The Thing (1982; rewatch) — The inhabitants of an Antarctic research site are surprised by the arrival of a dog, and then much more surprised when it turns out to be an alien creature that they just call a “thing”. It is capable of taking over and perfectly replicating other creatures, and it seems intent on taking over everyone in the research site and probably the world. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, and others, it’s an absolute horror classic, and for good reason.
Freaked (1993; rewatch) — Ricky (Alex Winter) is an actor who sells out to become the spokesman for a pesticide manufacturer. He accidentally gets exposed to the pesticide and turns into a half-man, half-beast. But he’s not alone, because he’s also being held captive at a freak show, run by Randy Quaid and featuring other oddities played by Mr. T, Bobcat Goldthwait, Derek McGrath, John Hawkes, and others. It’s very dumb but pretty funny.
Wonder Women (1973; rewatch) — Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) has perfected the art of transplanting anything from one person to another. She’s using her ability to give rich old people immortality by transplanting their brains into virile young bodies. The disappearances have raised the suspicion of an insurance company who’s on the hook for paying large policies, so they hire a tough guy (Ross Hagen) to find out what’s really going on. It’s an adequate film with occasional fun and a good chase scene.
Boogie Nights (1997; rewatch) — Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is a prolific director of adult films, most of which star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). He’s just discovered a new, well-endowed talent (Eddie Adams aka Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg) who’s set to thrust him into an even greater level of success. Featuring a supporting cast that includes Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, and Philip Baker Hall, it’s a well-acted, well-directed, and otherwise great film.
Okja (2017; first-time watch) — After taking over The Mirando Corporation from her evil father, Lucy (Tilda Swinton) is faced with the uphill battle of cleaning up its image. She announces a competition in which a number of giant pigs will be raised in different parts of the world to find the best super pig. A young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) is raising one named Okja, along with her father. Their pig wins the competition, but when she learns that it’s going to be taken away from her, she decides that she must stop it. It’s a very good movie that starts off light and fun but has an abruptly morose ending.
Halloween (1978; rewatch) — Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is chasing an escaped mental patient named Michael Myers (played by Tony Moran) back to his hometown on Halloween night. Meanwhile, good girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is babysitting while friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are each exploring a more adult kind of fun. But Michael Myers is coming for them, and he’s really hard to stop. It’s a terrific film that would be great enough on its own, but it’s also responsible for so many other great (and not-so-great) horror movies.
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017; first-time watch) — The bad moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) are back, and it’s Christmas. Now they’re each being haunted by visits from their own bad moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon). It’s like a very crappy version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation made by filmmakers who aren’t funny and don’t particularly seem to care about doing a good job.
Black Sunday (1960; first-time watch) — A woman (Barbara Steele) who was put to death a couple hundred years ago after being convicted of being a vampire and being a witch. When a man accidentally breaks the cross on her tomb and spills some of his blood on it, her spirit is awoken and wants to find a body to possess. By a fantastic stroke of luck, the current princess (also played by Steele) looks exactly like the witch. Like most films by Mario Bava, it can be a bit slow at times, but it’s certainly worth watching.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962; rewatch) — Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a young, idealistic lawyer who travels to a small town to set up a law practice. On the way, he’s robbed and severely beaten by a gang led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The town’s marshall (Andy Devine) is a lazy coward who isn’t going to do anything about it, and the only man who can stand up to Valance is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), but he doesn’t have much respect for Ransom and doesn’t seem to want to help. Meanwhile, Tom’s girl Hallie (Vera Miles) begins to fall for Ransom. It’s a very good film, although it feels like it spoils itself a bit in the way by telling most of the story through flashbacks.
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985; first-time watch) — When a fire breaks out in an abandoned house and kills a couple of homeless people, a young kid named Michael is intent on looking into that house. He sees something so scary that his hair falls out and he’s stricken with embarrassment. But the spirit of one of the deceased appears to him and gives him the recipe for a concoction that should allow him to regrow his hair. But he doesn’t follow the recipe exactly and ends up with hair that just won’t stop growing. It just gets weirder from there and turns into one of the greatest things to have ever come out of Canada.
Daddy’s Home 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) have stopped fighting over Sara (Linda Cardellini) and are now the best of friends. But then their dads (John Lithgow and Mel Gibson) come visit for Christmas, and things get tense again. It’s markedly better than its predecessor but still falls far short of being a good movie.
Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye; 1973; first-time watch) — Frigga (Christina Lindberg) is a mute girl who is kidnapped and forced into heroin addiction and prostitution. She can’t leave her pimp because he’s her drug supplier and she’s told she won’t last more than a couple of days without a fix. But she spends her spare time mastering marksmanship, martial arts, and high-speed driving, all in preparation for her chance at revenge. It’s no Ms .45, but it provides a pretty badass female vengeance movie with a different perspective than you’ve seen other movies of this type.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974; rewatch) — A man (Richard Widmark) is murdered just before the train he’s riding gets stuck in a snowdrift. There just happens to be a world-class detective (Albert Finney) on board, and a representative of the railroad (Martin Balsam) asks him to try to solve the crime before help arrives to get the train going again. There are a lot of suspects, but everyone seems to have an alibi. It may not be Sidney Lumet’s greatest directorial effort, but with a star-studded cast that also includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Michael York, it’s a very solid adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.
Sunset Boulevard (1950; rewatch) — Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a once-successful screenwriter who is now struggling to pay the bills. While avoiding debt collectors trying to repossess his car, he takes shelter in what he assumes to be an abandoned house but is actually the home of former film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her servant Max (Erich von Stroheim). Desmond enlists Joe’s help to fix up the screenplay to a film that she hopes will bring her back into stardom, and soon Joe finds himself something of a kept man. It’s an absolutely terrific film, completely deserving of his reputation as one of the all-time great classics.
The Art of Dying (1991; first-time watch) — Jack (Wings Hauser) is a cop who doesn’t like to play by the rules. He’s on the hunt for a snuff filmmaker who’s killing girls who hope to break into acting. It’s like a much lesser and much weirder version of Peeping Tom, but it’s still kind of fascinating in its own way, mostly thanks to Hauser’s unpredictability and signature style.
Peeping Tom (1960; rewatch) — Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) works for a film studio as a camera operator, and makes extra money on the side by taking pictures of girls in sexy scenarios. But his real passion is instilling fear in women and capturing their reactions, and their deaths, on film. He befriends a woman (Anna Massey) who lives in his apartment building and desperately tries not to get caught and not to succumb to the urge to kill her. It’s a very creepy film that is a very significant departure from the kind of movie that director Michael Powell had been known for up to this point.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001; rewatch) — During the Spanish Civil War, a young boy named Carlos finds himself left at an orphanage. It’s a haunted orphanage, plagued by the spirit of a boy named Santi who died there several years ago. While under constant threat from the war outside, and from a less-than-honorable staff member, Carlos is intent on learning the truth about Santi.
Lady Bird (2017; first-time watch) — Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself a new name: Lady Bird. She’s a high school senior who constantly fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf) to the point that she is desperate to go away to college on the other side of the country. She doesn’t have the best grades, and she’s not all that popular, and money is extremely tight when her father (Tracy Letts) loses his job, but she is determined to get away. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it’s a surprisingly good film, and certainly much better than the ones Gerwig normally appears in.
The Funhouse (1981; rewatch) — A carnival is in town, and a group of kids go to have fun. They decide to hide out and spend the night in one of the rides, but then they witness a murder and are discovered. It’s a pretty lackluster film from Tobe Hooper with a few promising leads that never go anywhere.
California Typewriter (2016; first-time watch) — This documentary features a number of typewriter enthusiasts (including Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, and John Mayer) and a look at the people in and around one of the last remaining stores to sell and repair typewriters. It’s a reasonably entertaining film, even if it does little to inspire others to become typewriter enthusiasts.
Doppelganger (1993; rewatch) — Holly (Drew Barrymore) comes from a haunted family. Her brother has already been locked up in an asylum for murder, and there’s also reason to suspect that she’s killed, too. She finds Patrick (George Newbern), who has a room for rent and decides to stay with him while she works things out. But she seems to have two completely different personalities, and we soon find that there’s someone who looks and sounds exactly like her and is intent on getting her out of the picture. It’s a dull movie with a dumb ending and a lot of un-subtle references that I’m sure it thinks are very clever.
A Christmas Tale (2006; first-time watch) — Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is the matriarch of a family of a bunch of awful people. It’s Christmas, and they’ve all gotten together to be awful en masse. She’s got cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant from someone, and there are two possible matches: a grandson who’s not all there, and a son who is constantly terrible. If it were shorter, it would be a bad movie, but at two and a half hours, it’s excruciating.
Trouble in Paradise (1932; first-time watch) — A con artist (Herbert Marshall) and a pickpocket (Miriam Hopkins) fall in love and join forces to rob a wealthy businesswoman (Kay Francis). But suspicions about who they really are begin to mount, and their job becomes more difficult. Also featuring Charles Ruggles, it’s a very solid romance caper film that’s short and to the point.
The People Under the Stairs (1991; rewatch) — When his family is about to be evicted from their apartment, a young kid is approached b a thief (Ving Rhames) about a way that they can prevent it. The creepy couple who own the apartment building have a valuable coin collection stashed away. They decide to steal it, only to learn that the couple already has plenty of prisoners in their old mansion and would rather kill than enslave. It’s a reasonably fun movie from Wes Craven, even if it depends too heavily on jump scares.
