1. Titane — Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to Raw is a greasy, Cronenbergian nightmare we didn’t want to wake up from: a darkly comic body horror about a serial killer who’s impregnated by a Cadillac and finds herself hiding out with an aging firefighter, disguising herself amongst his cartoonishly macho employees. It’s a nuclear gender meltdown with no clear sense to be made in its burnt-to-the-ground wreckage, finding unlikely refuge in the violence of pure-masc camaraderie & social ritual. At times overwhelmingly explicit and unflinchingly fixated on its own gory violence, but also a heartwarming tale of unconditional love.
2. Pig — Not at all what you’d expect from a Nic Cage revenge thriller about a disgruntled chef’s John Wick-style mission to recover his stolen truffle pig. An understated execution of a preposterous premise, refusing to behave either as a sober return-to-form showcase for the often-mocked actor or as fodder for his infinite supply of so-bad-its-good YouTube highlight reels. It’s its own uniquely beautiful, tenderly macho thing, with more to say about the beauty of a thoughtfully prepared meal than the peculiar flavors of Cage’s screen presence. Its heart is big, genuine, and forgiving, which is why it’s so moving despite its funhouse mirror reflection of the Portland culinary scene.
3. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar — A delightful throwback to a very specific type of airheaded buddy comedy that rarely gets made anymore (think Romy & Michelle, A Night at the Roxbury, Dude Where’s My Car?, etc.), especially not with this level of grandeur in expensive set pieces and show-stopping musical numbers. And it’s even rarer to see that comedic spotlight shone on middle-aged women: a demographic who don’t often get to enjoy the spotlight in anything, even goofy comedies. We’re already hoping for sequels.
4. Saint Maud — A horrific illustration of how traditional stories of sainthood & martyrdom would play out through a modern, critical lens. An intensely strange character study of a woman of newfound, uninformed, fragmented faith: a personal belief system she obsessively devotes herself to, holding others to the strictures of her singular ideology even though no one on Earth could possibly know what’s going on inside her mind. And what’s in there is fantastical: orgasmic visions of God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell, atheist souls in desperate need of saving, and an attempted act of self-canonization that’s almost too harrowing to look at directly.
5. The Green Knight — A gritty, modernized illustration of an Arthurian quest — one that’s willing to critique the myths of yore, but not so much that the magic is lost. The modern atmospheric horror treatment does wonders for the fantasy genre, apparently; it really sells the tension & dark magic. The moments of onscreen sorcery are dreamlike & metal as fuck, making for an unlikely new Christmas classic.
6. Bo Burnham: Inside — As a “comedy special” this pandemic-era video diary can be hit-or-miss joke by joke. The songs are great, though, and by the time it fully devolves into panicked video art about Internet Age despair it’s undeniably substantial. It perfectly captures the feeling of reality itself crumbling around us as we remain in isolation, unable to tell what’s real and what’s not in our increasingly fake modern world.
7. The French Dispatch — Film nerds often complain about how visually lazy studio comedies are, so here’s a movie packed with Hollywood Celebrities where every scene is overloaded with gorgeous visuals and hilarious jokes. The anthology format affords Wes Anderson carte blanche to cram even more visual details & gags into the frame than usual, making for a texturally rich text. If his previous films are beautifully decorated cakes, this one is a full banquet.
8. The Power of the Dog — Jane Campion’s unnerving take on the Western genre conveys a masterful command of tone & form. And even if Westerns aren’t usually your thing, it’s still a relatable story about that one dipshit bully in your family whose sudden death would instantly improve the lives of everyone you know.
9. Lapsis — A high-concept, low-budget satire about our near-future gig economy dystopia. It doesn’t aim for the laugh-a-minute absurdism of Sorry to Bother You, but it’s maybe even more successful in pinpointing exactly how dispiriting it feels to live & work right now. It’s also incredibly smart in identifying what kind of radical labor movements we need to build to topple the power imbalances workers suffer under, offering a solution instead of just dwelling on the problem.
10. Mandibles — Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist comedy about bumbling criminals who adopt & corrupt a gigantic housefly so it can join them in acts of petty theft. A laugh-out-loud gem that’s smarter and more imaginative than the Dumb & Dumber-era Farrelly Brothers movies it recalls. And yet, it’s somehow just as hopelessly, delightfully stupid.
-The Swampflix Crew