That’s a fantastic film!
September 4, 2019 11:03 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I have very different taste in film, but it would be nice to watch things we both enjoy!

Their favorite film ever is Intersteller. I have seen it twice and literally can’t remember anything about it. I’ve enjoyed a range of things, but in the past few years in love with Midsommer, The Monk, The Phantom Thread, Mother!, Aniara—mostly broody, tragic stuff. I loved Melancholia, they couldn’t sit through it due to boredom. I need beautiful cinematography, intentionality, and some of that pretentiously film festival awareness of artifice to not be bored out of my head.
They explicitly are interested in fantastical or scifi plotting without the usual genre trope of the hero quest being paramount. For example, I described the new Dark Crystal (comrades, I love puppets SO MUCH) and they said it sounded very boring and typical. Which, it is! I overlook these things for the themes of live and tragedy of genocide and beautiful puppetry, but can see why the plotting would be tedious if those things aren’t your focus.
We both enjoy some of the lightly weird anime—we’ve agreed that Serial Experiments Lain was great, for example. We will be watching Ghost In The Shell soon, because I think it’ll be their jam. We got in a nice conversation about Inception the other day, so that style is on the table, along with a more heated argument about Aronovsky’s style, which partner finds needlessly confusing and irritating, so I don’t even know.

I’d like some examples of preferably SFF film that’s gorgeous and weird and genre bendy without being too...interpretive or talky, I guess? But also not too slick and american film trope-y. Any language is fine. Post early 70s is preferred. Space colonization a bonus, but colonization better come with an awareness of colonialism or I will privately die. Not SFF is ok, but stuff on the edge should tip hard into magic realism. No post 2000 superhero stuff at all, please.
posted by zinful to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Annihilation might work for both of you.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I wonder if you both might like The Fifth Element or Gattaca. They're both SFF with enough weird that you might like them. Fifth Element isn't broody, but it is very visually interesting. Gattaca is more broody and more stylized. The production design is very ... there.

Also perhaps Memento -- not SFF at all, but both a plot that moves and one that is broody and visually stunning.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:19 AM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

You guys should give High Life a try, I cannot guarantee that either of you will like it but you will have an interesting time watching it together!

I'm not totally picking up on what your partner likes. He likes Interstellar, which I remember as being pretty brooding (though I guess I think of most of Christopher Nolan's movies that way), but he gets bored easily by brooding things? He finds the new Dark Crystal series too "typical" but it also sounds like he doesn't really like art house stuff. What are some other movies he already likes?
posted by cakelite at 11:19 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tarkovsky's movies seem like exactly what you're looking for? Solaris and Stalker in particular.

How does Moon fit for you guys? It's broody and not hero/quest-oriented, but pretty typical sci-fi in some ways. Or Primer?

Seconding The Fifth Element and Gattaca!
posted by snaw at 11:20 AM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Have you seen Arrival?
posted by wellred at 11:20 AM on September 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

If you haven't watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (or if you haven't watched it recently), you should! It's much weirder than I remembered!

The 1972 Solaris might also work, though it is more of a study of an individual character, and it could definitely be called boring. (jinx with snaw!)

Also, building on the brainy anime theme, Satoshi Kon's work? Definitely Paprika (especially if you both liked Inception), and lots of people love Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers.
posted by EmilyFlew at 11:24 AM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think you'd find Tarkovsky boring, but I think you'd BOTH like The Fall and The Cell, both by Tarsem Singh
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:24 AM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

...The two films that popped into my mind are very, very different, but I recommend them both in the hopes that one will be at least closer to what you might be getting at than the other, and that might help us narrow things down.

* Film 1: Primer. Recommending this because it's a very "sciencey" sci-fi dealing with time travel and is not a hero-quest story; it doesn't have the fantastical stuff I suspect you're usually interested in, but it's got one hellll of an interesting plot that could grip you.

* Film 2: Cloud Atlas (disclaimer about this at the end you should know about). A bit lighter in its sci-fi; more meta-physical than science-y. It's six different stories, but the premise is that they're all loosely connected by the same souls reincarnating into different roles in each of the six different narratives, and there are other connections you can make between them. It's got the beautiful cinematography out the wazoo, and even if one of the narratives feels close to being a "Hero quest", my hunch is that others of them won't and it will balance things out. Your mention of Interstellar reminded me of it, since the sort of interconnectivity of all beings that you can find in Interstellar is all over Cloud Atlas.

