Singapore Film News Portal since 2006
CAROUSEL GENERAL COMMENTARY

An Abridged Initiation to the World of ‘Mainhouse’ Films

6 May 2020

author:

An Abridged Initiation to the World of ‘Mainhouse’ Films

There really is no better time to get into the broader world of cinema. No other period in the history of man has it been easier to dive into the galaxy of content. With all the cinemas closed, there’s no better impetus to break away from the monotony of blockbusters and endless sequels to widen the taste buds. 

There may not be a reason too though. It’s completely fine to rewatch Friends for the seventh time, or to stick with the blockbuster classics. Besides, there are definitely more pressing issues abound than to expand one’s palette. However, if you ever wanted to explore new worlds and themes, to understand the occasional obscure film reference in pop culture, and want to seem a little more sophisticated than you really are, then you’re in luck.

We have compiled a list of 25 staple films to counter the next 25 dreadful days of isolation, cutting through the bullcrap to boil down why these films are beloved and what to look forward to. 

But first, a brief note.

One of the Many Ways to Classify Films

Here at Sinema, we tend to divide films into four broad, admittedly lazily-coined categories: mainstream, mainhouse, artstream and arthouse. At the bottom of the pyramid are mainstream films that are enjoyed by the masses – think The Avengers or Star Wars. The categorisation in no way encapsulates their quality. Rather, mainstream films are defined by us for their pure accessibility and name recognition.

One tier above are mainhouse films. These are the films that are still accessible, but can be intimidating for its off-beat themes and style. These films also typically feature and are works of well-known names in Hollywood, but are just short of being household names. Artstream films are even less accessible. This may be due to their foreign language and context, or the subversion of traditional straight-forward narrative structures. 

At the top of the pyramid are arthouse films. These films are experimental to the nth degree, fully expressing the often-times convoluted and layered emotions of its directors. Examples include Andy Warhol’s Empire, an eight hour long still shot of the Empire State Building, and Derek Jarman’s Blue, where the only visual is the colour blue. They may not be for everyone, but these films hold an important place in the film world for pushing the boundaries of what art can mean to us. 

Nevertheless, here is our list of 25 mainhouse films to start off your film journey, mainly consisting of the most accessible works of well-known figures in the film world today.


Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
A few gangsters get entangled into a bunch of weird situations.

Why it’s beloved:
– Often referenced throughout pop culture, it’s one of cinema’s most quotable films.
– The film is a laugh riot in between its over-the top violence and themes.
– It’s the film that sent Samuel L Jackson to the stratosphere in terms of popularity.
– Tarantino’s ability to make plain ordinary conversations sound fascinating and engaging is unmatched.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Tarantino’s gritty violence might be off-putting for some, but Pulp Fiction’s cast of characters are far from crass, gunslinging thugs.

Check out this film if:
– You love Samuel L Jackson and all his foulmouthed quips.
– You want to watch a film that is as entertaining as it gets.
– You want to understand why all the hipsters get excited over every new Tarantino film.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese
A Vietnam War veteran returns home disillusioned with the world.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s one of cinema’s landmarks films that cemented the antihero stereotype (which happens to be incredibly popular in recent years).
– Robert De Niro’s performance is phenomenal, capturing the tortured psyche of a social misfit that helplessly dwells in the moral grey.
– Scorsese’s gritty depiction of New York almost feels like a character in itself.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– There are a ton of mature and disturbing themes but that might only make Taxi Driver all the more engaging.

Check out this film if:
– You enjoyed Joker.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson
Two young lovebirds plan to escape their lives and live together.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s Wes Anderson; people either love or hate his quirky sense of humour and kooky visual style.
– It captures the whimsical innocence of youth, and the overwhelming childlike sense of being able to accomplish anything.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Its offbeat style might be off-putting but its main story of childhood love should be able to charm anyone.

Check out this film if:
– You want to enjoy a feel-good, visually stunning film by a beloved director whose works celebrate those who can’t seem to fit in with society’s expectations.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry
An estranged couple looks to erase their memories of each other through a memory erasing procedure.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s heartbreaking; a supremely creative exploration of the persistence of love past its allocated expiration date.
– It showcases Jim Carrey’s acting range as more than just a comedy staple.
– Its imaginative and surreal visual style.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The film deals with memory as much as the medium allows; that is, through confusing and abstract visuals that can be hard to follow along. However, the film’s central romance should keep anyone invested.

Check out this film if:
– You want a good cry.
– You want a romance film that is both visually and thematically sophisticated.

The film is available for streaming on Netflix.


