Sunday, December 28, 2014

THE LIST... the take on the films of 2104

End of the year, end of the watch list! I’ve been busy as hell this year and a lot of valuable video time has gone to waste… I only managed to catch a couple of hundred movies in 2014 which may be the least films I’ve seen I aeons. But I’ve finally gone trough all my notes and lists of stuff watched and now it’s time to pick out the pearls amongst the mass of stuff enjoyed through out the year. I’ll start out with a couple of runner-ups.  Stuff that was good, but didn’t really make the cut because I told myself that I had to make a list that was a top ten not the usual 20plus titles… Ok, it will be twenty plus at the end of this, but clearly broken into runner ups, disappointments and the top ten. Are you sitting comfy? Here we go:

Lets start off with a few titles that didn’t make the top ten cut, BUT definitely where on the list and fought bravely for being slotted into the top ten.

The Guest
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett just get better and better for each movie they make. They often find a great way to bring a good quirk to their stories and create some solid characters to empathize with along the way. The Guest is no exception. A family in the vacuum of loosing their son tries to go about their everyday life whist falling apart at the seams when a guy walks in off the street and claims that he knew their dead son… and so begins the making things better part of the story, or does it?

In my book The Guest is a horror version of Pasolini’s Teorema – which also inspired Takashi Miike’s mind-blowing Visitor Q – this time the mysterious Guest [Dan Stevens from Downtown Abbey in a great breakout performance] arrives at the “dysfunctional” home makes friends with them all on personal levels bringing insight and leading them to better places…  but in The Guest we end up with a neat twist that Wingard and Barrett bring to the piece. The Guest is a lot more than just a mysterious visitor there to help them out, and once his secret is out of the bag all hell breaks loose. Great supporting cast with Maika Monroe, Brendan Mayer, Leland Orser and a fantastic soundtrack that made me dig out my old Front 242, DAF, Sisters of Mercy and Love and Rocket’s LP’s.

I Origins
Ok, so technically not a horror movie – and I do tend to primarily watch genre cinema -  also with me being a total atheist this is an odd movie to make the cut. It’s basically about the age-old Science Vs. God debate told through the life of molecular biologist Ian [Michael Pitt] and the shit that happens to him. But, the story arc and final moment really pulled it all together in an excellent way. To be honest I Origins invites you have to think things over. Sure, it’s a way bit to long, but it’s a fantasy and a pretty charming movie no matter what you believe in. It kind of got to me in a stupid silly way and made me think, “this is a film I can watch with the wife”. Although in hindsight I’m pretty convinced that she’d find it boring and dumb, and perhaps the movie shouldn’t have been on here either, but damn it man, it did move me and that’s something that you can’t ignore as it’s a key part to the magic of cinema.

Weirdly I usually say that I’m not much of a fan of Found footage… But then again each year I seem to be watching a fair deal of found footage… Some is good some is real crap. Then there’s Bigfoot and found footage… kind of like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they just go soooo well together. Now Bigfoot and found footage have almost been done to death this year. Bobcat gave it a good shot with Willow Creek, and Existence started out with a Bigfoot theme, but none match up the grandness of Eduardo Sánchez Exists. Perhaps no shock considering that Sánchez and Daniel Myrick more or less made the found footage genre what it is with the magnificent Blair Witch Project fifteen years ago.  Basically it plays out just like most found footage Bigfoot flicks do, a bunch of kids venture into the woods with handheld cameras to shoot a faux documentary and end up getting much more than they bargained for, but Sánchez pulls it off so well that it becomes a real rush of adrenaline as they struggle for survival in the tight confinement of that cabin in the woods, and brings a twist to it that makes everything that has happened justified!

