Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

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Father Gore’s Top 205

In no particular order, these are 205 of Father Gore’s favourite films. Crossing all genres, sub-genres, and decades, not only limited to the love of horror. A little blurb added for each entry on the list.

Before you start, remember: it’s great if you have movies you think I should love, and if you do make a list. Otherwise, stick to telling me if you hate or love the choices I’ve made. I’ve seen over 4,000 films, I know there are plenty choices aside from these 205 picks.
But these are MY picks.
So here we go.


The Long Goodbye (1973)longgoodbyeAltman has many great pieces of work. The Long Goodbye is forever my favourite for a few reasons. One of those is Elliott Gould. Another is Leigh Brackett’s adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, adjusted for the ’70s. And of course Altman’s style gives this film a feel very much its own.

Bullhead (2011)bullheadA contemporary Greek tragedy, set in Belgium amongst the world of the hormone mafia. Matthias Schoenaerts is intense and perfect as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a man who suffered a terrible assault as a boy which left him battling against violent masculinity for the rest of his life. One of the most devastating, tender, conflicted films I’ve ever seen. Masterpiece.

Antichrist (2009)antichristI know that Lars von Trier is a hugely divisive name even to mention in conversation, let alone in a discussion for one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. But, here we are, and he’s at the top of my list as a director. Antichrist appears, on the surface, a misogynistic film in and of itself. Therein lies von Trier’s genius, as he uses the film to effectively dissect the many ideologies in which misogyny thrives, from psychiatry to Catholicism and more. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are fearless to have taken on these roles.

Don’t Look Now (1973)dont-look-nowCertain horror films don’t have to drown you in blood or jump scares or masked killers to be terrifying. Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story Don’t Look Now is one of those movies that can trick you into feeling like it’s one thing, then shifting to reveal it is something else altogether. Great performances, masterful direction, and powerfully written, this is an examination of grief gone tragically wrong.

Videodrome (1983)videodromeIn this Croenenberg classic, one of his many, philosophy meets horror meets the human body, when James Woods’ Max Renn stumbles down the rabbit hole of a strange program called Videodrome. Also features a stellar performance out of Blondie’s Debbie Harry. And out of this world special makeup effects accomplished by the legendary Rick Baker.

Catch Me Daddy (2014)catch-me-daddyThis one stunned me. It’s a quietly unsettling thriller with characters coming together from various walks of life in a cultural melting pot which we see in all its beauty and all its darkness. Trust me: go into this one without knowing much, appreciate the depth of the story, its characters. Some films can help you understand people, other cultures, and the world better.

The Night Porter (1974)the-night-porterI’ll write about this one at length some time. Right now I’ll say that I can understand why some might not enjoy this film, especially if connected personally by family to the Holocaust. I can never understand how watching a film like this as a Jewish man or woman might feel. Nevertheless, from my perspective, I do enjoy this film because I believe it exposes uncomfortable truths, or at least presents them for us to see in the cruel light of day.

La Dolce Vita (1960)la-dolce-vitaI don’t care if people think it’s snobbish to love Fellini. Fuck that. One of the most revolutionary cinematic artists of the 20th century. I love this movie so much I have the title tattooed from my hip up to my arm on my right side. Just see it.

Talk Radio (1988)talk-radioWhen people talk about free speech, my mind never fails to sweep to thoughts of Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. There might never have been an actor better suited to a role than Eric Bogosian to that of Barry Champlain. A searing look at free speech in its many forms, as well as how far people will go to silence it (in many ways). An important piece of cinema from a director who’s made several incredibly important films.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)a-lizard-in-a-womans-skinLucio Fulci is so well known for his various nasty horror efforts, whether Zombie or The House by the Cemetery and others. For me, outside of his campy horror fun, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is objectively his most interesting and well made movie. It’s a mind bender, so there are a lot of spectacular visuals, showing that Fulci wasn’t a one hit wonder on the same horror note for years. He was often capable of real good stuff, camp or otherwise.

Last Night (1998)last-nightWritten and directed by Don McKellar, this is possibly the most Canadian vision of the end of the world you’ll likely ever see. With a top notch cast including Sandra Oh and McKellar himself, David Croenenberg, Sarah Polley, you can’t go wrong with this one. Not only that, it’s one of those end of the world scenarios you’re never totally clued in on, and so part of the film’s joy is the ultimate mystery of things, leaving the focus totally on all the people scrambling to enjoy their last night on Earth.

Seconds (1966)secondsOne of the greatest sci-fi films in existence. John Frankenheimer – legend – directs Rock Hudson in this fascinating, and equally horrifying, story of what it might be like to start life over, literally, and take on a new face, a new path. Except things aren’t always as good as they seem at first. There is such gorgeously inventive cinematography that you’ve got to see it to believe that it was made in ’66. But of course it was, because artists were thriving and starting to open themselves up to anything and everything new. A great instance of innovative cinema.

Carnival of Souls (1962)carnival-of-soulsHerk Harvey’s low budget chiller is one of the few movies that genuinely makes me want to turn all the lights on. At first you feel like it’s going to be a generic bit of horror, then everything gets spookier and spookier until the nightmarish finale refuses to let you go.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)aguirreThere’s an aura surrounding every one of Werner Herzog’s films, no matter if it’s a documentary or a fictional feature, historic, whatever. He has a special feeling. And when you add Herzog to Klaus Kinski, it’s a game changer, in every film they worked on together. Their fiery friendship provided excellence on screen. This movie in particular hits the perfect notes with me, as you get to see the cruelty and madness and greed of man set against the gorgeous, humble qualities of nature.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)picnic-at-hanging-rockA horror mystery without any explicit horror. Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of Peter Weir’s finest, is a haunting look at the loss of innocence, the transition between when girls are girls and when they become women, among other themes. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, this is a classic, and one that will probably remain with you long after the credits finish rolling.

Tyrannosaur (2011)tyrannosaurSeveral reasons why this is a cinematic heavyweight. First, you’ve got actor turned director Paddy Considine giving us his all (and a deeply affecting screenplay), next to Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman in equally powerful roles. Second, the importance of the story is unimaginable until you’ve seen it for yourself, I won’t give any of it away. Just know that it isn’t an easy watch, there are a few moments of traumatic violence, though most is either suggested or after-the-fact edited; still, an at times tough experience. But again, an important experience.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)the-thin-blue-lineA handful of documentaries, maybe more, have actually changed the world, in various ways. This 1988 Errol Morris classic didn’t just give a boost of energy to the crime documentary as a whole genre, it also helped the case of a man in jail for a murder he insisted he did not commit. Saying anything more will ruin it. Trust me, Morris’ style mixed with the extraordinary details of this specific case makes for one of the most compelling documentaries you’ll ever watch. I can put this one on back to back. Also due to the fact Philip Glass gives us an original masterpiece of a score to enjoy along the way.

Spoorloos (1988)spoorloosMystery, tension enough to choke you. A fantastically written screenplay that defines the idea of intricate storytelling, and somehow manages to reel you in while also showing you (almost) everything. The remake is absolute garbage, don’t bother. This original is fierce, moody bit of horror that works on your psychological state with deliberately rough hands. And it works a charm. This is one of those films I’ll never forget as long as I live.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)beyond-the-black-rainbowSome say there’s no real plot, or that this goes nowhere. I say Beyond the Black Rainbow is the most original film of the decade. Like a fever dream, a collage of ideas moulding into one, director-writer Panos Cosmatos brings a unique vision of the 1980s and New Age psychiatry, feeling like part David Cronenberg, part David Lynch, part Ridley Scott. Yet somehow all its own beautiful thing.

Exotica (1994)exoticaAtom Egoyan; national Canadian treasure. There’s an Altman-esque cast of characters in this film, all of whom connect, each with their own desires and emotions running wild. I can never get this one out of my head. Egoyan is someone whose films I dig, very much, though Exotica constantly sticks out because of its simultaneous strangeness and normality rolled into one.

Scarecrow (1973)scarecrowSometimes a pair of actors come together complimenting one another in the perfect ways. Scarecrow is a truly classic American movie, joining the ever awesome Gene Hackman with an up and coming Al Pacino, as two down and out types trying to make their way in the world, despite their problems. There’s one especially harrowing moment, but other than that this is a heartwarming story in places, even if it’s as much a sad one at times.

Bulworth (1998)BULWORTHOthers might pass this off. I wouldn’t if I were you. Warren Beatty is just too funny in this political satire. As a politician ready to give up, Senator Jay Bulworth takes out a hit on himself, only to want to take the offer off the table when he meets a young black woman who inspires him. After which he becomes a rapping political sensation, turning his back on his previously Conservative ideals to a more socially progressive outlook. True perfection, one of the best comedies in history.

Three… Extremes (2004)three-extremesThis is a three-for-one deal, with three short films from three impressive Asian directors – Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, and Chan-wook Park. I won’t say anything else because these need to be seen fresh, you won’t see it coming! I will say this much, they’re all great. But if pressed to pick I’d choose Miike’s chilling short “Box” as my top pick. Nevertheless, they’ll all make you feel strange.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)paradise-lostIf, like myself, you grew up enjoying the darker side of life – horror movies, heavy metal, reading about serial killers and Aleister Crowley and other strange things – then HBO’s Paradise Lost is all the more chilling. A look at justice in small town America, where three young boys, one of whom has an IQ so low he is legally mentally disabled, were charged with a vicious crime they did not commit. This is every bit a documentary, though certain moments feel genuinely theatrical. Such a devastating movie, each time I watch it I can’t help imagine how these young men felt at the time.

Killing Zoe (1993)killing-zoeRoger Avary directed and wrote this 1993 gem, and its original feel, its strangeness, they suck you in quickly. When American Zed (Eric Stoltz) turns up in Paris to help his old friend Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade) commit a robbery, events spiral out of control, and what once seemed a foolproof robbery descends into chaos. There’s excitement, there’s snappy dialogue, another solid performance from Julie Delpy, plus more! A weird, wild thrill ride from start to finish.

Absentia (2011)absentiaWith a string of great films already, Mike Flanagan is a fresh breath in the world of horror. His little flick Absentia is one that haunted me deeply after seeing it for the first time. There’s a quiet terror about the story, allowing for plenty eerie imagery alongside marvellous characters and even better performances. The human qualities of this ghostly, supernatural story are what anchors it in reality to make it get under your skin even further.

Pusher (1996)pusherBefore coming into his elevated style (which I do love), Nicolas Winding Refn explored the bare grittiness of Copenhagen’s underground, the drug dealing scene, through the eyes of a pusher named Frank (Kim Bodnia). There are all kinds of seedy characters, and as Frank makes his way through a hellish day or so he comes into contact with the worst of the worst. Refn takes us into his life with a cinema verite-type focus, making the audience feel like they’re right there in the streets.
My reviews of the whole trilogy are here.

With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II (2004)pusher-iiRefn continues his series with another entry that touches on issues you might never expect to see in most crime/drug-related films. Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) returns after the first film, fresh out of jail, and faces a life on the outside where his father hates his existence, he has an unexpected child with a woman who hates him, and everything is different than it was once upon a time. This is like a hard smack in the face, as we move just slightly adjacent to the first film to explore something other than drugs: a family under the pressure of hard living, from criminality to addiction to the longing for acceptance and love.

Brotherhood (2009)brotherhoodA beautiful, brutal, tragic film about two men entrenched in the violent ideology of white nationalism while also falling in love with each other. Brotherhood explores a topic we don’t often see, and does so with a rare tenderness. There are difficult ideas at play, but above all it’s a love story about two men wanting something they know they can have and rejecting it outwardly because they’re lost, lonely, looking for anywhere to belong. See this. Recommend it to racists and watch them seethe.

The Third Part of the Night (1971)the-third-part-of-the-nightAndrzej Żuławski is well known for his ’81 horror headtrip Possession. My personal favourite of his work is The Third Part of the Night, which takes us into a strange, internalised look at the effects of living under fascist rule. This is equal parts horror and equal parts philosophy. Go in with an open mind. Worth your time.
Need a full review? Click here.

Infernal Affairs (2002)infernal-affairsI’ll always dig Scorsese’s remake. The best, without a doubt, is the original Infernal Affairs. There’s so much perfect directing, editing, dialogue, tension. Scorsese had a bit more comedy in there, which worked. But this one takes a hardline, serious look at its plot, in turn giving the whole thing an added, thick air of suspense from top to bottom.

The Crucible (1996)the-crucibleOne of the greatest plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible takes on a new life on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal, as are the rest of the cast; he takes the cake, from execution to preparation. Most of all, the analogy of the Salem Witch Hunt and the American witch hunt for Communists during Miller’s era is always compelling, and even when you’re fully sucked into the period piece story, the contemporary political leanings of the story are never, ever far.

The French Connection (1971)the-french-connectionThere are good directors, there are great directors. There are also directors in the pantheon of cinema giants, near the top of which sits William Friedkin. Several of his films are on my Top 200+ list. The French Connection is one of the best examples of pure action, and one which also exemplifies how to make an action movie with excitement, heart, and intelligence. Throw in a stellar bit of Gene Hackman, some Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider; what more could you want? And that fucking car chase. God damn.

Brick (2005)brickAs if Raymond Chandler wrote a YA novel. Rian Johnson’s Brick hit me like a ton of them. It is totally infectious in every way. Directed, written, acted, edited to perfection. Don’t read much about it. Go in unknown. The mysterious plot will keep you riveted, I can just about guarantee. Always love an eccentric cast of characters, too.

Maniac (2012)maniacIs it blasphemous to love a remake more than the original? Fuck it. Whereas the 1980 original is disturbing in its own right, the 2012 Maniac remake takes you into the eyes of a killer, literally. Shot in 1st person POV, Elijah Wood takes us inside a psychopath with chilling results. Not everyone’s cup of tea. To me, an inventive piece of horror that challenges our idea of empathy towards characters.
My full review over here.

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)bringing-out-the-deadAn unheralded Scorsese gem, same goes for the Cage performance. This is a weird journey through Manhattan with a burnt out paramedic who starts questioning his efficiency as a lifesaving agent. There are existential questions abound, as well as questions about how people handle the dangerous and nasty careers not everyone is cut out to do. Cage is like a tour guide through the dark depths of Manhattan and the human soul at once.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)millers-crossingThe Coen Brothers are treasures, so many great films under their belt. This one makes the list because it’s a gangster movie, yet it is so unlike most in the genre. There’s the typical wit and charm of the Coens’ writing, then the performances give impressive weight to the screenplay. Best of all, Miller’s Crossing is hard to pinpoint, and the story continues unfolding in such a fun, unexpected way that by the time it’s over you’ll wonder how you got there.

The Seventh Seal (1957)the-seventh-sealIngmar Bergman made plenty of quality films, several masterpieces; many, even. Forever, his depiction of the Medieval Age and the inevitability of death, its looming certainty, is one of the best visions of when the Black Plague took hold in Europe. There’s such a high degree of symbolism that you can find so much to enjoy. The two lead performances are magic, as well.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)dawn-of-the-deadI actually love Day of the Dead most of all. However, Dawn of the Dead is Romero’s most important zombie film. It takes subtle (and not so subtle) shots at the rabid consumerism of American culture, even just the setting itself stands in for sociopolitical commentary if you want to see it that way. Most of all, the strange look and feel, the zombies, Tom Savini, and lots of other fun makes this a memorable bit of horror. There’s also a palpable air of ultimate dread, and not many can tap into that like Romero. Even some of the other great zombie flicks can’t come close to touching its atmosphere.

Barton Fink (1991)barton-finkAnother Coen Brothers classic. This is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be a writer. But there’s more to Barton Fink than that. At once it touches on the madness of the film industry, the futility of being an artist in the Hollywood system, as well as dives into issues of anti-Semitism and identity. There’s too much to love about this one, not the least of which is one of John Turturro’s finest moments on screen.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)the-last-temptation-of-christRaised in a Catholic house, I eventually was given the choice to do what I wanted around 12 when my parents asked whether I wanted to keep going to church or not. I chose not, and for the past 19 years and counting I’ve been a non-believer. That being said, I still find religion and its stories intriguing. Scorsese dives deep into the humanity at the heart of the faith with which many identify. And at the core of this film are certain things I understand, despite my lack of religion. A testament to Scorsese’s power as a filmmaker and visionary.
Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing the religious humanism of Scorsese’s film with Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Proposition (2005)the-propositionMy personal favourite Western, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition takes the genre over to the Outback in its early days, as the law attempted to rein in the madness of an untamed land. The story and its execution are impressive. What I dig most about this Hillcoat film is its focus on aesthetic. Never will you feel so utterly filthy after watching cinema than when this is over. You can all but smell Guy Pearce. This is a disturbing, emotional, tension-filled Western which features a few fine tuned performances from Pearce, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, and the great Danny Huston.
And yes, I have more to say.

High Tension (2003)high-tensionA brutal slasher with a psychothriller twist, Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is an atmospheric bit of horror. Even after you’ve experienced the twist watching the film over again is a lot of fun. You can try piecing together the mystery afterwards from the start, and it may even help you notice some little clues. No matter – just as a gory slasher, the whole thing works.
Props to Cécile De France in particular for her performance, which required emotion and nuance at every turn. Also, Philippe Nahon does well as the serial killer at the centre of the plot.
Rip through a review with me here.

Sound of My Voice (2011)sound-of-my-voiceThis atypical look at a fictional cult is simultaneously creepy and heartwarming in doses. Two of The OA‘s producers-writers Zal Batmanglij (also director) and Brit Marling co-wrote this mysterious 2011 thriller, so if you’ve seen the Netflix show and haven’t yet seen this: dig in. There are common threads in the show and Sound of My Voice, although ultimately they’re vastly different. Above all, Marling plays a wildly believable yet out there cult leader, as Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius round out the cast with two characters trying to get to the bottom of this cult.
What happens throughout verges on something between dream and reality; it’s up to you to decide, in the end, which is which for each character.

