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The Best and the Worst of 2014

Max Weinstein: Editor-in-Chief

The Best and the Worst Genre Films of 2014

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Best

1. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent) 

The Babadook has universal resonance, and its tropes, style, and monster are timeless. That writer-director Jennifer Kent’s film is hands down the best genre release of 2014 or any other year also makes a strong case for the emergence of influential female filmmaking authorship. It remains uncertain, however, whether this oddly-titled Aussie horror fable can survive obscurity and cross over to the mainstream with the same potency it has exhibited among genre fans and critics alike thus far. The film doesn’t need us to wish it luck to become a horror classic. still, let’s hope that the pop cultural lexicon outside of the realm of horror never gets rid of The Babadook.

Read Max’s full review (here)

 2. Jodorowsky’s Dune (dir. Frank Pavich)

The definitive account of the “Greatest Science-Fiction Movie Never Made,” Jodorowsky’s Dune is a beautifully rendered documentary that wields the power to reshape cinephilic perception. Director Frank Pavich characterizes the titular unfinished film—that is, cult legend Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune—as a text of religious potency in the arena of artistic expression. (Q: “Wanna know how Alien was born?” A: “Look to Dune”). Jodorowsky’s Dune tells with efficiency and formal innovation (note the narrative potentiality of the film’s motion-animated production sketches) a moving story about one man’s invention of a cult of personality, and how it built the momentum behind one of the most grandiose, if ultimately unrealized, cinematic visions in history. An absolute must-see for genre purists/aficionados and inspiration-seeking creatives—or anyone seeking inspiration, for that matter.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Okay, so it sounds a bit pretentious, even insecure, to sell a recommendation by assuring your audience that the film being recommended is something great masquerading as a genre film. (William Friedkin disowning the Horror status of The Exorcist and insisting on referring to it as a “supernatural thriller” always rubbed me the wrong way. Then again, I’d rather play by his rules than risk having him smack the punk right out of me, so Mr. Friedkin, call it what you like). Occasionally, though, there are genre films that operate under the pretense that their themes and characters deem their nominal subject matter—in the case of Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s vampires—excusable, rather than the other way around. The film signifies a sense of arrival at a checkpoint on the writer-director’s own generic gamut: “Dead Man, Western, check, Ghost Dog, Gangster, check; Only Lovers Left Alive, Horror, check…,” you can imagine him sounding off in an internal monologue. What makes it ‘Jarmuschian,’ then, is its philosophical bent; if Ghost Dog exploited its Samurai context to comment on the finitude of life, the vampiric milieu of Only Lovers Left Alive is his filmic poem on immortality. Yes, the film is too smart to treat its vampires as mere window dressing, but their menace is traded for world-weariness. Their eternal life is our surrogate to society’s gradual decay. …Which is pretty scary, if you can shake off the seduction of their bohemian lifestyle and the killer soundtrack to which it’s set.

4. The Sacrament (dir. Ti West) 

“A film for our generation” is something of a tired cliche, but The Sacrament’s immediacy renders the descriptor inevitable. This vital outing from writer-director Ti West puts the immersionist journalism tactics of Vice and its ilk center-stage, posing a devastating Jonestown-esque scenario for interpretation in a contemporary context. Gene Jones, known to most as that guy who won a coin toss in No Country For Old Men, delivers the performance of his life as Father, an enigmatic cult leader whose charisma fools even the skeptical-for-a-living documentary team investigating his exploits. Not for nothing are there parallels to Vice’s recent exposes of North Korea in The Sacrament, and the film’s timeliness is only further complimented by West’s expert interweaving of faux-non-fiction modes. As for its tough-to-swallow third act: let’s just say it’s refreshing to be bummed out about on-screen deaths, rather than cheering them on.

5. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

Not since Rob Zombie took a stab at Halloween has source material been this freshly reimagined. With The Town That Dreaded Sundown, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon may well have invented ‘Heavy Meta’: a referential horror cinema that favors cerebral intensity and unrelenting brutality over the winking, post-Scream in-jokiness of the aughts. Murders juxtaposed with footage from the film’s 1976 original version, filtered literally and figuratively through the eyes and mouths of its Texarcana-native characters, offer much to consider, here, on the imitation of art by life and vice versa. A truly exemplary slasher remake.

strange

6. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

Not unlike their 2009 giallo pastiche, Amer, the audiovisual supersedes all that can (or can’t) be conveyed in dialogue in writer-director team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Color of Your Bodys Tears. To the extent that this is a film about the inbuilt rhythmic cadences of the exploration of the self, the former and the latter are comparable. But The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, more-so than its predecessor, is also about the ways in which spaces speak to us. About how buildings and their inanimate inhabitants—statues, sculptures, paintings—forge relationships with the black recesses of human souls. In the image of a human eye gazing madly through a carved hole in a painted wall, the film has more to say than much of the dialogue of the films it homages combined.

7. Big Bad Wolves

The best Israeli genre film to date from the filmmakers who delivered the first Israeli genre film in history.Big Bad Wolves is a heavy, darkly funny meditation on family, masculinity, land, racial tension, and perpetual bloodshed. My support for this film and its makers transcends the championing of the year’s excellent films; it ought to be a civic duty to facilitate a discourse centered on films that are as introspective and vigilantly critical of Israeli violence as they are stylish and enjoyable. The international community deserves more on this film’s subject matter than is offered by Munich, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Waltz With Bashir, and insular UN general assembly screenings. Big Bad Wolves injects playful irony into its torture-driven narrative without losing the deadly serious edge needed to raise pertinent issues surrounding the Middle Eastern conflict. I wait with bated breath for what Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado will do next.

Worst

Indigenous and Extraterrestrial

I was thrilled by the unique and frightening Bigfoot-centric titles Exists and Willow Creek; they almost made this list, but were omitted since, despite their 2014 theatrical releases, they were included in my Best Of 2013 list in light of screenings I attended at the tail end of last year. So it’s safe to say I’m a sucker for, and believer in, the storytelling gold mine that is ‘Unexplained Phenomena.’ Indigenous and Extraterrestrial—the former, a spin on Chupacabra lore, the latter, a thriller with UFO/alien intrigue—are case studies in filmmaking whose only “scary” elements are the scare-quotes that surround the things they want, and fail to be (“Suspense,” “Mystery,” “Enjoyable,” “Tolerable,” you get the picture). Leave these films to those who respect the appeal of folklore and conspiracy theories rather than sneer at them.

Still Need to See: I suspect Blue Ruin, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and Under the Skin might all earn a spot on this list, but alas, I’ve yet to take them in.

Joe Yanick: Managing Editor, Web Editor

Top Genre Cinema (In a slightly specified, but mostly superficial order)

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1. Lyle (dir. Stewart Thorndike)

I choose to include Lyle first because it is a film that I feel few have heard of and even less have seen. The film, which is the feature debut by NYU Grad Stewart Thorndike, is important for numerous reasons. Openly bi-sexual, Thorndike made the film as an attempt to envision a horror film where being gay wasn’t a conflict in the story, that homosexuality wasn’t the monster lurking in the shadows. The film follows a couple in the wake of the death of their child, where the boundaries between depression, grief, psychosis, and paranoia begin to dissolve. In many ways, Lyle is a 2014 revision on Rosemary’s Baby, where the explicit fantastical elements are substituted for a more subtle and psychological plot. Grounded with a stunning performance by the recent-to-resurface Gaby Hoffman, Lyle strikes all the right chords—I would argue that it even packs as powerful a punch as Polanski’s film. It is both a moving and frightening depiction of grief, post-partum depression, and paranoid psychosis in the modern age.

