#52FilmsByWomen 2021 Ranked & Reviewed

When I first learned of the #52FilmsByWomen pledge in late 2016, I was horrified to discover that I hadn’t reached the “challenge’s” quota naturally that year, despite my voracious movie-watching habits. Promoted by the organization Women in Film, #52FilmsByWomen is merely a pledge to watch one movie a week directed by a woman for an entire calendar year. It’s not at all a difficult criterion to fulfill if you watch movies on a regular routine, but so much of the pop culture landscape is dominated by (white) male voices that you’d be surprised by how little media you typically consume is helmed by a female creator until you actually start paying attention to the numbers. Having now taken & fulfilled the #52FilmsByWomen five years in a row, I’ve found that to be the exercise’s greatest benefit: paying attention. I’ve found many new female voices to shape my relationship with cinema through the pledge, but what I most appreciate about the experience is the way it consistently reminds me to pay attention to the creators I’m supporting & affording my time. If we want more diversity in creative voices on the pop media landscape, we need to go out of our way to support the people already out there who work outside the white male hegemony. #52FilmsByWomen is a simple, surprisingly easy to fulfill gesture in that direction.

With this pledge in mind, I watched, reviewed, and podcasted about 52 new-to-me feature films directed by women in 2021. The full inventory of those titles can be found on this convenient Letterboxd list. Each film is also ranked below with a link to a corresponding review, since I was using the pledge to influence not only the media I was consuming myself, but also the media we cover on the site. My hope is that this list will not only function as a helpful recap for a year of purposeful movie-watching, but also provide some heartfelt recommendations for anyone else who might be interested in taking the pledge in 2022.

5 Star Reviews

Starstruck (1982) dir. Gillian Armstrong – A new wave musical that plays both like a rough prototype for 90s Australian gems like Strictly Ballroom & Muriel’s Wedding and a jukebox musical adaptation of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Usual. A perfect movie; can’t believe it’s not routinely cited as an all-time classic.

Home of the Brave (1986) dir. Laurie Anderson
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) dir. Maya Deren
The Secret Garden (1993) dir. Agnieszka Holland
Titane (2021) dir. Julia Ducournau
I Blame Society (2021) dir. Gillian Wallace Horvat

4.5 Star Reviews

Party Girl (1995) dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer – The ideal version of a romcom: the romance angle doesn’t really matter and it’s all about the main character Finding Herself while modeling outrageous outfits.

Clockwatchers (1997) dir. Jill Sprecher
Sluts & Goddesses Video Workshop (1992) dir. Annie Sprinkle & Maria Beatty

4 Star Reviews

Tank Girl (1995) dir. Rachel Talalay – There is strong proto-Birds of Prey energy running throughout this, right down to Margot Robbie & Lori Petty doing the same Sadistic Betty Boop Voice as their films’ respective antihero leads. It’s a shame neither movie was a hit, since they’re easily the most exciting specimens of superhero media since Burton revamped Batman as a fetishistic horndog.

Zola (2021) dir. Janicza Bravo
Demon Lover Diary (1980) dir. Joel DeMott
General Invincible (1983) dir. Pearl Chang
The Matrix Resurrections (2021) dir. Lana Wachowski
Saint Maud (2021) dir. Rose Glass
The Queen of Versailles (2012) dir. Lauren Greenfield
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2012) dir. Madeleine Olnek
Lucky (2021) dir. Natasha Kermani
Dead Pigs (2021) dir. Cathy Yen
Time (2020) dir. Garrett Bradley
Jumbo (2021) dir. Zoe Wittok
Shadow in the Cloud (2021) dir. Roseanne Liang
The World to Come (2021) dir. Mona Fastvold
The Power (2021) dir. Corinna Faith

3.5 Star Reviews

Freak Orlando (1981) dir. Ulrike Ottinger – I think I got more out of watching Ottinger’s Feminist Alcoholism piece Ticket of No Return last year, but there are individual images in this follow-up that are undeniably sublime. Often feels more like a collection of performance art pieces than an actual Movie (especially in the way scenes defiantly loiter long past their welcome), but I enjoyed being mesmerized and confounded by it.

