Man is Measured by Moonlight in Him


One thing that bugs the hell out of me about Brokeback Mountain back in 2005 when it was breaking out a brand-new visibility for LGBT stories in all of its Oscar attention is how quick people were trying to spin Brokeback Mountain as NOT a gay story because its topics about the relationship between its two leads were “universal” and could apply to any heterosexual relationship. This made me mad – rather than just being a simple “I don’t agree with this” situation – because well… duh. Did you really believe that there’s a great divide between gay and straight relationships? There’s certainly things a gay man goes through that I’ll never experience being straight, but it should not be a surprise that in terms of romantic tragedy, one can find the story of Brokeback Mountain supremely relatable and it’s reductive to see people pretend this disqualified it as an LGBT story.

So, as Moonlight begins its much-earned run of critical acclaim leading up to its certain Oscar nominations, I’m gonna be really damn annoyed if I go on to find people try to dismiss it as a Queer cinema (something I don’t apply to the Ang Lee-directed Brokeback, but absolutely do here considering the film’s basis in an unproduced play  by MacArthur Fellow Alvin Tarell McCraney, who is openly gay) simply because it’s… again, frankly an incredibly relatable tale from my perspective about more than just the life of a gay man – we don’t get many tales of black LGBT people (last year’s Tangerine was a breath of fresh air, even while I was not overall crazy for the film) and a little more – but also a severe drought – allowing us to accept the concept of a child considering his or her sexuality at a young age, something that still seems taboo for people to deal with. These are clear matters that Moonlight shines on and considers and yet it also uses those three subjects as the groundwork to provide an overwhelmingly dense study on masculinity, identity, silence, fate, and isolation. And all this while holding in themselves the fingerprints of McCraney and writer-director Barry Jenkins’ personal backgrounds within the neighborhoods they depict in Miami (both born and raised), though I feel given the re-writing Jenkins makes in the material, Jenkins has a louder voice in the film than McCraney.

The tale of Moonlight is the kind of structural exercise that absolutely makes me all sorts of excited even without watching the trailer of the movie. To sum it up, Moonlight follows three different turning points in the development of Chiron. The three different segments are painstakingly compact – they strictly begin those three events in Chiron’s life at the very start of their rising and they end immediately at their conclusion without the implication of how they affected Chiron except in that we can suddenly see the subtle yet notable difference in the personalities child Alex Hibbert, adolescent Ashton Sanders, and adult Trevonte Rhodes embody in their respective years towards Chiron. They don’t act as surrogates to those years in Chiron’s life either, they’re pretty clearly just part of a greater development, but Jenkins and McCraney don’t want to waste time with the in-between. They just want to show WHAT happened to Chiron and I think that’s what really makes it easier to find Moonlight so surprisingly moving, that people will input their own idea of what strung together these moments in his life to such a painfully restrained ending that could only come from a movie interested again in blunt emotional strokes than making things easy.


But I’m getting ahead of myself talking about the ending. The WHAT of what happened in Chiron’s life is identified not only by his age, but by the name he goes by. As laconic and insulated “Little” (Hibbert), he is found and semi-adopted by drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his infinitely generous girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) after Juan witnesses “Little” being chased viciously by bullies. Together, the couple are one of the only refuges Little has from his tumultuous home life and intense mother (Naomie Harris), the other refuge being his sole friend Kevin (Jared Piner) advising him on how to get tough without losing any warmth towards Little. The sanctuary Little finds amongst this loving couple he found crumbles away as he makes an induction towards the circumstances of his mother’s condition towards Juan (in a scene that swears Ali will be at the least nominated for an Oscar), one that Jenkins and McCraney had the delicate ability to show humanize the trap culture in a manner white filmmakers simply refuse to do while recognizing the repercussions of what a drug dealer like Juan does.

As he grows out of the name Little in high school, everything that troubled Chiron (Sanders) as a child escalates. He’s rarely staying at his home anymore, Juan has died at some point between the first and second segment with not even the hint of whether it was as a result of his trap life or otherwise, the bullies have grown much more violent and inescapable, and his feelings for Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) have exploded into romantic feelings that are briefly reciprocated. It doesn’t help that Sanders’ performance adopts Hibbert’s refusal to speak while making it a lot more clearer how many emotions Chiron is knowingly swallowing and how it makes him look like he might just faint from all the effort from the very first frame Sanders takes over. And then the comfort Kevin gives Chiron with his sexuality is absolutely demolished once again in a more assaultive manner and it’s clearly breaking Chiron beyond his own power (having had my own habit of ending up in the principal’s office or police station after a fight, the scene where Chiron is badgered by an official to report it was where the film hit me hardest. I swear to Odin, my fingers were digging into my palm with how real that scene felt to me again). This time however, Chiron retaliates to the world in a manner that doesn’t feel as triumphant as it should…

… probably because by the time we return one more time to Chiron, he’s now completely shed all his outer vulnerability into the hardest blackest motherfucker out of the cell block (another thing that no other white director would be able to do – put the mass incarceration of young black men on the table for discussion without calling attention to it) under the name of “Black” (Rhodes). And he’s doing a great job at letting this persona be his shield to stifle and suffocate the boy we met earlier in the film, but not as well as Rhodes is at letting glimpses of him show up all around the first half of the segment before it starts really struggling to breakout when he gets a surprise phone call from Kevin once again (Andre Holland) and that brings back all the complex emotions he wanted to pretend weren’t there in the first place. And this is inarguably the strongest segment of the film, largely because after the first two segments, we have a feel for the pacing and structure of each segment and know in advance exactly which beat this third (and the film entirely) will end, making its choice of ending point still more frustrating in the best way possible.

The things demanded of Rhodes to play both a shadow of the actors who played Chiron before him and to balance that with a muted gangster facade is surprisingly complex acting from an actor I didn’t even know existed, let alone was capable of providing possibly my favorite performance of the year (and I’m excited to see what he does in Terrence Malick’s next film Weightless) and he drives the third act by letting his inner commentary map out the growing emotional tension with his reunion with Kevin. Holland for his part fills in the silence Rhodes gives their scenes with his charm and smile, but it’s not his hour – it’s Rhodes’ and it’s only on Rhodes’ final word that the movie feels like it’s brought the story of Chiron’s reckoning with his attitude about who he truly is where it needed to reach.


The entire cast is why the movie works so well. Even in the arch stage-driven manner of not only the dialogue between characters, but in the blocking of those dialogue scenes (including the same scene that’s gonna get Ali the Oscar nomination), the cast brings a respect to a side of African-American culture that is constantly relegated to caricature and stereotype and even the small size of the primary cast doesn’t stop the Miami of Moonlight from feeling lived-in and surrounding. And the three Chiron actors do a really impressive sleight, they make it three segments feel like one long stream without trying to pretend we’re not watching three different segments. It’s funny how every review I’ve read has had a different attitude on how little they look and like who looks more like who (personally, I feel Rhodes looks nothing like the young actors while I can see how an Alex Hibbert could grow into an Ashton Sanders). The screening I saw Moonlight at had all three actors (as well the two younger Kevins, one of the bullies, McCraney, and Jenkins) in attendance and they looked nothing alike, but their consecutive performances and how they only changed patiently over segments brought more smoothness to the structure of the film than all the crafty editing possibly could.

If there is any real gripe I could possibly have, Moonlight feels just as little less mechanical – but still mechanical as every other indie breakout picture of the 2010s has been. I nodded to how obviously this is still a stage script however Jenkins tries to beat it to film form, but Moonlight wants to be recognized for how it does the things it does, rather than just letting itself get away with the trick. Visual flourishes like surrounding circular Steadicam shots revolving around characters and the deepest blues to telegraph what’s happening in moments and overt usage of classical music with slow-motion where its better to let the audience sink into the moment without realizing it. But even that feels like a stretch – these aren’t creative decisions by Jenkins that are illiterate towards film vocabulary and they’re not decisions made flippantly. In a lot of the visuals, we get a much more David Gordon Green atmosphere to outdoors Miami – beysides the two slickly shot beach scenes – that show both a love for the city Jenkins and McCraney come from (they’re more affectionate for Miami than yours truly, but that’s not a tall order) and a knowledge in how conditions are in the humid city. They’re just not nearly as delicate as the film requests.

But then Moonlight just as well sits between a spot like Chiron in toughness and vulnerability that it doesn’t have quite the need to grapple with. Losing more of the arch staginess of the dialogue scenes, I think, would lose more of McCraney’s authorship and I think that’s pretty important to retain as Queer cinema. And I’m not sure if Moonlight could be any more restrained about itself before the different branches of its themes become invisible. The Moonlight we have is still a moving work of visual poetry and if I were even half as capable of the things Jenkins does in the movie, I’d probably flaunt each at least at one point. No need to try to shut himself down and pretend to be any other director, that’d probably go against the moral of the film to begin with, no?





Getting myself back in the saddle of posting after a really long couple of weeks of work and school that kept me from posting. In any case, another quiz from the great Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog is perfect to get me back in the mood and since it’s Halloween, I’m going with his second Halloween survey that he’s posted, named after David Bradley’s character (basically an impression of an angrier John Hurt) on Guillermo Del Toro’s vampire tv series The Strain. Here we go, buddy!

1) Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet?

I still love Bouchet, but Fenech just owns every shot she appears in and grabs my attention. I think it’s the eyebrows. She got them Kate-Bush-esque Eyes of the Devil wit dem eyebrows.


2) The horror movie you will stand up for when no one else will

The Lords of Salem, it’s best horror film Zombie has made to date. It’s basically a slow burn descent into madness and it functions like a better Mothers film than Mother of Tears, please fuck with me. It looks gorgeous, it sounds menacing, what were you looking for?

Also, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds gets more hate than it deserves – it deserves no hate and all the love – simply because of its ending? Saving Private Ryan had a bad ending AND a meh movie prior to it and it gets so much love. At least War of the Worlds’ ending is beat-for-beat similar to the books’ (the only difference is the wife is a miraculous survivor rather than the son). It’s still dark as all hell and feels extremely dangerous even with Tom Cruise’s plot armor. Between Duel, Jaws, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, and even moments in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg had horror DOWN.


3) Your favorite horror novel

Ohhhhh, that’s a toughie. I’m between David Wong’s John Dies at the End for sheer attachment (it has dick jokes, it’s my favorite thing) and structural ambition and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which is inarguably the better book by all means but I kinda wanna give it over to JDatE because I wanna make it into a movie myself. Y’know… a better movie.

Honorable Mention to Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Stephen King without the large-ass filler acting like he’s Charles Dickens paid by the word.

tumblr_m3og16ylas1qcu22bo1_1280(if anybody knows the name of the person who made this fan art, lmk. I’d like to credit him or her)

4) Lionel Atwill or George Zucco?

Atwill’s a fucking joy to watch in any role he takes on, no matter how small, while Zucco only made a good impression on me in Scared to Death, which is such a shitty movie, you may as well not watch it. Atwill by a mile.


5) Name a horror film which you feel either goes “too far” or, conversely, might have been better had been bolder.

I don’t think any horror film I’ve ever seen has “gone too far”, although I believe that Antichrist could easily be read that way – and I’m sure Lars von Trier would love for it to be read that way. Probably the moment in Saw 3D when the opening kill has two guys deciding the girl who’s been cheating between the two of them deserves to be sawed in half horribly in front of everyone. That’s outlandishly misogynistic in its assumption that the female victim is the only one culpable in the cheating and that she even deserved to die because of it, even by horror movie standards. Saw was always a franchise that was as shitty in its morals as its craft, but that was bad.

A movie that doesn’t go far enough for me I guess is Don’t Breathe. It could easily let itself be trashy and tawdry with its reveal of the Blind Man’s intentions and that would at least make it enjoyable, but no… it presents itself in that same somber darkened post-Goyer manner.

6) Let the Right One In or Let Me In?

Let the Right One In and, not that Let Me In is a bad movie, but it’s not a tough contest in the slightest. I’m almost offended you dared to ask it.

7) Favorite horror film released by American International Pictures

The Abominable Dr. Phibes. The biggest supervillain in horror besides The Phantom of the Opera and, y’see, Vincent Price makes Dr. Phibes a better superhero. Cause he’s Vincent Price.


8) Veronica Carlson or Barbara Shelley

Blasphemy but I think I’ll go with Carlson here. Most Hammer women don’t get a lot of character to work with because they’re only walking boobs to be attacked by Christopher Lee, but at least Carlson felt more awake than the movies would let her be.


9) Name the pinnacle of slasher movie kills, based on either gore quotient, level of cleverness or shock value.

Are we talking about the best slasher movie kills or the best slasher movie because of its kills? I’ll shoot for both.

The movie with the best slasher kills for me is A Nightmare on Elm Street, while they’re not exactly logical in some cases – Rod’s makes no sense… is like… the blanket dreaming? Huh? – Tina and Glen both get some iconically grisly imagery to them. And I’m sure Glen’s takes care of the gore quotient.