The Challenge (2016; first-time watch) — There are a lot of people in Qatar who have much more money than they know what to do with. This documentary provides a look, without comment or narration, at the lives of many of these sheiks and their unusual lifestyles that seem to be a mix of lavish and primitive. Many of them are into falconry, and they like to take their SUVs out into the desert to fly their birds and drive like maniacs. It’s a pretty short film at only 69 minutes, but I wouldn’t want it to last any longer.
Yes, Madam! (1985; first-time watch) — A trio of criminals get mixed up in a murder when they steal a dead man’s passport. It’s an international incident, and a local cop (Michelle Yeoh) is teamed up with an agent from Scotland Yard (Cynthia Rothrock) to investigate. It’s a very typical Hong Kong action movie with bumbling criminals, but it’s elevated by the ass-kicking female duo, even if it could use a lot more ass-kicking scenes.
Death Wish (1974; rewatch) — After an attack leaves his wife dead and daughter distraught, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) decides to clean up the city by taking out a bunch of criminals. The police want to catch him, but the public likes his brand of vigilante justice. Featuring Jeff Goldblum as one of the attackers, it’s a violent movie, but a good one that inspired a wave of vigilante cinema.
Ishtar (1987; rewatch) — A pair of terrible songwriters (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) can’t find much luck in America, so they decide to take their agent’s offer to play at a hotel in Morocco. They soon find themselves mixed up with the CIA, communists, and freedom fighters (including Isabelle Adjani). It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s fun enough, and its reputation as a terrible movie is pretty undeserved.
Open Secret (1948; first-time watch) — A small town is plagued by a secret society intent on eliminating, or at least heavily oppressing, the Jewish population. A newlywed couple gets mixed up in this as they come to visit a friend only to find that he has been kidnapped. The more they investigate, the darker things get. A tight 68 minutes, it was very bold and timely for its release in 1948, and it still feels that way today.
Coco (2017; first-time watch) — Miguel is a young Mexican boy in a family of music-hating shoemakers. His great-great grandfather walked out on his great-great grandmother to share his music with the world, and she never forgave him, and she made sure that her family didn’t either. But Miguel loves music and wants to pursue it despite their objections. But on the Day of the Dead, he finds himself somehow transported to the land of the deceased, and his only hope is to track down his great-great grandfather. The story is a little predictable, but it still manages to toy with your emotions and the presentation is very fresh.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017; first-time watch) — Frustrated with the police department’s lack of results in solving her daughter’s murder, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in the hopes that it will rile them up into something that might lead to a break in the case. But it makes a lot of people mad, including officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and they seek retaliation. What follows is an intricate, unexpected, and exceptional drama from writer/director Martin McDonagh.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017; first-time watch) — Roman J. Israel is a lawyer with an incredible memory, a lot of ideals, and no social skills. He’s spent decades working behind the scenes for a trial lawyer, but when his partner has a heart attack, he learns that the firm is in debt and can’t continue. Roman has been living on a miniscule salary and can’t afford to be out of work, so he’s forced into working for George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who has agreed to take over the open cases. Pierce is a powerhouse attorney who cares much more about rushing the high-paying clients through as quickly as possible than he does about taking care of people or doing what’s right. After getting beaten down long enough, Roman succumbs to the temptation of making some money for himself, and that’s where things go bad for both him and the movie.
Legacy of Satan (1974; first-time watch) — As far as I can tell, this is supposed to be a horror movie about a blood-drinking cult, but the plot is pretty indiscernible. Maybe that’s because it was originally created as an adult film, but then it had all of the adult content cut out, leaving 68 minutes of the most boring and least sexy content you can imagine.
I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel; 1990; rewatch) — Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a cop who doesn’t always do things by the book. When a sting operation goes bad, and his partner ends up dead, Caine is paired up with FBI Agent Smith (Brian Benben), who always does things by the book. But the book gets thrown out the window when we find that a pair of aliens are trashing the city while one harvests humans to create a potent drug while the other tries to bust him. With bit parts for Sam Anderson and Michael J. Pollard, it’s a dumb movie that is a lot of fun to watch.
Strangers on a Train (1951; rewatch) — Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is recognized on a train ride by Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), who insists on stealing all of Guy’s attention. Bruno describes a plan that he has to commit two perfect murders, by having two people who don’t know each other to kill someone for the other. He talks about killing Guy’s pain-in-the-ass wife (Kasey Rogers) so that he’ll be free to marry his true love (Ruth Roman), and in return, Guy would kill Bruno’s overbearing father. Guy listens politely but doesn’t think anything of it until his wife ends up dead and now Bruno insists that Guy do his part. It’s one of Hitchcock’s best friends, and it’s based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so it’s something that simply must be seen.