1. Knuckle (2011)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Documentary about rival Irish families settling disputes via bare-knuckle fights
Like the Irish countryside? How about vicious, bare-knuckle street boxing? Well then, Knuckle is the film for you, especially if you also share a passion for gypsy folk. And, by the way, never, ever call them gypsies – they prefer the term “travellers,” and, if this film is any indication, you do not want to provoke them. Like Romeo and Juliet, but without all that annoying romance, Knuckle centers on two traveller families who have feuded for decades. Both families incite the feud by cutting earnest, pro wrestling-style promos which they videotape and circulate. They then settle their complex and mysterious rivalries by punching each other repeatedly in the face, for large stakes of money. This doc is not especially introspective on this peculiar way of life, but the footage is incredibly compelling – as seen in these bloody brawls and quiet interviews, these are a truly mythic people.
2. Top Secret! (1984)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: More zany gags from the makers of Airplane!
I have no idea why Top Secret! isn’t better remembered: it’s from Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers, the creative team behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun series, and, in my eyes, it’s on the same level of comedic excellence. The non-stop jokes have a strong hit-to-miss ratio, and I was impressed by the film’s varied mixture of vulgar but effective sight gags, surprisingly clever non-sequiturs, and surreal set pieces (the backwards library and the underwater fight scenes come to mind, both quite ambitious and well-executed). Also, Val Kilmer’s film debut! What more could you ask for?
3. Holy Motors (2012)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Impossible to describe, and the less you know the better
France’s Holy Motors opens on an audience of sleeping filmgoers, a state of cinematic ennui that director Leos Carax clearly hopes to tear us from. This is absolutely vital, invigorating, unpredictable filmmaking – is it about the artificiality of cinema, the possession and desire for beauty, the fractal nature of identity, or the ever-changing dynamics of love and relationships? It seems to be about all these things, told in a breakneck narrative style, with an astounding, one-of-a-kind lead performance from Denis Lavant.
4. Only God Forgives (2013)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Ryan Gosling gets Freudian, kickboxes in Bangkok’s criminal underworld
Only God Forgives is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and stars Ryan Gosling, the same duo that gave us 2011’s much-loved Drive. But loving Drive is no guarantee that you’ll enjoy this hellacious, brutal film (how’s that for an endorsement?), which was roundly despised by critics. Only God Forgives maintains the stylized aesthetics of Drive, but it also takes that film’s already subdued emotions and disaffected performances and dials them down to absolute zero. In the resulting void, Refn combines a Lynchian absurdity with Kubrick’s detached violence, creating an Oedipal saga of barbarism and savagery. What’s the point? I’d be lying if I said I knew for sure. But, off-putting though it may seem at times, Only God Forgives is also hypnotizing, visceral, upsetting, soulless, dazzling. It’s an enigma that casts a bizarre, evil spell.
5. Ravenous (1999)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Surprisingly funny cannibalism epidemic at an isolated military fort
This delightfully schizophrenic horror/comedy doesn’t play by any genre rules. Ravenous’ humor, gore, and tension are wonderfully interwoven within scenes that play for laughs and grim terror simultaneously. The cast is solid (particularly Jeffrey Jones), the writing is clever, and the score, from Michael Nyman and Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn, is wonderfully eccentric.
6. Night of the Creeps (1986)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Alien lifeforms infest 80s college campus, cheesy awesomeness ensues
Honestly, whether or not you’re going to enjoy this film comes down to what you think of the following infamous lines of dialogue, which sum up the film’s plot and spirit:
Detective Cameron: I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.
Sorority Sister: What’s the bad news?
Detective Cameron: They’re dead.
Night of the Creeps is an extremely fun 80s horror/comedy cult favorite. It’s trashy, but it’s quality trash – ably shot, with surprising visual panache and a witty script. Creeps is packed with plenty of in-jokes for B-movie buffs, and enough gore to keep things entertaining. Sure, the plot has the internal logic of a story dreamed up by a paste-eating 5-year-old (i.e., the completely bizarre and basically unnecessary alien opening), but this is one of the best 80s B-movie offerings around.
7. Super (2010)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Hapless jackass becomes crazed superhero to save wife from criminals
This exhilaratingly funny, offbeat superhero film is bound to frustrate some audiences – it’s tonally wild (switching at will from black humor to gory action to bittersweet drama) and it consistently does the opposite of what you expect. Fortunately, the film is buoyed by an excellent cast that stars Rainn Wilson (The Office’s Dwight Schrute) and Ellen Page and includes supporting roles from Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon (!), and it’s aided by a great soundtrack and strong production values (particularly considering the low budget). I’m not sure I agree with the apparent message, but the film is so irresistibly hilarious and unpredictable that I didn’t mind. You have to love any movie that takes Batman’s vigilante justice and pushes it to its most extreme logical conclusion: a superhero hitting a guy in the head with a pipe wrench for cutting in line at the movies. Director James Gunn filled this film with a personal vision of loss and acceptance, and he did it in the weirdest way possible.