The Year of the Woman: The Top 10

As I started to look back at the huge list of movies I watched this year in order to create my personal Top 10 list, I realized something. Some of the best films featured incredible women, both in front and behind the camera. Strong characters. Flawed characters. Human characters. Amazing directors. Writers.

With an administration so misogynistic and with all of the terrible things that have come to light recently inside (and beyond) Hollywood, this year feels revelatory. And as we are about to enter a new year, I’m feeling hopeful that it signals the beginning of change.

A few caveats. I’m only including movies that had an actual release this year (i.e., no unreleased festival darlings, of which there are many). Also, I’m only human and I haven’t seen every movie released this year, including one that rhymes with Malloween. But this group of ten represents the movies that truly spoke to me, moved me, thrilled me or left me thinking about them for days. Obviously, you’re going to disagree with some of them. Some big ones aren’t on the list that I know will probably be on yours. And that’s okay!

Also, I wanted to pause for a moment and thank Jessica for her amazing art above. She really outdid herself. Give her a follow.

So, here we go!

10. Unfriended: Dark Web

This was a real shocker for me. I appreciated the technical side of the first Unfriended and loved its twist on the, frankly, tired found footage genre. But it didn’t really do anything interesting with it. The characters were unlikable. The supernatural element didn’t work well for me. And it just didn’t pull me in. But this, with its characters I actually cared about and more realistic take really worked.

It’s deeply unsettling. As I said in my review, it’s probably the nastiest thing Blumhouse has ever produced. Because of its ballsy attitude, I had to include it. A number of great movies barely missed the Top 10; some of them are probably better films. But I had such a visceral reaction to this movie, both times I saw it, that it had to be here.

I’m surprised this movie made the list because, going into it, I thought it’d be a simple domestic drama with a serial killer angle to it. But surprises and twists await and it not only kept me on my toes, but twisted the theme into more than “what if my dad is a serial killer.” Narratively, it makes some interesting choices and the way the story changes perspectives and structure in the third act surprised and changed the way I saw the movie.

The performances are stellar, all around, from Dylan McDermott’s paunchy dad to Samantha Mathis’ more quiet and understated role. It’s a well-crafted thriller and does something new with a tired trope.

One of the trends I’ve noticed this year is the fear of our families failing us. A number of movies touched on this topic, but none more realistically than Pyewacket. From the teenage daughter lashing out, to the mom dealing with the loss of her husband; it feels very naturalistic, even with the darker supernatural undertone. Anchored by a fantastic performance by Nicole Muñoz and filled with some genuinely creepy moments, it's a dark tale about parents and their fear of failing their kids. And about the things we say to our families that we can never take back.

This movie came out of nowhere and kicked me on my ass. I missed its brief theatrical run and it was only when it hit VOD that I caught it and it ended up bumping another movie off this list. It has a momentum to it that churns from scene to scene. It never gives you a moment to breathe or pause to contemplate how quickly things turned to hell.

It works in the way the best cinema does, by transporting you to this world, making you believe and then scaring the shit out of you as you compare it to the world we’re currently living in. It's a very unsubtle movie, filled with anger. But there's something hypnotic about it and I think it's a fantastic work of exploitation cinema. 

There’s something about this movie that just keeps dragging me back. It’s not a perfect movie, by any stretch. Some of the plot contrivances pulled me out of the story and the protagonist makes choices that I didn’t for a minute believe. But Brittany Allen is electrifying to watch, as she navigates betrayal and violence in such a believable manner. It’s one of the few movies in recent memory that made me audibly gasp at least twice.

But above all the intensity, there’s a deep-seated pain in the center. As I mention in my review, the monologue in the middle of the movie hit me. For all the bloodshed, it feels like a deeply personal movie. And the fact it just nonchalantly is about a married queer couple, but none of the violence or horror is because of their sexuality, feels refreshingly important in LGBTQ horror.

What can I say? Director Coralie Fargeat created a stylish, non-exploitative exploitation film centered around a subject and subgenre I particularly dislike and made it thrilling. A revenge fantasy, filled with blood and neon and carnage. And in the middle of it, a virtuoso performance by Matilda Lutz who not only tackles the upsetting subject matter, but does so with equal parts strength and vulnerability.