Seven Beauties (1975) dir. Lina Wertmuller
The Dark Lady of Kung Fu (1983) dir. Pearl Chang
Candyman (2021) dir. Nia DaCosta
Little Joe (2019) dir. Jessica Hausner

Babyteeth (2020) dir. Shannon Murphy
Shiva Baby (2021) dir. Emma Seligman
Tove (2021) dir. Zaida Bergroth
Ecstasy in Berlin, 1926 (2004) dir. Maria Beatty
Reminiscence (2021) dir. Lisa Joy
The Mad Women’s Ball (2021) dir. Melanie Laurent
Rocks (2021) dir. Sarah Gavron
Crip Camp (2021) dir. Nicole Newnham

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021) dir. Marilyn Agrelo
Chicken People (2016) dir. Nicole Lucas Haimes

3 Star Reviews

Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) dir. Doris Wishman – I’ve slowed way down on my Doris Wishman consumption recently, mostly because the bulk of the remaining ones I haven’t seen yet are roughies, a genre I despise. Glad I held out for this one at least, since it was a novelty to see one of her films all cleaned up on the Criterion Channel, as opposed to hunting down a fuzzy VHS rip of Dildo Heaven on YouTube or a porn streamer. I would have enjoyed the experience a lot more if it were one of her early nudie cuties or late-career whatsits, but it still felt like an Event in its presentation.

Censor (2021) dir. Prano Bailey-Bond
Rose Plays Julie (2021) dir. Christine Molloy
Promising Young Woman (2020) dir. Emerald Fennell
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2021) dir. Lili Horvat
Kid90 (2021) dir. Soleil Moon Frye
Together Together (2021) dir. Nikole Bekwith
Shapeless (2021) dir. Samantha Smith
Things Heard & Seen (2021) dir. Shari Springer Berman

Would Not Recommend

Slaxx (2021) dir. Elza Kephart
The Turning (2020) dir. Floria Sigismondi
Nomadland (2021) dir. Chloe Zhao
Black Widow (2021) dir. Cate Shortland

-Brandon Ledet

Alli’s Top 5 Films of 2021

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?

Runners-Up!

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.

-Alli Hobbs

#52FilmsByWomen 2020 Ranked & Reviewed

When I first learned of the #52FilmsByWomen pledge in late 2016, I was horrified to discover that I hadn’t reached the “challenge’s” quota naturally that year, despite my voracious movie-watching habits. Promoted by the organization Women in Film, #52FilmsByWomen is merely a pledge to watch one movie a week directed by a woman for an entire calendar year. It’s not at all a difficult criteria to fulfill if you watch movies on a regular routine, but so much of the pop culture landscape is dominated by (white) male voices that you’d be surprised by how little media you typically consume is helmed by a female creator until you actually start paying attention to the numbers. Having now taken & fulfilled the #52FilmsByWomen four years in a row, I’ve found that to be the exercise’s greatest benefit: paying attention. I’ve found many new female voices to shape my relationship with cinema through the pledge, but what I most appreciate about the experience is the way it consistently reminds me to pay attention to the creators I’m supporting & affording my time. If we want more diversity in creative voices on the pop media landscape, we need to go out of our way to support the people already out there who work outside the white male hegemony. #52FilmsByWomen is a simple, surprisingly easy to fulfill gesture in that direction.

With this pledge in mind, I watched, reviewed, and podcasted about 52 new-to-me feature films directed by women in 2020. The full inventory of those titles can be found on this convenient Letterboxd list. Each film is also ranked below with a link to a corresponding review, since I was using the pledge to influence not only the media I was consuming myself, but also the media we cover on the site. My hope is that this list will not only function as a helpful recap for a year of purposeful movie-watching, but also provide some heartfelt recommendations for anyone else who might be interested in taking the pledge in 2021.

5 Star Reviews

Fatal Frame (2014) dir. Makoto Shibata – An unfaithful video game adaptation that’s half J-horror ghost story and half lesbian boarding school melodrama. I loved it. It’s surprisingly creepy and super, super gay.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) dir. Leontine Sagan 

Marjoe (1972) dir. Sarah Kernochan

4.5 Star Reviews

Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1997) dir. Sarah Jacobson – A no-budget coming-of-age cautionary tale that subverts the Conservative 1950s road-to-ruin teen pic by transforming it into genuinely healthy sex education for 90s punx.

Birds of Prey (2020) dir. Cathy Yan

Emma. (2020) dir. Autumn de Wilde

4 Star Reviews

Ticket of No Return (1979) dir. Ulrike Ottinger Simultaneously an on-the-surface political statement that discusses its gender theory & alcoholism themes in plain academic terms and an enigmatic gaze into a drunken abyss that’s just as mysterious as it is playfully meaningless.

