It’s October again which means I’ve spent the entire month watching as many Horror movies as I could make time for. Seeing that I’m occasionally asked for recommendations, because it’s been a couple years since I’ve done a proper list, I thought it was time for a little update. Some of these straddle the line between horror and something else and most are obvious but they’re also honest. If you’re looking for something to watch (or rewatch) over the next few days, you could do a lot worse. Here are my favorite horror films from the last few years.
1. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky) Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-winning tour-de-force performance as a ballet dancer driven to the brink in the best psychological horror film that Roman Polanski never made. Aronofsky combines the go for broke theatricality of The Fountain with the intimate scale of The Wrestler for the best-of-both-worlds. [Rent on iTunes]
2. Attack The Block(Joe Cornish) Edgar Wright-produced sci-fi/horror/comedy focuses on a group of young teens in South London fighting off an alien invasion. A natural blend of the 80s cinema of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg, for once these influences feel lived in and genuine, as if they’d been absorbed naturally rather than studied. [Rent from Netflix, Buy on iTunes]
3. Cabin In The Woods(Drew Goddard) A group of teens awake an ancient evil in this smart, playful stab at horror films made by and for those that love them. Though it works better as a comedy than as a horror film, it’s also a ton of fun that only gets better with repeat viewings and the last act is every horror nerd’s wet dream.[Stream on Netflix]
4. Kill List(Ben Wheatley) Don’t read anything, just watch it. [Stream on Netflix]
5. The Loved Ones(Sean Byrne) Lola asks Brent to the school dance, he politely declines, she kidnaps and tortures him. Violent but it’s not gratuitous and definitely for the adventurous, the film goes to some extremely fucked up places — when you figure out what the title is referring to, you can’t help but smile. [Rent from Netflix, Buy on iTunes]
Honorable Mention:Safe Haven(short, Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto) A small documentary crew goes inside an Indonesian cult and all hell breaks loose. From the director of “The Raid,” at 20 minutes long, this short from mixed bag anthology V/H/S/2 is still the best horror film I’ve seen all year. Fingers crossed he’ll do a feature. [Stream on Netflix]
Runners-Up: The first half of Insidious (James Wan), The Conjuring(James Wan), Frozen (Adam Green).
I was out of the country for the bulk of the 51st New York Film Festival (my 9th year attending) so unfortunately I didn’t get to see as many films as I would have liked — “All Is Lost,” “The Immigrant,” “Bastards,” “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “The Wind Rises” were probably my most noteworthy omissions — but on the plus side, my hit-to-miss ratio was much higher than it has been in previousyears. I enjoyed all the films I saw this year to varying degrees with the top choices certain to land high on my year end list. Here, in descending order of preference, are my favorites from the 2013 NYFF.
1.Her(dir: Spike Jonze) Probably the strangest (and most effective) love story since “Punch-Drunk Love” is a heart-on-a-sleeve romance between a man and his operating system. As much as I adore his collaborations with Charlie Kaufman, with “Where The Wild Things Are,” his 31 min short “I’m Here” and “Her,” it’s great to finally see Jonze’s voice onscreen. There’s nothing else like it.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis(dir: Coen Bros.) Low-key character study features a career-making performance from Oscar Isaac and feels like a spiritual cousin of 2009’s severely underrated “A Serious Man.” The Coens track record has been spotty in recent years but ‘Llewyn Davis’ can stand alongside that and “No Country For Old Men” as their finest of the aughts.
3. Nebraska(dir: Alexander Payne) Well observed father-son story is a big step back in the right direction for Payne after the milquetoast “The Descendants.” It may move a tad slower than I might’ve liked but the bench of supporting players is deep (Bob Odenkirk, Buzz from “Home Alone,” etc.) and it pays off big time emotionally in the final act.
4. Captain Phillips(dir: Paul Greengrass) Not a film I need to see again but an effective true life thriller whose finale undercuts uplift with raw emotion and elevates the entire film which preceded it. Hanks doesn’t have a ton to do here (outside of the strangely awkward opening with Catherine Keener), but his final scenes do haunt.
