6. 12th Man
Norway may not be a cinema-powerhouse compared to many of their European contemporaries. But after such films as Headhunters, King of Devil’s Island, and Oslo, August 31st impressed earlier in the decade, a film like 12th Man supplies them with some more credibility.
This World War II thriller is based on a true story of Norwegian saboteur Jan Baalsrud. He was the lone survivor of a Norwegian squad pitted against the Nazis.
It’s not only a film that fully latches on to your hatred of the Gestapo, but also delivers an extreme survival film that won’t get lost in the shuffle.
12th Man is patriotic without any schmaltz or glory. Thomas Gullestad may be an unknown to most audiences, but that should only add more intrigue. He doesn’t overact through any of the harsh elements and plays the hardened soldier to a tee. Even more impressive is the cruel Nazi officer played Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
Though it’s been compared to The Revenant for the protagonist’s struggle in the wilderness, 12th Man doesn’t feel like a retread of the genre. It’s a little overlong at 130 minutes, but the length can be forgiven because of the internal effects delivered by Jan’s struggle.
The least-talked about movie on this list is Beast, a drama with few recognizable names and an unknown director, but one that’s unsettling in the best of ways.
The film centers in on Moll, who lives in a remote island community with her iron-fisted family. She finally breaks out into a new life with the nonconforming Pascal, but when he’s becomes the suspect of multiple murders, she begins facing difficult choices in her life and the disdain of the community.
In his directorial debut, Michael Pearce (who also wrote the film) constructs a perplexing but intriguing story that never grows dull for a second. It hits hard on the psychological toll of Moll and puts together a very believable love story in the process.
Beast also avoids most genre norms, as it pits you in the loneliness and confliction that Moll has. It doesn’t need violence to put you on edge and carries itself with a tenderness that you don’t see from many debut directors.
Also, the cinematography on the island fits the dark, twisted central relationship flawlessly. Pearce may confine himself a bit with the plot, but great character creation makes Beast more than worth a look.
This film is not for the faint of heart, but anyone looking for a French-styled gorefest with a kickass heroine is in for a good time.
Revenge follows the blood-soaked tour de force of Jen, a relentless survivor hellbent on revenge after being left for dead in the desert by her boyfriend and his two pals.
Coralie Fargeat’s direction makes it a point to try and subvert the conventions of exploitation films and she accomplishes it more times than not. That is never truer than with Jen’s character. Her transformation from typical socialite to fearless protagonist is fun to watch and happens quite naturally.
Most of the press for this film focuses on the strong feminist message and its importance to the “Time’s Up” movement.
But beyond the undertones and timely significance is an everyday horror mixed with a stunning, French revenge fantasy. And it’s bloody-good fun, right down to the most tense and uncomfortable of endings.
Not enough can be said about how transformative Charlize Theron has been throughout her acting career.
And she makes yet another seamless transition playing Marlo, a mother taking on the challenge of three young children. But when she’s given a nanny by her brother, the two women form an abnormal but strong connection.
From her expressive silences to the more physical moments of her performance, Theron is incredible. The combo of her and Mackenzie Davis is strange but likewise organic. Their characters are fleshed out brilliantly by writer Diablo Cody, pairing up with director Jason Reitman once again.
And though this movie is technically a comedy, many of the same melancholic feels these two supplied in Juno and Young Adult can be found in Tully. It is a great character study that balances the exploration of motherhood and the youthful life Marlo has left behind. It’s a sympathetic and relatable film for mothers and an eye-opener for everyone else.
10. Ghost Stories
Our final film is Ghost Stories, a classic horror tale with more than a few exceptional spirals of plot along the way.
This tale centers around Professor Phillip Goodman, a firm skeptic of psychics and the supernatural. But when he comes across a file containing a trio of mysterious hauntings, he finds that all of them strangely link to his own life.
It’s a film with plenty of nostalgic callbacks to great horror films of the past. But beyond the wonderful homages are unusual happenings all its own. Goodman is played by co-director Andy Nyman, who portrays the perfect subject within the creepy setting that unfolds. And Martin Freeman is there too, somehow blending in to all the weirdness and yet standing out all the same.
There may be a few too many jump scares, but Ghost Stories doesn’t rely upon them like many modern horror movies. The puzzle-piecing done throughout the movie is fruitful thanks to a wonderful stage-to-screen adaptation of the script.
And when all the spooky figures and feverish winding is complete, a satisfying and chilling ending awaits.