Water Lilies (2007) dir. Céline Sciamma

Shirley (2020) dir. Josephine Decker

Little Women (2019) dir. Greta Gerwig

Yentl (1983) dir. Barbara Streisand

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020) dir. Céline Sciamma

Wolf Devil Woman (1982) dir. Pearl Chang

Sugar & Spice (2001) dir. Francine McDougall

Kajillionaire (2020) dir. Miranda July

Electric Swan (2020) dir. Konstantina Kotzamani

The Bigamist (1953) dir. Ida Lupino

Olivia (1951) dir. Jacqueline Audry

Little Women (1994) dir. Gillian Armstrong

Now and Then (1995) dir. Lesli Linka Glatter

Family (2019) dir. Laura Steinel

Varda By Agnès (2019) dir. Agnès Varda

Circus of Books (2020) dir. Rachel Mason

Mucho Mucho Amor (2020) dir. Cristina Costantini

She Dies Tomorrow (2020) dir. Amy Seimetz

Sea Fever (2020) dir. Neasa Hardiman

Blow the Man Down (2020) dir. Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy

Matching Escort (1982) dir. Pearl Chang

3.5 Star Reviews

Limbo (1999) dir. Tina Krause A warped-VHS headtrip that’s all disoriented disgust with the world and nothing remotely resembling coherence. It’s more of a cursed object than a Movie, so that AGFA’s restoration feels less like a standard home video release than it does a black magic spell.

Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994) dir. Linda Hassani

I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993) dir. Sarah Jacobson

Just One of the Guys (1985) dir. Lisa Gottlieb

Never Fear (1949) dir. Ida Lupino

The Assistant (2020) dir. Kitty Green

Hustlers (2019) dir. Lorene Scafaria

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020) dir. Kirsten Johnson

The Giverny Document: Single Channel (2020) dir. Ja’Tovia Gary

The Other Lamb (2020) dir. Małgorzata Szumowska

The Lodge (2020) dir. Veronika Franz

Sibyl (2020) dir. Justine Triet

Tomboy (2011) dir. Céline Sciamma

Troop Zero (2020) dir. Bert & Bertie

Nobody May Come (2020) dir. Ella Hatamian

Dildo Heaven (2002) dir. Doris Wishman

3 Star Reviews

Tito (2020) dir. – Seeking a middle ground between sensory-assaultive arthouse horror and broad stoner comedy, it’s often more of a genre experiment than a proper narrative film. I almost want to describe it as the unlikely overlap between Josephine Decker and Cheech & Chong but that’s probably overselling it.

Black Christmas (2019) dir. Sofia Takal

Not Wanted (1949) dir. Ida Lupino

Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2020) dir. Anca Damian

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (2020) dir. Karen Bernstein

Cuties (2020) dir. Maïmouna Doucouré

Would Not Recommend

Selah and the Spades (2020) dir. Tayarisha Poe

The Matrix: Revolutions (2003) dir. Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 7/16/20 – 7/22/20

For the past few months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. More recently, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of the state’s gradual re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea yet. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated highly that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Wolf Devil Woman (1983) – From my review: “A disorienting Pure Cinema indulgence that makes for some very loopy late-night viewing despite its limited means as a cheap-o production. It can’t pretend to be as controlled or as accomplished in its far-out psychedelia as triumphs like King Hu’s A Touch of Zen, but its bootleg quality as a VHS-era indie knockoff from the fringes of the genre only make it feel stranger, like a found object that tumbled far outside the boundaries of a proper wuxia canon.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Playtime (1967): From our Movie of the Month discussion: “What I like most about this film’s dystopia is that human connection does persevere sometimes, especially in the latter half: restaurant patrons sing old songs together amid the restaurant’s wreckage, pipelayers collaborate to sneak a glass of beer in the morning, and life goes on. It’s nice (and naïve, given the current moment) to imagine that technological, bureaucratic, and capitalist systems around us might just be baffling, as opposed to actively toxic and harmful.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel or for free (with a library subscription) on Kanopy.

