I came back to CHUD on a part-time basis after a yearlong layoff in 2012.  Family and work schedules kind of limit what I can see on a timely basis, so I ended up catching a lot of indie films this year.  As a result, I also resurrected the long dormant Dave’s Underground column, which focuses on movies you likely hadn’t heard of or seen or generally anything out of the mainstream.  Truth be told, I saw more indies than mainstream flicks, and there’s a lot of big mainstream movies that I simply have not gotten around to seeing…like the kind that are on everyone else’s year-end lists.  So it seemed only natural that I should tailor my year-end list to the movies that I spent the last six months covering.


Top 15 - From The Head

David on From the Head

There are probably as many scripts about the people who came to Hollywood to break into movies as there are people who came to Hollywood to break into movies.  I know because I’ve got mine in some dark corner of my computer somewhere.  Rookie director / writer / star George Griffith had his in his head back when he was a bathroom attendant.  So that’s what he made his first film about. Set almost entirely in the bathroom of a Manhattan strip club, this micro indie could probably just as easily have been a play.  Hell probably more people would have seen it.  Still, don’t let that sway your opinion on the quality of the movie.  There wasn’t a more personal film made this year that I saw.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Economy of location, but not on characterization.

Performance to savor: George Griffith, duh

CHUD.com Pull Quote: The only movie you’ll ever need to leave the bathroom to go take a piss for!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - ContractedDavid on Contracted

I enjoyed this movie for its original take on the zombie genre, both in the transmission of the condition (sex) and the transformation to flesh eater.  This isn’t the instantaneous metamorphosis of a rage virus victim, nor even the hours-long transformation common in most zombie movies after being bitten.  This is one young woman’s terrifying three-day journey into oblivion after one night’s (historic) bad decision.  Star Najarra Townsend ably captures the horrified response of a frightened girl, dealing with more than just her Seth Brundle decay (she’s got relationship and mommy issues too).  And there’s a sex scene in this film that is downright stomach turning.  Yum.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: Fresh take on the whole zombie dating thing

Performance to savor: Najarra Townsend, undergoing the worst STD in history

CHUD.com Pull Quote: See this one at the clinic!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - BBSDavid on Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio really has a lot going on, the least of which certainly isn’t a good old fashioned mind fudging of the highest order from director Peter Strickland, wrapped in some excellent sound design.  Quite frankly I didn’t get all of what was going on the first time I saw it, it was so labyrinthine.  Toby Jones portrays mousy British sound engineer, Gilderoy, adrift and slowly losing his mind during a gig on an Italian giallo film set in the 1970s.  It’s an unusual setting for going cuckoo, it doesn’t always get its intentions across and it’s easy to get lost in the transitions from reality to batshit and back.  But the aforementioned audio – you never see any of the film into which Gilderoy’s sanity is sinking, but you hear it just fine – and the period setting provide for an interesting backdrop.  I’ve come to appreciate what Strickland was able to pull ooff here upon further reflection, and it’s unique.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The mindjob at work.

Performance to savor: Toby Jones

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - 100BADavid on 100 Bloody Acres

What got me about this film was the genre defiance going on: a funny bloodbath with a distinctly Aussie flavor to it.  Directed by Australian brothers and first-timers, Colin and Cameron Cairnes, Acres mixes the laughs with the killing and provides a few surprises along the way.  I’d call it Fargo-esque (very -esque, but the same kind of spirit).  It’s Texas Chainsaw, Wrong Turn or Hills Have Eyes meets Green Acres (sorry, I got no other farm-related comedy coming to mind at the moment).  When trio of youngsters on their way to a concert meet a pair of brothers who are using human carcasses for their blood and bone fertilizer business, and the trio are actually a love triangle and the brothers have their own sibling rivalry issues going on, getting turned into mulch or arrested is actually the least of everyone’s problems.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: Charming Aussie carnage and shenanigans

Performance to savor: It’s a group effort

CHUD.com Pull Quote: The most charming gorefest of the year!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - BNEDavid on David on Best Night Ever

This film is a tired premise, done in usually tiresome found footage (although they never actutally lose the camera) style, and is directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (yeah, those guys).  What the hell business does it have doing being any good then?  Beats me, but it is.  Buoyed by four fresh-faced actresses, this manic and sordid romp through Las Vegas during a bachelorette party gone wrong is fun and wrong in many good ways.  Nice for a change to see women screwing things up as good as any group of guys.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Tired premise, found-footage, Meet The Spartans / Vampires Suck guys.  It’s good?!  WTF?!

