Sunday, April 29, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 2:
"WHOLE LOTTA BAVA"


Sometimes, the best movie recommendations come from the sketchiest places. 

Years ago, before my 10+ year run of work-from-home freelancing, I labored on-site in an actual office in Burbank. Like every cubicle hellscape out there, this office came fully equipped with the prerequisite Office Blowhard. You know the type: the schlubby, overly-chatty drone who seems perfectly content to wile away his waking life in Dilbert Land, has *opinions* about everything under the sun and a burning need to stop by your desk and share them unsolicited every hour on the hour because, basically, he's made the office his living room and you are the trapped guest at his sad eight-hour mixer, like it or not. My particular Burbank OB was a sweaty, corpulent gentleman who had come to California via South Carolina with a fondness for extra-greasy McDonald's Super Value Meals, "the new 3D," retrograde conservative politics, and his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Probably not in that order though--who knows?--the guy did wolf down a lot of Big Macs. He also WOULD NOT SHUT UP about early Mario Bava films.

At the time, I was less appreciative of horror and absolutely unappreciative of his clockwork proselytizing on all things God-fearing and Al Gore-debunking. How could I believe anything he said about films/film directors when all his other *opinions* were so bad? And so I turned a deaf ear and turned up my work headphones, the better to drown out his Bava/God/Big Mac worship and get some work done. But still his yammering to other co-workers bled through. Even when I could take no more of his bloviating and turned in my resignation, I did not get away scot-free. This OB approached me on my way out and told me he would "pray for me." I told him if it made HIM feel better to go right ahead, though it would do nothing for me.

As it turns out, my bloviating Burbank OB was right about one thing. I'll let you take a guess which thing (hint: I still believe in climate change, still do not go to church or sup beneath the Golden Arches). Mike B, if you're still out there somewhere (probably trolling liberal celebs on Twitter), please forgive me. It took me about 12 years, but I finally see the light. Mario Bava is indeed a cinematic deity. Pray for me, wretched sinner that I be. Here are the 14 heavenly alms in this, my second helping of Italian Exploitation, that finally convinced me...


#8 - THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963)

In what most Italian film scholars consider "the first giallo," Bava delivers a playful whoddunit about a vacationing American crime novel buff named Nora Davis who travels to Italy to be with her dying aunt only to witness a murder in the town piazza as soon as she gets there. She comes to believe she will be the next victim of a reputed Alphabet Killer (A, B and C have already been snuffed). The local authorities are gaslighting her, suggest she's hallucinating because she's read too many mystery novels. She's also hearing voices, which turn out to be anonymous tape recordings chock-full of clues. Meanwhile, she's striking up a romance with her aunt's doctor (John Saxon). There's a running joke about a "marijuana cigarette" that a passenger plants on her during the flight over that later gets tossed over a veranda to land beside a very fortunate priest. Apparently too racy for U.S. audiences, these scenes were cut from the Americanized AIP release re-titled Evil Eye. With or without the doobie humor, this is a fun early Bava joint, a self-aware spider's web made of Silly String.

Grade: 


#9 - THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963)

Bava's sadomasochistic spin on Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. Christopher Lee plays the cruel-hearted "Kurt," the son of a count who returns home to the family castle to steal his younger brother's bride, Nevenka, through amorous floggings in lieu of flirtation. It seems Nevenka likes the rough stuff, and Kurt is more than happy to provide. Even after he dies (sort of), she hears the lash of his whip echoing throughout the castle corridors. Is Kurt now a ghost flagellating from the grave?! This humorously dated thwack-happy gothic thriller is good for a few laughs but mostly fails out on the story front, especially once the already chilly Lee becomes a probable denizen of the afterlife. Not top-shelf Bava but not terrible. Let's call it Fifty Shades of Okay.

Grade: 



#10 - BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)

If there was a prize for Most Most Magenta in a Movie Ever, this early fashion world slasher would certainly take the black-laced cake. Blood is bursting with color, like a variety bag of Jolly Ranchers exploded onto a Clue board game. The garishly lit mannequins. The murderer(s) with opaque pantyhose faces. A shocking Technicolor bathtub drowning to rival Hitchcock's black and white Psycho shower scene. A good thing there's so much to look at because plot is mostly giallo boilerplate: a stolen diary full of secrets, one too many suspects with reasons for seeing it destroyed, a high society setting peopled with various fashion industry hangers-on. The actors are all compelling and keep the mysterious proceedings hopping, particularly Eva Bartok and Cameron Mitchell. It's easy to see how Argento's Suspiria is deeply in debt to this movie. Modern horror hacks take note: you don't have to de-saturate your color palette for things to look scary.