Blow the Man Down (2020) – From my review: “Frequently brutal & cold, following bone-tired characters as they trudge through the blue hues & white snows of coastal Maine as if they were walking corpses just waiting to be chopped up & shoved into fishing coolers. It’s also a warmly human movie about a silent system of tough, shrewd women, each with their own morbid senses of humor and touches of whimsy.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Streaming VOD

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) From our Movie of the Month discussion: “Looks & acts like a Normal movie on the surface, but constantly veers into absurdist humor, grisly violence, and straight-up Gay Stuff that you don’t normally get to see in a Hollywood picture of this flavor.”  A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

My Life in Pink (1997) – From my review: “Very much feels like an echo of the New Queer Cinema era, with a particular debt to how Todd Haynes explored real-world gay crises through a stylized fantasy lens (particularly recalling the segment of Poison about the boy who flew out the window).” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Family (2019) – From my review: “Reminded me a lot of The Bronze in how it looks & acts like a normal mainstream comedy in all ways except in how it allows its lead to be incredibly selfish & cruel without worrying about whether audiences will find her ‘likeable.’”  A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 7/9/20 – 7/15/20

For the past few months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  More recently, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of the state’s gradual re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea yet. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated highly that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Hail, Ceasar! (2016) – From my review: “Loaded with beautiful tributes to every Old Hollywood genre I can think of and pretty damn hilarious in a subtle, quirky way that I think ranks up there with the very best of the Coen Brothers’ work, an accolade I wouldn’t use lightly. If you need a litmus test for whether or not you’ll enjoy the film yourself, Barton Fink might be a good place to start. If you hold Barton Fink in high regard, I encourage you to give Hail, Caesar! a chance.” Currently streaming on Netflix.

Tourist Trap (1979)– From Britnee’s review: “Tourist Trap instantly became one of my favorite horror films of all-time. I literally got goosebumps several times throughout the film, and I’m not one who gets scared easily. I highly recommend Tourist Trap for anyone remotely disturbed by mannequins or psychopaths.” Currently streaming on Shudder and for free (with ads) on TubiTV.

Big Business (1988) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The swapped-twins plot of Big Business feels like it’s straight out of an Old Hollywood comedy, the kind that Fred & Ginger might’ve starred in if it had been released 50 years earlier. The nature-over-nurture value system of the movie is very much an antiquated line of thinking and (although there’s some confusion about who winds up with whom at the end) the film’s intense concern with finding each sister a potential mate is very much in line with the structure of a traditional comedy. Instead of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Big Business is more like A Million Beaus for Four Sisters.” Currently streaming on Disney+.

Streaming VOD

To Die For (1995) From my review: “By 1995, neither celebrating nor satirizing the attention-seeking narcissism of tabloid-friendly criminals were especially novel; John Waters alone was nine features deep on the topic with Serial Mom the year before. Still, the specific textures of Pamela Smart’s bizarre circumstances, Nicole Kidman’s sweetly cruel performance, and Gus Van Sant’s playfully ironic (and, frankly, patronizing) tone make the film a sadistic delight.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Little Women (2019) From Boomer’s review: “This is a beautiful film, a timeless piece of literature made fresh once more with a cast overbrimming with talent and filmed with an eye for chromatic storytelling and such beautiful Northeast scenery that when I tell you I was there, I was there. This is also such a talented cast that they breathe a new life into characters that, in the original text and in previous film incarnations, were at times sullen, unlikable, or intolerable.” A $5 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Violence Voyager (2019) – From my review: “Feels as if it were made entirely by one loner-creep in some far-off basement, as if he were racing to publish his work before being raided by the authorities for crimes against society & good taste. It’s the rare work of modern outsider filmmaking that feels genuinely dangerous, with all the excitement & unease that descriptor implies.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 7/2/20 – 7/8/20

For the past few months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  More recently, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of the state’s gradual re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea yet. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated highly that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Jubilee (1978) – From my review: “Its sci-fi vision of London’s cracked concrete future is essentially just a portrait of its present-day moment in punk discontent, snapshotting the female teen degenerates, queer burnouts, and hedonistic vandals who defined the scene at its purest. Crass already declared that ‘Punk is dead’ in 1978, only a year after the scene had broken out of its urban subculture dungeons to reach a wider audience through proper record distribution (and magazine-promoted fashion trends). Jarman seems to be on the same page but finds his own sense of beauty while gazing at the movement’s rotting corpse.” Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy.

