Sunday, December 31, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2017

Most years, in addition to my top films of a particular year, I like to copy from Rupert Pupkin Speaks and do a list of film discoveries -- vintage movies that I saw for the first time this year. I saw around 95 "new to me" vintage movies and here are 10 standouts.

(Note: It may go without saying, but I usually don't include obvious classics here, because I'd rather spotlight relatively lesser known or less appreciated films. A few of these *are* pretty obvious classics to many, but I just didn't want to stack the list with stuff like Elephant Man and Twelve O'Clock High.)

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
dir. Russ Meyer

I’d seen a couple of Russ Meyer’s other movies, but never this classic. Three wild, unapologetic nasty women raise absolute hell for most of this movie — driving fast, breaking necks, kidnapping innocents, and using their womanly wiles to try and find the location of some hidden cash. This is subdued by Meyer’s later standards, but he’s on his own scale.

dir. James Glickenhaus

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t something this genuinely good. Okay, Sam Elliott and Peter Weller don’t have the best chemistry, but they don’t spend a ton of the movie together anyway. The movie has some pretty great action set pieces (the roller coaster omg!), and I love that the hero succeeds because he’s good at his job, not because of some plot device. Weird side note: I always think of the Bob Seger song when I see the title, but it was on the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack and has nothing to do with this movie.

The Driver
dir. Walter Hill

This was only Walter Hill’s second movie, and it’s completely amazing. Obviously a huge influence on Drive and this year’s Baby Driver, this is a fairly lean movie, with characters that are more archetypes than fully fledged human beings. That’s not a criticism, by the way — we know no more about the main three characters than we absolutely need to, and it’s just what the movie needs. There are a bunch of great car chases in and around LA, and it's all centered on a role that handsome blank slate Ryan O’Neal was born to play.

Four Times That Night
dir. Mario Bava

I caught this during Quad Cinema’s "Bava-thon" and was delighted to scratch this deep cut off my to-watch list. It employs one of my least favorite tropes, but it’s done cleverly enough that I actually was charmed by it. We see four different versions of what happened between a man and a woman on a date, so it’s basically Sexy Rashomon. I usually associate Bava with his thrillers and gothic horror movies, but this cheeky gem is a nice change of pace.

Road Games
dir. Richard Franklin

I wrote about this one in the "What the Truck" entry for my horror triple features series, so I won't repeat myself. But in case you missed it … Stacy Keach as a bleary-eyed truck driver. Jamie Lee Curtis as an adventurous hitchhiker. Grant “Stunt Rock” Page as a serial killer.

I loved this so much.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
dir. Bruce Pittman

I don’t know anything about the original movie other than that disco scene, but it doesn’t matter because this one completely stands alone and is AWESOME. Bless all the incredible 80s fashion in this movie. Bless the plot device of Mary Lou having being killed in a tragic stink bomb accident. But most of all, bless Mary Lou and her barren field of f***s to give.

The Hidden
dir. Jack Sholder

My favorite by far of this year’s "Dismember the Alamo" festivities. This movie boasts Michael “Flashdance” Nouri and Kyle “Blue Velvet” MacLachlan (Twin Peaks was still a few years off) and was directed by Jack “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” Sholder. It’s basically a buddy cop movie where one half of the duo is a body-swapping alien hunting another of his kind. Nouri and MacLachlan are great together, and it’s pretty gory for the late 80s. It also has a bitchin’ theme song

dir. Barbra Streisand

If you are a fan of Barbra Streisand, you’ve likely already seen this; if you’re not, I don’t know that it’s for you, but I suspect you might be pulled in by it if you can get through the first 15 minutes or so. For years I had let this movie’s reputation among its detractors keep me from watching it, but I’m so glad I finally saw it. Following the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to study the Torah (which is forbidden to women), this movie is kind of revolutionary in its use of the musical numbers and how it plays with diagetic and non-diagetic music. The sexual dynamics are pretty fascinating as well, even by today’s standards.

7 Women
dir. John Ford

When I think of John Ford, I think of classic westerns and war movies and rugged manliness. So this film, his final completed film, was a complete surprise to me. Anne Bancroft (taking over for Patricia Neal) plays a doctor who takes a post at a mission in rural China run by mostly women (and Eddie Albert). There’s some cringey “yellow face” (including Woody Strode in a small role), but otherwise this is a pretty outstanding flick.

Donkey Skin
dir. Jacques Demy

I was compelled to watch this because Anna Biller (director of The Love Witch) talks about it all the time and has been frequently inspired by it. All I can say is … wow. Wait, that doesn’t mean what you probably think. Catherine Denueve plays a princess whose recently widowed father has decided he wants her to be his next wife. And before you can say “Toys Are Not for Children” she gets the heck out of Dodge to go and live in the woods.  Can't say I blame her. This movie has things you simply would not believe — a king whose throne is literally a giant plush cat, a donkey that poops gold and jewels, a princess who clones herself in order to bake a cake. And the costumes! They must have blown half the budget on the gowns alone! This movie is bazonkers in the best way.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day the Final

Today's movies don't really have much in common except that they're horror movies and they all feature characters who are dressed up in costumes. But it felt like a fitting way to close out the Halloween season.


Linda Blair, several years out from The Exorcist, leads this cast of fraternity/sorority wannabes who have to spend the night in a spooky mansion as part of their hazing (why the guys and gals all seem to be pledging the same organization and why there are only four of them is unclear). Their tormentors have devised a bunch of fake scares for them, but some very real (and very deadly) scares are in store for them instead. This movie is pretty goofy, especially at the beginning, with some laborious joke set-ups, but I love that everyone is in costume and the story that gives us the background of the spooky house is pretty well done. This movie also boasts a rare character who actually acts in his own interest and is proactive - CONCEPT!


The old "prank gone awry" chestnut is so much of a trope that I almost made it a triple feature of its own. This prank is particularly sick -- perhaps even worse than the pig's blood prank in Carrie, if you can imagine such a thing. The use of costumes in this is actually relevant to the plot, since the killer keeps exchanging costumes with their victims, which means no one knows anything fishy is going on until well into the movie. This movie boasts Jamie Lee Curtis post-Halloween and not many more actors of note. It also features David Copperfield as a (wait for it) magician, but not as himself -- the kind of magician who would take a job entertaining college kids at a party that takes place on a train. This is a pretty cool slasher, even if for a brief period of time the killer strongly resembles film critic Gene Shalit.


