Swampflix’s Top 10 Films of 2020

1. Deerskin Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist thriller about a man’s obsession with a fringed deerskin jacket is consistently funny, but also incredibly vicious when it wants to be. Despite indulging in the ridiculous, high-concept genre of Killer Objects horror (think Death Bed, In Fabric, Christine, or the director’s own Rubber), it’s a surprisingly thoughtful film about the inadequacy that mediocre men face at middle age, and their psychotic efforts to overcome that deficiency. Jean Dujardin previously charmed American audiences in Best Picture-winner The Artist, but here he’s a sad, pathetic grifter who has to scam people just to hang out with him. It’s a hilarious joke at the expense of male vanity (including the vanity of making an entire movie about a deerskin jacket in the first place).

2. Color Out of Space Richard Stanley returns to the director’s chair after decades of mysterious exile to adapt an H.P. Lovecraft short story about a meteor crash and a malignant color. Most criticism has fixated on Nic Cage’s over-the-top lead performance, but those antics aside this is a harrowing film about loss & cancer, fearing not just the disease but also its emotional erosion of familial relationships, interpreted through the powerful medium of cosmic horror.

3. The Invisible Man A genuinely scary film that operates in a realm of traditional horror tropes. For a lot of its audience, it’s doubly scary because of its domestic violence aspect, capturing the feeling of the ground being pulled from under you when you realize your abusive relationship is not the loving one you initially pictured it to be. That realization happens before the film even opens, but we’re made to live through its terrifying aftermath.

4. The Twentieth Century This pseudo-biography of a real-life Canadian politician is a gorgeous, absurdist fantasy piece that retells the history of Canadian governance as “one failed orgasm after another.” History says its events are set in Canada, but what’s onscreen is some nowhere nether-reality of dry ice and matte paintings, populated by caricatures rather than characters. It’s like Guy Maddin directing an especially kinky Kids in the Hall sketch, stumbling out into feature length in a dreamlike stupor.

5. The Wolf House A nightmare experiment in stop-motion animation that filters atrocities committed by exiled-Nazi communes in Chile through a loose, haunting fairy tale narrative. It’s got all the trappings of a pre-Brothers Grimm folktale: the sour ending, the moralistic behavioral warnings, the magic that is both beautiful and cruel. It’s a relentlessly grotesque display, one that fully conveys the hideous evils of its allegory’s real-life parallels even if you aren’t familiar with that particular pocket of fascism history.

6. Possessor This techno body horror from Brandon Cronenberg feels like the cursed love child between his father’s eXistenZ and his own Antiviral. It’s a compelling psychological battle between its characters to gain possession of the corporeal vessel they share (a battle powerfully performed by Christopher Abbott & Andrea Riseborough). A truly shocking film, both beautiful and disgusting.

7. Birds of Prey A wonderfully stylized, deliriously hyperactive superhero movie that doesn’t drag or feel laboriously obligated to comic book backstory or pathos. It steps on other superheroes’ capes, soaring in its own unique, chaotic way (a power seemingly fueled by Vodka-Red Bulls).

8. Bacurau A Brazilian film that mutates familiar details inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” into a surreal sci-fi-horror-western genre meltdown. It uses familiar tropes & techniques to tell a story we’ve all heard before in a new style & context that achieves something freshly exciting with those antique building blocks. In other words, it’s genre filmmaking at its finest.

9. Swallow An eerie, darkly humorous descendent of Todd Haynes’s Safe, in which a newly pregnant woman is compulsively drawn to swallowing inedible objects, much to the frustration of her overly-controlling family & doctors. It’s a subtle but highly stylized psychological horror about bodily autonomy, class warfare, and trauma, illustrating the complete lack of control you have over your own body & destiny if you’re born on the wrong end of class & gender dynamics.

10. His House Reinvigorates haunted house genre tropes with the same tactics that titles like Blood Quantum, Zombi Child, and The Girl With All the Gifts used on the similarly overworked tropes of the zombie genre: by shifting the cultural POV and the purpose of the central metaphor. This bold debut feature from screenwriter and director Remi Weekes tackles topics of grief, disenfranchisement, loss, immigration, and cultural disconnection – all framed within the traditional scares of the haunted house horror film.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read CC’s picks here.
See Hanna’s picks here.
Hear James’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Britnee’s Top 20 Films of 2020

1. Deerskin Quentin Dupieux’s film about a man’s obsession with a used (yet very expensive) fringed deerskin jacket. It keeps its dark humor evenly distributed throughout its runtime, but don’t assume that this is not a horror movie because it most definitely is. There’s enough spine-chilling moments that will weigh heavy on your mind long after the movie is over. It’s obviously right up my alley.

