Monday, July 4, 2011

Movies I Actually Enjoy: The Best 15 Movies I've Seen this Year

(Editor’s Note: Alas, my minions, I have returned  Having fought my way through the nether world to deliver the beautiful revelations housed within this humble space.  Don’t you feel blessed?  
Yeah, okay, I haven’t been writing because I’m a lazy ass.  Laziness combined with writer’s block is like chasing Ambien with Jack Daniels.  You’re destined to flat line.  So I owe my friend Aaron from the Death Rattle a heap of gratitude.  I lifted this idea from him.  The competitive jack ass in me decided to list fifteen films instead of ten.  Also, this is one long mama jama of an entry.  Don’t feel bad for scanning!)
Now There’s Some Problems with Me Constructing a List.  
Loyal readers (all five of you) will know that I don’t usually do this.  
How did I come to choose these movies?  I asked myself: Would I watch that again?  This isn’t really a “best of,” as I don’t have the objectivity for that.  It’s just a list of stuff I responded to.  That’s all.  
Also, let me take a moment to pat myself on the back for my incredible, wide ranging taste.  

I’m patting myself on the back now.  You just can’t see it.  
Enough Bullshit: Here’s the List
Number 15:  

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)  
I’m listing the most embarrassing title first.  Let’s just eat this bullet and move on. 
Yeah, I’m a fucking sap for enjoying this.  It’s a dog movie, I can’t help it.  
First, you get the touching story of a music professor (the shockingly non-sleazy Richard Gere) adopting a stray dog.  Then that professor dies, after training the dog to wait for him at the train station.  Than the poor doggie waits and waits, and his master never comes back.  Listen to that violin play!  
The film was directed by Lasse Holstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).  That directorial technique is what saves this from being a run of the mill Hallmark special.  There’s real emotion behind it.  (Also, thankfully, the dog doesn’t come back as an angel at the end.  If that had happened, I might have hung myself).  
Number 14:

The Driller Killer (1979)
So if I’m not mistaken, here’s the plot.  Dude (played by director Abel Farrara) goes nuts in big city.  Dude gets power drill.  Dude starts killing people with said drill.  That’s about it, but this is still an ugly and disturbing movie.  It’s a little like ease dropping on the interior monologue of a psychopath.  
Are the events we are watching real?  Is there metaphors you can dig for in the subtext?  Is this even something to defend, or just bargain basement trash?  I don’t know...but you do get to see a bum get a power tool to the crotch.  Hey, that’s worth something, isn’t it?  
Number 13:  

Def by Temptation (1990)
This is an African American slanted vampire flick set in the ghettos of New York.  Don’t let the fact that Troma released it scare you off.  This is very stylish, intelligent, and surprisingly creepy.  (Calling the PR department, there’s a quote for you.)     
Getting out my elbow patched jacket, I will write a many dissertation on the link between Def by Temptation and The Driller Killer.  In both cases, you have urban horror films set in modern day America.  There are no gothic trappings, but the stink of “real life.”  Both have metaphorical subtexts.  In Def, you have vampire mythology used as a metaphor for AIDS.  
Number 12:

No Such Thing (2001)
Now let’s take a field trip to the art house, kids.  
I can see how Hal Hartley would drive some people batshit.  What exactly are his movies?  You can’t call them comedies, even though laughter occurs.  You can’t fault them for being straight dramas, as there is too much surrealism.  Do you think the man even cares enough to construct a three act plot?  Not likely.  
Yet Hartley’s films have a sort of alchemy.  They work, even if they are as conceptually lumpy as oatmeal. 
This one is no exception.  It’s simply about a girl (Sarah Polley) helping an immortal monster find a way to die  
Sure, there are many complicated ideas swimming around the central plot.  (The narcissism created by the media, the nature of friendship, and the fact that Sarah Polley must not have aged past twelve.)  You can take them or leave them, or even digest it all later.
Hey, it’s Hartley.  You like it or you don’t.    
Number 11:  