The best slasher kill in all of movies to me is the spearing of a couple in the middle of coitus in Twitch of the Death Nerve aka Bay of Blood aka Reazione a Catena. The way their body still moves weirdly in ecstasy after they’ve been impaled is like a ghastly dream, absolutely exploitative of both sex and violence. And I do give a wink to the famous sleeping bag death of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, right down to the kick he gives the bag afterward.


10) Dracula (1931; Tod Browning) or Dracula (1931; George Melford)?

Melford’s version, the one that’s actually a functional movie rather than a poorly shot play. I mean, I know Browning was drinking a lot, but come the fuck on. Dracula dying off-screen? Fuck you. Browning had the better Dracula, though. Lugosi, dawg.



11) Name a movie which may not strictly be thought of as a horror film which you think qualifies for inclusion in the category.

I did mention the previous War of the Worlds. It’s a horror film in the same devastating sense as the 1954 Godzilla – both dealing with the national climate of fear and making them into frightening giant inescapable beings that leave  carnage behind… Godzilla is Hiroshima/Nagasaki and WotW is 9/11 – and I’d honestly call it scarier too (though Godzilla is like the wayyyyy better movie). The blood roots are nightmare fuel.

12) The last horror movie you saw in a theater? On home video?

In theaters: Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, one of the few De Palmas I’ve been able to fall completely in love with.

On home video: Child’s Play, a movie I find myself kind of warming to a bit more now than the first time I watched it, without thinking it’s good. But hey, it went by quicker this time around.


13) Can you think of a horror movie that works better as a home video experience than as a theatrical one?

Any trashy 80s slasher film functions better as a Saturday night dark living room viewing experience (preferably on VHS) than a Saturday night movie theater viewing unless you’re taking your girlfriend out on a Friday night walk to the local theater like you could only do in the old days. I think my favorite slasher to go with on a home video viewing is either Cheerleader Camp or Rock n Roll Nightmare.

Also, though I doubt it’s enough to elevate it as a good movie, I’m interested in how Unfriended feels as a VOD viewing on a laptop rather than at the cinema like how I saw it.

14) Brad Dourif or Robert Englund?

Aw goddammit. Brad Dourif is the undeniably better actor, anybody pretending otherwise is a complete fool. Dourif is one of the best character actors we’ve been lucky to see and unlike Freddy Krueger turning more and more into a clown, the menace behind Chucky has always consistent – he’s a foul-mouthed savage shit from beginning to end. But, y’know while Chucky is his best performance to date, the guy has always been wowing us – any actor on Deadwood automatically gets good will and his appearance in The X-Files was brilliant acting.

But Englund made the bigger impact on me, TBH. Partly because some friend of mine as a child tried to convince me Englund was a real-life serial killer, but largely because Freddy was the guy to actually frighten me as a child. I’d sooner jump to cast Englund in a movie than Dourif. So my vote goes to Englund.


15) At what moment did you realize you were a horror fan? Or what caused you to realize that you weren’t?

When I saw Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and found myself thinking just how fun it is to reflect on horror as a genre. Or when I found myself cruising late at night to Blue Oyster Cult tracks and skipping specifically to the songs about ghosts.

16) The Thing with Two Heads or The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant?

I’ve only seen The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant so I will have to go by default with…

The Thing with Two Heads because Two-Headed Transplant fucking SUCKED.

17) Favorite giallo or giallo moment

Favorite giallo is easily Argento’s Deep Red, while my favorite moment within it is hard to pinpoint. Favorite moment in it is the haunted house scene, largely because there’s no actually ghosts to be haunting it, yet it’s completely atmospheric and creepy and I expect the children’s song to start playing any minute.

18) Name a horror remake, either a character or an entire film, that you prefer over its original or more iconic incarnation. (Example: Frank Langella’s Dracula/Dracula > Christopher Lee’s Dracula/Dracula)

Sean Cunningham/Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left is complete crap in all directions and the remake does so much better at being a movie to feel awful and cruel watching while also not looking like it was shot with turd or indulging in extremely questionable and tasteless creative decisions (almost certainly coming from Cunningham – Craven is too talented to stoop so low).

As for character, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in preferring the Christopher Lee’s Dracula to Lugosi Bela’s Dracula. He’s much more animalistic and memorable in such limited screentime (at least for the first film he did as Dracula), but it helps when you’re played by an actually good actor. Sorry, Lugosi… still love your Dracula, though.


19) Your favorite director of horror films

Dario Argento. No matter how low he’s fallen, which is pretty damn low, his heights are bellissimo and blinding to me.


20) Caroline Munro or Stephanie Beacham?

Caroline Munro easily. Like she’s eye-catching all the damn time.


21) Best horror moment created specifically for TV.

The final scenes of Twin Peaks where Cooper enters the Black Lodge and the aftermath of his journey are the sort of nightmarish remainders you wouldn’t expect a show so in love with its characters to leave its protagonists at, especially in the former finality of its cancellation. That last image of what’s happening to Cooper is heartbreaking to me.

On a side note, as I mentioned in my Tales from the Crypt video, the opening of the show traumatized me so much as a child that I couldn’t look at a picture of the Crypt Keeper for like… all of my childhood without a mini freakout. And on a less understandable note, I was also frightened out of my wits as a child by the Treehouse of Horror variant of the Gracie Films logo at the end of Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons. My first one – I think it was the episode that Mr. Burns was a vampire – had a very long scream that continued into the organ variation of theme and faded out with end. The endlessness of the scream felt like the sort of things to happen in my nightmares, I guess.

22) The Stephen King adaptation that works better as a movie than a book.

The best Stephen King adaptation is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, easily. But I don’t know that I’d claim it works better as a movie than a book, since we know that the two are attempting and succeeding at very different things (though I’d say Kubrick accomplishes what he aims for much better than King, sorry buddy).

As for Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, while it’s my second-favorite of the King adaptations, I think King does a much better job elaborating on the relationships of everyone in the town and making it feel familiar as we watch it slowly die and turn evil on our lead. Such would be easier to do with a large doorstop of a book like King does.

So I guess my answer would be to go with David Cronenberg’s adaptation of The Dead Zone. Even if it’s the lower tier of Cronenberg for me and his most restrained work, it’s a lot easier to get a visceral feeling of immediacy in psychic visions through the fluidity of film editing and letting it shove the audience into different moments unexpectedly. There’s certainly an ideal way to use the medium of literature to get there, but I don’t think King is aware of it or even tries.

23) Name the horror movie you most want to see but to this point never have.

In a little over a week, I’m gonna see Andy Warhol’s Dracula at Perez Art Museum of Miami and I’m really excited because I’ve always wanted a chance to check it out. I’ve already seen Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, which will precede Dracula as part of a double feature and loved it! If y’all are in Miami, join us.

24) Andre Morell or Laurence Naismith?

I’ve seen more movies with Naismith in them, but Morell is absolutely the one I actually associate with horror, given his Hammer work. So for the horror survey, I go with Morell


25) Second-favorite horror film made in the 1980s.

Kubrick’s The Shining – unless you’re the type to pretend that 1980 doesn’t count as 1980s (I’m not that type) – at which point I’d go with Evil Dead II. The Beyond is my number one forever because MAMBO MAMBO ITALIANO, EY MAMBO MAMBO INFERNO DELLAMORTE.

26) Tell us about your favorite TV horror host and the program showcasing horror classics over which he/she presided/presides.

I know Elvira was THE TV horror host everybody knew and loved (rocking Vampira’s thunder, though) and much respect to her legacy and I enjoy her, but my childhood was spent with Svengoolie and he’s gonna be the one I love most. You never forget your first folks. I was also really fond of Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis, his continuous habitation in that role and having watched it a lot as a child made his presence very warm to me. M.T. Graves was way before my time (Lewis and Svengoolie too, but 80s were close enough to catch re-runs) and the question sounds like anthology television hosts are disqualified or I’d have picked the Crypt Keeper.


Well guys, there you have it. Thanks for reading!


Uncle STinG’s Egyptian Blood Feast Recipe for Y’all


For the Memory of Herschell Gordon Lewis 15 June 1926 – 2016

The idea of who brought blood and gore to motion pictures is not a certain thing (obviously the milestone moment of Blood Itself making its appearance in a motion picture is Psycho, but talking what movie really didn’t sanitize the matter and really indulged in the violent shades of red), but I can’t think of many people who actually know their way through horror cinema disputing the concept that the credit belongs to “The Godfather of Gore (and Direct Marketing according to his personal website)” Herschell Gordon Lewis. I don’t think the Direct Marketing aspect is an inaccurate self-observation – he didn’t always do horror pictures, but spent all of his career essentially mapping out and following the trends of cinema. What could be made cheap and quick and get some big damn return was on Lewis’ mind, but notably with his early nude pictures.

When the nude pictures were starting to lose their underground appeal, Lewis and his producer collaborator David Friedman jumped straight into horror and reached for the most shocking exploitative usage of gore and blood as they possibly could, selling their pictures on those extremities and forever making their mark in horror film history with their first indulgence in that genre, Blood Feast – a film about a crazed Egyptian slaughtering people to sacrifice to his Ancient Egyptian God. Amongst the bloodiness of its scenes, Blood Feast is also notorious for being the oldest film in the UK DPP’s Video Nasties list – movies prosecuted under their Obscene Publications Act in an attempt to censor them.


These movies were honestly… not good. None of them. I don’t think Lewis made good movies (nor did he, I think given some of his interviews… especially this one by Juan Barquin for YAM Magazine). Some are among the worst movies I’ve ever seen, like Blood Feast itself. But I think a good amount of them are a joy to watch nevertheless, like Blood Feast again, which I’d recommend to you all right this second as so-bad-it’s-good good damn time. And to be real, I don’t think another filmmaker was able to have such pride in their status as truly meritless shlock in every way it can be considered art. It suggests a charming and down-to-earth personality which, given that here in S. Florida, I know of enough people who have either met (like yours truly) or been good friends with Lewis, can be confirmed by anyone who has encountered him.

And again… when it comes to making the blood fill the screen, most people agree he did it first. Sometimes, you don’t have to do it best.

Anyway, Blood Feast was my real introduction to the filmmaker (as per a marathon of the Blood trilogy held by my former A Night at the Opera co-host Britt Rhuart) and I thought it would be nice to revisit that movie in an urthodox manner. By trying to adapt it as a recipe for a feast akin to what Fuad is preparing for his victims (and with his victims). Nobody can cook it like Lewis, but why not take a look at what makes up the feast from the very beginning?



  • 10 Gallons of flop sweat from my boy Mal Arnold’s beady eyed forehead heat in the Miami sun playing the buggy Fuad Ramses.
  • Maybe a box of Just For Men on that grey hair on him too. But seriously, man, somebody get Arnold an AC.
  • 30 whole books on Egyptian culture and history. We ain’t gonna read these, we’re gonna burn them. A movie like Blood Feast ain’t got no need for cultural accuracy or correctness. We’re not making goddamn Citizen Kane here.
  • 118 lb.s of white meat named Connie Mason. That’s literally all she will function as… meat. It’s not like she put anything into her performance.
  • Also get some more white meat for the supporting cast surrounding Arnold and Mason, but make sure they literally can’t intone anything to sound human in their whole life. That’s very important.
  • -5 functioning lightbulbs. Like literally buy them and then break them.
  • 7 cans of gold spray paint.
  • 1 department store mannequin to spray that gold on. It will be the classiest thing in the movie.
  • A basketful of hats no living being should be seen wearing for Lyn Bolton.
  • 20 virgins. The movie is classy enough to suggest them as sacrifices and it’s not like it’ll be worse than appearing in this movie.
  • However, you can contain South Florida heat, you fucking get it. And contain it. It’s a necessary ingredient it adds that spicy flavor and that Florida Man tastefulness to it.
  • 10,000 buckets of red paint as crimson as we imagine blood to be in our nightmares.
  • 6 sheeps worth of body parts and organs from eyes to stomach to tongue, not a bit of sheep wasted without being used in the name of art.
  • Really that last ingredient was an understatement, we want all the blood and gore you can give. Not some, dude. ALL of the blood and gore.
  • Also all the red curtains you can get. It’s gonna look like a magic show in the Black Lodge up in this bitch.
  • Y’know what? Grab a canvas too, because this is gonna be a work of art, yo!



  1. Write the lines to the hands of at least one of those sacks of white meat (btw, you should probably refer to them as actors).
  2. Don’t mix those actors together very well, we’re not looking for chemistry at all by any means.
  3. Paint it all black.
  4. Burn down your script.
  5. Mesh all the listed ingredients together and shove it into your over. Heat at the highest you can go and for an indefinite amount of time.
  6. This is probably a good time to state I can’t cook and you shouldn’t listen to me.
  7. Let your house burn down. Don’t walk out of the house. This is fine. This is as insane as the movie is for sure.
  8. Go make the table while you’re at it. Invite your friends, have a bunch of beers, and pizza.
  9. Go watch Blood Feast right now, it’s a good time.