Citizen Ruth (1996) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “The balance between emotional devastation and (pitch black) comedy is a major part of what struck me about Citizen Ruth (besides Laura Dern’s career-consistent brilliance, obviously). Ruth’s not a ‘bad’ person, necessarily. She’s just been turned into something of a feral animal by her addiction, making her play onscreen like a hyper-realistic version of Jerri Blank (who is a bad person, I should add) in her more amusing moments.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla.

Boy (2012) – From my review: “Boy is by every measurement a triumph. It’s at times hilarious, devastating, life-affirming, brutally cold, etc. Taika Waititi risked taking his time to deliver a fully-realized, personal work on his own terms and the final product moves you in the way only the best cinema can.” Currently streaming for free (with library membership) on Kanopy & Hoopla and for free (with ads) on Vudu.

Streaming VOD

Birds of Prey (2020) From my review: “More superhero movies could stand to be this excessive in their violence, this shamelessly broad in their humor, and this fabulous in their costuming. We’d all be better off.” A $6 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Shazam! (2019) From Boomer’s review: “A whole hell of a lot of fun, a modern day kid’s wish fulfillment film that harkens back to a time when it was still possible for such a thing to be dark, vulgar, and tongue-in-cheek. I was surprised at how much it was able to manipulate my emotions – I mean ‘move me’ – in its emotional moments. It has a lot of heart, is what I’m saying, but manages to avoid getting treacly by balancing its emotionality with good jokes and the occasional supernatural murder.” A $10 rental on all major VOD platforms (and for free with a subscription to HBOGo).

Darkman (1990) – From my review: “A comic book-inspired noir riding on the coattails of Tim Burton’s Batman, Darkman is a masterfully goofy work of genre cinema. Its comic book framing, over-the-top performances, and stray Ken Russell-esque freakouts were all perfection in terms of trashy entertainment value, pushing the lowest-common-denominator of trash media into the realm of high art. Darkman is not only the finest Sam Raimi film I’ve ever encountered, it’s also one of the most striking comic book movies ever made … which is saying a lot considering that it wasn’t even based off of a comic book.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

It’s not an especially unique observation that historical works are usually more indicative of the time when they were made than they are of the time they intend to represent. That quality of the mid-90s Gay Cinema documentary The Celluloid Closet still took me by surprise, though. The film still stands as an important work a quarter-century later, but the further we get away from its time of production the more peculiarly (and encouragingly) antiquated it becomes. Adapted from a critical text of the same name, The Celluloid Closet is intended to function as a history of onscreen gay & lesbian representation in Hollywood movies. In practice, it’s more of a documentary about how desperately starved queer audiences were for positive onscreen representation in the 1990s in particular.

As gay filmmakers & commentators walk the audience through the sordid history of Hollywood’s first century of homophobia (guided by a Lily Tomlin narration track), I found myself actively disagreeing with a lot of their opinions on what constitutes The Wrong Kind of Representation. I gradually recognized that I was feeling that way because of a somewhat spoiled vantage point of having a lot more variety in Queer Cinema to choose from decades after its sentiment had taken hold. At large, The Celluloid Closet is extremely dismissive of transgressive, morally troubling, or even actively villainous gay characters, the kinds of representation that generally creep up in movies that I personally tend to love (thanks to my bottomless thirst for low-end genre trash). Friedkin’s forever-controversial works Cruising & The Boys in the Band were singled out as especially toxic hallmarks of The Wrong Kind of Representation in the film, a poisoned leftover of Hollywood’s long history of unmasked homophobia. I love both of those movies; I’d even cite them among some of my all-time favorites. That’s an experience colored by a life lived when Normalized gay representation has since been achieved in popular media, even if it is still too rare to fully declare victory. In the 90s, transgressive, destructive creeps were the only gay characters who were allowed onscreen since the invention of the medium, which I totally understand would sour the thrill of their flagrant misbehavior.

Cataloging the censorship of The Hays Code era, the de-sexed caricature of the Sissy archetype, the villainization of “deceitful” trans characters, and so on, The Celluloid Closet mostly now served as a reminder of just how far gay representation has come in the couple decades since it was released. A lot of its searching-for-crumbs sentiment in its quest for positive onscreen representation sadly still resonates today, especially when looking for any prominent gay characters in big-budget media from corporate conglomerates like Disney. However, its push for cleaned-up, all-posi gay representation now feels extremely dated to me. I no longer believe we’re in a place where every gay movie has to be a sanitized Love, Simon-style journey of sunny self-discovery. I want to live in a world where Hollywood can catch up with the transgressive queer freak-outs of foreign indie releases like The Wild Boys, Knife+Heart, and Stranger By the Lake. In the 90s, when all the gay characters you’d ever seen were minor roles played for “comedy or pity or fear” we obviously weren’t there yet. Revisiting this documentary is a nice reminder that things have changed, however incrementally.