Read Joe’s interview with Thorndike (here)

2. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

A sort of thematic sequel to Amer, The Strange Colour is concerned more with the psychology of its characters than it is with plot. While there are obvious ties between the films, The Strange Colour is, however, a vast improvement on Amer in many ways. In respect to their Giallo roots, the filmmakers introduce a stronger detective aspect to the film, which is centered on a man’s metaphysical search through his labyrinthine apartment complex for his recently missing wife. A cavalcade of color, sight, and sound, The Strange Colour is a visceral experience quite unlike any other films released this year. While somewhat uneven at times and with influences a tad too transparent in specific shots and sequences, The Strange Colour emerges in its rejection to form—it is a film that intentionally fails to adhere to almost all of the conventional aspects of contemporary horror. It is a film that not only challenges the genre itself, but its own audiences and because of this it is a film that should be seen.

3. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

I think that this inclusion goes without much justification; it is a film that has shown up almost universally on all of, not only our, but the greater community’s lists. The Babadook is simply one of the most confident and impressive debuts in Horror history. It has been subject to some—frankly unfair—criticism by the gore-vanguard, who see the film as ‘tame,’ but there is nothing tame about it. A deeply unsettling study of concepts often deemed to taboo for mainstream cinema, The Babadook is pure cinema at its finest.

Read Joe’s interview with Kent (here)

4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)

When I was given the task of reviewing A Girl it proved to be one of the most challenging experiences of the year. Not because I didn’t like it, (obviously) I loved it, but I was a bit unsure why. In the end, I will contest that A Girl is a film that—as pretentious as this sounds—is more experienced than seen. This marks the third directorial debut by a female filmmaker on my list, and like the other two, it is a film that is equally complex as it is riveting. Let us hope this trend is continued into the New Year, horror cinema needs more diverse voices.

Read Joe’s full review (here)

5. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

After his take on the western with Dead Man, the samurai film with Ghost Dog, and the detective story with Limits of Control, the news that Jarmusch was setting his sights on the vampire subgenre came with little surprise. Knowing Jarmusch’s post-modern approach to genre cinema, it was pretty clear what to expect with Only Lovers Left Alive. In a sort of paradoxical way the film both managed to be exactly what was expected, while also exceeding every expectation. Only Lovers Left Alive is so much more than meets the eye; it is an intricate study on the difference between the physicality and the ‘spirituality’ of works of art, an honest and sentimental love story, a self-aware and parodic take on the vampire conventions that manages to dissolve the boundaries between Vampire and quasi-celebrity, and perhaps Jarmusch’s best film in nearly a decade. Every pore of the film excretes Jarmusch’s almost overwhelming style and voice, and yet the film never feels excessive. It firmly plants its tongue in its cheek, which results in one of the year’s funniest and most charming films—certainly not something people come to expect of the genre.

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6. Enemy (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

While it was produced prior to it, Enemy’s theatrical release was held off until after the success of Prisoners. While Prisoners had its charm, Enemy entails an entirely different look and feel—it is a smarter and more challenging film. As part of a long history of Doppelgänger cinema (from Hitchock, to De Palma, Kieslowski to Zulawski—the list goes on), Villeneuve’s film lands somewhere between a Lynchian cerebral fever dream and a Kubrickian exercise on cinematic pessimism. Enemy’s failure to impact is probably, in part, due to its relation to Prisoners. Where the films share a rather bleak outlook, Enemy’s failure to wrap things up neatly for viewers makes it unmarketable to mainstream audiences. Like many of the aforementioned films, Enemy is more interested in its critique of identity and sexual politics than crafting a logical, unambiguous story. For Enemy, Villeneuve leaves a great deal of the interpretative work to the spectator; it is a film that challenges viewers, one that doesn’t condescend to its audience members.

7. Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Writer, Director, and Cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier imbues every single frame of Blue Ruin with paradoxically calming sense of dread. The follow up to his fun debut Murder Party, Blue Ruin is a more matured and confident feature. Far from rewriting the revenge-thriller genre, Saulnier slightly modifies expectations while still satisfying the aspects of the genre we’ve grown to love. The film is really championed by Macon Blair’s lead performance, straddling spheres of machismo and frailty with ease. Easily one of the most fun cinema-going experiences of the year.

