Episode #104 of the Swampflix Podcast: Children of Paradise (1945) & New Orleans French Film Fest 2020

Welcome to Episode #104 of The Swampflix Podcast! For this episode, the podcast crew discusses all eight features they caught at the 2020 New Orleans French Film Festival, with a particular focus on the 1945 epic melodrama Children of Paradise – which is often cited as “the greatest French film of all time”.  Enjoy!

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

-James Cohn, Hanna Räsänen, CC Chapman, and Brandon Ledet

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

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week (French Film Fest Edition) 2/27/20 – 3/4/20

New Orleans is stilly groggily recovering from this year’s Mardi Gras mayhem right now, but there truly is no rest for the wicked (or the festive, apparently). The 23rd annual New Orleans French Festival is here to shake us out of the Ash Wednesday fog and back into the routine of watching challenging Art Films in public, even though this period of post-Mardi Gras sloth seems better suited for binge-watching Trash TV on the couch. Wake up that Carnival-addled brain of yours before you get lost forever in an endless flood of Love is Blind episodes . . .

There are over a dozen titles screening at The Prytania in the coming week for the New Orleans French Film Festival (and tracking any goings on beyond that event sounds absolutely exhausting), so we’re going to keep this week’s local screenings round-up as simple as possible. Here are some recommendations for movies to see at one the city’s most consistently rewarding film fests, with blurbs lifted from the New Orleans Film Society‘s own listings for the lineup.

French Film Fest Screenings at The Prytania

Children of Paradise (1945) – “Poetic realism reached sublime heights with Children of Paradise, widely considered one of the greatest French films of all time. This nimble depiction of 19th-century Paris’s theatrical demimonde, filmed during World War II, follows a mysterious woman (Arletty) loved by four different men (all based on historical figures): an actor, a criminal, a count, and, most poignantly, a mime (Jean-Louis Barrault, in a performance for the ages). Thanks to a major new restoration, this iconic classic looks and sounds richer and more detailed than ever.” Friday, Feb 28, 2:15 pm

Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) – “Demy’s 1964 masterpiece of music and romance stars Catherine Deneuve as an umbrella shopkeeper who is separated from her mechanic boyfriend (Nino Castelnuevo) when he is called for military service. The film was fully restored in breathtaking color in 1992 under the supervision of Demy’s widow, filmmaker Agnès Varda. Umbrellas won the Grand Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for five Academy Awards. The restored soundtrack features Michel Legrand’s unforgettable score remixed in stereo.” Sunday March 1 & Wednesday March 4, 10:00 am

Mr. Klein (1976) “In Occupied France, Mr. Klein (played with perfection by Alain Delon) exploits the situation of the Jews by buying and selling their works of art. When a Jewish man of the same name surfaces in Paris, Klein comes under suspicion and experiences the persecution of his countrymen firsthand. Also starring Jeanne Moreau, this rare and celebrated film from 1976 was blacklisted American director Joseph Losey’s first film in French, and it won the coveted César Awards for Best Film and Best Director. This restored version has finally arrived in theaters to ecstatic praise from major critics.” Sunday March 1 & Monday March 2, 12pm

Varda by Agnès (2019) – “The final film from the late, beloved Agnès Varda is a characteristically playful, profound, and personal summation of the director’s own brilliant career.  At once impish and wise, she acts as our spirit guide on a free-associative tour through her six-decade artistic journey, shedding new light on her films, photography, and recent installation works while offering her one-of-a-kind reflections on everything from filmmaking to cats to feminism to aging. A warmly human, touchingly bittersweet parting gift from one of cinema’s most luminous talents.” Sunday March 1, 5pm + Wednesday March 4, 12pm

Deerskin (2020) – “The latest from Quentin Dupieux (the brains behind the delightfully outrageous Rubber, about a sentient tire on a killing spree), Deerskin follows amateur filmmaker Georges, who becomes obsessed with his new deerskin jacket. Convinced that his jacket must be the only one in the world, Georges is led down a Tarantino-esque path to rid the world of all competition. Played with total commitment by Academy Award® winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist), the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and also stars Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).” Saturday, Feb 29, 8:30 pm

Sybil (2020) – “Premiered at the most recent Cannes Film Festival, French director Justine Triet’s Sybil brings together an all-star cast with Virginie Efira (Elle, Victoria), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Color), and Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann).” Thursday Feb 27, 7:45pm + Tuesday March 3, 12pm

