Episode #126 of The Swampflix Podcast: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, and 2020’s Honorable Mentions

Welcome to Episode #126 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, and Britnee continue our discussion of the Top Films of 2020 with some honorable mentions, starting with the quasi-local quasi-documentary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Enjoy!

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– The Podcast Crew

Boomer’s Top 15 Films of 2020

Honorable Mentions

15. American Murder: The Family Next Door is a frightening look into the future of the true crime documentary, not because the story that it tells is any different from one that you might have seen on Dateline or Unsolved Mysteries in the nineties or any of the hundreds of true crime TV shows that have sprung up in the wake of the sensationalist reportage of the past, but because of what constitutes its filmic material. Once upon a time, if 20/20 was relating the story of a spousal murder, producers were lucky to have a few minutes of useful, usable home video footage of the victim or perpetrator at a wedding or a child’s birthday party—shot on a fifty-pound, shoulder-mounted, air-cooled VHS camcorder—which could then be shown with melancholy music over it while Diane Sawyer delivered maudlin narration full of words and phrases like “ironically,” “cut short,” and “better days.” The rise of social media and its near universal use, alongside the proliferation of smartphones that allow for the instantaneous ability to effortlessly record oneself or one’s family, has created a strange new world of access to victims. This is especially true of those like Shanann Watts, whose interest in self-documentation bordered on the narcissistic, creating the opportunity for director Jenny Popplewell to use a wealth of Shanann’s own material in a documentary chronicling the dissolution of her marriage and, ultimately, her murder at the hands of her husband, who also killed the couple’s two daughters. It’s a harrowing peek not only into the soul of white male American entitlement but also what this style of reportage will look like as we move further and further into this new era, in which social media creates and reinforces narcissism and is powerful enough to (perhaps) topple nations through the spread of dangerous misinformation.

14. From my review of The Nest: “There’s nothing wrong with The Nest. The performances are great, as [Jude] Law effectively plays a man whose charm is so powerful he’s managed to convince even himself that his delusions are true, and he’s magnetic and contemptible in equal turns. You wouldn’t be able to accept a lesser actor in this role without thoroughly hating him, and that’s a testament. He’s also possibly the only actor who has ever managed to make BVD briefs look sexy, and at nearly 50 to boot. Similarly, Carrie Coon’s Allison is pitch perfect (and she’s proper fit, as one of Sam’s rude teenage friends notes). Each interaction contains the perfect amount of emotional distance and intimacy, and Coon is fantastic. By the time she really starts to fall apart, she’s held it together with such aplomb for so long that the audience feels her every revelation with empathetic exhaustion. I also like that there’s no beating around the bush about what the family’s problems are: there’s no infidelity (if anything, the couple’s sex life is the only thing about which they both remain passionate through the entire runtime), and all of the family’s anxieties stem entirely from Rory’s pathological obsession with money.”

13. W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt (Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight): Hailed as Poland’s first slasher film, this sophomore feature from director Bartosz M. Kowalski is a central European Friday the 13th with the serial numbers filed off (and with a few random bits and pieces taken from other American horror flicks and shows to spice it up a little). There’s not much more to it than that, but as a peak into Polish interpretation of the American slasher genre, which was itself born out of American interest in Italian giallo films and Spanish obras de suspense, it offers a look into the weird ways that a genealogy of horror can criss-cross the Atlantic. It has its moments of gore, but they’re not only few and far between but also campy in their sanitization; imagine a scene from Hostel but sweded with fake rubber arms and heads from Party City, and you get the idea. In any other year, this wouldn’t be anything particularly noteworthy here, but with fewer releases due to the plague, it’s worth checking out. What else do you have going on?

12. Class Action Park: A documentary about Action Park, a New Jersey amusement and water park that famously maimed, mutilated, disfigured, and even killed multiple people over the course of its decades-long ownership by disgusting capitalist and deregulation enthusiast Ebenezer Eugene Mulvihill. Through interviews with former attendees and adults who were employed at the park as teens, as well as the family members of victims of Mulvhill’s negligence who never saw him face justice, the film strikes a strange tone. It encourages a feeling of both reminiscence about a lost era in which children seeking agency for themselves could do so by going to a cursed amusement park straight out of your Pinocchio nightmares, while also delineating the criminal laxity of safety regulations and proper testing of facilities (famously, teenaged employees were offered $50 to try out a looping waterslide, in which people frequently got stuck and from which the teens emerged bloody and battered). The film also draws a straight line from the right wing’s raging hard-on for deregulation and Mulvhill’s ability to simply buy his way out of all consequences, even negligent homicide, to the Trump administration, with its seemingly bottomless pockets and lack of accountability. The film occasionally loses its footing when interviewees, including recognizable faces like Chris Gethard and Alison Becker, fondly recall their youthful expeditions to the park, but overall, this is a pretty decent look into what happens when greed is left unchecked.

11. The Invisible Man: I saw that “He is a world leader in the field of optics” meme on Twitter for what felt like months before I got the chance to see The Invisible Man, which made me think the whole movie was going to be more camp than thriller. It’s not, although it has its moments (the scene in the restaurant between Elisabeth Moss and her sister being the most obvious example), and it’s an effective story about both PTSD and dealing with others with NPD. Also, more people need to hire Aldis Hodge to do things; I’m always glad when he pops up in something. Give him a lead in something, already! (You can read Brandon’s review of the film here.)

