The To-Sees at AFI FEST 2019

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As always, with most film festivals but especially AFI FEST, there are countless under-the-radar cinematic sighs of relief that get overlooked. Here are some of my favorites in this year’s lineup.

World-Cinema_0001_totheends1TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

A seismic shift for J-horror pioneer Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse), this miraculous, infinitely huggable account of an adrift on-camera travelogue host made me cry harder than I have EVER cried in my ENTIRE life BOTH times I watched it.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/world-cin…

sa_Liberte_860LIBERTÉ

Albert Serra’s inescapably divisive yet hypnotic and beautiful burrow into the ever-escalating lustful hedonistic excess of a group of 18th century libertines in the woods at night is *ahem* piss perfect.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/world-cin…

World-Cinema_0015_0-Los-Sonambulos-Main-photoTHE SLEEPWALKERS

Sweaty, swampy, haunting. Faces as landscapes. A delirious boiling fever of women jostled to and at the edge.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/world-cin…

maxresdefault-2I WAS AT HOME, BUT…

Let filmmaker Angela Schanelec confront you with your innermost vulnerabilities and then, in an instant, transmogrify your soul.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/world-cin…

New-Auteurs_0014_2_Ivana-cea-GroaznicaIVANA THE TERRIBLE

Cool, calm ‘n chaotic laugh-cringe-laugh fest from your new favorite disreputable role model writer/director/star Ivana Mladenović.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/new-auteu…

V19knives02KNIVES AND SKIN

The distress surrounding a teenage girl’s disappearance sends ripples that become waves across suburban lawns in Jennifer Reeder’s frosty neon queer reverie.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/new-auteu…

The-Last-to-See-Them-Review-700x300THE LAST TO SEE THEM

An absolutely unshakeable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I… genuinely don’t know how writer/director Sara Summa did it.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/new-auteu…

New-Auteurs_0008_MSSLAVIC7-still1-5db81c28703a6MS SLAVIC 7

Both restless and static, offbeat and balanced, pursed-lipped and guffaw-worthy love letter to love letters from coolest-of-the-cool Deragh Campbell and Sofia Bohdanowicz.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/new-auteu…

Searching-Eva-1SEARCHING EVA

Director Pia Hellenthal’s essential, defiantly modern portrait of a German artist, musician, model and sex worker named Eva is the future and the future is here. The rest of the world, catch up.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/documenta…

201918539_1-h_2019TALKING ABOUT TREES

Suhaib Gasmelbari’s documentary tracking the Sisyphean efforts of four friends and filmmakers to revive an old theater in Sudan is one of the most powerful and definitive elegies and defenses for the passion for cinema you’ll ever see.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/cinemas-l…

Cinemas-Legacy-_0002_Romantic-Comedy-Still-Kissing-Fair-Use-1920x1080ROMANTIC COMEDY

Elizabeth Sankey’s personally-stamped, heaven-sent essay film is a thorough, complex, hilarious, tragic, straight-up biblical deconstruction of the euphoric highs and festering lows of the rom-com.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/cinemas-l…

los_miembros_de_la_familia-_filmbild1

maxresdefaultFAMILY MEMBERS

One of my favorite discoveries this year is Mateo Bendesky’s endlessly risky, funny and original tale of grief, forgiveness and first crushes. Every scene feels like a sneak attack hug. THE WORLD WILL KNOW GUIDO.

Tickets and showtimes: fest.afi.com/2019/new-auteu…

Festival runs November 14 – 21. Full schedule here: https://fest.afi.com

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The Best Movie Taglines of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year through the very best in cinema taglines.

img_0515Runner-up

DOG DAYS (dir. Ken Marino)

They got a little greedy with the four-quadrant approach, but “Love is a four-legged word” is truly inspired, with “It’s going to be off the leash” a close second.

img_051415.) “Bow To No One” from MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (dir. Josie Rourke)

The mantra of 2018.

img_051314.) “See how the mother half lives” from TULLY (dir. Jason Reitman)

They went for it.

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13.) “It’s been too long, dahlings” from INCREDIBLES 2 (dir. Brad Bird)

It has. Also, you read it in her voice, didn’t you?

img_051112.) “The park is gone” from JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (dir. J.A. Bayona)

Lets you know exactly where the park is.

img_050911.) “He’s done keeping his story straight” / “Coming out 2018” from LOVE, SIMON (dir. Greg Berlanti)

As obvious as it is catchy.

img_050810.) “He’s going to need a vacation after this vacation” from HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION (dir. Genndy Tartakovsky)

The accuracy.

meg_xlg9.) “Pleased to eat you” from THE MEG (dir. Jon Turteltaub)

Every dad on Earth read this and lost his goddamn mind.

img_05178.) “Sooner or later, your past catches up to you” from CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (dir. Marc Forster)

I’m already crying.

rampage_xlg7.) “Big meets bigger” from RAMPAGE (dir. Brad Peyton)

That’s pretty fucking big.

img_05056.) “The next chapter is always the best” from BOOK CLUB (dir. Bill Holderman)

Makes me wanna turn that page!

img_05045.) “Don’t miss the climax” from FIFTY SHADES FREED (dir. James Foley)

The twist here is that the double entendre is not sexual but a desperate plea for you not to leave the theater before the movie ends.

MV5BOTU5MDg3OGItZWQ1Ny00ZGVmLTg2YTUtMzBkYzQ1YWIwZjlhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAzMTY4MDA@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_4.) “Evil runs in the family” from HEREDITARY (dir. Ari Aster)

A tagline that could apply to most movies, but none more literally than this one.

img_05023.) “Every con has its pros” from OCEAN’S 8 (dir. Gary Ross)

For a movie about thieves, this tagline really stole our hearts.

img_05012.) “Death wants some face time” from UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB (dir. Stephen Susco)

Killer tagline.

img_05001.) “Finding love takes some assistants” from SET IT UP (dir. Claire Scanlon)

It is uncanny how the Pulitzer Prize created a category for movie taglines immediately after this one came out. The most beautiful combination of words since “I love you.” (Or at least since “with Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu.”)