Performance to savor: The four leading ladies win

CHUD.com Pull Quote: The best cure for a Hangover!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - The Hunt

David on The Hunt

I saw three good to excellent Danish films this year, and this was the first. Powered by a solemn and silently indignant portrayal by the excellent Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt tells the story of a teacher who is wrongly accused of child molestation and has to suffer through the scorn of his village, friends and family.  The scariest thing here is that the word of a little girl – especially a blonde little girl – if believable, despite the truth, can destroy lives, as the life of Mikkelsen’s Lucas surely is.  Bringing that word to to a reckoning is painful for all those involved, and very powerful.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: As Danish as the film is, you can just see this happening in any Smalltown America.

Performance to savor: Le Chiffre

CHUD.com Pull Quote: This Jag is a Ten!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - CCDavid on Charlie Countryman

I remarked in my review something along the lines that when you need a guy to be so far up shit creek that he’s sans paddle and boat, that Shia’s a good go-to.  Countryman mixes a tad bit of the surreal with a series of bad decisions that inexplicably pay off for American expat, Charlie (LaBeouf), who’s way out of his league, both with Evan Rachel Woods’ Gabi and her asshole estranged husband and gangster, Nigel.  When Charlie takes the advice of both his freshly dead mother and his freshly dead seatmate on a plane, Victor, to first go to Bucharest on a whim, and then to meet Victor’s daughter, he of course finds himself caught up in a world of drugs and gangsters.  And a series of really bad decisions from Charlie in pursuit of Gabi only make things worse.  And the really funny thing?  The Romani gangsters, they’re a bunch of wordsmiths and cut-ups.  Who woulda thunk it?

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Mads Mikkelsen getting his prick on Romani style

Performance to savor: Hannibal again, for the back-to-back

CHUD.com Pull Quote: 

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - DBDavid on Drinking Buddies

A great deal of improv highlight this earnest effort featuring a breakthrough performance by Olivia Wilde in a film that thankfully never hits the romantic comedy aspirations it doesn’t have.  Wilde and Jake Johnson portray two friends who work at the same brewery and who both love beer.  Both are in stable relationships, until one of them isn’t, and then all of the things that went unsaid and feelings that went un-acted upon surface and threaten to destroy the friendship.  Along the way, there’s lots of beer.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: So many opportunities to devolve into a romcom morass that are deftly avoided, even though the set ups are prevalent.

Performance to savor: Olivia Wilde is fantastic here

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Watch it with a buddy and a beer!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - TSNDavid on The Spectacular Now

Coming-of-age can be so “coming-of-age”.  But rarely is it ever this honest, carried by two fine performances in leads Miles Teller as Sutter and Shailene Woodley as Aimee. Sutter is part of the high school “in crowd” and fairly carefree in his life, until it falls apart after his girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumps him over a misunderstanding with another girl. The fact that Sutter is also a budding alcoholic only adds to the situation.  But things unexpectedly improve when he meets Aimee, a pretty but unassuming girl in his class.  Their friendship that builds into an unexpected relationship buoys Sutter through some tough times, including pining away for his ex, and when meeting his estranged father doesn’t go anything like he hoped. Teller and Woodley are about as genuine as it gets, and this is one of if not the most real and heartfelt movies of the year.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Did you catch the words “honest”, “genuine”, “real”, and “heartfelt” above?

Performance to savor: We covered that I believe

CHUD.com Pull Quote: It’s as spectacular then as it is now!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - ADDavid on Afternoon Delight

The most breakthrough performance from a relative unknown I caught this year was from Kathryn Hahn in this movie.  Directed by first-time director, but experienced TV producer, Jill Soloway, Delight was exactly that, punctuated by complicated relationships that defied quick fixes and easy classifications.  Hahn’s bored-to-death housewife takes pity on / becomes infatuated with a waifish stripper, McKenna (Juno Temple), and invites her to move into her troubled home (and marriage), then gets more than she bargained for when she gets drawn into McKenna’s world as a sex worker (i.e. stripper with benefits).  Hahn is great, totally exposed (figuratively and literally), silly and overwrought simultaneously.  And I called Temple a venus flytrap of preconceptions, luring you in and then owning you when you realize that the jaws of those preconceptions have slammed shut.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Nudity always helps

Performance to savor: Hahn, Temple

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Starland Vocal Band called it a tour de force!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - ABCDDavid on A Band Called Death

The ’70s is my go-to decade for music, hands down.  And I’m old school R&B all the way: The O’Jays, Switch, The Stylistics, Ohio Players, Delfonics, Temptations, The Moments.  These are all groups that I love listening to.  I wouldn’t and don’t like Death’s music, as I’m not a punk enthusiast.  But I love their story, as powerfully captured by directors Mark Christopher Corvino and Jeff Howlett.  Because it’s practically unheard of: three brothers, three Black brothers (Bobby, Dannis and the late David Hackney) – from Motown no less – form a band to play not Soul but Punk music.  And they call themselves Death.  Then they reject all calls to change the name, to their ultimate detriment, disband, and achieve cult status decades later.  As a result, the two surviving brothers, who had enjoyed success as a reggae band, reform the old moniker and rock out again.  It’s something akin to Tyler Perry and Rob Zombie collaborating on a movie.  But again, one hell of a story.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Alice Cooper and Henry Rollins give them props.  Pretty sure that’s good enough.

Performance to savor: The three brothers, including David Hackney from the beyond

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Lyfe Jennings hated it!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - CGDavid on Combat Girls

This gritty German drama about two girls trying to find themselves via their association with the Neo-Nazi movement features some hard-edged performances, and disturbing imagery of violence practiced by the group.  It has a lot to say about race relations and politics in the country and also features the unlikeliest of friendships between the lead, Alina Levshin’s Marisa and a Muslim boy (Sayed Ahmad Wasil Mrowat) with whom she had a prior violent confrontation and who causes her to reevaluate her positions and views.  Levshin is intense in the role, as volatile as any Neo-Nazi male, yet reluctantly vulnerable to truths she comes to realize.  A worthy companion to American History X.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Excellent writing and portrayals, jagged subject material.

Performance to savor: Levshin kicks all kinds of ass, quite literally at times.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Auzgezeichnet!

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - AHDavid on A Hijacking

An engrossing Danish documentary-style drama from director Tobias Lindholm centering on the procedural of a hijacking of a Danish ship by Somali pirates and the chess game that must be waged in order to bring the situation to a satisfying conclusion for both sides.  It’s a believable and logical portrayal of the negotiations that can sometimes take months, while crews on board and families back home pay the emotional price.  Such is the fate of the crewman Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek), who is threatened with death at every turn unless his boss and the owner of the company that owns the ship, Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling) pays up.  Problem is, Ludvigsen is a stuffed shirt tightass, who’s never not been in control in his life and refuses to be so now.  Omar (Abdihikan Asgar) is the objectionable negotiator for the Somalis and he ain’t the type to bullshit.  I haven’t seen Captain Phillips yet, but I hear it’s excellent.  I know for a fact this is excellent as well.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Taut, procedure driven script, great performances by the leads.

Performance to savor: Asbaek and Malling especially.  Some good Danish movies this year.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Captain who? 

Vital Links: CHUD Review


Top 15 - BBWDavid on Big Bad Wolves

An offbeat Israeli thriller from directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushalos that Tarantino gave his personal Oscar for 2013.  It centers on the investigation of a series of brutal murders of young girls and the two men, renegade detective, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) and father of the latest victim, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), determined to torture the teacher accused of the murders, Dror (Rotem Keinan) for some key info.  Some gallows humor and situations that border on the Coen-esque accompany scenes punctuated by grotesque torture, as the entire proceeding turns into either a force of wills or the horrible persecution of an innocent man.  Grad’s dry-as-a-martini humor highlights superb performances from the three leads, as this film argues the efficacy of torture and also deals some side business on race relations in Israel.

Current rating: 3.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Mix of appeal: morbid humor, squirm inducing violence, social commentray, some surprises.

Performance to savor: Grad, Ashkenazi, Keinan

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Lot’s more fun than waterboarding!

Vital Links: CHUD Review (pending in January)


Top 15 - MNDavid on Mr. Nobody

The trippiest sci-fi mindbend this side of Inception, hitting on notions of destiny, alternate lives, predestination, the nature of reality, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, existence, free will, pigeon superstition, butterfly effect and all that existential shit.  Jared Leto is a bunch of the same guy, and not, and maybe, but maybe not.  He’s old, he’s young, he’s thirtysomething. He’s a figment of his own imagination warning himself that he might not be real because he hasn’t yet made a decision as to the fact.  He’s married to Sarah Polley, who died before she had their kids, that he never had because he was married in a loveless marriage to Lin Danh Pham, that he took home from the dance the time that he didn’t wreck on his motorcycle and get paralyzed.  Then of course, there’s Diane Kruger, the one true love that he never saw again that he found in New York married with children that don’t exist.  And the whole thing is predicated on an old man in the future who, as a kid, should have gone with his mother on the train that he ran after he stayed with his father that he never saw again as the train rolled away with his mother and him.  Then there’s the waking up in plaid…  Like I said trippy.  But beautifully shot and although confounding more than a couple times, very nicely strung together by director Jaco Van Dormael.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: I said it’s probably a hell of a film to get stoned to.

Performance to savor: The 12 or so Jared Letos

CHUD.com Pull Quote: See it because you already haven’t

Vital Links: CHUD Review