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10 Great Recent Movies That Completely Defy Expectations

24 March 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Mike LeSuer

ONLY-LOVERS-LEFT-ALIVE

Believe it or not, there was once a time in movie history when the marketing materials created to promote the release of a new film corresponded to the picture’s essence.

With imaginative hand-drawn posters a must for every release and the prospect of big data still years away from influencing what’s packed into a trailer’s two minute spiel, advertising actually played a significant role in promoting the values of a movie rather than existing simply as a clamorous visual statement harassing commuters in subway stations.

Whether the filmmakers themselves had a say in the design of such materials has become irrelevant, as mention of The Godfather evokes images of the distinctive title design just as much as it recalls Brando’s rasp or Nino Rota’s score.

Yet in the 21st century it seems such content has been replaced by inscrutable previews adhering to the strict edict of ticket sales, and a lazy superimposition of a movie’s familiar characters has become a common sight in public places.

More recently, streaming platforms like Netflix have even generated content based less on creative risk than the product of data mining, launching original programming like House of Cards based on users’ proven interest in the BBC source material and the movies of director David Fincher and actor Kevin Spacey.

Much in the same way the art of book covers has fallen by the wayside in favor of stark minimalism or photographic literalism, a movie can no longer effectively be judged by its cover when its cover is merely a reiteration of other titles in its genre.

Fortunately some filmmakers in recent years have recognized the trends in viewers’ expectations and mined the spiritual endowment of big data’s assurance of viewership in order to rope an unsuspecting audience into a meaningful film experience incompatible with their mindless intentions.

Recently movies like Get Out and the documentary series O.J.: Made In America have opened up a much-needed dialogue on race relations in the United States under the unmistakable guise of a standard horror movie and an ESPN-produced sports documentary respectively.

In the spirit of this brilliant bait-and-switch tactic, this list documents ten films from the past decade which utilized this technique to inject sociological, political, or metafictional agendas into movies certain to reach a specific demographic typically undisturbed by such potent messages in their moviegoing career.

 

1. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2013)

best genre movies 2014

What we expected: sexy and/or spooky vampires
What we got: intellectual vampires

Responding to the recent revelation that we’ve been misinterpreting vampires’ sexiness for spookiness ever since Europeans built a folklore around decomposing corpses (and, evidently, before emaciation was en vogue), Jim Jarmusch’s treatise on the vampiric intellectual was likely greeted with howls of execration by audiences in search of ashen abs or bloodthirsty butchery.

Offering nudity and violence in relatively small doses, Only Lovers Left Alive is too busy focusing on the exhausting concept of eternity to busy itself with fleeting climaxes, picking up the slack from nearly a century of vampire movies inexplicably glossing over such a heavy notion.

By now Jarmusch is an established provocateur of genre pieces, having previously fed the filmgoing masses a prison film notably lacking in escape schemes and a western devoid of a macho gunslinging savior. Yet Lovers is moreso a testament to the writer/director’s undeniable mastery of a specific unaging coolness, stuffing what little importance the film’s plot carries in a centuries-old suitcase of fine-tuned atmospherics.

Rather than adhering to (or cynically debasing) the public’s agenda, the movie instead serves as a meditation on outliving one’s cool after the centuries of hip you’ve been feeding off of go stale in an era of patent lameness. Like Spring Breakers before it, Lovers is an expose of the rich meaning beneath the plastic surface of a subject untouched in arthouse circles, formulating an unironic picture with its genre’s salvageable aesthetics. Regrettably, the only spooky action that occurs does so at a distance.

 

2. Be Kind Rewind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2008)

Be Kind Rewind

What we expected: 102 minutes of uninhibited DIY creativity on par with Gondry’s career as a music video director
What we got: a two-minute montage of said creativity nestled within a plea to copyright law to let all artists reap the potential benefits of fair use

Preceding the release of Speed Racer’s pro-mom-and-pop tirade by just a few months was an equally-questionable episode in the career of a director at the peak of his fame. Like Speed, Be Kind Rewind presented itself as a slapstick foray into family-friendly material from a demonstratively mature filmmaker exhibiting a significant dumbing-down of the complex neurology and tear-jerking tragedy of his preceding work.

Where Eternal Sunshine and The Science of Sleep excelled in favoring atmospherics over plot, Rewind was an excruciatingly straightforward buddy comedy as inattentive to mainstream appeal as the godfathering Clerks.

But Rewind also echoed the humanitarian vision of Speed Racer, replacing the family-owned racing company with a neighborhood video rental store nostalgically recalling the days of employee recommendations – and in the incompetent hands of Jack Black’s bumbling Jerry: the very personal touch of employee-made films – lost in the impending streaming media revolution.