5. Blue Is The Warmest Color(dir: Abdellatif Kechiche) The coming out/coming-of-age story that took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes contains some potent stuff (particularly in the first 3rd) but there is no reason on Earth that it needed to be 3 hours. Extended running time lingers on scenes that go nowhere and skips potentially huge dramatic developments. Its infamous sex scenes betray the previously earned dramatic emotion.
n/a. The Age Of Innocence (dir: Martin Scorsese) Lured by the promise of a Winona Ryder appearance that never came I was inadvertently tricked into seeing Scorsese’s 1993 romance, also the next-to-last narrative film of Scorsese’s that I hadn’t seen yet. (If you’re curious, the last one is (“Boxcar Bertha.”) Damn you, FilmLinc!
I took my 3rd trip to TIFF last weekend, saw 10 films, one Live Reading and caught up with friends over 3 jam-packed days. It was great. Here’s a quick rundown of all the films I saw best to worst.
1. The Double(dir: Richard Ayoade) I was a big fan of Ayoade’s debut “Submarine” but was even more impressed with his sophomore effort which is equal parts “Brazil”, Kafka and Ayoade’s own wicked sense of humor. Jesse Eisenberg stars as a corporate drone forced to contend with the appearance of his doppelganger in this nightmarish comedy that should be a cult classic/midnight movie for years to come.
2. 12 Years A Slave(dir: Steve McQueen) Based on the true story of Soloman Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery, this is a beautiful, brutal and overwhelmingly emotional portrait of the horrors of slavery. Visual artist turned virtuoso director McQueen is unflinching in his portrayal of the times and I was brought to tears more than once. A powerful, wrenching story that needed to be told and needs to be seen.
3. Gravity(dir: Alfonso Cuaron) It’s odd to watch a film so masterful — it truly sets the benchmark for visual effects — and still feel a bit let down. Though I didn’t connect to the emotional journey of Sandra Bullock’s despondent astronaut as much as I wanted to, Cuaron’s tale of survival in space is breathtaking spectacle that deserves to be seen in 3D on the biggest screen you can find.
4. Dom Hemingway(dir: Richard Shepard) A dark British comedy from an American writer/director casts Jude Law as a notorious safe-cracker and irascible cunt just released from a 12 year stint in prison. Surprisingly vulgar (the film opens with him monologuing to camera about his manhood) and surprisingly sweet (he wants to reconnect with his daughter, Emilia Clarke), the film was mostly just a pleasant surprise.
5. Bad Words(dir: Jason Bateman) Jason Bateman knows that it’s impossible to dislike him, so for his directorial debut, he casts himself as a real bastard just to see if he can get away with it. In the film, he stars as a damaged 40 year old who enters a national spelling bee meant for grade-schoolers to work through some unresolved issues. As a director, he’s on a learning curve but as a “Bad Santa”-esque lead, he shines.
6. Labor Day(dir: Jason Reitman) Give Reitman credit for trying something different but his adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel just doesn’t entirely work. Centered on a convict (Josh Brolin) who takes up residence with a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her teenage son, the film treads on some really tricky tonal territory that might work on the page but doesn’t convince onscreen.
7. Green Inferno(dir: Eli Roth) After a 6 year hiatus, Roth returns for this cannibal horror tale, oddly his most amateurish effort to date. The film centers on a group of college student activists who get kidnapped by cannibal villagers while in Peru. Iffy acting, TV grade digital look but sick fun when shit starts to hit the fan. Read my review.
8. All Cheerleaders Die(dir: Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson) This had all the elements of a great self-aware horror movie: cheerleaders, witchcraft, the undead, what more could you want? Unfortunately the film doesn’t really deliver on its premise and in a mixed blessing, the last few minutes seem to open the door for a (more exciting) sequel.
