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Blue Jasmine, and Sixteen Other Top Films About Losing Your Mind

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I was thrilled to love Blue Jasmine, since my stubborn refusal to adore the Woodman's most recent works has made me feel a tad isolated (Uh-oh).

Yes, it may be said that Cate Blanchett rips a page out of her stage portrayal of Blanche Du Bois to animate the central character of Jasmine, a lady who's fallen so far, so fast that madness seems inevitable (though she was a bit off to start with).

But who cares? It's an astonishing, riveting, Oscar-worthy turn, and really the whole movie is her.

Perhaps that's why I liked it so much. There weren't those annoying "types" -- character composites that thankfully only live in Woody's imagination -- to distract from Blanchett's bravura performance.

Jasmine put me in mind of all the great films of the past that "witness madness." For the most part, I've avoided the psycho killer sub-genre as that would merit its own piece. Instead, I've focused on films that betray mental illness in somewhat subtler, but no less striking, ways.

I do hope you check out some of these titles. You'd be nuts not to.

Rebecca (1940) -- Second wife Joan Fontaine gets haunted (indirectly) by the first wife in a big old house. The housekeeper definitely has emotional issues, and it may be catching. Hitchcock's tour de force refuses to get old, and Judith Anderson's icy turn as Mrs. Danvers is indelible.

The Snake Pit (1948) -- After a mental collapse, Olivia de Havilland gets committed to a loony bin, where she appears a lot more with it than most of the other inhabitants. One of the first films to portray the inside of a mental asylum, this "Snake" still slithers right under your skin.

Sunset Boulevard
(1950) -- Billy Wilder's enduring classic features silent star Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a lady trapped in the faded glory of her past. When she falls for writer William Holden, and her love is unrequited, she snaps. Don't miss that ending.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) -- This time Liz Taylor may be nuts, and in an ironic twist, who's her doctor? Montgomery Clift, who had his own issues in real life. Scripted by Tennessee Williams, Katharine Hepburn is also on-hand to mix it up.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) -- Campy, gothic chiller has Bette Davis playing a former child star who turns on her actress sister Joan Crawford. Perfect casting, as the two actresses loathed each other.

Repulsion (1965) -- Catherine Deneuve snaps during a weekend alone in Polanski's shocker. It isn't pretty. This is one blonde who's not having more fun.

Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (1972) -- Explorer goes on mad, unending quest in uncharted waters and goes cuckoo in the process. Played by Klaus Kinski, who was wildly talented and more than a little unbalanced himself. (See also Herzog's "My Best Fiend").

Images (1972) -- Robert Altman's creepy, underexposed psychological thriller has the lovely, late Susannah York seeing things and gradually going bonkers in scenic, rural Ireland.

Grey Gardens
(1975) -- The Maysles Brothers go to visit the Beales (mother and daughter), aristocratic cousins to Jackie O in their rotting, ramshackle Long Island estate. Both are mad as hatters, and for me at least, the effect is as unnerving as most any narrative film.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
(1975)- Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar playing a sane career criminal, who ends up in a mental hospital. There he incites and inspires his fellow inmates in a myriad of ways. Still a "wow" after all these years.

Taxi Driver (1976) -- New York City cabbie grows ever more isolated and angry in the gritty, grimy cesspool of 1970's Manhattan. He decides to go out in a blaze of glory.

Apocalypse Now Redux
(1979) -- Another quest on water, this time in Vietnam during the war. Martin Sheen must find and kill an officer who's lost it, played by a bloated Brando. The great actor's scenes late in the film still have the power to chill.

Clean, Shaven (1993) -- This brave, uncompromising film concerns Peter (Peter Winter) who's out of treatment after his schizophrenia is stabilized. He goes on a trip to find his estranged daughter. But is his condition really under control?

Shine (1996) -- Pushed and prodded towards perfection since childhood, brilliant Australian pianist (played by Geoffrey Rush) has a mental breakdown, then makes a gradual recovery. This film, adapted from a true story, hits all the right notes.

The Machinist (2004) -- Christian Bale is the machinist in question, a man who can't sleep, is losing weight, and whose life may be more hallucinatory than real. A Kafka-esque, paranoiac fever dream, the movie has its detractors, but it worked its spell of dread on me.

Shame (2011) -- Michael Fassbender is Brandon, a spooky, isolated individual who can only express his intense anger and frustration through impersonal, animalistic sex. Love it or hate it, Steve McQueen's film packs a wallop.

Looking for good movies to watch? Top movie recommendations? For over 2,500 of the best movies on DVD, visit Best Movies by Farr

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