CC’s Top 10 Films of 2019

1. Swallow Although this will not get a wide release until later this year, I was so impressed with it at 2019’s New Orleans Film Fest that I feel like I need to gush about it now. It’s a horror film that perfectly captures the female experience, 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.

2. Midsommar Ever dated an absolute asshole? Ever dated someone you knew wanted to break up with you, but stuck around because you wanted to see how they’d end it, so you wait for them to do something as months & months go by? If so, this is the cathartic breakup horror you need in your life.

3. In Fabric A bleak, surrealistic story about a murderous dress that fully indulges in the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s a fun watch, but it also makes both fashion photography and corporate employers legitimately menacing.

4. The Last Black Man in San Francisco A powerful debut feature brimming with beautiful cinematography and compelling performances from distinctive non-professionals. Its broader themes touch on gentrification & race politics, but it also makes room to emphasize the power of storytelling & nostalgia. It’s a beautiful tale of an unlikely friendship, one that explores how the stories we tell about ourselves sustain us.

5. Parasite It’s a genuine phenomenon that such a savage commentary on class politics became so universally popular, packing theaters for months on end. Usually when filmmakers tackle class so furiously (like Boots Riley with Sorry to Bother You), they earn strong critical attention but not such widespread popularity. It’s been amazing to see.

6. Knife + Heart This is great smut, especially if you enjoy slashers. It really turns the usual male gaze & female victim empathy of that genre on its head in a fascinating way.

7. Come to Daddy A darkly fun, weirdly plotted film that went in totally surprising directions I did not expect. It also doesn’t hurt that Elijah Wood is super cute.

8. Aniara Based on a Swedish-language epic poem from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Aniara explores the futility of being alive and trying to build anything in the face of the vast emptiness of space and time. It’s deeply sad, but also deeply relatable.

9. Little Women Previous adaptations of Little Women (and even the novel itself) have been criticized for weighting their drama too heavily on the story’s opening childhood half, so that the adulthood drama of the second volume feels like a rushed afterthought. The remixed timelines of this adaptation allow director Greta Gerwig to draw beautiful parallels between both halves of the story and to highlight powerful moments & lines of dialogue that other adaptations tend to skip over. It’s the best version of the story to reach the screen yet.

10. Violence Voyager I’ve never seen anything animated quite like this before. The way it uses such a cute, handmade, feminine animation style to tell such a nasty story makes for a haunting juxtaposition. It’s beautiful, unique, and original, but its artistry also makes for a discordant clash with its grotesque subject matter. That accomplishment deserves more attention than what it’s getting. At the very least we should be keeping an eye on the filmmaker, who genuinely seems like a potential danger.

-CC Chapman

Brandon’s Top 20 Films of 2019

1. Midsommar A humorously traumatic nightmare-comedy about a Swedish cult’s destruction of a toxic romance that’s far outstayed its welcome. Its morbid humor, detailed costume & production design, and dread-inducing continuation of Wicker Man-style folk horror made for an intensely satisfying theatrical experience. Twice! (Thanks to an extended “Director’s Cut” that packed in an extra half hour of winking Jokes at the expense of its lead’s self-absorbed idiot boyfriend.)

2. In Fabric A tongue-in-cheek anthology horror about a killer dress. I loved every creepily kinky minute of this, but also a total stranger scolded me for laughing during our Overlook Film Fest screening because it is “not a comedy” so your own mileage may vary? If an arthouse take on the Killer Inanimate Object genre of films like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats sounds enticing, then you’d probably dig it. Just go in knowing that it’s okay to laugh.

3. Knife + Heart A cheeky giallo throwback set against a gay porno shoot in late 1970s Paris. Picture Dario Argento’s Cruising. And it only improves on repeat viewings, as the disjointed imagery from the protagonist’s psychic visions gradually start to mean something once you know how they’re connected, and not being distracted by piecing together the mystery of its slasher plot allows you to soak in its intoxicating sensory pleasures.

4. When I Get Home A feature-length music video from singer-songwriter Solange, presented as an “inter-disciplinary performance art film” and a companion piece to her album of the same name. It’s an R&B sci-fi acid Western portrait of black culture in Houston, reaching more for visual poetry than clear messaging or linear storytelling.

5. Us A surreal reimagining of C.H.U.D. that reflects & refracts ugly, discomforting truths about modern American class divides. Both of Jordan Peele’s feature films are self-evidently great, but I slightly prefer the nightmare logic looseness of this one to the meticulously calibrated machinery of Get Out – if not only because it leans more heavily into The Uncanny. It’s like getting twenty extra minutes to poke around in The Sunken Place.

6. Parasite A twisty, crowd-pleasing thriller about class resentment, with a particular focus on how Capitalism forces its lowliest casualties to fight over the crumbs that fall from on high. It’s been fascinating to watch this earn sold-out screenings & ecstatic critical praise for months on end as its distribution exponentially spreads, a true success story for weirdo populist cinema.