Top 10

10. Mamoudou Athie delivers a striking performance in Black Box, essentially embodying three different characters over the course of the film’s taut runtime. He spends a lot of the film playing off of nothing, really, as Nolan wanders through his unclear memories, especially as those recollections begin to appear more and more disconnected from reality. Also impressive is skilled child actress Amanda Christine in her portrayal of Nolan’s daughter Ava; it’s rare that a child performer delivers anything other than a toneless recitation of lines that they barely understand, but Christine pulls off the balance between patience with her father’s challenges and her muted frustrations and fears that she’ll be separated from him if he isn’t able to recover his faculties. Although the film feels like a lower budget full-length episode of Black Mirror, it tells its story without the presumptive moralizing of that series (although your mileage will vary on whether that’s a good or bad thing with regards to Charlie Brooker’s program) and instead is a narrative that uses the trappings of a near-future scientific breakthrough to simply tell a story, rather than browbeat the audience.

9. When Brandon and I first discussed Shirley on the podcast, I expressed my discontent with the way that the film fictionalized Jackson’s life, and I stand by my feelings that I would enjoy this film more if it were about a fictional woman instead of ostensibly being about the woman behind We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I’m not CinemaSins and I’m not just a nitpicker for the sake of picking nits, and it’s not like I’ve never been annoyed by someone else’s complaints that such-and-such a thing never happened, or wanted someone to just shut up about how the real so-and-so never actually went to wherever a scene is happening. But I am also that person that gets annoyed when something that falls into my very specific wheelhouse or area of interest gets something inconsequential incorrect but gets it wrong to an absurd degree (if you need someone to be the curmudgeon when supposed interstellar distances are measured in hundred of millions of miles). For all of that, and regardless of my general antipathy for using Jackson this way, Shirley is a fascinating narrative about the interplay of reality and imagination, and an insight into the transgression of the act of creation, all wrapped in a tense period package. Just pretend it’s about a fictional author who happens to share some similarities with the real Jackson, then track down a copy of Let Me Tell You to get a more intimate insight into the real deal.

8. The Other Lamb was proposed by Brandon to discuss on one of the Lagniappe episodes of the podcast, both because it was about cults (more on that in a moment) and because it was specifically about a Christianity-adjacent cult of personality (which is kind of my thing, in case you missed it), and he thought it would be up my alley. He was right! This has been a year that has been adversely affected by the elasticity of time, where the endless everpresent “nowness” of staying at home in quarantine sometimes makes it feel like January 2020 was just a few weeks ago, while the prolonging of quarantine because some people keep ruining it for fucking everybody also makes it feel like the same month was 27 years ago. So much of that year feels like it was filled with very frenetic media, with frantic pacing and constant noise to fill the empty and aching void of the months that elapsed entirely without human contact, but The Other Lamb stands apart, with its story that at first appears to be about calmness, tranquility, and serenity. Even as the plot thickens, it never quickens, and is instead as languid in its storytelling at the end of the film as it is in its opening moments, to great effect. Sumptuous and powerful.

7. Speaking of the elasticity of time, The Lodge feels like it came out four years ago, but I guess it really was just at the end of the previous winter. A holdover from the 2019 year-end slate, I saw the film with someone with whom ties have been severed and whom I expect I won’t see again in this life. At the time, I underestimated how much it would stick with me, and felt smugly superior for guessing the twist to come; it’s been long enough now, but objectively and subjectively, to point out that this film fits in nicely with directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s debut film Goodnight Mommy, as this film could just as easily been titled Gaslight Mommy, since that’s what happens (with special bonus points for the fact that the beginning of the gaslighting features literal gas like its namesake). Still, if there’s anything we’ve seen in the past year, it’s the power of misinformation not just to mess with people’s psyches, but also to rend families apart. Following so closely on the heels of Doctor Sleep, perhaps I simply wasn’t prepared for another film that is so indebted to The Shining for its visual language, but it has a staying power that can’t be denied. (It’s also got a subplot about cults, and I am a man of simple but sincere interests.)

6. In my review of Kajillionaire, I wrote about how, “when I was going through a really bad breakup in 2014, there was a quote that I stumbled across on Tumblr (again, it was 2014) that spoke to me on an intimate, deep level. I thought it was part of a poem, but I could never find it again, and I spent six years occasionally plugging the random bits of it that I could remember into Google to see if it would spit out the name of the poem, or the poet. Finally, in September, the search engine of record returned a result. The author was [Kajillionaire director] Miranda July, and it wasn’t a poem, it was an excerpt from her book It Chooses You: “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” There’s something fascinatingly and fantastically alien about Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood)’s situation, on top of and adjacent to the world that the rest of us live in. Miranda July seems to have asked herself about how one extremely specific person was making it through life —where she was putting her body, hour by hour, and how she was coping inside of it. It’s a character study of someone raised in a culture that is invisible, tangential, and almost inconceivable.”

5. As I wrote in my review, Spree “demonstrates a profound understanding of the relationship between new and traditional media, the power of and potential for abuse within internet discourse, and the deleterious effect on mental health on a societal level that can result from a pivot towards a social reward system that depends upon toxic narcissism. Kurt (Joe Keery) has no desire to garner fame for money, political power, to increase his sexual desirability, or as a means of class mobility: notability, in and of itself, is the goal. It’s the timeless tale of wanting to be popular, with no other goal. He lives in a completely different economic system where clout is currency, and even disengagement from that alternate reality doesn’t make one safe from its reach. In the film’s closing moments, we are treated to the best demonstration of writer/director Eugene Kotlyarenko’s understanding of the foibles of media in all of its forms.”

