20) CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Dredging up all the homeschooling feels, this immensely enjoyable film about a widowed father retreating into the woods with his children to turn them into mini Jason Bournes was a total unexpected delight for me. Viggo believes in total honestly, resulting in hilariously blunt sex education. What impressed me the most was the acting talent of the children, 100% believable and rich. The ending was a bit obvious, but it felt earned, and I’m interested to see if its going to be a Oscar darkhorse. (And it wouldn’t be a Viggo flick without Viggo’s prick… he gets naked)
DOUBLE FEATURE- HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Director Taika Waitiki (What We Do In The Shadows) will be helming the new Thor film, but he managed to sneak in this small, hilarious New Zealand film that audiences have been championing since its release, and for good reason. Offbeat, hilarious, and most importantly full of heart, it feels at times dangerously close to Wes Anderson, yet remains wholly its own identity. (Between the beard and the accent, I actually didn’t realize it was Sam Neil until 2/3’s of the way through. #noregrets)
Tragically writer/director Marcin Wrona committed suicide during the film’s festival circuit, making this dark Jewish political fairytale all the more haunting. Framed during a Polish wedding, the old world and the new clash as a dybbuk is unleashed on the night’s festivities, possessing the groom. Part ghost story, part psychological melodrama, the film flirts with genre but never commits, becoming something wholly new and for me, extremely exciting.
DOUBLE FEATURE- EVOLUTION
Where to even begin with this one. Like a mouthwatering peach that you just HAVE to take a bite of, but as your teach close around it the inside rot spills down your throat, Evolution‘s take on the body horror genre left a taste in my mouth for days. An island completely inhabited by pale skinned, middle-aged women and even paler boys, the film relies almost entirely on suggestion, revealing clues and images (a decaying hospital on a cliffside) that slowly paint a picture of nature gone wrong. Its a purely experiential film that is certainly not for everyone’s tastes, but…. no thats it. You already know if you would be into it. Next.
18) WIENER DOG
I mean, it’s a new Todd Solondz movie. It’s not even one of his better films (too accessible), but any Solondz will be better than 95% of what comes out. A wiener dog, called wiener dog, is passed from sad human to sad human, small vignettes of human idiosyncrasies and pathos that Solondz excels so well at. He has a way of cutting through all the usual narrative set up bullshit and just jumping straight into scenes, in a “Human nature…. and GO!” kind of way. Todd, if your reading this, lets grab coffee at Grand Central Market. We don’t even need to speak, we can just just sip out almond milk lattes and watch the faces of a doomed species walk to and fro.
DOUBLE FEATURE- HIGH RISE
Life is just as hilariously incomprehensible in Ben Wheatley’s gorgeous adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 70’s novel. With touches of Ken Russell and other 70’s directors, the film chronicles the rise and fall of an isolated high rise that slowly births it’s own class system and subsequent warfare. Wheatley is SUCH a difficult director to pin down, and no one really knows what to do with his body of work. There is this sly brilliance to his work that somehow doesn’t seem to let audiences in, like an in-joke. The film is overly long with no real definitive dramatic conflicts, things happen seemingly randomly unless you are really dialed into the zany vibe, yet it has the most vital quality found in film. It’s cool. Like, 70’s “lets smoke a joint and get funky” cool. I’m down.
17) THE INVITATION
The Invitation would be last thing you would expect from a directer whose only other credits are Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body. Sure they are all genre fare, but The Invitation is a tightly-wound chamber piece that Polanski would have been proud of. Almost entirely filmed at one location, what’s so impressive is the mileage director Karyn Kusama gets out of the claustrophobic setting. The setup is simple, a couple invite their old friends over for an elegant dinner party and shocker, things aren’t as they seem. At its core the film is about LA vapidness, this dichotomy between excess and guilt. So many of these types of films jump the gun trying to get to the twists and turns, yet The Invitation savors every second of character interaction, knowing that unless we understand these characters, the 3rd act shocks don’t mean a gosh darn thing. One of the best “genre” films in years. (And that last shot tho…)
DOUBLE FEATURE- HELL OR HIGH WATER
Another genre film that turned out to be a total surprise hit, some people have called Hell or High Water a poor man’s Coen brothers film (guilty), but its really its own thing. Both leads do some of their best work to date as modern day robin hoods, Pine and Foster both having a natural connection. All the supporting actors kill it, the screenplay is SO GOOD, and its just one of those pleasantly adult films that isn’t based on anything or a remake of a remake. So bizarrely rare nowadays.