A cynical hipster podcast host [Justin Long] takes a trip up to Canada in search of a story about an unfortunate YouTube phenomenon star, whom he obviously intends to taunt even further on his show. Although fate intervenes and Wallace finds himself caught up in a completely different kind of nightmare as he encounters Michael Parks Howard Howe instead. If you thought that Kevin Smith’s TUSK was a bad movie then my analysis is that you completely missed that this is a Kevin Smith film. Much more than the excellent Red State, TUSK is a Kevin Smith film and personally I’d even go as far as saying that it’s part of the world that the entire back catalogue of early independent gem’s belong to. I totally would have bought Jay and Silent Bob loitering outside the Canadian quickie mart where Smith & Depp’s daughters – subjects of the next installation of this promised Canadian horror trilogy – stand behind the counter in a neat nod at Clerks. Filled with the wittiness and fast dialogue that I seek out Smith’s films for, TUSK is undoubtedly the horror version of what goes on in Smith’s ViewAskewniverse. Perhaps Depp over did it, but when doesn’t he? Then again in the universe I place it in, it’s ok and I’m eagerly looking forward to the other parts of the series.

It Follows.
It Follows is basically about a sexually transmitted disease that works like the curse from The Ring or a deadly game of tag. Once you are smitten an entity that can take on the form of any other human being will follow you until it catches up with you and kills you. After what at first seems like an innocent sexual encounter, Jay [Maika Monroe – in he second great part along side The Guest this year] becomes the prime target of the entity and spends the rest of the film trying to avoid the stalking entity that is following her. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows a fantastic low-key body-horrorish ominous movie to say the least. Music, cinematography and a lot of the vibe of It Follows simply oozes the same atmosphere as those created by Carpenter and Cronenberg in their early eighties flicks. A highly entertaining alternative to the all in horror shock and gore fests.

As Above, so Below
… more found footage… This one was like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft in deeper shit that they’ve ever been. Not the most original idea ever, but hey use the Paris catacombs, mystic cults, ancient secrets and I’m there. It’s claustrophobic, intense and damned entertaining, this year’s version of The Descent.  

The Dance of Reality.
Alejandro Jodorowsky. Love him. Love his films. Just the basic fact that at the grand age of eighty-five he still has the power to bring his surreal magic to the screen is mind-blowing. Much like his other works The Dance of Reality mixes a surreal imagery, Jodorowsky philosophy and the somewhat dark kind of melancholy his films always have to a metaphorical autobiography told in only the way Alejandro Jodorowsky could tell it. 

Mike Flanagan’s follow up to the magnificent Absentia. I was craving this flick since I heard that Karen Gillian, who fell into a pretty dull loop on Doctor Who but who really made good here in this, was gong to be in it. Trying to prove that her brother was innocent of murder he’s convicted for, Kaylie [Gillian] tries to lure out the supernatural force she believes to be guilty out of an old possessed mirror. Ironically it’s sees Gillian in completely different take on time travel and parallel universes. Here it’s the dark tone, grim use of parallel worlds and mind fuckery – kind of in the same tone that the original nightmare on Elm Street was when you never really knew what was real and not - that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Again… found footage, and the fifth part of a franchise that should have been put to rest way back. Also a movie that a lot of people hated, BUT Christopher Landon’s entry actualy brought a freshness to the story and manages to wrap up some of the loose ends that the serial has left in its wake… even the very first smash hit episode.  Well played sir. Now let’s just let it all rest as this part bookends it all together nice and tight.

LFO – The Movie
A Swedish sci-fi dark comedy hybrid unlike anything else ever made over here. A bloke who is experimenting with mind controlling audio waves on an amateur level suddenly realises that he’s actually succeeded in his tampering. Becoming something of a modern prometheus, he quickly starts to misuse his ned found power… but playing God always has a price. Possibly a tad on the long side, but funny as hell, truly impressive and really well made, showing that indie cinema in Sweden is thriving. (Oh, and I know a great last moment gag that cold have been added to leave the audience with a last laugh)

The Babadook
I can’t say that The Babadook stood up to all the hype of being the best horror film of the year, but it had some really good moments and it’s definitely a cool flick. Although the thing that bugged the hell out of me is that this movie is all about frail and emaciated mom [Essie Davis] and her struggle with the Babadook when it should have been about that kid that nobody wants’ to play with because he’s weird… To me it’s obvious that the kid has autism! It’s never said or discussed, and probably not even part of the narrative or backstory even. But that for me was an area that I definitely would have dug into for something unique instead of being a new take on the otherwise rather traditional “haunted totem entering an unfortunate victims world” story that it basically is. But it works and it looks great and if you aren’t part of that Babadook popup book kick-starter then shame on you. Anyways it’s a movie I will be revisiting at some point and I’ll definitely be looking forward to see what Jennifer Kent comes up with next.