7. Climax A deranged dance party fueled by a lethal dose of LSD, packing in more death drops in its opening half hour than you’ll see in the entirety of Paris is Burning. Pretentious, obnoxious, “French and fucking proud of it” smut that leaves you just as miserable as the tripped-out dancers who tear each other apart on the screen.

8. Violence Voyager Easily the most bizarre & brutal release of the year. A gross-out gore middle ground between animation & puppetry with a haunted amusement park plot from a vintage Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.

9. Wounds The age-old tale of a New Orleans bartender’s battle with a haunted smartphone; also a grotesque look at a “functioning” alcoholic losing what little control he pretends to have over his life until all that’s left is rot. The low-50s aggregated ratings for this horror gem on Rotten Tomatoes & Metacritic can eat the roaches directly out of my ass. The imagery is legitimately scary, and it has a lot more going on thematically than it’s getting credit for. Clearly the most underrated film of the year.

10. Luz A lean demonic possession oddity with some real grimy 70s Euro horror throwback vibes. As a student thesis project with a small cast and just a few sparse locations, this should-be-mediocre genre exercise is the most unassuming indie gem of the year to achieve such a sublime must-see cinematic effect. A deranged, sweaty, deliriously horny nightmare that all demonic possession media strives for, but few titles ever achieve.

11. One Cut of the Dead A deceptively complex zombie comedy about a film crew who are attacked by the undead in the middle of a cheap-o horror production. This starts off quietly charming, then gets disorienting & awkward, then emerges as one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a theater in a long while. It requires a little patience, but the payoff is an incredibly successful love letter to low-budget filmmaking that makes the entire film feel retroactively brilliant.

12. Gully Boy A lengthy Indian melodrama about an aspiring street rapper in Mumbai rising to fame across class lines & familial roadblocks. It doesn’t necessarily do anything narratively or thematically that you wouldn’t expect, but it is astonishing in its refusal to pull political or emotional punches. It’s also a genuine miracle in finally allowing the world to enjoy the triumphs of 8-Mile without having to look at or listen to Eminem, something we sadly can’t always avoid.

13. Homecoming An incredibly ambitious concert film that documents both nights of Beychella, the most iconic live music performance of the 2010s. The cultural context for what Beyoncé is doing with this piece is rooted in celebrating HBCUs, but a lot of the sights & sounds are pure New Orleans Mardi Gras. The brass, the bounce, the dance troupes, the Solange of it all: I didn’t realize how much our local traditions were an extension of HBCU culture (or at least are seamlessly compatible with it) until I saw this film.

14. The Last Black Man in San Francisco A bizzaro Sundance drama about gentrification & friendship. Occupies an incredibly exciting dream space that filters anxiety & anger over housing inequality through classic stage play Absurdism touchstones like Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Wild, beautiful stuff doled out at a weirdly calming pace.

15. Aniara A surreal, existential descent into despair that processes the horrors of climate change through a space travel narrative. Initially plays as a much more conventional SyFy Channel version of High Life but eventually blossoms into its own blissfully bizarre object. Major bonus points: weirdo space cults, Gay Stuff, and a stunner of a lead performance from relative unknown Emelie Jonsson.

16. High Life Claire Denis delivers a much more divisive space travel chiller about climate change, one with a penchant for violence & abstraction. 100% feels like the director of Trouble Every Day launching her quietly fucked up little horror show into the furthest reaches of deep space – with all the narrative frustrations, ice cold cruelty, and disgust with the human body that descriptor implies.

17. The Lighthouse Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson costar as a lighthouse-keeper odd couple who gradually grow insane with hate & lust for each other. A black & white period drama crammed into a squared-off aspect ratio, this mostly functions as an unholy, horned-up mashup of Guy Maddin & HP Lovecraft. It’s also, somewhat unexpectedly, a total riot. Its tight frame is packed to the walls with more sex, violence, and broad toilet humor than you’d typically expect from high-brow Art Cinema.

18. The Beach Bum I was the only person laughing at my opening-weekend 4:20pm screening of this abrasive stoner-bummer, in which Matthew McConaughey plays a Florida-famous poet named Moondog. I was also the only person gasping in horror. Harmony Korine always works best when he reins his indulgences in with a little guiding structure, and this one does so by riffing on 90s Major Studio Comedy tropes to nightmarish success. It’s basically Korine’s Billy Madison, which I mean as a major compliment.

19. Diamantino Exposed to the existence of human suffering for the first time as an adult man, a sweet-sexy-idiot soccer star falls down a rabbit hole of political turmoil – like a gay porno version of Chauncey Gardner. This is a delightfully absurdist, satirical farce (taking wild, unsubtle jabs at the disasters of MAGA & Brexit in particular), bolstered by surreally cheap CGI and a peculiar sense of humor that alternates between wholesomeness & cruelty at a breakneck pace.

