I make the movie list again. You don’t own me. The order is based on vaguely how much I liked them.
Ghoulies (1984) kind of sucks. It’s just barely better than Dolls. It has one or two fun scenes, but it’s altogether too bloodless and devoid of even cheesy scares. If you’ve ever had a rubber puppet that got half melted from being left on a hot porch for a week and played with it afterward, I guarantee you that was more entertaining. Demon conjuring should be more fun than this.
I love Stephen Chow. Or, perhaps, more accurately, I really liked Shaolin Soccer and keep hoping I’ll get something close to the genius of Kung-Fu Hustle again. The Mermaid (2016) is a chaotic mess. It’s crammed with madness and some unconventional convolutions and it does have a couple moments that approach humor or elegance, but ultimately this fantasy tale of a mermaid posing as a human to lure and assassinate an eccentric billionaire developer to save her dying clan (pod? school? shoal?) is just ugly and bounces a bit too concussively between awkwardly handled wacky, cartoon slapstick to shocking, serious violence laden with ham-handed heavy environmental messaging. I guess it’s a kid’s movie. Credit for being imaginative (read as “different”). It’s still ugly to look at.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) adapts Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2014) with Joaquin Phoenix as stoner detective Larry “Doc” Sportello in 1970s Los Angeles. It’s stylish, dry, and I’m sure it’s not bad, but I have no memory of anything that happens in it. Every time I try to recall something from this movie I can only come up with scenes from The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. All other movies I love and actually want to see again.
Malibu Express (1985) is terrible, sexist 80s action schlock of the highest order. It’s dimwitted, gratuitously nudity filled, and wonderfully unintentionally hilarious. If you liked Samurai Cop, Miami Connection, or Hard Ticket to Hawaii, this should be next on your list.
Before Sam Raimi directed Spiderman and fresh off the Evil Dead trilogy, there was Darkman (1990), a wholly original superhero revenge fantasy thriller seemingly taking cues from classic horror (like 1932’s Doctor X). Liam Neeson is a scientist who gets blown up by the mafia, but comes back with a hideous disfigurement, super-strength, uncontrollably volatile mood-swings, an unevenly portrayed aversion to the sun, and the ability to scientifically replicate anyone’s face with synthetic flesh to exact revenge and attempt to maintain a normal relationship with his girlfriend (Frances McDormand). This is a re-watch as it was on TV a lot when I was a kid. I think I have developed a newfound appreciation for it. It’s bonkers and great fun. The makeup, special effects, and action set-pieces are a great. This character straight up murders dudes. Spiderman doesn’t do that. This is pure, over-the-top Raimi.
Hidden Figures (2016) is based on the inspiring true story of the black female mathematicians who had to deal with both sexism, racism, and personal hardship to help NASA get to space to compete with the Soviets. It’s a quiet, safe, historical movie you can watch with your mom (which I did). The only real prejudice this movie has to overcome with me, however, is my longstanding beef with movies about math. The excellent cast and clean cinematography elevate it a notch above charming and the historical significance bumps it up another couple notches. I did spend an inordinate amount of time subconsciously anticipating Taraji P. Henson getting it on with a fish monster. Thanks, Del Toro. You’ve ruined female-protagonists-working-for-the-US-government-during-the-Cold-War-co-starring-Octavia-Spencer movies.
I’m not a monster. I swear. I understand fully that Howling II: …Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) is objectively a horrible movie. It is also the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time. The end credits simply destroyed me. I was left in total disbelief and in physical pain from laughing. I don’t even remember the plot making much sense. I just remember grotesquely awkward werewolf orgies and Christopher Lee. No matter how awful the movie is, Mr. Lee retains his dignity throughout. Like a goddamn champ. Sybil Danning (Malibu Express) also shines as Stirba, the werewolf queen or something. Legit, she’s fantastic and having a blast with this stupid, stupid movie.
