Check out what films the Vidéothèque team watched for the first time, re-watched, and made them say, “Never again.”
What a year 2016 has been. We won’t even get into the bizarre and too often distressing socio-political state of affairs — we’ll leave that to other sources. But we can say that some really amazing things have been happening in the film world that we’re excited about. So we’ve decided to bring back our year-end list to let y’all know what we’ve been watching.
Instead of doing a “best of” list, we’ve broken our picks into three categories: First times, fav films that we first watched in 2016, but weren’t necessarily released in 2016. Re-watches, something sooooo good we had to watch it again this year. Never agains, something we saw for the first time this year that was so bad that we had to stamp it with, “NEVER AGAIN.”
Chris’s first time: I Am Cuba (1964), Mikhail Kalatazov
A forgotten film since the Cuban government didn’t know what to make of. It wasn’t until Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola helped with the film’s release in the nineties that many non-Cubans saw the film. Besides that little footnote, what really captures my love of this film is the cinematography. I Am Cuba almost feels like one long continuous shot of the revolution. A beautiful film.
Chris’s re-watch: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1886), John McNaughton
2016 was the 30th anniversary of this brilliant film. A lot of critics say it’s an arthouse slasher film. I say it’s one of the best films ever shot in Chicago. Plus, Michael Rooker gives a performance of a lifetime.
Chris’s never again: Stars and Bars (1988), Pat O’Connor
Stars and Bars is ninety-five minutes of acclaimed actor Daniel Day-Lewis collecting a paycheck in his young career. I really doubt he delved deep into playing an art dealer.
Dane’s first time: Woman in the Dunes (1964), Hiroshi Teshigahara
Once upon a time, an unknown Japanese auteur made a visceral, erotic, tactile arthouse parable about a man trapped in a sand pit, and he got a freakin’ Best Director Oscar nomination for it. Better times indeed. A story both beautiful in its simplicity and rich in its allegorical potential, Woman in the Dunes is a grotesque and bleak masterpiece. (Honorable mentions: Jackie Chan’s otherworldly ballet in Drunken Master; Hoop Dreams, a film that says just about everything that can be said about life).
Dane’s re-watch: Idiocracy (2006), Mike Judge
The best documentary I saw this year.
Dane’s never-again: Bone Tomahawk (2015), S. Craig Zahler
I’m surprised there haven’t been more movies that have been ripping off late-era “Western-pastiche.” The Tarantino-like Bone Tomahawk is a visually incompetent, racist, clueless giallo-cannibal-western with one really incredible kill scene and then two more hours of offensive/boring garbage.
Stacy’s first time: Society (1989), Brian Yuzna
While on the surface Society appears to be a pretty typical horror movie from the 1980’s, because by the time you’ve gotten to the end, you’ll be questioning every decision you’ve made in your life that brought you to this point. Full of images you won’t be able to un-see and featuring some of the best practical effects ever made, Society is a must-see for gorehounds and connoisseurs of the weird and wonderful.
Stacy’s re-watch: Multiple Maniacs (1970), John Waters
Getting to see Multiple Maniacs on the big screen, 46 years after its initial release in a room filled with people who love this debauched DIY sleaze fest as much as I do, was a dream come true. Multiple Maniacs is not a good movie by pretty much any standard: no one can act, the writing is ridiculous, and the camera work is beyond flawed. Granted, nothing in this movie exists to please anyone but John Waters and his friends, and that in itself makes the film worth every second. Not to mention the 4K restoration really takes the lobster scene to another level.
Stacy’s never-again: The Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008), Paul Hasegawa-Overacker
While I enjoyed learning more about the artistic process of Cindy Sherman through this documentary, I hated that it was filtered through the cheesecloth that is her ex-boyfriends’ fragile masculinity. This film was just way too whiny. Yeah, you weren’t as famous as your girlfriend, get over it!
Jess’s first time: Southern Comfort (1981), Walter Hill
It’s The Warriors on the Louisiana Bayou. A group of National Guardsman out for a weekend of war games turns into a chase through the backwoods of Louisiana after a misunderstanding with the locals ends in bloodshed. This is also the only film I have seen starring Powers Booth where he plays a good guy.
Jess’s re-watch: Ex Machina (2015), Alex Garland
I gave this film another look because it has stuck with me ever since my first viewing. The film predominantly takes place in one week at an isolated location and has a cast of just four characters, one of which never speaks. I like small films like this with big ideas, and this film has one of the largest of ideas at the heart of it, which is the creation of a true Artificial Intelligence.
Jess’s never-again: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Zack Snyder
I don’t really have much to say about the film that hasn’t already been said in all of the scathing reviews, except maybe that I hope Superman is dead for good.
Maya’s first time: Mi Vida Loca (1994), Allison Anders
As a young woman of color from the south-side of Chicago living in a tense socio-political climate in this country and city, I simply wanted to see a film with characters familiar to me – while also indulging in 90’s nostalgia! This film finds a lush romanticism in a gritty place and culture, reminding me not only of my own teenage years, but also the ones of those I grew up with. It has an awesome and rare depiction of sisterhood and girlhood led by passionate actresses, diary-like pacing, and storytelling. It flows seamlessly through authentic yet poetic settings, all against the backdrop of the palm tree-lined Echo Park, L.A.
