Britnee’s Top 20 Films of the 2010s

1. Hereditary (2018) – I can’t rave about this movie enough. Not only is it my favorite film of the decade, it’s one of my favorite films of all time.

2. Call Me By Your Name (2017) – A film that will literally transport you to the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy. This is by far the best romantic film to come out over the past decade. I will forever be in love the the slow-motion dance scene of Armie Hammer dancing to “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs. Elio + Oliver 4 Ever.

3. Dogtooth (2010) – This is first Greek film that I have ever seen as well as the first film I’ve seen by Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s a bizarre social experiment that is so damn dark. I hate that I love it so much, which is what I think Lanthimos was going for.

4. The Artist (2011) – A throwback to the silent, black and white era of filmmaking. This is proof that a film doesn’t need a whole lot of razzle-dazzle to achieve perfection.

5. The Queen of Versailles (2012) – Lauren Greenfield’s documentary about a disgustingly wealthy family’s journey to building the largest home in the USA during the 2008 economic crisis. This film shows the good, the bad, and the ugly of a broken family made up of garbage people.

6. Knife + Heart (2019) – Queer giallo set in the porn world of 1979 Paris. It’s all I ever wanted in a movie.

7. Mandy (2018) – How can one movie be so metal? It’s a jaw-dropping experience that left me extremely satisfied. This is proof that Nicolas Cage can seriously act.

8. Midsommar (2019) – Daytime cult horror that takes place in the beautiful open fields of Sweden. What’s not to love? Ari Aster is killing the movie game. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

9. Raw (2017) – Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film is a coming-of-age cannibal tale that I found to be strangely relatable. It has quite a few stomach-churning scenes that I still think about from time to time.

10. The Witch (2016) – The pinnacle of A24 horror. This is the film that gave us all the gift of Black Phillip, and I am forever grateful.

11. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) – When I don’t know what sort of movie I’m in the mood for, I pop in my DVD copy of The Hundred-Foot Journey and it always does the trick. This movie is always such a joy to watch and has a special place in my heart.

12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) – This film marked the end of the Harry Potter franchise, which is something that was a major part of my life since I was 9 years old. The standards for this movie were so high, and it exceeded every one of them.

13. The Shape of Water (2017) – I love that a romantic tale between a mute woman and a sexy fish man did so well at the 2018 Academy Awards.

14. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) – I love love love The Hobbit film trilogy. This is the one that started it all, and I still get goosebumps when I watch it.

15. Stranger by the Lake (2014) – I’ve only recently seen this within the past few months, but it immediately won me over. The majority of the film takes place on the side of a lake reserved for outdoor cruising, so it’s obviously a good time. What I loved the most is that it has some of the creepiest voyeuristic camera shots that I’ve ever seen in any film.

16. The Neon Demon (2016) – This movie is so stylish. I just want to wear it! It has quite a few disturbing scenes that I found to be unexpected. It’s fabulously fun trash.

17. Krisha (2015) – A heartbreaking film that takes place in the hell that is Thanksgiving with family. The director/writer, Trey Edward Shults, uses his real-life family and friends to play the characters in this film, so it feels extremely personal.

18. Souvenir (2016) – An older woman with a washed up singing career falls for a young, handsome boxer, and it all happens at a pâté factory! The story feels quite simple and nothing too insane happens, and I think that’s why I love it so much.

19. Black Swan (2010) – There’s nothing quite like a spooky ballerina movie. I still get full body chills when I watch Black Swan.

20. In Fabric (2019) – I love movies about killer inanimate objects. In Fabric gave me everything I could even want and more from a movie about a killer dress.

-Britnee Lombas

Brandon’s Top 25 Films of the 2010s

1. The Wild Boys (2018) – Adult femme actors play unruly young boys who are punished for their hedonistic crimes in a magical-realist fashion that violates their gender & sexuality. It looks like Guy Maddin directing a wet dream, and it has the nightmare logic of erotica written on an early 20th Century mushroom trip. Both beautifully & brutally old-fashioned in its newfangled deconstruction of gender.

2. 20th Century Women (2016) – An ensemble drama anchored by small, intimate performances that somehow covers topics as wide-ranging as punk culture solidarity, what it means to be a “good” man in modern times, the shifts in status of the American woman in the decades since the Great Depression, the 1980s as a tipping point for consumer culture, the history of life on the planet Earth, and our insignificance as a species in the face of the immensity of the Universe.

3. The Duke of Burgundy (2015) – The least commercial movie about a lesbian couple in a BDSM relationship possible. Although prone to cheeky pranksterism & confounding repetition, it excels both as an intentionally obfuscated art film and as a tender drama about negotiating the balance between romantic & sexual needs in a healthy relationship.

4. The Lure (2017) – A mermaid-themed horror musical that’s equal parts MTV & Hans Christian Andersen in its modernized fairy tale folklore. Far from the Disnified retelling of The Little Mermaid that arrived in the late 1980s, this blood-soaked disco fantasy is much more convincing in its attempts to draw a dividing line between mermaid animality & the (mostly) more civilized nature of humanity while still recounting an abstract version of the same story.

5. The Neon Demon (2016) – This neon-lit fairy tale of a young fashion model being swallowed up by The Industry is exquisite trash, the coveted ground where high art meets id-driven filth. It skips around an amoral minefield of female exploitation, competition, narcissism, and mystic power, but Nicolas Winding Refn makes the exercise so beautiful and so callously funny that those thematic discomforts amount to a joyful playground for intoxicatingly ill-advised ideas.

6. We Are the Flesh (2017) – A Buñuelian nightmare in which doomed siblings seek shelter from a post-Apocalyptic cityscape in a forbidden man-made cave of their own design. Disorients the eye by making grotesque displays of bloodshed & taboo sexuality both aesthetically pleasing and difficult to thematically pin down. The subtle psychedelia of its colored lights, art instillation sets, and unexplained provocative imagery detach the film from a knowable, relatable world to carve out its own setting without the context of place or time.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) – Tilda Swinton & Ezra Miller square off as a combative mother-son duo in a cerebral chiller about the scariest, least noble crises of parenting. Now that I’ve seen each of Lynne Ramsay’s features at least twice, I believe that a convincing argument could be made that any one of them are her career-best, but this remains the clear stand-out for me. One of the great works about the horrors of motherhood.