The Man from Nowhere (2010)the-man-from-nowhereAsian films of all genres are amazing, there are so many of them that it’s hard to pick a favourite, or even a top ten of favourites (or a top twenty…). But on this list of 205 films, The Man from Nowhere deserves a spot. There’s a wonderful air of mystery surrounding the titular man, whose past – for much of the film – is kept under wraps, until it’s obvious he is a man with whom you shouldn’t trifle. We also get a beautifully loving story, as well as kick ass action and fight scenes. This one has everything. As the plot evolves, you’ll get sucked in tight to the screen until the final moments.

Nosferatu (1922)nosferatuThere’s simply no denying that F. W. Murnau made one of the greatest horror films in the history of cinema. Almost a whole century later, Nosferatu remains terrifying. Some film fans, though I question their validity, don’t dig on older films as much as more contemporary works. And that’s a major mistake.
Murnau utilised plenty of innovative techniques in order to make this unofficial Dracula adaptation a beacon of German Expressionism and a horror that would never lose its power. There’s an altogether eerie atmosphere from the first scene to the last. Another 100 years, people will still find this frightening.

The Jerk (1979)the-jerkOne of the funniest comedies ever made. Steve Martin is a hilarious tour-de-force as a white boy adopted by a black family, who believes that when he gets old enough his skin will change to match his parents, brothers, and sisters. When he discovers the truth and then sets out on his own, there’s no telling where he’ll end up.
But the fact is, Martin carries every single moment of the film in which he appears, and is the major reason why so many of the gags and jokes work to perfection.

Persona (1966)Persona (1966) Filmografinr: 1966/18My favourite Bergman experience is, bar none, Persona. Many of his films are so human that they hold immense beauty. Something about this one is both human and also otherworldly, as the characters played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann slowly merge into one entity. Exactly why, how, all those questions, are left to the viewer to understand. As I said – this film is an experience. Not just that, since ’66 this Bergman classic has influenced everyone from David Fincher to Denis Villeneuve to many more, and will continue to do so until people don’t have eyes or hears.

The Chaser (2008)the-chaserHong-jin Na has since made The Yellow Sea and most recently The Wailing, however, it’s his 2008 film The Chaser that captivated me most. Inspired by the story of real life South Korean serial killer and cannibal Yoo Young-chul, this thriller is crafty and it’s likewise a thrilling 125 minutes. To say anything further would do you a disservice. Watch, enjoy, be disturbed and elated by the mystery, the tension. You won’t regret this choice.

Prince of Darkness (1987)prince-of-darknessThere are many John Carpenter flicks I absolutely love. None more than 1987’s Prince of Darkness. Because Carpenter merges the ideas of religion and science, making the concept of Satan into something far more ugly, sinister, threatening than just a name in a book meaning evil. The special effects, the score, Alice Cooper’s unsettling cameo, the creeping plot; everything adds up to a top notch bit of horror. Yet another JC gem!

Lady Vengeance (2005)lady-vengeanceChan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy is great, all around. One of my favourites is Lady Vengeance. It takes on the female perspective and also dives into a raw, disturbing story which culminates in the expected revenge we’ve seen from Park in his other films from the trilogy. Parts of the crimes involved are about as eerie as some of the disturbing bits in Oldboy, so buckle up.

Oldboy (2003)oldboyI remember hearing Quentin Tarantino rave about Oldboy after it was released, and he’s always been an inspiration to me as a writer/director hopeful. So I checked it out, fell in love. Sure, it is wildly disturbing particularly at the end. Something within that nastiness is riveting.
More than that the directorial choices of Chan-wook Park are so beautiful. No matter if he’s got his main character wielding a hammer and bashing people up, eating a live octopus, or learning about the world through television, Park makes every moment worth relishing in. Pure odd and wild delights to be had.

A Prophet (2009)a-prophetPrison films are a dime a dozen. Because of that there’s a wide variety of shitty ones. Just as many great ones, too. A recent amazing story set inside prison walls is A Prophet. When a young Arab man is sent to jail he has to do whatever it takes to survive, and after receiving an offer – either kill someone for one of the gangs, or the gang kills you – he ends up on a fast ride to the top of the food chain.
If you’re looking for a more realistic gangster movie, and one that takes place in jail, this is the ticket. Like parts of Scarface (the Arab’s feeling of being an outsider reminds me, a tiny bit, of Tony Montana’s struggle), Bad Boys (1983), and Animal Factory mixed together. But nothing’s lifted from any of the classics, nor its inspirations. A Prophet gives the goods, with flashes of absolute brilliance and violence in spades.

Altered States (1980)altered-statesWhatever Ken Russell does is, often, borderline genius and madness. Sometimes he falls off a bit. For the most part he’s a legendary director worth his weight in gold. The first time I saw Altered States was when I used to do drugs (been clean now as of this writing for almost 9 years), I took mushrooms and, boy… what a trip.
Later when I got away from all the drugs and I actually stopped drinking too (7 years sober), I revisited this Russell headtrip. Because I knew that there was something worth the effort. I watch it at least a couple times a year, finding new things to love. The heart of it never changes for me, and Paddy Chayefsky’s words beam like that first star in the night, never failing to catch me, grab hold. William Hurt is one of my favourite actors; here, he does amazing stuff, and in his first feature film no less. There’s nothing bad about this movie. Even in its zaniest scenes.

Caché (2005)cacheOn the list of my favourite directors, near the top sits Michael Haneke. He’s also a terrific writer to boot. Caché is my favourite of his, though that’s a hard choice either way. I sort of feel like Haneke is a less surreal version of David Lynch, and vice versa. They each deal in ideas that are hard to pin down, not necessarily easy to understand. And they make you think.
Caché takes on ideas of white guilt, colonialism, and inevitable vengeance. It deals with the stories people tell themselves, the narratives they create in order to live with the stories of their lives. All the actors are equally as wonderful in their respective roles, giving depth to their characters as an eerie tale precipitated by voyeurism wraps them up.
You want more?

Bug (2006)bugFriedkin takes a Tracy Letts screenplay, based on Letts’ own 1996 play, and transforms it into a psycho-thriller full of drama and horror alike. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are unforgettable, as they go on a dual transformation fuelled by paranoia. What Friedkin does best is retain the aspects of the stage play which made it tense. He then amplifies everything using the medium of film, making the performances larger than life and the atmosphere thick with a terror not usually seen. Shannon, in particular, is part of that terror, bringing it on with every breath.

Shorts Cuts (1993)short-cutsLike a marriage made in Heaven – Altman and Raymond Carver. Perhaps best because of the director’s affinity for weaving around a multitude of characters. This fits so perfectly due to the fact Altman takes nine short stories and whittles them into a 3-hour film, encompassing 22 different characters altogether. Zipping through the various spaces of Los Angeles – changed from Carver’s Pacific Northwest settings – the legendary director makes every character interesting, worth watching. Some stories are more disturbing than others, yet they all hold both the sweet and the sour; something Carver was great at in his writing. This is one of the greatest films, not just my favourite. I genuinely feel this is one of the best ever made, certainly one of Altman’s best, too.

The White Ribbon (2009)the-white-ribbonAgain, a Haneke film appears on the list. I could’ve put a bunch on here, but needed to make room for other cinema I love. What’s so interesting about The White Ribbon is how Haneke explores the origins of evil, set in a German village just prior to World War I. He dives into an entirely universal way of seeing evil, through the lens of this strange place and its inhabitants. There’s a blanket of dread that Haneke lays atop every scene, never letting up. Even those not huge on black-and-white cinematography might find themselves drawn to the images on screen from one minute to the next.

Mysterious Skin (2004)mysterious-skinOne of the most difficult, if not THE most difficult films on this list to watch. Trust me though, if you can get through this Gregg Araki tale then it’s worth all the effort. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving away parts of the plot. Just understand that, while disturbing during certain scenes, Mysterious Skin was filmed in the best way possible to protect the young actors. Plus, the story dissects the effects of child abuse on people as they start to age with a haunting, nuanced blade. Not many directors other than Araki could have made this film, definitely not as good or – believe it or not – as tender as him.

Kill List (2011)kill-listAnother of my favourite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley, turns up on this list a couple times. All his flicks are spectacular, in my eyes. Kill List takes the cake for me. Not just for its crime and horror mix n’ match story, but also for the way Wheatley slow burns through the plot. To the very last moment there’s a curiosity, a dark one, about where things are headed. And you’ll never guess where. That’s part of that dark excitement.

In the Bedroom (2001)in-the-bedroomThis Todd Field feature is powerful. So much potent drama involving families, the want for justice – or revenge – and all kinds of other themes. There’s a realistic feel to the people in this film, and the story is so organic that it flows in front of you like you’re hearing someone tell a story. Field is a fine director, and writer. Mainly he’s capable of taking us steady through a weaving set of lives which all make up the life of a small town, where everyone knows each other and what’s happening with everybody else. You won’t ever forget the climax or the resolution of In the Bedroom.

The Devils (1971)the-devilsYet again, Mr. Russell and his excellence returns to the list! This is one of those fabled films, blasphemous and wild in content, based on the true (dramatised, obviously) story of 17th century Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who was executed for involvement in witchcraft. Alongside Oliver Reed as Grandier is the ever perfect Vanessa Redgrave playing one of the mad nuns accusing the priest of having influenced them with black magic.
Put it this way – there’s a sequence called The Rape of the Christ, and if you can track down the uncut version of the film it’s a proper treat. A devilish good time.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)the-treasure-of-the-sierra-madreIf ever there were a story of greed, this one is king. John Huston is forever one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. There’s so much to love about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. From its wonderful cinematography courtesy of the magical Ted D. McCord (East of EdenThe Sound of Music; nominated for 3 Oscars), to Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel, to the fact Huston directed his father Walter alongside Humphrey Bogart.
Today, this movie still stands as relevant. I know that’s said a lot. Just take a cold, hard look at what the film is saying, how it navigates the brutality of greed in the name of the supposed American Dream. Nothing has really changed, only the medium of greed.

Possession (1981)possessionAndrzej Żuławski is one of my other favourite directors. Such an auteur, especially in his niche, which is somewhere between surreal horror and psychological horror, mixing in significant points of history now and then. Possession throws all those things into the bowl, though Żuławski goes into a Lovecraftian mode and takes a staggeringly frightening look at the nature of relationships in terms of how people – men – often wish to possess their mate.
But what happens when someone, or something, else possesses the person you want to possess? Dig in with me.

The Lords of Salem (2012)the-lords-of-salemNot everybody loves Rob Zombie. For me, he’s one of the more fun horror filmmakers post-2000 because he does the whole retro thing well. Not just that, he gets to the savagery and the nastiness many horror fans seem to want, and yet people are so fickle. I do understand, he isn’t for everybody.
The Lords of Salem is a different film out of his catalogue, though. This is a wild look at witchcraft, addiction and recovery, and the imagery is perhaps the best Zombie’s offered to date. This is different than his throwback pieces – still dig them, all the same – giving us another side of artistry than we’ve ever seen out of him. Weird, disturbing, horrific; a wonderful genre mix!

Inside (2007)inside Not many horrors should come with warnings. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside is one that ought to tell pregnant women: turn away! If you’re even squeamish about pregnancy, in any sort of sense, it’s likely best to watch through your fingers, or not watch at all.
When a crazy woman stalks a pregnant lady in her home, trying to break in, trying to kill her, one night becomes a fight for survival in the most visceral way. I won’t say anymore because you have to see it to believe the horror. Bustill and Maury are a fascinating team with a bunch of great titles to their names; they’re also the directors of the upcoming Leatherface many of us horror enthusiasts are dying to see.

I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III (2005)i-am-the-angel-of-death-pusher-iiiWhile I love the other two films of Refn’s trilogy dearly, this third film might actually be my favourite, and my vote for the best of them. Zlatko Buric returns as the drug dealing gangster/hopeful chef Milo, likely the best performance of his career. There are a lot of things happening. However, watching Milo trying to balance a new sober life, his drug business, his daughter getting married (and him agreeing to cook for everyone) is a mesmerising experience. Refn keeps the gritty, realistic style of the first two movies and brings back characters we’ve seen before. The best of the film is Buric, as he allows a penetrating look into an ageing criminal whose guilt is catching up with him more everyday.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)monty-pythons-the-meaning-of-lifeEven some of Monty Python don’t think this movie was so great. Me? I fucking love it, every last segment, each second. There are too many funny characters to even gloss over in a paragraph. What I dig about this film is the scope: the meaning of life. Might’ve been a lofty goal. There’s something perfectly fitting, though. Watching the Pythons in all their glory navigating every aspect of our daily lives, including drips and drops of hilarious history, is breathtakingly funny. From “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the hymnal “Oh Lord Please Don’t Burn Us”, to John Cleese’s schoolteacher and his wife demonstrating sexual intercourse for the class, to Eric Idle’s “Penis Song” and the grotesque Mr. Creosote, every inch of The Meaning of Life is perfect to me.
Above all else, this Python flick contains my favourite Graham Chapman moment, as he rails to his wife (Idle in drag): “Look at them, bloody Catholics, filling the bloody world up with bloody people they cant afford to bloody feed.” After that his Protestant condom pride is enough to make me choke with laughter. Even before that when Michael Palin’s Catholic dad tells his many kids it’s “medical experiments for the lot of ya” I can’t get through it without a few chuckling tears.

The 400 Blows (1959)the-400-blowsFrançois Truffaut’s got a bunch of excellent films to watch. This one resonates with me because, although it was made in ’59, there are inescapable truths about youth. The 400 Blows takes a close look at how loneliness can become something else, when young people are left to their own devices they do learn things; just not all the right things. Still, watching Antoine struggle with figuring out independence is thrilling. As Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does.”

Ravenous (1999)ravenousThis Antonia Bird historical horror film is the stuff of dreams. The cast is outrageously great, the writing is so interesting you won’t want to miss a single moment. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography; all of it so well executed. On top of that is a uniquely odd score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and well versed composer Michael Nyman, you’ll never hear anything like it.
Also, Ravenous provides a unique look at manifest destiny, the desire to conquer, wrapped up inside a bloody cannibal story set not long after the Mexican-American War. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle shine in two vastly different roles which crash together, providing relentless suspense until the climactic and brutal final scenes.

Sightseers (2012)sightseersMr. Wheatley, a master of many genres. As opposed to the nihilistic (and awesome) Kill List, 2012’s Sightseers is a strange cross of drama, comedy, and very real horror. When an odd couple – Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) – decide to go caravaning for a few days in the country, things take an unexpected, homicidal twist. What starts as a vacation tumbles into a mess of bad timing and even worse decisions after Chris turns out to be quite different than who Tina knew before. But then again, Tina’s not exactly the woman he first met, either.
One of the darkest, funniest bits of comedy in the last decade or more. Wheatley knows how to hit the weirdest notes, no matter what genre he tackles. Check this out when you’re looking for something out of the way.

Festen (1998)festenThis Dogme film is my favourite of the bunch, if pressed to choose. It’s well conceived in the Dogme vision, touching on just about every base they hope to cover. Thomas Vinterberg (originally uncredited as per the Dogme manifesto) breaks through the uncomfortable exterior of a family with hidden secrets. The performance of all actors comes to make this an interesting – and tragic – experience, though it’s Ulrich Thomsen whose shine is brightest. He’s perfect, hauling you directly into his inner life to the point where even while the rest of his family questions his motives the audience feels firmly rooted in his perspective as truth.

Cruising (1980)cruisingThis is my favourite Friedkin film. That’s saying something, because he’s one of those classic masters of cinema in the director’s chair. Cruising is an incredibly intriguing film for a number of reasons. One thing I love is that, in the name of not exploiting the gay community, Friedkin got into a jockstrap and frequented the clubs instead of standing back like someone looking down on the BDSM culture of the story; in all fairness, he was later banned from a couple of the gay clubs, for whatever reason. Also, the screenplay is based on actual murders of gay men happening in the late ’70s. The production and release of the movie were both plagued by protests from the gay community. Personally, I don’t feel Friedkin ever meant anything in this work to feel anti-gay. Rather he wanted to make a movie concerning the gay community simply because of the murders, their impact on gay men, and so on. Either way it’s a twisty psycho-thriller, it’ll get its hook into you.

Halloween (1978)halloweenThe first appearance of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s horror classic is still to this day, and always will be, a horrifying creeper of a film. Nothing else to say. If you want more, I talk about it at length here.

Thief (1981)thiefMichael Mann’s debut feature Thief was an announcement of a passionate, talented, innovative filmmaker on the scene. He’s made a bunch of quality movies; at the top of his heap for me sits this one and Manhunter. In this James Caan-led flick, featuring Willie Nelson and Tuesday Weld, we get a realistic look at a criminal hoping for a bigger dream and a better life comes up against forces beyond his control. Like a microcosm of the elusive American Dream, Thief depicts what happens when the obsession of a criminal to find that last big score gets in the way of better sense.

Repulsion (1965)repulsionI don’t want to talk about Polanski, because that’ll require a whole other massive article. I can’t deny the power of a few of his films, Repulsion in particular. This is a hypnotic, haunting vision of what happens to a woman after an unnamed trauma in her past; or was there any? Until the end we’re never entirely sure, nor does the film provide us with any actual concrete answers, avoiding exposition at most points. What matters most is the imagery. The one above still passes through my mind ever so often, more than you might imagine. At the centre of the film’s powerful force is Catherine Deneuve in the lead role, taking us through a phantasmagoria of the pain in her mind.

Ichi the Killer (2001)ichi-the-killerTakashi Miike is a twisted man, whom I love dearly as a filmmaker. His adaptation of this manga title works me over, so much so I can’t watch it as much as other movies I dig a ton. That doesn’t change the fact it is a legendary piece of cinema. This is one of the most spot on manga adaptations you’ll find, simply for the fact it doesn’t shy away from painting the walls ridiculously with blood, nor does Miike shy from a bit of semen, either. Real stuff, too. Gross. Nevertheless this story is infinitely interesting and nasty.