Shaun of The Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright
Two down-on-their-luck best friends are caught in a zombie apocalypse.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s a refreshing and original comedic take on the zombie genre.
– Once called the “Patron Saint of Fanboy Culture” by Vulture, Edgar Wright’s characters are all loveable dorks obsessed with nerd culture, making them relatable to not-so-loveable dorks obsessed with nerd culture.
– There are a ton of Easter eggs and references to spot, making the film a rewarding experience with every rewatch.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Media’s decades-long obsession with zombies might finally be over but the fatigue with the genre might still be lingering today. But rest assured, the film is much more about its comedy than the undead horde.

Check out this film if:
– You love zombies films and want a great laugh to go with one.
– You love a good Easter egg hunt of trivia, callbacks, and references.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon. 


The Iron Giant (1999)

Director: Brad Bird
A boy befriends a giant space robot and protects him from the military.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s an often overlooked animated classic by the director who would go on to direct The Incredibles.
– It’s a heartwarming tearjerker for the whole family.
– It stars Vin Diesel as the titular character in a voiceover role ala Groot.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Not much other than the film not being conveniently available on Netflix.

Check out this film if:
– You love animated features.
– You want a children’s film that is surprisingly mature.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


The Godfather (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The son of a mafia boss reluctantly embroils himself in the violent world of his family’s business.

Why it’s beloved:
– While not the first of its kind, the film did popularise the gangster genre.
– Marlon Brando and Al Pacino’s performances are phenomenal.
– The film has become a mainstay in popular culture with countless references and quotes.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
The Godfather spins a convoluted web of characters throughout its lengthy runtime but be patient with it and you’ll be rewarded with an array of unforgettable moments.

Check out this film if:
You love gangster films.
– You want to find out why this is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films of all time.

The film is available for streaming on Netflix.


Anomalisa (2015)

Director: Charlie Kaufman
A customer service expert – ironically – finds himself unable to connect with anyone, with everyone else having the same face and the same voice to him.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s a gorgeous love letter to stop-motion animation.
– It weaves a disturbing yet strangely relatable tale about alienation and isolation.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– As with every Charlie Kaufman production, its visuals might be too bizarre and confusing, especially with everyone having the same face and voice. However, it might just be in its dreamlike sequences that makes its themes all the more hard-hitting.

Check out this film if:
– You love stop-motion.
– You feel frustratingly alienated with the world and want a film that doesn’t necessarily solve the issue but seeks to understand.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Blade Runner (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott
Set in the dystopian future of 2019, a cop hunts down a group of illegal androids.  

Why it’s beloved:
– Despite having a lukewarm reception when it was first released, the neo-noir has grown into a cinematic touchstone of the science fiction genre.
– The film’s special effects are recognised as being among the best of all time, using an array of techniques from physical miniature sets to clever use of lighting to create its grim vision of the future.
– It attempts to break down what exactly separates us from androids.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The film is notoriously slow, with one film critic dubbing it “Blade Crawler” when it was first released.

Check out this film if:
– You love science fiction and want to experience a prime influence on the contemporaries of the genre.
– You want to watch a film that shows how creativity and tenacity in filmmaking more often than not creates timeless classics compared to those that heavily rely on computer technology.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.

(Note: There are currently three versions of Blade Runner and the above link is of the director’s cut – which I feel is more accessible than the theatrical cut and the final cut.)


Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Separated into two parts, the first follows a group of enlistees as they go through US Marine Boot Camp, while the second follows their tour during the Vietnam War.

Why it’s beloved:
– R. Lee Ermey’s memorable performance as a foul-mouthed, abusive staff sergeant is both terrifying and hilarious.
– It’s a scathing criticism of the Vietnam War and how it has twisted the innocence of all of its participants.
– It’s chock full of Kubrick’s notoriously intricate cinematography work.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– There are a ton of films about the Vietnam War with similar themes but hardly any are as entertaining as Full Metal Jacket’s first half.

Check out this film if:
– You want to find out what being in the army feels like; while none are as abusive as Ermey’s character, most guys would probably be able to recognise someone vaguely similar in attitude and with their wisecracks during their National Service.
– You are curious to find out why Kubrick is such a celebrated director, particularly with his obsession to align every performance, every shot, and every musical sting to his vision, and how his films defy genre lines.

The film is available for streaming on Netflix.


Parasite (2019)

Director: Bong Joon-ho
A poor family schemes to be employed by a wealthy family.

Why it’s beloved:
– It deals with the theme of social inequality in a raw yet sharp manner.
– Its cinematography is a visual treat.
– It’s a prime example of mainhouse films; never letting its heavy themes bog down the film’s easy pace and enjoyability.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Being in Korean, some might be put off by the subtitles. 

