What follows Inception?
July 30, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I just got my mind blown by Inception. So I watched The Dark Knight again to maintain the high. Now what? What are some excellent movies that leave you scratching your head?

Of course next on my list are the rest of Christopher Nolan's films, Memento and Insomnia I've already seen, but need a refresher.

Looking for all or one of the following:

-plot that examines human psyche/ethics/motivations
-well-developed, intriguing characters (ex. Joker)
-surprise twist ending
-gob-smacking effects/fight scenes
posted by Carlotta Bananas to Media & Arts (98 answers total) 204 users marked this as a favorite
The first three of your desiderata are met by Primer. (Don't read the plot summary before you watch the movie, though.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2010 [14 favorites]

posted by two lights above the sea at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by Johnny Assay at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2010

Mulholland Drive
posted by milarepa at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Machinist (spoilers in Wiki article)
posted by castlebravo at 8:53 AM on July 30, 2010

The Usual Suspects is twisty and clever, though I do not remember much in the way of effects/fight scenes.
posted by esoterrica at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2010

Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Usual suspects
He loves me, he loves me not (French film)
posted by 92_elements at 8:56 AM on July 30, 2010

Oldboy. Although the fight scenes might be more stomach-churning than gobsmacking, but I'd say this otherwise fits your criteria.
posted by katillathehun at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I feel like Knife in The Water counts, as does The Last Year At Marienbad.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2010

The Spanish Prisoner
posted by girlpublisher at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Michael Clayton
posted by unknowncommand at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

After Primer, for more of your confusing time-travel needs, try Los Cronocrímenes.
posted by Beardman at 8:59 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

griphus's is definitely a spoiler.

Magnolia; but it might not satisfy your 4th criteria. (And +1 for Mulholland Drive.)
posted by whycurious at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2010

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Third Man .. well, except for the effects I guess! The chase in the sewer is pretty cool though.

Paprika has marvellous dream sequences and will definitely leave you baffled.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:01 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Griphus: I don't think that's a spoiler. It might help him understand it the first three or four times he watches it. I've seen it a dozen sometimes and I still come away with it think, "Wait, WHAT!?" It's so good though!

I also liked The Machinist quite a bit, thought that has fewer action scenes (maybe none, from what I remember).

Oh, and not to seem like a HUGE Christian Bale fangirl (I am, I admit it!) don't forget about American Psycho.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:01 AM on July 30, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets all of your criteria. It's my favorite movie ever. It examines human psyche/ethics/motivations through watching someone's dreams, like Inception (although I haven't seen Inception and am kind of dreading it - I kind of imagine it like Eternal Sunshine (a friendly, low-key but emotional and poignant movie) moved to Hollywood and took a bunch of cocaine.
posted by amethysts at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ghost in the Shell, 1 & 2

The chase/fight in the outdoor market in 1 was stolen outright for The Matrix
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2010

Dark City.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Dark City

And not so much with the effects, but fits most of your other points:

Jacob's Ladder
posted by chiefthe at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Manchurian Candidate
Cape Fear
posted by heatherly at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2010

We must not forget Face/Off.
posted by Beardman at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2010

Stay (spoilers in this link--don't read too far).
posted by litnerd at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010

Memento if you like Nolan, which I do.
posted by Napierzaza at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

La Jetée
posted by oh pollo! at 9:05 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dark City (!!!)

Also, an indy film called The Matrix.
posted by resiny at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2010

Gozu. The ending's *ahem* climactic scene is, uh, memorable. The entire movie is very reminiscent of David Lynch, though.
posted by dortmunder at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2010

Maybe Vertigo (all but the special effects)
posted by resiny at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2010

No David Fincher yet?

Fight Club

The Game
posted by a young man in spats at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by dfriedman at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Last Year at Marienbad
posted by reductiondesign at 9:09 AM on July 30, 2010

The Prestige and The Illusionist
posted by resiny at 9:10 AM on July 30, 2010

Possession (breakup story as a horror movie)
L'Amour Braque (I can't prove it, but I'm convinced that this movie was a stylistic influence on The Dark Knight. Either way, it's pretty fantastic - a freewheeling adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, reimagined as a sleazy French crime film.)
Naked Lunch
Dark City
Red Rock West (it might be "just" a crime movie, but it's one of the very best of its kind)
After Dark, My Sweet (ditto)
Bitter Moon (highly underrated)
The Fall (god-smacking effects galore, and no CGI!)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (another visual extravaganza)
Seconds (a bit like a two hour long Twilight Zone episode)
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2010 [9 favorites]

Also, Paprika is totally awesome and everyone who saw Inception should see it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd second Mulholland Drive, and also recommend Lost Highway.
posted by Temeraria at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2010

Ghost in the Shell, 1 & 2

Well if you're going to watch that then you should watch Akira as well.
posted by Groovytimes at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2010

No Country for Old Men.

