10. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
A violent fantasy of fragmented family dynamics. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about a child’s revenge on the heart surgeon who he views as responsible for his father’s death by taking it out on his family in mystical bodily ways. Is it absurd that a high school kid could manifest a poison or plague or spell to affect the body so puzzling that some of the most prestigious doctors in a major city would have no inkling as to what it is? It doesn’t matter. This movie isn’t concerned with reality, or at least not ours. It creates its own, filled with spiritual manifestation of evil and claustrophobia, dead-eyed monotone humor, and clinical magical realism. There is also a slow rising female rage, women disregarded and manipulated. As well as a convulsing toxic masculinity accentuated by suppression. An illustration of idyllic suburban life with a crack on its surface ever-widening until it is swallowed into an inexplicable void.
9. Arboretum Cycle (2017, dir. Nathaniel Dorsky)
Sitting in a theater filled with silence for over two hours while this played on the big screen in front of me is the closest I have had to a “spiritual” experience. With one print in distribution, I know I will never see it again and many will never see it. Unless you live in New York or San Francisco, Dorsky films are a trek to see, given that he never releases them for viewing other than select screenings at random times (I have a lot of mixed feelings about the privilege it requires to see his films that I won’t go into here). The weeks leading up to my trip to San Francisco had been filled with incapacitating rumination and anxiety attacks. A constant turning in my head to the point I could process nothing besides lying in bed. But during the exercise of watching flowers and leaves shifting in the light and casting shadows for hours, my mind quieted. I was able to observe and absorb instead of deflect. The growth and decay occurring through the seasons in the Golden Gate Park through seven 16mm films, a cycle of nature and experiment of time. Things will pass but they will also return. Shadows of clawed branches scratching in the moonlight and bright floral decadence glimmering in the sun, the contrasts of nature in interludes. Forcing focus at length on things often looked at in broad spectra in passing. Walking through a park, you certainly don’t sit and stare at a 1.33:1 window of roots for an hour. The film functions as its own natural substance, unfurling, breathing and pulsating with editing that reminds one of the rhythm of something with a living vessel. It becomes what it is capturing. Alive.
8. The Nice Guys (2016, dir. Shane Black)
A detective caper about capitalism, corporate greed, and the environment with smooth noir twists that you crave from something so engrossing. There is a painstaking eye for composition, highlighted by the time period details and ornate mid-century modern interiors. Filled with excitement and hilarity, The Nice Guys is a moral film about discovering worth in a worthless world and the camaraderie that comes with bonding over that worthlessness. An undertone of sadness and loss, there’s a basic human want to be understood running through Nice Guys. There are flashes of off-hand directing and aimless acting but on further watches it only lends to the (god forgive me) “groovy” pace of the film as a whole. It all comes together to form something unique and seemingly timeless. Ryan Gosling playing drunk is one of the most aptly hysterical performances of the decade. Russell Crowe is a perfectly grating-at-first but gruffly charming straight-man to Gosling’s egotistical buffoonery. Neither are a genius of any kind, but they both know the ropes and have self-pitying awareness and sometimes that’s enough to try your hardest to bring about justice.
7. Entertainment (2015, dir. Rick Alverson)
If the fact that I wrote 2000 words while re-watching Entertainment (just a year after publishing a different piece about the film) says anything, I think about this movie a lot. A middle-aged male comedian fights the inevitability of fading away through a tour of acidic performance. His days are numbered, his relevance disappeared long ago (if it was ever present in the first place). Yet he continues to inflict, with a growing discontent in the gut, a forced pity for the prison of his creation. It is a combination of anti-comedy performance art, haunting minimalist surreality, and refreshingly jarring structure. A road-trip of suffering through pockets of modern American abandonment, environmental and human.
6. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2014, dir. Sion Sono)
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a love letter to film. The dedication and passion it takes to accomplish an expression independent from yourself through an understanding and wielding of a medium. A team of filmmakers willing to sacrifice their lives to film a Yakuza raid in order to make the movie of their long pursued dreams, it brims with homage, all with a humor absurd and sharp. Not only a love letter, but a love story. Romantic and communal, it illustrates a crossing of paths. Among the moments of overt general emotion there are smaller moments of genuine love and sweetness. In a movie full of graphic violence, it relies on the good of man and is empathetic to human plights of loss and love and redemption. But at the forefront of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is an everlasting passion and an example of never giving up or settling. Give your all for what you want because we’re all gonna die someday.
5. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017, dir. Hong Sang-soo)
It has been… a while since I have seen a film that made me reevaluate what I view as technical “good” filmmaking. Sweeping cinematography, characters so distinct you could pluck them out of a novel, palpable emotion, and cascading light and shadow. Then I come across films like On the Beach At Night Alone. Shot on digital with very little post-production aside from the actual editing, in-camera zooms jarringly peppered throughout. Things are not explained, simply dealt with. We do not walk around explaining our lives and actions, we internalize, work through in our heads, hold the pain near us, exposing it in bursts of perceived weakness or clarity or confiding. There is a social dance of interaction when you have gone through an open wound of a life event, address it or don’t, it is hanging in the air and everyone knows it. In a film drenched in realism there are menacing surreal moments that if I were to lay out, would seem so strange and absent from the rest of the film that I will not bother. They are used passively, muted glimpses of harm, never addressed, in and out of awareness. You gather the story as it goes, the reserved nature of the main character revealing little by little. Interactions with people cut out of frame, focused on her, her reactions, her movements. She seems to hold a shield at all times but is willing to lower it in the presence of certain people. Mannered but not meek, especially when intoxicated. Based, in part, on the director’s real life affair with the actress, there is a mindfulness at play. Almost an exercise in self-punishment, a repentance, an acknowledgment of hurt. But not the hurt of himself, the hurt of others. Film is an art form that can convey what other mediums can’t in a way that is indescribable, which is what this is. It is an observation. Delicate and real and raw, unlike anything I have ever seen.
4. Good Time (2017, dir. Josh and Benny Safdie)
Good Time has a desperation that is immediately arresting. As soon as Robert Pattinson bursts into the room there is a quick-breathed tightness in the chest, an urgency in the gut. It radiates in the neon haze of criminal escapades and stark vulnerability. Hedonistic survival in less than ideal circumstances, cycling through everlasting quick-thinking in the midst of self-sabotaging chaos. Determined ignorance and manipulation pulse with sweat and blood-rushed bruises. A fully enveloping cinematic experience in every aspect that makes one fall in love with film all over again every time.
3. Under the Skin (2013, dir. Jonathan Glazer)
An otherworldly creature inhabits a woman’s body and preys on human men. Under the Skin is clouded in surreal and lifted avant-garde imagery, long takes, and calculated technique. With no definitive interpretation of this film, I perceive it as the alienation of living in the female form, a form you were born into unwillingly, heaped upon you with societal expectation. A burden and a tool to navigate, utilize, to learn your weaknesses and defy them. Results associated with sexual trauma interlaced, disassociation, confusion of the body and being. The relief of finding solace only to have it ripped away by masculine intrusion and bodily harm. Consumption of men’s validation (represented here by literal consumption of their bodies) but a physical rejection of sex. The pure physicality of Johansson’s body is incredible. Here is your sex symbol disembodied from that view, morphed, cold, through a prism of detached voyeurism, hunched over, discovering. The movements removed from the male gaze. Or maybe not removed, but defying it. Not to mention this contains the most terrifying scene of the decade, surrounded by blackness, a body crumbling, a jolt.
2. You Were Never Really Here (2018, dir. Lynne Ramsay)
The most empathetic portrayal of trauma I have ever seen, such violence and suffering intermingled with such hope and strength. Lineages and communities of trauma, individuals linked together through their pain, shared and differing experiences. There is a agony illustrated here, an agony that is waiting, begging for an end but unable to quelled. You Were Never Really Here is a depiction of a man who has been entrenched in suffering, dedicated his life to it. A monk-like fixation on violence, unable or unwilling to know anything else. The violence on screen is never passive, we feel each infliction. These things are not breezed past, they are lived over and over again in different ways. The silence and noise of trauma intermingle, the reflections of sunlight off natural surfaces followed by shadows in the night, compulsive realizations. It is a movie based in specific emotion and the surrounding environments, but the more I watch it the more I have an appreciation for its story telling. Never one to be expository, Ramsay delivers much needed back story through flashbacks of imagery that last mere seconds. A scar here, a hand gesture there, a limb, a glance, a flash of light revealing something. They are delivered without transition, just as they are experienced in real life, jarring and abrupt. Something reminded you, you felt a feeling, it lingers but is not focused. Knowing there are people in the world that experience the type of suffering you do is a weight of its own as well. Coming to terms with the expansive corruption and manipulation you have experienced or were a pawn in is soul-crushing. Take action against it, make it your line of work and it is a constant reliving, a punishment. After all that trauma has taught you about yourself, what else are you worth besides sacrifice?
1. Inherent Vice (2014, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Inherent Vice is a story unfolding and unfolding and unfolding and unfolding. A new experience each time, retaining more information with every viewing. Seemingly endless turns of imaginative drugged-up noir, flickers of slapstick and absurdity. But it is mostly a film about heartbreak and chasing things you know you will never be able to hold onto. It is about the people who enter and exit your life as if you had caught them midair then let them slip through your fingers. It is about greed, monetary and emotional, the greed of wanting all of someone or the greed of chasing bliss ignorantly. It is about underground tunnels of filthy morals and boozy loves worth fighting for. How rare to watch a movie and be rewarded with something new and precious each time, a new feeling, a new piece of information, a notice of a gesture, a sly joke. All building into a monument of cinematic scale that is hard to come to terms with. Something puzzling, but inflating as an achievement the deeper you dive into it. Dedicated time and attention lend itself well as this is not a film to watch in passing, lest you miss one line and loose track of the entire thing. Give your all to this film and discover what it gives you.