2. Swallow This is a fun thriller about an unhappy housewife who finds great joy in challenging herself to swallow all sorts of foreign objects (marbles, tacks, etc.). Once she poops them out, she cleans them up and starts a small collection of her accomplishments. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering her on as her collection grows.

3. The Painter and the Thief In a horrible year that truly exposed the horrors of humanity, it was nice to watch a documentary about compassion and forgiveness. The story of a painter who had two of her paintings stolen by a criminal who then becomes her muse and friend is told in a very interesting yet very straightforward way. It’s definitely some good medicine for the disease of 2020.

4. Bacurau A wonderful Brazilian film that’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit western, and a little bit horror. As the fictional town of Bacurau is slowly being wiped off the map, wealthy white elites are hunting the townsfolk for sport. The film builds to a very intense blood bath that was shocking and memorable to say the least.

5. The Other Lamb This is perhaps the year’s best coming of age film. It just so happens to take place in a religious cult in the woods that’s filled with incest and misogyny. Also, I can’t go without mentioning how hauntingly beautiful its scenery is.

6. You Cannot Kill David Arquette The Swampflix crew did an entire podcast episode about this documentary of David Arquette’s return to the world of professional wrestling, and I was absolutely blown away by it. Not only did it spark my interest in wrestling, but it also got me interested in the life of David Arquette after years of just knowing him as Courtney Cox’s ex-husband who played a few goofy film roles.

7. Blow the Man Down I love films that take place in New England fishing towns, and I also love crime thrillers. Blow the Man Down is a perfect mix of both. The cherry on top is that the town full of dark secrets is quietly run by a group of sweet old ladies.

8. Come to Daddy Elijah Wood has been playing very interesting and strange roles in recent years, and he absolutely kills it in Come to Daddy. It’s constantly shocking from beginning to end. There aren’t many films that came out this year that were as entertaining as this one.

9. Relic This Australian emotional horror film about the horrors of dementia is in the same wheelhouse as Hereditary. Personally, I found it to be more sad than spooky, but that didn’t take away from it being a legitimate horror film.

10. The Berlin Bride An almost silent film about two quirky guys who are taken over by a mannequin. It’s very dreamlike and bizarre, and for some reason I felt like a total pervert when I was watching it.

11. Bad Hair A horror comedy about a killer weave. It’s a funny satire that stars one of my all-time favorite actresses: Vanessa Williams!

12. Color Out of Space The best body horror film of 2020! And as a bonus, it stars Nicolas Cage so you get all of that Cage-ian spice in an already insane movie.

13. The Invisible Man I honestly didn’t think that I was going to enjoy this as much as I did. This is everything that a good thriller should be with some sci-fi elements thrown in as a bonus.

14. Birds of Prey If you haven’t watched this yet, do yourself a favor and run to it. I made the mistake of associating it with Suicide Squad and run-of-the-mill superhero movies, so I didn’t watch it until very late in the year. It’s a blast!

15. The Rental Actor Dave Franco’s directorial debut explores that fear we all get when taking those first steps into an AirBnb. It’s a solid thriller with an awesome cast.

16. Capone This movie is a shit show, but Tom Hardy shows up and shows out in a very Nicolas Cage way. His over-the-top performance of an aged Al Capone is not to be missed.

17. Host I spent most of 2020 stuck on Zoom (mostly for work), and this fabulous Zoom horror movie came out when we needed it the most. This movie is COVID-19 AF.

18. Arkansas Funnyman Clark Duke made his directorial debut this year with this crime thriller, and it was surprisingly solid. Duke stars in the film alongside Liam Hemsworth. Both actors had really good chemistry in the film and made for a really fun duo.

19. His House A refugee couple flees Sudan and end up in the UK. They deal with the horror of being refugees in a new country that doesn’t treat them humanely while also dealing with a more literal horror that follows them from Sudan. It’s very heartbreaking and super scary all at the same time.

