10 Movies Released Last Year That I Really Liked, way too late 2013 Edition

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Hello Tumblr, my old friend. I’ve come to list movies again.

I started an amazing and demanding new job on December 2, which reaaaally ate into my awards season moviegoing. I’ve caught up with all but a few titles and I swore to myself I would get this posted before the Oscars, so here we go.

Speaking of the Academy Awards, this year I’ve decided to omit any Best Picture contenders from my list. I’ve seen eight of the nine (sorry Philomena) and liked all I saw, some a little (Nebraska) and some a lot (12 Years a Slave, Gravity). Odds are you don’t need to read 100 words from me about any of them.

Instead, here is my list of 10 films that didn’t make Oscar’s list but should be on yours, presented in alphabetical order.

The first and certainly oddest on the list is Computer Chess, the (fictional) story of an early ’80s gathering of oddball software programmers at the dawn of the computer age, and the strange encounters they have while ostensibly pushing the boundaries of machine intelligence. Director Andrew Bujalski captures the look and feel of the early ’80s with uncanny perfection, aided by the fact that he shot the entire thing in black and white on ’70s-era video cameras. (Undoubtedly, Computer Chess is the only 2013 theatrical release shot on analog video.)

The film observes its striving, seeking nerds and misfits with open eyes but without judgment. Look closely and you’ll recognize the straight line from their eccentric pursuit of chessboard dominance to the far more powerful i-gadgets we carry in our pockets today. The meandering story goes to a few surprising places but is in no hurry to get there. By its final frames, Computer Chess reveals itself as a very sneaky prequel to Her.

More black and white. Broke but privileged white girl in her 20s flails around New York City in search of artistic fulfillment, honest friendship and, you know, meaning. Sounds exactly like HBO’s Girls but is in fact Frances Ha. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s film takes its inspiration from Manhattan-era Woody Allen, capturing the spirit of the earlier era while updating the vision in a way that’s true to Frances’s time and gender. The one thing it does take from Girls is Adam Driver, who is excellent here, there and everywhere.

Adam Driver brings said excellence (and an excellent “OUTER…SPACE!”) to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ’60s in the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis. The Academy has a tenth Best Picture slot. They committed a grievous error by not bestowing it here. Oscar Isaacs is a revelation. The use of music is masterful. But I imagine the films melancholy charms run counter to the lavish spectacle and self-importance Oscar favors. The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece of sadness, loss and unspoken anger, of trying to make art when you’re good but not quite good enough, or maybe just good in the wrong way. There’s also a cat.

And we return to black and white with Joss Whedon’s William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a masterclass in effortless charm. It’s evident in every frame that the writer/director of The Avengers and his friends are having a ball playing dress-up with Shakespeare’s original screwball comedy. If I could, I would leap from my seat through the screen to join the party.

Matthew McConaughey, too, has charm to burn, and he puts it to good use in Mud as a larger-than-life fugitive who enlists the help of two boys to avoid bounty hunters are reunite with his one true love. Jeff Nichol’s previous film, Take Shelter, was one of my favorites of 2011. Mud is not quite at that level but it is an engaging coming-of-age story, anchored by McConaughey’s performance and featuring some of the best acting I’ve seen from Reese Witherspoon in years.

Short Term 12 is one of the films I didn’t catch up with until February. I’m glad I did, as it more than earns its spot on my list. Brie Larson stars as a young woman working in a group home for at-risk teens, coming to terms with issues of her own. The story could easily have slipped into “after-school special” territory, but writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton  keeps it grounded, with a setting and cast of characters who feel real through and through.

If Much Ado is the party you dream of, Spring Breakers is the one that haunts your nightmares. (And probably vice versa, but if you’re on the other side of that equation let’s agree to never hang out.) There’s much more going on here than James Franco’s over-the-top, over-praised “Alien.” Harmony Korine bait-and-switches filmgoers with a candy-colored critique of youth culture, gangsta culture and twenty years of televised, bikinied youthful excess courtesy of MTV’s Beach House and Girls Gone Wild. This is a deeply subversive film that will sit like a Netflix time bomb waiting to blow the minds of unsuspecting teens for decades to come.