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The Best Undistributed Films (in the U.S.) of 2018

The+Swing_Still_025. The Swing (dir. Cyril Aris, Lebanon)

Morally ambiguous doc about a family keeping their nonagenarian patriarch in the dark about the death of his daughter. As his health and mind slip away, the lingering camera – meticulously composed and shot on smeary home video – occasionally suggests he senses something is up. But then he’ll ask again where she is. And again. And again. It will haunt me forever. More info.

morir-a-los-desiertos24. To Die in the Desert (A Morir a Los Desiertos) (dir. Marta Ferrer, Mexico)

A compassionate and dusty portrait of the last worn vestiges of the “Cardenche” style of music that was born out of 19th century slavery in Northern Mexico. The disobedient but harmonic a cappella music contrasts the steady stream of firsthand accounts of heartbreak and loss, and the beleaguered nature of its origins. I could’ve watched three hours of this. More info.

aleksi23. Aleksi (dir. Barbara Vekarić, Croatia/Serbia)

Messy, immature 28-year-old Aleksi shirks responsibilities to crash her parents’ winery and indulge a number of flings with the men in the area, leaving a trail of emotional debris in her wake. Restless and uncompromising, Tihana Lazovic as Aleksi is your new dreamboat metropolis. More info.

Holiday - Still 122. Holiday (dir. Isabella Eklöf, Denmark/Netherlands/Sweden)

A real feel-bad trip following a gangster’s moll on an exotic vacation that mangles into a nightmare of brutality. Eklöf’s difficult but rewarding debut approaches its graphic violence with clinical precision and aesthetic excess, making it both stomach-churning to watch but impossible to look away. More info.

thick lashes21. Thick Lashes of Lauri Mäntyvaara (dir. Hannaleena Hauru, Finland)

The bond between two teens – whose main thrill is to elaborately ruin weddings and save nearly-weds from a potentially dead-end life together – is broken when one of them falls for a local hockey player sporting the titular eye coif. Come for the spunky attitude, stay for the most epic kitten shots you’ve ever seen. More info.

island-of-the-hungry-ghosts-1-1024x42920. Island of the Hungry Ghosts (dir. Gabrielle Brady, Germany/U.K./Australia)

Every year, forty million crabs make their migration across Christmas Island in Australia. The care to ensure they reach their destination is contrasted against the comparatively inferior treatment of human asylum seekers nearby. Bleak and beautiful, with a score and sound design that makes your whole body vibrate, and a visual palette resembling outtakes from Von Trier’s Antichrist, Brady’s debut rightfully won Best Doc at Tribeca. More info.

suburban_birds_z0i1087-h_201819. Suburban Birds (dir. Qiu Sheng, China)

Transfixing, temporally twisted, nearly impenetrable puzzle that’s equal parts Stand By Me and Kafka’s The Castle. More info.

ficg-2018-miriam-miente-film-still-photo-46466518. Miriam Lies (dir. Natalia Cabral & Oriol Estrada, Dominican Republic)

Searing coming-of-age sliver that understands and deftly articulates how a moment in adolescence can seem world-ending but is actually just one of many bumps in the road to Hell I mean adulthood. More info.

WhenSheRunsMachoian17. When She Runs (dirs. Robert Machoian & Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, U.S.)

Quiet, sturdy, nakedly personal drama about how everyone has limits, and how some – in this case a competitive runner following her harsh training regiment – cope when pushed up against them. More info.

en liberte16. En Liberté! (The Trouble With You) (dir. Pierre Salvadori, France)

A giddy bubble-wrap screwball farce with a perfectly scrumptious cast including The Unknown Girl‘s Adele Haenel, Amélie‘s Audrey Tautou, Pio Marmaï, and Thirst Street‘s Damien Bonnard. Remember how good it feels to laugh? More info.

rafiki-cropped15. Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya)

A neon-bright affectionate confection that was temporarily banned in Kenya because its breezy portrayal of queer romance wasn’t “remorseful” enough. Kahiu coined the term “Afrobubblegum”, a label under which she and an emerging band of African filmmakers make films that dare to be joyful, frivolous, and hopeful. More info.

THE+DEAD+AND+THE+OTHERS+314. The Dead and the Others (dir. Renée Nader Messora & João Salaviza, Portugal/Brazil)

Timeless and elemental tale of an indigenous Krahô boy whose hope to release his father’s spirit to the afterlife requires him to first become a shaman. Magical and meditative, with indelible imagery, and an impossible final shot. Won the Jury Prize at Cannes in Un Certain Regard. More info.

MF18-STILL-When Lambs Become Lions213. When Lions Become Lambs (dir. Jon Kasbe, Kenya)

Unsparing and suspenseful, with no shortage of serendipitous moments that would make any docmaker weep with gratitude. In Kenya, poachers hunting elephants are themselves hunted by rangers, whose fraught connection goes beyond simply adversarial. An intimate non-fiction film that plays like grand, sweeping fiction. More info.

3-Three-in-Spa_4by312. Two Plains & a Fancy (dirs. Whitney Horn & Lev Kalman, U.S.)

A refreshingly irreverent skewering of the 1800s American West. Shot on gloriously granular 16mm, packed with sparkling one-liners, and features time-traveling inventors, ghost orgies, and a demonically possessed cat. More info.

ladyworld11. Ladyworld (dir. Amanda Kramer, U.S.)

Eight teenage girls become trapped inside a house during a birthday party after an earthquake sinks it into the ground. More of an anxiety attack than a movie, with sound effects and a musical score that are entirely vocalized, and an arena showcase of writhing and animalistic screaming from its versatile and unhinged cast. There’s plenty of wit, too. The key line: “Friendship is propaganda.” More info.