Despite its playful tone, Gondry’s film poses difficult realities for victims of gentrification while declaring war on copyright laws which similarly gentrify culture by robbing most independent artists of the right to creative reattribution of individual works. Ultimately Rewind does reach the emotional peak of Gondry’s previous work, only this emotion stems from a social awareness totally lacking from his earlier solipsistic filmography.

 

3. The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (dir. Ben Rivers, 2015)

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers

What we expected: a harmless mock doc for the ethnographic film crowd
What we got: a brutal subversion of the genre’s dehumanizing side effects

Despite the possible good intentions of filmmakers who seek to shed light on ways of living unknown to their Western audience, there’s an inevitable sadism in presenting poverty, genocide, or other social unrest via a medium associated with popcorn and excessive air-conditioning.

Where responsible documentarians like Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer will learn the language and take a bullet or two to best capture the reality of their subject, the fictional filmmaker of The Sky Trembles is swallowed alive by a culture he fails to understand while imposing his own alien culture upon Moroccan locals unwelcoming of his dictatorial directorial behavior.

Receiving little attention outside festival circuits, The Sky Trembles attacks its cinematic demographic by subverting the ethnographic agenda with a do-unto-others philosophy mostly unheeded in the exploitative filming of foreign territory.

Inspired by director Ben Rivers’ firsthand experience exploring the intact sets of Lawrence of Arabia and Othello abandoned in Morocco, the movie is an eerie revenge fantasy overseen by a (presumably) respectful visitor rightfully demonizing the behavior of colonization in the name cinema. Recalling the inert subjects of Chantal Akerman’s journey to the East, Rivers presents a realistic human response to a stranger’s violating camera outside the context of a fame-driven Western society.

 

4. The Cabin in the Woods (dir. Drew Goddard, 2011)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

What we expected: a slasher movie. Or a zombie movie. Or a creature feature. I guess it doesn’t really matter so long as it delivers scares.
What we got: an all-encompassing horror metafiction responsibly harnessing its rights to artistic reattribution in the name of satire

Where 2008 saw a surge in agenda-driven narratives for the whole family, 2012 was the year of blatant subversion of the predictable genre film. A novel Trojan Horse marketing campaign for mainstream movies became normalized by such deconstructive feats as The Cabin in the Woods, which exploited the ambiguity of advertising (among other taglines: “You Think You Know The Story”) to amass an audience unprepared to face the unconscionable mechanics behind an institutionalized script.

Unless you were wary of the current critical discourse – or had a lot of faith in Joss Whedon – Cabin’s theatrical reach was limited to those anticipating yet another illegitimate offspring of Sam Raimi’s misunderstood legacy.

In reality, Cabin comedically brings to light the ludicrous de-evolution of the horror genre, once a thriving means of storytelling with heavy subtext and frequent technical breakthroughs in special effects and set design. But as the ceaseless onslaught of forgettable sequels and unnecessary remakes demonstrate, there’s only so much room in the horror canon, providing enough excess fluff that movies like Scream feel obligatory.

Building upon Scream’s legacy, though, Cabin depicts horror movies as a Rubik’s cube with a limited number of available outcomes, which all fall short of an ideal solution produced long ago. It’s no coincidence that the five stupidly-attractive collegiate protagonists reflect the movie’s target demographic, as they embody the naivety of an audience stepping into the same predictable situations repeatedly without gaining a shred of foresight.

 

5. The Comedy (dir. Rick Alverson, 2012)

The Comedy

What we expected: a comedy
What we got: a severe anxiety attack

The legacy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim has consistently proved a staple in Adult Swim’s nightly block of humorist art brut, as the duo – per their network’s vocation – shows little regard for comedic tradition.

Whether it’s a cameo in a Quentin Dupieux project or an in-depth look at cinema in On Cinema At The Cinema, a Tim or Eric stamp of participation represents a trigger warning for content as absurd as it is explicit – though weighs heavily on the latter in Heidecker’s first collaboration with director Rick Alverson.

The vulgar nature of The Comedy isn’t so much based upon the typical MPAA rating assignments, though, but instead upon the unexpected severity of human indignity clashing violently with its red herring title.

Under a superficial gloss of buddy comedy charm and mumblecore production value, The Comedy is an intentionally-soulless endeavor exploring the unenviable private life of a product of privilege and his irony-drenched misunderstanding of race relations, social cues, and human self-respect.

While we laugh at an archetypal Michael Scott’s inability to synchronize his good intent with a politically-correct lexicon, we cringe at Heidecker’s protagonist’s blatant provocation of taboo subject matter, dragging out every gag and cynicism to the point of total unwatchability.

