15. The Neon Demon
It has been six months since I first saw The Neon Demon. I just re-watched it again this weekend and I still can’t decide if it has any depth or is mostly just dazzling display of the beautiful and the grotesque. But I know I have thought about it quite a few times in the past six months, which means something. Refn has proved to be what I would call an auteur provocateur. In his best moments (think the elevator scene in Drive), he blends exquisite visuals with the violent/dark/disturbing to create something that can be difficult to watch, but equally difficult to peel your eyes away from. In a lot of ways he is a cold, ruthless, and unrelenting director. He seems interested in pushing the limits of his audience and is unflinching with his camera. This film is pretty straightforward for the first half, and then the metaphorical “neon demon” arrives like the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith and in the form of an inverted tri-force from The Legend of Zelda, and things take a surreal turn to crazy town, delving into necrophilia at one point, and culminating in an ending that is so truly audacious that it is borderline comedic.
Everybody Wants Some!! goes out of its way to make sure that it is not confused with a plot-driven film of any kind. Instead, it is all about the party and living in and enjoying the moments. It epitomizes the college experience of trying on new hats and seeing what fits and discarding when it doesn’t in the moment. One review I stumbled across called it the “arthouse Animal House.” That’s a very apt comparison. The film meanders from scene to scene, day to day, all with the specter of actual classes looming come Monday morning. It embodies the tone of its soundtrack, embracing the laid back, party atmosphere of friends and teammates hanging out together and partying and enjoying life. Given that real life rarely has the kind of conflict that most movie plots have, it embraces the leisure and comfort of friendship and camaraderie. When the credits rolled, I wished I could’ve spent a few more hours with these guys. In short, Everybody Wants Some!! is a great hang.
13. Swiss Army Man
Yes, a film about a farting corpse made my the top 15 of my list. But it is too weird, unique, imaginative, and bold to no be on here for me. The film commits 100% to its premise, and is willing to alienate viewers at multiple points of the story to stay true to what it is doing. It’s possible that an equal number of people will be put off by the initial grossness of drinking water from the mouth of a corpse being used as a water jug or the many, many occurrences of flatulence as those who will be uncomfortable with the very dark turn it takes at the end of the film that it ventures into some disturbing territory that makes you question what you’ve been enjoying for most of the film’s runtime. When it gets to its darkest moment, the film ultimately winks at the audience and steps back from what could be an utterly bleak ending and provides an fittingly absurd conclusion that, if you have bought into the movie up to that point, is the icing on a truly bizarre cake.
As a friend of mine said after seeing it with her two young girls, it “celebrates how brave, strong, and fearless girls can be.” I appreciate most how the film never draws attention to that, it is an aspect of the film that it simply is. Moana is on a journey as much about self-discovery as she is about finding Maui and returning the stone. On top of that, her character arc is about more than just her self-discovery and her own journey. It is also about her people. There is the popular theme early on about Moana becoming chief and the responsibility and expectation of that role. What is expected of her is at odds with what is in her heart and the desire she has to set off on the water. As the film eventually lays out, though, there is a reason for that desire in her heart, which she finds by learning about the history of her people. They have forgotten who they are as a people, and instead have chosen to live secluded on their island. The pull of safety and isolation and comfort have caused them to forget what they are meant for.
In a period of time where racial tensions and anxieties are at their highest point in recent history in this country, this film touches on a number of socially relevant issues. Stereotypes, discrimination, inclusiveness, segregation, political correctness, and even religious tolerance can all be viewed in some way through the prism of the interactions between Judy and Nick, in how animals are viewed as predators and prey, in how Nick is initially refused service at a business, and on a subway scene where a little animal cuddles up to its mom in fear when a predator animal sits down next to them, calmly reading his newspaper. Initially, I winced at the P.C. message it seemed like the movie was sending, where in one scene in particular after a co-worker calls her “cute” Judy politely corrects him, saying, “You probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it it’s a little…” Thankfully, the movie shows that even Judy has her own prejudices and lessons to learn in stereotyping people. By the end of the movie though, I think the message of the movie ends up in a really nice place, recognizing that real life is more than just a “slogan on a bumper sticker.” Real tolerance and inclusiveness is about embracing that real life is messy, everyone makes mistakes, and because of that we all have a lot in common and being ok with that.