Neill Blomkamp will never live down the success of District 9. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to make interesting, junk-filled sci-fi worlds. Chappie (2015) is the gritty reboot of Short Circuit we didn’t know we wanted. It has some decent action and the robot effects look amazing. But in my humble opinion, casting Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yolandi Visser) was hands down the best decision made here. Dev Patel is good too, but he has a tough time competing with mulleted Hugh Jackman murder-gasming in a Robocop death robot. Then they start downloading souls into computers and it’s just too stupid for me. I can handle a lot of stupid (see Howling 2), but come on. This is what this movie is about? We’re downloading souls? But I’m weird. I want a whole movie of Yolandi Visser reading storybooks to a robot.
Thor: Ragnorak (2017) is the first Marvel movie I think actually liked. Not just tolerated, but more or less enjoyed. Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy were decently entertaining too. This was better. No small part of this has to do with director Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), I’m sure. It’s still a lot of mindless CG bloat, but it has the spirit of fun about itself. The actors are actually charming in this one too and it might be the first time I didn’t totally hate how the Marvel Cinematic Universe directed all of its action scenes.
Political chaos! This seems familiar. I enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017) not as an accurate portrayal of the political power vacuum in the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin, but for it’s sheer viciousness in depicting the cutthroat, two-facedness of modern politics. This is pitch black comedy at its pitch blackest. Like In the Loop, the script crackles with fork-tongued insults being flung by an exceedingly capable cast. Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, and Steve Buscemi are stand-outs.
Wes Anderson gonna do what a Wes Anderson do. All of his typical motifs are here. Twee, quirky, dry adult despondency galore. That said, he knows his strengths and winds them all up tight as a drum in this complex—and surprisingly political—plot about dogs, boys, Japan, propaganda, and love. This is Isle of Dogs (2018). Even if the emotional distance his characters typically insist upon alienates you, it is stunningly gorgeous to look at. And the offbeat comedy, sprawling cast of favorites, inventive stop-motion animation, and continuously rising stakes should pull you in even further. The world and atmosphere of this movie is pure cinema magic. And one that can only be realized via stop-motion.
Aubrey Plaza stars in Ingrid Goes West (2017). Ingrid is a troubled social media addict who stalks an Instagram celebrity (Elizabeth Olsen) into friendship. And eventually her haphazard tapestry of lies and deceptions catches up with her. This is the type of bleak, black comedy that perhaps functions better as a subtle horror movie of our modern world. Very well written characters and marvelous tension.
In Five Easy Pieces (1970), Jack Nicholson is an underachieving wash-up who leaves his job on the oil rigs to return home to see his dying father. He is an angry, impulsive, sad man spinning his wheels but going nowhere, unable to create meaningful relationships and perhaps it is refreshing to know these symptoms are not a Millennial affectation. The great performances, gritty unglamorousness, and the transportative time-capsule quality old movies possess are more than reason enough to check this classic out.
Police Beat (2005) is the simple tale of an African immigrant bike cop in Seattle going through the monotony of facing mysterious crimes whilst battling a paranoid internal monologue regarding the departure of his American girlfriend. It’s weirdly hypnotic. A real surprise treat. I loved it.
This is another re-watch. I first discovered Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles (1989) while doing my college radio show that specifically sought out batshit movies. Upon each viewing, I realize newfound appreciation for this little gem. Meet the Feebles may be my favorite Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) movie. It is such an unapologetic assault on the viewer that you actually have to admire the revolting excesses the filmmakers put their all-puppet cast through. There are multiple disgusting and depressing plots to follow, but the basic outline is that it is the premier of a brand new variety show and everything goes wrong. It has ups and downs throughout, but once you hit the final act, buckle up for pure Jackson unhinged. Sex, drugs, gore, mass murder; you name it, this movie has it. And all with puppets. And it’s a musical! Mean-spirited, sleazy, gross, and completely hilarious. Meet the Feebles is hideous and wonderful. It won’t be for everybody, but screw those guys.
Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche New York) and Duke Johnson team up to create the most depressing stop-motion film possibly ever. I loved it. Anomalisa (2015) is the story of Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a depressed middle-aged man who is suffocating in the mundanity of existence. Literally every single voice he hears—whether it’s the radio, cab drivers, airline passengers, or his own family—sound exactly the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan). And then he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Anomalisa is a gorgeously, subtly animated film that might feel a little too real for comfort. On a list that includes The Death of Stalin and Ingrid Goes West, this is the blackest comedy here. It’s an emotionally gutting experience. But sometimes, I like to be gutted.