8. Upstream Color (2013) – Shane Carruth’s mind-control whatsit is the most impressively edited film of the decade, considering how it communicates an exponentially complex sci-fi narrative through a jumble of disjointed imagery and yet its basic outline is crystal clear for every minute you afford it your full attention. Its closed loop of human connection & subhuman exploitation is a deeply weird trip for as long as you allow yourself to remain under its spell.

9. Midsommar (2019) – 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 improved a lot of things I liked but didn’t love about Hereditary, quickly converting me into an Ari Aster devotee.

10. Double Lover (2018) – This erotic thriller’s doppelganger premise relies on a familiar template, but as it spirals out into total madness there’s no bounds to its prurient mania, which is communicated through an increasingly intense list of sexual indulgences: incest, body horror, gynecological close-ups, bisexual orgies, negging, pegging, “redwings,” erotic choking, and nightmarish lapses in logic that, frankly, make no goddamn sense outside their subliminal expressions of psychosexual anxiety.

11. Mandy (2018) – Less of a revenge thriller than it is a Hellish nightmare; a dream logic horror-show that drifts further away from the rules & sensory boundaries of reality the deeper it sinks into its characters’ trauma & grief. Nic Cage may slay biker demons & religious acid freaks with a self-forged axe in a neon-lit, alternate dimension 1980s, but this is not headbanging party metal. It’s more stoned-and-alone, crying over past trauma to doom riffs metal.

12. The Witch (2016) – A haunting, beautifully shot, unfathomably well-researched witchcraft horror with an authenticity that’s unmatched in its genre going at least as far back as 1922’s Häxan. It immerses its audience in 17th Century paranoia, making you feel as if fairy tales like “Hansel & Gretel” and folklore about wanton women dancing with the Devil naked in the moonlight are warnings of genuine threats, just waiting in the woods to pick your family apart and devour the pieces.

13. Black Swan (2010) – Darren Aronofsky amplifies the supernatural horror undertones of the classic ballet industry melodrama The Red Shoes to a giallo-esque fever pitch. A terrifying (even if familiar) tale of a woman who’s controlled & infantilized in every aspect of her life to the point of a total psychological break, confusing what’s “real” and what’s fantasy onscreen in the most unsettling way.

14. Your Name. (2017) – A post-Miyazaki anime that resurrects the 1980s body swap comedy template for a new, transcendent purpose. From its tale of star-crossed, long distance romantics to its mildly crude sexual humor, bottom of the heart earnestness, supernatural mindfuckery, and pop punk soundtrack, this was the distilled ideal of a teen fantasy film in the 2010s.

15. Dirty Computer (2018) – A feature-length anthology of music videos with a dystopian sci-fi wraparound, this “emotion picture” delivers on the genre film undertones promised in Janelle Monáe’s early pop music career while also advancing the visual album as a medium to a new modern high. It’s defiantly blunt in its tale of a queer black woman navigating an increasingly hostile world that targets Others in her position, to the point where a tyrannical government facility is literally draining the gay out of her in tubes of rainbow ooze before she rises against them in open bisexual rebellion.

16. Knife+Heart (2019) – 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.

17. Us (2019) – 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.

18. Stranger By the Lake (2014) – An explicit tale of a heavenly public beach’s gay cruising culture being disrupted by the world’s most gorgeous serial killer. Equally a despairing drama & an erotic thriller, conveying a melancholic dynamic between physical desire & intimate connection. Haunting in its exploration of how we’re subservient to our own lusts & erotic obsessions.

19. The Florida Project (2017) – Captures a rebellious punk spirit that laughs in the face of all authority & life obstacles among the children who run wild in the extended-stay slum motels just outside the Disney World amusement parks. Doesn’t dwell on or exploit the less-than-ideal conditions its pint-sized punks grow up in, even when depicting their most dire consequences; it instead celebrates the kids’ anarchic energy and refusal to buckle under the false authority of adults.

20. Boy (2012) – Taika Waititi’s best work to date is a deeply personal coming-of-age film. Perfectly captures the fantasy-prone imagination of young children’s minds in a way that feels wholly authentic & endearing. Also pulls off the neat trick of starting as a hilarious knee-slapper of a childhood-centered comedy, but then gradually laying on a series of escalating emotional wallops that leave you wrecked.

21. Wetlands (2014) – Most likely the cutest movie about an anal fissure you’ll ever see, this plays as if Marquis de Sade had written a formulaic 90s romcom. If there’s a particular bodily fluid, sexual act, or unsanitary pizza topping that you absolutely cannot handle this may not be the movie for you. However, like its 18-year-old protagonist Helen (expertly played by Carla Juri), the film’s hardened shock-value exterior is only a front for a big old softie lurking just under the surface.

22. Unfriended (2015) – This laptop-framed live chat horror flick is so ludicrously invested in its gimmickry that it comes off as a joke, but its commitment to the bit leads to genuinely chilling moments that remind the audience a little too much of our own digital experiences online. As a dumb horror flick filmed entirely from the first-person POV of a gossipy teen operating a laptop, it’s both more fun and way creepier than it has any right to be.

23. Girl Walk//All Day (2011) – Stealing its soundtrack & candid reactions from outside sources and operating around permitless film shoots, this Girl Talk fan video & modern dance showcase has an inherent sense of danger at its center, forfeiting its right to officially exist. Yet, its star dancer Anne Marsen broadcasts a childlike exuberance that overpowers its earthquake-shaky legal ground and should earn it the right to be officially exhibited out in the open—uncleared music samples or no—instead of suffering its current state of being periodically removed from sites like Vimeo & YouTube.

24. The Future (2011) – With the benefit of retrospect, Miranda July’s time-obsessed breakup drama feels like the official, miserable on-screen death of Twee Whimsy – which I mean as a compliment. It’s that hard post-youth stare in the mirror when you realize you’re not special and life is largely pointless & devoid of magic, a painful but necessary rite of passage.

25. Local Legends (2013) – Backyard filmmaker Matt Farley’s crowning achievement is essentially an infomercial for his own back catalog – tripling as a narrative feature, a documentary, and an essay film on the joys & embarrassments of amateur art production in the 2010s. Stunning in its bullshit-free self-awareness as a small-time regional artist’s self-portrait, something I strongly identify with as an amateur film blogger & podcaster in our own insular, localized community.

