Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Sex And The Single Monster

Year: 1982
Director: John Hough
Cast: John Cassavetes, John Ireland, Kerrie Keane 
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I've been so deep into this slasher movie marathon for so long that I've started to recognize names that wouldn't be uttered in anybody's household from here to Timbuktu. Regardless, John Hough is the reason I was excited to pop in The Incubus, because he directed the low budget 1988 gem American Gothic, a film I've been happy to wave the banner for on many an occasion. Pair that with some cool, eerie poster artwork and you've got me on the hook.

Unfortunately, the lesson I consistently fail to learn during this project is that a poster is not a movie. Even though every single poster, alternates and all, for The Incubus is a drop dead gorgeous specimen (to the point that I could populate this entire review just with different posters - and I will), none of that visual firepower is enough to make a movie worth sitting through for 93 minutes. But more on that in a sec.

First, we must witness this poster that makes the movie look like some sort of heavy metal album cover was adapted into a paperback novel.

Observe the small town of Galen, which is being beset by a terrible tragedy. Local women are being raped so violently that their uteruses are exploding (oh, the 80's, a time when somebody thought this would be a super cool plot hook). Town doctor/autopsist/creepy old man Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) has been working with the cops to solve the murders, but waiting for the only survivor Mandy (Mitch Martin) to regain the ability to speak is taking too long. Also he needs time to himself to reminisce about his 18-year-old second wife who died under mysterious circumstances.

Sam's daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery) keeps ignoring his orders to stay inside to visit her loser boyfriend Tim (Duncan McIntosh of the same year's Murder by Phone - stay tuned) who keeps having terrible dreams about a woman tied up in a dungeon every time there's a new attack. also on the case is intrepid reporter Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane), who strikes up a gross flirtation with Sam despite their age difference appearing to be a flat fifty years. Anyway, it's pretty clear these attacks are supernatural. 

Even though the word "incubus" isn't spoken for about 75 minutes, we the audience know the title of the fucking movie we came to see, so it's not entirely shocking that there's a penis demon wandering around town. But who is the one channeling his presence? Tim? His creepy grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes of Visiting Hours)? Or someone else from this small town with a population huge enough to host midday concerts in packed movie houses?

Or perhaps it's this sexy demon haunting some heroine from an 18th century gothic novel...

Full disclosure: the effects which bring the titular Incubus to life are really really good. Fuller disclosure: You get to see them for a full ten seconds in this 93 minute movie. Hope you brought your camera! I'd say a picture would last longer, but then again almost anything would. 

So what are we left with for those remaining 5,570 seconds? A pretty miserable slog, to be honest. The Incubus has all the gritty, grotesque flavor of a mid-70's grindhouse exploitation epic, but it's too demure to fully commit to its hog wild concept. Not that I want the endless rapes to be onscreen. In fact, I am tremendously glad all I had to suffer through was a little slow motion screaming, and not a relentless slew of sex crimes like Don't Answer the Phone. But the fact remains that this movie is by design a story about sex, violence, and a monster, and it features almost none of those things.

To be fair, the rest of the things it's about aren't achieved particularly well either. As a mystery with a mounting body count, The Incubus is extraordinarily messy, forgetting to show us scenes about suspects, non-Cassavetes characters, and especially victims until they suddenly are jolted awake and thrown into play way too late in the game. One victim, a docent at the town museum, we meet in the very scene where she dies with about two lines of dialogue. About twenty minutes later Cassavetes randomly drops a line about this woman being his wife's cousin. About fifteen minutes after that, we learn her name. Tell me, how am I supposed to care about following a mystery that can't even follow itself? All this builds up into a tedious double parlor room sequence that spends fifteen minutes in two locations to establish that yes, there's an incubus, and then cuts to credits before anything actually happens.

And don't even get me started on the bizarre subplot about Laura Kincaid being a doppelgänger for Sam's dead second wife, which immediately leaps out the window and is never heard from again.

This beautiful poster is just mocking me at this point.

