10 Underrated Movie Dream Sequences
Christopher Nolan’s Inception is released this Friday, and despite the publicity, I could not tell you its plot to save my life. I hear it is about Cobb (Leo Di Caprio) who is able to invade people’s dreams. So, it sounds a lot like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, without the puns.
Also, in I am to believe the trailers, most people in the future dream about cities folding up on themselves. If that’s the case, my dreams about becoming a half-cat/half-man driving an ice cream truck should protect me from psyche-criminals.
Here are a few of my favorite dream sequences that are generally forgotten about (or undervalued).
The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Ken Russell’s cult classic Lair of the White Worm has everything you need for a good Hugh Grant flick - curses, monsters, archaeology, and dream sequences. This sequence epitomizes the dream state with its sexy cat fights, blatant subtext, and a lot of people tied up for no reason.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
After starring together in The Fly and Transylvania 6-5000, it was no wonder that genius Hollywood producers paired the white-hot tandem of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis in the “too good to win an award” vehicle Earth Girls Are Easy. Goldblum perfects furry extra-terrestrial Mac - a spaceship pilot unable to avoid that celestial telephone pole known as Earth. Of course, he fatedly lands in the pool of ditzy Californian Valerie (Davis) and reveals that he’s a Goldblum-esque hunk under all that shag. What ensues, in a moment of post-coitus slumber is the fanfare of Valerie’s overly developed brain for pop culture.
In a dream perfectly indicative of Max Bloom’s (Jason Schwartzman) character, the unanswerable math question is no match for our overachieving underachiever. His own subconscious continually reminds him of how much greater he is than he actually is, and it’s one of the best opening scenes to let us in on Max’s persona.
Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945)
Alfred Hitchcock remains the king of suspense and is no stranger to the dream sequence. Perhaps more known than this scene is the trippy path Jimmy Stewart takes in Vertigo. Spellbound, however, continues to be undervalued as a film. And as it deals largely with the subconscious, it’s dream set piece is played out beautifully, thanks to the design of surrealist Salvador Dalí.
Better Off Dead... (1985)
John Cusack’s Lane Meyer has finally been driven mad by his entry level job as a short order cook at Pig Burgers. And like most people driven mad, he hallucinates anthropomorphic hamburgers singing Van Halen songs. If you’ve experienced this, consult your physician.
Raising Arizona (1987)
The Coen brothers’ dark comedy takes on kidnapping, inter-criminal relations, and Nic Cage wearing pantyhose on his head. So, it’s no surprise that when they needed their “Lone Biker of the Apocalypse,” they called on character actor Randall “Tex” Cobb to play the shotgun-wielding, grenade-slinging hulk. Because, really, what movie about babies doesn’t have grenades in it?
Pal Joey (1957)
One of Sinatra’s finer works, although it’s largely forgotten in his huge body of work. Here, Frank waxes poetic number about dames at the end of the courtship Old Blue Eyes casts on Vera (Rita Hayworth). Thankfully, Frank and director George Sidney saw it fit to include both Hayworth and Kim Novak in skintight leotards - something I can relate to in my own dreams.
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Okay, so everyone can recite lines from this flick. In fact, if you grew up at anytime in the 1980s, you are required to have seen this movie at least twice. But, one of the more under-appreciated scenes is Pee-Wee’s clown hospital dream. Legend has it that Tim Burton was concerned about the mainly humorous tones of the movie and used this scene to shed light on one of the greatest epidemics of our generation - Coulrophobia.
This movie took place during the era when Chevy Chase was still a star, so it was popular at the time. Of course, nowadays, the youngsters don’t know Chevy that well ("Community" doesn’t really have lion’s share of ratings). In Fletch, Chevy plays the ego-driven titular character, who while solving crimes (as a journalist, no doubt), he idealizes himself to be quite the basketball star, and the anchor of the Laker lineup that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s what Reggie Evans would be, if Evans had offensive polish.
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Okay, so this is a bit of cop out. This scene is about making a dream sequence (on an indie budget). But it also stars some heavy-hitters - Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, and it-actor Peter Dinklage. It is one of the more important scenes in dealing with a tendency to lump dwarves into movie dreams, which may, or may not, be a direct shot at dream sequence auteur David Lynch. I’m sure Lynch retaliated, but no one understood it.