Cinefix is one of my very favorite YouTube channels. If you love movies and haven’t watched any of their videos, you should start today. From their series sharing Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know about various films, to their What’s The Difference videos, which explore the differences between books and their movie adaptations, the content is consistently a cut above the other film-centric channels I’ve found. [If you know of any other great YoutTube movie channels, let me know!]
For my money, of all their lists, nothing beats the Top [Insert Category Here] of All Time lists, where they insightfully heap praise on all their favorite films, scenes, lines, moments, and filmmakers throughout history. The team of writers, whoever they may be, are clearly really smart, adore film, and have a great affinity for coming up with creative ways to organize lists of great movies.
They eschew both pretension and pandering, so they have no problem featuring Tarkovsky and Die Hard on the same list. And while the writers have certainly earned a significant degree of authority in regard to film, they are totally cognizant of the subjectiveness of our experience with film, or any sort of art for that matter. They obviously stand by their lists, but never pretend they are definitive, objective conclusions, closing the conversation for all time. It’s a depressingly uncommon tack to take, especially on a medium like YouTube, where the shitty commenters are legendary, and channels like CinemaSins exist, *gulp* sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
It should come as no surprise that I always look forward to their Top Movies of the Year lists, where they not only praise their official favorite films, but mention a bunch of other worthwhile titles along the way. Like any other year, their 2020 list showed me movies I’d never heard of before, like The Collective, Last and First Men, and ThePlatform; shamed me by pointing out some films still unforgivingly on my to-watch list, like The Sound of Metal and the Small Axe anthology; and surprised me with praise for films I thought were terrible, like The Old Guard. And if I’m being honest, what I really love is when they pick a bunch of my favorite movies from the year for their list, especially when they are movies that are popular films that don’t get enough credit, like Extraction, or great films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve, like The Vast of Night.
Long story short, aka tl;dr, Cinefix’s lists are great, and you should watch this one.
Due to the love for film and books that beats in my breast like an eternal flame, I’ll never get to all the shows everyone else watches. A superpower enabling me to freeze time, or perform the limited sort of time travel from About Time, still eludes me, and with it, the freedom to watch and read and listen to and play all of the things. And so, everything that isn’t a movie or a book is relegated to the fringes of my free time.
So this year, like every year, I was a far cry from keeping up with everyone else’s TV habits. Fortunately, the quality of what I watched more than compensated for the lack of breadth. From catching newly premiered shows to catching up on fare that I’ve taken far too long to get around to, my joys far outweighed the disappointments.
Below are all the seasons and limited series I sat down and watched start to finish last year, chronologically as to when I finished them. And of course, these were all in addition to the regular stream of rewatches and whatnot of 30Rock, Bob’sBurgers, Sunny, Archer, Arrested Development, Seinfeld, Community, and Parks and Rec.
The Good Place – Seasons Three & Four – We start with The Good Place, which, as if 2020 wasn’t heartbreaking enough already, joined Schitt’s Creek and Steven Universe in ending this year (granted, Steven Universe was ending for the second time). It was so hard to say goodbye, but bittersweet, in that all three ended so beautifully.
I’m not sure The Good Place gets enough credit for how ambitious it was. *Spoilers* They got an audience to keep caring about characters, while literally resetting them and their progress repeatedly. They took a deep dive into ethics and philosophy, all while remaining silly, playful, and light on their feet. And most ambitious of all, they found a way to stick a landing that should have been impossible to stick. As an atheist with a Master’s in Divinity, let’s just say that I would have had some internal reactions if they went off the rails in the later episodes, but they fucking nailed it. They easily could have snuck a shallow or disjointed conclusion onto the end of the show. Instead, they created a final season that was poignant, moving, and retroactively made a great show even better.
TheChefShow – Season One, Vol. Three – Season Two, Vol. One – Ialready went on and onabout my love for this one. With its unending curiosity, art, and joy – all rooted in the delightful rapport between Favs and Choi – it was exactly the sort of thing I needed this year.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season Fourteen – How on earth have Bob’s Burgers and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia not run out of steam after ten and fourteen seasons respectively?! By all rights, they should have jumped the shark ages ago, and yet both shows still produce great episodes, even as they’ve weathered inevitable shifts in the writers’ room and directorial staff over the years, as talented creators move on to other projects.