At the very least, The Incubus makes some swings toward atmosphere that occasionally connect. The score is a creepy atmospheric blanket over the whole thing, and the decision to run the opening credits over a shot that slowly zooms out to reveal a human eye is pretty stylish. And the decision to mount a camera under a character's wheelchair as she zooms around is... odd, but at least creative. Unfortunately, the editing takes a bit of a beating, presenting events in a bizarre kaleidoscope of smash cuts. 

But with a script that's this much of a shambles, even if it was perfectly cut together it would still seem completely random and aggrieved, as if individual parts of each scene want nothing to do with one another. So the redeeming qualities available to us here are limited. I didn't hate the experience of sitting through this movie, but I could have been staring at a blank screen for an hour and a half and edified myself to the exact same degree.

Killer: The Incubus [as embodied by Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane)]
Final Girl: Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes)
Sign of the Times: Every time a character turns on a radio, out screeches hair metal so terrible that I don't even want to put it on my slasher movie music playlist, which includes some real dreadful shit.
Best Kill: In one of the only sequences that betrays its slasher roots, the shotgun-toting patriarch of a farming family follows the demon into a barn, where he is stabbed in the neck with a shovel, then blows his own foot off in shock.
Scariest Moment: John Cassavetes tells his 18-year-old daughter Jenny, "you are my queen, my morning..."
Weirdest Moment: A scene opens with a cat chilling on a porch, then the paper boy hits it square in the face with the daily news.
Champion Dialogue: "Will you get out of here? I don't have time for idiots."
Body Count: 8
  1. Roy is hit in the face with a board with a nail in it.
  2. Caroline is Incubus'd.
  3. Chip the Dog is impaled with a pitchfork.
  4. Ernie is stabbed in the neck with a shovel.
  5. Jane is Incubus'd.
  6. Jane's Sister in a Wheelchair is killed offscreen.
  7. Concert Girl is Incubus'd.
  8. [Jenny is Incubus'd.]
TL;DR: The Incubus is at least uncompromising, but is both icky and a little bit dull.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1236

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Flashback: Movies


Happy New Year's Eve to one and all! It's time for my annual, incredibly exhaustive list of the best and worst in film, television, and music for the whole of 2019! 

A quick note about the Worst Of elements of my list. There has been a lot of Twitter conversation about negativity on end-of-year lists, and I just want to make my mission statement clear. I can not make definitive qualitative decisions about film art, nor can anyone. The films on the Worst portion of the list (which is smaller and does not include dismissals of the work of any singular person) are films that I personally dislike. If you agree with my film taste, then you should probably avoid them. If you don't, then have at it. Same goes for my 10 Best. It's all about building a relationship with a critic, learning their rhythms, and using their opinions as a springboard to find the things that you yourself will like. With this list, I'm not saying people who like these movies are wrong, nor am I dismissing them outright as viable pieces of cinema (with perhaps one notable exception). OK, have fun everyone! Keep it clean!

2019 Movies I Missed That I Wish I Had Seen Before Compiling This List: Charlie's Angels, Doctor Sleep, The Farewell, Good Boys, Pet Sematary, Satanic Panic, The Nightingale, Little Monsters, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
2019 Movies That I Missed, Don't Regret Missing, and Will Go Out of My Way to Continue Missing Until the End of Linear Time: Joker, The LighthouseFord vs. Ferrari, The Irishman, The Lion King, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Abominable, Five Feet Apart, Wonder Park

FILM

The Ten Best Films of 2019

#10 Knives Out



Knives Out didn't quite meet the hype for me, but it's still a very exciting fizzy thriller. I wouldn't say it keeps you guessing, because a curious reveal early on in the film leaves you not really sure what to make of it and not entirely sure there's anything to guess about, but it's a fun ride nonetheless. 

#9 Happy Death Day 2U



Happy Death Day 2U could have taken the easy way out and just redone everything the first one did successfully, but Chris Landon & Co. took some wild swings and knocked it all out of the park. There's still the same sense of unhinged dark comedy, but it's in service to a narrative that's uniquely weird and surprisingly heartfelt.