Maya’s re-watch: The New World (2005), Terrence Malick
I’m honestly just fascinated with this movie. It’s gorgeous, generous, and so voyeuristic that it feels indulgent. In knowing of the many different accounts, depictions, and controversies surrounding John Smith and the Powhatan Chief’s young daughter, amid the colonization of North America, I know that I cannot hold this film as totally true. But, watching it and trying to understand it, I feel that it doesn’t even want to offer an opinion on that. Instead, it seems to intentionally mythologize, poeticize, and metaphorize these figures, to humbly yet so grandly say something humanistic of how we got to the time we live in now.
Maya’s never-again: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Jim Jarmusch
Well, I won’t say that I wish I could un-see this movie, but let’s just say I was disappointed and unimpressed. From the pictures and the trailer, it seemed so full of imagery, great set design, and Tilda Swinton is my girl (please see I Am Love, available at Facets!), but fifteen minutes in and the movie already started to drag, drag, drag…until I fell asleep. This is my first Jarmusch film, maybe he has another I can get into?
Matt’s first time: Embrace of the Serpent (2015), Ciro Guerra
More than enough Herzogian/Kubrickian haunted landscape trippiness to suit your average Trustafarian ayahuasca tourist, but much more than that. Embrace of the Serpent is a rare Amazon rainforest film from the perspective of an indigenous person instead of an American/European visitor. The film has a sense of history that powerfully implicates the Christian/imperialist rubber industry. It’s even about a mid-life crisis, albeit one experienced by a bad-ass rainforest shaman.
Matt’s re-watch: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), John Carpenter
My son was seeing this gross-out classic film referenced from time to time on his videogame message boards, so he asked me if I’d ever seen it. “Indeed I have,” I chuckled mischievously while pulling my worn VHS copy from the shelf. He’s only 13 years old, but we decided he was ready to watch this R-rated classic (no nudity or sexual situations!) with my parental guidance. He thought it was awesome and we drank a (Sprite) toast to the practical effects mastery of Rob Bottin after it was over.
Matt’s never-again: Hard To Be A God (2013), Aleksey German
I don’t actually think this is “bad”; in fact, it’s amazing. The black and white cinematography is exquisite, the constantly roving and claustrophobic camera work is brilliantly choreographed, and the Dark Ages sci-fi world depicted is so carefully costumed and believably squalid, you can basically feel the mud and smell the body odor. I just don’t think anything comes across other than setting; no story, no characters, no dialogue, nothing. I barely made it through an hour of this mise-en-scene circling around over and over, let alone three.
Sam’s first time: Mother (2009), Bong Joon-Ho
I could recommend any of Bong Joon-Ho’s films, but this one stands out more the more I think about it. This beautiful comedic thriller is about a son who is accused of a terrible crime and his mother who must defend him. Filled with dark twists, turns, and laughs this is a must see for South Korean cinephiles.
Sam’s re-watch: Barbershop (2002), Tim Story
Before it became an unfunny Hollywood franchise, Barbershop was a hilarious slice of life comedy. It works as a comedy because it’s grounded with real characters facing very real situations. It feels as fresh and relevant today as it did 14 years ago. What that says about our country now is not mine to say.
Sam’s never-again: Labor Day (2013), Jason Reitman
I love Jason Reitman’s first 4 films; maybe that’s why Labor Day offends me so much. Its misguided script is made worse by a director who is way out of his depth. It does achieve something miraculous by feeling slow and rushed at the same time. So I guess that’s a compliment?
Jeff’s first time: Shallow Grave (1994), Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle knocks it out of the park with this dark, funny crime story. Three twenty-something roommates’ friendships are put to the test when a fugitive drug dealer OD’s in their apartment and the suitcase filled with cash that he stole from his gang falls into their laps. It’s something of a postmodern cross between Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Friends except with more Scottish accents, and a very young Ewan McGregor doing a fantastic job in his first major role. I had never even heard of it before, but it’s easily one of Boyle’s best films.
Jeff’s re-watch: Kingpin (1998), Bobby & Peter Farrelly
Kingpin might be the last truly re-watchable movie that the Farrelly brothers made. As a fixture of the early-2000s Comedy Central programming schedule, it sticks in my memory as one of the movies that informed my comedic sensibilities. Alcoholic ex-pro Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) takes promising Amish bowler Ishmael (pre-mental illness Randy Quaid) under his wing, and hustle their way across the country to face off against the supremely smarmy Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray in an endlessly quotable bad-guy role) in a national championship tournament to save Ishmael’s family farm. Bill Murray’s legendary comb over in the third act is reason enough to prompt a regular re-watching.
Jeff’s never-again: Suicide Squad (2016), Who Cares
Oh. My. God. Why did my friends drag me into that one? Should I ever forgive them? From top to bottom, this movie is a complete and utter mess. Everything about it from script to post-production feels haphazard and thrown together. From the incomprehensible and convoluted storyline to the paper-thin characterization, to the tired attempts at humor, this movie (at barely 2 hours) felt like one of the longest experiences in a theater I’ve ever had. Jared Leto’s take on The Joker was stilted, on-the-nose, and just a complete bummer, and not an interesting bummer either, but a dull and uninteresting bummer, just like the movie as a whole.
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