Land a’ goshen, the year’s half over already! How the F did that happen? Well, we’ve watched 161 films so far this year. Whew! Which have been the best? The new episodes of both Planet of the Apes and Spider-Man would’ve made the cut, but our judges said July releases didn’t count, so….let’s have a look at what did.
1. Get Out
You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films.
You probably knew that. The stumper then, is what took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out – an audacious first feature that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.
2. The Survivalist
3. It Comes at Night
At the top of that list: do not go out at night.
But what are the dangers, and how much of the soul might one offer up to placate fear itself?
In asking those unsettling questions, It Comes at Night becomes a truly chilling exploration of human frailty.
4. The Beguiled
Snugly hidden near the fighting in Confederate territory, a girls’ school takes in a wounded Union soldier. Delicately shifting allegiances, power struggles, competition, longing, fear, and danger waft between the columns of Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies.
Sofia Coppola develops a languid and ornate atmosphere, punctuated where necessary to create a sense of dread and urgency. Her cast is uniformly excellent, their commitment to character leading to a finale that’s as devastating as it is inevitable.
Bloody and bleak, tossing F-bombs and the franchise’s first flash of nudity, Logan is not like the other X-Men.
Logan relies on themes of redemption – a superhero’s favorite. Director James Mangold pulls ideas from Children of Men and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but his film reminds me more of The Girl with All the Gifts. (If you haven’t seen it, you should.)
The point? The children are our future and Logan’s real battle has always been with himself. Almost literally, in this case.
6. Baby Driver
Start to finish, the soundtrack-driven heist flick Baby Driver has a bright, infectious charm – and you can dance to it.
The beats offer more than a gimmick to ensure the flick dances along – the tunes getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has buzzing through his ear buds give rhythm to his impressive high speed antics.
The game cast never drops a beat, playing characters with the right mix of goofiness and malice to be as fun or as terrifying as they need to be. For all its danceability, Wright’s film offers plenty of tension, too.
7. Hounds of Love
No doubt, events get brutal, but never without reminders that Young is a craftsman. Subtle additions, such as airplanes flying freely overhead to contrast with the theme of captivity, give Hounds of Love a steady dose of smarts, even as it’s shaking your core.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau’s has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.
It’s a performance that should not be forgotten come award season, and it anchors a smart, detailed film as compelling as any political thriller, yet as familiar as your last little white lie.
10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Blackcoat’s Daughter behaves almost the way a picture book does. In a good picture book, the words tell only half the story. The illustrations don’t simply mirror the text, they tell their own story as well. If there is one particular and specific talent this film exposes in its director, it is his ability with a visual storyline.
Pay attention when you watch this one. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.
The split personality trope has been used to eye-rolling effect in enough films to be the perfect device for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s clever rope-a-dope. By often splitting the frame with intentional set designs and camera angles, or by letting full face close-ups linger one extra beat, he reinforces the psychological creepiness without any excess bloodshed that would have soiled a PG-13 rating.
12. Free Fire
The noteworthy fact about Free Fire is not that it has a ballsy first act, but that the entire film is a third act. With scarcely a word of context, we’re rolled into an empty warehouse just in time for a shootout to begin, and there we will stay until the film concludes.
There is a barely controlled, very funny, incredibly bloody chaos afoot here, and it is a wild and entertaining sight to behold.
Perhaps best of all is how Colossal works out of the conceptual corner it backs into. Much like the Koreans who keep coming downtown no matter how often the monster appears, Vigalondo is committed to the end, delivering a strange but satisfying in-the-moment fable.
14. The Lovers
The Lovers is sneaky in its casual nature. Through subtle storytelling and stellar performances, it finds meaning in places rarely explored this effectively, and a gentle confidence that frayed emotions can still bond.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
No, Volume 2 can’t match the ruffian charm of the first, and there are some stretches of not-much-happening-here. But James Gunn’s sequel shares a lot of heart, swashbuckling visuals and more than a few solid belly laughs.