#8 Long Shot



There's nothing better than a good, solid romantic comedy. We haven't gotten enough of these recently, especially ones that remember to be both romantic and a comedy. Rogen and Theron prove their mettle by providing chemistry in spades, but making sure to never skimp on delivering the laughs.

#7 Ready or Not



From Samara Weaving's hoarse roar of a scream to the epic, hilarious finale, Ready or Not provides a nonstop tale of one thrilling night that keeps you hooked from the word go.

#6 Alita: Battle Angel



This isn't even a joke. Alita: Battle Angel is admittedly a dumb sci-fi bit of fluff, but it's also some of the best world-building we've gotten in ages, and sees director Robert Rodriguez in a mood far more playful than he's been since the late 2000's. It's pure, unadulterated fun and there's nothing wrong with being a little silly on top of that.

#5 Jojo Rabbit


While I was somewhat disappointed that the level of the humor wasn't quite at the peak of some of Taika Waititi's earlier works, Jojo Rabbit is still a charming effort anchored by a slew of terrific performances. It alternates between cutting satire and maudlin heartstring-pulling to provide one of the most deeply weird but energizing filmgoing experiences of the year.

#4 Pain and Glory



While this isn't going to bump its way into my top 5 Almodóvar movies (it's an "old man's movie," and that's not really my thing - yet), Pain and Glory is a beautifully subdued autobiographical journey. Almodóvar is a filmmaker who's unusually shy about directly depicting elements of his own life, so this nearly unadulterated glimpse into his world is a real treat, and the way it chews on and reinterprets themes from his previous work is extremely satisfying to anyone familiar with his filmography.

#3 The Perfection



Look, I love me a horror movie with a queer element, and that's all The Perfection had to be for me to have fun with it. But this movie has the audacity to be incredibly chilling in the first act to the point that I almost had to turn it off, then effortlessly pull off a series of wild, film-changing reveals that end with you battered and bruised on the floor, not entirely certain what you just watched but very glad it happened to you.

#2 Parasite



I was so close to being overhyped for Parasite. For the first hour or so, I could feel myself resisting how beloved it had been by everyone who reviewed it, but it put me under its spell anyway. That came at the moment that introduces the extended third act, where the film (which never has a firm grip on genre anyway) briefly tilts into horror in one of the most chilling shots I've seen in a modern film. Parasite comes completely unshackled from anything you might expect from a narrative motion picture, depicting the horror and humor of class warfare with every ounce of its being. Be it plot, acting, production design, cinematography, every element of this film is operating on full blast.

#1 Tigers Are Not Afraid



Come to support Mexican female filmmakers, stay because it's a damn brilliant movie. Issa López takes the language of Mexican artists through the ages, from magical realist authors like Juan Rulfo to film fantasists like Guillermo del Toro, and created a heady concoction that is simultaneously beautiful and absolutely brutal. The story of children who have been displaced when their parents were murdered by cartels, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a film that shows the harsh reality and violence of the drug war but retains a sense of childhood innocence that alternately delights the senses and makes the sickening horror that much more potent.

The Five Worst Films of 2019

#5 Unplanned



Sure, I may not agree politically with this incendiary "true" story of a Planned Parenthood director who became a pro-life advocate, but every technical aspect of its construction is also a hilarious disaster. The flop sweat of this message movie creates a salty stench that can be smelled from rooms over.

#4 Serenity



The bad movie cognoscenti has already dug its claws into this one, so suffice it to say that I have done the research and they are not wrong.

#3 Wine Country



Netflix has made a habit of tossing out plotless motion pictures that just feature endless montages of people getting drunk and partying. But none of these movies are as much of a waste of time as Wine Country, because a cast of comedians like this doesn't just come along every day. It's exquisitely painful to watch talented women like Amy Poehler (also making her directorial debut), Tina Fey, Paula Pell, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, and Ana Gasteyer putter around the screen refusing to say anything remotely funny.