Farewell, Lewis. Thanks for the meal!



Blood on the Leaves


It’s very unfortunate to have something this damned after the making of director-writer-actor Nate Parker’s controversial 2016 directorial (but not acting) debut The Birth of a Nation and before I personally got a chance to see it (but not before its debut at Sundance), especially in consideration of Parker’s personal passion for this film. Because I don’t personally have a problem with Parker’s performance in itself, he plays determination and the pain of seeing his fellow black brothers and sisters suffer as well as anybody should. But in consideration of the way the film’s subject Nat Turner – a slave and reverend who in 1831 led a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia that led to a massacre to a possible total of 65 white people – is portrayed in the most holy unblemished light alike most other conventional biopics of American Heroes (and make no mistake, The Birth of a Nation is painfully conventional, but I will get to that) to the degree of being so much of a Christ parable you’d have to not know who Jesus is to miss it… well, I’m sorry but Nate Parker is not the right man to play a Christ figure. Whether or not his rape accusations have any merit (I will not be stating my feelings on the matter), it is impossible to ignore that baggage for this kind of role, especially when self-directed. I don’t think anybody is wrong or right to separate the art from the artist, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to see shots like a backlit Turner holding his arms out in a jail cell like a crucifix without the knowledge of Parker and co-story developer Jean Celestin’s rape charges in 2000 (which have been just as much the subject of controversy as the focus of this film) popping in the back of their mind.

Make no mistake on the matter either way, The Birth of a Nation is an important movie and a necessary one in this day and age.

We live in 2016. People are not only quick to shame Black Lives Matter, they’re outright calling them a “terrorist group” or “hate group” and claiming that the protests against systemic racism in America is too violent and unnecessary (or that systemic racism simply does not exist). When quiet protests like Colin Kaepernick’s kneel occur, they further shame them and tell them they have nothing to protest about, they should leave the country and so on. We need a movie like this that puts front-and-center a black man who knew that revolutions were not bloodless. That challenges that mindset in America that injustice should be taken laying down. That really deals with the ugliness of fighting oppression. Turner’s story is one that is perfect to put front and center for discussion on the state of race relations in this country.

Unfortunately, The Birth of a Nation is also frustratingly restrained and basically maps out as a beat-for-beat generic biopic on a man a lot more complicated than that. It begins with Parker as a child being told he is destined for greatness and being raised in parallel to his master’s son Sam Turner (Armie Hammer as an adult, with facial hair, costume, drunken aloofness, and even his home resembling Edwin Epps from 12 Years a Slave to an alarming degree), later to inherit him. It follows him learning to read on his own before being discovered by his master’s wife (Penelope Ann Miller), after which the family takes it upon themselves to develop Nat’s reading skills, namely the Bible given the patriarch’s profession as a Reverend. The manner of the Turners’ exploitation of Nat as a Reading Negro for their congregation leads to Nat’s adult life being sent around to different plantations to preach gospel to the slaves, specifically with the undertone to fear their masters as God. Behind Nat is the support and love of his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and Grandmother (Esther Scott), resilient under the lash of their oppressors and slowly Nat finds himself witnessing the abuses grow worse and worse from the rape of his wife and another fellow slave (one of them outright arranged by Sam), the hammering out of teeth and force-feeding, the brains of a runaway spilled on a roadway, and all sorts of vile atrocities perpetrated by the slave trade.


The crazy thing is that I actually thought it could have worked that to its advantage of Parker had some awareness of where he was going with this because I knew Turner’s story for the most part and expected a certain subversion. This movie was going more out of its way than any biopic this side of Sergeant York to portray its subject as unconflicted. And if The Birth of a Nation went the way I expected to use this method as a weapon, I would not have thought it was spotless – many decisions such as to interrupt the movie to suddenly give us a romantic comedy between Nat and his wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King) or the shockingly flighty and horribly mistoned score by Henry Jackman. Neither of those belong in a Nat Turner picture and they’re early points against the film, but for the most part, The Birth of a Nation starts off in an uncomfortably agreeable manner without undercutting the truth of slavery.

The closest thing it does – almost as a ticking clock to his anger rising enough to start the uprising – is that it had let Nat portrayed as witnessing these horrific acts at an uncomfortable distance suggesting that he’s in a relative place of privilege. We don’t see him antagonized by Sam or going through any punishments until later on, his reaction shots are usually shared with Sam himself (Sam being portrayed by Hammer with a very translucent sense of pantomimed fraternity towards Nat that turns uglier over the course of the movie). Nat as portrayed in the film by Parker’s performance feels for his fellow black men, but seems to think that white men can still be kind to him early on. Nat feels at ease early on to approach a white woman and hand her a doll her child dropped, he doesn’t hesitate to baptize a white man rejected by all other reverends, the film is absolutely disinterested in any character other than Nat in his bubble until it is burst violently by a revelation that he just another black man who is to be lashed and killed and that’s where the movie could have turned itself around and subverted itself.

When Nat turns to his rebellion, what we have here is the chance to really show the man we’ve come to love without any caveats indulge in unrestrained violence against white oppressors and massacring them for their actions as a symbol of wrath. We could have had a really sudden shift of perspective given and a real challenge to what we consider necessary or appropriate responses to a life witnessing horrors and being taken advantage of. We could have had scenes of the revolt involving casualties of women and children (something I think The Birth of a Nation could have gotten away with after several shots specifically showing children’s complicity in slavery).


You see, I like to think the namesake of The Birth of a Nation was chosen for a reason. In D.W. Griffith’s original 1915 film, the first half of it is spent making us adore the two families involved in the main conflict and the second half shows the Griffith’s uglier side in its championing of violence against black people and oppression and stating it as necessity (something that I’m sure many white audiences agreed with in 1915, but was controversial even during those years). If Parker’s film is to use that sort of style as a weapon, he would allow Turner’s actions to be visceral, alarming, and intense, shaking the audience to its core.

Not only does Parker’s Birth of a Nation pull back on the violence (sure, it gets gruesome, but cuts are rapid fast and moments are usually given low-lighting), it outright rushes through the revolt itself and is very quick to wrap itself up as a picture once Turner makes the first blow. I would not be surprised if the revolt took up less than a 1/8 of the runtime and its aftermath another 1/8, but I didn’t keep a stopwatch. It absolutely falls flat on itself and considering how it’s more earnest to show the vile response by the white community to massacre a huge amount of slaves uninvolved with the rebellion (the exact number is undetermined but 200 is the optimistic minimum) might give the wrong message to a more absent-minded viewer that fighting only makes things worse. That shouldn’t be what you walk away from The Birth of a Nation with.

The only possible way I could imagine the movie getting itself back on track is if it were 30 minutes longer and turned to passion play during Nat’s capture, something the film tried to hint at by portraying many of Nat’s angelic visions with the most recognizable artifice and self-granting gravitas. Put all of Nat Turner on trial and really force the audience to reckon with its fact, practically kick-starting the conversation on current race relations right there in the middle of the film. But Parker was apparently less interested in that than making a harsh, complicated film about violence as protest and the sword bringing righteousness. It’s just really eager to stop and leave.

The movie we have is as a result as muddled in its message as it is amateur in its craft. There are some very brilliant backlit shots and well-arranged compositions (I particularly think of Nat’s first kill), but it for the most part feels like a debut feature all the way. I wonder if Parker would have made a much more solid biopic for Nat Turner later on his career as well as being wiling to go full-throttle on dealing with the fact of Nat’s revolt, but then at the same time, I’m not sure he would have made the same generic biopic decisions that would have established a great launchpad for that subversion and 2016 is pretty much THE year that a movie dealing with the history behind black protest should be made. In the end, we can only deal with the film we have made now and while I think it’s a well-made picture especially relative to a debut, it’s tough to shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.



Into the Woods


When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it was among many a horror phenomenon over the near half-century since 1968 that marked the division in horror followings straight down the line into two factions. On the one side was the moviegoers that favors quiet, patient atmospheric scares and let themselves sink into feeling creeped out that almost certainly fueled the word-of-mouth that made The Blair Witch Project the most profitable movie at the time of its release with the highest return-on-investment a movie could accomplish at the time. Despite really falling more into line with this side of horror movies, I actually was not as fond of The Blair Witch Project (though I’ve since warmed to it) as I was just admiring of what it accomplished for horror movies – on top of being the movie to bring “found footage” into the mainstream and have studios realize just how lucrative the style was even at its lowest points, it was an impressive manner of immersive storytelling largely through skeletal mythos and a bare narrative (I was only 7 when it came out and thus my peers were all around that age, but I of course very much recall hearing so many people claim that the movie was real.). Nevertheless, there is a much louder amount of praise for it than my meager “it’s fine but I’m not rushing to re-watch it”.

And still louder than my middle-of-the-road attitude is the amount of people who are not in the slightest moved by The Blair Witch Project eager to call it out as a movie where nothing happens. I don’t think I need to say I disagree with that attitude, though I sympathize with a few of their points. And these folks seem to favor more of a sensory overload in their horror, a visceral shaking of terror. Not necessarily lacking in taste in patience, but there needs to be an endgame, a climax, an escalation without restraint. And I think that’s what director Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s second sequel to Project, simply titled Blair Witch, falls into. It’s a movie that, like Creed and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, uses the position of a sequel to act as a defacto remake in baldly revisiting plot beats, but is also more excited to get right to being a much more overtly spookier film than its predecessor. Given that my personal favorite horror films are Suspiria and Night of the Living Dead, I can’t say I don’t also love those movies as well, but in the case of Blair Witch, it works at one very important point for it to work for me, and otherwise comes across as either annoying or silly or both.

But let’s get through those plot beats Blair Witch borrows shall we as well as its connection to Project: As told via the footage found on memory cards in the Burkittsville Woods in 2014, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) has finally found footage recently released on-line that possibly would tell him what happened to his sister, Heather Donahue – who was among the three individuals whose disappearance is documented in Project. Accompanying him are his childhood best friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), while their film student friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who transparently has a crush on James is recruited by James to record their journey and findings into those very same woods again. Reluctantly, they bring along the local couple who claimed to know where the footage was found Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) and you can expect to know none of them are coming out of the woods by the end of the movie.


Now, I don’t exactly think anybody really asked for this sequel’s existence (probably why they waited until Comic-Con 2016 to fire the hype cannon by revealing Blair Witch‘s existence after shooting it under the name of “The Woods”, compressing and concentrating all excitement to a two-month period), but I’d like to think they’re aiming for fans of The Blair Witch Project at the minimum (I don’t think the chained-up basement dweller who liked Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 will be allowed to re-enter society anytime soon, let alone a movie theater), fans of first-person camera films as a projected audience. I can’t think of a worse move to show contempt for that very style of filmmaking than doing everything you can to deal with the ramifications of that style and Blair Witch does that from the very start by giving every single character a camera, in some cases two. And the result is a movie that essentially is unchallenging to itself, allowing itself to be conventionally framed and edited but the shitty cinematography, sound design (though that’s not the case here thankfully – the sound mixing rivals You’re Next in my book), and kind of mediocre acting all around (I get the feeling that – save for the bland James – they’re all meant to be dislikable in some way, Lane is unambiguously the most odious of the bunch, but then why should I care for them) don’t give the film the rawness the style dishes in spades so much as it just has an excuse because the context is a bunch of cameras.

As for the overt scare moments… well, like I said at the top, the film takes a method I don’t really take kindly to: toss your camera around (almost always with the batteries in the flashlight failing meaning you will get frames of just nothing) and be as fucking loud as possible. It’s just a much more annoying version of the “show nothing” manner people blamed The Blair Witch Project only this time it leaves me with a fucking migraine and not one of the two people with more than one camera (Lisa sports a DSLR as well as a drone – WHAT?! A drone?! They don’t even do anything with except steal establishing shots of the same spot three times – and Lane has a DV Camera) dare to ditch their camera like any normal person would, yet can’t bother to also shoot in a manner that doesn’t feel like a bad trip to Six Flags.

Thankfully, it’s not all a complete wreck and the final act of the film involving a very familiar location ends up being a hair-raising trip into darkened hallways and doors with just the right amount of just missed visibility to every little noise the remaining characters hear (it helps that not only have the numbers whittled significantly by this point, but the movie sticks to one perspective for long enough to get the atmosphere and frenzy of each character). In all its blue-ish lightning punctuated lighting, just looking at a door long enough gets unnerving enough to wire me up. It is easily the best thing I’ve seen out of Adam Wingard yet (a filmmaker I otherwise have literally no care for) and if it’s still just a lesser version of Radio Silence’s section of the found footage anthology V/H/S (of which Wingard directed the frame narrative and so certainly saw), that doesn’t entirely take away from the film. Plus the Radio Silence sequence doesn’t have a moment nearly as clautrophobic as Lisa’s imprisonment.