Check out this film if:
– You share the film’s brimming anger at social inequality.
– Although the craze has finally died down, you want to find out why Parasite was on everyone’s lips for the past year.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher
Two guys start a fight club for other men unsatisfied with their sedated lives.

Why it’s beloved:
– Often (mis)interpreted by young men as a rallying cry for anti-capitalist ideas and the need to rescue their masculinity in the modern age.
– Also interpreted as a sharp criticism on toxic masculinity.
– Brad Pitt is absolutely charming in the lead.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Its depictions of violence borders on glamorisation.

Check out this film if:
– You feel alienated by the 9 to 5 grind and want a film that is both cathartic in its ridiculousness, and enlightening in its thematic discussions.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


The Lunchbox (2013)

Director: Ritesh Batra
Every day, a young wife cooks up a delectable feast for his ungrateful husband but one day, her lunchbox ends up with a widower and the two strike up a friendship. 

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s a hopeful and moving romance smartly constructed around food.
– It’s a love letter to the city of Mumbai and to Indian cuisine.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Being in Hindi should not deter anyone from The Lunchbox especially with its dazzling array of international acclaim.

Check out this film if:
– You want a film that showcases Bollywood beyond the caricatures about the industry.
– You want a film that attacks the taste buds as much as it tugs at the heartstrings.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Juno (2007)

Director: Jason Reitman
A teenage girl gets knocked up but she faces her predicament in stride.

Why it’s beloved:
– It encapsulates the various tropes of indie films in the early 2000s: idiosyncratic characters, quirky dialogues, a soundtrack filled with indie darlings, and coming-of-age romances.
– It’s a smart comedy with a cast of humanised characters centered around the often horrifying predicament of teenage pregnancy.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– As with similar films of its time, its idiosyncratic characters might be too overbearing for some.

Check out this film if:
– You want a classic coming-of-age film that encapsulates the anxiety of having to grow up way too fast, way too early.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Directors: Valeria Faris, Jonathan Dayton
A dysfunctional family takes a road trip across the country for their young daughter’s beauty pageant.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s a heartwarming indie classic.
– It sees Steve Carell portray a slightly more sombre character than his usual comedic roles ala Michael from The Office.
– It celebrates non-conformity with its unforgettable, bittersweet ending.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Despite being a family road trip, there are several references to heavy themes such as drugs, homosexuality, suicide, and with characters swearing up a storm. 

Check out this film if:
– You want a film that is unafraid to show how imperfect families can be, and how anything can be powered through by supporting each other. 

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Akira (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
A teenager in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo crashes his motorcycle and develops psychic powers that threaten to destroy the futuristic city.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s a landmark in Japanese animation, consistently regarded as one of the best animated films of all time.
– It has grown into a cult classic with its influence still resonating in today’s pop culture.
– It’s a phenomenal work of animation based in the terrifying yet highly imaginative world of 2019 Neo-Tokyo.
– It tells a genre-pushing story, and bridged the way for adult animation.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The film is filled with disturbing body horror and hyper-stylised violence, but beneath all that, Akira retells and regales Japan’s anxiety post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an inventive and sombre way.

Check out this film if:
– You love animated films; Akira should not be missed.
– You want to experience one of the very best that the science fiction genre can offer with its thought-provoking themes.

The film is available for rental and streaming on iTunes.


American Psycho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron
An investment banker by day and serial killer by night sees himself slowly lose his grip on reality.

Why it’s beloved:
– Equal parts charismatic and intensely chilling, Christian Bale’s lead performance is unforgettable.
– It’s a biting satire and commentary on how we value money so much that we are willing to (sometimes, literally) let the super-rich get away with murder.
– Tons of memorable scenes that have been parodied throughout pop culture.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– A lot of bizarre hyper violent and hyper sexualised imagery with the film moving along at a relatively slow pace.
– Might be weird to see Batman losing his mind.

Check out this film if:
– You want a bone-chilling psychological thriller that turns the insanity to eleven at the drop of a hat.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


No Country For Old Men (2007)

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
A man happens across a bag with millions of dollars but soon finds a hitman that will stop at nothing to kill him

Why it’s beloved:
– Javier Bardem’s performance as the film’s villain is nightmarish.
– It’s a both a slow-burning thriller and a study of how the film’s characters fail to comprehend and understand a man with absolutely no morals, emotions or motivations other than to kill.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The directors are notorious for having mediocre endings in their films and No Country For Old Men is perhaps their most controversial example.

Check out this film if:
– You want a cat-and-mouse film that will leave you at the edge of your seats and wits.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Drive (2011)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
A Hollywood stunt driver by day and gateway driver by night gets embroiled in a heist gone wrong.