In a long tradition of comedic roles constructed around a grown man acting like a child, Heidecker’s Swanson is both the most detestably detached manchild to grace the big screen and, unfortunately, among the most realistic depictions of modern Peter Pan syndrome to represent his generation.

 

 

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  • Compton Effect

    Nice. It took nearly ten years, but this is the best analysis I’ve read on the criminally underrated Speed Racer.

  • Zwei

    Only Lovers Left Alive is so fucking boring and in general i love jarmush films

    • shane scott-travis

      Maybe you’re what’s boring there, Zwei?

    • D Train

      Boring? Hardly. It’s brilliant.

    • The Wild One

      As a big Jim Jarmusch fan, this film was a big deception for me. Maybe I need to review it again.

  • Adrian

    Great list! Some very nice writing here.

  • Doby Gillis

    Speed racer? Really? Ffs.

  • Nick Botton

    This site really needs to stop shilling for Spring Breakers so much. The concept was cool, as is the acting and the cinematography, but the execution and editing are fucking garbage. It’s so boring and repetitive.

    • Nelsonoca Galvis

      No, is one of the best movies all times, the editing and the execution are part of his greatness, is like be in one dark, insane, musical clip of pop.

      • Nick Botton

        They had a couple sort of fresh ideas and tried to stretch it to a full movie through repetition and a slow moving plot. It’s like one long boring attempt at neo-noir.

        • Nelsonoca Galvis

          I have watch that movie like twenty times, how could you say is boring? Even if you know the plot beforehand, the travel is awesome step by step, because it makes the majority of their scenes stand out in their own right

          • Nick Botton

            20 times? What a nightmare. Imagine all the other much more complex neo-noir you could have been watching, like ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ or ‘Brick’.

            Much of the first half of the film is okay, but the themes of the film don’t really develop beyond that point. What leads the main characters towards the denouement is vague. This is not necessarly a bad thing, but instead of having them say things or do things that might entertain someone trying to interpret their decisions, clips from the first half of the movie are just recycled over and over until the director has had enough and ends the movie in a frankly anti-climactic ending. Even the fact that they’re in bikinis all the time, as a symbol of the character’s detachment from reality, becomes a lame plot device which fails to hide the sex appeal the director wanted the movie to have.

          • rtfilmcrew

            Wow, way to completely miss the point of the film. Have you seen any of Korine’s other movies? Apply the nihilistic nature of his filmography to Spring Breakers and it makes a lot more sense. It’s not a glamorization of the lifestyle of it’s main characters, it’s a cross section of how empty and meaningless the “Spring Break Forever” lifestyle is. The characters one by one realizing how shallow and dangerous living the MTV lifestyle is. Faith leaving once the shiny fun of spring break fades. Cotty leaving when there is direct negative effects applied to her, the same effects that she was more than willing to apply to others. The other two girls completly embracing the selfish and anti-social lifestyle that they’ve imagined and dreamed of since before the vacation (The robbery scene, the dreaming of dicks while in class, etc.) The fact that Alien is gunned down in such an anti-climatic and unceremonious fashion is the portrait of the best case scenerio for these other girls. There is no sex appeal to this film, it shows these objective beautiful girls in the most disgusting and off putting fashion. You need to rewatch the film with the correct mindset, you’ve completely missed the director’s intention. I guess that’s what I can expect from a fan of the criminally overrated and shallow as a puddle mess that was Brick.

          • Nelsonoca Galvis

            Thank you, I sincerely believe that this film has been greatly underestimated by exposing with respect and passion a culture that scandalizes society

          • Nelsonoca Galvis

            the man who wasn’t there is the kind of movies you call complex??? really? and the second part is the best part, show the obsesion of the new culture for the gangsters, easy money and just nonsense sex; when the girls sing the song of Britney Spears is brutal, because we could see how we are in front of one abandone culture, who adore idols of little intellect, but who still live with deep feelings. “What leads the main characters towards the denouement is vague” yeah, i can undertand that but thats the point, we are in front of a group of people who only live life to live it, who has no real purpose or experience, who clings to the moment and goes where it takes.
            To be honest I think it’s the movie that best shows this new generation.

  • Nelsonoca Galvis

    Great list! but Speed racer?

  • Nick Botton

    The only thing that’s dull is the pseudo-artistry of the movie and its fans.

  • The Wild One

    You really expect sexy and/or spooky vampires in a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie?

  • HEATHERS

    – Expectations: The Mean Girls of the 80s
    – Reality: A dark satire on 80s up beat teen films