4. Horse Girl tells my favorite kind of story: that of a woman struggling with her sanity. I have recently had the opportunity to inspect this fondness for this genre in myself–is it sexist of me? Although I’m not really the best person to answer that objectively, I think my fondness for the subgenre of “women on the verge” is mostly because I prefer women protagonists in all of my fiction, and I always have. I’ve been reading Paperback Crush lately, Gabrielle book about girl-targeted YA fiction that is subtitled “The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction,” and realized that, although I was largely forbidden from reading “girl books” of the kind that she is writing about, I tried my best to sneak around and read them anyway in my youth. Many of them are about young girls fighting against societal norms that have no bases in logic or reality: girls can’t x, whether x was a sport or a certain familial role or a campus political position. I, too, often felt that various things were forbidden or unreachable for me, either because of my parents’ religion or our rural isolation or The Closet, and the fiction that featured that as a narrative device weren’t about other boys (to say that my endless hunger for girl fiction caused parental, rural, and Closet conflict is an understatement). My love for movies like Puzzle of a Downfall Child, An Unmarried Woman, Queen of Earth, and the most recent addition to this pantheon, Horse Girl, is just an extension of that fondness. Hear me and Brandon talk about Horse Girl here.

3. His House is the story of two people from South Sudan who find themselves in England fleeing violent conflict (presumably the Dinka/Nuer conflict, although it’s never explicitly stated). It’s also much, much more than that. This bold debut feature from screenwriter and director Remi Weekes tackles topics of grief, disenfranchisement, loss, immigration, disconnection, and the things we keep while other things are left behind. There’s so much unspoken but powerfully present in the interactions between Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as, respectively, Bol and Rial Majur. There’s something so palpable in Bol’s desire to disappear into this new community, joining in with the old men singing songs to their futbol heroes and blending in by purchasing an exact duplicate of the outfit on in-store advertising. By the time he’s literally trying to burn everything that ties himself and his wife to their past, it’s impossible to predict where the film will go next. Even the most artistic horror film rarely transcends into something truly beautiful, but His House does all of this and more. Brandon’s review can be found here.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire left me undone. I was mesmerized by its every moment, captivated by every tableau. There’s nothing really “new” about queer love between two women that is repressed, silenced, and hidden, especially in period pieces with their long, loving glances across infinite spaces trapped in immaculate drawing rooms. I’m not really sure what magic Portrait has captured that is absent in its peers, but there is something truly astonishing about it. The sound design, the set design, the costumes, the cinematography: this is a film that is essentially perfect in every conceivable way. We have seen many films that are similar to it, but in its field, it is peerless. Read my review here.

1. There’s a scene in I’m Thinking of Ending Things in which our seeming protagonist, played by Jessie Buckley, is trying to explain to her boyfriend’s father (played by David Thewlis) how a painting with no people in it can evoke an emotional response. “No,” he responds. “I would have to see myself in it to know how I felt.” Although the rest of the Swampflix staff apparently did not feel the same way, this was, to me, the best movie of the year. My erstwhile roommate and his current housemates and I synced up to watch the film during a period of the year when I was putting down new floors in my home as part of my desperate attempt to make myself feel like I wasn’t trapped in the same place for the foreseeable future and my TV was briefly moved into my bedroom. As I sat, straight up, in bed and watched as Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend made their way to his parents’ house through a thickening snowfall, I felt myself taken in and entranced by an incredible intensity of feeling. By the time the couple actually arrive at their initial destination, I already felt like I had gone on a complete journey and that the film must be nearing its completion, only to realize I had felt a film’s worth of emotional movement in a mere 45 minutes, and that there was still nearly an hour and a half left, which I was soon to learn was even more of a journey ahead. During a long, strange, sad, infuriating year, this was a film that reached inside of me and found a deep, sincere, and profound loneliness and externalized it on a screen before me, engaging me with myself in a way that I’ve experienced precious few times in my life. After I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I am genuinely not the same as I was before it. (You can read Brandon’s less positive review here.)

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

CC’s Top 15 Films of 2020

1. We Are Little Zombies The meteoric rise and fall of a punk band formed by four disaffected, emotionally stunted Japanese orphans who run away together after meeting at their parents’ respective funerals. It captures both the exuberance of youth and the rage kids feel when the world is outside their control. As a directorial debut, it’s like the best bands’ freshman albums, with years of pent-up creative material exploding onto the screen. I just hope Makoto Nagahisa has enough ideas leftover for his next film, because I’d love to see more.

2. American Utopia I saw an abbreviated version of this David Byrne concert at Jazz Fest a few years ago and was supposed to see the full show at the Saenger in 2019, but it was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict with a Disney Live! production. And then COVID-19 eliminated any chance of that show being rescheduled. So, it was a little bittersweet getting to see the movie version for my birthday this year, but it was still a powerful experience. The way Byrne questions who we are in the world as people and as citizens really spoke to me. It’s like an emotional, danceable TED Talk about our interdisciplinary connections, studying humanity as if it were a type of fungal mycelium. If anything, the show’s only become timelier & more relevant since the 2018 performance I attended. Police brutality has been a scourge forever, but last summer it came to a head in a really public way, and I was impressed to see a concert film directly deal with that injustice.

