2016 was a year. I was alive. I went out to see some movies. Here are the five that I most enjoyed in a dark room with other weirdos and my insides full of popcorn, alcohol and the fluttering bird songs of hope.
5 – TEENAGE MOTHER (Alamo Drafthouse, September 2016)
If I’m going to watch a movie that climaxes with real life birth footage, I’d rather do it with the crowd of freaks who show up every month to the AGFA Secret Screening. They’re up for anything and the mood is infectious. We were the perfect audience for this 1967 “educational” exploitation film about a high school girl who gets pregnant and causes a scandal in her small town and the only way to heal everyone’s psychic wounds is for them (and us) to see documentary film of an actual birth. Yep, a slimy little baby rips itself out of a woman’s newly ravaged vagina on the big, big screen. We winced, moaned, squirmed, averted our eyes and laughed nervously—and we did it TOGETHER. We got through it. We survived. At least most of us did.
4 – POSSESSION (The Texas Theatre, August 2016)
I’ve seen 50,000 horror movies and at this point I can eat a meatball sandwich and watch heads roll all night. So, seeing a movie that REALLY did freak me out, rob my spirit of all optimism and make the very air in the room feel carcinogenic was a weirdly exciting sensation. Originally released in 1981, POSSESSION put me in my place. It’s about the worst marriage in film history. He (Sam Neill) twitches like a raw nerve, she (Isabelle Adjani) screams more than the singer in a black metal band. He’s jealous, she’s insane. He beats the hell out of her, she cheats on him with a mysterious slime beast in an apartment that looks like the inside of a dumpster. Director/co-writer Andrzej Zulawski builds a real nightmare here, icy in approach and nerve-rattling. At times, he dares the audience to walk out. In a theater, the infamous “miscarriage” scene—three solid minutes of Adjani howling and writhing and throwing herself around a lonely subway tunnel—is an assault that makes your ears ring afterward. It’s one of the best horror films ever made. The sparsely attended late Thursday night show, a Club Silencio-like collection of scattered strays, only added to the effect.
3 – TICKLED (The Magnolia, August 2016)
This documentary about the world’s one-time leading peddler of online tickle fetish videos is funny stuff at first and then becomes harrowing as the onion layers peel off to reveal one of the creepiest and most mysterious antagonists in recent movies, a world class “cyber-bully” before the term was invented and a Dr. Mabuse-like string-puller under cover of digital shadow. The two New Zealand filmmakers here travel the US interviewing the very few who will come forward on the subject, doing stakeouts, following people, sneaking cameras anywhere they can and having doors slammed in their faces. The audience is there with them the whole time, the third person in the investigation, keeping the edges of our seats good and warm on this trip into a real underworld. My favorite NEW movie that I saw in a theater this year.
2 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION (Alamo Drafthouse, June 2016)
I hate movie remakes and I hate them even more now that I’ve finally seen it done right. Here’s what it takes: A bunch of 11-year-olds pick out their favorite movie and then re-shoot it, painstakingly, shot-for-shot with a VHS camcorder and no money. If it takes them seven years to finish (as it did these kids during summer vacations off from school from 1982 to 1989), that’s even better. This is a movie that you can’t believe really exists until you’ve seen it. If you’re deeply familiar with the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, part of the fun of watching this is anticipating the action scenes ahead and wondering how these middle-schoolers will handle them. They pull off the boulder chase at the beginning beautifully, so you know they’re not messing around. But do they recreate the scene where Indy punches out Nazis on a moving truck? Do they shoot in a room full of live snakes? And do they risk burning down their parents’ house by staging the fight scene in Marion’s bar while the place is on fire? Yes, yes and yes, through methods that range from ingenious to just cause for being grounded for life. This played to a sold-out room at the Alamo and it brought the roof down. The screening was preceded by a new documentary on the making of this weird time capsule piece and included a Q&A with the makers, taking their childhood project from thirty years ago on a summer tour and happy to be there. Five hours well-spent.
1 – PARLOR, BEDROOM AND BATH (The Texas Theatre, April 2016)
Every film critic in the world calls this another mediocre artifact of silent film genius Buster Keaton’s downhill slide in the talkies. It’s a movie that gets no respect, but it was the first feature shown at Dallas’s legendary Texas Theatre when it opened on April 21, 1931 and so they decided to show it again, on 35mm film, on that exact date eighty-five years later, complete with the same newsreel and Mickey Mouse cartoon (on 16mm). The retro 35-cent admission and this rare trip back in time seemed to be the major draw for the large Thursday night crowd. I was among those there mostly to pay respect to the city’s oldest and best movie house on its birthday. No one seemed to expect much from the movie. The crowd laughed AT the newsreel, laughed WITH the cartoon… and then PARLOR, BEDROOM AND BATH leveled the place. It KILLED. Gales of laughter. Keaton had ’em rolling. Instead of making fun, people were having fun. The antique had barely aged a day. The film felt weirdly modern (it sneaks in a few dirty jokes, in true pre-Code fashion) and it jabbed upper class 1930s ways as finely as anyone in the 21st century audience could. Meanwhile, though Keaton no longer directs, writes or risks his life for some of the world’s most insane silent screen stunts here, he’s still a beautifully nimble presence who slips on wet floors and gets flung around hotel rooms like an artist. It’s fine 1930s fluff. The chatter at the bar afterward was all about how surprisingly good it was. I left like someone had just shoved a magic light bulb up my ass, totally aglow.