Yeah, now you would expect me to put Godzilla on the big ass top ten list. But never mind how much I enjoyed Gareth Edwards big ass take on Gojira, it never really rocked it that bad as I wished it to. Good movie, great effects, but you know what… not enough Kaiju! For me the Kaiju part of Kaiju is watching apparent men in rubber suits break miniature models up, and there’s only one real REAL Kaiju felling scene in Edwards Godzilla, and that’s when the lead family’s kid watches Godzilla fight Muto in the oil refinery on the news cast. A big ass wide shot of mayhem. That’s the ticket. But I’ll still go check out the sequel and cant hardly wait for TOHO to bring out their new adaptation of the king of monsters.
[more of my thoughts on Godzilla here]

Before I unleash the unravelling of my personal top ten films of 2014, let’s take a moment to mention a few disappointments… and why they where disappointments.

The Strange Tears of your Body’s tears
I really wanted this to be better. I really did. Yes, it has some moments that are totally fantastic, like the old woman and the hole in the ceiling – OMFG! Moving away from the Giallo territory and into a darker Suspria/Inferno kind of real, the movie could have been epic. But what I found to be a real let-down was that the final act see’s the fantastic visuals left behind only to become the simplistic style that Cattet/Forzani used in their early short films. It kind of made me feel as they lost interest and simply just wrapped it all up quickly. I’m not saying that they did, but that’s how I felt when seeing The Strange tears of Your Body’s tears. Perhaps a bit harsh being on the disappointment side of the list, but you know the more I think of it the more that last act bugs me, because it was all so perfect up to that point.

The Sacrament
So yeah, Ti West’s The Sacrament.
A documentary crew ventures into the jungle to rescue the camera mans sister from a religious cult lead by the mysterious “Father” [Gene Jones]. Said and done, let the rescue operation set off and let’s watch it all go to hell…

I loved the way West set this one up. The VICE Documentary team approach was brilliant, and I watch a lot of VICE documentaries so I can easily say that he checked off all the boxes there. Acting is great, Jones makes a fantastic subtle menacing leader, Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen do their thing on the dot, but the thing that I feel lets it all down completely is that it’s all been done before! Yes several times. Rene Cardona Jr. made his dramatization of the Jonesville Massacre, Guyana Cult of the Damned merely a few months after it actually happened back in 1978 so why didn’t West do something more with it? Sure great acting and he certainly creates that kind of tense atmosphere that I love in West’s films… but he brings nothing to it what so ever. Instead it’s almost like an updated version of all those earlier adaptations all the way through but shot with a found footage perk… and when the found footage material ends up looking just like the actual shaky news team footage of the actual incident it kind of just get’s boring.  
[More of me on The Sacrament here]

Zzz…. For real, I watched this movie, at half past two at night, as I spent the night in an abandoned museum. A museum with a so-called 100% ghost… but nothing scary happened, neither in the museum with it’s guaranteed haunt or this lame sleeper of a movie. Damn it my washing basket is creepier than this one was. Perhaps all those French riots at the initial screenings where due to the fact that the audience got so fucking bored that punching their seat neighbor was more rewarding that the movie. Re-watch The Conjuring instead and read Gerald Brittle’s The Demonologist if you want more of Ed and Lorrain Warren themed horror.

