1. Shame (2011) Rated-NC-17 This film requires hefty preparation. The main protagonist suffers from an uncontrollable sex addiction while struggling to maintain a loving relationship with his sister. Michael Fassbender, the protagonist, is at his best, depicting the a shell of a man in need of finding a cure for his affliction. Steve McQueen, the director of the film, engages the audience with an unabashed piece of creative work. The sex can be daunting, so if you’re squeamish stay away. Overall this film is unconventionally unafraid to confront the potential darkness within us all. It’s a must-watch.
2. L’Illusionniste (2010) Rated-PG In 1956, a French mime wrote a script as a gesture of love to his estranged daughter. Over half a century later, the script was adapted as L’Illusionniste, the animated story of a young girl who meets a downtrodden magician and believes his tricks to be real. If you’re someone who is reserved when it comes to foreign flicks, rest easy – this film has almost no dialogue, and subtitles are purposely omitted. It is an exercise in body language and manages a charming and colorful story. It posses a quiet kind of humor, but don’t expect a happy-go-lucky film – it makes no efforts to raise your spirits. What it will do is leave you with feelings felt by the original scriptwriter, who longed for his distant daughter.
3. Before Night Falls (2000) Rated-R Based on the life of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet and novelist, this film examines the oppressed culture of homosexuality during 1964. It features Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn – to name a few. Politics, sexuality, love, pain, temptation and betrayal are aspects viewers are promised when venturing to watch this extraordinary film.
4. Infernal Affairs (2002) Rated-R Before The Departed (2006), there was Infernal Affairs, a Chinese action-thriller with essentially the same plot. For those who haven’t seen either of these incredible movies, it’s a classic cops vs. gangsters story, wherein each side has a mole infiltrating the other. What’s great about Infernal Affairs is that it’s short. Running about an hour shorter than its American adaptation, viewers are left with a lean, action-packed, fast-paced crime drama. Plus, it doesn’t have some illogical romance subplot like in The Departed.
5. Mysterious Skin (2004) Rated-NC-17 This film focuses on two individuals with intersecting stories. One is an adolescent hooker; the other is obsessed with alien abductions. To add, both individuals harbor dark pasts they have yet to discover. The content of this film can be jarring, so a word of caution is advised. Overall, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet give stunning performances.
6. The Animatrix (2003) Rated-PG-13 This animated film explores the backstory of The Matrix trilogy in a series of nine shorts. The format leaves some character development and plot lacking, but the insights into the Matrix universe are a must-see for anyone who watched the series. The film is hard to judge, as some shorts drastically differ from others in style, writing and content. However, its animation quality is artistically engaging despite being a direct-to-video release. Even if you’re not a hardcore Matrix fan, the atmosphere and imagination in this film will keep you glued.
7. Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) Rated-R Anne Rice chose well when picking the right cast to help bring her novel to life. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas and Kirsten Dunst are exceptional in this wonderful piece. The film discusses the constant philosophical dilemmas and questions surrounding the identity of the vampire. Pitt plays Louis de Pointe du Lac, a young man struggling to maintain the courage to continue living in the 17th century. Cruise plays Lestat de Lioncourt, a man of power and vigor. This drama depicts vampires at their best.
8. The Raid: Redemption (2011) Rated-R In this Indonesian film, a crime lord traps an elite police squad inside of an apartment complex and sends out armies of henchmen to take them down. The plot is almost identical to that of Dredd (2012) as is the pacing and atmosphere of the film. It wastes no time getting to the action, and every fight is beautifully choreographed and satisfying to watch. It’s a simple viewing for those who like watching a badass action hero brutally destroy everything in his path. If you’re still hesitant, watch this fight scene (WARNING: GRAPHIC, SPOILERS).
9. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) Rated-R This film is beautifully abstract, filled with a storyline that truly emcompasses all of life’s trials and tribulations. Derek Cianfrance, the director of the film and also responsible for “Blue Valentine,” creates a tantalizing series of events beginning with a motorcycle racer. Running at 140 minutes, this film takes audience members on an emotional journey that feels as though it’s been a decade by the finale. The soundtrack, featuring musicians like Bon Iver, is one viewers will have no choice but to fall in love with.
