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The most baffling movies of 2019

You often hear that Hollywood is "out of ideas," and with remakes, sequels, and major franchises dominating the box office, it isn't hard to see why that idea persists. The cost of filmmaking is astronomical, and studios would typically rather play it safe than risk big and come up on the losing side of things.

That said, it's much easier to access content now than it was even ten years ago. Streaming video, inexpensive camera equipment, and direct access to communities all make it much easier for artists to make their voices heard. If you turn over a few rocks, you're going to find some original content out there — and some of it is just plain weird.

We're taking a look at the "just plain weird" of 2019. Some of these movies are fantastic. Some are... not so great. But they all feature plots that make you go "Huh?" These are the most baffling films of 2019. Proceed with caution: spoilers abound!

Velvet Buzzsaw

Velvet Buzzsaw is one of those movies that makes it tough to truly tell whether what you're watching is actually any good. It has all the pieces in place — for one, the cast features the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Billy Magnussen, and others. Dan Gilroy directed it, fresh off the dark and grossly satisfying Nightcrawler. Finally, Velvet Buzzsaw is about artwork coming to life and murdering critics, and that last sentence basically sums things up. If you read "art coming to life and murdering critics" and said "Hell yeah, that sounds like my kind of movie," then you should probably load Netflix up right now and get watching.

On the other hand, is anything in Velvet Buzzsaw really happening? Or is it all just an extremely meta commentary on the way we consume and critique art? Why is Gyllenhaal's character, the perplexingly named Morf Vandewalt, so... weird? Why does all the art have a dramatic sense of irony and timing when it murders people? What is going on in this movie?

There are a lot of questions raised and not a lot of answers given. If you like watching good actors playing bizarre characters, though, Velvet Buzzsaw is for you.

Us

Very few directors have debuted with their first feature quite like Jordan Peele did with 2017's Get Out. He had high hopes to live up to with his sophomore effort, Us, and he delivered another cerebral thriller with a ton of layers. It didn't quite strike the same nerve as Get Out, but it inspired plenty of hot takes on its release.

The big mystery surrounding Us is just who (or what) the doppelgängers hunting our characters really are. Everyone in the main cast plays a double role in the film — their regular selves and their "Tethered" version, unleashed from the secret underground society where they've been kept for who knows how long. As the film goes on and you learn more about what the Tethered are, it becomes apparent why they are a force to be reckoned with, especially when you realize just how many of them are out there.

Lupita Nyong'o steals the show in Us, delivering an impressive dual performance. Us will keep you guessing and have you theorizing for hours, even after you've seen it multiple times.

The Lighthouse

Why'd you spill the beans? Robert Eggers followed up his 2015 film The Witch with this year's equally perplexing The Lighthouse. It's shot in black and white and an almost square aspect ratio — no widescreen here. It's essentially a two-man show, with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe playing two men (maybe?) manning a lighthouse together. And it is completely bizarre.

When you sit down to watch The Lighthouse, there are about 50 different ways to read it. Maybe everything is literally happening. Maybe only some of it is. Maybe Pattinson is not real. Maybe Dafoe isn't! Unlike The Witch, The Lighthouse never really gives you any answers. It feels like a film that a group of people could watch at the same time and all come to wildly different, plausible conclusions.

The Lighthouse is still pretty impressive. It's basically Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson getting drunk, singing sea shanties, and talking like crusty old pirates for two hours. If you like to have spirited debate about what happened in a movie you just watched, The Lighthouse is a good one for you.

Midsommar

Ari Aster's follow-up to Hereditary, Midsommar eschews many horror tropes to tell its tale of folk horror. Florence Pugh does some serious heavy lifting in the lead role as well.

Midsommar is one of those films where you can tell things are going to go majorly sideways from the beginning. Aster loves to leave dangling threads for his characters (and his audience) to pull on, with lots of half-answers sprinkled throughout. Regardless of whatever your theories regarding the movie might be, there are most likely plenty of clues to support them — and plenty of clues that point in the opposite direction.

Like Hereditary, Midsommar is a film that yields all sorts of little details upon repeat viewings. It's mysterious in all the right ways, and Florence Pugh is nothing short of a powerhouse in it.