Grade: 


#11 - KILL, BABY...KILL! (1966)

Creepy dead girls who can't stop laughing. Creepier dolls with missing heads and limbs. Spiral staircases that go on forever. Rooms with enough infinitely replicating entrance doors to make M.C. Escher wince. This Bava classic establishes many of the spine-tingling tropes that would later be ransacked by a host of J-horror helmers, not to mention contemporary surrealists like David Lynch. There's a music cue in Kill (a low buoyant bass thrum that sounds like a strip of elastic slowly being plucked) which I'm pretty sure Lynch and Badalamenti repurpose note for note in Twin Peaks' Red Room. Scorsese calls this Bava's best film, "gothic horror meets bad acid trip," and says it influenced a few scenes in Last Temptation of Christ. Even if creepy blonde children, haunted dolls and tabloid-sounding titles aren't your bag, committed cineastes may want to check out Kill, Baby...Kill! just for the homage-spotting.

Grade: 


#12 - DR. GOLDFOOT & THE GIRL BOMBS (1966)

The only (ahem) bomb of the Bava bunch I watched. This is James Bond parody done poorly. Worse, perhaps, than Goldmember or The Spy Who Shagged Me (Verne Troyer, R.I.P.). Even Vincent Price mugging for the camera and million golden bikinis cannot save it. This was purely a contact job for Mario, and it shows. Forgive him. His heart was not in it. He did not put his best goldfoot forward.

Grade: 


#13 - DANGER DIABOLIK (1968)

Bava more than atones for his Goldfoot fail a few years later with this deliriously entertaining super-thief heist movie based on an Italian comic book series. If the Marvel movies were even 1/4 the fun of this one, I'd probably give a shit that a small handful of the Avengers just met their demise. Boasting a very groovy Ennio Morricone score and a revolving door of ludicrous '60s outfits to rival Barbarella, Danger Diabolik is a kitsch lover's dream while also delivering the suspenseful caper movie goods. It's also got the best trapped-in-molten-gold cliffhanger ending this side of the Han Solo carbonite fridge in Empire. Such a shame that this one isn't on Blu-ray yet. I need to see Marisa Mell on a circular rotating bed of hundred dollar bills in hi-def! It's more of a shame that Bava never got to make a sequel. If there's one movie in his filmography that screams for the reboot/franchise treatment, this is certainly it.

Grade: 


#14 - FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON (1970)

After a brief foray into spy parodies and superhero kriminal films, Bava returns to his hallowed ground of the giallo with mixed results. You know the score: a bunch of people on a tropical island, a murderer among them picking them off one by one, a freezer stocked with bodies both human and bovine. As always, Bava frames the grim proceedings with much baroque visual panache. Otherwise, August is Mario operating largely on auto-pilot.

Grade: 


#15 - HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)

Did you (like me) enjoy Phantom Thread but secretly wish it had more kill scenes and fewer fastidious dress fittings? Do you wish Alma had at least once tried to knock off Reynolds Woodcock with an axe instead of a dubious mushroom omelette? Then, boy oh boy, have I got the Bava masterpiece for you! Hatchet tells the deliciously perverse tale of a Paris wedding dress designer (Stephen Forsyth, lounging decadently and monochromatically above) who, due to a mysterious childhood trauma and a raging Oedipal complex, is obsessed with murdering brides on their most special of days. Imagine that...a Woodcock who chops up the newlyweds that he himself just dressed then dresses in their clothing too! The Thread comparisons don't end there. There's even a scene where Forsyth reprimands his aging wife for buttering her toast too loudly. I kid you not not! PTA must have screened Hatchet before penning Phantom, right? If he didn't, it's a sure thing that Mary Harron did, because this movie has American Psycho fingerprints all over it. If Hitchcock and Dostoyevsky had a baby and swaddled it in a blood-stained leisure suit, Hatchet would be that baby. Hands down my favorite Bava movie I've seen...even if the "hatchet" of the title is technically more of a cleaver.