FALSOS-TATUAJES-PRINCIPAL-110. Fake Tattoos (dir. Pascal Plante, Canada)

A lean, swoony, heart-chipping punk romance. I sniffled. More info.

thereturn09. The Return (dir. Malene Choi, Denmark)

Formally audacious and emotionally robust, there’s nothing quite like Malene Choi’s docu-hybrid debut about a woman from Denmark traveling to South Korea to find her birth mother. More info.

acid08. Acid Forest (dir. Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Lithuania)

Fun, immersive, experimental doc from multimedia artist Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė featuring daredevil photography, pristine sound design, and flocks of ancient black birds with an enviable routine function: They shit acid. More info.

fnc-2018-pig-khook-hatam-is-pinata07. Pig (Khook) (dir. Mani Haghighi, Iran)

Heads are lost both literally and figuratively in Mani Haghighi’s endlessly inventive phantasmagoric black comedy about the ever-looming death of art by ego. Or decapitation.

FIIEHDYWJNDAZOEIRQHNAFU5DM06. Alaska is a Drag (dir. Shaz Bennett, U.S.)

Don’t ask me to pick a favorite set piece from Shaz Bennett’s glittering feature expanding on her terrific short about an aspiring drag queen working at a fish cannery in Alaska, okay? There are just too many. Prepare yourself for a lifelong obsession with superstar Martin L. Washington, Jr. More info.

09-butterflies05. Butterflies (dir. Tolga Karaçelik, Turkey)

Morbidly funny and cathartically confrontational comedy about three estranged adult siblings on the road together after receiving a cryptic invitation from their father. There isn’t a single false note throughout, even as the tone whips from farce to melodrama and back again. Watch out for the chickens. More info.

allgood04. All Good (Alles ist Gut) (dir. Eva Trobisch, Germany)

Eva Trobisch’s monumental debut about a woman processing her rape by a coworker is an immaculately spun web of emotional and psychological havoc and meaning. Every line of dialogue and facial tic could be dissected and defined (and debated) for generations. At the center of it all is an unshakeable performance by Aenne Schwarz. More info.

303. Hellhole (dir. Bas Devos, Belgium)

For his sophomore feature, Bas Devos taps the same vein of his 2014 debut Violet, which confronted grief intimately and directly. This time he anoints the 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels as a catalyst to mine the same ground, but on a much grander landscape, exploring how people mourn from afar, the dissociation, the inarticulable anger, and the helplessness generated by that kind of generalized attack. Technically it’s a marvel, too, unleashing camera tricks and color schemes that feel ported in from another world.

Fugue-trailer02. Fugue (dir. Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Poland)

The director of The Lure follows up her unfollowupable debut in ways both unexpected and necessary. While Fugue is decidedly lacking the bombast and spectacle of that mermaid-horror-disco-musical, it retains the seductive mood and atmosphere, malleable scope, and dizzying unpredictability. It also builds on the same themes of female subjugation in society, albeit in a more grounded and recognizable context. Smoczyńska is a relentlessly valuable cinematic voice. More info.

bb101. Blonde Animals (dirs. Maxime Matray & Alexia Walther, France)

A doe-eyed former ’90s sitcom star with short-term memory loss stumbles in and out of people’s lives, gathering the moss of their misfortunes, and goes on an unlikely cosmic journey to come to terms with his own tragic past. A nonstop carousel of twisted delights that one-ups itself with each fanciful and psychedelic set piece, and by the end manages to be unexpectedly poignant and moving. I could watch this on a loop, and given the opportunity, I just might. More info.

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Quick Alternative Guide to AFI Fest 2018

Yes, Vox Lux is the new faith. Yes, Yorgos Lanthimos probably made the love story of the year. Yes, Nicole Kidman and her wigs. Yes, blindfolded Sandy B. Yes, Viola. But there’s a whole buffet of goodies at this year’s AFI Fest, some of which may not play on another theater screen in LA ever again. Here are just some of the titles flying under the radar that demand your attention.

Amateurs (Amatörer)

1275837_amateurs_714874Gabriela Pichler’s whirlygig culture clasher is so funny, so charming, and so sneakily affecting, you don’t even realize it has a knife in you before it starts twisting it. The cast is on fire and the ending is heaven. Free tickets here.

Fugue (Fuga)

Fugue-trailerAgnieszka Smoczyńska’s relentlessly, throttlingly perfect follow-up to The Lure is a dizzying psychological puzzle of identity and self-re-discovery. Free tickets here.

Pig (Khook)

PIG_523x2751Heads are lost both literally and figuratively in Mani Haghighi’s endlessly inventive phantasmagoric black comedy about the ever-looming death of art by ego. Or decapitation. Free tickets here.

Too Late To Die Young (Tarde Para Morir Joven)

too-late-to-die-youngDominga Sotomayor’s latest – about teens growing up on a commune in the ‘90s – is the purest drug. Every swoony frame deserves the Zapruder treatment. Free tickets here.

Acid Forest (Rūgštus Miškas)

MV5BNTIzMjdjOWMtZTk5Ni00MzRhLThkMmQtY2ZkYTQzZTQ0OWZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMzMzkxMjY@._V1_Fun, immersive, experimental doc from multimedia artist Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė that features daredevil photography, immaculate sound design, and birds that shit acid. Jealous? Free tickets here.

The Chambermaid (La Camarista)

chambermaid-shower-01One of the most defiant debuts in years, Lila Avilés unravels the life of a hotel maid in Mexico City with grace, gravity, and undeniable power. Free tickets here.

The Return

04-TheReturn-STILL-PhotoCredit-Catherine-Pattinama-Coleman-300dpiFormally audacious and emotionally robust, there’s nothing quite like Malene Choi’s docu-hybrid debut about a woman from Denmark traveling to South Korea to find her birth mother. Free tickets here.