Bad Education (2004)bad-educationPedro Almodóvar will go down in history as one of cinema’s best. No doubt in my mind he’s already attained such status. I could’ve chosen several different titles of his for my list – The Skin I Live InTalk to HerMatador, or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – but there’s a truly compelling story that Almodóvar tells in Bad Education from which I can never avert my eyes. A courageous central performance out of Gael García Bernal, an actor who’ll likewise be seen as a great from his generation, makes everything even better. Directed to perfection, Bernal acting circles, a screenplay to wow. Just an outright classic.

Black Christmas (1974)black-christmasI find many movies terrifying, and I’m glad I still do after seeing over 4,000 films – lots of them horror. Black Christmas is one that never fails to creep me out. The voice over the phone alone is the stuff of nightmares. A fantastic cast of women each goes up against the terror of an unseen killer. Nothing more I can say except dig into this vicious little slasher.

Dead Ringers (1988)dead-ringersCronenberg is the Canadian Jesus. Just kidding; Jesus isn’t real. But Cronenberg is, and he’s one of the best out of our country. The way he’s made body horror his own genre in a sense is a feat of unimaginable talent. Perhaps one of the eeriest of his works is Dead Ringers, loosely based on a story of identical twin doctor brothers who were found dead together in their apartment. It features Jeremy Irons, legend in his own right, as both brothers, next to Geneviève Bujold as the object of their creepy obsessions. This movie chills me and it’s not all the time I get genuinely unsettled; certain stories linger, this being one. Just like some of the characters, the audience will feel violated. This is Cronenberg’s intention.

A Bittersweet Life (2005)a-bittersweet-lifeJee-woon Kim is a stellar filmmaker, all around; he’s a powerhouse writer and director combo. This is his best film. Don’t get me wrong – I Saw the DevilA Tale of Two SistersThe Quiet Family, they’re all knockout cinema. I love them all.
A Bittersweet Life is a revenge story for the ages. Beautifully captured by Ji-yong Kim, the look will dazzle you. The characters are rich and they aren’t merely a bunch of people dropped into the plot for garnish. Best of all the climax and end are pure thrill. South Korea has plenty of talented filmmakers. You bet your ass Jee-woon Kim is in the lead of that pack.

The Woodsman (2004)the-woodsmanI enjoy difficult cinema. It doesn’t have to be glossy-looking, it doesn’t need to be artsy. It must, however, be well told from a storytelling perspective. One of the most difficult films I’ve ever seen, yet in a way one of the most rewarding, is 2004’s The Woodsman. Kevin Bacon plays the complicated lead as a man who once committed an unforgivable offence, though one for which he’s served time. Afterwards, facing life as a registered sex offender under watch of a crafty detective (played brilliantly by Mos Def in a career best role), Bacon’s character is faced with redemption or regression.
The way this sensitive material is handled, how it’s handled, is heartbreaking and important and yes, even beautiful. There’s no way to forgive people ultimately for certain acts. Problem being we’ve set up a series of institutions, from jails to hospitals (et cetera), in the name of not just housing criminals, but also rehabilitating them, we’ve already accepted the idea of giving them a second chance. This story digs into all sides of the issue at hand, from how a sex offender actively trying to change himself integrates with the local community and at his new job, to how even those who appear willing to accept them have a breaking point. A must see.

Spring (2014)springJustin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are fresh, fun new voices in the horror genre. I don’t want to say too much about Spring, for fear of ruining even the slightest bit of its surprise elements. It’s a great mix of romance and terror. There’s a weird fiction feel, like reading an awesome story somewhere between a romantic tale of adventure and an H.P. Lovecraft short. You won’t soon forget the wildest moments.

The Boxer (1997)the-boxerMy boy Daniel Day-Lewis is on this list a couple times. This is my top pick for his best role. A story of Belfast, the IRA, the human damage of the cause. Jim Sheridan is the right director for the material, too. There’s nothing fancy here, but the lens through which we see different sides of the IRA and the cause they say they’re fighting for is what makes it all worthwhile. Seeing the struggle of a man trying to live his life in spite of his former life nipping at his heels makes for an intense drama, especially with Day-Lewis bringing out the lead character’s soul with an electric performance.

Silkwood (1983)silkwoodI’m a big time Meryl Streep fan, so fuck the Donald.
But in all seriousness, Streep + classic director Mike Nichols + a screenplay from Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen = possibly the best biopic in the history of film. Honestly. Because it’s well made, well acted – including some Cher and Kurt Russell and Fred Ward and Craig T. Nelson and a dash of David Strathairn – and the steely focus is the tragic true tale of Karen Silkwood.
In a day and age where the conversation surrounding heroic whistleblowers is hotter than ever, with Snowden and Chelsea Manning and more, Silkwood requires a revisit.

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989)elephantUp there with the likes of Ken Loach is Alan Clarke in dissecting socioeconomic spaces other filmmakers don’t bother to go. There are a few worthy entries in Clarke’s filmography. None better than Elephant.
On the surface this is a very basic short film, less than 40 minutes in length. You see a series of killings. Some short, quick like a shot in the night. Others are more intricate, more difficult. What Clarke does is present the ‘elephant in the room’ which were The Troubles and all the violence in Northern Ireland. The anonymity of the people in the film, characters killed without any development whatsoever, stand in for all the nameless who’ve died in the name of the cause. Another important bit of cinema, not to be missed or dismissed.

Sauna (2008)saunaThis Finnish historical horror is a total mindblower. Within a story about borders being drawn after a two decades long war between Russia and Sweden, director Antti-Jussi Annila weaves haunted imagery and creates an atmospheric period piece that defies explanation. There’s not just spooky horror, there is a slice of history, from the border drawing to early eyeglasses it’s fascinating to watch. Trust me, if you go in with only this little bit of knowledge it’ll prove a rewarding horror experience.

Left Bank (2008)left-bankI can’t say a lot without ruining this eccentric horror. Or is it a horror?
You’ll have to see for yourself. If you want to read a detailed review and be spoiled, head over here.

Beauty (2011)beautyRepressed sexuality is human dynamite. It is dangerous and even life threatening. This 2011 drama dissects the life of a man who exists entirely in the closet, unable or unwilling to let himself come out. He meets with other men in a group for secret sex. He’s a bit of a racist, too. He also lusts after a college-age young man, the son of a friend, which eventually tears open the repression under which he’s lived so long.
Beauty is are hard one to suffer. Make it through the film and there’s much to learn, in my opinion. The road may be hard, but the lessons understood are why the journey’s necessary.

Trainspotting (1996)trainspottingDanny Boyle’s a firecracker full of talent. The reason I love Trainspotting so much is due to the fact I was once addicted to drugs; not heroin, still hardcore addicted. I was also an alcoholic many years. Some of the depths of despair, between ridiculousness and dead seriousness, in the characters is recognisable when you’ve spent time around junkies, of any sort. The acting is impeccable, the story sobering. Irvine Welsh’s novel was tough to get through because of his use of Scottish slang. Once you break through that, similar to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, it’s a treat. Boyle brings so much of the enjoyable qualities in the book to screen, and most of all makes the cast of often times pathetic, yet marvellous in their own sense, characters leap off the screen with the help of solid performances.

Alien (1979)alienAny horror and science fiction cinema fans who don’t love Ridley Scott’s Alien, to my mind, are utterly insane. I just don’t get it. There’s such terror, such quietly horrifying material that it makes no sense why people wouldn’t find it effective. There’s not much more I can say, other than that I could watch this at any given moment. It’s one of the first movies that made me fall in love with practical special effects work and set design because of its ingenuity in both costumes, the effects, and the many cool sets which Scott frames perfectly in this dark, gorgeous classic.

The Lobster (2016)the-lobsterA dark comedy and dystopian vision of human relationships in the all too near future. Yorgos Lanthimos, a peculiar director and writer. This is my favourite of his stuff, so far, though that may change when he and Colin Farrell get together again. This takes some work to understand fully, but if you let the weirdness flow and take it in one scene at a time, The Lobster proves rewarding.

The Godfather (1972)the-godfatherI love Coppola’s The Godfather for different reasons than most of the reviews I’ve ever seen. Mainly, it’s because Coppola and Mario Puzo wrote a perfect screenplay out of Puzo’s own remarkably mediocre novel. I read the book once, years ago, while out in the middle of the woods in a cabin, I remember it vividly. There’s a fair degree of nasty, lengthily described sex, which I found strange. But it’s just as a whole, the novel didn’t catch me, I finished it only to finish what I started. Coppola uses all his talent to make this an undisputed classic. Everything from performances to the locations to the music and cinematography is constructed with great care. And it shows, every inch of the way.

Prisoners (2013)prisonersAn intricately written mystery-thriller. I love Denis Villeneuve and here he proves how thrilling he can get, with a masterful script from Aaron Guzikowski. Hugh Jackman sears the screen like a burst of fire, actually scary at points. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms into Dt. Loki with every nuance his mind can manage. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard play a couple at the end of their rope, yet trying not to fall over the edge.
There’s too many things to love about this dark film. Prisoners, when first released, played on my Blu ray player about five times in one week.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray ScreenshotOne of the most genuinely perfect crime-thrillers that will ever grace the screen. Ever. Also, a unique film in the ’90s with a heavily feminine perspective under the nasty bits of serial killer horror out of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
In the meantime, check out my review here, as well as a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry.

Se7en (1995)se7enYou’d be hard pressed to find another serial killer flick as horrific as David Fincher’s Se7en. The dark, moody cinematography. A brutal screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker. One surprising killer reveal, as well as two fabulous performances out of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. There’s a sick thrill of watching this movie, each time I see it. In an unnamed, rainy city, Pitt and Freeman’s two detectives are thrust into solving a series of murders which defy the imagination. I vote the ending as one of the top ten endings of any film in history.

Black Swan (2010)black-swanNatalie Portman gives a performance for the ages in this Darren Aronofsky work of magic. The film involves themes of womanhood, and the transition of a girl to a woman, sexual awakening, obsession. There are unforgettable images, such as the one above, and a lot more.
What Aronofsky does so well is get inside the mind, which he does in every one of his efforts, even Noah. He gets into the head of his characters, in the best of moments bringing the audience right inside with them. Black Swan is beautiful, terrifying, exasperating. It is many, many things, all of them of the highest excellence. Mix ballet, body horror, psychological horror, you’ve got a fraction of what this movie offers.

Taxi Driver (1976)taxi-driverI mean, what else can I say? Scorsese, baby.
My full review. Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing Taxi Driver‘s depiction of PTSD and that of Alice Winocour’s Disorder. Tuck in!

Mystic River (2003)mystic-riverClint Eastwood has shit political opinions. His movies? Aside from that Chris Kyle masturbatory fantasy, they’re incredible. He’s a solid director. Mystic River, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, is a subtly soul crushing drama and mystery. The story concerns a group of kids, one of whom was abducted at a young age by predators, who become adults and find their lives intersecting all over again.
This is like a Greek tragedy set in contemporary Boston. If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour. The trio of performances at the centre – Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon – all deserve the credit they’ve received, and more. So do the smaller performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapmna, and Laurence Fishburne. Just a powerfully directed and acted movie, one I can watch a couple times a month and it never tires, every bit as potent as the first time I saw it.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)eyes-wide-shutNot everybody was sold on the final film of master auteur Stanley Kubrick. For me, it reached a strange place inside, one that partly touches on the emotion of love and also on the shadows of the dark nature within human beings. There’s all the recognisable traits of a Kubrick flick – massive tracking shots, visual symmetry, a proper use of fitting music. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise do well as the couple whose marital issues set off the plot’s events, proving they’ve each got the acting chops to carry such material. You may not get it right away, but trust me: there is a concrete plot, the story flows like a curious dream. Don’t get lost and you’ll figure it out. It’s not as elusive as some make it seem.

Amadeus (1984)amadeusMilos Forman has done great things. None better than Amadeus. Based on Peter Shaffer’s original stage play, this story about Mozart and supposed secret rival Antonio Salieri is riveting in its scope. You can never take your eyes off the screen. Even if manage to, the music will sweep you back. Tom Hulce does well bringing Mozart to the screen, as does F. Murray Abraham with his depiction of Salieri. If you don’t like classical music, this may not be your thing. Yet I feel there’s something universal in this story that’s capable of touching anybody. Give it a shot. If anything, the look and sounds and the production, it’s all enough to keep anybody interested.

The Game (1997)the-gameThis is my vote for Fincher’s best. It’ll drop you down the rabbit hole, pull you out again. Then toss you back down for another ride. Michael Douglas carries this with ease in a fantastic role, as a man who has everything is given a strange birthday present by his wayward brother (a solid Sean Penn performance) – an immersive experience, a game. Except you don’t ever know when it’s started, really. It begins out of nowhere. And Fincher will fuck your brain, too. Hard.

Terminator (1984)terminatorArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are perfection here, as is Michael Biehn. This is one of those action classics that’s nowhere near overrated, and its many legions of fans, including myself, have made sure it won’t ever be underappreciated.
Terminator is such an exciting piece of sci-fi and action put together. Hamilton is so good, she’s really one of the anchors of it all, even if Arnold and Biehn are rushing around beside her. The effects, the writing, and every aspect puts other films of its kind to shame. Every time I put this on I almost forget how damn fine of a film James Cameron and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd gave us.
We’re not worthy!

Batman (1989)batmanBest Batman. Period.

Magnolia (1999)magnoliaPaul Thomas Anderson is one of his generation’s greats. He is fantastic. Again in Magnolia he channels the spirit of his mentor Robert Altman, weaving together a bunch of characters from all walks of life into a serendipitous, epic-feeling story crossing the San Fernando Valley.
The performances are the best part. Then there’s the editing and Anderson’s wonderfully exhilarating style that keeps ever segment of the film fresh. Drop in a strange though fitting musical moment, a sky of falling frogs, you’ve got yourself a gem from the tail end of the ’90s.

 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)close-encounters-of-the-third-kindI saw other Spielberg movies before seeing this one. Most of his work is just magical stuff. This is my favourite of his, simply because of my interest in life outside of Earth, the possibilities of what’s out there in the rest of the universe, et cetera. There’s a palpable feel of reality mixed into the science fiction, and there’s a humanist message to this idea of aliens coming to our planet, our connection with them. Many things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind to love, dearly.

U Turn (1997)u-turnI’m a huge fan of Oliver Stone. U Turn is weird, surreal, a different type of flick for him to handle. Stone churns out this weird bit of Americana with the help of a great screenplay by John Ridley, based on his own book. Along with a cast of colourful characters. Penn gives a paranoid performance to make his character feel as desperate as the situation into which he tumbles out in a desolate desert in a forgotten corner of the country.

Jackie Brown (1997)jackie-brownNot a typical pick for Tarantino’s best, this Elmore Leonard adaptation (from his novel Rum Punch) contains some of my favourite characters he’s brought to screen, namely Jackie herself (Pam Grier), Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). But everyone’s good.
The dialogue’s slick, the comedy is both outright hilarious and darkly comedic. A dash or two of violence. Most of all I love the twisting, turning plot that gets better and better right to the finish.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)the-blair-witch-projectIf you want my full opinion, click here.
This is a horror I’ll never forget. I got it on VHS soon as it was released, then watched it to death. Still scares the life out of me; the end does my head in bad.

Vertigo (1958)vertigoHitchcock was a master. Vertigo captures a strange mood and the atmosphere throughout is one of unease, as we navigate a retired detective’s newfound obsession with a woman he’s meant to watch, keeping an eye on her for the fearful husband believing his wife is maybe suicidal. What follows is another trip into the rabbit hole, like many of my favourite psychological thrillers. Not only is the story and its plot enough to grab you, Hitchcock provides a handful of visuals that are forever iconic, such as that monumental shot of the spiralling staircase; just one of a few.

Brazil (1985)brazilPythonite Terry Gilliam made a cracking dsytopian picture with Brazil – a movie I remember seeing late in the afternoon one day as a teenager, on Showcase here in Canada. I only caught the last half hour or so, which is strange enough, let alone when you have no context.
Years later I tracked it down from vague memories of strange Asian-faced masks, a coffin, a vast and dilapidated building with a stage at the center where a man is held in a modified dentist’s chair. I scooped up the Criterion Collection DVD, coming with its several alternate cuts and a backload of exciting features, commentary, so on.
This is a dark and brutally satirical look at a future in which bureaucracy has buried us all.
Here’s my review.

Menace II Society (1993)menace-ii-societyA terrifying look at the lives of young men growing up in the Watts projects, suffocated by their desire to be something and their lack of resources (not their capabilities). Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) are two guys that get hauled into the drugs lifestyle, the type of living where every corner is a possible death sentence, and the next bullet is only a block away.
What fascinated me most is to see the lives of these men depicted in such a way that’s realistic, honest. Although it’s rough and disturbing more often than that, Menace II Society shows us the bittersweet side of Caine’s experience when he finally tries getting away from the gangs, the drugs, hoping to start a new life.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissouLots of good Wes Anderson movies, I pretty much enjoy his whole body of work.
But a special quality of comedy exists in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Every bit of Anderson’s stuff is quirky, with its own unique flare. This film has so much to offer. A central, hilarious Bill Murray performance, amongst a cast of equally funny characters played by a group of stellar actors from Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston to Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, to name but a few.
Check this out, don’t read about it. Let its strangeness and its dry humour surprise you as Anderson takes you through another one of his microcosms of odd lives.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)THIS IS SPINAL TAPThe team of Rob Reiner as director, plus Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer is comedic gold standard. There are too many funny lines to even begin to mention.
Probably my personal choice for funniest scene is when Nigel (Guest) is taking about the sustain and he goes on and on about how good it is, just absolutely slays me.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)leaving-las-vegasSay whatever you will about Nicolas Cage, he gave a huge performance for Mike Figgis in this film. It’s a horribly depressing piece of work, yet there’s something liberating in it; definitely part of that is Cage’s unleashed spirit. He and Elisabeth Shue are good together. Head into this one with an open mind. Sure, it’s grim, but not every inch of it’s so dark. There is a gorgeous human heart driving Leaving Las Vegas.