This movie is a new Halloween favorite of mine and it's a shame it never got a proper theatrical release. It's an anthology film, but not like most that you're used to. Rather than being short stand-alones, these stories all happen on the same night, in the same town, and overlap and criss-cross in unexpected ways. Over the course of the film we see: a father carving "pumpkins" with his son; a group of Sexy Disney Princesses (pictured above) out for a wild night, teasing the youngest among them about her "first time"; a group of kids paying their respects to children who tragically died many years before (and another entry "prank gone awry" pantheon); an old man terrorized by ... well, I'm not sure what to even call it; and a few other little plots that tie things together. A new horror classic, as far as I'm concerned, and it's juuuust scary enough to be fun.


I hope anyone who read these enjoyed them, and perhaps tried one of them out for themselves. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day 5

Final girls are a staple of the horror genre, and particularly of slashers. There's a pretty famous list of tropes final girls are supposed to adhere to, but no final girl fits them all. Heck, they're not even all girls (*waves to Jesse from Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Alfred from The Burning). They're definitely the last victim left alive, the closest thing horror movies have to a heroine/hero. They usually defeat the villain (often with a phallic weapon). They're sympathetic in some way, usually fulfilling the "good girl" role (she's either a virgin or she doesn't drink or do drugs like the other characters). And she's usually the only one who takes the villain seriously from the beginning, while everyone else laughs off the "legend" or whatever device the movie has concocted for telling us about the Big Bad.

If you're a horror fan, there are probably a bunch of final girls you'll instantly think of -- Laurie Strode (Halloween), Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Ginny Field (Friday the 13th Part II), Kirsty Cotton (Hellraiser), Ellen Ripley (Alien), Sidney Prescott (Scream), etc. But I want to shine a light on a trio of lesser known (or perhaps just less frequently heralded) final girls.

Nora Davis, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963) -- This movie is technically a giallo (though originally written as a romantic comedy), but these movies were the forerunners of slashers and Nora (played by Leticia Roman) was a prototypical final girl. Stranded in Rome after the death of her aunt, and believing that she has witnessed a murder, Nora's life becomes as exciting as the mystery novels she's constantly reading. Why, she's even cavorting with a young John Saxon! She may be a bit hysterical, but she's also clever, resourceful and tenacious. A worthy predecessor to the likes of Laurie Strode and Chris Higgins.

Jess Bradford, BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) -- Jess (played by Olivia Hussey) has something not many final girls have. A fully fledged character arc. Probably her only rival in this respect is Sidney Prescott, but Sidney gets four movies while Jess has to win us over in just one. The abortion subplot may seem a little out of left field, but not only does it give us a great red herring in Jess's overwrought pianist boyfriend, but it also gives us a lot of subtle character development. She bucks the "good girl" cliche (which didn't even exist yet) but proves you don't have to be a goodie two shoes to be a good person.

Erin Harson, YOU'RE NEXT (2013) -- I almost feel sorry for the killers in this movie. (Almost.) They've shown up like they're in a heist movie, but they soon find themselves in a zombie apocalypse movie (not really, but with the same level of carnage), up against Erin (Sharni Vinson), who seems like she's already lived through one of those and knows all the tricks of survival. Her closest spiritual predecessor among the final girls is probably Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, but even Nancy could never have dreamed of being *this* badass. Nancy studied survival techniques only after she found herself in a crisis. Erin has all that knowledge ready to go. No preparation montage required.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day 4

One of my FAVORITE horror tropes -- and one of the tropes that genuinely scares me the most -- is the conspiracy plot, the idea that everyone is in on it but you (or the main character, rather). The feeling of not being in control and that everyone else is operating under a different set of rules or different information than you is TERRIFYING. Sometimes these fears are unfounded, but I really love the ones where the fears are justified and the character has to deal with how far the conspiracy goes and who they can and can't trust. Here are three movies that utilize this trope extremely well.

GET OUT (2017) -- The newest addition to this trope, and a confronting look at race in America. Chris goes with his white girlfriend to spend the weekend with her parents, and even before the usual horror stuff starts, the racial awkwardness is already horrifying. From the cop's profiling of Chris to Dean's interrogation to every horrific conversation at the garden party ("Is it true? Is it better?"), this movie is as deliberately cringe-inducing as any David Cronenberg body horror. Like a lot of movies of this subgenre, Get Out gets a lot of mileage out of making you suspicious of something (like a phone being unplugged) and then undercutting it with the knowledge of how ridiculous it sounds to speak that suspicion out loud. Surely it can't be what it looks like -- that's ridiculous! Right? TSA Rod's conversation with the cops is this whole trope in a nutshell. We know what he's saying is (mostly) right, but it sounds so insane you wonder why he thought anyone would believe him. (Strangely not available to rent online. You can buy a digital version on most streaming sites, but it costs about as much as buying a physical copy.)

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) -- I love Mia Farrow's Rosemary more and more every time I watch this. It would be easy to read her as a weak, passive character, but in truth she's anything but. She's suspicious of the Castevets almost immediately, but her husband assures her that there's nothing to worry about. Her biggest mistake is trusting him, but who would suspect their spouse of the things Guy is doing? Especially at that time when gender roles were so different than they are now. Rosemary puts up a good fight, though, and it's only through deception and manipulation (Guy is just disgustingly passive aggressive and gaslight-y) that the devil worshippers are able to keep her under control. I still say she should have known something was up, though, when they were able to afford an apartment in that building, which in real life is one of the most famous and exclusive buildings in New York. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes.)

SOCIETY (1989) -- A good percentage of this movie is cheesy 1980s "rich people partying" goodness, but there's a lot going on here and it's frighteningly relevant to our current times. (There's a theme song that actually has the lyric "when you get tired of winning." #somuchwinning) This movie is one of the better examples of undercutting the protagonist's point of view, because Billy does have genuine psychological issues and hallucinations. And feeling alienated from his family could just be a result of his having his own life and his own friends. The third act has to be seen to be believed, and it's a vivid (and perhaps on the nose) metaphor for how the rich suck the life out of the poor. (Streaming on Shudder.)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day 3

I find huge trucks inherently scary. They're just so enormous and they're on the same roads with the normal-sized cars and driving around them is kind of frightening. I can't imagine actually driving one either. I don't know, it makes total sense to me that "scary trucks/truck drivers" is a little niche in the horror genre. Scary cars is adjacent to this niche, but I'm going to stick with trucks because it's a particular kind of creepy. And most of these movies take advantage of the inherent anxiety I think most of us feel when we're driving on the open road in the middle of unfamiliar territory. It's a bit wild west and it feels like normal rules of society don't necessarily apply. Anyway, here's a trio of scary truck flicks! [Side note: I've seen all three of these for the first time in the last three months.]

