1. Titane — Wow. Just wow. This movie has so much to say, and it just shouts it in your face. The explorations of gender performance are grotesque and brutal. The body horror is absolutely disgusting. Julia Ducournau made a greasy, Cronenbergian nightmare that I didn’t want to wake up from. At times it is overwhelmingly explicit and unflinchingly focused on its gory violence, but it leaves enough open to interpretation that it’s not just dumbed down brutality.
2. In the Earth — It’s easy at the beginning to think this movie is just going to be a basic slasher. During a pandemic, a scientist and a park ranger venture into the woods to figure out why no one has heard from a researcher who has isolated herself to study a vast mycorrhizal network. Then, a crazed man obsessed with a photography project gone wrong chases after them with an axe. Yet there’s nothing basic here. This movie dips into psychedelic sci-fi and odd character studies at times, eventually introducing a lady who plays keyboards to trees alone in the woods. A vision of isolation making us crazy; Brandon best described this movie as people taking their COVID hobbies too far. I think I chose the wrong hobbies and should have picked up playing synths in the forest to talk to trees.
3. I Blame Society — To make movies you kind of have to be a horrible person. You have to obsessively craft a story and a vision and believe in it enough to see it through. Also, you have to convince a whole team of people to back you up and let you boss them around. It takes a special kind of self-absorption and narcissism that just gets written off for men who we consider geniuses. What if you’re a woman just starting out?
Gillian Wallace Horvat plays herself as an independent filmmaker that can’t get any support for her films. Instead of giving up she doubles down on a project inspired by a couple of her real-life friends saying that she would make a great serial killer. It quickly spirals out of control, and she becomes an actual serial killer. It’s hilarious. There’s a moment in this movie that will stick with me forever where she’s in the home of a future victim, drinking wine in her underwear, and she says, “I’m living my best life.” This movie is so angry and bratty, and I loved every second of it.
4. Pig — It’s satisfying to watch a movie based in the town where you live and have it get the setting exactly right, especially when it’s in subtle ways. There’s a scene in this movie where Nic Cage’s character sneaks into the backyard of his old house and has an amazing conversation with a child playing a weird instrument, and it’s an absolutely accurate and genuinely Portland moment. The conversation he has with a chef at a pretentious restaurant where the man cannot give a straight answer about his craft is 100% Portland. (Why can no one here deliver unpleasant answers directly?) Forsaking city life and fame to harvest truffles in a rustic cabin in the woods is exactly what someone from Portland would do. It’s not the only thing I liked about this movie, but it’s a special feeling to have my adopted hometown portrayed so accurately and even lovingly for all its many flaws.
Nic Cage gives a heartbreaking performance. Remembering the importance of food—especially a good meal prepared by a talented chef—is something many of us are holding onto right now while we wait for safe time outside the house. The heart of this movie is big, genuine, and forgiving, which is why it’s so beautiful and moving. I cried. A lot.
5. The Medium — This year, I liked a lot of very combative movies. This one is no exception.
A mockumentary/found footage horror about a spiritual medium’s niece becoming possessed is not a hard sell for me. This started out as a sequel to The Wailing, which is a movie I liked enough to do an entire Lagniappe Podcast episode about it. Obviously and thankfully, it became its own thing. A chipper woman becomes possessed, gradually wastes away, and becomes a wraith; her devout shaman aunt starts to question her own belief system and place in the world; and the whole family tries to hold itself together despite decades of cultural and spiritual differences. Ultimately, everyone gets ripped apart, even the film crew.
There’s a lot of questions here about whether filming this family drama is exploitative. The crew is constantly asked, “Do you have to film everything?” Like I said before, to be a filmmaker you kind of have to be awful, so yes, they do continue to film it all, until it’s way too late. The filmmaking itself is even weaponized and used by the demon to up its body count, at one point even beating a woman with a camera. What is more important: family privacy and safety or artistic integrity? Is documenting this event worth it?
Saint Maud — Religious devotion gone way too far. Feels like how the actual stories of saints would play out if we looked at them through a modern, critical lens.
Bo Burnham: Inside — I didn’t expect to like this, but for something that starts out as ye olde times YouTube humor, it truly hooks you. By the end, you feel like something vital has been ripped out and put on display for everyone to see.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar — Friendship is beautiful and powerful.
The Green Knight — A beautiful visualization of an Arthurian quest. Gritty enough to modernize and critique the myths, but not so much that the magic is lost.