Hellraiser (1987)hellraiserI’ve always read lots of Clive Barker, ever since I was a kid and mom let me read him + Stephen King. There are many great Barker short stories, novels, et cetera. Hellraiser is based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, and he brings every last ounce of terror that his regular writing usually holds.
There are many things at play in this horror film, it isn’t only an excuse to show off blood and gore and depravity. No, it’s about the nature of sin, what it might mean in its true context. Regardless of anything else, Barker makes all that brutal horror exciting, weaving a mythology involving the dreaded Cenobites into 90-odd minutes of pure fear.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)cool-hand-lukeWhat we have here is a failure to communicate
Where does the human spirit lie? Where does freedom come from, and can it exist under any conditions? Paul Newman’s Luke takes authority to the limit in this undisputed classic, directed with grace by Stuart Rosenberg (BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village). There’s heaps of iconic material in this single film. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, snatch up a copy of this prison film that’ll leave you smiling at the spirit of a rebel like ole Luke.

Network (1976)networkChayefsky’s prescient screenplay for Network might be the best in film history, in my humble opinion. Because even in ’76, when media was already working its claws into the American psyche and not in the right way, he knew as a writer what was happening, and that it would only get worse.
One scene later in the film featuring Ned Beatty – an extremely brief role which netted him a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination – sort of jabs at both sides, not only the one Chayefsky rails against most of the film. You’ll know what I mean when you see it (or remember it if you already have). Peter Finch won the first posthumous acting award at the Oscars for his role; so it should’ve been. He lights your mind on fire as the prophetic suicide case who transforms from a man at the end of his wits into a TV prophet on during prime time. And you can’t forget the subplot involving Faye Dunaway’s character venturing into business with rebel groups, exploiting their causes purely for ratings without care for them or what their causes end up becoming in the end.
So much going on that it’s amazing how coherent the entire thing plays. A pure classic in every sense of the word. Amazing filmmaking, Sidney Lumet in his finest hour.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)who-framed-roger-rabbitMy full review of this fun and thematic film can be found here.
Always one of the best. Better than it’s ever gotten credit for being, more heart and innovation than ten movies combined.

Manhunter (1986)manhunterThe visionary aesthetics of Mann, the acting power of William Petersen and Tom Noonan and Brian Cox and Joan Allen, the eeriness of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon.
What else is there to want, to need? Mann does great work with this adaptation. Not my favourite of the Harris adaptations, though close. Certainly at the top of my list of Mann’s best. The fever dream qualities of certain sequences, the neon and the shadows. This is just plain wonderful ’80s cinema.
All my Thomas Harris-related stuff is located here.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)the-texas-chain-saw-massacreTobe Hooper will, for eternity, be a scary fucking dude.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while having a title that isn’t spelled correctly, is the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed. To this day, that’s not changed. I saw this for the first time about 18 years ago, as of this writing. I’ve seen tons and tons and tons of horror since, yet nothing will top Hooper’s nightmarish backcountry tale.
The first appearance of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is a shock. Once the family takes Sally (Marilyn Burns) inside their decrepit backwoods, two-story house, the shock keeps working you over until a numbness creeps in. Never does the terror stop. And when it’s all over, like the sole remaining character of the massacre, you might even want to laugh the fear away, too.

Blue Ruin (2013)blue-ruinEver wanted to see a revenge movie starring a character who’s not well acquainted with guns, or violence, or revenge?
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a story of vengeance at all costs. We don’t see the Hollywood version of a revenge thriller. Rather, Saulnier offers an alternative look at a situation we’ve seen time and time again. Like his latest film Green Room, Saulnier uses Blue Ruin to create a heavy load of tension, letting it unravel in a messy, savage way that’s as unexpected as it is satisfying.

The Piano Teacher (2001)the-piano-teacherNever satisfied unless the material he works with is challenging, Haneke takes his reluctant though willing viewer into the hidden masochistic proclivities of a piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives a lonely life with her mother at home.
There’s no way to describe what happens in the film without ruining the plot. You may want to turn it off halfway through. If so, fight that instinct. Hupper is always a talent to watch, here she unleashes herself in an emotional tour-de-force that’ll leave your head spinning. When you get to the end there may also be a feeling of the film having really gone nowhere. Yet if you know Haneke, this is simply not the case. So dig in deep, listen, watch closely. There isn’t a big twist or reveal or hidden meaning here like some of Haneke’s work. There’s a penetrating character study of a woman on the fringe, yet one who seems to sit in the middle of normality; often the case with those who hold sexual impulses below the surface. And sometimes those things bubble up from under the surface in threatening ways.

Life of Brian (1979)monty-pythons-life-of-brianFor a review, jump over here.
Python are the perfect group of comedians to take on a searing religious satire. They not only make you laugh, they make fucking excellent points.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)the-devils-rejectsZombie’s latest, 31, is pure brutality, and I dig that. The Devil’s Rejects is both brutal and full of interesting characters; the latter is something his newest movie lacks at certain points.
What I love here is that House of 1,000 Corpses is continued on in a more gritty, even more realistic sense.
We see the Firefly family move out into the world after their ranch is raided. Now, Baby, Otis, and their father Captain Spaulding go on the road trying to evade the authorities. In their wake they leave depraved murder and mayhem, every step of the way.

Mommy (2014)mommyXavier Dolan is a talented young man, younger than myself and he has a string of quality cinema under his belt already. Mommy is another riveting, emotional piece of work, examining a mother-son relationship plagued with issues.
Best of all, Dolan’s empathetic storytelling combines with his use of a 1:1 aspect ratio, very rare particularly for a feature film – these elements make the movie a unique experience, as the ratio forces us into closer quarters with the characters, always feeling directly in their face even without a close-up shot. I continually love Dolan’s films and this one is his best yet.

This is England (2006)this-is-englandI always said it’s a god damn shame the shitty white nationalists appropriated the skinhead subculture for its own use, making skinheads forever, sadly, synonymous with the idea of neo-Nazis and other white hate groups.
This is England is a study of socioeconomic groups left behind, and how they then become susceptible to the influence of hatred. Stephen Graham is electrifying in his role as Combo, the fierce white nationalist who corrals a bunch of people into his dangerous ideology. He’s also a man not totally convinced in his own view of the world. When he takes a young boy under his wing, a devastating act will make him question whether or not it’s worth continuing with so much hate in his heart.
The story is actually focused mostly on the young boy, played by the charming and confident Thomas Turgoose. Yet Combo is a massive part of everything important that happens.

Little Children (2006)little-childrenHow often can we all fall in love with Kate Winslet? How many times can one develop a man crush on Patrick Wilson? Who the fuck knows.
What I do know is that Little Children, another great feat by director Todd Field, will make you feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from disgust to fear to love and everything else in between. An Atlman or Anderson-like cast of characters takes us through the walks of life of many in a small neighbourhood. Go in blind, drink in the heavy drama.
Also, Jackie Earle Haley’s greatest work. Until the end of time.

Solyaris (1972)solyarisAndrei Tarkovsky is another giant of cinema, an auteur. This is his most compelling work, for me personally. It’s the one I resonate with most. Because humanist science fiction is my favourite type of science fiction, stuff where at the heart of the story lies a veritable human element. Something that reaffirms our soul. There’s a haunting quality about Solyaris, one that isn’t easy to shake.

Memories of Murder (2003)memories-of-murderDark. Mysterious. Based on a real serial killer case. Thrilling. Even funny in specific scenes.
This Joon-ho Bong feature is one I’ll never forget, no matter how long I go between viewings. Memories of Murder is spooky in such a realistic manner, it takes you through one of the single most frustrating cases in the history of South Korea. The performances will keep you hooked, and not a single second of film is wasted. Style and substance combined.

Role Models (2008)role-modelsI’m still not totally sure what it is exactly that kills me about this comedy. Both Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott do make me laugh, same goes for Jane Lynch. Bobb’e J. Thompson, too. But there’s an inexplicable quality that I wish I knew how to articulate.
Role Models is so fun, to me, because unlike other comedies about men who are either immature or just plain terrible boyfriends, it doesn’t condescend to women. A lesser film might have a more stereotypical nagging woman in the main character’s life, which is nonsense. Here, you can wholly understand why a woman wouldn’t want Rudd’s character around. He’s a childish and unhappy man, the latter most of all. So from there, it really does become a redemption story, and the lead isn’t entirely unlikable like the same types in other similar flicks. We want to see him do better, not just for laughs but because of an emotional connect.
So I guess that’s why I love the movie. It has a genuine feeling, instead of hilarity for hilarity’s sake. That’s not always bad. Sometimes disingenuous. Role Models comes off as real, even at its most outrageous. Herein lies the fun.
I wanna rock and roll all niiight, and part of every day.”

In the Name of the Father (1993)in-the-name-of-the-fatherPerhaps because of my Irish roots I often gravitate towards dramas and thrillers in a big way when they involve the IRA and the Troubles, so on. Then again, injustice and inequality and any of these concepts are things I’m interested in.
But you put Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, and Jim Sheridan together, a screenplay based on Gerry Conlon’s book Proved Innocent, this will compel anybody with sense to watch.
The performances, Day-Lewis above all, are so powerful that it will rock you. In terms of DDL, this is what I’d consider his second best performance – behind his best in The Boxer and just in front of what I consider his third best, Plainview in There Will Be Blood. See it, relish every moment of him and Postlethwaite as father and son. Revel in the strength of the human spirit, the bond of family, the conviction of one man to stay the course of truth at all costs.

You’re Next (2013)youre-nextI love Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as a director-writer team. They’re interesting filmmakers together, bringing us new takes on genres with their fresh, inventive eyes. Everybody who likes slasher horror always wants something different. My feeling is, You’re Next took home invasion horror and turned the sub-genre on its head. Not that the twist isn’t foreseeable by those with the smarts. Not to say it’s the bloodiest thing you’ll ever see. Simply put, Wingard and Barrett give us good kills, dark comedy, fun characters and in particular one kick ass female lead to take us through to the vicious end.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)dead-mans-shoesThe most bleak revenge thriller ever conceived, this Shane Meadows-Paddy Considine collaboration hits all the right, if not horrifically dark notes. Without spoiling any of the plot, Dead Man’s Shoes takes you along as a man returns home from the army and plans on visiting those who’ve hurt someone close to him. After that, all bets are off. Blunt and realistic, Meadows haymakers the viewer until there’s nothing left to do but submit to the onslaught of raw, vengeful violence.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)midnight-cowboyIm walkinhere!”
Speaking of bleak, the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight before descending into Republican madness) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman showing early on that he’s a top notch character actor) in the big city is a heartbreaking venture. There’s a disturbing, repressed portion of Joe that lingers throughout the whole story. You can never escape it, just like Joe who runs anywhere and everywhere to try and do so. A movie so iconic that even Seinfeld parodied its final scene. While Jerry and Kramer make it funny, Joe and Ratso leave you with an empty, terrible feeling in your gut, as the ever elusive American Dream hovers just out of reach once more.

Sexy Beast (2000)sexy-beastJonathan Glazer’s 2000 crime film starring Ben Kinglsey and Ray Winstone is in a league all on its own. There are some dreamy scenes peppered in amongst the intensity of its many scenes featuring Kingsley’s gangster of savage proportions. Also featuring Ian McShane and Amanda Redman, Sexy Beast has all of the artsy qualities you might find in an indie flick, in addition to a solid story about criminals; some of whom hope for more in their lives, some of whom wallow in their bestial nature.

Vampyr (1932)vampyrCarl Th. Dreyer made several masterpieces, including The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath. Ahead of those in my books is the fantastical, ghostly Vampyr. I love the use of light and shadow in old movies because it was less an artistic ideal, more of a way for filmmakers to show off their genius by manipulating the only elements they had at their disposal. Not to bash modern filmmakers who’ve had their choice of colour v. black-and-white for many, many years.
What Dreyer does with this classic piece of horror is create an atmospheric landscape of shadow which is like a waking nightmare. The Criterion Edition comes with the screenplay, as well as other great features. I recommend it for any film lovers, the transfer is fucking beautiful work. Makes Dreyer look even better, as all the expert directorial work he did shows up in high definition glory.
Note: I believe Criterion does good work most of all due to the fact they make old films more accessible for younger audiences, and of course the die hard film lovers. But they do a service to those who want to see these landmark films and can only come across bad copies that survived the years.

Marathon Man (1976)marathon-manJohn Schlesinger is a director whose career gave us a handful of wonderful movies. The best of those being, while in stiff competition, Marathon Man. Featuring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier, even a bit of Roy Scheider, this is an acting clinic. It’s likewise an exercise in tension. Schlesinger knows how to really take you to the limit, and the excitement never actually lets up. To say much of the plot is to spoil your fun. Although it’s worth noting this has stolen diamonds, an ex-Nazi, a government agent gone rogue, Hoffman being a charming bastard, in combination with directing, editing, and writing of the highest calibre.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)synecdoche-new-yorkI can’t begin to explain anything about this movie for you. To see is to understand, even then you might not. Took me a couple viewings before I knew I really enjoyed the film, then a few more until I feel like I understood what director-writer Charlie Kaufman was aiming towards. Centred on a theatre director struggling with work, Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest his beautiful soul) gives one of his best performances as Kaufman weaves another strange world around him. Existential questions everywhere, the movie deals in themes of art v. life, the weight of loss, on top of many further ideas. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. A visual stunning and emotionally gripping bit of drama, garnished with dark comedy.

Silver Tongues (2011)silver-tonguesA pair of lovers escalate a series of thrill seeking games to a dangerous point. Beyond that description, my lips are sealed.
Find this film. Watch. Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham show up for life altering performances. A relatively unknown drama, this one caught me off guard. The chemistry between the two leads is unreal, to the point you’ll want more after the credits roll. As far as finales go, Silver Tongues left me in a state of euphoria and simultaneously I felt walloped by the heaviness of what I’d just witnessed. You won’t see this one coming, neither first nor last.

Soft for Digging (2001)soft-for-diggingJ.T. Petty has since gone on to other things, bigger films. It’s his 2001 feature Soft for Digging which will never stray far from my darkest thoughts. A simple plot of a man looking for his cat in the woods and witnessing a murder spirals into something out of this world. The story is unique, which I love. The visuals of Petty’s spooky little plot are imprinted on my brain. Regardless of how you feel about the screenplay, those images are likely to burrow deep and settle in your unconscious, waiting to pop up again one day when you least expect. It stays with you, like the main character’s own experience.

Clean, Shaven (1993)clean-shavenDepictions of mental illness are almost always flawed. I can’t say the same for those in the films of Lodge H. Kerrigan. This is a disturbing, genuine, deep look at a young man with schizophrenia, whose struggle to get his daughter back from the family by whom she was adopted is tough to endure.
Kerrigan never condescends, he never tries to make his main character look bad. He simply shows the depths of the mental affliction through which he suffers. Peter Greene cements himself as a great actor, despite his many roles he never got as big as he should have; as evidenced by his career making performance in Clean, Shaven. If it weren’t for him, and Kerrigan’s tact, this might feel like an exploitative story. It isn’t, not even close. You’ll feel how real it gets almost immediately.

A Horrible Way to Die (2010)a-horrible-way-to-dieI love some films people actively hate. One of which is the Wingard-Barrett serial killer flick, A Horrible Way to Die. A frequent collaborator actor A.J. Bowen stars as the madman, and multi-talented Amy Seimetz as his ex-wife trying to move on after he’s put in prison.
This might feel like a typical movie, or just another slice and dice effort. The handheld camerawork, the inventive story with its jaw dropping twist, the chilling ease with which Bowen’s killer moves through the world; these are bits of the film’s greatness. Lots will talk shit about this one. That’s fine. Doesn’t change its ass kicking qualities. A slow burning, violent, human piece of serial killer horror.

Down to the Bone (2004)down-to-the-boneYou must see this Vera Farmiga-led, Debra Granki-directed story of a woman on the edge. I don’t want to reveal any more. This is a tale of woe, though one not totally devoid of hope. Farmiga shines in a role that isn’t easy, not because it’s so tough but because it’s a character we’ve seen so many times before. She brings out the best of the screenplay, allowing us a window into a woman juggling the weight of life all on her shoulders, trying to get by and barely able. Testament to the power of humans, both to overcome and to bury themselves in pain.

Race with the Devil (1975)race-with-the-devilSatanists. An RV attacked by a cult. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. Guns.
Need more? If so, you need to look elsewhere. Race with the Devil is a thrilling slice of action mixed with horror. Enjoy!

A Bay of Blood (1971)a-bay-of-bloodMario Bava, one of the masters of gorgeously disturbing horror. This 1971 mystery is the precursor to slashers like Friday the 13th and its sequels, as well as other movies of its type. The plot concerns an heiress killed by her husband, devolving into a murderous rampage as people try to get their hands on the inheritance left behind for themselves. A shocking, nasty, glorious horror classic that won’t soon lose its impact, if ever.

The Selfish Giant (2013)the-selfish-giantInspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, The Selfish Giant is a look at two boys who want to make money in their rural, working class little town, so they get involved with a criminal and local scrap dealer.
I don’t want to spoil the plot. This is directed with amazing depth, and the tragedy which eventually boils over feels like something you’d easily see in a small place. Also, you’ll revel in the performances of the young kids, as they prove you don’t have to be an adult or even a young adult to wow with a soul baring human performance.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)big-bad-wolvesTo the last minute, you’ll stay wondering: is this man evil?
That is all. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Revenge has never been so intriguing or darkly funny as in this gem out of Israel, another Tarantino recommendation I’m glad I took seriously.