DUEL (1971) -- Wow, you can see Spielberg's gifts on full display even this early on in his career. I love that you never see the driver of the truck, and I *LOVE* how things escalate from something so simple -- our hero passes a truck with his car, which is something all of us who drive have done a million times. And after watching this movie, I may never do it again without at least briefly wondering if I just set someone off and they're going to start terrorizing me. I also really dig the exploration of the main character, because he's kind of a coward. Even when he calls his wife at home, you can see that there are real things in his life that he just doesn't feel like dealing with because he doesn't like confrontation. And now he's forced into this situation where he *has* to face this thing, even though it's very likely to make things even worse. That scene in the cafe where he knows the guy is in there but doesn't know which person it is, and he's practicing how to confront him. I relate to that so hard. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) -- Stephen King's sole directorial credit, and you can kind of see why, but it's not THAT bad. The premise is that Earth is passing through the tail of a comet, and during that time, all the machines on the planet become sentient and start terrorizing the population. Several people hole up at a truck stop and fend off a bunch of semi trucks who just want some fuel, man. This is a sort of cool idea, but I couldn't help wondering what was happening with all the non-truck machines. We get teased with an electric carving knife coming to life and slicing a woman's arm, but then it's all about the trucks. What about, for example, the thousands of planes that must have been in the sky? There is a bit of awkward philosophizing (yes, giving the trucks fuel is EXACTLY like Neville Chamberlain appeasing the Nazis) and a hilariously tacked-on "solution" to the crisis (we're told literally by a closing title card that, oh yeah, it was aliens and some Russian astronauts shot their UFO, the end!). But it's still enjoyable, with a badass AC/DC soundtrack and at least a *few* genuinely tense moments. (Streaming on HBONow and available for rent on iTunes and Amazon.)

ROAD GAMES (1981) -- Stacy Keach plays a truck driver who tries to track down a serial killer with the help of a hitchhiking Jamie Lee Curtis. The film is set in Australia, and if there's anywhere I don't want to be driving for long periods of time more than West Texas, it's Australia. This is a really well put together movie, with a great mystery set-up and you're never fully confident that what the truck driver believes happened actually happened, or if it's just a product of his exhausted mind. The movie has a pretty sick sense of humor as well, and it really captures the strangeness and uneasiness of driving alone at night and how the road can play tricks on you. (Streaming on Shudder.)

Almost Made the List: JOY RIDE -- This is half a great movie and half a not-so-great one, but the first half really is stellar and wonderfully tense. Listen for Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs) as the uncredited voice of "Rusty Nail."

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day 2

How lovely to be a woman! LOL just kidding, it's pretty horrifying, am I right, ladies? And nothing better exemplifies the horrorshow of womanhood than the monthly hemorrhaging. Menses are featured in a handful of horror films, and such films could go hand-in-hand with films that deal with the horror of childbirth (Whaddup, The Brood!). So hit the deck, guys -- all three of these films have pretty memorable scenes involving bleeding vaginas. If you're going to do this triple feature, I'd highly recommend prefacing it with the educational short Naturally a Girl (bonus for the Rifftrax version -- why yes, the female reproductive system *does* resemble a 70s rock album cover).

THE LOVE WITCH (2016) -- Man, I love The Love Witch! On the surface, a loving homage to Hammer films and other lush Technicolor frightfests, but underneath a pretty serious exploration of gender roles. It also brazenly confronts our society's unease with feminine sexuality and sexual power. Not to mention feminine hygiene. I think it's also worth looking at this film through the lens of the history of witchcraft in America and the persecution of women believed to be witches, many of whom were simply outcasts who didn't conform to society's expectations of women and what their roles should be. (Streaming on Amazon, for free if you have Prime.)

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970) -- This is usually seen as more dark surrealist fantasy than horror, but it's still pretty danged creepy. Not least for the ideas it so beautifully visualizes, which seem more timely than ever as our culture is finally starting to come to grips with how women are frequently treated as sex objects. The eponymous heroine's "week of wonders" is incited by her first period, illustrated for us in the film's most indelible image -- a drop of blood splashing on the pure white petals of a daisy, an unmistakable metaphor for innocence lost. This film blurs the line between reality and Valerie's subconscious, so any attempts to put things in some kind of order are misspent. Just let go of logic and let the movie wash over you. (Currently streaming on FilmStruckAlso available for rent on iTunes and Amazon.)

CARRIE (1976) -- This movie is about what happens when you have to go through the horrors of entering womanhood (not just the blood part) and have no tools or support system to help you deal with it. I can't believe there are people out there who think Carrie is the "monster" of this movie. Have you SEEN that shower scene?! The horror climax of this movie is NOT Carrie's rampage of revenge (which is much more cathartic than scary -- for me, anyway). Rather, it is the one-two punch of Chris's pig's blood prank (one of the best Hitchcockian "show them the bomb" set-ups by a director not named Hitchcock) and the confrontation with Margaret at the end. Carrie is the one with telekinetic powers, yes, but she is still quite powerless for most of the film and only uses her abilities as a form of self-defense. There's probably a comparison to Frankenstein/The Creature confusion to be made here, but I think it's an even better metaphor for women in general. (Available to rent on iTunes and Amazon; you can own the HD digital version on iTunes for 4.99 - just a dollar more than the rental cost.)

Almost Made the List: GINGER SNAPS, about a girl whose "monthly gift" is turning into a werewolf.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween Horror Triple Features, Day 1

I find myself inspired once again by PureCinema Podcast, which recently did an episode of horror triple features, each revolving around a particular theme. So, naturally, I am compelled to do some of my own.

People were obsessed with fitness in the 1980s. It was everywhere. There was even a product on the toy market called "Get In Shape, Girl." I earnestly pestered my parents to get this for me, but they never did, possibly (and if so, righly) guessing that it would only serve to exacerbate my burgeoning body image issues. Fitness is obviously still a huge industry, but the mid to late 80s is when it exploded, and it even bled over into horror movies, giving us a little cluster of movies that either heavily featured -- or were entirely set in  -- health clubs. Such as...

KILLER WORKOUT (1987) -- Oh wow. This movie (which is alternately titled Aerobicide, as in the poster above) is something else. Not good, by any stretch of the imagination, but fascinating. Around 13 minutes of the movie's 85-minute runtime is nothing but scenes of women doing low-impact aerobics and calisthenics -- no story, no character development, just five - and - six - and - reach - and - stretch! The killer's weapon of choice is a comically oversized safety pin. There is burn-victim nudity, which is one of the most perverse things I've ever seen. You'll probably guess who the killer is pretty early on, but the motive is a nice little mystery. More of a mystery than you have any right to expect from a movie like this, at any rate. 