This final section will be getting into vague spoiler territory and if you are still interested in the film after all I’ve said, by all means, you can quit reading now. I’m just going to point out how the film ends on a silly note regardless of the craft of the finale (and silliness is constant in Blair Witch – Lane is kind of meant to be a second antagonist but he’s so weak looking that it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be beaten up at any second, there are big versions of the stick figures now, it’s just completely wacky at points that undercut the idea that we’re meant to be scared), but the biggest one is…


… the way Barrett interjects his own ideas into the mythology. Namely the temporal element. For one, time travel doesn’t seem to belong in the earthy groundedness of the Blair Witch any more than Lisa’s drone does, but it also opens up a new can of worms. We’re meant to understand that Lane and Talia have been experiencing time at a vastly more accelerated pace than the other three and we know that the footage on Lane’s camera has been recovered and that it’s miraculously had enough battery life to work for at least a year (given the beard he sports around the end). At no point does the film seem interested to alternate and see how the time shifts look from both sides of the schism. As well as the problem with giving everybody a camera is that there’s certainly no way ALL of their cameras had been shut off at the moment of their abduction/death (and if they were… how would the footage be recovered so easily). The abrupt ending doesn’t feel earned (although it was easy to see it coming this time around) as The Blair Witch Project before it… we saw the battery was close to death. But here, it just stops. Suddenly the footage that all the headset cameras were sure to get of the Witch doing her deeds with the characters are not interesting enough to be edited in, all that sound and fury and noise was just for nothing.

I don’t know. In addition to hating the fact that it’s found footage, Blair Witch doesn’t know how to make its specialness fit into the logistics of itself. It doesn’t know how justify itself as a movie. And it doesn’t know how to go full throttle on its attempt to be more intense and visceral than The Blair Witch Project. I don’t think anybody particularly needed to make this movie – not Wingard, who has probably been sick of the found footage style by his career (or maybe not). Not Barrett. Not Lionsgate. And I can’t imagine fans of The Blair Witch Project being amused, nor non-fans being convinced to be into the franchise. Maybe we should have left this movie wherever we found it.





Goat is not a movie about people. It’s a movie about shock value. “Shocking” sequences are shown of freshman getting physically, emotionally and even sexually abused in hazing practices. Since none of the characters, save from one, are developed or distinguished in any kind of way, these “shocking” sequences have absolutely no impact. It uses slick cinematography and a constantly brooding protagonist as some kind of cheap parlor trick to cover up the fact that it is an utterly hollow experience. This is the best example of “cinematic posturing” in recent memory.


The movie opens with a pair of brothers, Brett (Ben Schnetzer) and Brad (Nick Jonas!!!!). Brad is a member of the fraternity that Brett will be rushing this upcoming fall semester, and Brad really wants him to be a brother. That’s about all the relationship building you get from these characters whose literal and collegiate brotherhood is supposed to anchor the entire picture. Brad is a handsome, confident and completely uninteresting guy who always seems to score with the three dozen Victoria’s Secret models that inexplicably attend this small Midwestern college. Brett is more sensitive and overly passive. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself. This is lazily demonstrated by having him submit to a beating and robbery by two muggers in the first ten minutes of the film. I guess that’s why he needs to prove himself a “man” during this hazing ritual. Multiple times throughout the movie he sadly looks at a selfie he took the night of the mugging of his bruised up face trying to figure out who he is. How deep.


When the hazing starts, we are introduced to a couple of frat brother clichés. One walks around the party eating a can of tuna fish. Only someone completely comfortable with themselves eats at a party, he must be the alpha. Another is the rich preppy guy who is always the first to yell in your face but lies on the ground crying when he gets lightly tapped. In the grand ironic tradition of frat hazing, it’s both completely homophobic and electrically homoerotic at the same time. The frat brothers stick bananas encased in condoms in the mouths of blind-folded pledges and instruct those “faggots” to “suck their dicks.” Maybe Goat would have worked better if it had been a satire on pledging. It would have at least been less disgusting than being pressured into shedding a tear for a couple of privileged white dudes who chose to be there.


There’s a scene towards the middle of the hazing where Brett and the boys successfully drain a keg of beer after being covered in chocolate pudding and urinated on. After ringing a cowbell to signal a success, the brothers celebrate with the pledges at a bon fire. Covered in chocolate pudding and looking sinister, Brett slowly walks over to his brothers as the fire illuminates his face. The shot is a direct rip-off of Apocalypse Now. The fact they are comparing Brett’s mission to be in a frat to Martin Sheen’s mission to kill Colonel Kurtz is the only indication Goat might actually be a comedy.


The only truly redeeming quality of Goat is the lead performance by Ben Schnetzer. As much as I loathed the character, I never loathed Schnetzer. He almost succeeds in selling his garbage character. Schnetzer is a magnetic and powerful talent that manages to impress even in the most hostile of conditions, like being in a piece of shit like Goat. In fact, the majority of the cast with the exception of Jonas are all pretty solid. As much as I want to bite my own foot off for saying this, James Franco has a good cameo. He plays a former frat bro who stops by the house from time to time to relive his “glory” days and escape from his wife and baby. In a completely unsubtle but effective way of displaying this character hates himself, the writers have Franco rip off his shirt and scream at a pledge to hit him.

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I think the real tragedy of Goat is the fact that it’s competently put together by someone who very clearly knows how to make a movie. It’s co-written by the wonderful David Gordon Green and the cinematography is gorgeous. It’s just lazy. It’s clear its main purpose is to shock audiences with ridiculously cruel hazing methods. It’s not interested in any kind of human element or mining any deep truths on why we put ourselves through hell in order to be popular or well liked. Goat isn’t a movie, it’s a compilation of outrageous YouTube videos in sheep’s clothing. Grade: D 

Available to Rent on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, go nuts! 




My 100 Favorite Movies

I waste so much of my precious time on this Earth watching movies. Here are my 100 favorites that I strongly recommend you see and own and watch many more times.  Also, these are my favorite movies and not what I’m saying are the objectively best movies ever made. But, feel free to give me shit about it in the comment section.


100. Die Hard (1988/dir. John McTiernan/USA)


The perfect action movie.


99. Bad Education (2004/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)


Pedro Almodovar is one of the only filmmakers able to walk the thin line between realism and soap, and Bad Education, while one of his most disturbing efforts, is no different. It’s a harrowing drama wrapped in a murder mystery about two sexual abuse victims trying to make a movie based on their experience.


98. Se7en (1995/dir. David Fincher/USA)


Speaking of disturbing efforts, David Fincher’s breakthrough film about the week-long hunt for a sadistically pious serial killer is one of the darkest movies you’ll ever see. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt provide solid performances, but the MVP is Kevin Spacey.


97.Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father (2008/dir. Kurt Kuenne/USA)


From a technical perspective, Dear Zachary is not a great documentary. However, the story at the heart of Dear Zachary is so heart-wrenching and unbelievable it makes for essential viewing. Given that it’s made by the subject’s childhood friend adds to its intimacy. This is one you’ll never forget. It’s impossible not be deeply affected by this film. Available to Stream on Netflix. 


96. The Wizard of Oz (1939/dir. Victor Miller/USA)


I watched The Wizard of Oz so many times as a child I wore out the VHS copy and my mom had to buy another one. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s actually really fucking twisted now that I think about it. There’s something perverse and odd going on under the surface of this movie, and I’m not exactly sure what it is. The Cowardly Lion will forever remain one of my favorite movie characters.


95. Inglourious Basterds (2009/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA/Germany)


After being slightly disappointed with the Kill Bill movies, my mind was completely blown my sophomore year of college when I went with some comedy buddies to see Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The best of Tarantino’s revisionist history epics, Basterds features one of the best written villains of all time, Colonel Hans Landa flawlessly embodied by the great Christoph Waltz. It also features a bar scene that is as good as an episode of Cheers.




94. The Piano (1993/dir. Jane Campion/New Zealand/Australia/France)


Jane Campion’s gorgeous period piece The Piano had the misfortune of being released the same year as Schindler’s List, so it was almost forgotten. It features Holly Hunter’s finest performance, Harvey Keitel’s penis and Anna Paquin in a role that won her an Oscar at the age of twelve. Available to Stream on Amazon Prime. 


93. Requiem for a Dream (2000/dir. Darren Aronofsky/USA) 


The scariest and saddest movie ever made about drug abuse and how it destroys human beings. Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto and most surprisingly Marlon Wayans impress with stunning work, but the real show-stopper is Ellen Burstyn. This is the film that established Darren Aronofsky as a major American filmmakers.


92. Boyz N the Hood (1991/dir. John Singleton/USA)


“Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” One of the many pearls of wisdom spoken by Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), the tough-as-nails patriarch in John Singleton’s cautionary tale of life in the ghetto, Boyz n the Hood. One of the biggest criticisms I consistently hear of the film is that the characters all act as mouthpieces for the film’s message, and while I usually don’t like that lack of subtlety, it works in the context of this movie. Boyz n the Hood is like a ghetto opera, overly dramatic, a little surreal but extremely powerful. Increase the peace.


91. The Celebration (1998/dir. Thomas Vinterberg/Denmark/Sweden) 


Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration is a Danish film I first saw in my independent film class in college. It’s a simple and intimate domestic drama about a family’s darkest secrets being exposed during a reunion. It’s a Dogme film, meaning it was filmed all on a hand held camera with only natural lighting and no audio added in post production. A bunch of filmmakers got together at Cannes one year (Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and a couple of others) and were upset that film was becoming too artificial or something, so they drafted this manifesto on what film should be. Sounds really pretentious and up it’s own ass, and it probably is, but The Celebration followed these rules and turned out incredible. Vinterberg would later go on to make The Hunt with Mads Mikkelsen, another incredible, but simple film.


90. Magnolia (1999/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA) 


Powerful but bizarre series of interconnecting stories set in the San Fernando Valley. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson patterned much of Magnolia off of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. Featuring one of the most impressive and effective ensemble casts ever assembled for a movie and one of the best opening sequences of all time. Tom Cruise got an Oscar nomination for his solid performance, but truth be told, he was one of the weaker parts of the cast.


89. Zero Dark Thirty (2012/dir. Kathryn Bigelow/USA)


Kathryn Bigelow won her Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but Zero Dark Thirty, released three years later, was hands down the better film. Featuring fantastic performances from Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler and the late great James Gandolfini, this docudrama chronicles the hunt and eventual capture of Osama Bin Laden. The film was plagued with controversy claiming it celebrated and/or condoned torture, but I found the film to be pretty indifferent from a political standpoint. It seems far more interested in the psyche of the highly-stressed characters rather than making any kind of statement.


88. Sexy Beast (2000/dir. Jonathon Glazer/UK/Spain) 


Everyone says Ben Kinglsey gave his best performance as Gandhi, but I call bullshit. His best performance was as the emotionally unstable vicious mad dog Don Logan in Jonathon Glazer’s surreal crime drama Sexy Beast. Ray Winstone is almost as good as a retired bank robber being stalked by Logan, as is Deadwood’s Ian McShane as a manipulative crime lord who loves orgies.


87. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007/dir. Cristian Mungiu/Romania/Belgium)


Far and away, one of the most unsettling and hard to watch films on this list, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days chronicles the awful experience of a college student trying to get an illegal abortion in 1980s communist Romania. Over the course of 113 minutes, our pregnant protagonist is poked, prodded, harassed, abused and traumatized over something that should be every woman’s right. It’s a nauseating experience as a viewer since filmmaker Cristian Mungiu refuses to sugar coat anything.


86. Punch-Drunk Love (2002/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)

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When I first saw this movie in sixth grade I did not care for it. I found it to be long, boring and not quite as entertaining as Sandler’s other movies where he does stuff with poop. However, repeat viewing as an adult have made me realize what a unique and heartbreaking character study this is. Adam Sandler gives us his very best performance here, before he was sponsored by Bud Light. Available to Stream on Amazon Prime. 


85. Anomalisa (2015/dir. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman/USA) 


Last year’s R-rated Oscar-nominated stop-motion animated feature from Charlie Kaufman was a bit of a bait and switch. The trailers led audience members to believe it was an optimistic and whimsical life-affirming journey of a marionette, but the film ended up really being about how unchecked narcissism can drive a person to levels of loneliness bordering on psychosis. David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Tom Noonan as every other character, deliver phenomenal voice-work, but the real magic comes from Kaufman’s cynical and frightfully accurate worldview.


84. The Empire Strikes Back (1980 / dir. Irvin Kershner / USA)


Why didn’t I rank the most popular movie ever made higher? As much as I appreciate/love the Star Wars trilogy it never really played a huge role in my childhood. I feel 99.9% of people who are obsessed with Star Wars started at a single digit age. My VHS collection was a lot more fucked than Han and Lea’s sexual tension though, with Tarantino, Scorsese, Craven, and Kevin Smith playing a large role. The Empire Strikes Back is the finest installment and the snow battle, Boba Fett and that ending are definitely epic.