Grade: 


#16 - A BAY OF BLOOD (1971)

If memory serves, I gave this one a try many years ago one late night when it was only available on pan-and-scan VHS under the title Twitch of the Death Nerve. I think I was only one or two kills in before I fell fast asleep. Man, what a difference presentation makes! I gave it another try streaming on FilmStruck in HD, and this time I was riveted. Plot-wise, it's your typical stalk-and-slash horror flick, the template for a thousand Friday the 13ths, Halloweens and Screams still to come. A bunch of sacrifical lambs vacationing near a scenic body of water, some legal documents and deed ownership intrigue to mix things up. It's the relentless way Bava photographs it that makes all the difference, not to mention the shocker ending that plays like a perverse wink to the audience (and without setting them up for an inevitable slew of sequels!). After decades of being numbed by CGI blood spray, it sometimes takes a swift scythe to a latexed neck to remind you who's the boss.

Grade: 


#17 - BARON BLOOD (1972)

Let's be honest: I barely remember what happened in Baron Blood. I watched it a few weeks ago, and all I get is flashes of Joseph Cotten in a wheelchair and a few architectural gargoyles atop ancient buildings. From what I do recall, a weaker castle-bound retread of the creepy Kill, Baby...Kill! minus the stylistic innovations.

Grade: 


#18 - LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972)

Bava follows his muse (and the lovely Elke Summer) into dream logic territory in a sometimes confounding narrative about one woman's surreal dalliances with her doppelganger and The Devil Himself. The Devil here is played by none other than the original Kojak (Telly Savalas, with lolliop), and it seems like he's having a whale of a time. So will you, if you have a high tolerance for untidy, free associative storytelling. This is the closest I've seen Bava tread into Bunuel territory, and it mostly worked for me. Apparently, it didn't work for the majority of the '70s moviegoing public who were perplexed to the point that a re-edited version called House of Exorcism was released two years later, replete with newly filmed head-spins and pea soup upchuckings to cash in on the recent Exorcist craze. I haven't seen that version yet, but, then again, I haven't seen Friedkin's new The Devil and Father Amorth yet either. I wonder whose truncated Exorcist rip-off will be better...

Grade: 


#19 - FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (1972)

If there's one Mario Bava movie ripe for a post #MeToo reimagining, this Rashomon-inspired sex comedy may be it. Four Times puts the slippery truth of one blind date gone wrong (or possibly right?) to the test by filming it from four different perspectives. Was Tina's torn dress the next morning evidence of non-consensual sex or a harmless garden mishap? Are those scratches on John's head due to Tina's attempt to fend him off or a completely unrelated bump on the noggin? Depends on who you ask...John, Tina, Tina's mother, the nosy doorman. Everyone will have their say at some point (including Bava's "objective lens" at the end). At the very least, it could make for a fine Master of None episode (wait, will there even be more Master of None now that Aziz is, well, you know...). I can almost hear the frivolous think pieces being typed away already.

Grade: 


#20 - RABID DOGS (1974)

And, if there ever was a Mario Bava film more UNRIPE for a post #MeToo reimagining, I give you Rabid Dogs. The mayonnaise smearing/chest grope scene alone is enough to land it smack dab on the Consensual Condiments Blacklist. The only way it could get any worse is if the chauvinist pig criminal in question had slathered his poor kidnapping victim with Baconnaise, thus landing it on the Vegan Sex Crimes Manifesto too. I kid but also...do not kid. This movie is kinda hard to watch in the current socio-political climate. Or any climate, really. It's mostly leering kidnappers being shitty to their hostages for a solid 90 minutes and proof that Bava was on less sure footing in the ripped-from-the-headlines poliziotteschi genre than on his home turf, the giallo. The only saving grace for Rabid Dogs is its final few minutes, a gut-punch of a twist ending I didn't see coming at all though I really probably should've. It's so good that it alone earned an otherwise one-star movie an extra plate of ratings spaghetti.

Grade: 


#21 - SHOCK (1977)

For some reason, Bava's last theatrical feature seems to get a relatively bum rap online. I'm not sure why that is, given that Shock has supplied that ungrateful beast called the Internet one of its most enduring and GIF-worthy memes (see "shocking" boy-to-man jump scare below). It's got everything you could possibly ask for from a late '70s horror movie: a creepy Slinky descending the stairs, a levitating box cutter, distorted mirror images galore, forcible heroin injections and LSD dosings, a blonde-haired moppet more disturbing than the Babadook kid, a leading lady (Daria Nicolodi) who kinda resembles Kathy Griffin but more attractive, especially when her flowing red her hair floats directly into the camera's lens. What's not to love, unfeeling chatbots? Is it because the craven producers originally pawned it off as unofficial sequel to an unrelated and not very good film (Beyond the Door II)? Is it because Mario was in poor health by that point and son Lamberto was called in for the assist? I don't get it. I grok Shock! And the most shocking thing about Shock is just how much fun it is when it didn't have to be. 