TigerKing – Remember nine million years ago, when Tiger King was all anyone talked about?
TheOutsider – At its best, it’s really, really good. Even in its uneven bits, I didn’t dislike the second half the way some people seemed to.
Schitt’sCreek – SeasonSix – As sad as it was to say goodbye to the Rose family for the last time, it was so very satisfying to see the well-deserved acclaim, awards, and unadulterated praise the show has finally received. Before watching it, I assumed it was a cheap ripoff of Arrested Development. In reality, the world was gifted with a brilliant, important, resonant, hilarious show that would make me cry happy tears repeatedly over its six year run. Dan Levy 4 Eva!
SexEducation – SeasonsOne&Two – Even with a relatively large cast of characters, I fell in love with every single one of them. That meant a great deal in a year where the real life people I love weren’t allowed in my living room. This show is an absolute delight, and can’t wait for season three! And that soundtrack, tho!!
SiliconValley – SeasonSix – Remember how good this show was in early seasons? Aside from that, I have no comment.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – Season One – A solid, enjoyable show overall, but the real gift was the absolutely beautiful virtual Covid episode that offered viewers a remarkable degree of empathy, kindness, and care in a really dark moment for all of us.
Bob’sBurgers – Season Ten – Like I said about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this show has no business continuing to be so good. If anything, the show gets better as it ages. And this year we get a Bob’s Burgers movie!
CowboyBebop – Super curious to see how the live action Netflix show featuring the egregiously underutilized talent (and handsomeness) of John Cho turns out.
RickandMorty – Season Four – While it’s often shadowed by one of the most toxic fanbases out there, I love this fucking show.
What We Do in the Shadows – SeasonTwo – I was so hesitant to start this show back in 2019. I’m always wary of adaptations – especially the movie to TV variety – and I love the movie so, so, so, so, so, so much, the idea of it being spoiled was almost too much to take. But I needn’t have worried, What We Do in the Shadows is hilarious. And season two is even better than season one!
Devs – From what I can tell, too many of you are sleeping on this show. It’s a tense, dark, relatively slow burn tech-sci-fi-mystery-thriller-reality bending show created, written and directed by Alex Garland [the guy who wrote and directed Ex Machina and the adaptation of Annihilation, and who wrote 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and the adaption of Never Let Me Go]. You should watch it.
Steven Universe [Complete]& Steven Universe: Future – My most important pop culture development of 2020 was finally getting around to watching Steven Universe. Of all the things getting me through this nightmare, this show has played the biggest role. I’ve already written about my new obsession here.
Fleabag – This show absolutely blew me away, even for all of its adoring fanfare and exaltation, it still exceeded my expectations. Thank Glob for the rise of Phoebe Waller-Bridge!! I can’t wait to see all the things she does next.
PerryMason – Season One – A solid first season, anchored by consistently great performances by the entire cast. I hope there’s a second season, because the show was clearly an origin story.
HarleyQuinn – Seasons One & Two – While I’m pretty sure most of you are sleeping on Devs, I KNOW most of you are sleeping on Harley Quinn. Without my friend Josué, I’d still be sleeping on it, too. If you at all enjoy irreverent, R-rated cartoons, you need to watch this show.
Central Park – Season One – Created as it was by Loren Bouchard, I went in thinking it was going to be an occasional musical like Bob’s Burgers. So I was surprised to find that it was actually just a full-on musical. And a pretty damned good one at that!
Brooklyn99 – Seasons One – Three – This was certainly a weird year to re-watch the early seasons of a show about cops. I’m really curious to see what the show-makers do next, as the cast and writers have all been transparent about how seriously they are taking this moment, and the growing awareness by the general public of how remarkably problematic and toxic policing is in this country.