Matthias & Maxime (2020) – “The latest feature from the 30-year-old French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan, who premiered six films in Cannes and received too many jury awards and prizes to mention. Matthias and Maxime stars Dolan and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas in the lead roles, with longtime Dolan muse Anne Dorval playing his ailing mother.” Wednesday, March 4, 7:45 pm

-Brandon Ledet

 

#NOFF2019 Ranked & Reviewed

Here we are almost two full months since the 30th annual New Orleans Film Festival concluded and I’m finally gathering all of titles I caught at the fest in one spot. CC & I already recorded a more fleshed-out recap of our festival experience on Episode #95 of the podcast, in case you’re interested in hearing about the goings-on at the handful of downtown theaters where the festival was held and the various short films that preceded some of those screenings. This list is a more bare-bones kind of recap: a ranking from the best to the . . . least best of the features we managed to catch at this year’s festival.

This year we focused entirely on boosting the profile of micro-budget indies that are unlikely to get wide theatrical distribution, skipping the New Orleans premieres for bigger titles like Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, and Harriet. Each title includes a link to a corresponding review. Enjoy!

1. Swallow Appearing like a scared child in June Cleaver housewife drag, Bennett conveys a horrific lack of confidence & self-determination in every gesture. Her fragility & despondence under the control of her wealthy, emotionally abusive family make you want to celebrate her newfound, deeply personal path to fulfillment, even though it very well might kill her. As she snacks on fistfuls of garden soil while watching trash TV instead of obeying her family’s orders all I could think was “Good for her!”‘

2. Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project As Stokes’s D.I.Y. archive is an extensive cultural record of American society over the past thirty years, the list of trends & topics that could be explored in their own full-length documentaries are only as limited as an editor’s imagination. This film is an excellent primer on the cultural wealth archived in those VHS tapes, as it both explores larger ideas of how media reflects society back to itself and does full justice to the rogue political activist who did dozens & dozens of people’s work by assembling it.”

3. Gracefully “Smart to never allow the flashiness of its craft to overpower the inherent fasciation of its subject. When it does get noticeably artful in its framing & imagery, it’s only ever in service of its subject’s dancing—often showing him performing in pitch-black voids as if his D.I.Y. glamor was the only thing in the world that matters.”

4. Jezebel “Perrier doesn’t shy away from the exploitation or desperation that fueled her online sex work as a cash-strapped, near-homeless teen, but she’s equally honest about the joy, power, and self-discovery that line of work opened up to her at the time, making for a strikingly complex picture of an authentic, lived experience.”

5. A Great Lamp “Feels akin to the aimless slacker comedies of yesteryear – the kind of deliberately apathetic, glibly existential art that put names like Jarmusch & Linklater on the map back when Independent Filmmaking was first becoming a viable industry. It’s got the handheld, high-contrast black & white look of a zine in motion (and I’m sure many a Clerks knockoff from festivals past), evoking a bountiful history of D.I.Y. no-budget art. However, in both tone & sentiment there’s no way the film could have bene made by previous generations of artful slackers, as its heart is clearly rooted in a 2010s sensibility.”

6. Hunting for Hedonia “Most valuable for its ability to explain the full scope of Deep Brain Stimulation’s history in concise layman’s terms. It covers the horrific past of its abuse, the promising present of its success in the therapy field, and the terrifying future of its rapid, unavoidable escalation in a modern capitalist paradigm.”

7. The World is Full of Secrets “Plays like Are You Afraid of the Dark? reimagined as a traumatizing stage play or audio book – with long takes of sub-professional teen actors struggling to conquer unnecessarily complex monologues. What’s amazing about this set-up is that the film not only finds room to establish a genuinely creepy mood, but it’s often prankishly hilarious and light on its feet despite its potential for academic pretention.”

8. Pier Kids “Its personal, intimate documentation of a new, specific crop of homeless queer kids is just as essential as any past works – if not only as confirmation that the epidemic is still ongoing. These children are still out there taking care of themselves & each other with no end or solution to this cycle in sight. I do hope there will be a day when these documentaries are no longer such a regular routine, but only in the sense that I hope for a future where they’re no longer necessary. We’re not there yet.”

9. Reži “Even if the film is overall too frustrating to merit a hearty recommendation, the combatively prankish attitude it performs in every frame is too infectious to fully ignore – like so many festering stab wounds.”