8. Big Bad Wolves (dir. Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado)

Big Bad Wolves received a brief dance in spotlight after Tarantino called it the best film of the year (after its Busan showing in 2013). As luck would have it, by the time the film acquired theatrical and physical distribution in the US, Tarantino was on to new things and the remnant of his appraisal only went so far. The film did perform well with critics, but it seemed to be eclipsed by the similarly themed Prisoners. It is a shame because, while Prisoners was an entertaining film, Big Bad Wolves was by-and-large the better of the two films. While at its surface, Big Bad Wolves is a somewhat paint-by-numbers thriller-horror hybrid, the film works as one of the smartest political allegories in recent history. The ineffective police force, that substitutes investigation for violence, can be read as a representation of Israeli military tactics. Nearly every character in the film is subjected to criticism; these are characters—trained in Israeli military tactics—who believe that violence can solve their problems. They substitute violence for harsher forms of violence, and in the end everyone loses. Big Bad Wolves is succinct look at the current state of Israeli affairs, violence, and masculinity, without an overt, authoritarian voice.

 9. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Aside from the film’s rather weak reliance to psychoanalytical development, Under the Skin exhibits a quality of cinematic assurance that I find comforting. Rather than tell, Under the Skin alludes. There are more questions than there are answers, and yet, the film is entirely simplistic. In Spring I would have never pegged it as one of my favorites of the year, but here I am months later and I can’t stop thinking about it. That is a sign of good cinema.

10. The Guest (dir. Adam Wingard)

I have to admit that going in to The Guest I had such high hopes. Even though the film seems to have been somewhat slighted in the US, genre-fanatics and critics worldwide have been singing its praises. Expectations can be assholes, and I think that it has taken some time for the film to settle for me, but not unlike Under the Skin, The Guest is a film that has seeped deeper into my core as the days go by. If for nothing else, The Guest has one of the best scores of the year by the always-impressive Steve Moore.

Jeremy Kibler: Assistant Web Editor

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1. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Spellbinding. Hypnotic. Contemplative. Indescribable. Wildly uncommercial, potentially divisive, and probably only for the most adventurous defenders of outré avant-garde cinema who don’t need every question answered, Under the Skin is nothing if not the first challenging and haunting visual and aural experience of this year with major staying power. You feel like you have really seen something, even if you’re a little baffled by what that something might be.

2. Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Pleasingly and excitingly different from any genre picture this year or most years, politically charged futuristic sci-fi action satire Snowpiercer is both an uncommonly intelligent, spectacular entertainment, and an uncompromising, bitingly provocative allegory for class warfare. It’s strange, inventive, audacious, and meaty in the ways most summer studio releases usually are not, so hooray for creativity when it comes around.

3. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

Classically composed, chill-inducing, and challenging, The Babadook is much more than a bump-in-the-night tale with Aussie writer-director Jennifer Kent’s thematic metaphors gnawing under the surface. For her masterful feature debut, Kent directs with patience and an elegantly mounting sense of unease, every choice paying off with a film as powerfully scary as it is powerfully cathartic.

4. Starry Eyes (dir. Kevin Kolsh, Dennis Widmyer)

A ballsy, diabolically disturbing horror indie about an actress doing anything to attain stardom in the cutthroat town of Hollywood, Starry Eyes is a shock to one’s entire system. Pitch-black and hopelessly cruel, the film is marked with the tragic, creepy-as-hell power only the horror genre can provide when it’s done supremely well as it is here.

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5. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)

This “Iranian vampire western” feels like a modern classic that can’t be tied down to one genre. Yet another terrific feature debut from a promising filmmaker on this list, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is so simultaneously exciting and languid, so full of life, and yet standing ever so still, working on the level of a fantastical dream. A gorgeous piece of art for cinephiles to devour.

6. Coherence (dir. James Ward Byrkit)

Coherence, a no-budget, heavily improvised relationship drama with a sci-fi bent, almost went under my radar. It’s tautly conceived as a mind-twister and chamber piece, achieving more than some movies with overpaid stars and inconceivable nine-figure budgets. Knotty, tense, and ingenious.