The Haunting of Bly Manor – The first season is still first in my heart, but this was a solid chapter for this burgeoning anthology series. I’m going to be honest and say I hated the epilogue of sorts, and the narrative framing, centered in “present-day” scenes that seem like they were produced for an entirely different, entirely inferior show. Even with that being the case, I still really enjoyed the time I spent in Bly Manor.
Last Week Tonight – Season Seven – God bless John Oliver, and the entire Last Week Tonight team. Who could’ve guessed that a comedy news show would quickly become the most deeply and meticulously researched show on television? From rat erotica to the transcendent conclusion of the running Adam Driver joke, the show brought all the humor and entertainment one would hope for. But there were also a number of surprisingly poignant, human moments, making the show another bright spot in a dark year. All whilst being thoughtful, sharp, and informative. And they topped the whole thing off with a truly cathartic explosion.
Archer – Season Eleven – Even in the more uneven state it finds itself in at this point, I still love Archer.
Lovecraft Country – Speaking of uneven Lovecraft Country. It certainly had its brilliant moments – even whole episodes – but overall I was disappointed. The big surprise is that the truly great, timely antiracist HBO show is actually Watchmen.
TheMandalorian – Season Two – I really liked first season of Mando. I loooooooved season two. To be honest, after The Last Jedi I was prettyfatigued on Star Wars, but The Mandalorian pulled me back in. As a guy who is all in on the western and samurai DNA of the show, this season was a genre-worshipping wet dream. I sure hope Favs doesn’t expect us to survive with more Grogu, though. This is a Grogu world now. We can never allow ourselves to return to a non-Grogu one.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands – “BMO” and “Obsidian” – Adventure Time has returned with what will eventually be four hour long specials, each focusing on different characters from the show. So far, we’ve gotten a BMO episode, along with a Princess Bubblegum and Marceline episode. They are both so, so good. If this is the quality we get when they drop a few new stories here and there for the rest of time, I am definitely here for it.
Lots and lots of Seth Meyers – Similarly to Last Week Tonight, watching someone pick apart the absurd, stupid, evil, gaslighting reality of this administration, and the state of the country, played a huge role in helping me preserve at least some small vestige of my sanity.
A new year is officially underway, which means it’s time for my annual tradition of sharing every movie I watched the previous year. You know, the list which absolutely no one asked for, but that keeps on coming back just the same. [I did miss 2018 somehow. I’m still not sure how that happened.]
This year was, quite predictably, unprecedented as far as my movie-watching habits went. I watched 221 movies this year! Mostly because once quarantine began, depression and anxiety became my only daily obligations, resulting in 2020 being my biggest movie-watching year since I started keeping track back in 2008. [If you’re curious, the tally for previous years is: 150 in 2008 – 200 in 2009 – 200 in 2010 – 203 in 2011 – 200 in 2012 – 167 in 2013 – 105 in 2014 – 125 in 2015 – 125 in 2016 – 144 in 2017 – 104 in 2018 – 126 in 2019]
I love publishing these lists, so I hope someone out there likes ‘em. And if any other nerds out there kept track of the movies they watched last (or any) year, I’d love to see the list! I genuinely like this sort of thing, whether it’s my list or anyone else’s.
Anyway, here you go, every movie I watched in 2020.
The key is mostly the same as always: (#) Movie I saw in the theater. [#] Movie I saw for the first time. E# – Movies I watched with Emily. Favorites — Underlined titles are then ones that have stood up, after repeated viewings, and still keep me coming back for more. They’re the ones I’ve seen before, and will certainly watch again. **Best new (to me) movies — Titles with an asterisk are the films I loved the most out of those I’d never seen before.
