I originally posted my top ten films up through July last week, but as fate would have it no sooner had I posted that list than a couple amazing films came into my life. I started off updating the previous post, but there’s been some major shakeups (and yeah, I’m aware of recency bias) so I decided to take a mulligan and just create a new list.
Gone are BRIGHTBURN and MEGA TIME SQUAD, now slotting in at 12 and 11 respectively. Originally they’d ranked higher than THE HEAD HUNTER, but since the latter was made on such a shoestring budget I decided to leave it on.
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.
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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
5. 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.
4. Under the Silver Lake
Speaking of flawed movies! USL was a fun, captivating joy ride through hipster Hollywood (both past and present). Yes, Andrew Garfield is kind of a mopecore asshole creep and no, I wouldn’t want to be friends with him, but I also don’t need a likeable protag to enjoy a movie. Not all of the elements come together in a satisfying way in the end, but the individual scenes are well-executed and some deliriously-haunting imagery has stuck with me the past week. The scene with the Songwriter is truly terrifying on an existential level, and the mystery of whether Topher Grace’s unnamed “Bar Buddy” character is actually supposed to BE Topher Grace still has me intrigued. If you go into this movie with expectations, you're probably going to hate it, but if you let the movie do it’s thing it’s a wild bit of what-the-fuck.
3. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
There’s fifty-six years of movie-loving and movie-making in every last frame of this thing. I can see this sliding up in my rankings over the next couple months for sure. Full disclosure, I just watched this last night but the movie’s managed to grow on me even more in those few hours. Part love letter to a bygone area of cinema, part bold challenge to anyone working in the true crime genre, OUTH asks and answers some pretty interesting questions while simultaneously telling a couple small, touching, human stories. After watching this I half-suspect QT hasn’t actually been making movies for the past twenty-five years; he’s been weaving a spell on a global scale, and when his tenth film is finished the circle will be complete and we’ll all be sucked into a new reality.
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, Lifechanger.