"Top tens," in music at least, are for me impossible. We're just going to have to build a bigger island. Films, I did manage to whittle down to a neat deck, though it was purely by accident, and probably more than a bit of forgetting. At least you can be sure that these celluloid selections are all wheat, no chaff—that is, if you've followed these posts of mine for the last few years and have gleaned something positive from them, and / or have an accentuated appreciation of the My Castle of Quiet radio show, and / or didn't buy into Ozzy singing "God Is Dead" this year, because um, "we know he was never alive in the first place" is the most metal response to that proposition.
Vampire Diary - (A feature from 2007, not at all related to the post-Twilight television-teen-romance vampire series; I even had a massive hurdle online just trying to find a presentable image of the film poster.) This Vampire Diary is a video one, originally conceived by our female protagonist as a minor exposé about "weekend vampires," playtime blood-drinkers who go clubbing on weekends and occasionally drink one another's blood for sport. Into this somewhat silly aggregation steps a real vampire, an alluring, mysterious, sexy woman, who not only doesn't eat, but must take out real victims in order to survive. I'm always on the lookout for effective employs of the handheld-camera subgenre, and this is yet another clever take on the "everyone has a camera" societal shift of the last decade plus, and the immediacy of handheld is smartly used to arresting effect, proving that are always new tricks, however worn the basket of the original idea. A romantic relationship develops between our heroine-filmmaker and the vampire woman, while the former's friends disappear one by one, somewhat unmysteriously. This is a colorful, sexy, but also very bleak film, while being a modern and comparatively cohesive narrative on what happens when you take in a flatmate who films you in your sleep. The metaphor of vampirism as addiction has never been more alive than in this story as well, and as the desperation escalates, the viewer gets sucked in to the ladies' impossible situation. Though approx. six years old, I just viewed the film this year for the first time, then watched it twice more, and it seemed more than worthy of inclusion on this list, both in that a primary criteria for inclusion here is innovation, and also because of the way "Vicki the vampire" streaks the cityscape in a desperate search for victims, reminding me of a composite of women I dated and/or knew in the 80s and 90s all around NYC, holding up a somewhat bent mirror to my own life at one particular time.
Evil Dead (remake) - Everything horror coming out of Hollywood these days, barring the exceptional few, is a remake of a 70s or 80s genre title, and I find myself sore and decrying the sheer lack of anyone willing to "bank" a fresh horror concept in tinseltown (not to say it doesn't occasionally happen.) That said, with expectations on the floor, I saw the Evil Dead remake, endorsed by the original Tapert-Raimi creative team (obviously a plus), and found myself quite pleasantly thrilled and genuinely surprised. It's not only that it stands freshly on its own, but were the "new" Evil Dead developed in a vacuum, it would be many times more appreciable, and to a generation who did NOT grow up appreciating the original Evil Deads I and II, much like those who heard Bikini Kill with virgin ears never graced by an X Ray Spex record, this film delivers a pretty big boom, especially considering the utter formulaic crap that passes nowadays for a scary movie. There's a female protagonist, so the whole issue of replacing/recasting Bruce Campbell's Ash is cleverly skirted around and rendered irrelevant, and the whole piece is quite artfully shot, for maximum, colorful bursts of horror pleasure. I was impressed, and beyond the whole issue of exceeding low expectations, the new Evil Dead is actually just plain good fun, standing on its own as genuinely enjoyable, and chillingly inspired, with more than a few dynamite scenes.
John Dies at the End - After making his ultra-impressive cinematic "comeback," now over 10 years ago, with the creepy-comic Bubba Ho-Tep, Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli brings us this ever-rolling, comic-book tale that's perhaps equal parts Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure as it is the director's own classic, Phantasm. John Dies... is super-fun, and easy to watch over and over—hi-speed, surreal, druggy, violent, charming and hilarious—like those teen comedies that give you a warm fuzzy on weekend afternoons, but with a forceful wallop of sci-fi/horror action and excitement. It never takes itself too seriously, so fans of this list be warned; while not a brooding genre film, John Dies... nonetheless underscores my respect and admiration for a director who creates wild worlds of colorful adventure, extreme departures from any director's horror-world but his own. Originality and unpredictability are on display with ideas to spare, so where many genre films can be written as they roll by deep fans while watching, this one is refreshingly fat with ideas, such that even the most cynical and critical horror cinéastes can relax a bit and just enjoy themselves. Coscarelli, though he does not strike often, definitely strikes again.
The Pack - Left off the list for the last few years, by mere oversight, is this sickening French horror thriller from 2010 that continues the French-speaking tradition of tales of terror that comically villainize the country folk, who must surely be getting up to some lurid, nefarious stuff out there in the muddy sticks (per movies like Sheitan and Calvaire.) That's certainly the case with this mother and son team, the mother played by Yolande Moreau, a veteran of some excellent French cinema that's way outside this genre. To say much at all would be to give too much away, but it's fair to say that there are some other family members who need special attention and care, feeding, as it were, and that the concept of golem (plural) is played with to truly disturbing affect. I'm always a fan of a movie that keeps you guessing right up until the very end, leaving the "triumph" of the protagonist hanging in question for as long as possible, and The Pack foots that bill with excellence. Genuinely scary, thrilling, and thoroughly icky.
22 Mei (22nd of May) - Another work of cutting-edge cinematic cleverness from the creator of the great Ex Drummer, and though this film is worlds away, it features much of the same cast, many of whom may be unrecognizable to fans of Ex D. This story will not thrill with the high-impact ultra-violence and sexual, punk-rock viscera the way its predecessor did, but it's an excellent piece of filmmaking nonetheless, and its perhaps polarizing distinction in story and essence from the director's first feature neatly avoids the issue of a "sophomore slump," as it is simply THAT different. The story centers around a bomb blast in a shopping mall, and walks several victims of the tragedy (including the bomber himself) through a dreamy, confusing after- and before-life, showing the musings, heartbreaks, and myriad roles of random strangers thrust together into sudden, arresting death by a terrorist tragedy. Some welcome death, others refuse to accept it, and in the end of course they all must, but the ride is brazenly human and dramatically laid bare.
A Field in England - I can't say enough good things about Ben Wheatley; he's pretty much my favorite filmmaker of right now, and I eagerly await his every release. Wheatley has a particular way of pacing music, scenes and editing, that is so distinctive, it defines him like a sax player's tone and phrasing, and is besides a joy to behold. This basic style has followed the director through all the many types of film that he's made; from the ultra-black comedy of Sightseers or Down Terrace, to the discomfiting terror of Kill List, to the absurd, almost Flann-O'Brien-esque A Field in England. A Field... features as one of its leads the actor Reece Shearsmith, known worldwide for his multicharacter-roles in the BBC 4 series The League of Gentlemen (please PLEASE not to be confused AT ALL with the Sean Connery film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and consequently plays out much like a classically absurd League sketch, only extended and fleshed out with the seriousness and general gravitas of any Ben Wheatley film. It's all at once historically alien, profoundly odd, gross and hilarious. The film follows the journey over land, by foot, of four deserters of various stripes (and eventually, a pivotal fifth) during the English Civil War, with all the filth and superstition of that era unflinchingly played (as far as I know, of course), and the scenes are paced with some lovely English folk songs, and it's altogether woven into quite the perfect film. Shearsmith, as well as Michael Smiley and Richard Glover, shine. I dare/need not say more, besides enjoy!
Only God Forgives - Nicolas Winding Refn is THE FILMMAKER, like Scorsese in the early 1970s—on fire, creatively speaking—the man is hot, and no one really knows exactly what he's going to do next; there are those who speculate, or like me, just wait to be bowled over. With Valhalla Rising, Refn proved that he can break hard away from any sort of genre film, or fan expectations, while still making a story of great pathos and overreaching ideas of what filmgoers had come to expect from him (most notably the Pusher series of intense, suspenseful, violent crime dramas.) The Pusher movies are exceptional, with disturbing, almost painfully realistic characterizations; the weak and the strong, endangered children and the adults available and able to rescue them from grim lives immersed in and effected by the drug world and its absentee parents (just an example; each of the four Pusher films has a life of its own and characters unique to the tale that's told.) But in Only God Forgives, the child is grown, and it's a cruel, somewhat insane, oppressive, sexually dominant and downright evil mother who controls her sons, transplanted as they are in Bangkok, wildly unpredictable and running the family drug trade there. Ryan Gosling proves his versatility yet again, playing hard against type, as the weak-willed quiet sibling who must rise to the occasion of avenging his brother's killing, while suffering a constant hailstorm of verbal abuse from Kristen Scott-Thomas as his truly horrible mother, and simultaneously ever-mounting challenges from the local psycho-sadist police chief. All in all, this is another wild-ass Refn film that will not disappoint fans of the director's other work.
Red, White and Blue - The word "gritty" gets thrown around a lot these days, a dramatic subgenre whose designation is now a casual part of the Netflix vocabulary, but few modern dramas bear out the grit as brazenly as this film, set in suburban Texas amongst the hard-drinkng, hard-working, poor, sick and disillusioned. The three lives of a sullen, loosely moraled young woman, an aspiring rocker whose mother is suffering from cancer, and a somewhat frightening, mysterious war veteran, connect in the most unfortunate of ways, and where this film seems almost meditative and brooding at its outset, your "where is this all going" feeling will gradually and thoroughly be replaced with sheer terror, and an utter lack of saving, or "redemption" for all parties, as things go from generally bad to shockingly awful. That said, this story is not without meaning or purpose, though extremely harrowing, and genuinely upsetting, even to a seasoned viewer of extreme cinema such as myself. It's Red, White and Blue's depth of dramatic field that warrants its inclusion on this list, and places it miles away from what's often referred to as "torture porn." There's a story to be told here, though it's not an easy one. Serious warning; this film is not for those of weak constitution, or those on the fence about violent, harrowing cinema.
Los Bastardos - "The Bastards" are two Mexican-immigrant men, squeezing out a meager existence just north of the border in California, socially isolated except from one another, and with seemingly no place to go in the nighttime. They roam the parks together, sleep under the Los Angeles stars, and jump into pickup trucks during the days with shady white men when duty calls for cheap, day laborers. It's a bit slow to piece together at first, but what gradually emerges is that the men have somewhat reluctantly accepted a violent crime-for-hire, and at about this time, we also start to parallel-view the victims, moving through their own, sullen daily lives. While the overall atmosphere of Los Bastardos is exceptionally bleak, it's not a story without strong purpose, nor is it a story that could be easily tossed out and never told. As it becomes clear what's likely going to happen, the drama amps up at a deceptively slow pace, utterly tense and uneasy. Los Bastardos will likely linger with you for days, a mood of unease and horrific injustice on all fronts and for all concerned; a disconcerting little movie, that will haunt the viewer like the best of 70s Herzog, or something like Wenders' The Goalie's Anxiety...; an unsettling tragedy that's not for everyone.
Europa Report - An utterly different kind of science-fiction film, which when compared to its contemporary cousins in the genre, will seem very "real"—if that makes sense. The acting is remarkably understated, and the craft that serves as the centerpiece of the film, the "Europa One," is as complex as any creatively imagined spaceship, though something about not only the ship but the entire film is more tactile than the shiny, CG-laden sci-fi films we've become used to seeing. The fantasy here is much less distant; we feel all the switches and hands-on operation, and multiple cameras of varying angles and quality make for a very "believable" experience, at least as the genre goes—in other words, nothing is particularly glossy or "marvelous" in a special-effects way, making for a very "smart"-feeling, radically different space-journey; a tale which uses tragic technical errors, unexpected discoveries, and a general and contagious fear of the unknown for all of its tension-building, rather than the threat of a race of CG-rendered, bloodthirsty aliens intent on human destruction. I've seen this film twice thus far, and on second viewing Europa Report had more of an emotional impact, whereas my first view was spent just taking in all the style and visuals, so radically different are they from modern genre convention. Think of Europa Report as a contemporary equivalent of moody classics of the late 60s and early 1970s, films that came in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that were as much concerned with conveying a feeling as they were with being impressive visually, features like Marooned, Countdown and Silent Running.
2013 Music List - a mere 55 entries! ...
Vein - ...Into The Vein | Hoax (multiple releases) | Akitsa / Ash Pool split LP | Wretched Worst - Funeral Burning EP | Cadaver In Drag - Raw Child; Breaking and Entering | Haare - Forward To Insanity; A Split Second In Eternity | Black Scorpio Underground-Werewolf Jerusalem split LP | Slumber Room - Slumber Room EP | Kr Grauwacke (all 3 releases) | Murano / Carter, Safityya, Les Conversions, and all Kelippah relases | Vardan (multiple releases) | Anwech (multiple releases) | Volksmorg - s/t CS | Cincinnatus C. (multiple releases) | Kuxan Suum LP | Medusa LP reissue | Hive Mind - Like a Shallow Plague...CD issue; But Mine Own Vineyard I Have Not Kept CS and digital issue; Live YouTube sets! | Ghast - Terrible Cemetery | Oppression - Silence! CS | Teatro Satanico - Rainbow Tape | Compactor - Desensitization Reprocessing | Ash Borer - Bloodlands | Nate Young - Regression Binding Confusion | Actuary - split w/ Merzbow | Agathocles - recent splits | Lord Time - Drink My Tears | Cliff Martinez - Only God Forgives OST | Raspberry Bulbs - Deformed Worship | Cadaver Eyes - Mesarveem Lihiyot Covshim | Inappropriate King Live - Datboonbat | Bran (...) Pos - Den of Ordure and Iridescence | Husere Grav - You Are Transparent | Deaf Kids - I Am The Sickness | Psychic Limb - Jamaica | The Atrocity Exhibit - What Time The Hidden Death?; Grind Over Matter (Live) | Hivesmasher - Gutter Choir | Lea Bertucci - Resonance Shapes | v/a - Buried Terror #2 (Sabbathid Recs. Japan) | Wargrinder - Erased Seeds of Ignorance | OK Putrid - God God Alabakdannagsba | Fadensonnen - PD3 | Onkunde - De Eeuwige Vrede | Castevet - Obsian | Giant Claw - Max Mutant | Spettro Family - Chi Omega 7" | Cornflakes 808 - 12" | Verglas - Excommunion 7" | Malkuth - Hathir Sakta | Death Factory - Chilling Impressions | The Throat; Netherlands-based cassette label of black metal and noise | White Medal - Guthmers Hahl LP | Andorkappen - Columbarium CS | Deafest - Through Wood and Fog EP | Cara Neir - Portals to a Better, Dead World | Yellow Eyes - Hammer of Night.