Written by Blake Peterson
January 1, 2016
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Russ Meyer, 1965
I don’t care where your loyalties lie — Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is the finest pulp movie ever made. Is it because of Russ Meyer’s trashy but overwhelmingly intelligent direction, his comic book ready dialogue, or Tura Satana’s bombastic performance that makes exploitation seem like a work of art? Hard to say, but get watching.
The Guest Adam Wingard, 2014
I’m sick of hearing about Kingsman: The Secret Service as a standout throwback actioner, as The Guest, confined to limited release, is a mini-masterpiece with shades of The Terminator and maybe even a little Halloween. Frightening, dexterously exciting, and well-acted, it is the kind of indie gem that knocks you off your feet, its conviction sturdy instead of pondering. Dan Stevens very well may be a modern equivalent of Steve McQueen (just more villainous), and Maika Monroe is a Jamie Lee for the new generation. It’s unmissable.
Basic Instinct Paul Verhoeven, 1992
Provocative as Sharon Stone’s leg crossing/uncrossing is, it frustrates me how rarely Basic Instinct is credited for its merit — if it were a De Palma film (you can’t say that it doesn’t have a lot in common, stylistically I mean, with his Dressed to Kill and Body Double), it would certainly be held in much higher regard. It is an exquisite modern film noir, and Stone makes for one of the greatest, if not the greatest, femme fatales of all time. I love films like this: sexy, dangerous, chic, and cunningly mysterious. It’s worth re-viewing. Just get your mind out of the gutter next time, okay?
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Tobe Hooper, 1974
Imagine my surprise when I went into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre thinking it would be a shameless piece of garbage like Friday the 13th but ended up being so outrageously scared that I expected Leatherface and his cannibal family to come crashing into my living room at any given moment. The film bears a ridiculous premise but feels so real — that’s why it has lasted so long. The cheapness that comes along with being an iconic film in the horror community is
omething that should be ignored, not paired up with, because this, this, is what a horror movie should be.
Belle De Jour Luis Buñuel, 1967
Though billed as one of the defining pieces of cinematic erotica, Belle De Jour, to my surprise, contained no nudity, its steaminess stemming from desire, from suggestion alone. And that’s sexier than any skin flash. Smart of me to wait until this year to view it; had I thrown inhibitions out the window and viewed it three years ago, I would have found it boring, missing all its subtle social commentaries. It is among Luis Buñuel’s finest films, and certainly contains one of Catherine Deneuve’s most iconic performances.
Cool Hand Luke
Stuart Rosenberg, 1967
It’s no secret that I wish I were Paul Newman — he’s so effortlessly cool and mysterious that I can only dream of a time during which I’ll be a ripped idol myself. For now, though, such things are only goals, and I can, in the meantime, live vicariously through his performance in Cool Hand Luke, which is one of his best and most vulnerable. He starts off as the tough guy of his generation, only to slowly but steadily reveal himself to be someone darkly human. He is, by turns, heartbreaking and an appealing figure of self-possession.
As I live in a smallish town that doesn’t specialize in films confined to limited release, I had to wait for almost a year-and-a-half to see Two Days, One Night, which, for some reason, avoided a Netflix release like the plague and remained a torturous wait in my queue. When finally stricken with viewing, shocking was the way it lived up to my expectations and then some — endless waiting can cause ultimate
Two Days, One
Night The Dardenne Brothers, 2014
momentous disappointment, after all. But it’s a beautiful film, quiet and sad and featuring a performance from Marion Cotillard that assures us that her ability to stir our souls on the screen isn’t going away any time soon.
Diva Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981
This French thriller, bearing hints of Godard, Truffaut, and even Hitchcock, is a tour-de-force of style laced in adrenaline. Its suspense is surprising, coming from places we’d never expect, and we can’t help but be dazzled by the cast, who are required to play roles that land far south of conventionality yet still manage to convince us of their characterizational quirks.
Freeway Matthew Bright, 1996
Most look to Legally Blonde as being the Reese Witherspoon movie, but they clearly haven’t seen Freeway, which is insanely batshit and certainly one of the most underrated films of the 1990s. Wild, unpredictable, profane, unthinkable, and scrumptiously funny, repeated viewings do not hinder the notable way it can slap you in the face and make you uglily guffaw. This is the Reese Witherspoon movie; Elle Woods can go take a hike downtown in her pink Prada.
James L. Brooks, 1987
Sensitive yet whip smart, Broadcast News is one of the best movies about media ever made — while displaying the stressful and frenetic energy that surrounds making a story informative and entertaining, it also takes the time to get to know the people who spend their lives emanating adrenaline on a regular basis because they love their job. The performances are immaculate, and James L. Brooks, always a dependable filmmaker, deftly balances the personal and professional hardships that often overtake the psyches of its leading characters. It all seems so seamless.
Kiss Me Deadly
Robert Aldrich, 1955
Part of me wants to say that I like Kiss Me Deadly better than The Big Sleep, but then I remind myself that I like them for different reasons: the latter for its dialogue, Bogie and Bacall, the way its style pulls us into its labyrinthine world of murder and deceit, and the former for the way it, more or less, captures the tonal instincts of a cheap pulp novel and delivers whole-heartedly. We could bathe in its near sci-fi glory all day, but I’d rather just watch it again and relive its hypnotic way of painting crime, justice, and romance as the finest things in life.
The Late Show
Robert Benton, 1977
Watching The Late Show earlier this year felt the same as watching a classic no one knows is a classic yet. Why it isn’t more famous, I’ll never know (it’s a more likable version of The Long Goodbye and then some); a shame, considering how terrific Lily Tomlin and Art Carney are, and how well they find the fun in revamping the detective movie in ways never thought possible. It’s kooky and ticklish fun — no wonder it was produced by Robert Altman.
Flirting John Duigan, 1991
I like teen movies. I’m not immune to the charms of Mean Girls, Clueless, or any of the touching circuses John Hughes churned out during the majority of the 1980s. But there’s an underlying sense that this isn’t what teenagers are really like, and that the people playing them are just hot twenty-somethings dumbing themselves down for dough. So Flirting is the most underrated, and certainly finest, in the subgenre, being so real, so relatable, and so in touch with its textures and colors that we really do find ourselves caring about its main characters, a sensation we’re often not familiar with in a land of stereotypes.
Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy, 2014
It’s hard to say what Nightcrawler really is — part of me wants to designate it as a horror movie, but another wishes to label it as a savage TV satire, more brutal than Network, as whip smart as Broadcast News, but terrifying in ways only modern slashers can manage. This is all thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal, giving the greatest performance of his career, as a cameraman so slimy that doing something as sinful as getting footage from a pre-police inspected murder scene isn’t necessarily out of the question.
Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino, 1994
As a relatively young film fanatic, it might come as a surprise that I hadn’t seen Pulp Fiction until 2015, but that’s only a result of having good parents. At thirteen, I was furious that they wouldn’t let me watch it (I had seen the censored versions of Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds on TV — I could handle it!), though now I understand why they preserved my innocence for so long. And I appreciate it; though their biggest concern was the violence and language, like any worrisome parents, I’m glad I was forced to wait, as the content would most likely
not be as enjoyed by a kid who watched Ingmar Bergman films at a young age and pretended to intellectually understand them. At eighteen, Pulp Fiction is a reference point that will never leave me, and while I may mostly turn to the scenes depicting the relationship/friendship (whatever you might call it) between John Travolta and Uma Thurman during rewatches, that doesn’t mean the film hasn’t had a tremendous influence on me so late in my reviewing hobby. It isn't the most influential film of the last twenty years for no reason.