With so many films being released it’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer selection of titles available at our fingertips, and many of us find ourselves scrolling through our queues of streaming titles for hours while picking something to watch. Before you decide to revisit Avengers: Endgame for the 40th time, maybe make some room in your schedule for some of these gems that have yet to find a wider audience but are deserving of your time.
The Death of Dick Long
dir. Daniel Scheinert
This riveting black comedy initially appears as a hicksploitation romp through middle America while slowly reveals itself to be something unexpected. Remember when Swiss Army Man came out and everyone was like, “Aw man, cool, we gotta check out this movie where Harry Potter plays a bloaty fart corpse!” thinking it would be a goofy comedy? Instead, we were treated to an affecting drama whose hilarious gimmick was merely floating on the surface of something profound. Fans of that film will be glad to know that one of the “Daniels”, Daniel Scheinert, brings with Dick of Dick Long another joyful surprise. Bonus: You’ll never hear a Nickelback song used so powerfully in a movie!
dir. Wanuri Kahiu
Hollywood movie: “Africa is a SCARY place with GUNS”
Kenyan movie: “Life is beautiful. Love can get you through the worst hardships. Live every moment to its fullest.”
Rafiki tells the story of Kena and Ziki, two women who find a connection in their mutual desire to break free from the traditional duties of a Kenyan wife, forming a bond that turns to something deeper. Wanuri Kahiu’s delicate and subtle storytelling makes this love story feel real, from the tiniest glance to the tenderest touch. Often LGBTQ love stories have an underlying theme of pain and fear, but audiences in North America can easily forget that being gay is still illegal in many places around the world. The film was banned by government censors in Kenya last year and Kahiu had to take the government to court to grant the film the tiniest of releases. As a silver lining, Rafiki became the second highest grossing Kenyan film of all-time even though it was only allowed to play locally for a single week.
dir. Lee Byeong-heon
I went into Extreme Job thinking it would be a rip-roaring action movie, but instead got the best comedy I’ve seen all year. Extreme Job follows a team of downtrodden detectives that rebound from an embarrassing defeat by setting up a surveillance operation in a run-down fried chicken joint. While trying to take down a powerful drug lord. they run the restaurant to avoid suspicion of hanging out in the neighborhood, only to find unexpected success selling plate after plate of delicious fried chicken to anyone who can squeeze into the packed eatery. Sure, the concept borrows a bit too much from Small Time Crooks, but that film didn’t have Woody Allen and Elaine May rappelling down buildings and beating up drug dealers…although maybe it should have!
dir. Joe Begos
Horrorhead Joe Begos has divided audiences with his particular approach to filmmaking over the course of the past few years. His clear devotion to the straight-to-video era of ’80s horror ensures a few groan-worthy moments in his first two films, Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye, but Bliss marks a positive change in style, and it provided some of the most fun I had watching a film in a long time. Begos blends his love for the dirtiest aspects of gross-out ’80s horror with an unexpectedly compelling story without sacrificing one aspect for the other. Influence by the likes of Abel Ferrara and Gaspar Noé, Bliss is a nightmarish character piece about addiction and art. As a creative person, seeing myself in a character like Dezzy who also deals with mental strain and financial insecurity Bliss really lived up to its title.
A Bread Factory: Part 1 & 2
dir. Patrick Wang
I can’t say I was expecting one of my favourite movies of the year to be a four-hour long low-budget epic surrounding the trials and tribulations of a small town community arts centre. At its core, A Bread Factory is a film about the importance of art and community and how those two intersect. It offers a sweeping story comprised of many unique characters and serves as a beautiful pastiche of the hope, beauty, and pains of small town life. It feels scooped directly from the same Peyton Place-inspired bowl from which David Lynch and Mark Frost drew when creating Twin Peaks. While Lynch and Frost looked to expose the dark seedy underbelly of small town America, Patrick Wang is more interested in the lighter side. I cannot express how much joy A Bread Factory infused into my soul. Every frame radiates with passion and care! This is the kind of film you want to warmly wrap around yourself and live inside.
dir. Julius Onah
Imagine adopting a child from a war torn country and a terribly broken household. Then imagine raising him to be a charming and loving A-list student who does nothing but make you proud. What would happen when a teacher suggests there’s something a lot more sinister lurking behind his seemingly model behaviour? This is the situation in which Tim Roth and Naomi Watts’ characters find themselves in Julius Onah’s Luce. The result is one of the most provocative and effective films of the year. Luce plays with ambiguity and grey areas, inviting comparison to David Mamet’s Oleanna, but from an even more realistic perspective.
