Thursday, March 10, 2011

Favourites #2: Psychological Thrillers

At first, I simply sought to write about some of my favourite thriller movies. Little that I know it would be this hard. You see, I thought I'd start with thrillers because I initially thought that out of all genres, I don't have that many to choose from when it comes to thriller movies. But then I sat down and started listing down some of the thriller movies that I've enjoyed watching... I ended up having a list of nearly a hundred titles.

No, that won't do. So I narrowed it down to just Psychological thrillers, the sub-genre I enjoy the most out of all thriller movies. After that I narrowed it down further to thrillers with similar feel, atmosphere and scope just to give it a sense of validity. These are the ones in the top ten.

#0 Psycho [1960]
Director : Alfred Hitchcock
Starring : Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin

Why zero instead of number one? Well, it's Psycho! It's a no-brainer to include this in any list of good thriller movies.
And I'm not just saying that because that's what everybody is saying. No, Psycho is indeed very good and a timeless piece that set the benchmark for virtually every other thriller/horror to come out after it.

#1 Memento [2000]
Director : Christopher Nolan
Starring : Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, Carrie-Anne Moss

The movie that won me over, making me a staunch supporter of writer-director Christopher Nolan. Memento was so well-written, you'd have to be a bonehead to not be able to see the genius of it. Not only the depiction of amnesia was scientifically-accurate, Christopher Nolan found a way to make you feel like you have amnesia as well, very much like the protagonist Leonard. You don't know what you're watching initially, equally as clueless as Leonard, until the story progresses and you have to piece the story together, just like Leonard.

#2 Misery [1990]
Director : Rob Reiner
Starring : Kathy Bates, James Caan

This thriller revolves around psychological mind games, bouncing back and forth between Anne Wilkes and Paul Sheldon, the protagonist. This, in my opinion is the best Stephen King story ever adapted into film, it certainly helped that it benefited from Kathy Bates' phenomenal performance as Anne Wilkes, a former nurse with multiple psychological disorders. One minute she's cheery, moody the next, but always with a propensity to turn brutal at a moment's notice. Kathy Bates did this so well you might just cringe in discomfort at the sight of her.

#3 Black Swan [2010]
Director : Darren Aronofsky
Starring : Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey

Who says the new can't be a classic? Black Swan definitely is! Again, my crush on Natalie Portman aside, this is one intriguing psychological thriller. While Darren Aronofsky has yet to make a bad movie, this one is certainly up there with his other landmark movie, Requiem for a Dream [2000].
What makes it so good is how much it embraced the idea of a psychological thriller, it messes with your mind and keeps you at a state of discomfort.

#4 Shutter Island [2010]
Director : Martin Scorsese
Starring : Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams

Again, one of the newer movies to make the list. When it comes to a Scorsese movie, I would usually name Taxi Driver [1976] as his best thriller, but that movie has a different feel to it. But that is not to say Shutter Island is any less entertaining. In fact, this is a very unique thriller in the sense that it's a two-in-one movie.
If you're curious about what I mean, first watch the movie from the perspective of the protagonist, "Teddy". After that, watch it from the perspective of everyone else.

#5 Red Eye [2005]
Director : Wes Craven
Starring : Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy

Probably the "lightest" Psychological thriller on the list, due to the straightforward nature of it. Nevertheless, it's a favourite of mine for the same reason I love Misery and Hard Candy. Granted, it is less intense than either one of those, but it worked well enough to carry the plot forward. You'll love how the antagonist Jackson Rippner is not your typical villain, and how protagonist Lisa Reisert evolves throughout the movie as a result of the distress she was under.

#6 Hard Candy [2005]
Director : David Slade
Starring : Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page

Out of all thrillers that's built solely on the tension between the two lead characters, Hard Candy is second only to Misery. It tells the tale of a suspected sexual predator and the fourteen year old girl trying to find out if he really is.
Ellen Page was very good at what she did, a chilling portrayal of a teenage girl who is wiser beyond her years. But equally impressive was the performance of co-star Patrick Wilson, whose insistence on his innocence leaving us torn whether to believe him or not.

#7 Strangers on a Train [1951]
Director : Alfred Hitchcock
Starring : Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker

It's hard to pick just one Alfred Hitchcock thriller because the dude was a major pioneer of the genre. So I guess I'll settle on three.
Again, this movie is one of those to feature prominent tension between the two lead characters. The story involves a web of conspiracy by "a psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder, a theory that he plans to implement" (from IMDb).

#8 The Shining [1980]
Director : Stanley Kubrick
Starring : Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd

Some movie purists are going to yell at me for not ranking this a lot higher. This one is a classic! How can it be on the lower end of my Top Ten?
Well truth to be told, I immensely enjoyed the experience because this is a Stanley Kubrick thriller, which means it was one heck of a visual spectacle, and not to mention eerily surreal. But on the thriller part I feel like there was a lot to be desired.
Not to detract anything from the movie, it's still in my Top Ten, after all.

#9 The Sixth Sense [1999]
Director : M. Night Shyamalan
Starring : Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Colette, Olivia Williams

The movie that skyrocketed M. Night Shyamalan's career and credibility as a writer-director before he gradually pissed it all away by making a string of self-indulgent movies.
But regardless of what he had become, you can't deny The Sixth Sense being one of the best thrillers ever made. It was Shyamalan at his best; creating a genuinely scary atmosphere without actually showing anything on screen.

#10 Dial M for Murder [1954]
Director : Alfred Hitchcock
Starring : Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams

Number ten, but definitely not least, this is another Hitchcock work that I can't neglect to include on this list. Maybe if I had seen Rear Window [1954] I might feel differently, but Dial M for Murder is another psychological thriller you wouldn't want to miss.
Now, it's a lot different than any other movies listed here because it does not rely so much on a grim atmosphere to sell the movie. Instead, it was more of a battle of wits involving a cruel husband trying to get away with murder.

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