83. Drive (2011/dir. Nicolas Winding Refn/USA)


Usually I see a movie on my birthday weekend and usually I end up being disappointed. I remember on September 18, 2011 I saw Drive with my roommate and best friend and was absolutely blown away. Drive is a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end with rich, empathetic characters and brilliant film editing. Refn went on to direct two extremely disappointing films after Drive, the gorgeous but completely hollow The Neon Demon and the completely cold and detached Only God Forgives.


82. Zodiac (2007/dir. David Fincher/USA)


Many people credit The Social Network as Fincher’s masterpiece, but I whole heartedly believe it is Zodiac. This cold and meticulously made crime drama tracks the long and arduous investigation of the Zodiac killer. Fincher perfectly captures the late 60s/early 70s and coaxes brilliantly understated performances out of his large ensemble cast. The music supervision is on-point featuring Donovan, Three Dog Night and Steely Dan.


81. House (1977/dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi/Japan)


House is the most bat shit crazy movie I’ve ever seen. Is it even a movie? It’s like a music video dropped acid with a children’s book. Whatever it is, there is nothing like it. It will have you screaming BANANAS BANANAS BANANAS BANANAS all night long. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus 


80. Toy Story (1995/dir. John Lasseter/USA)


My vote for the greatest animated feature ever made. Toy Story is the remarkably original and emotionally resonant story about growing up, seen through a collection of forgotten toys. Also, Tim Allen is in it.


79. The Departed (2006/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)


Relentlessly entertaining and unpredictable, Martin Scorsese’s return to form The Departed, already felt like a classic the year it was released. Featuring very well drawn characters brought to life by excellent performances including a terrifying Jack Nicholson and a never better Leonardo DiCaprio.


78. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013/dir. Abdellatif Kechiche/France/Belgium/Spain)


An incredibly tense and incredibly frank French drama chronicling a decade long relationship between an artist in her twenties and a high school aged girl. Over the course of three hours, I became so emotionally invested in the characters I felt like I knew them my entire life. Blue is the Warmest Color marked the first and only time a filmmaker and his two leading actresses were awarded the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


77. Alien (1979/dir. Ridley Scott/UK/USA)


Most people credit Blade Runner as Ridley Scott’s best film, but I honestly find it to be pretty overrated. For me, Scott’s masterpiece is the simple and terrifying Alien. Expertly paced and better acted than any genre film has the right to be, Alien introduced us to one of the scariest monsters in movie history, the xenomorph.


76. The Pianist (2002/dir. Roman Polanski/France/Poland/Germany/UK)

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Most every non-fiction Holocaust film seems to just exist in the shadow of Schindler’s List, but Roman Polanski’s chilling survival story of a Polish pianist is one of the rare exceptions. Featuring a riveting Oscar-winning performance from Adrien Brody that should have sky rocketed his career. Instead, he did a couple of Diet Coke commercials.


75. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993/dir. Chris Columbus/USA)


I guess I’m supposed to like Tootsie more, but I don’t. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant in it, but Mrs. Doubtfire makes me happier. Robin Williams plays such an incredibly likeable character you’re able to feel everything he feels as a viewer. And that scene where him, Harvey Fierstein and Aunt Jack are figuring out Mrs. Doubtfire’s look is a montage for the ages.


74. L.A. Confidential (1997/dir. Curtis Hanson/USA)


Beautifully written and powerfully acted 1950s detective story that was unfortunately overshadowed by James Cameron’s visually impressive but intellectually hollow love story Titanic. Kevin Spacey does some of his best screen work here.


73. Whiplash (2014/dir. Damien Chazelle/USA)

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There is never a dull or unneeded moment in Damien Chazelle’s explosively thrilling tortured artist film. J.K. Simmons rightfully won an Oscar for portraying the music teacher from hell and Miles Teller holds his own as an ambitious young drummer. The ending is a work of genius. Pure fucking genius.


72. About Schmidt (2002/dir. Alexander Payne/USA)


Speaking of endings, the ending of About Schmidt always gets me. An against type Jack Nicholson plays Warren R. Schmidt, a retiree who takes a cross country road trip in his RV in a desperate attempt to find himself before his daughter gets married.


71. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992/dir. James Foley/USA)


A phenomenal play, but an even better film in my opinion. David Mamet wisely adds an outside force played by Alec Baldwin to taunt and fuck with the six desperate real estate men. Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon deliver two of the best performances of their career, while Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and a very young Kevin Spacey add solid support. Always Be Closing, Coffee is for Closers, and a bunch of other quotable lines.


70. The War Zone (1999/dir. Tim Roth/UK) 


Incest is a tricky subject to base a film around, but real life survivor Tim Roth has crafted a truly harrowing but remarkable motion picture that perfectly captures the emotional destruction it does to a family. Set in a Shining-esque isolated setting (the father’s job is to be the caretaker of an old castle in Ireland), The War Zone inflicts pain upon characters with nowhere to flee for help.


69. Mystic River (2003/dir. Clint Eastwood/USA)


Many people will tell you Clint Eastwood’s best movie is Unforgiven or that pile of horsedicks Million Dollar Baby, but for my money it’s Mystic River. While not as graphic in it’s depiction of sexual abuse as The War Zone, it’s accurate in its depiction of how those wounds never really heal. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast including Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River is able to hit notes so subtle you’ll never guess The Empty Chair Guru thunk it up.


68. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999/dir. Errol Morris/UK/USA)


Errol Morris might be the best documentarian working today and the peculiar Mr. Death is one of his best works in a sea of exceptional work. A bizarre story of a chain-smoking coffee-inhaling man who dedicated his life to modifying execution equiptment and later went on to become the “scientific” voice of Holocaust deniers.


67. The Conversation (1974/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)


The same year The Godfather Part II won Coppola Best Picture at the Oscars, The Conversation won him the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Feautring Gene Hackman’s finest performance as a surveillance man who becomes slowly obsessed with his subject, the great John Cazale (RIP) and a very young Harrison Ford.


66. Annie Hall (1977/dir. Woody Allen/USA)


Widely regarded as Allen’s best film and one of the best romantic comedies ever written. While I think it’s only his second best film, I think it’s his funniest and most charming effort. Christopher Walken is in this.


65. In the Bedroom (2001/dir. Todd Field/USA) 


If you want to see some of the best acting ever committed to screen, watch Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek duke it out over the grief of their dead son in one hit wonder Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. It’s a slow burn, but it builds to a devastating final shot. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime. 


64. Barton Fink (1991/dir. Joel & Ethan Coen/USA)


The Coen Brothers have always done their own thing, and Barton Fink might be the best example of how different they are from other filmmakers. An eccentric hybrid of comedy and drama, Barton Fink follows a squirrely writer (a never better John Turturro) and his bumpy journey through the Hollywood film industry. A highlight is John Goodman firing a shotgun and screaming down a hallway engulfed in flames.


63. Gates of Heaven (1978/dir. Errol Morris/USA)

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The documentary that Roger Ebert calls one of the top ten films ever made, Gates of Heaven was Errol Morris’ breakthrough hit that set the tone for his exceptional body of work. This portrait of very unusual and desperate pet owners is unexpectedly touching and poignant.


62. The Long Goodbye (1973/dir. Robert Altman/USA)


Initially trashed upon its release, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is one of the best goddamn detective movies ever made. Elliot Gould is magnetic as the infamous Philip Marlowe, and the hilarious opening sequence involving him buying cat food is one of the best stretches of film I’ve ever seen.


61. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986/dir. Woody Allen/USA)

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I haven’t seen every Woody Allen movie but out of the ones I’ve seen, Hannah and Her Sisters is the best. An ensemble piece about relationships, marriage and adultery featuring a half dozen incredibly well developed and realistic characters brought to life by magnificent performances. Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine are clearly the stand-outs and won Oscars for their work.


60. Animal Kingdom (2010/dir. David Michod/Australia) 


A Greek tragedy disguised as an Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom is a powerful and disturbing examination of a criminal family falling apart. Most crime dramas use shocking and graphic violence to jolt viewers, but Animal Kingdom simply uses dialogue and tense confrontations between its characters. Jacki Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the deceptively sweet matriarch, but the real scene-stealer is Ben Mendolsohn as the sociopathic eldest son.


59. The Deer Hunter (1978/dir. Michael Cimino/UK/USA)


Before Michael Cimino murdered United Artists with Heaven’s Gate, he directed one of the best war movies of all time. The Deer Hunter centers around small town Joes forever changed by the horrors of Vietnam. Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken deliver devastating performances especially in the almost unbearable Russian Roulette sequence.


58. Mean Streets (1973/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)


While not his first film, Mean Streets was the movie that established Martin Scorsese as one of the best working American filmmakers. Centering around Scorsese’s two favorite subjects – street crime and Catholic guilt – Mean Streets follows Charlie (Harvey Keital) and his struggle to keep his best friend Johnny Boy (an unhinged Robert DeNiro) alive and out of trouble.


57. The Usual Suspects (1995/dir. Bryan Singer/USA/Germany)


While it has what is possibly the best twist ending in the history of cinema, it seems unfair to only remember Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects just for that. It’s a tightly paced and surprisingly funny crime thriller with fascinating characters including a sly but unintelligible criminal played hilariously by Benicio Del Toro. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


56. Apocalypse Now (1979/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)


“My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane.” – Francis Ford Coppola. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime for both “Redux” and “Theatrical” versions. I prefer the Redux version. 


55. Talk to Her (2002/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)


Very few filmmakers understand the human condition as well as Almodovar, and while Talk to Her is certainly one of his most surreal and bizarre motion pictures, it features some of his most painfully realistic and relatable characters. The whole cast is excellent but the stand-out is far and away Javier Camara.


54. The Silence of the Lambs (1991/dir. Jonathon Demme/USA)


The best acting you’ll ever find in a horror movie and possibly the greatest characters are in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. One is a brilliant and ambitious FBI trainee trying to move past her white trash past, and one is a brilliant and manipulative former psychiatrist holding the key to solving a series of murders. And so a great cat and mouse game is built around an already stellar mystery thriller. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus. 


53. The Shining (1980/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA/UK)


The Shining isn’t Stanley Kubrick’s best film, but it’s the best horror movie ever made. This isn’t because of the characters, the actors or the story. This is because of the atmosphere. Kubrick creates a terrifying atmosphere that automatically fills you with dread. Every time you ride down that hallway with Danny, your heart sinks.


52. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996/dir. Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky/USA)


Documentaries don’t get more disturbing and near impossible to watch than Paradise Lost. From the graphic images of ritualistically murdered children to the fact it’s about three teenagers being sentenced to life (and in one case death) merely for listening to Metallica. It’s an important watch though, because it perfectly illustrates how ludicrous our justice system is and how an ignorant small town mentality can condemn innocent people. If you were a fan of Netflix’s Making a Murderer, be sure to check this one out. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime. 


51. No Country For Old Men (2007/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)


Far and away, the Coen’s darkest film and probably the most non-Oscar-y Oscar winner of all time. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel almost word for word, No Country For Old Men is an extremely cynical view of the world seen through the eyes of the epitome of everything good and just (Tommy Lee Jones’s Sheriff Bell), the epitome of everything evil and unjust (Javier Bardem’s Anton Chirguh) and the epitome of human stupidity (Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss). Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


50. Short Cuts (1993/dir. Robert Altman/USA)

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Robert Altman’s entire career seemed to be building towards Short Cuts, an incredibly compelling and fascinating ensemble drama about twenty-something troubled lives caged inside Los Angeles. Featuring one of the greatest casts ever assembled: Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Matthew Modine, Bruce Davison, Andie McDowell, Robert Downey, Jr., Lily Taylor, Chris Penn, Frances McDormand, Madeline Stowe, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Lyle Lovett and a heartbreaking Jack Lemmon.


49. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003/dir. Peter Jackson/New Zealand/USA)


While I agree that Return of the King had seventeen too many endings, it doesn’t change that fact that Peter Jackson has crafted one of the finest and most visually impressive film trilogies of all time with J.R.R. Tolkein’s source material. Singling out the installments and ranking all three seems pointless since they are just separate parts of one gigantic story. I also wanted two extra spaces on my list.


48. Happiness (1998/dir. Todd Solondz/USA)

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Any film that almost succeeds in making you feel sympathy for a pedophile is incredibly well written. Todd Solondz’s ironically titled Happiness is an ensemble-driven epic about the crippling power of loneliness. Seen through the eyes of a narcissistic New Jersey family and the losers and monsters they encounter every day, the film strikes a brilliant balance between dark humor and devastating drama. It’s mean-spirited but incredibly honest, and features perfect performances from it’s cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz and especially, Dylan Baker. It’s hilarious.