3. The Wolf House An animated Chilean film that addresses a real-life religious cult that committed wartime atrocities and other crimes against humanity dating back to the 1960s by recounting them in an ugly fairy tale. It’s got all the trappings of a pre-Brothers Grimm folktale: the sour ending, the moralistic behavioral warnings, the magic that is both beautiful and cruel. Although it’s framed as a rediscovered propaganda film lost since the 60s, it’s constructed with some of the most astonishing modern animation techniques I’ve seen. It’s ostensibly stop-motion, but it’s achieved through a wildly imaginative multimedia approach. That innovation is more than just an all-style-no-substance gimmick, though; it’s an integral part of the storytelling. It’s evil, it’s sick, and it’s grimy.

4. Birds of Prey A wonderfully stylized, deliriously hyperactive superhero movie that doesn’t drag or feel laboriously obligated to comic book backstory or pathos. It steps on other superheroes’ capes, soaring in its own unique, chaotic way (a power seemingly fueled by Vodka-Red Bulls).

5. Emma. I love how sharp this Austen adaptation is, both in the physical choreography of its characters’ movements and in their cutting, carefully chosen words. The costumes & sets are also superb. Its biggest detractors criticize it for how mean Emma is, but that’s also just how she’s presented in the novel. Emma Woodhouse is not some sweet saint; she ruins lives for her own amusement and is too vain to admit how much pleasure she gets out of that transgression, which is just teenage girls for you. It’s nice that Anya Taylor-Joy has decided to stop aging so she can play these parts forever. Johnny Flynn also commands the same animal sexuality he got to display in Beast, except dressed up here in nicer clothes. The whole film feels like a dangerously sharp knife with an exquisitely crafted handle. It can draw blood, but it’s an object of pure beauty.

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire This period drama is very sumptuous & sensual in its cinematography, unlike the sharp angularity of Emma. It’s soft like the beautiful green fabric of the dress in the titular portrait. Still, I love the bleakness & the remoteness of its locale and its outlook on human relationships. It notes the rigid, absolute limitations placed on women, even women of a very privileged class. Despite the corseted parameters culture places on its characters, there’s a free-flowing wildness of femininity & womanhood that runs through it, best exemplified by the acapella folksong sung around the bonfire.

7. Dick Johnson is Dead A documentary made in collaboration between Dick Johnson and his filmmaker daughter, Kirsten Johnson, working through their anxieties over his impending death by staging fictitious versions of that impending tragedy in increasingly imaginative ways. Its interspersed interviews with Dick and the people in his orbit examine the nature of relationships between children and their parents, our larger societal relationship with death, and indefatigability of the human spirit. It’s a happy film about a sad subject, ultimately feeling triumphant in the way it cheats death for Dick. Even though he will die, he will always feel alive to people who watch this document.

8. Possessor This techno body horror from Brandon Cronenberg feels like the cursed love child between his father’s eXistenZ and his own Antiviral. The plot isn’t particularly important. What’s most compelling is the psychological battle between its characters to gain possession of the corporeal vessel they share (a testament to the powerful performances from actors Christopher Abbott & Andrea Riseborough). It’s a truly shocking film, alienating the audience with images no one should see. The visual effects are fascinating, both beautiful and disgusting.

9. Palm Springs A Groundhog Day time-loop film, which is quickly becoming its own genre. This one’s timing felt very in-tune with the themes of the pandemic. It captures the anxieties we especially felt early in the stay-at-home lockdown orders but channels them into something fun & constructive. It’s a pleasing comedy that transforms the year’s shitty, never-ending nightmare into a solvable equation.

10. The Shock of the Future A day in the life of a young composite character who’s an emerging artist in late-70s electronic music. Over the course of the film, she composes the very first electropop song, a tribute to several women pioneers of analog electronica who struggled to get recognized for their innovative artistry in a male-dominated industry. It’s impressive in the way it pushes against the myth of the individual artistic genius perpetuated by most biopics, instead stressing the importance of community & collaboration. It’s also fascinating to watch electro pioneers tinker with individual pieces of analog equipment to create new, exciting sounds. It made me want to play around on some vintage synths & drum machines myself.

11. Deerskin Who doesn’t love a film about killer fashion? Between this & In Fabric, that may only be a subgenre of two (so far), but it’s a wonderful extension of the killer-objects horror of classics like Death Bed, Rubber, and Christine. Despite indulging in that ridiculous, high-concept genre, this is a surprisingly thoughtful film about the inadequacy that mediocre men face at middle age, and their psychotic efforts to overcome that deficiency. Jean Dujardin previously charmed American audiences in Best Picture-winner The Artist, but here he’s a sad, pathetic grifter who’s lost his job and his only meaningful relationship, now having to scam people just to hang out with him. It’s hilarious. Also, shoutout to Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Adèle Haenel’s performance as his only accomplice; she’s a great audience surrogate in her amused fascination over the ongoing car wreck of his life.

12. Color Out of Space I always love attempts to modernize Lovecraft, bringing his mythology (but not his personal politics) into modern media. This is only the second most successful visualization of the original short story’s central threat in its visual effects, trailing behind the 2010 German film that better captured the impossibility of its adaptation. It’s much more effective in metaphor, crafting yet another horror of male inadequacy that examines the lengths that men will go to maintain their power & privilege. Nic Cage plays an absurdly silly man who fears his family is starting to rupture due to illness & emotional alienation. His desperate efforts to draw his nuclear family back into order only place them directly in the path of cosmic horror even further outside his control. A lot of critical focus has been around his over-the-top performance, but those antics aside this is a harrowing film about loss & cancer, fearing not just the disease but its emotional erosion of familial relationships, interpreted through the powerful medium of cosmic horror.