20. Rent-A-Pal This is a silly VHS based horror movie about a lonely guy taking care of his elderly mother while desperately seeking out a girlfriend through a dating VHS program. When he happens upon a Rent-A-Pal VHS that stars a really creepy Wil Wheaton, the VHS tape takes over his life (similar to the deerskin jacket in my top 2020 film, Deerskin) and turns him into a monster. I’m glad I was able to watch this one before the year was over.

-Brtinee Lombas

Episode #125 of The Swampflix Podcast: The Top Films of 2020

Welcome to Episode #125 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, and Britnee discuss their favorite films of 2020.

James’s Top 20 Films of 2020
1. Deerskin
2. First Cow
3. Another Round
4. Color Out of Space
5. Black Bear
6. The Twentieth Century
7. Possessor
8. Dick Johnson is Dead
9. Sound of Metal
10. Bloody Nose Empty Pockets
11. His House
12. You Cannot Kill David Arquette
13. Shit House
14. The Berlin Bride
15. American Utopia
16. The Wolf House
17. City Hall
18. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
19. The Invisible Man
20. Palm Springs

To hear everyone else’s picks, listen to the show . . .

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Podcast Crew

New Orleans French Film Fest 2020, Ranked & Reviewed

Of the two local film festivals operated by the New Orleans Film Society, New Orleans Film Fest is both the longest-running and the most substantial. The 30th Annual NOFF, for instance, screened hundreds of films all over downtown New Orleans last October, of which we were able to cover 10 features (and a few shorts). We’re only seeing an insignificant fraction of the films screening NOFF every year, making a festival-wide recap something of a Sisyphean task as amateur bloggers.

NOFS’s annual New Orleans French Film Fest is a different matter entirely. The entirety of French Film Fest is located at a single, beautiful venue: The Prytania, Louisiana’s oldest operating single-screen cinema. All films are at least partially French productions, all are shown in subtitled French language, and the large majority of them never see domestic big screen distribution outside of the festival. I see some of my favorite releases of the year at French Film Fest too; 2018’s Double Lover ranked near the top of my favorite films of the 2010s . There are also typically at least two screenings a year that I’d comfortably call all-time favorites after just one viewing, especially in retrospective screenings from auteurs like Agnès Varda & Jacques Demy. New Orleans French Film Fest is the smaller, more intimate festival on the NOFS calendar, but its manageability is more of a charm than a hindrance and I’m starting to look forward to it more every year.

We will be doing a more exhaustive recap of our experience at the festival on an upcoming episode of the podcast, featuring a more fleshed out review of 1945’s Children of Paradise. For now, here’s a ranking of the few films we’ve seen that screened at the 2020 New Orleans French Film Fest. Each title includes a blurb and a link to a corresponding review. Enjoy!

1. Mr. Klein (1976) – “It’s clear from the start where the story is headed, as the movie largely functions as a Twilight Zone-style morality tale, but the point is less in the surprise of the plot than it is in the ugly depths of Klein’s authoritarian, self-serving character. This is a damn angry film about the evils of Political Apathy, and a damn great one.”

2. Deerskin (2020) – “Damn funny from start to end. Not only is the idea of a jacket being so fashionably mesmerizing that it leads to a life of crime hilarious even in the abstract, but the overqualified Jean Dujardin’s straight-faced commitment to the bit sells each gag with full inane delight.”

3. Varda by Agnès (2019) – “It may not be as kinetic or as aggressively stylistic as her career’s greatest triumphs (a contrast that’s unignorable, given those films’ presence on the screen), but it’s still incredibly playful & thoughtful in its own construction, especially considering the limitations of its structure as an academic lecture.”

4. Children of Paradise (1945) – Given this one’s accolades as one of the greatest films of all time, I expected a shift into outright Movie Magic surrealism during its stage pieces that never came. Instead, it’s just a well constructed, stately four-way melodrama with a dark sense of humor and an exceptionally grand budget considering it was partially made under Nazi occupation. It’s really good, but I was prepared to be totally floored (which is my fault, not the movie’s). Looking forward to diving further into it on the podcast.

