Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 15: Dog Days

Featured image from Never Rarely Sometimes Always. 

Rentals (on Amazon, Vudu, and Apple)

Gretel & Hansel

Gretel & Hansel' spoilers: Director explains the new ending of the ...

From the director of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Tellingly, among the people whose opinions I follow, the most avid horror fans especially love this while the horror tourists generally dislike it. It’s moody and refined, with a striking abstract visual style and immersive score (aptly described by one fan as “paganwave”). For me, it’s the best American horror movie not directed by Rob Zombie in years.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always' is the best film of 2020. That's it ...

I am generally not a fan of this sort of topical indie drama, but Eliza Hittman is on another level from the throng of directors cashing in on opportunistic progressive slam dunks. This is the Uncut Gems of going to NYC with your cousin to get an abortion at age 17. It’s much quieter and more low key than Uncut Gems, but it is built around the same sort of extended crescendo of anxiety. I’ve seen complaints that it’s too relentless about ticking off political talking points, but I think this is a mistake. What this movie is interested in is the phenomenology of patriarchy. That is, it’s interested in the way that two 17 year old girls experience oppressive sociopolitical structures. It’s impressionistic (and it is clearly influenced by the impressionistic style of the Claire Denis of Nenette and Boni and Friday Night). If some scenes lay things on a little thick, it’s to capture the way the characters experience those situations. If every man we meet in the movie is menacing, it’s because that’s how it feels to the characters. First time actress Sidney Flanagan is just fantastic. The way she lets emotions bubble to the surface in glimpses and then swallows them back down almost reminds me of Liv Ullmann.

Netflix

Straight Up

Straight Up' Explores Heteronormativity and Sexual Practices

This is exceptionally hilarious and also sincerely moving. Asexual romance has to be one of the most interesting subjects that basically no one makes movies about. This just hits it out of the park. It has a very distinct tone and style (featuring inventive use of the academy aspect ratio). If you find it annoying early on there’s probably no chance you’ll come around to it, so I’d just bail, but if the movie’s sense of humor works for you, you are in for a treat.

The Wrong Missy

The Wrong Missy' Review: Bad Romance - The New York Times

This is for a very specific audience (which I am a part of). You need to be nostalgic for the prime era of the Happy Madison SNL constellation (Rob Schneider and all) and you need unlimited tolerance for Lauren Lapkus. It’s essentially a revisionary Heartbreak Kid where Lila is the romantic lead rather than the antagonist.

There’s a whole lineage of comedies where one character is from a different universe from everyone else—not merely eccentric, but outside the limits of what we can imagine a real person being like. Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey built their careers on this basic shtick. We have seen a lot of gender swap comedies in recent years, but whereas most just swap the men for women and repeat a formula, this is deep gender swap. Lauren Lapkus turns in the sort of massive, balls-to-the-wall alien-among-us performance that has in the past been reserved for male comedians.

Angel Has Fallen

Angel Has Fallen” – Screen Zealots

The best of the “has fallen” trilogy, this loses the malign politics of the second one and focuses on excellent action and a whole lot of very satisfying Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte. Don’t miss it if you like action movies.

The Witches

the witches (nicolas roeg, 1989/I) | Coffee and Typescript

One of the best children’s movies of all time, from the great Nicolas Roeg. I loved this so much as a kid—it terrified me, but in the best possible way—and it absolutely holds up as an adult.

Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009) – MUBI

Feast upon cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s ravishing digital textures and Mann’s romantic fatalism.

Splice

How to Make a Mutant: Splice's Creepy Creature Evolves | WIRED

Delicious sci-fi sleaze. I still remember how thrilling I found this movie the first time I saw it. The set up leaves some very weird places to go, and I was really, really hoping it would go to those places. I was not disappointed.

Savage Dog

Movie Review - Savage Dog (2017)

This is a satisfying Scott Adkins vehicle with loads and loads of Adkins beating people up, hacking people with machetes, blowing people up with grenades, etc etc. It’s well-made, the writing is enjoyably pulpy, and the character acting is excellent.  “Christ never gave him much but a godawful talent for carnage and death.”

The Debt Collector

Movie Review: A “Limey” learns the rough trade as “The Debt ...

Excellent comedy/crime thriller with Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor (who is fast becoming the poor man’s Mickey Rourke) as muscle for organized crime. Most of the movie has a relaxed hangout vibe, and the banter between the two leads is delightful.

Riot

Buy Riot - Microsoft Store en-CA

Very fun low budget prison exploitation/action movie with Matthew Reese as a cop who goes undercover as a prisoner to catch a gangster played by UFC star Chuck Liddell, who does a very entertaining Russian accent. The other big treats are Danielle Chuchran, who is especially badass in this, and Dolph Lundgren in the Morgan Freeman role. Lots of brutal action.

Acts of Vengeance

Isaac Florentine on Acts of Vengeance, Antonio Banderas's Mastery ...

The one where Antonio Banderas is inspired by Marcus Aurelius to become a vigilante. Ridiculous and very entertaining.

Amazon

52 Pick-Up

52 Pick-Up Film Review | It Rains... You Get Wet

John Frankenheimer possessed by Michael Winner, doing a sleazy blackmail thriller in the Cannon Group house style. The cast is stacked (Roy Scheider!), but the mvp is easily Clarence Williams III. He is off the charts.

Wishmaster

Wishmaster (1997) – Jiggy's Horror Corner

Probably the highpoint of Djinn horror.  “You wish to know what I am? To you, I am this: The cry of the abandoned child. The whimper of the whipped beast. I am the face that stares back at you from the shadowed mirror. The hollowness at the heart of all your hopes, Alexandra. I am despair.”

Birdy

Birdy (1984): The Way of the Bird [Joey's Review] | The CageClub ...

Alan Parker died recently, so I finally watched this after saving it for a long time. It’s the most significant Nicolas Cage movie that I hadn’t seen. It’s a hot mess, but I realized as I watched it that this was the only way to approach the material. It’s about an intensely close friendship between Matthew Modine, an ostensibly asexual outcast obsessed with birds, and Nicolas Cage, an oversexed histrionic high school hero. The movie cross cuts throughout between lighter material depicting their highschool days and very heavy material about them coping with mental and physical trauma after serving in Vietnam. The narrative is ambling and episodic, which is appropriate to the subject matter: it’s more interested in helping the viewer understand the central friendship than it is in plowing through important events. The Cage factor is very high grade. He has a couple monologues that belong in the Cage pantheon.

Final Score

Final Score Review: 10 Reasons to Watch This Die Hard Riff – /Film

A belated Die Hard/Sudden Death knockoff. The action is uneven but the high points are very high (motorcycle chase!) and there’s a lot of imaginative brutality. Bautista is great in the Bruce Willis/Van Damme role.

The Mercenary

The Mercenary - Green Band Trailer - YouTube

A DTV Cartelsploitation martial arts western. But Catholic. Catholic as in Passion of the Christ meets Rambo 4. I’m here for it.

Shock Wave

Film Review: Shock Wave (2017) by Herman Yau

This is two hours long and for nearly the entire duration some bomb or other is about to go off. Die Hard With a Vengeance taken to the furthest extremes and directed with panache by Herman Yau.

Bone

Bone (1972 film) – King of the Bond Villains

Larry Cohen’s extremely confrontational satire of LA race relations, featuring the great Yaphet Kotto. It’s aged well, but content warnings galore.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

The Yakuza Papers 1: Battles Without Honour and Humanity (1973) – MUBI

One of the most essential yakuza movies. There are four sequels, which I believe are also on Prime. Together they tell an epic story of the postwar transformation of the yakuza, as the old codes of honor were overthrown by the starving younger generation, resulting in decades of bloody conflict. This thing goes a hundred miles an hour from beginning to end.

Massacre Gun

Massacre Gun (1967) | Blu-ray release – This Japanese yakuza crime ...

This is a very representative late-60’s yakuza movie with Jo Shishido and an epic finale.

Shinjuku Triad Society

American Genre Film Archive SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY

One of Miike’s best crime movies. He’s especially interested in foreign gangsters living in Japan and Japanese gansters living abroad. As the title suggests, this starts out with Chinese gangs in Tokyo. It’s aggressively sleazy both with respect to content and production value, and is especially notable for its queer themes. Content warnings in abundance, not for everyone.

Sukiyaki Western Django

Sergio Leone Meets Reservoir Dog in Japanese Pastiche - The New ...

Miike doing spaghetti western pastiche. Don’t miss this if you skipped it when it came out. Tons of fun.

Hulu

52 Pick-Up

Under amazon above, but it’s also on Hulu.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Plugged InWell-crafted naval war movie. The sound design is exceptional.

Stuck on You

Stuck On You (2003) | Bomb Report

This was one of the more neglected peak era Farrelly brothers movies, with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins. It has the trademark Farrelly combination of clumsy humanism and ribald hilarity. One of their best.

Hannie Caulder

Not for everyone, but this 1971 British exploitation western should interest genre fans. It’s a rare example of a western built around a female gunfighter, Raquel Welch (!), who seeks revenge against the men who assaulted her and murdered her husband.

Safe

Catherine Chan

(Also on Prime) Top-tier Jason Statham action movie in the vein of the Transporter series but less car focused. He’s trying to protect a young Chinese girl from Triads, Russian gangsters, and corrupt cops.

The Last Mistress

La Vellini's Other Dresses from The Last Mistress | Mistress, Asia ...

One of Catherine Breillat’s best, featuring an utterly raw Asia Argento as the older mistress of a 30 year old man who is trying to move past their affair and marry a young noblewoman. Excellent production design.

No Strings Attached

11 Delightful Things I Learned from No Strings Attached

I didn’t much care for this back when it came out, but it’s aged well. It definitely got some deep belly laughs out of me. If you’re in the mood for a politely raunchy throwback romantic comedy, this fits the bill. Kevin Kline isn’t my favorite here but Natalie Portman is great and Ashton Kutcher is solid.

Undertow

One of David Gordon Green's best movies is one of his least-seen

David Gordon Green’s riff on Night of the Hunter. This arrived at the end of the first phase of his career, when he was still in the mode of Malick-influenced Southern Gothic, and I’ve always considered it one of his best. A young Kristen Stewart is especially memorable. Score by Philip Glass.

Hong Kong Cinema on Streaming

Featured image from Killzone 2.

I’ve noticed with delight that there is an increasingly large selection of Hong Kong films available to stream in the US. Here’s a roundup of stuff that is worth checking out (note: there is also a lot of Wong Kar-wai, but criterion is restoring and releasing his whole filmography, so probably worth waiting for that):

Amazon Prime

Life Without Principle (Johnnie To, 2011)

A Blu-ray With Principle | White City Cinema

The best movie about the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a riff on Killing of a Chinese Bookie, set in a bank on the day the crisis hit.

The White Storm 2 (Herman Yau, 2019)

This is a sequel in name only and you do not need to see Benny Chan’s The White Storm first, though it is a good movie and worth seeing. This one is much better, though. Andy Lau plays a pseudo-Batman, facing off against drug lord Louis Koo and destroying the city in the process. It’s a slyly subversive movie about the collateral damage of drug wars.

The Magic Blade (Chor Yuen, 1976)– note that there is a newer movie with the same title

Film Review: The Magic Blade (1976) by Yuen Chor

An especially abstract and crazy Shaw Brothers wuxia. It’s dark and violent and the pacing is exhilarating. There’s an assassin named Devil Grandma!

Death Duel (Chor Yuen, 1977)

Another Corey Yuen wuxia with similar virtues as The Magic Blade. The narrative is a riff on The Gunfighter, with a legendary swordsman trying to lay low to evade the brigade of challengers trying to prove themselves.

Office (Johnnie To, 2015)

Probably an acquired taste, but worth acquiring. An upbeat musical/office melodrama/critique of professionalism under global capitalism. The production design is glorious.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Tsui Hark, 2010)

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame -- Film Review ...

These Detective Dee movies are a total blast. They are like Hong Kong Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes with maximalist CGI and no annoying Robert Downey Jr. to spoil the fun.

Fandor (Amazon channel):

Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)

Watch the films directed by Tsui Hark on Fandor

Oh baby. Green Snake is at the level of batshit creativity that only Tsui Hark is capable of. It is *great*. Two snakes take human form to find love. Starring a young Maggie Cheung.

Magnolia Selects (Amazon channel):

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok, 2013)– Also on youtube

It’s much less goofy than I expected, and actually fairly dark. Demon hunters take on a series of escalating menaces. Extraordinary set piece after extraordinary set piece.

Hi-yah! (Amazon channel– this is three bucks a month and a total treasure trove):

Drug War (Johnnie To, 2012)

Hard, edgy, violent crime movie critiquing China’s draconian drug laws.

Call of Heroes (Benny Chan, 2016)

Call of Heroes' – Hong Kong heroics on Netflix - Stream On Demand

A very gripping wuxia with excellent Sammo Hung choreography and well-integrated American and Japanese influences. It’s like a Rio Bravo/High Noon riff with Lau Ching Wan in the John Wayne/Gary Cooper role, but then Eddie Peng is doing Mifune (he faces off against Wu Jing!). Louis Koo‘s character is visiting from a Miike movie.

The Bodyguard (Sammo Hung, 2016)

My Beloved Bodyguard (Sammo Hung, 2016) - The Chinese Cinema - Medium

Sammo Hung’s Man on Fire, about a retired bodyguard with dementia who seeks to protect his young neighbor from thugs. Both the dementia arc and the redemption arc have real pathos, and the way they tie together is especially moving. The action is sometimes filmed too closely and edited too frenetically, but it is always well-conceived and choreographed and the sheer quantity of broken bones is very satisfying.

Ip Man: The Final Fight (Herman Yau, 2013)

Not to be confused with the Donnie Yen Ip Man movies. Those are also good but Yau is a much more interesting director than Yip.

The Stool Pigeon (Dante Lam, 2010)

Solid crime thriller. A street racer named Ghost is sent to inform on a gangster named Barbarian…

Netflix

Loving You (Johnnie To, 1995)

Short but potent drama about a cop who comes to depend on the wife he formerly mistreated after suffering a head injury.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 1&2 (Johnnie To, 2011 & 2014)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the only truly great romantic comedies of the last decade. They are in line with Office and Life Without Principle as critiques of the upwardly-mobile professionalist lifestyle.

Blind Detective (Johnnie To, 2013)

Blind Detective: Cannes Review | Hollywood Reporter

One of three movies To made about investigators with unusual powers (along with Mad Detective and Running on Karma). The pairing of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as the leads is a real treat. He plays a blind retired investigator who she recruits to help investigate a cold case involving her friend.

Five Elements Ninjas (Chang Cheh, 1982)

Chang Cheh’s late movies are characterized by a near formalist level of abstraction. This is all color and movement. A martial arts school takes on Japanese ninjas, first losing decisively before developing new tactics. Be sure to watch in the original language rather than dubbed.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Lau Kar-leung, 1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin | Netflix

One of the greatest and most iconic Shaw Bros. movies. This is probably the Lau Kar-leung title most seriously concerned with ethical and philosophical issues.

Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings (Tsui Hark, 2018)

The third Detective Dee movie. Extremely fun.

Other rentals:

There are quite a few other good Hong Kong movies rentable for few bucks. I’m going to leave out the Johnnie To stuff as there’s plenty to explore above, but every To movie from 1997 on is worth watching (the earlier stuff is a mixed bag).

Killzone 2 [aka SPL II] (Soi Cheang, 2015)– Vudu, Apple, etc.

