While â80s pop culture is largely remembered for its frivolity, the social unrest that stirred beneath the decadeâs brightly colored gloss and greed resulted in not just the guilt-driven good intentions of enterprises like the star-studded USA for Africa, but a generation of artists whose music genuinely reflected the state of the world. They say all politics is local, and the incisive perspectives of the decadeâs defining acts were likewise geographical: Released in the U.S. in January of 1980, the Clashâs seminal London Calling ushered in a new decade with disgruntled punk rock from across the pond, while U2âs early focus was on the violence in their homeland of Ireland. Back in the U.S., Springsteen spoke to the struggles and dreams of the working class, and Michael Stipe began using his increasing rock-star status to react to the rising conservatism in American politics. By the end of the decade, the Reagan eraâs biggest pop stars (Michael, Janet, Madonna) were transformed into cultural critics too, reflecting on poverty, race relations, and what Prince called âa big disease with a little name.â Though women were entering the workforce in record numbers, the surprising (even to us) lack of female artists on our list points to a music industry that, perhaps, needed a few more years to catch up to the feminist movement, but the women who left the most indelible marks bravely pushed the boundaries of sexuality and gender. And as for the just-burgeoning hip-hop genre, acts like Public Enemy and De La Soul not only had a conscienceâthey served as ours. Sal Cinquemani
100. Soul II Soul, Club Classics Vol. One
Less a product of its own decade than a prophecy of the next one, Soul II Soulâs debut presaged the development of downtempo and trip-hop by blending the seductive depth of R&B with reggae, funk, and hip-hop, all while remaining firmly planted in the disco-soul aesthetic of U.K. house. Groundbreaking sound design notwithstanding, Club Classics Vol. One also showcases, in the three-headed vamping of Caron Wheeler, Rose Windross, and Doreen Waddell, one of the finest soul-diva lineups ever to grace a dance album. And whatâs more impressive? That the albumâs classic singles (âFairplay,â âKeep On Movinâ,â and âBack to Lifeâ) donât sound anything like one another, or that, two decades of girl groups later, they still sound totally unique? Matthew Cole
99. Slick Rick, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Rapâs premier storyteller, London-born Richard Walters burst onto the scene in 1988 with The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, an album with such a unique style that it changed hip-hop. Rick weaves compelling narratives from the first and third person, using the Queenâs English and a devilish sense of humor to make each of these 12 tracks quirky and utterly irresistible listens. Relishing in whimsical wordplay, Rick adopts a hilarious high-pitched squeal for the dialogue of his female characters, and makes shifts in style when stepping into alter egos like the Ruler and MC Ricky D. Of course, there are times when Rickâs tales can fringe on vulgar and misogynistic, but his storytelling prowess is second to none. Huw Jones
98. X, Los Angeles
A punk-rock power duo making strong use of their male/female dynamic, Exene Cervenka and John Doe fronted Xâs roaring songs with a vibrant vocal and lyrical approach, which helped make them the creative standard bearer of the nascent L.A. scene. Beefing up the usual punk attack with a sound hearkening back to several decades of rock, from Chuck Berry to Blondie, the band went beyond the usual three-chord dynamic, forming an album thatâs both a paean to a fading city and an excoriation of its faults, all burning trash, clumped hair and Hollywood Boulevard sleaze, perfectly summed up by the burning logo of the albumâs cover. Jesse Cataldo
97. George Clinton, Computer Games
George Clintonâs solo debut begins, almost oddly, with the former Parliament and Funkadelic frontman putting on his clothes. But the songâs message is a naked one: the promise of a throw downâto bring on the funk, the soul, and the psychedelic like no oneâs business. What follows is an almost spotless blitzkrieg of jams that run the gamut from the rousing (âOne Fun at a Timeâ), to the poignantly metaphoric (âFree Alternationsâ), to the playfully infantile (âPot Sharing Totsâ). âLoopzillaâ is a master class in sampladelic overload, and the title tune suggests Kraftwerk put through a P-Funk filter, but itâs the synth-funk âAtomic Dogâ that remains the albumâs triumph, an unbelievably improvised totem to Clintonâs own stray cock strut, and one that makes a world without Adina Howard and Snoop Dogg seem impossible. Ed Gonzalez
96. Talk Talk, The Colour of Spring
For many bands, transitional albums are most valuable for establishing context between distinct phases of a career arc. Talk Talkâs The Colour of Spring, however, stands as one of the bandâs most satisfying standalone albums, even though itâs a clear bridge between their origins in new wave and the post-rock of their later albums. Songs like âLifeâs What You Make of Itâ and âI Donât Believe in Youâ strike a perfect and often beautiful balance between Talk Talkâs extraordinary gifts for memorable pop melodies with a newfound experimental bent that finds them replacing the synths and guitars of the era with flourishes of organ, sax, and even a childrenâs choir. Jonathan Keefe
95. Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair
In which an attempted primal scream ends up coming out as an incredibly pitch-perfect crying jag. (Boy, am I glad the word âemoâ wasnât around in 1985, though Richard Kellyâs use of the dreamy âHead Over Heelsâ in his frowny sci-fi teen-angst epic Donnie Darko paid back that particular favor with interest.) British synth-pop act Tears for Fearsâ follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Hurting may have seemed a sellout at the time, but heard anew today, the cathartic, shuffling hit âEverybody Wants to Rule the Worldâ seems like one of the great indictments of the materialism and false triumphalism of the decade. Eric Henderson
94. U2, War
The aptly titled War found U2 not only diving into the jagged terrain of British politics, but likewise, developing a harsher, needle-nosed sound. The album finds the band in attack mode, where on standout tracks like âSunday Bloody Sundayâ an instrument as refined as the violin takes turns playing electrical whip, wailing animal, and battle cry across the songâs marching protest beat. This is U2 at their angriest, each piece infused with a sense of dark urgency that reaches a frothy head on âNew Yearâs Day.â Bonoâs resolution, âI will begin again,â is perhaps indicative of the spiritual introspection to come on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, but for War, the music is as immediate, violent, and striking as its subject matter. Kevin Liedel
93. The Fall, This Nationâs Saving Grace
This Nationâs Saving Grace is the most accessible release from a band that can, at times, border on the completely inaccessible. Mark E. Smith makes no attempt to curtail his ominous murmuring, and his bandmates are as prone as ever to prickly songcraft and thrashing, but the grooves and melodies here showcase the Fall at their least abrasive. With âBarmy,â âWhat You Need,â and âSpoilt Victorian Child,â the group strikes the perfect balance between bilious dirge and subversive pop, while âPaintworkâ is a charmingly tongue-in-cheek homage to â60s pop. A little bit of melody goes a long way for the Fall, making this a quintessential album in a unique and strangely interesting canon. Jones
92. My Bloody Valentine, Isnât Anything
Itâs easy to dismiss Isnât Anything as Loveless-lite, but My Bloody Valentine doesnât attempt anything quite as epic or ambitious on their debut as they would just two years later. But even when theyâre less grandiose, the shoegazing pioneersâ music is just as fascinating and hypnotic. Guitarist and songwriter-in-chief Kevin Shields employs reverb, feedback, pitch bending, and heavy distortion throughout, creating music thatâs capable of simultaneously soundtracking our most ethereal dreams and most violent nightmares. Isnât Anything beautifies all that should be ugly, and deserves a spot as a lo-fi masterpiece in its own right. Jones
91. Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II
Unfortunately for brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood, it took a guest appearance alongside Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged in 1993 to immortalize their legacy, a feat which 1984âs Meat Puppets II was fully capable of doing on its own merits. âPlateau,â âOh, Me,â and âLake of Fireââthe three songs that Cobain performed with the bandâare especially alluring examples of the groupâs cowpunk formula, and they strike similar success with the alluring âWeâre Hereâ and endlessly infectious âThe Whistling Song.â And with instrumental tracks âAurora Borealisâ and âIâm A Mindless Idiot,â the group is still in excellent form, serving up front-porch psychedelica of the highest order. Jones
90. Metallica, Master of Puppets
In retrospect, Master of Puppets exists as a kind of rapid-fire last hurrah for Metallicaâs status as L.A.âs favorite underground thrash metal band. For a major-label debut, the album is unapologetically metal, brandishing wave upon wave of knifing guitar, percussion that rattles like tank treads, and nary a fully-formed melody to break through the rage, testosterone, and noise. Lest one thinks itâs all speed and mechanics, though, there is substance in the machine: Between the titular reference to drug abuse and swipes at evangelical commercialism, Master of Puppets isnât just Metallicaâs best album, itâs also their most heartfelt. Liedel
89. Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
If the title of the Talking Headsâ sixth album found them embracing their lyrical Dadaism with an almost religious zealotry, and if the titleâs mission statement is more than fulfilled in the likes of âMoon Rocksâ (âI ate a rock from the moon/Got shicked once, shocked twiceâ) and âGirlfriend Is Betterâ (where âStop making senseâ became a mantra), itâs also worth noting that the tunes were counterintuitively accessible like never before, no more so than âBurning Down the House,â which set fire to no wave and planted one of the many seeds for new wave. Henderson
88. Pet Shop Boys, Actually
Actually, it explains nothing, but alludes to everything. Actually, it dances around the outskirts of dance music without ever diving headlong into disco hedonism. Actually, Neil Tennantâs yawn could conceivably greet any DJ set that dares to drop âOne More Chanceâ or âHit Musicâ alongside, say, âThe Pleasure Principle.â Actually, Chris Loweâs synth lines make cheap sound posh and vice versa. Actually, you know what youâve done to deserve this, but are afraid to admit it. Actually, it isnât a sin, but itâs more fun if you think it is. Actually, itâs hiding in plain sight. Actually, none of your business. Actually, this is all precisely the point. Henderson
87. Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club
Bless Mariah for sampling âGenius of Loveâ or we may remember Tom Tom Club only as a kookier-than-Taking-Heads offshoot. The bandâs debut album, which shares a really messy loft in my medulla oblongata with BjĂ¶rk, David Lynch, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, is a smart-alecky cacophony of giddy rhymes, ballsy raps, blissed-out melodies, and lush bells, whistles, beeps, splats, and just about every other sound Moog synthesizers were capable of back in 1981. Not only does Tina Weymouth, on âWordy Rappinghood,â show why humorless white girls like Madonna should never take up the rap mantle, she and hubby Chris Frantzâs production proves to the Paul Simons of the â80s how to ebulliently transmute exotic sounds without whitening out their essence. Gonzalez
86. The Human League, Dare!
Stoic but danceable, detached but emotionally sincere, Dare! was, at the time of its release, simply the finest set of synth-pop songs ever compiled. The album has lost a lot of its futuristic sheen in subsequent decades, but âSecondsâ still sounds sweeping and lush, while âI Am the Law,â with its bursts of rumbling bass and off-kilter harmonies, will never be anything but captivating. Thereâs always been something severe, even clinical, about Dare! (the same interplay of coldness and candor that made Joy Division so great), and with its technology dated, it sounds more tragic than ever, imparting a sense of deferred emotional connection akin to finding a breakup letter in a time capsule. Cole
85. The Clash, Sandinista!
The succulent fat that drips from this spit-skewered, bloated pig of an albumâ36 tracks spanning two-and-a-half hours!âis fuel for a distinctive genre bonfire. The flames reach brashly, soulfully, sarcastically beyond punk, rock, pop, dance, ska, rockabilly, dub, calypso, and gospel, and its themes, as diverse as its sound, are the concerns of the world: consumerism, working-class disaffection, political antipathy, immigration, warfare. And drugs, the afterlife, Jesus Christ, sometimes all at once. Heavy stuff, yes, but this is the Clash, who will provide us with an address of Cold War relations but so from the floor of Studio 54. These cheeky blokes operate as spies, disguising grave matters with high-spirited musicality, hoping the powers that be wonât notice. Truly an album without borders. Gonzalez
84. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Planet Rock: The Album
For any student of hip-hop or dance music, the first two tracks of electro-funk pioneer Afrika Bambaattaaâs Planet Rock alone make this landmark album worth the price of admission, stocked as they are with lessons on both the history and future of the genres. âLooking for the Perfect Beatâ is still emulated by hip-hop and dance producers to this day, while the title track, first released as a single in 1982 and constructed from recreated portions of Kraftwerkâs âTrans-Europe Expressâ and âNumbersâ (from the German groupâs Computer World), singlehandedly fathered both â80s Latin freestyle and the entire hip-hop genre as we know it. Cinquemani
83. Brian Eno and David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
A twitching sonic collage that falls somewhere between studio experiment and gonzo pop record, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts challenges the often egg-headed nature of its presentation by being sneakily and eminently listenable. These are songs, despite their scrambled nature and lack of traditional vocals, and as a collection they reverberate with nervous energy. Whether itâs the voice of an exorcist on âThe Jezebel Spiritâ or a nervous radio-show caller on âMea Culpa,â Brian Eno and David Byrne harness these disparate voices as the engines for a series of amazingly diverse tracks. Cataldo
82. Sonic Youth, EVOL
Jittery and eclectic, 1987âs EVOL stands far apart from the later, more cohesive Daydream Nation; itâs a difficult album thatâs nonetheless one of the best latter-day invocations of no-wave chaos. Full of sustained bursts of cathartic noise, the album kicks off with the jagged squeal of âIn the Kingdom #19,â which employs Minuteman bassist Mike Watt over a spoken-word account of a car crash, months after the death of bandmate D. Boon in similar circumstances. Lydia Lunch contributes vocals to the blown-out wasteland âMarilyn Moore,â adding to the weird collegial air of one of the groupâs strangest albums. Cataldo
81. R.E.M., Reckoning
Thereâs no way Reckoning could ever have been as revelatory as Murmur, a fact that plays an obvious role in determining their respective legacies in R.E.M.âs catalogue. Itâs a matter of âimportanceâ versus âquality,â and, while Murmur certainly wins in the former category, thereâs a strong argument to be made that, song for song, Reckoning might be the better album, even if it is rightly overshadowed by its predecessorâs greater historical impact. Informed by the death of the bandâs close friend, photographer Carol Levy, Reckoning is focused on emotions of anger and regret, and itâs that focus that makes songs like âHarbourcoatâ and âSo. Central Rainâ some of the most captivating in R.E.M.âs embarrassingly rich catalogue. Keefe
The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time
The good horror film insists on the humanity thatâs inextinguishable even by severe atrocity.
One of the most common claims made about horror films is that they allow audiences to vicariously play with their fear of death. Inarguable, really, but thatâs also too easy, as one doesnât have to look too far into a genre often preoccupied with offering simulations of death to conclude that the genre in question is about death. Thatâs akin to saying that all an apple ever really symbolizes is an apple, and that symbols and subtexts essentially donât exist. A more interesting question: Why do we flock to films that revel in what is, in all likelihood, our greatest fear? And why is death our greatest fear?
A startling commonality emerges if you look over the following films in short succession thatâs revelatory of the entire horror genre: These works arenât about the fear of dying, but the fear of dying alone, a subtlety that cuts to the bone of our fear of death anywayâof a life unlived. Thereâs an explicit current of self-loathing running through this amazing collection of films. What are Norman Bates and Jack Torrance besides eerily all-too-human monsters? Failures. Success also ultimately eludes Leatherface, as well as the socially stunted lost souls of Kiyoshi Kurosawaâs Pulse. What is the imposing creature at the dark heart of F.W. Murnauâs Nosferatu? He makes for quite the presence, but his hungers ultimately lead him to oblivion.
So many films, particularly American ones, tell us that we can be whatever we want to be, and that people who donât achieve their desired self-actualization are freaks. The horror film says: Wait Jack, it ainât that easy. This genre resents platitude (certainly, you can count the happy endings among these films on one hand), but the good horror film usually isnât cynical, as it insists on the humanity thatâs inextinguishable even by severe atrocity. Which is to say thereâs hope, and catharsis, offered by the horror film. It tells us bruised romantics that weâre all in this together, thus offering evidence that we may not be as alone as we may think. Chuck Bowen
Editorâs Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the original 2013 incarnation of our list.
