14. Late Phases (Adrian Garcia Bogliano, USA)
Thanks to the Twilight franchise, vampires and werewolves are firmly back in mainstream pop culture consciousness, although there are obviously way more vampire movies and TV series being made right now compared to werewolf flicks. But how about this though for a hook when you’re pitching a film – cranky old Vietnam vet vs. werewolves? Or even better, let’s make it a BLIND cranky old Vietnam vet vs. werewolves!
That’s pretty much the premise of this superb horror film from director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who last made the decent but unspectacular Here Comes The Devil, and who’s making his English language debut here. It starts off rollickingly enough as blind Vietnam vet Ambrose McKinlay (a captivatingly cranky Nick Damici) moves into a new retirement community and gets attacked by something on his first night there, which tragically left his beloved dog dead.
It becomes a bit of a slow burn after that as Ambrose prepares himself for revenge against the creature and the movie becomes a sort of a cross between Gran Torino and John Wick, but the payoff is absolutely worth the wait. A definite new high point in the werewolf movie genre, you will not regret watching this one.
13. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, UK)
An independent British production with a clever eye for the international market, thanks to the presence of rising American star Oscar Isaac and Scandinavia’s latest and hottest female export, Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina is writer Alex Garland’s feature directing debut that makes superb use of its obviously low-ish (relatively) budget.
Mostly set in one big house, with only 3 major characters for most of its screen time, with rising Brit star Domhnall Gleeson making up the trio, the film tackles the same issues and themes that recent films like Her and Transcendence have tried to take on, with quite brilliant results.
Gleeson plays a young coder invited by his CEO (Isaac) to spend a week at the CEO’s huge and secluded private home, where he finds out that the reclusive CEO has managed to create the world’s first true artificial intelligence, and that he’s been invited to participate in a series of experiments to test the intellect and interaction of that artificial intelligence, which is housed in the body of a quite frankly beautiful robot girl (Vikander).
How it all plays out is admittedly pretty similar to how Her plays out, but there’s much to admire in the film’s steely determination and pessimistic worldview, which would’ve surely been toned down, if not eradicated, if it was a Hollywood production.
12. Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala, Austria)
A beautiful blend of the high brow and low brow, Goodnight Mommy’s high brow credentials will start to make more sense once you realize that its producer is none other than Ulrich Seidl and that one of its co-directors Veronika Franz is his writing partner on films like the Paradise trilogy and Import/Export and the other co-director, Severin Fiala is his niece.
Having premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, Goodnight Mommy then proceeded to show its genre credentials by getting shown at top genre festivals like Sitges and Fantaspoa. A very close cousin in terms of tone, menace and evil intent is Michael Haneke’s cause célèbre Funny Games, as Goodnight Mommy similarly plays out mostly inside a house with very few characters.
It tells the story of a pair of twin brothers whose relationship with their mother becomes a little bit tricky when they start to suspect that the woman who came home after having plastic surgery is very likely not their own mother as her behavior is nothing like before.
The languid pace and increasing menace of the first half of the film will then make way for an icky, bloody and quite devastating second half that will please all the gorehounds out there, making for a satisfying film that’s both intellectual and visceral.
11. The Samurai (Till Kleinert, Germany)
Quite probably the weirdest film on this list, The Samurai is a hypnotic experience that’s not guaranteed to make much sense, no matter how many times you watch the damn thing, but it has a peculiar strangeness that will not leave your mind even days after you’ve seen it.
In many ways quite similar to Mad Max: Fury Road in that it boasts what could only be charitably called a slender premise, almost the whole movie is a cat and mouse chase between small town police officer Jakob and a cross dressing villain who’s armed with a samurai sword and intent on beheading almost everyone in town.
Where Mad Max: Fury Road embellishes its slender premise with one stunning action setpiece after another, The Samurai embellishes it all with intense atmosphere, seductive ellipsis, gorgeously shot bloody mayhem and absolutely committed acting, especially from Pit Bukowski as the titular samurai, to the point that even an erect penis during the climactic sword fight acquires a sort of poetic beauty.
10. SPL 2: A Time For Consequences (Soi Cheang, Hong Kong)
Almost 10 years ago, SPL launched (or maybe re-launched) the career of Donnie Yen to heights that he’d never experienced before as it basically made him an international action star and a major box-office draw in Asia, with the Ip Man films conclusively proving his charisma and star power.
Ten years later, a sequel finally arrives, with no Donnie Yen in sight, but any true fan of the original will tell you that SPL 2 is a bona fide sequel, even if more in terms of philosophy instead of character and story continuation as it again plays with the concept signified in the original’s title, SPL, which stands for Sha, Po and Lang, three stars in Chinese astrology that signify destruction, conflict and greed.
Only Simon Yam and Wu Jing (the white suited and knife wielding villain in the original) are returning cast members (playing different characters of course) with Thai action star Tony Jaa, Louis Koo and Zhang Jin joining them.
A convoluted plot spanning two countries (Hong Kong and Thailand) and at least 4 languages being spoken is expertly handled by rising Hong Kong genre whiz Soi Cheang, with plenty of jaw dropping action setpieces that wouldn’t pale in comparison to landmarks like The Raid films, Tom Yum Goong or Isaac Florentine masterpieces like Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear and his two Undisputed sequels.
9. Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, USA)
Released in late 2014 and early 2015 in different parts of the world, Coherence came out of nowhere to claim a place as one of the absolute high points of what people have been calling lo-fi sci-fi, with Primer obviously the reigning and still undefeated champion.
Armed with nothing more than 8 actors, a dinner table and a house, James Ward Byrkit has managed to weave a stunningly intricate narrative web which all stems from a comet that’s orbiting earth that has a more far reaching side effect than anyone has ever suspected.
To reveal more of its story would be to spoil the delights of the film, so let’s just say that it involves the possibilities of doppelgangers, alternate universes and whatever dangers encounters with these things may pose. Just like Primer, fanboys will have a field day dissecting the story’s seemingly never ending web, and who knows we might even have a new cult classic in our hands here.
8. Tokyo Tribe (Sion Sono, Japan)
Proudly calling itself the world’s first ever rap battle musical, Sion Sono, he of the wondrously loony Love Exposure and Why Don’t You Play In Hell, has confidently delivered one of the most irresistibly nutty joys of 2015 with Tokyo Tribe.
Based on Santa Inoue’s popular manga Tokyo Tribe2, Sono has taken Inoue’s characters, rivalries and plot points and transformed them into something else entirely by having almost the entire film told through rap verse instead of your usual dialogue.
Imagine a Japanese rap version of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, your tolerance for the film wholly depends on whether you can enjoy and appreciate not only rap music, but also the misogyny of the whole gangsta rap culture of violence, women and money.
With a plot that resembles The Warriors and West Side Story, the real pleasures of watching Tokyo Tribe are in the character details, right from a beatboxing waitress to a villain with a taste for human furniture and beyond, the quite amazing ability of the actors to perform some pretty impressive fight choreography and rap at the same time (which they performed live during filming!) and of course Sono’s restlessly roving camerawork, with quite a lot of the scenes done in one long take. You’ll either love this or hate it to bits, and I think Sono wouldn’t have it any other way.