I loved the dark fantastical aspect of the revenge, as Jen becomes a fierce angel of vengeance, rising from an apparent death and wreaking bloody hell upon those who doubted her, objectified her and minimized her. The way Fargeat takes the male gaze inherent in this type of narrative and over the course of the movie slowly subverts it to such a bloody conclusion had me cheering. This is a fresh new voice in genre filmmaking. And I’m ready to follow her work, wherever she goes next.

I went into Cam with very few expectations. I saw it at a festival, before it was released and the only people talking about it were fellow festival goers. And the story sucked me in. Separate the sex work aspect, and the movie still resonates by tackling universal fears about identity; particularly, identity on the internet. And as a creator, the insidious way Alice’s presence becomes a commodity, owned by someone else and benefiting solely someone else is terrifying.

Pulled from personal experience, Cam uses Alice’s career as a jumping point into a Lynchian nightmare about how fleeting our existence is online and how easy it is to have your persona subverted and stolen. Some complain that it’s vague or obtuse, but I found the ambiguity refreshing. The acting, the direction and the writing all melded into something that insidiously got into my head and had me thinking about it for days.

3. Hereditary

I saw this movie prior to starting my blog and I’ve been unable to review it since then because, honestly, I’m not sure what else I can contribute to this movie. It’s a surprisingly divisive film. It’s been talked about nonstop since before it came out and truthfully, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re bored of hearing about it. I can’t blame you.

And yet, the way it structures this family’s unavoidable descent into death is pure Greek Tragedy. A family embroiled in a battle that they can’t even explain. One that is not only immediate but has been in their blood since before they were born. The family is as unable to defend themselves or do anything but look on in horror; stuck and unmovable as the figures in Annie’s dioramas. And that, as the English teacher teaching his class Iphigenia would say, is the biggest dramatic irony (and tragedy) of them all.

I’m sure this one surprises. But it truly made my heart sing. Everything about it is delightful, from the music to the acting to the horror. It has actual stakes; a fact it hides surprisingly well by centering the action on teenagers and musical numbers. At some point, though, the tone changes, the deaths start coming and we realize that not all of us get a happy ending. By the end of the movie, the song “Hollywood Ending” becomes a melancholic ode to those we’ve lost and a future filled with unknowns.

Of all of the movies on this list, I truly believe this one has legs. Beyond the horror fans who will call Hereditary a classic or talk in circles about Mandy (or even about my number one choice), this is a movie that will make someone a lifelong horror fan. This will truly become a cult classic. Mark my words.

Yep, Suspiria. If you’ve read my review, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Chances are, you’re reading this, angry that it’s not something else. Yes, it’s probably too long. It won’t be a movie I watch as often as some others.  Some of the choices made are perplexing. It’s dense and frustrating and definitely not for everyone. But that’s probably why I like it so much. It’s completely idiosyncratic and quirky. It makes you work to solve its mysteries and rewards those who do. Yeah, some people won’t have the patience to, and that’s fine.

I think it also has some very adroit things to say about the world we live in, today; about the walls we construct and the demagogues we put our faith in. About how delusion has become a religion people wrap themselves in until they’re smothered by it.

It also has Tilda Swinton deliciously devouring chicken wings. And that’s pretty damn special.

Listen. There’s one movie that I wanted to include on this list. In fact, it probably would have been my number one. The problem is that it doesn’t have distribution in the USA.

Let me rephrase it for those in the back: I cannot believe this film does not have a distributor in the USA, yet.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is almost perfect. It evokes Guillermo del Toro’s work, while striking out on its own. Its inspiration might be obvious, but it is never imitative. It gives a voice to the voiceless, while feeling rooted in some deep personal trauma.

The fantastical elements never overshadow the fundamental truths and horror subjected on the children, orphaned by violence and worse. Ghosts become a metaphor for those lost; people crying out for vengeance and justice. But the true horror is rooted in the most banal thing: human cruelty. This movie is a gem. It begs to be seen. It needs to be recognized. And, for that reason, I’m including it here.

Someone distribute this damn movie, already.