1. Camp XRay (2014)- Otherwise known as the film where Kristen Stewart emerged into the lauded young actress she's become over the last 3-4 years, culminating with the cover of "Film Comment" this month. She's good here and all, but there's still a hint of her emo-scowl and the film suffers from a bit of staginess.
2. The Infilitrator (2016)- Grimy and gritty undercover drug saga that manages to remain highly entertaining despite its been-there-done-that attitude and a relatively low-key performance from Bryan Cranston. The best part of it, though, is the casting of several unknowns in supporting character roles that not only represent the electric funkiness of mid-80's drug dealers, but emit a certain hollow eyed electricity found in the 70's films of the great Sidney Lumet.
3. Ryuzu and His Seven Henchmen (2015)- Takeshi Kitano's comedy, if it actually received some type of release outside of the random Asian film festival last year, would probably be compared to a Hollywood film like "Old Dogs"- that is paychecks for grey haired Hollywood stars a bit out of synch with the younger generation. Here, Kitano recruits a who's who of Asian film baddies of the 60's and 70's and has them reunite as "old farts" forming their old 'yakuza' gang to take on the new corporate sized gangsters of the neighborhood. Neither deconstructive of the genre or all that reflective, it does echo back to Kitano's sketch comedy style and probably only remains interesting for Kitano purists such as myself.
4. The Purge Election Year (2016)- I typically try and stay neutral in my communion of film and politics, but this film (and the entire trilogy) is a repellent example of a fictional work that contributes nothing but fuel to the current rhetoric of hatred, violence and divisiveness sweeping the globe.
5. The Professor (1986)- Been looking for this one for years. Guisuippe Tornatore's debut film stars Ben Gazzara as a mafia chief who rises to prominence behind bars and then takes control of the Naples 'cammorista' upon escaping. Lots of events and facts are compressed into almost 3 hours (culled from the original length of 5-6 hours as an intended TV miniseries) and it does feel long in the tooth at times, but its stark and ugly representation of violence and the role of Laura del Sol as the sister who actually runs things are inspired bits of narrative. It's also interesting in the way "The Professor" almost subverts the role of Gazzara into a secondary background character. He's the star and it's his film, yet he remains a deflected personality in this sprawling world of corruption, shadowy orders and political subterfuge.
6. Hello, My Name Is Doris (2016)- Sally Field is quite amazing in Michael Showalter's slightly berzerk little comedy about a 70'ish woman falling in love with her early 30's aged boss... how about that nifty age reversal for a comedy? Keeping some of its darker elements just at the edges (i.e. stalkerish tendencies) the film is a breezy 90 minutes. Plus it really makes me want a Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winter cd.
7. Cymbeline (2014)- Michael Almyreda is at it again, updating Shakespeare into a modern environment. Anachronistic and all, this one pits the bard's tale of deception, familial jealousy and star-crossed lovers into the world of biker meth dealer gangs and hipsters. It is quite fun to hear Dakota Johnson spewing Shakespeare.
8. Angel Face (1952)- Slight film noir about a young girl (Jean Simmons) and ambulance driver (Robert Mitchum) who fall in love amidst the death of her parents. Otto Preminger directs with a sure hand.
9. Heat and Sunlight (1987)- Coming off like a bad Henry Jaglom or Jon Jost, Rob Nilsson's surprising Sundance winnner reeks of everything pretentious and boring about early American independent cinema. Black and white photography. Self absorbed lovers fighting through their bouts of denial, self-doubt and solipsism. A tendency to carry on scenes way longer than patience allows. I suppose it;s early Sundance award is more about the time and place than the actual effort.
10. The Happiest Girl In the World (2009)- Radu Juda's film "Aferim!" has been one of the joys of film this year, and this sophomore feature length effort falls more in line with the typical traits of Romanian cinema. After a girl wins a car by sending in juice bottle caps, she's invited to the city to film a commercial. That's only the mind-numbing beginning of a day that sees her parents fight over the eventual financial windfall of selling the car, the pressing demands of a film crew who want the perfect commercial and an oppressive heat wave striking the city. To say the least, its one of the more ironic titles in recent film.