In a world where sometimes we all need a little cynicism, writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s doomed main characters are a refreshing way of reminding us that the world isn’t always what Hollywood rom-coms want us to believe. Aronofsky never lets us leave the theater without thinking and thinking and thinking about what in the world we just saw. And that is, in part, why he has so quickly become my favorite director. He has only directed six feature films and written one additional, so it’s no difficult feat to watch them all (if you can find 2002’s “Below” on eBay like I did). Now that I have, I feel like a list is in order.
7. “The Fountain” (2006)
Aronofsky’s mind-f*ckiest film is also his lousiest. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star in this dramatic love story than spans a couple thousand years. It’s beautiful, but super confusing. It’s like “The Tree of Life” and “Cloud Atlas.” Yeah, messed up. And not in the good way. You know behind the weird CGI is a social message about interconnectedness and the environment and all that. But it doesn’t make you believe much of anything besides “Why did I just watch that?”
I really do wish I could put this anywhere else. Despite Russell Crowe’s fantastic effort, a dramatic script that draws on the Bible and Aronofsky’s imagination, and a great bunch of special effects, “Noah” managed to be both too weird and too boring for most of its two hours. Not a bad movie, but disappointing for an Aronofsky offering.
5. “Below” (2002)
Aronofsky co-wrote this feature about a haunted submarine and the creepy, claustrophobic happenings that go on 30,000 leagues under the sea, but he left the directing duties to David Twohy (the “Riddick” movies). The suspense that’s built is hard to compete with, and the horror is real. Think “The Descent,” but with even less room to run away. I get shivers just thinking about it.
4. “Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
The movie that put Aronofsky on the map, and his highest-rated on IMDb (it’s the 76th best movie of all time, according to users), “Requiem” introduced Aronofsky’s now-classic artistic style of mixing the grotesque with the artistic. Creepy is art. Oscar-winner Jared Leto is superb as a drug-addicted Coney Islander, son of a pill-addicted mother (Ellen Burstyn, even better) with lofty aspirations to be on TV. His friends (Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayons) are in the drug business, too. How else are they supposed to make money? In one of the greatest endings of any movie I’ve ever seen, the stories of these four characters reach their unfortunate rock-bottoms.
3. “The Wrestler” (2008)
As former professional boxing great Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Mickey Rourke gives a career-best performance. “The Ram” is old. He’s washed-up. He’s out of shape. And to top it off, his only consistent company is that of strippers (like Marisa Tomei). Plus, his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) doesn’t want to hear a word from him anymore. His life is in the crapper, and the only thing that makes it bearable is wrestling. But the doc said his ticker isn’t in good enough shape to do that anymore. So does he keep living his current life, working at a supermarket and having few human relationships, or does he risk injury and stage the pro wrestling comeback he’s been dreaming of? You guess.
2. “Pi” (1998)
Aronofsky’s first feature film is a screechy, dark, twisted story about a man on the brink of finding the true meaning of the number pi. He’s facing pressure from mathematicians and others with more immoral motives. Everyone wants the number, but only his compulsive, paranoid mind can figure it out – if the pressure doesn’t get to him first. It’s shot in black & white, but the morals are all shades of grey. “Pi” is the preeminent paranoid psychological thriller. It’s enough to give you a headache, but it sure doesn’t let you forget about it.
Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-nominated performance as Nina, a ballerina who wants to be the lead in Swan Lake. She’ll do anything for the role. But when she gets it, she has to do some major training to really get into the role of Black Swan. “Requiem” and “Pi” were the first Aronofsky films I had seen, but “Black Swan” made me look up his name and search out the rest of his features. Everything, from the performances of Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassell, to the nearly perfect Clint Mansell score, to the script, all the way up to the punch-in-the-gut ending that made me rethink what I had thought about movies…everything made me proud to be a film buff. And those are the types of movies you love to love.