Recommendations from Josh are labeled with his initials, ‘JS’.
Best horror movie of 2017 so far. Julia Ducournau’s debut follows in the footsteps of Claire Denis’ magnificent Trouble Every Day, with its seething, sensual, feverish depiction of gnawing hunger and psychological dissolution. This is some highbrow French cannibal shit.
Probably not the best place to start with Johnnie To, but not the worst. To marries the Hong Kong action aesthetic with the French New Wave and maybe a little Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson (and something else that is distinctly his own). I would suggest Election, Election 2 (also known as Triad Election), Exiled and Sparrow as the best places to begin with To, though most of these are hard (but not impossible) to see in the US at this point. Do not watch the shitty dubbed version of Exiled on Amazon! Do not watch any of these movies dubbed! Three is a very strange hybrid of a medical thriller and a Triad movie. The entire movie takes place inside a hospital, where a young female surgeon seeks to save a wounded gangster who is trying to bide his time until his crew can bust him out while a cop stands guard and seeks to interrogate him. The finale is the awesomest thing ever. It would be impossible to overstate how awesome it is. Be warned that the movie is also very much a medical thriller, and there’s a ton of graphic surgery.
Not for everyone! If you like Sono then go for it. Mind-bending narrative. Expect to see a lot of schoolgirls getting cut in half. Berserk movie.
This is the light, nostalgic side of Lukas Moodysson. Stellar drama about a 70’s hippie commune.
Deep Blue Sea
A beloved cult favorite (in my house, at least). Intelligent sharks. These sharks can bring down a helicopter. LL Cool J subverts the usual “disposable token black guy” genre convention.
I waited years to see this. I got way more into Soderbergh after Side Effects (a De Palma-esque thriller that I totally loved) and finally gave it a shot. You know what? It’s really fucking good and not at all what I expected. Not romanticized.
My sense is that a lot of people saw this, but if you didn’t, consider checking it out. It’s a wuxia from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. Very elusive, extraordinarily gorgeous. There’s a reasonably clear narrative for the first half but by the end who the fuck knows what’s happening. If you like wuxia and aren’t afraid of experimental narratives, then go for it.
Trigger warning! Harrowing Danish revenge western starring Mads Mikkelson. Lean and mean. Arguably the best western of the last few years.
Oddly riveting deadpan comedy from Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu. Endearing and mesmerizing, with a doozy of an ending. (JS)
There are several movies with this title, and this one (by Bong Joon-ho) is probably the best, followed by the Albert Brooks film. This is Bong in a similar police procedural mode to his masterpiece Memories of Murder, but with the mother character filling the central detective role. (JS)
Dead or Alive
Excellent Miike yakuza shit. This is a good entry point into Miike. It helps if you already have some familiarity with the yakuza genre. Possibly the wildest first ten minutes of any movie ever.
Not for everyone! If you like Miike, then by all means go for it. If you’re not familiar with Miike, ask yourself if you’d like to see an absurdist comedic yakuza horror film with an episodic structure loosely modeled after a classical epic. If there’s any doubt at all, this is not the movie for you. Copious breastmilk.
I’m in the middle of a complete Jacques Rivette watch-through (which is a large undertaking that I will write about when I finish), and I’ve been dismayed by how few of his movies are readily available in the US. It was a delightful surprise to find the beautiful new HD transfers of Duelle, Noroît, and Merry-Go-Round from the Arrow blu-ray set on Amazon Prime. He originally intended a tetralogy of genre-bending films centered around a fantastical feminist cosmic mythology, but had a nervous breakdown during the third film (a musical) and abandoned the project, ultimately making Merry-Go-Round in lieu of the final two films he had planned. Rivette is most definitely not for everyone, but Duelle is one of the more accessible, entertaining films from the first half of his career. It starts out as an elusive mostly-female noir where two women (played by two of the finest actresses of the era, Bulle Ogier and Juliet Berto) are engaged in some sort of mysterious conflict. I don’t want to give anything else away, but the movie is totally mind-blowing. If you absolutely love it, proceed to the other two, which are less accessible. His concept for the series was “to invent a new approach to film acting, where speech, pared down to essential phrases, precise formulas, would play the role of poetic punctuation.” If that turns you off, avoid Noroît, which enacts this concept pretty aggressively. It’s a mostly female pirate revenge movie full of dance-like choreography.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray tackles epic adventure filmmaking while retaining his distinctive voice. The movie is a class act through and through, dealing sensitively with issues of colonialism while delivering a gorgeously filmed adventure story. (JS)
If you slept on the best horror movie of 2016, now is as good a time as any. Legit terrifying.