Angst (1983)angstThis 1983 shocker, based on real life killer Werner Kniesek, is viscerally powerful, if not one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made. Hands down. Inside the gore and the depraved murder are impressive use of film techniques, inventive camerawork (from Academy Award winner Zbigniew Rybczyński). You literally go inside the headspace of the horrific bastard you follow through a couple days of carnage.
Want more? An in-depth review with spoilers, here for your (dis)pleasure.

Rolling Thunder (1977)rolling-thunderI’d see anything if Paul Schrader’s name is on it. Considering his recent Dog Eat Dog and his atrocious Bret Easton Ellis-penned The Canyons, sometimes it’s not great. Despite a couple misfires there’s a compelling aspect to Schrader, he always gets to the dark side of humanity.
1977’s Rolling Thunder was written by Schrader, directed by John Flynn (The OutfitBrainscan), starring a slick William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first few film roles. A unique war story come home, as Devane’s Major Charles Rane and his family are assaulted, robbed one evening. Afterwards his wife and son are dead. His hand mangled after being stuffed into the garbage disposal. Major Rane recruits his army buddy Johnny Vohden (Jones), and they head off to find some vengeance.
A nasty, brutish piece of exploitation cinema that’s not simply a bunch of violence, it has plenty to say.

Cure (1997)cureUnrelated to the other fascinating director of the same name, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a special talent. One of his more recent films, Creepy, was solid. His 2001 horror-science fiction hybrid Kairo eventually got an American remake when the trend got big (original is definitely better). Point being, Kurosawa has several great movies.
Cure has haunted me for years. I saw it in 2003 while at film school. Ever since I’ve had several scenes stuck in my mind, little bits of the dialogue. This is a favourite of mine, yes, but I’d consider it objectively one of the best films of any I’ve seen. The pacing, the suspense, its unnerving story about a series of murders – Xs carved into the victims’ skin, though the killer different every time; there’s nothing about this film that disappoints. The way Kurosawa lets us see everything, watching from a distance as the events unfold, is fascinating to me.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)the-killing-of-a-chinese-bookieThere’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that John Cassavetes shaped independent film. He was keen at finding the humanity in every situation, not just the grandiose, Hollywood-type stuff that gets pumped out of studios constantly (not saying all that’s bad, at all). He looked into the everyday lives of men and women, as if they were people he knew personally.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie means a lot of things. To Cassavetes it was an allegory for his own struggle as an artist. To me, it’s a thrilling, artistic bit of crime cinema about a man caught between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)lets-scare-jessica-to-deathI say it so much, this time I’m sticking right to it: not ruining anything.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a haunting movie in the eeriest sense of the word. A slow burning bit of Gothic horror for which I am extremely grateful.

Affliction (1997)afflictionSchrader’s back! Writing and directing, as he should.
His screenplay is based on a Russell Banks novel, also the author of The Sweet Hereafter (an amazing film). Affliction is some of the best from the ’90s. It’s a gritty rural story of a sheriff in New Hampshire whose demons haunt him, just as his abusive father does in his still living never ending rage. One thing piles on top of another, and another, and another, until the poor sheriff is left with not many options left except either go insane or keep going against the grain.

Black Sunday (1960)black-sundayIf you need Gothic horror, or maybe you just want to see one of the best horror films ever made, Mario Bava has you covered. Black Sunday plays like a story off the page, something you’d find in a dusty old tome at the library, in the creepy part.
See it. I won’t say a word. Bava’s film is perfect.

Rome, Open City (1945)Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, Italy 1945, 100 mins)There’s a special quality to this Roberto Rossellini film. Filmed in a still beaten up Rome, a year after Allies ran the Nazis out, Rossellini used this to make one of the early and greatest examples of neorealist cinema.
Rome, Open City isn’t what you’d expect, or maybe it is at times. This is another film ending that won’t ever be forgotten. The neorealism focusing on the fear of the Roman people is compounded by the final moments. A powerful movie.

The Swimmer (1968)the-swimmerFrank Perry’s adaptation of the short story by John Cheever, starring Burt Lancaster (my favourite of his performances) as Ned Merrill is a classic American film. On the surface, you’d think there’s no way to turn a story this short, though a great one at that, into 95 minute film. But the symbolism of Cheever turns into a surreal journey for Ned in the medium of film. What was already a spectacular story transforms into a cinematic tale of decadence and decay in the upper classes of American society.
I did an extensive piece on the film for Film Inquiry here.

13 Tzameti (2005)13-tzametiBeneath the threatening exterior of 13 Tzameti is a parable, about how the lower class and immigrants and those less fortunate are pushed to insane extremes in order to survive, how the promise of a fortune at any costs can lure vulnerable people into horrible situations. Or, is it just a story about a depraved game promising a huge payout?
You decide. Let me know.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)noroi-the-curseThis has my vote for best found footage horror. Scares the life out of me, every damn time.
Crossing together the lives of several people, each haunted in their own way by a malevolent spirit, a documentary filmmaker tracks down a woman supposedly cursed by a Japanese demon. And what he finds is far more horrific than anything he anticipated.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)bad-day-at-black-rockJohn Sturges’ 1955 crime-mystery was important upon release, important again in today’s political landscape 2017 and beyond. A man with one hand arrives in Black Rock, immediately getting the cold shoulder from the various locals, all of whom have something to hide. When the one-handed man makes clear he’s looking for a friend, a Japanese-American farmer, the locals are even more intent on icing him out. Whether with words or by force. This movie’s honestly perfect, and Spencer Tracy in the lead role (supported by the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) gives us a classic tough guy American performance.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)assault-on-precinct-13At first, John Carpenter’s lean action-crime-thriller combo feels like it has a tenuous plot that could fall apart. But then the master director-writer drenches the film in tension, making each character’s move possibly their last. Even better this feels like an old school Western, something which Carpenter intended, as his big inspiration was 1959’s Rio Bravo. The score, the cinematography and Carpenter’s direction, the stellar cast, they’ll impress you.

In a Better World (2010)in-a-better-worldSusanne Bier’s In a Better World stunned me the first time. The story deals with forgiveness, revenge, different worlds colliding. Its themes are powerful. Through a series of events the lives of two Danish families intertwine, and within the bonds of a new friendship forms the spectre of danger and violence.
Don’t read too much about this one. A small description like this is best. Go into it head on and experience this drama for its raw force.

Happiness (1998)happinessDon’t get it twisted – Todd Solondz isn’t out to make anybody happy with this one, despite its title. More so he uses the title as a way to indicate the deeply meaningless existential search for some elusive quality called happiness. Because most of these characters, almost every one of them, isn’t looking for it in the right places.
Happiness will disturb you. If not, you’ve probably got a head in your basement. And there’s no actual horror in this one. All drama; an intense, vexing, even sinister bunch of shit. The men portrayed by Dylan Baker and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two of the top ten worst people of all time in film. They’re rotten to the core, though in the way they could be living right next door in the next house, the next apartment, wherever. That’s one of the really disturbing bits to me. The normality Solondz injects into the depraved actions of his cast of characters.

The Fog (1980)the-fogAnother Carpenter flick I absolutely love. An American ghost story, if there ever were one to love!
The writing is so stellar, with Carpenter and Debra Hill conjuring up a neat little story that you could tell around the fire; ironic, considering the opening moments. Plus you’ve got Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh… what more could you ever dream of? I really can’t spoil even a drop of the story. My favourite thing is that it’s absolute American Gothic. If Carpenter and Hill put this in a book only as a novel, I think I’d still dig it as much as I do on film. One of those stories that reminds you of great, creepy literature.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)the-sword-in-the-stoneI do love animated films, they’re just not my favourite type to watch. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some I don’t absolutely die for, such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. I always loved it, but then I came to enjoy it more while doing my degree. I took two courses required for my Honours that were in Old English and Middle English. In both of them were a lot of works inspired by Arthurian legend. So after that my respect and admiration for this Disney flick grew, intensely. Not that it’s filled with all these academic references, that’d be stupid. After reading about Arthur so much, this movie hits the spot with a combination of what I’ve read recently and enjoyed, and the bits of why I loved it as a kid.
From Merlin to Archimedes, to the wild Madam Mim sequence, there’s something to remember out of every scene. I couldn’t even begin to choose a favourite moment.

Once Were Warriors (1994)once-were-warriorsAlan Duff’s novel of the same name dealt with domestic violence in New Zealand. His characters are a Māori family plagued by issues of alcoholism and poverty, leading to the violence.
Part of why I’m drawn to this movie is because I live in Newfoundland, a small island on the far East Coast of Canada. I live in city, though come from a smaller town where it was a mix of urban and rural. Though the family are Māori and they have their own particular complexities, their struggle reminds me of people I’ve known, families I grew up with and near. So despite its regional feel, compounded by Duff’s original material exploring issues specific to New Zealand, there’s also a universality in the story with which many can identify. A heartbreaking, tragic. But there’s a little hope, just a glimmer.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)mr-sardonicusHuman greed is a theme explored in literature since time immemorial. William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus uses greed as a vessel for this modern Gothic horror. The whole thing is macabre. Darkly thrilling. Original Ray Russell story “Sardonicus” was published in Playboy Magazine, then Castle snatched up the rights and had Russell do the screenplay, which is part of what makes the story so damn fine. A favourite horror I watch near Halloween. You should, too!

The White Sound (2001)the-white-soundNot many movies express the true feeling of taking drugs, nor do many get depictions of mental illness correct. Daniel Brühl stars in Hans Weingartner’s The White Sound as a young man named Lukas who takes a horrible trip on magic mushrooms. So intense that perhaps Lukas might never make it back from where he’s headed.
Paranoid schizophrenia is often depicted in violent ways, both through film and other media like certain biased news channels who aren’t sensitive to the mentally ill, and so on. What Weingartner does is produce an experience which takes us into the head of a man suffering from the inability of his brain to filter the world, precipitated by the mushroom high. A scary little film.

Vengeance is Mine (1979)vengeance-is-mineThis is a cold, sterile look at the crimes of Akira Nishiguchi (renamed for the film). The events of the film come to us through flashbacks, as we piece together the life of this man who is now in police custody. Even a dose of dark humour along the way. I can’t say much more, you need to get hold of the Criterion Edition. Perfection, all the way. What’s most interesting, above the style and feel of the film, is the dissection of this serial killing thief and his motivations, or lack thereof. A terrifying and provocative story.

Casino (1995)casinoI love just about every Scorsese film. He’s a master at work every time he works his magic.
Casino‘s my personal favourite. I know I’m in the minority, most likely. But can you deny the lure? We begin in media res with a shocking act of sabotage and violence, then we work back through the story as Scorsese takes us into the rise of Las Vegas with De Niro playing Ace Rothstein, based on Frank Rosenthal. There’s intrigue, betrayal, murder, brutality. There’s Joe Pesci stabbing a guy in his neck with a pen. There’s Joe Pesci squashing a guy’s head in a vice. Don’t understand how anybody couldn’t love this Vegas gangster picture. A crime classic.

The Breakfast Club (1985)the-breakfast-clubReleased the year I was born, this is such a great John Hughes movie. Resonates with me, and y’know, half of the world, because it’s the ultimate anthem for losers and at the same time for those in the popular crowd who never actually like they belonged.
Whenever the last scene plays I feel my heart start skipping beats. Always emotional when I watch, maybe more so as I get older. There’s a little bit of Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald in all of us.

Boogie Nights (1997)boogie-nightsThe opening sequence of PTA’s Boogie Nights is proof positive he’s the cinematic son of Altman. From there, we dive into a sordid tale out of the L.A. porn scene in the ’70s and ’80s. Starring a prosthetic-cocked Mark Wahlberg and a maybe never better Burt Reynolds, a knockout Julianne Moore performance to boot – and a host of awesome supporting roles from Don Cheadle and William H. Macy and more – this is just a mesmerising drama. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be grossed out. Just as I’d imagine many did during these days in the porn industry.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)brokeback-mountainI can’t speak for how the gay community feels about this film. For me as a straight man, Brokeback Mountain changed my perspective, even as someone who’s always accepted gay men and never had a problem (because why would I?). But I remember loving this movie, seeing it in theatre, then buying it immediately on DVD. Friends – men, insecure with their own sexuality no doubt – made fun of me when they’d see it in my collection. A few woman, too. They’d ask “Why do you own this?” and I’d reply: “It’s a great fucking movie.”
Ang Lee is excellent. What he does with this beautiful yet bittersweet love story is so wonderful, and devastating, as well. There’s nothing else to say. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both tremendous, as are Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in their roles. Powerful and timeless cinema.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)the-neverending-storyThis is like a dream that never fades. Wolfgang Petersen has done such great stuff, especially his powerhouse Das Boot. For me, The NeverEnding Story makes me feel the feelings I did during childhood, the sort you can only vaguely remember. The way you felt before responsibilities and the state of the world bore down on your psyche, when all you had to worry about was a bit of school and your imagination. Alongside little Bastian Balthazar Bux, avid reader, we engage in a tale that’s prophetic in way, but one that mostly whisks you into fantasy where you can take control, like Bastian, and help change the world.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)dr-strangeloveBlacker than burned toast. The only description fitting for this dark political satire.
With characters named President of the United States Merkin Muffley, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, General Buck Turgidson, Colonel Bat Guano, Lt. Lothar Zogg, it’s hard not to see the utter hilariousness. At the very same time it’s about the possibility of all-out, accidental, nuclear war between America and Russia. Perfect Cold War comedy.
If you’ve never seen this Kubrick gem, get to work. The funniest film ever made.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)the-wizard-of-ozFeel the excitement and enjoy!
Great songs, even better performances. The whole production is pure magic.

Philadelphia (1993)philadelphiaGetting his break like many others in the industry from Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme made several masterpieces. One of which is Philadelphia, telling an important story about HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against gay men with the disease which persisted for so long, no doubt still does in many circles sadly.
Tom Hanks does perfect work, but don’t forget Denzel Washington – he plays an equally tough role that cannot be discounted. They’re magnificent, each presenting some of the many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in the everyday lives of regular people.

Natural Born Killers (1994)natural-born-killersLong live Mickey and Mallory! Two depraved and motivated serial killers, each with their own troubles. Oliver Stone made such a damning comment about the state of media and celebrity in age where true crime was (and still is today, more so) exploited by any outlet with a voice, big or small. What we get is a vicious, macabre tale of Mickey and Mallory tearing through America down the highway, stopping here and there to kill, eat, fuck. Along for the ride later is a sleazy TV host willing to do anything to get a good story. Little does he know where that will lead him this time.
This is one wild ride. So get ready.

Being John Malkovich (1999)being-john-malkovichAnother film exploring the concept of celebrity, as well as our worship of those who attain such status, is the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman collaboration Being John Malkovich. This is up there with the best, most innovative films in history. Such a strange movie in many ways and at the same time it is pure genius. Catherine Keener gives a fantastic performance, as do the others, but she’s just a real hit. And the sequence where Malkovich goes inside his own head is a psyche out, entirely surreal, such an accomplished bit of filmmaking. The whole thing is like having your favourite meal, it hits the spot every time.

Pinocchio (1940)pinocchioThe second animated feature film by Disney after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A whopping bit of animation, too. Gorgeous drawing. Story comes from an Italian children’s book. Groundbreaking movie all around, most of all in terms of the artistry. Light and shadow here is used as well as a live action bit of cinema.
One section stuck with me from when I was a kid – Pleasure Island. It frightened the shit out of me. Today when I watch it’s still an unsettling portion to an animated adventure. Poor Pinocchio. Just wants to be real, man.

North by Northwest (1959)north-by-northwestOpening titles may never be topped, credits to Saul Bass. Bernard Herrmann gives us a load of wonderful compositions to make up a classic score. And of course, master of the thriller Alfred Hitchcock takes us for a loop. There are too many scenes that WOW to get anything done here, so maybe if you want share your own with me in the comments!
Is this Hitchcock’s most exciting film? Is it his best? Which scene gets your adrenaline flowing?

Sling Blade (1996)sling-bladeWritten and directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, a movie that makes me weep. Also, a rural drama that’s actually got one of the most villainous characters ever in its workings, a.k.a Dwight Yoakam. There’s a lot to love about this little story. John Ritter plays an atypical Southern man to great effect. Natalie Canerday gives a great performance as a woman in the best situation she can muster, and you can’t ever forget young Lucas Black as the kid befriend by Thornton’s Karl Childers.
You’ll be hard pressed to get better drama in the ’90s, a feat by Thornton to do such good work from the page to the screen and behind the camera.

Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)boratThe genius of Sacha Baron Cohen lies in the way he exposes the bias and ignorance (and racism in this case) of others is by satirising, but in the way he looks to others as if he’s borderline being offensive. When his dressing up and acting as Borat Sagdiyev is actually a mask in order to get under the skin of others, helping to bring out their inner feelings about foreigners and foreign ideals. And like many of the greatest, Cohen borders on nastiness, outright riotous jokes, and gallows humour.
Not sure if anything’s funnier than Borat doing Driver’s Ed. Too, too ridiculous and perfect.

Battle Royale (2000)battle-royaleThis film has more guts than 20 other horror-thrillers combined.
When Japan becomes a nightmare, the youth overrunning the adults with chaos and disorder, the government implements the BR Program, where students from school are taken to an island then left to fight to the death. The last remaining young person is then reintegrated into society. Hugely controversial because of its sensitive subject matter. I’d imagine in America it was a bit sensitive, too; only a year after the Columbine High School massacre. But this is a dystopian vision of the near future, when class isn’t a big issue anymore, only age. It’s a unique vision based on the 1999 novel of the same name. If you’ve not seen it, snatch up a copy. This is exciting, nasty, brutal. Everything a horror fan wants.

Elena (2011)elenaI love films which explore socioeconomic situations, whether in my own country (Canada) or abroad. This 2011 Russian drama Elena follows the titular lead character as she navigates her own personal Hell. Elena, a woman from a working class background, marries a man she met while working as a nurse in a hospital, Vladimir; he is a rich businessman. Problems surface when Elena wants to help her son from a previous marriage to put his boy through school, so that he doesn’t have to go into the military. But Vladimir will not loosen the purse strings, neither for Elena’s family nor her even after he passes.
This story opens up issues about modern Russia, as well as its treatment of women.

