If movies routinely plunge the depths of human imagination, the fantasy genre goes one level deeper. Culling from the tradition of epic storytelling, the best examples introduce all the living entities in parallel worlds. Their remit is spread over powerful wizards, evil creatures, futuristic spaceships and distant planet landscapes. When the budget is big enough, all impossibilities are made possible.
Historically speaking, fantasy films do not always make for critical darlings. Nevertheless, there has emerged a slate of acclaimed works over the decades, some of which even dominated during award seasons. The master film-makers do not just conjure a unique world but renders an identifiable style or aesthetic in the process and their essence has built worlds within worlds. Any given list of fantasy films will include family fare, however, there also exists a special kind of fantasy film that typically aims for adults and incorporates a psychological element. The viewer is left to wonder whether or not the fantasy is real or merely a figment of some character’s imagination.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
One of director Tim Burton’s most personal works is also one of his most quintessential. Johnny Depp stars as a young man with scissors for hands, who serves as a metaphorical stand-in for society’s creative outliers. Wynona Ryder plays his love interest.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Presented as a story within a story, this seminal classic pays tribute to the power of true love. Despite perilous adventure and gripping characterisation, it never loses a comedic edge. A grandson, played by Fred Savage, can do without all the kissing, but he doesn’t seem to mind by the time the story concludes.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Among Woody Allen’s best latter-day efforts, this one centers on aspiring novelist Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson. In Paris with his fiancée, played by Rachel McAdams, Gil travels to the 1920s and befriends famous artists and authors. It won an Academy Award for best original screenplay.
A far cry from the standard Scorsese fare, this family film adapts a bestselling novel. It takes place in 1931 Paris and chronicles the adventures of a clever orphan named Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield. Ben Kingsley plays real-life artist and filmmaker Georges Melies, whose work informs the story on multiple levels.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Modern horror icon Robert Eggers followed 2015’s “The Witch” with this psychological fever dream. Set in 1890s New England, it follows two lighthouse keepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, as they succumb to the madness of isolation. When crafting the work, Eggers took inspiration from an incomplete short story by gothic legend Edgar Allan Poe.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Romance blossoms between a janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, and sea creature in this genre-twisting Academy Award best picture winner. Set at the height of the Cold War, it blends classic horror tropes with endearing drama and a spy-like sensibility. The lush visual palette also calls upon the work of European directors such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
On Body and Soul (2017)
Two introverted slaughterhouse workers form a magical bond in this Oscar-nominated Hungarian drama. Upon sharing the same dream world at night, they give romance a try in the real world. It’s a starkly original take on the theme of human connectivity.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
A tonal departure from previous installments, “Thor: Ragnarok” infuses epic adventure with vibrant colour and the occasional comic relief. Imprisoned on a distant planet, the titular hero, played by Chris Hemsworth, must escape and save his home from the wrath of a deadly villain, played by Cate Blanchett. Director Taika Waititi is reportedly working on a fourth installment. TW