1. As I Lay Dying (2013)- Perhaps the biggest surprise of this list... a competent, weary, sadness tinged and 'complete feeling' adaptation of a William Faulkner novel that seems to muscle in on the beating heart of the destitute poetics of the original work. And all from California boy James Franco. Much has been made of the distracting split screen Franco routinely employs, but for me, it worked, distilling Faulkner's almost fractured style of prose into quadrants that force us to concentrate on action and reaction. With this film and Franco's "Child of God", his adventurous spirit to tackle grimy, unpleasant Southern fried folk is quite revelatory.
2. Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009)- I don't know why I continue to expose myself to the rigors of Serbian exploitation. I hated " A Serbian Film" and now Mladen Djordjevic's film follows suit with more stomach churning excess. The idea- that a failed filmmaker gathers a group of dropouts and travels the countryside putting on porno cabarets for the rural villagers- sounds like the opportunity to create something halfway tantalizing, at least on a purely subversive level. Instead we get gratuitous penetration shots, numerous scenes of rape and even bestiality. Shock for the sake of shock.
3. Mortdecai (2015)- I really want my two hours back. Reviewed here for Dallas Film Now.
4. The Hitch Hiker (1953)- Ida Lupino's taut social thriller turns the vagrant hitch hiker, once so emblematic of America's expansive freedom to explore, into a traumatic sociopath nightmare around the corner. How two men , kidnapped by the the hitch hiker, deal with their horrific journey makes up the bulk of this great underrated film.
5. Christiane F. (1981)- The ravages of heroin take 14 year old Christiane (Natja Brunckhorst) from partying teenager to strung out zombie in just over two hours. Like an abbreviated after school special throwing everything at you, I have to give the film credit for not only staying true to its savage immersion into the repellent world of Germany's public restrooms, prostitute pick-up train station tunnels and ram sacked apartments, but its unflinching portrait of an obviously young actress dealing with it all. Based on a true story, it's amazing anyone made it out alive.
6. R100 (2015)- Destined to be some type of midnight classic. Reviewed here for Dallas Film Now.
7. La Scoumoune (1972)- Jean Paul Belmondo is laconic and debonair as Borgo, the mid level criminal the film tracks from his early days strong arming local businessmen to his stint in prison during the war and then struggling to maintain his relationships afterwards. "La Scoumoune" (meaning rotten luck) is one of Jose Giovanni's better films. Plus seeing Claudia Cardinale is always great.
8. I Am Curious, Yellow and Blue (1968)- Interest was piqued after I read somewhere these films would make a neat double bill with Lars vonTrier's latest "Nymphomaniac". Not even close. A Godard knock off, full of on screen inter titles, an uneasy blend of meta fiction and a lead character (Lena Nyman) whose exploits I didn't give a hoot about.
9. Cake (2015)- Jennifer Aniston goes ugly. Besides her central role, the rest of the film feels like something warmed over from 1998. Full review here
10. The Guest (2014)- Starts off strong but ends up in complete action parody. Perhaps that's the point. Regardless, new face Maika Monroe really stuns as the daughter who figures things out. Part punk rock and mostly ballsy, she inhabits her cliche role well. I really look forward to "It Follows" now.