10. Singular Whatever faults this might have as an overly reserved document of a wild, punches-throwing artist, it does have plenty of net benefits in pushing Cecile McLorin Salvant in front of an even wider audience. I imagine if you’ve never heard of her before this doc could play as a revelation that a Nina Simone-level genius is alive & working in plain sight, waiting for your eyes & ears. The contrast between her work & the doc’s reserved nature might even unintentionally emphasize her art’s subversive playfulness, which seeps through the concert footage despite the buttoned-up style of the interviews.”

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #95 of The Swampflix Podcast: #NOFF2019

Welcome to Episode #95 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our ninety-fifth episode, Brandon and CC review the full list of low-budget, high-ambition films they caught at the 30th annual New Orleans Film Festival: shorts, documentaries, and narrative features. Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– CC Chapman & Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week: The Horrors of #NOFF2019 10/16/19 – 10/23/19

There’s a wonderful overlap of goings-on in the city this week, as the 30th annual New Orleans Film Festival is descending upon us just as we approach Halloween. There are hundreds of titles screening all over the city for NOFF and we plan to cover at least a dozen or so of all types and shapes and genres for the site in the coming weeks. For the purposes of keeping our weekly Now Playing feature spooky all October, however, I’m only going to highlight a few horror-related NOFF titles here, so you can work the festival into your regular Halloween-season movie binging. Happy hauntings!

Spooky Movies Screening at NOFF

Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm StreetA long-awaited documentary chronicling actor Mark Patton’s troubled relationship with the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Closeted at the height of Reagan Era homophobia, Patton felt he was bullied by the gay “subtext” the filmmakers behind Freddy’s Dead added to his de facto “Final Girl” character. He’s since embraced the role (and the horror community at large) in his journey to self-acceptance, but that turnaround has not been easy or fair. An important episode in queer horror history. Thursday 10/17 (9:15pm) & Friday 10/18 (8:30pm) at The Broad Theater.

The World is Full of Secrets Set during the nostalgic haze of a mid-90s summertime sleepover, a group of teenage girls compete to one-up each other by telling the ghastliest, goriest stories they can conjure – answering the prompt “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard?” Described in the NOFF program as “something like a deconstructed episode of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?.” Saturday 10/19 (7:30pm) at The Broad Theater.

Swallow Recalling the horrors of modern life & patriarchal control in Todd Haynes’s classic chiller Safe, this discomforting atmospheric creep-out centers on “a newly pregnant woman whose idyllic existence takes an alarming turn when she develops a compulsion to eat dangerous objects.” Sunday 10/20 (9:00pm) at The Broad Theater.

Hunting for Hedonia A Tilda Swinton-narrated documentary on the history of medical research in Deep Brain Stimulation. Both a testament to the practice’s benefits for neurological disorders and a nightmarish exploration of its implications in mind control, psychological abuse, and sexual debauchery. Only “horror” in the sense that it explores the uncomfortably thin, easily exploited border between our minds and modern tech. Saturday 10/19 (2:30pm) and Tuesday 10/22 (6:30pm) at The Broad Theater.

Horror Classics Screening Elsewhere

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – This bizarro tale of child-melting Halloween masks and ancient Stonehenge-worshipping cults was once the most hated entry in its franchise (as an experiment in releasing a Halloween film that opted to not feature Michael Myers) but has since been reclaimed beyond the point of being a cult classic. It’s just a classic now. Maybe the best film about Halloween as a holiday; certainly has the all-time best Halloween jingle. Screening in the midnight slot at The Prytania on Friday 10/18 and Saturday 10/19.

Alien (1979) – Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic, bolstered by the bottomless subliminal nightmare of H.R. Giger’s visual art, is still the all-time scariest movie ever set in outer space (and maybe even beyond). Screening to commeorate its 40th Anniversary on Sunday 10/13, Tuesday 10/15, and Wednesday 10/16 via Fathom Events.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) – The first Sleepaway Camp film stumbled into over-the-top melodrama, deep psychosexual discomfort, and Problematic-As-Fuck gender politics by attempting to spice up the first-wave slasher formula with some unexpected twists. This lesser-seen sequel is much more self-aware in its slasher-riffing intentions, functioning as a full-on parody of the genre in surprisingly fun & clever ways. Screening for free at the Frenchman Theater & Bar on Wednesday 10/23 (10:00pm, with a pre-party celebration beginning at 8:00).