Every year I hold my breath, hoping to hear of a new project by Jacques Audiard. A Prophet got my attention, but Rust and Bone was the film that really made an impression. His premises always area bit shlocky, heavy on melodrama, yet then he flips it by taking their stories utterly seriously. Dheepan is about a Sri Lankan man, woman, and girl pretending to be a family so that they could get fake passports to France to avoid the political violence perpetrating their country. All 3 characters are aware of how fragile their situation is, and soon realize that they may have left one war only to find another. The end does veer on the side of cliche, yet the actors deliver such bare, naturalistic performances (they are all non-actors) and there so many beautifully human scenes that it can be forgiven. (It also won the Palm D’Or, so not too shabby. His next film The Sisters Brothers, starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly is one of my most anticipated films.)
15) THE CONJURING 2
To paraphrase Stefon, “If you’re looking for New York’s hottest new horror flick, The Conjuring 2 has everything. Demon nun shadows, British people, the crooked man/dog (done practically I might add), Patrick Wilson playing banjo…” Seriously, the joys of this movie are endless. Not only is it one of the most terrifying films in the last 10 years, it’s focus on Ed and Lorraine Warren’s marriage gives the franchise a refreshing emotional backbone that is near non-existent in other horror offerings. We actually give a shit about these characters and their struggles, making every scare all the more heart-pounding. Highlights include the nun painting scene and Ed’s conversation with the entity Bill when he’s out of focus in that brilliant long shot.
DOUBLE FEATURE- THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
I LOVED this movie. It’s one of those films supported solely by its unique premise, and the way the film keeps pushing the envelope over and over again was such a treat for me as a horror fanatic. Basically, a body is discovered buried during a raid, and two coroners must work overtime to get a report out to the police department. It’s a dark and stormy night, and very quickly they discover that something is very wrong with this corpse. I truly had no idea where this movie was going, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
14) TONI ERDMANN
A 3 hour German father-daughter awkward workplace comedy?! Sign me up! After seeing this film pop on multiple “best of” lists, I was expecting one of those foreign must see films that is just a chore. This film flew by for me. Ines is a workaholic oil company consultant, working 23 hours a day, and suddenly her wackjob “anything for a laugh” father using the alias “Toni Erdmann” to injects himself into her whirlwind life, longing to connect with his daughter while simultaneously mortifying her. The cringe is REAL, yet the film always retains a sweetness amidst the career suicide. The end is perfection and it features probably my favorite use of nudity in a film ever.
13) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
To quote myself immediately watching this movie, “There is nothing like watching a Laika movie to remind yourself that you are talentless.” The level of hands-on craftsmanship present in this gorgeous fairytale is unparalleled, every new set piece and action scene designed with such brilliance and ingenuity that it leaves you on a creative high. But the visuals would be nothing without story, and its here that Kubo truly rises above the rest. We’ve seen the generic western treatment of dealing with loss, but here they embrace a more eastern approach on the subject, with the spirits of the dead providing a guiding light for the younger generation. The very nature of storytelling also plays a central role, yet all these themes never distract from the adventure and fun, with a giant skeleton battle and Rooney Mara’s chilling twin aunts being personal highlights. Laika is such a bastion for pure creative energy in the film industry and we have a responsibility to support these rare films. (Also the opening ocean scene…. wow)
DOUBLE FEATURE- THE RED TURTLE
I watching this one alone one Saturday morning, mildly hungover while a plumber was working in the bathroom wondering what kind of pretentious poser I must be with my dialogue free, art house french animated films. I recommend this setting for an optimal viewing experience. This movie is like a hot tub, you just sit in it and marinate, each scene flowing organically to the next. It follows a man who gets shipwrecked on an island, and chronicles his attempts to escape which are continually thwarted by a mysterious red turtle. This is the set up, and to say more would ruin it. Its a real work of contemplative art and a testament to the medium itself, expressing so much through simple yet impactful visuals.
12) THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE
One of the best micro-horror films I’ve ever seen, They Look Like People totally blew me away. I was expecting a single premise, half-cooked story about lizard men or something, and what I got was one of the most touching on screen friendships I’ve seen all year. There is unnerving tension and low-key genre pleasures, but its all carefully framed by a man suffering from mental illness and his best friend trying to help without any tools except compassion and love. Underrated doesn’t even begin to describe this fantastic and moving film, and hey it’s on Netflix. 🙂
DOUBLE FEATURE- I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are fame is all grown up and hunting serial killers. The cinematography perfectly captures that indie small midwestern vibe, a combination of boredom and being desperate for ANYTHING interesting to happen. The film moves briskly as Max begins seeing a strange figure around town as people begin disappearing. There are some delicious twists in this one and it really never lets you get comfortable with the plotting. Christopher Lloyd has a small cameo which is of course awesome to see.
11) ALWAYS SHINE
Always Shine follows 2 young actresses spending a week at a cabin, yet the success of one causes a split, not just in their friendship but also their identity as jealousy and isolation prove to be a terrifying combination. The two central performances are utterly fascinating, with Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) especially attacking her role with crazy-eyed gusto. There are so many small details in the film that elevate it above the rest (elegant long takes, mirroring scenes, excellent uses of tone and silence), and with this flick director Sophia Takal joins the rising number of excellent female horror/thriller directors killing it in the genre (Jennifer Kent, Julia Ducournau, Ana Lily Amirpour…). One of the best films I saw this year that not many others got a chance to see.
DOUBLE FEATURE- THE NEON DEMON
I think what makes The Neon Demon work more than Only God Forgives is that Refn seems like he’s FINALLY in on the joke. There is a sense that he gets the overindulgence, the style over substance and now he wants to play with that idea. All his usual stylings are present, yet there is a sick humor running through it all that extends beyond the story itself and touches the very presentation of the material. To list the film’s references and inspirations would take an essay, and ultimately they dont matter. I’ve decided to label the film “couture horror”. The film opens with a photo shoot summing up the film, Elle Fanning laying perfectly still on an elegant couch, fake blood spilling down her neck, love and death, sex and violence. There is very little thematic progression, the film’s message on the superficiality of beauty and our culture’s obsession with it is obvious and stated early on, yet the way Refn bends LA into a nightmare kingdom gives the story a sense of magical realism. The imagery is so blunt that it works, and the screenplay has a 70’s bad tv movie vibe that just makes it even better. My favorite scene has got to be when one of the jealous models asks a waitress what the specials are, saying that of course she won’t eat any of it but she likes the way she memorizes them. So. Good.
10) A BIGGER SPLASH
It’s a movie about beautiful people in a beautiful place doing beautiful things. Tilda Swinton is a Bowie-esque rocker who lost her voice, and Ralph Fiennes can’t shut up as the film’s “inciting incident”. Like a choreographed dance, director Luca Guadagnino stages his impressive cast elegantly in frame, bodies drifting and clashing under the Italian sun. It’s Mama Mia by way of Hitchcock, full of life and passion as the film’s players slowly succumb to their darker impulses. Luca Guadagnino is making the Suspiria remake currently, which is guaranteed to be a thing of absolute beauty.
9) SWISS ARMY MAN
A lot of people I talked to about this film thought the creators just wanted to make a real WTF movie, something that would make headlines, but for me the bizarre use of Radcliffe’s corpse made complete sense. Its a film about loving one’s self, of friendship and humanity and all the big stuff, so of course there should be farting. And awkward boners. Swiss Army Man IS a strange film, yet its embrace of all the aspects of us as loving, hating, farting creatures gives it a universal quality. It digs into our primal nature, revealing the core building blocks that make up the civilized modern man. In-camera noises and phrases slowly work their way into the score, creating an audio/visual sensory experience. The midway montage is one of my favorite scenes of the year.
