Part of a well-balanced cinematic diet is making sure you watch not only the new, shiny releases, but also fill in the blindspots and sand over the rough patches in your personal moviegoing topography. These are ten movies that were new to me in 2020 that excited, challenged, and delighted me!
Symbol (2009, dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)
From my March FILMxFIVE article:
“This is an absolutely gonzo movie from maniac/genius Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan, R100) features Hitoshi as a man trapped in large, blindingly white room. Walls full of writhing cherub statues retract, leaving behind only tiny protruding genitals that release random objects into the room (a pink toothbrush, an antique vase, sushi, and much more) when pressed. Simultaneously, an aging luchador named Escargot Man prepares for a wrestling contest in Mexico. It is not spoiling anything to tell you that these two seemingly disparate storylines will at some point intersect, and that the payoff will remain unexpected until the literal second it occurs. Hopefully our time spent at home will result in as much unbridled discovery as this film revels in. At the very least, I hope our pajama game is as on point.”
Narrator voice: It didn’t. And it isn’t.
Apartment Zero (1988, dir. Martin Donovan)
A lonely cinema owner in Buenos Aires (a baby-faced Colin Firth) gains and befriends an American roommate (Die Hard’s Ellis himself, Hart Bochner) in this slow-burn psychological thriller. Underseen by my metrics (nary a single Letterboxd mutual has seen it), this film also features what I believe the be the first recorded instance of a Leonard Maltin game variant being played.
One Cut of the Dead (2017, dir. Shin'ichirô Ueda)
WATCH VIA SHUDDER/SLING
I am loathe to spoil any aspect of this film, so I’ll simply say this: hang tight through the first 15 or so minutes of what appears to be shabby amateurism, and you’ll be handsomely repaid with a cascade of payoffs that will leave you utterly delighted!
9 Souls (2003, dir. Toshiaki Toyoda)
This film, about a bus full of escaped convicts in search of buried treasure, pulls off an incredible high-wire act – balancing comedy, pathos, drama, violence – without ever making a misstep. It made me excited to dig further into Toshiaki Toyoda’s filmography.
Maniac Cop 2 (1990, dir. William Lustig)
Picking up shortly after the events of the first film, this slice of vicious exploitation features what may be the apex of the “stunt man ambling about after being set on fire” action trope, as well as one of my favorite movie wrinkles – an end credits song that is entirely about the movie you just watched. Ladies, gentleman, those beyond the binary, I proudly present to you Yeshwua (Josh) Barnes and Brian "B.Dub" Woods performing Maniac Cop Rap:
Demons (1985, dir. Lamberto Bava)
Part of a proud cinematic tradition of moviegoers being viciously menaced while inside a movie theater (meta meta meta), Demons absolutely rules. Let it serve as a lesson: if ornate prop masks are on display in a theater lobby, do not under any circumstances put them on “as a goof”.
Life is a Miracle (2004, dir. Emir Kusturica)
Every Kusturica film I’ve seen feels like a miracle. Sprawling tales teeming with life in all of its disparate glory (farce walking hand in hand with tragedy), and Life is a Miracle was no different. Fun bonus: Kusturica built a traditional village for the purposes of making this film, one that netted him an architectural award. I’ve got visiting Drvengrad on my post-COVID bucket list for sure.
Hit the Deck (1955, dir. Roy Rowland)
I will make no argument that this is any great shakes on the classic movie musical front, but even a middle-of-the-road movie musical is a balm in the midst of the diarrhea cyclone that was 2020. Sidenote: Ann Miller do a tap routine on my trachea challenge.
Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1974, dir. Richard Erdman)
Do you like Vincent Price? Zsa Zsa Gabor voiceover? Dogs wearing costumes? Weird Randy Newman-esque ballads? Seek out this movie about a dog that comes to Hollywood in search of fame. If there’s any justice, this will be remade occasionally throughout cinema history like A Star Is Born.
I Know Where I’m Going! (1945, Dirs. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
A beautiful seaside romance. Rarely is a film so evocative with regards to its setting – you can feel the mist and wind gusts emanating from nearly every frame. If you’re in the market for a swoon-worthy experience, you could hardly do better.