13. The Invisible Man Okay so it turns out the overriding theme of the year is the lengths that sad, pathetic men will go to maintain power & privilege. This one is a genuinely scary film that operates in a realm of traditional horror tropes. For a lot of its audience, it’s doubly scary because of its domestic violence aspect, capturing the feeling of the ground being pulled from under you when you realize your abusive relationship is not the loving one you initially pictured it to be. That realization happens before the film even opens, but we’re made to live through its terrifying aftermath.

14. The Twentieth Century This pseudo-biography of a real-life Canadian politician is also a highly-stylized farce about, again, a pathetic man’s foibles in his quest for power. History says its events are set in Canada, but what’s onscreen is some nowhere nether-reality of dry ice and gorgeous matte paintings, populated by caricatures rather than characters. Guy Maddin & David Lynch are obvious influences on its imagery, but it’s all filtered through a more vintage George Méliès patina. It resurrects the early-cinema Méliès tradition of the féerie play: crafting an artificial fantasy plot & spectacular visuals but anchoring them to a melodramatic morality play about the weaknesses of privileged men.

15. Extra Ordinary This goofy-not-scary Irish horror comedy shares a very particular sense of humor with titles like Housebound & What We Do in the Shadows, to the point that it’s shocking it’s not from New Zealand. A woman who is not yet middle aged but no longer young doesn’t know what to do with her life, mostly because she harbors unresolved guilt over her paranormal-expert father’s death. Luckily, she gets pulled into a zany adventure that saves her from her rut and resolves that leftover guilt. And surprise, the villain she faces is a sad, pathetic man desperate to hold onto his power & prestige – an aging rock star played by Will Forte with the same childish temper tantrums he threw in Last Man on Earth.

HM. Swallow Although this was my #1 film last year, when I saw it at the New Orleans Film Festival, I would be remiss if I didn’t include it again this year when it was more widely available. It’s a subtle but highly stylized psychological horror about bodily autonomy, class warfare, and trauma, 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.

-CC Chapman

Brandon’s Top 20 Genre Gems of 2020

1. VHYES A sketch comedy anthology that mimics the uneven rhythms of a home-made VHS “mixtape,” combining spoofs of late-80s cable access garbage & a fictional home movie wraparound. It’s lean, strange, and amusingly absurd in all the ways I wanted it to be. Post-Adult Swim filmmaking at its finest.

2. The Berlin Bride Two reclusive 1980s Berliners split ownership over a mysterious mannequin; one uses her right arm to replace his own amputated one, the other treats the rest of her as his newlywed bride. Very funny & weirdly upsetting. Often feels like a surreally cheap riff on Peter Strickland’s work, which I mean as a high compliment.

3. Crazy World A Ugandan gang of kidnappers are thwarted by the unexpected Kung Fu skills of their pint-sized captives & their enraged parents. My first Wakaliwood experience was just as wildly entertaining & inspiringly low-fi as I had hoped. A total blast & a surprisingly heartwarming document of no-budget regional filmmaking.

4. Spree A grotesque satire about social influencer brain rot in the eternal search for likes, following a live-streaming ride share driver who becomes a serial killer in a desperate bid to Go Viral. I’m always a huge sucker for technophobic thrillers about how the Internet is going to kill us all, and this one was a worthy addition to the canon. It’s especially apt at pinpointing just how pathetic clawing for social media clout feels to an outside observer, even as a near-universal vice.

5. The Platform A nasty dystopian sci-fi pic that’s a lot like Snowpiercer & High Rise in its blatant illustration of wealth disparity, except that it’s so into Philosophy & economic theory that there’s room for little else. It’s almost 100% worldbuilding but it has more than enough Big Ideas & gory catharsis to pull that off.

6. Gretel & Hansel As beautiful & creepy as it is silly, and I kinda wish more movies were allowed to just dick around like this. The tension between conventional genre payoffs & Oz Perkins’s “elevated horror” tendencies is absolutely thrilling throughout this self-conflicted novelty. I don’t believe Perkins has it in him to make a genuine opening-weekend crowd pleaser, and this delightfully weird attempt at such a prospect is outright adorable.

7. Come to Daddy Elijah Wood stars as a hipster coward who finds himself sparring in a cramped isolated locale with his deadbeat alcoholic father. Written by the guy who penned The Greasy Strangler, it eventually turns into a Greasy mutation of a Jeremy Saulnier-type dark comedy as its violence escalates.

8. Bad Hair A Justin Simien horror comedy about a killer hair weave. A lot of people are going to ding this for taking its over-the-top premise too seriously in its first hour, but I think that’s its saving grace. If it were zanier and less politically purposeful it would’ve gotten old real quick; instead it really earns the campy B-movie payoffs of its climax by laying a lot of thematic groundwork and, against all odds, establishing a genuine sense of dread.

9. Weathering With You For its first hour this feels like an amusing-but-weak echo of Your Name., but the plot keeps pushing further & further into the weirdest direction possible until it ends at an absolutely stunning Choice of a conclusion that fully won me over. I really liked how Your Name. applied the Miyazaki reverence for Nature to Big City environments and this one goes even further in that respect by having Nature reclaim the City as part of itself.

10. She Dies Tomorrow Amy Seimetz’s dryly humorous chiller in which fear of impending Death is a communally transmitted disease. Rarely is cosmic horror so relatable. This feels like the darkly Funny existential crisis other people have been describing I’m Thinking of Ending Things as, but I didn’t experience. Whimsically bleak.