#2 Cats



I don't want to lay blame entirely at the feet of this movie. The musical Cats is already a complete, plotless, asinine disaster about a cult of cats that I'm pretty sure murders Jennifer Hudson, so what could they have possibly done when adapting it to make it not that? Unfortunately, every decision they made just leaned into the worst thing that Cats can be, and while I admire their commitment, yikes.

#1 After


If you thought the Fifty Shades trilogy was going to be the worst property adapted from a fanfiction with the names changed, get ready for After! Based on an AU (alternate universe) fanfiction about Harry Styles from One Direction, it's about the blandest college freshman falling in love with the blandest, most toothless bad boy. Stripping away anything Harry Styles-y about it proves that it had not a single other leg to stand on. It's empty of absolutely anything interesting, save for a hilariously incorrect interpretation of The Great Gatsby that stands next to The Boy Next Door's scene featuring a first edition of The Iliad for sheer literary imbecility.

Best Worst Movie: The Prodigy



I practically had to be dragged to see The Prodigy, but I'm so glad it happened. For the first half hour it seems like you're getting some run of the mill, just-this-side-of-shoddy winter horror, but then it veers wildly off course with one of the most shocking scenes I've seen in a theater, pushing the envelope to a degree I never could have expected from such a cliché-ridden story. It never reaches the heights of that one scene again, but it continues with a slew of daffy reveals that are preposterous but nevertheless delightful. One of the most satisfying viewing experiences of the year.

Best Dramatic Actor: Bill Hader, It: Chapter 2



What makes this performance so dramatically interesting is how funny it is. Hader does pirouettes on the line between comic relief and emotional lynchpin with the confidence and grace only the man behind Barry could achieve.

Best Comedic Actor: Zachary Levi, Shazam!



OK, yes, there's the problem that the character he's playing absolutely does not match the performance of the teen actor. But his portrayal of a buoyant teenybopper stumbling around in a grown man's body is so chock full of goofball charm that I can't fault him for it.

Best Dramatic Actress: Lupita N'yongo, Us



There's a lot going on in this dual performance, but Lupita would earn the top slot just for that voice alone. The way she evokes someone who hasn't had to speak for decades upon decades sounds like her vocal cords are being dragged across concrete. Her Oscar should come with a side of honey and lemon.

Best Comedic Actress: Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart



I was already sold on Kaitlyn Dever's performance from the trailer, where she says (while being shoved into a cop car) "Shotgun! Just kidding! I don't have one..." I was so impressed by her comic timing, and seeing her full feature length performance laid out before me proved that that line wasn't a fluke. She's a charming young presence and I hope she continues to get roles in things that I will actually watch (sorry Netflix's Unbelievable, you're too grimdark for this one!).

Best Child Actor: Roman Griffin Davis & Archie Yates, Jojo Rabbit



Taika Waititi has a real talent for casting child actors. I feel like most lists will just highlight Archie Yates, because his cheerful best friend character steals every scene he's in with those bright, perfectly clueless line readings. But I want to throw as much praise as possible on the lead Roman Griffin Davis as well, because while Jojo gets less out-and-out laugh lines, it's a perfectly tuned performance for a movie that requires immense delicacy not to veer off across the line into utter tastelessness.

Best Child Actress: Paola Lara, Tigers Are Not Afraid



Y'all know by now I love me some Tigers Are Not Afraid, and that shouldn't be possible with a cast of almost exclusively child actors. Children shouldn't have the ability to draw the kind of pathos and complexity that a script like this deserves, but they do, and Paola Lara is a marvelous anchor for the entire thing.

Best Cameo: Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe



I kind of can't resist an actor playing themselves as a hideous caricature, but the gusto with which Keanu plays himself as a hyperbolically earnest douchebag is truly delightful and rises about everyone but Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies (the ur-text for subversive celebrity cameos).

