''12 Years a Slave'' is a stellar film -- but so emotionally taxing that it's tough to imagine a second viewing. In no particular order, here are other examples of spectacularly difficult cinema

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated November 08, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

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1. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
In the role that won him an Academy Award, Nicolas Cage isn’t searching for riddles on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but for a way to drink his pathetic existence into oblivion, alongside Elisabeth Shue’s damaged prostitute.

2. Straw Dogs (1971)
In Sam Peckinpah’s nasty little gem, an American and his wife (played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George) are attacked by Cornish locals who are acting out their class resentments. The subsequent rampage is a long, cold stare at the violence that lurks in all of us.

3. Come and See (1985)
This Soviet WWII movie about a teen (Aleksey Kravchenko) thrust into battle is one of cinema’s most brutal depictions of man’s inhumanity. Production was so intense, the young star’s hair reportedly turned gray.

4. Irreversible (2003)
There are many suffocatingly cruel sequences in Gaspar Noé’s film, including an extended single-shot rape sequence, made even more painful by the reverse-chronological movie’s distorted sense of cause and effect.

5. United 93 (2006)
Before Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass brought recent history to the screen in this real-time re-creation of the 9/11 hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93. It makes you wish desperately for the happy ending you know isn’t coming.

6. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Choosing which of Lars von Trier’s films is the most emotionally devastating is no easy task. Despite its song-and-dance sequences, this marathon of misery, starring Björk, will leave you feeling like you swallowed a brick.

7. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
As if the title’s not enough of a tip-off, Marcel Ophüls’ documentary about the Nazi occupation of France, and those who resisted and collaborated, is enough of a downer that it served as a punchline in Annie Hall as the ultimate bad date movie.

8. Requiem For a Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s terrifyingly grim drama does the work of a thousand D.A.R.E. seminars, as his drug-addicted characters (including Jared Leto’s heroin junkie) lose life, limb, dignity, and sanity.

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  • Elem Klimov