7. The Guest (dir. Adam Wingard)

Uh, The Guest is a blast and an awesome follow-up to director Adam Wingard and writing partner Simon Barrett’s inspired You’re Next. Dan Stevens is a force to be reckoned with, managing to be a devilishly handsome killing machine with a great deadpan sense of humor. A stylish homage to The Terminator, Halloween, and The Stepfather, it also has its own personality. Speaking of John Carpenter’s classic, The Guest has the most mouth-watering autumnal atmosphere with wall-to-wall pumpkins, fake cobwebs and neon colors.

8. Housebound (dir. Gerard Johnstone)

Hailing from New Zealand, Housebound is a quirky, oddly endearing horror-comedy-mystery lark that shows a playfully assured command of deadpan laughs and spookiness. As the heroine who finds herself under house arrest in her mother’s seemingly haunted home, Morgana O’Reilly is a master of “the scowl” and an appealingly edgy presence. Marvelously amusing and gleefully bloody, to boot.

9. The Sacrament (dir. Ti West)

When unbeatable horror filmmaker Ti West is on, he’s on the level of a John Carpenter or Wes Craven. With The Sacrament, he’s made a deeply disquieting and nerve-jangling pseudo-doc inspired by religious cult leader Jim Jones and 1978’s Jonestown Massacre. As the influential commune leader known as “Father,” Gene Jones knocks it out of the park with a performance that’s commanding and terrifyingly persuasive. It’s like living through a simmering nightmare, and if that’s not a great compliment, I don’t know what is.

10. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

Sure, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a remake, but it’s kind of a sequel, and it’s as meta and affectionate to the 1976 cult film as Wes Craven’s Scream movies were to their own canon. An uncommonly scary slasher, even in this day and age, it’s extremely well-made film in its own right made by filmmakers who weren’t just churning out a pallid remake for teenyboppers.

Honorable Mention: Horns, Honeymoon, At the Devil’s Door, Borgman, Only Lovers Left Alive, Willow Creek, The Den, All Cheeleaders Die, Nurse 3D.

Kat Ellinger: Contributing Writer

Top 10 Home Video Releases of the Year

Walerian Borowczyk's Blanche (1972) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowczyk’s Blanche (1972) [click to enlarge]

1. Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection (Arrow Video)

In such a prime year for home video releases, on both sides of the pond, competition was always going to be tough. But one release won it for me hands down. Arrow’s limited edition, part crowd funded, restoration project of epic proportions had to be this year’s ‘must have’ collection for cult film fans. It is not surprising film fans were literally chomping at the bit to get their hands on this little beauty. For the excellent transfers on a large bulk of Borowczyk’s previously difficult to find material—his early animated shorts, first five full-length features all lovingly restored including an uncut high definition version of the genius burlesque comedy-filth-fantasy The Beast—, the exclusive extras and the mammoth booklet that came as part of the limited edition set, it was always going to be hard to top this one.

2. Alain Robbe-Grillet Six Films (BFI)

Clipping in at a close second was another landmark release for home video this year, this time by the BFI. An immersive experience into the surreal and erotic world of Alain Robbe-Grillet, the package came with a set of exclusive Tim Lucas commentaries, new Catherine Robbe-Grillet introductions to the main features, beautiful transfers and interviews with the late Director. A Pandora’s Box once opened, this set managed to consume half of my Summer months as I took my first journey of discovery into the wickedly woven web of this lesser-known inspirational French director. Things haven’t quite been the same since, and for that I thank the BFI.

3. The Werner Herzog Collection (BFI)

18 films, 8 discs, all the Klaus Kinski full-length features (barring, sadly, the My Best Fiend documentary), what was left of my summer months—after I finished free floating in Robbe-Grillet’s dreamlike stream of cinematic consciousness—were consumed by this megatron of a collector’s box set. So all-encompassing was the experience, I actually started to hear my own inner monologue in the voice of Werner Herzog at one point. Perfect.