100. Raw (2016)
As in Ginger Snaps, which Raw thematically recalls, the protagonistâs supernatural awakening is linked predominantly to sex. At the start of the film, Justine (Garance Marillier) is a virgin whoâs poked and prodded relentlessly by her classmates until she evolves only to be rebuffed for being too interested in sexâa no-win hypocrisy faced by many women. High-pressure taunts casually and constantly hang in the air, such as Alexiaâs (Ella Rumpf) insistence that âbeauty is painâ and a song that urges a woman to be âa whore with decorum.â In this film, a bikini wax can almost get one killed, and a drunken quest to get laid can, for a female, lead to all-too-typical humiliation and ostracizing. Throughout Raw, director Julia Ducournau exhibits a clinical pitilessness thatâs reminiscent of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg, often framing scenes in symmetrical tableaus that inform the various cruelties and couplings with an impersonality thatâs ironically relieved by the grotesque intimacy of the violence. Weâre witnessing conditioning at work, in which Justine is inoculated into conventional adulthood, learning the self-shame that comes with it as a matter of insidiously self-censorious control. By the filmâs end, Ducournau has hauntingly outlined only a few possibilities for Justine: that sheâll get with the program and regulate her hunger properly, or be killed or institutionalized. Bowen
99. A Bay of Blood (1971)
Compared to the other giallo films that comprise most of Mario Bavaâs canon, A Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) represents a more stripped-down and economic filmmaking from the Italian master. Notably absent are the supernatural undertones and fetishistic sexuality, and Bava even suppresses the vigorous impulses and desires that drive his characters to exteriorize their feelings in vicious bursts of violence by offering no valid (or convincing) psychological explanation. Despite being one of Bavaâs simpler works, or perhaps because of that very reason, A Bay of Blood has proven to be the foremost progenitor of the slasher film, the one in which the Jason Voorheeses and Ghostfaces owe their blade of choice to. But itâs only the basic tenor of a psychopath slaying victims one by one thatâs remained intact within the subgenre in the 40-plus years of this filmâs existence. Itâs in this filmâs elementary plotting that Bava, by withholding information and leaning more on animalistic themes dictating bizarre character motivation, unveils a deceptive depth that the filmâs acolytes canât discern among the copious amounts of blood spilled within its frames. Wes Greene
98. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Throughout Alice, Sweet Alice, Alfred Sole paints a rich and febrile portrait of how society enables dysfunction on multiple fronts, from the domestic to the religious to the psychiatric. (The police are shown to be restorers of order, though they serve that function almost inadvertently.) The filmmaker also invests his narrative with references to classic horror films, most notably Psycho, though his own direction lacks Alfred Hitchcockâs polish, which in this case is a blessing. In the filmâs best sequences, particularly the moments following Karenâs (Brooke Shields) murder, Sole allows for tonal inconsistencies that reflect the true shock of violence. In such instances, Alice, Sweet Alice turns momentarily shrill, with actors screeching their lines almost directly to the cameraâa device that expresses pain and refutes the fashions with which many horror directors rush through the grief process haphazardly in order to move the narrative along. In other moments, though, Soleâs directorial control is magisterial. Annieâs (Jane Lowry) near murder, when sheâs stabbed on the stairway, is framed in a prismatic image, with a mirror reflecting the assault back on itself and suggesting, once again, the intense insularity of this world. Bowen
97. Bram Stokerâs Dracula (1992)
âSee me. See me now,â Gary Oldmanâs undead vampire intones, so as to magically compel virginal Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) to turn his way on a crowded London street. The two wind up at a cinematograph, âthe greatest attraction of the century.â The intersection of vampire and victim in front of a labyrinth of movie screens is telling, as Francis Ford Coppolaâs take on the classic Bram Stoker material winds up collapsing history and cinema together. Coppola shunned budding CGI technology in favor of in-camera techniques such as rear projection (as when we see Draculaâs eyes fade in over the countryside, overlooking a callow Keanu Reeves) and forced perspective (such as trick shots using miniatures of castles, which seem to loom over the full-sized actors and coaches in the foreground). However flagrantly artificial and constructed, the whole film feels uniquely alive. Dracula has âcrossed oceans of timeâ to find Mina, and Coppola shows how the cinematically preternatural similarly finds and seduces audiencesâhow movies offer their own sparkle of immortality. Bram Stokerâs Dracula is noteworthy for how un-scary it is, and yet Coppolaâs fanciful movie tool-box conceits, in perfect sync with Oldmanâs deliciously over-the-top performance, exert an overpowering sense of the uncanny. Like the vampire, the film infects us and offers an illusory respite from death. Niles Schwartz
96. Blood for Dracula (1974)
The horror of Blood for Dracula derives in part from director Paul Morrisseyâs unique ability to meld social critique, gonzo humor, and gore into a genre piece thatâs ambivalent about the passing of eras. Udo Kierâs Count Dracula, unable to find virgin blood amid the sexually active women of a 19th-century Italian family, finds himself quite literally poisoned by change. As Dracula vomits up non-virgin blood like water from a fire hydrant, Morrissey films Kierâs convulsing body not for campy laughs, but to highlight its anguish and deterioration. The opening shot, set to Claudio Gizziâs tragic score, holds on Dracula in close-up as he delicately applies make-up. The film, far too strange to be flatly interpreted as a conservative lament for lost sexual decorum, convincingly focuses on the body as the root source of all humankindâs tribulations, whether in pursuit of pleasure or gripped in pain. Clayton Dillard
95. Martyrs (2008)
Writer-director Pascal Laugierâs Martyrs leaves you with the scopophilic equivalent of shell shock. The gauntlet that his filmâs heroine, a âfinal girlâ whoâs abducted and tortured by a religious cult straight out of a Clive Barker novel, is forced to endure is considerable. Which is like saying that King Kong is big, Vincent Priceâs performances are campy, and blood is red. Laugierâs film is grueling because thereâs no real way to easily get off on images of simulated violence. The filmâs soul-crushing finale makes it impossible to feel good about anything Laugier has depicted. In it, Laugier suggests that thereâs no way to escape from the pain of the exclusively physical reality of his film. You donât watch Laugierâs harrowing feel-bad masterpieceârather, youâre held in its thrall. Abandon hope all ye who watch here. Simon Abrams
94. Night of the Demon (1957)
With Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur pits logic against the boundless mysteries of the supernatural, focusing not on the fear of the unknown and unseen, but the fear of accepting and confronting the inexplicable. After asking Dana Andrewsâs comically hardheaded Dr. Holden how can one differentiate between the powers of darkness and the powers of the mind, Niall MacGinnisâs wily satanic cult leader conjures up a storm of epic proportions to prove to the pragmatic doctor that the power of the dark arts is no joke. But the warning doesnât take. Later, when a man is shredded to pieces by a demon, onlookers debate whether the death was a result of a passing train or something more nefarious, to which Holden retorts, âMaybe itâs better not to know.â Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, sometimes the easiest way to deal with the devil is to pretend he doesnât exist. Derek Smith
93. The Devilâs Backbone (2001)
Guillermo del Toroâs films are rabid commentaries on the suspension of time, often told through the point of view of children. A bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy bleeding to death in its mysterious, inexplosive wake. His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanageâs basement pool, and when a young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), arrives at the ghostly facility some time later, he seemingly signals the arrival of Franco himself. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devilâs Backbone hauntingly ruminates on the decay of country whose living are so stuck in past as to seem like ghosts. But thereâs hope in brotherhood, and in negotiating the ghostly Santiâs past and bandying together against the cruel Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the filmâs children ensure their survival and that of their homeland. Ed Gonzalez
92. Let the Right One In (2008)
Not unlike Matt Reevesâs American remake, Tomas Alfredsonâs Let the Right One In is, in its color scheme and emotional tenor, something almost unbearably blue. When Oskar (KĂ„re Hedebrant), a 12-year-old outcast perpetually bullied at school, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious new girl at his apartment complex, one childâs painful coming of age is conflated with anotherâs insatiable bloodlust. The film treats adolescence, even a vampireâs arrested own, as a prolonged horrorâlifeâs most vicious and unforgiving set piece. This study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood is also an unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre. Donât avert your eyes from Alfredsonâs gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck. Gonzalez
91. Black Cat (1934)
Based loosely on one of Edgar Allen Poeâs most disquieting tales, 1934âs The Black Cat is one of the neglected jewels in Universal Studiosâs horror crown. Edgar Ulmerâs melancholy film is a confrontation between two disturbed World War I veterans, one warped by an evil faith and the other a shattered ghost of a man driven by revenge, and the young couple that becomes entangled in their twisted game. Itâs a fable of modernity darkened with war, obsession, and madness. Much like the other tone poem of the Universal horror series, Karl Freundâs gorgeously mannered The Mummy, Ulmerâs deeply elegiac film is a grief-stricken work, a spiraling ode to overwhelming loss, both personal and universal. Josh Vasquez
90. Brain Damage (1988)
Throughout Brain Damage, Frank Henenlotterâs images have a compact and gnarly vitality. He frequently cordons people off by themselves in individual frames, serving the low budget with pared-down shot selections while intensifying the lonely resonance of a man set adrift with his cravings. Briaâsn (Rick Herbst) degradation suggests the crack epidemic of the 1980s, and the threat and alienation of AIDS lingers over the outrĂ©, sexualized set pieces, especially when Brian cruises a night club called Hell and picks up a woman, whoâs murdered by Aylmer (voiced by John Zacherle) just as sheâs about to go down on Brian. The most hideous of this filmâs images is a shot of the back of Brianâs neck after Aylmerâan eight-inch-or-so-long creature that resembles a cross between a tapeworm, a dildo, and an ambulant piece of a shit along the lines of South Parkâs Mr. Hankyâhas first injected him, with its cartography of blood lines that are so tactile we can nearly feel Brianâs pain as he touches it. Such moments hammer home the unnerving simplicity of the premise, likening drug addiction to volunteer parasitism, rendering self-violation relatable via its inherently paradoxical alien-ness. Bowen
89. Gremlins (1984)
Outlining his customary commentary on American society via an artistry informed by influences ranging from B horror films to Looney Tunes, Joe Dante satirizes our neglect of rationality under rampant commercialism through the nasty titular creatures. All raging id, the Gremlins want nothing more than to indulge in every vice that our increasingly corporatized culture has to offer. The resulting anarchy unleashed by the Gremlins during the yuletide season is appropriate, considering they were created when Zach Galliganâs Billy, like an official advocating free-market deregulation, ignored foreboding warnings that terror would occur if he had just stuck to the three simple rules of caring for Gizmo, the cutest of all Gremlins. Wes Greene
88. Angst (1983)
Gerald Karglâs Angst is a 75-minute cinematic panic attack. Body-mounted cameras, high-angle tracking shots, amplified sound design, and a bone-chilling krautrock score swirl together to create a manic, propulsive energy thatâs as disorienting to the viewer as the implacable urge to kill is for Erwin Lederâs unnamed psychopath. Angst elides all psychological trappings, instead tapping directly into this all-consuming desire for destruction on a purely physiological and experiential level. Karglâs camera prowls around Lederâs madman like an ever-present ghostâa haunting, torturous presence that captures every bead of cold sweat, each anxiety-ridden movement, and the agony of all his facial expressions as he tracks his prey. Angst is as singular and exhausting an account of psychopathy as any put to celluloid, thrusting the viewer helplessly into discomfiting closeness with a killer without attempting to explain or forgive his heinous acts. Smith
87. The Devils (1971)
Ken Russell brings his unique sensibility, at once resolutely iconoclastic and excessively enamored of excess, to this adaptation of Aldous Huxleyâs nonfiction novel The Devils of Loudun, which concerns accusations of witchcraft and demonic possession that run rampant in an Ursuline convent in 17th-century France. Like Michael Reevesâs Witchfinder General, and set in roughly the same time period, Russellâs film serves as an angry denunciation of social conformity and the arbitrary whims of the political elite that effectively disguises itself as a horror movie. By brazenly conflating religious and sexual hysteria, and depicting both with his characteristic lack of restraint, Russell pushes his already edgy material into places that are so intense and discomforting that the film was subsequently banned in several countries and is to this day still unavailable on home video in a complete and uncut version. Budd Wilkins
86. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Before the flourishing digital age paved the way for social-media naval-gazing, YouTube, and selfies galore, The Blair Witch Project foreshadowed the narcissism of a generation, its success unsurprisingly paving the way for an army of imitators that failed to grasp the essence of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo SĂĄnchezâs terrifyingly singular and effortlessly self-reflexive genre exercise. The heartbreaking fall from sanity experienced by the trio of naĂŻve filmmakers preys with ecstatic precision on our most instinctive fears, building to a rousing crescendo of primordial terror thatâs arguably unrivaled by anything the genre has seen before or since. Rob Humanick
85. Who Can Kill a Child? (1972)
Narciso IbĂĄĂ±ez Serradorâs Who Can Kill a Child? takes its time building a mood of palpable dread, eking menace out of every social encounter faced by a British couple, Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), vacationing on the coast of Spain. When they charter a small boat and travel out to a remote island village, the streets are curiously empty and the only residents seem to be sullen, introspective children. IbĂĄĂ±ez Serrador methodically draws out the waiting game, and as the kids gather their sinister forces and close in on our unsuspecting couple, a moral conflict arises. The adults are forced to contemplate the unthinkable, doing battle with the little monsters and struggling with the notion that they may have to kill or be killed. Tom manages to get his hand on a machine gun, and he carries it around with him protectively as the audience wonders to themselves how heâll answer the question posed in the title. Whether or not the answer surprises us during these cynical times, the aftermath is as disarming as it is disturbing. The closing 10 minutes come from a different era in filmmaking, when horror movies could spit in the eye of the status quo and say that good doesnât always prevail, no matter how much weâd like it to. Jeremiah Kipp
84. The Haunting (1963)
Cacophonous knocking, inexplicable coldness, and doors that have a habit of opening and closing when no oneâs lookingâthe horrors of Hill House are almost entirely unseen in Robert Wiseâs adaptation of Shirley Jacksonâs famous novel The Haunting of Hill House. But theyâre nonetheless chillingly tangible, brought to life by The Hauntingâs supercharged production values: Elliot Scottâs dazzlingly florid interiors; Davis Boultonâs swooping, darting wide-angle cinematography; and, most of all, a quiet-loud-quiet sound design that suggests the presence of the spirit world more forcefully than some corny translucent ghost ever could. The filmâs oh-so-1960s psychosexual subtext may be slightly under-baked, but that only serves to heighten the verisimilitude of its supernatural happenings. After all, there are some things in this world even Freud canât explain. Keith Watson
83. HĂ€xan (1922)
Near the conclusion of HĂ€xan, an intertitle asks: âThe witch no longer flies away on her broom over the rooftops, but isnât superstition still rampant among us?â Such a rhetorical question is in keeping with the implications of Benjamin Christensenâs eccentric historical crawl through representations of evil. Though the film begins as something of a lecture on the topic of womenâs bodies as a threat, it morphs into an array of sketches, images, and dramatizations of mankindâs fundamental inability to conceive itself outside of power and difference. Contemporary footage of insane asylums and women being treated for hysteria confirms a truth thatâs still with us, nearly a century later: that the horrors of the past are never so far away. Dillard
82. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
John Carpenterâs 1995 sleeper is a lot of things: a noir, a Stephen King satire, a meta-meta-horror workout, a parody of its own mechanics. Carpenter canât quite stick the landing(s), but watching his film twist and turn and disappear inside of itself as it twists its detective thriller beats into a full-on descent into the stygian abyss proves consistently compelling. Perhaps the best tack is that of Sam Neillâs driven-mad investigator, pictured in the filmâs final frames hooting at images of himself projected in an abandoned movie theater. Perhaps the best way to enjoy In the Mouth of Madness is to relinquish your sanity, losing yourself inside of its loopy, Lovecraftian logic. John Semley
81. Near Dark (1987)
The zenith of a career phase defined by sneakily subversive genre films, Kathryn Bigelowâs melancholic Near Dark remains a singular milestone in the evolution of the vampire myth. Itâs a delirious fever dream grounded periodically by masterfully constructed scenes of carnage and the rooting of its mythology in the periodâs twin boogeymen of addiction and infection. An excellent cast of pulp iconsâBill Paxton and Lance Henriksen are particularly unhingedâbring restless energy to the story of itinerant vampires cruising the neon-soaked highways of a beautifully desolate Southwest. Itâs Gus Van Sant through a Southern-gothic haze, thrumming with an urgency bestowed by Tangerine Dreamâs score and thematic heft alike. Abhimanyu Das
Every Janet Jackson Album Ranked
We took a look back at the icon’s catalog and ranked all 11 studio albums from worst to best.