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984) -- I know what you might be thinking at this point: If this is III, is there a I and II that I should see first? Great news -- though there are two previous "ninja" movies in this pseudo-series, you don't have to see them to understand what's going on here. Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja are only connected to this movie by name, and barely that. Our Ninja III heroine is a telephone linewoman by day and an aerobics instructor by ... other days. She is possessed by the evil spirit of a dead ninja who uses her body to exact revenge on the people who killed him, and only through combat with another ninja can she be rid of him!  It contains what I'm pretty sure is the only instance in film of someone using V8 juice in foreplay. It's a Cannon film, so that may suggest something to you about its quality, but their Ninja movies are some of their better fare.

DEATH SPA (1989) -- Holy moley, this movie RADIATES 1980s. The clothes, the mullets, the skeeze masquerading as confidence. Death Spa, like its older sister Killer Workout, is set almost entirely in a health club. But Death Spa's setting is a health club of THE FUTURE! Where everything is automated (swipe your card at the bench press and it sets the weights according to your personal needs), which sounds great until you think about how horribly things could go wrong if there's a glitch or a hack. This being a horror movie, you can guess how that goes, and all these shenanigans lead to some cool inventive deaths (the shoulder press death alone is worth the price of admission). (Streaming on Amazon, for free if you have Prime.)

Almost Made the List: DEMONS 2 (Streaming on Shudder.) Apartment building's residents start becoming possessed by demons and patrons of the building's gym try to escape through the parking garage!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Five (Because) NYC Films

About a month before I moved to New York, I did a series of LiveJournal posts about NYC films and the lessons I believed they offered to me as a prospective New Yorker. I'm still pretty proud of those posts and I feel like they hold up.

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Taxi Driver
King Kong (1933)
Sweet Smell of Success
Rosemary's Baby
Sex and the City
The Fisher King
Can't Stop the Music
The Goodbye Girl
The Muppets Take Manhattan
(I also did a post referencing Funny Girl, but it was the day I moved and more a "here I go" squee than a proper post.)

Having lived here nine years has, unsurprisingly, given me a new perspective. So here are my "five because" New York movies.

#5. A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

This may seem like a weird one, but I first saw this on a Christmas Eve when, for financial reasons, I was in the city rather than in Tennessee with family (don't get too sad for me -- it was just a lot cheaper to fly after the holiday, which is what I ended up doing). It perfectly encapsulated the lonely-yet-exciting vibe of being in Manhattan away from family at Christmas -- at least as I was experiencing it -- and there was nothing more emotional to me than the group rendition of "Fairytale of New York." On the other end of the emotional spectrum, of course, is "Santa Wants Some Loving" (LMAO George Clooney creeping out from behind the trees!). This is not actually a movie, I guess, but it's a new holiday favorite of mine and makes me want to spend Christmas Eve at a piano bar in Midtown.

#4. Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

You can keep your Sex and the City, *this* is my Fabulous and Fashionable New York Movie. Faye Dunaway is a fashion photographer whose work has taken a turn for the macabre, and her photos somehow closely resemble crime photographs that she can't possibly have seen. She experiences episodes where she literally sees through someone else's eyes, instead of what's actually in front of her, and people keep dying around her. Tommy Lee Jones is her love interest, Raul Julia is her ex-husband, and Rene Auberjonois is her fabulously bitchy manager. The movie is a particularly brutal example of "Bury Your Gays," but in 1978 that wasn't as much of a trope yet (though with Someone's Watching Me coming out the same year and Cruising a couple years later, it was well on its way). And coming as it did in the late 1970s, it arrived with its own "love theme" -- by no less than Barbra Streisand! (Check it out, it's so dramatic!) I love this movie as a straight-up thriller, but I also love it as a New York movie. Iconic Manhattan locations, stark studios, creepy warehouses and credibly cramped apartment sets (except for Laura's lavish apartment, of course) make this a much more genuine look at New York than most movies set here now, even if that look is somewhat outdated.

#3. The Secret of My Success (1987)

Hang on, hear me out. Most of my own personal mythology about New York came from the 1980s, and The Secret of My Success was certainly part of that. Sure, it's a complete fantasy (not to mention basically an 80s remake of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), but it's also a snapshot of a particular slice of New York -- one that's part of the image of "making it big" out here. I'm not a successful CEO or hedge fund manager, but I do get to work in some of the shiny buildings like the one pictured above. I work at a desk, I have a job that actually makes use of my college degree, and I get a nice car to drive me home every evening. And there is occasionally free food and swag. It's not overwhelming success, and I don't have a ton of time to write (which is what I came here to do), but if you'd told 17-year-old me what I do every day, she would have thought it was amazing. But what does she know? ;-)

#2. The Out-of-Towners (1970)

When I'm having a bad day here, where it feels like the city is against me at every turn, I'm irresistibly reminded of this movie. It's a perfect encapsulation of a phenomenon that any real New Yorker has experienced many times. You start the day with a plan and either one little thing goes wrong or there's some piece of information you were missing, and it sends your entire day down the toilet. Like, you might as well have never left your apartment. Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis have one hellacious night, with misfortune piled onto misfortune, and you can trace a whole lot of it back to one or two little things they should have done differently right at the beginning. I don't really like where this movie ends up, with the couple deciding no big city job is worth this big city headache (everyone has a bad day, give it a little more of a chance than that, guys), but I've had days that feel at least a little like what they go through in the movie -- having to be late to work because the subway trains are borked, falling on the sidewalk, having to trample over trash bags because no one left a path, being pooped on by a pigeon, finding out that place you need to go to is closed on the one day you're trying to go, etc. You have not truly lived here if hasn't happened to you.