The ending isn't exactly a twist, but it's definitely unexpected.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:21 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're into films that revolve around existential and philosophical questions ("do we exist", "are we a figment of someone's imagination", "are we stuck in a video game / dream" then I recommend you check out this Google spreadsheet listing 20 such films

Entitled "And It Was All Just A Dream", its creation was inspired by Inception.
posted by skylar at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Infernal Affairs (the classic HK movie that the departed was based on)
posted by AceRock at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2010

The City of Lost Children
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:26 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second Mulholland Drive and Oldboy. If you like Korean movies like Oldboy, you should check out The Chaser (추격자) as well, which is excellent.
posted by smorange at 9:29 AM on July 30, 2010

Another great one I thought of is Irréversible, but it is EXTREMELY DISTURBING. Haunting, even. So, definitely not one to watch if you, for example, can't handle extended periods of HORRIBLE VIOLENCE. (Obviously there are spoilers in the wiki!) So intense, but really effin' brilliant.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:30 AM on July 30, 2010

Old Boy will absolutely warp your mind. It is THE ultimate revenge movie. Don't read about it, just watch it.
posted by fso at 9:32 AM on July 30, 2010

12 Monkeys
Don't Look Now

posted by mkultra at 9:40 AM on July 30, 2010

2nding The Game.

No fight scenes/special effects, but I absolutely love Primal Fear. It has all the other things you listed, plus it's baby-faced Edward Norton in his first movie. Definitely worth seeing.
posted by karminai at 9:43 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding Moon.
posted by Neonshock at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2010

You might want to look into movies like:

12 Monkeys
posted by blue_beetle at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2010

Haute Tension
posted by mkultra at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2010

The Brothers Bloom
posted by pyro979 at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2010

There are those who consider the movie A.I. to be overly sentimental, but I personally think that it is absolutely brilliant and that it meets all your criteria for a great and mind-blowing movie.
posted by grizzled at 10:00 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I came in to suggest Jacob's Ladder.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:02 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


nthing The Game!! One of Michael Douglas' best performances.
posted by Dukat at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2010

F for Fake
posted by ifjuly at 10:12 AM on July 30, 2010

For a similar story-within-a-story type of head-scratcher, I'd recommend Synecdoche New York. No action or fight scenes, though.
posted by rocket88 at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by maulik at 10:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a spy thriller full of people with questionable motivations, has a twist/head-scratcher ending (although not on the same sort of philosophical level as Inception), and some of the best car chases ever filmed.

Plus, if you want to put a depressing cherry on the head-scratcher sundae, watch the alternate ending on the DVD!
posted by Fleebnork at 10:33 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

No effects, but it's definitely a good head-trip movie: House of Games. Directed by David Mamet, who also did The Spanish Prisoner, already mentioned above.

Maybe Angel Heart? Again, no effects, but twisty.
posted by usonian at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2010

Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) and then, if you're feeling up to a bit of a disappointment afterwards, the Americanized version, Vanilla Sky.

Michel Gondry has no love in this thread. Nobody to my mind has surpassed his ability to combine the weird human psyche examination (usually though not always provided by Charlie Kaufman's crazy scripts) with gobsmacking visuals. The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are good places to start. (On preview, I see Eternal Sunshine gets some love, so...)