-Brandon Ledet

Keanu Reeves is a Most Excellent Asshole

Keanu Reeves is having a most excellent summer. Shortly after the pulpy sci-fi dud Replicas drifted through American theaters barely noticed, like a silent fart, Reeves has bounced back into audiences’ good graces with a triple onslaught of well-loved features. Between his starring roles in the increasingly popular action series John Wick 3 and his bit-part stunt-casting in Toy Story 4 & the straight-to-Netflix romcom Always Be My Maybe, it’s been a veritable Summer of Keanu. An actor that was one widely derided as being a one-note, rangeless goofball (especially in his earliest castings in period dramas) is finally getting his due as a loveable, enigmatic screen presence that’s been putting in great work in risky projects for three decades now – an action star of the people.

All of this Keanu love has spilled over from adoration of his work into a rhapsodic appreciation of his real-life persona. This is the year Keanu was officially declared to be The Internet’s Boyfriend, with unusually positive online warmth expressed for how often he works with female directors, how respectful he is of women’s personal space during photo ops, and his loyalty to his martial arts collaborators from his earliest days as an action star. Whatever affection we felt for the endlessly watchable goofball in the relatively ancient days of the Sad Keanu meme has now built to a raging forest fire of online lust & obsession, to the point where we’re even intently listening to his personal philosophy on Death & The Afterlife. You can feel it here locally too, where set photos of a (newly beardless) Keanu during local shoots for Bill & Ted Face the Music has people vibrating with pure love for him (when not concerned about his safety running around in the New Orleans summer heat).

The only downside to all this pure, gushing Keanu love is that it emphasizes how valuable he is as an aloof West Coast heartthrob with an adorable stoner demeanor. Part of the reason we think of Keanu Reeves as a one-note actor is because his early success as Ted Theodore Logan forever typecast him as an adorable bimbo. He’s gradually been able to divert that loveably aloof screen presence into an unlikely career as an action star, but it’s not the only mode Keanu Reeves can play. In fact, some of his most effective, memorable turns onscreen have been against type as monstrous, unrepentant assholes. By all accounts, Keanu Reeves is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful person in real life. He can be a world-class villain when we set him loose onscreen, though, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have the opportunity more often.

Listed below are five stand-out roles where Keanu Reeves excelled at playing a garbage human being, despite his loveable real-life persona. There weren’t many options to choose from (especially if you don’t include grey area selections like his unscrupulous lawyer in The Devil’s Advocate or his adulterous DJ dad in Knock Knock). I’m also ashamed to admit that I didn’t seek out personal blindspots like Much Ado About Nothing (in which he plays a dastardly rogue) and The Watcher (in which he plays a serial killer) before writing this. Still, I believe this quick list of villains Keanu Reeves characters can alone serve as proof that The Internet’s Boyfriend can be an effective, chilling creep when given the chance. He’s more than just a pretty face and a kind stoner-philosopher soul. The man has range. He can be a total asshole.

1. The Neon Demon (2016) – Keanu’s vilest scumbag might be his bit role and Nicolas Winding Refn’s fashion-world art-horror satire. In the film he plays an unforgivable sleazy motel manager in the dingiest corner of LA, preying on the underage runaways who hide away from their parents & obligations while chasing dreams of being a star. There aren’t many things in this world that can make Keanu Reeves grotesque in our adoring eyes, but hearing him advertise access to a young girl’s body as “Real Lolita Shit” will just about do it.

2. The Gift (2000) – The only title I can conjure where Keanu’s anywhere near as despicable as he is in The Neon Demon is his turn as an abusive husband in Sam Raimi’s psychic-visions murder mystery The Gift. He’s powerfully despicable as an alcoholic wife-beater in this sweaty, supernatural thriller. Plus, you get the added bonus of seeing him play a caricature of poor Southerners so broad it would feel at home in an (uncharacteristically dark) SNL sketch.

3. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) – One of the most conveniently concise visualizations you’re likely to see of Keanu acting against type in these villain roles is the one where he gets to villainize himself. In the unhinged, absurdist sequel to the popular 80s time-travel comedy, Keanu plays both Ted Logan and his evil robot doppelganger, who kills the “real” Ted early in the first act. It’s remarkable to watch how easily Keanu curdles Ted’s mannerisms into something so, so very punchable in the dual role (but not too remarkable if you keep in mind the real Bill & Ted’s alarming comfort with homophobic slurs).

4. The Bad Batch (2016) – I wasn’t especially in love with Anna Lili Amapour’s daylight cannibal horror when I reviewed it, but Keanu’s role as the film’s big-bad does stand out as one of its highlights. In the film, he plays a Jim Jones-style cult leader who exploits the devotion of his followers for sexual satisfaction & greedy financial gain. It’s terrifying to think about, since the real-life Keanu could easily rope us all into a desert-dwelling drug cult if he really wanted to. Easy.

5. Always Be My Maybe (2019) – Like with The Bad Batch, I had major problems with the tone & structure of this straight-to-Netflix romcom – which was shot & edited with all the auteurist passion of an overlit Burger King commercial. Still, it’s worth watching for Keanu Reeves’s stuntcasting as “Keanu Reeves,” an extensive cameo where he mercilessly makes fun of his own public persona by making himself out to be an out-of-touch, ultra-wealthy douchebag. Yes, Keanu is The Internet’s Boyfriend, but like most boyfriends he has the capacity to be a total tool.

-Brandon Ledet

Puzzle of a Downfall Demon

In terms of its structure, tone, and imagery, the 1970 mental breakdown drama Puzzle of a Downfall Child is a daring, singular creation. Inspired by real-life interviews with a mentally fraught fashion model and filtered through her distorted recollection of real-life events, the film conjures a dissociative space between reality & fiction. Faye Dunaway is, on a practical level, the most unreliable narrator imaginable as a fashion model who can’t even trust her own recollection of past events, since her mind often defensively softens or alters the truth to protect itself. Her narration doesn’t sync up with the logic of the imagery it accompanies, and the exact nature of the Patriarchal trauma that snapped her mind is only vaguely hinted at as the film expresses her mental anguish through giallo-flavored sensory experimentations. For all that dissociative play in form & tone, however, the basic premise of the story it tells is an echo of a fairly ubiquitous trope in Hollywood narratives. This story of a beautiful, naïve young woman being chewed up & spit out by the entertainment industry is a classic template in mainstream filmmaking. From the sappy melodrama of The Valley of the Dolls to the twisted, excessive camp of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the story of Fame destroying a young starlet’s mind & body has seen an expansive range of cinematic interpretations. As formally daring as Puzzle of a Downfall Child can be, the macro view of its basic plot is yet another entry in that expansive canon.