Grade: 



Aaahhh!! Instant Puberty!!!!!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 1:
"BLACK CATURDAYS & BLACKER SUNDAYS"


My first foray into the heady, marinara soaked waters of Italian-helmed exploitation films ended up involving a lot of felines, a lot of horror and several weekends worth of mostly enjoyable viewing. That it happened to coincide with a week's worth of cat-sitting in real life is just one of those curious things. Some late Fulci, some early Bava, some early-mid career Argento, as well as a stray Margheriti tossed into the mix. Have you been a good gatto? Okay, then here's your first seven treats...


#1 - THE BLACK CAT (1981)
Lucio Fulci 

Think your beloved furball is hot shit for doing this on YouTube? Allow me to direct you to the little onyx disruptor at the center of Lucio Fulci's early '80s Edgar Allen Poe adaptation. Opening closed doors with its paw is but one minor trick in its "very particular set of skills" kit. This kitty can also cause automobile accidents with its mind, start house fires with a flick of its whiskers, orchestrate elaborate murder-suicide crime scenes, and hypnotize unstable college professors into doing its homicidal bidding. How's that for a little devil LinkedIn resume?

While not quite the caliber (or catliber) of Fulci's more adventurous sleaze-horror masterworks (The New York Ripper, The Beyond, Zombi 2), The Black Cat does have its own distinct pleasures. It's comparatively light on the gore but heavy on the cat POV tracking shots, Pino Donaggio score and crazed Patrick Magee (of A Clockwork Orange renown). Manipulative felines aside, watching that guy wander through smoky graveyards with a Nagra and a microphone recording supernatural groans like the tomb whisperer version of Gene Hackman in The Conversation is all it took to hypnotize me.

Grade: 


#2 - A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990)
Lucio Fulci

No, the title is not just a metaphor. Or a bad Italian to English translation. The opening credits do actually feature a live feline munching on brains. A Cat in the Brain is late-career Lucio getting all meta on your ass, basically doing his goremeister's version of Day for Night or 8 1/2. Fulci himself plays a guilt-plagued horror director troubled by disturbing real-life visions (kill clips from his other late '80s movies). He seeks out a psychiatrist and, whaddya know, the guy turns out to be even more deranged than him.

Basically, this is Fulci's Hot Rocks or Forty Licks, a greatest hits compilation hastily pieced together in the editing room with Scotch tape and the barest of self-reflexive premises. It's a cynical cash-grab, sure, but also a playful nod-and-a-wink mea culpa. For Fulci diehards, it's a good excuse to see the maestro in the flesh, if only occasionally, intercut with juicy footage from some of his lesser, later films (did I say "greatest" hits?). The transitions may not be the smoothest, and the back-to-back gore scenes do tend to get porn flick repetitive. But, if it's a quick dose of Lucio you're craving with little to no narrative to get in the way, Un Gatto Nel Cervello should suffice as the cinema equivalent of a late-night helping of canned, microwave SpaghettiOs.

Grade: 


#3 - TWO EVIL EYES / "The Black Cat" (1990)
Dario Argento

Crime scene photographer/still life artist Harvey Keitel traipsing around Pittsburgh with a bad attitude and a beret? You had me at "Helloooo!" This is Argento's half of his short film double-header with the late George Romero. Also, his equally twisted (and equally loose) take on the same Edgar Allen Poe story that Fulci tackled nine years earlier. While the titular black cat in Argento's version may not possess the same degree of supernatural powers as Fulci's fantastic feline, it sure seems to annoy the hell out of the already borderline Keitel. After his girlfriend Annabel takes a liking and takes it in off the street, Harvey vindictively begins using the cat in photo shoots, which subsequently morph into a kitty murder crime scene. When Annabel spots her vanished pet on the cover of his latest photo collection, she is understandably pissed. This only leads to her murder and Keitel's increasingly ridiculous (in a good way) attempts to cover it up. But then, wouldn't you know it, that same damn black cat reappears anyway!