Best CGI Creation: The Cat, Toy Story 4



Pixar has gotten to the point that they're not even making cartoons. The CG-animated cat in the antique shop moves with the fluidity and weight of a real cat to the point that I thought they just spliced in some live action footage. It's legitimately frightening how real it looks.

Worst CGI Creation: Swiper, Dora and the Lost City of Gold 



It was already pushing the realism of the film's universe that there was a talking fox in it at all, but a StarFox game for the Nintendo 64 would look better than the design they showed up with.

Best Score: Knife + Heart


While the movie itself didn't necessarily deliver for me (my interest in slashers does not necessarily extend far enough into the French arthouse sphere as it could), the score by M83 is a sleepy, melancholic tapestry that perfectly captures the tranquil misery of the lead character.

Best Soundtrack: Hustlers



The soundtrack was so superbly married to the mood and time period of every scene that it convinced me I actually liked Lorde's "Royals" and Rihanna's "Birthday Cake." On Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me," I needed no convincing.

Best Original Song: "Hide and Seek" Ready or Not


Horror movies of late have made a habit of using cheerful oldies to underscore the creepiness of scenes, but Ready or Not couldn't find they perfect one so they sat the hell down and made one. It's a perfect evocation of the unintentionally creepy needle drops used to great effect in stuff like Insidious or Sinister.

Worst Original Song: "Speechless" Aladdin


Look, nobody's work is going to look great when placed next to a pile of Ashman/Menken music. But Pasek and Paul indulging in their worst pop musical instincts certainly doesn't cut the mustard. Within about twenty seconds this song rhymes "silenced" with "quiet" with "try it," and then introduces the phrase "I won't go speechless," which is not a thing that any human being has ever said.

Best Musical Sequence: "Lost in the Woods" Frozen II



Did there need to be an 80's power ballad in the middle of the latest Disney princess musical? Absolutely not. It's an indulgence in the pop culture reference-heavy instincts of post-Shrek animated comedies. But Frozen II had already completely failed to find a consistent tone that it wasn't like it was violating the sanctity of anything. In the middle of this sequence I decided to just give in and lose myself in Jonathan Groff's beautiful musical theater voice and that irresistible chorus.

Best Monster: Hug Monster, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark



The squelchy grey monster designs were by far the best part of this kindertrauma adaptation, and the hug monster that walks endlessly toward you down the hallway is so perfectly disturbing.

Worst Monster: Werewolf, Annabelle Comes Home


(No picture legally available)


In a movie whose sole purpose is to test out new monsters for potential spinoffs, you'd think they could have put a little more effort into making their werewolf not look like a Tex Avery cartoon.

Biggest Laugh: The Impressions, Jumanji: The Next Level



These movies have basically become big actors doing impressions of other big actors (The Rock et al. play video game characters who embody the characteristics of the players controlling them), and I want them to make a million more. Special standouts include Awkwafina, perfectly cast as Danny DeVito. And I feel icky complimenting Kevin Hart under any circumstances, but his impression of Danny Glover is the best thing he's ever done. 

Biggest Cry: The Rally, Blinded by the Light



Blinded by the Light is a fun, poppy movie about a boy discovering his love for Bruce Springsteen, but around the edges it depicts the harsh racism of Thatcher-era Britain, which comes to a head in a shockingly violent moment that our lead character's decisions have rendered him helpless to do anything but watch.

Biggest Scream: The Cliff, Midsommar



If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. It's the point of no return for our characters. If you stay in the creepy Swedish summer cult after this moment, you deserve everything that's coming to you.

Biggest Squirm: The Car Crash, Brightburn



Brightburn was unremarkable at best and repetitive at worst, but it did feature some pretty neat gore! I don't even want to share an image of the gruesome results of the car crash scene, because it might put you off your New Year's.

Biggest Thirst: America's Ass, Avengers: Endgame



Chris Evans acknowledging to himself and the world that his Captain America is now the world's premiere sex object is the best part of a movie whose sole focus is digging through the toybox of the MCU and reflecting on all the joy it has brought. 