10. Waking Life (2001) Rated-R What this film lacks in plot and character development, it makes up for with mind-boggling content. Every scene consists of a mini-lecture dense with thought-provoking questions. The writing is so compacted that every viewing yields a new experience. The film is also unique in its medium – every frame is traced over by animators in a process called rotoscoping. This allows the film to take liberties in its presentation, often portraying scenes in disorienting ways befitting the content.
11. Heavenly Creatures (1994) Rated-R When most hear Peter Jackson, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy comes to mind. But before LOTR, Jackson created this biographical film based on two adolescent girls living in a fantasy world. The film is based on a real-life case, involving Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, where the two brutally murdered Parker’s mother. All of Jackson’s familiar and brilliant cinematography are present, with the help of spectacular performances by a young Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.
12. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)-NR Never before has a film brought an audience so close to strangers. Director and writer Kurt Kuenne creates a piece dedicated to his murdered friend Andrew Bagby. The documentary not only delves into the horrific murder — it invites audience members to meet those who knew Bagby best. It’s a heart-warming tale shown like never before with personal interviews and archived footage. This masterpiece will leave you speechless.
13. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) Rated-R Many people can’t get over the concept of this film to give it a shot. As a Korean Western set in an imaginary 1930s Manchuria, viewers tend to compare this foreign flick to its American counterparts. In reality, the film is a Western in name only and feels more like an exercise in absurdity. Every gunfight and chase scene lives in the realm of fantasy and seems almost like a parody. The plot is fairly bare – three men chase each other to possess a valuable map – but that’s just fine in an action-packed film like this. Aside from the intricately organized scenes, one of the most appealing aspects of this film is the spot-on casting. Each main character embodies his role completely, contributing greatly to the almost mock-Western tone of the film.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) Rated-PG-13 Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio are simply at their finest in this adaptation. DiCaprio plays Arnie, a young boy with autism who has a constant knack for getting into trouble. Depp plays his older brother, Gilbert, trying to protect his younger brother but still live a life of his own. Depp and DiCaprio share a beautiful camaraderie and deliver mesmerizing performances. If you still haven’t had a chance to watch this film, now is the time to do so.
15. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) Rated-R This film tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a French perfume maker who develops a superior olfactory sense. He uses his unique gift to create beautifully scented perfumes. Unfortunately, his creative work gradually becomes more sinister and his obsession more dangerous. Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, deliver inspiring performances in this engaging period piece.
16. Haven (2004) Rated-R Hidden love, betrayal, money, drugs and all other salaciousness encompass this drama. The film features a young Zoe Saldana and Orlando Bloom, an unpredictable and exciting couple for audiences to enjoy.
17. City of God (2002) Rated-R This film centers around two boys living completely different lives while growing up in Rio de Janeiro. Based on a true story and filled with picturesque cinematography, this film carries its own. It’s a thriller with crime, drama and a unique style similar to Ridley Scott’s and Quentin Tarantino’s.
18. Havoc (2005) Rated-R Anne Hathaway deters from her “girl-next-door” film persona in “Havoc,” a film depicting the lives of teengaers living in the hip-hop culture of Los Angeles. Hathaway’s character and her friend venture to the Latino gang community, an experience placing them in dangerous situations.
19. District 13 (2004) Rated-R Starring David Belle, the founder of parkour, this French action flick features 90 minutes of daredevil stunts. A movie entirely about outrunning people using fancy, convoluted escapes is, admittedly, kind of stupid, but it flows well thanks to Belle’s sheer talent. The plot is uninspired at best – the story of a man waging war against gangs that rule his neighborhood – but it gets the job done and strings together the action sequences. The film came out at the peak of parkour’s popularity, so it may have lost some relevance, but it’s still fun watching a pro at work (WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS).
20. Labyrinth (1986) Rated-PG David Bowie can pretty much do anything and make it look extraordinarily cool. He does just that in this fantasy-filled adventure starring Jennifer Connelly during her early years. Connelly plays Sarah, a young girl left home alone to babysit her little brother. She inadvertently conjures a fantasy world where Bowie plays Jareth, the mystical Goblin King. And yes, he sings.