Uncut Gems dropped on Netflix over the weekend. The Safdie Brothers’ electric story of a New York jeweler and gambling addict, played by a career-best Adam Sandler is about as frenetic a movie as you could hope to see.
In the words of one critic: “It was brilliant. I couldn’t wait for it to end.”
Sandler’s Howard Ratner is a fast-talking, charismatic jewelry dealer trying to pull off the deal of his lifetime. He’s a gambling addict in the middle of a divorce, has a secret mistress, mobsters trying to collect a debt and a world-famous basketball player convinced that a precious black opal he’s trying to sell must be his.
Again and again, Howard makes decisions that boggle the mind. Like watching one of those dreams where you turn up to work with no trousers on, the bad decisions pile up and Uncut Gems becomes an almost unbearably stressful watch.
Achieved through frenetic dialogue and increasingly dire stakes, the film is guaranteed to trigger a bout of anxiety in most right-minded people. It’s masterful.
So sit back, but don’t expect to relax, as we present nine equally agonizing movies from recent times.
Christopher Nolan’s WWII masterpiece about the evacuation of trapped allied troops as the German army advances, plays out across three intersecting timelines. Over the course of one week, one day and one hour we watch as troops are shot, bombed and drowned, while English fishing boats race across the English Channel to save them. It’s Hans Zimmer’s nagging score though, like a ticking time-bomb, that makes Dunkirk almost impossible to sit still through, for the 106-minute running time.
Denis Villeneuve’s story of the US’s (dirty) war against Mexican drug cartels is unbearably tense. Once again, the score plays a role almost as big as Emily Blunt’s. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s tonal, percussive soundtrack conjures a feeling of unparalleled dread. Still need proof? Watch the car chase that unfolds in stationary traffic and tell us this isn’t enough to get you palms clammy. We dare you.
Room, the 2015 film, tells the story of a woman who has been held in captivity in America for seven years. Her and her five-year-old son, born into captivity, meticulously plan and execute an escape. While the film deals with adjusting to life after captivity, it’s the fragile plan, extreme lengths the mother and son must go to in order to escape that prove almost unbearable.
It’s a given that horror films are a stressful watch, which is why this is the only one on the list, but Ari Aster’s tale of a mother’s descent into madness is a dizzying and horrifying spectacle. Starting off creepy and then nose diving, head first into the occult, it’s Gabriel Byrne’s bewilderment at the collapse of his family that gives the film its human element, as Toni Collette goes completely off-reservation. And you’ll never look at a telephone pole the same way again.
Imagine waking up one morning to find that your house was full of strangers outstaying their welcome. This is the waking nightmare that Jennifer Lawrence finds herself in, as her husband, a detached Javier Bardem, apparently oblivious to his wife’s distress, keeps inviting people in. Mother will have you shouting at the screen, before covering your eyes for the mind-bending finale. Safe to say, this is not a great date movie.
We need to talk about Kevin
Lynne Ramsay specializes in stressful films. 2017’s You Were Never Really Here for instance, is brutally violent and in parts, deeply depressing. But it’s her 2011 adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, from the Lionel Schriver novel of the same name that really gets under your skin. Dealing with the aftermath of her son’s unspeakable act of violence, Tilda Swinton’s mother has her story told in flashbacks that offer more and more insight into what happened.
Another Denis Villeneuve mind-bender, Jake Gyllenhaal discovers he has a physically identical double. Quickly becoming obsessed with his doppelgänger, an actor with an “interesting” social life, Gyllenhaal’s Adam and Anthony’s lives become entwined, leading to a deadly, if confusing, outcome. The plot is stressful enough, in and of itself, but an appearance by an incongruous creature will have you checking behind your door for weeks.
Pretty self-explanatory, this one. Unless, that is, the thought of cutting your own arm off with a pen knife is totally chill.
Danny Boyle’s story of Aron Ralston, the climber who got his arm stuck under a huge rock and then had a life changing decision to make is not an easy watch. Not least because of the almost impossible decision he not only has to make, but carry out. Not for the squeamish.
Gravity’s plot is bad enough: an astronaut is catapulted into outer space after a routine space-walk goes very, very wrong. With nothing but her suit and George Clooney’s voice separating her from a very lonely death the tension is heart in the mouth stuff. And that’s before we‘ve factored in the cinematography. Best avoided if you suffer from motion sickness, director Alfonso Cuaron and DOP Emmanuel Lubezki create an astounding and disorientating vision of peril in space.