Coming up with a best-of-the-year list is a surprisingly difficult task. What if I pick the wrong film? What if nobody likes me?? What if I actually did manage to forget the one movie you’re about to tell me I’m an idiot/should be literally killed for not including???
The stakes are high…
All anxiousness aside, with the variety of arguments to be made over an array of films (and the internet being what it is, these days) it can be quite a formidable challenge winnowing down a year-or-so’s worth of cinema across a myriad of different scales and sub-genres into a select, crisp, and sterling ten.. But here we are and I’m going to give it my very best shot…
Over time, I’ve found that the best way to compile a list such as this one (for me, anyway) is to ask one, reasonably simple question – what stood out to me most this year?
Not every one of the films I am going to include is a bonafide masterpiece, but each one gave me something specific – be it feeling, thought, or immediacy, technical prowess, or emotional candor – in some cases, all of these. Film is a great many things and I hope that this list, in some way, reflects that (at least as it pertains to the realms of horror and science fiction).
So, strap in!
Oh, and one last thing – the order of this list is reasonably loose, so do with that what you will!
I wasn’t sure quite where to start this list, but seeing as how Michael Dougherty’s KRAMPUS is the one I saw most recently, it seemed like a fun film with which to kick things off. Holiday horrors are few and far between, these days (unless they start doing horror versions of those Garry Marshall, 50-Celebrities-and-a-Holiday movies), and I very much enjoyed the way KRAMPUS took the tale of Santa Claus’s cautionary counterpart and mixed in some lore of its own. The characters are colorful, the story moves with immediacy, and when the chaos really kicks in, it delivers a dose of whacked-out, creature craziness the likes of which I’ve been craving for quite some time (not to mention some great pagan flourishes and a wonderful nod to the animated specials of Christmas past)! The film strikes a nice balance between zany horror, wry humor, and actual, Christmas sentiment – and though it does “wrap up,” so to speak, I appreciate that there are still.. *ahem* consequences..
It’s not for everyone, but this strange, little found footage chiller (courtesy of Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice) kept me guessing and, more importantly, rather unsettled for pretty much all of its brisk, 80-or-so minutes. It’s not overly loud, it’s not in-your-face, but it is constantly strange and intriguing. CREEP never allows you to get your footing before giving the rug another tug (until the very end, that is). At each turn, it plays with the tropes and beats we’ve come to expect from the found footage genre and almost all of the jump scares are conscious jokes. Definitely one of the more interesting found footage experiences I’ve had in a while!
Getting excited for movies can be scary in and of itself, especially when it comes to adaptations. I’m not one to mewl and moan about my “childhood,” but as GOOSEBUMPS approached, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little worried they might bungle the whole thing. Much to my relief, they didn’t! And boy, did they not! Goosebumps reminded me of movies like FRIGHT NIGHT or THE MONSTER SQUAD mixed with R.L. Stine’s distinct flair for plucky, adolescent ghoulery. In short, this is what a Goosebumps book about R.L. Stine would probably look like – complete with Jack Black (whom I love unapologetically) channeling Stine via his best Orson Welles impersonation. The whole thing takes itself just seriously enough to sell both the peril and the more sentimental moments while still allowing for copious amounts of self-aware, yet ernest character humor. It’s also quite refreshing to have a fun, kid-friendly horror film that actually allows its characters to be in (and have to deal with) legitimate danger. In short – this one made me feel like a kid again in the best way possible.
7. GOODNIGHT MOMMY
I deliberated over this spot for a while and while I don’t necessarily love this movie, it is incredibly well-assembled and it stuck with me on the strength of that. GOODNIGHT MOMMY kind feels of like a more bleak, nihilistic BABADOOK or like FUNNY GAMES if FUNNY GAMES was actually having fun while thrusting its middle finger firmly in your face. And while I do understand (and, even slightly, share) the complaint most folks had about wanting to see the film suggested in the first half, everything the movie does, it earns. It justifies each twist and trope and, by the end, you can trace all the pieces back to the beginning. It’s well-acted, well-shot, and incredibly well-directed. I don’t necessarily “like” you, but dammit do I respect you.
This may have been the first film I saw this year. A sprawling, metaphysical, and emotionally resonant science fiction story (adapted by the Spierig Brothers, Michael and Peter, from a short story by Robert Heinlein), PREDESTINATION was a total surprise. It spans periods and warps back in on itself as it weaves an engrossing character study and a taut mystery at the same time. Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor are excellent, but the real revelation is Sarah Snook who gives what may be my favorite performance(s) of the year as her character is built and unraveled through space and time.
5. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
This one was a total treat. WHAT WE DO (which I first saw during a special screening at Jumpcut Cafe – R.I.P.) is a fully realized mockumentary with the perfect amount of cheeky heart and wry absurdity. No stone goes unturned in pursuit of the comic potential in its premise and yet, amazingly, the film never runs a joke into the ground or outstays its welcome (which many improv-based American comedies tend to). The characters are fun, colorful, and distinct, and the movie is endlessly quotable. This’ll be a staple in my house for years to come!
4. BONE TOMAHAWK
There’s been argument as to whether this one actually counts as “horror,” but when you look at it, it bears the benchmark all horror does – normal life is thrown into disarray by horrific circumstance and our characters are forced to deal with that. It just so happens that, here, normal life is a small, Western town in the 1890s. BONE TOMAHAWK, is a foreboding, beautifully orchestrated western, at the center of which is a fantastic ensemble. Terrain and temperament are just as formidable as the flesh-eating cave-dwellers that await at journey’s end and everyone involved leaves their mark – most especially Richard Jenkins – and when the climax ramps up, it really packs a grim, visceral punch.
3. EX MACHINA
For my money, this may just be a perfect film. Elegantly claustrophobic and incredibly tense, EX MACHINA (writer Alex Garland’s directorial debut) is as steeped in human nature (male and female) as the film is in its science. It manages to unfold completely naturally and is a welcome reminder that a few people, in an isolated location, discussing the nature of consciousness can be just as thrilling (and engrossing) as advanced alien warfare, lightsabers, and the general destruction of New York City. Plus, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is as sinister and imposing as any horror movie villain – if not more so!
2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
This film is pretty incredible and, I think it makes a nice, opposite side of the science fiction coin from EX MACHINA. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD excels, in every aspect, as a symphony of sand, metal, and guzzoline played with immediacy by a few, desperate people at the ends of their respective ropes, looking to create something better. You feel every ounce of the struggle in this movie, and the way Max and Furiosa build trust, largely through action and visual storytelling, is beautiful. It’s as loud, tense, and frenetic as any Hollywood tentpole blockbuster, with a weary, beating heart and twice as much brain under its hood (if not more).
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
This was one of the most unique experiences I had all year. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature-length debut, is a wonderful blend of genre elements from vampire horror, to western, noir, new wave, and drama with a touch of 80s romance. Rich, resonant, and atmospheric – A GIRL WALKS HOME really feels like it takes place in its own, little universe, fully realized in smoky black and white. It’s a film you can really feel. And, as such, it may just be my favorite this year.
Cheeky Nods & Honorable Mentions:
- LET US PREY – Lean, mean, Irish horror with some stunning images and kills as gruesome as its characters.
- WE ARE STILL HERE – Slow burn, adult horror with some chilling flourishes, killer practical gore, and Larry Fessenden!
- COOTIES – A really fun throwback with a great cast and a lot of *ahem* bite!
- DOCUMENTARY NOW, Ep. 101: “Sandy Passage” – it’s what you were thinking during Grey Gardens – in the best way!!
- CRIMSON PEAK – I didn’t outright love it, but it’d be grand to see some more gothic romance/horror again!