#1. The Warriors (1979)

The longest subway ride EVER. In fact, I'm fairly sure that *if* you were to take the subway from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island, as the characters of this film have to do, it would take longer than the running time of this film (for one thing, you'd have to change trains at least once). And that's even without the police and the other gangs dogging your every step. This movie is so, so good, and I love that -- even though it's set in Future New York, it's still unmistakably New York (side-eyes the fake NY of Escape from New York). I could cry at the diversity -- not just ethnic diversity, but all the different gangs that feel fully realized with their own backstories. It's kind of a perfect metaphor for the city itself; every gang has their own turf, their own rules. And New York isn't one big city, it's a bunch of different neighborhoods all crammed together. (just like the real NY) The movie's plot is simple, but incredibly effective and has the same basic structure of another film by the same director (Walter Hill), Southern Comfort -- our characters have to get from Point A to Point B, but it's super hard because 1) they have a serious disadvantage of some kind, and 2) there's been a major misunderstanding that puts them at odds with people they have to get through/past to get to their destination. I've always wanted to make a day of taking that subway trip. Just probably not in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ten (Because) 1990s Cult Films

There are a lot of different ways to define "cult movie," I guess, but I'm going with Pure Cinema's more loose definition that includes movies that either weren't hits at the time of their release or have been forgotten or overshadowed in the years since their release, and have acquired a devoted (though perhaps small) following. So not necessarily "weird" movies. Though some of these certainly fall into that category too.

#10. What Dreams May Come (1998)

This won an Oscar for visual effects, and while it's not the *best* movie in terms of storytelling, it's a really remarkable visual feast. The ideas about the afterlife (greatly simplified from the book on which it is based) are very thought-provoking, especially the notion that it's radically different for everyone. I think everyone who at least has heard of this movie has seen the picture of Robin Williams walking through the painting (see above), but the image that most stuck with me was the vision of hell as an upside down cathedral. The plot here is pretty forgettable, but that's not what you watch this movie for. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#9. The Swan Princess (1994)

I'd only vaguely heard of this movie before its love song "Far Longer Than Forever" was nominated for a Golden Globe, but just a few seconds of that song made me want to see the movie immediately. (Seriously, it's gorgeous.) A loose adaptation of the ballet Swan Lake, the movie itself is nothing groundbreaking, and the animation is barely above television-grade for the time, but it has some great voice acting (including Jack Palance as the villain Rothbart), and the love story is actually rather nice -- a kick in the teeth to the "love at first sight" and "who's the fairest" tropes. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#8. Beautiful Girls (1996)

This movie is responsible for an obsession I had for quite a while in the 90s with Timothy Hutton. He is at the height of scruffy, sideburned, piano-playing sexiness here. The rest of the cast is a who's who of 90s actors -- Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Mira Sorvino, Rosie O'Donnell, Noah Emmerich, Michael Rappaport, a young(ish) David Arquette, and a quite young Natalie Portman. Yeah, it's another movie about men who don't want to grow up (most clearly exemplified by the not-as-creepy-as-it-sounds mutual crush between Hutton and Portman), but the cast has great chemistry and the movie has a lot of charm. Plus a GREAT soundtrack which is basically the Big Chill soundtrack of the 90s. It also has this beautiful profanity-laden rant from O'Donnell about beauty standards, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. (Available on Amazon and iTunes; soundtrack available on iTunes)

#7. Innocent Blood (1992)

There was a pretty huge vampire movie that came out in the 90s, but despite its supernatural cred, I'd hardly call Interview with the Vampire a "cult" movie. Innocent Blood -- John Landis's semi-comic take on vampires -- is another matter altogether. Not quite as brilliant as his werewolf movie the decade before, Innocent Blood nonetheless has a lot going for it. It was a cool idea to cross vampirism with mafia culture and equate being made a vampire with being "made" in the mafia sense. Loads of great actors in this -- Anthony LaPaglia, Robert Loggia, Don Rickles, Chazz Palminteri, Luis Guzman, Angela Bassett, plus some cameos from horror icons Tom Savini, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento and, err, Linnea Quigley (hey, if you're a horror fan, you know why she's a legend). (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#6. The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Come for the DiCaprio, stay for the subversion of the western genre. This movie stars Sharon Stone, still riding the post-Basic Instinct wave, but here, refreshingly, she isn't (that) sexualized and instead plays an atypical female for a western -- a vigilante who has arrived in town to seek revenge for her father's murder many years before. LOADS of great actors in this -- Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe before he was a big movie star, the aforementioned DiCaprio, Pat Hingle, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell, Raynor Scheine, Gary Sinise, and Woody Strode, fer cryin' out loud! I love that this movie never takes itself too seriously, and that it kind of knows how ridiculous it frequently is, but everyone in the movie is playing it totally straight. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#5. Cronos (1993)

The feature film debut of Guillermo del Toro and a brilliant addition to the vampire lore. An old antique dealer finds a device that makes him younger but has the unfortunate side effect of causing him to crave blood. Like so many of del Toro's horror movies, this has a lot of emotion and the real power in the horror elements is that you care so much about these characters and are genuinely horrified to see bad things happen to them. Don't get me wrong, there's also a good deal of artfully rendered blood and gore, but there's a tragic quality to the horror that pushes it past mere gladiator-style entertainment. There's an especially poignant relationship with the man and his granddaughter that I find really compelling to watch. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#4. Tales from the Hood (1995)

I saw this for the first time recently and really loved it. I remember thinking at the time it came out and I was seeing ads for it that it seemed like a dumb horror parody like so many that had come before, but it is definitely not that. Sure, there's a bit of the absurd here, but that's true of most horror in general. No, what this is is some brilliant commentary, specifically from the perspective of black America. There are bits in this that are still pretty danged relevant, starting with the opening tale where a black activist is killed by the police. The pièce de résistance, however, is "KKK Comeuppance," in which a racist southern senator is terrorized by a bunch of creepy dolls that hold the souls of previously tortured slaves. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#3. Cookie's Fortune (1999)

It is a CRIME that this isn't available to buy or rent. Even the Wikipedia page is half-ass. This is an Altman film, with his characteristically massive all-star cast. Let me just lay some of these names on you -- Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Ned Beatty, Courtney B. Vance, Charles S. Dutton, Patricia Neal, Donald Moffat, Lyle Lovett, Chris O'Donnell, Liv Tyler, and musicians Rufus Thomas and Ruby Wilson. It's set (and was filmed) in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and is legit one of my favorite crime films. The story begins with the titular Cookie (Patricia Neal in her last film, save one), who kills herself because she's bored of being a widow. She's found by her niece (Glenn Close), who sets about trying to make Cookie's death look like a murder -- mainly to spare the family the embarrassment of a suicide but also to set herself up in the family mansion. This is wickedly funny, and is one of those rare films about the south that doesn't feel exploitative or mocking. (Tragically not available, even for sale, except used copies; trailer on YouTube.)