From a metaphoric hell on earth to a literal one: This Is The End, starring (among others) Academy Award nominees James Franco and Jonah Hill as themselves. This quintessential smart-dumb comedy starts off mining humor from the tabloid reputations of famous stars, and ultimately carries its apocalyptic premise to the most extreme places imaginable. Remarkably, it does so with a lighter touch than you might expect from such a bro-heavy ensemble. Still, your enjoyment of This Is The End will be predicated on your tolerance for large doses of Seth Rogen. Mine are just high enough.

Upstream Color is, to quote its wikipedia page, “a film written, directed, produced, edited, composed, designed, cast by and starring Shane Carruth.” I stand in awe of Mr. Carruth, who I imagine probably helped with the catering too. His outstanding feature debut, Primer (2004), is one of the smartest, knottiest time travel films ever made. Nine years on, his second film is even better. Another smart science fiction film without the usual sci-fi trappings (rockets, robots, explosions), Upstream Color can be loosely described as the tale of a couple whose brain chemistries are mysteriously altered unbeknownst to them, resulting in usual side effects including paranoia, telepathy with pigs and a surprising familiarity with Thoreau’s Walden. But more than any of that, Upstream Color is a profound and moving love story. With pig telepathy.

No pigs in You’re Next, but there are violent men wearing stark white tiger, wolf and sheep masks. A smart story and great characters sets this film apart from the run-of-the-mill “home invasion” movie (including the far inferior The Purge). You’re Next delivers well-crafted scares but it isn’t interested in dwelling on suffering and kills. Rather, it presents believable family relationship/sibling rivalry in the midst of a life-or-death struggle. It’s also got real laughs, something you wouldn’t know from the official trailer. Best of all, it showcases one of 2013’s most empowered heroines outside of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Honorable mentions: horror movies Here Comes the Devil and The Conjuring, Eraser Head-worthy weirdness in the Disneyworld-esque Escape from Tomorrow, and supremely dark but funny depravity in the soon-to-be-released Cheap Thrills.

Links to 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 editions.

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10 Movies Released Last Year That I Really Liked, 2012 Edition

Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Beasts Of The Southern Wild
  • Holy Motors
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • The Master
  • Looper
  • The Cabin In The Woods
  • Skyfall
  • This Is Not A Film
  • Cloud Atlas


Why do we go to the movies? One oft-cited reason is “to escape.” For me, 2012 offered little need for escape. The year graced me with a new job, a new apartment, a new (old) city, and with the cherished company of a special person with whom to share it all. 2013, you’ve got a lot to live up to.

Me, I went to the movies to see something new, to feel something real, and to think, period. But not to laugh, it seems, since the only comedies to make my list this year are dark (Cabin) and minor-key (Kingdom). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take it from the top.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild comes at audiences like a stampede of aurochs, heart pounding, anthem blaring. Some resisted, I succumbed, and loved it all the more for sweeping me up and carrying me away. Director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin invited us into a world I never knew existed and let me experience its full measure of majesty and terror as seen through the eyes of its six year-old protagonist. Beasts is not only my favorite film of the year, it’s the rare film that gets both childhood and fantasy exactly right (along with Coraline, Pan’s Labyrinth and Let the Right One In).

In key ways, Holy Motors reminds me of an automotive-themed entry on my 2011 listRubber. Both films openly question what movies are for, showcasing scenes of audiences passively observing and of performers sliding into and out of roles like drivers changing lanes. But where Rubber uses the tropes of genre and a permeable fourth wall largely to celebrate its own cleverness, Holy Motors plays with form and style because director Leos Carax’s love of cinema is too overwhelming to be contained by things like plot or logic. What does it all add up to? Damned if I know, but each scene offers its own rewards, like the prizes inside a case full of Cracker Jack. One resolution for 2013: see more of the work of star Dennis Lavant.

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker topped my 2009 picks so it’s no surprise her even more impressive 2012 offering sits high on this list. Both films feature protagonists who are exceptionally good at one thing but not much else. Society, or at least our political system, has made these professionals what they are — but at what cost? The more you contemplate Zero Dark Thirty, the more questions it raises about its own agenda as well as the whole of American foreign policy since 9/11. Director Bigelow and her collaborator, writer Mark Boal, pull off a nifty trick: by keeping politics out of their text, they pack it like dynamite into their subtext. Zero Dark Thirty's final shot lights the fuse.