dir. Jesse V. Johnson
If you love modern action cinema, then surely the name Scott Adkins already means a lot to you. If you’re sated watching the latest Marvel movie because you love seeing buff dudes punching each other in the face, but you yearn for the gritty realism and dynamic non-CGI fights of movies like Bloodsport or Police Story look no further. The direct-to-video market offers a treasure trove of riches that make a film geek feel as if the ’80s never died and real action is still flourishing. Avengement is the latest movie in a 10+ year collaboration between Adkins and director Jesse V. Johnson. This film is a revenge tale that offers a murderous blend of early Guy Richie and the best of ’70s “high-brow” grindhouse cinema (think Rolling Thunder, Death Wish, Get Carter). Avengement‘s non-linear craziness treats us to scene after scene of action that’s choreographed in such a way that when Cain punches through someone, you feel it too! Wall-to-wall madness from start to finish.
dir. Pella Kågerman/Hugo Lilja
It’s the near future when the Earth has been ravaged by climate change and rendered uninhabitable. A ship filled with thousands of passengers bound for a new life on Mars is sent off course and hurled into a soul-crushing journey into the scariest depths of space. Through this journey, Aniara speaks volumes about the human condition. Do you make peace with your inevitable demise or do you become a bloodthirsty animal? If you liked Claire Denis’ High Life, but also found yourself frustrated by its incoherence, check out Aniara for a different take on the experience of being morally lost in space.
dir. Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein
Borrowing from the likes Terry Gilliam, directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein created a bizarre and truly entertaining film. Freaks is a father and daughter story with a heroic twist. With well drawn characters, the film presents the family members with particularly human struggles, that allows them to be imperfect or even just plain ol’ shitty people. Emile Hirsch in particular is effective at being an asshole, and it’s hard to draw the line about how much art is imitating life. We witness the events primarily through the eyes of an eight year-old girl who barely knows what the outside world is like thanks to the protective sheltering of her father. Freaks is a modestly budgeted sci-fi/fantasy film that feels like a nightmarish dream sequence. Thanks to its innovative cinematography and fragmented storytelling, this film feels destined for cult classic status.
dir. Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe
Here’s one for anyone who ever watched an Adult Swim segment and thought, “Man, I wish there was a feature length version of this!” For better or worse, Greener Grass is exactly that. Though the story isn’t particularly captivating, Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe seem less concerned about creating a riveting plot but rather challenging the notion of what counts as funny, leaning heavily on simply making the audience as uncomfortable as possible. This is a John Waters-style satire of suburbanite culture with a Tim & Eric atmosphere, combined with the the production design whimsy of a Wes Anderson movie. Keep an eye on DeBoer and Luebbe, I see bright futures ahead.
Daniel Isn’t Real
dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer
In case you weren’t aware that a remake of Jacob’s Ladder came out this year, it’s probably because it was a steaming turd and was forgotten within nanoseconds by anyone who watched it. Instead of subjecting yourself to that torture, please, please, please subject yourself to the masterful and wildly entertaining Daniel Isn’t Real. This film tackles the horrifying demonic supernatural psychological breakdown story far better than Jacob’s Ladder does, and with far more disturbing practical effects.
dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska
If you saw the trailer for Rabid a couple months ago with baited anticipation only for it to disappoint you immensely, I’m here to tell you that whoever cut that trailer should be sent to movie jail. He or she completely misrepresented a fun, engaging, and satisfying horror film. Comparing this Rabid with the David Cronenberg original is inevitable, but outside of the core concept, they’re not very similar. One of the biggest differences is the protagonist is entirely different from Marilyn Chambers’ Rose. Laura Vandervoort’s take on the role is much more subdued and sympathetic. This Rabid plays more like a character study than the original film. The Soska Sisters give Vandervoort a lot of room to stretch her talents and create a refreshing take on the character.
While the finale feels rushed and some of the film’s most interesting ideas could have been are under developed, there’s much to admire. I was still very charmed by this redux. Rabid is the closest the Soskas have come to what they achieved with American Mary. If they continue to get as much creative control as they did on this film, I’m really excited to see what they cook up next.