Man, it’s been a weird year for movies. Some of my most-anticipated flicks ended up being bitter disappointments, while other films that looked terrible punched WELL above their weight. Since we’re halfway(ish) through the year, I thought I’d do a top ten list now, mostly to make my year-end list easier to compile. But it’ll also be fun to see how the list changes in the back half of the year.
Okay, without further ado, let’s do this.
10. The Head Hunter
Controlling for budget, this might be in my top three. Made for a mere $30,000, the movie does a hell of a lot with what it has, and is consistently moving and compelling. Christopher Rygh does amazing work in a nearly-silent role. The set design is beautiful, and some of the devices used (the horns summoning Rygh’s monster hunter, for example) are pretty neat, working well to create anticipation and dread. Unfortunately a movie about a guy who fights monsters needs some actually monster-fighting, and the micro-budget forced them to show only the before and after of the battles. Give these guys a few more bucks and I bet they’ll do something really fucking cool.
A bunch of fun kills and some fairly tense scenes, but ultimately the idea of an evil Superman is a whole lot more novel to the average Joe or Sally Popcorn Bucket who hasn’t seen the idea done over and over again in the comics (for my money, Garth Ennis’ Homelander is a way more fun riff on the concept). Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, but the movie was utterly predictable. I wasn’t surprised once. I think the flick would have been a little more fun with some ambiguity as to whether or not Brandon was the one murdering everyone.
8. Mega Time Squad
There’s only one thing I hate more than time travel, and that’s dream sequences. Mega Time Squad had the deck stacked against it in this respect, but its creators wisely (and unsurprisingly, being responsible for the ass-kickingly hilarious Deathgasm) chose to make a comedy about time travel, which is the one genre where it works for me. If you’re playing time travel straight, it makes my head hurt too much, thinking about all the paradoxes. In a comedy though, especially one where the time travel is conducted via magic, I’m into it. Mega Time Squad is also really Mega Clone Squad, and great fun.
Earlier I mentioned movies that punch way above their weight class, and Ma is the first of them. I saw the trailer in front of probably three or four movies and immediately wrote it off, but after hearing some good word-of-mouth I decided to check it out for myself. WOW. The trailer didn’t do the movie justice (it did spoil a really fucking awesome scene, though). Ma’s less a horror movie than a meditation on disconnection and loneliness. By the end I was so emotionally invested in all of the characters, I just wanted everyone to work shit out and get along.
6. Child’s Play
One more movie I was primed to hate but end up enjoying quite a bit. Just like everyone else on the internet, I wasn’t looking forward to a Child’s Play remake. At least until I saw the Wondercon panel. I’ll probably do my definitive Child’s Play rankings at some point and believe it or not the remake slots in around number three. The movie plays a whole lot like the 1990 classic Hardware, complete with sweaty, pervy neighbor, and they’ve solved the jackass internet tough guy objection to Chucky (“Dude, I’d just like punt that fucker out the window”) in a creative way that makes the franchise relevant AND scary.
Plus, the fucking bear. Oh my god I want a spin-off.
5. Avengers: Endgame
I don’t think I have anything fascinating to say about this movie. It’s an Avengers movie, it did everything it was supposed to do and kicked ass and tugged heart strings and brought the first ten years of the MCU to a respectable conclusion. Good stuff.
Ari Aster is the greatest music video director of all time. The guy knows how to craft a compelling visual, that’s for sure, and the music is top-notch. Despite the legion of dipshits in my theater that laughed at literally everything, I found the movie to be almost unbearably tense (in a good way), disturbing, and consistently fascinating. Narratively there’s almost nothing going on, and if you’ve ever seen a pagan cult movie there are zero surprises. Every character that’s not Florence Pugh or her boyfriend feels like an NPC, and maybe that’s by design, but I can’t get behind that approach. The execution is brilliant but expected—while it’s a sterling example of what it is, I’ve seen this movie before. For a new twist on the pagan cult movie, check out Gareth Evans’ Apostle. I’m not saying that’s a better movie than Midsommar, but narratively I found it the superior movie of the two.
3. Velvet Buzzsaw
Nightcrawler is one of my favorite movies EVER, and getting the band back together was a fantastic idea. I had a hell of a lot of fun with this movie. Incredibly compelling, I never felt the urge to check my phone which is my measuring stick for how good a movie on NetFlix is (regardless of how bored I am in a theater, I’m not pulling out my fucking phone like an asshole). If the movie had just been about pretentious art douchebags trying to out-douche each other over Henry Darger’s Gold, I would have liked the movie even more. The supernatural horror element felt tacked on and unnecessary, and this movie is the ultimate example of an all-time great title having fuck-all to do with the story. Still, I loved the hell out of this thing despite its flaws.
A contemporary, ‘70s-set take on the giallo. Moreso than last year’s Suspiria, I thought Knife perfectly nailed the atmosphere and look of the ‘70s. Everybody looks kind of sweaty and gross. I found myself forgetting all the characters were speaking French because I was so invested in the story. Anne Pareze is such a fascinating, morally-questionable creation. Her creation of a pornographic film to both exploit and cope with the tragedy surrounding her is jaw-dropping, both in how some scenes are played for painful laughs but also in what it says about her as a person—insight and indictment in equal measure. Is she trying to make a buck off the deaths of her friends, looking for catharsis in all the wrong places, or a little bit of both? Either way, watch this fucking movie, it’s amazing.
1. The Banana Splits
Pure. Fucking. Joy. Taking the Banana Splits and making a legit horror movie is tough to pull off, and yet Danishka Esterhazy absolutely rose to the challenge. The jokes land, the gore is on point, the child actors aren’t annoying and the adult actors nail the shit out of their roles. Perhaps it’s not high art, but it’s a perfect example of a well-crafted, batshit-insane horror flick. The care and attention to detail is evident throughout (ex. and SPOILER the way one Split is taken out mirrors their first kill almost exactly). It’s a shame this movie is consigned to VOD/Blu-ray, because it’s the perfect flick to tie one on with your friends and go see on the big screen. Hoping it hits the midnight movie circuit one of these days. Goddamn incredible and I can’t see anything topping it this year.
Best Movies That Came Out Last Year That I Didn’t Watch Until This Year: Apostle, Monster Party, Suspiria.
UPDATE 24-JUL-2019: So of course I post this on the same day I finally get around to watching Under the Silver Lake (that 2.5 hour run time intimidated the fuck out of me) and HOLY SHIT WAS THAT AWESOME. It’s on the list, probably between Child’s Play and Ma. Not a perfect movie by any means, there were a few threads that didn’t quite come together.
One more SPOILER WARNING.
I mostly loved the experience of watching the movie, it’s beautifully and weird and haunting and that one scene of him walking up to the stone house felt like something out of Mandy, BUT there were too many threads that didn’t come together at the end—the pirate guy’s absence being the most minor, but still noted. Mostly I was very disappointed that the grocery store trapdoor didn’t factor in, nor did the Vanna White eye-code. I expected Sarah to use that to signal to Sam that she really wanted him to come get her, for him to use the trap door, and to have some sort of confrontation. The ending of the movie mostly worked for me, just seemed odd those elements didn’t go anywhere.