5. Tideland (2005)
After the sudden death of both of her addict parents, young Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) is left alone in a house in the country where she befriends a local man with learning difficulties (Brendan Fletcher) and lives a whole new life inside her wild imagination.
Tideland is perhaps Terry Gilliam’s darkest effort behind the camera – one of the most divisive, least watched and even less understood. It is essentially Alice in Wonderland (which it directly references) meets a more grotesque, adult Bridge to Terabithia.
The film was divisive to put it mildly, but no less interesting for it. Gilliam himself said “Many of you are not going to like his film. Many of you, luckily, are going to love it. And then there are many of you who are not going to know what to think when the film finishes”.
“Time for daddy to go on a little vacation.” Talk about bleak, having to watch a child retreat into her imagination because both parents die of an overdose one after the other. The film makes many viewers’ skin crawl with themes of necrophilia, incest and abuse, making it the darkest of dark Southern Gothic tales.
4. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
An aged swashbuckler (John Neville) looks back on his remarkable life and impossible adventures, and recounts his story to a less-than-enamoured audience.
This is Terry Gilliam at his brilliant battiest. Like Time Bandits, we’re swept along on an anthology tale linking time and space-spanning sequences taking place in fantasy far away countries and planetary bodies. It stars such colourful performers as Robin Williams’ floating head as the King of the Moon and Oliver Reed as a brash, Yorkshire-accented Vulcan.
Munchausen makes for a meticulous fever dream, taking its influence from classical art, pantomime and romantic literature, and the story while enchanting by its very cultural patchwork nature is somewhat indulgent and uneven. The sheer scale of the thing and the number of plates Gilliam has to keep spinning in making this a historical epic – interdimensional fantasy and elaborate theatrical production – make it hardly surprising that this was a famously troubled film. You can, though, always see the passion and the effort that went into the making of this unforgettable, unrepeatable almost-masterpiece.
3. Brazil (1985)
Lowly administrator Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) navigates a nightmarish fascist bureaucracy in search of freedom from his humdrum existence.
Another example of Terry Gilliam really having to fight to get what he wanted and frequently clashing with both studio suits and his fellow artistic collaborators in the process, Brazil ended up being the urtext for something being described as Gilliamesque with its queasy cinematography and grey functional industrial-meets-art-deco aesthetic.
The imagery is iconic and the film is jam-packed with absurdist ideas criticising bureaucracy, fascism and over-reliance on technology, but what really hits hard is when you decide just how much of the nightmare ending is in Sam’s head and whether living in a lobotomised dream world is actually a better quality of life for him. Gilliam certainly has a unique and cynical view of the world, and he’s never afraid to take oppressive regimes to task through a (these days only slightly) exaggerated satirical lens.
Recommended for you: Brazil – A Cut Above the Rest