This is it, the films that stood out in my memory the most from my 30th year.
Embrace the Serpent (2016)
It’s impossible for me to not bring up Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when talking about this film, even though they don’t really have similarities. To me though, it’s the kind of film adaption I hope someone makes of the book. Fantastically shot and full of contrast between grounded realistic elements and spiritual and dream like surrealism.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
This is one of two of Scorsese’s films that will appear on this list. I’ve been a fan for a long time of his films and I very much liked this one. As I noted on the previous blog entry I’m currently reading the book that inspired the movie. Now, don’t ask me to get into the theology of the film/book, as I avoid theology. As Wilco put it, “theologians, don’t know nothing about my soul” and I don’t bother going much deeper than that. To me this is the most interesting take on Jesus that I’ve ever encountered. Casting him as a deeply flawed person wrestling with his divine appointments haunts me far more than the saintly portraits painted most places. The grittiness of it all also strikes me far deeper than the “hyper graphic” version painted by Mel Gibson. I especially like how the the disciples and other characters feel fleshed out in that world they inhabited instead of being retrospectively painted in modern romantic visions of the world then. Judas not being a one dimensional character is a great touch.
The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Refn’s films are polarizing, but I am on the side that loves his music and art direction even if the underlying story is muddled and confusing. The dream like quality is something that always attracts me to his films and this one is no exception. I admittedly know little to nothing about the fashion world it inhabits, but the images and music are so captivating I can’t help but be stunned.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1979)
Watching this film was an eye opener for me to understand better the 90’s “alt culture” that I’ve always been drawn too. Since I was a home school Mennonite at the time it was actually going on I’ve had to learn it’s artistic pillars retro-actively and sort out bits and pieces of the puzzle of where some of the artistic visions would have been inspired by. Watching this felt like as much of a key puzzle piece to me as Twin Peaks. Lovely dream like film that even though I really don’t feel I fully understand it’s ramifications, the feelings of loss of innocence and coming of age resonate strongly with me.
The Vanishing (1988)
When it comes to dark themes, I like it when a story explores that theme all the way down the rabbit hole without regards to how it might be received. This film explores the mind of a psycho murder with a cool measured pace without ever resorting to cheap tricks. Stanley Kubrick reportedly has said that this was the most terrifying film he’s ever seen and ranked it as more disturbing than The Shinning. I’m not sure if I would rank it as the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the most impressive explorations of this theme I’ve ever encountered. It reminded me of one of last years especially memorable films Vengeance is Mine (1979) in it’s detached portraits of deeply disturbed people and their unwillingness to show them in a one dimensional light. Both films coolly unravels the actions and chain reactions to the grisly deeds, yet never dwelling on the graphic parts to feel, to me at least, like exploitation.
The Wailing (2016)
This film is a baffling exploration of Judea-Christian and Korean ideas of demon possession. I can’t really say much more than that. Baffling but startling film. I’ve been following this director since 2008 when he released The Chaser and I will continue to observe. There is a lot of good talent coming out of South Korea.
Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole are fantastic and I’m not sure what else I can add to it.
Night of the Iguana (1964)
Richard Burton again in a viscous portrait of a minister in crisis and taking on themes that honestly feel shocking to this day. Perhaps that’s just because of how good the source material from Tennessee Williams is and why his plays will continue to live on feeling as relevant today as they did when they were first released.
The Eyes of my Mother (2016)
This is another deeply disturbing film firmly in the graphic horror vein and yet is shot in stark black and white imagery with slow camera movements that are not unlike what you would find in a film by Bergman. This beautiful contrast and nonjudgmental portrayal of someone so deeply disturbed is refreshing? It seems wrong to say it like that, but it’s how I like my horror; stripped down to force you to stare at the thing at the core of our fears and to never force a reaction through cheap genre tricks like musical queues or jump scares. It’s films like this that help me maintain my faith in the genre after films like The Devil’s Backbone (2001) inspired me to explore the genre ten years ago.
Call me not much of a film enthusiast, but I really don’t like many pre-1960’s American films that I can think of. I like some foreign films, but I just can’t seem to get into the domestic product. Shortly after watching this one I watched The Night of the Hunter (1955) and I didn’t even like that classic. I blame most of it on the “code” enforcement, but this film was pre-code which proves my theory. Simple story by today’s standards, but shocking for the time and is still shocking for the use of actual “freaks.” This one should not be missed.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Like most people who like film I will try and watch anything that uses the word “noir” to describe it in any way. That word is often used to describe the film and this one is really very dense for the genre. It takes staples and twists them into interesting directions that makes for a extremely engaging experience that will stick with anyone who can follow the twists and turns. Stylistic direction from Mr. Ford shouldn’t be missed.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Another modern twist on a classic genre, this neo-western is a solid entry into a evolving genre.
Electra, My Love (1974)
I’ll admit almost complete ignorance about Miklos Jancso, but hopefully I will know more in the future. This film has a stunning 70 minute run time that is composed of only 12 carefully choreographed shots. The number of people in the shots and constant camera movement is stunning to watch even though I barely understood what was going on most of the time…
As with the previous film on this list by Scorsese, this one also explores themes of Christian faith on a very deep level. Superficial piety is explored and followed through to the bottom of the rabbit hole and it’s final conclusion. Just like how Last Temptation had Judas as a fully fleshed out character, this one spends a great deal of time on what would be the most one denominational of characters in Christian fiction; a man who gives up on his faith under hardship.
As a rule I don’t get involved in politics, so where this films stands on politics I have no comment. Where it shines as a film, it’s stunningly brilliant. The art direction, the depth of characters allowed to follow their actions to conclusion, and the never resorting to simple answers makes it stunning to watch. I will watch anything Steven McQueen touches after this one.
Ben Wheatley will be a director I will continue to watch. Kill List was baffling in all the right ways as was A Field in England for those love their cult/horror fairly obscure and dense. High-Rise was perhaps a bit more accessible film in comparison to those too but the trademark choice of a dense and almost familiar but as familiar as you might think theme remains. After watching this I got a fairly complete collection of J.G. Ballard’s short stories to slowly work my way through.
Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)
This was a disappointing series. It had moments of staggering brilliance and then other parts that were mediocre at best standing in very stark contrast. Some parts were fleshed out with entire episodes introducing us to important secondary characters, but then main characters often left me scratching my head as to why they were there at all. It was if the creators worked really hard at some core points that were brilliant – my personal favorite was the episode in season three where Vernessa Ives remembers her time in the asylum while under hypnosis – and then were forced to try to come up with filler material to make it longer. Even the characters themselves have glaring inconsistencies, most specifically Vernessa who flirts between happily helping out others and being so deeply depressed she is on the knife’s edge of suicide, and as a significant point of the plot as that is, little attempt is made to sort it out. The finally added insult to injury of a happy go lucky rag tag hurrah final battle with a climatic ending that was slam, bang, and we’re done, as was the theme to end every season.
But, as frustrated as I was with it in parts, some of was so well realized I could overlook it’s flaws and don’t regret watching it. The best part of every season is the middle area as they delve into their characters.
I don’t really know what I can say on this that hasn’t already been said. Great plot twists and turns, unanswered questions, very high production values, HBO keeps setting the high bar standard for genre television.
This year I’ve tried to spend less time deciding what to watch and just watching what arrives from my uneddited queue. This has led to watching some films that I didn’t love and even raising questions of whether someone else is modifying my queue. I have tired to not allow myself to not obsess over any part of the film watching experience at some times don’t even look at the queue for weeks. Sometimes it’s a genuine surprise to discover what has shown up in my mail box, and I like that.