And as a lagniappe, I second the suggestion of Annihilation.

Two disclaimers about Cloud Atlas:

1. Some feel that the six simultaneous narratives are a little confusing, and this didn't do as well at the box office as a result. I didn't have a problem; however, I've also read the book, which had an even more confusing structure that would have been impossible to pull off.

2. As I've said, the film suggests that the same group of souls keep reincarnating into a series of different narratives, starting in the South Pacific in the 1800s and ending in Hawaii in 2321, in a post-apocalyptic stone age colony. The film pulls this off by having a core ensemble of actors that pop in and out of each of the stories, with different actors taking on different roles throughout, often with a lot of makeup and prosthetics and such to make them look different. And - since one of those stories is set in Seoul in 2144, that means that there are some Caucasian actors that are made up to look Korean. On paper you can understand why the Wachowskis did that, but it's still a somewhat hinky step that you maybe would rather not take after all.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:31 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Came back to suggest Sourcecode if Inception works for you

Hesitant to recommend The Congress to both of you, maybe only one of you will like it

2nding any Tarkovsky suggestions. And of course Arrival
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dropping in to agree with cakelite that partner’s preferences are hard to get a read on! They don’t seem to like horror. They LOVED Cloud Atlas. Thought Tarkovsky made boring movies, which is incorrect but fine. Helpful? Thank you everyone so far!
posted by zinful at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2019

The notion that 'Tarkovsky is boring" and "they liked Cloud Atlas" gave me a couple of other interesting ideas:

* Someone suggested Tarkovsky's Solaris, but there was a more recent remake of Solaris from 2002, starring George Clooney, that may suit you both better. I've not seen the Tarkovsky one, but based on description, it sounds like it focuses more on the whole issue of communicating with a completely alien entity. The remake does that as well, but also throws in a love story, and in my opinion, touches on how sometimes communicating with another human can be just as tricky.

* Your partner found Aronovsky "irritating" - but I'd still suggest you to give his work The Fountain a try if you haven't already. It ticks some of the same boxes as Cloud Atlas.

And seconding The Cell HARD. It's not perfect - it's one of those cases where the premise kind of gets wobbly if you think about it too hard, and Jennifer Lopez as a child-psychologist version of Miss Frizzle from The Magic Schoolbus seems like odd casting. But holy bungee-jumping dachshunds are the visuals amazing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

We will be watching Ghost In The Shell

I find first series of the anime much more thought provoking than the Hollywood version. I hope you'll treat yourselves.

With the films you mention the first thing to come to mind was The Fountain (2006), but it is definitely Aronovsky being Aronovsky.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is best watched with low expectations (particularly of the male lead, who is atrocious) but takes place in an incredibly rich, beautifully realized world. The central tragedy that drives the plot is moving if you're willing to let it be.

(and on refresh, seconding the more recent Solaris)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:58 AM on September 4, 2019

It occurs to me that your partner and your Venn diagram of movie taste is me.

Nthing Annihilation, Arrival, Cloud Atlas, The Cell, The Fountain, Inception, Source Code, GATTACA, The Fifth Element and 2001. Adding Dark City and Blade Runner.

Primeris super-thinky and rewards an engaged viewer, but there are diddly and squat in the way of visuals.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sorry to threadsit, but since it keeps popping up: The Fountain is explicitly what started a little argument about whether Aronovsky makes bad, confusing movies.
Definitely watching the anime series of GitS, I forgot there was a recent (racist!) live action version!
posted by zinful at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2019

Before I re-read your question, I was going to suggest Melancholia. . . so, my advice might not be the best.

How about indy (or slightly indy) SF? Cube, eXistenZ, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Robot and Frank come to mind.