Documentary filmmaking itself has also apparently changed in recent years. I was shocked that The Celluloid Closet doesn’t label its films or its talking heads for the audience’s reference. You either recognize Quentin Crisp or you don’t, which would be highly unusual in a modern doc. We can refer to user-generated Letterboxd lists & IMDb cast lists to clear up any confusion or gaps in knowledge, though, so the real hurdle is just in understanding & reckoning with the film’s dated POV. As one of the talking heads explains (I wish I had caught their name, dammit!), “Nobody really sees the same movie.” Our personal biases and life experiences shape the way we internally experience art. The Celluloid Closet’s greatest asset is in documenting the biases & life experiences of gay audiences in the 90s in particular, since the history of onscreen representation in Hollywood is obviously an ever-evolving beast so no one documentary on the subject could ever be a definitive, everlasting work.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 6/25/20 – 7/1/20

For the past few months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  More recently, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of the state’s gradual re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea yet. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated highly that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

The Duke of Burgundy (2015) – From my review: “The Duke of Burgundy’s varied shots of a butterfly & moth filled specimen room sets a tone for how the film operates. It’s a narrative that relies on repetition & ritual, much like the repetition of a specific butterfly specimen is repeated within the display cases. Similarly, each image is tacked to the wall, hovering to be appreciated like a precious, organic object. Strickland finds emotional resonance in the film’s central relationship, but he also spends inordinate amounts of time reveling in the textures of the world that surrounds them. Filming the couple through mirrors, fringes, and fabrics, Strickland finds the same reverence for the sense of touch here that he did for sound in his 2013 ode to giallo, Berberian Sound Studio. It’s a challenging prospect for viewers, but the rewards are glorious.” Currently streaming on Hulu.

Blood and Black Lace (1964) – From our Movie of the Month discussion: “A landmark in horror cinema and one of the earliest giallo films in existence. It’s also considered to be the first ‘body count’ horror film, so we can thank Bava for all of those campy, raunchy 80s slasher flicks. Watching this film is like taking a walk through an art gallery. It’s chock-full of rich colors, eerie scenery, deep shadows, and impressive camera angles. The outstanding cinematography alone is a good reason to watch the film.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Pieces (1982)– From  Boomer’s review: “The film is at once a celebration of the horror genre as a cruel, ritualistic blood sport that serves a significant purpose in the lives of its audience and a condemnation of that very same audience for participating in the ritual in the first place. An ambitious, self-reflective work of criticism in action, Cabin in the Woods in one of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years, not least of all for the way it makes me rethink the basic structure & intent of horror as an art from in the first place.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Streaming VOD

BlacKkKlansman (2018) From my review: “It’s been a while since a movie had me ping-ponging from such extremes of pure pleasure & stomach-churning nausea. What’s brilliant about BlacKkKlansman is that it often achieves both effects using the same genre tools. Even when it’s taking the structure of an absurdist farce, its humor can be genuinely funny or caustically sickening. Racism is delivered kindly & with a wholesome American smile here, without apology; shamelessly evil bigotry is presented in the cadence & appearance of a joke, but lands with appropriate horror instead of humor. Lee only further complicates his genre subversion by mixing that horror with actual, genuine jokes, so that the film overall maintains the structure of a comedy.” A $10 rental on all major VOD platforms (and for free with a subscription to HBOGo).

Body Double (1984) From Boomer’s review: “It’s a product of its time, a sleazy De Palma take on a Hitchcock classic, and as such it’s an oddity that I can’t recommend more highly. It’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for months. There’s a new 4k restoration making the rounds, and it’s well worth the price of admission. And, as Halloween approaches, if you generally like your scares a little more cerebral than slashy but still want to feel a little bit dirty, Body Double could be your new go-to.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Basket Case 2 (1990) From Boomer’s review: “For all of its cheap thrills and corny gore, Basket Case could never be accused of having a character arc, which Basket Case 2 actually does. The extent to which Belial could be developed is pretty limited, but Duane moves from being merely Belial’s enabler/assistant to committing his own crimes and even self-identifying as a freak despite being the most normal (looking) person in the house.” A $2 rental on all major VOD platforms.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to Stream at Home This Week 6/18/20 – 6/24/20