Janet Jacksonâs music career can be easily partitioned into three eras, with her commercial peak (from 1986âs Control through 2001âs All for You) bookended by her early, pre-breakthrough period on one side and the years following her infamous Super Bowl performance in 2004 on the other. Thereâs perhaps no better testament to the power of Janetâs breakthrough album, Control, as a quintessential statement on personal and artistic self-actualization than the still pervasive misconception that itâs her debut, with 1982âs Janet Jackson and 1984âs Dream Street relegated to the singerâs âprehistory.â But while it should surprise absolutely no one that the quartet of albums that Janet released during her imperial phase handily top this list, her most recent effort, 2015âs Unbreakable, was an understated return to form, reuniting the artist with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Janetâs follow-up, Black Diamond, was scheduled for release this year before the Covid-19 pandemic dashed those plans. While we await word on the fate of Janetâs 12th studio albumâand accompanying concert tourâweâve decided to look back at her catalog and rank all 11 albums from worst to best.
11. Dream Street (1984)
Before Janet struck multi-platinum with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she briefly partnered with another famous production pair, Giorgio Moroder and Peter Bellotte. With the exception of the title track, though, the legendary disco duoâs contributions to Janetâs sophomore effort, Dream Street, fell far short of their iconic work with the likes of Donna Summer. Janetâs least successful album isnât without its pleasures though: Produced by brother Marlon, âAll My Love to Youâ successfully apes Off the Wall-era Michael, while the sexy, nearly seven-minute âPretty Boyââcourtesy of Jesse Johnson, who, along with Jam and Lewis, was part of the Timeâprovided a glimpse of things to come in Janetâs own oeuvre. Sal Cinquemani
10. 20 Y.O. (2006)
20 Y.O. was the first Janet album that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced (this time only in part) after moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. As a result, their ice-cold beats melted into a lugubrious, lukewarm pudding (at under an hour, it still feels almost twice as long as janet. and The Velvet Rope). I donât know what co-producer and Janetâs then-boyfriend Jermaine Dupri thought he meant when he said he wanted 20 Y.O. to sound like an old Human League record, but Iâll readily admit that the evidence on display suggests he was the only one with the foresight to come up with some new old ideas, even if none of them work to Janetâs advantage. The albumâs desperation is that of a dance icon who once sent one hot track after another to the top of the charts and is now deciding she liked the idea of being at the top of the singles charts better than creating immortal dance music. The grindcore âThis Bodyâ brings the fugly with surprising abandon, throwing hissing industrial clatter atop an admirably tuneless dirge (you hardly realize itâs a way-late bid in the chopped nâ screwed sweepstakes until the 16 RPM guest rap drops in). âEnjoyâ is a seamlessly smooth step groove aboard R. Kellyâs âStep in the Name of Loveâ boat, but its presence here only makes the likes of âGet It Out Meâ and âRoll Witchuâ seem all the more opportunistic. Eric Henderson
9. Janet Jackson (1982)
If on its own terms Janetâs self-titled debut has nothing on what was to follow, itâs nonetheless a pretty solid snapshot of the post-disco boogie sound. At least, that is, for the duration of side one, where singer-songwriters RenĂ© & Angela (best known for their steamy funk workout âIâll Be Goodâ) serve Janet with three equally perky-cute dance-pop ditties, and one halfway decent ballad. Janet was clearly still finding her voice, but the snappy backing track of âSay You Doâ could easily have slotted into the Jacksonsâs 1980 album Triumph, and âYoung Loveâ has the confident pristineness of a Patrice Rushen jam. Things get pretty generic on side two, but two or three deep cuts from an artist who came out of the gate only half-formed ainât half bad. Henderson
8. Discipline (2008)
The title of Discipline was encouraging for those who prefer Janet taking control and cracking the whip (both as leader of her rhythm nation and the boss of her bedroom) over the vapid, single-girl come-ons of her previous three albums. Disappointingly, though, the title track doesnât hark back to the self-empowerment of Control, but rather the S&M of The Velvet Rope. Lyrics like âDaddy, I disobeyed ya/Now I want you to come punish meâ invite all kinds of psychoanalysis that only grow more disturbing when you remember who her daddy really is, which would be fascinating if she hadnât already written the sexier (and less creepy) âRope Burn.â If one were to try to identify some kind of evolution in Janetâs latest bout of dirty talk, it might be sex with robots. Throughout the album, she talks to and interacts with a rather compassionate computer DJ named Kyoko, and her voice is robotic and synthetic on tracks like âFeedbackâ and the Daft Punk-sampling âSo Much Bettaâânot necessarily such a bad thing for an artist whose vocals often consist of unintelligible murmuring. Cinquemani
7. Damita Jo (2004)
At some point during the afterglow of adolescent sexual discovery, most people realize that there are more important things in life than getting off. Like Marvin Gaye, Janet got it backward, spending most of her post-Rhythm Nation career searching for, publicly relishing, reflecting on, and then lamenting one giant, decade-long orgasm. The singerâs eighth album, Damita Jo, features a slew of the gooey, structureless sex ballads that had become her staple, including âWarmth,â three-and-a-half minutes dedicated to describing how Ms. Jackson If Youâre Nasty gives a blowjob (and yes, sheâs a method actress, whispering sweet nothings with her mouth full). Even the dance numbers donât stray from her topic of choice. Janetâs infamous wardrobe malfunction is commonly cited for her careerâs precipitous decline, but her inability to evolve beyond her sex kitten persona is more judiciously to blame. Cinquemani
NewFest 2020: Dry Wind and Alice JĂșnior Take Aim at the Patriarchy in Brazil
Itâs a provocative juxtaposition for Dry Wind to stage its queer kinkfest at the epicenter of the land of Bolsonaro.
Daniel Nolascoâs Dry Wind and Gil Baroniâs Alice JĂșnior, both screening in the international section at this yearâs NewFest, are refreshing in no small part because they find two Brazilian filmmakers telling stories set in regions of their country that are cinematically underrepresented and largely unknown to international audiences. Dry Wind, for one, takes place in the rustic countryside of the state of GoiĂĄs, known for its cowboy iconography, livestock music festivals, and extremely conservative politics. It is, then, a provocative juxtaposition for Nolasco to stage his queer kinkfest at the epicenter of the land of Bolsonaro.
Dry Wind follows the routines of a community of factory workers in the rural city of CatalĂŁo, where sex between soccer-loving men who wouldnât hesitate to call themselves âdiscreetâ always seems to be happening or about to happen. These torrid trysts mostly take place in the woods, on bare soil or parked motorcycles, and involve piss, ass-eating, and face-spitting. Throughout, Nolascoâs frames are also filled with much hairâhairy faces, butts, and backs, suggesting a queer sexuality cobbled together with the coarseness of the menâs local environment, despite the clearly foreign influence of Nolascoâs hyper-stylized aesthetics. The filmâs drama lies in the decidedly Brazilian-ness of the arid landscape, the provincial accents, and the scruffy faces framed by a mishmash of international visual references whenever horny bodies escape to act out queer desire: from Tom of Finland to Tom de PĂ©kin, from Kenneth Angerâs Scorpio Rising to Rainer Werner Fassbinderâs Querelle.
Nolasco alternates between explicitly sexual, neon-colored sequences that veer toward complete dreamscapes and the kind of European-film-festival-courting realism that Brazilian cinema is known for. The contrast can be quite bewildering, so much so that viewers may wish that Dry Wind would remain in the realm of reveries. Instead, Nolasco often tries to reassert Dry Wind as a film with an actual plot. In this case, itâs one that has to do with jealousy, or the impossibility of intimacy in such queer configurations where sex is public only if itâs clandestine but affection must be refused for the sake of social survival. Apart from a needless plotline involving a homophobic assault, it all makes perfect sense. But the filmâs most interesting moments emerge precisely when it surrenders to the presumably illogical strangeness of erotic fantasy.
For instance, when Sandro (Leandro Faria Lelo)âwho regularly has sex in the woods with a co-worker, Ricardo (Allan Jacinto Santana), after their shift at the factoryâhappens upon what looks like a leather bar, the place turns out to be an empty construction site where queer archetypesâthe harnessed master, the puppy slave, the drag-queen hostessâare there to perform for Sandro and Sandro alone, in a mix of silent performance art and interactive pornography. In another moment of poetic-pornographic license, an evident nod to Alain Guiraudieâs Stranger by the Lake, a generically bearded hunk (Marcelo DâAvilla) with chained nipple clamps comes out of a man-made lake, ready to take Sandro into the water for an ecstatic drowning.
Significantly more comedic, Alice JĂșnior focuses on a trans wannabe influencer, Alice (Anne Celestino), and her perfumer of a father, Jean Genet (Emmanuel Rosset), who move from Recife to a small town in the south of Brazil. Subtlety isnât Baroniâs aim, which is clear in the filmâs social media-like sense of pace and aesthetic bells and whistles, as well as in the obvious trans metaphor built into the narrative premise. Alice and her dad have to move down south because he wants to develop a new fragrance using pine cones local to the region, whose fruit only comes out if the person blowing through the cone has discovered the pine coneâs real essence.
One becomes accustomed to the filmâs initially annoying incorporation of social media language into its aesthetic, such as the emojis that pop up on the screen whenever Alice does something or other, because it mirrors the interface through which contemporary teenagers animate everyday life. But Alice JĂșnior visibly struggles to differentiate itself from a soap opera. The over-the-top acting (the villains speak like Cruella de Vil) is technically in line with Baroniâs animated Insta-grammar, but it becomes a problem when the film tries to tap into something other than its cute flamboyance. The film reaches for pathos only to find tinsel instead.
As fun as Alice JĂșnior can be, itâs at its core a typical Brazilian kidsâ movie, in the vein of on-the-nose fare about enjoying life but not doing drugs that Brazilian megastar Xuxa put out in the 1980s and â90s, except queered by its trans protagonist and the visual language of the times. It wears its pedagogical message on its sleeve but is betrayed by a lack of substance. Alice is at once a naĂŻve little girl yearning for her first kiss from a boy and a queer activist with an arsenal of didactic one-liners at the ready. This means some of the plot doesnât feel credible, as Alice masters LGBTQ resistance discourse perfectly in her interactions both on and offline, but prefers pissing her pants during a class exam, which naturally becomes a viral video, than demanding her right to use the womenâs restroom. At times sheâs a woke warrior, and at times sheâs a helpless little girl.
Alice JĂșnior only manages to transcend its sparkling surface in a few sequences where it pitches itself at grownups. In one, Jean Genet gets drunk with Marisa (Katia Horn), the kooky mother of one of Aliceâs gay classmates, and they start being a little too honest about what they think of their own children. The social media histrionics have nothing to offer in these incredibly entertaining scenes, which finally bring the film closer to Starrbooty than Clueless. These moments are fabulous precisely because theyâre unfilteredâqueer in attitude, not in wardrobe. Jean Genet and Marisa donât toast to their kids because theyâre decent human beings fighting heterosexual patriarchy, but for being the âdevilish bitchâ and âdirty-mouthed transâ that they are.
NewFest runs from October 16â27.
The 15 Best Smashing Pumpkins Songs
The Pumpkins have transcended any one moment or movement, instead reveling in the entire tessellation of 20th-century art.
As Greg Kot of Guitar World once quipped, âthe [Smashing] Pumpkins remain an island unto themselves.â That was in 2001, when the band had spent a decade carving out an impressive art-rock niche, and long after a shortsighted music press had once smacked them with unenviable and laughably off-base label of âthe next Nirvana.â But even to this day, the two bands are often clumped together as vanguards of the scathing, grungy brand of alternative rock that defined the early â90s. And yet, thereâs little doubt that the group is much more than some also-ran grunge outfit chasing Kurt Cobainâs shadow. Indeed, with 11 studio albums and dozens of EPs, compilations, and soundtrack contributions, Billy Corgan and company have proved to be expert evocateurs, stitching together their melodic pastiche from a diverse litany of musical, literary, and visual sources. Armed with a mosaic sound that includes hat-tips to glam rock, art nouveau, psychedelia, goth, vaudeville, new wave, and Victorian romanticism, the Pumpkins have transcended any one moment or movement, instead reveling in the entire tessellation of 20th-century art.
Editorâs Note: An earlier version of this article was published on July 21, 2013.
15. âKnights of Maltaâ
The sweeping opening track of 2018âs Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun bears the hallmarks of vintage Pumpkins: Bill Corganâs melodic whine, Jimmy Chamberlinâs formidable drumming, and the intricate layers of guitar courtesy of Corgan, original guitarist James Iha, and Ihaâs one-time replacement Jeff Schroeder. Everything about the song feels grand and triumphalâright down to the lyrics, in which Corgan sings, âIâm gonna fly forever/Weâre gonna ride the rainbow,â as if heâs approaching the gates of rock nâ roll Valhalla.
14. âSet the Ray to Jerryâ
As complex as the bandâs arrangements and conceits often are, the Pumpkins frequently hit paydirt when relying on Corganâs ear for crafting simple melodies. âSet the Ray to Jerryâ is that principle in practice, as a two-note guitar riff and constantly rumbling snares come together with Corganâs plain, passionate declaratives (âI want youâ and âI need youâ) to form a lucid, seductive nighttime jam.
13. âFor Marthaâ
Corganâs mother inspired plenty of animus throughout the Pumpkinsâ catalogue, but none quite as conflicted and harrowing as the kind that fills the song sharing her name. Inspired by her passing, âFor Marthaâ is an eight-minute dirge of gothic piano that bursts into a wave of crying, razor-edged guitars at its halfway point. At the height of it all, Corgan finally delivers his raw, teary-eyed eulogy: âLong horses we are born/Creatures more than torn/Mourning our way home.â
The riffs on âTristessaâ are some of the most efficient the Pumpkins have ever crafted. With four simple notes, Corgan and fellow guitarist James Iha lay down a bouncing, whiplash guitar hook thatâs strong enough to carry the song through its shattering conclusion, proving along the way that the band had two other weapons in their arsenal besides panache: power and rhythm.
Serving as a kind of thematic unifier for David Lynchâs Lost Highway soundtrack, âEyeâ was Pumpkins fansâ first taste of the bandâs post-alternative offerings, where the remnants of their baroque, neo-Victorian rock tastes met Corganâs new obsession with Pro Tools. While that formula would meet with mixed success on the subsequent Adore, âEyeâ remains a sublime slice of electro-goth, pairing Corganâs understated performance with a litany of chilling instrumentationânot to mention the wonderful angularity of that crisp drumline.
