Let’s face it; not all good movies are made for everyone. Sometimes a good movie requires a good mind to appreciate it. Sometimes people are too lazy to appreciate a masterpiece.
Take art, for instance. One person can look at a doodle by Picasso and all they see are the scribbles. But someone else might come along and see it for what it really is; a masterpiece.
Be brutally honest, some smart movies are made for smart people. And that’s okay. The rest of the world still has CGI blockbusters, like Transformers, Fast and The Furious and the Twilight series.
For those who enjoy a little more stimulation for your brain, here is a list of really fun smart movies:
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a complex, but masterful re-telling of John le Carré’s British espionage story.
If you expect car chases, gadgets and closely choreographed fight scenes then you will be bitterly disappointed.
This is a slow-burn film that requires audiences to be a little smarter – to pay attention to the details, the quiet moments and the meaningful looks of the actors.
Based on the classic novel of the same name, the international thriller is set at the height of the Cold War years of the mid-20th Century.
George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his government — which fears that the British Secret Intelligence Service, a.k.a. MI-6, has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a bizarre but smart and imaginative movie.
If you lose attention for a moment, you might be completely confused by what’s happening on screen.
Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, if you sit up and pay attention, you’ll discover that love is more powerful than science.
After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) undergoes a procedure to erase memories of her former boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey) from her mind. When Joel discovers that Clementine is going to extremes to forget their relationship, he undergoes the same procedure and slowly begins to forget the woman that he loved.
Directed by former music video director Michel Gondry, the visually arresting film explores the intricacy of relationships and the pain of loss.
3. Predestination (2014)
Predestination is probably the most confusing film you’ll ever see.
It’s the type of film that will leave you in complete shock and horror, but also scratching your head long after the end credits.
It really is brilliant – in a sick, twisted way, of course. It succeeds at touching the brain and the heart.
A temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) embarks on a final time-traveling assignment to prevent an elusive criminal from launching an attack that kills thousands of people.
4. Enemy (2013)
Another brain scratcher. I’m still not sure what the provocative psychological thriller Enemy is about – even after seeing it three times.
It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully directed and Gyllenhall’s performance is top class. But it is also the type of film that’s open for interpretation.
What you get from it might be completely twisted or incredibly beautiful. You’ll have to be the judge.
Enemy has been described as “head-scratching,” “mysterious,” and “gloriously enigmatic.”
A mild-mannered college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a look-alike actor and delves into the other man’s private affairs.
5. Tree of Life (2011)
When Tree of Life opened up on the big screen, cinemas had to put up notifications warning audiences that it was not your standard film.
Many people had gone to tellers demanding their money back. Why? Because according to them, Tree of Life wasn’t a movie, but rather a documentary.
This isn’t true at all.
Tree of Life does have a narrative. It might be a very confusing narrative for those who are used to being spoon fed.
Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful and brilliant film about more than just what you see on screen. It’s about spirituality, hope, grace, nature, and loss.
In this highly philosophical film by acclaimed director Terrence Malick, young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is one of three brothers growing up as part of the O’Brien family in small-town Texas.
Jack has a contentious relationship with his father (Brad Pitt), but gets along well with his beautiful mother (Jessica Chastain).
As an adult, Jack (Sean Penn) struggles with his past and tries to make sense of his childhood, while also grappling with bigger existential issues.
6. Take Shelter (2011)
In some ways, Take Shelter is a modern day Noah story. But because a lot of the film is made up of haunting dream sequences, audiences can get quite confused.
That being said, Take Shelter is a fantastic film that will be on your mind long after you’ve seen it. It’s the perfect blend of drama and terror.
Take Shelter received critical acclaim and has a rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) lives in a small Ohio town with his loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and hearing-impaired daughter (Tova Stewart). Though money is tight, he and his family are very happy.
But then, Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an apocalypse that threatens them all.
Rather than confiding in Samantha, he begins building a storm shelter in the backyard, and his strange behavior causes tension in their marriage and the surrounding community.
7. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Another Charlie Kaufmann masterpiece, Being John Malkovich is quite a mind trip (excuse the pun). It’s often so odd, that it borders on surrealism.
One thing that it has in its favour though is originality. There is nothing quite like it out there. Being John Malkovich is one of a kind.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. And you’ll be challenged to think about your own life. Are you a puppet or a puppeteer?
In this quirky cult-favorite comedy, unemployed New York City puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) reluctantly takes a temp job as a filing clerk for the eccentric Dr. Lester (Orson Bean).
While at work, Craig discovers a portal that leads into the mind of renowned actor John Malkovich.
When he lets his attractive co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) in on the secret, they begin both an unusual business scheme and an odd relationship that involves Craig’s restless wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz).
