Okay, so me and my friends are movie geeks. We don't hide it. We revel in it. We also have friends who see maybe one or two movies a year, and whenever they do, it's always the most mainstream pablum imaginable. Nothing wrong with the mainstream - we see a lot of those too - but they'll be attracted to the bad, disappointing mainstream. And yet, they'll still ask for recommendations from us. Not that we ever expect them to take them to heart. These suggestions are forgotten well before they feel the urge to watch another movie. So we started to joke that we should invite them over to watch movies and always make it the most opaque art house films imaginable until Zack (ah damn, I went and named him) doesn't know what cinema is supposed to be anymore. Here are a few choices taken mostly from my collection. My only rule is that I have to think they are watchable and interesting; nothing I actually find terrible or boring.
What we tell Zack: There's this planet and it's sending ghosts up to a space station.
What Zack gets: Hey, what Muggle doesn't like sci-fi flicks? Well, standing at almost three hours, Andrei Tarkovsky's original Solaris is less about a living planet making contact with the crew of a space station than it is about nostalgia for Earth, and through a metaphorical back door, for pre-Soviet Russia. The film's glacial pacing forces you to stare at things for so long, you start to hallucinate. I find it fascinating. Most will find it so boring they'll want to claw their eyes out. It probably doesn't help that it's in Russian. Muggles do hate to read subtitles.
What we tell Zack: It's amazing, it's a movie done in just one continuous shot!
What Zack gets: Yes, another Russian film, but I've got to include this one because it's a beautiful enigma unless you're a Russian history or art scholar. Essentially, the POV character we never see walks into the Russian State Hermitage Museum and in that one continuous shot, walks through various rooms, each apparently in a different time frame, Czarist balls adjacent to art exhibits adjacent to WWII bunkers. The film is a disjointed history of Russia and Russian culture, a portrait that doesn't tackle its subject in a conventional narrative. It's amazing, but perhaps confounding stuff.
What we tell Zack: A cabin in the woods type movie where nature takes revenge on a couple for letting their child die.
What Zack gets: I think I like Lars von Trier's Melancholia more, and it almost took the spot, but Antichrist is deeply upsetting, and subverts what the Mundanes expect when sitting down to watch a horror movie. You jump off the deep end very quickly, with a black and white sequence, a child's death, and brief pornographic content. Then you're off to the woods for a slow burn deconstruction of a relationship, ending with genitalia-related body horror. Worse, there's no overt Antichrist in the film, and exploring that puzzle leads you to the disturbing realization that the movie is about misogyny, in such a way as to make you squirm.
What we tell Zack: Nothing. By this time he doesn't trust us anyway.
What Zack gets: I could have put any of Peter Greenaway's films on here, and I freely admit I picked this one because of its stomach-churning time lapse photography of animals rotting. But this story of brothers losing their wives in a car accident, and the ensuing meditation on symmetry has more than that going for it. How about an obsession with Dutch painters? And a love affair between the brothers and a one-legged woman? And the world represented as an ark or zoo? Arresting, often shocking visuals won't make the medicine go down any smoother.
What we tell Zack: Is he even listening anymore?
What Zack gets: Alejandro Jodorowsky's masterpiece is a Buddhist fable about a Christ-like man seeking enlightenment, and it's a psychedelic experience filled with arcane mystical symbolism. 'nuff said, perhaps. If I were really sadistic, I've have presented Fando y Lis, an early and frankly irritating effort by the same director, or if I were still trying to lull Zack into a false sense of security, the western, El Topo, which is actually, yes, another Buddhist fable about seeking enlightenment.
Obviously, there are many runners-up. I might have put Wong Kar-Wai on here, perhaps starting with 2046 since it almost requires seeing the body of his work before attempting (though I did it the other way). Or John Waters' ode to bad taste, Pink Flamingos. It doesn't matter, Zack is never again accepting an invitation to movie night at my house. What would you put on such a list? Don't be afraid to be pretentious, but do make it something you've liked or at least respected. I might take you up on some of those suggestions!