47. Being John Malkovich (1999/dir. Spike Jonze/USA)


Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s feature film debut, Being John Malkovich, is fucking ridiculous. A failed puppeteer (John Cusack), his animal-obsessed wife (Cameron Diaz) and a horribly manipulative asshole (Catherine Keener) find a portal into John Malkovich’s head behind an old filing cabinet. Extremely whimsical but very sad at its core, Being John Malkovich ends up being less about John Malkovich and more about how desperate desire can make human beings.


46. Trainspotting (1996/dir. Danny Boyle/UK)

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I was in third grade when my best friend at the time gave me a run down of the plot for Trainspotting. He explained to me it’s about these heroin addicts stuck on an island (Scotland) who hallucinate and steal shit and there’s this super graphic sex scene with this totally hot chick. This enthusiastic rundown didn’t even begin to prepare me for the unhinged visceral assault that is Trainspotting, a volatile ADHD-addled thrill-ride that grabs you by the throat for 90 minutes and doesn’t let you go. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


45. This Is Spinal Tap (1984/dir. Rob Reiner/USA)

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I think the mockumentary was more or less invented with 1984’s comedy classic. This Is Spinal Tap, a spot-on parody of 80s rock bands involving foil-wrapped cucumbers, birthing pods that don’t want to open and a beautiful love ballad titled “Lick my Love Pump.” One of the funniest movies ever made and completely timeless.


44. The Seven Samurai (1954/dir. Akira Kurosawa/Japan)


Akira Kurosawa’s 3 hour –plus epic about a group of samurai who take the law into their own hands was re-made several times but never improved upon. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen four Kurosawa films (Rashomon, Dreams, Throne of Blood and this) or else more would most likely be on the list. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus. 


43. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975/dir. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones/UK)

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Although I think Monty Python’s absolutely best work was their sketch show Flying Circus, they made three near-perfect films. The first was The Holy Grail, a parody of the classic King Arthur story, featuring homicidal rabbits on crack and plenty of flesh wounds.


42. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979/dir. Terry Jones/UK)



Monty Python’s second feature film was far and away their most controversial, parodying the Christ story. It pissed a lot of people off but it demonstrated Monty Python’s willingness to go anywhere.


41. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983/dir. Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam/UK)


Although it’s an unpopular opinion, I think Monty Python’s best film was their third and final feature, The Meaning of Life. A series of alarmingly clever and hilarious vignettes that attempt and fail to explain the meaning of life. SPOILER ALERT – There is no meaning, we die, the end.


40. The Lives of Others (2006/dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck/Germany)


The late Ulrich Muhle gives such an incredibly nuanced and touching performance in The Lives of Others that it’s an absolutely travesty he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Muhle plays a STASI agent tasked with running surveillance on a “suspicious” couple in 1984 East Berlin. Slowly but surely he gets to know the couple and empathizes with them. The film, which won the Oscar in 2006 for Foreign Language Film, matches the brilliance of his performance in every way.


39. Blazing Saddles (1974/dir. Mel Brooks/USA)


It goes without saying that Mel Brooks is one of the greatest comedic minds of all time, and at least for me, Blazing Saddles is far and away his greatest achievement. A comedic western and an interesting commentary on race relations, the movie doesn’t pull any of it’s punches and features hilarious performances from the entire cast, especially Madeline Kahn.


38. Wet Hot American Summer (2001/dir. David Wain/USA)

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Every time I watch David Wain’s 1980s summer camp epic, it makes me laugh so hard I physically hurt myself. All of Wain, Showalter and Black’s films are fantastic, but this one clearly soars ahead of the pack. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast including David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and the criminally underrated Christopher Meloni as a disturbed camp chef plagued with thoughts of fondling sweaters and rubbing mud on his ass. Available for Streaming on Netflix.


37. Boogie Nights (1997/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)


That opening shot. That beautiful two-minute, single take going into Luis Guzman’s club established filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson as one of the best working American filmmakers. He’s the heir to Kubrick’s genius as far as I’m concerned. His second feature, an epic ensemble piece about the porn industry of the 1970s seen through the eyes of a fresh-faced horse-dicked young man (Mark Wahlberg), is one of the most energetic and compelling period pieces ever made.


36. Do the Right Thing (1989/dir. Spike Lee/USA)


In my mind, the most poignant film ever made about race relations, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is about a mixed race neighborhood at each other’s throats during the hottest day in Brooklyn. I’m generally not a fan of Lee’s work, but Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece of American cinema.


35. 12 Years a Slave (2013/dir. Steve McQueen/USA/UK)

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There hasn’t been many movies made about slavery, and the ones that were made prior to 12 Years a Slave always seemed to have a sappy and cheesy emotional slant. 12 Years a Slave succeeds because filmmaker Steve McQueen is as unsentimental as they come and is unwilling to sugarcoat anything. While the film does a vivid and horrifying job painting the physical tortures of slavery, it also, and I’d argue even more frighteningly so, portrays the blind acceptance of an institution that degraded an entire race of people.


34. City of God (2003/dir. Fernando Meirelles/Brazil)


City of God succeeds in being both horrific and entertaining, sometimes at the same time. Perhaps Brazil’s best known contribution to celluloid, it chronicles the real life story of crime lords residing over Rio de Janiero from the late 60s to the mid 70s. Featuring a fascinatingly unconventional story structure that filters incredibly complex characters through shocking and at times, bizarre, situations. It also has some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen set to an amazing soundtrack featuring James Brown and Tower of Power.


33. Schindler’s List (1993/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA)


Schindler’s List is commonly regarded as “the” movie about the holocaust and for good reason. It’s a relentlessly compelling three hours that manages to be both horrifying and emotionally rewarding. It manages to have optimistic and warm moments (though not many) without ever being ham-fisted or cheesy. Liam Neeson creates one of the most empathetic movie characters of all time with Oskar Schindler and Ralph Fiennes creates one of the most terrifying, ruthless and ultimately sad film villains of all time. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus. 


32. Chinatown (1974/dir. Roman Polanski/USA)


Painfully cynical yet beautifully crafted film noir set in the 1930s about a sleazy private investigator (Jack Nicholson) stumbling upon a gigantic conspiracy about LA’s water. The recent drought in California makes Chinatown particularly relevant today and for the most part Polanski’s quick pacing and storytelling is more similar to today’s cinema than it is with cinema of the early 1970s. Jack Nicholson delivers his finest film performance of all time and Faye Dunaway and the great John Huston provide outstanding supporting work.


31. Blue Velvet (1986/dir. David Lynch/USA)

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On the surface, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a kidnapping thriller. Below the surface, beneath the dirt and ravenous beetles, it’s a commentary on artificiality of the American Dream. Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, creating perhaps the most frightening movie villain of all time, deliver career -best performances.


30. The Act of Killing (2013/dir. Joshua Oppenheimer/UK/Denmark/Norway)


The most unique documentary I’ve ever seen, and certainly one of the most affecting. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer gives Indonesian death squad leaders the chance to re-enact their murders with a low budget action film. This forces them to come to terms with the atrocities they committed and meditate on the thin line between murder and patriotism. Available for Streaming on Netflix.


29. The Killing (1956/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA)


Stanley Kubrick apparently invented the tracking shot during the apartment scene in this perfect thriller. It’s a heist film with interesting, jaded characters and a plot that keeps you guessing all the way until the beautifully ironic ending. The fact a film like this was made in 1956 is a minor miracle.


28. The Godfather Part II (1974/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)

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While I strongly believe the first Godfather is far and away a better film than the more critically acclaimed Part II, I still believe Part II is a masterpiece in it’s own right. The juxtaposition of Michael Corleone’s life with his father’s life at his age (played by a rarely better Robert DeNiro) is brilliant, and the ending sequence is one of the most quietly tragic stretches of film I’ve ever seen.


27.Full Metal Jacket (1987/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)


When people think of the definitive Vietnam movie, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Oliver Stone’s annoyingly overrated Platoon usually come to mind. For me, the definitive Vietnam war movie is Stanley Kubrick’s aggressively angry dark comedy, Full Metal Jacket. It’s comprised of two equally impressive halves, one focusing on Private Joker being broken at boot camp and the other focusing on the psychological effects of Private Joker’s boot camp experience. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.


26. The Thin Blue Line (1988/dir. Errol Morris/USA)


Watching The Thin Blue Line again recently after four or five years, really cemented it for me as the best documentary ever made. Unfolding like a thriller, The Thin Blue Line explores a terrible miscarriage of justice through startling interviews heightened with one of the most effective music scores I’ve ever heard in a film. Filmmaker Errol Morris creates such an incredible sense of unease throughout you might be able to classify it as a horror movie. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


25. Saving Private Ryan (1998/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA)


The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan has been written and talked about to enormous lengths, but I’ll talk about it anyway. It’s one of the most harrowing and impressive opening sequences ever committed to film, and the movie that follows it doesn’t let that stellar opening down. Tom Hanks’ line about how every man he kills he feels farther away from home still hits me hard to this day. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


24. Best in Show (2000/dir. Christopher Guest/USA)

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Laugh for laugh, Best in Show might be the funniest movie ever made. It’s certainly one of the most consistently funny movies ever made with multiple laughs per minute. Christopher Guest’s overwhelmingly talented improvisational ensemble from This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman returns to lampoon super intense dog owners. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime. 


23. Paths of Glory (1957/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA)

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Stanley Kubrick is most often described as a filmmaker ahead of his time, so a WWI film made in 1957 that manages to bear a strong anti-war statement fits in perfectly with his oeuvre. Meticulously filmed in gorgeous black and white, Kubrick’s second of three war films is possibly his most underrated work.


22. All About My Mother (1999/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)

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Your mileage may vary, but for me, Pedro Almodovar’s magnum opus is 1999’s All About My Mother. It’s a beautiful portrait of femininity seen through the eyes of different mothers, daughters, sisters, actresses and men who are transitioning into women. It’s a powerful, realistic and unpredictable ensemble piece with an early performance from Penelope Cruz as a nun dying of AIDS.


21. Rashomon (1950/dir. Akira Kurosawa/Japan)

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Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon invented a sub-genre for thrillers where a crime occurs and the audience sees the incident from several different character perspectives. The genius of Rashomon is that the truth is never revealed. The film was released in Japan in 1950 and was light years ahead of American movies. I haven’t seen every Kurosawa film but this is my hands down favorite. Available for Streaming for HULU Plus. 


20. Oldboy (2003/dir. Chan-wook Park/South Korea) 


One of the most strikingly original and entertaining films ever made is Chan Wook Park’s Oldboy. An intense character study wrapped inside of a thriller wrapped inside of a mystery seasoned with notes of bizarre humor. It’s the only movie I ever re-watched immediately after the first time I watched it. Available for Streaming for Netflix. 


19. The Big Lebowski (1998/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)


I’ll admit that the first time I saw The Big Lebowski I didn’t think it was all that great. I’ll even admit that the second time I saw it I didn’t think it was much better. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth time you watch it, you realize it’s one of the most ingenious comedies ever filmed. Oddly structured, it unfolds in very surprising ways but never comes across as pretentious or tedious. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman deliver some of their finest work and John Turturro’s Jesus is a minor miracle.


18. Raging Bull (1980/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)


Known for having the best film editing ever (thanks Thelma Schoonmaker), Raging Bull is one of the few modern movies filmed in black and white that completely justifies being filmed in black and white. It’s beautiful and pristine, the most gorgeous movie Scorsese has ever shot. DeNiro gives one of the all time best screen performances as Jake LaMotta, a deeply flawed human being with whom it’s incredibly difficult to empathize. It is almost unreal that Ordinary People beat this out for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.


17. The Master (2012/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)

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I strongly believe that Paul Thomas Anderson is the most interesting and gifted filmmaker working in American movies today. The Master is his incredibly meticulous and unsettling post WWII drama about desperate men who need something, anything, to believe in. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give career best performances (and that is definitely saying something) as master and sensei, perfectly playing off each other with opposite approaches. Phoenix is a very extroverted and loud character while Hoffman is more introverted and subtle, quietly holding the power in the relationship. The first “processing” scene they share together might be my favorite two-person scene of all time.


16. The Godfather (1972/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)

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There aren’t many three-hour movies that earn their runtime, but The Godfather manages to justify it with one of the tightest and most intense three-hour stretches ever recorded to film. The performances from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Richard Castellano are amazing but the real standout is an understated Robert Duvall as Tom Hayden, the outsider.


15. Memento (2000/ dir. Christopher Nolan / USA)


Christopher Nolan will never top Memento, which is interesting, seeing as though he had much less of a budget as he does now with blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Interstellar. Memento is one of the most unique and interesting films ever made, told in reverse about a man suffering short-term memory loss trying to solve the murder of his wife. The film’s ending is a startling revelation that sent chills down my spine.