Blow Up
Solaris (or Solyaris)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (The Joker's last movie...)

and from the list so far, nthing:
Naked Lunch
F for Fake
The Fall
12 Monkeys
posted by carsonb at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, I see some trending directors in this thread—for the most part those who's work is worth checking out in its entirety:

Terry Gilliam
David Fincher
Steven Soderbergh
David Mamet
posted by carsonb at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2010

The title sounds way wussy in English, but nevertheless the Korean movie Save the Green Planet satisfies all of your criteria quite well. And on top of that, it's hilarious.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2010

I second Primal Fear. I remember not being able to sleep the night I watched it the first time...it made Edward Norton my favorite actor!
posted by drewski at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2010

You've mentioned Memento, but you'll probably also like Nolan's Following.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:43 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Run Lola Run

Nearly anything by Michael Haneke.
posted by jkaczor at 10:46 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Definitely check out Solaris
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:48 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Sixth Sense.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:51 AM on July 30, 2010

Shutter Island.
posted by resiny at 11:01 AM on July 30, 2010

- overshadowed by The Matrix since it was released around the same time with a similar(ish) visual style. If you like Christian Bale, watch this. Check marks on explorations of human ethics and morality, intriguing characters and some nice fight scenes as well

- definitely belongs in the mind fuck category. Light on the action, heavy on the head games. Lots of twists within twists.

- Canadian horror at it's finest. Heavy on the psychology and characters, with select bits of sort of action.
posted by utsutsu at 11:39 AM on July 30, 2010

Vanilla Sky
posted by Redhush at 11:48 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ridley Scott's Alien.
posted by effluvia at 11:57 AM on July 30, 2010

Don't miss Nolan's Following.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2010

Oh, Schizopolis certainly is unique.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:11 PM on July 30, 2010

Korean cinema really is where you need to go with this search. In addition to Old Boy, I would suggest Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. It's got kidnapping, mystery, murder, and deeply unsettling twists and surprises. And I do mean deeply.
posted by fso at 1:28 PM on July 30, 2010

posted by biscotti at 3:22 PM on July 30, 2010

Absolutely stay away from any Wikipedia page about any of the movies folks are recommending here (jeez, folks, find another site to link where the point *isn't* to spoil everything completely).

Anyway, add another vote for The Machinist - a deeply creepy and confusing psychological thriller that builds suspense mostly through an amazing performance by Christian Bale as a man whose brain and body are being destroyed by an inability to sleep. The terror and hallucinations get to the point you almost can't take it anymore, sitting there captivated whispering "what the fuck is really going on here" to yourself, and then it delivers something smart and interesting at the end (although some critics wanted more, I found the dramatic arc of the film to be intense and satisfying). I wanted to watch it again almost immediately.
posted by mediareport at 5:48 PM on July 30, 2010

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a great film with a fantastic cast that hits: exploration of human motivations, well-developed characters, and interesting effects. Directed by the guy who directed the later Saw films, and starring Paul Giamatti, Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy), Sarah Brightman, that girl from Spy Kids, and grumble mumble Paris Hilton don't let that stop you mumble mumble. It's a rock opera about a future in which a big corporation manufactures human organs, and is allowed by law to repossess them. It's really, really good.
posted by Night_owl at 6:18 PM on July 30, 2010

posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:31 PM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

moon is really rough to watch, predictable, and would be great as a short or a short story rather than a full-length feature film. i would not put moon on this list. i would say that i quick read of a spoiler will save you some time....
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:41 PM on July 30, 2010

Red Road (trailer - no spoilers - less you know the better)
posted by dog food sugar at 8:40 PM on July 30, 2010

Vanilla Sky is a MUCH better film than Abre los Ojos. VS has better casting (Tom Cruise as a going-on-40 manchild is much more believable than the Spanish 20-something we're supposed to believe is approaching a midlife crisis- horrible casting) and VS has a shatteringly amazing soundtrack while the AlO has an absolute crap, forgettable one. VS has some amazing, gorgeous effects and cinematography. Better movie in every way.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:28 PM on July 30, 2010

Gattaca, though not so much with the fight scenes, and not very twisty. Good film, though, and definitely fits #1 and #2 (plus great cast, and SF that isn't just action with lasers). Also, perhaps, Pan's Labyrinth (has everything, including effects--some fighting, not so much with the main character!). Nthing Moon and Paprika for various reasons.
posted by wintersweet at 10:51 PM on July 30, 2010

Nthing Dark City (watch the Ebert commentary on the DVD; Roger LOVES this movie and will tell you exactly precisely why).

Nthing Primal Fear, which is also a pretty good book. I hate Richard Gere but that is some of the best work he ever did, and of course Edward Norton is revelatory in it. Try not to read anything about it ahead of time, as the statute of limitations on spoiling the twist is well over.