I’m always interested in seeing what female genre directors come up with, because in a way some of the greatest horror films, the real creepy and emotional ones – which horror really should be about, any one can gross you out with a few blood props – are made by women. So going into Axelle Carolyn’s debut feature and hearing that she’s married to Neil Marshall – who’s The Decent is a pretty sturdy piece of feminist horror – made me really enthusiastic… but that enthusiasm wore off pretty quick.  The biggest let down was that Soulmate built a great atmosphere around the story of harrowed, depressed and clearly suicidal Audrey [Anna Walton] taking to isolation in an attempt to find herself anew after the tragic death of her husband. After a few dark gloomy nights isolated from everything and everyone but the nosey not to close neighbor Theresa [Tanya Myers] she realizes that she’s rented a house inhabited by a ghost… But that interesting subplot of the dead husband – and all the possibilities of messing around with the great storytelling tool of guilt got dropped along the way and the whole thing ended up turning into a silly Mills and Boon love story that even made Jerry Zucker’s Ghost look like a horror film. Total waste of a well crafted first act only to be tossed away completely. An opportunity completely wasted in my opinion.

Cold in July.
Jim Mickle, he’s made some pretty cool movies so far, and Cold in July unfortunately may be his least interesting one. Apparently Cold in July was the movie he wanted to make straight after Mulberry Street, but it ended up in development hell and he made Stakeland and We Are What We Are in-between instead. So with leverage to his name, he got to make the movie he wanted to make finally. Cold in July. But I found it rather blunt and without any kind of character development at all, not really all that exciting either… and to be totally honest, Michael C Hall really is a pretty dull actor. Everything I see him in he plays the exact same kind of character. But with that said, Mickle also mentioned that this is his homage to cool eighties stuff like Denis Hoppers The Hot Spot and in that context, with the great supporting cast of Don Johnson and Sam Shephard, Cold in July makes an entertaining movie but nowhere near the grandeur of his other pieces as it left me kind of “meh” and somewhat disappointed.

V/H/S Viral
The first one was a fun gimmick, but I hated the wraparound. The second one had a solid wraparound and one of the most intense segments ever to be found in an anthology horror with Gareth Evans tour de force Safe Heaven. Somewhere along the way it had to run out of steam and I kind of think that this third installment brings it to that point. Nacho Vidalongo’s Parallel Monsters make it all worth the while, Benson & Moorhead’s Bonestorm is fun but just like all skateboard video’s it goes on for way to long… I wanted the intensity to be out there over the top, but the wraparound was a real disappointment and in a lot of ways it’s just running on routine. Let me know when they make a V/H/S with all female directors instead, and I’ll give it another shot. Until then I think that Anthology movies have just about overstayed their welcome. That goes for ABC’s of Death 2 too. With that said both films are certainly popcorn flicks, a few cool moments, some laughs and a decent way to waste a few hours without investing in characters or story.

Okay, so that’s the runner-ups and the disappointments out of the way. Here we go with the top ten films of 2014:

10. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Nicholas Winding Refn once told how he spent an evening with Alejandro Jodorowsky as he talked him through the storyboarded visuals that where intended to be Jodorowsky’s adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune… Then Frank Pavich made the ultimate documentary version of Jodorowsky talking us through his vision. Need I say anymore? A visual gem and an epic documentary about the greatest sci-fi movie never made.

9. Spring
I caught this at a “secret invites only “ hush-hush screening one night a few months ago. Wrapped up in so much secrecy that I had Eyes Wide Shut flashbacks in my head I went in with no expectations what so ever. Moorhead and Benson impressed me with their low key Resolution a few years back so sure I’m game for a movie that they described as “Love-Horror-Cthulhu-kinda thing” Yes, that’s exactly what it was. Evan [Lou Taylor Pucci] bails on his miserable life in the states and heads off to Italy for some time out. In a small seaside village he encounters the mysterious Louise [Nadia Hilker] and becomes obsessed with her. But she’s merely playing with him and gradually her dark secret starts to become exposed… a secret that Evan never could have seen coming.