14. Taxi Driver (1976/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)

Robert De Niro Mimes a Shot to His Head in Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle could have easily been an over-the-top character, but Robert DeNiro wisely positions the character’s psychosis internally. It’s his very best performance and proves DeNiro can convey more menace with a simple shift of his eyes than most actors can convey with their entire bodies. One of Scorsese’s only slow burns, Taxi Driver is an incredibly disturbing experience that seeps into your skin.


13. Sideways (2004/dir. Alexander Payne/USA)


I was recently asked what my favorite feel-good movie was and I responded with ‘Sideways’. It was met with a lot of controversy, but I stand by my decision. Alexander Payne’s masterpiece is about depression and failure, but it celebrates the humanity that lives in both of those things. It’s about deeply flawed human beings, Miles (a never better Paul Giamatti) in particular, getting a shot at redemption. It also has one of the best screenplays ever written.


12. There Will Be Blood (2007/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)

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A landmark in American cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis gives the most powerful screen performance I’ve ever seen in my life as an insatiable oilman who is more or less the personification of capitalism. In his quest for capital, he has a run in with a manipulative local preacher who is basically the personification of organized religion. When they clash there is a lot of blood, and capitalism reigns victorious. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 


11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)

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Stanley Kubrick’s visual orgasm/overwhelming mind-fuck is the greatest science-fiction film ever made. When you’re nine years old and see if for the first time it’s boring as shit, but as you grow older it slowly becomes one of the best films ever made. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.


10. Waiting For Guffman (1996/dir. Christopher Guest/USA)

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Hands down, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Having done community theatre for pretty much my entire life, all the little nuances and subtleties of this Christopher Guest outing really hit home hard for me. Every time you watch this movie, you find something new to laugh at.


9. A Clockwork Orange (1971/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)


A Clockwork Orange has this amazing way of presenting the most horrifically violent and disturbing images as pure beauty. If there was ever a film that needed to be described as grotesque, this is it. Kubrick’s two hour-plus journey through the mind of a sociopath is a fun, energetic, yet painful ride that’s similar to chugging a two-liter bottle of soda in under a minute. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime. 


8. Mulholland Drive (2001/dir. David Lynch/France/USA)


The biggest cinematic mind-fuck of all time is David Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive. One of the only films to actually get better with every viewing, I’ve seen it about eight times now. Naomi Watts delivers her best work as a struggling actress who fantasizes about a better life.


7. Fargo (1996/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)


There might not be a filmmaker out there better at seamlessly blending comedic and dramatic elements in movies than the Coen Brothers. Their formula is perfected in 1996’s thrilling, funny, sad, frightening and completely genuine Fargo about a small but ugly crime wave washing over a small town.


6. Pulp Fiction (1994/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA)


Quentin Tarantino was my favorite filmmaker growing up because he was so fucking loud. He was making movies in a way that nobody every really did before him, but he was doing it in such an extravagant and borderline-obnoxious way that even a nine-year-old Michael Margetis could pick up on all the “subtleties” of his style. Pulp Fiction and most all of Tarantino’s movies work based on the strength of his characters that are given so much detail as a viewer you feel like you personally know them. Available for Streaming on Netflix.


5. Network (1976/dir. Sidney Lumet/USA)


Network was viewed as a piece of satire when it was released because the revolting nature of reality television hadn’t played out exactly like the film predicted yet. Featuring six of the best film performances of all time (Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall and a menacing Ned Beatty) and in my personal opinion the number one greatest screenplay ever written, Network stands the test of time perhaps as more of a drama than initially intended.


4. GoodFellas (1990/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)


Martin Scorsese’s best film is also his most entertaining film. GoodFellas is relentlessly entertaining, a flawlessly edited adrenaline-fueled ride through the rise and fall of a mob associate that never once stops for air. Joe Pesci more ore less created the violently insane and unpredictable sociopath template that’s seen in most gangster movies today.


3. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 

(1963/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA) 

dr. strangelove.jpg

Not the funniest comedy ever made, but without a question the best. Stanley Kubrick’s crowning achievement is a brilliant satire on the cold war made during the height of the cold war. With five amazing comedic performances, three from Peter Sellers and one each from the uncharacteristically hilarious George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, a brilliantly sharp screenplay and possibly the most meticulous production design I’ve ever seen.


2. Reservoir Dogs (1992/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA)

reservoir dogs.jpg

I was nine years old the first time I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. I was hanging out in a hotel room in Amsterdam while my parents were at a dental convention. I realize it’s not objectively the best movie ever made (it’s still excellent though) but it’s the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker or at least involved in films. I still think its simplicity and incredibly well rounded characters make it Tarantino’s best work. Available for Streaming on Netflix


1. Amadeus (1984/dir. Milos Forman/USA/France)


I’m an actor and every actor is insecure in one way or another. Having seen Milos Forman’s Amadeus at a young age it really stuck with me because on the outside it’s a biopic about Mozart, but on the inside it’s this painful character study of a brilliant musician who puts in so much work but is unfortunately upstaged by a once-in-a-century kind of talent that never had to work hard a day in his life. It’s a film about blood, sweat, tears and time artists pour into their craft and how sometimes tireless work and an abundance of talent just isn’t enough to cut the mustard. Available for Streaming on Netflix. 




Lights Out


The most disappointing element of Don’t Breathe isn’t just that it’s a great first half followed by an absolutely banal second half. The most disappointing thing about Don’t Breathe is that said second half reverts back to the same mindless gross-outs and logic leaps that lived in director/co-writer Fede Alvarez’s 2013 film Evil Dead, although in any case it also finds Alvarez working harder with much less elements than before and for the most part succeeding. It’s also clear producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert saw Alvarez doing something right to keep him hanging around and I mostly trust their judgment, but nevertheless Don’t Breathe feels like the… least of all the horror wide releases of this past summer. That’s still room for a decent movie.

Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues’ screenplay hastes no time on introducing us immediately to the Detroit-based burglary trio of Rocky (Jane Levy, returning from Evil Dead and just as well since she was the only good performance in it), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and the source of their marks, Alex (Dylan Minnette). The three of them together pick their marks based on the database of the security system run by Alex’s father and Money has a fence to sell all the goods to. Money finds a home with a potential score of $300,000 in cash and Rocky is absolutely eager to do the job, wanting to take her sister (Emma Bercovici) out of Detroit from the hands of their callous mother (Katia Bokor). Alex on the other hand, who always has the potential punishments in the back of his mind, is finding less and less incentive to do the job: starting with the idea of breaking their rule of stealing cash, followed by discovering that the old vet they are victimizing is in fact a blind man (Stephen Lang), and having the final straw be when Money actually brings a gun on the job.

Alex turns out to be right to be worried, for the moment Money uses the gun, the blind man wakes up and the three of them discover that he’s very capable of dispatching them swiftly, aided visually by the fact of Stephen Lang already being a scary looking sexagenarian of very ripped muscular quality and a rough voice. I’m sure Don’t Breathe was probably banking on everybody who saw this movie seeing Avatar at least once and being familiar with Lang as an ass-kicking oldtimer. Obviously, his lack of sight means that the trio have to be very careful to avoid him knowing of their presence, because if he gets his hands on them, they will almost certainly be dead within minutes.


Keep in mind that Don’t Breathe is only 88 minutes including credits. I didn’t exactly keep myself a stopwatch myself but no time is wasted by the movie to establish all that information AND MORE very early on (I want to say it’s the 20 minute mark when the blind man wakes up in his home), it’s all very swift and speedy groundwork to make the home invasion thriller aspect the meat of the story. It breaks “show, don’t tell” a little bit in its dialogue, but it’s a movie that knows how to try to be efficient with its script and that’s a hell of a thing for a brisk August horror movie. It even takes care to some snappy caper-esque editing to establish their opening break-in and a smooth long take when the trio breaks into the Blind Man’s home to establish both the geometry of the house and where certain elements of interest are located at the time of their entry. It’s obviously nowhere near the level of Renoir, but I really couldn’t help thinking about The Rules of the Game when that shot was rolling.

Once the blind man is awake, the threat level steadily rises up and we get the characters doing some very interesting things to avoid being attacked by him or alerting him to their presence and that’s where Don’t Breathe becomes its most interesting. It’s essentially a deadly version of Marco Polo, the characters trying to cover their tracks and make up for Money’s mistakes. There’s a second long take that’s essentially a dance of movement avoiding each other in the narrowest of hallways between Minnette and Lang and it is the most “hold your breath” moment in the movie for me, as well as serving another narrative point (every room the Blind Man enters is being re-secured and they just happen to be the rooms Alex hides in from him each time). For the first 45 minutes Don’t Breathe is doing well to work as a simple home invasion with extra spatial awareness. It’s not exactly perfect – The Blind Man’s dog is wayyy too cuddly and tail-waggingly happy save for close-ups to be frightening (every time I saw him, I thought “who’s a good boy?”, I shit you not). Zovatto plays an insufferable prick with lines that I’m not sure are meant to be self-aware (“That’s my bitch in there. Of course I care.”) and I get the feeling that’s his character, but it’s not a good feeling to have for somebody you don’t want to die.


Minnette is fine without being very impressionable as a performance, while Levy is just a little bit better since she has more moments to be freaked-out and scared but it’s nowhere near as demanding a performance as she had in Evil Dead. Lang is the clear stand-out, doing very well to play an angry man trying to get a sense of the world around him while letting his menacing and imposing physical stature establish him as the boogeyman of the film even when the Blind Man sounds desperate and confused. All around, the pieces of Don’t Breathe click as best as they can and make a fine and functional thriller.

And then it shoots itself in the foot.

Wait, that’s not true. It shot itself in the foot at the beginning with a very poor choice of spoilertastic opening shot, but besides there’s two things that make the second half of Don’t Breathe suddenly a tepid affair. The first is that the moment that the Blind Man absolutely knows everybody who is in the house, the script doesn’t know what to do except allow the Blind Man to be able to chase them relentlessly with a gun. It’s no longer as inventive as it was at the start, it’s just a home-invasion-turned-slasher. It even gives the Blind Man a hefty amount of plot leaps so he can escape handcuffs quickly, be aware of a character’s location constantly, and even walk around in the daylight knowing exactly where in the outdoors to catch his prey. It is a barrel of contrivances to turn its villain into an unstoppable superman.

The second are its twists. Oooh how I hate twists that ruin good horror movies (hello, High Tension). The first reveal of what the Blind Man has hidden in his basement is pretty much just an element to make him less sympathetic (which is probably ideal since I can see how it’s hard to root for burglars) and I can understand it’s existence if not really be happy with it, since the Blind Man is scary enough. But in the third act, where the Blind Man has a monologue explaining his motivations and intentions for Rocky, it’s all right back to the shock value grossness Alvarez fell into for Evil Dead and it’s really a damn shame. There’s also some very twisted attempts at moral commentary (amongst the Blind Man’s claims are him saying that he’s capable of anything because there is no god and that he’s not a rapist, despite the actions we see him preparing to do constituting rape… it’s a very strange rantful sequence).

Watching Don’t Breathe is essentially watching a great movie slowly devolve itself into something worse and worse than what we were promised. We don’t have much longer of the movie to go through after those reveals, but it doesn’t really try to elevate itself back and that’s an unfortunate shame. So much of it is well-made that I would probably like to give it a pass, but I feel resentful that Alvarez probably gave up halfway through this feature.

Jane Levy;Dylan Minnette;Daniel Zovatto


The BBC’s Greatest 21st Century Films

About a month ago, I heard about the BBC polling 177 critics on their Top 10 Best Films of the Century thus far and putting all their results together to craft a 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century. The list has no been revealed on their site. And now I’m taking a lookseeatit and giving some of my remarks (though I won’t actually be copying and pasting the list here. You can check on that link).

The amount of movies on the list that I haven’t seen is pretty much two.

  • Toni Erdmann (obviously!) – no. 100
  • Son of Saul – no. 34

Which on one hand means I am almost entirely familiar with what they’ve selected to react upon, but on the other disappoints me because I really was hoping this list would introduce titles to me rather than tell how good so-and-so movie I already saw is. For the most part, that’s fine if somewhat a nuisance since I actually really like a good amount of the list, including the number one winner Mulholland Dr. which I’d call an essential watch. The unfortunate thing is that when it gets to movies I don’t care for (like no. 17 – The White Ribbon) or don’t like (no. 20 – Synecdoche, New York) and tries to sell me on their profundity it becomes quite exhausting. But that’ll always be the way you are when people are praising art you don’t care for, no matter how open we are to other perspectives.

I also find it extremely alarming that we have a dearth of animated films represented. There is a whopping total of… 5. Just five animated films. Four of which are Pixar films (no. 96 – Finding Nemo; no. 93 – Ratatouille; no. 41 – Inside Out; no. 29 – WALL-E) and the odd man out is a Ghibli film (no. 4 – Spirited Away). No Laika, no Chomet, no Hertzfeldt, no Kon, among other things (I’d lament the absence of Disney but nobody wants to be Frozen‘s champion except me). It both paints a disinterest in animation as an artform as well as a complete monopoly to the international animation market as well.