Family

familyTaylor Schilling is diamond perfect in Laura Steinel’s nonstop gigglefest about a no-filter executive caring for her outcast niece who just wants to be a Juggalo. Free tickets here.

Drylongso

DRYLONGSO_523x2751Cauleen Smith’s underseen masterwork is a candy-colored, genre-defying, sobering glimpse at 1990s Oakland, where an arts student takes photos of black men out of fear they’re becoming extinct. On 16mm! Free tickets here.

The Great Pretender

the_great_pretender_sean_price_williams_01_1_copy-h_2018Nathan Silver’s seventh feature in five years is operating on a whole new level. So funny, so regrettably relatable. Somewhere Fassbinder is smiling. Free tickets here.

CAM 

cam-fantasiaThe ultimate identity-theft horrorshow. Madeline Brewer gives an unreal, twenty-sided die of a performance. Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber have crafted an empowering, profound, and unforgettable ride through a digital hellscape. Free tickets here.

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31 Days of Underseen(-ish) Horror Part III

Part I here.

Part II here.

Rather than push the same staples that get a boost year after year (yes, Hellraiser is still aging better than most), or even the more recent spawns I can’t shut up about (Jessica Rothe’s monologue to her father in Happy Death Day > Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue to his son in Call Me By Your Name), here’s a rollout of more obscure or lesser seen horror movies that I love, one for each day in October. Most are available to stream or rent. Grab a barf bucket and find a new favorite or two.

Rachel_Lang21.) The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Based on a real high-school sex scandal, Katt Shea’s hyper-angsty riff on hallowed property is way better than its (honestly pretty sexist) reputation suggests. This one’s aging better than most from the ‘90s horror golden age. Watch on Amazon Prime.

Excision-2012-Movie-Scene-1024x57622.) Excision (2012)

Richard Bates Jr.’s bone-cutting, side-splitting tragicom about an outcast teen with increasingly ill-advised hopes to be a surgeon. The impossible cast includes a haunting Traci Lords, Marlee Matlin, and John Waters as a bemused reverend. Watch on Shudder.

spoorloos23.) The Vanishing (1988)

Just… nope. Watch on Kanopy and Filmstruck (while you still can).

dernachtmahr_0124.) Der Nachtmahr (2015)

Like Gaspar Noé‘s Mac and Me starring The Bling Ring after they raided Leeloo from The Fifth Element’s closet. This movie is so loud and over-stimulating (hello epilepsy warning!) even Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon makes a cameo. Watch on Amazon Prime and Shudder.

as_above_so_below25.) As Above, So Below (2014)

Actually — mind-bogglingly, impressively, impossibly — filmed inside the real Catacombs of Paris, this increasingly outlandish hellish descent is the most creative and effective employ of found footage since The Blair Witch Project. Watch on Netflix.

Intruder26.) Intruder (1989)

Sam Raimi’s buddy and Evil Dead II co-writer Sam Spiegel doubled-down on the gleeful gore and homemade craft with this overnight supermarket stalkfest. Hands down my favorite slasher not starring an Arquette.

hellions-scene27.) Hellions (2015)

A Halloween-set fever dream about a pregnant teen terrorized by some truly skin-crawly little assholes in masks, all draped in an ingeniously executed pink color palette. From Bruce McDonald, the director of the reigning subversive zombie ride Pontypool.

dark1.jpg28.) Wait Until Dark (1967)

Audrey Hepburn’s last Oscar nom was for this chamber thriller about a blind woman vs. some determined home invaders. A touchstone for films like Don’t Breathe and Mike Flanagan’s A+ Hush, this one has a slimy Alan Arkin and one of the best jump scares ever. Rent on Amazon and VUDU for $.99

company-of-wolves-player-1920x108029.) The Company of Wolves (1984)

Neil Jordan! Angela Lansbury! David Warner! Werewolves! Romance! Folklore! Skin peeling! Watch on Amazon Prime.

headless30.) Nightmare a.k.a. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981)

The only “video nasty” to result in a distributor serving prison time for refusing to make a single edit. An essential skid mark on the road to pure filth. Watch the uncut version on Amazon Prime. You’re welcome.

may31.) May (2002)

Romance, creepy dolls, kitty cats, The Breeders, an array of pointy objects, Jujubes. Lucky McKee’s masterpiece has just about everything, and it all culminates on Halloween night.

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31 Days of Underseen(-ish) Horror Part II

Part I here.

Rather than push the same staples that get a boost year after year (yes, Scream is still perfect), or even the recent spawns I can’t shut up about (go watch Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s disco musical about man-eating mermaids The Lure on Filmstruck!), here’s a rollout of more obscure or lesser seen horror movies that I love, one for each day in October. Most are available to stream or rent. Grab a barf bucket and find a new favorite or two.

Arcade11.) Arcade (1993)

Freddy Krueger meets Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple in this surprisingly nihilistic grunge-goth VHS oddity written by David S. Goyer(!) and featuring pinchable ’90s faces Megan Ward, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, and Peter Billingsley. Tron could never.

dans-ma-peau12.) In My Skin (2002)

Marina de Van wrote, directed, and stars in this autobiographical anti-vanity project about a woman increasingly dissociated yet obsessed with her body after suffering a nasty fall.

filmz.ru_f_16390013.) Red Eye (2005)

Wes Craven’s most unsung is a light-speed stakes-on-a-plane concussion of a thriller featuring a resourceful Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy’s soul-purifying alien face, and a ground-bound Jayma Mays helping save the day.

under the shadow sundance film festival final14.) Under the Shadow (2016)

Some of the most unshakeable and truly chilling images of the past few years are in Babak Anvari’s debut about a mother protecting her daughter from evil, both natural and supernatural, during the War of the Cities in 1980’s Tehran. Stream on Netflix.

ghostwatch-3-presenters_015.) Ghostwatch (1992)

Broadcast live on British television on October 31, 1992 – and never again – this ingeniously staged, straight-faced investigative special duped tens of thousands of viewers, even traumatizing some for life. A Halloween night tradition. Stream on Shudder.