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Here’s what pisses me off: Wes Craven is actually a very good filmmaker.  That’s an easy thing to forget if you’ve ever waded in the sea of crap the man leaves behind him.  Where can you look to decipher his talent?  That’s relatively simple: watch one of his non-horror films.   
This is a psychological thriller with Bill Pullman as a researcher in Haiti.  He hears about a “zombification” drug used by the natives.  Could this be used as an anesthetic during surgery?  That opens the door for Pullman to tangle with a cult leader and a culture that should best be left alone.
Man, this is a spooky movie.  Not a single cheap scare in sight.  The horrific events are organically loaded into the plot and pack more of a wallop.  Craven is going for a more well rounded film here; not just an attempt to get into the cheap seats.  
Number 10:  

Dogfight (1991)
Quick!  I say River Phoenix, and what’s your knee jerk reaction?  Right!  Tragic Overdose Boy!
For shame, the guy was a great actor.  Would you like an example of that?  Okay, here you go.  
This is a little like putting Before Sunrise and The Deer Hunter into the blender.  Phoenix and his war buddies go on leave for a night, and have a contest to pick up ugly girls.  The guy with the ugliest chick wins the pot.  Phoenix decides on Lili Taylor, who works as a waitress in a cafe owned by her mother.  Of course, he realizes he likes her and defaults on the game.  (Would there be a movie if he didn’t?  No).  
This is just a simple, nicely drawn character study.  The ending is a ton of overreaching horseshit, but what can you do?  
Number 9:

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) 
Why was this so creepy?  Crudely made, school play like monster make up, campy acting...yet it was scary as fuck.   
This is about a girl (Cheryl Smith) running away from her shady, adopted Minster father (played by director Richard Blackburn).  
This has the feel of every Grimm’s Fairy Tale you grew up with.  There is a primal logic to it that makes it haunting. 
Number 8:
Night Moves (1975)
One of the common themes of this list: This movie is only slightly trapped by the genre it is in.  This is a detective story about a private investigator (Gene Hackman) sent to find a missing, underage girl (Melanie Griffith).  That’s not really important.  What is?  Spending quality time with some serious burn outs.  This is layered in bleak, sun damaged ‘70s atmosphere.   I have a soft spot for neo-noir, so I enjoyed this.  
Number 7:  

Thieves Like Us (1974)
Would you like a Robert Altman fanboy rant?  What makes him such a “genius”?  What enthralls pretentious assholes like me with his films?  Okay, they don’t feel like standard movies.  You have the sense that real life is unfolding before your eyes.  To hell with this conventional notion of actors in front of a camera.  
Thieves Like Us is no exception to this rule.  This is Altman’s take on the “lovers on the lam” genre.  The only difference is that Altman’s two lovebirds (Keith Carradine and Shelly Duvall) are not particularly cunning.  They don’t careen away from the police at every turn.  They are just innocents in a dark world, and your heart breaks for them. 
Number 6: 

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
John Cassavetes: Another hoighty toighty filmmaker that people just rave about.  Why?  There’s a sense of danger in his films.  Do you like to watch performers walk a tight rope without a safety net?  Then how can you find Cassavetes “boring.”  
That menace is here too, in what is arguably his most accessible movie.  This is a feel good romantic comedy from the master of gloom.  Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel are two mismatched losers who find each other.  Let’s add “dangerous and unstable” to the label of “losers.”

That doesn’t matter, because you still route for the crazy kids.
Number 5:  

Darling (1965)
Julie Christie plays an awful bitch for two hours.  So what?  
Well, that awful bitch becomes a tragic figure.  She manages to skirt by on looks, have a string of empty love affairs, and end up in a horrible marriage as a trophy wife.  This movie asks some hard questions.  What happens to you in life if all you have is looks and no talent?  What happens if you ride that train as far as it can go? 
Julie Christie won an Oscar for the ability to find some substance in an empty person and convey it.  This is as horribly dated as year old bread, but her performance holds up nicely.  The last shot is also a real emotional kick in the pants.  
Number 4:

Rachel, Rachel (1968)
On paper, everything about this flick would scream: “Vanity project.”  A movie star (Paul Newman) directs his movie star wife (Joanne Woodward). in a somber, long, glacially paced character study.  Based on an obscure French novel, no less.
Rachel, Rachel is about a thirty-four year old virgin school teacher (Joanne Woodward) living at home with her mother.  She has imaginative flights of fantasy, unfulfilled longings, and one (closeted) homosexual friend.  Rachel eventually (and I do mean that) meets a man that takes advantage of her and then vanishes. 
Those events are just enough to propel her through the rest of the plot.  Sounds miserable, doesn’t it?  Yes, it is.  It’s also beautifully acted and deeply compassionate.  I can’t think of many movies that conclude with a bus ride out of town which feels epic.  
Number 3:

Never Let Me Go (2010) 
I’m treading lightly about how much I reveal the plot of this film.  Yes, it’s science fiction, and no it doesn’t feel like it.  So what do I compare this to?  Every great, tragic love story ever told.  That’s enough, isn’t it?  (Why is it I love it when something ends badly?  I don’t know).  
Number 2:  

Mary and Max (2009)
I wrote a long review of this elsewhere on this blog.  Happy hunting!
Number 1:

Harry and Tonto (1974)
The best movie about an old fart traveling across the country in a shit box with his elderly cat ever made.  
Art Carney plays Harry, an elderly intellectual fuss pot who gets evicted from his apartment.  So he decides to hit the road and takes an odyssey through his past.  You get to know everything about this character based on small moments.  This is cinema as novel, which I’m sure sounds spellbinding.  
It is.    
Why choose this as number one?  Why not? 
Better to go out with a whisper than a bang, baby.   


  1. Interesting list, Dusty! Regarding the ones on your list I've seen:

    DRILLER KILLER made quite an impression on me and I still consider it an essential grindhouse film.

    NO SUCH THING: Wasn't a fan. Thought the monster was too much of a whiny piece of shit for me to care about what was happening to him, and Sarah Polley annoys me. That's just my opinion... it's still a quality, original film and that's all that matters, I guess.

    SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW: One of Craven's best films on a technical level, and genuinely scary if you're in the right frame of mind. I loved the Haitian setting and the insight into their culture.

    NEVER LET ME GO: Hated it.

  2. Hey, thank you for the inspiration. I love the Driller Killer...I didn't even scratch the surface on why.

    No Such Thing-ywah, the monster is an asshole. I'm not crazy about Sarah Polley...I think she's a stronger director than an actor. But I still dig the over all vibe of it.

    You hated Never Let Me Go? I guess I can see appealed to my sappiness I suppose.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Adding Harry and Tonto and Def By Temptation to queue now!

    Driller Killer bothered me because I just found it ANNOYING. Maybe I'll give it another chance. Or maybe I'll take an Excedrin.

    Mary and Max, on the other hand, defies words. Such a beautiful and funny film that I will probably watch twice a year for the rest of my life.

    I also loved Never Let Me Go. It just broke my heart. Carrie Mulligan has a face that can make CHuck Norris cry. And I just found the conclusion the film reached so touching and sad but uplifting. Beautiful film.

  4. THIS FILM IS TO BE PLAYED LOUD...yeah, I can see that giving you a headache, Emily.

    Never Let Me Go made me tear up a bit...but I don't know about uplifting.

    Mary and Max is a classic in the making. It's pretty great. I would hate to be Adam Elliot and have to follow that up.

  5. I'd say Never Let Me Go is uplifting because SPOILER ALERT!!!

    (just trying t protect future readers)

    Mulligan has a realization that even though her lover is dead and their time together was way too brief, it was still real and wonderful. Yes, it would have been better to spend the next 40 years with the man she loved, but a lot of people can live to be 90 and not experience what she had, even if it only lasted a few months. I think there's something really beautiful about that. Like Blue Valentine, this also hit me at a very personal time (I'd just ended a rather serious relationship) and I think I channeled some of that here. Yes, my relationship was over, but I could walk away knowing that it had a lot of highs and the time spent there wasn't wasted.

  6. See, now that's an important reminder of how powerful film is. You obviously needed those movies to speak to you, and they did. I could babble on and on about this...the spiritual nature of film, blah blah blah...I'll spare my audience. That being said, this is why people watch movies!

  7. To me, all NEVER LET ME GO does is blatantly use familiar conventions to exploit people who get emotional during films. There's nothing wrong with that, but I saw beyond what I felt was bullshit. I respect both of your opinions and I'm not saying it's a shitty movie by ANY means, but I just didn't buy what it was trying to do.

  8. Had never heard of this 60's film, but I have to say it was pretty good. I loved the stylish black and white film, the 60's fashions and hairstyles and I found the story and character of Diana interesting