Getting Weird in Los Angeles

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The history and mystique of Los Angeles lends itself to many works of fiction, songs and movies. If you’ve seen the “video essay” “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” by CalArts professor Thom Andersen, you know that this is true.

Something about the heat, the collective dreams and ambitions of so many transplanted people and the general California-ness that leads to self-improvement trends and hippie cults also leads to stories that capture this atmosphere.

These are some of my favorite movies tinged with (or steeped in) oddness, the kind of oddness that can only play out against the background of Los Angeles.

In the mid- to late 80s, a particularly fruitful time for weird cinema, a comet wipes out humanity in “Night of the Comet,” shown in a memorable barbecue-turned-wasteland scene. Two sisters from the Valley with great frenemy energy are left to figure out what’s going on.

In the dark-in-tone but bright-in-palette “Miracle Mile,” not a comet but a nuclear strike threatens the city, leaving Anthony Edwards’ Harry on a desperate mission from a seedy diner to the tar pits to find and save his love.

In cult classic “Repo Man” the prize/disaster waiting to happen is a radioactive car, repossessed by the titular Man. And in “The Hidden,” Kyle MacLachlan presages his iconic role as Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks as another FBI Agent with a calm, assured, and totally wacky method of working – this time chasing a possible alien parasite on a crime spree.

Then, from the new millennium, “Inland Empire” is my David Lynch unsolvable cinematic puzzle of choice, putting Laura Dern through increasingly insane journeys into… another reality? In “The Invitation,” a slow burn of an awkward dinner party goes from deep-rooted rehashing of trauma to a sinister recruiting for what may be a cult.

The Neon Demon,” released one year later, is also sinister, but under a glossy and soulless façade of the modeling industry – a trap that is sprung by Elle Fanning. The most recent entry, “Under the Silver Lake,” is almost goofy in the way it sets up Andrew Garfield’s character to become enchanted by Riley Keough and then spend the rest of the two hours and change following her disappearing trail into the city and the canyons surrounding it, only finding more confusion and eccentric people in his way.

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The Hidden

A cop and an FBI agent race to discover why normally law-abiding people are suddenly becoming violent criminals. 

Inland Empire

When an actress falls in love with her co-star while preparing for her biggest role yet, she realizes her life is beginning to mimic the fictional film they’re shooting. 

The Invitation

When Will arrives at a Hollywood Hills dinner party hosted by his estranged ex-wife Eden and her new husband David, he becomes quickly convinced that his invitation was made with a hidden agenda. 

Miracle Mile

After 30 years of searching, Harry has finally met the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately, before they even have a chance to go on their first date, Harry intercepts some chilling news. WWIII has begun and nuclear missiles will destroy Los Angeles in less than an hour!  

The Neon Demon

When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, she crosses paths with bloodthirsty models who want her youth and vitality and will do anything to devour it. This movie is also available for checkout and streaming on Hoopla. 

Night of the Comet

When a comet wipes out most of life on Earth, two Valley girls are left to fight the evil types who survive. 

Repo Man

A weathered repo man in desolate downtown Los Angeles takes a nihilistic middle-class punk under his wing. The job becomes more than either of them bargained for when they get involved in reclaiming a mysterious, and other worldly, Chevy Malibu with a hefty reward attached to it. 

Under the Silver Lake

Sam is a disenchanted 33-year-old who discovers a mysterious woman, Sarah, frolicking in his apartment’s swimming pool. When she vanishes, Sam embarks on a surreal quest across Los Angeles to decode the secret behind her disappearance, leading him into the murkiest depths of mystery, scandal, and conspiracy in the City of Angels. This movie is also available for checkout and streaming on Hoopla.