Though only an hour long, Argento's take on the Poe story is a full feature's worth of fun. This is primarily due to the casting of Keitel but also Argento's gung-ho commitment to lurid crime scene compositions and increasingly absurd murder cover-up attempts. There's a particularly fun one involving a life-size photo of the dead girlfriend's face taped onto her corpse to fool the neighbors. And the ending? Let's just say it's the best kind of "cliffhanger."

Grade: 


#4 - THE CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971)
Dario Argento

A "cat horror" film in name only, this nascent Argento giallo wriggled its way onto my watchlist because I'm generally unschooled in the earlier parts of his career and needed to do some *cat*ching up. A reporter and a blind puzzle solver (Karl Malden in full-on Stevie Wonder mode) team up to investigate a murder at a medical facility. Lots of leather cord stranglings and talk of chromosome testing ensues. There's a particularly nifty suspense sequence involving a carton of potentially poisoned milk that I won't, er, spoil.

To be honest, I've already forgotten most of the plot particulars (it's hard to keep score in these purposely convoluted Italian murder mysteries). But I will say that the cinematography was gorgeous, and the Ennio Morricone score made it all go down nice and easy. I am now eager to proceed to the other two parts of Argento's "Animal Trilogy." Flies, birds, etc.

Grade: 


#5 - SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE (1973)
Antonio Margheriti

Cats or no cats, I'll watch anything with Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg in it simply to marvel at the paired genetics involved in creating daughter Charlotte, one of my favorite actresses. Yes, Serge may be a sleepwalking blank slate police inspector in this, but, boy oh boy, is vacationing cousin Birkin easy on the eyes (cat's or otherwise). This is one of those Clue-style drawing room giallos set in a lavish castle where the guests get picked off one by one by a unseen killer who you generally guess the identity of midway through. It's definitely not my favorite sub-set of the giallo genre, but, hey, a cat appeared frequently in the story (a relatively benign ginger this time) not to mention-- bonus-- a caged orangutan. As for the seven deaths, yes, that seems about right. I wasn't keeping count. SPOILER: The butler didn't do it. Nor did the orangutan.

Grade: 


#6 - BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Mario Bava

My first legit Bava horror flick! Also, Bava's first credited directorial effort. I'd only seen Planet of the Vampires before this. Enjoyed the costumes in that one, but wasn't otherwise sucked into the Bava vortex. Black Sunday may be the one that does the trick. From the very first baroquely detailed black and white frames, you know you're in the hands of a master visual stylist. Then when they put the iron studded mask over condemned witch Barbara Steele's face and hammered that sucker in, I had to pause my Filmstruck stream to check the date. 1960? Pretty gruesome for that era. Pretty gruesome for any era, actually. Early aughts torture porn hacks, eat your heart out. Bava has you all beat by at least 40 years.

Sorry, no cats in this one from what I recall. But reincarnated Barbara Steele does pal around with some pretty baller Marmaduke type dogs (see above pic).

Grade: 


#7 BLACK SABBATH (1963)
Mario Bava

What is the sabbath anyway? Is it Saturday, or is it Sunday? I guess it depends on your particular Judaic/Christian/Wiccan upbringing. For Bava, it's a good excuse to string together three horror shorts loosely based on stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov and de Maupassant. As with most horror anthologies, it's a hit or miss affair. Mileage and scares may vary. My favorite was the Tolstoy segment with Boris Karloff (who also serves as interstitial narrator) playing a returned from the dead wurdalak. What's a wurdalak, you ask? Well, it's kind of like a zombie that specifically targets its still living loved ones instead of being a mindless, equal opportunity brain-eater. Perhaps the miserable never-ending money train that is The Walking Dead should take a lesson. Next season, make your boring zombies wurdalaks! Better yet, cancel that sucker and fast-track David Fincher's World War Z-2: Rise of the Wurdalaks.

While Black Sabbath is no Black Sunday, it's nice to see Bava's meticulous frames burst into beautiful Technicolor this go-round. The gore and jump scares may be tame by today's standards, but in each segment you can see the template being laid down for many more bloodthirsty modern chillers to come.

Grade: 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

2018 ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION!!!


Ah, the perennial beginning of the year Cashiers De Cinema dilemma: What the fuck to do with this antiquated 10+ year old film blog? Add annoying Google AdSense ads to every inch of the page and leave it to internet posterity? Double down on the old days (circa 2010) with month-long themes and epic-length reviews? Delete the whole site all together? Worse, exchange it for a "likeable" Letterboxd account?