In which the Pumpkins conclusively prove that great art comes from great pain. Purportedly on the verge of suicide, a desperate, perhaps somewhat deranged Corgan penned âToday,â a facetious, goodbye-cruel-world lullaby that, when draped in the bandâs trademark cloak of mellow fuzz, becomes a triumphant middle finger to the crippling effects of depression.
There are many points on their 1991 debut, Gish, where the Pumpkins seem caught between their early metal influences (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest) and the art-rock band they ultimately aspired to be, but âSnailâ isnât one of them. The track is perhaps the most obvious foreshadowing of the ambitious plans Corgan had for his group: sweeping, unapologetically romantic, and cinematically paced, its verse, bridge, and chorus structured in such a way so that the ultimate catharsisâin this case, a climbing sub-melody full of unbridled optimismâcomes bursting through quite dramatically in its final minute.
Interview: Garrett Bradley on Exploring Human Dimensionality in Time
Bradley discusses how the forces of collaboration and intuition inform her filmmaking process.
Garrett Bradleyâs films assume grand proportions through their sweeping titles: America, Alone, Like, and, now, Time. Her work expands our notions of concepts and institutions central to contemporary life by interrogating the audiovisual imprints that define them in the public consciousness. These explorations expand the meaning of their thematic subjects by injecting Bradleyâs deeply intentional imagery into the conversation.
The filmmakerâs latest, Time, is as much about the ineffable passage of its titular concept as it is about the cruel duration of a prison sentence. Through a delicately woven tapestry of decades-old home videos shot by self-proclaimed âabolitionistâ Fox Rich over the years while her husband, Robert, was in prison and more recent footage shot by Bradley and her crew, the film captures time in all of its contradictions. When cut between commonplace scenes of Fox interfacing with the bureaucratic maze of the carceral state, the rushes of her past feel both tantalizingly close and also impossible to reclaimâall while her future with Robert appears indeterminate. Bradleyâs frequent deployment of stirring piano solos by Emahoy TseguĂ©-Maryam GuĂšbrou may give Time the aura of a fairy tale as Fox faces down a seemingly insurmountable system of oppression in the name of love, yet the film never loses grounding in the everyday realities and inhumanities made normal by mass incarceration.
I spoke to Bradley shortly before Time became available worldwide on Amazon Prime. Our conversation covered what the documentary might have looked like without Fox Richâs video archives, why she didnât feel the need to explain racism in the film, as well as how the forces of collaboration and intuition inform her filmmaking process.
Iâm blown away that such a central component of the film, Fox Richâs personal video archives, werenât baked in from the beginning. When she gave you that archive on the last day of filming, was it a matter of her fully trusting you? Had she forgotten they existed? Did it just dawn on her that they might make a great addition to the film?
I had no idea. When youâre working with someone so closely for a period of time, it presents all sorts of interesting emotions and challenges. At least from a filmmakerâs perspective, youâve got all sorts of reasons why, eventually, you have to walk away from production. What I can say is it was, to my knowledge, the last day of shooting. It was in the evening, and I just remember saying to her, âIâm going to come back and show you a cut.â She was on the phone with Robert, and I remember her saying, âHold on a second, let me get you something.â She handed me this bag of all of these mini DV tapes that ended up being about 100 hours of footage. She had not seen or looked at that footage since she shot it. I remember getting in the car, shipping it out to get transcoded and being so incredibly nervous about the fact that there were no backups for it. It was a real testament to her to her trust. But why, at that moment, I canât say.
Without these tapes that so poetically give us a glimpse into Foxâs own history, would your film really have been Time? I can imagine itâs tough to speak to a project that was never realized, but what form and shape would your film have taken without them?
When I initially started shooting, my intention was twofold. One was to think about this film, which I was conceiving as another 13-minute Op-Docs short, as an extension of Alone, a sister film to this other film that had already come out. The intention behind that was to say, âHow can I extend the conversation around incarceration, from a sort of black feminist point of view, from a familial point of view? From a point of view that that illuminates the effects of the facts.â Fox is, actually, briefly in Alone. I met her in the process of making it. And sheâs a very different person than AlonĂ© [Watts] and was navigating the system in a very different way. She was 18 years into the process of navigating the system, whereas AlonĂ© was in the very beginning stages of that. I think, at that point, my head was really about, again, extending the conversation in a way that showed the diversification of experience within the same issue.
But then also, uniquely to Foxâs own story, I really focused in on her daily life as a way of saying if thereâs anything that Iâm able to illustrate in this film, if I have to stop shooting tomorrow, itâs to show how deeply embedded the system puts itself in daily life. Thereâs no separation between your work life, your personal life, your home life, your relationship with your children, your mother, yourself, your partner. Thereâs no separation between that and the system. It really unequivocally embeds itself into every element of your day.
That was my initial intention, and a lot of the footage was there. Part of the challenge in the edit when looking at it was, wow, this actually feels really two-dimensional. It feels like we have no way of my proving as a filmmaker what I knew, which was the holistic nature of who we are as human beings. We are 360-degree beings. We have context, we have history, we have experience that informs how we maneuver the present moment. How do I show that? Thatâs ultimately the challenge of making films, you can only tell stories and say things one frame at a time, from one dimension. I think that the film would have focused in on one element of life. It would have been very different, thatâs for sure.
The film talks about how Foxâs story demonstrates the power of love as a tool of resistance. How do you convey such a radical notion without coming across naĂŻve?
Thatâs a great question. Basically, itâs like, how do you make something good or bad, right? I have to say, I think in my experience, itâs been making sure that vulnerability and intention are intrinsic parts of the process. Vulnerability on all ends, as a filmmaker, as a collaborator. That thereâs trust. I think the bottom line of that and respect are the ingredients of making something that I think can live outside of the opaqueness of what youâre describing.
In everything from the title of your works to the images contained within them, you maintain such a focus on redefining the way we think about giant structures and institutions in our lives. Is this a goal that you consciously set out to achieve when embarking on a new project, or are you discovering the way in which your work interacts with these notions and ideas?
I think it goes back to this idea of the sort of cinematic challenge of trying to allow things to feel as they do in the real world. Context, history, and multiple dimensions are so intrinsic to that. I think the same can be said for the macro and micro experience. Thatâs what we live in. We have our individual lives, but weâre a part of a larger system. And depending on who we are and how weâre moving through space, that can become oppressively clear or something that one has the privilege to forget. I think I always enter a project first from the personal. I donât think thatâs a rule though. There are other projects that Iâm working on or thinking about where Iâm coming at it actually from a larger scale first. I think it changes from one project to the next. But youâre right, ultimately, thereâs always going to be for me a conversation between the two. The great meaning comes out of the conversation between the two.
Did you feel a need to rescue or shelter Time from the tropes of social realism or the journalistic point of view that normally pervades stories about mass incarceration or the prison-industrial complex?
There were certainly questions in the edit around how literal we wanted it to be, how much we felt the film needed to explain the minutiae of the crime, the trial, the legal system, the sentencing. Myself and Gabe Rhodes, who edited the film, as we were talking through a lot of that, I found myself feeling that to really explain it was also then to try to explain racism in America. And Iâm not really sure that the film is particularly obligated to do that. Because itâs for people, and made with people, who inherently understand that and live it every day. And so when we think about obligations around certain forms of explanation, or sort of a literal proof of an explanation of the why, it can also be coded language. This idea of universality becomes coded language for who weâre actually speaking to if a majority of the people in the country are, in one way or another, affected by this issue. So, I didnât feel that we had to do that.
How did you conceive the filmâs coda? Thereâs something both comforting and tragic in the notion that cinemaâand only cinemaâcan both preserve and reverse time.
I wish I had a profound answer. I struggled with this question a little bit. Because it was really at a point in the editorial process where we were just working off of instinct and emotion. And there was, riffing off of your last question before, just not even needing to have a literal reason for why we ended it the way we did. It just felt right. It felt like we were able to work with the images in a way that directly responded to what the entire film was about without having to say it in any other way. I think for some people, it works. For some people, it doesnât. I wish I could say something more profound than that, but it was just pure instinct.
So much about this film feels like it was almost fated to come together: discovering Emahoy TseguĂ©-Maryam GuĂšbroâs music through YouTube algorithms, Fox Rich giving you her archive and transforming the project, the cosmic parallels revealed in the edit between the footage you shot and her videos. Has this transformed the way you think about artistic ownership and authorship at all?
I think my work has always inherently been collaborative. My work always starts with a series of questions, and the answers come out of conversations that are happening with people in my community are what inform a lot of the aesthetic choices. There was another project, for instance, that I was commissioned for the Whitney Biennial 2019, called A.K.A. That was me really having questions about classic American cinema and race relations between women. My instinct was to go to women that I knew and to ask them questions that I myself had, and a lot of their answers literally shaped the scenes, the camerawork, the lenses. I think Time is an extension of that same love I have for working with people.
The 75 Best Horror Movies of the 21st Century
These are the films from this millennium that have most shocked us by plumbing our deepest primordial terrors.
Ever since audiences ran screaming from the premiere of Auguste and Louis LumiĂšreâs 1895 short black-and-white silent documentary Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, the histories of filmgoing and horror have been inextricably intertwined. Through the decadesâand subsequent crazes for color and sound, stereoscopy and anamorphosisâsince that train threatened to barrel into the front row, thereâs never been a time when audiences didnât clamor for the palpating fingers of fear. Horror films remain perennially popular, despite periodic (and always exaggerated) rumors of their demise, even in the face of steadily declining ticket sales and desperately shifting models of distribution.
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a âsafe spaceâ in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that âitâs only a movie.â
At the same time, the genre manages to find fresh and powerful metaphors for where weâre at as a society and how we endure fractious, fearful times. For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback, thereâs a startlingly fresh take on the genreâs most time-honored tropes; for every milquetoast PG-13 compromise, thereâs a ferocious take-no-prisoners attempt to push the envelope on what we can honestly say about ourselves. Budd Wilkins
Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on October 10, 2018.
75. They Came Back (2004)
They Came Back is a triumph of internal horror, and unlike M. Night Shyamalanâs similarly moody freak-out The Sixth Sense, Robin Campilloâs vision of the dead sharing the same space as the living isnât predicated on a gimmicky reduction of human faith. Campillo is more upfront than Shyamalanâitâs more or less understood that the presence of the living dead in his film is likely metaphoricâand he actually seems willing to plumb the moral oblivion created by the collision of its two worlds. Though the fear that the filmâs walking dead can turn violent at any second is completely unjustified, the writer-director allows this paranoia to reflect the feelings of loss, disassociation, and hopelessness that cripple the living. Itâs rather amazing how far the film is able to coast on its uniquely fascinating premise, even if it isnât much of a stretch for its director: Campillo co-authored Laurent Cantetâs incredible Time Out, a different kind of zombie film about the deadening effects of too much work on the human psyche, and They Came Back is almost as impressive in its concern with the existential relationship between the physical and non-physical world. Ed Gonzalez
74. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jalmari Helander, 2010)
Santa is one bad mamma jamma in Writer-director Jalmari Helanderâs Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a yuletide fable thatâs equal parts sincere, silly, and scary. Helanderâs direction is assured in a manner that inspires flattering comparisons: his softly lit scenes of adolescent fear and fantasy, and of father-son estrangement, recall early Spielberg; Pietariâs (Onni Tommila) trinket-adorned room and makeshift alarm clock (involving keys, sweater thread and a basin) resembles Jean-Pierre Jeunetâs whimsies; his compassionate black comedy evokes Joe Danteâs work; and his eerie snowbound setting and premise harkens back to John Carpenterâs The Thing. This last comparison is also apt in terms of aesthetics, as Helander and cinematographer Mika Orasmaaâs widescreen compositions capture a sense of unsettling scale and unseen terror as well as, in domestic sequences, a warmth and intimacy that helps compensate for somewhat sketchy characters. Nick Schager
73. The Monster (2016)
In The Strangers, Bryan Bertino exhibited a masterfully lush style that owed quite a bit to the elegant camera pirouettes of John Carpenter. Here, the filmmaker utilizes his command of medium for more individualized purposes. By the time that The Monster reveals itself to be a horror film, weâre so engrossed in Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and Lizzyâs (Ella Ballentine) pain that the arrival of the titular menace strikes us as an authentic violation of normality, rather than as a ghoul arriving on demand per the dictates of the screenplay. The film has an eerily WTF arbitrariness that should be the domain of more films in the genre. Chuck Bowen
72. Cam (2018)
When Wilhelm Reich developed the concept of âsex economyâ in 1931, he had in mind something like the way societal expectations or advertising may compel someone toward compulsory masturbation. Almost 90 years later, compulsion is but one of an array of factors informing Cam, Daniel Goldhaberâs lithely satirical and startling take on the present state of online sex work. Based on screenwriter Isa Mazzeiâs own experiences as a cam model, the film is neither plainly sex positive nor outright cautionary in its depiction of Alice (Madeline Brewer), an up-and-coming streamer whose account is hacked and stolen by someone appearing to be her doppelgĂ€nger. Even as Cam gives new meaning to âghostingâ when Alice watches âherselfâ online, the filmâs strengths come from an intimate familiarity with the anxieties that accompany a life predicated on thriving in a gig economy still owned and operated by impenetrable customer service mechanisms and corporate channels of older, sweaty white men. Cam is also one of the first American films to grapple with the realities of being doxed to family and friends, further demonstrating its primary acumen as a check on the social pulse of a particular strain of U.S. conservatism that continues to think about and patrol sex work, and those who participate in it, in even pre-Reichian terms. Clayton Dillard
71. The House That Jack Built (2018)
Like Bob Dylan in D.A. Pennebakerâs 1967 documentary Dont Look Back, Matt Dillonâs serial killer in Lars von Trierâs The House That Jack Built flashes cue cards to the camera while standing in an alleyway. If Dylanâs narcissism, and Pennebakerâs giddiness to capture it, suggested a cultural turn toward celebrity worship, then Dillonâs psychopath is the bizarre complement. Heâs neurotic, self-obsessed, and as devoted to mythologizing his own âbody of workâ as he is psychologically impenetrable and unknowable. A house built of corpses is both a provocation and an invocation of documentary footage taken from Auschwitz and Katyn. Itâs also yet another allusion, this time to Alain Resnais and DuĆĄan Makavejev, who are perhaps the two European filmmakers most devoted to reckoning with manmade catastrophe through montage and the carnivalesque, which are von Trierâs chosen aesthetic modes here. Despite having nothing fashionable in either its politics or its preoccupation with the egotistical artist, The House That Jack Built is one of the most forward-thinking films of 2018 for how it proposes an unruly resurrection of the past, and oneâs past self, in order to grapple with its significance. Dillard
70. The Blackcoatâs Daughter (2015)
The Blackcoatâs Daughter has a sad, macabre integrity. Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly, and James Remar are poignant in their minimalist roles, and writer-director Oz Perkins arranges their characters in a cleverly constructed narrative prism that simultaneously dramatizes violence and its aftermath in an endless chain reaction of perpetual cause and effect. And the carnage, when it arrives, is staged with an aura of guttural bitterness that refuses to give gore-hounds their jollies, elaborating, instead, on the desolation of the characters committing the acts. When the demons appear in the film, and in terrifyingly fleeting glimpses, Perkins understands them to spring from the deepest chasms of human despair. Bowen
69. Unsane (2018)