5. Sibyl (2020) – “Its only major fault is that you could name several movies that push its basic elements way further into way wilder directions; Double Lover & Persona both come to mind. Otherwise, it’s an admirably solid Movie For Adults, the kind of thoughtfully constructed erotic menace that used to be produced by Hollywood studios at regular intervals but now only seeps quietly through European film festivals.”

6. Matthias & Maxime (2020) – “Incredibly observant about macho bonding rituals & typical group dynamics among basic bros – especially when parsing out what’s considered Normal male-on-male touching vs. what’s considered Gay. It’s just a shame that same thoughtful consideration didn’t extend to knowing how to trim the movie down to its best, most efficient shape.”

7. House of Cardin (2020) – “Not at all interested in matching the avant-garde artistry of its subject in any formal way; it’s about as forward-thinking in its filmmaking style as an I Love the 60s special on VH1. However, the vibrant, playful art of Pierre Cardin more than speaks for itself, and stepping out of that portfolio’s way read to me like a great sign of respect.”

8. Celebration (2019) – “Without any contextual info about how this late-career misery differs from YSL’s earlier, more youthful fashion shows, this behind-the-scenes glimpse fails to communicate anything coherent or concrete. Like the worst of the ‘elevated horrors’ of recent years that it stylistically emulates (if not only in its spooky score), it’s all atmosphere and no substance.”

-Brandon Ledet

Deerskin (2020)

I remember being affectionately amused by Quentin Dupieux’s meta-philosophical horror comedy Rubber when I reviewed it a few years back, but I wouldn’t fault anyone who wasn’t. There’s a “How goofy is this?” Sharknado quality to the film—an ironic B-movie about a sentient, killer car tire—that I could see being a turn-off for a lot of audiences, even horror nerds. At any rate, Dupieux’s latest work is much more straight-faced in its commitment to its own gimmick, with no winking-at-the-camera fourth wall breaks to temper the Absurdism of its premise. Even speaking as a defender of Rubber, it’s all the better for it (and now I’m doubly curious about all Dupieux’s films that I’ve missed in-between).

Deerskin stars Jean Dujardin as an unremarkable middle-aged man who purchases a vintage deerskin jacket. The jacket transforms him from an unfashionable divorcee on the verge of a Mid-Life Crisis into a self-proclaimed fashionista with “killer style.” The jacket itself is tacky & doesn’t quite fit his Dad Bod correctly, but it absolutely changes his life with a much-needed confidence boost. Only, this newfound confidence quickly snowballs into an absurdist extreme. Whenever alone, he converses with the jacket. Anytime he encounters a mirror, he stops to admire himself in it. He lovingly films the jacket with a digital camcorder, convinced its greatness must be documented. Then, deluded that no one else in the world should have the privilege to wear any other jacket (as his is obviously the superior garment), he begins indiscriminately killing jacketed strangers in its honor.

The most obvious way that Deerskin succeeds as an absurdist comedy is that it’s damn funny from start to end. Not only is the idea of a jacket being so fashionably mesmerizing that it leads to a life of crime hilarious even in the abstract, but the overqualified Dujardin’s straight-faced commitment to the bit sells each gag with full inane delight. Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s Adèle Haenel is equally overqualified as the Oscar winner’s costar, aiding in his crimes as an amateur film nerd who edits his jacket-themed home movies into coherent Cinema. The pair’s unlikely chemistry as an amateur filmmaking duo is hilarious in its deadpan seriousness, a sincerity that nicely counters the ironic distancing of Rubber. Anytime you slip into not taking the titular jacket’s “killer style” seriously, a vicious flash of violence or selfish cruelty re-anchors the story in a real place. Its seriousness sneaks up on you.

In Rubber, the killer car tire’s crime spree is explained as a philosophical exercise in an Absence of Reason – absurdity for absurdity’s sake. Deerskin is just as silly on its face as that over-the-top splatter comedy, except that it has a clear, genuine satirical target: Masculine Vanity. The entire film plays as a hilarious joke at the expense of macho narcissism, especially of the Divorcee in Midlife Crisis variety. Not to miss an opportunity for meta-commentary, Dupieux uses this platform to satirize his own vanity for making an entire feature film about a killer jacket in the first place. Even if you’re not a fan of his work in general or if—for some reason—the premise of this macho mutation of In Fabric doesn’t entice you, maybe that willingness to self-eviscerate will be enough bridge the gap.

-Brandon Ledet