17. The Raid (2011)
Welsh filmmaker Gareth Huw Evans made quite the name for himself with the adrenaline-pumping Indonesian martial arts-fuelled, siege-driven mini-epic, The Raid. A first-rate midnight movie that spawned a sequel (2014’s The Raid 2), a graphic novel, a spin-off comic book series, and a still gestating American remake from Joe Carnahan, The Raid detonates the screen as Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie and possible weak link in an elite police team, is charged with the task of taking down the fearsome crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). But lo and behold, the team’s cover is blown as they infiltrate the imposing high-rise apartment block Tama runs, leaving Rama on the outside as Tama has the team trapped and at his mercy in the massive fortress-like lodgings.
Faster than you can say “Assault on Precinct 13 meets Escape from New York” the shit is hitting the proverbial fan, ultraviolence is erupting all around, and whomever is left of Rama’s team on the inside most compete with a garrison of criminals Tama’s protecting to bring in their heads.
The simple premise is second fiddle to The Raid’s nonstop action sequences, which dazzlingly showcase the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, with gob-smacking fight choreography led by star Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (who plays Tama’s badass sidekick Mad Dog). A must see for fans of action films, The Raid is a riot.
16. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Adapted from the high quality, joyfully self-effacing, and semi-autobiographical graphic novel series “Scott Pilgrim” from Canadian writer/illustrator Bryan O’Malley is Edgar Wright’s righteously offbeat ode to video game culture, Canadiana, pop rock, and young love, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Our hangdog eponymous hero is sweet-natured nerd slinger Scott (Michael Cera), who slaps a mean bass in the garage-rock band Sex Bob-Omb. Scott has a few romantic problems involving a cute groupie that’s far too young for him, named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and his rollerskating dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona, who soon comes to find affection for Scott, has some rather dubious baggage herself, in the form of six evil exes, whom Scott must defeat in order to go steady with her. Sure, the premise is somewhat silly, but the whole enjoyable show is told it such style, panache, and nonstop humor that it’s easy to be swept up in it all.
Part of the fun of watching Wright run amok as an inspired visual storyteller, is catching all his pastiches come into play––sharp eyes will note a wonderful homage to Brian De Palma’s cult classic rock opera pageant Phantom of the Paradise (1974), for instance––as well as his dizzying, and very dextrous camera work. The dialogue is delectable, the performances are fine and frequently delightfully campy, and it all reaches a fun fever pitch at a battle of the bands gone awry.
Fast, fun, and way ahead of its time, Scott Pilgrim is an artful, original, raucous, rock ‘n’ roll riot. Don’t miss it!
15. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
The Matrix meets the Monster Squad in this whip smart horror comedy written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, in Goddard’s impressive directorial debut.
If you’re like me and are a big genre fan, then you probably joined the Cabin in the Woods cult instantly, seeing it a half dozen times in the theater, cheering at the sight of Merman and chuckling aloud to stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) hilarious zinger: “Good work, zombie arm!” And if you haven’t yet been exposed to this scary, strange, meta-movie marvel, well the less said the better. But the simple set up doesn’t give too much away: Five college chums (including Kristen Connolly and Chris Hemsworth) take a little vacay to an isolated cabin deep in the woods.
Shades of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre abound and a bizarre secondary story involving secretive scientists (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, both excellent) eventually merges unexpectedly with the co-eds in some inspired and startling ways.
This fresh take on a familiar premise is equal parts unpredictable and shrewdly satirical, and it all adds up to an abundance of fun, whether you’re a horror fan or not. Spend some time with Cabin in the Woods, you’ll be glad you paid it a visit, trust me.
14. Spring Breakers (2012)
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers took me and a lot of people by complete surprise in 2012, with its neon-lit delusion taking on empty contemporary American ennui and fashioning a run-down but delicious rainbow with it.
Vanessa Hudgens is Candy, a college student who, along with her shallow pals, Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Faith (Selena Gomez), find themselves penniless leading up to spring break, and so they ill-advisedly rob a dinner to afford a trip down to Florida. Befriending a drug dealing, wannabe rap artist named Alien (James Franco), the gang allude the law and embrace a bizarre life of crime, until… well, perhaps the less said the better.
A word of advice for those who try watching this film and are easily put off by the film’s bratty slow build, work past the first 30 minutes and wonderful and very worthwhile awards will await you. Spring Breakers does spin a seductive web, hewn with immense and colorful artistry in what Huffington Post critic Emma Seligman describes as “Scarface meets Britney Spears.”
13. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Cult king Don Coscarelli, the mastermind behind the Phantasm series (1979 – 2016), and The Beastmaster (1982) has a blast with Bubba Ho-Tep, a film custom built to amass adoration from midnight movie audiences. Set in an East Texas nursing home, the Shady Rest, and starring Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis Presley, recently revived from a coma following a hip gyrating-related fluke accident and now befriended with an aging African-American eccentric (Ossie Davis), who claims to be former POTUS, John F. Kennedy (“They dyed my skin black!), things get even weirder.
Playfully adapted from the 1994 novella by Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-Tep gets its strange sobriquet from the eponymous evil Ancient Egyptian mummy (Bob Ivy), who seems to delight in terrorizing the retirement home where Elvis and JFK do dwell, and they’ll put a stop to it, you betcha!
A clever, cheeky, and even occasionally poignant picture, with a long gestating sequel apparently in the works, Bubba Ho-Tep is silly, sensational, and sneakily awesome little film, and one that also manages to make, amid the toilet humor and gore, a profound statement n growing old, and the fool notions of fame and celebrity.
12. The Love Witch (2016)
Anna Biller’s delightfully macabre exercise in sassy seduction and strange, vintage sensations feels like it was made in another era but adorned with bracingly modernistic designs. A stunning to look at and thrilling to think about throwback to the Technicolor melodramas of the swinging 60s and the sexploitation cinema that supervened, The Love Witch stars a smashing Samantha Robinson as Elaine, the eponymous witch.
Beautiful but bloodthirsty, Elaine is determined to find the man of her dreams and will cast spells and brew strange potions to manipulate the men around her until she finds her ideal muse.
Biller’s inspired and kaleidoscopic set design, sumptuous costumes, and deliberately superannuated aesthetic is a crafty coup de cinema, combined with an excellently effective soundtrack and kitschy ornamentation that makes The Love Witch a ravishing and ineffable entertainment and magic made manifest.
11. Mean Girls (2004)
“Queen Bees and Wannabes,” the 2002 nonfiction self-help book by scribe Rosalind Wiseman was the inspiration for Tina Fey’s funny, and relatable screenplay for the 2004 surprise hit by director Mark Waters, Mean Girls.
Lindsay Lohan is teenager Cady Heron, a homeschooled kid newly relocated with her family to the suburbs of Illinois, thrust into the public school system and the snotty cliques who thrive therein. Soon Cady finds herself mingling with “the Plastics”—an elitist group of shallow cool kids, led by one Regina George (an excellent Rachel McAdams)—who keep a notorious “burn book” of all their gossip and outrage.
A funny and wonderfully witty teen comedy with lots of memorable gags and rejoinders (“Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen!”), it’s as close an approximation to vintage John Hughes as you’ll find, and that’s some kind of wonderful thing.
10. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
“We’re vampires, we don’t put down towels,” argues Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) with his flatmates, also vampires, and each rather stubborn when it comes to things like getting on each other’s nerves, and tidying up after their often gruesome dinners. Clement, co-writing and co-directing along with fellow Kiwi, Taika Waititi, net lots of laughs and attains assured cult hit status with the comedy-horror mockumentary monster mash, What We Do in the Shadows.
Having already cut their teeth together previously on numerous projects including Flight of the Conchords, and Eagle vs Shark, Waititi and Clement have again assembled a great cast of comedians to join them in cracking wise and deadpanning for the camera as they recount the trials and travails of Wellington, New Zealand’s vampire population, along with some rival werewolves, witches, and a few zombies, too. It’s a quotable procession of slapstick, splatter, satire, and farce. Few parodies work as well as What We Do in the Shadows does, and the lampoonery here has bite, sopping up serious howls, ensuring death by laughter all ye who see it.
9. A Field in England (2013)
Ben Wheatley’s incomparable A Field in England is the ultimate midnight movie as it gleefully blurs the line between dream and reality. Set in mid-17th century England this film is a black comedy disguised as an arthouse horror film that unravels like a morally ambiguous Möbius strip as it follows Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) fleeing from a demonic alchemist named O’Neill (Michael Smiley) amidst a bloody English Civil War battle. Cursed and accompanied by a trio of deserters this ill-starred crew, high on psilocybin mushrooms, are soon at the mercy of O’Neill.
Cinematographer Laurie Rose lenses a monochrome world of creepy close-ups and other odd and ominous tricks as the trippy pastoral mise en scène mutates into a Grand Guignol chamber of horrors. Pitch-dark humor, abstract allure, quick-witted dialogue and grisly, visceral and enjoyably indulgent thrills proliferate with alacrity and alarm leading to a frightful finish. To miss out on A Field in England would be a regrettable faux pas.