In the meantime, despite a hella lot of popular fare, especially Oscar nominees (The Film Experience marked down all the ones that were nominated for Picture, Director, Foreign-Language, Animated or Documentary. By the way, I co-sign on a lot of Nathaniel’s thoughts.), The Lord of the Rings is nowhere to be seen. Which doesn’t disappoint me (if anything it pleases me), but it’s a huge surprise nevertheless. Something that I could honestly have seen going either way is Oldboy (no. 30), The Dark Knight (no. 33), and A History of Violence (no. 55) being the only comic book movies featured on the list (and while we’re at it, Christopher Nolan tie-ing for most featured director – alongside Weerasethakul, the Coens, and Wes Anderson and above Malick, Kiarostami, Tarr, Linklater, and McQueen – it doesn’t bug me in the slightest but I can’t help feeling it is unearned. He is undoubtedly the most populist filmmaker on the list save for Spielberg, though Spielberg features possibly his least populist picture – A.I. Artificial Intelligence no. 83).

The absence of Gravity is flat-out jawdropping (the only Alfonso Cuaron film is Children of Men at 13 which, to be fair, is his best imo). Experiential cinema at its most potent and it’s completely abandoned. That and This Is Not a Film and Taxi (both also absent by Jafar Panahi) hit me as movies very much grounded in the attitude and feel of the century, maps of what can be done with film today. In addition, not a hint of Guy Maddin anywhere and that is very troubling to me.

There’s a much more reasonable number of Black and Female directors and Queer Cinema represented here (though they’re still in the extreme minority to say nothing of other non-white filmmakers or non-Western films). It’s overall a pretty varied list.

Spring Breakers (74) and Dogville (76) can fuck right off, though. And I’m very disappointed in seeing that of all the Scorsese pictures they could have picked, they went with The Wolf of Wall Street (78) in all its completely unfinished manner and not Hugo, which is completely gone. Save for Synecdoche, New York, those are the only ones I don’t like, though there is absolutely a lot I don’t care for to the point that I’d respond to the film’s addition with “… really?” Brooklyn (48), Memento (25), 25th Hour (26), and The Pianist (90) namely. But at least there’s no Whiplash.

Anyway, that’s enough bitching about other peoples’ opinions I will simply close out with this: a friend of mine – I won’t be that name-dropping guy who says who – was one of the critics who submit a list for this poll. Obviously, I’m not a big enough critic to be polled for this, but a lot of unpolled critics in the same circle as him and I began to make our own top ten ballot for the decade and I decided to craft my own as well. So here is mine enclosed so everybody can make fun of my tastes.


1 – In the Mood for Love (2000/dir. Wong Kar-wai/Hong Kong) – Number 2 on the BBC list
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung make heartbreak look so hotness.


2 – Moolaade (2004/dir. Ousmane Sembene/Senegal) – Number 58 on the BBC list
A movie portraying all the weaknesses of humanity and all of its strengths as well. I also think African cinema just needs to get more of its due, there’s a rich amount of African filmmakers that turn it up (Abderrahmane Sissako is another filmmaker I am so happy to see on the BBC list).


3 – Inland Empire (2006/dir. David Lynch/USA) – Not on the BBC list
My resident Lynch choice instead of Mulholland Dr. – though I’m very happy to see it up there – because it feels like the Lynchiest Lynch film ever. Nightmares, women in peril, moviemaking broken down into an incoherent atmosphere, Laura Dern. It has all his ingredients in a 3-hour surrealist experiment.


4 – The Eagleman Stag (2011/dir. Mickey Please/UK) – Not on the BBC list
Not a single short film on the BBC list either and I mean, that’s expected. Nevertheless the way this short portrays a perspective towards time passing that literally arrests me with fear… I can’t shake it off.


5 – The Tree of Life (2011/dir. Terrence Malick/USA) – Number 7 on the BBC list
It’s gonna sound like the most pretentious thing to claim that this is the most experiential of all of Malick’s films. But as far as I’m concerned, it is.


6 – Goodbye to Language (2014/dir. Jean-Luc Godard/France and Switzerland) – Number 49 on the BBC list
Speaking of pretentious. But fuck you, it’s more fun than any other 3D movie you can ever name.


7 – Yi Yi (2000/dir. Edward Yang/Taiwan) – Number 8 on the BBC list
Them colors and shapes tho.


8 – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015/dir. George Miller/Australia and USA) – Number 19 on the BBC list
No. No, I think I’m done talking about Mad Max: Fury Road for the rest of my life. If somebody tries to even dispute that it’s one of the greatest things to ever happen to film, I’ll simply shoot him like the dog he is.


9 – Moulin Rouge! (2001/dir. Baz Luhrmann/Australia and USA) – Number 53 on the BBC list
What’s so funny about a whole lotta spectacle and a whole lotta music?


10 – The Act of Killing/The Look of Silence (2012-14/dir. Joshua Oppenheimer/Denmark, Norway, and UK)  Killing is number 14 on the BBC list, Silence is not on it.
The first uses cinema as a loaded weapon against history, injustice, and honestly movies themselves. It’s definitely a much more adequate indictment towards violence and the influence of cinema than anything Haneke made. The second simply does its due in recognizing that there’s real-life victims to what was portrayed in Killing and that it’s not just a fucking game. It’s practically Killing‘s antithesis.

And there we are. I also almost put Grindhouse in my ten and THAT’s definitely why BBC ain’t hitting me up.


Hit Me With Your Best Shot – It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes

I haven’t been keeping up with The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot for a mix of reasons – it’s been movies that I mostly haven’t seen except Throne of Blood and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which normally wouldn’t stop me but I’ve been ungodly swamped in work and school to keep me from having time to watch those movies, I’m still using a computer that has so little memory in it that if I told you the amount you’d wonder how it can even run its CPU and I still have no clue how to do screencaps on it. As well as my hopes to leave enough material to jump back on to making it a YouTube series again when I have an editing computer again.

But I saw Nathaniel R. picked the pilot episode of the new Stephen Adly Guigus/Baz Luhrmann/Nas (yes, that Nas) Netflix series The Get Down (the most expensive Netflix pilot to date) and there was no way I was going to miss it. I didn’t buy into the Stranger Things hype very much. It probably doesn’t help that I’m immune to 80s nostalgia. But I’m very much not immune to the mythologizing of the 70s. I’m also not immune to the mythologizing of hip hop. Nor the mythologizing of New York City (I’m sure I may have slipped that it is my favorite city in this country and maybe one of my favorite places in the world). Especially not the mythologizing of East Coast hip hop birthed in pre-Giuliani New York at the end of the 70s, mixed in with motherfucking disco to a point that I can enjoy it as atmosphere without being suffocated by it like I’m watching a Cannon production.

Most importantly, I’m far from immune to Baz Luhrmann’s excessive style of design and direction where in this case he attempts to apply a more grounded form of his Moulin Rouge! for an era and place that could still be remembered by people who weren’t even there and channels it brilliantly into mixing period piece and bombastic celebration of music and progress and dreams. At the same time Luhrmann provided a much more tonally faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet than even his 1996 film based on the Shakespeare work (the only Luhrmann film I don’t care for). I’m especially not immune to Stephen Adly Guirgus who is, in my opinion, one of the most talented stage writers of the contemporary era.

It was absolutely the most I ever found myself excited for a Netflix series yet and I decided the moment my friend showed me the trailer in New York earlier this summer that I was gonna watch its pilot the moment it played (unfortunately, I didn’t. I was in the middle of helping out a local film festival and didn’t have time until later that weekend).

Luhrmann always knew how to take pre-existing stories with not an ounce of originality to them (to the point that you could pinpoint what is ripped-off from where) and twist them into bold and bright new looks into the versatility of storytelling and how you could shake things up without changing anything. In The Get Down, what really makes me crazy is how he does it for places and people now. Grandmaster Flash is a larger-than-life figure of fucking legend and we’re meant to look upon him like a Japanese Shogun (especially Shaolin Fantastic is talking about different territories belonging to Flash, Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and so on). The streets are a maze from which to evade the gangs – all dangerous, all out for themselves. The disco halls are both a crime den haven and a magical source of light, music, love, and magic. Even then the halls don’t have both the aggressiveness and freedom of an old school block party.

And keep in mind, it doesn’t feel extra. We’re not looking at a very grandiose piece of work, though it’s very ambitious. But it’s nevertheless exhilarating, even despite it being the most low-key thing Luhrmann has done since Strictly Ballroom and I’d dare to call it even more low-key than that. It works as an argument against the idea that Luhrmann needs garish spectacle to get away with broad emotions (though his editing hasn’t slowed down much, but I like his editing style so… jog on.)

So when Nathaniel asks for a best shot, my response to him has to be “Motherfucker, how about Best Shots in plural?!”. Because I know what my Best Shot is (and knew it even when I was first watching it – playing this game has often made me pick my best shot in movies without even thinking) but my fucking god, it’s too brilliant to not share moments I was digging so much.

Like this obviously superimposed shot yet potent shot in the middle of Shaolin Fantastic’s (Shameik Moore) chase from the Savage Warlords gang as both implying the heat of the moment (Shao’s gonna have to jump across to another building) and portraying the growing bankruptcy of New York as a city.


Or the absolute lack of subtlety the show has in portraying a do-or-die moment our diehard romantic poet of a protagonist Zeke (Justice Smith) is given, once again by using the decay of the city, though there’s some obnoxiously obvious lighting going on towards the left side of the frame.


The way Luhrmann can’t help himself from having at least one “part the seas” romantic moment between Zeke and his foil Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola, who unfortunately makes little impression as anything other than a love interest in this pilot. The second episode, though… one word: breakout. Do not hesitate to see it). Complete with colors and dancing and punctuated by a kiss.


Or the fact that no matter what, the villainous disco gangster still has to be the sexiest motherfucker on the spot. Hence why Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is – by an unfairly large margin even over Moore – my favorite performance on the show as Cadillac, he’s way too much fun every time we see him, even in his despicability and his complete anger every time Shao happens to be in the same room as him.


Or how even domestic scenes can be absolutely obvious in their imagery and themes because Luhrmann knows subtlety is for people who want to be more than just moved and that’s not what his work is about.


Or how when a character is important, he has to frame everything and have it all feel like the energy of the moment is coming from him because ladies and gentleman, that Grandmaster Motherfucking Flash (Mamoudou Athie) and if you don’t know him, stop listening to hip hop (the shot is a lot more fun in motion).


But hell, I said I had a best shot from square one, didn’t I? And I do. And it all revolves around a character I already introduced you to.

Shaolin Fantastic (once again I’m gonna specify he’s played by Shameik Moore) is charismatic as shit to the point that we love him before we even see his face. He’s the first name we hear in the rap concert frame narrative, he’s the most physical character around as he runs and flips and jumps and races, he’s considered a saint of graffiti art (Jaden Smith’s performance in this show is the first time his juvenile profundity is actual given a worthy cushion, largely in the form of his hero worship for Shao) but he wants to be a great DJ instead, and Moore just wants to steal the scene from any moment he can. And he does for the most part, he has tremendous chemistry with every single character he interacts with whether amiably (Zeke, Flash, Fat Annie) or antagonistically (Cadillac, Mylene, Boo-Boo). I tried to watch Moore’s theatrical film debut in Dope but couldn’t finish it. Thankfully, The Get Down covered me with just how much Moore was capable of as an actor and if this does not make him a star, I am going to be very very disappointed.

As characters, Zeke and Shao make a great team of one character’s vulnerable humanity and romanticism and the other’s pure spectacle and energy as the rapper and DJ eager to be the next hip hop lords (Justice Smith is kind of the weakest of the ensemble but he still has hella electricity when he shares scenes with Moore), and yet the show is aware of which character is more attractive to us. Despite establishing Zeke as the protagonist, Shao is the motherfucker we keep coming to see. That’s why Shao gets his first speaking scene with a hero shot:



Backlit and all (the whole scene is gorgeously backlit and had me wondering if it was a studio shot or the sun truly was on their side), so all eyes are on his frame. Even while Flash is speaking to Shao (and is in the shot himself), we don’t care to look at him. The shot gives all its focus on the man standing in the middle ready to bust it. You don’t give a shot like that at the earliest moment we meet him without knowing that it’ll be the audience’s favorite dude.

And it’s even more fun when he leaves.

OK. I’m done gushing. Go watch The Get Down, please just go do it. I love it as much as I loved Sense8 and Jessica Jones. Get to it.

P.S. (and sort of a Pilot SPOILER if you want to watch the pilot before this)
I didn’t think the pilot could possibly make me love it more than I already did and then its penultimate shot reveals MOTHERFUCKING DAVEED DIGGS FROM HAMILTON IS PLAYING ZEKE in the future.