My Favorite Films of 2020

She Dies Tomorrow (directed by Amy Seimetz)

From my review: She Dies Tomorrow is a profoundly impressionistic film, and writer-director Amy Seimetz is disinterested in conventional explanations or standard narrative structures. This is a mood piece that seeks to explore the ways people process a direct confrontation with their own mortality. Part of what Seimetz is doing is looking at how people choose to spend their time when they know they are going to die. Amy loses all sense of direction or priorities and just wastes away. She mentions being sober for a considerable amount of time but has given it all up now that she believes her life is over.

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My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2020

These are movies that were new to me in 2020. This year was the first time I watched them and they stuck out as pictures that were my favorites, ones I highly recommend and would revisit myself.

Neighbors (1981, directed by John G. Avildsen)

From my review: In the same way that Kubrick played with distorted space in The Shining to subconsciously unsettling the audience, there’s play with time going on in Neighbors. Earl eventually becomes disoriented and has to ask his wife what it is after so many starts and stops on his way to finally settle down for the night. She tells him it’s two in the morning, but soon after, he ends up paying Vic a visit. When he emerges from that bizarre conversation, the birds are chirping & it’s sunny outside. These are not continuity errors but intentional distortions […]

Neighbors is a bizarre, disturbing film, and it’s a shame that so many production elements weren’t there to make it something better. I could easily see Tim & Eric remaking this novel and doing it right. If you’ve seen their Bedtime Stories horror anthology, it traffics in the same territory. The difference is that those comedians understand how comedy works, and Avildsen seems entirely out of his element. I would say Neighbors is most definitely worth a watch because it is unlike most films. It has piqued my interest in the novel, which I’ve heard is much better than what was adapted on film.

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My Favorite Television of 2020

Tales From the Loop

From my review of Episode 8: Tales From the Loop is a show that demands your patience, and if you aren’t willing to offer that up, it’s okay. Not all media is for all audiences. Shane Carruth makes a significant appearance in “Homes,” and I think that signals to savvy viewers who know his work as a director what Tales From the Loop is. You don’t binge-watch the series; you savor each episode and meditate on it. What you get out of one story might not be the same as someone else. That’s mostly how life is, we all go through the same primary path, but the beauty and tragedy we experience is going to vary wildly. Tales From the Loop, despite its 1980s, aesthetics is not a mimic of Stranger Things or Dark, and that is a good thing. It exists as its own unique creature

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My Favorite Books of 2020

You Know You Want This: Stories by Kristen Roupenian

Author Kristen Roupenian has penned a collection of contemporary feminist horror stories. The tone and styles are varied so that each entry feels fresh and unique. “The Mirror, The Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone” is told like a traditional European fairy tale but degenerates in the most lovely of ways to a twisted allegory on obsessive love. “The Boy in the Pool” is about a woman uncomfortable with the ways her childhood friends have grown apart from her. To reunite them in a shared sense of nostalgia, she attempts to find the sex symbol from a film they repeatedly watched as teenagers. Her goal is to have this man show up at one of the friend’s bachelorette party but doesn’t seem to know what should come next. “Scarred”’s narrator discovers a book of spells and ends of conjuring a man into existence but struggles to figure out what to do with him. “Biter” is a hilarious dark comedy about a woman who has fought an urge to sink her teeth into everyone since she was a child. When she becomes aware of a workplace tryst between coworkers, the woman sees an opportunity to indulge in her desires.

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My Favorite Movies of 2000

You Can Count On Me (directed by Kenneth Lonergan)

From my review: Lonergan isn’t interested in judging his characters are giving them closure but putting them in situations and watching how they react. Sammy is given a new boss who is seemingly resentful of getting a position in a small town in the Catskills but also demands a level of professionalism that cuts through the humanity of his workers. Sammy is trying to be an orderly professional, but she’s also human. It would have been easy to write her as the stuck up/by the book sibling; however, Sammy just has things a little more together than Terry. She makes some pretty significant mistakes at her job, and the film doesn’t really wrap things up neatly. She doesn’t lose her job, but it’s clear that the bank’s environment is going to be different going forward.

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My Favorite Movies of 1980

Popeye (directed by Robert Altman)

From my review: Popeye the film was not based on the cartoons rather the comic strip by E.C. Segar, which is where the character originated. The comic strip had a vast supporting cast beyond the five primary roles of the cartoon. Director Altman fills out Sweethaven with these strange and silly faces. There is Wimpy, of course, but also his nemesis Geezil. Rough House the local cook is present, the entire Oyl family (Cole, Nana, & Castor), the clumsy Harold Hamgravy, local boxer Oxblood Oxheart, and many more. Unsuspecting audiences were naturally overwhelmed with the sprawling cast and director Altman’s penchant for layered conversations and dialogue. 

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My Favorite Film & Television Dystopias

A dystopia is generally defined as an imagined society where suffering is plentiful with people living in either a totalitarian or post-apocalyptic state. As you’ll see from my list, my preference leans on the tyrannical side of things. I tend to think societies won’t collapse in as dramatic a fashion as Mad Max, but rather people will reassemble a twisted skeleton of what is familiar & comfortable. To hold things together, people will accept the glue of authoritarian rule, whether through an individual despot or a faceless corporation. In most of these dark futures, there is not tangible governmental leadership; instead, it operates behind the scenes and is typically a merger of government & private corporations.

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The Cinema of Misery

Doesn’t the world feel exceptionally shitty these days? Would you like to watch a movie that will lift your spirits? Well, that’s not this list. When I originally planned this list, COVID-19 cases were going down, and it seemed like the BLM uprisings were pushing back at power semi-successfully. As I publish this, we have soaring case numbers and now federal stormtroopers acting in outright violation of the Constitution in Portland, Oregon. Just yesterday, political commentator Michael Brooks passed away suddenly at the age of 37. Brooks was in my home every day through his work on The Majority Report and his own podcast. Add to this anxiety surrounding schools opening back up soon while the virus rages, and I can safely say my head is not in a good space these days. Seems like the perfect time for such a list.

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My Favorite 2010s Summer Blockbusters

The summer blockbusters of the 2010s feel like an entirely different world from what we saw in the 1980s. Not only has the technology drastically changed, but social mores have opened the door to more politically overt material and fantastic fare that obscure fascistic leanings (see almost every superhero movie). The blockbuster genre doesn’t shy from being self-reflective and commenting on itself now, yet indulges in some of the laziest nostalgia bating. These movies are slicker and, as a result, exist on two extremes of a spectrum: sharp modern fantasies & transparent corporate merchandising efforts. Our first summer of a new decade is off to an extremely troubling start who knows what the future holds for big summer tentpole movies.

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My Favorite Unsettling Films

The Butcher Boy (1997, directed by Neil Jordan)

In 1960s Ireland, 12-year-old Francie Brady allows his imagination to take over his mind and body quite often. His mother suffers a nervous breakdown and commits suicide, and his father becomes emotionally distant, relying on alcohol to get through the day. Francie’s fantasies become full of aliens, monsters, comic book heroes, and most upsetting nuclear annihilation. Francie is driven to committing a horrific act in his community, which makes him an outcast and lands him at a reform school where he’s habitually molested by one of the priests and communes with a foul-mouth Virgin Mary statue. The line between his fantasies and the trauma of his abuses finally coalesce in a violent, bloody act.

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