1. Turist, from Sweden (or as it will be more commonly known, Force Majeure)
A family takes a ski vacation, has a close call with an avalanche, and suffers the consequences for the rest of the trip. It’s an astoundingly funny family drama, reflecting predominantly on patriarchy and fatherhood and relationships. It’s really entertaining and smart, with wonderful performances and great special effects. In case you need more motivation, Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones is in it and he is very good, with fantastic comedic timing and also he wears a hoodie, which is weird. This is Sweden’s submission for the 2015 Best Foreign Film Oscar, and if it plays on a big screen near you, I highly urge you to go see it.
2. Je Suis a Toi, from Belgium (no trailer, sorry, bbs)
Je Suis a Toi is one of the films for which I’m tasked to write a formal review which will pop up on Photogénie at some point soon. An older gay baker buys a young Argentinean escort, who promptly falls in love with the female sales associate at the bakery. Love triangles are pretty passé at this point, but this is a good one. This is such a wonderful film about indulgences and sexuality and desires. It’s a bit genre-less, but ultimately a romance, but it plays on awkwardness and intersectionality in such an amazingly progressive way. It also takes place in a bakery most of the time, and it features a wonderful and diverse soundtrack with everything from operetta to electropunk.
3. Leviathan, from Russia
Leviathan is a religious allegory—a modern take on the Story of Job set in present day Russia, practically Siberia. It’s long and immense, taking an intimate political story, and transplanting it into one of the world’s most unforgiving natural and social environments. It was thought-provoking and stunningly shot. It’s not the type of film I’m typically drawn to, but I felt so surprised and moved by it as a whole. This is Russia’s submission for Best Foreign Film.
4. The Kindergarten Teacher, from Israel
This is one of the most disturbing films about art I’ve ever seen. A kindergarten teacher notices that one of her students is essentially some kind of poetic prodigy, pacing around at recess and reciting verse aloud. She makes it her goal in life to foster his talent, alienating the two of them from the rest of society. It’s an anti-Dead Poets Society. It’s the kind of teacher you don’t want alone with children. There’s no type of sexual abuse in it, but emotional, no doubt, and a blatant manipulation of childhood trust. Tough to watch, but also dazzling cinematography and musings on poetry, plagiarism, and educators.
5. Une Nouvelle Amie, from France
This is a very campy and very melodramatic French film that may not be the best in quality but was one of the most entertaining films I saw from the competition selections. The death of a woman’s childhood best friend brings her closer to her friend’s widower than she can imagine. I want to say more, but this is a film with a ~twist~, and while I felt like knowing the twist would have made me more interested from the start, I don’t want to spoil anything. It plays out a bit like a soap opera, but it’s also very funny and heartbreaking in parts, with interesting commentary on sexuality and relationships.
6. Still The Water, from Japan
TEENS JUST WANNA FEEL FEELS. Two Japanese teenagers living on a small island village learn about death and love in what is maybe the worst/best summer of all time. I don’t know if it’s summer. It looked like summer. There’s a lot to say about the passage of time and it’s very long and poetic with very stylized romantic language, but it was one of the more visually stimulating films we saw. Its two teenage leads are very empathetic and strong performers.
7. Reality, from France
A girl finds a mysterious videotape. A director promises to produce his best-received film yet. Another director screens a new feature film for a producer, and that film happens to be about the other director, as well as a girl with a videotape, as well as a—sound very confusing? It was very confusing. Sound like a movie that has Jon Heder in a rat suit? It was a movie with Jon Heder in a rat suit. Reality doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it almost doesn’t have to (emphasis on almost). Entertaining and funny and features Eric Wareheim in drag. I’ll take absurdist humor now and then, though I’m not sure if it’ll leave a very lasting impression.
8. Violet, from Belgium
A group of young BMX riders mourn the loss of one of their own, led by the boy who was there for the death of his friend. It’s a simple story and a very simple film, essentially a series of very long uninterrupted shots portraying the complex nature of guilt for teenagers in particular. The whole thing felt like an audiovisual mural. I might not like dialogue-less films like this, but it was very moving to some others in the group.