Review: Killzone 2 (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences) (2016)

I had this high on my best of the decade list. It’s a sequel in name only and you don’t need to see Killzone/SPL first. Two of the greatest martial artists of our time–Tony Jaa and Wu Jing– really let it rip. The black market organ theft storyline is the perfect framework for the brutal action. This is as good as action cinema gets.

Motorway (Soi Cheang, 2012)– Vudu, Amazon

Distilled essence of awesomeness. Car chase pastiche, expertly crafted and with a degree of genre purity that strongly appeals to me. The sense of physicality is refreshing in the full CGI era.

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon  (Tsui Hark, 2013)– Vudu

The second of the three Detective Dee movies. Delightful.

 

 

 

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 14: HBO Max launch.

Featured image from Black Girl. 

Before the main event, there’s just one other recommendation I want to triple emphasize: John Frankenheimer’s The Train on Amazon Prime. It’s the best. French resistance fighters, notably Burt Lancaster, try to stop a train full of French artworks that a German colonel is trying to steal during the last days of WWII.  Also featuring Jeanne Moreau and a wonderful late performance from Michel Simon. It’s a terrific action movie, but also interesting because of its exploration of the question of whether it’s ever worth the loss of human life to preserve works of art.

Film Forum · THE TRAIN

Okay, the main event: HBO Max is pretty lit. Far from the trash fire of Disney+, everything is in the right aspect ratio and there are more than a few great movies on offer. There are lots of wonderful cartoons and nostalgic TV shows and all that, but allow me to point in the direction of all this fine cinema:

Trouble in Mind (Rudolph, 1985): What a treat! I watched this last night. I was thrilled to see that it’s in very good quality HD (the image is grainy, but that’s how it’s supposed to look). It has never been available in good quality for home viewing before. I once read the quip (to paraphrase): “With Trouble in Mind and Choose Me, Alan Rudolph attempted to single-handedly redeem 80’s American cinema and mostly succeeded.” I have a rosier view of 80’s American film, but the point’s not too far off. Rudolph brings tropes from the 40’s and 50’s together with a neon-splashed futurist urban milieu and the result is deeply strange. There’s really nothing else like it, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Rudolph did for the city what Lynch did for the suburbs (though the styles of the two directors are completely distinct). The cast is glorious, including Divine as mob boss Hilly Blue.

hilly blue | Tumblr

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy, 1967): In the running for the single greatest musical.

Black Girl (Sembène, 1966): Potent and infuriating look at the experiences of a Senegalese woman who moves to France to work as a nanny

L’argent (Bresson, 1983): Bresson’s last film, based on a Tolstoy story. Threatens to be a trite ‘money is the root of all evil’ exercise, but in Bresson’s hands it becomes something far more disturbing and profound.

Lady Snowblood (Fujita, 1973): I love revenge movies, and the greatest of all revengers is Meiko Kaji. This is iconic and essential. That death stare! (Not a fan of the sequel.)

Meiko Kaji – Shura No Hana (Lady Snowblood - Shurayukihime) - YouTube

Belly (Williams, 1998): Hype Williams fuses Blaxploitation with hip hop. Brilliantly filmed, with performances from Nas and DMX. It’s a terrible shame he didn’t direct more movies, but don’t miss this one.

BELLY ~Hype Williams | Belly 1998

Body Heat (Kasdan, 1981): I can’t wait to revisit this sweaty Florida noir. Kathleen Turner here is near the pinnacle of human sexiness.

Kwaidan (Kobayashi, 1964): A gorgeous quartet of Japanese ghost stories. I love it.

The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995): Makes me cry just thinking about it. One of the greatest movie romances.

The River (Renoir, 1951): Sort of a non-musical Meet Me in St. Louis set in India. One of the greatest uses of color in all of cinema.

Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010): One of the best action movies in recent memory and also one of the best movies about top down class warfare.

The Demon in the Machine: Approaching Tony Scott | Chicago Film ...

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Almadovar, 1990): There’s no way you could get away with something like this anymore. If you enjoy Almadovar at his most transgressive, here you go.

Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997): Perfect place to start with Kiarostami. It has many of the qualities that are distinctive of his cinema, but with more readily accessible thematic concerns.

Sweetie (Campion, 1989): Jane Campion’s first film and a fine showcase of her talent. Very strange family drama.

Female Filmmaker Friday: Sweetie, 1989 (dir. Jane Campion) | the ...

Now, Voyager (Rapper, 1942): One of the greatest melodramas, starring an unforgettable Bette Davis. I have a ton to say about this movie, but I’ll restrain myself. It’s about the constraints of adulthood and the possibility of authenticity amid such constraints.

The Naked Kiss (Fuller, 1964): Biting Sam Fuller drama about a sex worker who tries to start over in a small town and is greeted with prejudice.

Pépé le Moko (Duvivier, 1937): Peak Jean Gabin as an indefatigable hood on the run from the law in the Casbah.

Pépé le Moko (1937) directed by Julien Duvivier • Reviews, film + ...

Senso (Visconti, 1954): One of Visconti’s great color pictures about the decline of the aristocracy, this time by way of amour fou. 

The Shooting (Hellman, 1967): Monte Hellman’s bizarre existential western, starring Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson.

The Shooting (1966) – MUBI

Fat Girl (Breillat, 2001): Breillat’s ultra-edgy brand of feminist film-making has gone out of style (though take note of Eliza Hittman) but at least now you can watch this on frickin’ HBO.

Hairspray (Waters, 1988): Not the shitty remake, the real John Waters version with Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, and Sonny Bono.

John Waters talks about 'Hairspray,' his biggest — and most ...

In Vanda’s Room (Costa, 2000): Definitely not for everyone, but I’m in awe that you can watch this in HD on HBO. Part of Costa’s trilogy documenting the destruction of the Fontainhas neighborhood in Lisbon, which was formerly populated by people from Cape Verde and has since been gentrified. This is basically three hours of a woman doing heroin and rambling while the neighborhood is torn down around her. It’s extremely abrasive, but it’s great cinema.

Ivan the Terrible parts I & II (1944, 1958): Eisenstein’s historical epic, the second part was banned by Stalin. A masterpiece.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy, 1933): Hilarious and racy pre-Code musical. I couldn’t emphasize enough how enjoyable this is. I could watch it every day. Busby Berkeley’s fantastical choreography is utterly delightful. What a cast: Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers.

Gold Diggers of 1933 - HOME

The Player (Altman, 1992): Perhaps the single greatest Hollywood take-down?

Double features and marathons

Lone Wolf and Cub series. The order goes: Sword of Vengeance (1972), Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), Baby Cart to Hades (1972), Baby Cart in Peril (1972), Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973), White Heaven in Hell (1974) 

Lone Wolf & Cub: The Movies (& Manga) That Influenced The Mandalorian

Enormously entertaining series starring the great Tomisaburō Wakayama as an invincible swordsman who takes up a vocation as an assassin along with his young son after he is betrayed by the shogun. Whenever someone questions whether this is an appropriate situation for a child, he’s like “My son and I walk the demon way in hell together!”

Late Ophüls: The Earrings of Madame de…. (1953), Lola Montes (1955)

Pure joy. Earrings is probably his most beloved film and is absolutely essential viewing. Lola Montes is a remarkable spectacle of pageantry that influenced the New Wave. It tells the story of a courtesan and her illustrious affairs, including trysts with Liszt and Ludwig I of Bavaria.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Limelight (1952) A King in New York (1957):

There’s a lot of early Chaplin on there as well, but these talkies are great. Verdoux is deliciously dark, Limelight is exceptionally sad, and A King in New York is his bitter statement on McCarthyism.

Stromboli (1950) Europe ’51 (1952) Journey to Italy (1954):

There’s a lot of Rossellini on there and it’s all great, but I’d call special attention to this trio starring Ingrid Bergman. Essential stuff. 

Bergman: Sawdust & Tinsel (1953), The Rite (1969) Cries and Whispers (1972) Autumn Sonata (1978)

There’s some other Bergman as well. It’s all good, but I’d skip the theatrical versions of Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage in favor of the full miniseries versions, which are over on the Criterion Channel. The Rite was hard to see until fairly recently. It’s on the strange side for Bergman. Cries and Whispers is my personal favorite of his filmsIt’s about as dark and upsetting as movies get.

Godard on HBO: Vivre sa vie (1962), Masculin Féminin (1966), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), Weekend (1967) 

Masculin Féminin. 1966. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | MoMA

Hahaha, wow. Just wow. I left off Breathless because I assume everyone has seen it, but this progression is really great for tracing his deepening radicalism. Weekend is my favorite Godard.

Cassavetes marathon: Shadows (1959), Faces (1968), A Woman Under the Influence (1975), Opening Night (1977), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978)

Terrific stuff. A Woman… is probably the greatest portrayal of mental illness on film. Opening Night is relatively under the radar but one of Cassavetes’ best works.

 

The Wild Goose Lake

2020 hasn’t exactly been a great year for movies thus far, with so many releases being postponed. I am pleased to report that I finally saw a new release that I feel unbridled enthusiasm for: Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake. I watched it a few nights ago, stood up and pronounced “holy shit that was good!”, went to bed thinking about it, woke up thinking about it, watched it again, liked it even better, and then resolved to write a review. So here we are.

I’ll start with spoiler-free remarks and then get into some discussion of the plot, marked with a clear warning for spoilers.

The film is a neo-noir about a gangster who is the subject of an intense police manhunt. It opens with a meeting between him and a mysterious woman. Then we flash back to learn how we got to this point, who this woman is, and how she came to be involved. There are several big set pieces and a high degree of suspense throughout, which has prompted Hitchcock comparisons. Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is an apt point of reference for the big shootout scene, but really The Wild Goose Lake is much closer to Lang than Hitchcock. In particular, it’s downstream of the numerous paranoid thrillers Lang made where the protagonist is the subject of an investigation or manhunt (most famously M, but there are lots of others, including Hangmen Also Die!, House by the River and The Blue Gardenia). Lang used these tropes to examine both the fascist police state he had fled in his home country of Germany and the appalling justice system he found in the USA (his first three movies upon arrival were about how messed up our justice system is). Diao similarly uses these tropes to critique Chinese authoritarianism, but with a satirical edge: the cops in this movie are for the most part bumbling and incompetent. They overwhelm through ubiquity and sheer numbers.

1303023_diaoyinanfilm_253604

Diao’s use of shadow and silhouette is frequently reminiscent of Lang:

shaedow

goose 3

And contemporary points of comparison include Refn and Bi Gan (especially the tracking shots):

goose 2

wildgoose2-1080x625

goose dance

wild-goose-lake2

No one planned it this way, but The Wild Goose Lake cannot help but gain an overwhelmingly haunting resonance in virtue of its setting: Wuhan. The film’s sense of place is extraordinary: the city pulses and throbs as we weave through seedy bars and menacing alleys. It’s a city with a fever, and the film presents us with a ready opportunity to vividly imagine the first waves of our current global crisis rippling through these streets.

Spoilers henceforth 

One of the protagonists, Zhou Zenong (television star Hu Ge), is in hiding because he shot a cop who he mistook for a rival gangster. This is one of those movies, like for example Resevoir Dogs, where a character is dying for basically the entire duration. He has been shot, there is a rich reward for capturing him dead or alive, and cops and rivals are closing in around him from all sides. Death is coming. His quest in the movie is not to escape it– it’s already fated– but rather to die the right death. In particular he seeks a degree of redemption by making sure the reward for his capture goes to his abandoned wife.

The other protagonist, Liu Aiai (Taiwanese actress Gwei Lun-mei, who also starred in Diao’s mystery noir Black Coal, Thin Ice) is a “bathing beauty,” that is, a sex worker from the lawless shores of the Wild Goose Lake. She is a bystander to the whole situation, but has been roped in by her manipulative boss to help facilitate Zhou Zenong getting himself turned in for the reward. We follow her point of view for much of the film, and she is an absolutely entrancing performer. By centering her perspective, Diao cleverly inverts the trope of the Unknown Woman.

goose 5

So while the film’s primary trajectory is Zhou Zenong’s march towards death, Aiai has her own arc, where she is swept into a nightmare and must balance an emergency of self-preservation with the competing demands of honor and humanity. I wouldn’t detract from anyone’s work here but her performance is particularly astonishing.

goose

I am extremely impressed by this film. It works as a pulpy genre exercise, but it is rich with subtext. Its politics are much subtler than Diao’s Black Coal, Thin Ice, which is also worthwhile. The previous film (which won the Golden Bear) is clumsier about integrating its thematic concerns into its genre trappings. Wild Goose Lake is seemless. I’ve seen several new releases this year that I liked quite a bit, but this is the first one that blew me away. I don’t want to say anything else except that you should see it (and then see it again).

 

 

 

 

Streaming Recommendations, Vol 13: Plague Year Zero

Featured image from Daughters of Darkness.

Amazon Prime

Runaway Train (1985)

Bullet Points: Runaway Train – BULLETPROOF ACTION

One of the very best action movies of the 80’s, about a prison escape. It contains the single best Jon Voight performance, and I don’t say that lightly (yes, I’ve seen Anaconda). Also exceptional turns from Eric Roberts, John P. Ryan, and Rebecca De Mornay.

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR...: DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS 1971

Arthouse-grindhouse hybrid par excellence, with the inimitable Delphine Seyrig as Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Arguably the high point of 70’s vampire erotica.

Slugs (1988)

Retro Review - SLUGS (1988) - PopHorror

I love Slugs! Top-tier 80’s horror. This hits the “killer slugs” premise out of the park. Very sleazy. More lurid and violent than typical 80’s horror. Content warnings, etc.

King of the Ants (2003)

King of the Ants (2003)

Stuart Gordon died recently, and here’s a classic Gordon revenge-exploitation flick to celebrate his legacy. This is at the farthest extreme of mean, nasty grime in his filmography.

99 River Street (1953)

99 River Street (1953)Awesome B noir from the great Phil Karlson about a washed up boxer who gets tangled up in a web of trouble.

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

An essential classic with all sorts of new resonances related to the rise of social media. I would be in favor of an Instagram remake with DJ Khaled as Burt Lancaster and Drake as Tony Curtis.

Death Wish 1-5

Death Wish 3

Be still my beating heart. The original Death Wish is actually probably the weakest entry in the whole series. The sequels totally rule. Quick rundown: II is the gnarliest of the bunch by a large margin. Full rape-revenge mayhem. III is the most over the top and absurd. It’s still pretty gnarly but so ridiculous that it’s not as likely to be upsetting. IV is the schlockiest and not at all gnarly or upsetting. V is all about the Michael Parks factor and the bizarre choice of setting: the Fashion District.

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2018)

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc movie review (2018 ...

I think we’ve brought this up before, but in any case, we love it. It’s a head-banging metal musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc. It’s a little long, but mesmerizing throughout.

Torso (1973)

Sergio Martino's 'Torso' Getting a Brand New 2K Restoration for ...

This came at the tail end of Sergio Martino’s run of all-time great gialli. It is a giallo, but on the proto-slasher side of the spectrum, with a psycho who stalks co-eds.

The Toxic Avenger (1986)

Pin on hillarious and weird movies colection

Restored version! I grew up with this hilarious and delightfully depraved spectacle. I just rewatched it and I found that it’s still very much to my liking. Peak 80’s trash.

Tromeo and Juliet (1997)

Tromeo & Juliet: Shakespeare at its Schlockiest | The Frida Cinema

I love it. Content warnings in spades. This is the most transgressive, distasteful, taboo-breaking Shakespeare adaptation out there, as far as I know.

