Top 10 Narrative Films
10. A Serbian Film (2010, dir. Srdjan Spasojevic)
This one is definitely not a film that everyone should see, but I found it an interesting evolution of the current “torture porn” trend in horror films. I’ve never had an interest in seeing any of the Saw films, and the Final Destination movies I have seen are lackluster. Horror in America seems to always want to tease us or show bad things happening to bad people. In this Eastern European flick, a retired porn star with a wife and child is lured back into the business by a millionaire art collector who wishes to make his own personal porn film. The things our protagonist ends up doing escalate in obscenity and cruelty. The film can also be looked at as a commentary on the class warfare present worldwide.
9. Kaboom (2010, dir. Gregg Araki)
This is another one where it won’t suit everyone’s taste, particularly director Gregg Araki who has a pretty strong hate base from filmgoers. However, I enjoyed the bizarre nature of this one. It’s definitely in the same territory as Donnie Darko, with a supernatural protagonist and very ambiguous plot. Plus, you have James Duvall (Frank the Bunny) who its hard to believe is nearing 40 years of age. There’s a scientology-like cult, a lesbian witch, and strange animal faced intruders in the night. Don’t go in wanting this to answer any questions, rather prepare yourself for a fun and strange carnival ride and you should be pleased.
8. Scream 4 (2011, dir. Wes Craven)
This is my favorite of the Scream franchise since the first. The opening sequence alone is worth watching, as the film throws off any sense of seriousness about itself. In fact, this is not a horror film, but a horror-comedy. Craven does his best work now when he throws off the shackles of producing a straight horror and embraces the meta-narrative (see Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Because he is a leading figure in the development of the horror genre, he has a lot to say through his films about what horror has become. My only qualm is the fact that no major characters ever seem to be in any real danger in this film, would love to see him go risky and kill his core cast off in the opening of the next film.
7) The Troll Hunter (2010, dir. Andre Ovredal)
A group of college students set out into the wilderness, armed with a video camera and documenting the horror that unfolds. Sounds like its been done? Well, this Norwegian film takes a much more interesting path when the youths meet up with a mysterious hunter that has been labeled a poacher by the press. What they learn is that the Norwegian government accidentally woke up hordes of trolls during the last half century as they developed and industrialized the nation. Now the troll hunter travels the country to find and kill those monsters who would garner too much attention and possibly make themselves known to the general populace.
6) Quiz Show (1994, dir. Robert Redford)
It’s a pretty well understood that modern reality television (the new game shows really) are heavily scripted and produced, even down to pre-picking winners during the casting stage. But once upon a time, the American public was still fresh-faced and naive enough to not be aware of the manipulations of the money men in television. Quiz Show chronicles a moment in our past where the public was made aware of the falseness being presented to them on their television screens. It’s deftly directed by Redford, and Fiennes does great as the stiff and uncharismatic Charles van Doren. It’s a great film to watch and then turn on whatever Vh1/MTV/NBC reality show is on and deeply contemplate where we have gone.
5) The Last Circus/Ballad of a Sad Trumpet (2010, dir. Alex de la Iglesia)
If Michael Bay made films that has substance he would be Alex de la Iglesia. In this pic, a man is haunted by his father’s destruction at the hands of the fascist Franco government, and attempts to honor his pop’s memory by continuing the family tradition of clowning. He ends up the “sad clown” to a masochist “happy clown” and both vie for the affections of a beautiful acrobat. The violence gets pretty bad in this one as both men grown increasingly insane. One of the most fun, and still intellectually rich movies I’ve seen in awhile. There’s also a lot of classical film references, particularly in the big finale which reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman work visually.
4) Bliss (1985, dir. Ray Lawrence)
In the first fifteen minutes of this picture, I realized American Beauty sure seemed to rip this one off. Harry Joy, a successful advertising executive falls down dead in his backyard on his birthday and goes to Hell. Paramedics revive him and he wakes up with a complete change in his soul. He begins dropping clients whose businesses support environmental destruction and looks closer at his family to discover what it is that motivates them. Along the way he falls in love with an escort named Honey Barbara. The film was critically panned at the time and Lawrence didn’t make another film until 2001’s Lantana. It’s hard to believe that people didn’t like this picture as it is an incredibly profound and genuinely moving picture.
3) X-Men: First Class (2011, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
After the blasphemous X-Men: The Last Stand and abysmally dull Wolverine pic, I was not feeling the X-Men love. Thanks to some smart thinking writers and the developing skills of director Matthew Vaughn, the X-Men are back! Every choice surrounding this film is so perfect. They set it in the early 1960s rather than try to do it as a contemporary reboot, they reference a ton of moments from the first two X-films while totally ignoring and cancelling out Brett Ratner’s bullshittery on the third, and they don’t let the action overwhelm the characters. First Class is everything a great summer film should be, and it makes me excited for a follow up (Apocalypse and the Horsemen anyone? Or, Mr. Sinister?)
2) Dogtooth (2010, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
I think growing up homeschooled made me click with this film more than others that I saw this year. A Greek business executive and his wife have raised their three children in seclusion, feeding them fantastic lies about the dangers that lie beyond the walls of their compound. But, as the children are speeding through adolescence it becomes apparent that the parents’ grip won’t hold forever. Surreal and hilarious at times, nightmarish at others. Dogtooth has the typical pace of most European film, very slow and measured, and is rich with philosophical contemplation. The subtext for the film can be many things: the relationship between parents and children, governments and their citizens, the clergy and their congregation.
1) Rubber (2010, dir. Quentin Dupieux)
You can keep your Transformers, just give me the sentient spare tire with telekinetic powers. Rubber is so strange but simultaneously enjoyable. It’s also one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen. It has no real peers, and its pretty impossible to peg it with a genre label. There’s some weird meta elements at play and tons of very dry, subtle comedy. And its to the director’s credit that he’s able to infuse a non-speaking, faceless object with so much personality and emotion. The film doesn’t seem to interested in a plot, mainly because so much of it is stepping back and talking about the fact that we are viewing an artificial reality. But the best way to watch the film is to see it as simply an exercise in silliness.