By The Pajiba Staff | Film | November 25, 2019 |
By The Pajiba Staff | Film | November 25, 2019 |
As the next two weeks roll along, we’ll be featuring some great pieces on our top 15 of our Favorites list. As a little amuse bouche, here are some thoughts on 15-20….
20. Annihilation (2018). — Here’s a fun thing you might not know about the Pajiba Overlords: Dr. Steven Wilson is my nemesis because of our very contrasting ideas about Alex Garland’s Annihilation. He hates it! I love it! Ah, we have a lot of fun around here, don’t we? It’s amusing to me because so many of Dr. Steven’s complaints about the film, called out in his Annhilation review are what I adore most about it, predominantly the way it shifts Jeff VanderMeer’s originally extremely eerie narrative into more of a meditative rumination on grief, guilt, and loss. Is that different from VanderMeer’s series, which takes a hard Lovecraft turn into inexplicable cosmic evil? Sure! And I think you should absolutely read the books!
I also think what Garland’s film pulls off is exceptionally unsettling in its own way, from that unforgettably horrifying scream-stealing bear to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s destruction in that transformed lighthouse to that final mirrored dance between Natalie Portman’s Lena and her double. Portman is our guide into the Shimmer and Area X, a place that has been compromised in some way, just like the all-female team that enters it. They’re all grappling with life-altering events, and when their bodies start mutating, too, some fight against it, some revel in it, and not one of them can understand it. It’s a very well-done meta exploration of the idea that you might not be who you think you are, and the combination of Garland’s confident direction, Rob Hardy’s trippy cinematography, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s mind-melting score, and Portman’s committed performance elevates Annihilation into cult classic territory. —Roxana Hadadi
19. A Separation (2011). — One of those questions that is always floating around Film Twitter is, “What movie do you love that you’ve never been able to watch more than once?” Whenever I see that question, I think of A Separation, a movie I watched with my parents and sobbed so much during it, they concernedly asked why I do this as my job. Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film is about the dissolution of a marriage, yes, but also about the intricacies of Iranian domestic life: differences between men and women, between families of various economic classes, between contrasting religious viewpoints. No one is really a villain in A Separation; not Peyman Moaadi’s Nader, who is concerned for his father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; not Simin (Leila Hatami), who files for divorce because she’s worried about raising her and Nader’s daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), in present-day Iran; not Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the woman they hire to help take care of Nader’s father, whose more strict religious beliefs and temperamental husband hamper her work. Each character has the gall to try and put themselves first, and that self-preservation keeps getting in the way of the people they claim to love. The film is like a puzzle box, each scene divulging a bit more about each character, a bit more about each relationship, a bit more about the deluge of social and familial pressures they are all facing. By the end—after the initial divorce proceedings, after arguments between Razieh and Nader, after Simin tries to find common ground with Razieh — when it comes time for the film to reveal who Termeh is choosing to live with after her parents are divorced, it’s impossible to pick one person’s side. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong and everyone is just trying to do the best they can, and sometimes that doesn’t work out. Sometimes love isn’t enough. A Separation doesn’t ask that we take the side of any particular character in their duels with others, but it encourages our boundless sharing of empathy. It’s impossible to watch Farhadi’s film and not want to give that to everyone you meet in his masterpiece. —Roxana Hadadi
18. John Wick (2014). - John Wick fucks. There’s no other way to describe it. I mean, maybe there is—but why would you? This movie fucks.
The thing about action movies is that you can get away with half-assing it a lot. You don’t have to world-build or cast talented people. As long as the explosions are cool and the body count is high, you have a built-in audience for what you’re going to do. (Hi, hello, that built-in audience is me. Duh.) John Wick understands this, but doesn’t do it. John Wick wants more for us; John Wick shows there’s another way by elevating the genre, creating an entire world where assassins have a code (and an exclusive hotel, natch), where John Wick is their boogeyman, and where dogs are the only pure thing in it. And woe betide you if you mess with a man’s canine, because you’re going to (rightfully) get got, gruesomely, which is where the movie takes us. Mr. Wick is on a goddamned mission to avenge the most innocent among us — his puppy, Daisy, who was senselessly killed in a home invasion because some dummy wanted Wick’s car. I’m sure you already know this, but the dummy dies for his stupidity. In fact, 77 people die by Wick’s hand in this movie. Seventy-seven people, and that still doesn’t feel enough for Daisy.
Have I mentioned the cast? First off, you have my (and the rest of the world’s) boyfriend in it, Keanu, who has never looked better. Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, and others are there also. This movie is an embarrassment of riches in terms of the cast, and still, it doesn’t rest on its laurels and do a paint by the numbers film about revenge. The fight scenes are a symphony of blood and violence that elevate the genre, and makes John Wick stand out:
Please understand that if I had an assassin’s skill set, I too would ruthlessly murder anyone who did any harm to my dog, or any dog for that matter. I suspect that goes for basically everyone who’s ever had a dog, because dogs are perfect creatures. John Wick knows this, and that’s why John Wick fucks. —Kate Hudson
17. Ex Machina (2014). - On the surface Ex Machina sounds like a cerebral snoozefest lauded due to the acting — and actors in it — rather than the content and execution. I mean, a reclusive genius, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), calls one of his company’s employees, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), to his private estate in order to take part in a Turing test for Nathan’s newest invention. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is a robot with heightened awareness and capabilities that enchants Caleb and makes everything so much more complicated than simple observation to determine her intelligence.
It sounds so pretentious!
Of course, being stubborn, I waited until I could watch Ex Machina at home with my husband. Expecting him to fall asleep and me to roll my eyes, I was pleasantly surprised to find neither scenario occurred. Alex Garland’s vision and deft hand behind the camera created a gorgeous movie full of exciting and disturbing visuals that allows creative insanity, body horror, and sci-fi questions of morality and responsibility to flow over the audience in a cacophonic symphony of genius. It turned out to be one of those movies that lived up to all of the hype and then exceeds it, giving it a well-deserved spot on our list. —Jodi Smith
16. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). - In 2013, around the time pop culture at large was declaring an end to the vampire fad, Jim Jarmusch had other ideas. Only Lovers Left Alive may be the most accessible film the indie darling has ever made, but that doesn’t make it any less distinctly Jarmusch-esque. This is a languid, droll love story about bored vampires and the centuries of culture they’ve soaked up across their undead lifetimes. Adam and Eve (played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are dandies from a lost time, looking for reasons to get up every evening as the human world around them seems to give up. Blood supplies have become tainted by man’s wasteful approach to life and, for the musician Adam, this existence provides no surprises or satisfaction since he’s already experienced everything it has to offer. Rather than dismiss or sneer at the well-worn tropes of vampirism, Jarmusch embraces them and even has a bit of light-hearted fun at their expense. Adam lives in a crumbling gothic-style house in Detroit and seldom bothers to sound as though he isn’t hundreds of years old.
This could all veer into camp or be unbearably twee but Jarmusch has a far sharper focus than that, and it helps that he remains one of the most effortlessly cool directors working today. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film awash with ideas and philosophies and a deep-seated adoration for the art and culture humanity has created since time began. If that’s not enough reason to keep on living, what is? Who said vampires were done? —Kayleigh Donaldson
This piece is part of Pajiba’s Favorite Movies of the 2010s series.
Image sources (in order of posting): Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Summit Entertainment, A24/Universal Pictures,