"Sanity" is a very interesting word if you really look at it. It suggests a level of clarity which I rarely witness. Indeed I don’t perceive that the infantile state of human consciousness allows for legitimate sanity, (or perhaps not without a lot of work and good fortune) despite how much the instinctive mind goads us to believe otherwise. I don’t perceive that the human being is a sane creature; not even remotely close. I gather this from the way people talk and how it demonstrates the way they think. I see it in most normal behavior and all that we inflict as a society. And I see my own tenuous dance with sanity, or at least the shadows thereof, when I immerse myself in solitude and penetrate my internal mind to a degree I have only learned to do in the last nine or so years, and which I very easily might never have learned to do without good fortune.
Let us explore the slipperiness of the ever-struggling human mind:
70. Happiness (1998, USA)
Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Camryn Manheim, Dylan Baker, Cynthia Stevenson, Jon Lovitz, Louise Lasser, Ben Gazzara, Molly Shannon, Elizabeth Ashley, Jared Harris
Ten minutes into this film I was glaring at my partner demanding to know how this perverse material had entered our home.
“I don’t know! It was in the comedy section!”
Soon though, I caught on that the comedy was dry and dark and yet, ultimately refreshing. A lot of buried baggage gets dragged up from a lot of deeply developed characters in a way that bears some honesty and responsibility and artfully lights it in a way that we can safely deal with it - unless you bear some specific traumas perhaps? And are prone to the trigger concept?
Todd Solondz is one of the best character-driven movie makers out there and this one is a bold example.
Its themes, while very important and under-represented, caused havoc for the project in terms of marketing and accessibility while the excellent Roger Ebert ranked it the fifth best film of the year, stating, “...the depraved are only seeking what we all seek, but with a lack of ordinary moral vision... In a film that looks into the abyss of human despair, there is the horrifying suggestion that these characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity....It is not a film for most people. It is certainly for adults only. But it shows Todd Solondz as a filmmaker who deserves attention, who hears the unhappiness in the air and seeks its sources."
Writer/Director: Todd Solondz (Storytelling)
IMDB rating: 7.8
71. Heavy (1995, USA)
Pruitt Taylor Vince, Liv Tyler, Deborah Harry, Shelley WInters
And here’s another low-budget masterpiece of singular vision which delves deep into the human psyche with startling realism and which again, will probably, tragically, be hard to find:
The deceptively simple tableau concerns a diner where ordinary people work. The magic of the film reveals there is nothing ordinary about ordinary.
Says Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times: "…a small, quiet miracle of a movie in which tenderness, compassion and insight combine to create a tension that yields a quality of perception that's almost painful to experience." Well said. This patient, integral film bled buckets of empathy out of me.
Ebert called it “extraordinary.”
Writer/Director: James Mangold (Walk the Line)
Budget: unknown (independent)
IMDB rating: 7.0
72. Black Swan (2010, USA)
Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Benjamin MIllepied, Vincent Cassel
Watching this film was like handling dynamite. It’s a spring-loaded cerebral thriller.
To capture and maintain the penultimate role: the Swan Queen of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, is life or death to a young ballet dancer, and what she experiences is… compelling to say the least. The layers of duality richly explored here: black swan versus white swan; instinct versus consciousness; person versus artist, and in a strange particular light: primary dancer versus understudy, make for an almost psychedelic viewer experience.
I suppose that officially, this was awkwardly crammed into the horror movie genre but I don’t personally see it that way, and if you bear any allergy to the horror genre, I suggest it should not apply here.
Portman won Best Actress Oscar; one of five nominations for the film.
Writers: Mark Heyman (the Skeleton Twins), Andres Heinz (Love Written in Blood)
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
IMDB rating: 8.0
73. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005, USA)
Documentary by Jeff Feuerzeig starring Daniel Johnston
I believe this is honestly the most fascinating and deeply moving true story in the history of music. There is no doubt at all that Daniel Johnston’s story is thrillingly unique.
What would cause a major record label to enter a mental institution and offer a patient the most generous, forgiving, open-ended multi-album recording contract in the history of lawyers? I will surrender no spoilers. You’ve got to see this to believe it.
The film takes us deep into the realms of mental illness, of the beast called fame, and of the critical value of music and the arts well beyond the commercial.
Johnston came into this world with every deck stacked against him and in a rigid society driven by contrived false-drama-building structures, he cut straight through the whole mess, and leaving his own messes in the wake, granted, he forged a life of legitimate adventure and almost inexplicable success. Stunning, truthful, painful and beautiful.
A lot of people are understandably at a loss; who can’t understand why other people regard Johnston as a genius. Of course, genius is a totally subjective word, but I am immovably one of those other people.
Writer/Director: Jeff Feuerzeig (Half Japanese: The Man That Would Be King)
IMDB rating: 8.0
Bill (1981, USA) Mickey Rooney, Dennis Quaid
Of Mice and Men (1992, USA) John Malkovich, Gary SiniseI Melt With You (2011, USA) Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe