If You Could Live (or Relive) Two Years in the Past

Here’s an interesting exercise: If you could go back in time and live out two full years in America, any two years between 1913-1992, what would they be? In other words, sometime after all continental states were admitted to the union, but before the World Wide Web was made public. My years of choice are 1925 and 1973.

The Year 1925

The mid-twenties in general were a time to be alive. It was the ultimate decade of peace, prosperity, and freedom. Presidents Warren Harding (1921-23) and Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) kept the nation out of war and needless costly foreign intervention. They raised the standard of living for millions. Technological advances and mass production made consumer goods affordable, and the spread of electrical power created a demand for appliances. Many people could buy cars, yielding a new world of paved roads and stores. New York became the largest city in the world, overtaking London. Child mortality rates dropped across the nation. Money was spent lavishly on public education. Women were now able to vote, giving the country 26 million new voters. People danced the nights away, to the latest music on radio. There was Prohibition, which was bad itself, but yielded the benefit of the black market with bootlegging and speakeasies; in effect the price of booze went way down. If there was a decade I could visit during the first half of the twentieth century, it would be the 20s hands down, and the particular year I choose is 1925.

Here are some of the note-worthies of 1925.

Great Books. Some say the greatest year for books was 1925. Books like An American Tragedy and The Great Gatsby were hugely influential.

The First Motel. Hotels had been around since 1794, but the first motel opened in California in 1925, located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It charged a rate of $1.25 per night. Motels hinted that car culture would soon take over the American way of life.

Gitlow v. New York. This year the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling: that the right of free speech protects a person from state interference as much as federal interference. The Court had previously held, in Barron v. Baltimore (1833), that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government, but Gitlow reversed that precedent and established that while the Bill of Rights was designed to limit the power of the federal government, the denial of these rights by a state government constitutes a denial of due process which is prohibited under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In this year the Court also held that children did not have to attend public schools. States that made such a requirement were acting unconstitutionally.

Scopes Monkey Trial. In the summer of 1925, the Scopes Trial was all the rage — staged deliberately to attract publicity. Tennessee upheld a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools, and fined Scopes $100, although the state supreme court overturned the ruling on a technicality. The nation would have to wait until 1968 for SCOTUS’s substantive ruling: that banning evolution violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since the bans are primarily religious. But the Scopes trial itself was a benchmark in forcing the question of whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools.

Weird Tales and Adventure (“The Camp-Fire”). The pulp magazines became wildly popular in the 20s. Weird Tales — still regarded today as the most important and influential of all fantasy magazines — had launched its first issue in 1923, and in 1925 began publishing an issue every month. Adventure Magazine, started back in 1910, had grown so popular by the 20s that its letters page, “The Camp-Fire” (not to be confused with the youth development organization by the same name, that also started in 1910), had become a major cultural phenomenon. The Camp-Fire featured editorials and fiery discussions about all sorts of topics, usually about whether or not the author had the right facts in his or her story. Historical accuracy, geographical accuracy, the kind of weapons the characters used — all of these and more were debated with passion. By 1924, a number of Camp-Fire Stations — locations where Adventure readers could hook up — were established across the U.S. and even in other countries. In 1925 one of the Camp-Fire’s most fiery debates was over the character of Julius Caesar. The writers often embellished their lives, reinvented themselves with outlandish fictions (even in their bio sketches); some were con artists. By 1925 Adventure was unquestionably the most important pulp magazine in the world, let alone the U.S. I’d love to live in 1925 as a subscriber to Weird Tales and Adventure, and as a Camp-Fire freak.

Drag Balls. The tradition of masquerade and civil balls (“drag balls”) goes back to 1869 in Harlem. By the mid-1920s, at the height of Prohibition, they were attracting thousands of people of different races and social classes—whether straight or gay. We tend to think of Stonewall (in 1969) as the beginning of the gay rights movement, but decades before that, Harlem’s drag balls were part of an LGBTQ nightlife-culture that gave us gay and lesbian enclaves. What fun. Only after the Depression would this libertine culture fall out of favor, as many would blame this cultural experimentation for the economic collapse.

The Year 1973

The early 70s were gloomy and nihilistic, but that’s what generated so much artistic creativity and cultural progress. Disillusion, cynicism, paranoia, and frustrated rage coalesced in the ’60s aftermath, yielding introspection and existentialism. Films were about dirty cops, shady leaders, conspiracies, isolation, and loneliness. Rock lyrics were about individuals trying desperately to connect to others, to themselves, and to the world around them. The dress and hair styles were awful, granted, but aside from that, it was a groovy period. The best year in particular is 1973. I was alive that year, but so tiny and young that I remember nothing about it. I’d love to go back and live out the year as an adult.

Here are the note-worthies of 1973:

The Exorcist. The best and scariest film of all time is released. I’d give anything to see this masterpiece on screen when everyone was fainting in the isle and running from the theaters.

The Godfather. The epic film wins Best Picture, becoming the new Citizen Kane.

Selling England by the Pound. The best album by the best band of all time. Or at least, Genesis was the best band while Peter Gabriel was involved.

Dark Side of the Moon. The most important album by the most important band of all time. Even if The Wall is Floyd’s best, Dark Side’s influence can’t be exaggerated.

All in the Family. The best episodes — meaning the most offensive and insanely hilarious ones — from the best TV sitcom of all time come from the late part of season 3 and the early part of season 4, which spanned the year of 1973: “Archie Goes Too Far”, “Archie Learns His Lesson”, “The Battle of the Month”, “We’re Having a Heat Wave”, “Henry’s Farewell”, “The Games Bunkers Play”, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Wig”, to name the very best episodes.

Roe v. Wade. Landmark supreme court ruling protecting the right to abortions.

The Paris Peace Accords. After 16 years, American involvement in the Vietnam War ended. Peace at last.

The War Powers Resolution. The congressional resolution (vetoed by Richard Nixon but then overridden) limits the president’s ability to initiate or escalate military actions abroad. It states that “the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply” whenever the American armed forces are deployed overseas. Many presidents since then have failed to comply with this resolution, and for the worse.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association declares that homosexuality is not a mental illness or sickness, and removes from its manuals the listing of same-sex activity as a disorder.

The Endangered Species Act. The most comprehensive legislation enacted (in any nation) for the protection of endangered species.

Happy 40th: Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian is a special film for me. Released on May 14, 1982, it was my first R-rated experience in a theater, and did a wonder on my youthful sensibilities. Between scenes of graphic sex — especially Conan’s coupling with a vampire who goes rabid on him at the moment of orgasm — and a deluge of gore, I was utterly stupefied, and if not for the subject material which interested me, would have probably taken days to recover. Conan threw me into a world of lust and brutality I was so unprepared for at age 13, but it also felt like a real-life Dungeons and Dragons game. This was high adventure in which thieves robbed the temples of evil priests, rescued their victims, battled giant snakes, and stumbled on forgotten swords held in the clutches of cobwebbed skeletons — the kind of scenarios I fantasized about daily when throwing the 20-sided die.

Today it holds up well — astonishingly well, in fact, when compared to inferior PG cousins like Willow, Krull, Legend, and of course the abysmal sequel Conan the Destroyer. The ’80s gave fantasy such a bad name that I came to view Conan the Barbarian as a one-time exception in a genre flooded by cliche and hollow characters, and not until Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings would I be forced to revise my opinion. The first fifteen minutes alone make clear that Milius is about serious business and refuses to pull punches, as the young Conan witnesses his entire people slaughtered in a village raid, and his mother decapitated as he clings to her. Battles are so violent that the film feels like an historical epic instead of fantasy, as if Hyboria were exactly as Robert Howard intended: a mythic version of the ancient world, like Middle-Earth.

The film in fact anticipates Lord of the Rings in some interesting ways, but most fundamentally with the score. It is no exaggeration to say that Basil Poledouris’ compositions are amongst the most powerful ever written for any film, and this is agreed on by critics who aren’t terribly wild about Conan. Thundering brass and Latin chants roll over grim battle sequences, while variations of the main theme play at just the right moments, and a gothic choir creeps in almost unnoticeably on the slow melodies. Then there is the waltz, one of my favorite pieces, for the orgy scene: the redundant movements fit perfectly over the sex, cannibalism, and Thulsa Doom polymorphing into a snake, and puts me in mind of Ravel’s Bolero. I still listen to this soundtrack as much as I do Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings, and am floored by how much talent Poledouris was able to poor into such an obscure project.

The acting performances are the film’s only liability, but not in a major way, and in Schwarzenegger’s case his poor talents actually work for him. His barbaric role demands little more than grunting out one-liners, swinging a sword, maiming foes, punching camels, and fucking women, and his Austrian accent somehow, amusingly, fits just right in this context. Dialogue is used frugally throughout the film in any case, so Conan’s companions (cast more for their athletic than acting talents) don’t come off terribly bad either. But James Earl Jones is genius, and he completely steals the show as Thulsa Doom, the high priest of Set based on Thoth-Amon from Howard’s books. Jones oozes malevolence with all the trappings of a hippy cult leader, hypnotizing with a stare, and commanding loyal followers to jump to their deaths on a whim. The snake theme is milked for all its worth, and considering production values of the early ’80s it’s a wonder how convincing the giant serpents are. Doom even shoots snakes from his longbow, and one of them of course kills Valeria, pushing Conan completely over the edge in his hunger for revenge.

In terms of its treatment of source material, Conan has been a bone of contention, pleasing and displeasing fans of the Howard classics in equal measure. Most everything is pastiche (Valeria is an acrobatic thief more like Belit instead of Howard’s pirate; the high priest of Set is named after a sorcerer who never even met Conan), distortion (the god Crom invites prayer-challenges and has a jovial side reminiscent of our viking gods, unlike Howard’s Crom who disdains all prayer as weak and is completely cheerless), or invention (Conan’s early years on the Wheel of Pain). As one who never got around to reading Howard’s books until much later, none of this could bother me, but my best friend knew Howard inside and out and loved the film as much I did. I’ve always believed that strict adaptations are too stifling (and again Lord of the Rings is instructive), and anyone with a good ear knows that the name of Thulsa Doom cuts deeper than Thoth-Amon.

For all it’s gravity and grim outlook, Milius’ film is not without humor. Conan praying to Crom and telling the god to fuck off is priceless. So is his punching the camel’s face. My favorite line is his answer to the question, “What is best in life?” You have to imagine Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent for the full effect: “Crush the enemy, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!” My friend and I got more mileage out of that ridiculous saying than it deserves, and it pretty much sums up Conan better than anything I can think of.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5.


This review is reposted, with some modifications, from a blogpost I wrote in 2011.

Scores that still score

These are the scores I play most often when I write. Novels, essays, blogposts — so much of it inspired by the following music.

1. Conan the Barbarian, Basil Poledouris, 1982. The film is so operatic that it seems to have been crafted for the score rather than vice-versa — nothing like the cheesy fantasy films that otherwise plagued the ’80s. I watch Conan every year at least once, and listen to the score every month at least twice. Thundering brass and Latin chants roll over grim battle sequences, while variations of the main theme recur, and a gothic choir creeps in almost unnoticeably on the slow melodies. Then there is the waltz, one of my favorite pieces, for the orgy scene, which reminds me of Ravela repetitive waltz that escalates to a Bolero-like crescendo. Conan is the masterpiece score, and I dare you to name one better.

Try these: Riders of Doom, Civilization, The Kitchen & The Orgy.

2. Fire Walk With Me, Angelo Badalamenti, 1992. This score blends smoky jazz, ’50s pop, and dark noir into a masterpiece that still could use more appreciation. In the ’90s Fire Walk With Me was cursed and reviled (everyone wanted a Twin Peaks film, not a psychological horror film) but now many Lynch fans consider it one of his best, if not his best, and that’s just as true of the score. Even the most subdued compositions are unnerving and menacing. Never has a saxophone gone through me like an awl. Julee Cruise puts in an appearance – as no Twin Peaks film would be complete without her – singing “Questions in a World of Blue”, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes (Laura at the bar) I’ve seen in a film.

Try these: Fire Walk With Me, Laura Palmer’s Theme, Questions in a World of Blue.

3. The Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore, 2001-2003. Howard Shore has always been a genius, and The Lord of the Rings opus is what he had been working towards his whole career. All the major themes sound exactly as one imagines the cultures of Middle-Earth to sound: the Celtic Shire theme with fiddles and whistles; the elegant Rivendell piece with violins and chimes; the unnerving Lothlorien tune with cellos and haunting choruses; the brass and percussive Isengard chants; the raw Moria theme that goes deeper and deeper; the horse-rider music of Rohan with the hardanger fiddle; the stately and grand anthem of Minas Tirith; the gothic Nazgul theme with the raging choir; the bittersweet departure at the Grey Havens. It’s nothing short of miraculous.

Try these: The Breaking of the Fellowship, The Fields of Pelennor, The Grey Havens.

4. Marco Polo, Ennio Morricone, 1982. This guy has scored countless films and TV series, and it’s a wonder that his output is top-notch quality regardless of how much he’s getting paid for it. Marco Polo was an ’80s TV series, and I doubt he was compensated for it as he deserved to be. The tones and textures are some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard — I’m surprised it’s not more widely appreciated. It’s only been released in Italy, and only available on vinyl through amazon, though most of the pieces can be listened to on youtube.

Try these: Mai Li’s Song, The Legend of the Great Wall, First Love

5. Passion, Peter Gabriel, 1989. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it’s one of the worst Jesus films of all time. But the score is one of the best ever made for any film — as how could it not be, with Peter Gabriel composing? Here he mines Armenian, Egyptian and Kurdish melodies in order to bring third-world rhythms into a western ambit, and the result is pure gold. I think of the Middle-East and Africa when I listen to Passion — not in a religious way, but in the way I imagine Gabriel trying to honor its peoples.

Try these: Zaar, Open, A Different Drum.

6. Antarctica, Vangelis, 1983. I’m one of those fools who believes that Chariots of Fire is a bit overrated (both the film and the score), and that the lesser known Antarctica is what earns Vangelis his immortality. This soundtrack is simply spellbinding. You can hear ice in between the notes, and it sounds as cold, solitary, and vast as the South Pole itself. The film itself is okay; it’s about a pack of dogs abandoned in the antarctic, but not at all essential to appreciate the music. I often nap to it in the winter seasons.

Try these: Song of White, Deliverance.

7. Sunshine, John Murphy and Underworld, 2007. Sunshine is about a team of astronauts who take the suicidal step of trying to reignite a dying Sun, and the score — an onslaught of whooshes and blares — goes perfectly with the visuals. It achieves what most composers can only aspire to, ratcheting up tension with insistent themes that stay with you for a long time.

Try these: Kaneda’s Death, The Surface of the Sun.


The Batman Films Ranked

The Batman franchise isn’t what you’d necessarily expect. It’s not as if the Nolan films are all better than the Burton films, with the directors falling neatly into tiers. Here are my rankings. Not included are the Justice League medley (which I refuse to watch) and the Lego movie.

The Dark Knight - Joker Crashes The Wayne Party (HD) - YouTube
1. The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, 2008. 5 stars. The Godfather of Batman films, and almost as epic and tragic. It uses Batman as an icon to show how heroes escalate terror in the name of fighting it. The Joker and Two-Face are born out of perverse emulation for the hero, and of course the Joker steals the show — putting a smile on people with his knives, blowing up hospitals and ferry boats, and burning mountains of money he goes to the trouble of robbing from Gotham’s banks. By the end it’s clear that Batman is more a problem than a solution — “a freak like me”, taunts the Joker — and he willingly takes the fall for Harvey Dent, turning Gotham against him. It set a mighty high bar.

New The Batman Trailer Is Full Of New Bat-Footage
2. The Batman. Matt Reeves, 2022. 4 ½ stars. This is Batman meets Se7en, with the serial-killing Riddler we deserve after Jim Carrey’s slaughter-job in the ’90s. I was a guaranteed sucker for this one. The cinematography is stunning (the best in any Batman film) and the score genius (the best music in any Batman film), and the ugly clandestine world of payoffs, informants and rank corruption is just what a superhero film needs to be taken seriously for a change, especially after the absurdity of Ben Afleck. No doubt this film is setting us up for even more — and I am dying to see what kind of Joker Reeves will give us.

In a real world full of darkness, the wicked camp of Batman Returns is a safe cocoon | CBC Arts
3. Batman Returns. Tim Burton, 1992. 4 ½ stars. Daring for its day, and controversial enough to give Tim Burton the axe, Batman Returns dialed up the gothic weirdness by a factor of five, giving us a Penguin who lives in a sewer and schemes to dump kids into toxic waste. Some have called the film an outright assault on kids, but it’s really about broken adults searching for peace and acceptance. Burton painted a canvas of such hurt and pain — going well beyond what he did in his ’89 film — that it was too much for some people. It’s also what made it good and I still love it. Another bonus: Michelle Pfeiffer is the best Catwoman of all time.

Batman Begins - The Will to Act (Training Scene HD) - YouTube4. Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan, 2005. 4 ½ stars. There is no better origin story. Bruce Wayne spends the first half of the movie imprisoned, and then undergoing a brutal program under the tutelage of Ra’s Al-Ghul. It’s like he’s training to be a ninja — it’s that grueling — a compelling account of how Batman became such a powerhouse fighter without any innate abilities. When he finally becomes Batman, Scarecrow is awaiting him in Gotham (played with relish by Cillian Murphy), making a perfect first villain to overcome, as Scarecrow is all about fear — about which Bruce Wayne still has much to overcome.

Is this the best Batman movie ever made? - Little White Lies
5. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Eric Radomski & Bruce Timm, 1993. 4 stars. Surprisingly moving for an animated film, it examines how demoralizing Batman’s existence is around a tense mystery plot. It starts in romance blossoming out of a graveyard conversation: Bruce Wayne falls in love with Andrea Beaumont, who soon breaks his heart and later becomes the mob-murdering Phantasm, succumbing to her dark side without reservation. Joker is behind the death of both their parents, and Mark Hamill’s voice for Joker is pretty damn good (considering, after all, it’s Mark Hamill).

Mezco Toyz on Twitter: "Batman 1989 thirty years later – How Jack Nicholson's casting as the Joker elevated the superhero film genre - https://t.co/cu5O4pdxyQ https://t.co/VUc6xkp9I6" / Twitter6. Batman. Tim Burton, 1989. 3 ½ stars. It hasn’t aged very well, but in the ’80s this was a dark and groundbreaking effort. And while Heath Ledger’s Joker makes Nicholson’s look campy, there’s still a lot that’s compelling in Burton’s weirdness — a style that he would perfect in his sequel, Batman Returns. This was the film that showed me the potential in superhero films. In the 80s all I knew was Christopher Reeve and Superman. Measured against that cheese, Tim Burton’s Batman was a stunning work of art.

The Dark Knight Rises Voted Best Film Of The Decade - LADbible
7. The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan, 3 ½ stars. Believe me, I really wanted to like it more, but it’s overstuffed and under-inspired. Nolan just didn’t have the mojo he had in the first two films. Batman Begins looked at the hero’s origins by focusing on the politics of fear; The Dark Knight destroyed our hope through nihilism and chaos. This films then took on the theme of pain, but not nearly as profoundly as the other two. As for Bane, he’s not an autonomous villain like Ra’s al Ghul and Joker (he’s the former’s henchman), which reduces him in a major way. Still, this is a good effort by the standards of most superhero films.

The Daily Stream: Batman (1966) Is Comic Book Movie Camp At Its Finest
8. Batman. Leslie Martinson, 1966. 2 stars. Some say the silliness of this classic is part of its charm. They can keep telling themselves that. Though the deadpan humor is admittedly amusing at times, in its cheesy way, which keeps it above the ultra-offenders. I’d watch this over any of the three entries below, which is saying a lot about how bad they are.

Batman Forever' Extended Cut: Will Darker Version Get Release? - Variety
9. Batman Forever. Joel Schumacher, 1 ½ stars. Tim Burton’s films were deemed too weird and unsettling, and Batman Returns crossed quite a few lines. So they hired Schumacher to dumb things down for kids. He introduced Robin — who is always the kiss of death in Batman — and even worse, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, who utterly dominates this POS of a film. It’s impossible to erase Carrey-Riddler from your mind once you’ve seen Batman Forever, and I still resent it. Sad thing is, Val Kilmer would have made a good Batman, and Tommy Lee Jones a good Two-Face, if they’d been given decent material to work with.

The Batman Vs. Superman Easter Egg You Missed In I Am Legend
10. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zach Snyder, 2016. 1 star. As bad as Batman Forever is, I’d suffer through it again before a repeat of this travesty. It’s basically King Kong vs. Godzilla: boring, boring, and more boring. Though come to think of it, maybe I would choose this one; at least it would put me to sleep. As for Ben Afleck, he’s the absolute worst Batman ever — even worse than George Clooney, below.

Poison Ivy Encounter - YouTube
11. Batman & Robin. Joel Schumacher, 1997. 0 stars. What can I say that hasn’t been? Not only is this the worst Batman film ever made, it’s one of the worst films period ever made. After the trash of Batman Forever, Schumacher took trash to the 20th power, and made the most risible piece of cinema imaginable. I reserve a zero-star rating for films that haven’t a shred of redeeming moments in them, and trust me, if you haven’t seen it (don’t!), Batman & Robin is one such stinking behemoth.

Film Picks of 2021

Don’t look for Dune on this list; I found it a lackluster affair. For me, The Last Duel was the film of the year, and I really liked The Power of the Dog too.

The Last Duel: la recensione del film medievale di Ridley Scott - Il Cineocchio
1. The Last Duel. 4 ½ stars. The best thing Ridley Scott has done in a long time (since Black Hawk Down twenty years ago) is a western Rashomon, showing three points of view that center on an alleged rape. I’m a sucker for perspective dramas like this and was reminded of the All in the Family episode “Everyone Tells the Truth” (S03E20), in which Mike and Archie gave conflicting accounts of a confrontation between Archie and a black man. Mike the flaming liberal painted Archie as a hyper-racist screaming at the black guy over the slightest provocation, and with a repertoire of racial slurs, while Archie countered with his version, in which he appeared calm and reasonable, and was yelled at and scolded by everyone in the family for no reason at all. Archie also claimed that the black man pulled a knife on him. Then Edith told her version, showing how Mike and Archie equally distorted things. The Last Duel isn’t a comedy, but there are some genuinely amusing dynamics. As in All in the Family, the feuding men come across pathetically and hilariously egocentric, while Lady Marguerite, like Edith Bunker, squeezes out the real story no one wants to hear. The duel itself is a cracker too — and, truth be told, far better than the one between Paul and Jamis in Dune.

2. The Power of the Dog. 4 ½ stars. The title comes from Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” The dog in the film is Phil Burbank, a macho rancher living in Montana in the 1920s. He’s a passively vicious man, demeaning and suffocating those around him: his kind brother George, his sister-in-law Rose, and Rose’s effeminate son Peter. I’d never have guessed Benedict Cumberbatch could play this kind of role so well — a closeted gay full of self-loathing, wielding brutal psychological power over others. His “power”, as the dog, comes from his cruel ability to prey on others’ inadequacies and eradicating their sense of self-worth. How the boy Peter delivers his “darling” mother from the dog’s power is something I didn’t see coming. I thought he was actually genuinely bonding with his tormentor and trying to find common ground with him. This is great film making, great acting. It apparently hews close to the 1967 novel, though I haven’t read it.

3. Encounter. 4 stars. If you like William Friedkin’s Bug, as I do, then Encounter is probably up your alley. The levels of paranoia are just as high. A military veteran (Malik) breaks into his ex-wife’s home in the middle of the night, wakes up his kids and tells them they’re going on a surprise road trip. It’s exciting until they learn it isn’t a road trip, but a rescue mission: Parasitic aliens have come to Earth and are being injected into human hosts through bug bites, says Dad. He sprays himself and his boys with bug spray, over and over again, and it’s not long before his parole officer comes on stage… Malik has issues, obviously. The kids are splendid in their roles, and the spotlight stays on them, their relationship with their father, and the question of their future and safety. Prolonged child endangerment often fails under the weight of what is expected from child actors, but these kids do just fine.

Dave Chappelle Says Won't Back Down To Demands, Attacks Hannah Gadsby – Deadline
4. The Closer. 4 stars. This is a comedy special, not a film, but I’m including it for special reasons. Everyone by now knows that Dave Chappelle was cancelled for poking fun at queer and transgender ideology, and as someone with a gay side myself, I can say there is absolutely no merit to the woke outrage. Take it from another gay man, Andrew Sullivan: “Anyone who can watch this special and think Chappelle is homophobic or transphobic is either stupendously dumb or a touchy fanatic. He is no more transphobic than J.K. Rowling, i.e. not at all. It is extremely funny, and I sat with another homo through the whole thing, stoned, laughing our asses off — especially when he made fun of us. The way the elite media portrays us, you’d think every member of the BLT community is so fragile we cannot laugh at ourselves. It doesn’t occur to them that, for many of us, Chappelle is a breath of honest air, doing what every comic should do: take aim at every suffocating piety of the powers that be — including the increasingly weird 2SLGBTQQIA+ mafia — and detonating them all. The Closer is, in fact, a humanely brilliant indictment of elite culture at this moment in time. It marks a real moment: a punching up against the powerful, especially those who pretend they aren’t [i.e. the wokes].” Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Wrath of Man (2021) - Transcript - Scraps from the loft
5. Wrath of Man. 4 stars. I watched this film twice in a week, and I can’t remember the last time I did that. Certainly not with a revenge thriller. The problem with revenge films is that they play on our basest impulses for payback in the name of righteous justice. But Wrath of Man is so unapologetically nihilistic that I had a blast with it. Jason Statham is the perfect anti-hero, searching for a gang of armored-car robbers who murdered his son. When tearing up the criminal underworld fails him, he joins an armored truck security firm in hopes of baiting the thugs into the open. It turns out the robbers were military buddies in Afghanistan, and these baddies are quite entertaining on their own. The Statham character isn’t all that he seems, for he’s a vicious gangster, and therefore only pretending to be a “good guy” as he smokes out the robbers. They finally take the bait in the mother of all robberies, ending in the mother of all shoot-outs. Wrath of Man has high rewatch value; I was expecting a mediocre film and was pleasantly surprised.

6. Nightbooks. 4 stars. Family films aren’t usually my thing, but then Nightbooks isn’t really a family film even though it was marketed as such. I think it’s too intense for many kids. Between themes of child abuse and genuinely scary monsters, it feels more like Sam Raimi trying to do family-friendly as best he can. Some of the jump scares unsettled even me, and there’s stuff like projectile candy-vomit, reminiscent of The Evil Dead. Nightbooks is “family-friendly”, perhaps, in the way the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who was, which called forth constant complaints that the show was going too far. From my point of view, none of this is a problem; as a kid who loved horror from the word go, I would have loved Nightbooks. It’s about two kids trapped in a witch’s house that has killed other kids, and the only way to stay alive is to appease the witch by producing stories that have unhappy endings, as she feeds off fantasies of suffering.

7. Titane. 3 ½ stars. What some critics have called the film of the year is about a woman who kills the people she fucks (both men and women), finds that she likes fucking cars more than her own species, and then gets impregnated by a Cadillac. It’s an impressive avant-garde piece, but a bit oversold; it’s certainly not the film of the year. It’s trying to say something about hybridity — gender identity, family, and what it means to be human — but it’s not quite as profound as it thinks it is. It probably has more to say about biocompatibility (Cronenberg’s Crash is clearly in the background), though how this human being and an automobile successfully mate is never explained, perhaps wisely so. Titane is ultimately, in its second half, about a bereaved father who accepts this son who is not a son (in more ways than one), and vows to protect “him” and his baby from life’s vicious cruelties.

Stowaway review: Netflix's sci-fi drama is oddly down to Earth - Polygon
8. Stowaway. 3 ½ stars. This space survival story is more about the characters and their dilemmas than any thriller elements. (The climbing of the tethers, however, is an exceptionally nerve-wracking piece of suspense that had my hands sweating.) It’s set in the near future, with a team of three on a two-year voyage to Mars. Toni Collette plays the ship’s commander, and the other two are a medical researcher, and a biologist who has been studying the respiratory possibilities of algae on Mars. After launching they soon find out there’s a fourth person trapped on board the ship, and in freeing him the carbon dioxide-scrubbing mechanism is damaged, making it impossible for everyone to have enough oxygen to survive the entire journey. This requires two of them to go into space and climb the tethers to retrive liquid oxygen… and I’ll say no more, save that the ending is depressing, though also very moving.

Ballerinas Pushed to Their Breaking Points in Birds of Paradise Trailer | PEOPLE.com
9. Birds of Paradise. 3 ½ stars. Inspired by horror-fests Suspiria and Black Swan, this ballet drama explores friendship and rivalry alongside the pain that seems inevitably to come with the art. It follows two American girls in Paris, one a scholarship student and a bit of an outsider. They start as enemies but soon become friends, swearing a pact to win the prize together, though it becomes obvious that’s impossible. Birds of Paradise isn’t as good as Suspiria (either the classic or new version) or Black Swan — it’s more like a sanitized version of those films for teens, despite its R-rating — but taken for what it is, it’s enjoyable and feverishly surreal. In one sequence, the girls go to an underground club, where a woman dressed like a Gorgon makes them eat psychedelic worms, and they proceed to face off against each other in a high-stakes dance. Sets a wonderful tone.

Nobody' review: Bob Odenkirk comes on strong as dad taking on the mob - Chicago Sun-Times
10. Nobody. 3 ½ stars. It’s cartoonish but in a good way, and Bob Odenkirk is well suited for the lead. He plays an ex-assassin trying to lead a normal family life, until his bad-ass cravings draw him back in. It’s a silly plot that works despite itself, thanks largely to Odenkirk’s trademark color. He even teams up with his decrepit father (in the above pic), who is a retired FBI agent, and they proceed to gun town the entire Russian mafia. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a film on this level of preposterous since Cronenberg’s History of Violence, which was a metaphor for natural selection (survival of the fittest). Nobody is more a metaphor for the futility of repressing one’s inner thug.


(See also: The Best Films of 2006, The Best Films of 2007, The Best Films of 2008, The Best Films of 2009, The Best Films of 2010, The Best Films of 2011, The Best Films of 2012, The Best Films of 2013, The Best Films of 2014, The Best Films of 2015, The Best Films of 2016, The Best Films of 2017, The Best Films of 2018, The Best Films of 2019, The Best Films of 2020.)

The 50th Anniversary of the Nashua Public Library

This year the Nashua Public Library will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the months of November and December. The celebration will include an exhibit of library artifacts and a slideshow of photographs in the gallery, a banner and a special anniversary edition library card, and also special displays of material from the collection that were released in 1971 — books, films, music, TV series, and events. The library’s actual anniversary is September 26 (when the dedication ceremony took place), so technically the celebration should already be under way. So I’m doing my own personal homage to the library and the year 1971. Here’s looking back at what was happening that year: books that would leave their mark, like The Exorcist; rock ‘n roll masterpieces like Zeppelin IV; the debut of All in the Family and unprecedented political incorrectness. It turns out that 1971 was a critical year in many ways — it started the ’70s in the way 1983 started the ’80s — an important year (though I wasn’t old enough to appreciate most of it) and suitable moment to open a town library. There were shifts in the cultural milieu that would have lasting impact, and here are some of the highlights.

1. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. It started with the book in ’71, even if the film pushed it into infamy two years later. Not great literature by any means (unlike the film, which was a cinematic masterpiece), but Blatty presented demonic possession like no one has done since, and never scarier.

2. All in the Family, by Normal Lear. The best TV sitcom of all time hit its peak in ’73-’74 (the excellent third and fourth seasons), but it began on that fateful January in 1971 (you can watch the full premiere here), when Archie and Mike screamed at each other about racism over a Sunday brunch. The show would keep going to the tail end of the ’70s.

3. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. The 50th anniversary for this one has already been widely celebrated. It was a book ahead of its time, making its urgent plea for preservation and a clean environment, showing how species disappear when food runs out or pollution is left unchecked.

4. Led Zeppelin IV, by Led Zeppelin. Yeah, this one. The opening “Black Dog”, the medieval “Battle of Evermore” (my favorite), the epic “Stairway to Heaven”,  the ballad “Going to California”, and everything else… hard to believe this masterpiece has 50 years under its belt.

5. Harold and Maude, by Hal Ashby. A morbid love affair between a suicidal teen and a 79-year old woman was widely panned at the time of its release, but today it’s much more appreciated it deserves. One of the darkest comedies ever made, and a fitting start to the ’70s era of creative cinema.

6. The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin. In the middle of writing the Earthsea Trilogy, Le Guin released this sci-fic tale of a world racked by violence and environmental catastrophe. One man’s dreams controls the fate of humanity, and a psychiatrist manipulates those dreams for his own purposes. I’m reading this now and lamenting that we don’t have writers like this anymore.

7. Hell House, by Richard Matheson. Stephen King calls it the best haunted house story of all time. Perhaps. It’s about two previous expeditions to the awful house that ended up with the investigators killed or going insane, and now a new investigation is under way.

8. The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone. It may sound strange, but this book terrified me as a kid. My mother got for me about three years after publication. Hysterical images like these petrified the shit out of me and kept me awake at night. I dreaded the monster at the end, even knowing it was just Grover. The things that scare little kids.

9. The French Connection, by William Friedkin. Known for the infamous car chase that could have gotten people killed (it was shot illegally without Friedkin getting anyone’s permission, or without even closing off the streets), the film was a landmark shot in the “induced documentary” style that put Friedkin on the map.

10. Nursery Cryme, by Genesis. Prog rock excellence from Genesis in their glory days. In the epic “Musical Box” a girl knocks her boy cousin’s head off with a croquet mallet, and his spirit returns to lust for her and assault her. In “The Fountain of Salmacis” Hermaphroditus is seduced by the nymph Salmacis and becomes fused with her. Great imagination on display here.

11. The Electric Company, by Paul Dooley. Sesame Street (launched in ’69) had pride of place when I was growing up, but The Electric Company (’71-’77) was my favorite and the reason I became a fan of Spider-Man. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader was pretty cool too. This is his first appearance on the show.

12. Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey. Arguably the best of The Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, the second book involves complex storylines. In the first book Lessa traveled back in time centuries in order to bring an army forward. In this one F’nor takes on an even more suicidal flight to the Red Star to wipe out the source of Thread forever.

13. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. Like The Exorcist, the book would be made into a successful 1973 film. It was also awarded on its strength as a novel, receiving the Best Novel Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America. it’s about the assassination attempt of Charles De Gaulle, and it holds up well today.

14. A Clockwork Orange, by Stanley Kubrick. Kubric went for the jugular in adapting the 1962 novel, depicting a miserable journey through a world of decaying cities, psycho adolescents, and nightmare technologies of rehabilitative punishment. Viewers were stunned. Welcome to the ’70s.

15. The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, by Robert Foster. Before the age of the internet and Tolkien webpages, this was my go-to book for Tolkien lore (which I acquired, I think, in either ’79 or ’80). It was as complete as I could imagine a resource for Tolkien’s world. How little I knew back then.

16. Who’s Next, by The Who. A song like “Baba O’Riley” comes along once in a blue moon, and an album like Who’s Next? even more infrequently. I’ve never been a Who fan, but I do love this album, and I could play “Baba O’Riley” any day of the week.


As for events, in 1971…

17. The digital age began. We don’t tend to associate the early ’70s with that, but January 1971 is when the microprocessor was invented.

18. The voting age was lowered to 18. The 2th Amendment was finally ratified, after the drafting age had been lowered to 18 during World War II. The drinking age, of course, still needs to be lowered to 18 (if not abolished altogether).

19. Charles Manson was executed. He and three of his darlings got the death penalty.

20. Disney World opened. I’ve still never been and probably will never make it.

All was not rosy, however, in 1971. Probably the worst thing that happened was…

21. The gold standard was abandoned. Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert dollars to gold at a fixed value, thus completely abandoning the gold standard. From 1971 onwards productivity increased as wages flatlined; Gross Domestic Product surged but the shares going to workers plummeted; house prices skyrocketed; hyperinflation increased; currencies crashed. The personal savings rate went down the toilet; incarceration rates went up by a factor of five; divorce rates shot up too, and the number of people in their late 20s living with their parents increased; the number of lawyers quadrupled.

Graphically, this is what happened in 1971, thanks to Nixon’s abandoning the gold standard (click to enlarge). The graphs come from the WTF Happened in 1971? website.

No denying that 1971 is a year to pay homage to, in more ways than one. Happy anniversary, Nashua Public Library!

Those ’80s Films… Even the Best of Them

Quentin Tarantino is solid. He doesn’t let the PC police faze him, or ideology get in the way of his art. Recently he’s gone after ’80s films, much in the same way I have; I’m convinced now that he and I are kindred souls. From two of his recent interviews, he says:

“The ’50s and the ’80s were the worst time for American movies. In the ’50s it was just the way society was. In the ’80s it was self-censorship, in response to the ’70s, where film makers went as far as they could. Everything in the ’80s was suddenly watered down. In ’70s films characters weren’t necessarily the heroes, but they were compelling and interesting. In the ’80s you couldn’t say shit if you had a mouthful. In the ’80s the most important thing about main characters was that they were likeable. And even a film that pushed the envelope and tried to do chancy things, it could do so for only part of the film before it pulled back and ‘apologized’ for it…”

“The decade of the ’80s was the decade of ‘they won’t let you do that’. We’re going through the ’80s Part 2 now [in the 21st century], except there’s more of a McCarthy-esque blacklist aspect to it. In the ’80s film makers just did it to themselves, whereas today people are doing it to you as a film maker. And it was only happening in America in the ’80s; everywhere else in the world was bold cinema. And that’s the kind of film I wanted to make when starting my career [in the early ’90s]. When I was told ‘they won’t let you do that’, I said, ‘Well, who are they?’ And I never let that stop me, and by doing that, I and others changed film making in the ’90s. [Starting with Reservoir Dogs.] The ’90s films stopped being ‘politically correct’ [by ’80s standards], and started taking risks again.”

I came of age in the ’80s and simply can’t watch most of the films I grew up on. They’ve aged horribly and I wonder how I ever enjoyed them. By pre- or post-’80s standards they come off as censored or sanitized in the way Tarantino describes, with facilely (and predictably) happy endings. They tend to be family friendly, aligning with the family-value era of Ronald Reagan. Chris Maltezos wrote a dissertation called “The Return of the 1950s Nuclear Family in the Films of the 1980s”, in which he focuses on two particular ’80s films, Ordinary People and E.T., noting the re-emerging importance of father figures, and the lasting bonds between children and their parents. I’ll make similar observations in my case studies below.

But let me preface this by saying that obviously not everything from the ’80s was bad. The rot hadn’t fully set in until ’83. Some films from ’80-’82 were brilliant extensions of ’70s-style cinema. Think of The Shining (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Evil Dead (1981), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Blade Runner (1982). Many of those are masterpieces, and all are ’70s films at heart. (Whereas Conan the Destroyer (1984), Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and The Evil Dead 2 (1987) are “pure ’80s”, and as awful as their predecessors were excellent.)

There were good films between ’83-’89 too, but they were exceptional, and not entirely free of ’80s tropes. Even the best film makers couldn’t escape the baggage. The self-censorship that Tarantino speaks of is quite evident when you watch them today. I’ll focus on three films I deeply admire (Near Dark, Blue Velvet, and After Hours) and then one that almost everyone loves but I don’t (Aliens).

Near Dark (1987)

Kathryn Bigelow’s horror-western is the perfect vampire film — or almost. There’s no seductive glamorizing of the bloodsuckers; it’s a very violent and nihilistic tale and holds up well against the typical dreck horror of the ’80s. But there is the happy ending that sticks out: Caleb has been given a blood transfusion by his father (who does transfusions with farm animals) which saves him and makes him human again. After the nasty showdown with the other vamps — and Mae almost burns to ash in the sun — she too is given a transfusion by Caleb and returns to humanity. The epilogue points to their happy future under the roof of Caleb’s father, where vampire horrors will be a distant memory.

Had Bigelow made this film in any other decade, I guarantee she would not have conceived this cheesy ending. In a ’70s horror film like this Caleb and Mae would have stayed vampires, and one (or both) of them likely met a tragic end — dying in the sun, stake through the heart, whatever. As a ’90s film, Caleb and Mae would have also stayed vampires, and perhaps left the other vamps that had been Mae’s family, to go rogue as a lover duo. The film is so great that you can forgive the conclusion catering to nuclear family values, but it does stand out awkwardly from a post-’80s perspective.

Blue Velvet (1986)

The darkest and most perverse anti-’80s film of the ’80s is, for my money, Blue Velvet. If there’s any director who refuses to self-censor in any time, it’s David Lynch. And yet even he — in even this hideous tale of mean sexual brutality that pulls no punches — ends Blue Velvet in a non-Lynchian way that panders to the nuclear family. After the mystery is solved and Frank Booth is killed, all is well that ends well. In the epilogue, everyone is gathered on a sunny day at the home of Jeffrey’s father. Jeffrey’s girlfriend Sandy looks out the window and sees that the robins of her dreams have come to the yard. She has forgiven Jeffrey for all his subterfuge. This scene is juxtaposed with Dorothy, who after her captivity and sexual abuse under Frank is now free and reunited with her young boy: happy for the first time in ages, restored to motherhood and mental health.

I should emphasize that I like Blue Velvet‘s ending. Not all happy endings are bad; some are well earned, and unlike Near Dark’s, Blue Velvet‘s is genuinely moving. It’s an earned payoff to all the suffocating despair that came before. Nonetheless, I doubt that Lynch would have written this ending had he made Blue Velvet in any other decade. Had it been a film of the ’70s or ’90s, Jeffrey would have walked away at the end, alone and shattered by everything he’d experienced. Lynch’s track record speaks for itself: Blue Velvet is his only film with “all is well that ends well”.

Consider: Eraserhead (1977) was ’70s nihilism from start to finish. Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) were flat repudiations of the family-centric ’80s. In Wild at Heart, Lula’s mother tries to have Lula’s boyfriend killed, and in the end, Lula is finally able to reject her mother as she reunites with her boyfriend Sailor; the photograph of her mother sizzles and vanishes, signaling Lula’s liberation from the woes of her biological family. Fire Walk With Me is about Laura Palmer’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father, who in the final terrible scene murders Laura. (Laura’s mother is dysfunctional too.) These films are impossible to imagine on screen in the ’80s.

Next came Lost Highway (1997), with a nihilistic ending about a man’s permanent imprisonment in denial. Soon after that Mulholland Drive (2001), which finished on Diane being terrorized by hallucinations of her parents, causing her to shoot herself in her own bed. That’s about as anti-nuclear family as one can imagine, and the kind of depressing ending we expect from Lynch.

Even Lynch’s G-rated Straight Story (1999) (G-rated films are family-friendly by definition, so this one would hardly count much anyway), while ending on a man reunited with his brother after years of estrangement, doesn’t portray that ending as exactly happy. His brother looks at him but is unable to say anything; and the film abruptly ends. The Straight Story is an odyssey; the ending is an ambiguous epilogue that leaves questions open about the possibility of a reconciliation.

After Hours (1985)

In Martin Scorsese’s case the self-censorship involves a genre shift. Never in the ’80s did he make anything like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), or Raging Bull (1980) (the last of which was a 70s film to the core, despite its release in 1980). We’d have to wait for the ’90s and beyond to get Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Gangs of New York, (2002), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010), and The Irishman (2019).

What we got instead from Scorsese was what the ’80s had in abundance: comedy and sports: The King of Comedy (1982), After Hours (1985), and (for sports) The Color of Money (1986). These were capped off by a horrible imagination of the historical Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1989) (which should have been a comedy like The Life of Brian). The ’80s decade was the undeniable nadir of Scorsese’s career. The Color of Money was especially mainstream for him, showing Tom Cruise playing billiards in the blandest most conventional narrative.

But I do like After Hours. It’s a comedy that hits my sweet spot; a very dark one about a guy who gets sucked into a surrealist nightmare. He loses his money, causes a suicide, becomes a suspect in a bunch of robberies, and turns the neighborhood against him. It’s edgy and nervy by ’80s standards, though hardly by Scorsese’s own standards. But these are the limits he apparently allowed himself. He couldn’t have made a Goodfellas or a Cape Fear in the ’80s. Cinema was too sanitized for that stuff.

Aliens (1986) — as compared to Alien (1979) and Alien 3 (1992)

And now for a film I don’t like: Aliens. It’s really just Alien on steroids, throwing umpteen of the horrors against a bunch of mercenaries who sign on to risk their lives anyway. Alien was a masterpiece of ’70s sci-fic terror. Aliens is a crowd pleaser with a happy ending (by Alien-franchise standards), with its most likeable characters — Ripley, Hicks, and Newt — surviving against every odd. Ripley is a maternal figure in Aliens who saves the innocent child.

Alien 3, for all its problems, is at least a return to ’70s seriousness. It’s bleak and misanthropic, with no likeable figure save Ripley, and even she’s a bit hard to warm to this time around. The opening scene — right from this starting point, I knew I’d like Alien 3 — reverses the happy ending of Aliens, by killing off Hicks and the child Newt whom Ripley went through Hell and back to save. As if to give the ’80s a deliberate finger, Ripley’s surrogate family is obliterated from the get. The ugly depths of the human condition are on display everywhere in the film. Charles Dutton plays a rapist and killer of women whose faith makes him a very unlikely hero, though a very interesting one. Ripley herself dies at the end.

To the repeated claims that Aliens is the rare sequel that’s better than the first film, I say hogwash. It’s not even close, and I even prefer Alien 3 to Aliens. David Fincher is leagues ahead of James Cameron, and he made his film a stalk-and-slash horror in the same vein as Alien,‭ ‬with Ripley having few weapons to rely on. He tried to bring back menace to the franchise, and while he only half succeeded (the dog-like alien wasn’t especially scary), he still made a decent film. All Cameron made was a blockbuster tailored for ’80s sensibilities.

50 Film Picks from the Last 50 Years (1970-2019)

In compiling this list of film picks, I limited myself in certain ways to make the exercise meaningful. Otherwise over half the list would be dominated by my favorite film makers — Lynch, Kubrick, Friedkin, Malick, Tarantino, Scorsese, etc. So I set a rule of using a director no more than twice, and even twice only if it couldn’t be avoided. This isn’t a ranking of the films, rather a chronological review of the past five decades. At the end, I do rank what I consider the top 3 from each decade.


1. Harold and Maude. Hal Ashby, 1971.
2. The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972.
3. Cries and Whispers. Ingmar Bergman, 1972.
4. Heavy Traffic. Ralph Bakshi, 1973.
5. Badlands. Terrence Malick, 1973.
6. The Exorcist. William Friedkin, 1973.
7. Chinatown. Roman Polanski, 1974.
8. Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese, 1976.
9. Eraserhead. David Lynch, 1977.
10. Alien. Ridley Scott, 1979.


11. Christiane F. Uli Edel, 1981.
12. The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, 1981.
13. The Road Warrior. George Miller, 1981.
14. Conan the Barbarian. John Milius, 1982.
15. Fanny and Alexander. Ingmar Bergman, 1982.
16. The Meaning of Life. Terry Jones, 1983.
17. Crossroads. Walter Hill, 1986.
18. Near Dark. Kathryn Bigelow, 1987.
19. Jesus of Montreal. Denys Arcand, 1989.
20. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover. Peter Greenaway, 1989.


21. The Exorcist III: Legion. William Peter Blatty, 1990.
22. Fire Walk With Me. David Lynch, 1992.
23. Leon the Professional. Luc Besson, 1994.
24. Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino, 1994.
25. Seven. David Fincher, 1995.
26. Casino. Martin Scorsese, 1995.
27. From Dusk till Dawn. Robert Rodriguez, 1996.
28. Crash. David Cronenberg, 1996.
29. The Ice Storm. Ang Lee, 1997.
30. Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick, 1999.


31. The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, 2001-2002-2003.
32. Storytelling. Todd Solondz, 2002.
33. City of God. Fernando Meirelles, 2002.
34. Hard Candy. David Slade, 2006.
35. United 93. Paul Greengrass, 2006.
36. Deja Vu. Tony Scott, 2006.
37. Sunshine. Danny Boyle, 2007.
38. There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007.
39. Doubt. John Patrick Shanley, 2008.
40. Love Exposure. Sion Sono, 2009.


41. The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick, 2010.
42. The Divide. Xavier Gens, 2011.
43. The Pact. Nicholas McCarthy, 2012.
44. Blue is the Warmest Color. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013.
45. The Walk. Robert Zemeckis, 2015.
46. Little Men. Ira Sachs, 2016.
47. Mother! Darren Aronofsky, 2017.
48. Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve, 2017.
49. First Reformed. Paul Schrader, 2018.
50. The Painted Bird. Václav Marhoul, 2019.

Harold And Maude - Faux Suicides — Reel SF
1. Harold and Maude. Hal Ashby, 1971. Most of my selections from the ’70s are films that couldn’t have been conceived in any other decade, and that’s especially true for Harold and Maude. A morbid love affair between a suicidal teen and a 79-year old woman was widely panned at the time of its release, but much more appreciated now as it deserves. Harold is a suicide addict who tries killing himself in a variety of ways — seppuku, hanging, drowning, self-immolation, self-mutilation, driving his car off a cliff — to the exasperation of a mother who can hardly be moved to care beyond her exasperations. Maude, as a Holocaust survivor, is a born soul mate for Harold, age difference be damned. One of the darkest comedies ever made, and a fitting start to the ’70s era of cynical nihilism.

Even 'Godfather' Films Merit Re-evaluation | by Warm3wind | Medium

2. The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972. Please note that I include only Part I on my list. Part 2 is a very good film, but, contrary to the pronouncements of almost every critic, it is not a sequel that surpasses the original. Not only does it lack the presence of iconic characters like James Caan’s Sonny and Marlon Brando’s Vito (DeNiro, for all his genius as the younger Vito in Part 2, does not beat Brando), but Michael’s pivotal transformation in the first film is what the Godfather tragedy is all about. Michael Corleone has one of the most compelling story arcs in cinematic history. All he does in Part 2 is continue his downward spiral. I even prefer Godfather Part 3 over Part 2, for its focus on Michael’s move in the other direction, and the question of his redemption. In any case, The Godfather is the film that heralded the ’70s Golden Age of cinema.

Related image
3. Cries and Whispers. Ingmar Bergman, 1972. Possibly the most painful film I’ve endured: the hurt on display is relentless; facial contortions, gasps, and screams so awful it doesn’t seem like acting. The use of red color permeates everything and accentuates the world of hurt. And there’s plenty of emotional trauma to match the physical assault of Agnes’ cancer: the sisters feed off each others faults with raging insecurity. Believe it or not, this film is basically The Exorcist — it was released only a year before, and its influence on that film is hardly subtle — except the demon is the disease of cancer from which there is no liberation; Agnes dies in the end. You can see how clearly Friedkin was inspired by Bergman — the clock imagery, house atmosphere, bed agony, and self-harm. Cries and Whispers resonates for me on these levels, and in the wake of my father’s death helped me face my mortality for the first time.

Review: Heavy Traffic (1973) – scumcinema
4. Heavy Traffic. Ralph Bakshi, 1973. Before he wrecked The Lord of the Rings (1978), Ralph Bakshi scored big with x-rated animation, most notably Fritz the Cat. But Heavy Traffic is his masterpiece in my opinion, for using black humor and racial stereotypes that don’t let anyone off the hook. It’s bold and discomfiting as it should be, and a celebration of urban decay that satirically explores what it means to be a young and frustrated artist in New York. The artist’s name is Michael Corleone, whose story loosely parodies the family betrayals of The Godfather, but only superficially. Bakshi is less interested in mafia crime drama and more in sordid life on the street, and he pulls no punches depicting reality which is far from politically correct. It’s the sort of refreshing bravery we seldom see anymore, aside from rare exceptions like South Park. And yet amidst all the grotesque imagery, there are moments of unexpected beauty.

Badlands (1973)5. Badlands. Terrence Malick, 1973. Malick’s first film is in every way a ’70s work par excellence, and one that only obliquely distinguishes itself as a Terrence Malick film per se. Like so many productions of this time, Badlands epitomizes the ideological emptiness of America after Vietnam and the social upheavals of the ’60s. Malick takes an amoral stance, refusing to either condemn his delinquent Bonnie-and-Clyde killers or cheer them on as anti-heroes. Malick is clearly trying to underscore the way characters react and relate to meaningless violence, and what I find most disturbing about it is the tone of disinterest and nonchalance; the duo don’t relish killing, nor do they murder with any real purpose; it’s just a way of life that comes naturally to them given their circumstances.

https://rossonl.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/5f4e7-exorcist2.jpg6. The Exorcist. William Friedkin, 1973. This was a Christmas release in ’73, and it must have ruined many holidays. I was only five at the time. When I saw it on TV in ’79, it devastated my 11-year-old psyche. For years afterwards, images from The Exorcist would assault me at unexpected moments, the worst being at night, leaving me paralyzed and terrified of my own existence. It was a shameful, hideous secret I spoke to no one about because I couldn’t give it voice. Somehow Friedkin came up with exactly what you’d imagine a demon to look and sound and act like, as it tears up a 12-year old girl from the inside out. Worth noting is that only a month after its release (January 27, 1974) the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was released. That the best game of all time followed hot on the heels of the best film of all time is a testimony to the creative legacy of the early ’70s.

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski) / Cinematography by John A. Alonzo | Cinematography, Chinatown, Roman polanski7. Chinatown. Roman Polanski, 1974. Critics can point to any number of reasons for the film’s greatness, but for me it’s the way it begins as a crime mystery and ends as a personal tragedy. The mystery involves a scam to dry up the San Fernando valley by diverting water away from it, buying up the land cheaply, then re-diverting the water back to the valley so the property becomes valuable again. Jack Nicholson is the private eye investigating the conspiracy, but his investigations lead to romantic entanglements, and a climax that focuses on the perverted incestuous relationship between key characters. A ’70s film entirely, unencumbered by action sequences or artificial thrills.

Slide 1 of 17: Taxi Driver
8. Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese, 1976. What can be said about this masterpiece that hasn’t been obsessed? Nothing probably, but I’ll offer this: that there is some of Travis Bickle in all of us. The misanthrope who thinks, with no conscious malice, that society is degenerate and beneath contempt. The sociopath driven to loneliness after failing to connect with people. The frustrated citizen who thinks his country needs an enema, and will assist in this regard by using violence. Travis is as relevant in the 21st century as he was in the ’70s. America has become the nation of increased income inequality, alternate facts, social media bubbles. Only very rarely do I cheapen a cinematic masterpiece by reducing it to a political metaphor, but the metaphor in this case is very much the point of why the Travis Bickles devolve as they do.

Eraserhead and Me – This Is Horror
9. Eraserhead. David Lynch, 1977. Lynch’s first film represents the purest tuning of the dream-consciousness style he’s become known for. To watch Eraserhead is to watch someone’s nightmare caught on tape. A man’s boring career of label-making is interrupted by his girlfriend’s news that they have a baby: a hideously deformed tadpole that cries day and night, resisting food and comfort, until his girlfriend abandons them both. While it’s tempting to wring out metaphors pertaining to fears about parenthood, it’s really impossible to describe what Eraserhead is getting at. Like real nightmares, this one unfolds as it pleases in every bizarre direction. It’s no accident that David Lynch — currently the best film maker alive — started his career in the unrestrained creativity of the ’70s.

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10. Alien. Ridley Scott, 1979. Just as there will (surely) never be a scarier supernatural film than The Exorcist, there will (doubtfully) ever be a scarier sci-fic film than Alien. Such was ’70s film making. Kubrick’s Space Odyssey had showed space travel to be an awe-inspiring wonder; Scott now showed the underside of space travel, with claustrophobia, isolation, and invincible savagery. I never cease to be amazed at those who insist that James Cameron’s sequel is superior. Aliens is just Alien on steroids, not even a fifth as scary, a cheap blockbuster involving military personnel whose job to die defending others. In the perfect original we feel the raw terror of six civilians stranded in space, hunted and devoured one by one, between nerve-wracking pauses.

The Bowie-soundtracked teen drug film that inspired Raf Simons | Dazed
11. Christiane F. Uli Edel, 1981. This unpleasant portrait of drug addiction is based on the real-life Christiane Felscherinow, who became a heroin addict and prostitute between ages 13-15. It’s a German film that would have probably been destined to the obscurity of arthouse theaters in America, if not for the cameo from David Bowie, whose music is also used, notably in the powerful scene where kids are running through the mall to “Heroes”. (I’m sure this scene was the inspiration for the tunnel rides in Perks of Being a Wallflower, where the song is similarly deployed in the context of teens whooshing through tunnels and reaching for existential freedom.) It deserves its cult status even apart from Bowie, though it’s a very hard watch. It’s an ’80s film but with ’70s soul, as it’s set in ’70s Berlin and suffused with the isolated hopeless despair of the decade.

The Black Dahlia Murder Have Been "Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn" | MetalSucks12. The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, 1981. It’s low-budget with laughable acting, but that doesn’t matter. In terms of relentless demonic terror, few films have ever matched it. The trio of ladies are basically adult Linda Blairs; their voices and makeup jobs alone scare the shit out of you. Then there’s the legendary scene in which Cheryl gets raped by a tree. Linda eating her own hand is another unspeakable that today’s scriptwriters could learn from. The Evil Dead sequels had better budgets and special effects to prop them up, but they were comedy-horrors. The first film is dead-serious. It came out in ’81 but is a ’70s film at heart — in some ways a triumphant last gasp of hard-core horror before Freddy Krueger and other slashers took over.

13. The Road Warrior. George Miller, 1981. Unlike the Evil Dead sequels, The Road Warrior outdid the first Mad Max movie and remains the best post-apocalyptic film ever made. Like Conan (#14 below) and Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), Mad Max is an amoral anti-hero straight out of pulp escapism, and his solitary wanderings across a wasteland remain an incredibly inspiring archetype. There’s so much about this film impossible to forget: the feral kid with the boomerang who narrates the story as an adult, the amazing road stunts for pre-CGI days, and the idea of gasoline being the most precious commodity — which resonates rather loudly in the 21st century. The Road Warrior is from the strong early years of the ’80s (’80-’82) before film lost a lot of its edge.

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14. Conan the Barbarian. John Milius, 1982. This is the first film on this list that I saw in the theater, and it did a number on my 13 year-old sensibilities. Unlike most ’80s fantasies, the world of Conan was done justice by an R-rating, and so we’re treated to Conan’s coupling with a vampire who goes rabid on him at the moment of orgasm, and an appropriate deluge of blood and gore in the battle scenes. The score is the best of any movie I’ve ever seen: thundering brass and Latin chants roll over grim battle sequences, while variations of the main theme play at just the right moments. By this point in my life, the first two Star Wars and Jaws films, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, had wowed most of the kids my age. Not me. Conan was my movie; it made me fall in love with film, and it deserves immense praise. It holds up incredibly well today unlike other ’80s fantasies. Not until Lord of the Rings 20 years later would a worthy fantasy come to the screens.

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15. Fanny and Alexander. Ingmar Bergman, 1982. This Swedish masterpiece is diminished by accolades; it has to be experienced to feel the magic, and despite the three-hour length (or even five-hour, if you see the extended version), you won’t want it to end. It’s a Dickens-like wonder, populated by ghosts and magical surrealism, the stuff of rare epic, weaved around a boy’s imagination that helps him deal with the death of his father and an abusive new one. There is the wild Christmas party of the first part, the tyranny and bloody lashings of the second, the dazzling dream-flight of the third. What stands out most is the optimistic ending, unique for Bergman. It was intended to be his last film, and I imagine him wanting to leave something more uplifting in his legacy. Fanny and Alexander is pure enchantment, pure storytelling, and its triumphant conclusion is richly earned.

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16. The Meaning of Life. Terry Jones, 1983. The year ’83 was when a lot of rot set into American film, but in the UK, Monty Python served up their best. Most favor Holy Grail or Life of Brian, but for me The Meaning of Life is better than those classics. It’s obviously the darkest Python film, as it charts life from birth to death in a series of crude and gross skits, and really pushes the bounds of decency. That’s why it’s so good. Comedy is at its best when boundaries are smashed to the limit. (Witness All in the Family and South Park.) John Cleese’s sex education class remains one of the most hysterical things I’ve seen. Meaning of Life was the last time all the Pythons worked together, and they went out offensively as possible.

17. Crossroads. Walter Hill, 1986. I was a high school senior when this came out, and I remember it bombing at the box office. In hindsight I’m not surprised. It was a very unusual film for the ’80s, a mainstream effort that dealt in issues outside the mainstream: bargains with the Devil in order to achieve fame; the world of blues subculture of the deep south. The final guitar showdown in Hell holds up after all these years; the guitars of Eugene and Butler seem weaponized as they alternate their riffs, then play at the same time, get in each others faces, and desperately try to one-up the others notes. With the challenges of portraying music as a dangerous force, the Devil as a southern black, and an unbalanced friendship that ends with appropriate payoff, Crossroads does far a remarkable job than its reputation suggests, and I still adore it. For me, it’s the Huckleberry Finn of films.

18. Near Dark. Kathryn Bigelow, 1987. Vampires are hard to do right by, especially when romance is involved, but Near Dark is the perfect vampire film. (Ironically the word “vampire” is never even used.) There is no seductive glamorizing of the bloodsuckers; it’s a very violent and nihilistic tale; and yet the romance between Caleb and Mae remains one of the most tender in any vampire story. The happy ending and return to the nuclear family betray the ’80s period; had this been made in the ’70s, Caleb and Mae would have stayed vampires, and one of them likely met some tragic end. But the film is so awesome that you can forgive the optimistic conclusion. Post-script: many of the Aliens cast are found here: Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein. Near Dark is far superior to Cameron’s blockbuster.

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19. Jesus of Montreal. Denys Arcand, 1989. This reinvention of the passion play is a critique of orthodox Christianity but fires especially on secularist evils — fame, the media, and the contempt actors suffer in the commercial industry. It takes place in ’80s Montreal where a Catholic priest hires a talented actor to direct the annual passion play, but he wants him to get creative and rework the stations of the cross for a more modern consumption. The priest gets more than he bargained for. Using the latest of biblical scholarship, the actor (Daniel) casts himself as Jesus and with four other actors turns out a passion play in which Jesus is an illegitimate bastard sired by a Roman soldier, and less interested in making people feel good than terrifying them with lines from the Abomination of Desolation (Mark 13). Of the zillions of Jesus films flooding the market, this is the one to watch.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
20. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Peter Greenaway, 1989. At the end of the ’80s came this splendid set piece, hosted by an infamous character played by Michael Gambon. Albert Spica is the sort of despicable person you can’t believe makes it from day to day without being murdered. He presides over a banquet in a restaurant every night, eating and acting like a hog, demeaning his wife, the cook, customers, and even his thug colleagues. It’s an obscene display, but for all the repugnance this film is dazzling eye-candy. Every room of the restaurant is saturated in arresting color (red dining room, green kitchen, white bathrooms), and the characters’ clothes change color accordingly as they walk from one place to the next. The final act of cannibalism (forced on Spica) is a sweet poetic justice.

Image result for the exorcist iii legion jason miller21. The Exorcist III: Legion. William Peter Blatty, 1990. The true sequel to The Exorcist (which doesn’t acknowledge the travesty of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)) is adapted from Blatty’s sequel novel Legion, and it’s a very unusual horror film. When I saw it in the theater, I remember being so terrified by Lieutenant Kinderman’s first sight of Patient X that I was panic stricken. We see the wasted figure of Father Karras who we know from the first film should be dead; the sight of the possessed priest is a horrifying revelation. While Legion isn’t scarier than the first Exorcist, in some ways it’s more unsettling, because it’s the kind of film you can’t imagine anyone making if they didn’t completely believe in manifest evil. The fact that it did poorly at the box office says plenty about the mainstream preference for cheap thrills over true terror.

Revisiting The Importance of Fire Walk With Me In A Post Season 3 World22. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch, 1992. This masterpiece — and yes, it is one — continues to have a bad reputation even among Lynch fans, and I used to have my own reservations when judging it as a Twin Peaks prequel. When you distance yourself from TV seasons 1 and 2, and treat it as a standalone piece, a much different film emerges, one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The scoring is brilliant, the acting flawless, and it’s by far Lynch’s cruelest film, more so than even Blue Velvet — containing scenes in Laura’s bedroom so terrifying they make parts of The Shining look tame. Fire Walk With Me is about Laura Palmer’s last week on earth, how she has processed years of rape at the hands of her father, and her choice of death rather than allow herself to be possessed by a hideous spirit.

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23. Leon the Professional. Luc Besson, 1994. This controversial film took the child sidekick trope and had the nerve to turn it into a love story, but the American version censored the love-story part — 25 minutes worth of scenes that show a 12-year old girl lusting for a guy in his 40s. That of course is the whole damn point of the story. Obviously a film like this stands or falls on the child’s performance, and Natalie Portman nailed it. Her character, Mathilda, is a girl whose family gets gunned down by corrupt DEA agents, and so she hooks up with the hitman Leon in her distress. She gets an instant crush on him and he doesn’t know how to handle it, but before long, he’s training her how to kill and taking her along on his hit jobs, while she takes every blatant opportunity to hit on him. I love this film to pieces. Needless to say, don’t watch the censored version.

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24. Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino, 1994. Tarantino’s impact on the ’90s can’t be overstated, and this film in particular showed how sickeningly hilarious artistry can be. When I first saw it, I laughed so hard I was choking. No one can write bickering and bitching around so much violence like Tarantino. Sequences like the adrenaline needle into Mia’s heart, and Vince accidentally blowing Marvin’s brains out in the car, are scenes you can replay forever. The non-linear storytelling inspired a flood of lesser efforts, but you have to be Tarantino to write like this, and in the case of Pulp Fiction, every stroke of the pen was inspired by his magic.

25. Seven. David Fincher, 1995. What elevates Seven above greatness to masterpiece is the way John Doe wins in the end. “The box” has become an icon of our collective mindset almost like “Rosebud”. That comparison may sound absurd, but I do believe that Seven is as perfect a film as Citizen Kane. (Fincher’s Mank, on the other hand, which aspired to Kane’s greatness, didn’t even come close.) There’s nothing to fault in this film: the atmosphere (always either dark or raining), the scoring (the prologue’s Nine Inch Nails song, and the library scene’s Air on the G-String in particular), the casting (Morgan Freeman’s and Kevin Spacey’s best roles), and above all for its dramatic tunnel into the eye of hell and the meticulously crafted climax, all of which combine to suggest a hopeless world, an ugly humanity, but with enough heroes like Somerset and Mills who for their flaws are willing to fight on regardless.

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26. Casino. Martin Scorsese, 1995. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Casino is superior to Goodfellas. It’s more epic in the characters’ rise and fall. It elevates Scorsese’s favorite themes above the street corner and into the sanctum of America’s Sodom. Whenever I watch Casino I’m completely swept up in this dark vision of Las Vegas and people driving themselves to disaster. Sharon Stone’s performance (raging alcoholic tantrums and all) is way underrated, and Joe Pesci’s psychotic mob enforcer, though a repeat from Goodfellas, is less comical and more terrifying for it. Robert De Niro offers a more sympathetic character than he did in Goodfellas. Casino uses the mob world to speak to our fallen state and makes me feel like an insider to that world — that I share more in common with these thugs and pathetic people than I care to admit.


27. From Dusk Till Dawn. Robert Rodriguez, 1996. This is the best genre busting film I know of, and if you go into it knowing nothing (as I did), you will be richly and stupefyingly rewarded. The first half plays like a Quentin Tarantino film, showing two despicable bank robbers (one of whom is actually played by Tarantino) kidnapping and tormenting a man and his two teenage kids. They flee across the border into Mexico, and come to a strip bar; the two scumbags raise hell in the bar with asshole behavior, and they force the man and his kids to drink with them and enjoy all the sleazy “fun”. Then, out of nowhere, the film goes batshit crazy — the employees of the bar turn into vampires and begin slaughtering and feasting on the customers. By rights this baby-switcher shouldn’t work, but it does thanks to Rodriguez’s talents. The rewatch value is immense.

Crash (1996) - Sexploitation Movie Review - SCARED STIFF REVIEWS28. Crash. David Cronenberg, 1996. Cronenberg’s most fucked up film — and I mean that in a good way — is a bit like Pink Floyd’s The Wall: just watching it is a drug trip. It explores esoteric fetishism, in this case people who are sexually aroused by car crashes, even fatal ones, and study and ritually reenact the car accidents of celebrities. For all the racy material, it doesn’t come across as sensational, in fact, just the opposite: it’s incredibly subdued and polished. The cold blue look works wonders in this regard, and dialogue seems to be spoken through a dream-like filter. In the hands of another director, Crash would have been a cheap Basic Instinct type of thriller; in Cronenberg’s it approaches the artistic nihilism of Ingmar Bergman.

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29. The Ice Storm. Ang Lee, 1997. If some of the most visceral transgressive films were produced in the year 1973 (Heavy Traffic, Badlands, The Exorcist), The Ice Storm is the best film set in 1973. Ang Lee didn’t speak English well when he made it, but that was no obstacle given his astonishing talents. He nailed the sexual-political revolution of ’73 perfectly through the looking glass of two suburban dysfunctional families. The spouses cheat on each other and are clueless about raising children properly; everyone is well provided for, but they don’t have common ground or any real purpose in life outside of marriage-swapping parties. I continue to be awed over Lee’s command of ’70s introspection given the fact that he learned most about American life by watching films in Taiwan. He’s a rare genius who never needed much help to see into the heart of people, wherever and whenever they’re from.

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30. Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick, 1999. If a director like David Lynch can make audiences feel like they are inside a dream, Eyes Wide Shut accomplishes the more ambitious task of making life itself seem like a dream. Every weird thing that happens to Dr. Bill on his night out — professions of love next to a patient’s corpse, a young girl’s seductions at a costume shop, and finally the orgy of masked performers — is real but hardly feels it. It struck me as an oblique Christmas Carol spin-off, as Dr. Bill wanders around New York encountering “ghosts” of sexual temptation, barely avoiding one disaster after the next, weighing the value of what he lusts for against the wedge that has come between him and his wife. There’s a Christmas tree in every other scene, and the aesthetic is gorgeous, surreal, and eerie. But there’s not a slice of artistic pretension. Kubrick’s final film is his best, and it’s a shame he died before it’s theatrical release.

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31. The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, 2001-2002-2003. Jackson accomplished the impossible. I thought he would massacre Tolkien beyond repair, but five minutes into Fellowship of the Ring I was eating crow and spellbound, and for the next three hours I forgot everything about my life as I was swept into this spectacular incarnation of Middle-Earth. Two years later I was still awed: Return of the King is tragic on a biblical level, and the tragic feel never lets up in the last 45 minutes — from the point of Frodo’s collapse on Mount Doom (“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?”), to Aragorn leading the hopeless charge on the Black Gate, to Frodo and Sam resigned to dying before the eagles come, to the hobbit reunion in the Houses of Healing, to finally the aching departure at the Grey Havens. Jackson showed that fantasy could be taken very seriously. It’s a shame he didn’t follow his own example when making The Hobbit.

32. Storytelling. Todd Solondz, 2002. I’m not on board with the majority opinion that judges Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) and Happiness (1998) to be Solondz’s best films. I like Palindromes (2004) even better than those, and I consider Storytelling his finest work. The first skit is a skewering of college undergrads who parrot all the PC dogmas of the liberal left. A fiction writing class is led by an arrogant African American professor (played by Robert Wisdom, known from the TV series The Wire), who humiliates the students in front of everyone when they read their fiction-writing assignments (to a low-esteem student who has cerebral palsy, for example, he tells him that his story is “a piece of shit”), and who also likes to have sex with the young white women he teaches. The film deals with taboos of interracial curiosity and racial fetishism, and no one comes out looking good. All the students, and their self-righteous judgments, are revealed to be hollow. A suitable film for the 21st century.

City of God (2002)33. City of God. Fernando Meirelles, 2002. This is a Lord-of-the-Flies gangster film, in which boys kill not just out of need, but because it’s fun. The City of God is of course Rio de Janeiro, where in the slums there’s no electricity or paved streets. But this is no social commentary on the poor of Brazil; it’s one of the most spellbinding efforts at cinematic style. Meirelles is a gifted filmmaker — as good as Scorsese or Friedkin — who uses camera, soundtrack, and heady dialogue to make a locale like the City of God come alive in a way seldom achieved in cinema. At heart, it’s the kids who really sell the drama. Their acting is so organic you feel like you’re watching reality, and there are scenes you’ll never forget, like the one in which two young kids must decide whether they want to be shot in the hand or the foot.

Hard Candy (2005) - Men Tied Up

34. Hard Candy. David Slade, 2006. This film is so many things: a dialogue drama, revenge thriller, enacted domination fantasy, and morality puzzle. I see a different film every time I watch it, and in the sum of those viewing experiences the faults become strengths. The first time it was a Lolita set-up which turned into castration revenge. On second viewing I knew what was coming, and since Hayley was faking the castration her torture seemed a cop-out, and Jeff’s suicide silly and unbelievable. But on third and later viewings I saw an enacted domination fantasy: a man’s guilt-ridden wet-dream of being tormented by a 14-year old fantasy figure, and ending in his “noble” agreement to kill himself. Hard Candy works brilliantly on these meshed levels of reality and fantasy.

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35. United 93. Paul Greengrass, 2006. You feel helpless watching it, but it makes you think about 9/11 for the right reasons. There are no hindsight politics in play. It’s skillfully directed without a single exploitive frame. Ben Sliney plays himself, and to this day I can’t fathom how he got slammed with 9/11 his first day on the job as the FAA’s National Operation Manager. He’s sort of the film’s hero, as he makes the right decisions with minimal information, grounding over 4,000 American aircraft to the tune of millions lost in dollars. United 93 is one of the greatest pieces of cinematic catharsis I’ve seen (I saw it in the theater), giving an unflinching portrayal of what it must have been like for the passengers under jihadist captivity before dying.

36. Deja Vu. Tony Scott, 2006. This is a film I could talk about all day. It’s a digital version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo — exploring obsession and fractured identity — grounded in a time travel plot. Considering the terrorist theme, Déjà Vu is surprisingly apolitical, and unlike Scott’s other films (like Man on Fire), it finds its solution not in revenge, but in the obsessive desire to go back in time and prevent the whole thing from happening — to save hundreds of lives, especially the one person you can’t stop thinking about, even if you don’t stand much chance of surviving the trip. And who else to play such a hero than Denzel Washington? He is to Tony Scott as Robert DeNiro is to Martin Scorsese; as Jennifer Lawrence is to David O. Russell; as Samuel Jackson is to Quentin Tarantino. Some actors get recycled and reused over and over again by the same director because they’re attuned to the director’s needs and deliver exactly as required each time; and in the case of Deja Vu, Washington delivers his best performance ever.

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37. Sunshine. Danny Boyle, 2007. After seeing Sunshine I bought another ticket and saw it again right away, which is something I’ve never done with any other film. It’s strange that of the zillions of outer-space films, none besides Sunshine have bothered to focus on the sun, which is after all the most important and dangerous body in our solar system. Here the sun is dying, and so a space crew embarks on a mission to drop a nuclear bomb into the core of the sun, which will hopefully reignite it. Right from the start the mission becomes one calamity after the next, and the crew members have to sacrifice themselves to save oxygen. There is also the subplot of a hideously disfigured religious fanatic who believes God wants humanity to die, and does everything he can to slaughter the crew. There are homages to Alien and outer space claustrophobia, and in the end the crew die as they must to save planet earth.

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38. There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007. This blistering attack on the prosperity gospel was almost enough to make me renounce my capitalist convictions (yeah, right). Set in 1911, it’s about a man’s rise from poverty (a miner) to riches (an oilman), and his relationship with a young pastor who offers faith-healing and hypocrisy to those who dare the doors of his grim church. Daniel is a mean and hateful man, who has no friends and just wants to become filthy rich. The pastor is Eli, who is just as greedy but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty; Daniel scorns religion but has no problems using it as a means to an end. Blood spills from everywhere throughout this film — from the land (oil), people, and the Lamb Himself — and critics are right to call it a masterpiece of rare vision. It’s about greed and evangelism eating each others tails.

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39. Doubt. John Patrick Shanley, 2008. When a liberal priest is accused of having an erotic interest in one of his altar boys, one nun becomes convinced of his innocence while another is certain otherwise. We aren’t sure what to believe or how to feel, because the evidence is murky and the priest a sympathetic character. He’s progressive for the year 1964, while the inquisitorial nun laments the reforms of Vatican II. The pivotal scene is the conversation between Aloysius and the boy’s mother, who basically tells the nun to just let the priest have his way with her son, in a jaw-dropping and surprisingly compelling argument, given her limited options as an African-American woman of the time period. She isn’t wild about her son’s friendship with the priest, but thinks it’s a refuge from life at home under a violently abusive father. That’s a hard idea in our world today which pathologizes eroticism between adults and youths, and that is doubtlessly part of Doubt’s challenge.

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40. Love Exposure. Sion Sono, 2009. To celebrate sexual deviance in a context of religious dogma is a bold strike, and Love Exposure pushes envelopes and then some. It’s a four-hour sprawl of religious guilt, sexual frustration, family feuds, industrial pornography, and peek-a-panty photography — the last involving street boys who look up girls’ skirts while camouflaging their camera shots with hilarious martial-arts acrobatics. It’s impossible to summarize without sounding ludicrous, but be assured that critics and audiences love it. I fell absolutely in love with Yu and his quest for the right girl — his “Virgin Mary” as it were. I felt like all the characters were my family by the end of four hours (which seemed more like two and a half), and for all the absurdist comedy, the message about Catholic dogma, new wave cults, and the ultimate nobility of perversion is a very serious one.

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41. The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick, 2011. Like Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, this is a picture-perfect film showing humanity dwarfed by celestial mysteries. It spotlights an American Catholic family within a macrocosm of evolution, and an implied dialectic of nature vs. grace. But grace emerges not as something which contradicts nature (even if it’s its conceptual opposite), rather something inherently part of it, or complementing it, or mutating from it. Every frame depends on just the right camera angle, scoring, and particular subtleties around snippets of dialogue you can barely hear. It ends on a spiritual apocalypse that could move an atheist: the yearning for reunion in some form of afterlife, a hopeless fantasy we cling to in order to cope with pain and loss.

42. The Divide. Xavier Gens, 2011. This nasty film is set in the basement of a New York high rise apartment, where nine strangers gather to survive a nuclear holocaust. Despite uneasiness and distrust, they try working together at first, and do pretty well until cabin fever, radiation sickness, and their own base humanity take over. There’s torture, rape, sex slavery, and full-blown lunacy on display, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel — which in this case happens to be, literally, a tunnel of shit. The Divide holds humanity completely captive to misanthropy and one of the most convincing Lord of the Flies-themed films ever made. The performances are brilliant; even I was deeply chilled by what Gens believes people are really like under our societal conditioning.

https://rossonl.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/the-pact_shadow.jpg43. The Pact, Nicholas McCarthy, 2012. Way underrated, this tale of a haunted house contains a truly terrorizing twist. It turns out there is indeed a ghost in the house, but also a real-life psychopath living in the cellar, and he has been there the whole damn time. When you learn this and reflect back to the start of the movie when some of the “ghostly” assaults began — the open closet door, the jar of food on the floor, Annie being levitated and thrown against the walls, the other girls disappearing altogether — you realize that only some of this was the ghost. That’s frightening on many levels, and the sort of thing Peter Straub pulled off brilliantly in his novel Lost Boy, Lost Girl, especially with the secret room with spyholes, and the room of caged torment. McCarthy blends psychopathic and supernatural horror like a master.

A-Z Movie Reviews: 'Blue Is The Warmest Color' | Fangirlish44. Blue is the Warmest Color. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013. It’s a bit sad that this has gained notoriety for the graphic lesbian scenes, which for the record are tasteful and well used. The pornographic tone fits the early part of the story where the young Adele is discovering herself, and seeing herself, in wildly adolescent terms. The film isn’t about sex anyway, but the searing power of love which becomes destructive, but with room for healing afterwards. After the break up Emma is able to forgive, and Adele obtain at least some measure of closure. The film is three hours long but I wanted it to go longer and keep following the lives of these young women.

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45. The Walk. Robert Zemeckis, 2015. I can only imagine the harm my psyche would have suffered had I seen this in 3D. Audiences suffered extreme vertigo, and even in front of my computer I was sweating and shaking. How anyone could want to do what Philippe Petit did on that morning of August 7, 1974, is well beyond the reach of my understanding. He walked back and forth over that wire between one tower and the next, eight times, for over 45 minutes, while spectators and police officers could only look on aghast. The Walk shows an artist who lived for his art to the fullest extent. Unlike novelists, painters, musicians, and film makers, Petit was unable to record his miraculous walk for posterity to enjoy. Zemeckis rectified that for us with this incredible film.

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46. Little Men. Ira Sachs, 2016. Along with the TV series Stranger Things, this film is a salute to the freedom of youth. Stranger Things does this in a science-fiction/horror context; Little Men achieves it in a social parable. I have a strong attachment to Jake because he reminds me of my own friendship at that age with an uninhibited extrovert like Tony. When I moved out of town I never really saw him again, so the unpleasant separation of these two at the end hit close to home. Little Men celebrates difference despite the avalanche of parental roadblocks. Jake is Caucasian and middle-class, Tony is Chilean and poor, and their friendship grows the more their parents become enemies. Taplitz and Barbieri are allowed to play their roles with simple and understated tones that makes you feel you’re watching the everyday lives of real people, and for me it’s a very special film.



47. Mother! Darren Aronofsky, 2017. The reason people hate it isn’t because it’s a bad film, but because it was deceitfully marketed, with the trailer implying a more mainstream thriller. If you don’t like indie horror films that offend on the deepest levels, then avoid Mother! at all costs. It’s about a man and woman in a countryside home, where the woman suffers intrusions from guests who gratify her husband’s ego. The intrusions get increasingly outrageous, until hell breaks loose. The indoor house becomes a battlefield of crazed strangers who commit unspeakable acts, and in the end seize the woman’s newborn infant, rip it apart into dozens of pieces, and eat it as if it were a sacrificial lamb. This is Aronofsky at his most audacious, but also at his best, and it helps that Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is so visceral and sympathetic.

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48. Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve, 2017. Not only does Blade Runner 2049 live up to its predecessor, it supersedes it as a stunning visual aesthetic with more ambitious concepts, and taking them at the slow pace they deserve, so patiently that it feels like a ’70s film. I’m not surprised it bombed at the box office. Few people these days have the wherewithal — and by that I mean the intellectual wherewithal from above, and the physical fortitude from below — to sit still on their sweet asses for 2-3 hours and enjoy good artistry. The best character is the hologram Joi, and she serves an oblique existential function: if software can fall in love and fear death, then the objection to replicants having these soul-like traits becomes even more strained. Her merging with the woman for K’s sexual pleasure is an incredible piece of choreography, as is virtually every other scene in this masterpiece. By rights a film this good shouldn’t have been made in the 21st century; I don’t why or how it came to be. I’m just glad it did.

49. First Reformed. Paul Schraeder, 2018. Not exactly a remake of Bergman’s Winter Light (1962), it does spin off the Bergman classic, and for the most part very well. It also mimics Diary of a Country Priest (1951) with the role of the elder pastor who mentors the Ethan Hawke character. But First Reformed goes for the jugular in some mighty surprising ways, and it’s also a parable about the apocalypse, with Bergman’s atomic warfare theme being changed to environmental catastrophe. I’ve seen the film many times. The only thing that sticks in my craw is the scene that replays Tomas’ cruel treatment of Marta in Winter Light, which went on for a patient ten minutes, but in First Reformed was zipped through in the blink of an eye. But that’s a small quibble. In all the ways that matter this is a near perfect film.

Buy tickets for The Painted Bird | BFI London Film Festival 2019
50. The Painted Bird. Václav Marhoul, 2019. If there was ever a film that depicted hell on earth through the eyes of a single individual, it’s surely The Painted Bird. Set during the Holocaust in an unspecified Eastern European country (the language spoken by the characters is Interslavic), it shows the odyssey of a Jewish boy, as he wanders from village to village and is subjected to every kind of depravity. He’s beaten; he’s buried to his neck, and the crows come to feast. Eventually he is seized and given to the Nazis, and while he escapes execution, he winds up in the hands of a pedophile. Then it’s out of that frying pan into the fire of a female pedophile, who molests him around acts of bestiality; at one point she has intercourse with a goat. And so forth and so on. There are moments of fleeting compassion in this godawful road journey, and you will certainly need them. The Painted Bird shames the human species as it examines the worst of our impulses in the darkest scenarios, and yet strangely it offers the most authentic rays of hope in its rare moments of grace. It’s a 2019 film that was released in America in 2020, and very suitably: it’s the perfect film for this disastrous year now coming to a close.

Ranking the Top 3’s

From each of the ten films per decade, I will now rank the top 3, for what I consider to be the 15 best films of the past 50 years:


1. The Exorcist. William Friedkin, 1973.
2. Eraserhead. David Lynch, 1977.
3. The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972.


1. Fanny and Alexander. Ingmar Bergman, 1982.
2. Conan the Barbarian. John Milius, 1982.
3. Jesus of Montreal. Denys Arcand, 1989.


1. Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick, 1999.
2. Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino, 1994.
3. Seven. David Fincher, 1995.


1. The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, 2001-2002-2003.
2. City of God. Fernando Meirelles, 2002.
3. There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007.


1. Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve, 2017.
2. The Painted Bird. Václav Marhoul, 2019.
3. The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick, 2010.

The Best Films of 2020

I was expecting Dune to steal the spotlight this year, but Covid took care of that. The next disappointment was that Mank didn’t come close to making up for Dune‘s delay. Still, there were good films in this catastrophic year of 2020, if you knew where to look. The Painted Bird blew me away; see that one if none of the others.

