1. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Although these lists aren’t compiled in hierarchical order, this will always be No.1 for me. With an Oscar winning performance from Angelina Jolie, and starring an excellent Winona Ryder as the lead (with fantastic supporting turns, including a psychiatric nurse played by Whoppi Goldberg), this is an unforgettable film, set in an American psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. Haunting, very moving, and with an abundance of rich characters and a compelling narrative, this is a nuanced exploration of psychiatry, the ‘60s, and the role of friendship in self-discovery.
2. The Hours (2002)
Inspired by the Modernist classic Mrs Dalloway, this film charts three women’s journeys: Woolf’s own (into a river, with stones in her pockets), a ‘50s housewife reading the novel, and a contemporary Mrs Dalloway, buying flowers for a party. Adapted from Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film has an all-star cast and is beautifully shot, drawing on timeless themes of sexuality, womanhood and loneliness.
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The list wouldn’t be complete without this seminal film, starring Jack Nicholson. If you haven’t seen it: watch it. ‘Nuff said.
Looking at the early years of John Lennon’s life, Kristen Scott-Thomas’s performance of Lennon’s mother realistically captures the highs and lows, joy and despair, of a rollercoaster through bipolar episodes.
5. Running with Scissors (2006)
Based on a true story, this is an entertaining and shocking look at one boy’s story after being moved in with his mother’s therapist, Dr Finch – a house with a distinctly ‘alternative’ approach to dealing with mental illness and trauma.
6. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
I definitely watched this film when I was too young, and maybe why that’s why it’s always stayed with me. More likely, however, is that is a truly haunting film, with some mind-blowing acting, particularly from a young Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performance of a boy with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties is mind-blowing. Also covering depression leading to morbid obesity, suicide and a catalogue of other challenges, this film could earn a place on a whole range of ‘Top 10’ lists.
7. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
My old housemate said to me, ‘I think you’ll like this film; it’s really good and about mentals’. Thanks. But it is very good (and, yes, about someone who’s been hospitalised for bipolar) – touching, funny and tender.
8. Melancholia (2011)
Fear. Family. A wedding. The imminent end of the world. Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of a woman trying to be happy for everyone else, whilst drowning in silent despair, will strike a chord with many.
9. Sylvia (2003)
This film tells the story of the ill-fated relationship between poets Sylvia Plath (the archetype of the tortured artist) and Ted Hughes.
‘Sometimes I dream the tree, and the tree is my life. One branch is the man I shall marry, and the leaves my children. Another branch is my future as a writer, and each leaf is a poem. Another branch is a good academic career. But as I sit there trying to choose, the leaves begin to turn brown and blow away, until the tree is absolutely bare.’
10. Donnie Darko (2001)
Watch out for the rabbit, and wait while your mind slowly implodes.