11. Sea Fever An eerily well-timed aquatic horror about a crew of deep-sea fishermen who have to quarantine themselves because a Cronenbergian parasite has infected their water supply. I was genuinely chilled by this once it got cooking, even if it borrows a well-worn story template from The Thing; it’s a much more impressive entry in the genre than this year’s so-so Underwater was, if nothing else.

12. Palm Springs I don’t know that this is the tip-top best of the recent string of post-Groundhog’s Day time-loop media (there’s been a lot of good’ns!), but I do like that it pushes the genre forward by acknowledging the audience’s familiarity with it and jumping into the flow of things way downstream. It doesn’t hurt that it’s really funny & charming throughout.

13. The Pool A bargain bin riff on The Shallows, in which a couple is stranded in a drained swimming pool with a killer crocodile. The CGI on the croc is so absurdly shoddy that the movie has no choice but to pave over its budgetary restrictions with a playful sense of humor. And then, just when you think it’s going to play Everything for cheap laughs, it gets shockingly fucked up. Fun, upsetting trash that’s willing to push its limited scenario to its furthest extreme. It also might be Pro-Life propaganda?

14. The Hunt It’s difficult to get too excited by another “Most Dangerous Game” riff the same year as the great Bacurau, but I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Its both-sidesing makes it a little too timid to succeed as a satire, but I appreciated the way it treats modern American politics with the broad, ugly, unsubtle caricature of a pro wrestling angle. Feels accurate to the Moment as a cultural temperature check and packs plenty of cheap payoffs as an exploitative novelty.

15. His House Reinvigorates haunted house genre tropes with the same tactics that titles like Blood Quantum, Zombi Child, and The Girl With All the Gifts used on the similarly overworked tropes of the zombie genre: by shifting the cultural POV and the purpose of the central metaphor. You’ve seen these exact story beats & jump scares before, but never in this exact cultural context.

16. The Lodge This is not as solid as the directors’ breakthrough Goodnight Mommy but it covers a lot of the same ground: creepy kids with maternal resentment, a few chilling indulgences in dream logic, telegraphing its Twist but then following through in the grimmest way possible. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz just seem to hit an icy sweet spot for me, even though they seem to disappoint a lot of people. And it turns out they’re an aunt-nephew duo? Weird.

17. Blood Quantum A zombie breakout among white urbanites reaches an isolated Indigenous reservation, and it appears that the Indigenous people are immune. It’s a solid genre entry, especially in how hard it leans into post-Romero gloom & gore. Outside its central conceit & cultural context it’s very much a straight-forward zombie movie, though, so it’s unlikely to win over many people with general zombie genre fatigue.

18. Spontaneous A post-Heathers high school black comedy about a spontaneous combustion pandemic, one that feels shockingly well-timed in a way the filmmakers could not have anticipated.

19. Capone Covers only the final year of the notorious gangster’s life, which he spent under house arrest while left senile by neurosyphilis at the age of 48. This is in the same genre as Venom, by which I mean it’s a tragically bland nothing of a movie that Tom Hardy’s bizarro performance transforms into a riotous good time through sheer force of will.

20. Tito First-time director Grace Glowicki casts herself as an impossibly timid geek who’s drawn out of his cowardly seclusion by an idiot stoner who barges into his life. Meanwhile, vaguely menacing demons attempt to invade the frame but never arrive. The central performance is consistently entertaining, grotesque, and frustrating, like watching Crispin Glover suffer a traumatically bad acid trip. The movie itself is much more difficult to pin down. It’s an arthouse-horror/stoner-comedy? I almost want to describe it as Josephine Decker’s Cheech & Chong, but that’s way overselling what it can deliver.

-Brandon Ledet

Britnee’s Top 20 Films of 2020

1. Deerskin Quentin Dupieux’s film about a man’s obsession with a used (yet very expensive) fringed deerskin jacket. It keeps its dark humor evenly distributed throughout its runtime, but don’t assume that this is not a horror movie because it most definitely is. There’s enough spine-chilling moments that will weigh heavy on your mind long after the movie is over. It’s obviously right up my alley.

2. Swallow This is a fun thriller about an unhappy housewife who finds great joy in challenging herself to swallow all sorts of foreign objects (marbles, tacks, etc.). Once she poops them out, she cleans them up and starts a small collection of her accomplishments. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering her on as her collection grows.

3. The Painter and the Thief In a horrible year that truly exposed the horrors of humanity, it was nice to watch a documentary about compassion and forgiveness. The story of a painter who had two of her paintings stolen by a criminal who then becomes her muse and friend is told in a very interesting yet very straightforward way. It’s definitely some good medicine for the disease of 2020.

4. Bacurau A wonderful Brazilian film that’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit western, and a little bit horror. As the fictional town of Bacurau is slowly being wiped off the map, wealthy white elites are hunting the townsfolk for sport. The film builds to a very intense blood bath that was shocking and memorable to say the least.

5. The Other Lamb This is perhaps the year’s best coming of age film. It just so happens to take place in a religious cult in the woods that’s filled with incest and misogyny. Also, I can’t go without mentioning how hauntingly beautiful its scenery is.

6. You Cannot Kill David Arquette The Swampflix crew did an entire podcast episode about this documentary of David Arquette’s return to the world of professional wrestling, and I was absolutely blown away by it. Not only did it spark my interest in wrestling, but it also got me interested in the life of David Arquette after years of just knowing him as Courtney Cox’s ex-husband who played a few goofy film roles.

