Watched & Appreciated: Favorite Movies Watched For the First Time in 2019

Enemy Territory

A cult classic waiting for its cult. With all the video stores I worked in, I can’t believe I never saw this one. Glorious 80’s action, Ray Parker Jr as our gun-toting hero, Jan-Michael Vincent as a burned out Vietnam vet who won’t take any shit, and Tony Todd’s dry run for the Candyman role. Also, a young Stacey Dash and Kadeem Hardison. This was released on VHS and laserdisc and absolutely needs to have a proper DVD/Blu release (I watched it on Youtube — truly the only way you are going to be able to see it).

Five on the Black Hand Side

Simply delightful. A comedy adapted from a stage play with themes including women’s liberation, the civil right movement, black empowerment, black unity. Frankly, someone needs to nab the rights to this and remake it, maybe even for TV. The barbershop scenes are a goldmine of rich supporting characters and dialog. One of the characters is a local hustler named Fun Loving. Find his scene in the barbershop on Youtube (The Philosophy according to “Fun Loving”) for a great history lesson on the early precursors of rap. Also,this was Carl Franklin’s first movie.

The Hitter

Apparently some parts of this were filmed in Baltimore, which is how it landed on my radar screen (I’m doubtful but who cares). Honestly, this is a mixed bag, but the positives far outweigh the negatives (one sequence that just flat out doesn’t work). This is a really fun B crime flick with an all black cast that, like Five on the Black Hand Side, doesn’t fully square with its blacksploitation label. Bill Cobbs is menacing as the antagonist, Ron O’Neal is appropriately heroic as the hero, and, as was his wont, Apolph Caeser stole the show. There is an absolute hidden gem of a monologue that Caeser gives that ranks with the greats and is worth the price of admission alone.

Mother

I went in to Mother cold, which I think is best, and came out the other side wondering what the hell I’d just experienced. It’s also easy to understand why this is such a divisive movie. This is an experiential, immersive, anxiety filled ride that isn’t always fun, and in some cases genuinely upsetting.

One Cut of the Dead

The first act is a single take, low budget zombie movie. The second act gives you more information and changes your perception, when the first act is revisited with the new information, it becomes something else entirely. One Cut of the Dead is really about film making and I was cheering during the final moments.

Terrified

Lots of horror movies on the list this year. That’s what finally getting Shudder will do to your viewing habits 🙂 I went into this one cold and was so surprised. I love the actors, the look of it, and the way the end of the first act hits hard. Terrified amps of the tension until it becomes a haunted neighborhood movie.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

This one comes with high praise and, for the most part, lives up to it. It’s really more of a dark fantasy than a straight up horror movie (which helps explain why some of the people praising it, did). A dark fairytale set in Cartel infested Mexico. Not to be missed.

Train to Busan

Finally caught up to this one and wound up watching it twice. Energetic, kinetic, and a zombie invasion that feels like a high speed assault. Hits all the right buttons. You’ll love the characters you love, you’ll hate the ones you hate, and you’ll cheer the heroes on when they prep for battle. Very satisfying movie.

Uptight

A stone cold classic that I somehow had missed. This movie deserves the Criterion Collection treatment, it’s that good. It’s a retelling of The Informer set in the post MLK assassination world of black power and the civil rights movement. Stunning on every level from the visuals to the acting to the writing. I said it on Twitter, the funhouse mirror sequence is a great piece of film making.

Us

With the success of Get Out, one can only imagine the pressure of making a follow up movie. I remember all the anticipation and eventual analysis of the Us trailer when it dropped. Well, the wait was worth it. (I wrote a little bit about some of the themes in Us here.)

The Wailing

Unlike anything else I watched this year. It starts off as one type of movie before taking a sharp left turn, and another, and another. This is a stunning and audacious movie that breaks a lot of story telling rules and succeeds in doing so. I was left wiped out by the end. What an experience.

Knife+Heart

The queerest movie I saw all year. This is a French language, giallo-esque, slasher cum thriller cum character study about members of a gay porn film making crew who are getting brutally murdered. The movie within a movie scenes are hilarious. This may not be for everyone (because of the slasher/giallo elements) but is very much worth seeing.

 

Honorable Mentions: Bad Times at the El Royale, Bleak Street, Boy, Cop Car, Dragged Across the Concrete, Four Lions, Little Monsters, Powwow Highway, Revenge, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, The Witch in the Window, Youngblood (1978)