(Note: No trailer is included here because its official trailer spoils a large part of the film)

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s often described and celebrated as a perfect blend of exciting action sequences and arthouse sensibilities.
– Its director is partially colour blind, leading to his films bleeding out in bright hues. In Drive, this vision turns the city of Los Angeles into a gorgeous city of the future.
– It is perhaps Ryan Gosling’s most charismatic and magnetic leading performance to date.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The film does take its time to build on the drama but makes up for it with heart-pounding action in its second half.

Check out this film if:
– An action film that hardly relies on the tricks and trends of modern contemporaries; a film that is gratifying for its narrative simplicity and visual complexity

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Infernal Affairs (2002)

Director: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
A gangster pretending to be a cop and a cop pretending to be a gangster cross paths.

Why it’s beloved:
– The film was a hit starring a whos-who of Hong Kong cinema but it’s often overlooked internationally in favour of its Hollywood remake The Departed.
– Its cast of morally grey characters and their inner turmoil would go on to inspire and become a staple of modern crime films and TV shows.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The plot gets quite complicated especially in its Cantonese language. 

Check out this film if:
– You want a clever and complex crime thriller that is partly responsible for the blueprint of other modern classics such as The Dark Knight and Money Heist.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


500 Days Of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb
A guy gets hung up over a girl and tries to figure out where it all went wrong.

Why it’s beloved:
– The film and soundtrack, in particular, is loved by fans of indie music.
– It’s a delightful comedy that doubles as a heartrending exploration of how easy it is to fall in love with the idea of a person.
– Fans endlessly debate over its romantic leads and of who was in the wrong.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Depending on your own experiences with relationships, the male lead can either seem like an innocent victim of unrequited love or a frustrating, naive boy who mistakenly projects his idea of love onto someone else.

Check out this film if:
– You love romantic comedies and want one that explores how young men usually face the complexity of relationships (and how they are terrible at them).

The film is available for streaming on Netflix.


Whiplash (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle
A young jazz drummer finds himself under the tutelage of an extremely abusive instructor.

Why it’s beloved:
– Its an excellent example of superb film editing, and how these techniques can keep films concise yet urgent.
– Despite being unremorseful and irredeemable, you can’t take your eyes off J.K Simmons’s gripping performance as the tyrannical jazz instructor.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Its central theme of abuse might be too much for some.

Check out this film if:
– You want an energetic and riveting drama centered around music but with the intensity of a warzone.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Hereditary (2018)

Director: Ari Aster
A family is tormented by their genetic disposition towards mental illnesses.

Why it’s beloved:
– It’s the debut of rising horror director Ari Aster.
– It draws heavily from beloved horror classics such as The Exorcist and The Grudge, relying on atmosphere and hair-raising themes.
– It taps on both supernatural fears, and modern, comparatively subtler ones such as the inability to escape from one’s twisted heritage.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– It’s comparatively slower to the scare-a-minute pace of more popular films such as It and The Conjuring, and incredibly bleak even for a horror film.

Check out this film if:
– You’re prepared for a terrifying film that creeps under the skin and lives on as more than an imagined figure in the shadows.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Shoplifters (2018)

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
A make-shift family tries to get by their lives through low-wage jobs and shoplifting.

Why it’s beloved:
– Kore-eda’s use of lightning and environments to magnify the emotions of its characters is mesmerising.
– It’s a poignant tale that tries to answer the question of what makes a family, a family.
– Its unflinching humanist take on life.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– Its themes might not be exciting especially when it is yet another film about poverty.

Check out this film if:
– You want a film that entrances you with its gorgeous atmosphere, while regaling a heartfelt story about how families don’t have to be biological to be any less genuine.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.

(Read all about Hirokazu Kore-eda here!)


Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
A man getting over his failed marriage falls in love with an operating software.

Why it’s beloved:
It explores the largely untapped idea of human and AI relationships.
– It has an enchanting soundtrack that nails the various highs and lows of the central relationship.
– Joaquin Phoenix carries the film with emotional and enthralling intensity despite spending most of his screen time spent conversing with a voiceover.

What might hold you back from giving the film a shot:
– The film’s world is fascinating in its plausible view of the near future but the film does overstay its welcome with contrived conflicts and on-the-nose themes.

Check out this film if:
– You want to relate to a character besieged by the overwhelming loneliness of modern life.
– You want an exploration of love that looks to dissect its various elements and break down what makes it work.

The film is available for rental streaming and purchase on Amazon.


Read more:
An Abridged Initiation to Modern South Korean Cinema
A Beginner’s Guide to Tamil Cinema

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
X