Swampflix’s Top 10 Films of 2019

1. Midsommar A cathartic breakup drama disguised as a gruesome daytime horror. This traumatic nightmare-comedy about a toxic romance that’s far outstayed its welcome is distinguished by its morbid sense of humor, its detailed costume & production design, its preference for atmospheric dread over traditional jump scares, and its continuation of occultist, Wicker Man-style folk horror into a new generation of genre nerdom.

2. Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a twisty, crowd-pleasing thriller about class resentment, with a particular focus on how Capitalism forces its lowliest casualties to fight over the crumbs that fall from on high. It’s a genuine phenomenon that such a savage commentary on class politics has become so universally popular, earning sold-out screenings & ecstatic critical praise for months on end as its distribution exponentially spreads. When was the last time such a wide audience embraced a movie that features *gasp* subtitles, much less such a tonally explosive expression of economic anger?

3. Knife+Heart This is fantastic smut, especially if you happen to enjoy classic slashers & gialli. Picture Dario Argento’s Cruising. Set against a gay porno shoot in 1970s Paris, it really turns the usual male gaze & female victim empathy of those genres on their head in a fascinating way. And it only improves on repeat viewings as its psychedelic flashback imagery and its Goblin-inspired synth soundtrack from M83 sink further into your subconscious.

4. In Fabric A tongue-in-cheek anthology horror about a sentient killer dress. Fully indulging in the Theatre of the Absurd, it’s a fun watch, but it also makes fashion photography, corporate employment, and romantic loneliness legitimately menacing. Especially recommended for anyone who’d be enticed by an arthouse remake of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, as it could easily be read as both over-the-top camp and a deadly serious creep-out.

5. Knives Out A modernized Agatha Christie-style whodunnit comedy in the mold of Clue that manages to deliver both a sophisticated, winding plot and pointed class politics. Like Get Out before it, it mocks a specifically Left version of political ignorance vis-à-vis latent and uninspected racism among the privileged class. Stumbling upon something this fun and this fiercely political feels like finding a rare gem in the cinematic wilderness.

6. The Lighthouse Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson costar as a lighthouse-keeper odd couple who gradually grow insane with hate & lust for each other. A black & white period drama crammed into a squared-off aspect ratio, this functions as an unholy, horned-up mashup of Guy Maddin & HP Lovecraft as well as a seafaring, swashbuckling mutation of Persona. It pushes the basic tenets of traditional masculinity and macho bonding rituals into the realm of a hallucinatory fever dream.

7. Us A surreal reimagining of C.H.U.D. that reflects & refracts ugly, discomforting truths about modern American class divides – mostly in the way that escaping the darkness of poverty is often impossible, and that those who manage to somehow embody the mythological idea of social mobility must do so at the expense of others. It also commands a nightmare-logic looseness throughout that was only hinted at in Peele’s debut, leaning heavily into the horror of The Uncanny. It’s like getting an extra hour to poke around in The Sunken Place.

8. The Beach Bum An abrasive stoner-bummer in which Matthew McConaughey plays a Florida-famous poet named Moondog. Harmony Korine always works best when he reins his indulgences in with a little guiding structure, and this one does so by riffing on 90s Major Studio Comedy tropes to hideous success. It’s basically Korine staging Billy Madison on the lower decks of a Jimmy Buffett pleasure cruise, a perfect continuation of the Floridian hellscape he previously sketched out in Spring Breakers.

9. Uncut Gems Another Good Time-style panic attack from the Safdie Brothers, in which New York City is just as loud, chaotic, and crowded as it feels irl. Adam Sandler’s manic performance of gambling addiction & familial regret toys with audiences’ empathy, and its larger story of international jewelry trade emphasizes upsetting truths about the exploitation & suffering that’s behind all the world’s beautiful stones.

10. The Irishman A late-career mafia epic from Martin Scorsese, the undisputed master of that genre. It’s a beautiful yet tragic story about obsoletion and the emptiness of a life spent mired in sensationalist violence, one with a metatextual significance in the life of its aging, self-reflective filmmaker.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read CC’s picks here.
See Hanna’s picks here.
Hear James’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Uncut Gems (2019)

The Safdie Brothers’ breakout film Good Time was a knockout sucker punch that benefited greatly from its total surprise as a grimy novelty. Robert Pattinson’s starring role as an irredeemable scumbag who systematically burns every social bridge he’s crossed in NYC to achieve petty, self-serving goals was the final severed tether to the actor’s previous life as a vampiric teenage heartthrob. The synth assault soundtrack from Oneohtrix Point Never pinned the audience to the back of our seats like an overachieving Gravitron. It sets out to disgust, rattle, and discomfort for every minute of its small-minded heist plot and it succeeds wholesale. At first it appears that the Safdies’ follow-up, Uncut Gems, aims to repeat that very same experience – bringing back OPN for another oppressive score, revisiting the grimy underbelly of NYC, and swapping out RPatz for another against-type actor who’s far more talented than the roles he’s best remembered for implies. The nature of this particular lead actor’s screen presence changes the texture of the film entirely, though, subtly redirecting the same basic parts of Good Time towards an entirely new purpose.

Adam Sandler stars in Uncut Gems as a diamond jeweler and gambling addict who’s willing to melt down his entire life for the chance of orchestrating the ultimate score. He shuffles borrowed money around from sports bet to sports bet, caters to a wealthy black clientele of rappers and athletes who are lightyears outside his expected social orbit, and obsessively nurtures the sale of an uncut Ethiopian gemstone that appears to have magical, cosmic powers (but isn’t worth nearly as much as he self-appraises it to be). Like RPatz in Good Time, he runs around NYC making petty, self-serving chess moves to seal this ultimate score until everyone in the world is pissed off at him: his wife, his mistress, his bookie, the various mobsters that he owes money, Kevin Garnett, The Weekend, everyone. Unlike RPatz, he responds to this exponentially growing list of enemies by shouting with the same apoplectic rage that defined Sandler’s comedic roles in 90s cult classics like Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore. Whereas Good Time is all clenched jaws & gnawed fingernails from start to finish, Uncut Gems distinguishes itself by being consistently, disturbingly funny – thanks to Sandler’s willingness to redirect his usual schtick towards the grotesque.

While Uncut Gems didn’t have me quite as enraptured or rattled as the surprise blunt force of Good Time did, I’m in awe of how it revises that throat-hold thriller’s template into a darkly comedic farce without losing any of its feel-bad exploitation discomforts. Sandler’s unscrupulous gambler/jeweler shamelessly benefits from the exploitation of diamond miners in far-off foreign countries and employees just under his nose, and the movie never lets him off the hook for these sins. Watching the walls close in on him as he makes crooked deals across town is weirdly, uncomfortably fun, though, if not only through the ludicrous caricature of Sandler’s performance. The Safdies amplify the humor of this grimy feel-bad comedy with throwaway gags about cosmic colonoscopies & bejeweled Furbies and, in a larger sense, by bringing all its disparate elements to a frenetic climax in a classic farcical structure. Still, the responsibility of changing the film’s basic flavor enough to distinguish it from Good Time falls entirely on Sandler’s shoulders. It’s a bet that pays off, as he’s capable enough to make the audience laugh while simultaneously making us feel like shit. Repeating that bet for a third revision of Good Time‘s template would be ill-advised, though. Hopefully, the Safdies will realize it’s time to walk away from the table while they’re still up and find a new angle for their next project.

-Brandon Ledet