Knightriders (1981)

How George Romero's Knightriders Gave Him the Independence He ...

George Romero’s singularly odd tale of a motorcycle gang with a medieval reenactment show. Essential for anyone interested in Romero. Peak Ed Harris.

Art School Confidential (2006)

art school confidential | Film Inquiry

Very funny and acrid art school satire from Terry Zwigoff.

Fear City (1985)

Classic Review – Fear City (1984) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Early Abel Ferrara. One of his least ambitious movies, but it’s very appealing sleaze with Tom Berenger and Melanie Griffith and a killer targeting exotic dancers.

Netflix

NB, there’s some really excellent stuff coming later in the month: Michael Mann’s masterpiece Public Enemies on May 16th and (in case you’ve been under a rock for the last year) the Safdie Brothers’ total banger Uncut Gems on May 25th

The Core (2003)

The Citizen Kane of Awful: The Core - One Room With A ViewMy book (in progress) about love of good-bad movies begins with lots of swooning about The Core. This is one of my personal favorite good-bad movies. The core of the Earth has stopped spinning and so a crack team of fake scientists led by a very emotional Aaron Eckhart has to drive a special vehicle made out of Unobtanium into the center of the Earth to detonate all the nuclear bombs at once. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and I’d watch it again right now.

She Hate Me (2004)

She Hate Me streaming: where to watch movie online?

Spike Lee’s most underrated movie. It’s widely disliked, which I take to be evidence not that it’s bad, but that it’s bold and aggressive. Not for everyone, but definitely for me. Give it a try.

Bloodsport (1988)

I’ve known every word of dialogue in this movie by heart since I was 9. I can still recite all of it, and I’m still not the least bit tired of the movie. This is the most essential Van Damme film.

Angel Has Fallen (2019)

Angel Has Fallen | Film Review | Consequence of Sound

Excellent mid-budget Gerard Butler action movie. This one leaves aside the dubious politics of the first two (to be clear, I like those as well, but the politics are messed up). If you like action movies and find yourself complaining that they don’t make ’em like they used to, here’s your movie. All the stuff with Nick Nolte is amazing.

Den of Thieves (2018)

For Better or Worse, “Den of Thieves” Gives Gerard Butler 140 ...

A pulpy, trashy version of Heat with the sweatiest, stinkiest performance of Gerard Butler’s career.

Dolemite is My Name (2019)

Dolemite Is My Name

This has been around for a while but we’ve never brought it up in a recommendation post. In case you skipped it: highly recommended. It was the most entertaining new release I saw last year. It’s frickin’ hilarious, but it’s also a joyous and very satisfying celebration of renegade movie-making and the rejection of constrictive mainstream notions of what it means to be “good” movie. I really, really do not like the practice of watching good-bad movies in the mode of mockery and ridicule. Love and affection is the higher path. This movie gets it.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

One of the most essential martial arts films. Make sure you switch the audio track to the original and watch it with subtitles. It’s too good to watch dubbed.

Blood Father (2016)

Blood Father is Dollar-Store Cartel-Infused Mad Max | Scene and ...

If you need a badass Mel Gibson fix, here you go. I always misremember the title of this movie as Anger Dad.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,' With Gary Oldman - Review - The New ...

This holds up. Austere and tightly constructed, it’s one of the better spy movies of the new millennium.

Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

With Van Damme reduced to supporting role, 'Kickboxer: Vengeance ...

Much better than I expected it to be. It’s more or a less a DTV remake of the original Kickboxer, except now Van Damme is the trainer (Dave Bautista is Tong Po!). There is so much more Van Damme in this than I expected.

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)

The Heartbreak Kid (2007) directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter ...

Certainly not as good as Elaine May’s classic, but the Farrelly Brothers’ remake is plenty frickin’ hilarious in its own right.

How to be a Latin Lover (2017)

I keep hammering this recommendation, but it’s because I feel I need to. I never in a million years would have guessed from the title and DVD cover that this would be any good. But it’s hilarious.

Just Friends (2005)

If and only if you like Ryan Reynolds romantic comedies (I know there aren’t a lot of us these days, but we’re out there), this is a nice little treat.

Hulu

Hulu is trash. Disney destroys everything it touches. But there are a few good titles.

Portrait of a Lady of Fire (2019)

On the Groundbreaking 'A Portrait of a Lady on Fire' | The Cornell ...

It is very rare that I agree with the Indiewire crowd about a movie, so I really want to relish this occasion. It ticks enough progressive film twitter boxes to appeal to them, but it’s got enough elegant neoclassicism to light me up. This is easily the best new release I’ve seen lately.

Misery (1990)

Fascinating Facts about Misery the Movie | Film adaptations ...

Already standing out as one of the best Stephen King adaptations, this has gained potent new resonances now that fans are trying to usurp more and more power over the creative process (eg., “redo this movie I didn’t like!” petitions everywhere, fan edits, etc.).

Mother (2009)

Bong Joon-Ho Season: 'Mother' (2010)

Probably my third favorite Bong Joon-ho movie after Memories of Murder and The Host. It’s closer to the former than to Bong’s other work.

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Bangkok Dangerous | Fandango

The Pang brothers were Hong Kong action directors who migrated to Thailand. It’s very fun to see Nicolas Cage in a proper Asian action movie.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Beale Street' Channels Baldwin's Vision of Black Love - The Atlantic

I’ve mentioned this a few times but I just want to gently nudge people again. Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight is in my opinion by far the better of the two films.  It’s gorgeous and the acting is remarkable.

Start Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Star Trek': Khan Prequel Series Is Reportedly Being Developed

A bunch of the Star Trek movies are on Hulu. I’m not a huge Star Trek fan but even tourists like me should be able to appreciate this. Ricardo Montalbán is a perfect human specimen.

HBO

Never Back Down (2008)

Never Back Down - Review - Movies - The New York Times

Solid fighting movie.

Your Highness (2011)

Movie Review - 'Your Highness' - Low Comedy's Crowning Moment of ...

Skinemax fantasy throwback. Hilarious.

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

In a Valley of Violence movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert

One of the better latter day westerns.

Unstoppable (2010)

The Ace Black Blog: Movie Review: Unstoppable (2010)

Fantastic working class actioner from Tony Scott, starring Denzel and Chris Pine.

Cat People (1982)

Cat People (1982) directed by Paul Schrader • Reviews, film + cast ...

My favorite Paul Schrader movie. A hysterical masterpiece.

Happy Death Day (2017) and Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Happy Death Day' Star Jessica Rothe Joins Amazon Series 'Utopia ...

Exceptionally clever 80’s throwback horror-comedy. Jessica Rothe is terrific.

Special Effects (1984)

Larry Cohen's Special Effects: A Sleazy Vertigo – We Minored in Film

Brilliant Larry Cohen Proto-metoo Hitchcockian thriller.

 

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 12: QUARANTINE

Featured image from Cat o’ Nine Tails

I’m going to make this recommendations post a little longer than usual, because I’m sure most people need lots of stuff to watch. I’m not going too far out of my way to recommend quarantine-themed movies, but there are a few on here. I also want to recommend two streaming services beyond the usual three that I write about: Starz and Criterion Channel. We subscribed to Starz because Angela is really into Outlander, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by their action and horror options. The one (huge) downside of Starz is that they stream everything in 1.85:1, which means that movies that are supposed to be in a different aspect ratio are cropped and should be avoided. It’s easy enough to google the title of the movie and the phrase “aspect ratio” to find out, but please do take this step when in doubt and especially be sure to avoid anything that is supposed to be in 2.35:1 or 2.4:1.  But yeah, their action section is a buffet of Cannon Group 80’s classics. I’ve revisited tons of them recently, and it’s been extremely nostalgic. I grew up on that stuff. Check out Chuck Norris movies like Invasion USA, Charles Bronson movies like the Death Wish sequels (which are all fantastic, though some of them are pretty content warning intensive), the first two American Ninja movies, and the action masterpiece Runaway Train (featuring peak performances from Jon Voight and Eric Roberts).

Criterion Channel is the best streaming service by many orders of magnitude. You can throw a dart at their options and hit something worth watching, but if you’re lost, I would just jump into the Rossellini or Kurosawa or Renoir movies, and also definitely check out Red River and His Girl Friday from Howard Hawks. Out of their rotating options, I would somewhat randomly call special attention to the wonderful Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth musical You Were Never Lovelier and the bizarro post-Sirkian Burt Lancaster apotheosis The Swimmer, which is a very unusual movie to come out of the US in the 60’s. It feels closer to British New Wave. For major Japanese swordplay binge viewing, try the enormous Zatoichi series about a blind swordsman, or the more violent and modestly-sized Lone Wolf and Cub series. Or for standalone swordplay movies, try Sword of Doom or Three Outlaw Samurai. 

A lot of the titles from my previous streaming recs are still available:

Vol. 9: Month of Horror

Vol. 10: Culture Wars

Vol. 11

And here are my new picks (some repeats from old posts but mostly new):

Amazon Prime

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

Image result for the man who shot

One of the greatest and most iconic westerns, from John Ford. John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart star in three of their most essential roles.

The Conversation

Image result for the conversation movie

Coppola’s masterpiece about surveillance and paranoia has only gotten more relevant now that we basically live in the panopticon.

Cave horror double feature: The Descent and 47 Meters Down Uncaged

Image result for the descent movie

Although I’m also a huge fan of the first 47 Meters Down (which is on Netflix), this one is a sequel in name only and you don’t need to watch them in order. The Descent is a modern classic of feminist horror. They go well together. Definitely watch The Descent first. Notice how gorgeous the underwater photography is in 47 Meters Down Uncaged. The vivid textures are really remarkable.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

My second favorite Transformers movie after Age of Extinction. It features the utterly jaw-dropping Battle of Chicago. I just revisited it recently and it totally holds up.  I appreciate Michael Bay’s greatness now more than ever in contrast to the bland Disney junk that’s taken over.

Magic Mike

If you haven’t seen this, what are you waiting for? The sequel is a paid rental as far as I know, but it’s even better.

Wake in Fright

Image result for wake in fright

Not for people who can’t handle representations of violence against animals!!! This is gnarly Aussie psychological horror and it gets at something deep and dark about masculinity. The only thing I can think of that compares is Straw Dogs. 

Dead & Buried

Not a very well known movie, but it belongs in the socio-political horror pantheon. Certainly check it out if you’re into horror.

Night of the Demons

Image result for night of the demons

Evil Dead meets Scooby-Doo, sort of. Great 80’s fun.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

One of the blackest black comedies ever made. So much so that I don’t think most people realized when it came out that it’s a comedy.

The Stuff

Image result for the stuff movie

Larry Cohen’s classic horror satire of consumerism. Essential. 

The Crazies (2010)

As horror remakes go, this is one of the better ones. Pandemic-apocalypse themed. The superior Romero original is on amazon as a .99 cent rental, but I can’t vouch for the quality. Edit: the Romero version is now free while the remake is a rental.

Bone Tomahawk

Ultra-gnarly mash-up of the Western and Italian Cannibal genres from the director of Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete. NOT FOR EVERYONE.

Monkey Shines

Image result for monkey shines

George Romero’s classic holds up. Ultra-intelligent killer monkey.

Unsane

We have recommended this multiple times but I want to stress again that we think it’s one of the best modern thrillers and one of the edgiest #metoo movies.

Society

Extremely messed up late-80’s horror classic involving an orgy cult for the 1%.

Argento giallo double feature: Cat o’ Nine Tails and Deep Red

Image result for deep red movie

This is some of my very favorite shit. These are top tier gialli and together they make for a perfect intro to the subgenre. Cat is milder and more story-driven while Deep Red is hyper-stylized. It’s a complicated topic, but a typical giallo involves two people (often a reporter and a tourist or resident foreigner, but not always) investigating a string of murders. The murders are shown from the killer’s perspective, and the killer typically wears a black glove. The ending usually involves a lurid twist. If you don’t like these, then you can safely abandon the subgenre. If you do like these, there is a whole lot more where that came from.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Image result for the red queen kills seven times

This is an excellent giallo that mixes a classic genre formula with more unorthodox supernatural elements. This is the Italian version with subtitles, which is a fine way to watch it (though the English dub is also fine in this case). The quality isn’t as good as the blu-ray but it’s within the range of acceptability. If you like the Argento gialli, this is a good direction to explore next.

The Church

Soavi was the last great auteur of the golden age of Italian horror. This is a complete and total banger in the spirit of Sam Raimi, but gothic.

Next

I could watch this 100 times. I’ve certainly recommended it before. Nic Cage is a Vegas magician who can see exactly two minutes into the future. Hijinx ensue.

Red Dawn

Image result for red dawn milius

John Milius classic where a rag tag gang of Real American Misfits fights back a Communist invasion.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

Image result for death wish 5

It’s not necessary to watch the Death Wish sequels in order but they are all great and the other ones are all on Starz in the proper aspect ratio. 2 is the gnarliest, 3 is the most over the top, 4 is the schlockiest, and this one is all about the Michael Parks factor. He is an amazing villain. He plays a gangster who rules the fashion district with an iron fist. As always with Death Wish (except maybe part 4), strong content warnings apply.

Office

Johnnie To’s adaptation of Sylvia Chang’s stage musical, starring Chang herself alongside a terrific ensemble cast. This is not going to appeal to everyone. The aesthetic might not work for people who haven’t acquired a taste for more commercial Hong Kong cinema. But the extraordinary sets alone make this an important entry in the To filmography.

Time Regained

Ruiz’s Proust fantasia. Probably impossible to follow if you haven’t read Proust. It’s a difficult movie. I like it a lot more now than I did when it came out. It’s dreamy and focuses less on narrative clarity and more on using formal experimentation to capture the emotional content of the later books of Proust and convey ideas about memory and the passage of time.

Netflix

Love is Blind

Believe the hype: this is peak reality TV. They basically created ideal conditions for people to become intensely infatuated with each other and then threw these people back into the real world with three weeks to get married and as much pressure and disruption as possible in an effort to generate histrionic drama, and it totally worked. I found it hard to take at first but ended up binging the last five episodes. Cultural decay as riveting TV.

Purple Rain

Image result for purple rain movie

YES! The Prince movie holds up extremely well. Just do it.

Popeye

Image result for popeye musical

One of the best and strangest Hollywood productions of its era: Altman’s wonderful and bizarrely serious Popeye musical with Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. You may notice that Carly Rae Jepsen sampled one of Duvall’s musical numbers.

Dirty Harry

There was a clip going around recently where Harry makes an extremely sexist speech. A lot of conservatives shared it approvingly. This is very dumb, because the whole point of the movie is that he’s totally wrong. This is one of the most influential crime movies ever made. The best entry in the series is Sudden Impact, which I believe is a paid rental. Clint directed that one himself and it’s extremely dark and lurid.

The Dirty Dozen

War movie classic by Robert Aldrich with a ridiculously good cast: Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber and Donald Sutherland.

The Wicker Man

Along with Blood on Satan’s Claw, this is peak British folk horror. Essential. Especially check it out if you haven’t seen it and you are into Midsommar. 

Ghost Rider

Image result for ghost rider movie

Top-tier Cage performance. Peter Fonda as Satan. This is better than all the MCU movies combined.

Nightmare on Elm Street

Yep, it’s on Netflix.

Ip Man 1-3

Donnie Yen’s signature series, about the legendary folk hero who popularized kung fu and trained Bruce Lee.