Sorry, but flinging my unsolicited hot takes into yet another social media cesspool is simply not in the Cashiers cards. It's shameful enough that I retrofitted most of my movie ramblings these last two years for 140/280-character Twitter compatibility. Well, those days are over...sort of. You may have noticed that the sidebar @CashierDeCinema link has vanished (poof!). But, sadly, the laziness and despair and over-saturation of #opinions that site has inflicted upon my bruised and battered psyche still remains. :(
  
Most of the "takes" this year will still be short and sweet and very likely able to fit into a tweet, even if not actually tweeted. But, when the mood and inspiration strikes, they might just run on for a vintage page-long rant. In other words, Cashiers is going free-form in 2018! (i.e., the world's most asocial Letterboxd account). It's also taking a trip to Italy. The key here is: I need to make this film blogging thing FUN again. Or else why bother? And when I looked back over the last 10 years of posts, searching for the MOST FUN I EVER HAD FILM BLOGGING, one name stuck out like a glorious, gore-soaked sore thumb...

FULCI.

As in Lucio. As in Italian exploitation maestro. As in, I watched a lot of Fulci back in the day but still haven't seen a good deal of his filmography. Gore flicks. Giallos. Westerns. Erotic thrillers. Early spy films and sex comedies. Even his Jack London-based family adventure movies. I've got them all lined up for viewing this year, in addition to movies I haven't seen by many of his Italian exploitation progenitors/contemporaries...

ARGENTO.   BAVA.   BALDI.   DI LEO.   DEODATO.

I'm even excited for Gaudagnino's Suspiria remake. Are you?

The goal is to watch 100 Italian exploitation films that I've got stored away on old discs and fresh USBs before the end of 2018. I'll post 'em here as I get to 'em with a running count of where I am on the list. Expect lots of spaghetti westerns, spaghetti horror, spaghetti cannibals, spaghetti zombies, spaghetti barbarians and a heaping forkful of poliziotteschi (Italian crime films). I may even throw in some Tinto Brass flicks to spice up the sauce. By the end of the year, I'm sure to look and feel just like this baby...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

BEST & WORST OF 2017

Let's get something straight right off the top: Twin Peaks: The Return is absolutely the cultural high point of 2017...but it's TV, not an 18-hour movie. You will find no entries on this list devoted to Episode 8's atomic brilliance. Unlike this blog's facetious French namesake, we play by the rules here at Cashiers. This blog is about CINEMA. And this Best/Worst list is reserved for movies that have played in at least one legit first-run theatre during the year (your MoMA run don't count, yo). Let me repeat: Twin Peaks is TV, and all the better for it. If I were to cheat and consider TP a movie, then there would be only one entry on this list, for every movie-movie that came out this year pales in comparison. And what kinda fun is a Best/Worst List with one entry? Answer: None kinda fun.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, onto the list! This year, I caught a whopping 127 new 2017 film releases (3 less than last year). If it hadn't been for jaunts to South By Southwest and Fantastic Fest where I was seeing 3 films a day on average, I probably wouldn't have broken the 100-movie barrier. Granted, many of the "films" on this list were viewed streaming at home on my widescreen. But I did finish out the year seeing Phantom Thread in a theatre on 70mm, so I feel like I'm absolved.

One last thing: I'm 99.9% sure this will be my last Best-Worst ever. So savor it while you can. Got some stuff to do in 2018 other than watching way too many movies. Like writing/making them again! Without further ado, here's how 2017 stacked up for me...

THE BEST


10) THE LOST CITY OF Z: Underappreciated helmer James Gray finally leaves the confines of NYC to get his Amazonian Heart of Darkness on in epic scale. Ill-advised colonialist obsessions & gross jungle-borne diseases ensue. Not quite Aguirre but still a worthy trek.



9) ENDLESS POETRY: At the ripe old age of 88, Alejandro J is still serving up fresher images than any of Hollywood's greenscreen-weaned young bucks. Shame that few people saw this, his delightfully surrealistic sequel to Dance of Reality. I'm hoping Son of El Topo corrects that.



8) SUPER DARK TIMES: Imagine Stand By Me but much darker directed by Tim Hunter (River's Edge) instead of Rob Reiner. First-time feature director Kevin Phillips charts the harrowingly realistic ripple effect of an accidental death among a group of '90s teens. Super recommended.


7) THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEEROnly Yorgos can infuse seemingly benign discussions of wristwatch straps ("Do you prefer leather or metal?") with so much dread. Only he can make a gawky, acne-spotted teen eating spaghetti seem this menacing. No one does disturbing deadpan better.