9. Can A Song Save Your Life?(dir: John Carney) With his 2006 breakthrough, the indie musical “Once,” Carney captured lightning in a bottle but here he tries to manufacture that chemistry with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and the results are utterly false and manufactured. Knightley could convincing career as a singer and Carney may be a better songwriter than screenwriter.
10. You Are Here(dir: Matthew Weiner) A hugely disappointing misfire is the big-screen debut of “Mad Men” mastermind Matt Weiner. Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis star as Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis types in this uneven dramedy that aims for James L. Brooks (“Broadcast News”) and ends up more as James L. Brooks (“How Do You Know?”). Let’s never speak of it again.
BONUS: Boogie Nights live read(dir: Jason Reitman) Jesse Eisenberg as Dirk Diggler, Dane Cook as Reed Rothchild, Olivia Wilde as Amber Waves, Dakota Fanning as Rollergirl, Jason Sudeikis as Buck Swope and Josh Brolin as Jack Horner. Yes, it was as strange as it sounds. Check out my review at The Playlist/Indiewire.
We’re now halfway through 2013 already which means it’s time for a temperature check on the cinematic highlights so far this year. I’ve seen 78 films in the theatre (about 20 of which were repertory screenings) and many of those at Sundance and SXSW which comprise a great deal of this list. Not all of these titles have been released yet so you should keep an eye out for them when they do arrive while some you may have already missed. There may be some further shuffling of this order as the year continues but for now, here are the very best films I’ve seen so far this year [some of which have reviews!]
Also: I’m So Excited (June 28), The Wolverine(July 26), The Lone Ranger (July 3),The Hangover Part III(May 24),Blue Jasmine(July 26),World War Z(June 21).
Ten Films I’ve Already Seen (And Highly Recommend):Ain’t Them Bodies Saints(August 16), The Kings Of Summer(May 31), Twenty Feet From Stardom (June 14), Crystal Fairy (July 12), The Spectacular Now(August 2), Before Midnight(May 24), Frances Ha(May 17), The East(May 31), Stories We Tell (May 17), Drinking Buddies(August 23).
1. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) Korine brings his outsider art to the mainstream by co-opting celeb teen princesses and MTV imagery for this subversive-corruptive-hilarious-fever dream that looks like a 90 minute Hype Williams video but feels like a neon nightmare. Spring break foreverrrr.
2. Twenty Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville) Moving documentary shines a light on some of the great backup singers in pop music history. A sequence featuring Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger listening to the former’s isolated vocal track from”Gimme Shelter” literally sent chills up my spine.
3. Rewind This! (Josh Johnson) Documentary about VHS and the home video revolution is an affectionate tribute to a bygone era. Both a history lesson and love letter to a format which should prove to be a must-see for all cinephiles that came of age during the VHS era.
4. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg) Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson have crazy palpable chemistry together as co-workers at a Chicago brewery in this low-key relationship comedy. What makes the film really pretty special is something it actually doesn’t do but hard to say what that is without spoiling.
5. Downloaded (Alex Winter) Documentary about the rise and fall of Napster won’t uncover too much new information for those who lived through it but still fascinating to revisit. Recent interviews with Napster founder Shawn Fanning show that the failure still stings.
6. Mud (Jeff Nichols) Two teenage boys help a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) evade capture and reunite with his lost love. As with Nichols’ last film “Take Shelter,” there’s a lot of good stuff here but like that film, it’s about 30 minutes too long.
7. Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green) Two hander featuring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as road workers who spend the summer together. Hirsch is amusing as a dimwit but it’s so sleepy at times you want to check for a pulse.
9. Evil Dead (Fede Alvarez) As a huge fan of the original I’d been hoping the new incarnation would stand-up on its own as a fun update (a la “The Hills Have Eyes” or “Dawn Of The Dead”) but unfortunately that was not the case. Featuring truly shocking levels of violence but none of the wit or fun of the original, the new “Evil Dead” is mostly a dud.
10. I Give It A Year (Dan Mazer) "Borat"/"Bruno" co-writer Mazer attempts to subvert the Brit-rom-com but falls way short. I still love Rose Byrne though.