Best Title: Under the Silver Lake

I do really like how the first impression you get from the title is this kind of poetic, almost fantastical noir-ish vibe, and then you realize it's just about f**king Silver Lake, a borough of L.A. that anybody who's had foam art created on top of their latte will know well. It's kind of goofy, undercutting any sense of earnestness in the way that the movie itself is exactly shooting for.

Worst Title: Stuber

I mean, really. This title isn't even shitty and artlessly descriptive in the way most comedy titles are these days (just this year we've had Good Boys, Long Shot, Late Night, Murder Mystery, and Drunk Parents). You could have just called it Bad Passenger and Hollywood would greenlight it. But no, this title is shitty in a way that also completely obfuscates any meaning, on top of being an ingloriously ugly collection of consonants that makes you want to wash your mouth out with soap after saying it.

Best Line: "Of course I've slept on a rat, I live in New York." Brittany Runs a Marathon

This response to a former drug addict's harrowing story about being so high she used a rat as a pillow is an excellent glimpse into the fearlessly nasty sense of humor in Brittany Runs a Marathon, a movie that didn't quite make its way into the Top 10, but is a fun indie comedy certainly worth checking out.

Worst Line: "More like TALLER Swift!" Tall Girl

Tall Girl as a whole wasn't as splendiferously over the top as I was hoping, but any scene that directly interacts with people's reactions to Tall Girl's accursed affliction of tallness is chock full of deliciously cheesy material like this.

Best Poster: Fast Color



I never got the chance to see Fast Color unfortunately, but no movie could possibly compare to the austere beauty of this poster anyway.

Worst Poster: Men in Black: International



This poster takes studio's instinct to just shove the stars' faces haphazardly into the box waaaaay too far, feeling cramped and uncomfortable rather than selling a wacky globetrotting adventure movie.

Best Poster For a Bad Movie: The Curse of La Llorona



I disliked the movie quite a bit, but this image is hanging up in my apartment because it's just so creepy and gorgeous. And I like to imagine it's an homage to my Llorona marathon this winter rather than that one single movie.

Worst Poster For a Good Movie: Long Shot



None of the artwork for Long Shot is particularly memorable, but this one where it seems like Seth Rogen is posing next to a cardboard cutout of Charlize Theron (also judging by the angle of his phone, there's no way she's actually going to be in the frame of the selfie) is by far the most irritating.



Word Count: 3262

2019 Flashback: TV & Music


Top Ten Episodes of 2019 

#10 "Chapter 5: The Gunslinger" The Mandalorian



Baby Yoda and Amy Sedaris share the screen! This may be the best Star Wars has ever been.

#9 "Rainbow Warriors" Tales of the City



I was a little underwhelmed by Netflix's reboot-continuation of the classic miniseries Tales of the City, but it was in this penultimate episode that it really brought the energy I was hoping for the whole time. It's a wacky, over-the-top comedy of errors involving snooping, fake identities, Molly Ringwald, and a wild-ass twist ending that shoots for the moon.

#8 "Oslo" Veep



Veep had its final season this year, and you can't just go off the air forever without bringing back Sally Phillips' fabulously icy Minna Häkkinen. Her expertly crisp line readings are always on point, but she maybe gets her best one yet in her final episode. It's no use repeating out of context, but it's a line I still think about frequently all these months later.

#7 "Care Package" Mrs. Fletcher



Mrs. Fletcher is a fascinating glimpse into the life of an empty nesting divorcée who's rediscovering her sexuality, contrasted with her son's first year of college. This episode is where the show hits full steam. Kathryn Hahn's layered performance mingles with Liesl Tommy's direction to bring an erotic charge to the smallest of moments. Plus, this is the episode where the trans character comes into her own as an emotional being with depth and humanity! Hooray representation!