Bad Boys I&II

One day, this era of action movies will come to be known as “Pre-Disney” in much the same way that movies from 1930-33 are known as “Pre-Code.” Bad Boys II especially is wildly offensive and a total hoot. It’s not merely offensive, though, it’s a virtuoso piece of action film-making. It’s probably the most extreme example of Bay’s distinctive style and it reveals how strongly he was influenced by John Woo. Within the first two minutes of the movie Will Smith is doing a full Chow Yun-fat akimbo two-gun dive in front of a flaming cross at a Klan rally.

Haywire

Image result for haywire movie

Excellent Soderbergh R-rated action flick. It’s a vehicle for MMA star Gina Carano and it’s delicious.

The Bling Ring

Underrated. This, Marie Antoinette, and The Virgin Suicides are by far Sofia Coppola’s best work IMO.

Sliver

Trashy 90’s erotic thriller, penned by the one and only Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin. I remember going to see this in the theater like it was yesterday. It’s not quite at the level of Eszterhas classics like Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Jade, but it’s delightful.

Season of the Witch

Reiterating this recommendation. Trashy B-movie fantasy-horror with a solid Cage performance and a FANTASTIC Claire Foy performance.

Triple Frontier

Narcos meets Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s a very solid genre movie with a great cast. The key to making good use of Affleck is to cast him as an asshole.

Hulu

Johnny Guitar

Image result for johnny guitar

One of my very favorite films, featuring Joan Crawford in one of my very favorite performances. This is one of the most essential American movies. Just watch it. Then maybe watch Once Upon a Time in the West (also one of my favorites), which was heavily influenced by this and is on Netflix.

The French Connection

Friedkin’s crime masterpiece features peak Gene Hackman giving probably his most intense performance. I revisited it not long ago and it totally holds up. Notice how closely Joker aped the train chase. Warning: abundant racial slurs.

Killer Joe

This is the uncensored version! (Netflix had the R-rated censored version, so I never recommended it before.) Watch it fast before Disney pulls the plug (they own Hulu now). NOT FOR EVERYONE. DO NOT WATCH THIS IF YOU CARE ABOUT CONTENT WARNINGS. If you like your movies slimy and sleazy, though, don’t miss it. This is peak southern sleaze from Friedkin

Vincere

Image result for vincere movie

Marco Bellocchio’s more recent movies have featured a two-part structure where’s there’s a sharp shift in tone between the first and second halves. The first half of this is about pre-Duce Mussolini and his torrid love affair with Ida Dalser. It’s energetic and formally bold. The second half slows down to something closer to Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915, but IMO Bellocchio handles the asylum setting and the supporting cast far, far better than Dumont does. This is a rich movie that gets into highly resonant themes of political idolatry.

No Holds Barred

Peak 80’s camp featuring Hulk Hogan. It totally holds up, if you’re into this kind of thing.

Phase IV

My pal Brian Montgomery recently turned me on to this 1974 sci fi gem involving ants. It’s short and ultra-stylized. Essential viewing for sci fi fans.

The Office (UK)

I refuse to accept that there is such a thing as the US version of The Office. I tried it once and I found it unwatchable. THIS is The Office, and it’s great. The generation that skipped directly to the US version should go back and check this out.

Venus in Fur

Image result for venus in fur movie

An adaptation of the kinky David Ives stage play. It feels very much like a play but it does have notably cinematic qualities (directed by Polanski). It’s a torrid psychosexual drama where Emmanuelle Seigner utterly dominates Mathieu Amalric. Definitely some shit.

A Hidden Life

Oof. This is not a film to approach lightly. I wouldn’t recommend just throwing it on casually. A Hidden Life demands to be watched in a distraction-free setting with no interruptions. It’s a difficult, painful movie that presents an opportunity to step outside of the flow of daily life and really put yourself through something. Watching it right now in March of 2020 invites a shift in perspective from petty bickering over the Democratic primary to dire contemplation of the imperative of resistance unto death. One of the things I appreciate about Malick is how utterly unconcerned he is with trends and fashions. This film is the polar opposite of the sort of cheap and easy political cinema that is currently popular with educated audiences in America. A Hidden Life is the inverse of Jojo Rabbit. If Jojo is the Happy Meal of Anti-Fascism, this is the Last Supper. 

A Hidden Life is Malick’s most philosophically explicit film since at least Tree of Life, and the influences are unexpected. Of course it is a Christ parable, but it connects Christ with Socrates on the one hand and Kant on the other in a way I found both surprising and devastating. Kierkegaard is also an obvious point of reference, but I’ll leave that connection for someone more qualified than me to explain. It was clear to me early on that Malick was thinking about Plato and Socrates (particularly the Apology, Phaedo and Gorgias), but he eventually goes so far as to include a direct quotation from the Gorgias: “It is better to suffer injustice than to do it.” Socrates’ stance is that there is nothing that can be gained through injustice– not even the preservation of one’s own life– that outweighs the cost of doing injustice, which is nothing less than sickness and disease of the soul. When the Nazis commit injustices against Franz, they harm themselves more than they harm him, and for him to accede to their demands would be for him to harm himself far worse than they ever could. They merely threaten his body, but for Franz submit to them willingly would mean the corruption of his soul.

The Kantian influence in the film is manifested both in Franz’s conception of freedom and in Malick’s persistent attention to the fact that Franz’s sacrifice will have no positive impact. When Franz insists that he is free while he is in prison, he means he is free in the Kantian sense that he is following a law that has emerged from his own will. One of Malick’s most distinctive traits as a filmmaker is his ability to pose a question discursively and then answer it cinematically. The film asks quite explicitly whether it should matter to Franz that his choice will have no consequences either way beyond the loss his family will endure if he stands on principle. The answer to this question, however, is something that we are meant to feel rather than apprehend cognitively. Malick trusts the power of August Diehl and Valerie Pachner’s performances to convey the validity of Franz’s decision. 

What of Malick’s choice to have the bad characters speak unsubtitled German for the most part while the good characters speak English? Browsing reviews I see complaints that this makes Nazi evil ‘other’ in a simplistic way. I don’t think this is right. Austrian dialect is different from the German that most Nazis would have been speaking, and my impression after one viewing is that Malick has used English primarily for dialogue in Austrian (and perhaps for some non-Austrian German dialogue that is integral to the narrative), while he left the other German dialogue unsubtitled in part to convey Franz’s alienation and quasi-foreignness. There is not one bit of unsubtitled dialogue in the movie that I could not infer the meaning of from tone and context. I take Malick’s choice here to be akin to Godard and Straub-Huillet’s choices to leave some dialogue unsubtitled (or cryptically subtitled, in Godard’s case). It just doesn’t matter exactly what’s being said, and subtitles would be more of a distraction than a help.

If I have a significant quibble with the film it’s that I had a hard time getting used to some aspects of the cinematography. I felt that the fisheye lens was overused in the first half. It works much better in the claustrophobic interior spaces of the second half. I also found the camerawork to be jerkier and less elegant than what we’ve seen in Malick’s other late films. Again, this works better in the second half. I’m going to suspend judgment on this point until I get a chance to rewatch the movie, because my problems here could have been mostly a matter of misaligned expectations. On the plus side, the immediacy of the digital photography is compelling and a lot of the unorthodox framing choices are striking.

At the end of the day, I have to set aside any small faults I find in this, because it’s just so incredibly overwhelming in the emotional impact it builds over the course of three hours. Worrying about the fisheye lens feels tawdry in light of the movie’s cumulative weight. It’s a singularly powerful film.

State of the Cinema 2019

For the first time since we started these year in review posts, we are happy to declare: the state of the cinema is strong! This was a stellar year. There were two or three times as many good movies as previous years. Movies that we ranked in 30’s this year would have made our top tens in previous years. Even though the Oscars are two weeks earlier this year, Josh broke his record with 214 new releases logged. We played a little fast and loose with international releases. If they have a 2020 US release date, we saved them for next year. We counted international releases from the past couple of years that don’t yet have a scheduled US release date.

We know some of these judgments will come across as contrarian. We promise that these lists are honest reflections of our sincere views. We value disagreement and the coexistence of a variety of critical opinions. We aren’t here to impugn anyone else’s taste, we’re here to share our own points of view, and we hope you find them interesting.


Joshua Strohl

1) Peterloo (Mike Leigh)

MV5BMjhlNzYyZGEtNjIxNS00ZWY0LWIzZDMtZDIxY2VkMjU3OGIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjEyMzMzNTE@._V1_

One of the best movies ever made about the power of rhetoric. This historical drama by the great Mike Leigh absolutely devastated me. It’s a movie without a protagonist, that focuses instead on a community, a time, a place, and a tragedy. It takes the time to educate the audience about the context and the political climate in which the Peterloo massacre took place. It traces the events leading up the tragic rally in St. Peter’s Field, following multiple strands. It’s like watching a crash in slow motion. Without drawing any explicit connections to the contemporary moment, it says more about today’s political reality than any other recent film. The theatrics of authority figures playing with the lives of common people as part of a performance meant to assure everyone of their power is incredibly resonant. Throughout Leigh’s filmography, the powers that be always have their boot on the neck of the working class. Here it becomes literal and infuriating and heartbreaking.

2) A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)

hidden

It’s a mistake to think of this movie as a departure from Malick’s other work this decade or as a return to what he used to do (as many commentators have). It’s the next step in a progression. In a way, it sums up his entire career. It brings together his early theme of young love being destroyed by the forces of nature and the world, his middle period historical grandeur, and his late period personal introspection. But it also must be seen as a response to Scorsese’s Silence, which is a film that Malick is an outspoken fan of, and which he has explicitly said he made A Hidden Life in relation to. Scorsese presents doubt as an essential element of faith. Malick responds with a profound portrait of spiritual purity– of a faith incapable of doubt. One doesn’t need to be religious to appreciate this movie, but one needs to be willing to see it through a spiritual lens. It’s a challenging film. It’s long, and it feels long, but I appreciated that in the end. I felt like I really went through something with the character. Over the movie’s three hours, I came to understand something that was unfathomable to me at the beginning. I couldn’t shake it afterwards, because I lived with it for so long in the theater.

3) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

MV5BM2IwMjJhMWMtOWI2ZS00YTRjLTkyYmYtNTg3ZWJlMzlkYWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjE3NDE2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,939_AL_

This closes the modern American gangster movie cycle in much the same way that Unforgiven closed the western cycle. There will be more gangster movies, but this is the definitive final statement from the guys who wrote the fucking book. It’s an utterly deglamorized revision of the genre. It finds its humor in the characters’ misery. I love all the performances, but the heart of the movie is Al Pacino as Hoffa. Pacino gets to ham it up, and that’s how we want our Pacino. He brings that Pacino charm, and we can’t not love him. And that’s what the movie’s drama really needs: for us to love him and so to understand what his loss means to Frank Sheeran. And then you’ve got Pesci playing against type. It’s a riveting performance, haunting and mysterious. He’s a genius, and we are so fortunate that Scorsese got this out of him.

4) 3 From Hell (Rob Zombie)

MV5BZWRhN2I4ODgtNmYxMi00MjlhLWEzY2EtZjVkZTJmNzQxMGM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_

Now this is some renegade outlaw B-movie mayhem. Sheri Moon Zombie turns in the performance of the year, lighting the screen on fire. She’s on another plane in this movie. Zombie loves filming her, and he lets her just run wild. This is avant-garde sleaze. It’s a loving and joyful depiction of sadism and debauchery with monsters that come off as positively noble vessels of chaos in a world of sniveling power figures and dishonorable lowlifes. Zombie does Peckinpah as comedy. My idea of a good time at the movies.

5) Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)

MV5BODRkZDI4ODEtMGVjMS00ODkwLWIwYjEtOTFkNjFhZDNhNzMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ5ODY3NjA@._V1_

There have been Hong Sang-soo movies coming out all the time. There’s like two a year. It’s a very welcome development. I like them better all the time. This is my favorite Hong film. It’s simple and beautiful and sad.

6) Gemini Man (Ang Lee)

MV5BNWQ5ZTk4NWItNTQyNC00ZmY3LTkzODMtMzRlODI0NDMwMGU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,991_AL_

To approach this movie, one needs to situate it in Ang Lee’s filmography. On the one hand, there’s the technically ambitious side of his work, including Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk. On the other hand, there are low-key dramas like Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm. What I find really interesting about him as a filmmaker is that across this very diverse range, his movies are always about the inexplicit emotional life of the characters. The technical bombast is always ultimately aimed at exploring the characters’ emotions. At the beginning of Gemini Man, we meet Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith. He’s a used up assassin focused narrowly on professionalism (basically a Michael Mann character). He has cultivated a stoic emotional blankness that he presents to the world. It’s a familiar enough starting point, but this does not look, sound, move, or feel like any other movie. Lee’s use of high frame rate 4K 3D is revolutionary. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in cinema. Reader: I am a fan. They tried to do this with The Hobbit and it just looked like motion smoothing. That’s not the case for Gemini Man. It feels more immediate and more cinematic than any other 3D movie I’ve seen. I’m generally not a fan of 3D, but the high frame rate is a game changer. But this isn’t the only technical feat of the movie. There’s also a second, CGI Will Smith, de-aged about 25-30 years. Smith’s two performances in this movie are the best work he’s ever done. But Lee isn’t simply interested in spectacle (although the movie is certainly not light on absolutely astonishing spectacle– the motorcycle chase is the best action scene in years, and then there’s Will Smith fighting himself in the catacombs), he’s interested in the big themes that have spanned his career. This is a film about masculinity, fathers and sons, adulthood, repression, longing, and loneliness. Loneliness is at the center of Lee’s cinema. Henry is a virgin in his 50’s. He has no desire or ability to be close to anyone. In the character of Junior, the CGI character, he meets a younger version of himself. Junior is synthetic on multiple levels–he’s a clone from a lab, he’s a CGI construct, and he’s a fictional character– but he’s the primary locus of the movie’s humanity. Lee actually went back and sourced Junior’s expressions from Smith’s iconic roles from earlier in his career (and in this way this is also a movie about Will Smith the movie star). Junior is the only person who prompts a genuine emotional response in Henry. In literally facing his younger self, Henry is presented with the opportunity to address regrets he never knew he had. Gemini Man got mostly bad reviews and turned out to be easy to pick on, but it has so much to offer anyone willing to approach it on its own terms. Try to watch it in high frame rate if possible (on the 4K disc). It looks great in regular 4K (I’ve watched it in every format) but the HFR adds something.

7) Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)

MV5BZjNmYjE4MTUtYTFhNS00ZTllLTgzNjQtMjNhOGY2NzYzZjU2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODUxNjcxNjE@._V1_

As much as the character is exasperating and difficult, I found Adam Sandler’s modern Sisyphus endearing. (Full disclosure: I’m a huge Sandler apologist and never met a Sandler comedy I didn’t like) There is such a loving depiction of a mistress at the center of this film. Julia Fox has major screen presence, as do all of the non-professional performers who pepper the movie. Like Heaven Knows What and Good Time, this is live wire cinema. The Safdies are amazing at what they do. They take techniques from Altman and Cassavetes and use them extra-aggressively to make intensely visceral films. These guys are saving American independent cinema by giving it a needed jolt.

8) Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)

Ash-is-Purest-White-1600x900-c-default

At Matt’s insistence, I recently caught up on all of Jia’s recent films. Watching this, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart all together blew me away. They are each unique at the formal level, but the thematic continuity between them reveals a distinctly melancholy point of view with respect to the passage of time and the way that the growth of capitalism in China has ravaged everything from landscape to family life to the bonds between outlaws and lovers. The death of honor.