“Love-horror-Cthulu-kinda thing” is a perfect description of Spring. A movie that takes it’s time to tell it’s tale, builds a great suspense and pays off in the finale. But it’s also a story about the characters, and that’s what I really liked about it. It would have been so easy to go all Lovecraft and creepy and over-the-toppy, it plays it cool as hell and slowly shifts into the secrets of the mystic. Top Notch and a movie I can’t wait to see again. Oh, did I mention the tentacles?

8. Alléluia
Gloria [Lola Dueñas], who washes corpses at the morgue, lives alone with her young daughter. Her friend convinces her to go out on a date after surveying the online date service she’s subscribed to.  Off the bat we’re shown that Michel [Laurent Lucas] has got issues and we expect the worst. But despite this Gloria goes on her date and falls madly in love with Michel… so much that she accepts all his faults and becomes manically possessive as they take us on a trip of darkness, despair and death. This is a dark decent into the human mind and a story of deadly obession with all the quirks that you'd expect from DuWelz.

Okay, so I was honoured to be on the Méliès jury during the Twentieth Lund International Fantastic Film Festival this year, and amongst the contending films that the jury and I got to watch and decide which one we wanted to send to the grand finale in Sitges was Fabrice Du Welz's Alléluia. Amongst the bunch of films we got to watch, this one and another where the two that made us sit for almost two days and debate back and forth which of them where the better film. At the end of our deliberation we came to the decision that both where fantastic films and that they both could win. We ended up sending Alléluia due to the fact that the character arcs where superb. Going from one end of the spectra as frail victim to powerful aggressor and shifting the characters positioning completely along the way made this a fantastic and truly disturbing piece of genre cinema.

7. Starry Eyes
Oh Fucking Yes. The programmer and El Generalisima of Stockholm based genre festival Monsters of Film told me that this was one of her favourite films early this year. It took me forever to finally check it out, and boy what a great movie! Sarah [Alex Essoe] dreams of stardom and celebrity in Hollywood, but hanging out with her hipster friends and pushing chips at a quick food joint isn’t getting her anywhere. When she goes to a casting for Astraeus Pictures new film “The Silver Scream” she find’s a possibility to break out… but success has its price!

Starry Eyes is a female Faust-tale with a fantastic spin to it. Remember a few years back when retro-eighties style horror was all the range? Remember great classics like Micheal Winner’s The Sentinel? Well I found Starry Eyes to be very much in the vein of seventies occult movies and it definitely felt like one of them. I loved the way the story moves forth in a “less is more” approach only to deliver the goods in the final act. Dark, brooding and diabolically delicious.

6. A Record of Sweet Murder
Kôji Shirashi kicked ass with the tour de force Grotesque a few years back. Here he’s teamed up for a South Korean co-production about a serial killer who kidnaps a journalist only to tell her the story of how he through secret hidden messages has discovered a way to bring their dead childhood friend back to life. Two things really stand out with A Record of Sweet Murder. First was that the initial third of the movie, it mainly uses the South Korean cast and the feeling is primarily that of the great South Korean thrillers of later years. In the second act two Japanese actors enter the narrative and the movie becomes very much a bad-ass Japanese toned piece only to see the two distinct styles fuse together as it pushes forth to the violent climax. The second being that just like that detail a lot of critics missed with Grotesque – the arc sshowing the two characters finding happiness despite their terrifying ordeal – is also present in A Record of Sweet Murder. Shirashi is masterful in his way of writing dark grim stories with a strong positive reliever at the end, without them being silly traditional quick fixes, that is. He takes his characters to hell and back and leaves them in good places as a reward for the torment they have experienced.