6a0168ea36d6b2970c01bb09839252970d-800wi16.) The Initiation (1984)

Released opposite A Nightmare on Elm Street, hype was stolen away from this unsung sorority slasher that features a bizarre yet mesmerizing extended finale in a mall, and the three most beautiful words in the English language: “introducing Daphne Zuniga”.

0417.) Surveillance (2008)

Jennifer Lynch’s gonzo crime slasher is as good and lurid as it gets. Forget everything you thought you knew about your feelings for French Stewart. Watch on Shudder.

1031592418.) Most Beautiful Island (2017)

Writer-director-star Ana Asensio’s deviously devised portrait of a day in the life of an undocumented immigrant in NYC at first doesn’t go where you think it will, and then goes where you hope it won’t. Watch on Amazon Prime, or Kanopy and Hoopla with a library card.

1279982_thewolfhouse_19981719.) The Wolf House (2018)

Phantasmagoric stop-motion fairy tale from Chile about a living, tumefying house and the young German refugee trapped inside. Gobsmackingly detailed, terrifying, and beautiful. Švankmajer would approve. Watch exclusively on Mubi.

k8rEnSS20.) Sole Survivor (1983)

Before hitting cult status with the forever pristine Night of the Comet, Thom Eberhardt made this schizo freak-out about a plane crash survivor haunted and hunted by death (or is it Death?). Long out of print, but maybe try a certain free streaming site I dunno…

21-31 on Halloween!

Or follow along daily on my superfluous Twitter feed.

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31 Days of Underseen(-ish) Horror Part I

Rather than push the same staples that get a boost year after year (yes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still the ultimate), or even the recent spawns I can’t shut up about (Julia Ducournau’s Raw is still on Netflix you guys!), here’s a rollout of more obscure or lesser seen horror movies that I love, one for each day in October. Most are available to stream or rent. Grab a barf bucket and find a new favorite or two.

blooddiner41.) Blood Diner (1987)

Jackie Kong’s spandex-clad, pea-soup-drenched delirium makes Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast looks like Chef’s Table.

DeyxiFZUcAA1To72.) Mirror Mirror (1990)

A teen (played by the enviously named Rainbow Harvest) takes out her high school tormentors with help from an evil, bleeding mirror in Marina Sargenti’s post-Beetlejuice goth-kitsch fable. The best Winona Ryder movie not starring Lydia Deetz herself. Stream on Amazon Prime.

MV5BZjJhYWIzMjEtYzM0Mi00MmRmLThhNmYtMmE2YTY3ZjhmM2RlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_3.) The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976)

Millie Perkins (a longggg way from her Anne Frank in George Stevens’s enduring 1959 fixture) drinks, babysits, and goes on a castration spree in this cleansing flare of solarized insanity. Stream on Amazon Prime and Shudder.

Spider-Baby-Virginia-eating-spider-1024x6654.) Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967)

Jack Hill’s cheeky, incestuous, murderous orgy features a half-in-the-bottle Lon Chaney (who also gurgles the theme song) as caretaker to three siblings with uh… issues. It’s wholesome and holesome. Stream on Amazon Prime.

0000_revenge_015.) Revenge (2018)

Coralie Fargeat’s bitter, bloody masterpiece is an overdue reclamation of the rape-revenge film. If only Matilda Lutz’s grindhouse superhero Jennifer would tear through the screen and obliterate every abuser in sight. Set the sequel in D.C. Stream on Shudder.

Return-to-Oz-2-e1474046520337

6.) Return to Oz (1985)

The most traumatic movie ever made and I will not hear otherwise. Stream on Hoopla if you have a library card and are feeling extra masochistic.

messiah-of-evil7.) Messiah of Evil (1973)

One-of-a-kind zombie mood piece with enough color-burst mantel-ready aesthetics to make Dario Argento weep. From Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck who would later be responsible for the film version of Howard the Duck. Honestly, bless them. Stream on Hoopla with a library card.

house-of-wax-088.) House of Wax (2005)

Jaume Collet-Serra’s supremely gruesome and stylish remake, with genuinely impressive production design, a charming time-capsule cast (Paris! Rory Gilmore’s first bf! Shane West I mean Chad Michael Murray!), and My Chemical Romance yowling over the credits.

Dead-Hooker-in-a-Trunk-gore

9.) Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)

The directorial debut from Jen and Sylvia Soska (whose 2012 follow-up American Mary is equally worth drilling into) is demented, disgusting, de-lovely.

Teenage-Serial-Killer-1

10.) I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993)

Sarah Jacobson’s ultra lo-fi, riot grrrl, fed-the-fuck-up battle cry about a young woman murdering catcallers and mansplainers is as fun and witty as it is cathartic. Stream on Fandor.

Next week: 11-20

Follow along daily on my superfluous Twitter feed.

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Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring”

the-bling-ring-sofia-coppola-emma-waston-claire-julien-taissa-farmiga

Sofia Coppola is my cinematic kindred spirit. She seems to be fascinated by many of the same aspects of life as I am. I’m forever relieved she has the resources to explore them so fully. Her filmography is tethered to aesthetics and feelings rather than formulaic narrative conventions. Her stuff comes off as softly experimental, but is anchored by the purest of intentions. She is an immensely conscious filmmaker, in a way pragmatic, which is oddly what makes her characters so interesting. She could have very easily slid down the slide of camp to define the characters in The Bling Ring as archetypes, but the fact that she doesn’t, while perhaps depriving the audience of a more entertaining and satisfying experience, further cements her sophistication and maturity as a filmmaker.