**1. Her Smell 
2. Brittany Runs a Marathon  E1
**3. Maiden  E2
4. Missing Link 
**5. I Lost My Body 
6. Long Day’s Journey Into Night 
7. Good Boys 
8. Ash is Purest White 
9. Alita: Battle Angel  E3
10. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – E4
11. Paddington 2
12. The Adventures of Tintin
13. The Gentlemen  (1) E5
15. Inside Llewyn Davis – E6
16. Win Win
17. The Other Guys
18. Birds of Prey  (2) E7
20. The One I Love
21. Bad Boys for Life  (3)
22. Safety Not Guaranteed
23. About Time
24. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
25. My Own Private Idaho 
26. Blinded by the Light  E8
**27. Ford v Ferrari  E9
**28. Midsommar 
29. Fast Times at Ridgemont High 
**30. The Invisible Man  (4)
31. Onward  (5) E10
32. Color Out of Space 
33. Mission: Impossible – E11
34. Frozen II  E12
35. Sleuth (1972) 
36. Yesterday 
37. The Avengers – E13
38. On the Town  E14
39. The Sandlot – E15
40. The Battered Bastards of Baseball – E16
**41. Pain and Glory 
42. No No: A Dockumentary – E17
43. 61* – E18
44. Knives Out – E19
45. The Battery 
46. The Natural – E20
47. Everybody Wants Some!! – E21
48. Damn Yankees 
49. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings 
50. The Pride of the Yankees 
51. For the Love of the Game  E22
52. Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story 
53. Bull Durham – E23
54. Pelotero 
55. Sugar – E24
56. Brothers in Exile 
57. Fear Strikes Out 
58. Moneyball – E25
59. Field of Dreams – E26
60. A League of Their Own – E27
61. Iron Man 3 – E28
62. Take Me Out to the Ballgame  E29
63. Off the Black 
64. Cobb 
65. Thor: The Dark World – E30
66. The Stratton Story 
67. The Phenom – E31
68. The Bad News Bears
69. Major League – E32
70. Eight Men Out – E33
**71. I Will Buy You 
72. Bang the Drum Slowly  E34
73. Love Wedding Repeat  E35
74. Captain America: Winter Soldier – E36
75. Holy Motors 
76. Guardians of the Galaxy – E37
77. Avengers: Age of Ultron – E38
78. Zombieland: Double Tap 
**79. Kagemusha 
**80. Police Story 
81. Rocketman  E39
82. Minority Report
83. Ant-Man – E40
84. His Girl Friday – E41
85. Diamantino 
86. Captain America: Civil War – E42
87. Doctor Strange – E43
88. Drugstore Cowboy 
**89. Sex, Lies, and Videotape 
90. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – E44
91. Seven Samurai – E45
92. Spider-Man: Homecoming – E46
**93. Sword of Doom 
94. Peanut Butter Falcon  E47
**95. The Handmaiden 
96. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – E48
97. The Night Comes For Us 
98. Thor: Ragnarok – E49
**99. Transit 
100. McCabe and Mrs. Miller 
101. Black Panther – E50
102. Under the Skin 
**103. Extraction  E51
104. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood  E52
105. Y Tu Mama, Tambien 
106. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
107. Avengers: Infinity War – E53
**108. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 
**109. Queen & Slim 
**110. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 
**111. Blindspotting 
**112. Emma. 
113. Local Hero 
**114. Vast of Night 
115. Malcolm X 
116. She’s Gotta Have It 
117. Foxy Brown 
118. The Favourite 
119. The Royal Tenenbaums [Commentary: Wes Anderson]
120. Doctor Sleep 
**121. Hamilton  E54
122. Plus One  E55
**123. Beauty and the Beast (1946) 
124. Abominable  E56
125. House of Flying Daggers 
**126. Palm Springs  E57
127. I Am Not Your Negro – E58
**128. Steven Universe: The Movie 
129. Avengers: Endgame – E59
130. Soylent Green 
131. Cold Case Hammarskjöld 
**132. Thunder Road 
**133. All About My Mother 
134. Aniara 
135. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am  E60
136. One Cut of the Dead 
137. The Souvenir 
138. Extra Ordinary 
**139. Da 5 Bloods  E61
140. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 
**141. Blindspotting – E62
**142. Volver 
143. Short Cuts 
**144. Kwaidan 
145. Guns Akimbo 
146. Class Action Park  E63
147. Get Duked 
148. First Love 
149. The Old Guard  E64
**150. Three Colors: Red 
151. Climax 
152. MFKZ 
153. Happy Death Day 
154. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
**155. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé  E65
156. Point Break – E66
157. Prospect 
158. 13th  E67
159. The Lure 
160. Tigers Are Not Afraid 
161. WolfCop 
162. Get Out – E67
**163. The Skin I Live In 
164. They Live 
165. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 
166. Grave Encounters 
167. Under the Shadow 
168. Nightbreed 
169. Night of the Living Dead – E68
170. Straw Dogs 
171. Shaun of the Dead
172. 1408 
173. The Howling 
175. ParaNorman – E69
176. Return of the Living Dead 
177. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – E70
178. Vampires vs. The Bronx 
179. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon 
For nearly a decade, Disney Animation Studios had completely lost its mojo. The once groundbreaking, trendsetting, undisputed champion of animation had become a factory for bland, uninspiring films that elicited a collective ‘meh’ from the general public. Granted, they were distributing Pixar’s, but as far as in-house creativity, the well seemed dry.