Curiously, the best example I can think of where a film actively subverted the power dynamics of this trope is also specifically set in the fashion industry. My favorite film of 2016, The Neon Demon, was yet another entry into the woman-destroyed-by-fame canon, but it actively disrupts the usual power imbalances of the “genre.” Much like Faye Dunaway’s troubled protagonist in Puzzle of a Downfall Child (and hundreds of other fictional starlets besides), Elle Fanning stars in The Neon Demon as a young fashion model with big dreams and empty pockets. The wolves of the fashion industry – photographers, designers, agents, makeup artists, other models, etc. – surround her with ravenous intent in all the traditional ways, but what The Neon Demon engages with that most other adoptions of this genre template don’t is that there is a power inherent to that attraction. Elle Fanning plays the typical corrupted fashion model archetype in the film, right down to a violently tragic end, except that she acknowledges and shamelessly revels in the power her youth & beauty afford her in the industry. She warns, “I’m not as helpless as I look,” and often gains confidence & power in her lengthy stares into the mirror. When a fellow model asks, “What does it feel like to walk into the room and it’s the middle of winter and you’re the Sun,” she responds, “It’s everything.” Other characters around her pontificate “True beauty is the highest commodity we have,” and “Beauty isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” even going as far as to single her out among other models as “a diamond in a sea of glass.” While most destroyed-by-fame narratives portray their gorgeous damsel protagonists as naïve & innocent, The Neon Demon mischievously plays around with the idea that there’s a power inherent to their alluring beauty, even if the result is ultimately the same.

As perversely fascinating as it is to see the young-starlet-in-peril enjoy the power her own beauty affords her in one of these pictures, it’s important to keep in mind that The Neon Demon is still honest about how outweighed & outnumbered its protagonist is in her industry. Just like in Puzzle of a Downfall Child, she’s immediately negged for her body (this time for a lack of plastic surgery) and her perceived naïvete. Her agent says, “I think you’re perfect. I would never say you’re fat,” in their very first meeting. She’s alone with no money and no social safety net in a motel run by a pedophilic rapist (Keanu Reeves playing drastically against type). There’s no explanation of her backstory and how she arrived in Hollywood with no family to speak of, but it’s not too difficult to her imagine her homelife was just as abusive as the one hinted at in Puzzle of a Downfall Child. As it also plays out in that film, the one acquaintance she considers to be a friend (a lesbian make-up artist played by Jena Malone) pressures her for selfish sexual gratification instead of getting her the help she needs. She’s hounded from all directions, to the point where a literal, honest-to-God mountain lion appears in her bed, read to devour her. The difference between that hounded-from-all-sides pressure in this fashion model tragedy vs. how it’s handled in Puzzle of a Downfall Child is that Elle Fanning’s character isn’t afforded enough time to have a psychological break. Instead, she’s devoured alive by a supernatural world of vampires, cannibals, witchcraft, and necrophilia. That sounds like a pretty major difference on paper, but the overall effect of her arc is largely the same: a young, damaged woman tries to make a life for herself as an artist in the fashion industry and is unfairly destroyed for that ambition. Her resulting destruction just fluctuates between the mental and the physical, depending on the example.

In our original conversation about Puzzle of a Downfall Child, I mentioned that “Between its thematic discomforts, its deliberately disorienting relationship with logic, and its gorgeous visual palette, it’s practically a couple brutal stabbings short of being a giallo film.” Perhaps Blood and Black Lace would be the best place to look for a pure-giallo take on the fashion industry, but The Neon Demon follows Puzzle of a Downfall Child’s exact narrative template while fully indulging in the excesses of horror cinema: supernatural occultist threats, intense neon crosslighting, bathtubs brimming with blood & gore, etc. While pushing the narrative of Puzzle of a Downfall Child into a full-blown horror aesthetic, it also plays around with the traditional power dynamics of that story template in perversely exciting ways. They make for deeply fucked up, disturbing sister films in that way – high fashion descents into madness & bloodshed.

For more on June’s Movie of the Month, the 1970 mental breakdown drama Puzzle of a Downfall Child, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Cross-Promotion: The 2016 Phantom Awards on The Bangers n’ Mash Show

inaworld

I was recently invited to contribute to The Bangers n’ Mash Show’s annual Phantom Awards episode to once again highlight the Best Films of 2016. According to the episode description, “Mr. Bangers and Mr. Mash welcome the new year with [their] annual tradition: The Phantom Awards! As [they] do every January, [they] gather to give awards out to the best sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films of the previous year.” I submitted a few audio clips to the episode along with several other contributors (including Crushed Celluloid’s Marcus Jones) to throw some much deserved praise towards the Kevin Spacey talking cat comedy Nine Lives, the under-seen home invasion thriller Emelie, and my beloved The Neon Demon.

Give a listen to the 2016 Phantom Awards below! And if you like what you hear, give a listen to more episodes of The Bangers ‘n Mash Show on their YouTube playlist.

-Brandon Ledet

Brandon’s Top Films of 2016

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1. The Neon Demon -At once Nicolas Winding Refn’s most beautiful work to date and his most deliberately off-putting, The Neon Demon is consistently uncomfortable, but also intensely beautiful & surprisingly humorous. It’s exquisite trash, the coveted ground where high art meets uncivilized filth. Months later my eyeballs are still bleeding from its stark cinematography & my brain is still tearing itself in half trying to find somewhere to land on its thematic minefield of female exploitation, competition, narcissism, and mystic power. It’s tempting to reduce this achievement to descriptions like “the fashion world Suspiria” or “the day-glo Black Swan,” but the truth is that the work is 100% pure, uncut Refn. For better or for worse, this will be the title that solidifies him as an auteur provocateur, likening him to other technically-skilled button pushers like De Palma, Friedkin, Verhoeven, Von Trier, Ken Russell, and, why not, Russ Meyer. Like all the madmen provocation artists that have come before him, Refn stumbles while handling any semblance of nuance in the proudly taboo subjects he gleefully rattles like a curious toddler, but he makes the exercise so beautiful & so callously funny that it’s difficult to sour on the experience as a whole. Instead, you mull over provocations like The Neon Demon for days, months, years on end, wrestling with your own thoughts on what you’ve seen and how, exactly, you’re supposed to feel about it.

