This year, many of us have had to venture deeper into our hobbies and passions, doing what we can to keep ourselves entertained during these very difficult times. My mother started building the garden she’s always wanted, my best friend started an internship doing graphic design, and I watched more movies. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and family, I really broadened my movie-watching horizons this year.
Out of the over 100 I’ve seen between March and now, some have been duds, some I’ve even loathed, but inevitably, I found others that I love—a couple have even become all-time favorites! So today, I want to give you all some recommendations from the still-growing catalogue of my 2020 first-time watches!
Ichi the Killer (2001)
Behold, the movie that currently holds number 13 on my all-time favorites list! Ichi the Killer is a brutal tale of gleeful murder, torture, psychic manipulation, and high fashion. It follows mainly the sadomasochistic Kakihara Masao, a prolific Yakuza enforcer who is on the hunt for his missing-presumed-dead boss. Along his trail of bloodshed and torment, he comes to understand the perp may be a strange little fellow named Ichi, someone who cannot enact violence without erupting in sobs.
If anything were to be described as “off the wall”, it would be this. On my first viewing, it took me a week or so to get through, because every other minute something would happen that caused me to go ballistic—in a good way. It thrives off of being zany, sharp, and creative. There are just about no limits in Ichi the Killer; it’s a tongue-slicing, nipple-severing good time, and I’d consider it essential viewing to anyone who adores horror as much as I do.
The Colour Out of Space (2010)
I totally would’ve included Richard Stanley’s adaptation in this list, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I saw it in a theater pre-lockdown, so it doesn’t really count for my theme today. So instead I’ll introduce you to its lesser known predecessor!
The Colour Out of Space is a 2010 slow-burn horror from director Huan Vu. When talking about a piece of work that has multiple adaptations, I try to keep my discussion focused on just my chosen one, but with this, I actually find it beneficial to consider Stanley’s adaptation, too. Where 2019’s Color Out of Space goes for loud, zany, in-your-face madness, Vu’s interpretation goes for subtlety. It is unnerving and melancholy, a softer delivery of the horrific tale. Instead of experiencing the horror as it unfolds in the Gardners’ home, we are shown the events through the eyes of an outsider.
Entirely in black-and-white save for The Color, it has a quiet beauty, helped along by a gorgeous score which I heartbreakingly cannot find anywhere. Maybe I prefer the brain-melting, synth-filled ride of the Nic Cage version, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and enjoy Vu’s approach, too.
Diani and Devine Meet the Apocalypse (2016)
This shockingly little-known work of absurdism is unlikely to disappoint if that’s your kind of thing! A husband-and-wife comedy duo hit the road when word of a vague apocalypse makes the news. It is delightfully random, an absolute riot, and pretty sweet at points.
Aside from being a comedy, there’s really no way you can put this movie in any other box. It’s got a little bit of everything, like its creators (Diani and Devine themselves) threw everything they could think of onto a piece of paper and wove it into something not only coherent, but fun.
This creative duo doesn’t have particularly massive acclaim, but any they do get is well deserved. I’ll be paying close attention to they future projects, and hope you will, too!
This freak of nature is a controversial surrealist-extremist-eccentric horror anthology from musician Flying Lotus. It details a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles haunted by tormented souls and irradiated survivors just trying to get by. It features off-the-wall plots, nightmarish animation sequences, poop, music videos, vomit, and David Firth! Not so much story-driven, it offers its hellish premise and allows each individual storyteller to go absolutely insane with it.
Now I know what you’re thinking; and yes, this IS one of the movies that made my all-time favorites list (it currently sits at number 23)! But, my god, why? There’s so much detail I could go into regarding what I find so interesting about this movie, so I’m gonna keep it as punchy as I can, and save my full thoughts for another time.
When it comes to the imagery, most folks are ready to brush it off as vile and unworthy of the human eye; but if you really look at it, you might notice it’s reminiscent of common cartoon imagery. It’s like if someone took “Ren and Stimpy” or “Problem Solverz” and made it live action. Yeah, it’s likely we all recognize that some cartoons are peculiar like that, full of crap and watered-down violence (or even gore), but seeing that brought to the physical world is another experience entirely. It’s challenging, and I admire and appreciate that.
One other other aspect of why I love this film has to do with what was behind the scenes. In interviews, Flying Lotus makes it apparent that he wanted to stretch outside what is typically expected of Black filmmakers, not be forced into those limiting boxes; he wanted to do whatever he wanted, make something special and new—and boy did he. During production and filming, he wanted to ensure, above all else, that the experience for everyone involved was fun. When a team behind a movie is having fun, it shines, and Kuso is no exception.
Yeah, I can’t watch it without feeling physically ill. Yeah, maybe I’m not itching to watch it again. But no matter what, if my film tastes change in the future, should there come a day where I can no longer stomach that imagery at all, I will always respect it for being so unashamedly what it is. There is nothing I respect more in a movie than a passion for having fun. And to Flying Lotus, if you see this, please, I am begging you to make more movies!
I would never forgive myself if I left this out. This absolute blessing out of the year 2000 follows a group of dudes who fall into the trap of Killjoy, an obscene killer clown, not terribly long after they accidentally murder the town nerd.