Mother of George (2013)mother-of-georgeWe can’t just have diversity in casting, behind the camera, et cetera. What we need is diversity in stories. That conversation needs to be made even bigger, evidently.
Mother of George blew me away because it takes the audience inside the lives of Nigerian-Americans in Brooklyn. We’re brought into their cultures, traditions, the way they live with their families. And out of that comes a cultural problem many of us white people might not understand, or have ever known about. I won’t spoil a second, it’s worth going in knowing only the basics.

Lost Highway (1997)lost-highwayMany David Lynch films entice me. All of them, really. None of them so penetrating and scary as this headtrip. What starts as something like a paranoid thriller crossed with a story of mad jealousy eventually morphs into a psychotic journey across space and time. Is the man who goes to jail and wakes up another person still the same man? Or is it all a way of dissociating from reality? Or is it something more sinister?

Trouble Every Day (2001)trouble-every-dayClaire Denis. Vincent Gallo. Béatrice Dalle.
Tindersticks.
Love. Horror. Sexual cannibalism.

Van Diemen’s Land (2009)van-diemens-landStory of the infamous Irish convict Alexander Pearce, filmed with gorgeous cinematography in the wilds of Australia. A dark look at what happened when Pearce and other convicts at the penal settlement in Van Diemen’s Land escape into the untamed bush in Tasmania. What followed is a gruesome tale of man v. wilderness, in which man – or one man – loses his mind entirely. This is a bit of history we haven’t seen much on film. Glad to see such an exciting, grim retelling of the well-known Tasmanian story.

Images (1972)imagesThe intersection of Robert Altman and the psychological horror sub-genre is what makes up my dreams!
Susannah York stars as a children’s author who has mental troubles, undergoing a horrifying experience while staying in a vacation home far out in the country. She suffers from mysterious apparitions, which beg the question: what is and isn’t real? The whole film will have you reeling, right to the shocking finale. York carries everything so perfectly, as Altman does his usual dance. Not a typical film of his, yet there are landmarks of his style. What we get is an eerie spiral towards insanity where we’re never sure what’s happening and what is a figment of her excitable imagination.

Homicide (1991)homicideThere’s a reason I’ll always love Joe Mantegna and David Mamet’s Homicide from 1991.
Mamet has a body of work that could make even accomplished writers weep with shame, from the stage to the screen he’s undeniably a master of his craft, both as a director and a writer. This one is different. Wedged in between the crime and the drama which works as the catalyst for everything else is a biting take on anti-Semitism and other issues surrounding Jewish people in America. Best is the struggle of Mantegna’s cop character, not quite fitting in at work and simultaneously not quite fitting in with his Jewish people. Unique perspective for a crime movie.
Again, too much would ruin the fun. You get to see Mantegna, William H. Macy, Ving Rhames. In particular it’s Mantegna, his character stuck between duty and faith, who impresses. This isn’t just a favourite of mine, it’s a ’90s classic which somehow gets overlooked too often. Don’t make that mistake, and definitely not if you dig Mamet.

Revanche (2008)revancheThis 2008 Austrian thriller gives its all in weaving a story through several characters, as we witness the various sides of revenge – from the side of the one seeking vengeance, and from the side of the one who caused such a need. The beauty of the film’s look is juxtaposed against its human cruelty and ugliness. You don’t need to hear another word.

The Last Wave (1977)the-last-wavePeter Weir: fucking magician.
The Last Wave masquerades for a long while as a straight up piece of cinema, one that’s full of drama and mystery to the brim. During the lead up to what the Aboriginals of Australia believe will be a devastating storm of cosmological influence, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) must defend four men in the case of a suspicious death, an Aboriginal man. Soon, Burton unearths in himself the belief that the storm coming is indeed catastrophic, and he also starts having prophetic, disturbing dreams.
You’ll never, for sure, what happens. Weir leaves us in the last frames with a decision for ourselves.
Is the storm real, is it the coming apocalypse? Or maybe it’s all inside Burton’s head after being wrapped up tight in his own madness?

Feed (2005)feedPicture enough?
This is a uniquely disturbing bit of horror. Find it. Hate it, or love it. But you’ll never see anything else even close to its strangeness.

Los sin nombre (1999)los-sin-nombreI can’t get more creeped out than Los sin nombre (English title: The Nameless). A whole mix of horror, history, psychology, and Gothic Literature. Based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, this early Jaume Balagueró feature chills with each scene, every revealed piece of plot. Enough creeping moments to make anybody shudder. And once the old smiling man turns up? Forget about it. New pair of shorts, please.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a happy ending of any kind, don’t look here. Nothing but a horrific and depressing conclusion. So fitting for the material.

 Keane (2004)keaneLots of people came to love Damian Lewis for his performance in the grotesquely racist series Homeland. He’s much better in Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane.
Again, the director-writer focuses his lens on the topic of mental illness and its struggle. Never are we sure if what he claims is real, or if it’s a product of his schizophrenia, with which he battles daily and fiercely.
William Keane (Lewis) has lost his daughter at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Except we can’t tell if he really has a daughter. And is his interest in little girls something else? These questions wrack your brain while witnessing the near total breakdown of William as he searches for the daughter he knows he’s lost.

Surveillance (2008)surveillanceJennifer Lynch followed sideways in her father’s footsteps, making her own brand of weird movies. Most of deliciously macabre.
Surveillance is a twisty little slice of crime and horror put together. When two serial killers terrorise their way along a highway, through various towns, the lives of a bunch of travellers. The cast of characters is spectacular. Although it’s Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman who steal the show in their roles as two FBI Agents who come into town after a police officer is killed on the side of the road with some tourists.
You may see some of it coming. Maybe. I didn’t, and even if I did, watching it now getting to the finale is still cool. Just good filmmaking, a fun script, several solid performances. Even French Stewart plays a great role as one sleazy cop. Trust me, at the very least you’ll find yourself surprised at some of what Lynch does with the story.

Animal Factory (2000)animal-factorySuch a top notch prison flick. Steve Buscemi directing, from a screenplay Edward Bunker and John Steppling (based on a novel by the former). Then, one of the actors I most admire, Willem Dafoe in one of the lead roles opposite Edward Furlong. Add in guys like Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold? C’mon!
A simple tale of a young convict being helped out altruistically by an older criminal in the same prison isn’t the typical or expected film in Buscemi’s hands. He gets to the grittiness, showing us the brutality. Yet the story Bunker wrote also allows him to show us a different kind of con in Dafoe’s Earl Copen – a man who cares, if only not to see another soul washed down the drain. An interesting, real view of life on the inside, courtesy of Bunker who spent major time in prison throughout his life.

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)werckmeister-harmoniesCo-directed by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, Werckmeister Harmonies is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. Also beautiful, dark, elegant. Many things.
In a small village, near madness occurs after a circus shows up with an odd attraction: the massive, bloated carcass of a real whale. Then people from elsewhere start to come, the town itself becomes bloated, and its natural order disturbed. A wild movie, I’m mesmerised by it every time I watch. Tarr is a genius, though I do find watching some of his works tiring, have to admit. Also love The Turin Horse; this film still takes the Tarr cake for me.

The Signal (2007)the-signalThis is the best romance movie. With a fine twist of infection horror, science fiction, lots of thrills. The story takes hold when two lovers are trying to meet across town after an outbreak of a signal across all electronic devices, proving difficult as the whole of mankind goes insane with savage violence around them. It’s a unique movie in so many ways. Great performances by A.J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, Scott Poythress. Best of anything is the way we get the story in three parts, three directors on board, and the story comes at us from three different perspectives. A whole bundle of exciting, horrible, romantic events lumped into one great flick.

Sisters (1972)sistersDe Palma is up there with the other greats. Sisters, to me, is in his personal best. Even early on he had a style of his own, a look and feel cultivated from his talents. This horror-thriller never fails to unsettle me. Not just that, it’s thrilling; not in the way some thrillers claim to be then come out only half exciting. As it is in many of his works, De Palma uses his storytelling skills to make his plot so interesting. It’s a bizarre, Hitchcockian horror with Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, and Charles Durning, all in fine form.

Tom à la ferme (2013)tom-at-the-farmOn, Xavier Dolan! If I were a gay man, this guy would be the ultimate catch: he can write, he can act, and fuck me can he ever direct. Mommy‘s his most accomplished feature. Next to that is Tom à la ferme, though it’s no less incredible.
When Tom (Dolan) goes to see the family of his deceased lover, grieving and hoping to find some comfort in their company, he soon discovers they were unaware of him, as well as their son’s sexual orientation. After an uncomfortable welcome, Tom slowly awakens feelings in all of the family, maybe even himself. But there’s no telling if he’ll even make it off the farm once things get tense.
I can’t recommend this enough. Dolan works his way under your skin, in every one of his films in different manners. Here, you never know if this is going to turn out a vicious thriller or merely remain a tense drama. Either way, it’s so god damn perfect that I hate Dolan (just kidding, man: love you) for being this talented in all his roles. Based on a play, he lifts this into a whole other medium and gives it a breathing, snarling life off the stage.

Immortal Beloved (1994)immortal-belovedWorship, kneel at the altar of Gary fucking Oldman! DO IT!
Just kidding. But seriously, he’s up there on the Mount Rushmore of Character Actors.
Immortal Beloved tells the story of the famous letter to his ‘Immortal Beloved’ that Beethoven wrote, never naming the object of his amour. The always interesting Bernard Rose directs this gorgeous period piece, whisking us back through points in the great composer’s life to try and figure out: who was this elusive, nameless love of his? You’ll never see Oldman better, no matter how many awesome movies he does. There’s just such passion to the work he does energising the spirit of Beethoven.
That scene when he has to put his ear to the piano, playing what became his “Moonlight Sonata” later? Enough to take the breath out of your chest.

Hard Core Logo (1996)hard-core-logoAn impressive Canadian feature. Bruce McDonald greatness. Punk rock. Mockumentary. The origin of the band for Billy Talent.
There are things you’ll never see coming. This is NOT Spinal Tap, though it has its moments. It’s the chronicle of a band with its trouble, how it moves on or stays stuck in place, and we witness the tension, the love, the hate, all of it. Front row seat.
Oh, by the way – Hugh Dillon is a Canadian legend!

He Got Game (1998)he-got-gameThe best of Spike Lee, as he examines a father-son relationship plagued by a terrible act of violence by the former, and also he eviscerates the way young basketball stars – in the spotlight are those from urban neighbourhoods like Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) – are treated by recruiters and schools like paid peaces of meat, offering up irresponsible amounts of money + gifts to entice these young men away from their homes and their lives, their loves.
There’s so much to love, not least of which are the performances from Allen, a huge surprise to me, and of course the always charming Denzel Washington. I think Denzel’s performance and role are the best, the toughest, because the character of Jake Shuttlesworth is very unlikable. You don’t want him to be redeemed, though by the end you forget his original intentions and start to see him as a human again. I love Spike’s work because he never shies from the truth.


Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far. Cheers!
Let me know what you thought in the comments, whether you hate or love the films I’ve mentioned.

HIDDEN: A Rural Norwegian Nightmare

Skjult (English title: Hidden). Directed & Written by Pål Øie.
Starring Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Arthur Berning, Anders Danielsen, Marko Iversen Kanic, & Cecilie A. Mosli. Alligator Film/Film Fund FUZZ.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterPål Øie floored me with Villmark (a.k.a Dark Woods) in 2003. His first feature was creepy and genuinely well made, well acted. It took another 6 years to get more out of him. After Dark Horrorfest IV was a pretty good year, including a Clive Barker adaptation (Dread), a wildly unsettling Australian psychological horror called Lake Mungo, and of course, Øie’s Hidden.
This movie got to me because it’s intriguing horror, much of it cerebral-type madness. On top of that is the consistently wonderful action of Kristoffer Joner, whose headspace becomes a frightening aspect of the screenplay. What’s revealed over the course of the film’s plot is frightening enough, but getting into the head of Kai Koss (Joner) makes it all the more jarring. Doesn’t take long for the creepiness to seep in, yet still the story is a slow burn. While Kai figures things out, so do we, and the revelations come at that pace. Certain movies get ahead of themselves by letting the audience piece everything together before the characters. Alongside Kai, we’re plunged into the dark, treacherous space of his memories, which prove to be all too human. Perhaps if it were all supernatural, ghosts lurking in the shadows or fictional monsters then the psychological horror would be less intense. The emotional, human qualities of the film are what make it so damn effective.
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Over blood and gore, over the avant garde, over many different types of horror, what gets me is something with a sense of old fashioned spookiness. It can be ghosts, zombies, serial killers, any sort of sub-genre within horror itself. Just so long as there’s a spooky feeling, something that clings to you. The atmosphere of some films alone is enough to make them worth watching. Hidden has such an atmosphere, a mood and tone which Øie cultivates impressively from the very first frame. Particularly, the scenes within Kai’s old house are relentless at times in the way suspense builds, getting more tense with every shadowy corner. By the time something pops out for a fright, or comes into frame, it doesn’t take much for Øie to get a scare. It isn’t only the scary stuff I dig. The cinematography of Sjur Aarthun makes certain moments look so rich, even as the colour palette of the film is faded and washed out; the contrasts when vibrant colours and patterns emerge in some shots make for a gorgeous viewing experience. Set in a rural area, the forest’s trees swallow all the exteriors up in luscious green while mist seems to sit over everything.
I’d first seen Joner in Øie’s Villmark. He was a solid actor then, only getting better with time. Naboer (a.k.a Next Door) is a truly trippy movie in which he does a fine job, as well. My favourite performance, even above Naboer, is here simply because the writing of the character is stellar. Kai is a damaged, frightened man even now as an adult. His mother ruined him for life with hideous abuse. Back in his old hometown, in his mother’s house, the terror of his childhood is nearly too much to bear. Watching him confront all the ghosts of his past, both in figurative and literal terms, is an intense experience. Joner gives a heartfelt performance and you can really get beneath the character’s surface with the way he plays him. What I’d call pensive, thoughtful acting. Certain actors seem to throw their whole body into it, too much sometimes. Joner, as Kai, keeps things calm and collected, he emotes well through the eyes, little expressions. He can play a lot of different roles, evidenced most recently with his turns in The Wave and The Revenant. Always, Kai Koss is going to stick with me. As tough as he finds it to let go of the past, letting go of this character is tougher.
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There are too many genuinely eerie scenes to recount. A few of the best, to me, are as follows:
In the beginning when Kai goes to see his mother’s corpse in the morgue, he’s alone with her. Holding her hand, he ends up snapping off a finger. Initially we have no idea of the depth of abuse Kai’s experienced at the hands of his mother; so it’s at first sickly that he snaps a finger on her hand, then smiles. He hallucinates a second and sees her come alive, briefly, just long enough to freak him out. An effective shot, for whatever reason working better than the average jump scare.
During his first walk through the old house in years, Kai comes across a nice reference from The Changeling. He stands in a hallway, then from the dark watches as a bright red, rubber ball comes rolling out towards him. Spooky, spooky! A nice homage, too. If you’ve not seen the film I’m talking about, do yourself a favour this Halloween.
Several scenes give us jumpy frights when we’re seeing the mind of Kai go wild – his mother pops up everywhere to keep him terrified. What’s great is that after awhile he begins seeing someone in a red hooded sweatshirt. For a time, we’re not sure if that person is even real, or a figment of his imagination, as it gets worse when he sees himself out in the mist of the forest. Some real well done psychological horror, keeping us off balance for a long time.
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If you’re not a fan of subtitles, you can always check out the dubbed version. But for my recommendation, Hidden is best and most effective in its original Norwegian. Even if you don’t dig subtitles, give this is a shot. So much of it is visual, you won’t find yourself tripping over words to try reading fast. Either way, Pål Øie directs a horrifically psychological thriller, one with brains, fortitude to deal with a heavy topic like a mother whose abuse shapes the lives of more than just her son, and a nice aesthetic throughout. You can do so much worse in terms of foreign horror, especially any horror concerning subjects such as those tackled here. Hidden‘s worth seeking out. I doubt you’ll regret it. If anything, Kristoffer Joner will keep your attention.