In 1959, Georges Franjuâs masterpiece Head Against the Wall used a manâs confinement at a sanitarium as an analogy for the listlessness of French youthâa generation old enough to remember the degradations and traumas of World War II but now confronted with the promise of a passive, consumer-driven middle-class existence. Steven Soderberghâs down and dirty Unsane functions in a similar way, using the experience of institutionalization to probe the mores around mental health in a privatization-mad America. Few if any Hollywood-adjacent filmmakers have put as much brain power into making the digital revolution work for them as Soderbergh has, and even Unsaneâs most ridiculous moments coast on the sheer energy of aesthetic gamesmanship. Shooting on an iPhone 7, the filmmaker continues finding economical solutions in a pinch. Soderbergh remains a major artist at the peak of his powers, fascinated by the textures of the contemporary worldâthe actual one, not the one we usually pay to see at the movies. Even if heâs just flexing a new mode of production, the result is still 98 minutes of shredding, analeptic cinema. Steve Macfarlane
68. Suspiria (2018)
Luca Guadagnino knew that a successful remake of Dario Argentoâs Suspiria would need, at the very least, to take the material in a completely different direction. And he winkingly acknowledges that belief in an early scene from his remake when Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, err, Lutz Ebersdorf) underlines the word âsimulacrumâ in a notebook. The new Suspiria is, especially in visual terms, anything but a simulacrum, as its palette is more reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Walerian Borowczykâs films than Argentoâs neon-tinged original. Guadagninoâs remake is, above all, a film about the terror that lingers in a European city long after its been blitzed by various catastrophes. Guadagnino uses Argentoâs original as a launching pad for interrogating how the old, whether in dance or politics, often corrupts the new. Heady though it is, the film also more than delivers the genre goods. It strikes a delicate aesthetic balance between hysteria and control, most evident in an unforgettable scene in which Susie (Dakota Johnson) dances for Madame Blanc (Swinton), much to the bone-breaking detriment of the Markos Dance Academyâs former star. Dillard
67. November (2017)
In AndrĂ© Bretonâs writings on surrealism, he envisions, and prescribes, a mode of fairy tale for adults rooted in juxtapositions so poetic and strange that they seem only possible in dreams. Or in the work of Rainer Sarnet, who crafts the uncanniest of fables in November. Based on a novel by Andrus KivirĂ€hk, this gorgeously shot film is an intrepid portrait of an Estonian village inhabited by greedy old men, wise toothless hags, ghostly lovers, and anthropomorphic creatures made out of human hair and metal coils. November respects the logic and temporality of the unconscious. As such, itâs difficult to tell if the story takes place in medieval times or some dystopian future. Its impenetrable storylines take shape like most of its dialogue, bearing the enigmatic sparseness of poetic stanzas or ancient spells. Thereâs more to be enjoyed if one gets lost in the bewildering rhythm between eerie sounds and the black-and-white imagery, instead of trying to detangle the various strands of the surreal narrative. Diego Semerene
66. Train to Busan (2016)
When divorced of message-mongering, the filmâs scare tactics are among the most distinctive that the zombie canon has ever seen. The zombies here are rabid, fast-moving ghoulies that, as Train to Busanâs protagonists discover, are attracted to loud sounds and only attack what they can actually see. This realization becomes the foundation for a series of taut set pieces during which the storyâs motley crew of survivors manipulate their way past zombies with the aid of cellphones and bats and the numerous tunnels through which the train must travel. The genre crosspollination for which so many South Korean thrillers have come to be known for is most evident in these scenes (as in the survivors crawling across one train carâs overhead luggage area), which blend together the tropes of survivor-horror and disaster films, as well as suggest the mechanics of puzzle-platformer games. Gonzalez
65. In Fabric (2019)
Peter Stricklandâs films are fetish objects that rue the perils of fetishism. The British filmmakerâs characters are walled off from others, channeling their longing into various acts of aestheticism, which parallels his own obsession with emulating the stylistics of the giallo, softcore pornography, and classic European chamber dramas. In Fabric finds Strickland doubling down on these qualities, mounting a gorgeous and lonely horror film that expresses emotion via a series of increasingly abstract motifs. Strickland allows his dreamy atmosphere to take over the film, as the characters are eaten alive by their hungers and uncertainties, though this free-floating reverie has a moralistic streak. Bowen
64. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
28 Weeks Later rolls in like a poisonous dust cloud of nihilism. The everyman hero this time around is Don (Robert Carlyle), who thinks he and his wife (Catherine McCormack) are safe in their wee rural cottage when the rage virus transforms most of mainland Britain into shrieking, blood-vomiting zombies that sprint head-on at their victims. 28 Days Later is a tough and uncompromising horror film, but itâs all sunshine and laughter in comparison to the sequel. The thesis of 28 Weeks Later is that the War on Terror is ultimately a self-destructive one for all concerned, from the bullying authority figures to the demoralized combat soldiers to the fractured family units. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo seems to place his empathy with the recently infected. Much like Philip Kaufmanâs remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, thereâs an understanding for what it means to be humanâand the magic that is lost when that humanity is stripped away. Jeremiah Kipp
63. 1922 (2017)
In 1922, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) initially scans as a broadly brutish characterization given by an actor looking to disrupt his handsomely aloof image, following a cinematic tradition of expressively filthy, monosyllabic and flamboyantly antisocial characters such as Daniel Plainview and Karl Childers. Though Janeâs dramatization of rage is haunting and shrewdly comical in its overt and ultimately moving ĂŒber-manliness. The casual violence of Wilfredâs physicality is subtly calibrated, particularly the tension in his muscled back as he drinks lemonade on the porch after a hard day of murder. Complementing Janeâs portrait of coiled wrath, Molly Parker physicalizes the fear that informs every minute wrinkle of Arletteâs relationship with her husband, which the character attempts to paper over with bravado, inadvertently sealing her doom. Arlette is one of countless women whoâre damned if they do and if they donât, yet somehow the men are able to rationalize themselves as the victims. 1922 informs Stephen Kingâs pulp feminism with primordial, biblically ugly force. Bowen
62. Them (2006)
Hoody-clad sadists attack a couple, alone in their country home. Thatâs all the setup that co-writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud need to dredge up some uniquely discomfiting chills. You wonât be able to shake Them is primarily set in seems to grow bigger with each new hole the filmâs villains tear out of. To get the maximum effect, be sure to watch this one at night; just donât watch it alone. Simon Abrams
61. Black Death (2010)
Grim aesthetics and an even grimmer worldview define Black Death, in which ardent piousness and defiant paganism both prove paths toward violence, hypocrisy, and hell. Christopher Smithâs 14th-century period piece exudes an oppressive sense of physical, spiritual, and atmospheric weight, with grimy doom hanging in the air like the fog enshrouding its dense forests. His story concerns a gang of thugs, torturers, and killers led by Ulric (Sean Bean), a devout soldier commissioned by the church to visit the lone, remote town in the land not afflicted by a fatal pestilence, where itâs suspected a necromancer is raising the dead. Dario Poloniâs austere script charts the crewâs journey into a misty netherworld where the viciousness of man seems constantly matched by divine cruelty, even as the role of Godâs handâin the pestilence, and in the personal affairs of individualsâremains throughout tantalizingly oblique. Schager
60. The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn puts his monogram on his filmâs title card. So did D.W. Griffith. The Neon Demon is about narcissism as a form of artistry and, girl, is it ever. Boasting color that would make Mario Bava blush and proffering hilariously conceited exchanges that oscillate between farce and bone-dry awkwardness, each successive scene loudly announces Refnâs turn of the screw. Refn finds the fabric of hidden cultural demons, and not the sorts of spirits that can be dismissed by an exorcist. Check the wallpaper behind Gigi (Bella Heathcote) after she barfs up an eyeball; itâs covered in swastikas. The appropriative and racist legacies of Los Angeles and Europe find women as only food or sex while in the crosshairs of these wide-eyed, well-dressed hounds. The lure of lights, the bass of electro, the will to power, the kino eyeâwhat hath this delight in pleasure and knowledge wrought? Dillard
59. The Hole in the Ground (2019)
Quite a bit of the fun of The Hole in the Ground resides in guessing how Lee Croninâs shopworn signifiers fit together, as he offers a smorgasbord of portentous elements that include a crone by the roadside, the aforementioned hole and the woods, a pointed reference to Sarahâs (SeĂĄna Kerslake) medication, and Chrisâs (James Quinn Markey) newfound sense of inhuman formality. Thereâs also, of course, a past atrocity that haunts Sarah and Chrisâs new residence. Yet the film gradually becomes something more than a mixtape of horror gimmicks, as it homes in on a frightening real-world subtext. Chrisâs changing behaviors, which include chillingly crawling on the floor of his room like an animal and eating a large spider, are rooted in the distance that comes between Sarah and Chris after they leave Sarahâs abusive husband. Thereâs an unspoken sense that Sarahâs arising revulsion with her son may be rooted in how he reminds her of his father, and thereâs a particularly moving scene where we see Sarahâs disgust with Chris as he eats spaghetti, which Cronin frames in a cruelly unflattering close-up. Bowen
58. Neighboring Sounds (2012)
Of course this upstairs-downstairs portraiture plays out with the tenor of horror. The class war is an inexhaustible source of terrorâparticular here, in Recife, Brazil, an affluent coastal town whose middle-class comforts are quite literally built up and around its history of poverty and oppression. Less social critique than abstract deconstruction, Kleber Mendonca Filhoâs Neighboring Sounds is very much about the power of the cinema not to deliver, but to portend, and to that end its gears are always turning. Its sublime sound design, emerging at the intersection of ambient noise and musique concrete, offers a case study for how to suggest the existence of horrors we never see. Filho understands that an atmosphere of palpable dread sustains tension better than more sensational explication, and his commitment to withholding is, without exaggeration, worthy of Hitchcock. That it more or less forgoes the spectacle of an anticipated resolution is a necessary consequence of its methods; in other words, for Filho, process rather than payoff is the point. As Recifeâs idle rich flaunt their privilege as lowly laborers circle them like sharks, conflict seems a guarantee. But the bubble of complacency in which these characters live doesnât need to be punctured by violence. The status quo is damning enough. Calum Marsh
57. The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation filters each sinister development through Willâs (Logan Marshall-Green) unreliable perspective, to the point that one friendâs failure to turn up at a lavish dinner, or anotherâs precipitous departure, appear as if submerged, changing with each shift in the emotional current. Returning to the rambling house where he and Eden once lived for the first time since the death of their son, Will finds himself inundated anew by his heartache, and the film, which otherwise hews to crisp, clean realism, is run through with these painful stabs of memory. Eden slashes her wrists in the kitchen sink, the sounds of children playing emanate from the empty yard, inane talk of the Internetâs funny cats and penguins becomes white noise against Willâs screaming: The question of whether or not to trust his sense of foreboding is perhaps not so open as director Karyn Kusama and company might wish, but against the terrors of continuing on after losing a child, the issue of narrative suspense is almost immaterial. Matt Brennan
56. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynchâs meta noir Mulholland Drive literalizes the theory of surrealism as perpetual dream state. Told as it is using a highly symbolic, ravishingly engorged language of dreams, this bloody valentine to Los Angeles naturally leaves one feeling groggy, confused, looking forward and back, hankering to pass again through its serpentine, slithery hall of mirrors until all its secrets have been unpacked. Whether Mulholland Drive anticipated the YouTube Age we live in (and which Inland Empireâs digital punk poetics perfectly embody) is up for debate, but thereâs no doubt that this movie-movie will continue to haunt us long after Lynch has moved on to shooting pictures using the tools of whatever new film medium awaits usâtools that he will no doubt have helped to revolutionize. Gonzalez
55. Hereditary (2018)
The first half of Hereditary establishes Annieâs (Toni Collette) grief and decades-long mental illness to set up the arrival of Joan (Ann Dowd), a Caligari-like figure who preys upon Annieâs vulnerability. Although Joan seems like an honest and empathetic woman, sheâs actually a deceitful minion of Paimon, an avaricious king whom Annie accidentally helps to conjure from the dead. Hereditary is chock-full of citations to other classic horror films (most notably Rosemaryâs Baby and The Shining) that take as their themes the manipulation of women as mothers and wives. When Annie, deep in the haze of misbegotten conviction, tells her son, âIâm the only one who can fix this,â sheâs trying to rectify the sense of maternal guilt she feels for her daughterâs death. Sheâs also invoking Donald Trumpâs claim from a July 2016 rally, when he said in reference to law and order: âI alone can fix it.â Fallen prey to the circumstances of her own deception, Annie speaks the self-defeating logic inherited from her manipulator. Dillard
54. Sinister (2012)
Scott Derricksonâs Sinister isnât a period piece, but by directing its attention backward it brackets its chosen tech-horror particulars as products of a bygone eraâin this case considerably further back than the period of tube TVs and quarter-inch tapes to which this subgenre of horror so often belongs. Much like Ringu, Sinister concerns a cursed film whose audience dies after exposure to it, but here the curse is disseminated not by clunky videotape, but by a box of 8mm films. The projector, more than simply outmoded, is regarded here as practically archaic, and as with Berberian Sound Studio and its reel-to-reel fetishism, Sinister makes quite a show of the mechanics of the machine, soaking in the localized details and milking them for their weighty physicality. Even the formatâs deficiencies, from the rickety hum of sprockets to the instability of the frame, are savored by what seems like a nostalgic impulseâa fondness for the old-fashioned that even transforms the rough, granular quality of the haunted films themselves into something like pointillist paintings of the macabre. Marsh
53. Maniac (2012)
Made in collaboration with Alexandre Aja and GrĂ©gory Levasseur, and with the sort of fearless artistic freedom often allowed by European financing, Franck Khalfounâs Maniac begins with a psychopathâs synth-tastically scored stalking of a party girl back to her apartment, outside which he cuts her frightened scream short by driving a knife up into her head through her jaw. The film deceptively delights in capturing the mood of an exploitation cheapie before latching onto and running with the conceit only halfheartedly employed by William Lustig in the 1980 original, framing the titular maniacâs killing spreeâthis time set in Los Angelesâalmost entirely from his point of view. A gimmick, yes, but more than just a means of superficially keying us into the psyche of the main character, Frank, an antique mannequin salesman played memorably by a minimally seen Elijah Wood. As in Rob Zombieâs Halloween II, this approach becomes a provocative means of sympathizing with the devil. Gonzalez
52. Depraved (2019)
What does a Frankenstein figure look like in 2019? According to Larry Fessendenâs Depraved, heâs a guy with war-addled, once-noble intentions set adrift by male ego and shady benefactors. Heâs a white man grasping for control in a world coming apart, a cog in a machine who hasnât broken free so much as changed the machineâs functionâfrom that of war to that of the pharmaceutical industry. The film, Fessendenâs first feature as both writer and director since 2006âs The Last Winter, paints multiple psychological portraits that are sad, angry, and strangely beautiful. It shows us the mind of not just PTSD-afflicted field surgeon Henry (David Call), but also that of his prototypical sewn-together âmonster,â Adam (Alex Breaux), and his assistant and Big Pharma bankroller, Polidori (Joshua Leonard). Throughout, the film it remains firmly focused on its thesis of Frankenstein as a lens for examining modern society. Fessenden catalogues what personalities and power dynamics have shifted and what hasnât changed at all. He diagnoses the rot of our era through these solipsistic men that pour their prejudices and their insecurities into Adam, an open book eventually read back to its authors with a violence they cultivated themselves. Steven Scaife
51. Us (2019)
Jordan Peeleâs Us suggests C.H.U.D. for the Trump era. Even though itâs not as tidily satisfying as Get Out, itâs both darker and more ambitious, and broader in its themes. This filmâs African-American characters also come under assault not in the inner cities of the white imagination, but in supposedly safer upper-class suburban spaces. But Us also moves past such racial themes. The shadow vengeance meted upon the Wilsons is in fact a plague, and itâs one that touches every family in Peeleâs film. In Us, Peele is less concerned with blackness than he is economics, as the howling, homicidal doubles that torment the Wilsons represent an avenging under class. âWhat are you people?â Gabe (Winston Duke) asks when the terror begins. âWeâre Americans!â his wifeâs double (Lupita Nyongâo) hisses. Itâs tempting to read these Americans as the embittered Trump base, rising up to destroy the false idyll that was the comfortâfor some, at leastâof the American status quo. Henry Stewart
Interview: Cooper Raiff Talks Shithouse, Nostalgia, and Being There for Others
The filmmaker discusses how Shithouse reflects the specifics of a certain life experience.