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2. Tale of Tales – It’s sometimes necessary to remind yourself of the immense wonder & dreamlike stupor a great movie can immerse you in and Tale of Tales does so only to stab you in the back with a harsh life lesson (or three) once you let your guard down. The film is crawling with witches, ogres, giant insects, and the like that all make magic feel just as real and as dangerous as it does in The Witch, albeit with a lavish depiction of wealth in its costume & set design the latter can’t match in its more muted imagery. It’s beautiful, morbidly funny, brutally cold, everything you could ask for from a not-all-fairy-tales-are-for-children corrective. Its three tales all stand separately strong & immaculate on their own, but also combine to teach its characters/victims (and, less harshly, its audience) about the dangers & evils of self-absorption. Tale of Tales fearlessly alternates between the grotesque & the beautiful, the darkly funny & the cruelly tragic. Its cinematography as well as its set & costume design will make you wonder how something so delicately pretty can be so willing to get so spiritually ugly at the drop of a hat (or a sea beast’s heart).

3. Hail, Caesar! – A smart, star-studded, intricately-plotted, politically & theologically thoughtful, genuinely hilarious, and strikingly gorgeous movie about The Movies. Much like with Barton Fink, the Coens look back to the Old Hollywood studio system in Hail, Caesar! as a gateway into discussing the nature of what they do for living as well as the nature of Nature at large. In the process, they perfectly capture Old Hollywood’s ghost. Every classic genre I can think of makes an appearance here: noir, Westerns, musicals, synchronized swimming pictures, religious epics, tuxedo’d leading man dramas, etc. Audiences sometimes forget that these types of films weren’t always physically degraded, so it’s shocking to see the beautiful costuming & set design achievements of the era recreated & blown up large in such striking clarity at a modern movie theater. Hail, Caesar! is not only worthwhile for being loaded with these beautiful tributes to Old Hollywood, however; it’s also pretty damn hilarious in a subtle, quirky way that I think ranks up there with the very best of the Coens’ comedic work, an accolade I wouldn’t use lightly.

4. Kubo and the Two Strings – Inspired by Japanese folklore & the rich cinematic past of samurai epics, the latest masterful offering from the stop-motion animation marvels Laika is at heart a story about the power of storytelling & the ways memory functions like potent magic. Kubo and the Two Stings is an overwhelming triumph in its attention to detail in visual & narrative craft. The film’s giant underwater eyeballs, Godzilla-sized Harryhausen skeleton, and stone-faced witches are just as terrifying as they are awe-inspiringly beautiful and I felt myself tearing up throughout the film just as often in response to its immense visual spectacle as its dramatic implications of past trauma & familial loss. The film allows for a darkness & danger sometimes missing in the modern kids’ picture, but balances out that sadness & terror with genuinely effective humor about memory loss & untapped talent. What’s really impressive, though, is its efficiency in storytelling. There isn’t a single image or element at play, from a woven bracelet to a paper lantern to an insectoid buffoon, that doesn’t come to full significance if you lend the film enough patience. Kubo and the Two Stings could’ve easily rested on the laurels of its visual spectacle, a result of infinite hours of painstakingly detailed labor in an animation studio, but it instead pours just as much care & specificity into its reverence for storytelling as a tradition.

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5. The Witch – A haunting, beautifully shot, impossibly well-researched witchcraft horror with an authenticity that’s unmatched in its genre going at least as far back as 1922’s Häxan. This movie has many virtues outside the simple question of whether or not it was scary, but yes, The Witch succeeds there as well. At times it can be downright terrifying. Depicting the unraveling of a small Puritan family at the edge of the New England wilderness in the 17th Century, The Witch makes it clear very early on that its supernatural threat is not only real, but it’s also really fucked up. It transports the audience to the era, making you feel as if fairy tales like “Hansel & Gretel” and folklore about wanton women dancing with the devil naked in the moonlight might actually be real threats, just waiting in the woods to pick your family apart & devour the pieces. It’s not the usual terror-based entertainment you’d pull from more typical horrors about haunted houses or crazed killers who can’t be stopped, but it is a significantly more rewarding film than strict genre fare can often be when it too closely plays by modern rules.

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6. The Fits – Writer-director Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature isn’t a standard coming of age drama or a medical thriller or a supernatural horror, so much as a supernatural occurrence of divine transcendence. The Fits sidesteps strict genre classification by aiming more for a loosely menacing art house tone than a traditional A-B story structure. Though, even if The Fits were a more standard coming of age narrative about a young girl deciding between the rigidly gender-divided realms of dance & boxing at her local gym, Royalty Hightower’s stoic lead performance & the camera’s striking sense of symmetry would still make the exercise more than worthwhile. As is, it’s quietly bizarre, seemingly supernatural territory that’s bound to leave a lasting effect on you whether or not you’re on board with its ultimate destination, an act of strange majesty that’s sure to divide audiences in its swing-for-the-fences ambition.

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7. High-Rise – Adapted from a novel by J.G. Ballard, the madman who penned the source material for Cronenberg’s Crash, High-Rise is a modern reflection of 1970s anxieties about “luxury lifestyle” commodity & spiritually-erosive consumer culture as funneled through an aggressive, vague menace of existential dread. The film posits the modern consumer as a “bio robot,” a soulless machine who cannot function without their various devices of “convenience.” High-Rise’s never-ending consumerist party starts from a seemingly dangerous, chaotic place and gets even more wild & savage from there, expanding the scope of its hedonism & cruelty to a months’ long descent into the darkness of the human soul. I’ve seen plenty movie parties go out of bounds before, but this is the one that most convincingly sets fire to the path back to civilization in the process. It’s an entirely unique obliteration of the thin line that separates the modern consumer from the wild, bloodthirsty beast, a rare nightmare of a good time.