11. Haunter (Vincenzo Natali) You know it’s bad when a pumped midnight SXSW audience is completely silent for the entire film.
Les Miserables, Lincoln, War Horse, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Avatar, The Blind Side, Precious, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Reader, The Queen, Letters From Iwo Jima, Crash*, Finding Neverland, Ray, Seabiscuit, Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World, Chicago*, Gangs Of New York, Gosford Park, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, American Beauty*, Elizabeth, Shakespeare In Love*, Life Is Beautiful, As Good As It Gets, Titanic*, The Full Monty, Babe, The Postman, The Fugitive, In The Name Of The Father, The Remains Of The Day, Howard’s End, The Crying Game, Bugsy, The Prince Of Tides, Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, Driving Miss Daisy*, Working Girl, The Accidental Tourist, Rain Man*, Hope And Glory, A Room With A View, The Mission, Children Of A Lesser God, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, A Passage To India, Places In The Heart, A Soldier’s Story, The Killing Fields, Tender Mercies, The Dresser, Missing, Gandhi*, Tess, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Norma Rae, Heaven Can Wait, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, The Turning Point, The Towering Inferno, A Touch Of Class, Sounder, The Emigrants, Nicolas And Alexandra, Fiddler On The Roof, Airport, Hello Dolly!, Anne Of The Thousand Days, Oliver!*, Funny Girl, A Lion In Winter, Rachel Rachel, Doctor Doolittle, The Sand Pebbles, Alfie, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, A Man For All Seasons*, A Thousand Clowns, Ship Of Fools, Darling, Zorba The Greek, Becket, Tom Jones*, America America, Cleopatra, How The West Was Won, Lilies Of The Field.
I managed to catch 18 movies during my 4 days at Sundance but with hundreds of movies playing, it’s impossible not to end up missing out on some things. I think I did a pretty good job of seeing some of the most buzzed about films at the fest but didn’t have a chance to see everything I had planned on, including a few films that ended up getting squeezed out for time, sleep or scheduling conflicts. So here are 5 more films that played the fest that I’ll be looking forward to checking out hopefully in the near future.
1. Magic Magic (Sebastian Silva) The second collaboration at Sundance this year between Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva and American comedy star Michael Cera. Since I loved their road-trip comedy "Crystal Fairy," this psychological thriller shot to the top of my anticipated list.
2. Fruitvale (Ryan Coogler) Word had been fairly muted about this real-life drama that follows a Bay Area man on the last day of his life until the Weinstein Co. picked it up for $2 million and the film picked up top prizes at the fest. Now I’m definitely curious.
3. Escape From Tomorrow (Randy Moore) A disturbing look at a man’s life falling apart while his family visits Disney World. Filmed on location (without permission) at Disney World.
4. S-VHS (Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez & Adam Wingard) A sequel to last year’s disappointing/misogynistic found-footage horror anthology “V/H/S” is reportedly not only better than the original but also not sexist! Double-win. Bonus: the director of "The Raid" does one of the shorts.
5. Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green) After a schizophrenic career trajectory that saw him bouncing between indie dramas and broad comedies, DGG looks to have married those sensibilities with this low-key dramedy with Paul Rudd & Emile Hirsch.
For the third year I attended the Sundance Film Festival, packing a record 18 films into 4 1/2 very full days. With hundreds of films playing I made a decision to stick mostly to the U.S. Dramatic category and Premieres which means I missed a ton of smaller films and docs that I’ll probably be catching up with throughout the year. Of the 3 years I’ve been attending this was by far the best lineup of films I’ve seen with a solid 10 or so I would recommend without hesitation. Here, in descending order are my favorites from Sundance 2013.
1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints(David Lowery) An incredible debut. Great performances, cinematography that would make Gordon Willis proud, I cried at the end.
2. Toy’s House(Jordan Vogt-Roberts) Three teens runaway & build a house in the woods. Hilarious, original comedic voice, easily one of my faves at the fest. Read my review.