DOUBLE FEATURE- MEN AND CHICKEN
A film about man’s animalistic nature in the most literal sense possible, Men and Chickens is a macabre comedy that takes pleasure in being juvenile, even slapstick. Outcast brothers travel to an island to connect with long lost family members living in an asylum, only to discover that their father may have been a mad scientist with questionable ethics. Mads Mikkelsen is hilariously cast against type as a horny, bumbling man-child, and the film actually has some seriously dramatic heft by the end. A lot of weird elements coalesce perfectly, resulting in one of the best comedies of the year.
8) OTHER PEOPLE
Feelgood films are so hit and miss with me, yet I feel like every year a emotional cancer flick slips into my list. So many of them feel manipulative that they poison the well, but I couldn’t resist this film. Molly Shannon is wonderful as Jesse Plemons’ dying mother whom he goes to stay with during her last months, putting on haitus a comedy career and boyfriend in NYC. The film nails that delicate comedy/drama balance, and the writing is excellent. Plemons’ character is constantly pushed and pulled between his old life and the one he’s made for himself, yet he can’t hijack his family’s support for their mother with his own issues. I love the message (Bad things only happen to other people, but everyone’s “other people”) and the scene where Molly Shannon can’t speak just kills me.
7) GREEN ROOM
Punks vs Nazis! As you watch this movie you begin realizing that anything can happen. Anyone can get their brains splattered on a nazi flag if they make the wrong move, time their escape a split second too late. For all the beautifully directed violence and tension, the real pleasure of this film is that the screenwriter feels non-existent, the usual formula isn’t present and instead each punk band member must use every ounce of intellect and instinct if they want to make it out alive. That kind of active motivation is RARE in movies, and to see it done with such technical finesse and acting talent is awesome. RIP Anton Yelchin
DOUBLE FEATURE- DON’T BREATHE
The ultimate anti home invasion movie, Don’t Breathe is an exercise in white knuckle anxiety. 3 teens think that stealing from a blind man would be the easiest hit of their young career, a sort of “one last score and then we’re out” type deal. They are wrong. The script flips and soon they are hiding in every nook and closet from a machete wielding, blind ex-army psychopath who may have more sinister plans for them. My only main complaint is that I believe the score should have been nonexistent, with every creaking floorboard and squeaking doorknob making the audience whisper “Shut up, he’ll hear you!”. (Hence the name of the movie…) Still a fantastic ride.
Verhoeven is back and in top form. His signature provocative and reckless style of filmmaking gives this fascinating story of a woman struggling with control a razor sharp edge. He managed to make a dark comedy about rape and somehow make it feel progressive (depends who you ask). On the surface this film is hilariously un-PC, and there are scenes I couldn’t believe made it past the screenwriting phase, but this type of controversial filmmaking is exactly what we need right now. I truly have no idea how Verhoeven pulled off this film, and it DEFINITELY wouldn’t have worked without Isabelle Huppert’s already legendary performance. Its gloriously un-showy, and between Louder than Bombs, Valley of Love, and Things to Come, she is having one of the best, most prolific years of her career.
5) AMERICAN HONEY
Poverty has always been a focal point in Andrea Arnold’s filmography. In American Honey she spends almost 3 hours traveling through some of America’s poorest Midwestern cities and towns in a van with parking lot kids. You know the ones, quasi-homeless punks and free spirits jumping from one high to the next blasting Rihanna and E-40’s Choices. The cinematography is like youth itself, restless and searching, jumping from one scene to the next depending on its characters attention span. Lead Sasha Lane is an absolute marvel, giving a completely natural, intense performance which can switch from boundless joy to deep depression in seconds. By the end its unclear where she’s going, or what she’s really looking for, but more than anything we want her to find out.
