Ah, Fantastic Fest. The international film festival, which highlights genre films of every stripe, takes place at Austin, Texas' Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar every fall. It's one of the greatest film festivals in the world, period, even if it does show a lot of very odd movies that your parents would probably disapprove of you watching.
This year, the lineup was totally stellar, with a number of very high profile debuts and just as many interesting screenings of movies that have picked up hype over the last few months. It was an incredible event (as always), and while we didn't get to see everything, we did get to see a lot. Here's hoping we'll see even more in 2019.
15. 'Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club'
On paper, it's very easy to get behind a zany Israeli cannibal comedy-of-manners, but -- whew, boy -- watching is something very different indeed. Instead of there being any punch to the concept, "Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club" is, instead, a tedious bore, full of mixed-up gender politics, suspense set pieces with very little tension, and a dopey love story at its center.
Listen, they're not all going to be winners.
14. 'An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn'
Jim Hosking, the bizarre British filmmaker behind "The Greasy Strangler," is back. Consider yourself warned.
Instead of some crazed version of a horror movie, he's doing some crazed version of a romantic comedy, with Aubrey Plaza playing a woman in love with a mysterious illusionist (Craig Robinson). Of course, her hired hand (Jemaine Clement) is in love with her. Oh, and Emile Hirsch plays her husband. The entire thing is incredibly off-putting, with a mixture of nonprofessional actors and actors behaving in incredibly nonprofessional ways. "An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn" heightened and icky, although there are a few laughs to be had along the way (even if immediately after laughing you feel the need to take a shower).
Well this movie was … something. "Burning" is the latest film from South Korean master filmmaker Lee Chang-dong and, what's more, it's based on a short story by international literary phenomenon Haruki Murakami. Sadly, it is a very dull movie.
It's essentially a very protracted murder mystery, with very little murder or mystery, that might have some sociopolitical or cultural dimensions that I just didn't pick up on but I couldn’t quite figure it out. (Keep in mind, it competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and is South Korea's official Foreign Language Feature selection.) At 148 minutes, it's at least 45 minutes too long, too.
J.J. Abrams' secretive World War II thriller made its long-awaited debut at Fantastic Fest, and while most fell in love with the bloody carnage, I remained cooler.
"Overlord" is the story of a group of soldiers (led by Jovan Adepo), dropped into Nazi-occupied France on the eve of D-Day, who encounter, along with an enemy-operated radio tower, lots and lots of zombies. Unlike many of the other movies at Fantastic Fest, you could tell that "Overlord" has gone through a number of revisions (there are two credited cinematographers) and the seams show. There's never really any escalation to the action, and much of the horror feels ho-hum.
11. 'One Cut of the Dead'
Fantastic Fest audiences went nuts for this wry Japanese zombie comedy (it was a smash in its native land, too) and while it's easy to admire, it's harder to actually love.
The first 37 minutes are a single shot (the "one cut" of the title), following a film crew as they shoot a zombie movie but are – surprise! – attacked by actual zombies. Then the movie takes a very fun twist that puts it squarely in "Ed Wood" territory (the less said about it, the better). Sure, "One Cut of the Dead" is charming and strange in a satisfying way, it also feels cheaply made (the music is atrocious) and, for a zombie comedy, could have used a little more bite.
10. 'Lords of Chaos'
"Lords of Chaos" is a based-on-a-true-story story so bizarre that you'll undoubtedly look up the actual case the second the movie is over. (It checks out.)
Music video visionary Jonas Åkerlund co-wrote and directed the film (based on the nonfiction book of the same name), which charts the meteoric rise of Norwegian death metal, focusing mostly on the band Mayhem. What makes the movie work so well is its expert tonal control; most of the movie plays like a younger version of "This Is Spinal Tap," with a bunch of messy kids (led by Rory Culkin) trying to make a name for themselves and self-seriously piling on all of the offensive iconography and Satanic kitsch they can find.
Of course, once they start actually tapping into that darkness (church burnings! Murder!) is when the movie exerts even more power. If you've never been a head-banger, you can still easily love this film.
If you've seen the trailer for "Apostle," the brand new Gareth Evans movie debuting on Netflix on October 12, you get the general gist: a man (Dan Stevens) travels to a far away island to rescue his sister from a dangerous cult (led by Michael Sheen). But, really, that's only a sliver of the story and to say anything more would probably get me banished.
But know this: there are dark forces at work on that island and what begins as a fairly creepy horror movie along the lines of "The Wicker Man," soon turns into a probing examination of what faith can do to people, and concludes with a wonderfully WTF moment that will require much discussion. Just know that Evans' move away from action to more sustained atmospherics was a fruitful one indeed.
8. 'Hold the Dark'
Another movie that was maybe purposefully misdirected in the marketing materials is "Hold the Dark," now available on Netflix. As expressed in the trailer, the film is the tale of an Alaskan woman (Riley Keough) who hires a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright), after she claims her young son was murdered by a local wolf. Now, that set up alone is great and it's a very big part of the movie, but there's a lot more to it than that. (Not that it'll be spoiled here.)
Director Jeremy Sualnier knows how to craft almost painfully thrilling set pieces, and he never allows the bleakness to overcome the movie's inherent beauty. Throw in some performances as chilling as the Alaskan air, and you've got a cult favorite in the making.