5. The Canal
With Alléluia out of the way, let’s talk about the second film that gave us such a hard time making a jury decision. FUCKING HELL! Before I went in to see this film I had the pleasure of talking with writer/director Ivan Kavanagh and imagined that I kind of knew what sort of film this would be. He also introduced the movie by saying that it was inspired by the ghost stories his granddad used to tell him as a child… see, you kind of have an idea what you’re about to see. But wrong. The Canal tells the story of cinema archivist David [Rupert Evans] who starts to suspect his wife Alice [Hannah Hoekstra] is being unfaithful to him. Slowly but surely his suspicions get the better of him and he follows Alice one night… and so begins the nightmare! It had me jumping, it had me squirming and it definitely managed to push buttons that I thought where hardened to death ages ago. Unpredictable at times, and sometimes you catch up with it only to be side-tracked by the sneaky narrative which builds up to an amazingly mind fucking finale. Kavanah’s The Canal is unarguably the most frightening and cunning film in decades.

4. Der Samurai
YES! Till Kleinert’s low-key, brooding, alternative take on genre horror Der Samurai is a great film. Telling the story of a small village cop who finds himself face to face with a cross dressing menace wreaking havoc in the small village filled with all its prejudice and uptight mentality. The first time I watched this film it left me with the biggest smile on my face. Even so the first two times I watched it with an audience at festivals. Brooding, smart and a great way to discuss sexual identity without being right in your face in the traditional way that often tends to be with films that want to discuss these kind of topics. Great acting, splendid visuals and a movie so fantastic that we ended up buying the rights for Sweden for the distribution company I’m part of. Easily one of the best films during 2014 and a movie I saw a half dozen times without it loosing any of its potency throughout the viewings. I actually liked it so much that we bought the Swedish rights for our distribution company Last Exit Entertainment, so keep your eyes open for a superb swedish release with interviews commentary tracks and loads of extras coming at the end of January.

3. The Battery
Ben [Jeremy Gardner] and Mickey [Adam Cronheim] are two blokes moving from spot A. to … well wherever the road takes them as long as they stay one step ahead of the living dead. Fantastic little low-budget zombie film that just goes to show that low budget doesn’t mean that it has to look like shit. Great characters, solid acting, cool soundtrack, great simple story – staying alive and how to go about it  - without all the bullshit conventions that Zombie horror has grown into. Imagine the walking dead goes hipster, and then you have The Battery, the most interesting take on the zombie apocalypse this year.

2. Under the Skin
Low key Sci-fi shot guerrilla style with amateur actors… oh, did I mention that Scarlet Johansen was in it? Johansen is an alien life form (one of three) walking the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, preying on horny men she brings back to her flat only to have them submerge into a dark matter. Weird? Yes it is, and the whole movie is weird and almost meditative without ever getting dull. Johansen is magnificent, the cinematography is fantastic and the story mind-blowing. The eerie score by Mica Levi stayed in my head for days along with that truly disturbing and shocking climax that made it a superb unexpected and fascinating piece of cinema.

1. Blue Ruin
Hands down my favourite film this year. Technically not a horror film, but a damned fine study of the human psyche and how violence merely breeds more violence and that just end up being shit for everyone! Dwight, [Macon Blair in a stellar performance] a down and out recluse, has a story to tell. Not being a man of conflict he took to the road and hiding since a terrible incident shattered the life he had previously. But when the man responsible for all the pain and anguish is released from prison, Dwight sees his chance to settle the score and take his revenge… The sheer power of this movie as Dwight goes from amateur assassin to rage driven machine of death, albeit with a clear vision of justice, is magnificent. This is an avenger to feel for, suffer with and cheer on. Which make the best kind of avenging protagonists ever. This is humanity at work, the kind of motivations and driving forces that make us shake our heads and wonder what led to this. The kind of characters who the neighbours say “Oh but he was such a calm and good guy” about, the kind of movie making that stands out and leaves dints in the otherwise pretty bland niche of revenge movies. This one is a gem, a gem that totally floored me completely.

Jeremy Sauliner previously made the splatter comedy Murder Party, a rather silly but entertaining piece, so for him to follow Murder Party with this outstanding piece, easily makes him my top director to keep tabs (yeah, he’s already at it with Green Room which sounds to be great too) on and with that said I sincerely urge you to go check out Blue Ruin, the best genre film of 2014.

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