7. Blow the Man Down I love films that take place in New England fishing towns, and I also love crime thrillers. Blow the Man Down is a perfect mix of both. The cherry on top is that the town full of dark secrets is quietly run by a group of sweet old ladies.

8. Come to Daddy Elijah Wood has been playing very interesting and strange roles in recent years, and he absolutely kills it in Come to Daddy. It’s constantly shocking from beginning to end. There aren’t many films that came out this year that were as entertaining as this one.

9. Relic This Australian emotional horror film about the horrors of dementia is in the same wheelhouse as Hereditary. Personally, I found it to be more sad than spooky, but that didn’t take away from it being a legitimate horror film.

10. The Berlin Bride An almost silent film about two quirky guys who are taken over by a mannequin. It’s very dreamlike and bizarre, and for some reason I felt like a total pervert when I was watching it.

11. Bad Hair A horror comedy about a killer weave. It’s a funny satire that stars one of my all-time favorite actresses: Vanessa Williams!

12. Color Out of Space The best body horror film of 2020! And as a bonus, it stars Nicolas Cage so you get all of that Cage-ian spice in an already insane movie.

13. The Invisible Man I honestly didn’t think that I was going to enjoy this as much as I did. This is everything that a good thriller should be with some sci-fi elements thrown in as a bonus.

14. Birds of Prey If you haven’t watched this yet, do yourself a favor and run to it. I made the mistake of associating it with Suicide Squad and run-of-the-mill superhero movies, so I didn’t watch it until very late in the year. It’s a blast!

15. The Rental Actor Dave Franco’s directorial debut explores that fear we all get when taking those first steps into an AirBnb. It’s a solid thriller with an awesome cast.

16. Capone This movie is a shit show, but Tom Hardy shows up and shows out in a very Nicolas Cage way. His over-the-top performance of an aged Al Capone is not to be missed.

17. Host I spent most of 2020 stuck on Zoom (mostly for work), and this fabulous Zoom horror movie came out when we needed it the most. This movie is COVID-19 AF.

18. Arkansas Funnyman Clark Duke made his directorial debut this year with this crime thriller, and it was surprisingly solid. Duke stars in the film alongside Liam Hemsworth. Both actors had really good chemistry in the film and made for a really fun duo.

19. His House A refugee couple flees Sudan and end up in the UK. They deal with the horror of being refugees in a new country that doesn’t treat them humanely while also dealing with a more literal horror that follows them from Sudan. It’s very heartbreaking and super scary all at the same time.

20. Rent-A-Pal This is a silly VHS based horror movie about a lonely guy taking care of his elderly mother while desperately seeking out a girlfriend through a dating VHS program. When he happens upon a Rent-A-Pal VHS that stars a really creepy Wil Wheaton, the VHS tape takes over his life (similar to the deerskin jacket in my top 2020 film, Deerskin) and turns him into a monster. I’m glad I was able to watch this one before the year was over.

-Brtinee Lombas

Episode #125 of The Swampflix Podcast: The Top Films of 2020

Welcome to Episode #125 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, and Britnee discuss their favorite films of 2020.

James’s Top 20 Films of 2020
1. Deerskin
2. First Cow
3. Another Round
4. Color Out of Space
5. Black Bear
6. The Twentieth Century
7. Possessor
8. Dick Johnson is Dead
9. Sound of Metal
10. Bloody Nose Empty Pockets
11. His House
12. You Cannot Kill David Arquette
13. Shit House
14. The Berlin Bride
15. American Utopia
16. The Wolf House
17. City Hall
18. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
19. The Invisible Man
20. Palm Springs

To hear everyone else’s picks, listen to the show . . .

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

– The Podcast Crew

Brandon’s Top 20 Films of 2020

1. Ask Any Buddy A post-modern mash-up of clips from 125 golden-era hardcore films, loosely constructing a morning-to-night day in the life of a post-Stonewall gay male archetype (one with an incredibly bustling sex life). Transgressive D.I.Y. outsider art that could easily be tediously academic or pointlessly provocative in the wrong hands, but instead comes across as a playful, genuinely loving catalog of tropes & narrative throughlines clearly assembled by a true fan of the supposedly low-brow, disreputable film genre.

2. We Are Little Zombies Four orphans meet at their parents’ simultaneous funerals and run away to form a surprisingly successful pop punk band. One of those movies where every single in-the-moment comedic gag & tangential flight of whimsy makes you shout “That’s so cool!” at the screen. Pushes the twee video game nostalgia aesthetics everyone drools over in Scott Pilgrim to much more exciting, surprising extremes; just absolutely overflowing with creativity.

3. The Wolf House A nightmare experiment in stop-motion animation that filters atrocities committed by exiled-Nazi communes in Chile through a loose, haunting fairy tale narrative. It’s a relentlessly grotesque display, one that fully conveys the hideous evils of its allegory’s real-life parallels even if you aren’t familiar with that particular pocket of fascism history.

4. The Twentieth Century A gorgeous, absurdist fantasy piece that retells the history of Canadian governance as “one failed orgasm after another.” It’s like Guy Maddin directing an especially kinky Kids in the Hall sketch, stumbling out into feature length in a dreamlike stupor. A German Expressionist farce that features tongue-in-cheek drag routines & ejaculating cacti; I couldn’t help but love it.

5. Birds of Prey My favorite superhero movie since Batman got deliriously horny in the 90s. All hyperviolent, hyperfemme slapstick from start to end; there can never be enough mainstream movies where obnoxious women gleefully misbehave. It also felt nice to finally enjoy a Deadpool movie for once (it helps that Margot Robbie is, unlike Ryan Reynolds, actually funny).

