I am not a hugely optimistic person, not out of choice, you understand, more out of some necessity I feel to downplay the importance of anything, so as not to get myself worked up you see. Life is not a hugely pretty place and moreover, it’s full of people who are ready to pour shit and hot oil on your dreams, something that 21 years has taught me. So it is a breath of fresh air to see films that don’t show life as a pushover, something that is there for the taking and to be conquered. Not everyone is a successful journalist for ‘Cosmo’, most people don’t own swanky houses on the outskirts of Hollywood, and the fact is, not a lot of people have much time or money to pursue their hobbies or enjoyments. All in all, life is a bit of a shitty uphill struggle, here are 8 films that don’t spoonfeed their audiences ready-sugared shit for their banal brains to enjoy. This goes without saying;


#10: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

You could be forgiven for thinking this was just Harvey Keitel relaxing at home amongst outrageous iconoclasm. Don't worry, it's actually in the film.

In what must surely be his greatest role, Harvey Keitel owns Bad Lieutenant in a way that few actors have owned a role. An hour and 20 minutes of the film is solely devoted to showing how much of a lunatic, drug addicted sex and gambling addicted pervert ‘The Lieutenant’ is, while the last 10 minutes is pure humanism. Whilst investigating the rape of a nun, he finds out the nun has forgiven her attackers, and suggests he does the same. Upon uncovering the identity of the rapists, the Lieutenant does his absolute best to not blow both their heads off, instead paying for them to leave New York for good. At odds with his decision he drives away to meet a shark he owes $120,000 to, when the shark pulls up, he blows the Lieutenant’s head off. And that’s it. It’s insane the way you feel such an anger and disgust for that act of violence, despite the seedy depths that Keitel’s character had plumbed up until that point, after discovering the power of redemption, he is killed himself for his own sins.

#9: The Fly (1986) 

Shiiiit!...Jeff Goldblum be BUFF as fuck in the Fly!...ahem.

In The Fly, we see a likeable genius (albeit completely insane) in Eric Brundle start shitting about with teleporters and what not. He’s not only quite odd, but he is completely spot on, from his construction of the machines, down to the physics and huge list of maths necessary for such a thing as teleportation to happen. Only problem is, he doesn’t seem to hear (or see) a fly zoom into the teleporter with him on his first experiment. As such, bad things start happening to the self dubbed ‘BrundleFly’ after he is genetically spliced with the insect. At first he becomes extremely active and physically fit, but then begins deteriorating to such a state that his skin flakes, his ears fall off, and his fingers merge into one ugly looking claw type thing. In short, BrundleFly is turning into a fly, a creature not known for it’s beauty, grace or diplomacy. Brundle finally warps into a disgusting human-fly mutant and as such his last conscious act is to have his love blow his head off with a revolver. Or a giant fly swatter, depending on which version you saw (note: this version doesn’t exist, only in my head).

#8: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978)

Donald Sutherland needs no witty caption. Simply 'Donald Sutherland' will do.

Everybody on Earth knows the storyline to ‘Invasion’ (God knows it’s a franchise that has had it’s fare share of takes, remakes and sequels), yet perhaps the ’78 version is the best, if not only for Donald Sutherland as “that character who reminds you of what your dad would probably be like in the 1970’s” that he always seems to play so well. As the story goes, a group of San Franciscans’ discover that members of their community are being abducted and replaced by lifeless and emotionless drones. When the film starts getting heavy, you can always rely on old Donald to save the day huh? Not so, the ending shows Don’s (now famous) shriek, meaning he is now a clone, a revelation which somehow suggests all of humanity is doomed.

#7: Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) 

The gasmask: a necessity for all films shot in Derbyshire.

Dead Man’s Shoes is essentially a story of revenge. Richard, an ex-army man’s disturbed walk down memory lane, to the brutes, sickos and perverts who tortured and destroyed the crippled self esteem of his mentally handicapped brother. It’s not clear at first why we should sympathise with Richard, as his attacks and tormenting seem randomly focused on the towns undesirable lowlifes (drug dealers, addicts, layabouts etc). Indeed, the victims of his games don’t seem to understand either, but all becomes clear, they are horrendously amoral individuals who bated, tortured and eventually hung Richard’s younger mentally disabled brother. The end scene where Richard, retribution achieved, pushes himself on his last (most innocent, by default) victim’s knife is heartbreaking, if only for it’s finality. Revenge has been served, horrifically so, and Richard’s life has come to an end and his purpose has been fulfilled.

#6: Brazil (1985) 

Baby got back, or rather; 'Baby Got Captive'

Brazil is a pretty odd film and it’s not always clear what’s going on, some scenes are dense with imagery, whereas some are just pure surrealism. The core of it’s plot focuses on an admin assistant in some future government, charged with correcting a bureaucratic error involving a fly.  Main character Sam often dreams of a beautiful woman, and one day ends up meeting her through chance, the two are embroiled in an affair which sees them blamed for some terrorist attacks, living on the run, Sam and his beautiful girl escape off into the sunset. Or rather, Sam imagines this happening, as the final shot shows him strapped into a chair, catatonic, with a smile on his face while his captors shake their heads, indicating he has slipped into a coma from which he will not be able to escape. You can either see that as being ‘ignorance is bliss’, and that Sam would rather live in his fantasy lifestyle, or a disgusting invasion of his privacy, and perverse in itself. Regardless it is a powerful ending.

