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By now, early reception to Joker is out and if you’ve been paying attention to chatter at all, you probably already know that Todd Phillips’ new DC movie is designed to ruin your day. Like many lauded and emotional movies before it, it will take you on a wild journey with emotional highs and lows, but, yeah, mostly lows.
Or as my esteemed colleague Dirk Libbey put it, “It’s the best movie I never want to see again.” It’s not alone in being a great movie that’s a hard watch, however. There are plenty of movies out there that are critically acclaimed or well-liked by audiences that you wouldn’t pop on during a first date or when you are looking for a fun, relaxing night at home.
For the purposes of this list, we really only looked at movies that are worth seeing and have inherent value, yet will absolutely eff your day up. In fact, I'll go ahead and start with the one that I kept thinking about while watching Joker, because it really did put me in the same sad and despairing headspace. Yes, I’m talking about Requiem for a Dream.
Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 stunner Requiem for a Dream was one of the first R-rated movies I saw, and I have never eagerly revisited it, although I have shown it to a few friends, given its an important movie to see. It’s a stunning, startling movie and a gritty portrayal of drug use pushing into horrifying addiction. Another of Aronofsky’s feature films mother! could have made this list, but Requiem is the one that haunts my dreams and probably the one worth checking out if you really want to ruin your day.
Like Joker, Midsommar is another 2019 box office contributor. This one's about a group of friends who go on vacation only to end up in a violent reality during a -- you guessed it --midsommar festival. It's arguably the most aesthetically beautiful movie this year. However, it's also a brutal watch, a movie filled with despair and other uncomfortable feelings, and through which some messed up stuff happens. It may prove tough even if avid theatrical thrill seekers. Don’t even try discussing this movie with co-workers until you’ve had at least 24 hours to digest what just happened to you.
Million Dollar Baby
Generally, Clint Eastwood-directed movies aren’t the types I find super hard to get through. Although I wouldn’t feel the need to watch The 15:17 to Paris again, that has more to do with performance than it has to do with being a difficult watch. Most of Clint Eastwood’s hard-hitting movies, like last year’s The Mule, have tough moments, but Million Dollar Baby takes the cake in the day-ruiner category. While riveting and even at points uplifting, it's also a gigantic downer. Certainly a must-see, totally watch if you haven’t, but don’t expect to feel good while the credits roll.
The Basketball Diaries
Further proving that watching people devolve into drug addiction is never fun, Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in 1995’s The Basketball Diaries is a rough watch. Not only because it's another movie on this list about a drug descent, but also because some scenes between Jim and his mother should stick with viewers. With a young performance from Leo, this is one worth seeing to get a feel for what the actor was already capable of early in his career. It's not Leonardo DiCaprio's only memorable downer flick as a young man. For more where this comes from, check out What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
I can’t think of a Martin Scorsese movie that I would describe as “lighthearted” or “breezy,” but there are some Scorsese movies that are more to take in then others. Case in point, Taxi Driver, a movie about, well, a taxi driver in New York City that’s frequently called out as one of the greatest movies of all time, but like another Scorsese great Raging Bull, is a hard watch.
This isn't your average Uber ride. Haunted by the Vietnam War, a taxi driver played by Robert DeNiro descends into madness, making for a long movie and a bleak movie. There are Martin Scorsese movies that feel longer (we’re back to Raging Bull) and there are Scorsese movies with tougher endings (Shutter Island anyone?), but Taxi Driver is the great movie that will keep you down for the rest of the day.
Another name that was always going to make this list, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is sometimes split into two graphic volumes telling the story of Joe, a nymphomaniac who consistently makes decisions related to sex that have direct consequences on her personal and professional life. The movie is graphic and, while compelling, it’s a lot to take in. You may as well know that Nymphomaniac is not the only Lars von Trier title considered for this list, as Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark both popped on and off it; none of them are for the faint of heart.
If we’re sticking to the sex theme, Shame is another good movie that’s totally depraved. Prostitution, pornography, a close-up of Michael Fassbender’s dick and even hints of incest are hallmarks of Steve McQueen’s predecessor to 12 Years A Slave. It would be a really weird date movie choice, but it has great performances from Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.
A Clockwork Orange
Based on the book by Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a perfect example of a great movie you don’t need to see again and again. Not only is the vocabulary just a lot, the film itself is both fascinating from a philosophical perspective, but also extremely violent. Most movies that look at psychopaths would not be described as “great fun,” but A Clockwork Orange’s take on one is darker and more excessive, with an ending that will stick with you. Or, as CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg admitted to me, it “shakes you as you walk away from it.”
There are a whole slew of other movies that could have made this list. I also considered flicks like Seven (a movie I watch once a year or thereabouts, so what does this say about me?) to Harmony Korine movies like Kids or 8MM to movies with stark endings like The Mist. Shoutouts also go to White Oleander, House of Sand and Fog, and Monster, among others. In short, there are plenty of other options that could have been flip-flopped on this list, but this is a great starting point if you're hoping for a weekend full of downers and uncomfortable moments.
Honestly, I started this list with five as a goal in mind, and here we are eight movies later. Some of these movies are notable, solid entries and some are goddamn masterpieces, but ultimately, if you watch any of these movies a bunch of times, you’re a glutton for punishment.
In that case, go see Joker. You’re gonna love it.