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8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Taika Waititi is on a wicked hot streak. His 2007 debut Eagle vs Shark wasn’t half bad as an off-center romantic comedy, but his last three films (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, and now Hunt for the Wilderpeople) are pretty much perfect works. In its best moments, Wilderpeople very nearly tops Boy for Waititi’s best to date, mixing small, endearing character beats with the large scale spectacle of a big budget action comedy. Many people have rightly latched onto this adventure epic as one of the most consistently funny comedies of the year (with a surprisingly gruff comedic turn from Sam Neill registering as especially cherishable). One thing I haven’t heard enough of a fuss over yet, though, is how great the music is, from the novelty of the “Ricky’s Birthday” jingle to the legitimate action movie sounds of tracks like “Ricky Runs.” If it weren’t for The Neon Demon’s surreally intense synth submersions, it’d be an easy pick for soundtrack of the year for me.

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9. Midnight Special – Mirroring the best eras of sci-fi cinema giants Steven Spieldberg & John Carpenter, Midnight Special is massive enough in its imagination & awe-inspiring mystery to establish Jeff Nichols as one of the best young talents in the industry today. This may be the director’s most ambitious work to date in terms of scale, but he’s smart to keep the individual parts that carry the hefty, supernatural mystery of its narrative just as small & intimate as he has in past familial dramas like Mud & Shotgun Stories. An incredible work with a near-limitless scope, it’s one built on an intricately detailed foundation of grounded, believable worldbuilding & old-fashioned character work. Midnight Special may allow its ideas to outweigh its emotion in a general sense, but you never lose sight that these are real people struggling with an unreal situation.

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10. NerveThis teeny bopper millennial version of The Running Man is the single most aggressively feminine action thriller I can ever remember seeing. Nerve uses its killer smart phone app technophobia premise to create something really fun & truly memorable without devolving into so-bad-it’s-good schlock. Although the film’s premise of teens competing for social media fame through a hideously self-described “game of truth or dare without the truth” obviously carries a lot of millennial-shaming baggage in its basic DNA, Nerve‘s secret weapon is in how it celebrates teen-specific adventurousness within that digital-age moralizing. The film manages to Trojan horse a surprisingly potent coming of age narrative inside a tawdry action thriller shell, presenting a fantasy world where technology actually makes people more adventurous instead of more insular.

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11. The Dressmaker – There’s so much to love about The Dressmaker, but its most admirable quality is its minute-to-minute unpredictability. The film has obvious fun with the general structure of a Western & plays with the campy tones of an absurdist comedy, but it zigs where you expect those genres’ tropes to zag and much of its third act is an anything-goes free-for-all where the only thing that’s certain is that Kate Winslet is a badass and you’d be a fool to vex her. At once a violent camp comedy and a heartfelt melodrama, the film plays like 90s-era John Waters remaking Strictly Ballroom as a revenge tale Western where lives are destroyed by pretty dresses instead of bullets. If I were ever going to fall in love with a movie that could even vaguely be considered a Western, this formula would be my personal ideal. It’s violent, it’s campy, it’s unpredictable, it’s commanded by the female gaze; The Dressmaker is everything I love about cinema at large crammed into the mold of a genre that usually puts me to sleep.

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12. The Nice Guys – If I had to assign The Nice Guys an exact genre I’d be tempted to classify it as “sleaze noir.” A miracle of Frankensteined movie science, the film’s general aesthetic lies somewhere between Lethal Weapon & Boogie Nights, an unlikely tonal mashup resulting from its cartoonishly violent detective work set against a 1970s California porn industry backdrop. Alternating between slapstick cruelty & genuinely devastating displays of brutality, The Nice Guys finds a dangerously fun & wicked mode of entertainment that I’m not sure Shane Black has ever topped before. It’s a solid, accessible base that even leaves room for more surreal inclusions like unicorns, mermaids, and gigantic insects among its more straightforward gags. Black understands exactly what genre toys he’s playing with, but retools them all to create his own distinct work with an incredibly strong, idiosyncratic comedic voice. This is a movie made by a passionate nerd who loves watching movies and that affection is immediately obvious in every scene. The call is coming from inside the audience.

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13. Zootopia – This animated Disney film isn’t exactly about racism or sexism or any other specific kind of institutionalized prejudice. Zootopia instead addresses all of these issues in a more vaguely-defined, all-purpose dichotomy (kind of the way The X-Men have been metaphorically worked into all kinds of social issue metaphors over the decades). Zootopia is at its smartest when it vilifies a broken institution that has pitted the talking animals that populate its CG concrete jungle against one another instead of blaming the individuals influenced by that system for their problematic behavior. A lesser, more simplistic film would’ve introduced an intolerant, speciesist villain for the narrative to shame & punish. Zootopia instead points to various ways prejudice can take form even at the hands of the well-intentioned. The attention to detail in its setting, the narrative stakes of its central mystery, and the overall theme of the ways institutionalized prejudice can corrupt & destroy our personal relationships all amount to a truly special, seemingly Important film.

14. Moonlight – Besides functioning as a queer narrative about how homosexual desire violently clashes with traditional ideas of black masculinity in the modern world, Moonlight also works as a coming of age & self-acceptance story for a single man who’s forced to navigate & survive that clash. A large part of what saves the film from dramatic banality is its basic structure as a triptych. We see our protagonist as a child, a teenager, and an adult man. Narrowing down Chiron’s life to these temporal snapshots allows us to dive deep into the character instead of casually empathizing from the surface. Director Barry Jenkins somehow, miraculously finds a way to make this meditation on self-conflict, abuse, loneliness, addiction, and homophobic violence feel like a spiritual revelation, a cathartic release. So much of this hinges on its visual abstraction. We sink into Chiron’s dreams. We share in his romantic gaze. Time & sound fall out of sync when life hits him like a ton of bricks, whether positively or negatively. What could have been a potentially middling, by the books queer drama avoids woe & despair mediocrity to instead find an ultimately life-affirming adoption of Under the Skin levels of visual & aural abstraction. It’s nothing short of mesmerizing.