4. Mark of the Devil (Arrow)

As a huge fan of British folk horror I was delighted to see this little gem of an early seventies witch finder horror finally get its UK uncut debut in glorious high definition. The package was worth the wait, coming delivered in a stunning transfer—with the infamous tongue ripping scene looking particularly spiffing on the upgrade, while you could literally taste the beads of sweat on those torture victim’s heads—and a generous package of extras examining the context and impact of the film. It was also very welcome to see the documentary Mark of the Times included here flying the flag for Britsploitation; a subject very close to my heart. My expectations were high for this release, and it didn’t disappoint.

Michele Soavi's Stage Fright (1987) [click to enlarge]

Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) [click to enlarge]

5. Stage Fright (Exposure Cinema)

Michele Soavi’s directorial feature debut, the late eighties giallo/slasher hybrid Stage Fright, got the BD treatment back in September in splendid style—in a limited, collector’s edition no less. The transfer was pretty spectacular, as was the set which came packed with extra material, such as a full-length interview/documentary with Italian king of Sleaze director the late Joe D’Amato—in the previously released Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut, generous interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice—, and not to mention a full-length documentary on VHS collectors Revenge of the Video Cassette. Having never heard of Exposure Cinema before, they certainly grabbed my attention this year.

6. L’Assassino aka The Ladykiller of Rome (Arrow Academy)

This is probably a title that hasn’t made it on to many end of year lists due to its apparent obscurity, but on a personal level this was an important release for me. It remains a sad state of affairs that the bulk of Italian director Elio Petri’s phenomenal work remains unreleased outside of his native country. Taking another step toward righting that wrong, Arrow Academy put out Petri’s early sixties debut, the dark noir thriller with Kafkaesque undertones L’Assassino, earlier in the year in a BD/DVD combo set. Here is hoping more Petri is on the menu for 2015.

7. The Complete Dr. Phibes (Arrow)

Arrow have carried some spectacular Vincent Price upgraded releases this year and any one of them could have earned a part on this list. Vincent Price Six Gothic Tales appears to be excellent quality (from the parts I have been able to access so far) and their edition of Theatre of Blood was also another highpoint of my year. But, if I had to pick one it will have to be the Phibes universe contained in this complete ‘Phibes’ boxset. My expectations for this one were at fever pitch—with the headlining act being one of my favourite Vincent Price films. Thankfully, I was blown away by the resulting release. After watching both films for years in badly panned and scanned budget DVD releases it was like seeing them for the first time ever in high definition upgrade. You can read my full review for Diabolique (here).

8. The Slave (Mondo Macabro)

Mondo Macabro continue to promote obscure Eurocult to the digital age and broke into BD a few months ago in memorable style with a terrific upgrade of this obscure diamond of a film. Comparing their newly restored release with the previous DVD edition is, again, like seeing two entirely different films, with director Pasquale Festa Campanile’s beautiful vision now fully restored to its former glory. You can read my full review for Diabolique (here).

9. The 10th Victim (Shameless)

Here am I saying there is not enough Elio Petri stuff released and yet I have two on my list this year, which makes me extremely happy. Shameless gave Petri’s vogue styled pop art infused, sci-fi epic the BD/DVD treatment in March, making it, in my opinion, their top release of the year, and a worthy entrant on to this top ten.

10. Nekromantik (Arrow)

If you had told me this time last year I would be putting a fully uncut UK BD release of this on any list I would have laughed you out of the door. The release none of us saw coming, Nekromantik finally gets its day in the sun. The touching tale of a man who just wants to find love and acceptance—and of course some dead bodies for him and his girlfriend to have sex with—you don’t get more life affirming than this; a heart-warming finish to a brilliant year in home video releases.

Cody Noble: Contributing Writer

Top Albums of the Year (In No Particular Order)

814WJImtIXL._SL1500_Chevelle – La Gargola

2014 began with an absolute bang thanks to the release of La Gargola, Chevelle’s seventh studio album. Over the years, Chevelle has always churned out quality rock, but this time the band has really outdone itself. With La Gargola, the guys have brought forth a voracious grittiness to their music, evoking the roar of an old-fashion muscle car raging across a desert freeway. It’s the audio equivalent of Mad Max meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and damn, is it beautiful. La Gargola is easily a contender for best rock album of the year, and arguably one of Chevelle’s best and heaviest.

