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The best fully-baked stoner films of 2015

Kick back and ‘relax’ with these visually mesmerising, ridiculously entertaining movies to accompany your lazy stupor

Take me to your DVD dealer. OK, 4/20 may be a few months away, but now is the perfect time to reflect on the year’s best stoner movies. No, not American Ultra. We mean the trippy, psychedelic adventures that got you going, “Woah, dude,” even if you weren’t under the influence. These laid-back visual delights are when cinema blurs its edges, inviting the viewer to be pleasurably lost in hazy images that are simultaneously incomprehensible and enlightening – and it’s no surprise a toke or two widens the experience. Sometimes you need to light up to see life in a new light.


Just repeatedly chanting the title, whether correctly (“how-ha”) or phonetically, will send you into a meditative state, a little like that of Viggo Mortensen’s character – a sad dad who ventures into a fabled desert and mentally disintegrates into the watercolour skies. No CGI is required for an Argentinian landscape easily mistaken for another planet, or at least one untouched by humans (although there is a sex pest and a mindreading cave lady). Plus, for good measure, Viggo is revealed to be a toy soldier, or a pet dog, or whatever crazy theory you concoct.


The opening sequence – halfway between Jess Franco and a live-action Belle & Sebastian album cover – promises such a sensory experience, you can practically smell the perfume. Strickland’s direction toys with your brain, mixing up a score that jumps between Cat’s Eyes shoegaze harmonies and what sounds like a jet engine; at times it verges on softcore erotica, and then switches to a nightmare nature doc of flapping butterflies flooding the frame. To sum up the amalgamation of moods, the camera zooms in between a woman’s legs for an emotional sci-fi interlude.


Set in a Thai hospital that can recall past lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest hallucination argues it’s lighting, not laughter, that’s the best medicine. At least, that’s the treatment for soldiers suffering from a sleeping sickness. Perched on their bedposts are eerie lamps that mutate between glow-in-the-dark colours, willing the audience to fall under a hypnotic spell. When statues spring to life, the nurses just shrug; the resurrection of old kings is just the kind of workday shenanigans you expect when building a hospital on an ancient burial ground.


Unless you’re Eva Mendes or director Nicolas Winding Refn, you probably don’t have much chance of a lazy weekend with Ryan Gosling getting baked, eating cereal, and watching underground movies. But Lost River is some compensation, as the actor-turned-cult-director crafted a sinister circus with its fair share of attractions: ruin porn, slo-mo violence, underwater escapism, and Ben Mendelsohn doing ‘Hotline Bling’ before you knew what that meant. When you see a bright red, it’s just as likely to be graffiti paint, warm blood, or the flames of a burning building.


It doesn’t matter what state you’re in for Paul Thomas Anderson’s stoner noir, because you’re not going to understand it anyway. And actually, it might help to get into the mental state of the many characters either smoking weed or shovelling it down their throats. Look, it’s 1970 in California, Joaquin Phoenix is a hippy detective, there’s a Jonny Greenwood score and a Joanna Newsom voiceover, and half the plot’s about scoring pot – how else do you think PTA wants you to watch it?


Conjuring up cloudy memories of Nadja and Eraserhead, Ana Lily Amirpour’s black-and-white cinematography is ideal for its vampire skateboarding, but also for creating a surreal universe that’s cooler than anything you could come up with. In Bad City, the bedroom becomes a haven for self-expression and teenage rebellion: on the wall is a poster with a cannabis leaf, on the record player is a slinky retro pop song, and also going on is some mischievous neck-gnawing. Fun and stylish, it’s like watching the best bits of genre movies, in a separate genre unto itself.


Prolific auteur Sion Sono’s 2015 has been a collection of potential stoner favourites, whether The Whispering Star (a robot sends parcels in space), Love & Peace (a giant turtle masterminds a hit single) or Tag (Freaky Friday as J-horror). But let’s go for Tokyo Tribe, a colourful yakuza hip-hop opera featuring samurai swords, a cannibal with a personal beatboxer, and the peaceful hippies caught in the middle. Set in a fluorescent sci-fi version of Tokyo, the score sounds like gangster rapping remixed by PC Music; it’s the kind of madness where the climactic brawl is paused so the DJ in the corner can spin a tasty record.


The lesson in Andrew Bujalski’s offbeat comedy is that exercise may beef up your muscles, but a gym membership won’t cure the overwhelming gloom that caused you to sign up in the first place. Rich in money and ennui, Kevin Corrigan doesn’t have to work anymore, so he doesn’t, and opts for pizza, pot and motivational YouTube videos. When he hires a personal trainer, paying for two years in advance, it only takes a few sessions before it’s apparent he’d rather just have a weed companion – because, health nuts, no one has a heart-to-heart on an exercise bike.


If you’ve watched El Topo and The Holy Mountain so many times that now you just fast-forward to the best bits, it’s because Alejandro Jodorowsky’s took so long for a worthy follow-up. The Dance of Reality is an autobiographical odyssey from an oddball whose life story can only be interpreted through surreal cinema. There’s the single stone he threw as a child that killed every fish in the sea, the memory of his mother blacking up his nude body with shoe polish, and that time his hair was haunted by a dead granddad. Stop analysing too hard and let it wash over you – there’s a worthwhile core of melancholy underneath.


Studio Ghibli doesn’t make kids films; their output is for viewers of all ages, especially adults who appreciate beautiful, imaginative animation when high. In Isao Takahata’s swansong feature, the hand-drawn visuals – you can’t stop admiring the delicate smudges and watercolours – convey the lyrical wonder of a tiny girl, growing inside a tree, who dreams of flying to the moon. When the story shifts gear, so does the animation; in a temper tantrum, the world turns to harsh charcoal scribbles. Fans of Frozen should feel ashamed.