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15. The Handmaiden – An erotic lesbian crime thriller with meticulous dedication to craft and a Tarantino-esque celebration of crime & revenge narratives, The Handmaiden is a gleefully tawdry art piece. Park Chan-Wook’s latest takes great delight in its own narrative cleverness, but also constructs a strong enough visual foundation for its flashy storytelling style to shine instead of annoy. A cherry blossom tree, an octopus, a coiled rope, an ink-stained tongue; The Handmaiden is first & foremost an achievement in intense costume & set design, which allows for plenty of room to accommodate its deliberately twisty crime story in which the audience is continually conned into believing half-truths depending on the minute-to-minute revelations of its various narrators, anxiously awaiting the next rug pull to knock us on our ass. If it were a little uglier or if its bigger reveals were held until its final moments, its tonal balancing act might have crumbled disastrously. Fortunately, it’s carefully calibrated to be too fun & too beautiful to resist.

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16. 10 Cloverfield Lane – A tense, horror-minded thriller about the monstrous spirit lurking within doomsday prepper culture, 10 Cloverfield Lane locks its audience in the basement with a small cast of fearful apocalypse survivors collectively suffering under the power dynamics of the cycles of abuse. It not only clouds the truth about what exact outside force is looming as a threat over its proceedings, but also introduces a complexly monstrous threat from within the characters’ ranks that is simultaneously abusive, protective, and difficult to understand. The film’s woman-in-captivity terror is far from unique, but the way its Stockholm syndrome familial bonds & doomsday prepper cultural context complicate that narrative allows it to crawl under your skin in a way that its 2008 found footage predecessor never even approached. 10 Cloverfield Lane shook me, surprised me, and confirmed my deepest fears about “survival” nuts’ ugly thirst for post-apocalyptic power grabs.

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17. Shin Godzilla – The latest entry in the longest-running film series of all time is very much reminiscent of its source material’s 1954 origins, a governmental procedural about Japan’s response to a seemingly unstoppable force of Nature ignited by nuclear fallout. Instead of recreating that exact scenario in a drab modern action movie context, however, Shin Godzilla completely shifts its genre towards kinetic political satire. The film barrels through its ambitious political topics with the quick pace absurdism of a modern comedy and the inventive framing & mixed medium experimentation of a modern indie monster movie. It’s an incredibly thoughtful, energetic work that will stick with you longer than any non-stop-Godzilla-action visual spectacle could. As always, there will be inevitable complaints that there isn’t enough Godzilla in this Godzilla movie, but when the human half of the story is as smartly funny & pointedly satirical as it is here, that line of griping rings as especially hollow. This is Godzilla done exactly right.

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18. Arrival – To convey its story about two species, human and alien, learning to communicate with one another by the gradual process of establishing common ground between their two disparate languages, Arrival similarly has to teach its audience how to understand what they’re watching and exactly what’s being communicated. This is a story told through cyclical, circular, paradoxical logic, a structure that’s announced from scene one, but doesn’t become clear until minutes before the end credits and can’t be fully understood until at least a second viewing. This rewiring of audience perception takes a little patience before it reaches a significant payoff and it’s one I expect is better appreciated when experienced rather than explained. Once you learn the film’s language, though, you start to understand that it was never a straightforward story to begin with, that it was always just as strange as the places it eventually takes you in its final act. Whether or not you’ll be interested in that proposition depends largely on your patience for that kind of non-traditional, non-linear payoff in your cinematic entertainment.

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19. Swiss Army Man –At once an unconventional love story, a road trip buddy comedy, and an indie pop musical about a farting corpse with a magical boner, Swiss Army Man is loaded with feel-good scatological bleakness & divine absurdity. The director duo Daniels first cut their teeth helming music videos and it shows in their reverence for this film’s Animal Collective-style soundtrack, which bleeds beautifully into the narrative with a significant sense of thematic purpose. A teary-eyed journey featuring a farting corpse & an unlikely budding romance, the Daniels’ long-form cinematic prank is genuinely fun & free-flowing from front to end, even when it’s fixated on morbid topics like how the human body relieves itself & becomes organic garbage the second it dies.

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20. Girl Asleep – Romantic awkwardness, papier-mâché costumes, animated album covers & photographs, piles of origami birds: Girl Asleep is sure to roll many an eye in its Etsy shop dreamscape. Personally, I can’t relate to anyone who would dismiss a film outright for being this intensely manicured in its visual palette, yet impressively loose in its blurred divide between reality & fantasy. Often, when movies choose to incorporate dreamscape surrealism into the personal growth crises of their protagonists, they’re careful to distinguish a barrier between the two realms. Girl Asleep waves off the necessity of those barriers with an infectiously flippant confidence. It allows its choreographed disco freakouts & Moonrise Kingdom costumes to bleed into its real world high school melodrama, filtering the nerve-racking expectations & pressures of “becoming a woman” through a handmade surrealist fantasy realm. The results are consistently endearing, surprising, and ambitiously unhinged.

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HM. Lemonade – Beyoncé has been going through a spiritual growth spurt in the last few years where she’s struggling to break away from her long-established persona of top-of-the-world pop idol to reveal a more creative, vulnerable persona underneath. Her recent “visual album” Lemonade feels like a culmination of this momentum, a grand personal statement that cuts through her usual “flawless” visage to expose a galaxy of emotional conflicts & spiritual second-guessings the world was previously not privy to. It’s at times a deeply uncomfortable experience, as if you’re reading someone’s diary entries or poetry as they stare you down. However, it can also be an empowering & triumphant one, particularly when it aims at giving a voice to the underserved POV of being a young black woman in modern America.

-Brandon Ledet

The Neon Demon (2016)

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The drastic reds, blues, and purples of The Neon Demon‘s opening title card scream “Suspiria!” before the film’s lush synth score & vague witchcraft horrors can even beat you over the head with that influence. The film’s colorless voids & glacial pace whisper “Under the Skin” just faintly enough to give you goosebumps. You can feel Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion lurking in the film’s gleefully predatory sex & violence, as well as its deliberate moral provocations (and, oddly enough, its wallpaper patterns). There’s a touch of Black Swan lurking in its abstraction of female competition & psychological break. There’s more than a hint of Mulholland Drive in its stubbornly auteurist nightmare logic. Blood & Black Lace is woven into the fabric of its fashion world style-over-substance aesthetic. Lesser, trashier works also lodge themselves in the film’s DNA, as cherry-picked elements of It Follows, Lost River, Maps to the Stars, #horror, and, you guessed it (no you didn’t) Tron: Legacy are strategically repurposed for entirely new, entirely terrifying effect. The Neon Demon is unlike anything I’ve seen before in that it’s the best of everything I’ve seen before, just masterfully reshaped & distorted into an exquisitely beautiful work of art with a deeply ugly, predatory soul. I’m at once disgusted by and in total awe of what Nicolas Winding Refn has accomplished here and I revel in the unease of that conflict.