#2. Dead Again (1991)

The closest to "shipping" real people I've ever been was with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. They made several films together and were one of the few real-life couples who actually had insane onscreen chemistry. Nothing tops the spark in Much Ado About Nothing, but Dead Again comes close. This is essentially a crime thriller, but it also has definite noir elements and is a sort of romantic fantasy? Emma Thompson plays a woman with amnesia, and Branagh is a detective who's trying to help her uncover who she is. This movie is a pretty cool example of a "past lives" plot, and through past life regression hypnotherapy, Thompson's and Branagh's characters become embroiled in a decades old love story and murder mystery which we see in black and white flashbacks. Noteworthy supporting players include Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, and Wayne Knight. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

#1. The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Boy oh boy do I love this movie. If you liked Love and Friendship, here's Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny directed by Whit Stillman nearly 20 years earlier. Though the story largely revolves around Beckinsale and Sevigny, there is a host of memorable and well-defined characters. Like most of Stillman's films, this is a movie where smart people sit around and talk a lot. There is perhaps no greater film conversation than the characters' discussion of troublesome archetypes in Lady and the Tramp. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but I love everything about this movie -- the early 80s fashion, the music, the use of Scrooge McDuck as a come-on, and the final shot of two people unironically shimmying to non-existent disco music on an elevated train. (Available on Amazon and iTunes)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Five (Because) High School Movies

One of my favorite podcasts right now is Pure Cinema, where most weeks the two hosts pick a theme or genre and give their respective "five because" list -- not five favorites, not the five best, just five because. Almost every episode inspires me to make my own "five because" list, but this week I actually did it.

There are a BUNCH of super obvious choices for this that I tried to avoid -- much of the John Hughes oeuvre, all those "take a literature classic and set it in high school" movies (sorry, Clueless), and Carrie. I tried instead for some deep cuts, or at least semi-deep or underappreciated.

So here goes. My "five because" high school movies:

#5: Grease 2 (1982)

Deal with it. While you'll get no argument from me that the music in the original Grease is definitely superior, as a whole, Grease 2 is where it's at for me. I think the story is genuinely better, and oh hey, it's actually FEMINIST. It  probably made up more of the image of what I thought high school would be like than any other teen movie I saw before I was actually in high school. And while the songs aren't that great -- some terrible, others terrible-tastic -- they're still catchy and I enjoy singing along to them. The weakest parts of the movie are when it tries to connect to the original, and I sort of wish this had been its own movie and not part of the Grease-verse at all, but the Pink Ladies and T-Birds dynamics are pretty essential to the plot. Whatever else I could say about the movie, though, Stephanie Zinoni is one of my life heroes. "Yeah, I'm free every day. It's in the constitution." (Streaming on Netflix US)

#4: Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Saddest reading of a Wordsworth poem EVER. One of Natalie Wood's best performances ("I'M NOT SPOILED, MOM!"), one of Warren Beatty's best performances, and among the pantheon of great bittersweet love stories. A lot of it takes place outside of the high school -- this could just as easily be part of a mental illness/institution movie list -- but it's still firmly in the high school milieu. Weirdly, this has a connection in my brain to another high school flick of the 60s, Teenage Mother. No, wait--really! They're both movies where a whole lot of the heartache and drama could have been avoided if people weren't so hung up about sex. This is a movie about the tug between what you want and what's expected of you, and dang if I don't get choked up when Warren Beatty is trying to explain to his dad that he wants to be a rancher and not a businessman. We're told in The Breakfast Club that when we grow up, our hearts die, but I don't think that's true and this movie is a great rebuttal to that. It's not that your heart dies; it's that the pull of responsibility and traditional adult roles are almost always too strong to keep fighting against. (Available to rent on iTunes/Amazon)

#3: All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

And now for something completely different. A lot of high school movies are also horror movies. There's lots of great low-hanging fruit in the High School Hell subgenre -- Carrie, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the movie you might think this is a ripoff of but it isn't, Jennifer's Body. All Cheerleaders Die is actually a fairly original and entertaining movie, and the horror comes as much from what these characters are willing to do to each other (in terms of high school backstabbery and revenge) as from any of the supernatural or gory stuff. It's co-directed and co-written by Lucky McKee, so if you liked May and The Woods and his episodes of Masters of Horror (particularly Sick Girl), this might be right up your alley. (Streaming on Netflix US)

#2: Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)

An unusual mashup of teen sex comedy and murder mystery -- think American Pie meets Scream -- with Rock Hudson as a horny (and decidedly straight) football coach, Telly Savalas as an intrepid detective, James "Scotty" Doohan as his partner, Roddy McDowall as a beleaguered principal, Angie Dickinson as a sexy substitute teacher, Keenan Wynn as an inept police chief, John David Carson as a cute but awkward teenager with chronic priapism, and more absurdly beautiful women than should statistically be possible in a single high school. This movie is objectifying as all get-out, but it doesn't bother me that much considering the time it was made and the movie's other elements.  I love how audacious this movie is; the juxtaposition of genres alone is something that shouldn't work but absolutely does.

#1: Sing (1989)

High school was tough for me, as it was for nearly everyone, but it was made more tolerable by my taking part in artistic pursuits (in my case, marching band, winterguard, and madrigals). This movie is based on a real thing that is still going on in high schools in New York City -- student-run musical productions called "SING!" that typically pit classes against each other in competition -- and since seeing it in my own high school years, it's low-key one of my favorite musicals. The movie takes place at a school in Brooklyn that's facing closure in a community that's crumbling, but they want to put on one more SING! show because it's an important event not just for the school but for the community at large. There's a sweet opposite-sides-of-the-tracks romance, and several genuinely good songs (okay, "Birthday Suit" is hella cheesy, but "Romance" is lovely and all the SING! numbers are great, especially the heart-stirring "One More Time," which feels like a classic David Foster tune, and "We'll Never Say Goodbye," the greatest school song that never was). A lot of the movie is dour because these people's lives are tough, but that only reinforces the joy of the movie's last act, when the community gets together to cheer on the next generation, even against the admonition of the school board. The movie features Lorraine Bracco *just before* she was in Goodfellas, and even Patti Labelle in a minor role, but most of the rest of the cast is made up of lesser-knowns. It's hard to acquire, unfortunately, but the whole thing is on YouTube.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorites of 2016

So here it is, the top 10 plus honorable mentions. My "everything else" list is here, if you want the pants bored off you. :P


I’ve done top 25s and 20s in the past. These are the films that would be on a longer list. I’m not ranking them, though, so they’re just in alphabetical order.

10 Cloverfield Lane — Brilliant suspense thriller that turns into genuine sci-fi by the end. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher, Jr. are great, but John Goodman is the star of this show.