Then, beginning in 2009 with The Frog Prince, they’ve gone 11 years with an impressive track record, proving there’s still magic in the mouse house. It’s obviously too early to tell, but Raya and the Last Dragon looks like it may be another solid offering.
And with a supporting role in the film, it will continueAwkwafina’s complete takeover of Hollywood.
“If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up.” – Neil Gaiman
Just like Christmas, Halloween seems like it was designed in a think tank made up entirely of children. I mean, c’mon, it culminates in a glorious day when kids are encouraged to dress up as whatever they want, and adults are required to give them free candy.
Yet, as great as that part is, there’s more to find if you look beneath the surface.
Christmas gets all the credit for being a season of imagination and wonder, full of the metaphors of hope, belief, generosity, community, and reconciliation. But Halloween has an enchantment of its own. It, too, is full of imagination and wonder, it’s just that the metaphors are often darker, with stories of ghosts and monsters exploring themes like fear, grief, and death.
They’re themes parents often, understandably, shield kids from. Yet, fear, grief, death, and the like, are part of life. Stories, including film, can be a way for kids to get a safe exposure to those darker parts of life. Fiction does an endless number of things, and one is that it allows us to experience difficult things in small doses, which can help us face them when we experience them in potentially lethal doses later on. You know, like slowly developing an immunity to iocane powder.
I don’t have kids, so I can’t vouch for this as a parent, but I can do so as a former child, and as someone who thinks about story way too much.
Anyway, here are five movies to watch this Halloween with some kids you love – or on your own. And fear not, they don’t all explore darker themes, and they don’t all have a macabre imagination. One explores courage in the face of fear; one explores grief, loss, family, and acceptance; one is about disillusionment and identity; one is about finding a home where we least expect it; and another is just silly fun. I’ll let you figure out which is which.
My five-year-old nephew associates me with two things: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Coco. Needless to say, I love this movie. It’s a wonderful story, beautifully told, and I can’t get enough. I’ve seen it more times than I should probably admit, and I cry every. time.
Seeing as how the plot hinges entirely on Dia de Muertos, it’s the perfect movie to watch on Halloween night.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has everything: cheese, amazingly bad puns, Gromit, the cutest bunnies in cinema history, vegetable-based sexual innuendo [that stays vague enough that you won’t feel bad watching it with little kids], and the smarts to poke fun at the tropes of the werewolf sub-genre.
I give it four out of five wheels of Wensleydale.
Coraline is officially the first film featured on two Halloween Movie Fest lists this year. First, because it’s a great horror fairytale, and now, because it’s another perfect movie to watch with the kids you love this Halloween. Or, you know, by yourself as an adult. No shame, baby. No shame.
As I wrote before, this stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.
If I had kids, I’d be so excited for when it was finally time to share this movie with them.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
If we’re being completely honest, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a shameless attempt to capitalize on the success of Mary Poppins, albeit seven years later. But ripoff or no, oh my god did I love this movie as a kid. If I could have, I’d’ve taken the film’s climax – you know, when the armor comes to life and fights Nazis – and mainlined it right into my veins.