9) Pasolini (Abel Ferrara)

Crítica de Pasolini de Abel Ferrara

This played in film festivals in 2014 but was just released in the US this year. So many Abel Ferrara movies have languished unreleased for many years, including Go Go Tales, Mary and the Welcome to New York director’s cut. It looked like Pasolini was headed that way, but now that it’s here it feels very much of the moment. It is anything but a traditional biopic, and it gets at Pasolini’s essence in a way that mere biography never could. It explores his creative process and his creative mind rather than focusing on events from his life. It shows us reconstructions of his short stories directed in a searing style by Ferrera, who thinks of himself as a student of Pasolini. Ferrara’s transgressive cinema is as vital and essential as ever and it’s an extremely important development that Kino Lorber has finally bought a number of his films and plans to release them in the US.

10) High Life (Claire Denis)

High-Life-Claire-Denis-7

Not for the faint of heart. This is in deep, dark, disturbing Claire Denis territory. It’s genuinely unsettling in a way that few contemporary movies are. Juliette Binoche’s Medea in space is unforgettable. My eyes were bugging out a little bit. Only for people who aren’t too squeamish and appreciate boundary-pushing cinema.

11) Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)

12) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

13) Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer)

14) Black Mother (Khalik Allah)

15) The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)

16) The Image Book (Jean Luc Godard)

17) Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)

18) Greta (Neil Jordan)

19) Midsommar (Ari Aster)

20) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

21) Western Stars (Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen)

22) Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez)

23) Glass (M. Night Shyamalan)

24) Domino (Brian De Palma)

25) Transit (Christian Petzold)

26) Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar)

27) The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

28) Grass (Hong Sang-soo)

29) The Intruder (Deon Taylor)

30) Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)

31) Ad Astra (James Gray)

32) A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen)

33) 6 Underground (Michael Bay)

34) Chasing Dream (Johnnie To)

35) An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)

36) Lady J (Emmanuel Mouret)

37) Relaxer (Joel Potrykus)

38) For Sama (Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts)

39) The Portuguese Woman (Rita Azevedo Gomes)

40) The Gospel of Eureka (Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri)

41) Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton)

42) Depraved (Larry Fessenden)

43) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam)

44) Replicas (Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

45) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)

46) Shadow (Zhang Yimou)

47) Happy Death Day 2U (Christopher Landon)

48) Crawl (Alexandre Aja)

49) The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)

50) Dumbo (Tim Burton)

51) Honey Boy (Alma Har’el)

52) Where’d You Go Bernadette? (Richard Linklater)

53) Avengement (Jesse V. Johnson)

54) American Dharma (Errol Morris)

55) Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)

56) First Love (Takashi Miike)

57) Rambo: Last Blood (Adrian Grunberg)

58) Anna (Luc Besson)

59) Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)

60) Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)

61) Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler)

62) Long Shot (Jonathan Levine)

63) The Prodigy (Nicholas McCarthy)

64) Ma (Tate Taylor)

65) Grand Isle (Stephen Campinelli)

66) Little Joe (Jessica Hausner)

67) Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

68) One Cut of the Dead (Shin’ichiro Ueda)

69) Atlantics (Mati Diop)

70) Us (Jordan Peele)

71) Judy (Rupert Goold)

72) Waves (Trey Edward Shults)

73) The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh)

74) Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog, Andre Singer)

75) Charlie Says (Mary Harron)

76) Murder Mystery (Kyle Newacheck)

77) Luce (Julius Onah)

78) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (Johannes Roberts)

79) Dora and the Lost City of Gold (James Bobin)

80) Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

81) Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

82) Angel Has Fallen (Ric Roman Waugh)

83) Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (J. J. Abrams)

84) Legend of the Demon Cat (Kaige Chen)

85) Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)

86) The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

87) Good Boys (Gene Stupnitsky)

88) The Death of Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert)

89) Shazam! (David F. Sandberg)

90) Serenity (Steven Knight)

91) Nightmare Cinema (Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade)

92) How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dean DeBlois)

93) Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott and Sydney Pollack)

94) I See You (Adam Randall)

95) Blinded by the Light (Gurinder Chadha)

96) Knife+Heart (Yann Gonzalez)

97) High Flying Bird (Steven Soderbergh)

98) Primal (Nick Powell)

99) The Secret Lives of Pets 2 (Chris Renaud)

100) Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley)

101) Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)

102) Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe)

103) The Goldfinch (John Crowley)

104) Child’s Play (Lars Klevberg)

105) Mister America (Eric Notarnicola)

106) The Command (Thomas Vinterberg)

107) Brightburn (David Yarovrsky)

108) Fyre (Chris Smith)

109) The Fanatic (Fred Durst)

110) Jexi (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore)

111) Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

112) Zombieland: Double Tap (Ruben Fleischer)

113) Gloria Bell (Sebastian Lelio)

114) Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (David Leitch)

115) Annabelle Comes Home (Gary Dauberman)

116) Escape Room (Adam Robitel)

117) Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)

118) The Perfection (Richard Shepard)

119) Luz (Tilman Singer)

120) The Best of Enemies (Robin Bissell)

121) Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)

122) Klaus (Sergio Pablos)

123) Running with the Devil (Jason Cabell)

124) Villains (Dan Berk and Robert Olsen)

125) Stuber (Michael Dowse)

126) The Public (Emilio Estevez)

127) Missing Link (Chris Butler)

128) Triple Frontier (J. C. Chandor)

129) The Professor and the Madman (P.B. Shemran)

130) The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles)

131) Velvet Buzzsaw (Dan Gilroy)

132) Black Tide (Erick Zonca)

133) EGG (Marianna Palka)

134) Men in Black: International (F. Gary Gray)

135) Black and Blue (Deon Taylor)

136) The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin)

137) Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg)

138) A Score to Settle (Shawn Ku)

139) Climax (Gaspar Noe)

140) Kill Chain (Ken Sanzel)

141) The Art of Self Defense (Riley Sterns)

142) Terminator: Dark Fate (Tim Miller)

143) The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

144) The Report (Scott Z. Burns)

145) The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (Robert D. Kryzkowski)

146) Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman)

147) The Curse of La Llorona (Michael Chaves)

148) Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson)

149) The Poison Rose (George Gallo)

150) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Andre Øvredal)

151) Aniara (Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja)

152) The Mountain (Rick Alverson)

153) Synonyms (Nadav Lapid)

154) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Joachim Rønning)

155) Trading Paint (Karzan Kader)

156) Holiday (Isabella Eklöf)

157) El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (Vince Gilligan)

158) X-men: Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg)

159) Abominable (Jill Culton)

160) Shaft (Tim Story)

161) Aladdin (Guy Ritchie)

162) Fighting with My Family (Steven Merchant)

163) Avengers: Endgame (Anthony and Joe Russo)

164) The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilsson and Michael Schwartz)

165) Late Night (Nisha Ganatra)

166) Wild Rose (Tom Harper)

167) Cats (Tom Hooper)

168) The Kid Who Would Be King (Joe Cornish)

169) Hail Satan? (Penny Lane)

170) The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)

171) The Mustang (Laure Clermont-Tonnerre)

172) It Chapter Two (Andy Muschetti)

173) Spider-man: Far From Home (Jon Watts)

174) Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Michael Dougherty)

175) J.T. LeRoy (Justin Kelly)

176) Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)

177) The Professor (Wayne Roberts)

178) Noelle (Marc Lawrence)

179) 21 Bridges (Brian Kirk)

180) Rust Creek (Jen McGowan)

181) Daddy Issues (Amara Cash)

182) Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Kevin Smith)

183) Joker (Todd Phillips)

184) Diane (Kent Jones)

185) I Lost My Body (Jeremy Clapin)

186) The Addams Family (Greg Tiernan and ConradVernon)

187) In the Tall Grass (Vincenzo Natali)

188) Miss Bala (Catherine Hardwicke)

189) Last Christmas (Paul Feig)

190) Yesterday (Danny Boyle)

191) Bombshell (Jay Roach)

192) The Lion King (Jon Favreau)

193) Countdown (Justin Dec)

194) I’m Just Fucking With You (Adam Mason)

195) Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)

196) Lady and the Tramp (Charlie Bean)

197) Plus One (Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer)

198) 1917 (Sam Mendes)

199) Harriet (Kasi Lemmons)

200) Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

201) A Vigilante (Sarah Daggar-Nickson)

202) Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)

203) The Hustle (Chris Addison)

204) Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley)

205) Jojo Rabbit (Taika Watiti)

206) The Farewell (Lulu Wang)

207) El Chicano (Ben Hernandez Bray)

208) Hellboy (Neil Marshall)

209) Black Christmas (Sophia Takal)

210) Cold Pursuit (Hans Petter Moland)

211) Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis)

212) What Men Want (Adam Shankman)

213) Pet Sematary (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer)

214) Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)


Isabel Strohl

10) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

MV5BZGY5YTIxNDQtMTk4Yy00ZGE0LWExMGUtNGVlNTU0OGE1Njk4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

This is not your typical “Mister Rogers” biopic by any means. It’s directed with a deep sense of humanity and focus on the human condition. Based on a true story of their real-life friendship, it delves deeply into Mr. Rogers’ persona. The other main character, Lloyd Vogel, is a journalist, so I had a personal connection to the barriers he faced as Fred often worked to flip the script on him. They both push each other to explore their own truths and come to terms with them. In true Mr. Rogers’ style Lloyd learns that life can be hard and dark, but there are always opportunities to show humanity through taking time to understand others.

9) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

MV5BN2ViMzg3MTAtOTRkMS00ODZmLTk5MDktZTBkMDhlODlhMmU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzgxMzc3OTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_

There’s an authentic Hollywood magic that jumps out of the screen in this movie. Set in the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) & Cliff Booth (Pitt) portray star-stunt double besties who showcase the push-and-pull of past vs. present. Margo Robbie as a young Sharon Tate is the soul of the film, especially given the ending, which I think is the most-heart wrenching part of it all given the real world history.

8) High Life (Claire Denis)

MV5BZjY3MGU2ZjAtMGFiZC00ZjlmLThhNWMtM2I1OTBiZGJhYmMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODUxNjcxNjE@._V1_

Woah. Brace yourself for this one. It’s a daring, experimental, deep dive into what makes us human, sexuality, parenthood, survival, and it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Binoche is a force of nature.

7) Gemini Man (Ang Lee)

MV5BMWY0YmE2ZjAtODk2ZS00Y2RkLTkyMWUtODg4NTM4OGQyNWI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY3NDY4Mzg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1706,1000_AL_

Unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. The technical mastery of this film is on another level. I watched it twice which was helpful to appreciate the movie’s multifaceted elements. The 4K HFR technology is beyond impressive. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan – an elite assassin trying to retire. That is until the past literally & figuratively confronts him. Junior is Henry’s younger clone, completely made from advanced CGI in the film too. For Junior, it’s the age-old tale of trying to understand adulthood & self when one just hasn’t had the life experiences to do so. After seeing some features about the making of the film, Smith’s casting makes perfect sense. Lee pulled expressions and facial cues from Smith’s past performances from his younger years of acting. This deep dive (literally layers and layers of various skin graphing in the CGI) into Smith’s alluring screen presence makes the movie also about him. As a Philly girl who grew up watching Smith in his young acting years, this is a stunning culmination of his craft.

6) Uncut Gems (Josh & Benny Safdie)

MV5BMjg4MTNiNGItODBkMy00MDZlLTgyZTEtOGE2ZGU4YjAwN2MyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,947_AL_

Bold, unnerving, frantic Sandler – in the best way! This movie gets in your head in the immediacy of its direction and Sandler’s epic portrayal of the main character Howie. I couldn’t help but both be intensely frustrated with Howie and also cheer for him at the same time. The dynamic between Howie as the husband, father, lover, jeweler, friend and selfish individual all chasing after different dreams while trying to balance the crazyness of life is actually super relatable.

5) 3 From Hell (Rob Zombie)

MV5BOGM3YjZhMTgtNDFiZS00ZWUwLWI5NzUtYmFmZDg3MGVjODY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

As someone who has grown into a huge Rob Zombie fan, this is as Zombie as it gets! Unapologetically gnarly, it feels good to spend time in such bad company with characters who are so clearly loved by the director. I often have to give myself permission to get into The Zombie Zone, but when I do – it’s the most cathartic feeling. Sheri Moon Zombie is a joy to watch.

4) For Sama (Waad Al-Kateab)

for_sama_1

Pure bravery on so many levels. As a citizen journalist, a mother, a survivor – this documentary was made using first-person video from Waad during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria. She began taking videos in college, and as the uprising gained momentum, it follows her journey through falling in love, marriage, and having her daughter Sama. Waad says as a thread throughout – “This is for you, Sama.” Sama is the ultimate inspiration for her unwavering commitment to what’s right and to documenting the reality around her. The film deals with identity, motherhood, patriotism, and journalism in their most authentic form. There’s a point in the film I find particularly important: a mother has just lost her young son in the hospital Waad’s husband set up. The mother is screaming at the camera, asking “Why are you filming this? How can you be filming this?” A beat later, the mother says “Then film this, show this,” referencing her dead son. It addresses the question of journalism vs. exploitation. Waad herself explained in an interview that she didn’t think of what she was doing as exploitative because she didn’t think she was going to survive the situation herself, and so her main priority was to document everything. Essential viewing.

3) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

MV5BMmU4ZjE3ZTctZTlhNy00MGJjLWE4NDEtMmJmYjUwZDE3OWE1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjE3NDE2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,963_AL_

The granddaddy of gangster films, from the granddaddy of gangster film directors. And the trifecta of De Niro, Pesci, Pacino is a welcome storm of top-shelf acting. Scorsese’s direction is undeniably towering, nuanced, and masterful. The slow burn of living with these characters through various stages of their lives adds such weight to the ending.

2) Midsommar (Ari Aster)

MV5BY2Q4NTNkZDctNjE0MS00MTAyLWJjOTktZDNkZjQ1YTMyNTdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ4NjI4MDM@._V1_

Bright scenes of summertime in Sweden counter-punch the deep, dark material at the heart of this film. This movie reveals a deep understanding through its portrayal of the journey of the character of Dani and Florence Pugh’s emotive performance. She’s my favorite actress right now. Dani’s life is flipped upside down after a horrid family tragedy. Following the tragedy, her long-time boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) invites her to tag along on what was supposed to be a “boys trip” to a friend’s summertime celebration in Sweden. The push and pull of her simultaneous search for change, peace, understanding and variety of experience all collide in the most trippy way. It’s a very cathartic movie for me.

1) A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)

A-Hidden-Life-1

No hesitations on this one. It’s lived inside me since I saw it. A haunting portrait of faith, love, marriage, & identity, it’s a stunning work of art. The relationship between husband-and-wife Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and Frani Jägerstätter (Valerie Pachner) is a beautiful example of love and commitment. Despite a majority of the community looking down on the family after Franz’s stance against Nazism is made known, Frani is steadfast in her loyalty to her husband – the father of their children. Her faith is tested by his actions as much as he his. It’s a tale the religious establishment vs. personal moral conviction.


Matt Strohl

I just want to reinforce the thought from our intro above that the judgments in this list are expressions of my own taste. I prefer to live in a world where different people have different tastes, and so I want to emphasize that any harshness in my negative takes is meant to convey the strength of my attitude towards the movies, and not meant to deride anyone who disagrees with me. There are some movies I frickin’ hated this year that some of my most respected friends loved. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please, try to change my mind.

