1. It’s a Disaster (2012)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: The apocalypse puts a damper on couples brunch
This witty, sharp ensemble comedy is like an indie This Is the End – four couples meet up for brunch in one of their suburban homes, only to become trapped inside as seemingly apocalyptic events transpire without. It’s A Disaster doesn’t begin firing on all cylinders until the veneer of normalcy disappears and the characters reveal their true nature, but when it does, it’s a lively film, well-written and performed (with a healthy dose of David Cross for all you comedy nerds). If their life expectancy wasn’t so short, I could easily imagine returning for further adventures with this colorful cast of characters.
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: People are being replaced with emotionless clones hatched from pods
The Body Snatchers series is a great example of one of my favorite horror subgenres – the Everyone Around You Is Actually Part of a Secret Cult Out to Get You genre (probably best realized in Rosemary’s Baby). I haven’t seen the ’78 version since I was like 15, but I remember finding it incredibly taut and ominous and unsettling and all that other good stuff that characterized the best horror films of that era. The ending is justifiably celebrated for its chilling power, and we get a brief glimpse of a man-dog that will forever compromise the integrity of my sleep. Plus it has Jeff Goldblum!
3. Upstream Color (2013)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Two victims of hypnosis find themselves inexorably drawn together
Everything is connected and love just might be a virus perpetuated via worms in this moody and mysterious oddity from writer/director/actor Shane Carruth. Carruth turned heads with his out-of-nowhere debut Primer (sort of a mumblecore science-fiction film), but I found Upstream Color far more accessible and emotionally resonant. Keep in mind that accessible is a relative term, as even Upstream Color is extremely ambiguous and potentially frustrating for viewers conditioned to expect tidy narratives. If the idea of experimental sci-fi about an obscure biological connection between orchids, worms, pigs, and people doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to stay away. But Carruth kept my attention throughout with a gorgeous, montaged visual approach and a truly outstanding use of sound. I took the film as a metaphor for original sin and free will, but who the hells knows. Intelligent and audacious, there’s nothing else out there quite like it.
4. The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Hugh Grant & Friends battle huge worm, ancient pagan cults
This tremendously fun Ken Russell outing feels like an art house version of Troll 2 (granted, a film widely regarded as one of the worst ever made). Gleefully strange and zealously exploitative, it genuinely works despite its campiness – White Worm is actually pretty creepy at times, and several scenes are bizarre, visually striking standouts (this was my first Russell film and I really dug his idiosyncratic style). Peppered with none-too-subtle symbolism and some fun comic gags, this is a delightfully unique film.
5. In the Loop (2009)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Hilarious political satire admits England and USA are equally screwed
Watching In the Loop without any background knowledge is like jumping into the middle of a hilarious TV show that’s already in its 3rd season – you can’t stop laughing, but you feel like some of the jokes are sailing over your head. In the Loop is outrageously funny, relentlessly paced and acerbically scripted, but I had literally no idea what even the basic plot was and felt like all of the characters had pre-existing arcs that I knew nothing about. I found out after the fact that it’s actually based on an existing show (the BBC’s The Thick of It), but apparently this is more of a spin-off, with few of the show’s actual characters. I had no idea what the fuck was happening, but I laughed from start to finish and it left me wanting more.
6. House (1986)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Divorced horror novelist moves into haunted house, meets George Wendt
House, a surprisingly worthwhile 80s horror/comedy, is ostensibly about a Vietnam vet coping with the guilt that cost him his wife and son, yet it plays as a screwball comedy in a haunted house. The tonal shifts are jarring until you realize that House is emphasizing the comedic aspect to deal with very dark subject matter while remaining within the confines of relatively mainstream fare. Ably directed by Steve Miner, House features William Katt as an affable lead and an excellent, understated George Wendt as the comedic sidekick. The effects are cartoonish, but impressive nonetheless, and the result is an above-average 80s throwback.
7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
10 Words or Fewer Summary: Fearing the wrath of Alec Baldwin, salesmen sell their souls
Possibly the best film about capitalism ever made, Glengarry Glen Ross hauntingly recreates its seismic forces in the interpersonal relationships between lowly salesmen in a dingy real estate office. Each interaction between these sharply drawn characters is a collision of constantly shifting power dynamics as their values rise and fall like so many stocks. Small in scale, the film’s ideas are impressively far-reaching: it captures the desperation that fuels the capitalist spirit, as well as the absurd macho rhetoric. It understands that success is ultimately dependent on someone else’s failure and that the limp-wristed regulation of the law pales in comparison to landing on the wrong side of a deal.
Oh, and did I mention it’s an ensemble piece starring Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey? Superbly written (adapted by David Mamet from his own play) and about as well acted as any movie ever made (if I had to rank the performances, I’d go Lemmon, Pacino, Harris, Baldwin, Spacey, Arkin).