Or, more on the magical realism side: After Life, The Big Empty, Wristcutters: a Love Story, Tideland, Donny Darko, anything by Švankmajer (don't start with Insects), No Such Thing

(I've happily sat through many hour long screenings of landscape art films. . . but, I agree that Tarkovsky is boring. It's almost like someone set out with the goal of making the least engaging films possible as some sort of prank. Don't judge your partner too harshly for their opinion.)
posted by eotvos at 12:07 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

If animated is OK, have you looked at the French/Czech animated film Fantastic Planet? Beautiful and weird.
posted by hanov3r at 12:10 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Maybe Sunshine (2007)? About a spaceship crew on a last desperate mission to reignite the dying Sun before all life goes extinct. It's beautifully shot, and blends traditional SF thrills with mysticism -- the Sun itself is an awe-inspiring, godlike presence that plays havoc with their psychology.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Firefly (series) and Serenity. (Those too basic?)
Cabin in the Woods
Under the Skin
Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly are also... definitely not typical and tropey.
Man Who Fell To Earth
Brother From Another Planet
posted by cross_impact at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly are also... definitely not typical and tropey.
Brother From Another Planet

Expounding on these a bit based on personal experience:

Waking Life I'd actually recommend against; or, at least, see A Scanner Darkly first and if you get seriously into that rotoscope style then go with it. Waking Life is more of a stream-of-consciousness meditation on philosophy than a plotted thing; really interesting to look at, but I found it a little opaque otherwise. A Scanner Darkly, on the other hand, is an adaptation of a Philip K Dick story - one which some of the PKD fans I know say is the best adaptation of any of his works.

Brother From Another Planet has a hell of an affecting opening scene; which is the only bit I've seen. It's an underappreciated film from the early 80s.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on September 4, 2019

I agree with many of the previous suggestions and want to add Jupiter Ascending. It is weird and wonderful and terrible masterpiece/fiasco. Maybe Dark, the German series (on Netflix)?
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's a movie called Ad Astra coming out relatively soon in theaters that sounds like it might fit the bill, although of course I haven't seen it.

As a fallback if you're running out of stuff to watch, I might tentatively suggest Alien: Prometheus, which is much more "SF with a few horror elements" than "horror," and far, far less intense than any other entry in the franchise. (I mean I was prepared to watch through my fingers and was genuinely surprised by how not harrowing it was--with the exception of one memorable scene.) It's often pretty (some great alien-planet-landscape shots). It attempts, at least by implication, to tackle certain classic philosophical issues, but not in a very talky way. Unlike some of the other films recommended here, I don't think I'd call it a good film, but if you're looking to scratch a genre itch, you could do worse.
posted by praemunire at 12:48 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Firefly (series) and Serenity.

I was just coming back to recommend those. Watch the series first, Serenity is the postscript.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Congress! Amazing, trippy, weird as hell. Would also nth The Fall.
For horror, you both might enjoy Us and the new Suspiria.
posted by prewar lemonade at 1:01 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if this fits the bill because, while to me it has kind of a fantastical/dreamlike feel, it doesn't really get fantastical except for one development that adds a whole new layer to the movie. But your question made me think of Bin-Jip/3-Iron, where the plot revolves around breaking into people's houses while they're on vacation, living there, maybe fixing some things for them, and cleaning up when you leave. There's a larger story arc, but it's better to just watch the movie cold. It's unique, beautifully shot, and (imo) very involving. It's also the opposite of talky.

Seconding Satoshi Kon for visually incredible work. (On that ground you might also like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.) Utena (the tv series) might be interesting to you with its treatment of gender issues (which gets deeper as the series progresses) and verging-on-insanity style. (Its version of a student council mission statement, as an example.)
posted by trig at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think a bunch of Terry Gilliam films could work
12 Monkeys
Time Bandits
The fisher king

What about some classic SF like
Alien / Aliens
Terminator / Terminator 2
They Live
Repo Man (early 80s Emilio Estevez directed by Alex Cox)
posted by askmehow at 1:07 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Mushishi is a manga, anime and live action film about a guy who collects "insects", not insects but somewhat magic realism beings. Very atmospheric. You can watch the anime on Crunchyroll.

(I absolutely adore the manga, I think the anime is close to it, I have no idea about the live action film)
posted by sukeban at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2019

Seconding Primer and Cabin in the Woods. I assume you've already both seen The Man Who Fell to Earth?