6) MOTHER!No other movie this year rendered my typically clenched jaw agape quite the way Aronofsky's loony coil of celluloid provocation did. Whether his purpose was Biblical, environmental or a cruel F-U/apology to past loves, I don't care. Dude earned his exclamation point.


5) BLADE RUNNER 2049I never asked for a sequel to the 35 year old classic sci-fi/noir of my youth, but, boy, did this one deliver. Give Denis V all the franchises. Not just the sci-fi ones but ALL the franchises. Bond, Bourne, Indiana Jones, whatever. #GiveDenisAllTheFranchises


4) GRADUATIONNo one does ethical quandary like the Romanians. Watching this father's moral compass slowly erode as he does anything necessary to get his recently assaulted daughter into college is a study in white-knuckle emotional suspense. Mr. Mungiu, you aced the test.


3) GET OUTGuess Who's Coming to Dinner re-tooled for the post-Obama era as creepy '60s Twilight Zone episode meets hilarious '70s SNL sketch. Believe da hype. No movie had more to say about race in 2017. I mean, is there anything more horrifyingly "white" than a basement foosball table?



2) GOOD TIMEModern crime movies rarely come so believably skuzzy, alternately streetwise and Queens knucklehead dumb like a '90s Abel Ferrara indie high on methamphetamine. The Safdie Bros are the real deal. I just worry they'll lose their mojo going big on a 48 Hrs remake.


1) THE SQUAREIn a year rife with "fake news" & weekly White Guy in Power takedowns (Weinstein, etc), nothing captured the wildly unstable tenor of the times quite the way this ruthlessly satirical 2hr+ performance art piece did. There's an ape loose in the dining room, folks. He is a man but also...not a man.

HONORABLE MENTION


DOWNSIZINGAlexander Payne took a lot of risks in this coolly received miniature Matt Damon comedy. Not all of them connect, but when they do it feels like a tiny revelation. Payne invented his own genre: the environmentally conscious end of the world rom-com. No small feat.


LADY BIRDWhaddya know, indie darling thesp Greta Gerwig can also direct! Droll coming of age suburban comedies are a dime a dozen, but Gerwig adds her own believable blend of Sacramento spice to the mix. Ronan is great, Metcalf even better. Interested to see what GG does next.


LET THE CORPSES TANThis kaleidoscopic French crime collage/assault on the senses never got a proper 2017 U.S. release. I caught a late-night screening at Fantastic Fest & can't wait to see it again. For those who dug Amer, Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, a must-see.


THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURINot the most visually kinetic movie of the year but maybe the best screenplay. The joy comes in watching great actors chew juicy dialogue. McDormand, Harrelson, Rockwell, Dinklage. Get them together & it can be a Geico ad for all I care.


WORMWOODIt took six hours, the genius of Errol Morris, the subtle blend of documentary and docudrama to make me finally appreciate Peter Sarsgaard (a perennial whipping boy on this list). Perhaps it was the LSD in my drink?

THE WORST


10) WHEELMANTake the fine Tom Hardy "vehicle" Locke from a few years ago, dumb it down with goombah getaway driver Frank Grillo & a script held together by f-bombs shouted into smartphones and, wa-la, another forgettable Netflix Original to gridlock your queue.


9) BAYWATCHWhen you take a barely remembered TV property built upon Pam Anderson's jiggling bustline then turn it into a Rock/Zac Efron bros-before-ho's jet ski comedy, you can't be too surprised when summer movie audiences born post-90s opt for an actual beach instead.


8) GUN SHYYou've probably never heard of this generically titled direct-to-On-Demand action comedy. As well you shouldn't. It's based on a pretty funny book ("Salty") that someone optioned, threw in the trash and miscast atrociously with Antonio Banderas. Shy very far away.


7) SUBURBICONThe Clooney-Coens Curse strikes its most calamitous blow to date! If you thought Intolerable Cruelty painful or are still nursing 3rd-degrees from Burn After Reading, try watching George Clooney fumble a Coen Bros script BEHIND the camera. Ooofah! This one hurt.


6) THE BAD BATCHAmirpour's follow-up to the wonderful A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is textbook indie sophomore slump. Add more $$, a few stars (Momoa, Carrey, Reeves), a go-nowhere script & everything goes to shit. That said, I eagerly await her next attempt.


