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Lost Memories: Our 10 favorite amnesia movies

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Movies have dealt with the issues of memory and, specifically, amnesia since as far back as the 1932 Greta Garbo-starring As You Desire Me (and possibly even farther). Lost memories have become a go-to movie trope over the past few decades, with varying levels of success, and with the latest film to tackle the issue (the Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams vehicle The Vow) hitting theaters this weekend, we thought it might be a good time to round up some of the coolest amnesia movies we’ve ever seen. Write them down before you forget them!


“Memento” (2000)

Remember way back before the year 2000 when no one really knew who Christopher Nolan was? I certainly do. Then this little film called “Memento,” starring Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss, premiered in September at the Venice International Film Festival to vast critical praise and it began to pick up steam as it rolled out to a wider audience. Before we knew it, “Memento” rode its non-linear structure, fantastic performances, and little sticky notes all the way to box office success and Academy Award nominations for Original Screenplay and Film Editing. The Nolan the world would come to know for his brilliant reinvention of the Batman series and for the genius mind-bending film Inception was born.

The thing that makes “Memento” such incredibly compelling cinema, aside from those fantastic performances and the aforementioned non-linear structure, is its ingenious use of a very unique brand of amnesia. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has anterograde amnesia, which means he can’t store any new memories. He spends the entire film jotting down new information on sticky notes (so he can actually keep track of his life without the assistance of a properly functioning memory) while he tries to put together the pieces of his own personal mystery. It’s an interesting take on the amnesia trope and a hell of a film that showed everyone the kind of talent that Christopher Nolan would soon be known for worldwide.

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“The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996)

Three years before Renny Harlin started genetically engineering Mako sharks to eat Samuel L. Jackson, he chose the actor to star alongside Geena Davis in one of the great amnesia movies of our time – “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Written by the great Shane Black (“The Monster Squad,” “Lethal Weapon”), “The Long Kiss Goodnight” tells the story of Samantha Caine (Geena Davis), a mother and teacher in Pennsylvania who was found, washed up on a New Jersey beach, pregnant, injured, and suffering from complete amnesia. (Think Snooki in about three more years). After searching for the next eight years or so, Caine finally discovers that she’s actually Charly Baltimore, an assassin for the CIA. She finally starts recovering some of those memories, turns all badass, hangs out with Samuel L. Jackson and kicks ass all over the place. It’s maybe the most feel-good case of amnesia on this list. Either way, it makes for some great cinema in what has become a classic of the amnesia film subgenre and the action film genre.


“Total Recall” (1990)

Nearly ten years after Arnold Schwarzenegger hit the big time by playing Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, the actor was still one of Hollywood’s hottest tickets. Wrapped around the 1990 release of “Total Recall,” Schwarzenegger would star in hits like “Predator,” “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and “True Lies.” That’s a hell of a resume. Teaming up with director Paul Verhoeven (“RoboCop,” “Basic Instinct”) brought Ahhhhnold on the set of one of the weirdest amnesia films of all time – the sci-fi actioner “Total Recall.” Schwarzenegger stars as Doug Quaid, a construction worker who is really a secret agent that eventually ends up having to travel to Mars to figure out who he really is and why his memory was erased. He’s good. He’s bad. He’s a creepy killing machine from Mars. He becomes the first person (or thing) in a movie to tear off Michael Ironside’s arms. It’s a role only the Governator could love and one that he’ll likely never forget (even if his character would).


“Dark City” (1998)

Between 1994’s The Crow and 1998’s Dark City Alex Proyas seemed poised to be the next director to take Hollywood by storm with his dark, gothic neo-noir vision and technical prowess. Then he made I, Robot in 2004 and Knowing in 2009 and all the good will he earned with his early work went down the drain. We’re hoping he returns to form in 2013 with Paradise Lost but, regardless, we can always appreciate the amazing amnesia-centric film he crafted in Dark City. Sporting an all-star cast of Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt, Dark City starts with John Murdoch (Sewell) waking up in a hotel bathtub with a bad case of amnesia. He’s soon accused of murder and spends much of the film trying to clear his name by learning his true identity, all while on the run from both the police and the “Strangers.” And that’s just what’s going on right on the surface of this intelligent, creepy neo-noir sci-fi film. If you’ve never seen it, grab a copy of the Director’s Cut and consider yourself in for a real treat.


“The Bourne Trilogy” (2002-2007)

The 2002 debut of Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity marked the beginning of what would eventually become one of action film’s greatest franchises. Starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac who spends three films trying to discover his true identity, and loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s novels, the film made a ton of money at the box office and turned Damon into a veritable action hero. Paul Greengrass picked up where Liman left off with The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007. Each film ratcheted up the realistic action that the series would become known for, gave Bourne a bit more information to process about his identity, and upped the ante for what action spy films could do without the extensive use of CGI. All three films revolve around Bourne’s amnesia and handle it in a way that’s both inventive and exciting. The only thing I’d like to forget about this series is the fact that Universal is likely moving forward on another Bourne film without Matt Damon.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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