Hear me out on this one. It’s a blessing that Walter Hill is still making movies. This got shat on before it was even filmed because it uses a gender transition as a sensationalist plot point. It does indeed do this. Michelle Rodriguez plays a male hitman who is involuntarily given a sex change operation as revenge. The first act where she plays a man is definitely super weird and awkward, but then her performance becomes sort of brilliant. She ends up as a male character trapped in a female body, and it ends up working as a vivid inverted depiction of gender dysphoria. I found it to be actually quite intelligent and progressive in its B movie way. Typical Walter Hill badassery along the way.
An American Werewolf in London (also on hulu)
A classic, you’ve probably seen it. But if you haven’t: I recommend!
Rob Zombie frequently references this 1967 Jack Hill classic. It’s really strange and awesome. Starring Lon Chaney Jr.!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (also on hulu)
This is the only Texas Chainsaw movie after the original that Tobe Hooper made himself. It’s absolutely wonderful. Very silly and campy, with a hilarious Dennis Hopper performance. It sustains its Tobe Hooper fever pitch finale longer than any of his other movies, to grand effect.
Second part of Argento’s Mother of Tears trilogy (along with Suspiria and Mother of Tears). Not the place to start with Argento, but if you like any of his other movies, it’s worth a spin. Great score and atmosphere. (JS) [note: the Argento movies we recommend most strongly after Suspiria are Opera and Phenomena, both of which are available to stream, but not included in Prime.]
Pumpkinhead (also Hulu)
It’s a transcendent example of 80’s schlock horror, with some absolutely astonishing sequences. The creature effects are out of this world. Great Lance Henriksen performance. (JS)
Overlooked nasty little gem from Eli Roth. The great Keanu Reeves plays against type in a gender inverted home invasion thriller. It reaches a hell of a frenzy by the end. (JS)
Awesome Johnnie To movie (see Three above). A mentally ill detective who can see people’s inner personalities is enlisted to help solve a cold case. Probably not the best place to start with To, but also not the worst (especially if you have some familiarity with Hong Kong action movies and are fond of them). Extremely inventive and weird. Very entertaining.
Fun 80’s vampire movie, not scary. Would be fun for a pre-Halloween movie night with friends.
Kiss of the Damned
Sexy as hell retro vampire movie in the tradition of 70’s gothic vampire erotica like Daughters of Darkness (with Delphine Seyrig) and Jesus Franco’s Female Vampire.
Berbarian Sound Studio
Innovative horror movie about a British sound effects guy who travels to Italy to work on a horror movie. Lots of really fun giallo references. Very interesting focus on the physicality of film and the nuts and bolts of sound effects production.
Excellent independent horror movie. Trapped in a gas station, monstrous parasites. Stands apart from most recent horror movies due to its spectacular practical effects.
Delightful retro slasher fare. The sequels are great as well.
The Loved Ones
Australian first time filmmaker Sean Byrne successfully mixes John Hughes with torture porn. It’s legit horror, surprising and twisted. (JS)
Survival of the Dead
Underrated final installment of the Dead series anticipated today’s political tribalism. Buckets of badass zombie gore, though unfortunately it has more CG effects than the previous installments. (JS)
Cecil B. Demented
John Waters’ “fuck you” to Hollywood and love letter to transgressive, renegade filmmaking. (JS)
Excellent Neil Jordan vampire movie. Saoirse Ronan is memorable.