The Birthday Massacre – Superstition

Canada has been always been an excellent source of dark, unusual talent and entertainment: David Cronenberg, Jen and Silvia Soska, and My Bloody Valentine (1981) to name a few. The Birthday Massacre uphold this tradition with their latest and most mature outing, Superstition. This crowd-funded release continues the band’s dark-fantasy style of music with an infusion of heavy synthesizers, beautiful vocals, and memorable instrumentals. Tracks like “Surrender” and “Beyond” are certain to become fan favorites alongside classics like “Red Star” and “Happy Birthday.” This endeavor by the Canadian Goth rockers may be a short one (nine songs and an instrumental epilogue), but Superstition perfectly exemplifies the notion of quality over quantity.

Powerman 5000 – Builders of the Future

Like the music of Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 isn’t known for outstandingly thoughtful lyrics, but that’s not why the band has maintained a following since the early 90’s. With the exception of the slower, yet nonetheless excellent mid-track, “I Want to Kill You,” the album features the same pulse-pounding tempo that fans have come to expect from the industrial heavy-hitter. Whereas the quality of Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere felt heavily concentrated in the album’s beginning, Builders of the Future features a greater consistency of catchiness throughout. Those who don’t typically listen to Powerman 5000 may simply say the album sounds trashy, but one’s man’s trash is a Powerman’s treasure.

Modern Chemistry – Self-Help Guide for Being Alone

Based out of New Brunswick, New Jersey, the independent alt-rock quintet Modern Chemistry has only released one prior EP in 2013 entitled We’ll Grow Out Of This. At only five songs, a Self-Help Guide for Being Alone isn’t much longer than its predecessor, yet that doesn’t stop this EP from really sounding great. While the soaring “Never Scared” and “Why Do I” are definite highlights, no song is a throwaway as each one rings with high production and lots of enthusiasm. The band might be young, but new talent never sounded so good.

crossesCrosses – S/T

Best known as the lead singer for the long-running Deftones, Chino Moreno has often experimented with music genres. Contrary to the intense yells and thunderous riffs of the Deftones, Crosses consists of a set of diverse set of mellow, electric tunes that vary in tone ranging from haunting to hopeful. In all honesty, the album is sort of a cheat—most of the songs featured on the album were previously released as a series of EPs by the trio of musicians—still, the new tracks including “Bitches Brew” and “The Epilogue” are worthy additions to an already catchy and relaxing discography.

Andrew Paul: Contributing Writer

Best Genre Films, Television, and books of the Year

Another year, another “Best Of” list from a guy with too many opinions. Don’t worry, though, unlike most other pop culture critical analyses of the year-that-was, this one is poorly reasoned, inconsistent, biased, and thoroughly incomplete. Enjoy!

BloodSplattersQuickly_CVR_090414_905

10. Blood Splatters Quickly – Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Let’s start off my top ten-list of the best movies of 2014 with a book! Blood Splatters Quickly was a great surprise this year—the collected short works of Ed Wood, one of the most infamously horrendous B-movie directors of the twentieth century. We’ve all seen, or at least heard of, Plan 9 From Outer Space, but have you read “Scream Your Bloody Head Off,” “Come Inn,” “The Day the Mummy Returned,” or “The Whorehouse Horror: A Touch of Terror?” The director mainly wrote these stories for nudie mags to make ends meet, and while they lack sophistication or tact, Mr. Wood offers readers a glimpse at the inner id of American schlock.

9. Knights of Badassdom

So, this movie technically was finished in 2010, but took awhile to be released. You would think a movie co-starring Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, and Summer Glau would find easy cult distribution, but after watching the film, you get a sense of why there was a hold up. Knights of Badassdom is fun, bloody, ridiculous, but, quite frankly, not that great of a movie. However! Peter Dinklage swordfights a gigantic succubus demon while tripping on mushrooms, so you can’t complain too much.