4. The Spectacular Now(James Ponsoldt) Heartfelt, intimate coming-of-age story features breakout performance from Miles Teller, strong support from Shailene Woodley.
5. Crystal Fairy(Sebastian Silva) Shaggy Michael Cera is hilarious as type-A American on drug fueled road trip in Chile. Unexpectedly poignant. Read my review.
6. Don John’s Addiction(Joseph Gordon Levitt) Assured directorial debut from Joseph Gordon Levitt who stars as NJ bro addicted to porn. Funny & perceptive.
7. The East(Zal Batmanglij) Silly at times but nonetheless completely enjoyable companion piece to Sound Of My Voice. Brit Marling is beautiful. Read my review.
8. Before Midnight(Richard Linklater) Love is hard. Searingly great in the second half but it takes a bit to get there and even though it follows things to a natural progression it still kinda bummed me out.
9. The Way, Way Back(Nat Faxon & Jim Rash) Crowdpleasing coming-of-age comedy from Descendants co-writers, great cast, should be a summer sleeper hit. Read my review.
10. Stoker(Chan-Wook Park) Screenplay is a mess but this gothic melodrama almost works purely as exercise in style. Images, sound, all gorgeous.
11. Upstream Color(Shane Carruth) Exceptionally moody sci-fi piece from the writer/director of Primer” is hypnotic during long wordless stretches, but less successful with dialogue.
12. In A World…(Lake Bell) Cute comedy about insular world of voiceover artists is a promising debut from Lake Bell, needs tighter script. Read my review.
13. C.O.G.(Kyle Patrick Alvarez) Episodic dramedy based on David Sedaris’ autobiographical short story has great lead in Jonathan Groff, wanders a bit. Read my review.
2001: A Space Odyssey, 8 1/2, 25th Hour, Adaptation, A.I., Alien, Aliens, Almost Famous, Amelie, Back To The Future, Badlands, Barton Fink, Battleship Potemkin, Being John Malkovich, Being There, The Big Lebowski, The Big Sleep, Blade Runner, Blazing Saddles, Blood Simple, Blue Velvet, Boogie Nights, Brazil, Breathless, Bringing Up Baby, Casino, Children Of Men, City Lights, City Of God, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Cool Hand Luke, Days of Heaven, Die Hard, Dirty Harry, Do The Right Thing, Drive, Duck Soup, Easy Rider, The Empire Strikes Back, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Eyes Wide Shut, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Fight Club, Full Metal Jacket, The General, Ghostbusters, Goldfinger, Halloween, Hard Eight, Harold & Maude, The Incredibles, Kill Bill, The Killing, King Kong, The Last Detail, Lolita, Lost In America, Magnolia, Manhattan, The Master, The Matrix, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Mean Streets, Memento, Metropolis, Miller’s Crossing, Minority Report, Modern Times, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Mulholland Drive, Night Of The Hunter, Night Of The Living Dead, North By Northwest, The Omen, Once Upon A Time In The West, Passion Of Joan Of Arc, Paths of Glory, Psycho, Punch-Drunk Love, Raising Arizona, Rashomon, Rear Window, Rebel Without A Cause, Requiem For A Dream, Reservoir Dogs, Road Warrior, Rosemary’s Baby, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rules Of The Game, Rushmore, The Searchers, Se7en, Shampoo, The Shining, Singin’ In The Rain, Sleeper, Some Like It Hot, Sullivan’s Travels, Sunrise, Sweet Smell of Success, This Is Spinal Tap, The Terminator, Three Kings, Tokyo Story, Touch Of Evil, The Usual Suspects, Vertigo, WALL-E, The Wild Bunch, Zodiac.
It’s funny to me now that just a few short weeks ago I had been thinking that 2013 was not a very stacked year compared to some of the heavy hitters of 2012. Looking over this list now (and the many films that were not included) that has proven to be anything but the truth. As I noticed while drafting my Top 10 for 2012, only 3 of the 20 films I was looking forward to last year around this time ended up making the cut, which means for better and worse, that there were a whole lot of surprises. I expect this year will be no different. It’s going to be a good one. Here are the films I’m most looking forward to in 2013.