Marx & Engels Horror: THE MAN IN THE ORANGE JACKET

The Man in the Orange Jacket. 2014. Directed & Written by Aik Karapetian.
Starring Anta Aizupe, Maxim Lazarev, & Aris Rozentals.
Jarve Studio/Locomotive Productions.
Not Rated. 71 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterI don’t always look at films through an analysis of metaphor. Only when it’s really there and evident do I tread into that kind of territory. Aik Karapetian’s The Man in the Orange Jacket is a deeply unsettling work that doubles as a psycho-horror film and also a political metaphor born in blood.
Billed as Latvia’s first foray into horror cinema, Karapetian’s film draws on the Marx-Engels partnership of writing. He represents their idea of communism as a spectre, a ghost, as well as the figurative and literal class struggles represented in the killer (and who he kills). Maybe sounds a bit lofty, right? Yeah, it does. It’s all there, though. Not a perfect Marxian film by any means. However, the way Karapetian begins his film, the context in which he places the characters, these elements together speak to something else than a horror with a few blood spattered scenes. The titular man in the orange jacket’s actions at the beginning, the catalyst for everything afterwards, become an all too real metaphor for the struggle necessary for the proletariat to overcome the bourgeoisie.
What follows is the man discovers being a part of the bourgeois class isn’t without its prices: selling your soul and becoming a ghost of yourself.
img_3974The film’s opening act (each act is stylishly labelled in roman numerals before it commences) is phenomenal. Moreover, you’d think it might keep going on the track of operating as a run of the mill slasher. It has a similar feeling to the 1983 horror Angst, which is later emulated in some of the cinematography during the home invasion. You feel like the story’s going to be centred on a random maniac. And it is, in a way. But right off the bat we see that a big businessman has cut a ton of jobs after his workers go on strike, planning on going for a luxurious trip to sidestep the madness, and one of his workers – the man in that orange jacket – sneaks quietly into his home, murdering him and his wife. This sets up the idea of class struggle, even if it were to play out as a typical slasher. Also note that he kills the boss and his wife with a hammer and screwdriver, still wearing his orange jacket (a reflective orange safety vest): these are the tools and uniform of the proletariat.
The concept deepens when the man decides, after tucking the bodies away in plastic, to get comfortable, enjoy some fancy food in a restaurant dressed up in an expensive suit and tie, eat his boss’ food and drink his wine, lounging in the lap of the bourgeoisie. It’s after this that the house starts to feel haunted. In fact, after the bodies are wrapped up the man heads for a jog through the forest, and coupled with an incredible piece of classical music this sequence feels dreamlike. A long, steady tracking shot takes us floating through the scene rather than simply move, then suddenly we’re back in the big house and the man’s listening to the music through headphones; edited seamlessly. So once the strange noises start, we’re already made to feel as if it could all be in his head. This feeling only continues and becomes more credible with further scenes that are suspiciously dreamy.
img_3975img_3976Once he takes off the orange jacket, he sheds the skin of the proletariat. He puts on an expensive suit, a watch, he eats at an expensive restaurant (like a pig with his fingers and slurping on soup and wine in sharp contrast). He sits in front of a lavish chess set, though makes no moves to play it. This is when the noises start and the house feels strange, haunted by a spectre, or spectres. Now that the man has filled his life up with material things, consuming commodities like they’re going out of style, he has forgotten who he is exactly. The man has lost himself. How quickly we forget who we were, from where we came. He doesn’t realise who he is anymore. The man starts having dreams: he sees a vision of himself in a bathtub, being drowned by himself – the man in the orange jacket. Later, he sees a man in an orange jacket across the lake, and asks why he’s loitering, as if there’s something wrong.
After getting lonely in the big spooky house, the man orders a couple prostitutes. Watching them swim, he slips into a dream. Or is it? He’s back in the orange jacket again. Stalking, hunting women in the green forest. One minute he’s by the pool, next he’s murdering with the tool box in his hand again. Then back to the pool. There’s a point where he slips between the personalities: he urinates in the pool, contrary to all the high class act he’s been putting on. For a minute, he is both the bourgeois and proletariat version of himself, jumping from lower to upper class in a heartbeat.
The creepiest is when he sees the man with the orange jacket inside the house; that spectre of himself, of communism, is coming for him to violently overthrow the system once more. Except the man has no face. No longer is it just him; the man in the orange jacket is anybody, faceless in the masses. Gradually the face returns, but for a while it is a ghastly blank slate. And outside, it’s turned to winter. Seasons have passed, it seems, all in the man’s ignorant bliss of upper class living. Never are we sure what’s happened, or what’s happening. The only sure thing is the man has lost himself inside that house, as well as inside his head.
img_3977Karapetian’s film is 4&1/2 stars for me. A great slice of horror cinema, with doses of blood, nastiness, and also a brain. In the final shot, lingering into the credits, Karapetian focuses on a painting – some rich, haughty king/nobleman, wearing fur and the like, stares down on the man. Earlier in the film the painting is noticeably visible, as if the old aristocracy is staring down on him, us, all the time. By the time everything is over, we’re no longer totally sure if what we’ve seen is the truth, if it’s all metaphor. Maybe I’m totally wrong. There might be no class struggle at the heart of The Man in the Orange Jacket. Karapetian could’ve intended this as a mind trip with no real aim, only to explore the psychosis of a murderer suddenly drawn into action.
I choose to see further than that. The man in orange is a man gone mad within the socioeconomic structure of his town. He’s succumbed to the forces of capitalism in a violent way, choosing to overcome his boss in an act of murder, assuming his life and achieving some semblance of class mobility. Only that drives him mad. And what we witness is the morbid, thrilling ride he undergoes while climbing from one class to the next.
When you’ve come to the end (I don’t want to spoil any more than I have), you see that the cycle of class struggle is endless. Those who came from the bottom often forget this, forget themselves, only to find themselves lost in a brutish world of their making. It repeats itself, doubling in, like the man seeing himself as the vision of a murderer coming to kill him. Marx and Engels might find great meaning in this horror. Or they might chastise me for buying it from Google Play.

Raising Cain: There’s Better De Palma and There’s Worse

Raising Cain. 1992. Directed & Written by Brian De Palma.
Starring John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer, Frances Sternhagen, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, Mel Harris, Teri Austin, & Gabrielle Carteris. Pacific Western.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★
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Brian De Palma is one of those classic directors of his generation, leaving his mark indelibly on the psychothriller, often imitating his greatest influence Alfred Hitchcock, though never in a way that rips off the master. Instead he is keen on homage, and uses the influence as an element incorporated into his overall style as a director and writer. He’s honestly not one of my personal top favourites. He is undeniably great, all the same. I do love CarrieSistersCarlito’s WayMission: Impossible, but don’t care for some of his more lauded works such as the cult phenomenon Scarface and The Untouchables, other than bits and pieces; they’re good movies, just not fantastic as others claim. I prefer the stuff like Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.
Raising Cain is a nice heady mix of psychological horror, mystery, and all folded into a thriller structure. While this is another film that doesn’t go on my top De Palma, it is fun. Almost in a seedy way. He’s tread through the sleazy, sexy-styled thriller before and isn’t a stranger to that territory. Here, it doesn’t feel as Hitchcockian. Instead the plot comes off more trashy than anything and not in a way that’s beneficial, in say the sense of a grindhouse picture or something purposefully attempting to feel like that. De Palma tries to make another solid thriller that twists and turns, but instead of doing much twisting or turning he opts for a load of nasty business, some steamy bits. Ultimately, the screenplay gets lost in its own convoluted attempts at becoming greater. I wanted to love this and only came out lukewarm even about its best bits.
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There’s no doubt John Lithgow is a wildly underrated character actor. Although he knocked the role out of the park, 3rd Rock from the Sun never did him any good, or justice. He’s been in plenty of movies since, but I can’t help feel that series put a damper on his career at a later stage, whereas someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt was young enough to shake it off. And that’s sad. Lithgow is at his best here, taking on a Peter Sellers-like task of multiple roles. Except these are twisted, each more sinister and unsettling than the last. All juxtaposed with the main character, Carter Nix, whose nice and friendly qualities are what you’d imagine Lithgow is probably like in real life. He does well portraying the Multiple Personality Disorder at the heart of the main character. There’s a genuine disconnect between the different perspectives, the different looks and their ways of speaking, and so instead of feeling like he’s just hopping from costume to costume, Lithgow legitimately gives us separate, distinct personalities. Right down to the voices and their idiosyncrasies. All the marks of a classic performance.
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This brings me to a point I don’t exactly enjoy about the screenplay. The whole Multiple Personality Disorder angle is fine, no problem. What boggles my mind is why there’s so much going on. There’s already a large split in the main personality of Carter, so what I’m not sure of is why De Palma insisted on involving such an intricate plot of Jenny Nix (Lolita Davidovich) cheating? Why does that have to be shuffled in there? Only clogs things up. It’s enough to have his wife suspicious of him and his complete obsession with the mental development of their daughter. A little too much to throw in a whole angle with infidelity, especially considering the movie’s only 91 minutes. Not that it’s badly written. Poorly, yes, but not bad. There’s simply too much going on for De Palma to properly juggle.
Partly it’s the end that makes me feel as if, in this film, De Palma goes too hard into his Hitchcock influence. With the whole female personality of Carter, a.k.a Margo, there’s almost too much Norman Bates lurking; in turn, we could say he’s riffing on Robert Bloch, as well. The timing of having this part of the personality come out feels too much like the climactic chills of Psycho for it to be any bit genius in its own right.
There are some real excellent scenes. Such as the simple yet effectively fun tracking shot following Lieutenant Terri (Gregg Henry), Sergeant Cally (Tom Bower) and Dr. Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen) – not only is it beautiful, the Waldheim character is strong, as well as funny in the way she walks on talking, not paying attention where they’re going, only to be lead around forcefully by the lawmen while they trail behind listening. That’s just unbelievably good writing, and without being a major part of the plot or anything of the sort it adds a big boost to the movie. These are the portions in which De Palma’s talent shines. He doesn’t just write weaving plots, he’s capable of doing good things both big and small.
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Raising Cain has all the potential to be endlessly interesting. There’s no shortage of thrill, even a chill or two from time to time. John Lithgow is perfect in his multiple roles, bringing to light Multiple Personality Disorder in fine psychological horror fashion. This is a wild, sleaze-filled ride straight off the top until the last frame. Brian De Palma can and has done better as writer-director. His abilities as a next generation Hitchcock are usually on display. This movie tries to aim for that sort of feel, but falls short. I wanted so badly for this to break free of its chains. Unfortunately, De Palma tries doing too much at once. Instead of sticking to something more basic while serving better the thriller aspects of the Multiple Personality Disorder, he goes wide and throws in a kind of Hitchcock-type plot to make things move quickly. I can’t help thinking this would have been better served as a slower burning plot, one without the infidelity of the wife and focused solely on Carter. It doesn’t need so many bells and whistles. It was good enough on its own. Luckily for all Lithgow makes this enjoyable, keeping each eye glued until the underwhelming finale that’s both too similar to a classic of the horror genre and also slightly too predictable for its own good.

Joshua Makes You Question the Nature or Nurture of Evil

Joshua. 2007. Directed by George Ratliff. Screenplay by David Gilbert & Ratliff.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean, Jacob Kogan, Nancy Giles, Linda Larkin, Alex Draper, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Ezra Barnes, Jodie Markell, Rufus Collins, Haviland Morris, & Tom Bloom. ATO Pictures.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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The creepy kid sub-genre (if that’s legitimately a thing) in horror is one that’s seen plenty of ripe material. Some of the classics dominate, such as The Omen and the lesser loved but awesome The Good Son featuring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. Then there are others which aren’t as great, though still enjoyable, like Children of the Corn. What makes us so worried in general about the killer kids, the little psychopaths, young boys and girls capable of murder, manipulation, and so much more, is the idea of nature v. nurture. With any representation of evil, adult and child alike, it’s a question of whether innocence is real. If it is inherent in human beings automatically and evil becomes engrained in people throughout the course of their lives. Or if there’s no such thing as innocence, and at birth humans are part of a cosmic Russian Roulette, in which children can come out on the opposite shade of that spectrum.
Joshua examines such questions of innocence. Even after the credits start to roll and we’ve watched with dread those final moments, there are no blatant answers. It may seem like everything’s obvious. Although that’s certainly not the case if you look closely. Added to the finale and its ending there are several key moments which call into question what exactly has happened. People can say they’ve got a definitive answer, and they may offer quite a deal of evidence to that point, yet there will always be a hovering air of mystery. Considering these events, when you look back on the film as a whole you start to try piecing together various theories, moving back and forth between possibilities. Ultimately, this is a strength, as Joshua is highly likely to stick in your mind, days after seeing it, possibly longer. And after so much madness you’ll start to question whether evil really is nurtured all the time after all.
Maybe innocence is far too fleeting.
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I love the natural feeling of the relationship between Brad and Abby (Sam Rockwell & Vera Farmiga). One of the biggest things about any drama, no matter what sort of genre boundaries it crosses, is that the character need to feel real. I don’t care what sort of story you’re telling, if the characters in your screenplay don’t connect with people emotionally on some level then there’s really no hope for anything else you’re attempting to do. While this movie is absolutely a (psychological)horror-thriller its main structure is an intense family drama. The foundation of which is always going to be real, honest characters. One example is early on when Brad joins Abby in bed – he’s trying to start sex, without being obnoxious, and his wife isn’t really ready yet, but he’s kissing her ass (literally), telling her how gorgeous she is, to the point of saying he loves how her armpits smell.
When the horror-thriller elements star to kick in hard there are obvious comparisons, and maybe homages, to similar films now considered classics. For instance, just Abby’s hair alone and later her pale complexion will have most people thinking of Rosemary’s Baby. As Joshua (Jacob Kogan) further manipulates his parents he becomes reminiscent of an even more actively involved Damien Thorn.
One of the eeriest scenes comes when the dog dies. The way Joshua mimics his father begins to show us how the boy might possibly be a psychopath. We know already there’s something not quite right, but this is a spooky moment. Even Brad starts to get a peek into the personality of his son, and though he soon forgets mostly about it this is a big turning point. As an audience, we’re gradually privy to more of his creepy behaviour that leads us farther and deeper into the boy’s psychopathy.
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Rockwell is a fantastic actor. He does well with a variety of characters, and this is no different. The character of Brad is complex. He’s a very loving, understanding husband, and all at once a man with needs, both emotional and physical. Later on, he becomes a sort of vilified father near the end. So as an actor Rockwell has tons with which he can work. He’s easy to relate with watching him deteriorate, and this is probably why it’s all so effective. We feel for him all the way. Alongside him is Farmiga, another awesome talent. She is always watchable, even in movies where there’s nothing too exciting going on. Here, she’s saddled with playing a role similar to the ones played by Mia Farrow and Lee Remick, only this is a much more realistic portrayal of a woman driven to madness by pregnancy and/or motherhood. It isn’t easy to portray an honest character like this, but Farmiga gives us the good and bad of a new mother, one that’s already experienced the exact same thing not even a decade before. Having seen several women go through that new life as a mother, including the rocky beginnings, I find Farmiga’s performance to be extremely on point. And when Joshua further drives his mother into psychological ruin there are some good scenes between Farmiga and Rockwell, where they give us a devastating look at a corroding marriage.
The best scene of all is the last one in the park, after Brad finally snaps. Everything about it is incredibly well executed. Love the score that accompanies the moment, very ominous and psycho-thriller-esque. But just the way Rockwell goes mental, fighting the men around him, it’s so intensely emotional. The camera draws back, panning out and giving us this almost auditorium-like view of the confrontation. Overall, a wonderful sequence.
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This is a 4-star film that I’d put up at the top of the pantheon of creepy kid sub-genre. Of course Joshua doesn’t come along with any of the outright bloody horror many of its counterparts boast. Nonetheless, it is horrific. A psychological thriller with enough viciousness to hold the attention of most. There are good performances, however, the writing is what does most of the work. Not every creepy kid flick has much innovative about its story. What Joshua doesn’t attain in its few missteps it gains back in an overall willingness to step outside the usual expectancies of the sub-genre and it makes up by subverting those ideas, giving us something altogether creepy and slightly original. The film avoids cliche at many turns simply due to the fact it opts for a plot that doesn’t dive into the supernatural. Everything is much too real and impressively believable.
Dig in, you’ll find a treat especially if creepy kids get to you. This is one boy I won’t soon forget.

Scorsese’s Shutter Island: This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain Under Repression

Shutter Island. 2010. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, & Max Von Sydow. Paramount Pictures/Phoenix Pictures.
Rated 14A. 137 minutes.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTERMartin Scorsese will always be one of my favourite directors. GoodfellasRaging BullTaxi Driver; these were some of the movies I saw as a boy that first interested me in film, both wanting to write and direct them, as well as write about them, too. His style, going right back to Mean Streets, is a beautiful mix of different feels that make up what we now know as his definitive DNA on film. He’s got this amazing sense for the space of a frame, knowing almost exactly the right spot to capture each scene. Not just that, he’s a director that works impressively well with his actors. That’s why you see him working so much with Robert De Niro and now lately Leonardo DiCaprio. Even Joe Pesci becomes a better calibre actor just for being under the watching, thoughtful eye of Scorsese. For all his other amazing sensibilities, this is a director who can always manage to come up with the performances required to carry his stories. Better still, so many of his movies have several solid roles, such as here with DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and the great Max Von Sydow all putting forth their acting strength alongside a couple smaller (though no less excellent) performances out of Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, and Elias Koteas.
An exceptional cast, Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson, the original novel from which the screenplay is adapted by Dennis Lehane (The DropMystic River)…
How can it get any better? Looks great on paper. Better via execution.
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The elements of World War II and the atrocities which hang over Shutter Island‘s story is interesting. Not often does the American master narrative offer a look into the atrocities American troops inflicted back upon Nazi guards, as well as other Germans, even citizens. Specifically, the Dachau concentration camp guards in this story. On the 29th of April, 1945, American soldiers liberating Dachau during WWII supposedly executed a number of German POWs, guards at the camp who’d surrendered but were still killed, and so on. Even certain reports say inmates at the camps were given weapons, subsequently torturing then killing the guards in revenge. Scorsese brings us haunting imagery that our main character Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) witnessed during the liberation reprisals in ’45. This is where the psychological horror comes into play and takes us for a ride. Teddy’s trauma, both during the war and after, is in close parallel with the inmates (sorry, Dr. Cawley – patients). So it’s almost like this game of chicken that Daniels plays. He heads into the terrifying corridors of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, as if daring the demons of the people inside to go up against his own. In the end, it’s the repression of the violence Teddy has witnessed, and done by his own hand, that comes back to wreak havoc over the present in his life. Once the past crawls back up from the recesses of his mind there is nothing left but darkness and despair.
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A marriage of Scorsese and horror elements is extraordinary. It isn’t full on horror by any means. Although there’s a great deal of psychological horror and many of the tropes. Above all else, Scorsese crafts the story into something thrilling. Having a master like him makes the tropes just feel classic, entertaining. He uses his patented visual style to make things mysterious and edgy. We see a lot of those Scorsese pans (think Goodfellas and Casino with their panning/zooming within the frame). Mostly, his incredible framing and attention to detail creates the space of Shutter Island where he can really coax some properly engaging performances out of his actors.
Director of Photography Robert Richardson (The Hateful EightU TurnCasino) lends Scorsese a hand. His eye behind the camera is impeccable, both capturing amazing stuff in the tight close-ups while simultaneously grabbing these rich wide shots. Particularly, I love the way he works with the lighting, as there’s often these long shadows cast down over the actors, one light overhead. This works well to make the atmosphere gloomy. Everything interior feels as it should in a mental hospital of the era, one on an island at that, so the mood of the asylum is just eerie all over. Once Teddy goes into the really scary, dungeon-like cells of the asylum there is such an unnerving feel. Gets right into my head. Outside the locations lend themselves to an ominous tone: the rocks and the jagged cliffs like gargoyles on the edges of the island; lush green patches of grass against the dark waves and the blackened rocks of the shore; later, the cave in the rock with its again shadowy, gloomy shades. Honestly, Richardson is one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. Not because he’s won the awards, either. He just has a classic and gorgeous style. He’s shot some of my favourite films. Shutter Island may not be one my top list, but it’s an amazing movie. Richardson is a huge part of that, aiding Scorsese with cultivating a genuine mood of mystery, suspense, and psychological dread.
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DiCaprio is fascinating here, as usual. Playing this character isn’t easy. When there are twists and turns to a character there can come with it the inherent possibility of an actor telegraphing those same twists and turns meant to stay secret, until experienced by the audience. What DiCaprio does is keep us right in the hot seat. We feel as confused as he does, more and more. Eventually, though, you’ll figure things out. Up to that point he does well with subverting our expectations. At one point you may imagine something coming, just on the verge of happening. However, DiCaprio and his ability to portray Teddy as a mentally fractured character is perfect for the role. Even if you guess where the story’s heading, even if you’ve sussed out the twists, there is still a lot to enjoy about his performance. Teddy becomes real and commands our empathy. His problems are devastating, and soon as we begin understanding there’s a bent reality at play, DiCaprio manages to keep us rooted to the deep emotional trauma of the character. Another classic role in his filmography, one that I won’t forget.
Everyone else does a solid job. Best of all is the horrific imagery that comes along with DiCaprio’s performance. There’s the earlier stuff involving the Dachau liberation reprisals, as a Nazi officer tried to kill himself before capture and failed miserably, bleeding profusely all over the floor, into the papers spread around the office where he sat. Later when Teddy starts having dreams, the images he experiences are terrible, shaking him awake and getting under the viewer’s skin. All this helps draw us into his character, right to the core of DiCaprio’s talent. Him and the mysterious imagery, as well as the outright horror, work together in allowing Shutter Island to feel genuinely scary at times.
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Not a favourite Scorsese flick of mine, this is still an awesome mystery-thriller up there the best of the past six or seven years. Shutter Island feels classic and belongs amongst the ranks of similar films out of the 1960s and 1970s. Scorsese and DiCaprio are a spectacular team. The director is able to find Leo’s emotional centre in every part he plays. Likewise, I find DiCaprio seems to understand Scorsese and the angle at which he’s pushing in the respective films he crafts. All in all, this is a well put together production with many elements that gel to make everything darkly exciting, at times unsettling. And always, Scorsese keeps the pace rambling right up to the big reveals of the finale. Some say they guessed this first time very quickly. If so, that’s great. For me it took a second viewing just to piece everything together in a way that made the whole film better. I’m always willing to give a movie more than one shot. At first this may not appear as anything more than a decent little thriller. Think again. Watch it another time around and really pay attention to the clues, the secrets laid along the way.
There is much to behold.