I mean, come on, what’s not to love? It’s got Angela Lansbury. It’s got David Tomlinson playing the polar opposite of his character as the dad in Mary Poppins. It’s got people turned into rabbits. It’s got some decent songs (“Portobello Road” gets stuck in my head on a quasi-regular basis). It’s got a magical bed that can take characters anywhere in the world. It’s got a soccer game between humans and cartoon animals.
And did I mention armor comes to life and fights Nazis?! Because it does. Angela Lansbury sing-casts a spell for ‘substitutiary locomotion’ and an entire army of old armor comes to life and fights off an incursion of the Third Reich. Where and why was there an entire army’s worth of armor laying around in a tiny English village? Who knows! But there was, and it came to life and fought Nazis, and it was amazing.
As family-friendly Halloween-ish movies go, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a solid choice.
Oh, and the spell for substitutiary locomotion is “Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum, Satis Dee.” It might come in handy, what with Nazis making a comeback over the last few years #themoreyouknow
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow seamlessly combines Halloween and Christmas into a single glorious whole. This is a great service to humanity, seeing as how science has objectively proven that those are the two best holidays of the year. #thanksgivingsucks.
Henry Selick’s stop motion musical masterpiece is darkly enchanting and genuinely creepy, leaning all the way into those Halloween punches, while also telling an earnestly hopeful story that fits right in with the Christmas ethos.
It’s a moving story of identity, disillusionment, curiosity, and discovery, that has made Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, into one of the all-time great characters of both Halloween and Christmas.
Honorable mention: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; ParaNorman; CorpseBride; MonsterSquad; Labyrinth; Monsters, Inc.; The Boxtrolls; and Frankenweenie.
It may be 2020, but the 1980s are alive and well. Neon lights and retro logos are in, synths and new wave are ascendant, and pop culture is saturated with nostalgia for the shows, films, and franchises of the decade.
Now, any celebration of 80’s culture would be incomplete if we left out the incontrovertible truth that the decade was the golden age of practical effects in horror. The era was hugely significant for the genre because of the other incontrovertible truth, practical horror effects are vastly superior to their CGI counterparts. This is known.
Seriously, you go find all the outdated CGI that’s still scary, and I’ll go find all the old practical effects that are still horrifying, and we’ll compare lists. It would be a fun exercise, because after you can’t find any examples we can just watch 80’s horror movies all night.
On second thought, let’s not waste time, and instead skip right to the part where we watch 80’s horror. Here are five movies from the golden age of practical horror effects you should watch this Halloween.
Okayokayokay, I know, Alien came out in 1979, but I’m including it because, a) it’s a brilliant movie with terrifying practical effects, b) it’s part of the dawn of the golden age, and it transitions out of the 70s, a decade with amazing practical effects in its own right that set the tone for what was to come, c) I can do what I want.
Obviously, the chestburster scene is one of the most iconic moments in film history, but it doesn’t end there. All of the physical realizations of H.R. Giger’s disturbing artwork of phallic alien monstrosities are scary as hell. Alien is the precursor to a decade that would use practical effects to give us monsters that still haunt our nightmares in 2020.
The Thing is an all-timer, featuring one of my favorite final scenes, ever.
John Carpenter effectively immerses you in the horror and paranoia of being trapped in the middle of Antarctica with a monster who can look like anyone. A monster who just so happens to be hellbent on killing and assimilating you and whichever of your friends are still actually your friends. Even worse, it will then use your likeness to get back to civilization and murder the whole planet.
As great as the concept is, the deep psychological horror is rooted in how terrifying the Thing itself is to behold. Without Rob Bottin’s remarkable effects, the movie would likely have fallen flat and become another example of a potentially great sci-fi horror film ruined by visual inadequacies and limitations. Instead, Bottin and his team delivered one of the most horrifying monsters ever committed to screen.
In the case for the supremacy of practical effects, The Thing is Exhibit A.
Not so fun fact: Bottin worked so hard that he ended up in the hospital from exhaustion at the close of filming.
An American Werewolf in London
If you ever come across a list of great practical effects in film that leaves off John Landis’s 1981 horror-comedy, throw it right in the trash.