I just adored Moonrise Kingdom. Child actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward hold their own (and then some) in a film with no shortage of acting heavy hitters. Along with Beasts' Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, it was a hell of a year for first-time talent. Director Wes Anderson somehow managed to blend the excitement of youthful adventure with the wistfulness of adult disappointment — and it doesn't hurt that his meticulously crafted visuals are so well matched by a score that makes inspired use of the music of Benjamin Britten.

Speaking of visuals, The Master offered some of the most beautiful images ever captured on 70mm. Initially the plot (or lack thereof) left me as flat as the optics and the acting left me elated. With time, I’ve come to appreciate the kind of interior character story director Paul Thomas Anderson is after. I look forward to seeing this one again and may in hindsight wish I’d placed it higher on my list.

Looper and The Cabin In The Woods are the kind of smart genre films (sci-fi and horror, respectively) that come along all too rarely. Both respect their audiences enough to stay one step ahead of them, and respect their genres enough to embrace the tropes while transcending them. More like this, please. It’s hardly news, but Rian Johnson and Drew Goddard are writer/directors to watch.

Skyfall, too, respected and transcended its genre, all too aware of the weight that comes from dragging 50 years of Bond movies behind you. I admired the way that it functioned both as an end and a new beginning, delivering the familiar pleasures of the Bond movies in a defamiliarized way. Sure, it isn’t terribly kind to its leading ladies, but that too is part of Bond lore. Special mention must be made of Javier Bardem’s evil genius villain; the man is simply never not interesting.

This Is Not A Film is, in fact, a film, but don’t tell the Iranian censors. Let’s call it a documentary, though that word doesn’t do justice to the impossible slight of hand filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb pull off. Panahi, a leading voice in the Iranian New Wave and the director of films like The White Balloon and Offside, has been censored by the Iranian government with a 20-year ban on writing screenplays, directing films, talking to the media or leaving the country. Given that kind of artistic death sentence, what does a creative person do? Pick up an iPhone and turn life into art. Then smuggle that art out of the country on a flash drive hidden in a birthday cake. This Is Not A Film is the ultimate found-footage film and a triumph of art over oppression.

Finally Cloud Atlas, which edged out Argo and Paranorman for the final spot thanks to its virtuoso editing, on the page and on the screen. Amazingly, the trio of Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski found a way to adapt the notoriously unadaptable novel. I usually find myself allergic to easy sentimentality, but damned if it didn’t get me - big noses, bad wigs and all. Now how can we get Halle Berry to star in a bunch more Luisa Rey Mysteries™?

See my top 10s for 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

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2011 Honorable Mention: Best Movie Trailer

The trailer that got the most attention in 2011 was for Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with its powerful Trent Reznor/Karen O cover of classic Zeppelin. Smart, effective…and completely obvious. “I come from the land of the ice and snow,” yeah, we get. 

For me, true artistry was found in the first trailer for Battle: Los Angeles. A serviceable if unremarkable sci-fi action movie, B:LA will be memorable for years to come mainly for this brilliant teaser featuring music from modern composer Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401, A User’s Manual.

Filmmakers, take note: this is how it’s done. Johannsson’s haunting, coldly alien sound elevates routine Michael Bey-esque clips into something both terrible and beautiful.

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2011 Honorable Mention: Best Reboots

Hollywood is bashed - and rightly so - for an over-reliance on sequels, remakes and rebooted franchises. This year’s 7 highest grossing movies (worldwide, according to THR) were all sequels: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One), Fast Five, and The Hangover 2. Potter aside, that list makes me sad.

So let’s give credit where credit is due. Last year, two very different bands of misfits got franchise reboots well worth seeing: The Muppets and X-Men: First Class.

Jason Segal is clearly a lifelong Muppets fan. For my money, his clever update did Jim Henson proud, reminding us what makes these characters indelible for those of us who grew up with them. 

Meanwhile, who would have dreamed Mad Men-plus-mutants would work so spectacularly? Sending the franchise back to it’s swinging ’60s Cold War origins was a stroke of genius. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender pull off the neat trick of evoking and surpassing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan’s performances as Professor X and Magneto.

Added bonus: putting the ubiquitous (and enormously talented) Fassbender on screen with Kevin Bacon as the villainous Sebastian Shaw automatically changes the game to “Five Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

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2011 Honorable Mention: Best Middle Thrid of a Movie

"The Diary of Anne Frankenstein" is writer/director Adam Green’s contribution to the entertaining but uneven Chillerama. Set on the last night at bankrupt drive-in movie, the film offers three and a half movies-within-a-movie, of which “Diary” is by far the funniest. 

