matrix (1999)
I don't think I was ever a huge fan of this franchise, so this movie is here more for my respect of it than anything (not that I didn't enjoy watching it though). This film definitely made me think about existence and what is real/not real, and I think there was even a time in my life when I was sure the ideas in this film could be true. Any movie that convincingly suggests we're living in a fantasy world keeps my attention - I'm always looking for something grander. Also, I remember being quite upset when I was unable to bend a spoon with my mind like the weird little kid did.
     3. Vanilla Sky (2001)
I think a lot of people hate this movie (right?), but I've really liked it for a long time. I could do without Cameron Diaz's presence, but the rest of the cast is quite strong. I love/hate the out-of-control spiral that Cruise's character experiences - that very concept is exactly why I'm too afraid to do any psychedelic drugs! The film does a nice job of keeping the truth from us until the very end, and up until that point, you're probably not going to guess what's going on. The final scene really sinks in your stomach, too. Also, as is the case with just about any Cameron Crowe film, the soundtrack is fantastic.
     4. Source Code (2011)
I'm not sure how well this movie is going to be remembered years from now, but it was one of the biggest surprises of 2011 for me. As usual, Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job in this role, and the supporting cast featured some of my favorites. I thought the pacing for the film was excellent, and even though this looked like it was going to be a standard mainstream sci-fi film, it dug a bit deeper with its themes and provided a bit more thought than I expected.
     5. Being John Malkovich (1999)
This movie is so weird. I do love John Cusack's character though, and the imagery/visual design, which was off-putting to me the first time I saw the film, sticks in my mind more than anything nowadays. I also can't decide if I love or hate how many things happen in this film with almost no explanation. Do I appreciate the director forcing us to just go with these elements or do I wish there were stronger details present? I know I still have questions after watching the film, but surely that was the point.

Ben Foutch -

     1. Mulholland Drive (1999)

The film industry thrives on marketing glamour and illusions that veil a history of dirty money, murder, and broken dreams. Much like his other films, Lynch guides us through a wild fever dream that explores the dark and hidden layers of humanity, while (in this case) pulling back the curtain to reveal the seedy and desperate linings of Hollywood.
     2. Inception (2010)
I've always been fascinated with the nature of dreams and the ability of the mind to use them as separate realities. Nolan taps into this power of creation and delivers a tense and riveting ride through the imagination and subconscious of the characters within.
     3. Jacob's Ladder (1990)
I've seen this multiple times since childhood and it still gives me the creeps. Lyne's nightmare aesthetic and disturbing imagery effectively transports you into the abyss of a deteriorating mind.
     4. Videodrome (1983)
Cronenberg delivers a haunting and visceral tale portraying the horrors of our addiction to media, signifying the binding of entertainment through technology to the mind and body. "Long Live the New Flesh".
     5. Primer (2004)
First time director Shane Carruth gives an inspired and entertaining take on the complexities of time travel with a shoe string budget and no frills approach. Like all of the films on the list, the narrative is only a vessel for the underlying philosophical musings.

Derek Clem -
I apologize if my list reads facile, it's just so difficult for me to rule out watchability when making a list. I guess you could say this is a list of Mind Benders that I can easily pop into the DVD player for repeat viewings, which in turn makes them easily accessible, predictable, and perhaps not so mind-bendy, when compared to what I'm certain Ben's list will look like.

     1. The Matrix (1999)

I saw this opening night and loved it. Soon the movie reached such an exhausting status in pop culture that my interest in the film started to deplete; it was all anyone ever talked about. Luckily, the sequels were so bad that people started to disregard the franchise as a whole allowing me to revisit the film and remember why I originally loved it so much.
     2. Total Recall (1990)
Nostalgia, Science Fiction, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Three components that will make any film great.
     3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Where is Jim Carrey's Best Actor Oscar for this role? Where's this movie's Best Picture Oscar? Both would have been well deserved.
     4. Solaris (2002)
Probably the most mind-bendy of all the mind benders on my list. It's possible this would even top my Steven Soderbergh list if I ever made one. It's such a haunting yet cozy movie. It feels so good visually and audibly that I'll sometimes turn it on just to take a nap. I don't mean that in a negative way.
     5. Sucker Punch (2011)
A truly phenomenal film. Like any Star Trek episode featuring Orion slave girls, this is a great exercise in Existential Feminism. Beauty and sensuality is almost always stronger than brawn. keep your minds sharp, men.

Nathan Hinds -
Since this was such a broad category with so many amazing films (possibly the most stacked genre I've researched), I decided to narrow my choices to films that questioned reality but weren't due to mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, insomnia, etc.

