Not counting docs, these are the movies I’ve watched and rated 5 stars on Letterboxd this year!
Fast Color (2018) I watched this one back in January and wrote at the time, “something about this year has made me a fount of blubbering emotion… I’m not sure if it’s the timing but Fast Color really got me.” Set in a dystopian future without rain, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) reunites with her mother (Lorraine Toussant) and daughter. It’s a multi-generational story of black women who have had to hide their magical abilities. There’s minimal flashiness, but plenty of ambition and warmth. I’ve never seen a superhero origin story like it.
Stalker (1979) Hell yes to Soviet sci-fi. I’m so glad I finally saw this masterpiece- a journey for meaning thru The Zone. It is like watching an epic, visually-dense poem and I’m certain I will love it just as much in future viewings. Ugh, also, I wanted to pluck that black dog out of the movie and into my home!
Ghoulies II (1987) A childhood of eyeing that Ghoulies rental case set me up for disappointment when I actually watched Ghoulies as an adult. I love it now but Ghoulies II is what I’d hoped for in the original. God, it is fun! I wish the Satan’s Den Funhouse really existed- what a rad set!
Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983) Robert told me this movie was bonkers but I was not prepared. It is a kung-fu action-fantasy that DOES NOT LET UP. I went to the bathroom for a minute and missed out on at least three epic scenes. The candy colors, magic, zombie, and Golden Snake Boy (played by a cute girl) are a delight! Oh boy, I miss watching movies at Flicker.
Lost River (2014) Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut totally rules. It smacks of Refn and Lynch influences but I am GOOD with that. This is a surreal and beautifully shot film. Every moment in the creeper cabaret bar was a feast for my eyeballs- I am in love with Christina Hendricks’ Hellraiser face scene! Also very cool to see Barbara Steele. I like to imagine she and Gosling communicated telepathically.
Black Moon (1975) Ok, I did NOT feel good watching a teenage girl breastfeed a mean-ass old woman, but I’m onboard for everything else here. Black Moon is like a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland, set in a gorgeous French village. It’s a rare “dream logic” film that plays out like many of my own dreams (the inability to communicate with people, mesmerizing creepy crawlies, and animal conversation). That testy unicorn!
The Deadly Spawn (1983) Sometimes I think I’ve seen every 80s horror movie worth watching, then someone clues me in to something amazing like Deadly Spawn and the thrill of discovery is reignited. What a blast (Thanks, James!)! The lamprey monsters, the nastiness, THE DINNER PARTY!!! I was cackling the whole time. Charles is maybe the best and least annoying child to ever appear in a horror movie. The ending is glorious.
The Dark Backward (1991) Another great how-had-I-never-seen-this-one. Honestly, I’m surprised this movie exists. The cast is top notch with Judd Nelson in this best role as Marty Malt- a garbage collector aspiring to be a stand-up comedian. So many feels while he is getting spooned by his own mutant arm! I will never unsee Bill Paxton licking a corpse or eating that chicken. It’s sooo kitschy and proudly grimy that Wayne Newton almost seems too subdued for it. I’d love to see Lara Flynn Boyle cast in movies today!
Da 5 Bloods (2020) This is one of the most unusual war dramas and/or capers I’ve seen. We’re following this band of black war veterans (and son) on an odyssey of burden and explosive gore thru the Vietnam jungle. Spike Lee is a genre bending master- he always surprises me and in this movie, everything hits for maximum impact. It’s lengthy but without any filler. Each performance shines but Delroy Lindo, as the MAGA-hatted Paul, delivers a soul-bearing performance of grief.
Border (2018) I’m not sure what to say without spoiling everything but this Swedish fantasy film is truly strange, sad, and wonderful. It’s a story about how shitty and limiting modern life can be, the appreciation of nature, gender fluidity, self discovery and truly letting your freak flag fly. Get it, Tina!
Dolemite Is My Name (2019) More wholesome (?) than I expected a Rudy Ray Moore biopic to be, but every minute made me happy. Who doesn’t want to cheer for a dogged, misfit entrepreneur? Not surprised the screenplay was written by the guys behind Ed Wood– another perfect biopic. It’s nice to see Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes crushin.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) I wouldn’t say gothic romance is my usual cup of tea but this is the type of gothic romance that really makes me swoon. That haunted mansion on the gloomy coast, the capes and the scarves are EVERYTHING. The spare and deliberate placement of music. The two leads and their looks of intense yearning! It all hit me in the gut. I found the absence of men, as well as seeing period cramps and abortion portrayed, truly radical.
Cam (2018) This feels like a De Palma thriller, but from another universe where the female lead is allowed to be smart, ambitious, and tough as nails. It’s much more interesting than I’d anticipated and I think it comments on a lot. Madeline Brewer plays “Lola” the camgirl and she is in every scene (right?)- majorly impressive. I watched this and perversely wished I could dial down my age and make an OnlyFans.