But yeah, this was a fantastic year. I really love everything down to about 75, and then I have a pro-attitude towards everything down to 109. I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see Malick’s A Hidden Life or Miike’s First Love. I’ll write a review of the former when I see it. I did pretty well on seeing the Oscar nominees. I have no desire to ever see 1917, though. I see no need for any more Sam Mendes in my life.

Note:  I only bothered to include director names for movies that aren’t on Josh’s list.

1) Ash Is Purest White

Ash Is Purest White

I’ve commented on this many times already and its place on this list should be no surprise for anyone who pays attention to my opinions, but yeah, there’s no question that this is the movie of the year for me. When I watch a Jia film, I am constantly in awe of how purposeful every little detail is. He’s a true master. Also: Zhao Tao is a genius.

2) High Life

MV5BNmVlYzQ2M2YtZWE2Mi00YzE4LWFlYTItMGNmYWVkY2VmNDVjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODUxNjcxNjE@._V1_

Into the black hole of human destiny. I don’t know if anyone in the world likes this movie quite as much as I do, and I’m good with that.

3) Hotel by the River

MV5BZmFlMDQzMzctZGEyMC00ZTcyLWJjYjAtYjRmYWRkMmU2YTk0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ5ODY3NjA@._V1_

A masterpiece about death and poetry and family reckoning and slipping into a delirium of snow white landscapes and empty hotels and living angelic apparitions.

4) The Portuguese Woman

potu

Exquisitely refined slow cinema. It’s mostly stillness and absence, but there are just enough flights of fancy to create the thrilling sense that the movie is capable of anything. Not for everyone, but definitely for me.

5) The Irishman

MV5BOGFjMTU3NGEtZGI0NC00ZjEwLWIwY2EtMTBlZjhjNDE1ODI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDIyNjA2MTk@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

On doing one horrible thing on purpose that destroys your entire life and then ending up alone with nothing to do but wait for death and endlessly ruminate on the events that led up to the fateful moment and ask whether it could have been avoided and try to convince yourself that it couldn’t.

6) La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

MV5BN2VjMjM4NGUtOWFkZi00NmU0LTk4ZDQtNTVjNTc5MDY2MDM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjIzNTQ4MjY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

This took 10 years to make and it really shows. A sprawling 14 hour study of cinematic storytelling that goes through the rabbit hole several times over. The work of a deranged visionary.

7) 3 from Hell

MV5BM2Q0NWNlZWItY2QwYS00MmYzLTk5ZjQtZTFlMzNjZjUwODM0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_

In this era when genre movies are getting unbearably tame, the spirit of 70’s exploitation cinema lives on and Rob Zombie is its conduit. A mercilessly depraved vision of American violence and a twisted hangout comedy. Note that this is the third part of a trilogy (the first two are House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects).

8) Uncut Gems

MV5BZDU1Y2Q2NTMtYTZmMS00NjFkLThkNjMtNTkwODJiMGM2ZTY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_

The best score since Good Time. The Safdies are masters of visceral cinema. The anxiety is the point, not a cost to be paid. Of course Sandler is a force of nature in this, but all the fantastic non-professional acting is what really puts it over the top.

9) Pasolini

MV5BMTQ5NjMxNTE2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY3MTMzMjE@._V1_

It pronounces the death of narrative and then gives us an anti-sensational portrait of Pasolini’s final day. The focus is on the subtlety of Dafoe’s absolutely brilliant performance. Ferrara’s direction often borders on abstraction. It’s some of his most beautiful work.

10) Black Mother

black

Khalik Allah is the truth! His originality is thrilling. This is a formally wild portrait of Jamaica structured around Five Percenter mythology identifying the Black woman as the mother of the world.

11) Mademoiselle de Joncquières [aka Lady J]

A particularly wicked adaptation of the same Diderot story that Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is based on. Cécile de France is extraordinary and Mouret’s direction is exquisite from start to finish.

12) Season of the Devil (Lav Diaz)

A four hour musical about the Marcos martial law era in the Philippines. No filmmaker in the world is confronting fascism as aggressively as Diaz.

13) Grass

Wall-to-wall Hong Sang-soo table shots in a rigorous formal structure. The focus is on eavesdropping. This is a very extreme example of what’s distinctive about Hong’s cinema and will only appeal to fans.

14) Peterloo

Aggressively unfashionable but vitally relevant.

15) The Image Book

Honestly, I’ll need two or three more viewings to even begin to penetrate this, but I find it very enjoyable just at the surface level. The sound design is nuts and Godard’s gravelly narration is like delicious pudding.

16) Heimat Is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise)

100 years of German history in 3 hours and 40 minutes, by way of one family’s narrative. The relationship between image and text is often oblique. The texts are mostly letters and personal documents like half-finished resumes. There is almost no exposition or explicit contextualization. The events are sometimes utterly tragic, but everything is presented in a monotone. It’s hypnotic and engaging.

17) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

How do you pull off a sincere movie about kindness, understanding, and forgiveness in 2019 without being unbearably cloying? Ask Marielle Heller. I cried through like 80% of this. It melted my cold heart into a puddle and then boiled the puddle into rarified melancholy. Tom Hanks is perfect.

18) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

My basic take on Tarantino’s revisionary movies is that they are about the satisfactions of fiction. Whereas the previous two concern the way pulpy genre movies can offer a cheap but welcome emotional redress for historical atrocity, the catharsis here is much more personal for Tarantino. He grew up in LA during this time period and he clearly associates Tate’s death with the death of Old Hollywood. It’s also a hangout movie, like a lot of his earlier work (especially Death Proof). Hangout movies are in short supply and I appreciate the way Tarantino is happy to spend ten minutes bullshitting and ogling dirty feet. The scene when Tate goes to see her own movie is especially wonderful.

19) Transit

The formal conceit is brilliant and Petzold’s understated style is in fine form, though I do miss Nina Hoss.

20) Alita: Battle Angel

Bodily dysphoria and the joy of transition. I appreciate the focus on character and world-building and the sparsity of the narrative.

21) Dolemite Is My Name

On the joy of making movies. It would be impossible to overstate how delightful it is to see Eddie Murphy really letting loose like this. It’s the most entertaining movie of the year for me.

22) Synonyms 

Combines two venerable traditions: self-deprecating Jewish comedy and the romance of the bohemian expat in Paris. The romance is turned into farce by the political and cultural transformations of the 21st century. I found this to be the funniest new release I’ve seen in quite a while. I laughed so loudly and often that Angela got angry. She, on the other hand, didn’t find it funny at all, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt. This is not going to work for everyone.

23) Pain and Glory

Excruciating, in a good way. This is a little scattered but the best parts are exceptional. The reunion with the old lover is just beautiful.

24) Richard Jewell

I wrote a whole thing about this here.

25) Domino

De Palma as the old master in exile. The primary pleasure is seeing the maestro spin gold out of the limitations he faced here. The Pino Donaggio score, the split diopter shots, the diegetic cameras, the set pieces: it scratches the De Palma itch. Terrorist as filmmaker (filmmaker as terrorist?).

26) Bliss (Joe Begos)

A true delight of low-budget horror. Don’t even think about watching this while the sun is out. You want to watch this late at night, turned up as loud as possible. This is a drug-addled LA vampire fever dream in grimy 16mm. The sound design is out of control. The music is great across the board but the use of sludgy doom metal during the most intense scenes is especially inspired. People who didn’t watch the later seasons of Friday Night Lights are missing out, as one of the many joys this has to offer is that the ultra-edgy protagonist is played by Dora Madison, who also played frickin’ Becky Sproles. She just rules in this. And the practical effects!

27) Chasing Dream 

Rocky 3 plus Rocky 4 plus American Idol plus a screwball love story. Probably for Johnnie To fans only, but I would be appalled if any To fan didn’t like this.

28) Killing (Shinya Tsukamoto)

This is one crazy-ass chanbara, from the director of the Tetsuo movies. Japanese swordplay movies tend to involve a lot of stillness and then quick bursts of brutal violence. This movie is an extended study of this structure and the emotions behind it. The score is outstanding.

29) Midsommar (Director’s cut)

I appreciate that Aster swung for the fences with this. The combination of British folk horror tropes and psychedelic imagery is inspired and the payoff is commensurate with the buildup.

30) Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)

The acting is great and the formal gambit re: the setting is bold and successful.

31) An Elephant Sitting Still 

Three and a half hours in I was legit in suspense about whether there was actually going to be an elephant in the movie. It’s sort of like a riff on A Touch of Sin by way of Haneke and Tarr, except the long takes are much more dynamic than Tarr’s.

32) Avengement

Scott Adkins is the Daniel Day Lewis of direct-to-video.  This is basically Guy Ritchie’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 meets Bronson and it totally rules.

33) Under the Silver Lake

A continuation of the stoner Philip Marlowe cycle that began with The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice. Garfield is great and there’s a rich sense of setting. The use of smell is far more vivid than Parasite. I don’t like the ending, though. This is a movie that needed fewer answers. If it had stuck the landing, it would have been a lot closer to the top of this list, but I still think it’s great overall.

34) Grand Isle

Shoot this into my veins. Easily my favorite recent Nic Cage movie and my favorite good-bad movie of the year. It starts out with a pretty standard noir setup and then goes to astonishing places. There are like three movies worth of plot crammed into this. Kelsey Grammar’s Foghorn Leghorn is just as delightful as Cage’s performance.

35) Her Smell

Elisabeth Moss’ collaborations with Perry go some ways towards a Frownland-esque theater of cruelty where they trap you with the sort of unbearable person you would ordinarily try to escape as quickly as possible. What I find most interesting about this one is the way that Perry BEGINS the second and third vignettes at the point where Becky is already way way overdue for something (finishing an album months late or going on stage two hours late) so that you immediately have this abrasive ringing alarm clock sensation of “for the love of god just go already” and then the scenes go on for like 25 minutes or so each and there’s all this Zulawski insanity in the meantime.

36) Hagazussa

Moody, stark witch horror. I appreciate the lack of dialogue and the use of music.

37) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The Descent as a shark movie. Fanatastic. The underwater photography is extremely impressive.

38) Serenity

Good-bad movie bliss. Another salty McConaughey performance. Peak Jason Clarke. Anne Hathaway breathily calling him “Daddy” is a highlight of the year for me.

39) Sibyl (Justine Triet)

This is in Ozon territory. I love it. The editing is bonkers and it really keeps up the film’s momentum. The whole cast is great but Sandra Hüller especially stands out as the director character.

40) The Beach Bum

Barfly for 2019. A loving ode to stoner degeneracy.

41) Happy Death Day 2U

While Happy Death Day is a play on Groundhog Day, this gem is a play on Back to the Future 2. Jessica Rothe is sooooo good in these movies.

42) Glass

The anti-Marvel movie. Shyamalan’s direction is seamless and the movie looks amazing from start to finish. I love Split and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Taylor-Joy and McAvoy reunited in this. I enjoy the wonky metafictional themes and the way the ending messes with genre expectations had me cackling.

43) The White Storm 2: Drug Lords

A sequel in name only. Andy Lau plays a billionaire ex-Triad who becomes an anti-drug vigilante after he is inspired by—wait for it—Rodrigo Duterte. Anyone who’s into Hong Kong cinema will be thrilled to see him as pseudo-Batman. Louis Koo plays his drug lord nemesis who chomps a cigar during the climactic gunfight. One might mistake this for pro-authoritarian and pro-drug war, but that would indeed be a mistake. There are clear equivalencies drawn between Lau and Koo and the emphasis is on the collateral damage of the whole struggle. Although the movie makes the relevant nods to mainstream acceptability, it has a subversive heart.

44) Motherless Brooklyn

It’s basically a histrionic Brooklyn Chinatown, minus the most extreme luridness, plus Edward Norton with Tourette’s. There’s so much raw enjoyment on offer and this has the strong feeling of being a passion project (the big name cast members did it for free!).

45) Shadow

An utterly gorgeous movie full of stunning choreography, even if the yin yang imagery is a bit much.

46) Rambo: Last Blood

Lean, efficient bordersploitation rape-revenge Rambo: *Italian chef kiss*.  Unfortunately, the finale is rushed, but the last kill might be the best kill of the decade.

47) Ad Astra

Somber Apocalypse Now in space. Gray’s third straight “stranger in a strange land” movie. The more abstract compositions are gorgeous and I like Pitt’s performance.

48) Dragged Across Concrete

As Filipe Furtado observed, it’s like he took some pulpy novel and filmed every sentence. It’s a very distended movie, but that’s the point. It’s all about the seedy details.

49) A Rainy Day in New York

An effervescent Renoir jam. It’s like Picnic in the Grass and a number of other Renoir films where the characters make very determinate plans which totally unravel in the face of escalating entropy, except in Woody’s version they head into the city instead of into the country. Bonus points for expecting fans of Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet to get the Vincente Minnelli references.

50) Greta

Full Huppert.

51) Honey Boy

Clumsy but appealingly raw. The recovery material is very authentic. The FKA Twigs stuff is nuts and I like it.

52) Cats

I understand why a lot of people don’t like Cats, but everyone who does like Cats is invited to my house for a Cats party.

53) The Forest of Love (Sion Sono)

Sort of an ultra-depraved Teorema with all of Sono’s most distinctive interests mashed together. No one will ever deny that it’s too long, but there’s something thrilling about knowing that Netflix paid for all this. 

54) Replicas

Composed entirely of philosophy of mind and personal identity examples and featuring a first rate Keanu Reeves performance, this is one of my favorite B-movies of the year.

55) Long Shot

Genre comedy is not in fact dead. Charlize Theron is so funny! And she has a surprising level of chemistry with Seth Rogen. More comedic roles for her and Skarsgard, please.

56) Crawl

The creature feature subgenre has unfortunately been taken over by self-aware schlock. This is a welcome return to form. Chomptastic, functional genre movie.

57) Ma

Octavia Spencer gets to play the horror heavy and she is frickin’ great. This movie goes to some wild places. It’s thrilling and delightfully trashy.

58) Angel Has Fallen

The mid-budget action movie is a beautiful, fading tradition and this is a stellar example. Easily the best of the trilogy. All the stuff with Nick Nolte is fantastic.

59) Atlantics

Mati Diop’s pedigree as a Claire Denis protege comes through— there’s something of the lyricism, sensuality and horror of Denis’ cinema here. Diop has said that the primary visual references for this are John Carpenter’s The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13, which is awesome. I think it’s a very good film but sometimes weighed down by passages that feel like generic film festival fodder. The last couple lines, for instance, are beneath this film, and the political and topical tie-ins are overly blunt given the movie’s capacity for otherworldliness.

60) 6 Underground

The ratio of Bayhem to non-Bayhem is favorable. I appreciate how unapologetically reprehensible the worldview is. If you’ve seen Pain & Gain, you’ll realize that this is a deliberate artistic choice.

61) The Perfection

Could have used a little more Miike but it’s delightful and transgressive, especially for a Netflix movie.

62) Knife+Heart

Giallo throwback with a gay porn setting and Vanessa Paradis. A fun time at the movies.

63) Triple Frontier

Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Narcos. Contains the single most enjoyable Ben Affleck performance.

64) Gemini Man

During the Marvel kerfuffle, the bedrock argument I kept hearing is “but it’s awesome spectacle!”  If people really want awesome spectacle, they should have gone to see this in HFR 3D. I drove 3 hours to Spokane to see it. Worth it.

