The quirky movie. They’re “strange, not normal but cool” says Blandine Etienne as she takes a look at her favourite films from a genre Tim Burton and Wes Anderson know plenty about.
My favorite definition of quirky is “strange, not normal but cool.” That is exactly why I like quirky movies. They will often take you somewhere you have not been before and introduce you to characters you never knew you wanted to meet. If you’re familiar with the actors Parker Posey, Johnny Depp, Tilda Swinton, and directors Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and John Waters, then you have seen a quirky movie. People usually have extreme reactions on viewing one; you either love them or loathe them. However, since so many movies are tiresome copies, sequels, or uninspired remakes, quirky movies are often hidden gems.
10. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
This is a love story about an unlikely couple each of which is quirky in his/her own way. Harold is a young, spoiled, rich, anti-social man who is obsessed with rebelling against his mother and with death. He attends random funerals and meets Maude at one. She is a free spirited woman in her 70’s and invites him into her world. The story and the film’s style are quirky too.
9. The Brother From Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)
An alien lands on Earth in Harlem, on the run from two bounty hunters from his own planet. It has the form of an African American man, played by the underrated Joe Morton, and is mute. As he tries to evade capture, he has encounters with humans and it’s funny how he manages to appear human to them while trying to navigate our world.
8. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)
Unemployed puppeteer Craig takes an office job at LesterCorp located on the 7 ½ floor. While there, he finds a hidden door that takes him into the mind of John Malkovich. This always lasts 15 minutes after which he is ejected & dumped next to the NJ Turnpike. Mayhem ensues when Craig’s wife, his co-worker, and John Malkovich find out about it.
7. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008)
Sally Hawkins gives a breakout performance as Poppy, an elementary school teacher who decides to take driving lessons after her bike is stolen. It is a delight to watch Poppy remain plucky and true to herself despite her driving instructor’s escalating hostility towards her and whatever else life throws at her.
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6. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Director Richard Kelly made his feature film debut by writing and directing this trippy story. Teenaged Donnie is experiencing visions, escalating acts of violence, and an interest in time travel after debris from a plane crashes into his bedroom. Alienated from his school and his family, he experiences first love. Wonderful star performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.
5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
Mitchell also co-wrote & starred as Hedwig, a transsexual from Berlin who fronts a rock band currently touring the US. From her early life pre-op to her current dilemma of trying to prove her ex-boyfriend stole her songs, this story features wonderful characters and music. Great sing-a-long sequence with the lyrics appearing on screen.
4. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, 1999)
Forest Whitaker plays an African American hit man for the mafia. His only friend is a French-only speaking man played by Isaach De Bankole. Ways of the Samurai and a hip-hop soundtrack by the Wu Tang Clan juxtapose Ghost Dog’s philosophy with the deterioration of the mafia’s power.
3. Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004)
“Vote For Pedro.” This sweet natured comedy has become a standard at my house. Napolean Dynamite and his brother are left under the charge of their uncle who’s stuck in the 80’s after their grandmother gets injured in a dune buggy accident. Napolean comes into his own despite his family life, the school bully, and his uncle’s desperate business startups.
2. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park, 2003)
In perhaps the darkest quirky movie on my list, Min-sik Choi plays a family man who is kidnapped & held captive for 15 years by an unknown enemy. Once he escapes, he spends the rest of the movie trying to find out who and why someone wanted to exact revenge against him. There is an iconic fight sequence that has to be seen to be believed.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
This visual masterpiece was robbed of that year’s Oscar for Best Foreign film. A young girl discovers a fantasy world that provides escape from her new life as a stepdaughter of a Fascist military man in 1944 Spain. As the war escalates, so does the young girl’s peril in both worlds.
Honorable Mentions: Little Miss Sunshine, Pi, Raising Arizona, Ghost World, Edward Scissorhands, Black Snake Moan, Bagdad Café, Sugarbaby.
Written and compiled by Blandine Etienne.
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Your turn – what are your favourite “quirky” films?
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