House on Haunted Hill (1959) – Long before it trickled down into a nu-metal atrocity under the Dark Castle brand (thanks largely to its open-season copyright status in the public domain), this classic team-up between director William Castle and horror icon Vincent Price defined the haunted house horror flick for an entire generation of dweebs. No word yet on whether these showings will incorporate Castle’s innovative “Emergo” technology – in which a “skeleton” on a pulley system swooped over the audience to punctuate specific scares. Screening Sunday 10/20 (10:00am) and Wednesday 10/23 (10:00am) as part of The Prytania’s regular Classic Movies series.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #79 of The Swampflix Podcast: New Orleans French & PATOIS Film Fests 2019

Welcome to Episode #79 of The Swampflix Podcast. For our seventy-ninth episode, James & Brandon take care of some film festival-related Spring cleaning with a diverse line-up of foreign-language cinema. They discuss selections from this year’s New Orleans French Film Fest and PATOIS: The New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival.  Also, James makes Brandon watch the absurdist French drama La Moustache (2005) for the first time. Enjoy!

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

–James Cohn & Brandon Ledet

New Orleans French Film Fest 2019, 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 29th 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. In past years, we’ve been able to see an average of a dozen features at each French Film Fest, which is a fairly substantial percentage of the 15-20 pictures that screen there. All films are at least partially French productions, most 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; last year’s Double Lover ranked near the top of my favorite films of 2018. 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.

That’s why it’s a little disappointing that we had to scale way back at this year’s festival. This year, French Film Fest arrived at the boiling point of Mardi Gras season. It had to compete with a surge of drag shows, parades, and all other sorts of Mardi Gras mayhem that flooded New Orleans’s social calendar in its one-week run. As a result, we were only able to schedule four screenings during the festival, only a third of our usual attendance. Still, I was very pleased with our four selections, and I look forward to catching up with a few titles we missed as they pop up on VOD throughout the year.

James and I will be doing a more exhaustive recap of our experience at the festival in early April (along with this week’s PATOIS Film Fest), but for now here’s a ranking of the few films we’ve seen that screened at the 2019 New Orleans French Film Festival. Each title includes a blurb and a link to a corresponding review. Enjoy!

La Belle et la Bête (1946) – “I cannot deny the visual splendor & fairy tale magic of Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête; it’s every bit of a masterpiece as it has been hyped to be, just a gorgeous sensory immersion that defines the highest possible achievements of its medium. What I didn’t know to expect, however, what its reputation as the defining Beauty and the Beast adaptation had not prepared me for, was that it would be so deliriously horny. La Belle et la Bête is more than just a masterpiece; it’s a Kink Masterpiece, which is a much rarer breed.”

Yellow is Forbidden (2019) – “The ambition of Guo Pei’s work and the importance of her outsider status in the fashion industry are enough to trigger an emotional response on their own merits, but what makes Yellow is Forbidden a great film is the way it attempts to match that significance in its own mood & artistry. It feels less like an academic document of a culturally significant artist than it does like a swooning, dizzying trip to a fine art museum where the designer’s work is on magnificent display.”

The Nun (1966) “This is a grim prison sentence of a motion picture, a harsh reminder of the punishment that awaits anyone born a woman under the ‘wrong’ circumstances. Although it’s never as overtly, sexually blasphemous as later arthouse nunsploitation pieces like the Ken Russell classic The Devils or the recent sex comedy The Little Hours, it’s not difficult to see why the Catholic Church pushed to have The Nun banned upon its initial release. Any brief flashes of joy, light, color, or relief detectable in the film are quickly stamped out by exploitation, guilt, and misogyny, all in the name of serving God and the Church.”

The Image Book (2019) – “What Godard is trying to say with this assemblage is anyone’s guess. He makes a somewhat clear-eyed distinction between the decadent wealth of the West and the war-torn poverty of the Middle East, but the narration itself is too loosely philosophical to put too fine a point on what he’s saying. Mostly, what comes through is the sadness & anger of an old man who’s getting weary of watching the world burn with no sign of substantial change to come, a frustration he’s eager to pass on to his (mostly Western) audience as punishment. It’s a bleak political treatise that supposes its audience is unworthy of any cinematic pleasure, even the comfort of a clear thesis or narrative.”

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #71 of The Swampflix Podcast: #NOFF2018

Welcome to Episode #71 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our seventy-first episode, Brandon and CC review the overwhelming list of oddball films they caught at this year’s New Orleans Film Fest: shorts, documentaries, and narrative features. Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– CC Chapman & Brandon Ledet

#NOFF2018 Ranked & Reviewed

Here we are almost a full month since the 29th annual New Orleans Film Festival has concluded and I’m finally gathering all of titles I caught at the fest in one spot. CC & I will be recording a more fleshed-out recap of our festival experience on a near-future episode of the podcast (Episode 71, due early December) – in case you’re interested in hearing about the goings-on at the handful of downtown theaters where the festival was held, the various short films that preceded some of those screenings, and the reasons why we suspect Vox Lux is going to be the mother! of 2018. This list is a more bare-bones kind of recap: a ranking from the best to the . . . least best of the features we managed to catch at this year’s festival. Each title includes a link to a corresponding review. Enjoy!