     1. Inception (2010)

I fully believe Christopher Nolan is the greatest director to come around since Steven Spielberg. I haven't seen anyone who can take original subject matter and make it both thought-provoking and entertaining so effortlessly. He truly is a master of his craft.
     2. Total Recall (1990)
This probably has the highest watchability of any movie on my list. It's the perfect blend of sci-fi, action and cheesiness.
     3. Looper (2012)
I think this works for this list. Even though everything you see is technically real, it definitely makes you question whether or not what's going on in the present actually matters, and/or if it can just be altered later by someone going back in time.
     4. Source Code (2011)
I considered this this the "Looper" of 2011 - or, I guess technically "Looper" was the "Source Code" of 2012. I just happened to like "Looper" more. Still, if I can get one sci-fi movie of this quality every year, I'll take it.
     5. The Matrix (1999)
It took me a while to warm up to this movie. I still don't love it as much as many people do, but I sure have come to respect the movie. I wonder how much Will Smith regrets turning down the role of Neo? There probably wasn't enough screen time for him.

Tracy Allison -
This list was nearly impossible for me to narrow down; there were so many I wish I could have used. I originally thought of this subject as trippy psychological fare, but I broadened it to movies that have major unforeseeable twists. Is this one of my favorite genres? These movies are often complex and unpredictable. With all of the formulaic movies out there, it’s fun to watch something different. David Lynch, David Fincher, Charlie Kaufman, and Stanley Kubrick are all represented here. My list may have the usual suspects, but they’re great at what they do!

     1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I mentioned on my Jim Carrey list that this is one of my favorite movies. It’s a totally weird/interesting concept and the actors are all playing someone unlike other characters they’d been before. The two main characters were in a relationship and one erases the other from her memory using a procedure. He decides to do the same in retaliation, but this process affects them in a way that neither saw coming. A nice blend of sci-fi and romance.
     2. Adaptation (2002)
I chose between having this and 1999’s "Being John Malkovich" on my list. The writer/screenplay adapter Charlie Kaufman is responsible for the aforementioned two movies and also "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", so I think it’s apparent I’m a fan. The intricacies of this movie are far too complex to even touch on here, but I've never seen a movie like it. The way that "Being John Malkovich" is referenced in this movie made me excited about movies all over again. I love when that happens.
     3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
This movie is cyclical and confusing, but it’s pretty wonderful. I love when I realize that I’m more actively watching a movie and thinking about it. You’re presented with a somewhat confusing scenario initially, and then you find out that everything you originally assumed to be true isn't necessarily so. This movie will leave you with the desire to see it again. You’re sure you can figure it out next time. If you like a movie to wrap up the ending very neatly, you won’t like this one.
     4. The Game (1997)
This movie is pretty popular in our Top Five lists, but it’s one of the most interesting mind benders that I've ever seen. The people around Michael Douglas’ character go to great lengths for his birthday present, and soon you start to question everything that happens in the movie. It’s full of twists and turns and I think the 1990's were an amazing time for mind-bending films. In a lot of them, the tone and look was very gritty and that works for these types of movies.
     5. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
I watched this movie alone and I remember pausing it and texting my friends to ask if it was alright for me to watch the end of it. I get spooked pretty easily and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. There’s a scene in which Nicole Kidman is high and her resulting conversation with Tom Cruise is one of my all-time favorite movie moments. He’s trying to comfort her in a patronizing way and her impenetrable logic destroys his condescending placations.

There we have it, folks! Quite the array of titles this week, as a total of 17 different films were featured above. And unlike our last post, which saw enshrinement for one particular film, all of the #1 selections were different this time around - interestingly though, while there were six total films earning multiple selections this week, five of the six are the same five that earned #1 votes above. It seems neat that with so few repeats, everyone's #1 pick was well-liked by at least one other.

No film hit on five or even four lists this week, but there were two, both "Total Recall" and "The Matrix", which found there way onto three (fun fact: they were both featured on the same three writers' lists). These two films might feel like the most "generic" selections for this genre, but as is many times the case, there is a reason certain films come to be known as standards for the genre. While many will probably claim that they've over-seen these titles in their lifetime, that doesn't take away from what they accomplished. These aren't the most unique titles we could have picked, but they're respected by this group, and if you haven't visited them for a while, it may be worth a stroll down memory lane.

Otherwise, four other films appeared on two lists each: "Mulholland Drive", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Inception", and "Source Code". An interesting grouping here. The first two feel more like cult favorites for the genre. Most people have finally come around on both of those titles, but if you haven't yet seen either of them, many consider both to be some of the best films since the year 2000. The other two films are more recent, and both took deeper sci-fi elements and packaged them into easier-to-digest products. It was enjoyable to see competent directors make films accessible to broader audiences while not sacrificing story. These two should be easy enough for all to enjoy, but if you're interested enough, there's plenty there to dig deeper into with each.

As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this genre has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!