The Bling Ring is admittedly more essayistic than spectacle — an adorned magazine article — just as her Marie Antoinette was for better or worse a sickeningly gorgeous history lesson, but more effective because of its objective approach, allowing for particular details to bubble surface-side rather than be mired in moral finger-wagging or character ridiculousness. Of course some of the characters in The Bling Ring *are* ridiculous, but their portrayals are never phony, and never belie their real-life sources even at their most over the top, as evidenced by the MTV docuseries “Pretty Wild” on which key scenes from Coppola’s film are based.

There is a defiant rejection of making a dramatized reality (“reality”) TV show version of this story, and casting these characters in such an E! Channel light. Their desire to become famous is disengaged from ambition or talent, just as the “victims” they target populate the highest tier of vapidity. The egregiously rich and fashionable are to them simultaneously role models and looked down upon. A key moment is after I think the second time they rob Paris Hilton’s house. They’re in the club and one of them toasts “To Paris!”, until somebody suggests instead, “To a great night.” Paris isn’t even worth their toast, just one of many that evening.

I know Coppola’s films get lumped together as sharing too-similar DNA in what they explore, but The Bling Ring machine-guns all those theories down. It explores the privileged from a fresh perspective. From this particular pack of disillusioned, vanity-obsessed teenagers who want to be like these celebrities so badly that they share their affinity for owning enough expensive items that they lose track of them. They aspire to lead an even emptier life from those they rob. They seem content to lie around and veg in yoga pants (or in Marc’s case, high heels), sip iced mochas until sundown indicates it’s time to debauch in a club. This is the extent of their aspirations: to clutter their closets and houses and lives with stuff. It’s a side-ladder journey to hollow accomplishments, to keep redefining the emptiness in their lives by what they own, who they wear, what they snort. And that these upper-class suburban white kids are close in geography and financial rank enough to these celebrities to delude themselves into believing they can bypass a step or two to hang out on that top rung is genuinely compelling and worth exploring by a filmmaker who understands the value in evenhanded restraint.

Coppola so successfully evades moralistic scrutiny here even when there appears to be bottomless fodder for it. The film is not superficial, though every aspect of this story and these characters is. It’s a toe-dip into a shallower pool than her previous films, but her thesis here is just as strong, and her handling of each character and the mostly young and unseasoned actors portraying them is arguably the most ambitious angle, but winds up being its biggest triumph. Especially Katie Chang who plays Rebecca. She is fiercely controlled as the conniving-but-hopeless ringleader. And of course Emma Watson. She gets to have the most fun, sufficiently shedding her thickset celebrity skin to rock this role.

The Bling Ring is a fussy and fascinating piggyback into a galaxy of excess, superficiality, delusions of fame and success, and remains Coppola’s most daring and ambitious film to date.

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The Top 35 Films of 2017

Columbus35. Columbus (dir. Kogonada)

Video artist Kogonada’s debut feature seems almost impossibly constructed. A ballad of emotional architecture (or is it architectural emotion?) that breathes as much life into its concrete castles as exhaled by its formidable cast of Parker Posey, John Cho, Rory Culkin, and led by blinding sunbeam Haley Lu Richardson. There isn’t a single frame that isn’t prime mantel fodder.

most-beautiful-island234. Most Beautiful Island (dir. Ana Asensio)

The less said about writer-director-star Ana Asensio’s deviously devised portrait of a day in the life of an undocumented immigrant in NYC the better. Part of the experience is somersaulting your brain into a tailspin trying to predict what will happen next, not so much to satisfy curiosity than to couch yourself back to safety. Just know this: There is likely no bigger, more heaping spoonful of “Yikes!” to be found in any other movie that came out in 2017.

Pamela-Fila-in-Man-Underground33. Man Underground (dirs. Sam Marine, Michael Borowiec)

This laugh-shock-sniffle fest about a former government geologist attempting to reconcile his disturbing memories of alien encounters through no-budget filmmaking is as much an endearing ode to friendship as a deconstruction of the evils of one’s own mind. Co-lead Pamela Fila, masterfully matching the film’s high-wire balance of styles and tones, is one of the most exhilarating acting finds of the year.

Lady-macbeth-still.jpg32. Lady Macbeth (dir. William Oldroyd)

This virulent viper of a movie is like a too-tight hug. Which, of course, is the best kind of hug. Florence Pugh is good, but Naomi Ackie steals the show. She communicates novels with each expression.

nocturama2-1600x900-c-default31. Nocturama (dir. Bertrand Bonello)

Bertrand Bonello’s signature buttery editing and fetishistic needle drops reach their apex in this fascinating inversion of Dawn of the Dead, in which a group of Parisian teenagers hole up in an empty mall after committing a series of terrorist attacks.

Princess_Cyd_24979748_type1249630. Princess Cyd (dir. Stephen Cone)

Uncommonly relaxed and shrewdly observed dual coming-of-age tale of a teenager visiting her novelist aunt for the summer. In a lovingly lensed Chicago, these two characters take bites out of each other, at first as an offensive, and eventually for nourishment. Rebecca Spence and Jessie Pinnick are 2017’s strongest on-screen duo, exchanging some of the richest, most sharply cut dialogue of the year.

hero_My-Happy-FAmily-201729. My Happy Family (dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß)

Carelessly, offensively, depressingly dumped and buried on Netflix last month is this balletic Georgian drama from the directors of In Bloom, in which a woman struggles to shed the suffocating skin of her family on the eve of her 52nd birthday. Ia Shugliashvili’s monumental performance is mostly reaction to the constant cacophony around her, as the members of her family never stop barking long enough to hear her out. A dynamic drama that unfolds as elegantly as a thriller, this is the Netflix movie every family should have huddled together to watch over Christmas.

c6e2b9914039af18e24ad329f98f985728. Der Nachtmahr (dir. Akiz)

This phantasmagoric wrecking ball from German artist Akiz is the most sensory stimulating strip of aural and visual ballast not Play-Dohed by Gaspar Noé. Call it Jim Henson’s Enter the Void. Throw in an inexplicable cameo by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, a teenage cast who dresses like The Bling Ring raided Leeloo from The Fifth Element‘s wardrobe instead of Paris Hilton’s, and a cooing, gooey alien creature even E.T. would phone home about. A large, dark theater setting is ideal (hellooooo, epilepsy warning), but thankfully the horror streaming site Shudder was humanitarian enough to add it to their robust catalog earlier this year.