An American Werewolf in London features the undisputed greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time. Almost four decades later, with huge leaps forward in what can be rendered onto our screens, and no one else has even come close.
He’s the master of body horror, so David Cronenberg’s entire filmography is a cornucopia of disturbing practical effects. Videodrome and Scanners are notable mainstays on ‘best of’ lists, but for my money, The Fly reigns supreme.
It’s overflowing with disgusting practical effects, with each gross-out scene topped just moments later by something even more horrifying. But what I love most is that it’s all used to tell a focused, tragic, character-driven story of a man’s transformation into a monster.
Bonus: we’re living in the midst of a glorious Jeff Goldblum renaissance, so whether you’d be revisiting The Fly or experiencing it for the first time, now is a great time to watch one of his absolute best performances.
The EvilDead films
Practical effects aren’t just superior in films aiming to shock viewers for genuine scares. They’re also best when it comes to horror more interested in being darkly silly and ridiculous with its gore, and there is absolutely no better example than the Evil Dead films.
These movies are so over-the-top, so delightfully and unrelentingly insane, and the practical effects are what make the whole thing work. CGI never could have done justice to the vile, unholy magic of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis
It should also be noted that Bruce Campbell is the human embodiment of practical effects. The world would be a sadder place if it didn’t have Ash Williams in it.
Bonus: 1992’s Braindead [aka Dead Alive]
Okay, this one isn’t an 80s movie, but if we’re going to talk about practical effects creating absurdly gory slapstick, we have to mention the bloodiest practical horror film of all time: Braindead (released as Dead Alive in the US).
Before Peter Jackson became internationally famous for adapting The Lord of the Rings, he made TheFrighteners with Michael J. Fox, an underrated bit of genre fare that would fit right into any Halloween Movie Fest.
But before that, he made one of the dumbest, goofiest, weirdest, most ludicrously over-the-top gross-out gore-fests of all time. Try to imagine what that would look like and you still wouldn’t be close. Forget the same ballpark, you wouldn’t even be in the same galaxy.
Anyway, the film reportedly used 80 gallons of fake blood, making it objectively the bloodiest movie of all time. The lawnmower scene alone makes that easy to believe.
Once upon a time, all fairytales were horror fairytales. Murder, cannibalism, torture, dismemberment, necrophilia, and all sorts of other nasty bits fit right in, and even happy endings were likely drenched in blood. It’s a reminder that, while often dismissed as a genre, horror plays no small part in the tradition of human storytelling.
The same goes for the history of film, where horror can always be found at the vanguard of style and innovation. [1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is perhaps the most famous early example of a horror film that changed the medium forever, but examples date all the way back to the 1890s.]
To this day, horror is still an unsung pillar of storytelling and film, and in the hands of gifted and imaginative filmmakers, great horror bedtime stories are still being told. Here are five you should watch this October.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
“But the prince couldn’t become a tiger, because he’d forgotten how to be a prince.”
Set in a nameless Mexican city ruled by drug lords, Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid is a heartbreaking fairytale about children trying to survive in an ugly, violent world. A clear descendent of writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s work [get used to del Toro showing up on this list], the film is darkly imaginative, using supernatural horror and fantasy to tell a story in which real monsters are human, and defenseless kids are treated as so much collateral damage.
“Help us come ashore. There’s no need to fear. We won’t eat you, my dear.”
Ever wonder what it would be like if Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was told as an erotic-horror-musical about man-eating mermaids, who take jobs working as adult entertainers at a club in Poland? Of course you have, and now you finally have your answer.
Whatever you’re imagining, I assure you the film is significantly more bizarre – and gleefully so. This one definitely isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell isn’t like anything you’ve seen before.
Fun Fact #1: The original Polish title is Córki dancingu – which translates as Daughters of Dancing – because apparently the working title for Hans Christian Andersen’s original story was “Daughters of the Air.”
Fun Fact #2: This is director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s feature length debut, which left me sooooo curious to see what craziness she’ll create next. Turns out, it’s going to be a science fiction opera featuring the music of David Bowie. So, you know, sploosh. [Mermaid phrasing, boom!]
