10 Films That Completely Defy Expectations

Think you've got a film figured out before you enter the theater? Here's 10 examples of how, on occasion, you can be completely wrong. Completely wrong.

When we walk in to a movie, be it a comedy, drama, horror film or action thriller, we know what to expect. Heck, Hollywood has programmed us to understand a cinematic experience even before we've seen a single extended take. Trailers spill the beans, pointing out meaningful moments and spoiler-esque plot elements as part of some no longer necessary marketing maneuver while the web works its wonders as part of Messageboard Nation's desire to scoop its Internet competition and be first with any casting/creative choice. Besides, moviemaking has become a formula, a fixed point in a baffling business model's bottom line which sees the same old things trotted out time and time again, hoping that you, as a clueless viewer, will ignore the blatant similarities and plunk down your hard earned dosh.

But every once in a while (a 'blue moon' would be too regular), films defy their expectations. Usually the result of some artistic ambition or a back door deal with Tinseltown's indie identity, there are times when you go in anticipating one thing, only to get something else in return. It's not a matter of bad PR or a lack of perception. It's just that we have become so blinded by what the artform provides that our own bias clouds our keep an open mind. With that in mind -- and the 9 July DVD/Blu-ray release of a perfect example of this ideal at Number Eight on our alphabetized list -- we offer 10 films that suggest one thing, but are much, much more. Sure, they may stay locked in their genre dynamics, or their previous incarnations, but then they break free, bringing along with their invention a clear sense of why many of us fell in love with the medium in the first place.

Let's begin with something both baffling and brilliant:

#10 - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

After David Lynch's TV series fizzled, failing to ignite the imagination of viewers who stuck it out for two wholly uneven seasons, the filmmaker vowed to bring everyone's favorite town full of eccentrics back to the big screen for one final hurrah. What he provided, instead, is the greatest kiss off an artist has ever provided to his adoring public. First, Lynch abandoned the cliffhanger ending of the TV show for a prequel explaining Laura Palmer's last days, then began the film with a weird detour into an FBI case involving another victim of the demonic ne'er-do-well, Bob. And things just got more surreal from there.

#9 - Sunshine

Danny Boyle doesn't do "conventional". His addicts in Trainspotting are just as funny as they are flawed, and his zombies in 28 Days Later are merely misguided citizens infected with a horrifying rage virus. So when he announced a sci-fi epic about the saving of the sun, many believed they'd be getting the typical tired future shock. What Boyle provided was a perfect companion piece to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, another amazing look at man's place in the universe spiced up with both philosophy and thrills. It's a masterpiece of meaning from a man who just can't make an uninteresting film, even when he fails.

#8 - Spring Breakers

The title is the first hint that something slightly unusual is going on here. This isn't a movie about the annual college rite of passage, but a look at those who trade their entire future for a few days of sun, fun, sex, and other (often illegal) indulgences. In this case, writer/director Harmony Korine pushes the very limits of the notion of personal freedom, giving four young ladies the chance to let loose and escape their social shackles. The result, guided by white rap ringleader Alien (an amazing James Franco) is a descent into personal Hell, with no one coming out unscathed.

#7 - Red State

Kevin Smith wanted to make a horror movie. He told everyone that this would be his own personal take on the overdone genre. What he delivered instead was a masterpiece of audience manipulation, a movie that starts out one way (a group of horny guys decide to hook up with some trailer park MILF), veers off in another direction (an amazing mid-movie monologue from actor Michael Parks), and ends up a Waco style stand-off between the FBI and religious nuts. Oh, and the Rapture may play a part in it as well. A terrific take on what it means to believe and be duped by same.

#6 - Popeye

If you could pick one '70s icon to make a comic book movie, something based on the classic cartoon character and his spinach loving hijinx, who would you choose? Steven Spielberg? George Lucas? Heck, even Francis Ford Coppola? Here's guessing Robert Altman wouldn't be high on your wish list, and with good reason. His experimental approach to realism made for some of the era's most uncompromising works of art. In this case, when hired, Altman decided to tackle the project with equal authenticity, building his own version of Sweet Haven on the Isle of Malta and making everyone act like human animation. Even today it's ahead of its time.

Next Page

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.