20. Lords of Chaos A playfully revisionist true-crime dramedy about the 1990s black metal band Mayhem, whose “breakup” story involved a spectacularly violent murder. Ruthlessly satirizes shithead metal nerds as trust fund brats with loving parents & purposeless suburban angst. Especially commendable for zapping all the supposed Cool out of the black metal scene’s infamous church burnings, bigotry, and animal cruelty by treating them as the edgelord posturing that they truly were.

-Brandon Ledet

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

It’s got to be difficult to make a concise, dramatic film about gentrification; it’s such a slow, gradual process that’s inflicted on modern cities in subtle, disorganized ways. The Last Black Man in San Francisco approaches the surreal experience of being gradually priced out of your city by millionaire yuppies in a way I’d never expect, but now seems almost obvious. Debut filmmaker Joe Talbot (along with his star, cowriter, and longtime friend Jimmie Fails) filters anger & anxiety over housing inequality through the classic stage play Existentialism of touchstones like Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. The film’s pair of dazed & displaced buddies (Fails & Jonathan Majors) haunt a city they’re no longer racially or financially welcome in, like ghosts stuck between planes of existence. Whether waiting for a bus, waiting for an eviction, or waiting for a miracle that’ll allow them to wait out San Francisco’s gentrification overhaul unscathed, they seem to be stuck in a classically Existential crisis of lapse in meaning & purpose. The movie leans into that eerily surreal sense of being dislodged from real life by allowing absurdist chaos to occasionally invade what is essentially a plotless hangout otherwise. It also makes its tonal connection to stage-play philosophy as explicit as possible – indulging in plenty “All the world’s a stage” & play-within-a-play narratives to drive the point home. It’s wild, beautiful, harrowing stuff doled out a weirdly calming, subdued pace – a perfect formal approach to an incorporeal topic that’s near-impossible to contain in a single picture.

Jimmie Fails stars as “Jimmie Fails,” a listless skateboarder who struggles to overcome a youth spent in group homes because of his parents’ addictions by reclaiming his San Franciscan childhood house in what is now a millionaire’s neighborhood. This starts with trespassing to repair the home with minor cosmetic upkeeps while it’s occupied by a gentrifying white couple who throw croissants at him and threaten to call the cops. It escalates when even those NPR yuppies are exiled from the skyrocketing-value property and Jimmie decides to squat in his nostalgic dream home with his best friend, a neurodivergent playwright played by Majors. Although they’re technically breaking the law by trespassing on the property, they act as caretakers for its minor upkeeps & repairs – showing more careful attention to its needs than they believe the privileged elite who can legally afford to live there would. Whether traveling to San Francisco from Oakland or palling around in their gorgeous inner-city squat, they spend much of the movie waiting for something to happen, existing in a temporal limbo. Busses, eviction notices, and confrontations with the property’s “rightful” owners all arrive later than they should, resulting in a bizarre overabundance of unstructured time. Jimmie’s playwright bestie fills a lot of that time by interpreting the solemn absurdity of their plight through the lens of a stage drama. The soapbox preacher who shouts indecipherable calls-to-arms by the Bay is the omniscient narrator; the shit-talkers on the sidewalk are the Greek chorus; and we, of course, are the perplexed audience.

Like all abstracted, philosophically-minded theatre, what makes The Last Black Man in San Francisco special can’t be summed up by the merits of its more pedestrian elements like plot or character development. This is a very patient film that casually searches for beauty, terror, and humor in the absurd. Somber jazz scores beautiful slow-motion portraits of local weirdos and their invading yuppie evictors with the gliding motion of skateboard cinematography. Mutated fish & hazmat suited government workers hint at a near-future dystopia of a polluted planet only the ultra-wealthy can afford to survive. Construction sites for land-gobbling condos are filmed with the horrific ambiance of Dracula’s lair, while traditional San Franciscan homes are framed like exquisite cathedrals. The movie is excitingly playful in how it depicts the horrors of gentrification displacing the very people who made the city enticing to outsiders in the first place – hurling GoPros through the air by The Bay and distorting California counterculture royalty like Jello Biafra & Joni Mitchel until they’re no longer recognizable. It laughs while coughing up blood and desperately grasping at a disappearing way of life, refusing to move on until it is gone entirely. It’s a shaggy, sprawling drama that admittedly loses a lot of its initial energy as the walls close in on its priced-out-of-existence besties. Still, it perfectly captures what it feels like to love a place so much you’re willing to hang out long past when the party is over, just to enjoy every possible minute there before it is demolished. It’s a quietly surreal, classically Existential film that can only cope with the helplessness of displacement by having a solemn laugh at the situation’s absurdity.

-Brandon Ledet