Will You Accept The Invitation?

The Invitation. 2015. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi.
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch, Toby Huss, Danielle Camastra, Trish Gates, & Karl Yune. Gamechanger Films/Lege Artis/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
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I’ve long said a film can survive on atmosphere alone sometimes. Not that a movie can be perfect without story or plot, but I can love a piece of cinema for its mood and its tone above other elements. But what happens when you’ve got a strong, palpable atmosphere that deals in the strongest sort of psychological horror combined with a mysterious and thrilling drama? The Invitation from director Karyn Kusama is what happens.
Using some character actors who are off the beaten path, such as the fabulous John Carroll Lynch and Logan Marshall-Green, as well as a very interesting perspective in a screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the quiet, at times frightening thrills of this film are well-honed. This film has the right looks, the right feel, and the performances pull its effectiveness wire-tight across the throat, never letting go until the last frame. In a new Golden Age of horror that’s seeing indie film lead the charge towards better stories, better production, more focus on smart writing and practical effects rather than CGI and half-assed screenplays, The Invitation is another welcome addition to my favourite films since 2000.
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Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is heading to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). They’ve been invited by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Many tensions surround Will; not only is it the first time in a couple years he’s seen Eden, the party is in the former home which they shared.
Once there, Will starts to question exactly what is is that brought them there for the party. As the night wears on he begins wondering if Eden and David have some other intentions for gathering their former group of friends together. Some leftover trauma lingers over Will from the life he had with his ex-wife. At the same time, Eden seems to have moved on. She and David belong to some type of cult, a supposed self-help-styled community. And a little way in the evening descends into something much more wild than any of the guests ever expected.
But is it real? Or is Will just losing his mind?
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The mystery of the screenplay works wonders. Slight bits and pieces of the backstory to these characters trickles out. As the scenes move forward, the characters develop through a solid pace. Some of the best parts of The Invitation have to do with the thin line it treads, tightrope walking between excitement and subtle creepiness. I dig slow burn stories, as long as they’re done properly. At the same time, when a plot moves from steady to thrilling this makes things all the much better. Kusama weaves the story from start to finish with an underlying tension, a pulse-thumping dread that nearly rattles the bones, so that once the plot breaks out full force you want to grind your teeth down to the jaw.
Part of the wonderfully effective atmosphere comes from the haunting, rhythmic, ghostly score that adorns the movie. Surprisingly, Theodore Shapiro has mostly done a lot of comedies, from Old School to more recent stuff with Paul Feig. Yet here he perfectly adds such a paranoid edge to many of the scenes with his score. It oozes out from the edges and scoops you up, pulling you in, getting under your skin. This works well in addition with cinematographer Bobby Shore’s shadowy work. Much of the film is cast in a great deal of dark, naturally lit spaces, from the living room to hallways to the candle-lit table at dinner. Shore hasn’t done a ton of notable work, but the camera here captures everything so flawlessly it is hard to believe he isn’t doing more films of this caliber. Between Shore and Shapiro’s score, these elements make The Invitation suspicious, filled with paranoid moments, it never lets you move back from the edge of your seat. And above all, these aspects together with the screenplay make for a story that will keep you guessing, one moment to the next.
There are a handful of good performances here. Everyone in the core group of friends does a nice job. Further than that, the central role of Will is perfect in the hands of Logan Marshall-Green. He’s played some great characters, from his turn in Prometheus to his portrayal of Jewel Bundren in James Franco’s film adaptation of As I Lay Dying. This role requires him, along with the screenplay, to keep us guessing. The paranoia of his character is almost evident from the very beginning. His emotion, his range and subtle acting all make Will a raw, honest, even sometimes uncomfortable character.
Added to Marshall-Green, the casting of John Carroll Lynch was a solid choice. He is a character actor that can bring to life many different types, from gentle sort of people like his character from Fargo to the disturbed maniac like his Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show. His character in this film, a man named Pruitt also involved in the cult of which David and Eden are a part, adds an extra layer of mystery and paranoia. He is an outside force, independent of the original group of friends, and that very fact puts him on the periphery of the group. So with his unnervingly calm performance, particularly in the first half of the film, Lynch adds more tension and suspense to chew on. He keeps things off-balance much like the screenplay as a whole.
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The film’s finale still has me reeling. Even if the lead-up were mediocre, which it was not – it was almost pitch perect – the last twenty minutes of The Invitation make this into a horrifying, reality-driven thriller. And it just may take your breath away. Part of the impact comes from the inability to completely guess what will happen next. However, a large portion, again, is the atmosphere. Karyn Kusama can now be considered a master o suspense, as the story sucked me into its black hole then completely chewed me up in the final act. This is another movie that, as of late, has been subject of huge hype. For good reason, too. Go into this knowing as little as you can about the actual plot. This will make for an even more deafening blow to your psyche once the movie takes hold.

Beauty in the Breakdown: Alex Ross Perry’s Perfectly Uncomfortable Queen of Earth

Queen of Earth. 2015. Directed & Written by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, and Kate Lyn Sheil. Washington Square Films.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
queen_of_earth_ver2_xlgOpening with such a tightly framed shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine, Alex Ross Perry completely submerges us immediately into her world. Not to mention she’s in an absolute state of disarray and her temper is flaring, her makeup smeared and running. There are plenty of tight close-ups on Catherine moving on through the film, but it’s this almost shocking, jarring opener of her face, in our face, vulnerable and weeping, angry, emotional, which sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, I love how Perry has the title card come up in a hot pink colouring, as it sort of gives things an interesting little twist – as if everything’s fine on top, the pink like the makeup, yet underneath things are wrecked. A nice start to an oddly beautiful film.
From there, Queen of Earth descends into a spiral of broken friendship, jealousy, treacherous relationships, and a general atmosphere of dread and madness. For a movie that isn’t horror, it’s awfully scary. A lot of filmgoers seem to see this is as partly a comedy, though, for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. There’s nothing funny to me here. Not even in the darkly comic sense, which is the type of comedy I personally love most. Mostly this is full of terrifying reality, perched upon two vastly different but equally impressive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Above all else Perry crafted an excellent and classic style thriller out of a mess of emotions and psychological torment.
10293697.0A big problem I have is that I see so many people online bashing this movie because, supposedly, nothing happens. First of all, it troubles me how many of these same people also admitted they’d pirated it. So right away, I honestly have no regard for that opinion; you stole it, didn’t enjoy it, well fuck off. Honestly, if you can’t shell out a couple bucks to watch a movie online as opposed to going to theatre, which yes is damn expensive these days, well why should I care what your opinion is? It’s the same as if you start to heed the opinions of people who don’t actually pay to go to art galleries but rather they look at Polaroids of the artwork and then critique it. Regardless of what you thought about this film, a lot of people worked on it, just as you work at your job, and then people go ahead and pirate that hard work, giving nothing back, what does that say? It’s sad, whatever it says.
Secondly, I have to say that it’s fine if you don’t dig this type of film – the quiet, slow burning style that’s more focused on dialogue and character than action, whether big or small. Queen of Earth is more like a play, as we’re focused mainly on two characters – a couple others sort of in the wings in smaller supporting roles – and the bulk of the plot takes place in a single claustrophobic type of location. That’s part of what I love, as those who say “nothing happens” are SO WRONG. You really think nothing at all happens? Maybe you didn’t listen to all the fascinating dialogue between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, or did you miss all the palpable tension going on during scenes with Moss and Patrick Fugit? I don’t know. Might do well with seeing the film again. Because for me, a ton happens in this movie and the plot pops right out of the frame, grips ahold of your neck, and refuses to let go until the very last shot. A movie doesn’t have to have a ton of action – by action, I don’t solely mean car crashes and explosions, I mean action as in big sequences – and I think Alex Ross Perry knows that, more than well. I’ve not actually seen any of his other films, but now I’m determined to go back and watch them. They’re surely not all like this, as there’s a genuine air of old school psychological thriller throughout Queen of Earth, but it’s obvious in this one film alone he knows how to focus in on character, as well as relationships between characters, and how to draw out the tension in normal, everyday type situations; so much of that happens here from beginning to end.
IMG_1976I’ll get to Elisabeth Moss and her performance as Catherine afterwards. I’d like to talk about Virginia to begin; the character wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston. While clearly, painfully obvious that Catherine has some deep issues, it seems to me certain filmgoers are ignoring altogether how damaged Virginia is in her own right. Starting out early on, within the first 15 minutes, there’s a flashback scene between Virginia and Catherine, the latter with her saccharinely sweet boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) around – they talk about codependency, needing the other person in a relationship and what would happen if there was a breakup, et cetera. This is very telling. What we come to see is that not only does Catherine seem to be highly codependent
One way we can see the already glaringly obvious parallel in the situations of Catherine and Virginia is the boyfriends. Though the Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit characters are vastly different, the obviousness lies in the women themselves. They’re like a figurative tennis match, each of them batting the ball with equal force, mirroring the charge of the other. For instance, at the beginning we see James (Audley) calling Virginia ‘Ginny’, which she continually says is what close friends call her and advises him not to; not long after, James again calls her Ginny, she once more chastises him for it. A year later, once the situations have been reversed, Rich (Fugit) does the exact same thing to Catherine that James did – he calls her ‘Kay’, over and over despite the fact she tells him not to. What’s most interesting is that it’s not something initiated by either of the women, it’s something springing organically from these people, as if Catherine and Virginia are somehow willing it out of the universe.
Or is it? I also wonder if Virginia provoked Rich into taunting Catherine with the ‘Kay’ nickname in retaliation for how she perceived her friend to have treated her that year before. Because something strikes me as highly childish about Virginia. Each of these women are somewhat spoiled in terms of money – both of them have/had parents you’d most likely classify as rich – and so I think they’ve got their individual tendencies. But what’s telling in terms of why I think Virginia is especially childish is a scene where she and her boyfriend Rich (Fugit) are laughing in their room – when Catherine comes up quietly towards the door, Virginia won’t look at her and Rich goes to the door, without a word, closing it in Catherine’s face. Virginia and Rich giggle behind the door like two children, as Catherine stands for a moment outside, hurt, confused, then walks away. I thought this moment spoke VOLUMES in regards to Virginia particularly.
Because essentially, we’re seeing a back and forth duel between these two, supposedly, best friends who wound one another like a violently psychological and emotionally unstable game of tag. Instead of standing together, they fall harder and harder apart as the scant 90 minute runtime of Queen of Earth rolls on. This relationship is what sets up so much of the incredible tension within. Bottom line it comes down to the fact these two women are more interested in boosting their own egos than helping each other, neither wanting to be the bigger person and instead tearing their friend apart even worse at the seams.
IMG_1974 IMG_1973 IMG_1975Not only is the perpetually depressed and anxious character of Catherine written well by Perry, the way in which Elisabeth Moss inhabits the character is out of this world. I’m not a fan of Mad Men. However, after I saw Moss in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I became really impressed with her abilities as an actor. She has this very quiet and subtle presence about her, yet there are scenes where she has the ability to take hold of everything near, hauling the scenes down around her and just scorching the earth; I mean this, if it’s not clear, in a hugely positive way. I’ll say it: my top favourite performance of 2015. There is no doubt about it. Starting at the first frame, closed in tight on her weepy, angry face, I was utterly taken with Moss and her portrayal of Catherine. There’s a feeling going into this film you might be expecting something big, loud, brash, yet she surprises by keeping things low-key. Still, there is always a gripping sense of tone when she’s onscreen, whether she is being emotionally intense or quiet and withdrawn. I do love Waterston in this movie. There’s simply an undeniably awesome quality to Moss and her performance, throughout every last scene; not once did I find myself watching her and wanting more, or feeling there ought to be less, rather I continually felt impressed with everything she did.
IMG_1977The score from Keegan DeWitt lays just beneath the surface, like a thin layer of skin beneath the outer edges. At times the pieces are genuinely unsettling, others it’s like a swell is happening and at any moment things might burst, shattering the world in Queen of Earth to pieces. Most of all, the music fits so well in every scene of the film. For me, it’s DeWitt who adds so much of the uneasiness and terrible feeling inherent in the atmosphere of the film, he gives the screenplay and Perry’s direction a dream-like and also nightmarish quality. It’s amazing, really. Even in one scene as Virginia is out running, faded into a scene of Catherine generally not taking care of herself (eating crackers/chips and drinking pop in the morning), there’s a haunting piece with a flute riff on top of some electronic style sounds which sucks you into a weird state and kind of sticks to your skin a while. Great, great score. I think my favourite bits are the extremely foreboding pieces – you’ll know which ones – full of the horns and low woodwinds, then undercut with these deep and growling electronic rumbles.
Music and cinematography can go together hand in hand as lovers if the work is done correctly. Queen of Earth has that with DeWitt’s compositions pairing together with the camerawork of Sean Price Williams. One thing I love in terms of Williams’ cinematography here is how the close-ups really pull the viewer directly into this world. In particular, there’s a great scene with Catherine and Virginia where they’re recounting past relationships, bad ones, and there’s this great profile-like set of shots of the two talking, listening; reminds me very much of an Ingmar Bergman film at times, honestly. These perfect shots, peppered everywhere throughout the film, make the emotional and psychological weight of the screenplay resonate long and wide. Without such gorgeous looking visuals, I don’t think the film would have near as much depth, so I’m glad the look of the movie fits so well with the screenplay and its themes.
IMG_1979One of the 5 star films of 2015 and one of my favourites. It’s hard to talk about Queen of Earth without giving away the ending, even though some will still bark “nothing happens”. To them I say, go watch something else. Lots happens, it’s just not full of big sequences where a ton of characters are jumping about, each spewing expository dialogue to further the story. Instead, Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is a deeply unnerving and raw snapshot of the nervous breakdown of one woman, as well as the breakdown of a long relationship between two old friends, accompanied by an astounding score composed by Keegan DeWitt and the lush visuals of Sean Price Williams.
If you’re not into slowly paced pieces of film with all its focus centred on character and emotionality, then I suggest to not even bother. Really. Because if not, you’re only going to find yourself bored. However, if you can handle a slower pace for 90 minutes, and you’re able to sit through the brutish reality of two friends falling to pieces, one far worse than the other, then this is for you! It can get tough to watch at times if you let the plot and story sink into you, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This film brought me back to some of Bergman’s work, even one of my favourite movies of all time Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and yet it’s a completely separate and unique masterpiece all on its own.
The ending has stuck with me. Even the entire final half hour is UNBELIEVABLE and at times intensely creepy, as well; that whole party sequence calls back to Polanski in a way which left me jaw dropped for a second or two. The last two shots, switching between an astounded Virginia and a scarily ecstatic, laughing Catherine, they’ve still not washed off me. I watched Queen of Earth, after picking it up through iTunes, twice in the matter of about 12 hours. Each time I was floored beyond belief and those final moments will not find their way out of my head.