1. Vox LuxLike mother!, Vox Lux is a divisive, gleefully unsubtle work that gets outright Biblical in its internal, philosophical conflicts. It dares you to hate it, then asks for forgiveness. It spits in your face, then blows you a kiss.”

2. Pig Film “The degradation of the picture quality (as it was shot entirely on expired, second-hand film stock) combines with the grimy art-instillation surreality of its pig farm setting to establish an overriding sense of isolation & rot that feels more emotional & subliminal than overtly political. Human or not, our sole on-screen character is the last shred of humanity left stalking the mess of a planet we’ll soon leave behind, emptily mimicking the records of our behavior she finds in our rubble and converting that industrial garbage into beautiful song. It’s a gorgeous, grimy nightmare – a sinister poem.”

3. Chained for Life “At times eerie, howlingly funny, cruel, sweet, and disorienting, Chained for Life mines a lot of rich cinematic material out if its initial conceit of discussing Hollywood’s historic tradition of exploiting disabled & disfigured performers for gross-out scares & sideshow exploitation. Freaks isn’t the movie’s target so much as its jumping point, so that Browning’s self-contradictory act of empathetic exploitation is demonstrative of how disabled & disfigured people are represented onscreen at large.”

4. The Gospel of Eureka “The documentary finds its most satisfying groove in cutting back & forth between performances of the Gospel drag show & the Passion Play as they separately cycle through their respective routines. Performers on both sides apply their own make-up, lip-sync to pre-recorded soundtracks, and exaggerate their religious narratives to the point of over-the-top caricature – practically in unison thanks to editing room cross-cutting. More so than a shared passion for Biblical scholarship, they share a weakness for over-the-top pageantry; the only difference is that the drag end of the divide is self-aware of that commitment to camp & caricature, whereas the other end believes they’re merely being devout.”

5. United Skates “A documentary ‘about’ black skating rink culture that’s actually about how all pockets of black culture are policed & legislated out of existence in small, cumulative increments.”

6. Cane River (1982) – “Effectively a Romeo & Juliet love story without all that pesky tragedy & bloodshed getting it the way of its humor & romantic melodrama, Cane River is just as much of an escapist fantasy as it is a political screed & a historical document. The small-stakes love story at its center is so playfully sweet that it’s easy to frequently forget that it’s all in service of illustrating a culture clash within a geographically specific black community – one with implications of class & skin-tone discrimination with much larger cultural significance.”

7. Jules of Light and Dark“Dual coming of age stories— one for a smart kid in their early 20s and one for an overgrown man-child in their early 50s— are allowed to remain largely separate throughout Jules of Light and Dark, but they converge early when the fallout from ‘the last rave of the year’ leaves several characters in need of intensive post-trauma physical therapy. Estranged from their families because of their sexuality, our two disparate protagonists find unlikely kinship & emotional support in each other; their parallel tales of recovery are both quietly transformative, although never grand nor overachieving.”

8. Empty MetalEmpty Metal‘s greatest strength is in its direct, assertive call for violent uprising against vile real-life public figures. It’s a shame some of that direct, assertive messaging is lost in such a messy, loosely edited-together sci-fi narrative that just can’t muster up the enthusiastic momentum needed to match the energy of its politics.”

9. Nailed It “As fascinating, succinct, and stylish as Nailed It can be, the film never really transcends its limited means to become something especially great. It’s the kind of moderately successful documentary that gets by on the interest of its subject, when it has the promise to be so much more.”

10. This One’s for the Ladies . . . “As compelling (and visually interesting) as its subject matter can be, it’s undeniable that This One’s for the Ladies hits a wall somewhere in its brief 80min runtime. The pro wrestling & ball culture-style pageantry of the dance events never gets tiring, and the times the film documents the prurient pleasures therein it’s a hoot. Where it struggles to maintain that excitement is in the behind the scenes interviews with participants, which stray from discussing the dance event circuit to touch on issues of racial & economic inequality the film makes no point to explore in a distinct or substantive way.”

-Brandon Ledet