Green is clearly a graduate of the Mel Brooks School of Hitler Humor (with a minor in Young Frankensteining). Joel David Moore (Avatar) sends it over the top, playing der Fuhrer with a gibberish German that would do Sid Caeser proud.

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2011 Honorable Mention: Best First Third of a Movie

We Need To Talk About Kevin is impressive from the get go, from its bold, expressionistic use of color to its temporal fluidity. (Has any film ever relied so much on an actor’s hair style for narrative comprehensibility?) Tilda Swinton, in nearly every scene, is captivating as a strong-willed woman whose life is upended by her dark offspring.

Unfortunately, director Lynne Ramsay’s spell over me was broken when it came time to talk to Kevin. Played at different ages by Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller, Kevin is such an obvious, cliched “bad seed” that the movie threatens to tip from serious drama to total kitsch.

The camera clearly loves Swinton, though I am hard pressed to think of a performance in which she elects to reflect it back. Crucially, I wish they had cast as her clueless husband someone who could match her intensity. Pairing John C. Reilly with Tilda Swinton is a bit like putting a beer jingle up against a Mahler symphony. I like to imagine John C. Reilly and George Clooney swapping roles in Kevin and The Descendants. In my mind (and perhaps in only in my mind), the switch betters both. 

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10 Movies Released Last Year That I Really Liked, 2011 Edition

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The best (in alphabetical order):

  • Melancholia
  • Rubber
  • Senna
  • Take Shelter

The next best (ditto):

  • Attack the Block
  • Drive
  • Hugo
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Stake Land

The rest:

  • Midnight in Paris

Note: only 2011 theatrical & direct to DVD/VOD releases were considered.

As in the past (see 20082009 and 2010), the last spot was a virtual coin flip. I liked but didn’t love Paris, just as I liked but didn’t love two other comedies, Bridesmaids and Young Adult. Paris gets the nod for doing for the City of Lights what Manhattan did for Manhattan. For that, and for the way Corey Stoll’s Hemmingway utterly steals the movie. (Corey who? Exactly.)

So much for the bottom. Up at the top, I think of Melancholia and Take Shelter as a matched set. Both use apocalyptic imagery as metaphors for mental illness, bipolar disorder in the former and schizophrenia in the latter. Von Trier’s film explores (predominantly but not uniquely) female anxieties around marriage, family, career and identity, while Nichols unpacks the stereotypically male fears of providing and protecting the family in this age of recession and foreclosure. For my money, no two films better capture life in 2011.

I’m tempted to pair up Senna and Rubber as well - the first a documentary about a Formula 1 driver and the other a postmodern tale about a killer car tire. But really, the two films could hardly be less alike. Senna tells the story of a pretty remarkable life in a truly remarkable way: without talking heads or voiceover. The filmmakers deliver an uplifting tale of a full if tragically short life relying on nothing more than TV coverage, home movies and breathtaking in-car race footage. No knowledge of or even interest in car racing is required to enjoy this great documentary.

As for Rubber, the less said the better - but be aware that there is another level to the film beyond what you see in the trailer. Madman director Quentin Dupieux is the antidote to tired, formulaic filmmaking. 

Attack the Block was the best sci-fi film of the year and Stake Land my favorite horror film (think Zombieland meets The Road, but with feral vampires and crazy cultists).

Martha Marcy May Marlene could almost be considered a horror movie. It delivers a sense of inescapable dread as we peel back the layers of a young woman’s past in a rural cult and her present with her materialistic sister and brother-in-law. First time writer-director Sean Durkin is clearly one to watch, as is his star (and Olsen Twin sibling) Elizabeth Olsen.

I adore Scorsese for sneaking a primer on the history of film into a big budget, 3D holiday release, though I have some problems with the source material. (As with Super 8, I kept asking myself “why is the boy the star and the girl the sidekick?” Here are rare instance where Scorsese and J.J. Abrams could take a page from Robert Rodriguez.) 

Drive could have made it into the first group, except it went off the rails for me after the over-the-top elevator fight. Sure Gosling’s “Driver” is a badass, but he’s not the goddamn Batman

Overall, a pretty solid list, if not as strong as last year’s. That’s my top 10. What’s yours?