6. Possessor Apparently Brandon Cronenberg took note of the often-repeated observation that Andrea Riseborough loses herself in roles to the point of being unrecognizable, and built an entire fucked up sci-fi horror about the loss of Identity around it. A damn good one too.

7. Deerskin An absurdist thriller from Rubber director Quentin Dupieux about a vapid man whose obsessive love for his own deerskin jacket leads him to a life of crime, including serial murder. Consistently funny, but also incredibly vicious when it wants to be. Works as a macho counterpart to In Fabric, but more importantly it’s an excellent joke at the expense of Male Vanity (including the vanity of making an entire movie about a deerskin jacket).

8. Color Out of Space Richard Stanley returns to the director’s chair after decades of mysterious exile to adapt an H.P. Lovecraft short story about a meteor crash and an Evil Color. Genuinely just as upsetting as anything Stanley accomplished in Hardware, if not more so. I mostly saw it as a traumatic nightmare movie about cancer tearing a family apart, 80s throwback vibes & Nic Cage affectations aside.

9. Horse Girl A woman-on-the-verge mental illness drama filtered through a trippy sci-fi narrative. In my eyes, the most shamefully underrated movie of the year. It’s like watching the first half-hour of a mumblecore movie and then, bam, you’re in the third act of Bug . . . Then again, I always seem to enjoy Jeff Baena movies at least 30% more than everyone else and I don’t know why that is.

10. Emma. A basic appreciation of the Jane Austen source material is a requirement at the door, since it’s a super faithful adaptation, but this is coldly hilarious and gorgeously composed from start to end. The dips into thoughtless cruelty hit just as hard as the physical comedy, both of which are majorly enhanced by the buttoned-up tension of the setting. Each performance is aces; ditto the confectionery production design & the deviously playful costuming. Just a pure, icy delight.

11. Zombi Child A from-the-ground-up renovation of the zombie film, one that directly reckons with the genre’s racist, colonialist history onscreen and the untapped potential of its roots in genuine Voodoo religious practices. Somehow evokes both Michael Haneke’s cold, academic political provocations and Celine Sciamma’s emotionally rich coming-of-age narratives while still ultimately delivering the genre goods teased in its title.

12. Impetigore An Indonesian ghost story about the lingering evils of communal betrayal & inherited wealth (and horrific violence against children in particular, it should be said). This walks a difficult balance of being gradually, severely fucked up without rubbing your face in its Extreme Gore moments. Handsomely staged, efficiently creepy beyond the shock of its imagery, and complicated enough in its mythology that it’s not just a simple morality play.

13. Host Basically a kindler, gentler Unfriended with actually likeable characters (I don’t think that necessarily makes it an improvement, but it’s at least a different flavor). It’s also got a lot of COVID-lockdown specific details that make it extra eerie in a way that really leans into the of-the-moment documentary quality of these tech-driven horror novelties. Big fan of both the genre and this example of it.

14. Swallow An eerie, darkly humorous thriller in the style of Todd Haynes’s Safe, in which a newly pregnant woman is compulsively drawn to swallowing inedible objects, much to the frustration of her overly-controlling family & doctors. Appearing like a scared child in June Cleaver housewife drag, Hayley 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!”

15. Vivarium Imogen Poots & Jesse Eisenberg are a young couple in search of a suburban starter home to begin their life together, only to get trapped in a hellishly bland eternity of supernatural imprisonment in that very abode. I knew this was going to be grim & abrasive. I didn’t know that it was going to be so Funny. A humorously cruel sci-fi chiller about resenting your own spouse & child (one that I’m not surprised is so divisive, since the child is 1000x more shrill & frustrating than even the kid in The Babadook).

16. Bacurau A delicately surreal sci-fi take on “The Most Dangerous Game” that’s so gradually, subtly escalated that you don’t notice how truly batshit it is until you’re deep in the thick of it. Uses familiar tropes & techniques to tell a story we’ve all heard before in a new style & context that achieves something freshly exciting with those antique building blocks. In other words, it’s genre filmmaking at its finest.

17. The Invisible Man This was excellent, but Remake Culture is just getting so out of hand. Are we so out of ideas that we need the Upgrade guy remaking Unsane only two years after the Soderbergh original? Shameful.

18. You Cannot Kill David Arquette A documentary that chronicles Arquette’s recent self-destructive campaign to win over pissy wrestling fans who are somehow still mad about a silly angle from over 20 years ago. A really fun, surprisingly emotional watch. Reminded me a lot of the Andy Kaufman “documentary” I’m From Hollywood (one of my all-time fav wrestling movies) in how it mixes reality & self-mythology to become a wrestling angle & performance art project in itself.

19. The Shock of the Future Alma Jodorowsky stars as a fictional synthpop composer in late-70s Paris. This is almost 100% aesthetic posturing; its entire thesis is that synths sound cool-as-fuck and women didn’t get enough credit for pioneering their use. It’s not wrong; synths and the women behind them are incredibly cool and, apparently, endlessly watchable. There’s also something super relatable about watching someone work tirelessly alone in their apartment on art no one else in the world cares about; feels very of-the-moment even though it’s a nostalgia piece.

20. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants A Finnish drama about a widower who processes his grief by hiring a dominatrix to help him explore an emerging kink for breath play. Follows a plot template I’m always a sucker for: Our protagonist is obsessed with something they know is going to eventually kill them but they keep going back to it anyway because it makes them super horny.

-Brandon Ledet