ToThe-Bone327. To the Bone (dir. Marti Noxon)

The controversy surrounding this unfathomably personal and daring feature debut from UnREAL co-creator and Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer-producer Marti Noxon might not have been so deafening had the louder naysayers waited to actually watch it before crying foul. Noxon’s portrayal of an anorexic 20-year-old (a sublime Lily Collins) is unflinching but never exploitative, dire but always hopeful. Noxon shouldn’t be criticized, she should be celebrated. It’s the kind of movie that could save somebody’s life.

dunkirk26. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

The ultimate crystallization of every element Christopher Nolan has been toying with since the beginning of his career.

mother-trailer-teaser-2017-jenni25. mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

Darren Aronofsky’s Dunkirk.

The-Beguiled24. The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)

Even if the movie had just been Elle Fanning begrudgingly hoeing for 90 minutes, it still would have been one of the most delectably fun movies of the year, and an exciting step for masterpiece-factory Sofia Coppola.

WonderWomanMovieGlasses623. Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)

To see such a massive film with as plain a message as giving a shit about people in 2017 was overwhelming. The scene with the ice cream cone is immortal.

THEHUMANSURGE_0222. The Human Surge (dir. Eduardo Williams)

A series of fuzzy wonderlands connected through electronic portals offer glimpses into pockets of life in Argentina, Africa, and the Philippines. At one point, the camera follows a stream of urine seamlessly inside an anthill, where we watch what may as well be a short live-action remake of A Bug’s Life. As challenging as it is rewarding, millennial director Eduardo Williams may have made the definitive film about our excessively yet tenuously connected generation.

T2: TRAINSPOTTING21. T2 Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle)

There may be better movies that are sequels (‘sup, Addams Family Values), but T2 Trainspotting is the best sequel I have ever seen. No sequel stands better on the shoulders of its predecessor as an aesthetic extension, as a narrative continuation, or as an honorary tribute. More than cheap nostalgia, it’s also the first direct sequel that might work just as well if you haven’t seen the original.

Thirst-Street-2017-film20. Thirst Street (dir. Nathan Silver)

There’s discomfort, and there are fire baths. And then there are Nathan Silver movies. His latest, about a flight attendant (played by the unstoppable Lindsay Burdge) obsessing over a one-night stand, is a regrettably relatable work of art.

kuso-flying-lotus19. Kuso (dir. Flying Lotus)

Grossest movie ever made? Many deemed it so. I still think The Squid and the Whale and Return to Oz are worse. But adventurous viewers would be wise to dive headfirst into this blazing, festering pustule of belligerent madness from renaissance musician Flying Lotus. It’s alive in ways we’ve never seen before, and the lazy Adult Swim comparisons are obliterated in the opening sequence in which Busdriver hijacks the evening news with a fidgety musical number. Quote of the year comes courtesy of rapper Buttress: After a wooly alien creature (voiced by Hannibal Buress) reaches under her skirt and jerks out a fetus (listen for the Mortal Kombat “Get over here!” soundbite), she smokes it like a pipe and drolls, “Art is garbage.”

la-et-mn-mini-levelling-review-2017033018. The Levelling (dir. Hope Dickson Leach)

Films about grief are rare, and even more rarely are they this complex and articulate about both the internal and outward chaos caused by untimely loss. Hope Dickson Leach’s lionhearted debut about a young woman (Game of Thrones‘s Ellie Kendrick, with a lip quiver that should be in the Louvre) returning to her father’s dairy farm after her brother’s suicide, makes Manchester By The Sea look like Minions.

kill_me_please17. Kill Me Please (dir. Anita Rocha da Silveira)

Perhaps the most aptly titled film to sum up 2017, Anita Rocha da Silveira’s unhinged debut is part neo-giallo, part ’80s-teen-throwback. As a group of teenage girls’ fascination with an unseen serial killer rampaging through town starts to dominate their lives in increasingly unexpected ways, Silveira merrily grinds the fear of adolescence through genre trappings, churning out something wholly original and intoxicating.

lovesong16. Lovesong (dir. So Yong Kim)

If unrequited love is a drug, prepare to O.D. Riley Keough and Jena Malone play friends-but-maybe-more who reconvene before one of them gets married in the most purely romantic movie of the year.

getout15. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Whenever I’m reminded of Allison Williams sitting on that bed eating Froot Loops dry, one at a time, and chasing them down with a sip of milk, I get lightheaded.

screenshot2017-02-24at4-45-42pmcopy14. Snowy Bing Bongs (dirs. Rachel Wolther, Alex Huston Fischer)

Actor/comedians/elastic visionaries Tallie Medel, Sunita Mani, and Eleanore Pienta, known collectively as Cocoon Central Dance Team, wreak havoc in this cosmic collision of sketch comedy and performance art that often feels transmitted from another, much more amusing dimension. Watch it in full here.

maurizio-cattelan-be-right-back13. Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (dir. Maura Axelrod)

Unruly Italian sculpture artist Maurizio Cattelan gets a profile befitting of his rambunctious spirit and slippery sensibility in this doc that’s equal parts Exit Through the Gift Shop, Stories We Tell, and The Devil and Daniel Johnston, all set in New York City’s contemporary art world.