“Bet you wonât click on this link and then email me,â read the tweet from college student Cooper Raiff to indie film maven Jay Duplass that began the journey of Shithouse. Raiff had directed and shot a film about a homesick freshman and a savvy RA called Madeline & Cooper over spring break with $300, two friends, and stolen equipment from his college. Duplass responded, both emotionally to the film and literally to the message, and helped mentor as well as support Raiff through making a more professionalized iteration of the film linked to in the fateful tweet. That new film, Shithouse, won Raiff the grand jury prize at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival at just 23 years old.
Tempting as it might be to ascribe a master plan to Raiffâs rise, the Shithouse multihyphenateâactor, writer, director, editorâevinces no evidence of being a calculating wunderkind. Raiff remains as affable and easygoing as his film, a leisurely but lofty college-set tale of two young people coming to terms with the personal baggage that weighs on them. Madeline and Cooper from the original scrappy feature become Maggie (Dylan Gelula) and Alex (Raiff), who navigate similar emotional terrain but within a larger personal and social framework that encompasses fellow students as well as Alexâs family at home in Dallas.
Shithouse recalls the best of Richard Linklater, not only because Raiff already proves his adeptness at mastering the directorâs trademark âwalk and talkâ two-shots. He also shares an appreciation the unique window provided by the collegiate experience to focus on self-actualization. Raiffâs film recognizes the ability for extended conversations to soften charactersâ emotional guards and expose real vulnerabilities, and itâs all conveyed with a distinctively Texan sense of casualness and compassion.
I spoke with Raiff over Zoom the week prior to Shithouse opening in select theaters and on demand, a scale of release that thrilled him but by no means felt inevitable. Our wide-ranging conversation covered why he doesnât think about cinematography when envisioning a film, how writing makes him a better person, and where he wishes heâd been more precious in editing his personal but not autobiographical character. I couldnât resist the opportunity to start our time by raising a personal connection: Raiff and I both attended small high schools in Texas that played against each other in the same athletic conference. Recognizing that bit of shared kinship led to Raiff revealing a number of ways in which Shithouse reflects the specifics of a certain life experience in addition to the storyâs broader applicability.
Alex in the movie is wearing a Greenhill Wolves sweatshirt. But if I recall, the real Greenhill is the Hornets. Iâm betting that Greenhill didnât lend you the mascot?
No, I just wanted to have the stuffed wolf. I had this thing where I wanted it to be Alexâs dad, but for it to be a wolf dad. I really cared about it being a wolf, but itâs really funny because a lot of people think itâs a dog, so it doesnât even matter. I also wanted it to tie back to high school. I wanted it to have that mascot. I think, at the end of day, I couldâve gotten permission, but I didnât have the time to ask. I made a sweatshirt instead and made it so that if I said something…thereâs actually a scene where I talk about Greenhill, and not that I shit on it. I say really nice things about it, but I just didnât want any kind of legal thing to get in the way.
In terms of developing a passion for film or movies. Iâve heard you say that you donât consider yourself a filmmaker. If watching movies wasnât pushing you into making them, how were they acting on you and influencing you?
When I was directing for the first time, I realized just how deep into my bones movies are. I donât watch a ton of them. Iâll also turn a lot of them off because I just know when one isnât going to land with me. But when they do, I canât stop thinking about them. It wasnât a stretch to figure out how I was going to film Shithouse, because even if I direct a ton of movies moving forward, I like coming from this place of always just caring about these characters and themes that are coming from these characters. Where I come from is always: Iâm obsessed with these two people, and I want to write scenes where these two people are gonna have the most fun. At the end of the day, the most important things to me are what their personalities say about life. The way that Maggie and Alex are such perfect foils for each other, I think, says something pretty universal about the way that two different people look at the way we relate to each other and our interconnectedness.
At what point did you did you know that the story that you were working on would have resonance for other people?
Like, a couple months after SXSW when more people started watching it. I think I knew that it was universal, but I didnât know if I communicated that well enough. You never know until people see it. But I knew that I would love it. I knew that my family members and my ex-girlfriends would love it. On set, being in the scenes and watching Dylan play Maggie, I just knew that all the scenes were working so well, and it had the magic that I wanted. It felt special in the way that I wanted it to feel special. I knew that I was going to always love the movie. But itâs so small and quiet, so I didnât know how many people were gonna really meet it. Because, and hereâs the thing: Shithouse requires you to meet it where it is. Itâs a movie that you have to really go there for it in a way. Most great movies are just there, like you donât have to work hard to immerse yourself in it. And Shithouse is very comfortable with not being seen by a lot of people, it just comes across that way. I think itâs been so nice hearing that more than 10 people went there, enjoyed it and felt it the whole way through.
As someone whoâs not all that different from Alex, I didnât feel like I had to travel far. It was very much kind of like, âHow dare you make this biopic of my life freshman year?â
Yeah, but even then, because Alex is such a specific character that I didnât know how relatable he would be. Because Alex is myself stripped away a ton. I have, way deep down, this really huge, massive caring bone in my body. I just want to love and like taking care of people. I think realizing that people are relating to that part of Alex is awesome, and it feels really cool.
Are you someone who needs to parse the events of your life through art, writing, or creating something to feel some sense of closure or finality in the experiencing of it?
No, I never thought of this movie as cathartic while writing it. Honestly, when I was acting in it, it was pretty cathartic because there were certain scenes where I had never really gone there. I donât think of my writing as therapy in that way. But I will say that as a writerâI think I realized this recently because Iâve been writing a ton againâit does make me a better person. Naturally, obviously, because itâs about trying to understand and have empathy for people. I donât go to a script saying, âI have to figure this shit out.â But I am realizing that it does inform my life in the biggest way, where I didnât think that before. I thought it was just something that I was doing and meant a lot to me, but it was a separate thing. I think it really informs who I am because Iâm spending all day just thinking about other people and getting their interior lives. I think thatâs who I am is someone who just moves about that way.
How did movies both prepare and fail you for college? Movies set at school, and college in particular, donât really make a ton of space for stories like this about someone whoâs feeling very alone and isolated.
I havenât really seen a lot of college movies, honestly, but Iâve seen many movies that do little scenes from college. Itâs always just written from a place of nostalgia. I think writers see college as a playground for them to write whatever they want. But, for me, when I knew I was gonna make a movie about college, there was really only one thing that I could write about, and it was the pain of leaving home and growing up. Just the fact that no one prepares you for how hard it is to fall asleep that first night under a new ceiling. Also, the pain of your parents dropping you off and driving away and leaving you there, itâs just horrendous.
But I think movies always fail people because theyâre trying to be good instead of trying to say something. Iâm not even saying entertaining, because I want everything to be entertaining, but I wanted to communicate something while being as watchable and entertaining as possible.
Even though the film feels very loose, itâs my understanding that Shithouse is highly scripted. How do you write for college students? Because, on the one hand, sometimes the way they talk seems very on the nose. But, then again, theyâre all kind of taking their cues from movies or the idea of what it means to be in college.
Yeah, I totally agree with that. So, Alex is very much based on me, Maggieâs very much based on someone Iâm with right now. Her name is Madeline, and the movieâs based on our relationship, so I know exactly how she talks. I know exactly what sheâs gonna say, always. My mom, even more so. The roommate was a combination of every single guy friendship that Iâve ever had. I just picture them talking. I write a lot of likeâs, and I write a lot of umâs. But with the script, I always tell the actors that they can rewrite whatever they want to rewrite. I never want something to sound false or feel uncomfortable coming out of their mouth. I donât say, âYou have to say the like right here, or you have to say the um right here,” but the likeâs and the umâs in a line will just signal to the actor that itâs not as well thought out. He doesnât exactly know what heâs saying here. Thatâs why thereâs a lot of likeâs and umâs. I always want my actors to know that Iâm not precious about any of the lines or anything. I just wanted to get across that thereâs gonna probably be some likeâs and umâs in this one this big line.
As actor, director, and editor of Shithouse, how do you keep yourself from getting too precious in your performance? I was recently talking with Kirsten Johnson, the director who did Cameraperson and Dick Johnson Is Dead…
[eyes light up] I am obsessed! If you look on my Facebook page, a still from Cameraperson is my cover photo. Iâm obsessed with that movie.
So good! She mentioned an exercise she does with her students at NYU. She will have them film each other talking about their fears about their thesis project and then edit both themselves and the other person in the conversation. She said, inevitably, that the edit of the other person is so much more interesting because they can just see something in these little moments. The version of themselves they present is so sanitized or watered down that they become boring. I caught so many little moments of Alex in Shithouse that made me think you really didnât fall into that same trap.
Itâs really tricky because I think thereâs a story that the character is so close to me, but itâs really not. I donât feel like Alex at all. I mean, obviously, thatâs a slippery slope. I did have another editor who came on to make sure I was seeing everything. But so many people have talked about not having another perspective. And because I think thereâs this thing where people think thereâs four different movies: the movie thatâs written, the movie thatâs on the set, the edited movie, and the movie that the audience receives. And I think being in charge of all the things really collapsed it in a way that I really liked. Even with the editor, I wasnât just coming in and saying, âHey, do whatever you want.â I was trying to communicate, âHey, this is exactly what I want. I want you to help me out with getting this certain thing and this certain quality.â It didnât feel like the barrier that I think a lot of people think it was.
To answer that specific question about not being precious with the character, I always did feel like I was acting as Alex. If I could go back, I think I probably would have been more precious. Just the response that people are giving, it seems like they just think itâs me. If I had known thatâs what would have happened…I just didnât think this movie would have a big audience at all. And not that it does, but I thought it was just going to be my friends and family who all know that Iâm certainly not so much like Alex. But experiencing so many people kind of even just talking about it in terms of âthis is the filmmaker,â itâs like, âNo, Iâm not writing emotional propaganda!â I did write a character, and I drew upon my life in a major way as everyone does writing something personal and original. But I wasnât precious with it at all.
Throughout Shithouse, a lot of the characters opine about the nature and meaning of college. I donât want to assume that the characters speak for you, but did thinking through these questions give you any clarity on the questions?
Yeah, I mean, I still donât really know what the thesis of college is, but I know the arguments. I think what I wanted to say about college was that itâs the first time for me without a safety net. I was so dependent on my family members, and they were so rock solid that I got to college and felt like I was without oxygen for the first time. And then you have Maggie, whoâs been without a safety net for a long time. Thatâs just how she was raised. I think thatâs why sheâs crushing college. But I think what I wanted to say was that going to your second home, itâs kind of the most selfish time of your life. Youâre really trying to figure out who you are separate from the home that you were raised in for so long.
But the other thing I wanted to say is, yes, I think we should be looking out for each other, and I talk about that so much in Shithouse. I hope people get that in order to take care of people and look out for each other, you have to first take care of yourself. Figure out your shit, make your bed, take responsibility for your actions in a way that youâre moving or not moving. I think Maggieâs line is, âJust because your lifeâs shitty doesnât mean you can make other people feel like their life is shitty.â Alex is so harsh about the way that people are just trying to survive because heâs not doing a good job of surviving. But he thinks, âOh, everyone should be having this hard time, you just need me to help you out.â Where itâs like, âNo, no, I donât need you.â But then thereâs like that whole thing where, yeah, you do. You canât not depend on people.
I remember an older friend of mine told me in my first year at school, âI think your biggest problem is that you are over college and you are already a freshman.â But at the same time, I was still 19 and immature. Holding those two thoughts in your head about how equipped you are to handle the experience is definitely challenging, and I think it is a very unique struggle that Alex goes through.
Have you seen the movie Liberal Arts?
I have, but itâs been a long time.
Thereâs a line in there where [Elizabeth Olsenâs character] is talking about how she can see herself in the future, and she feels like a rough draft version of herself. But she has the wisdom to know that sheâs not there. You just have to live through certain things and experience certain thingsâand also experience certain painsâin order to get there. I think the people that donât have that wisdom, itâs not a bad thing. Theyâre just turning on that part of their brain because sometimes itâs not useful to have that knowledge too soon. Thatâs Alex, and I think a lot of people probably deal with that. But they choose to drink instead.
Youâre having such a strange version of the rising star director narrative: Your debut feature wins SXSW but you never get to experience the film play before that crowd, you do the âwater bottleâ tour of Hollywood, but itâs all over Zoom. Where does that leave your mental state and how you want to move forward making something else?
I was just talking about this. Iâve had a lot of Zoom meetings. Iâm young and donât know anything, so Iâm not good at not doing the scrappy, singular thing. Iâm having these Zoom meetings with [people asking] like, âWhat do you want to do?â I have these ideas, and I have literally scripts where Iâm like, âHereâs what I want to do.â The reaction is always, âThatâs small.â And Iâm like, âYeah, itâs small!â I donât think Iâll make a big leap after this at all. Iâll probably do a very similar thing. But in terms of the Zoom thing, itâs been really nice because I donât have to drive in a car to go all these places.
Itâs just weird to be in a lot of interviews or Zooms where people are asking you to talk about yourself for so long. I hope to God Iâll never stop thinking about how weird it is. Like, no wonder people get so self-absorbed because all it is is me talking about myself. Iâm trying to keep telling myself that. It sucks that it didnât premiere at SXSW, but I wasnât expecting much. Iâve never been to a film festival, and I didnât have all these dreams and hopes for it. So when it got cancelled, it was kind of like, âOh.â But everyoneâs response to it getting canceled was so nice, and people really wrapped their arms around the movies in such a kind way.
When I saw your background when reading about Shithouse, I thought the odds were low that youâd be able to talk to someone on a press tour whoâd be able to talk about both the film and the specific Texas private school background it comes from.
Yeah, itâs been so nice! The thing is, Iâve just been talking so much about how itâs universal. Everyone leaves home, because not everyone goes to college, but never would I think about someone connecting to the very specific private school to college [journey] and just how special that small school makes you feel. Not special in terms of youâre the one or something, but special in terms of like, weâre just like such a community. I think a good example is if someoneâs sitting down crying at Greenhill, no matter what, in five seconds tops someone would be over there making sure theyâre okay. But if you go to college, even Occidental, and someoneâs crying, no one is going over to say [something]. Itâs just understood that people are going through their exorcisms, and you leave them alone. And with Greenhill, I think there was this constant sense of like, no, I need to be there for my fellow peer or my fellow students.
Starring Joan Crawford on the Criterion Channel
The myth of Joan Crawfordâs life and career is inseparable from what she did on screen.
The myth of Joan Crawfordâs life and career is inseparable from what she did on screen. Though she worked with many fine directors across her career, all of Crawfordâs films are essentially about her, and they need to be seen in terms of her unending thirst for publicity and attention, which still bears fruit and fans more than 40 years after her death. Crawford arouses sympathy and repulsion by turns, and the hilarious tunnel-vision focus that made her the ultimate camp totem is also what makes her lovable, in spite of the increasing warrior-hardness of her face, her often-monotonous intensity, and the sometimes off-puttingly aggressive way she offered her psychic battle scars to the camera.
Staring October 11, the Criterion Channel celebrates Crawfordâs work with a career-spanning, 25-film retrospective. The earliest film in the series is Tod Browningâs still-potent silent horror classic The Unknown, in which a beautifully striking Crawford, then around 20, stars as a neurotic carnival girl who Lon Cheneyâs circus freak is obsessed with marrying. By the time you get to Ranald MacDougallâs 1955 noir Queen Bee, in which Crawford delivers one of the greatest slaps in the history of the movies, that big-eyed, hopeful girl from Clarence Brownâs 1934 pre-Code drama Sadie McKee has been completely buried in the granite of obsessive self-preservation. Crawford went from shop girlâs delight to Queen of the Zulus in less than 20 years, a rags-to-riches American dream turning into a vodka-soaked, paranoid nightmare.