9. White God, from Hungary
This is an animal movie. This is a film about a girl’s mean dad (DADS SUCK became a fun thesis of a lot of these films in the bottom half of my list) who sets her dog free when it becomes a nuisance. From there, it follows the young girl as she roams the streets of town trying to find her dog, as well as the dog’s adventures (or misadventures, given most of them are wildly violent and involve fighting other dogs) with the city’s stray animals. Think Incredible Journey except a lot more maiming. This is Hungary’s official selection for Best Foreign Film.
10. Jauja, from Argentina but predominantly in Danish
Viggo Mortensen stars as a Danish military officer whose daughter goes missing while he is on duty in Argentina (HASHTAG DADS SUCK). He wanders through the desert to find her. It’s like a Western, but a lot less people get shot and the whole thing looks like it was filmed through an Instagram filter. This is only as high as it is on the list because it has Viggo Mortensen doing what he does best: trolling through gorgeous landscapes on a horse while being dirty and sad.
11. Gente de Bien, from Colombia
A wealthy woman “adopts” her carpenter and his son, in hopes of making their lives easier by paying for them and providing better food and shelter during the Christmas season. Money can’t fix all problems, and being forced into an entirely new social class puts strain on the relationship between the two (HASHTAG DADS SUCK). This film was well-made and good, but doesn’t really add anything new to the whole “money can’t make us happy” argument.
12. Waste Land, from Belgium
I’ve already lampooned this film on the internet enough in the past few days, essentially for being a MEAN COP W/ A HEART OF GOLD drama starring a Belgian actor named JEREMIE RENIER (I mean, seriously). A mean cop with a heart of gold explores a case that involves some kind of scary voodoo magic from Congo, all the while trying to appease his recently pregnant wife who just doesn’t get it (HASHTAG WIVES SUCK) and deal with his Alzheimer’s-ridden father who used to be abusive (HASHTAG DADS SUCK). The hero commits a sexual assault and faces no punishment for it beyond his own personal torment because, ugh, being a cop is hard. I give this points for the spooky edge it has in parts; I take away points for being like so many other films in its genre.
13. Black Coal, Thin Ice, from China
Here we go again: a mean cop with a heart of gold explores one very disturbing case over five years. It was a wildly confusing film with twists and turns that didn’t make sense other than characters blatantly lying about some things. Here we go again: the hero commits a sexual assault and faces no punishment for it beyond his own personal torment because, ugh, being a cop is hard. This got points for being visually stimulating (with a lot of cool neon lights as well as winter landscapes); this lost points for being 45 minutes too long.
14. Stratos, from Greece
Stratos is a hitman who’s been in the business for too long and now everything sucks (HASHTAG EVERYTHING SUCKS). There’s a mob family he doesn’t want to work for, there are some neighbors of his that he maintains a steady friendship with, there’s the brother of a criminal he “owes” who starts demanding money. Stratos has a lot on his plate and the dude is stressed out. There are a lot of crime movie tropes in this film which is almost two and a half hours long, and none of them felt new. The only points this film gets is that its mean-spirited with a heart of gold protagonist doesn’t sexually assault anyone. Congrats, I suppose. I’m sick of the antihero cop genre. I’m sick of the hitman genre. I have no interest in seeing another movie about a hitman unless the hitman is multiracial and/or a lesbian and/or literally anything beyond a sad dude. Call me then, but otherwise whatever. I like that noir is making a pretty significant comeback as a genre, but I’d like to see it feature someone beyond righteous but misguided men.
What are you always forgetting to pack?
I ragged on that Potato Salad kickstarter like none other on social media because I thought it was the world’s dumbest shit. I still can’t believe those guys got something like $80,000 for potato salad. Stupid! The internet is so stupid. I’m still ragging on it, I guess. I built a whole stand-up set about kickstarter. It’s silly, but so is giving away all your money all the time. I basically ragged on it publicly until I found out I knew one of the dudes. He’s a sort-of friend, mostly former colleague, but he’s a good dude and a funny dude, and then I felt a little bad that a gchat joke made him my public enemy number one.
Anyway, those guys raised ten billion dollars just to make potato salad and no one ever heard anything about it ever again. Do you know what they’re doing with the money? They’re having a huge food festival in Columbus, Ohio. I love this. I actually really love it. There’s going to be food and music and cooking competitions and the money is all going to charity and Local Matters (which is a great organization). This is good. This is important. This is a dumb thing that the whole internet gave their money to and now something legitimately great is going to happen with it and I wanted to tell you guys because this all feels important and good.