Buy tickets for The Painted Bird | BFI London Film Festival 2019
1. The Painted Bird. 5 stars. If there was ever a film that depicted hell on earth through the eyes of a single individual, it’s surely The Painted Bird. Set during the Holocaust in an unspecified Eastern European country (the language spoken by the characters is Interslavic), it shows the odyssey of a Jewish boy, as he wanders from village to village and is subjected to every kind of depravity. He’s beaten; he’s buried to his neck (and the crows come to feast). Eventually he is seized and given to the Nazis, and while he escapes execution, he winds up in the hands of a pedophile. Then it’s out of that frying pan into the fire of a female pedophile, who molests him around acts of bestiality; at one point she has intercourse with a goat. And so forth and so on. There are moments of fleeting compassion in this godawful road journey, and you will certainly need them. The Painted Bird shames the human species as it examines the worst of our impulses in the darkest scenarios, and yet strangely it offers the most authentic rays of hope in its rare moments of grace.

CALM WITH HORSES Movie Clip - video dailymotion
2. Calm with Horses. 4 stars. This Irish gangster piece immerses you in the headspace of its protagonist — a failed father, man of few words, broken and abused from his boxing years, and now an attack dog for a vicious clan. The clan treats him nominally as family but really like their pit bull. When a friend of the clan molests one of their teenage daughters, it’s decided that “justice” must be done. Calm With Horses suggests a lot about cycles of violence that are handed down by generation, but which may also, just perhaps, be escaped. The visuals of this film are as staggering as the acting performances: it’s shot in red and black nocturnal hues contrasting with bleak daytime shots. The violence is nasty; the character moments are utterly compelling; there’s a great car chase that gives the one in The French Connection a run for its money. I was inside this drama at every moment.

Possessor Uncut (2020)
3. Possessor. 4 stars. The son of David Cronenberg does his father proud it in this demented sci-fi thriller, about an assassin who kills her targets by possessing bodies with brain implants. For prep work she has to study how the host talks and communicates with his friends and associates, and there’s also a lot she has to wing on the fly once she’s inside the host; sometimes it seems the host is taking back control of himself. And when she leaves the host body, she has to deal with identity problems returning to her own. Possessor is psychologically searing, but also physically: the violence is unsparing, and doesn’t hold back the gruesomeness of the kills. It’s Inception meets Ghost in the Shell meets Demonlover — with buckets of body-horror thrown in. This film seemed to come out of nowhere and was for me a pleasant surprise.

Netflix's Cuties: Has Netflix Gone Too Far By Promoting Paedophilia?
4. Cuties. 4 stars. I wish I had a nickel for every film that’s been condemned for celebrating what it’s really critiquing. But then people are triggered by everything these days, so the outrage over Cuties was a given. Let’s be clear: this film doesn’t glorify child twerking. It examines the hardships faced by deprived girls in a sexualized media culture. The story is Amy’s (the girl in the above center), an 11-year old Muslim in France who has no use for the Qur’an-reading/prayer gatherings of her wooden-minded family, and understandably wants to get out and have fun. She ends up bonding with a group of girls who are into twerking, which Amy finds alluring, and becomes determined for them all to compete in a contest. We see what it’s like for young girls to emulate what they see adults do in music videos, and the consequences for wanting to grow up too fast. Ignore the naysayers. Cuties is a sharp societal critique and we need more like it.

The Outpost movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert
5. Outpost. 4 stars. As war films go this one is impressive, and rather distressing as this nightmarish debacle really happened. It’s a dramatization of the Battle of Kamdesh (2009), when a group of U.S. soldiers defended themselves against raiding Taliban in northern Afghanistan. They tried as best they could in a hopeless environment. The Kamdesh outpost is an appalling example of how the U.S. often fails to properly support its military personnel, leaving them stranded at sites that should never have been chosen to begin with. The first hour allows us to get to know the characters around sporadic Taliban attacks and horrible wilderness accidents. The second hour puts the pedal to the floor, and never lets up, in depicting the 12-hour battle of October 3, 2009. The long and uninterrupted takes in hand-held camera shots put you right on the soil with these soldiers who were boxed in and fighting hopelessly for their lives. You’ll need to unwind after this one.

6. Host. 3 ½ stars. This surprisingly effective horror piece delivers more scares than what I’ve come to expect from the found-footage format. (Full disclosure: I hate Blair Witch.) It takes place over a Zoom chat, during pandemic lockdown, and these gals engage in a seance. One of them makes lite of the proceedings, which calls forth an angry spirit that proceeds to assault each of the women in various ways. Furniture is thrown, crashes are heard… and you better believe there’s a body count. A remarkable film for doing what it does with minimal resources.

The Devil All the Time' Review: Waging the War Within - WSJ
7. The Devil All the Time. 3 ½ stars. The second film on my list about generational violence (Calm with Horses is the other) is set in a Southern Gothic context, flitting back and forth between characters in Ohio and West Virginia (throughout the 50s and 60s) who have shit going for themselves in life. One way or another, they find comfort in religious zeal. One guy, plagued by nightmares of a crucifixion he witnessed during World War II, believes he can force God’s will by screaming his prayers, forcing his son to scream too, and shooting his son’s dog as a blood sacrifice. This guy eventually kills himself, and passes his violence down to his son. A fire-and-brimstone preacher becomes convinced that he can resurrect people, and so shoots his wife to try proving it. Another preacher molests a teen girl, exhorting her to show herself to him “as God created her”, then causes her to kill herself when she gets pregnant. There’s much more, and how all these characters relate and connect across the two states is well handled.

Netflix The Platform: The new messed up horror film
8. The Platform. 3 stars. This Spanish horror piece takes place in an experimental prison hundreds of floors tall, with two volunteers placed on each floor. They have volunteered blind for this hideous experiment, not knowing what they were getting into. Each day, once a day, a huge platform of food descends through the central shaft — the only chance for the people on each level to eat. On level 1 (the very top), the two captives have access to a gourmet feast of all sorts of dishes, deserts, and drink including booze. If everyone ate a modest amount, the platform would make it all the way to the bottom with something for each prisoner, but it never does. The people on the lower levels survive by very unpleasant means, often by killing and then feasting on their own cell mate. The Platform is a social parable about haves and have-nots, and the end bloodbath is pretty visceral.

Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfriend Star in First Trailer for Mank | PEOPLE.com
9. Mank. 3 stars. I admire Mank only so much. I love Citizen Kane; I don’t give a tinker’s damn who wrote it. Scholars of cinema will naturally care, but this film is aimed at a wide audience, and for those who do care, it doesn’t help that Fincher follows the debunked theory that Herman Mankiewicz almost single-handedly wrote Citizen Kane. (It was almost certainly a collaboration between him and Welles.) Mank is a gorgeously dreamy tribute to Citizen Kane, brought down by Oliver-Stone-like revisionism and a failure to carry much conviction. I enjoyed watching Charles Dance’s performance, but most of the characters, and the story, don’t matter as they should. Some critics are claiming that this will become a classic like Citizen Kane itself. Not.

Continuing at the Ross are 'Yes, God, Yes' and 'The Nest' | Nebraska Today | University of Nebraska–Lincoln
10. Yes, God, Yes. 3 stars. The Catholic school in this film takes the following passage as its core doctrine: “As for the faithless and the sexually immoral, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” (Rev 21:8) The students are taught that any sex outside of marriage, including with oneself, is guaranteed damnation, and it’s reinforced with infuriating fascist hypocrisy — in the classrooms, halls, and retreat centers. Stranger Things star Natalia Dyer (aka Nancy Wheeler) does a great job in her role as Alice, a teenager torn between this repressive piety and her blazing carnal urges. When she discovers masturbation on a filthy IM chat with a stranger, she starts pissing off everyone — her prudish best friend, a guy who’s appalled when she makes a move on him, the school priest — on her mission to enjoy orgasms. Dyer was a good fit for this role.

(See also: The Best Films of 2006 The Best Films of 2007, The Best Films of 2008, The Best Films of 2009, The Best Films of 2010, The Best Films of 2011, The Best Films of 2012, The Best Films of 2013, The Best Films of 2014, The Best Films of 2015, The Best Films of 2016, The Best Films of 2017, The Best Films of 2018, The Best Films of 2019.)

The Best Filmmakers Alive (in North America)

I’m confining myself to American/Canadian filmmakers. Otherwise I’d include many other directors, like Danny Boyle, Gaspar Noe, and Park Chan-wook, and there’s no way I can do such  global justice on a top-10 list.

1. David Lynch. The best filmmaker alive (from any country) has been showing us film’s unlimited potential since his Eraserhead debut. It was a conversion experience for me when I saw Blue Velvet in the ’80s and his latest masterpiece, Twin Peaks: The Return (considered an extended film as much as a TV miniseries), is cinema at its stunningly purist. Lynch would top this list even if I were considering filmmakers no longer alive (like Kubrick).

2. William Friedkin. He practically reinvented cinema in the 70s, fell from grace a bit in the 80s, then got his second wind afterwards. He ruined my 11-year old psyche with The Exorcist, but no matter, it’s still my favorite film. His induced-documentary styled films, his intense adaptations of stage plays, all tap into a uniquely raw energy. He also remade 12 Angry Men better than the classic, and that’s saying something. He’s one arrogant son of a bitch, and I feel for some of the actors who suffered under him, but then pain is temporary and film is forever.

3. Terrence Malick. The characters in his films play second fiddle to the main character of Nature itself, and he makes that work without being pretentious. His films preserve a still in almost every frame that you’d be proud to hang in your living room. There aren’t many directors who can get away with picturesque styles and meditative voice-overs, but Malick has full command of these techniques. Tree of Life and A Hidden Life are his masterpieces.

4. Kathryn Bigelow. She’s a Jack of all Trades and master of all, having done police thrillers (Blue Steel, Detroit), industrial sci-fic (Strange Days), war films (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), and on top of that the best vampire film of all time (Near Dark) — a horror western with serious attitude. She’s as good as her ex-boyfriend (James Cameron) is bad… and that’s saying loads. I laughed for days when she rightly won an award for The Hurt Locker while Cameron was snubbed that same year for Avatar.

5. Quentin Tarantino. Most directors have at least one or two stinkers to their name, but Tarantino has never made a bad film. (His worst, Kill Bill, is still pretty good.) His contributions to nonlinear storytelling, cathartic violence, and insanely compulsive dialogue are unrivaled. He never went to film school and didn’t need to. He has a brilliant ear for music and scoring, and for sounds to use for violence. And he can make you laugh at horrible things that no one else can.

6. Martin Scorsese. A bone of contention among his fans who argue endlessly about what the masterpieces are. I say his five best are Taxi Driver, The Silence, Casino, Goodfellas, and Shutter Island, in that order (yes, Casino before Goodfellas, sue me), and I believe Raging Bull to be obscenely overrated. He has made a few duds (Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun the worst offenders), but in many ways his greatness is unparalleled, and his influence on other film makers can’t be exaggerated.

7. Richard Linklater. His characters are as real as Friedkin’s, and he’s a master of the interplay between story, documentary, and experience. His greatest success is writing a trilogy in which the sequel is better than an already excellent first, and third is even better than the second. No other trilogy in cinematic history can boast such a progression of excellence. I’m speaking, of course, of the Before trilogy. Other great stuff from him too.

8. Denis Villeneuve. His early efforts (Polytechnique, Incendies) are as underrated as his recent masterpieces (Blade Runner 2049) which did rather poorly at the box office. His films are patiently plotted, with atmospheric scores and staggering use of color. They hint at a voyeuristic obsessiveness with the camera, used to mighty effect. I may be inflating him a bit high without Dune having its say yet, but I’m confident it will deliver. David Lynch is the film making god, but his Dune sucked balls.

9. David O. Russell. He makes films about topics I have no interest in (boxing, football & ballroom dancing, household cleaning products) but become immersed in the manic worlds of dysfunctional characters who find salvation in themselves from the oddest places. I’ve seen Joy so many times it’s ridiculous; and The Boxer and American Hustle multiple times each. I wouldn’t want to work for this guy — judging from some reports he ages his actors ten years from the stress he puts them through — in this sense he reminds of Friedkin.

10. Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m not the biggest fan of this giant, but his highs are so high (especially There Will Be Blood and Magnolia) that I have to include him. As far as I’m concerned, There Will Be Blood is to the 21st century what Citizen Kane was to the 20th: the film of all films. Punch Drunk Love, on the other hand, may be one of the most offensively steaming piles of artistic shit I’ve suffered through.

Honorable mentions: Darren Aronofsky, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Cronenberg, David Fincher, Chris Nolan, Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh.

Way overrated (WO) or downright shitty (DS): Woody Allen (WO), Wes Anderson (WO), Tim Burton (WO), James Cameron (DS), Alfonso Cuarón (WO), Ron Howard (DS), George Lucas (DS), M. Night Shyamalan (WO), Stephen Spielberg (WO), Oliver Stone (WO), Joss Whedon (DS).