Crawford, born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was brought up in shady circumstances that are still shrouded in mystery and conjecture. Rumors that she made a few stag films before 1925 have never been verified, but sex was clearly the weapon that Crawford used to pull herself out of the gutter she came from. She made her first impact at MGM as a loose-living jazz heroine of silent films like Harry Beaumontâs Our Dancing Daughters, dancing clunky Charlestons in her scanties and all but broadcasting, âIâm the easiest lay in the world!â Such sexual abandon never really left her, and she had to pay for it time and again on screen in the â30s and beyond.
Crawford was sometimes cast as society girls, but usually her characters started out in a factory or a department store or a kitchen. In Sadie McKee, a highly refined bit of trash that stands as an archetypal â30s Crawford vehicle, the actressâs kitchen maid sticks up for herself against a snobbish family and remains true throughout to a wayward man played by Gene Raymond. Crawfordâs films are filled with funny contrasts and incongruities, and Sadie McKee is no exception: Even when Sadie is so down and out that she canât afford a decent meal, she wears a stylish black suit with fur cuffs, and when she gets angry, Crawford drops her piss-elegant, strained diction and suddenly sounds like a tough broad trying to run a laundry.
In Frank Borzageâs Strange Cargo, from 1937, we get a very tough Crawford facing off against the elements, Peter Lorre, and one of the actressâs best screen partners, Clark Gable. Her tense performance as a cranky cafe entertainer and prostitute in a town near a French Guiana penal colony is tiresomely one-note until she tries out that certain glamorously de-glamorized look out in the jungle, but the spiritual regeneration angle of the script does not suit a woman whose supposed last words were, âDonât you dare ask God to help me!â Crawfordâs image as star and woman is a matter of carefully nurtured bitterness; sheâs as unforgiving as Ingmar Bergman and just as narrowly preoccupied with slights and sexuality.
Criterionâs series includes another Borzage film from 1937, Mannequin, which is notable for Crawfordâs proletarian heroineâs opening walk up the stairs of her ugly tenement, reversing the logic of Seventh Heavenâs idyll: Sometimes there are staircases to hell as well as heaven. In the â40s, the actress landed at Warner Bros. and make the holy trinity of filmsâMildred Pierce, Humoresque, and Possessedâthat would cement her legend, after which she would quickly start to amp up the camp across a series of films, both high and low.
In Charles Waltersâs Torch Song, Crawford was at her latter-day, bulldozer best as tyrannical musical comedy star Jenny Stewart. Throughout, Crawfordâs emphatic way of talking makes even the most ordinary lines of dialogue sound like camp epiphanies. Throughout, Crawford dances stiffly and lip-synchs some songs, including one jaw-dropping number, âTwo-Faced Woman,â that she inexplicably performs in blackface (which might explain why the film didnât make this retrospective). It isnât Al Jolson blackface either: Crawford retains her bright red lipstick mouth and even wears rhinestones in her eyebrows. Surrounded by side-splittingly listless chorus girls, also in half-ass blackface, and a bunch of adoring chorus boys who I hope were well-paid, Crawford goes through with this insanity as she did everything else, with completely oblivious chutzpah.
Such is Crawfordâs deluded grandeur, however, that she has several scenes in Torch Song that are somewhat touching, especially when her eyes tear as Tye Grahamâs rehearsal pianist tells her that she will soon become a âcheap, vulgar has-beenâ and eventually turn to âthe bottle.â Crawford wasnât a fan of self-awareness, to put it mildly, but surely she could feel the truth in those harsh words, and predict the final descent into Berserk! and Trog and all the rest of her contributions to the hag-horror genre. Crawfordâs refusal to face facts from beginning to end makes her a quintessentially American icon. Dan Callahan
Below are some of our favorite films in the Criterion Channelâs retrospective.
Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932)
Why make a film with both John and Lionel Barrymore, to say nothing of Crawford and Greta Garbo, when you could make two films separately with each of them and, presumably, make double your money? This was the company line that Irving Thalberg found himself at odds with when he decided to cast all four (and more) in his adaptation of William A. Drakeâs Broadway smash Grand Hotel. Thalbergâs revelation was one of decadence, allowing the audience to luxuriate in those monumental visages all at once, but the film only works because director Edmund Goulding gives his spaces the same power and art-deco glamour as his performers. Garbo and Crawford are patiently unveiled, as they should be, but the director frontloads the film with his male stars and their various plotlines in immediate and immediately engaging montage, only to further introduce the pulp of the filmâs expertly weaved narrative with a bravura lobby sequence that makes stunning use of overhead crane shooting by famed cinematographer William H. Daniels. Chris Cabin
A Womanâs Face (George Cukor, 1941)
The air of grievance that marks Crawfordâs face in Borzageâs Strange Cargo is wonderfully used by George Cukor in A Womanâs Face, and even given a visual correlative: Crawford plays the first half of the film under ugly scar make-up covering one side of her face. This disfigurement really suits her, giving a context to her characterâs anger. When she slaps around a mean, pretty woman (Osa Massen), Crawford looks like an enraged animal going in for the kill, yet Cukor gives her several close-ups where her vulnerability comes to the surface, and it isnât the too-heavy, needy vulnerability we see in some of the actressâs lesser work. These real glimpses of her pain make Womanâs Face one of her most moving performances. Itâs a film that explains who Crawford was better than just about anything else she did. Callahan
Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946)
Humoresque is jam-packed with classical music recitals, the usual cultural sauce that Warner Bros. dribbled all over their â40s soap operas. During most of these programs, where Isaac Stern does John Garfieldâs violin playing for him, weâre left to look at Crawfordâs enraptured, sometimes sexual, always nakedly emotional reactions to her belovedâs playing (she even gives her program a hand-job while she stares at him). Never before or since has a player made love to the camera so blatantly, and cinematographer Ernest Hallerâs lens seems to respond viscerally to Crawfordâs shamelessly auto-erotic ardor as it creeps up closer and closer. Basically, Humoresque is a film about Crawfordâs face, that marvel of early make-up call architecture and brutal star self-will. Dedicated to making drunken self-loathing as glamorous as possible, Crawfordâs Helen, dressed in a glittering black Adrian sheath with football-player shoulder pads, eventually takes an awe-inspiringly silly 10-minute death walk into the sea, accompanied by Wagnerâs âTristan and Isolde.â Humoresque is overlong and artificial, but Crawford and Haller make it into a dreamy wallow in velvety masochism. Callahan
Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945)
Distinguishing Michael Curtizâs Mildred Pierce from many noirs is its disarmingly and modernly casual sense of the reliable humiliation of life as a woman in a manâs world, particularly a woman determined to carve out her own niche in the work sector. The film represented for Crawford what Rocky later represented for Sylvester Stallone: a do-or-die stab at survival in Hollywood that subsumes the starâs autobiographical struggles metaphorically into the narrative. Mildredâs unexpectedly successful quest to reinvent herself mirrors Crawfordâs transition from washed-up ingĂ©nue into one of the great powerhouse poets of the Hollywood melodrama. Crawford lets her work show, allowing you to feel her desperation to be iconicâher self-consciousness investing her super-stardom with weirdly relatable humanity. Crawford brings to light what a true star does: informing our weaknesses with operatic heft. Chuck Bowen
Possessed (Curtis Bernhardt, 1947)
Crawford plays Louise, a chilly nurse who nurtures a fatal passion for David (Van Heflin), a wastrel engineer. Like a bad penny, David keeps coming back into her life and tormenting her. Eventually, she starts hearing noises in the night, hallucinating all over the place, chattering irrationally and breaking into laughter for no reason. Itâs hard to care about Louise or David, but Possessed does have a few very good insights into the self-abasing aggressiveness of unrequited love. The film is at its best when itâs most subjective, putting you into Louiseâs mindset, and at its worst when it slows its pace down to a crawl in back-and-forth dialogue scenes. Crawford went to mental institutions to meet and observe some patients before shooting the film, and this preparation paid off. In her best scenes, she shows her characterâs illness subtly and accurately without going over the top. Crawford saw that mental illness shows itself above all in the eyes, in the way they seem to stare inward instead of out at the world, and she replicates this quite strikingly. Callahan
Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956)
Robert Aldrich is always doing unexpected things with the camera. He often zooms in almost imperceptibly to create a feeling of imbalance, and he juts his camera up close to Burt (Cliff Robertson) and Millie (Crawford) when they kiss for the first time, not caring that the lens is getting wet. Burt pounds on the camera lens itself by the end, as if he wanted to bust out of Autumn Leaves. Though Aldrich is having a field day with his camera, heâs very attentive to his two outstanding lead actors. There are fleeting moments of camp in Crawfordâs performance. However, perhaps because sheâs reacting to someone elseâs pain for a change, her narcissism doesnât hold her back. Crawford sometimes comes through, but mostly weâre watching Millicent Wetherby. Crawford is sensitive, operatic, and quite touching, especially when Millie first lets her guard down. This is arguably her best performance. Callahan
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962)
Itâs no secret that Crawford and Bette Davis envied and openly despised one another; thereâs abundant anecdotal lore that testifies to the myriad ways these divas one-upped and punked each other during production. That undeniable off-screen friction only helps grease the wheels of the filmâs compulsive forward momentum, supplying a crackling energy to scenes wherein, among other gothic horrors, pet birds are served up for supper with relish. But the torment on display isnât exactly a one-way street: As relentlessly as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? at first positions Baby Jane (Davis) as the sadistic malefactor, later scenes sow seeds of pathos and even pity that will blossom just in time for the bitterly ironic finale. Thereâs an end in sight for Blancheâs (Crawford) longsuffering predicament, just as Jane finally finds her place in the sun. Emphasizing the quietly apocalyptic nature of this denouement is its placement: a rocky stretch of strand that supposedly supplied the surging surf against which Robert Aldrich staged the explosive conclusion of his gumshoe breakdown Kiss Me Deadly. Budd Wilkins
Strait-Jacket (William Castle, 1964)
From a script by Psycho novelist Robert Bloch, Strait-Jacket stars Crawford as an ax-murderer returning home to her now grown daughter. The weird mix of pathos and gore and sentimentality and inanity are more of a piece here than in William Castleâs earlier Homicidal with Crawford at the center. One doesnât have to go mining for subtext: Crawfordâs murderer is the same somewhat self-martyred control freak she played in a number of more famous roles, and the horror-movie tropes bring her out further, seemingly completing her (she always seemed to be in a horror movie anyway and it tells you something about a film when an ax-murderer played by Crawford is its most sympathetic character). The Psycho associations would go further than anyone might have expected: Psycho II, nearly 20 years later, features a setup identical to Strait-Jacket. If thereâs one regret here itâs that Crawfordâs ego supposedly botched the ending, which now has her sobbing on a porch in the fashion of a womanâs issue movie from the â40s. The original ending, of Diane Baker screaming behind the door, is considerably harder to shake. Bowen
â70s Horror on the Criterion Channel
In the â70s, a new wave of horror film presented terror as a messy, brutally honest implosion from within.
All American horror films that really matter can be separated into two time periods: before and after Vietnam, an event that epitomized an era and transmogrified the nationâs concept of âhorrorâ forever. Whereas the horror films of yore would invariably depict true red-white-and-blue protagonists dealing xenophobically with foreign evil (vampires and cat people often represented all of Eastern Europe), a new wave of horror film presented terror in America as a messy, brutally honest implosion from within.
Vietnam seemed to be the cataclysm that ended the idea that America was the worldâs âcontrol group,â at least for a while. Typically, Psycho is referred to as the film that sliced horror history in half along socio-political lines, but for all its subversions of the rules of horror, the film still faithfully presents mainstream American society (as represented by Vera Miles) as the norm. No, it took a series of social uprisings, the gradual unraveling of a deceptive image that American soldiers were swaggering like pimps in Vietnam, and a seemingly endless cycle of political assassinations to fuel a new breed of scare-mongering films. And they exposed and subverted everything America held trueâopen spaces, machinery, industry, and country-gravy hospitalityâand amplified the nationâs capacity for superior terror.