Does it have a unique story? No. Is it well-made? No. Is it an absolute hoot that is worth every second? YES! Killjoy is absolutely off the rails: bad acting, stupid story, beyond ridiculous villain, and my god, does it WORK. It’s that perfect mixture of intentionally and unintentionally hilarious and had me gasping for air multiple times.
Killjoy himself is a gem all on his own. He’s like an aggressively overdone version of Pennywise mixed with Freddy Krueger, and he’s even got a pretty cool design! While his movie is technically poor, it is rich in spirit, packing lots of laughs and unrestrained absurdity. Horror community; stop ignoring this masterpiece!
My Suicide (Archie’s Final Project) (2009)
A pretentious and emotionally immature teenager decides to announce that, for his school’s final video project, he’s going to record his own suicide. Through his adventures in filmmaking and many zany, artful sequences, we follow him through to his discovery of the fragility of life, and the realities of untimely death.
By all means, this story shouldn’t have worked on me. It’s difficult for me to find watching things that focus so heavily on incel-y arseholes to be worthwhile (it’s why I couldn’t stand 2015’s Love), but something just clicked with this one. Archie, like many teenage eccentrics, thinks he’s way smarter than he is. He’s got it all figured out; nothing is worth it, and the only bright spots are pretty girls and famous movies. But when he actually manages to get close to his crush and finds out she, too, is suicidal, his view on life and death begins to shift.
He starts to understand the consequences, what really happens when one makes the decision to die before their time is really up. The reality is that people care, and maybe he cares more about that prospect than he thought. The movie has its slip-ups and its fair share of cringey moments, but nothing will take away the fact that it made me cry.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Great Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
My best friend would kill me if I didn’t talk about these. I choose to lump them together because I just about like them both equally, though I lean slightly towards the sequel. Both Borats are fabulous, self-aware, killer comedies that do just about everything right for their genre.
Absurdist comedy is definitely one of my favorite subgenres, representing titles like The Anchorman and The Angry Birds Movie 2. These movies, and Borat, can take ridiculous premises and even more ridiculous executions and somehow make them work (Angry Birds 2 is debatable, but you can’t tell me that bathroom scene isn’t funny—well, you can, but I won’t listen). While many of these sorts of movies exist, it is undeniable that Borat helped set a precedent, played the game with the best of them, and (I think) is deserving of its prolific presence.
Although both movies are solid comedy-wise, it’s Subsequent Moviefilm’s real emotion and heart that nudges it that little bit towards being my favorite of the two. Borat’s relationship with his daughter is the source of some of Moviefilm’s best laughs as well as a really adorable and pure relationship. I’m not one to gravitate toward romantic love in movies; what really gets me are the kinds of love that aren’t given the same attention in our media. Characters like Danny and Abra from Doctor Sleep or Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc. come to mind, those relationships that, to me, far overpower any form of romance you could toss in. Borat and Tutar capture everything I love about seeing familial relationships on screen, and I greatly look forward to watching them grow to care for one another all over again.
I want to end on this, though: during a scene in Moviefilm wherein Borat dons one of his many disguises, both my best friend and I concluded that he looked like a really scraggly version of Steve Jobs. Completely random, sure, but too cosmically funny not to share.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
We’re takin’ it way back now with a Japanese horror gem! Our lead character comes to understand his body is morphing into shrapnel and bolts not terribly long after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. Black and white, noisy, confusing, but a real romp, Tetsuo is something I keep coming back to in my mind. With precious few characters who all go without proper names (although it is assumed that the lead is named Tetsuo), it’s incredibly high-concept, and thrives off of it.
While I personally consider it to be, in a literal sense, “just alright”, that doesn’t stop me from loving it. It’s loaded with creativity, peculiar yet thought-provoking ideas, and drills (if you know, you know). It’s a gory, metallic masterpiece deserving of its cult status. It’ll probably hurt your ears, but give it a shot anyway!
At a glance, this is another one of your “child doesn’t want the family business, wants to follow their dreams” stories, but it works! We follow Elijah as he comes to understand he wants to pursue his dream of becoming a sommelier (a wine expert if you didn’t know). It’s a unique subject to choose and the film doesn’t shy away from exploring that world in depth; in fact, it thrives off it.
I absolutely love when movies and stories of any kind explore lesser known passions and careers—or even just go into extreme detail about popular ones (no idea what the hell was going on at any point in The Queen’s Gambit but it sure was cool!). The world of wine is broad and fascinating, and I adore Uncorked’s utilization of it throughout its sweet story full of endearing characters.
It has a very strong focus on Elijah and his relationships mainly from his point of view, which I think makes those other characters stronger in return. For the most part, we get their perspectives in brief scenes here and there, which even in their shortness provide a new depth to the story. Everyone feels real, and is truly lovable.
It would seem this movie released quietly to streaming services earlier this year, and I’ve seldom seen anyone talk about it. If I do anything with this article, I hope it’s convincing more folks to give this sweet little story a shot (ha)!
If I talked about every new movie I found and loved, this list would go on for thousands upon thousands of words. I’ll recommend you Serial Mom and Scare Package as a parting gift; perhaps I’ll save one of those for a rainy day’s writing adventure.
In a year that has taken so much, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on and appreciate what we received, even if it is very little. I, for one, got my certificate in business administration, began my writing career, connected with my friends more than ever, and found all these wonderful movies. I hope we’ve all found at least one thing to make us smile, and maybe these will give some of you one more in these final days of the year.