#5: Easy Rider (1969)

Couldn't find a Russia flag EH? Ya long haired commie rat.

Easy Rider is undoubtedly a classic of counter culture cinema, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper star, and really, on that basis alone, it has all the ingredients to be the best thing ever . Two strung out dudes on a road trip are joined by a former square looking for enlightenment. Just them, the wind, their machines and a bag of drugs. Beneath this colourful and vibrant exterior, Easy Rider is the end of hippie culture as we know it, the moment in time where the bad times started heavily outweighing the good. After dealing across America and sampling the goods it has to offer, our gang of heroes encounter a bunch of rednecks who tell ’em to get a haircut (my answer: ‘Oh wow. Boring. C- for creativity. Must try harder next time), Hopper promptly flips them a finger, and is blown away by a shotgun. Fonda is then killed as witness to the crime, and the film ends.

#4: The Life of Brian (1979)

Biggus Dickus holding a bigish pole-us.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard The Life of Brian mentioned in ‘depressing endings’ conversations. And why the hell not? The ending is absolutely tragic. The story of a man who has been pursued as the messiah his whole life (he is NOT the messiah, in fact, he’s a VERY naughty boy), turning his back on the false religions and needless ceremonies, Brian is no-less persecuted simply because people believe he is the messiah. As stated, he absolutely is not. In the end, Brian is crucified with a whole hill full of people who are also not the messiah. An actual genocide, in a comedy film. And how did they get a way with it? By whistling and singing ‘The Bright Side of Life’. That’s juxtaposition for yuh!

#3: Oldboy (2003)

After Oldboy, D.I.Y. dentistry was literally never the same again.

Oh Dae-Su is an insignificant alcoholic who is also a gambling addict. No biggie, it was the 80’s. He is locked up for (seemingly) no reason for 15 years in a private prison and fed dumplings (which he hates) every day of his sentence. He wakes up one day at the top of a building and proceeds to get extremely angry at anyone who stands in his way of finding out who imprisoned him. Along the way he meets a beautiful young girl who he falls in love with, who is also interested in his story and helps him piece together clues as to who imprisoned him and why they did it. He finds out it was an old school mate who Dae-Su once found fondling his sister in a classroom, soon after gossiping about it, the girl proceeded to kill herself, and the event has marked his captor ever since. Then we find out that Dae-Su and his young lover are in actual fact father and daughter, an act his tormentor set up to occur through hypnosis and suggestion. Dae-Su cuts his tounge off and his captor kills himself. Later on, Dae-Su and his daughter are reunited, yet it is unclear as to whether both have either been hypnotised to forget the event, or are just carrying on regardless. For pure twist, Oldboy is one of the most insane and deeply affecting of them all, not to mention properly depressing.

#2: Vertigo (1958) 

Hangin' with my main man Jim Stewart

Vertigo is often seen as Hitchcock’s greatest artistic achievement; engrossing, well written, funny, dramatic and extremely sad, the film has it all, as well as some of the most beautiful shots ever seen in film. In it, Jimmy Stewart plays Scottie, a retired detective who is hired to trail a friend’s wife who think’s she’s mentally disturbed. She is, very, and Stewart soon falls in love with her. When she ‘dies’, he is left understandably devastated, until he meets a similar looking woman and sets about transforming her into his former love (Ala ‘Rebecca’). Scottie ain’t stupid though, and has sussed it IS in fact the woman he loves, a woman who had been involved in an insurance scam with his friend while he pushed his real wife off the top of a tower. The film culminates in Scottie and his love at the top of the tower, making peace and plans to live together, when suddenly startled, she falls out. Scottie looks out longingly, contemplating whether to jump – a fate we never discover.

#1: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) 

Pictured: R-L The Chief, The Chief

Jack Nicholson has a quality to him that is hard to pinpoint. Yes, he is obviously manic and quite unhinged in some of his films, and also quite traditional in some other aspects. But it’s another quality, mainly just how human he is, a quality which shines through in ‘Cuckoo’. He plays McMurphy, a career criminal who is also into drugs, partying and sex. Plus drink, lots and lots of drink. He deliberately subverts diagnosis to avoid manual labour and is transfered to a mental institution, a place he treats like less of a hospital, and more of a free hotel, a place he can party and occasionally get his head down. There is no question he changes everyone’s life in the institution, from his silent and basic humanist understanding of the chief and the horrors committed on his people by the white man, to his constant bating and taunting of Nurse Ratchet, for good or ill he is an unforgettable presence in the hospital. Pity is, the more McMurphy acts up, the more he is koshed and constantly sedated, his boundless energy and human spirit taken for mania or madness, such treatment leads to his actual mental deterioration. This goes on to such an extent that the hospital doctors actually have him lobotomised, a common procedure in the 1960’s which removed an important part of his brain, the part which allowed him to maintain conscious thought and expression, effectively turning McMurphy into less of a fun kinda guy, and more of a rigid dribbling vegetable. Disgusted and upset at his friend’s treatment, the Chief puts a pillow over McMurphy’s head and suffocates him, instead escaping on his own. A horrific ending which only goes to shine a light on the appalling and at times brutally inhumane treatment of mentally ill people in the ‘civilized’ mid 20th century.