5) FIST FIGHTFor some inexplicable reason, a certain film critic whose opinions I normally trust gave this laughless Ice Cube-Charlie Day dueling teachers comedy high marks. I fell for it (on VOD at least), and now I'd like to meet said critic after class in the parking lot.


4) SPLITEverything in this M. Night  multiple personality manipulator was done 10x better 25 yrs ago by DePalma in Raising Cain. That it reveals its true colors at the last minute as a stealth sequel to Unbreakable (yet another extended universe cash grab!) only made it worse.


3) BRIGHTIs it possible to create a gritty, racially-charged L.A. cop movie that also contains orcs, fairies & magic wands? Director David Ayer proves resoundingly: "No, it is not!" Especially when your script is by Hollywood Nepotism's Favorite Son, Max "The Hack" Landis.



2) THE FLORIDA PROJECTDay-Glo paean to ostentatious child actors & bad white trash parenting. Some would cite the kid flicks of Truffaut, Bunuel or Babenco as TFP's progenitors. I'd argue it's reality TV poverty porn (i.e., Honey Boo Boo). Dafoe is the only honest thing in this.


1) THE ASSIGNMENTWalter Hill's woefully misguided gender reassignment hitman/woman actioner is asinine on so many levels, but to name just a few: Michelle Rodriguez with a beard, the insertion of random comic book style panels, little to no discernible "action."

DISHONORABLE MENTION

JUSTICE LEAGUEPerfunctory Exposition. Smart-Aleck Superhero Remark. Overly Busy CGI Fight Scene. Perfunctory Exposition. Smart-Aleck Superhero Remark. Overly Busy CGI Fight Scene. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat to infinity (or until producers start losing money).


ROUGH NIGHTI didn't like this movie way back in the '90s when it was called Very Bad Things. Why did I think the gender-swapped version would do me any better? I blame legit funny Kate McKinnon for luring me in, rarely funny ScarJo for delivering the final death blow.


THE DARK TOWERI watched a LOT of Stephen King this year. Some good, some bad. But none more anodyne than this PG-13 yawner I caught on a Delta flight. This may not have put a major dent in the current Stephen King Renaissance. As for the fast-evaporating McConnaissance…


THE MUMMYOh, Mummy, we barely knew ye, the Universal Monsters brand extender that died before its time. Such big plans you had! A whole cinematic universe to rival Marvel's mega-millions! And now you lie in tatters, a pile of soiled Ace bandages. R.I.P., you presumptuous dummy.


THE SNOWMANMister Police, I gave you all the clues. I gave you a soused Michael Fassbender, Thelma Schoonmaker as editor, an overdubbed Val Kilmer, Chloe Sevigny's head on a sno-cone. I gave you everything you needed…except for 10% to 15% of a filmed screenplay.

SUPERLATIVES

Most Dumb Fun I Had At The Movies All Year
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (the Vietnam War really shouldn't be this enjoyable)

Least Dumb Fun I Had At The Movies All Year
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (not that impending climate apocalypses should be "fun" but…)

Good Horror
Berlin Syndrome, Better Watch Out, It, Raw, The Devil's Candy

Not So Good Horror
Amityville: The Awakening, It Comes At Night, last 10 minutes of Gerald's Game

Surprisingly Good Sequels
T2: Trainspotting, Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Films Less Wonderful Than Twitter Would Have You Believe
Baby Driver, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan, Wonder Woman

Films Less Terrible Than Twitter Would Have You Believe
I Love You Daddy, The Great Wall, The Belko Experiment, Wonder Wheel

Best 9 Minute Pie-Eating Scene
Grief-stricken (and hungry!) Rooney Mara in A GHOST STORY

Best Use of John Denver
Logan Lucky, Free Fire

Worst Use of John Denver
Alien: Covenant

Best ZZ Top Needle Drop That Was Not In Twin Peaks
I, Tonya

Best Altercation With Inanimate Object
Vince Vaughn versus his wife's car in Brawl in Cell Block 99

Best Performance By A Household Appliance
The Unbraced Sink in MOTHER!

Biggest 2017 Film-Related Regret
That I'm not presently in NYC to catch Haneke's HAPPY END at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on its last day of business. :(

Most Anticipated Movies of 2018
The Beach Bum (Korine), DOMINO (De Palma), GOLDEN EXITS (Alex Ross Perry), DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (Zahler), Sicario 2: Soldado (dude I haven't heard of), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (TV technically, but the Coens hit Netflix!)

Happy 2018, everybody!