(Check back later this week for a few “honorable mentions,” including my favorite movie trailer of 2011.)

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A Very Subjective ‘Best of Fantastic Fest 2011’

Take Shelter

Sixty-something days after the damn thing ended, I’m finally getting around to throwing some thoughts together about Fantastic Fest 2011. This is because (a) I miss Austin, (b) I finally found the keys to my Tumblr account (they fell behind the sofa!), and (c) in a few weeks I’m going to do my annual fourth annual 10 Movies Released Last Year I Really Liked post (TM Liz Shannon Miller) and it’s going to feel a wee bit redundant. (Years 2008, 2009 and 2010 here.)

So without further ado and in no particular order…

Take Shelter (in theaters now) may not be the best film of the year but it is the one that best captures the year’s zeitgeist. If a century from now our children’s children’s children want to know what 2011 felt like, they need look no further than this movie. Curtis (played by a mesmerizing Michael Shannon) has the American dream - a lovely wife (played by the equally great Jessica Chastain), a deaf but happy young daughter, a reliable blue collar construction job and a modest home of his own. But it all starts to slip through his fingers when Curtis is visited by apocalyptic visions that may predict real disaster or may just be symptoms of mental illness. Economic anxiety, mental breakdown, natural disaster, and biblical apocalypse add up to a horror film unlike any other. 

Livid (opens December 7…in France, no US distribution yet) is one that disappointed many but pleased me. Fans of filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s first film, Inside, were no doubt expecting something visceral and violent. Instead, they got an atmospheric dark fable that feels like a Gallic Guillermo del Toro. Calibrate your expectations accordingly and you too might dig this entirely new take on the haunted house genre, notable for its stunning visuals and strong female characters.

Headhunters (no US release date, but Summit is working on a remake) is a tense heist movie, a violent cat-and-mouse thriller, a surprisingly touching romance, a social-political satire and, best of all, a damn entertaining ride. Aksel is top-level executive recruiter by day and an art thief by night, damn good at both. He has to be in order to afford the lavish lifestyle he needs to keep his tall, supermodel-gorgeous wife happy. Aksel’s world is turned upside-down when he runs afoul of a ruthless executive (played by Game of Throne's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) with a violent past and a hidden agenda. 

 

Juan of the Dead (unreleased and as yet unauthorized by the Cuban film board) was the happiest surprise of FF2011. I found myself in the midnight screening more by default than active choice, only to discover a really smart, truly subversive, uniquely Cuban and wholly successful take on the zombie/horror/comedy genre. Fingers crossed that this one reaches more than just the festival circuit.

Those four were my favorites. There were others, both good (A Lonely Place to Die, Penumbra, Kill Me Please, several good shorts) and not as good (The Corridor, Last Screening, Two Eyes Staring). But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Human Centipede Two (Full Sequence). Did I like it? Let’s just say I appreciated it. If you enjoyed the first one but wish it had gone further, this is the film for you. If the very idea of the first one was enough to make you ill, avoid this at all costs. You have been warned.

Three other films that would have easily made this list except that I saw them before or after Austin were Pedro Almodovar’s unsettlingThe Skin I Live In, Lars von Trier’s audacious Melancholia and Ti West’sThe Innkeepers. West’s bait-and-switch workplace comedy has grown on me over time: though I still think it’s a flawed film, I really like what West is trying to do with the genre. The last ten minutes were as terrifying as any horror film I’ve seen all year. 

Of course, one could make a pretty compelling “best of” list out of the movies I didn’t see but still want to: A Boy and His Samurai, Extraterrestrial, Sleep Tight, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and You’re Next.

All in all, the mix of films I saw was not as spectacular as FF2010 but still engaging enough to make me eager to return for FF2012.

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Better Late Than Never: Favorites from FF 2010 and SXSW 2011

As promised about an hour ago, here are five of my favorites from my previous two trips to Austin for film festivals:

FANTASTIC FEST 2010

Stake Land (available on DVD), a road movie about a makeshift group trying to survive in a post-vampire apocalypse America. If you like The Walking Dead, you’ll like this.

Undocumented (now on IFC On Demand, finally), a truly scary portrait of a group of ultra “patriots” out to stop illegal immigration by any means necessary, as seen by a group of do-gooder documentarians who lose control of their movie.

