18. Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s second feature (adapted from Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel) is relentless from the opening frame, as Aronofsky’s aggressive style, Matthew Libatique’s spiky photography, and Clint Mansell’s overwhelming score conspire to throw the viewer into a state of perpetual unease. But the lead-up is positively sedate compared to the grim climax, in which Aronofsky’s four stories are simultaneously brought crashing to their horrifying, grim conclusions.
15. Funny Games
Mr. Haneke again, with a lighthearted romp about a pair of sadists who invade a wealthy family’s home, take them hostage, and engage in a series of bets and titular games as they maim, torture, and kill them. Few filmmakers do dread as effectively as this one, and that feeling — coupled with the hopelessness that is equally embedded in his DNA — makes this a particularly uncomfortable viewing experience. (But if you’re into that sort of thing, go with the original, rather than his slicker remake.)
13. Man Bites Dog
Comedy doesn’t get much blacker than this 1992 Belgian mockumentary, in which a crew of filmmakers tag along with a serial killer and find themselves drawn into his grisly world. The graphic shootings, stabbings, beatings, and rapes are tough enough to take; the film’s real power is in the way it shifts from indicting the documentary crew as first implicit and then explicit accomplices. It’s got a lot to chew on, but the point-blank, stone-faced, black-and-white style and the matter-of-fact leading performance by Benoit Poelvoorde renders the convincing crimes all the more horrific.
Look, we’ve all seen it. Things are done to sexual organs with scissors, and now you have those images in your head again. Let’s move on.
The sheer power of the filmmaking in Gaspar Noé’s 2002 film is astonishing — his compositions, command of mood, and movement of camera are (as per usual) first-rate, and he assembles his story in a reverse chronology that renders its events doubly powerful. But it is a story of a brutal rape/murder and its shocking aftermath, and that rape and beating is seen in its entirety, in a long, unblinking, unbroken shot. It is, to put it mildly, hard to take, and most viewers can’t. “It is so violent, it shows such cruelty, that it is a test most people will not want to endure,” Ebert wrote, after its premiere at Cannes prompted mass walkouts. “But it is unflinchingly honest about the crime of rape.”