40 years later, we finally have a worthy successor to the original "Halloween." This installment all but ignores every other sequel, remake, or spin-off, picking up where the events of the first film left off … only 40 years later.
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become a backwoods survivalist, convinced that relentless killing machine Michael Myers will one day come for her (spoiler alert: he does!) What could have been a fairly standard, nostalgia-dipped slasher movie, instead becomes something deeper and more thoughtful, focusing on the way that the effects of violence and trauma can ripple through generations. (Thank director and co-writer David Gordon Green.)
It's just one of the many ways that expectations are inverted and subverted into something even newer and more exciting. (It's a testament to how outstanding Fantastic Fest's programming was this year that there are even six movies better than "Halloween.") Also, this movie is going to make so much money.
6. 'The Night Comes For Us'
October 19. That's when "The Night Comes for Us" premieres on Netflix. I'm just letting you know so that you can drink plenty of water and maybe bolt yourself to the furniture or something because this movie kicks that much ass.
It's the tale of a member of the triad's elite killing squad who turns his back on the mafia after being ordered to murder a child, and ends up taking the heat from the entire criminal organization. Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto stages the action with gleeful, gory abandon, as wide shots take in all of the bone-crushing carnage. And it never, ever stops.
This movie shows you just how lame and tired American action filmmaking has become, but makes you hopeful because, clearly, there are others out there still doing it right.
5. 'The Standoff at Sparrow Creek'
Talk about an ingenious set up for a low budget thriller: There's been a shooting at a police officer's funeral. A local militia convenes and discovers that one of the group's automatic weapons is missing, and that one of the men is responsible for the crime. What follows is an increasingly tense whodunit, as a former cop (James Badge Dale, also excellent in "Hold the Dark") starts to investigate which one of them is lying.
That's about all that you can say about "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek" without giving anything away, but writer-director Henry Dunham, making his feature debut, has put together an incredibly exciting, wonderfully photographed yarn that is apolitical in ways you would never expect, leading to much post-viewing discussion. Get ready.
4. 'The World Is Yours'
It struck me as odd that more people weren't talking about "The World is Yours," a zippy, incredibly engrossing French crime comedy from filmmaker Romain Gavras. The title, of course, comes from the mantra of Tony Montana in "Scarface," and it's a purposeful misdirect; instead of aspiration-minded gangsters who want nothing but the latest guns, shoes, and silk shirts, it follows a fairly straight, low-level goon who is just trying to make enough money to get a popsicle franchise off the ground in Africa. (Yes, seriously -- it's adorable.)
Of course, things get rather complicated along the way, with each new wrinkle being introduced with almost surgical precision (my favorite subplot involved Vincent Cassel being consumed with Illuminati conspiracy theories). Add in a wicked supporting performance by Isabelle Adjani, and a killer score by Jamie xx and Sebastian, and you've got a comic soufflé too delicious to pass up.
3. 'Bad Times at the El Royale'
The festival's closing night film seems like something of a no-brainer: It's a twisty turny, noir-tinged story of double-crosses and people pretending to be something they're not. But what makes "Bad Times at the El Royale" transcend those fairly obvious genre trappings is how much heart writer-director Drew Goddard injects into the material, and what marvelous, full-bodied performances stars like Fantastic Fest MVP Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, and breakout Cynthia Erivo provide.
Some folks groused about the movie's lengthy 140-minute running time; I was happy to luxuriate with the colorful band of lowlifes. Checking into the El Royale, it's best not to know much of anything except, of course, that you'll have a ball.
Well, "Piercing" was a huge surprise: Nicholas Pesce's follow-up to 2016's dour, black-and-white horror movie "The Eyes of My Mother" turns out to be a bright, vibrant, very screwed-up romantic comedy (of sorts). Christopher Abbott plays a straight-laced businessman who, fighting back homicidal urges, checks into a hotel and orders a prostitute, luring her to her doom. Except, of course, the prostitute is Mia Wasikowska and, well, you know what they say about best-laid plans.
Alternately horrifying and hilarious, Pesce's sophomore feature is more human and alive than his debut, complimented by unassumingly oddball production design (all of the exteriors of buildings are miniatures) and featuring a musical bedrock full of obscure cuts from movies like "Cherry 2000" and "Tenebre."
When "Suspiria," "Call Me By Your Name" filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's autumnally hued take on Dario Argento's 1977 candy-colored classic, made its debut at the Venice Film Festival reactions were, um, muted, to say the least. So it was something of a surprise that "Suspiria" exploded at Fantastic Fest the way it did; nobody quite knew what they were getting into (and not just because it was the never-officially-announced secret screening). But, make no mistake, this new version of the ballet-school-run-by-witches tale is vitally alive and unlike any other movie released this year (or, potentially, any other year).
Instead of a remake or sequel, it's a straight-up transformation, taking the original conceit and making it sexier, weirder, more political, and more distinctly feminist. The results are a fascinating, electric work of art, featuring sublime performances by Dakota Johnson (as the naïve waif), Tilda Swinton (as the plotting witch -- plus a couple of other characters), and Mia Goth (as the delicate ballerina-turned-detective).
It's almost impossible to describe, but this intricately staged masterpiece (with new music by Thom Yorke) will carry you away. It's bloody brilliant.