The Perfection

The Perfection is a body-horror masterpiece that will have you squirming in your seat. It's also a film that will keep you guessing until the very end, even if things do wrap up a little more neatly than many other films on this list.

The plot centers around two women in a prestigious music academy, one of whom is forced to leave in order to care for her mother — and she isn't happy about being replaced by another star pupil. What starts as a simple tale of revenge becomes more and more insane — arms are amputated, bugs come crawling out of people's skin, and sex cults run rampant. It's exploitative and tough to watch, but it definitely hits the right buttons for people who want a bizarre, baffling viewing experience.

The Perfection stars Allison Williams, who played Rose in Get Out, and Logan Browning. It's creepy, weird, and satisfying — an hour and a half of bizarre creepiness on Netflix.

Climax

If you're at all familiar with the world of experimental film, director Gaspar Noe's name should be your first clue as to what you're in for with Climax. He is probably best known for his 2002 release Irreversible, a film that Roger Ebert infamously called "so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." Climax isn't quite to that level, but it is every bit as baffling as his other works.

Climax focuses on a group of dancers who are partying together after working on their routine. The drink they are all sharing is spiked with LSD, and they all begin to become increasingly confused and paranoid as the night goes on.

Noe's choices as a filmmaker also confuse the audience. Climax features multiple single, long takes, including the 42-minute take that ends the film. Climax has almost no professional actors — nearly everyone appearing in the film is a dancer. It also had almost no script or set plot — the actors were allowed to take things pretty much wherever they wanted it to go, and Noe tied it all together.

The film doesn't always work, but it is a fascinating and bizarre time at the movies.

Parasite

One of the best films of 2019 is also one of its most baffling. Parasite comes from legendary Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who gained fame in the United States with 2006's The Host before helming other impressive films like Snowpiercer and Okja. Parasite is full of twists and turns, and you never quite know exactly which direction it's going.

Parasite starts out as a commentary on wealth and social class and a story in which one lower-class family begins to push themselves into the life and social standing of a much wealthier family. About halfway through, however, things take a dramatic turn and Parasite becomes more of a horror-thriller as secrets are revealed and a series of dramatic revelations occur.

Parasite gets really bizarre as it rockets forward, but it also remains frightening, intelligent, and funny. It's that last bit that is really key to Bong Joon-ho's work — he employs dark humor so perfectly that it keeps you off balance. While watching Parasite, you never know if you should be smiling or watching in horror.

The Art of Self-Defense

Jesse Eisenberg generally plays fascinating characters, and his work in The Art of Self-Defense is grounds enough to watch the film. The movie is billed as a comedy, but that's a bit of a stretch. The Art of Self-Defense is such a black comedy that it sort of falls into that category by default — if you aren't laughing at the absurdity onscreen, you're just going to be depressed.

The Art of Self-Defense focuses on masculinity and how our society feels about "warrior culture." Eisenberg plays a meek man named Casey who joins a martial arts class to help him feel safe. Things soon spiral massively out of control, and he learns all sorts of details about his sensei and the bizarre late night martial arts classes.

It's bleak, it's funny, and it's a heaping helping of strange. Every character in The Art of Self-Defense is a ball of neurosis, and the plot weaves constantly between "plausible" and "bananas." Just as a warning — a dog is killed (offscreen). If that's a deal-breaker for you, go ahead and skip this one.

Serenity

Not every movie on this list is good, and Serenity never quite gels. That said, it's still worth a watch just for one particularly memorable (and bizarre) plot twist. If you want to see Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway work their way through some truly strange material, Serenity is a good way to do it.

McConaughey's character, Baker Dill, used to be married to Hathaway's Karen. Now, he operates a fishing boat. Karen approaches him and asks him to murder her current husband and dump him in the ocean. Baker wrestles with this idea, and you think you know where the plot is going. Fun fact: you don't!

Without spoiling anything, we'll just say that when that twist arrives, odds are pretty good that you'll find that it just doesn't work that well. But man, does it try. Serenity really swings for the fences, and many of the bizarre plot twists further confuse things, rather than clearing them up. Maybe play a drinking game around this one.