Amid the late kerfuffle over Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, we are reminded that deeply disturbing movies are kind of his thing. Case in point: Requiem for a Dream, arguably his greatest film that nevertheless turns multiple viewings into an exercise in sadism. Aronofsky set out to create the final cinematic word on drug addiction. The results are so agonizing to watch that even hard-core film nuts need to cowboy up to give it a look. That’s kind of the point. To be less horrific would be to suggest that drugs aren’t so bad, and if you’re making an anti-drug movie, that’s the last thing you want to say. As we watch an achingly sympathetic quartet of figures destroy everything they are for their next fix, we feel every horrifying step of their descent. The film opened today in 2000.
Leaving Las Vegas hasn’t aged nearly as well as Requiem, despite dealing with the same basic issue. Nicolas Cage won the Oscar as a writer who heads to Sin City to drink himself to death, aided by Elizabeth Shue’s sympathetic prostitute (way to deliver positive roles for women, Hollywood!). At the time, it felt like destiny. In retrospect, it’s as showy and shameless a piece of Oscar bait as Tinseltown ever coughed up, with Cage’s now infamous mugging obliterating any attempt at subtlety. It opened in 1995. I mention it only as a cautionary example: not every instant classic can survive the test of time.