Arrival — Beautiful film about the importance of communication and the challenges of understanding people and beings who are not like yourself. I saw the reveal coming pretty early, so it didn’t have quite the impact I think the movie wanted it to, but it’s a powerful movie nonetheless.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe — Man, I loved this! As soon as I realized the whole thing was going to take place in that basement and be the Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch Show, I got really excited and this movie delivered big time. And I *LOVED* the reveal and what it says about evil begetting evil.

The Edge of Seventeen — Movies about teenagers rarely do this good a job at combining humor with truth bombs. The writing does a great job of giving us a female protagonist who doesn’t have to be likable (and Nadine is downright unpleasant) to make us care about her. More movies like this, please!

Fences — Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give the best performances of the year. Period. Washington’s directing is proof that you don’t need majestic vistas to show your goods as a filmmaker. Good cinema can come from two people sitting at a table having a conversation. This movie shows off its actors and shows off August Wilson’s writing, and that makes all the difference.

Hail, Caesar! — Such an enjoyable confection, from beginning to end. Every piece of this is magic, but you can still see Joel and Ethan Coen’s distinctive and delightfully cynical fingerprints all over it. The discussion of the depiction of Christ is one of my favorite scenes of the year, as is Clooney/Whitlock pulling out a star performance (finally) in his big scene.

Hell or High Water — Darn good suspense with great performances (Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, especially). This movie and Nocturnal Animals have convinced me to never, ever go to West Texas. I loved that these guys were specifically targeting the bank that screwed their family over. This movie also has a shoot-out scene that effectively shuts down the “good guy with a gun” argument.

Hidden Figures — We need to unearth more stories like this to erase the notion that white people (white men, in particular) have been the only contributors to the advancements of our world. I’m sure there are plenty of them if we’d only look a little harder. One of the things I like best about this movie is that I kept waiting for some devastating end-of-act-2 thing to happen but it never did. There was plenty of conflict already in the story without setting these women back even more.

Jackie — It may be revisionist, but I don’t care. This was compelling as heck, and Natalie Portman is on FIRE. I love that this movie was shot almost like a horror movie (particularly the White House scenes) and that there was this palpable sense of a woman who was incredibly smart and capable who was being forced into this box because she was “just” a woman, AND that without her, her husband would not have had nearly as rosy a legacy as he does. Someone should write a time-travel story where she meets Eliza Hamilton and the two of them knock back a few drinks.

Kubo and the Two Strings — Best animated movie of the year (though the next one is a distant second), and it’s a shame it wasn’t seen more. Breathtaking animation and a very moving story. I especially loved the ending, which I won’t spoil, obviously, but which is a brilliant subversion of the traditional comeuppance for the villain.

Moana — Gorgeous animation, great songs (I’ve been singing “Shiny” for weeks), and a lovely example of ladies helping ladies. Sure, Maui’s a demigod, but Moana is the hero of this tale, and her strength and perseverance is what drives everything. She’s aided by a badass granny and in turn aids a goddess, and there’s not a single mention of romance. She’s also a “princess” (actually chief’s daughter, but it’s basically the same trope) who has real responsibilities — which, newsflash, real princesses do as well. This is another Disney film you can show your daughters without worrying about what messages they’re going to pick up. (Hopefully the “pee in the water” joke goes over their head, though. :P)

The Nice Guys — A worthy follow-up to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it feels like a nice companion piece to that film, with Ryan Gosling in the RDJ role and Russell Crowe in the Val Kilmer role. Child sidekicks tend to be hit and miss in any movie, but Angourie Rice’s Holly is definitely a hit — believably precocious and plays a plausible role in the action. This movie is a ton of fun and has heart. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Silence — There’s a moment in this movie, when Andrew Garfield finally hears God’s voice, that knocked me out. I cried all the tears.  It might play as unintentionally funny for someone else, but it was the lynchpin of the movie for me. The amount of emotional loading we put into the tangible symbols of faith can be a very dangerous thing and is exactly what turns religion into cultism. I love this movie for understanding that genuine faith is much more complicated than we’re comfortable admitting most of the time.

Toni Erdmann — A nearly three-hour movie that earns its runtime with scenes of painful and seemingly interminable awkwardness. There’s also a good deal of “business talk” that is absolutely necessary in understanding the main character’s struggles as a woman in a male-dominated world. This is likely the frontrunner among foreign films at the Oscars, and it’s brilliant. Hit my daddy-daughter buttons pretty hard.

Weiner — This is a movie where you wonder how on earth it was allowed to be made. A documentary following Anthony Weiner’s failed bid to run for NYC mayor, but the true hero of this movie is Weiner’s long suffering wife, Huma Abedin. I saw this movie well before the latest kerfuffle (without which I’m certain Hillary Clinton would have been elected President), and I’m glad I did, because it allowed me to feel at least a *little* empathy (though not much) for this guy. At the moment, though, the most I can say about him is that his continued existence is proof positive that the Clintons don’t actually murder the people who pose a threat to their pursuits.


Trees. Birds. River. Sky.
Running with my Uncle Hec.
Living forever.

This movie snuck in at the last minute and stole my heart. A hilarious and touching story about a boy and his foster father on the run in the bush, pursued by forces that can't understand their situation, it gives us an unlikely hero in Ricky Baker (ah-ah!). Ricky's relationship with Bella is sweet, but his uneasy bond with "Uncle" Hec is the real magic of the movie. It might be easy to laugh at Ricky for thinking he's tougher than he actually is, but he actually does turn out to be pretty hardcore when it matters. The real joke of the movie is the child services duo, particularly Paula, who seems to think she's a character in a cop movie. This was a delightful surprise, but I suppose it shouldn't have been that surprising, considering how great Taika Waititi's previous film (What We Do in the Shadows) is. I can't wait to see what he brings to the upcoming Thor movie.

A lot of people think we’re crazy. But I doubt they’re as happy as we are.

A stealth cult movie (though not that stealth, if you're paying attention), this movie centers on a guy who's been invited to a dinner party being thrown by his ex-wife and her new husband for several of their friends. We sense pretty early on that something isn't right, and the movie slowly reveals the backstory of what happened to estrange our protagonist and his ex-wife -- the fallout of their son's accidental death. One of the key things that makes this movie work is a possibly unreliable POV. Is Will right to be suspicious, or is his grief causing him to lash out unnecessarily? Once stuff hits the fan, the movie kicks into a whole new gear, and the conclusion of the film is jaw-dropping without being loud and showy. And you're left wondering in how many places, behind how many closed doors, did this same scenario play out.

