Staff Pick: Five must-see Guy Maddin films

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From the August 22, 2013 edition

Director Guy Maddin has fearlessly charted his own path since shooting his first film, “The Dead Father,” in the mid-1980s, compiling a dreamy, noir-ish catalog that nods to both the silent-film era and surrealists like Luis Bunuel. It’s difficult to go wrong with any film in the director’s canon, but here are my five favorites.

1. “My Winnipeg” (2007)

In December 2009, late film critic Roger Ebert named this surrealist “documentary” to his list of the 10 best films of the decade — and with good reason. The film, a feverish love letter of sorts to Maddin’s hometown, doesn’t so much walk the line between truth and reality as it obliterates it.

2. “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003)

This film — the director’s first collaboration with ongoing muse Isabella Rossellini — is among the most accessible in his expansive catalog. The movie has an easily explainable plot (short version: a beer baroness hosts a contest to find the saddest music in the world), while still incorporating a number of characters and visual cues unique to Maddin’s universe.

3. “Brand upon the Brain!” (2006)

If director David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” is too straightforward for your tastes, you should check out this intensely weird and strangely gorgeous film, which, like much of Maddin’s best work, is obsessed with the concept of memory (note the title) and defined by a visual aesthetic blissfully out-of-step with modern times.

4. “Cowards Bend the Knee” (2003)

The first of the director’s “autobiographical” trilogy, which also includes “My Winnipeg” and “Brand Upon the Brain,” is easily the least accessible of the three. It’s also, at times, his most visually arresting work, and likely as close as he’s come to recreating the feel of his own dreams on camera.

5. “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” (2002)

Long before the “Twilight” films turned vampires into the “it” creatures of the night, Maddin tried his hand at the horror genre with this stirring adaptation of the dance production by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company.