#6 "Episode 14" Vida



Vida is a show that's difficult to explain. It's about two mismatched sisters trying to keep their mother's bar open after her death, which is a kind of boring way to describe a show so pulsing with life, eroticism, and political heft. I chose this episode, where the sisters are scouting out potential talent for a music night, because it's where the emotions of the season come to a head in an exquisitely beautiful warehouse party setting.

#5 "El Monstruo Marino" Los Espookys



Los Espookys is such an ineffable show, it was hard to pick a single chunk of it to reward, but I think I had the most fun with this episode, where the gang is called upon to fake a sea monster sighting to increase tourism to a beach town. I can't even explain why I find it so hilarious, because it will make no sense out of context. Just believe me, and watch to find out!

#4 "I'm In Love" Crazy Ex-Girlfriend



I'll be sad to see Crazy Ex-Girlfriend go, but I'm happy it went out with so much style. The reprise of the show's classic songs was a brilliantly staged and excellently composed trip down memory lane, and the way it wrapped up the story was a sublime affirmation of the power of self-love.

#3 "Episode 1" Fleabag



For anyone who was worried a second season wouldn't capture the painful, acerbic joy of the first, this comedy of ever-so-British manners about a dinner party gone wrong proves you have nothing to worry about. It's crass, it's emotional, it's hilarious, and Olivia Colman gets even more chances to stretch her subtle savagery to the very limit.

#2 "Outward Bound" GLOW


The real strength of GLOW is the way it can take any character from its huge ensemble of talented women, give them a shot at the spotlight, and show us how deep even the most one-note characters actually are. This is an episode that does that with pretty much every character simultaneously, separating them from every major conflict by sending them into the desert on a retreat and just letting them hash out their differences over the course of an epic, emotional thirty minutes.

#1 "ronny/lily" Barry



Barry is a terrific blend of Hollywood satire and hard-hitting action drama, and this episode is... none of that. It's a hard swerve into surreal horror, where a hit gone wrong sees Barry facing off all night against a young martial artist who is basically a cyborg. It's a hilarious, horrifying, long dark night of the soul like you've never seen it before.

Bottom Five Episodes of 2016

#5 "I'm Almost Over You" Crazy Ex-Girlfriend



There's a bit of fun in this trope-skewering parody of rom-coms that spins a whole episode out of Nathaniel's fantasy that he's the lead in a romantic comedy, but this episode comes too late in the season, right in the middle of the lead-up to the finale, and it stops the pace of the show dead in its tracks. Also the entire show is a parody of romantic comedies, so I don't see why we needed an Isn't it Romantic style episode jammed in here.

#4 "Chapter Six: The Prisoner" The Mandalorian



At least they introduced all the worst single-episode characters in the same episode, because I don't think I could have handled a more subtle rollout of such charismatic gems as "hissing lady" and "big angry Hellboy."

#3 "Chapter Fifteen: Doctor Cerberus's House of Horror" Chilling Adventures of Sabrina


Maybe this is something to do with the way streaming television works, or maybe I've always been this way, but I really can't stand filler episodes, especially in a show with short seasons like this. This entire episode is basically an hourlong anthology horror film, which is actually kind of cool in concept. But it takes time away from the actual plot to present a bunch of scenarios that don't actually exist, and don't give the characters any depth. It just shuffles a seemingly endless well of people through some rote horror short films and calls it a day.

#2 "Final Girl" American Horror Story: 1984


The Emma Roberts you see above you is supposed to be 50 years old. I think that should speak to how little care went into making this underwhelming wrap-up for an only OK season.

#1 "Love's in Need of Love Today" Pose



I know Ryan Murphy can't make a show without a musical episode, but Pose's swing into nondiegetic production numbers gave me more whiplash than most. I felt that it did a disservice to the very real culture of music and dance that the show has worked so hard to depict, escalating it into self-parody. If the entire show was a musical in that way, it would have been fine. But halfway through season 2 is not the time to awkwardly shove all the characters into singing cover songs in service of a forced emotional plot line that wasn't properly set up in the previous episodes.