I can't beat it.

If you were a masochist, this would make a hell of a double feature with The Invitation. And throw in a listen to "It's Quiet Uptown," too -- "there are moments that the words don't reach ... there is suffering too terrible to name." That describes this movie to a tee, because it is BRUTAL, in ways the trailers and advertisements don't warn you about. The reveal that comes about halfway through the movie refocuses the entire thing. Another movie would have saved it to the end, but that would have removed its power. You *need* to see how that backstory affects the decisions the main character makes. Stunning performances throughout -- Casey Affleck is getting most of the attention, but Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges are amazing as well. There are some more lighthearted moments, but make no mistake, this movie hurts. And frankly it should.

Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

I have never been more keenly aware than during this movie of the fact that witch hunts got started because people were afraid of women who were unusual and outside the norms -- women who had agency and power and weren't afraid to use it. They didn't have to have given their soul to the devil, but to the rest of their community they might as well have. This is an impeccably executed film (particularly for a director's first feature), from the costumes to the authentic period dialogue. And while it may be light on what most people consider horror, I can't think of a movie in recent memory that unsettled me the way this one did. If there's anything more scary than creepy kids (which this movie also has in abundance), it's creepy animals, and Black Phillip is still haunting me months later (THAT VOICE, GAH!). Perhaps most unsettling is that I get so annoyed on Thomasin's behalf that in the end I'm like "Good for her."

At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be.
Can't let nobody make that decision for you.

Three chapters in a young man's life -- childhood, adolescence, adulthood -- growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood. He finds a mentor and friend in Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local crack dealer who, along with his girlfriend, are the most nurturing force in his life. He also grows close with a schoolmate, Kevin, and deals with his controlling, crack-addicted mother. It might seem, from my feeble summary, that this is a depressing story, but it is surprisingly uplifting. There are characters that you want to just pull out of the stories they're in and feed them and protect them and have nice things happen to them. I felt that so strongly for Little/Chiron/Black -- all that mattered to me in this movie was that he should be happy and have good things happen to him. I loved watching his journey and, even though it doesn't exactly end in a happy place, it all feels very true and real. And in the end, he does have people who care about him, and that's not nothing.

Sometimes it’s almost scary how strong the love gets.

I've seen some staggering misinterpretations of this movie. Some critics seem to think it's a joke, some think it's an exercise in homage -- it is neither. It's wickedly funny, but it's not a joke. There are obvious influences, but it's not a self-aware knock-off. No, director Anna Biller is definitely doing something new here. That's not to say that this movie can't also be enjoyed as cheesy pastiche, because it certainly can, but there's so much more going on beyond that. This movie is fiercely and subversively feminist, and drenched in a kind of female gaze that we're not used to seeing -- a female gaze that's directed at a woman. And it revels in the unease our culture has with feminine sexuality and power -- look no further than Elaine's commentary on tampons and menstruation, a moment seemingly designed to make the viewer question why they're squirming at such things.

I had a feeling that the great word 'respectable' would some day divide us.

This was apparently the year for ladies who don't need your approval, thanks, and there is no better example of a woman who has no interest in scoring respectability points than Lady Susan. She abides by the social graces she has to to survive, but she finds ways around the ones she can do without. She's a terrible mother and a disinterested wife/widow and seems quite annoyed that those are roles she is expected to fill because she is a woman. Director and writer Whit Stillman seems to have been born for a Jane Austen adaptation -- his previous work is a modern equivalent of her social commentary, and I can't believe that never dawned on me before this movie. It's good to see Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny together again (they previously co-starred in Stillman's The Last Days of Disco), but the scene-stealer is Tom Bennett, whose innocent joy is infectious. I'll never look at green peas the same way again.

Ladies are the dolls of maids.

What a delight. Park Chan-wook's films are all exquisite, but this was a joy from start to finish. I'd never read Fingersmith (though I'd read one of the author's other novels), so I had no idea what to expect from the story except that there would be lesbians. I certainly didn't expect "lesbians in cahoots," which is fast becoming one of my favorite tropes, let alone "lesbians in cahoots in a society that oppresses women." HOLLA! Park Chan-wook takes the story out of Victorian England and plops it into colonial Korea in the 1930s, an equally rich environment for the story and characters. The film *is* fairly sexually explicit, but I would argue -- as someone who hates "expository" sex in movies -- that the sex in the film is essential to our understanding of the characters. It's also super hot. ;-)

I’ll see you in the movies.

I'd heard about this movie for months, from back when all I knew about it was that it was Damien Chazelle's follow-up to Whiplash (my favorite movie of 2014). This was easily my most anticipated movie of the year, and I grew increasingly anxious that it would disappoint, or that I would have already learned about all the significant beats of the story. Well, that didn't happen. It still managed to surprise me, pleasantly. I love that the romance in this movie isn't an instant thing -- they don't really like each other at first, but they seem drawn together by forces stronger than either of them. They speak a common language and have similar goals, which should be the perfect recipe for happily ever after, but it's not that simple. Because as fantastical as this movie is, it's still at least *somewhat* rooted in reality. And when the movie inevitably breaks your heart, it feels earned, not like some cheap slap in the face because a storyteller wants to perversely deny you the pleasure of a happy romantic ending. That said, I do think the movie *has* a happy ending, just maybe not the one you're expecting.

Did the Sex Pistols know how to play? You don't need to know
how to play. Who are you, Steely Dan?

I didn't expect this to be at the top of my list. It was pretty far up there -- I loved it when I first saw it and downloaded the soundtrack immediately -- but it wasn't until (of course) after the presidential election that it gained a new resonance. Because the bullies had won, and the rest of us were going to have to live in their world for a little while. So the story of Cosmo, a kid who deals with a disappointing home life and bullying at school by starting a band and creating something that makes him happy, was important to me. I love how much the movie revels in the band's frequently inexpert attempts to imitate their musical idols -- some of my favorite moments in the film are the shots of the band walking together after Cosmo has adopted a new style from another band he's discovered. I love that the big musical moment is imaginary, and that as big a moment as the ending is it's much more real and uncertain. And how awesome is the music in this movie?! Everyone loves "Drive It Like You Stole It," but even the smaller, learning-curve songs are pretty great (I get "Riddle of the Model" stuck in my head all the time!). Everyone in this movie is great, many of the teenagers being played by non-actors, but I need to give a special shout-out to Jack Reynor, who plays Cosmo's big brother Brendan, the true hero of the film. We should all have a Brendan in our lives.