Today is National Puzzle Day! Some people may want to celebrate by doing a jigsaw, filling in a crossword, or completing a Sudoku, but here at Audiences Everywhere, we like to commemorate this occasion by, you guessed it, watching movies. But you can’t just watch any movie on this day, because puzzles are all about solving things, and there are plenty of films that fit the fulfill that requirement. Puzzles are timeless, and so is film. So since the choices can be overwhelming and brainpower must be conserved for the viewing experience, I’ve taken the liberty of handpicking five of the best puzzle movies of the last 50 years.
What better way to kick things off than with Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant? Charade is often referred to as the best Hitchcock movie he never made, but director Stanley Donen makes no attempt to disguise the influence. Rather, he celebrates Hitchcock’s style, adding some extra romance and a heavy dose of humor to create a whole different type of film, or a comedy caper if you will. This fast paced whodunnit bounces from murder to murder as Reggie Lampert (Hepburn) becomes entangled in an investigation involving the death of her soon to be ex-husband. Grant and Hepburn are absolutely delicious to watch on screen together, and their chemistry is palpable. With their irresistible performances, and a script by Peter Stone that’s almost too smart for its own good, I dare you to stop after one viewing.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Agatha Christie is often referred to as the Queen of Crime, and as the best selling novelist of all time, this title is rightfully earned. Several of her 66 mystery novels have been adapted for the silver screen over the years and Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet, is widely regarded as the best. This adaptation of one of Christie’s most popular books features the beloved detective Hercule Poirot along with his “little grey cells” as he investigates a murder aboard the train that’s taking him home to England. In classic whodunnit fashion, everyone is a suspect, and all of the clues are apparent throughout the film to allow audiences to attempt to solve the crime along with Poirot. Even for viewers who aren’t die hard fans of the source material (you mean not everyone has as unhealthy an obsession as I?), this one is more than worth a watch for its star studded cast, including Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman, who snagged an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Let’s ramp this puzzle party up with some good old fashioned board game fun. I accuse Ms. Scarlet, in the Conservatory, with the wrench. Let’s face it, creating a movie out of a board game is a daunting task to say the least, but director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) was up for the challenge with Clue. Tim Curry stars as Wadsworth, the butler who leads the investigation into his boss’s (aptly names Mr. Boddy) murder. Sure, this movie can be a bit convoluted, if not downright preposterous at times, but it’s not out to win any awards. It’s a fun, campy romp through the halls of the most well known fictional mansion in the world. Plus, who can honestly say they weren’t a little bit delighted to see these characters brought to life, with an added bonus of alternate endings to top it all off. For the record, it was Ms. Scarlet, right?
The Game (1997)
Although many of David Fincher’s films deserve a nod on this list (Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Se7en), none of them embody the concept of a puzzle as a game quite as well this one. Nicholas Van Orton’s (Michael Douglas) brother Conrad (Sean Penn) thinks Nick should have a little fun on his birthday, so he buys him a voucher for a mysterious, immersive game that will change his life. This film paints a dark, stylishly gorgeous picture of a man who is stripped away and broken down piece by piece as he loses sight of what is real and what is part of the game. Every moment of its two hour run time is used wisely, composed of a tightly written script and some of the best pacing in any film. In the end, it’s uncertain whether Nick really wins or loses, but it’s how you play that counts, isn’t it?
Christopher Nolan could also have his own personal list of puzzling films (the best of which are ranked here), but one of them stands out as a truly complex, layered story that, when reassembled, reveals itself to possess a rather simple solution. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who has anterograde (short term) amnesia, leaves himself clues to discover a killer, the events of which unfold on screen in reverse chronological order. There’s not much left to say about this one without giving away details that would detract from a first time viewer’s experience, if there are any of those left at this point. As Nolan’s popularity has skyrocketed, so has praise for one of his earliest films and rightfully so. Memento is one of the most clever, original, mind boggling movies you can treat yourself to today and every day.