“She’s got this whole world where everything’s better. The food, the garden, the neighbors. But it’s all a trap.”
Horror, myths, and fairytales are all firmly situated in Neil Gaiman’s wheelhouse, so I can’t imagine anyone being surprised to see his work on this list.
This stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.
Combine the imagination of Neil Gaiman with the magic of Henry Selick, and — *chef’s kiss* — perfection.
“I won’t harm you, but if you ever tell anybody about what you’ve seen tonight, even your own mother, I will know of it, and I will kill you.”
If you’re into classic Japanese cinema, then Kwaidan is the horror fairytale film for you. Drawing its title from an archaic Japanese word meaning ‘ghost story,’ legendary director Masai Kobayashi’s film – consisting of four stories based on Japanese folk tales – is a consensus masterpiece.
The film is one of Guillermo del Toro’s favorites of all time, and a huge influence on his work. That’s a big deal, because – as I’m about explain – del Toro is king.
[Pro tip: if the film’s 182 minute runtime spooks you, you can watch the self-contained stories episodically. #themoreyouknow]
“My mother told me to be wary of Fauns.”
Guillermo del Toro is the master of horror fairytales. Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Shape of Water fit on this list in their own right, but Pan’s Labyrinth is the one film to rule them all – and by ‘them all,’ I’m including not just his filmography, but all the horror bedtime stories ever committed to film.
The film is the platonic ideal of a del Toro film. Every hallmark of del Toro’s storytelling sensibilities is distilled down to its purest form. Remarkably imaginative, beautifully horrible monsters populate a tale of violence, cruelty, power, and innocence, illustrating humanity’s capacity for both ugliness and beauty. Del Toro’s work is proof of the power of storytelling and imagination.
My sweet, sweet Halloween Movie Fest. How I’ve missed you. You were once an annual rite of fall, but I’ve left you neglected. I’ve watched the films, but left their glories unsung. It’s an injustice I can’t let stand any longer. This year, if you’ll have me, I return to your cold, dead embrace.
That’s right, my friends, for the first time since 2017, Halloween Movie Fest returns – and it’s going to look a lot different than ever before! After so many years, HMF grew stale, maybe even a bit boring. It lacked the life it once had – and not in a fun, undead way – so this year I’m bringing an entirely new format to the proceedings.
I started Halloween Movie Fest in 2009 because I wanted to remedy my lack of experience with horror films. I was a scaredy-cat, which is fine, but as a self-proclaimed film super-fan (#99), I was missing out on far too much – including some of the consensus greatest films ever made! So, I decided to watch 11 horror (and horror-ish) movies in 11 days. I loved it, and it did exactly what I’d hoped, lighting a spark of appreciation for horror that would grow considerably in the years that followed.
I’ve tried to hold to that same spirit since. I always begin HMF the way I did that first year, doing research to curate a list of films I’d be watching for the first time (a list which is always supplemented by returning favorites). The goal was to find new films to love, and to share them with you; taking myself into weird, dark, interesting, and underappreciated corners of the film landscape. I wanted to go places I’d never have gone otherwise. And it’s worked. I’ve seen so many great movies I never would have seen, and gone down rabbit holes I never would’ve discovered. I saw for myself how great horror can be, and it totally changed my viewing habits year-round.
This year, instead of researching and curating a single month-ish long list of films for me to watch, I’m going to curate a bunch of smaller lists instead. My hope is you can use them to do a Halloween Movie Fest of your own. It feels like a fitting way to enjoy the fruits of my labor (of love), and to share that with you. I would’ve loved to have these lists back in 2009, so maybe someone out there wants them in 2020.
There will be all sorts of lists, and each one will have a theme, i.e. ‘Five Horror Fairytales,’ ‘Horror Films for Trump’s America,’ etc. I’ll even do a ‘Halloween Movie Fest for Scaredy Cats,’ for the horror-phobic folks out there.
Anyway, I hope the lists bring you as much enjoyment as making them has brought me.