4) LA LA LAND
Not everything in the film hits, there are moments that could have been edited a bit more, but when this film is firing on all cylinders its just magic. I’ve caught random people in Starbucks humming Someone in the Crowd, an elderly lady on the bus singing The Fools who Dream quite loudly. Writer/director Damien Chazelle is one of the hottest American directors right now, with each film demonstrating uncommon focus and vision. The first 20 minutes are about as damn perfect as humanly possible for this medium, and luckily the film manages to stick the landing. It’s winning best picture for sure, not even a contest. (Side note, Chazelle also wrote Grand Piano which is one of my favorite thrillers in the last 5 years. This man can do no wrong)
3) THE VVITCH
I can’t begin to say the amount of times I’ve said “I want to live deliciously” in everyday life after seeing this Puritan nightmare of a film. From the first 10 minutes I knew this was going to be a horror classic. The director Robert Eggers spent years researching New England in the 1700’s, from the architecture to the Essex dialect, and his obsession to period detail pays off spectacularly. After being banished from their community and starting a new life in the forest, the film begins its downward spiral. Paranoia and isolation mixed with religious extremism gives birth an a sinister atmosphere that sinks into the very earth and trees. A child goes missing, as if the forest itself swallowed it whole. Children whisper that a goat named Black Philip speaks terrible things to them when they are alone. What I found fascinating is that it almost seems like the horrors this family undergoes are self inflicted, that their own repression and fervor created a crack for these abominations to slither through. I loved his use of ASMR, and his next film is a remake of Nosferatu…. just take my money already. (The son’s possession scene has got to be a highlight for me, terrifying)
DOUBLE FEATURE- THE EYES OF MY MOTHER
It’s barely over an hour, yet this disturbing film manages to create a sense of dread that full length horror shows could only dream about. Masterfully constructed, this is the epitome of art house horror, its B&W cinematography carefully hinting at dark secrets we all hold in our hearts… and sometimes in the lofts of our barns apparently. Francisca (played with an unnerving detachment by Kika Magalhaes) witnessed the brutal murder of her mother, and now lives alone surrounded by her mothers things. To say more would ruin it. Really skin-crawling stuff.
What a perfect film for our current time and place. Neatly tied together by an unconventional alien invasion, Denis Villeneuve continues his hot streak of only being physically able to make works of genius by weaving together a tale about connection, about language, and about the future. Much of the credit goes to screenwriter Eric Heisserer who manages to combine all these seemingly unrelated topics using only a short story a few pages long (Ted Chiang’s Story of your Life), balancing all the science and continuity while still keeping it grounded and heart-wrenchingly human. Amy Adams has a face that holds so much, and this might be her greatest work yet. Without spoiling it, the scene at the end when Amy finally understands why everything is happening, and yet still accepts her role might be one of the most emotional theater experiences I’ve ever had. The more I dwell on it the more it crushes me, yet this idea of acceptance, accepting what may come in the future and always choosing the good, no matter the pain it may cause really spoke to me deeply. More than ever we as a nation and a species need to focus on connection, working as one and not being afraid to make difficult choices. Hardship will never stop, but how we choose to rise to these hardships is within our power. (Also On the Nature of Daylight was on loop in my brain for a week after)
The ocean plays a central motif in Moonlight. Based on the play In Moonlight, Black Boys look Blue, the Miami ocean is featured in all 3 titled acts of the film spanning over 20 years. It calls to Chiron, a brief respite from the drugs and fear and abuse just waiting for him at home. There is even a baptism scene in the ocean performed by Mahershala Ali when he takes little Chiron under his wing. It’s here that he tells Chiron, “At some point, you got to decide what kind of man you want to be. Nobody can make that choice for you.” And like the ocean this film comes back to you in waves, both in memory and experience. I’ll see a small act of kindness, a look of hidden pain behind a stranger’s eyes and suddenly there’s Moonlight.