The closest Refn will likely ever come to directing a crowdpleaser was 2011’s Drive, a sleek Ryan Gosling vehicle that explored the seedy world of Los Angeles stunt men & mafia types (as well as the hypnotic spell of body language flirtation). His followup, Only God Forgives, seemed to intentionally push his newfound audience away, presenting an all-dressed-up-with-nowhere-to-go art house take on the revenge thriller by surgically removing all the genre thrills that exploitation formula promises in favor of well-crafted emptiness. The Neon Demon seems intent to split the difference between those two extremes. It is at once Refn’s most beautiful work to date and his most deliberately off-putting (though the silent masculinity of Valhalla Rising makes it a close call on that latter point). His eye returns to the neon-lit, synth-soaked Los Angeles of Drive, but brings the violently ugly, corrupted soul of Only God Forgives along for the ride. It’s tempting to reduce The Neon Demon to descriptions like “the fashion world Suspiria” or “the day-glo Black Swan,” but the truth is that the work is 100% pure, uncut Refn. For better or for worse, this will be the title that solidifies him as an auteur provocateur, likening him to other technically-skilled button pushers like De Palma, Friedkin, Verhoeven, Von Trier, Ken Russell, and, why not, Russ Meyer. Like all the madmen provocation artists that have come before him, Refn stumbles while handling any semblance of nuance in the proudly taboo subjects he gleefully rattles like a curious toddler, but he makes the exercise so beautiful & so callously funny that it’s difficult to sour on the experience as a whole. Instead, you mull over provocations like The Neon Demon for days, months, years on end, wrestling with your own thoughts on what you’ve seen and how, exactly, you’re supposed to feel.

In this particular provocation Elle Fanning plays a sixteen year old model cashing in on her natural beauty in the repugnant, predatory L.A. fashion scene. As soon as she arrives, the sharks start circling the chum in the water, the pythons start sizing up their next meal, the L.A. vampires (both literal & figurative) start sharpening their fangs. She has the kind of beauty described by one character as “a diamond in a sea of glass,” making her stand out both as an opportunity for profit & as a target for violence. Sleazebag photographers & fashion designers turn their heads with unmistakable hunger in their eyes the second she enters a room. Other models shoot daggers as she gleefully eats up the attention. Dastardly villainous make-up artists (Jena Malone) & motel slumlords (Keanu Reeves) jockey to be the first wolf to devour the lamb, drooling to indulge in her inevitable demise. There is a constant, oppressive threat of sexual violence that permeates every scene of The Neon Demon, but Refn thankfully never indulges in its depiction the same way you’d see in old exploitation pics like The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave. Instead, the threat of rape is abstracted into the shape of a vibe, a glance, an isolated image of violence in a dream, and at one particularly brutal moment, a sound. It’s up to the audience to decipher the balance between representation & complicity here. While it’s true that Refn is consciously condemning the pervasive rape culture aspect of fashion modeling at every turn, it’ also true that he’s indulging in the very same ogling-at-young-beauty impulses that allow that culture to thrive in the first place. Any pointed satire he presents on the matter is also severely undercut by the idea that female-on-female competition is just as much of an ugly threat, especially once the film makes a turn towards a more conventional witchcraft horror pic in the final act. Again, I don’t think Refn handles the hot button topics he’s interested in with any nuanced delicacy, but he does find a way to soften their blow through art house abstraction & you’re not likely to see a more gorgeous work on the big screen all year, morally muddled or not. The result is admittedly uncomfortable, but also deeply fascinating.

The smartest thing Refn does to maintain this high wire balancing act is surround himself with female collaborators. There’s only a small handful of male characters of any consequence in the film and their threat is far outshined by the downright supernatural (and shockingly vicious) power exuded by the women that envelop them, a likely influence of Refn’s two credited female co-writers, Polly Stenham & Mary Laws. He also abstracts the impact of the male gaze by employing a female cinematographer, Natasha Braier, who deserves every accolade you could possibly throw at her for her work here. As the movie puts it, “Beauty is the highest form of currency we have […] Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Although that line is meant to jab at the superficiality of a particularly chauvinistic prick within the fashion world, it also stands a sort of an ethos for what Braier brings to the screen. Every ugly, nightmarish scene in The Neon Demon is made to be strikingly beautiful by the otherworldly wizardry of her lens. Her literal smoke & mirrors dreamscape makes every moment disorienting in a Kubrickian sort of way, a comparison I wouldn’t use lightly. Braier’s work combines with the masterful score by Cliff Martinez and the surreal inclusion of unexpected visual prompts like mountain lions, eyeballs, diving boards, and a triforce to set an aggressively artificial stage for the screenplay’s warped fashion world satire. I don’t know if a team of female collaborators has assembled to construct such a confusingly caustic take on toxic masculinity since Mary Haron & Guinevere Turner adapted American Psycho for the big screen in 2000. By the time Refn dedicates the film to his wife in the end credits the whole movie plays like a terrifying, exquisitely crafted prank.

The Neon Demon is consistently uncomfortable, but also intensely beautiful & surprisingly humorous. Days later my eyeballs are still bleeding from its stark cinematography & my brain is still tearing itself in half trying to find somewhere to land on its thematic minefield of female exploitation, competition, narcissism, and mystic power. This film is going to make a lot of people very angry and I’m certain that’s exactly the reaction Refn is searching for, the cruel bastard. At the same time it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen all year. I’m caught transfixed by its wicked spell & its bottomless wealth of surface pleasures, even as I wrestle with their implications. This is where the stylized form of high art meets the juvenile id of low trash and that exact intersection is why I go to the movies in the first place. The Neon Demon may not be great social commentary, but it’s certainly great cinema.

-Brandon Ledet