65) Liz and the Blue Bird (Naoko Yamada)

A very gentle and lovely anime schoolgirl melodrama, full of watercolor compositions.

66) Depraved

The very welcome return of Larry Fessenden. It’s a little overlong and not everything works but this is very good overall. It’s a Frankenstein variant, connecting the myth to military trauma. Alex Breaux is amazing. That Iggy Pop-themed meet cute is one for the ages.

67) The Fanatic

This is the vanguard of contemporary good-bad movies. Now that Cage has been taken up by the mainstream, it’s Travolta who is really going hard. Behold!

68) A Score to Settle

Hardcore Nicolas Cage B-movie. Scent of a Woman as a revenge movie, except instead of being blind he can’t sleep at all.

69) The Intruder

A prosperous Black family moves into a beautiful new home, only to be haunted by Donald Trump’s forgotten white man, played by Dennis motherfucking Quaid. This movie gets astoundingly deep into themes about race without ever stepping out of its pulpy genre trappings.

70) Doctor Sleep

I think it would have worked better without the more direct tie-ins with The Shining. But it’s fun and the psychic vampire cult stuff is great. Love the baseball boy scene.

71) In My Room (Ulrich Köhler)

Can’t be described without spoilers, but it’s a new take on the relationship black comedy and the Clint Eastwood joke slayed me.

72) Relaxer 

Apocalyptic post-Mumblecore insanity. This is a very abrasive movie. It goes so far that I can’t help but admire it.

73) The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Nobuhiro Suwa)

New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud plays himself, goofing around with a bunch of kids who are making a movie. Utterly charming. 

74) Anna

Luc Besson still doing the female assassin thing, and this time it works really well.

75) Triple Threat

Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, and Scott Adkins all together! I love all three of them so much that I wanted this to be even better than it is, but it’s a very solid martial arts picture.

76) Luce

It’s pleasantly wicked and much thornier than most contemporary topical movies. The entire cast is great. Between this and Ma, Octavia Spencer killed it this year.

77) The Prodigy

Child’s Play meets Birth. Lurid, bonkers take on the bad seed movie.

78) The Lighthouse

The leads are great and the cinematography is well-done but for me this needed to be less serious or more serious, preferably less serious. It’s too stupid for how seriously it seems to take itself at times.

79) Luz

Bizarro tripped out horror movie. Not for everyone but horror fans should give it a look.

80) Black and Blue

A revision of The Gauntlet for the BLM era. The cast is great and the action is intense. Between this and The Intruder, Taylor put on a clinic in 2019 about how to get deep into issues about race in America in the context of an entertaining genre movie.

81) The Wandering Earth

The first big-budget sci-fi extravaganza produced in China. I find its absurd excess appealing and I also enjoy the way it fits in “collective before individual” theme anywhere it can.

82) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

I absolutely love the first two but for me this one falls off considerably. It pushes the rules of the universe past the breaking point and the side characters and villains are nowhere near as interesting as in the first two.

83) One Cut of the Dead

It’s a gimmick film, but the gimmick is pretty great.

84) Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Linklater doing his own thing way out in left field. This is a flawed movie but it’s very unique and I appreciate that in this era of aesthetic homogenization.

85) Little Joe

Well-done lite horror. This is a tricky color palette, easily cloying if overdone, but Hausner is judicious and pulls it off. The film raises some interesting philosophical questions, especially concerning the subjectivity of well-being.

86) Give Me Liberty

The anti-Uncut Gems. Every reckless decision is made out of kindness. Melting pot as cacophony.

87) I See You

The score is great. It’s very fun. totally nuts. and impossible to describe without spoilers.

88) Annabelle Comes Home

It’s not very scary, but it’s ridiculous and enjoyable.

89) Kill Chain

Silly half-baked hitman movie with a fun Nic Cage performance. It’s exactly the sort of direct-to-video trash that I love watching by myself late at night.

90) Running with the Devil

It’s basically stupid Traffic. I found it very amusing as a good-bad movie. Decent Cage, exceptional Fishburne.

91) Primal

Primal is exactly what it promises to be: Nic Cage chewing scenery and having fun with hammy dialogue while chasing poisonous snakes and a ghost jaguar around a boat amidst an NSA kerfuffle. If you’re not into that, then this isn’t your movie. I’m into it.

92) Shazam!

I found this to be relatively solid for a superhero movie, with likable characters and fun world-building.

93) Knives Out

The mystery is poorly developed but the storytelling is nice and crisp and the cast is solid (though a lot of the most exciting performers are underused). The way political references are used to manipulate the audience’s allegiances is cheap and borderline insufferable, but it ends up coming across as a gag rather than a serious thematic commitment, and the movie at least understands that the entire political spectrum is currently obnoxious.

94) Daddy Issues

This is a hot mess but also a total hoot. It won me over with that watercolor/fuck montage.

95) Us

The allegory is too tidy and Peele can’t resist spelling things out rather than letting us draw our own connections (e.g., cutting from a perfect Jaws homage directly to a Jaws t-shirt) but this looks good af, the music is inspired, and the entire cast is great.

96) The Souvenir

Very conflicted on this one. It’s absolutely gorgeous on the surface and in principle I like the idea of presenting one’s memories without melodramatic embellishment, but I can’t deny that I found it very dull. It didn’t convince me of Julie’s attraction to Anthony and the pain is just too muted. I’ve found myself comparing it to Pain and Glory, which is similarly personal but just so much more painful.

97) Asako I & II

Rohmer’s Winter’s Tale meets Vertigo. Great premise and intriguing opening but it doesn’t really go anywhere all that interesting. I probably owe this another viewing. I feel like I might be underrating it.

98) Legend of the Demon Cat

The oft-told story of Li Po and Yang Kwei-fei by way of a Tsui Hark imitation. It’s too long but it’s overall enjoyable.

99) Murder Mystery

Remarriage Clue? It’s pretty solid for what it is.

100) Parasite

I like Bong Joon-ho and this isn’t a bad movie, but it’s one of my least favorite films from him. The catharsis is much too mild relative to the buildup (I literally shrugged) and I’m not super impressed by all the 12th grade symbolism.

101) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Pretty bad, but honestly so, and it has some appealing qualities. The Rey-Kylo chemistry is in full force and the fight on the sunken ship is worth the price of admission all by itself. I also like the Sith Island of Dr. Moreau.

102) Escape Room

Saw-lite. It’s an enjoyable horror movie, even though it’s derivative and mostly uninspired.

103) Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

What’s interesting about this is the parallelism between Hobbes and Shaw. Statham and  the Rock have it in their contracts that they can’t get beat up too much, so the movie has to do a delicate dance of keeping them exactly balanced. But it’s ultimately pretty uninspired and overlong. The finale is tedious, although I did appreciate that a NOS substitute makes an appearance.

104) Edge of the Knife (Helen Haig-Brown, Gwaai Edenshaw)

A lot of this is really cool but the tricks deployed to convey that the wildman is losing it look cheap and it would have been better to take a more restrained approach and let the actor do the work.

105) The Poison Rose

Travoltasploitation. It’s an acquired taste, but I’m here for it. It also has an amazing Brendan Fraser performance.

106) The Dead Don’t Die

This one is hard to evaluate because it’s not even trying to be good. It’s not really a zombie movie. The relevant apocalypse is total apathy, which the film reflects by being apathetic about itself.

107) Last Christmas

This is a marginal good-bad movie, because it takes long af to pay off and it’s pretty frickin’ bad. But it eventually gets there. The last act is on another level. NB, the soundtrack is wall-to-wall George Michael. It turns out that there’s a George Michael song for every emotion.

108) Dark Phoenix

A bad movie, but with just enough campy fun to make it a worthwhile: McAvoy and Turner feeling feelings, Magneto shooting Jessica Chastain with a hundred guns at once, Jennifer Lawrence taking every opportunity to give shout outs to feminism.

109) The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (Lee Won-tae)

It’s okay. These Korean crime movies are a dime a dozen and this one doesn’t really have anything to set it apart.

110) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

I was with it for about an hour and then it just got too tedious for me. It does have some good qualities, though.

111) Little Women

It’s a good-looking movie. The production design is well done and the use of natural light is appealing. Fun fact: this has the same cinematographer as High Life (my #2 above). I did not care for the scrambled chronology at all. It perpetually disrupts the narrative’s momentum. Nothing has a chance to grow and develop in an organic way. Emotions are just abruptly foisted upon us. As a result the movie seriously dragged for me, especially in the middle. I didn’t want it to be shorter, I wanted it to be longer and in chronological order. We don’t really get to know any of the characters except Jo and to a lesser extent Amy. Laura Dern is totally wasted. The Meryl Streep part is super lazy and she just phones it in. I would have preferred to actually get to know everyone in a more balanced way. It would have been more engaging. Also, the thematic speeches detract from the movie. It just doesn’t need them. The story speaks for itself.

112) Climax

I like the basic concept but Noé can’t stay out of his own way. All he really needed to do was cut down on the clutter and turn the camera right side up.

113) The Last Black Man in San Francisco

It’s bloated, uneven, and unremittingly heavy-handed, but most of the acting is great and the central friendship is compelling. I suspect it would have been very good if Talbot had summoned more restraint and let the performances and the relationships do the work. NB, this demands to be watched as a double feature with The Intruder, its lowbrow inversion (and IMO a better film). There is a remarkable degree of symmetry between the two.

114) Pokemon Detective Pikachu

I had no idea what was going on and I don’t think I’m the target audience, but it looked cool at times and Ryan Reynolds is sort of funny.

115) The Curse of La Llorona

I love the Conjuringverse and I really wanted this to be better, but alas. Raymond Cruz is good as the back-alley exorcist, but La Llorona herself is disappointing and the movie is just not well constructed. Also, the generic white mom protagonist waters down the cultural setting.

116) Child’s Play

Brad Dourif was a hell of a lot cooler than a smart home.

117) The Gospel of Eureka

Eh, this is probably actually better than where I’m putting it but I just really don’t enjoy this sort of human interest documentary. The passion play itself is amazing, though.

118) Brightburn

Incel Superman horror? Not terrible, but thoroughly adolescent.

119) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Most of the monsters look cool. Some of the monster fights are great, others are overburdened with the awful narrative. So Tywin Lannister and Vera Farmiga are right-wing Thanos and left-wing Thanos? And Kyle Chandler is an absentee dad? Nah. I couldn’t get past my distaste for taking a series that has its origin in a Japanese post-war nuclear horror movie and turning it into something that’s so light-hearted about nukes. Now nukes are batteries for a benevolent Godzilla?

120) Joker

I like Phoenix’s physical acting but the writing is just terrible and Phillips’ direction is meh.

121) The Death of Dick Long

There are like half as many ideas here as were needed to sustain a feature film.

122) Ford v Ferrari

How are we supposed to root for the douchebag Republican Ford executives over the hilarious insolent Italian Ferrari crew? The movie seems to assume a very douchey level of patriotism from the audience. But more importantly, it leans entirely on formula and totally neglects the sort of details that could have made it much more gripping. When most of the drama revolves around car design, you need to slow down and educate the audience about technical challenges and how they are overcome. This movie just throws some gibberish at us and insistently reminds us that things get dicey when the RPMs get in the red. Similarly, there is no real effort to make the very long Le Mans sequence dramatically compelling. The Ferrari driver isn’t even a character in the movie, he’s just a grimacing mannequin. And then the epilogue is just excruciating. That didn’t need to be in the movie. If you’re going to do end title cards anyways, just end with the race and put all the crap from the end into the title cards.

123) Fyre

This is just peddling tawdry schadenfreude. It doesn’t have any interesting insights or notable cinematic qualities.

124) Sarah Plays a Werewolf (Katharina Wyss)

Alas, there are no werewolves in this movie. But there is a lot of Wagner.

125) Hustlers

Needs more Verhoeven, less Twitter. J-Lo is pretty good. Constance Wu is alarmingly bad. Cardi B is of course amazing, but underutilized. The first hour hangs together reasonably well, but the last part is godawful. The best part is the perfect use of the Scott Walker song. Did not see that coming.

126) Marriage Story

Divorce sucks: the movie, bourgeois edition. I’ll pass. I especially hate the Randy Newman score. Ray Liotta is good, though.

127) Fighting with My Family

A GLOW subplot, but bad.

128) I’m Just Fucking with You

One of these trashy Blumhouse movies. It’s pretty fun at first but wears out its welcome long before it’s over.

129) The Nightingale

Confirms my sense from The Babadook that Kent is a decent director and a very bad writer. The dialogue is awful throughout. Aisling Franciosi is not at all good in the lead role. The villains are the best part. Despite the problems I had with the movie, I was with it until the last 45 minutes, because I appreciated how hard it went. No punches are pulled on the front end. But then it does start pulling its punches. For a rape-revenge movie, going heavy on the rape and light on the revenge is a bad recipe. NB, Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker is a key point of reference and a much, much better movie. Check it out.

130) Holiday

I watched this because the blurbs promised hostility and nastiness, but it is very tame. It needed to be several orders of magnitude more hostile to hold any interest. There is one short scene that is rather bold, but it’s so obviously fake that it didn’t have much impact for me.

131) The Burial of Kojo (Blitz Bazawule)

Very “video art.” The longest 80 minute movie I’ve ever seen. It did not come together for me at all and the cheap digital look of the cinematography doesn’t suit the material.

132) Rim of the World

This is entirely derivative and has nothing new whatsoever to offer, nor does it do anything fun with the formula.

133)  The Kid Who Would Be King

The Merlin stuff is embarrassing and the movie is painfully repetitive. All of the baddies are exactly the same as each other.

134) Avengers: Endgame

The only good thing I can say here is that it’s better than Infinity War. The time heist concept is good, but the movie focuses on everything other than the heist. The long opening act where we’re rounding up the old gang is tedious, the middle act heists are rushed and underdeveloped, the fat Thor schtick is not funny (none of the jokes are funny, except maybe the very first version of the back to the future joke), and the epilogue is agonizing sentimental pap.

135) The Art of Self-Defense

Unfunny Foot Fist Way plus shitty Fight Club with wannabe Lanthimos dialogue.

136) Toy Story 4

Same terrible movie again, plus a one-joke spork. I would be totally fine if I never hear Randy Newman music ever again. Angela’s amazing comment when it ended: “I kept hoping the toys would be like Chucky and start killing everyone.”

137) Head Count

Netflix was putting up one or two terrible proprietary horror movies a week around Halloween season and this was one of them. This just has nothing at all going for it. No good characters, no interesting writing, no scares, no ideas, no visual flare. It just plain sucks.

138) Captain Marvel

The one thing that amuses me about this is that either they didn’t screen test Brie Larson to make sure she’s capable of convincingly running and jumping, or they just didn’t care that she isn’t.

139) Booksmart

Unwatchable, and yet I persisted.