Also, I cant believe no one has mentioned LA Confidential. Twist, characters, big tine ethics/motivations. Wonderful movie!
posted by kostia at 9:40 AM on July 31, 2010

Big time, that is. I will never understand why the iOS autocorrect thinks I would ever type "tine" in a sentence that doesn't include the word "fork."
posted by kostia at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2010

Check out The Stunt Man. Ex-Marine on the run from the cops stumbles onto the set of a WWI movie, manages to get hired as a stunt man. Don't want to give too much away, but this is a brilliant movie about making an movie, a thinking-person's action thriller, with a great cast (Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey), great writing and spectacular direction by Richard Rush. Very romantic, as well. One of my all-time favorites.
posted by Bron at 9:57 AM on July 31, 2010

Just a little follow-up, an excerpt from the review I linked to above (written in 2001, btw):

"Part of The Stunt Man's irresistible appeal is the philosophy that films are our imagination, dreams, and nightmares. They are not abstract, logical, or objective. The idea of transubstantiation -- that is what cinema is. Watching this film, you have to believe in everything and in nothing at all. It is easy to be frustrated with The Stunt Man, misunderstand it and miss the point. But if you get the film, its clever dialogue and biting sharp humor, you will fall in love with it."
posted by Bron at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2010

Argentinian film Nine Queens, although it lacks any fight scenes.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2010

I just remembered Kafka, which I really need to watch again. Great atmosphere.
posted by usonian at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2010

If you rent/download/Netflix Dark City, make sure you get the Director's Cut. The original cut is dumb, dumb, dumb.

And, if you're going for head-scratcher (though not exactly a pulse-pounding visual feast): Donnie Darko. (Or in the 21st century, has everyone already seen this...?)
posted by anotherbrick at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2010

One of the daddies of the whole mixed up temporal theme in recent films: Toto Le Héros, a little known (certainly in the US, where it's never made it onto DVD, apparently) Belgian film from 1991. It's not just some boring arthouse flick, but genuinely enjoyable. Short on fight scenes, but big on head scratching.


The film's structure is unusual especially in its complex treatment of time, with multithreaded flashbacks and dream sequences arranged according to a complicated, child-like logic in which events at different times are seen to mirror or echo earlier or later events, sometimes obviously and sometimes so subtly that it can only be discerned after repeated viewing.

The complex temporal structure of the film has been compared with other films that use nonlinear and parallel treatments of time, such as Run Lola Run, but Toto le Héros is exceptional in the degree to which this technique is carried, with scenes at the same time flashing back and flashing forward to other scenes, and sometimes even with the same scene apparently incorporating events from different timelines or different points on the same timeline.

posted by MuffinMan at 5:32 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, for the ultimate "I was only dreaming" experience, see an entire season of Dallas. Bobby's dead. Oh no he's not. He's behind youu!

I'm pretty sure I'm not spoiling anything for you. You'd need to be certifiably nuts to sit through that twaddle.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:38 AM on August 4, 2010


the prestige!
and primer!

and that other crazy aranofsky film with hugh jackman and rachel weisz (I think) where he's a conquistadore and a bald spaceman adventurer and it spans millenia in the same film. it's excellent and probably been mentioned on the thread already but there's too many suggestions to check. anyway, find it and watch it - it's great.

2001 in case you haven't seen it by some mad chance.

the shining
posted by 6am at 10:31 AM on August 4, 2010

I just checked and unbelieveably it hasn't been mentioned.

the movie I was mentioning was "the fountain" - it'll totally tick your box. it'll fuck you in the ass. get it watched.

posted by 6am at 10:38 AM on August 4, 2010

Guy Ritchie's "Revolver" is the perfect complement to "Inception," with a very similar transplantation of ego/belief.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2010

Before the Rain
posted by gakiko at 1:44 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about Shutter Island?
posted by pleasebekind at 2:55 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

After Mulhollland Drive and Lost Highway comes Inland Empire. It plays around heavily with the notions of tv storytelling, which some people claim Inception is about as well.

Fassbinder's Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) is very good, too. Apart from the 70s style (which makes it look strangely retro-futuristic), it's a very good story that explores Matrix-like themes.

A few others that have probably been mentioned: Primer, Donnie Darko, Twelve Monkeys, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moon, Solaris, 2001.
posted by Harry at 5:55 AM on August 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm looking forward to getting a lot of these.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 6:41 AM on August 15, 2010

Seconding Before the Rain.
posted by nomadicink at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2010

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