courgette0212. My Life as a Zucchini (dir. Claude Barras)

From cute to crushing, the range of “Aw”s generated by this stop-motion Oscar-nominee, co-written by Girlhood director Céline Sciamma, has never been wider. It may be the most adorable film about depression ever made.

hero_Lure-201711. The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska)

A Polish! horror!! go-go!!! neon!!!! disco!!!!! musical!!!!!! about man-eating!!!!!!! mermaids???????? Marry me.

sami-blood-sameblod-venice-210. Sami Blood (dir. Amanda Kernell)

Expanding on her award-winning short, Amanda Kernell’s first feature plumbs the racial prejudices endured by indigenous Scandinavians in the 1930s. The film follows 14-year-old Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok in the debut performance of a lifetime) as she struggles to sever ties to her fraught heritage. Unlike any film I’ve seen before, Sami Blood is an infuriating history lesson, a chilly adventure yarn, and a profound twist on the coming-of-age story, one that doubles down on what it means to discover and come to terms with oneself.

rooney_mara_a_ghost_story_-_epk_-_h_201709. A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)

Laid me out, put me to bed, made me a believer. What a little miracle.

1510625808200-sacred-deer-508. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Whenever Yorgos Lanthimos – director of DogtoothAlps, and The Lobster – releases a new film, I forward him my therapy bill for the month.

the-shape-of-water07. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Guillermo del Toro’s faultless, peerless masterwork feels completely out of time, achieving an impossible sense of purity, grace, and incorruptible soulfulness in every frame.

hero_All-This-Panic-201706. All This Panic (dir. Jenny Gage)

A staggeringly intimate documentary covering three years in the life of a handful of teenage girls in Brooklyn. I will never, ever forget them.

thelma05. Thelma (dir. Joachim Trier)

The latest from the director of Reprise, Louder Than Bombs, and Oslo, August 31st is a seismic shift into genre territory, a supernatural queer coming-of-age story with enough gasp-inducing set pieces to make you see stars.

tumblr_oyxmf58tvv1s9bseio1_128004. I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie)

I, cried.

4c4ccdbf414c4cb34f991f0beb1796c503. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)

Every little moment is a big moment. Every character, no matter how peripheral, is so well-defined that you could create trading cards for each, complete with a list of traits on the back. It’s one of the most assured directorial debuts this century, and will continue to patch up fractured maternal relationships till the end of time.

Casting JonBenét02. Casting JonBenet (dir. Kitty Green)

Who is responsible? Who isn’t responsible? Kitty Green’s audacious Netflix original forsakes a retread of facts surrounding the already laboriously publicized murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, and instead parades numerous denizens of Boulder, Colorado – where the murder took place – as they audition for a fake film dramatizing the pageant queen’s short life. There isn’t a single second that doesn’t pull your jaw to the floor, all building toward a gobsmacking finale that reaches celestial heights of emotional power.

raw-1200-1200-675-675-crop-00000001. Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)

Imagine if David Cronenberg, Ginger Snaps, John Hughes, Suspiria, Catherine Breillat, Trouble Every Day, and every character Isabelle Adjani has ever played all dropped acid and went to Six Flags. You might come close to Julia Ducournau’s historic debut. Full of unforgettable scenes and images, the centerpiece of the film – and the year – is a scene that begins with an ill-advised at-home Brazilian waxing and ends with a solitary tear rolling down one’s cheek. What happens in between is like a mini opera, and the single most euphoric cinematic high of 2017.

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The 10 Best Undistributed Films (in the U.S.) of 2017

 

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY10. What Will People Say (dir. Iram Haq, Norway)

Haq’s film about a young woman caught between two cultures is intense, vital, and impeccably performed. Lead actress Maria Mozhdah, in her very first role, is a supernova. More info.

FOUR HANDS09. Four Hands (Oliver Kienle, Germany)

Kienle’s slick, unpredictable freak-out is the most twisted sister movie since Ginger SnapsMore info.

BODIED08. Bodied (Joseph Kahn, U.S.)

The director of Torque and Detention‘s rap battle spectacular is his funniest and most gleefully belligerent movie yet. More info.

UNARMED VERSES07. Unarmed Verses (Charles Officer, Canada)

Officer’s overwhelmingly entertaining and uplifting doc, about kids in a Toronto housing project arts program, is like Rocky with mics instead of boxing gloves. More info.

MILLA06. Milla (Valérie Massadian, France)

Stark, hypnotic, fascinatingly natural, Massadian’s film also features the definitive use of Violent Femmes’ “Add it Up”. More info.

Film/ Blind und haÌsslich05. Ugly & Blind (Tom Lass, Germany)

Endlessly irreverent and delightfully dangerous romantic comedy by filmmaker/co-star Lass, a person I would be afraid to bring home to meet my mom. More info.

Adriana Barraza in Todo lo demás04. Everything Else (Natalia Almada, Mexico)

Academy Award-nominee Adriana Barraza’s career-best performance is in this portrait of a grieving woman finding her way after the lights in her life start to go out. More info.

GENIUS AND THE OPERA SINGER03. The Genius and the Opera Singer (Vanessa Stockley, U.K.)

Vanessa Stockley has made this generation’s Grey Gardens. More info.

PAST IMPERFECT02. Past Imperfect (Nathalie Teirlinck, Belgium)

Teirlinck’s moving, understated debut about an escort suddenly having to look after the son she abandoned is a kaleidoscopic ode to the ache of human connection, with an uncompromisingly raw performance from Orphan Black‘s Évelyne Brochu. More info.

MEERKAT_1.753.1MEERKAT_1.569.1_preview-760x38001. Meerkat Moonship (Hanneke Schutte, South Africa)

Schutte’s instant coming-of-age classic is a gauzy fairy tale about grief, loss, and friendship, with two of the most astonishing child performances you’ll ever see. There will be tears. More info.

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