Rubber (out on DVD), the fourth-wall bashing tale of a homicidal car tire. I still have no idea how the director got a Buster Keaton-style deadpan comedy performance out of an intimate object. Wholly original, totally riveting filmmaking.

SXSW 2011

Xavier Gens’ The Divide (coming eventually), in which a group of ordinary city dwellers turn into predators and prey when trapped together in a bunker following a 9-11 style attack. Not for the faint of heart.

Kill LIst (coming eventually), which starts out as a kitchen sink dysfunctional family drama, turns into an assassin buddy road movie, and then takes a sharp turn towards the uncanny in its final act.

There you have it, five must-see genre films. Here’s hoping I come back from Fantastic Fest 2011 with quite a few more…

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You Know It’s Been Too Long Since You’ve Posted…

…when Safari no longer knows how to autocomplete the URL for your blog.  So here we are.

SXSW was great, and the city of Austin even better. I’m not sure I could live there, but I want to visit. Often.

I spent most of my time attending Interactive Panels and Interactive Parties, but the parts of SXSW that rocked my world were the midnight movies at the The Alamo Drafthouse. It’s a helluva place to see a film, probably second in my heart only to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on a warm summer night, but minus the hassle of a car queue on Santa Monica Blvd.

Let’s talk movies.

AMER

Amer was hypnotic, subjective, almost without words, driven by dream logic and an almost brutal passion for repetition. It tells the story (sort of) of a woman at three ages - child, teen, adult - menaced by (mostly) unseen forces and slowly coming to grips with her evolving sexuality.

The first part was just brilliant - think Dario Argento meets Pan’s Labyrinth, replacing the fantastical creatures with half-glimpsed shadows, subjective primary colors and primal scene trauma. Part two was more whimsical and less satisfying, but the camera lingered over pulchritudinous flesh, so there was that. The bouncing ball remind me of something - Don’t Look Now, maybe? The final part, adulthood, had some beautiful moments and terrifying ones. I may have to make Drew Daywalt see it just so we can talk about it.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a good role-reversal splatter comedy elevated to occasional brilliance by the performances of titular leads Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. Someone needs to greenlight 2 more sequels, post haste.

The Loved Ones is a smart, nasty ride, more twisted than you expect but not more than you can handle, that leaves you breathless and giddy at the end. I never realized how dark hot pink can be. Easily my favorite horror film of the year so far.

This scene is even more aweful than you think.

And then there’s A Serbian Film (Srpski Film). Where to begin? Let’s start in the projection booth: I doubt there’s city in a America where projecting this couldn’t get you thrown in jail. It’s likely the most transgressive thing ever put on film by highly skilled professionals. Whatever you imagine to be the limit of cinematic transgression, it goes there, steps boldly over the line and the laughs as it sprints off into the land of “oh my god I didn’t just see that.” The viewer is left shaken, disturbed, stunned. Breathless maybe, but not at all in a way that leaves you giddy.

Don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t “I dare ya” shock cinema. It’s not some contest of wills or an empty test of your movie watching mettle. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a primal scream. It’s a knife in the eye in a world where sharpened steel is your only word and pain your sole sensation. Sure, it’s utterly nihilistic, but it comes from a people and place that by all accounts have earned their nihilism.

Yet beneath it all, there’s a point - not just a point but a political message, a condemnation, and a cry for help. I can’t quite say I enjoyed A Serbian Film, but I feel enormously privileged to have seen it. NO ONE should watch this film…unless they feel absolutely compelled to. (But not compelled in a sexual way - if this film turns you on, seek help.)

It’s not coming to a theater near you, ever, and you won’t see it on VOD or Netflix, or buy it on Amazon. If you want this one, you’re going to have to hunt it down and see it in the shadows, on the margins, as it should be.

In the meantime, if you intend to see it do NOT read any reviews, don’t watch the trailer. Try to go in as unspoiled as you can in order to take the film’s brutality head on, without the armor of anticipation. If you’re intensely curious and you must read something, read only this amazing essay penned by @DrewAtHitFix. Somehow he found the words to describe the indescribable without giving away anything.

The other two films I saw - Electra Lux and All My Friends are Funeral Singers - had their charms, but the four above are the ones that defined my SXSW, at least between the hours of midnight and 3am.  I can’t wait to go back next year for more.

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