I wish I could write pages about the look and feel of the film, the way the score literally chops and screws orchestral pieces, how brilliantly cinematographer James Laxton juxtaposes the harsh urban environment and drug dens with soft purples and blues. A broken boy sitting in a tub with a halo of foam slowly sliding down his cheek like tears. All the performances across the board are stellar, and when asked about how director Barry Jenkins cast the 3 Chirons, he beautifully said that instead of looking for physical similarities, he simply looked at the eyes and trusted that we would see the same soul behind all 3 pairs.
Moonlight is simultaneously cerebral and intensely intimate, the kind of film that you know everyone involved will never make anything better. I personally loved its uses of silence, which is usually a death sentence for most films. Yet instead of dead air those scenes brim with emotion and longing, each second not speaking killing you a bit more. This is especially true with the final scene that literally had my theater holding their breath, but the film never looses it compassion, never allows its characters to fully succumb to life’s sadism. I hate to use the word “important”, especially for such a intimate, personal piece of work, but that’s just what Moonlight is. Its an important work of art that just might force people to think about things from a different perspective, seeing as there has never been a film quite like it. And now to listen to Barbara Lewis’s Hello Stranger, close my eyes and smell those Miami waves. What a beautiful night.
Overrated Films: Sully (but the crash scene did confirmed my supposed “irrational” fear of flying), Captain America-Civil War (watch it a 2nd time… you’ll see), Jungle Book (I did sleep through some of it…), Love and Friendship, Don’t Think Twice
Unseen Films that Probably Would’ve Made the Cut: Silence, Paterson, The Love Witch, Manchester By the Sea, Nocturnal Animals, Jackie, One More Time with Feeling
Films that I maybe Should Have put on the List: The Nice Guys (I should have switched this with #16), Sing Street, Zootopia (that fight in rodent town), Midnight Special and Loving… sorry Jeff Nichols, Deadpool, Everybody Wants Some!!, Hail Caesar, Maggie’s Plan
Films I Kinda Hated: Sausage Party (HATED), Fear Inc, The Secret Life of Pets, Dirty Grandpa, Hardcore Henry (You just KNOW the type of frat guy who would want to make this movie)
Best Horror Films: Lights Out, 31 (Dear Mr. Zombie, you are an awesome director and a terrible writer.), The Boy, Hush, Train to Busan, Baskin (ewwww), The Blackcoat’s Daughter (that furnace scene…), Under the Shadow, 10 Cloverfield Land, Southbound, Blair Witch
Sequel that was Impossibly Better than the First One: Ouiji- Origin of Evil
Delightful Oddities: The Handmaiden (Never change Mr. Park), Equals, The Greasy Stranger (Bullshit artist!), Band of Robbers, Me Him Her, The Mind’s Eye, The Dressmaker (Soccer Scene), Antibirth, Der Bunker, The Wailing
Disappointing Films: Star Trek Beyond (The Sabotage scene was great though), The BFG, Triple Nine, The Family Fang, Cafe Society, Jason Bourne, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Without Eva Green this film would have no saving grace)
Actually Not that Bad/Underrated: Knight of Cups, The Light Between Oceans, X-Men Apocalypse (Again Even Peters steals the show), How to be Single, The Boy and the Beast, Batman Vs Superman (call me), In the Valley of Violence (Although the dog thing is starting to get old)
Film that only had it’s Opening Cool Title Scene Going for It: Incarnate
Found Footage that has an Emotional as Hell Ending: The Good Neighbor
Mediocre Films with Amazing Endings: Rogue One, The Magnificent Seven
Guilty Pleasures: Gods of Egypt (Chadwick Boseman was the only actor who knew to keep it cheesy), Passengers (The “Last Man on Earth/Wall-e” stuff was great), Independence Day: Resurgence, Popstar, SiREN
Why Was this Made Again?: Ben Hur, The Legend of Tarzan, Alice- Through the Looking Glass (all perfect example of failing in the brainstorming phase)
Didn’t They Just Make a Better Version of This Last Year?: Morgan
I’ll Watch it Because I Love the Genre and Hollywood isn’t Making These Any More: Inferno
Films I was too Drunk to make an Informed Opinion: Doctor Strange, Moana, Warcraft (Although I’m pretty sure Warcraft was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen…. but I could be wrong)