Upstream Color (2013) I loved Shane Carruth’s Primer but I think Upstream Color is a better film. Where Primer can feel very chilly, Upstream Color feels very warm. There are qualities of sci-fi and horror – a con man using worms to make his victims extremely susceptible. A forever bond between former host (human) and forever host (pig) via parasitic worm- but the story is truly romantic. I’m overly critical about love stories but here, I felt it was very moving- they are bound by erased shared trauma. The style is visually and sonically mesmerizing… and perplexing. Def going to rewatch!
Violence Voyager (2018) I haven’t seen something this fucked up and experimental in awhile. The paper doll technique alongside the actual imagery made me feel like I had trespassed into someone’s bad dream. Every time a liquid went thru one of these 2-D characters, I felt a little sick. There’s a friendly bat in the movie who laps up mutant child body fluids! But all this is to say I LOVED it. Excited to watch Ujicha’s other stuff!
Atlantics (2019) I believe this is the first Senegalese movie I’ve ever seen and I’d love to watch more (hit me up with any recs)! This is an elegant and spooky ghost story surrounding young, star-crossed lovers. The first half of the movie did not prepare me for the second half. I loved the soundtrack, the darkness, the neon, and how the ocean is almost always present.
Hansel & Gretel (2007) Korean Hansel & Gretel delivers aesthetic perfection. It’s more of a dark fantasy than a horror movie but there are certainly horrific and icky elements. The children’s rainbow-colored house is my dream home- I wanted to snap up every piece of rabbit decor and art, then paint my walls to resemble an enchanted forest. I’d also like to eat cake every day for breakfast. My tip-off that this was an evil setting was that they could only watch two things on TV and it was always Christmastime. When you see where the movie is heading it’s like, ‘oh god, noooo….’ but if you like bonkers Korean movies, this is very much worth your time.
Knives & Skin (2019) Going in, I knew nothing but the description that this was “Twin Peaks for a new generation” and while that is true, it undersells the movie’s own merits. This gives so much more than most high school movies do. The high art direction of giallo colors and cool, feminine/feminist styling lit. me. up! It took me a second to get into it but the deadpan depiction of grief and the teenage experience is impressively not empty- these are still characters rooted in grief. Loved the gloomy chorus cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed” too.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018) This was my third “dream” movie recently watched and I just had to surrender to my confusion about the flashbacks/flash-forwards and the identity of the woman. Time and story make as much sense as a slow, fragmented dream but there are so many beautiful night scenes and rainy soundscapes. My eyeballs would’ve melted out of my head if I’d experienced the second half in 3D.
We Are Still Here (2015) This is an OPPRESSIVE haunted house movie! The cast is perfect- including Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, my man Larry Fess! This house also has the scariest of scary basements- it honestly took me back to my childhood home’s basement, the setting of recurring kid nightmares. The spirits looked amazing and the gore was really creative. I turned on the light and grabbed my cat Cooper cuz those jump scares kept fucking me up!
Little Joe (2019) I love a “cozy catastrophe” story, and I love evil plants! This is like an artsy Invasion of the Body Snatchers where a botanist has engineered a house plant to induce chemical happiness. I thought it was interesting that happiness is presented as the absence of modern life anxieties, rather than the presence of joy. Reminded me of my experiences with not-quite-right meds. The plants are a single stem with a bright, reactive red bloom that perks up in a really neat, creepy way when someone talks to it. I KNEW these things were evil as fuck as soon as it was revealed they hate dogs. Emily Beecham is so fantastic as the botanist/mom/lead and I’m excited to watch Jessica Hausner’s other movies.
Under the Silver Globe (1989) This is the only other film I’ve seen by Andrzej Żuławski besides Possession (one of my all-time faves), and it is an intense would-be masterpiece. My mind is a soup of those birdmen, priestesses, freak biblical imagery and philosophies. I struggled with the disorienting camera, narrative logic, etc. but it’s interesting to see even as an incomplete movie. Gonna have moon beach nightmares!
O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization (1985) A post-apocalyptic Polish gem set in a subterranean dungeon during a nuclear winter. Survivors wait for The Ark, an airship that will come and save them (some of them anyway, if it exists). The atmosphere and design is awesome- cold blues and sterile lighting, hoards of people fighting for dwindling resources including book pulp powder. Seedy bars and painted ladies learning to tightrope walk. Surprisingly not quite as bleak as you’d imagine tho! LOL.
The Invisible Man (2020) This is a version of the Invisible Man that finally looks away from the Man and gives us a resilient heroine’s experience. Elisabeth Moss sells it, holy moly. Damn, she’s good. (Shirley is another perfect movie watched this year, I just haven’t sorted my thoughts on it out yet.) There is one scene set in a restaurant that has no buildup; it confused and startled me into screaming! I believe this is the last movie I saw in a theater.