For the past few months, I’ve shifted our weekly “What’s Playing in Local Theaters” report to a list of Swampflix-recommended movies you can stream at home. This choice was initially a no-brainer, as the governor had ordered the closure of all Louisiana movie theaters in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  More recently, cinemas are allowed to operate again as part of the state’s gradual re-opening strategy, but I’m personally not confident that’s such a great idea yet. So, I’m still going to stick with Online Streaming options as a moviegoing substitute for the time being.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions for movies that you can stream at home while under quarantine: a grab bag of movies Swampflix has rated highly that are currently available for home viewing.

Streaming with Subscription

Class of 1999 (1989)– From our Movie of the Month discussion: “I love this movie. It’s a perfect encapsulation of worst case, slippery slope thinking with regards to teen violence, a misplaced jeremiad warning of dark days to come–won’t someone please, please think of the children? Bradley Gregg, star of many of my adolescent fantasies (and one of the dream warriors from Nightmare on Elm Street 3), parades around in an outfit that manages to be both utterly ridiculous and strangely sexy, featuring skin-tight leather pants emblazoned with the word ‘war’ over and over again and a form-fitting tee under an oversized babydoll jacket. He has nothing on Keach, of course, who struts around in this film with a platinum ponytail and matching (painful looking) contact lenses, while still somehow managing to play this ludicrous role as straight as possible. Throw in the other stars in the cast, like Grier and McDowell, and it’s a surprise that this Terminator ripoff made barely half of its relatively low budget back in ticket sales.” Currently streaming for free (with ads) on Vudu & TubiTV.

Phenomena (1985) – From Boomer’s review: “Not a giallo picture in the way that many of Argento’s works definitively are or even Suspiria arguably is; although there is a mystery at its core, the crimes cannot be solved by the audience, making this much more of a slasher movie than other entries in the director’s canon, which may have contained elements of the slasher genre but were narratively focused on investigation. Running throughout the film is an undercurrent of terror, which is paired with distinctly beautiful imagery to create a film experience that is more haunting than inquisitive.” Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Shudder, and for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) – From my review: “My personal favorite Wes Craven film. It’s not his scariest, nor his most tightly-controlled work, but it is an incredibly smart picture that manages to bridge the gap between the dream-logic horror of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the meta genre reflection of the soon-to-come Scream franchise. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a perfect way to remember the filmmaker for all he accomplished, not only because it marries those two defining moments of his career in a single picture, but also because he plays a role in the film as a fictionalized version of himself.” Currently streaming on Shudder.

Streaming VOD

Knives Out (2019) From Boomer’s review: “I’ve long been a fan of comedy pastiches and homages of genres that function perfectly as examples of those genres despite humorous overtones; my go-to example is Hot Fuzz, which I always tout as having a more sophisticated murder mystery plot than most films than most straightforward criminal investigation media (our lead comes to a logical conclusion that fits all of the clues, but still turns out to be wrong). Knives Out is another rare gem of this type, a whodunnit comedy in the mold of Clue that has a sophisticated and winding plot.” A $5 rental on all major VOD platforms.

42nd Street (1933) From my review: “I entered 42nd Street expecting a respectable, traditional backstage musical with some early glimpses at the extravagant choreography that made Busby Berkeley a legend. What I found was a technically gorgeous porno about women’s stockinged legs, a film that was much more interested in the infinite potential ways those body parts could be displayed & arranged than it was in the inner lives of the women attached to them. It’s shameless smut hiding behind an artistic pretense and has been historically lauded due to its Depression Era context; in other words, it’s a gem.” A $4 rental on all major VOD platforms.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988) – From my review: “Just as overtly horny & sadistic as its soft-remake Cruel Intentions, but combines those impulses with the meticulously staged pomp of lush costume dramas – recalling the peculiar tone of genre outliers like Barry Lyndon & The Favourite. Characters peeping through keyholes, foppishly being dressed & perfumed by their servants, and firing off barbed phrases like “I’ve always known that I was born to dominate your sex and to avenge my own” feel like they’re getting away with something you can only do in period films, and Dangerous Liaisons benefits greatly from that setting.” A $3 rental on all major VOD platforms (or for free with a subscription to HBOGo).

-Brandon Ledet