1. Her(Spike Jonze) It’s a sad state of affairs that we’ve only gotten one Jonze film in the last decade but thankfully Annapurna Pictures have once again come to the rescue of one of this generation’s greatest auteurs. In his first effort as screenwriter, Jonze casts surrogate Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer who falls in love with his new operating system voiced by Amy Adams. If his robot love story “I’m Here” was any indication of where he’s headed, this is going to be weird and it’s going to be great. (Late 2013)
2. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) Seven years ago Cuaron’s dizzying dystopian “Children of Men” put him in the upper echelon of filmmakers by fusing smart sci-fi and seamless effects. His latest stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as stranded astronauts attempting to return to Earth and will reportedly be almost entirely CGI, 3D and feature a 20 minute opening shot. From any other filmmaker I’d be terrified, but from Cuaron I’m just excited. (Oct. 18)
3. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn) Director and star of the Best Film of 2011Refn and Ryan Gosling reteam for this gonzo thriller about a gangster who must seek revenge on a Thai police lieutenant. While I haven’t loved any of Refn’s earlier work, I’m hoping that the corner he and Gosling turned with “Drive” means there will be no turning back. The teaser is full of dark violence which everybody knows is “the best kind." (Unknown)
5. Anchorman: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay) “Anchorman” is arguably the greatest comedy of the last decade (and there are probably few who would argue). The number of comedy sequels that have been anything but less successful rehashes of their forebearers can probably be counted on one hand. And yet, HBO’s endless airing of the original recently has me stupidly anticipating it nonetheless. [Insert “Anchorman” quote here.] (Dec. 20)
6. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Bros.)Now in the fourth decade of their careers, the brothers Coen are still going strong and though for me their recent films have been hit-and-miss, that doesn’t make me any less interested in their latest. Set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60’s, the film stars Oscar Isaac as the titular folk singer who can’t seem to get his shit together. He’s supported by his “Drive” co-star Carey Mulligan alongside longtime Coen MVP John Goodman and (for the ladies) Justin Timberlake. (Unknown)
7. The Counselor(Ridley Scott) Despite being disappointed in “Prometheus,” the stunning visuals alone reminded me that few filmmakers can make a film look as good as Scott can. His latest is an adaptation from “No Country For Old Men” author Cormac McCarthy that stars Michael Fassbender as a lawyer who gets in over his head when he gets involved with drug trafficking. His co-stars (Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz) aren’t too shabby either. (Nov. 15)
8. The Wolf Of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese) Even if I was underwhelmed by "Hugo" there is not much Scorsese could do to make me not interested in what he’s up to next. Based on a memoir of a New York stock broker (Leonardo DiCaprio) who refused to cooperate in a large securities fraud case which exposed the corruption on Wall Street, this seems to be much more in the filmmaker’s wheelhouse and mine. (Late 2013)
9. American Bullshit (David O. Russell) I was a big O. Russell fan when he was working on the fringes but I’m probably an even bigger fan now that he’s bringing his idiosyncratic voice into more mainstream subjects. His latest features an all-star cast of players pulled from his last 2 films (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams) along with new blood (Jeremy Renner) in the story of an FBI sting operation in the 1970s that leads to the conviction of United States Congressmen. (Late 2013)
10. The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrman) Those who have seen the sensory overload trailers for Lurhman’s latest fall mostly into two camps: “it’s so crazy it just might work” or “wow, what a disaster.” I’m opting for the former. Luhrman’s films have always been divisive, even among his fans - I loved his “Romeo + Juliet” & “Moulin Rouge” but couldn’t make it through “Australia” - so while I would not be at all surprised if this is a mess, I’d be much happier if it wasn’t. After the Luhrman-lite of “Anna Karenina,” I’m ready for the real thing. (May 10)