This month, the Criterion Channel celebrates this wild, weird, and far-out era of genre filmmaking with their â70s Horror series. In their words: âThis tour through the 1970s nightmare realm is a veritable blood feast of perverse pleasures from a time when gore, grime, and sleaze found a permanent home in horror.â For more about the 29-film series, which collects some of the grimiest, goriest, and most inventive horror films from the decade, click here. And below is our list of our favorite films in the series. Eric Henderson
10. Ganja & Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973)
Ganja & Hess is both a highly personal reconstruction of the vampire myth (many cite it as the âanti-Blaculaâ), as well as a Godardian broadside, allowing us to imagine that Bill Gunn was actually thumbing his nose at the way the industry was shaping up for African-American directors in the â70s, thanks to films like Gordon Parksâs Shaft. Blaxploitation, now responsible for whole forestsâ worth of thesis papers, carries a dual appeal: Films that fall within the genreâs framework often have an insoluble blackness that white audiences can never completely absorb, which, paradoxically, is part of their appeal. Ganja & Hess, which has been retroactively, circumstantially cast as a berserk dash toward career suicide on Gunnâs part, is so singular, so opaque, that it doesnât even have the draw of commerce-friendly exoticism. If Shaft is Barry White and Melvin Van Peeblesâs Sweet Sweetbackâs Baadasssss Song is the Sex Pistols, then Ganja & Hess is John Cage. Jaime N. Christley
9. The Crazies (George A. Romero, 1973)
Like Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies concerns a plague that explodes Americaâs suppressive (and suppressed) tensions, though the monsters are left almost entirely off screen in this case, as George A. Romero foregrounds the sociocultural textures of martial law. The Crazies reprises Night of the Living Deadâs mercilessly propulsive editing while introducing a bold comic-book palette that would be refined in Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow. The film also abounds in inspired sketches of madness and infrastructural collapse, from the militaryâs dehumanizing uniform of black gas mask and white hazmat jumpsuit to an irrational image of an insane woman sweeping a battlefield with a broom. Even Romeroâs self-consciously lyrical touches intensify the filmâs textured canvas. The Crazies ironically understands fascism as being inherent in both the preservation and revolution of society. Chuck Bowen
8. Images (Robert Altman, 1972)
Images might not immediately strike one as a genre exercise, as itâs a subjective dramatization of a fragile womanâs psyche, following a famous childrenâs author, Cathryn (Susannah York), as she seemingly loses her mind and commits murder. Utilizing a fractured narrative, the film proffers an unreliable reality that underscores the greater tenuousness and chaos of human existence writ large. Itâs an art film that follows a codified set of traditions that were particularly in vogue in the â60s and â70s. Robert Altman is less interested in emotion and psychology than in emotional and psychological gamesmanshipâin mind-fucking that has a rich tradition in the more obsessive and political films of Luis BuĂ±uel, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski, and Joseph Losey, to name just a few of Imagesâs influences. Bowen
7. Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1972)
A grindhouse threnody for the Vietnam generation, Bob Clarkâs emotionally overwhelming Deathdream is a raw nerve radiating pure shock and grief, as evidenced by the reunion of Facesâs Lynn Carlin and John Marley to play the parents of a young private who, after apparently dying in battle, returns to their doorstep. With echoes of âThe Monkeyâs Paw,â it gradually dawns on the initially relieved family that Andyâs purple heart may no longer beat, and yet he thirsts for blood, which would be horrifying enough if the film didnât also seem to be suggesting that, whether soldiers return home from war decorated or draped by the flag, they never return as they were before. Henderson
6. The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
The masterful final panel in Roman Polanskiâs remarkable âApartment Trilogy,â The Tenant surpasses even Repulsion and Rosemaryâs Baby in its portrayal of claustrophobia and dissipating sanity. Casting himself as Trelkovsky, a meek Polish wanderer whose new Paris residence comes equipped with sinister neighbors, mysterious hieroglyphs, and mystical intimations, the great director employs a comically escalating sense of dread to crystallize a worldview in which weaklings and barbarians jostle for power and everyone is an outsider, as powerless against bullying as they are to helping the suffering of others. A master class in ominous, insinuating mise-en-scĂšne, this is the ultimate Polanski skin-crawler and one of cinemaâs supreme paranoid fantasias. Fernando F. Croce
5. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)
The longing and the sense of tragedy that were beginning to peak through at the end of Rabid are allowed to blossom in The Brood. David Cronenbergâs interests arenât quite as explicitly psychosexual in nature as usual, as he turns instead to the cycles of damage, repression, and abuse that originate in the nuclear family. The film marks the beginning of his career as a significant formalist, though itâs also as raw and primal as anything heâs made. The pent-up emotional turmoil suggests at times what Bergman mightâve done with a horror film, and it features one of Cronenbergâs most audacious metaphors: a group of vengeful mutant children whoâre conjured from the rage of a deeply troubled woman. This woman passes her psychic torment on to everyone even peripherally in her path, most devastatingly of all to her young daughter, who may soon begin to grow her own creatures, born of inescapable, inexpressible anger thatâs provoked by the seemingly predestined trauma of life with family. Bowen
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Throughout Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the subtlest and most extraordinarily fluid of American horror films, Philip Kaufman crafts textured scenes, rich in emotional and object-centric tactility, that cause our heads to casually spin with expectation and dread. Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter fuse paranoia, eroticism, and flippancy to arrive at their own distinctly flakey yet intense genre-movie style. The filmmakers have gone out of their way to devise scenes which are set in places that have rarely hosted a horror-movie set piece before, such as a dry-cleanerâs, a book store, and the creepy swamp-colored spa that provides their film with one of its shock centerpieces. The soundtrack is particularly unnerving when we get a prolonged glimpse at how the pod people hatch out of the flowers blooming all over the city, which Kaufman stages as a simultaneous birth and rape. Bowen
3. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
A film thatâs become synonymous with British horror, The Wicker Man follows a conservative Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) seeking a missing girl on a Hebridean island inhabited by pagans. The first half has an (intentional) air of the faintly ridiculous about it, embodied equally by Christopher Leeâs gloriously campy portrayal of the cultâs leader and the life-on-the-island sequences that are Pythonesque in their absurdist look at culture clash. But the filmâs impish wit and soft, Arcadian glow belie its cruel streak. The gathering clouds of unease building into a shocking third act thatâs aesthetically and structurally reminiscent of the end of Nicolas Roegâs Donât Look Now, possibly the highest praise one can give to the conclusion of a horror film. Abimanyu Das
2. Donât Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
Donât Look Now is driven by a crushing sense of emotional desolation. The phrase âpsychic thriller,â which was used to market the film, is technically true, but misleading, given that psychics are normally used by directors as springboards for action set pieces or as agents for ushering forth the explicit arrival of ghosts. There are certainly ghosts in Donât Look Now, and maybe even the kind that populate traditional horror stories, but the prevailing specters here are those that people come to know through disappointment or tragedy as allusions to things lost or desired, which have a way of suddenly opening mental portals to the past, and, in the case of this film and quite a bit of supernatural fiction, the future. Donât Look Now suggests a ghost story that Faulkner may have written, as it offers characters whoâre at the mercy of their streams of consciousness. Thereâs barely a present tense here at all, as itâs swallowed up by whatâs already happened and what will happen. Bowen
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Opening in utter darkness illuminated by sudden, dreadful flashes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre begins with a police report describing a violated corpse as âa grisly work of art,â a term that also applies perfectly to Tobe Hooperâs legendary grindhouse masterpiece. A rough-hewn American Gothic canvas, the film charts the trajectory of a batch of youngsters from a clammy van to the dangling hooks of an abbatoir run by a cannibalistic clan. Materializing in the middle of the horror genreâs most transgressive decade, this is a cacophony of piercing shrieks, metallic clanks, and roaring machinery that looks back to Psychoâs view of ingrown monsters even as it outdoes the older film in sheer, visceral impact. Snapshot of Vietnam-era outrage? Indictment of all-devouring capitalism? Blood-spattered redneck Theater of Cruelty? Yes to all, plus the screenâs most grueling portrait of mushrooming terror. Decades of sequels, remakes, and imitators canât take away its scabrous power. Croce
The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
These films show us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed.
“The [sci-fi] film has never really been more than an offshoot of its literary precursor, which to date has provided all the ideas, themes and inventiveness. [Sci-fi] cinema has been notoriously prone to cycles of exploitation and neglect, unsatisfactory mergings with horror films, thrillers, environmental and disaster movies.â So wrote J.G. Ballard about George Lucasâs Star Wars in a 1977 piece for Time Out. If Ballardâs view of science-fiction cinema was highly uncharitable and, as demonstrated by some of the imaginative and mind-expanding films below, essentially off-base, he nevertheless touched on a significant point: that literary and cinematic sci-fi are two fundamentally different art forms.
Fritz Langâs Metropolis, a visionary depiction of a near-future dystopia, is almost impossible to imagine as a work of prose fiction. Strip away the Art Deco glory of its towering cityscapes and factories and the synchronized movements of those who move through those environments and whatâs even left? Itâs no accident that some of the greatest cinematic adaptations of sci-fi novels bear only a passing resemblance to their source material. Ridley Scottâs Blade Runner, for example, simply mines some of the concepts from Phillip K. Dickâs Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about human-looking androids, using them as the raw material for a haunting urban future-noir that owes more to visual artists like Moebius and Antonio SantâElia than it does to Dick himself. Then thereâs Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker, which transfigures Arkady and Boris Strugatskyâs briskly paced novella Roadside Picnic into a slow, mesmerizing journey into an uncanny space.
Ballard may have been right that literary sci-fi has provided all the interesting themes and ideas for which sci-fi in general has become known, but he failed to grasp how cinema has expanded our understanding of sci-fi by pricking at our collective visual consciousness. The titles below (all presently streaming on Netflix) have shown us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed. Some of these depictions are humorous, others haunting. Some rely on complicated special effects, others use none at all. But theyâre united by their fearlessness in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own. Keith Watson
10. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2014)
Bong Joon-hoâs Snowpiercer is an angry and bleak film, as well as an old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes genre entry concerned with passĂ© niceties such as atmosphere and spatial coherence. The premise also has an inviting bluntness: A few years into the future, global warming slips out of control, and humankind inadvertently initiates an ice age in its attempt to correct it. Soon after, all that remains of humanity are the passengers of an ultra-equipped, self-sustaining train that suggests Noahâs Arc as a speeding elevated bullet. Having predictably learned nothing from their travails, the trainâs passengers quickly assume the flawed social structure of the first world thatâs recently ended, with the entitled haves exploiting the enraged have-nots. The film is most notable for its evolving visual concept: Each car takes one closer to a representation of the world as it presently works. The first few cars are rendered in the distancing apocalyptic hobo ax-and-sword aesthetic thatâs been a cinema standard since at least the Mad Max films. But the latter cars are lit in expressionistically beautiful club-rave rainbow colors that reflect the escalating social privilege of a lost generation. Chuck Bowen
9. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols, 2016)
With Mud and Take Shelter, writer-director Jeff Nichols has already used withholding narratives to weave distinctly Southern tales about fringe believers, survivalists who could also be seen as evangelists. Nichols was forthright about the motives of his protagonists, but cagey about whether their causes were worth believing in. Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is another in Nicholsâs lineage of would-be prophets, but no one here doubts the world-changing potential of the childâs visions. If in Midnight Special is, at its heart, a work of science fiction, it rolls out like a chase film. With the help of his childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Altonâs father, Roy (Michael Shannon), has kidnapped the child from captivity at a compound run by a Branch Davidian-like cult that once counted Roy as a member. Given its twilit suburban adventures and encroaching security forces, the story exudes a superficially classical sensibility, recalling Starman and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nichols has an easy mastery of pacing and tension, employing a churning sound design (and a pulsing score by David Wingo) that allows moments of occasionally bloody action to arrive with a frightening blast or a deep, quaking rumble of bass, and the film moves with purpose to its final destination. Christopher Gray
8. Elizabeth Harvest (Sebastian Gutierrez, 2018)
The plot convolutions of Elizabeth Harvest conjoin with director Sebastian Gutierrezâs stylistic bravuraâblasts of red and blue in Cale Finotâs cinematography that connote a spiritual as well as physical sense of ultraviolenceâto create an incestuous atmosphere thatâs reminiscent of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Henry is a memorable monster, played by CiarĂĄn Hinds with a bravura mixture of smug entitlement and oily needfulness thatâs weirdly and unexpectedly poignant. In one of the greatest mad-scientist speeches ever delivered by a character in a horror film, Henry explains that his cloned wife (Abbey Lee) is only real to him when he destroys her. This admission chillingly crystallizes the thin line, within the male gaze, between adoration and contempt. Bowen
7. Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller, 2015)
The filmâs first-person perspective is so ingeniously sustained throughout the lean 96-minute running time that youâre liable to swat at your face when a man covered in steel and wielding a flamethrower sets Henry (Andrey Dementyev) on fire, or hold on to the edge of your seat when he battles the telekinetic warlord Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) atop a skyscraper from which a free fall seems inevitable. The filmâs singular ambition is to immerse the viewer in the thick of a frenzied drive toward the promise of a loverâs touch and a few more minutes of life. Our aesthetic perception is linked to our perception of Henry himself, so that the film becomes a study of empathy through aesthetics. Itâs not for nothing that Henry is made to have no voice, as Hardcore Henryâs unbelievably precise choreography of action seeks to tap into a universal feeling of powerlessness. Gonzalez
6. Mad Max (George Miller, 1979)
The Mad Max trilogy is the work of a talented virtuoso who blended seemingly every trope of every movie genre into a series of punk-rock action films. The plots, which are nearly irrelevant, are always similarly primitive even by the standards of low-budget genre films: In a bombed-out future version of the outback, a vicious gang pisses off a brilliant highway daredevil, Max (Mel Gibson), and stunning vehicular mayhem ensues. Though the second film, most commonly known in America as The Road Warrior, is often cited as the masterpiece of the series, the original Mad Max is still the most ferocious and subversive. The 1979 film most explicitly riffs on delinquent racing movies and the kinds of crudely effective 1970s horror movies that would sometimes show a family being violated in a prolonged fashion, and there are sequences in Mad Max that could be edited, probably with few seams, into, say, Wes Cravenâs The Last House on the Left. Mad Max also has a distinctly Australian masculine tension thatâs reminiscent of other outback-set classics such as Wake in Fright, as itâs concerned with the pronounced sexual repression and frustration of a predominantly male population thatâs all dressed up in tight leather with little to do apart from mounting their bikes and revving up their big noisy engines. Bowen
5. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonzeâs Her begins with a love letterâa misdirect. Itâs a billet-doux by proxy, ghost-authored, dictated to a machine. We open on the wide-eyed mug of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), seeming to speak from the heart, recalling fondly a first love that proves, with the reveal of an incongruous anniversary, to belong to somebody else. So the âhandwritten lettersâ of beautifulhandwrittenletters.com are merely approximations of the form: our near-futureâs phantom memorandum. But what matters here is that the love is real. Theodoreâs letters, in a sense the filmâs emotional through line, are never less than deeply felt, swelling with earnest affection. That heâs talking through and to another canât reduce the depth of feeling in the sentiments. The genius of Her is that it doesnât ask you to believe in the truth of its speculative science fiction so much as it does the truth of its romance, which is to say that Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) means more as metaphorâfor a hard-won connection, long-distance or otherwise remoteâthan as a prediction of future tech. Her is about âthe modern condition,â but not, importantly, in the strictly satirical sense: It tells us less about how we live than how we love. Marsh
4. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1986)
Long before Robert Zemeckis re-envisioned the 1960s as the era America gave itself over to stupidity (to the delight of Rush Limbaughâs dittoheads nationwide), he blasted the 1980s back into the 1950s with Back to the Future. Or, rather, he blasted the 1980s specifically for its return to a 1950s-reminiscent moral and political agenda. Looking back on it with the same sense of from-the-future assurance that informed the movieâs own creation, Back to the Future is a logistically beautiful but almost inhumanly perfect confluence of internal logic and external forces. It stands up on its own as a well-oiled, brilliantly edited example of new-school, Spielberg-cultivated thrill-craft, one that endures even now that its visual effects and haw-haw references to Pepsi Free and reruns seem as dated as full-service gas stations apparently did in 1985. Its schematic organization of what Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) need to accomplish and its steadily mounting series of mishaps demonstrating how they can go wrong represent probably the most carefully scripted blockbuster in Hollywood history, but the filmâs real coup (and what separates it from the increasingly fluent pack of Spielberg knockoffs) is in how it subtly mocks the political pretensions of the eraânot the 1950s, but rather the 1980s. Eric Henderson
3. The End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1997)
When Hideaki Anno ended Neon Genesis Evangelion, his elaborate analogy for his own untreated depression, with a moment of calming, redemptive group therapy, the backlash he received from fans who wanted a cataclysmic climax was overwhelming. In response, Anno crafted this theatrical alternate ending, in which he brutally and unsparingly gave fans all the nihilistic chaos they could ever want. If the anime seriesâs finale was a psychological breakthrough, End of Evangelion is the relapse, an implosion of self-annihilating revulsion and anger rendered in cosmic terms. Religious, sci-fi, and psychosexual imagery intersect in chaotic, kaleidoscopic visions of personal and global hell, all passing through the shattered mind of the show’s child soldier protagonist. Its finale is the most fully annihilative visualization of the Rapture ever put to screen, a mass death rendered as cathartic release from the hell of existence that, in a parting act of cruelty, leaves the broken, suicidal protagonist alive to bear witness to oblivion. Jake Cole
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Introverted nice guy Joel (Jim Carrey) hears of an experimental procedure to erase troubling memories, and dives right in when his impulsive girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), washes her brain clean of their love-shattered relationship. Joelâs memories go backward in time from the last gasp of their love to their initial spark, but there are sideways detours along the way that take him to infancy and memories of his first childhood humiliation. James Joyce might have applauded this Phil Dick-caustic/Gnostic rendition of his Nighttown from Ulysses, with Clementine as Joelâs face-changing Penelope/Molly Bloom. Joel attempts to fight the erasure in his own mind, and the film admits early on that itâs a fight he cannot win. That he keeps on fighting anyway is the crux of Eternal Sunshine, and a breakthrough for Charlie Kaufmanâwriting about the human condition more than questioning our lives as self-made fictions. The fantasies of the film are more ârealâ than anything he’d written before, because they define who we think we are. Joel rediscovers his love for Clementine through fantasy, which is to say through his clouded memories of her. Such things are precious, and Gondry revels in that world in all its fleeting, flickering, ever-mutating joys. Jeremiah Kipp
1. Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)
An imaginative expansion of the brisk Philip K. Dick short story, âWe Can Remember It for You Wholesale,â this film about fake memories and a real interplanetary crisis now stands redolent with nostalgia, both for its time, as well as for itself. Beneath its show of smoke and mirrors, mercenary babes, and treacherous holograms, Total Recall is a story about a man who must choose between two possible, contradictory realities. In one timeline, heâs an earthbound schmuck; in the far less likely one, heâs a hero who must save an oppressed people on a faraway planet. He canât afford to waver, but itâs our privilege to do so. As viewers, weâre welcome to consider the persistent motif of walls collapsing, subterfuges dissolving, and rugs being pulled out from still more rugs. The film now exists in a twilight of an era in which factory-produced entertainment could still serve as a keyhole into a dimension of weird, through which we might glimpse the otherworldly, and contemplate fondling the third breast. Jaime Christley