Also, if you're OK with strong violence, Pulp Fiction has a the same ambitious juggling of time in its structure which has already led someone above to suggest Memento.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:18 PM on September 4, 2019

I came in here to suggest Primer, Dark City, and Solaris (original and remake) which are already covered.

Have you considered looking at other genres beyond the ask? My partner and I have very similar movie preference dynamics and usually can agree action/adventure/suspense films.

Some other suggestions (note: some of these I don't care for) that may or may not fit your criteria include: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apocalypse Now, Breaking the Waves, Run Lola Run, Being John Malkovich, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Virgin Suicides, Only God Forgives, Empire of the Sun, and Only Lovers Left Alive.
posted by seesom at 1:23 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

For a slightly different branch of film, I wonder if some of the more fantastical, but not-quite sci-fi films would work. Specifically Kaufman's Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich.

Both are intentional and aware of themselves, and the rules they choose to and choose not to abide by.
posted by matrixclown at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia fits that bill too.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:40 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the Primer vein, try the Spanish film Los Cronocrímenes, a.k.a. Timecrimes. It was billed as horror, but it's low on gore and high on twisty time travel.
posted by Beardman at 1:43 PM on September 4, 2019

Definitely watch Dark City. Then watch it again with Roger Ebert's commentary turned on.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:44 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Definitely watch Dark City. Then watch it again with Roger Ebert's commentary turned on.

My favorite film commentary of all time.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:55 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

a couple more classics; bith starring Peter Weller
Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension
Robocop (original, very gory but cheeky)
posted by askmehow at 2:04 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just popped in again to say I’m pissed I didn’t think of Dark City. With or without commentary it’s such a wonderful watchable film omg.

While I’m back I’ll recommend: Aeon Flux, animated or feature film, and, the Abyss (classic),
posted by Dressed to Kill at 2:36 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Chiming in with support for Satoshi Kon movies and Arrival.

Also check out Upstream Color (from Shane Carruth, the filmmaker behind Primer).

I'm a huge fan of Makoto Shinkai, another Anime auteur - The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Voices of a Distant Star, 5 Centimeters per Second, Your Name. Sci-fi scenarios, thoughtful, character-based stories. Absolutely gorgeous.

Look for other movies by Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell fame) such as Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence, and one of my favorites, Patlabor 2: The Movie. His films often start with some action, then settle into tension-building with an actual dialog argument about the central conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, and then some more action toward the end. I really like that format.

The Steven Soderbergh version of Solaris might work for you.

Maybe check out The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, who brought us last year's The Favorite.

The theatrical cut of Donnie Darko might fit the bill too. I'd avoid the director's cut.

You might also like Blade Runner 2049. I felt like I was watching a movie made from a checklist generated by studio executives, but it looks amazing.

It's been a long time since I saw it, but I remember After Life by Hirokazu Koreeda being thoughtful and beautifully shot, somewhat understated.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:46 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

A few to consider:
  • Looper
  • Close Encounters
  • Ex Machina
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Altered States
  • Children of Men
  • Her

posted by willnot at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2019

YES, Upstream Color! and also +1 for Dark City.
How about 2001? or Looper?
posted by exceptinsects at 4:36 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, I haven't seen it yet, but Europa Report might be worth a look.

And yeah, Looper is great.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron: Children of Men; Gravity.

Directed by Terry Gilliam: The Fisher King; 12 Monkeys.

Daybreakers:a personal favourite-and a much better film than the trailers would suggest, a low-key Australian SF/vampire movie starring Ethan Hawke, in fact any SF movie featuring Ethan Hawke including Gattacca and Predestination (same film-makers as Daybreakers).

Anything by Timur Bekmambetov, especially Nightwatch.
posted by Coaticass at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen The Matrix mentioned here. Just saw it Saturday at a 20th anniversary screening, and was reminded how devastatingly beautiful it is, but with a healthy dose of existentialism and broody-ness.

Nthing Arrival. District 9 might also hit the spot.
posted by ToucanDoug at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2019

Not at all science fiction, but I'm going to recommend Le Trou.

SFF what about La Jette. Or maybe Suture or White Dog (like Planet of the Apes with dogs).

An incredible one that's on Netflix right now: Border.
posted by dobbs at 6:02 PM on September 5, 2019

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