140) The Farewell

I intensely dislike this movie. Once I found out it was based on a This American Life segment, it all made sense. If anyone ever wants to subject me to enhanced interrogation, there’s no need to resort to waterboarding, just force me to listen to This American Life and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. There’s a central line in this movie that I can’t believe more people haven’t seen a problem with: “You think one’s life belongs to oneself. But that’s the difference between the East and the West. In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole.” First of all, that right there is some culturally reductive shit. Does anyone seriously believe that we can make this sort of sweeping generalization about ‘the East’? It’s a big place! Is there really so much cultural continuity between Japan and Sri Lanka? The Philippines and Mongolia? When it comes to preparations for the death of a family member, is it really true that the West is governed by individualist ideals while the common Chinese practice of deceiving a person about their terminal condition is collectivist? At least as presented in the film, the point of this practice is protecting the individual from coping with fear of death, which seems more individualistic if anything. I don’t think such deception is necessarily a bad thing (please lie to me when it’s my time), but I don’t see that it reflects collectivist ideals. Indeed, one might think that the sort of open reckoning with impending death that is more typical in America prioritizes the needs for closure of the person’s family and community over the emotional pain it might cause the person dying. One thing the movie fails to address, and that it really must address if it is going to examine this cultural difference, is that the Chinese practice is bound up with a more general taboo on the open discussion of death, which surely has its downsides. When someone with a terminal illness knows that they are going to die, there can be an expectation that they will behave outwardly as though they don’t know. This could be torturous. But even granting the movie’s flawed thematic framework, it does set itself up to examine mortality in an interesting way. How will it feel when the deception falls apart and death indeed comes? [Spoiler alert] This could have been powerful. But The Farewell totally bails on the reality of mortality and leaves us with one of the worst endings of all time. I don’t care that it’s a true story, the way it’s handled is a travesty. It’s like “psyche! and she’s still alive! woohoo!” A temporary reprieve is a mere postponement of death, and in a movie like this it should not be treated as a happy ending. If this movie doesn’t have the courage to look down the barrel of mortality in the end, then there’s no movie here. Some of the movies listed above were powerful and cathartic for me in coping with my own family situation, especially Hotel by the RiverThe Farewell was the opposite. It made me angry.

141) Jojo Rabbit

Excruciating on every level. I didn’t even get to the point of fretting about the way the Holocaust is represented because I just found this so repellent at the surface level. The entire cast is astoundingly bad, but ScarJo is the worst.


Angela Shope

I saw 18 movies this year that I really loved, and so I’m doing a top 18. I really wish I could have seen A Hidden Life. I doubt anything could beat my #1 pick but it almost certainly would have been near the top. Malick is my favorite.

1) The Portuguese Woman (Rita Azevedo Gomes)

MV5BOTdlODU1ZDQtNjZlNi00MjhmLTgwZmEtOTk4ODJjYzkyNzNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQ5Mzc5MDU@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,995_AL_

If I could make a movie, I would want it to be like this. It’s perfect. It’s painterly and delicate and it made me feel calm and serene.

2) A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen)

MV5BYTU5NTU4MDgtNzJhMi00N2U5LThiYjYtNmI3MzdkYTg5Y2E3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAyMjQ3NzQ1._V1_

Delightful and charming and just a joy to watch.

3) Transit (Christian Petzold)

MV5BN2U0YTQyODktZWVjYS00ZTAxLWFkZTMtZjYwNWUwZDMyNDNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjMwMjA5NTU@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_

I don’t usually care for WWII movies but this is so alluring and the filmmaking is fluid and gorgeous.

4) Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)

MV5BYTk5Y2JmMzAtYWJlYi00N2Q4LWE4MmEtOGQ3M2UwOTRlZjExXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_

Completely gripping. It’s heartbreaking. Even though it doesn’t at all resemble my own life, I related strongly to the protagonist’s existential plight.

5) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

MV5BZDg2NDgxZGMtOWNjYS00OTNkLWE1MzgtZWY4NTdkZjQwMTczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

I grew up on Mr. Rogers. I found this nostalgic and soothing and moving.

6) Mademoiselle de Joncquières [aka Lady J) (Emmanuel Mouret)

MV5BYTlmMjU2NGEtYTNkZS00ZGMzLWFkNTMtYTUyZDE1NzEzZTU3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_

I love wicked period pieces and this is just so satisfying.

7) Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)

MV5BMzk2ODEyYWUtM2ZhYS00ZGE5LTkxMjEtNzQwY2JlM2Y0ODM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ5ODY3NjA@._V1_

I’m a big Hong Sang-soo fan. Even though his movies are all similar to each other in many ways, they never even begin to get old. This one is sad and starkly beautiful.

8) Le Flor (Mariano Llinás)

MV5BN2UwNzM4YjAtNjM0OC00MTViLWFmZDktM2RhZjdhMWNmMGUwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjc1NDA2OA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_

Well that was a long day. The four female leads are incredible.

9) Ad Astra (James Gray)
MV5BZThlNDlhNTAtNGI1NC00Yzg4LWJlMGEtYWE4NzJkZTBhYTY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA5NDgxNTg@._V1_

I heart sadboy Brad Pitt. It’s such a lonely and bleak movie. I felt it, even though it’s a very male-centric story.

10) Domino (Brian De Palma)

MV5BOTk0OGE4YzItY2RjYy00YjllLTk0MTctNmNlYjJlZDgyZGJlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

I love De Palma and this didn’t let me down. The set pieces are thrilling. Jaime Lannister teaming up with the Red Woman to fight ISIS is pretty inspired. Also, I like how many tomatoes there are in this movie.

11) Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)

The way this is unstuck in time is really interesting. The acting is exceptional.

12) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

The big arcs here are just masterful in all respects, but especially the acting. Al Pacino!

13) Midsommar (Ari Aster)

The sense of horror in the light of day is unusual and thrilling. I don’t have a very high tolerance for horror, but this one works for me.

14) Anna (Luc Besson)

I love the protagonist. I loved joining her for this adventure. Sasha Luss’ gallery of styles is mesmerizing.

15) Glass (M. Night Shyamalan)

The intersection of the storylines from the first two parts of the trilogy is really satisfying. It’s the opposite of most superhero movies, thank god.

16) Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)

This is a rough one. The color palette and Spanish aesthetic are delightful, but the movie is extraordinarily painful and real. This is another movie, like Ad Astra, that I felt like I could connect with even though it’s so male-dominated.

17) Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)

So stressful! I enjoyed how long it is, but it’s really exhaustingly tense and scary. The cast is great.

18) Legend of the Demon Cat (Chen Kaige)

It’s pretty campy, but that didn’t stop me from crying. I love the costumes and the romance.

Bottom Five:

I try not to watch movies that I don’t expect to like, but these I really couldn’t stand.

1) Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)

My patience for this movie was depleted within two minutes. It was really hard to watch and I don’t know why I did.

2) Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)

Ew, no thanks.

3) Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

Unbearable.

4) Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)

I hate the characters and the whole tone of the movie.

5) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

It was just annoying. Tarantino is annoying.

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 11

Featured image from Twins of Evil.

Amazon Prime

Amazon is again the clear winner. One does have to be careful, because they have many titles in poor quality that are available in better quality elsewhere, but I can vouch for the quality of these selections.

Ash is Purest White

This was in my top ten of the decade and I consider it a masterpiece. It is a film in the jianghu tradition, concerned with the alternative codes of honor of the criminal world. It appropriates tropes of this tradition to examine what it means to preserve one’s values amidst rapid, sweeping cultural change. It’s a funny, very strange movie that goes to surprising places. Jia’s direction is at once rigorously controlled and effortlessly fluid. Throughout the film, he uses digital cameras that would have been available at the time the action takes place (except for the prison section, which is on film), weaving the film’s themes into the shifting character of the cinematography.

Mr. Majestyk

Mandatory viewing for Bronson fans. It’s an extremely satisfying and fun revenge picture where a watermelon farmer finds himself simultaneously squaring off against racist yokels, asshole cops, and organized crime.

Revolver

One of my very favorite poliziotteschi. The score is by Ennio Morricone. This is a mean, nasty movie and lots of content warnings apply. Do not watch this if you are worried about content warnings. What makes this one really stand out is the great Oliver Reed, who brings all the wild intensity he is capable of. He plays a prison warden whose wife is kidnapped by a gang of crooks in order to force him to free a hood played by genre icon Fabio Testi. Things do not go well and it becomes a brutal revenge movie.

Note that a restored version of this movie came out on blu ray a couple months ago, whereas the version on Amazon appears to be pulled from the older dvd. If you really care, it’s worth seeking out the blu ray, but the version on Amazon is within the range of acceptability for a 70’s exploitation movie. It only has the English audio, but that’s fine, as the leads are speaking English and the dubbing isn’t terrible (in Italian exploitation movies from this era everyone usually spoke their own preferred language during the production and then the audio was dubbed in post production).

Ghosthouse (1989, not 2017)

Lenzi is a schlockmaster and this is pure schlock. It’s a totally incompetent and very fun mash up of Poltergeist and The Evil Dead. 

Twins of Evil

One of my favorite Hammer Horror titles. Peter Cushing plays a Puritan witch hunter who takes in his orphaned identical twin nieces as wards. Local libertine Count Karnstein gets into some weird erotic vampire occultism and one of the twins is drawn in (but which one????). This is exceptionally lurid and the production design is delicious. It’s actually the third part of the Karnstein Trilogy but the other two are paid rentals and there’s no need to watch them in order.

Detour

A new restoration of one of the best and strangest classic noirs. It’s short and wonderful and you should certainly see it.

The Terrorizers

I’ve recommended this before but I bring it up again because it’s probably the single best movie available on any of these three streaming services (unless Johnny Guitar is still available). Jameson famously called it the postmodern film. Antonioni’s Blow-Up is helpful context. I won’t even bother to describe this. If you’re seriously interested in film, I insist that you watch it.

The Tenant

This is the least well known of Polanski’s brilliant trilogy about people losing their minds in apartments (the other two parts are Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby). It’s the funniest and most bizarre of the three, and Polanski himself stars. This is one of his very best and most distinctive movies and absolutely essential for anyone interested in his work.

Ginger Snaps

I’m sure I’ve recommended this before but it bears repeating. This is one of my favorite modern horror movies and it was on the vanguard of the welcome trend of reversing gender power dynamics. Lycanthropy as puberty!

The Fanatic

Probably don’t watch this lol. I’m recommending it for anyone out there who really and truly loves bad movies. This is raw, uncut bad movie madness. I mean this is John Travolta fully leaning into some unnamed cognitive disability, directed by Fred Durst. This is a bad movie for people (like me!) who want to see boundaries of taste not just stretched but eviscerated.

Death Warrant

The sleaziest peak-era Van Damme flick. It’s a gnarly exploitation movie about a cop who goes undercover in prison to investigate a string of deaths.

The Stendhal Syndrome

This is on the late side for Argento, and some people think he fell off around this point in his career. Of course his earlier films are better, but in my opinion this is fantastic. It’s quite messed up and something you should skip if you care about content warnings (and it’s even more messed up to consider that he cast his own daughter in THIS role). But if you like Argento you’re probably not too worried about this sort of thing, whereas if you’re not familiar with his work you should start with the 70’s classics. In any case, this is a wild movie about trauma and the power of art and it features one of Asia Argento’s best performances.

The House of the Devil

An excellent retro 70’s style slow burn from 2009 about a babysitter who is hired for a very creepy and ominous assignment. It features the great Tom Noonan. Greta Gerwig makes an appearance. Ti West fell off after this, but it’s one of the best horror movies of the aughts.

The Love Witch

Anna Biller’s sexy, feminist, comic Jacques Demy-inspired lite horror movie is singular and delightful. There’s a ton of male and female full frontal nudity, fyi. Her concept here was to center the female gaze and her own sexual fantasies.

Get the Gringo

An excellent south of the border genre picture with Mel Gibson in full form. There have been precious few Mel Gibson movies the last decade, but at least we have this.

Flesh and Blood

Verhoeven’s first English language movie, starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh (!). It’s set in the 16th century and is stuffed to the gills with sex and violence. Very entertaining, if you’re into this kind of thing.

Netflix

The Witcher

I love The Witcher! I know it’s very popular, so you may not need the recommendation, but if you’ve been reading mixed things about it, consider Strohltopia an enthusiastic yes. I like it much, much better than game of thrones. It’s unapologetically trashy, with lots of shirtless Henry Cavill and gratuitous nudity and CGI monsters and magecraft and so on.

Gangs of New York

You probably saw this but I propose that it’s time for a rewatch. It’s aged extremely well. I consider it one of the very best movies of the aughts and also one of Scorsese’s two or three best movies (maybe his best, but I’d need to rewatch a couple things to be confident in that declaration). He said he was going for something like “Western on Mars,” but that doesn’t even begin to capture how bold and ambitious this film is. We start out with 19th century urban medievalism (?!) and transition to a gang of nativist mad hatters. This is the best Daniel Day Lewis performance by a fucking mile, but don’t miss how good Cameron Diaz is here (it takes a lot of sand to be a turtle dove). The intense, vitriolic nativism resonates much more strongly now than it did when this was first released.

Avengement

Peak Scott Adkins. This is like Bronson meets Brawl in Cell Block 99 meets early Guy Ritchie. It is brutal and bone-crunching and Adkins is over-the-top amazing.

Loving You

Poignant drama from Johnnie To. A derelict cop suffers a brain injury and becomes dependent on the wife who he previously mistreated. Lau Ching Wan and Carman Lee are extraordinary.

The World is Not Enough

Highly underrated. I think this is the best Bond film since Timothy Dalton (certainly a lot better than all the Daniel Craig entries). Sophie Marceau is one of the very best femme fatales in the series and Denise Richards is delightfully campy.

Five Elements Ninjas

I am able to stream this on Apple TV with the original audio and subtitles, but I’ve heard mixed reports from people using other devices. In any case, don’t watch it unless you can watch it with the original audio, as these Shaw Bros. movies are ruined by dubbing. This is peak Chang Cheh. It’s a borderline abstract set of battles with color coordinated groups of ninjas channeling each of the five elements.

Hulu

28 Weeks Later

I absolutely hate Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and I think it’s one of the worst things that ever happened to the horror genre, but this belated sequel is really good. It’s tense and violent and moves at a compelling pace.

Luce

I just recorded an appearance on Philosophy Talk where I discuss this film and Give Me Liberty with Joshua Landy and Jeremy Sabol. I think it’s certainly one of the most interesting contemporary topical films about race in America. It’s a 2019 film by Nigerian-American filmmaker Julius Onah, based on J.C. Lee’s 2013 play. It’s about a young black man who started out his life as a child solider in Eritrea, but who was adopted by a middle class white couple played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth (love the early-2000’s casting!). He’s become a star athlete and high school valedictorian, but after he writes an essay about Fanon (!) a teacher played by Octavia Spencer becomes suspicious of whether he’s hiding something dark. It’s a very original take on the bad seed movie. Amidst all the simplistic moralism that weighs down most topical films in the age of Trump, Luce stands out for its complexity and thorniness. I think one needs to relate it back to the birtherism controversy, as Luce is clearly a sort of Obama stand-in, but I won’t say more than that here to avoid spoilers. It’s a very interesting film, even if the dialogue is sometimes stagey.

The Prodigy

Another bad seed movie, but this one is fully trashy. Think Child’s Play meets Birth. Bad movie lovers only.

Baskin

Extremely bizarre, violent, surreal Turkish horror movie. It’s descended from stuff like In the Mouth of Madness but it’s more untethered. Not for everyone, but horror fans should see it.

A Score to Settle

Wild Nic Cage movie, for Cage fans only. It’s sort of like Scent of a Woman as a revenge movie, but except instead of being blind he can’t sleep AT ALL.

Running with the Devil

This has milder Cage factor but considerable Fishburne factor and is very fun as a bad movie. The story is basically “what’s the stupidest possible way to get a few kilos of cocaine from Columbia to Vancouver?”

High-Rise

One of Ben Wheatley’s best movies, based on the J.G. Ballard novel. It’s a surreal, conceptual depiction of class conflict in a high rise where the residents are blocked off from the outside world. Plenty violent.