Sunrise (1928): Radically shifting gears mid-film requires a certain chutzpah—and a certain genius. Spencer Susser is not (yet) a genius, which is why the violent tonal shift in his first feature Hesher —from anarchic comedy to deep emotional drama—merely means a fun movie becomes a drag. Still, it’s no insult to say one is no F.W. Murnau. In his Hollywood debut, the German expressionist and technical pioneer begins his story telling of a country boy seduced by a femme fatale into killing his wife. When he fails, the movie shifts gears, with the marrieds reconnecting in the big, exciting city during one of the most sustained and fluid depictions of joy ever committed to cinema.
Psycho (1960): At the 47-minute mark, something very interesting happens. I wouldn’t dare spoil it.
Something Wild (1986): Jonathan Demme is an all-inclusive, warm-hearted filmmaker, a tendency that can lead to sloppiness (The Truth About Charlie, to name but one). But it can also lead to the successful melding of contradictory tones, as it did when this neo-screwball road trip, about a business stiff (Jeff Daniels) reprogrammed by a kook (Melanie Griffith), suddenly becomes a terrifying thriller as soon as Ray Liotta’s ne’erdowell ominously runs his fingers through his hair.
Life is Beautiful (1998): OK, Roberto Benigni is no “genius,” but his slapstick comedy that becomes a Holocaust saga is both funnier and more disturbing than its modern-day rep has it.
Audition (2001): Flip off Takashi Miike’s masterpiece halfway through and you’d think it a subtle drama about a lonely widower tricking a stereotype of Japanese woman—pretty, mousy and obedient—into loving him. Keep watching and you may wish you hadn’t.
Tropical Malady (2004): Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul (late of Cannes winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) takes midfilm shifts literally. In his breakthrough, a gay romance stops at the halfway mark. New credits appear. We are now watching a jungle thriller starring the same actors, only one of them is now a sort of man-tiger. Don’t worry—it kind of makes sense.