8. Grand Piano

This was a fun, straightforward film that really took me by surprise this year. Elijah Wood plays a neurotic pianist who is told by a menacing John Cusack that if he plays one wrong note during his comeback performance, he dies. Okay, it’s a little ridiculous. But it plays like Hitchcockian fan fiction, along with a great undercurrent of black humor to let you know the cast and crew are in on the joke, too.

7. Godzilla

Okay, full disclosure: I’m really biased when it comes to Godzilla movies. I’ll even defend the 1998 Emmerich debacle after a few drinks. Yeah, the 2014 reboot fell short of expectations, but this was the first Godzilla movie in years to really feel like a Godzilla movie. The big G-man looked great, even after gaining a few pounds, and his monster foes were fun and menacing. Also, you’ve got to hand it to Gareth Edwards and crew for attempting a slow-burn, artsy kaiju flick. It also features Ken Watanabe pronouncing “Gojira” in the most deadpan and hilarious way possible.

6. The Sacrament

Ti West is already one of the greats in my book. He’s got a near perfect track record, and his love for the horror genre really shines through in his films. The Sacrament probably ranks lowest in his filmography for me, but I’ve got to hand it to him, the movie is a really terrifying experience. It’s been a long time since a movie made me want to take a shower and a nap after finishing it, but this is one of them. Gene Jones takes the cake in it, too. And by cake, I mean cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.

Read Andrew’s full review (here)

guard

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

No, it’s not scary. No it’s not horror. But it’s weird, it’s got heart, and it’s directed by James Gunn, and all that goes a long way. I think GotG is by far the best Marvel movie entry to date, with a rich and complex galactic backdrop that could stand on its own outside the comic book universe in which it lives. If you still need convincing that it belongs on this list, rewatch Benicio del Toro’s scenes as The Collector and tell me you don’t get the heebie-jeebies.

4. Jordorowsky’s Dune

Man, what a great documentary. It’s been said in many reviews already, including mine, but I’ll say it again: Jordorowsky’s Dune makes you feel like you’ve seen his version of the film, even though it never got past the preproduction phase. The film’s journey is almost too outrageous to believe, but the interviews and concept art prove that us mere mortals were just not prepared for a movie like Jodorowsky had in mind. Also, I’m a sucker for spacey synthesizers, so I think the soundtrack is unbelievable, too.

Read Andrew’s full review (here)

3. True Detective

Okay, again, not technically a horror movie. But you know what? My list, my rules. And True Detective rules. Ignore the red herrings, ignore the pseudo-plagiarism, ignore the flat, underdeveloped, some would say sexist, female characters (okay, actually, that last one does deserve some discussion at a later date), True Detective scared the hell out of me, plain and simple. It’s blend of noir and cosmic horror is near-perfect, and its lead performances eclipse just about any found in a horror movie this year. I don’t remember the last time we all collectively freaked out about a television event like that, and that alone is worth a spot on the list.

2. Blue Ruin

This should be shown in film classes as an example of how to make a superb, tense, atmospheric movie on an indie budget. Everyone’s good in it. Everything looks good in it. Everything sounds good in it. It’s just damn good, plain and simple. Blue Ruin snuck up on me this year—I knew very little about it, and I’m glad I went into it blind. I love a movie where I genuinely can’t tell what’s going to happen next, and this a film that accomplished that in spades.

1. The Babadook

I guess it really isn’t a surprise that this is number one on a horror-themed countdown list, but there are many, many reasons for that. In my opinion, nothing really compared to The Babadook this year, because there was nothing quite like it. Not quite supernatural, not quite fantasy, not quite horror, the movie just is what it is, and it’s the most fun I had being spooked in 2014. Lately, Australia has been known for brutal, no-holds-barred horror films. Movies like Wolf Creek and Snowtown Murders are nasty pieces of work, but The Babadook is something different. While the former films are focus on heartlessness, the latter, in its own weird way, is all about heart. It’s also further proof that you don’t need CGI, blood, or gore to make a classic horror movie. You just need to convince us that there’s a monster under all our beds, and let our imaginations do the rest of the work.

About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

One comment

  1. Great list, with several I’ve never heard of (and one or two i’d forgotten about…it happens)

    Thank you 🙂

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