Requiem For A Dream (2000) Darren Aronofsky's brutal adaptation of Hubert Selby's novel depicts the horrors of substance abuse in many forms—heroin, pot, caffeine, prescription pills, hope—with such visceral, breathtaking force that shell-shocked audiences were forced to think long and hard about pouring that first cup of coffee the next day.
The result is one of the only genuinely effective, non-hysterical anti-drug movies ever made.
Dream flirts extensively with delirious camp during its fever dream of a climax, but retains a pummeling power thanks to Aronofsky's unblinking willingness to trawl deep into the bowels of hell alongside his heartbreakingly fragile characters. Dancer In The Dark (2000) Starting with 1996's Breaking The Waves, writer-director Lars von Trier all but commandeered the genre of fascinating, beautifully wrought movies that are too agonizing to sit through twice.
And when presented with such humble, cooperative victims, the people around them tend to abandon any semblance of morality and decency in order to take full advantage of the sacrifices they've been offered.
Dancer In The Dark follows the same pattern as the others, but it's particularly painful thanks to Björk's sweet, nakedly vulnerable performance as a cringing immigrant factory worker who's gradually going blind while trying to save up money so her son can have the operation that will save him from the same fate.
Von Trier calculates his plotlines with exacting, inspired sadism, ensuring that her attempts to reach out to others backfire, her kindness is repaid with betrayal, and every seeming spark of hope exists only to better illuminate the miserable darkness.
And yet Dancer is a beautiful film, filled with terrific performances and heartbreaking music, performed by Björk in character. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928) Von Trier owes his entire painful career to his Danish countryman Carl Dreyer, particularly his silent classic The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, which deals with the ultimate case of a woman suffering for her faith.
What makes the film difficult to watch isn't so much Joan's persecution at the hands of her ecclesiastical tormentors, or even Maria Falconetti's famously expressive performance, which registers her anguish in every crevice of her face.
Its disturbing intensity comes mainly from Dreyer's refusal to play by the rules: Defying the most basic tenets of cinematic grammar, which require filmmakers to establish spatial relationship on a 180-degree plane, Dreyer instead constructs the film as a series of extreme close-ups, with little sense of where the characters are in relation to one another.That disorientation, combined with the feverish emotions whipped up by the trial, places viewers in a grim psychic space. The Seventh Continent (1989) Just about every film by Michael Haneke—the fiendishly precise Austrian director of Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, and Caché—could have made this list.An unsparing moralist with a peerless talent for getting under viewers' skins, Haneke backs up his schoolmarm-ish theses on violence with a punishing aesthetic that couldn't be further from the escapist frivolity of Hollywood fare.The first entry in a so-called "glaciation trilogy" that continued with Benny's Video and 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, Haneke's brilliant debut feature The Seventh Continent watches with chilling dispassion as an average middle-class family sets about destroying itself.Haneke starts by focusing on the mundane, joylessly repetitive details of their life, then follows the drastic measures they take in carefully dismantling it.In the pantheon of Haneke shocks—the "remote control" in Funny Games, the broken glass in The Piano Teacher, Maurice Bénichou's fate in Caché—Continent's fish-tank scene may be the most emotionally wrenching. Winter Light (1962) Perhaps the grimmest entry in Ingmar Bergman's "Trilogy Of Faith" (also known as the "God's Silence" trilogy, which should be a good indicator of the bleakness standards at play), Winter Light follows a small group of parishioners who have no celestial answers for their anguish.