This is my no means a definitive list of the Top 10 Most Philosophical Movies of All-Time (such a task would be impossibly subjective). It is, on the other hand, a list of excellent movies that will make you think much more than the ‘ordinarily’ run-of-the-mill Hollywood garbage. So please, queue these in your Netflix, or run to your local video store, because these films are excellent mind candy for the starving intellectual within us all.
10) Gummo (1997):
From the director of ‘Kid’s’ comes Gummo, a movie with a very similar laissez-faire/hands-off style of film making. This movie could easily be dubbed as a faux-documentary as it is shot in such a way that makes it appear as if an amateur film maker is wandering around with a high-end camera. The setting for the movie is in a small, poverty stricken and tornado torn Ohio town. The populous consists largely of ignorant white-trash types as they gallivant about the town partaking in mischief and debauchery. The movie itself is beautiful in an odd, cat-killing, baby shaking kind-of-way. A must see for anyone who enjoys bittersweet, impartial, existential flicks. There are many people who hate this film; I just don’t think they get it.
9) My Dinner with Andre (1981):
This simple yet strange movie takes place within a single scene. The premise: Two old acquaintances meet for dinner in a high class NYC restaurant. The characters: Wallace – a chubby, balding, yet practical man and Andre, an eccentric, world-traveling theater director. The end result is an entertaining romp through many topics over the course of a single meal where pragmatism ultimately squares off against romanticism.
8) Network (1976):
This groundbreaking and timeless classic denotes the media’s blood-thirsty approach towards achieving higher ratings at all costs. Enter Howard Beale, a washed up news anchor who is on the brink of insanity following his wife’s death. Howard’s on air promise to blow his brains out on next weeks show brings the station some of its highest ratings ever. The channel decides to keep him on, further exploiting his psychotic rage as his condition worsens by the week. If you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore, then this movie is for you!
7) Requiem for a Dream (2000):
In a sense all movies are existential, as they all provide some lens into someone else’s world…but some movies just do it a lot better than others and Requiem for a Dream is one of those films. This mesmerizing jaunt through drug addiction examines both the innocence and ignorance in the lives of the characters. Then, all at once, their lives violently spiral out of control. The moviegoer can only stare in horror – popcorn still in hand, as an eerie game show shines its gloomy glow of death over a pill popping granny and a haunting melody casts its eternal shadow over the dreams of the youth. The film takes a nondiscriminatory look at drug addiction in a way that makes those with a heart empathize with the unfortunate junkie.
6) A Clockwork Orange (1971):
One of Kubrick’s finest films, A Clockwork Orange is a surreal yet visionary flick about a gang of hooligans that are always up for a bit of the good old ultra-violence. The movie finds a unique balance between being reprehensibly dark and laugh-out-loud satirical. Ultimately the film explores crime and punishment and the resulting implications on society as well as the individual’s psyche. Milk bar anyone?
5) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004):
Six years ago I never would have thought that a Jim Carey flick would make it onto a list of thought provoking movies, but atlas here we are – much to the chagrin of Ace Ventura fans everywhere. Superficially, Eternal Sunshine is a love story set to the back drop of a quirky sci-fi sub-plot. While the movie portrays all of the onscreen action in a poetically beautiful way, many people miss what I feel is the true purpose of the film. The film explores with brutal honesty, the frailty of human rationality when pitted against real, raw, and often times illogical and quixotic love. The audience is indirectly pitted against the following question: If you were to know before hand that your love for someone was going to fail, would you pursue it anyway? Eternal Sunshine answers this question with no punches pulled as hopeless romantics around the world eat it up, hook-line-and-sinker.
4) Fight Club (1999):
I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Chuck Palahniuk, the writer of the book “Fight Club”, which eventually turned into this epic film, but that’s beside the point. The film has developed sort of a cult following, and I must say that it’s one of my favorite movies of all-time. Looking past the blood-spattered basement brawls and Bob’s bitch tits, Fight Club is essentially a bad trip through our nihilistic hell. It’s deep, it’s entertaining, and Pahlniuks snappy one-liners will literally linger in your brain for years to come. This is the kind of movie that provokes both substantive thought and gripping emotion. If you’re not just a little pissed off at the system by the end of this movie… well, fuck you too!
3) Waking Life (2001):
Enough good things cannot be said about this film. Visually Waking Life resembles a Saturday morning cartoon…on acid. This isn’t a movie in the traditional sense; it’s more or less a series of odd philosophical conversations that our narrator gets thrust into, almost unwillingly. I like to think of this flick as a 90 minute romp/crash course through modern day philosophy. The flow of the film is brilliant, and the talking points are spot on. This film is highly recommended for those looking to get their feet wet in philosophy but don’t know what ideas to begin with.
2) American Beauty (1999):
Behind the facade of freshly cut lawns and clean white houses American Beauty shows the true colors of the suburbanites’ struggle – that is, finding meaning and purpose in a world that can be so ugly and hollow, yet dazzling and compelling all in the same breathe. This film, like an onion, has many layers. With each view one can gain increasingly more insight into the complexity of this brilliant narrative concerning modern life. American Beauty will always remain one of my favorite movies.
And now, the #1 most thought provoking film (drum roll, please)…
1) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):
This movie tops my list as the #1 must see film for intellectuals everywhere. This is a Kubrick film so expect a lot of artistic camera angles, extremely long shots, and extended pauses without dialog. Those expecting a cookie-cutter film with a traditional beginning, middle, and end will be greatly disappointed. This film is more-or-less an EXPERIENCE. It’s probably best watched alone, in a dark room where you can fully take it all in. You’ll have to derive your own interpretation of the films’ meaning which, in the end, is a journey in itself.