8. Amélie (2001)
Although many people tend to steer away from films with subtitles, Amélie will quickly make you forget that you are watching a foreign film.
It’s remarkably charming and engaging. Nominated for five Academy Awards, it’s the type of whimsical film that’s filled with wonder, imagination, puzzles, and riddles.
Amélie is a fanciful comedy about a young woman who discretely orchestrates the lives of the people around her, creating a world exclusively of her own making.
Shot in over 80 Parisian locations, acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet invokes his incomparable visionary style to capture the exquisite charm and mystery of modern-day Paris through the eyes of a beautiful ingenue.
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick was a master of film and making films for smart moviegoers. 2001 is a popular film, but I’ve heard many people complain that it’s boring and uninteresting.
2001 is a beautiful film and a masterpiece created by a mastermind. Kubrick was a genius and 2001 is one of his best works.
Since its premiere, 2001: A Space Odyssey has been analyzed and interpreted by professional film critics, amateur writers, and science fiction fans, virtually all of whom have mentioned its deliberate ambiguity. Like most of Stanley Kubrick’s films, it alludes to something more than film’s plot reveals.
An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future in this enigmatic adaptation of a short story by revered sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke.
When Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behavior, leading up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.
10. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a film that has sparked dozens of theories and speculation about its true meaning. Hidden with secrets, the film is subject of a popular documentary called Room 237.
Although the film has a common horror-like plot, fans believe it’s a film about the genocide of Native Americans.
Another theorist believed that Stanley Kubrick had directed the footage disseminated by NASA to publicize the Apollo 11 moon landing. Whatever you believe, you can’t help but be impressed by this clever filmmaking.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions.
As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.
11. Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina is a stylish cerebral psycho-techno sci-fi thriller capable of delivering big thrills and big thoughts. When you think about it, it’s basically a modern-day Frankenstein story.
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) a programmer at a huge Internet company, wins a contest that enables him to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), his firm’s brilliant CEO.
When he arrives, Caleb learns that he has been chosen to be the human component in a Turing test to determine the capabilities and consciousness of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a beautiful robot.
However, it soon becomes evident that Ava is far more self-aware and deceptive than either man imagined.
12. Under The Skin (2013)
At least half of the people I know who’ve seen Under The Skin don’t get it at all.
Its haunting message is very elusive, but those who are willing to dig deeper will love it. Plus, it has a mesmerising performance from Scarlett Johansson.
This deeply disturbing film is art in motion.
Disguising herself as a human female, an extraterrestrial (Scarlett Johansson) drives around Scotland and tries to lure unsuspecting men into her van.
13. The Skin I Live In (2011)
Death, betrayal, rape, murder, lies, mystery, loneliness, sexual identity, gender ambiguity, love, and anxiety are all major themes of The Skin I Live In, one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen.
Except, it’s not a horror film. It’s a very dark thriller drama that explores the lengths people will go through in order to sustain love.
Fantastically twisted, there is something waiting to burst out from beneath the slow-burn story, but you aren’t ready to face that truth until it’s revealed.
Ever since his beloved wife was horribly burned in an auto accident, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a skilled plastic surgeon, has tried to develop a new skin that could save the lives of burn victims.
Finally, after 12 years, Ledgard has created a skin that guards the body but is still sensitive to touch.
With the aid of his faithful housekeeper (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard tests his creation on Vera (Elena Anaya), who is held prisoner against her will in the doctor’s mansion.
14. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
As far as smart movies go, We Need to Talk About Kevin is probably the least popular. But this is probably one of Tilda Swinton’s best roles.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a “portrait of a deteriorating state of mind” (both of a mother and a child).
What happens if you don’t love your own child… and they know it?
We Need to Talk About Kevin masquerades as a drama but is essentially a horror without the usual screams and frights.
The use of colour, music, and landscapes are all used very well and lure the audience into the shocking finale.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a travel writer/publisher who gives up her beloved freedom and bohemian lifestyle to have a child with her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly).
Pregnancy does not seem to agree with Eva, but what’s worse, when she does give birth to a baby boy named Kevin, she can’t seem to bond with him.
When Kevin grows from a fussy, demanding toddler (Rocky Duer) into a sociopathic teen (Ezra Miller), Eva is forced to deal with the aftermath of her son’s horrific act.
15. Interstellar (2014)
Any one of Christopher Nolan’s films could have found its way onto this list. They are all really smart movies: all good and all very well-written.
However, Interstellar is probably the film that requires the most from viewers.
All the talk about space, scientific theories, poetic quotes, and philosophies about time, require more than just your average mind.
I’m almost sure most people who’ve seen this film don’t truly understand it and don’t even care about how revolutionary Interstellar is.
In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable.
Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole.
But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.