4 Best Experimental Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

A harrowing family loss sets off a poetic exploration of grief in this experimental film from Haitian-Canadian filmmaker Miryam Charles. The focus of the movie is Charles’ own cousin, who was found murdered in her Connecticut bedroom in 2008. Rather than let her cousin’s life remain frozen at that point in time, Charles unmoors her film from the cold realities of time and space to suggest new perspectives on the girl’s past and imagine a future that never came. While events like the family’s decision to move to the US are recast as portends of tragedy, there’s also deep generosity in the movie’s ghost story — such as the joyous scenes it depicts from a mother-daughter trip to the family’s home country of Haiti, a trip that never actually took place.

It’s not always easy to discern where or when we’re at in its liberal toggling between time and space, but once Cette Maison establishes its unconventional visual language, everything comes into poignant focus. Given the reality on which it’s based, this is undoubtedly a heartbreaking watch, but the way Charles’ movie evokes the ability of imagination to both deepen and assuage the pain of grief is nothing short of revelatory.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Ève Duranceau, Nadine Jean

Director: Miryam Charles

There’s a lot to think about in Dream Scenario, which posits the possibility of collectively seeing the same real man in your dreams. Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli drops the painfully ordinary Paul (Cage) in an extraordinary reality to show us how easily one can spiral into insanity, how dangerous groupthink can be, how fickle cancel culture is, and how anything can happen to anyone, even to someone as unsuspecting as Paul. But Borgli doesn’t just experiment with ideas here, he also expertly plays with sounds and transitions, sometimes even cutting a scene before someone is done talking, to capture the skittish and unreliable language of dreams. More impressively, he takes into account how this phenomenon would play in our real, profit-oriented world. The capitalistic urge to make Paul an advertising tool, for instance, or to create tech that makes it possible for others to appear in dreams too, is both uncanny and depressingly realistic. Some might feel that Borgli is biting off more than he can chew but there’s a balance and ease to Dream Scenario that makes it feel inevitable. That’s thanks to Borgli’s brilliant direction but also, in no small part, to Cage’s inspired performance as a pathetic but harmless loser.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Agape Mngomezulu, Al Warren, Amber Midthunder, Ben Caldwell, Conrad Coates, David Klein, Domenic Di Rosa, Dylan Baker, Dylan Gelula, James Collins, Jennifer Wigmore, Jeremy Levick, Jessica Clement, Jim Armstrong, Jordan Raf, Josh Richards, Julianne Nicholson, Kaleb Horn, Kate Berlant, Krista Bridges, Lily Bird, Lily Gao, Liz Adjei, Maev Beaty, Marc Coppola, Marnie McPhail, Michael Cera, Nicholas Braun, Nicolas Cage, Nicole Leroux, Nneka Elliott, Noah Centineo, Noah Lamanna, Philip van Martin, Ramona Gilmour-Darling, Richard Jutras, Sofia Banzhaf, Star Slade, Stephen R. Hart, Tim Meadows, Will Corno

Director: Kristoffer Borgli

Rating: R

, 2013

Filmmaker Petra Costa tells the story of moving to New York from Brazil to follow her dream, the same one her mother once followed, of becoming an actress.

She carries memories of a third person who made the same move, a sister called Elena. Elena left her when she was seven-years-old, and after intermittent calls and messages, disappeared.

This documentary is a tale of three women: of their feelings separation, longing, and ambition. It’s made to be a visual poem of their story.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Elena Andrade, Li An, Petra Costa

Director: Petra Costa

Rating: N/A

This is Me…Now is more than just a glorified music video. It’s a personal confessional for one, and a surprisingly effective comedy for another. In parts, Jennifer Lopez speaks to her therapist (Fat Joe) about the dreams she’s been having, which then give way to surreal sequences of Lopez singing songs off her latest album, all about love and personal growth. You’d have to be a fan of Lopez’s pop style to appreciate the music, but the choreography is mesmerizing and, dare I say, Lopez’s true strength. When she’s not regaling us with her thoughts on love, we have the Council of Zodiac Signs, played by a stacked cast that includes Jane Fonda, Sofia Vergara, and Trevor Noah, to humor us with their genuinely funny observations. Lopez obviously has a vision, and it’s admirably big and earnest, but the technical side of the film fails her. Except for the ornate storybook opener, most of the dream sequences are gray and sludgy, and they rarely reflect Lopez’s rose-tinted view of life. I wish the film had more light, but instead, we get melty, inferior CGI work that is just painful to look at. Some people might be able to forgive this, but because film is largely a visual medium, I find that it ultimately detracts from the experience.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alexander Pelaez, Alix Angelis, Ashley Versher, Ben Affleck, Brandon Delsid, Carlito Olivero, Danielle Larracuente, Derek Hough, Fat Joe, Jane Fonda, Jay Shetty, Jenifer Lewis, Jennifer Lopez, Jocelyn Marie, Keke Palmer, Kim Petras, Matthew Law, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paul Raci, Post Malone, Sadhguru, Sofia Vergara, Trevor Jackson, Trevor Noah

Director: Dave Meyers

Rating: PG-13