Best Network Show: The Good Place




Nevermind the talented and diverse cast, the high concept, the hilarious one-liners, it's such a marvel when a network sitcom winds up this fabulously weird. It feels like a mistake, but it's one that went on for four seasons! It's a shame that we're now halfway through its final season, but we're so lucky it ever ended up existing in the first place.

Best HBO Show: Los Espookys



OK maybe it was a mistake opening with The Good Place, because if that is weird, then how could we possibly describe Los Espookys? This bilingual comedy about a group of friends in Mexico who start a horror special effects business (that's not the best way to describe it, but I'm not sure how to describe it - this show must have been hell to pitch) is an exercise in unadulterated surrealism. It's always fun when a show feels like something so completely alien and fresh that it proves the best days of human creativity and expression are not yet behind us.

Best Netflix Show: Nailed It! Mexico



I'm convinced that Nailed It! Mexico is the show that is going to heal the world. In a North America fraught with xenophobia and trauma, it's important to remember that we all bleed the same and fail hilariously to make complicated cakes the same.

Best Disney+ Show: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series



What, you think Jon Favreau's sci-fi tone poem is the only thing on this streaming service? Where that show shines in certain characters and moments, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is non-stop fun from top to bottom. It's a show trafficking in nostalgia that aims directly to the core of Yours Truly, but it's also a surprisingly clever meta-narrative drizzled with plenty of painfully incisive satire of high school theater kids.

Best Dramatic Actor: Billy Porter, Pose



I thought the plotting of Pose really faltered this season, but Billy Porter's character Pray Tell survived being buffeted about by the whims of the writers due to the faithful commitment and consistency Billy Porter brought to the role. He has a gravity and grace that is unlike anything else on TV, and every time he opens his mouth is a scene worth watching.

Best Comedic Actor: Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt



This is the last time the character of Titus Andromedon will be able to be mentioned in year-end wrap-ups, and that is a damn shame. Burgess has always been the glue that held together a terrifically messy show, and he's in top shape in the second half of this final season.

Best Dramatic Actress: Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies



Big Little Lies didn't deliver a lot for its returning characters, but Meryl Streep coming into to burn the entire place down with quiet passive aggression was by far the best decision they made to keep the series going. Every little tic in her face carries the weight of an entire movie's worth of monologuing, and when she finally gets a chance to throw caution to the wind, it's a tsunami of emotion.

Best Comedic Actress: Catherine O'Hara, Schitt's Creek


Catherine O'Hara's character Moira is such an exquisite collision of bizarre vocal inflection, sharp physical performance, and deep commitment, and this season she leans in even further. I don't think an episode goes by without her pronunciation of the word "baby" that puts emphasis on syllables you didn't even know existed, and she proves herself to be entirely fearless, launching even further into weirdness with the rigmarole around her B-horror movie The Crows Have Eyes III.

Best Child Actor: Baby Yoda, The Mandalorian


Baby Yoda is really everything the memes made him out to be. Every move he makes is perfection, and he's the reason I've watched The Mandalorian with such single-minded devotion. Or at all, frankly.

Best Breakout Star: Garcia, Tales of the City


Garcia is a nonbinary actor whose portrayal of trans male character Jake is lived-in and sweet, a natural counterweight to the over-the-top instincts of the rest of the show. Garcia has crafted the only new character who could stand head to head with the returning heavyweights like Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis, and I hope to see much much more from them.

Best Theme Song: "A Little Bit Alexis"




Have you noticed how TV shows have pretty much given up on theme songs these days? Luckily, Schitt's Creek has provided us with a blast from the fictional past. This theme song to Alexis Rose's A Simple Life-esque reality show is a perfect evocation of the television landscape of the mid-2000's.

Best SNL Sketch: Sara Lee


This sketch really does feel like gay Instagram became a five minute short. It feels intimately knowledgeable of my social media life experience in a way that's almost chilling. This speaks to why you should hire writers who aren't straight white men, because we allll have funny stories to tell.

Best Musical Performance: "Masquerade" Chilling Adventures of Sabrina


OK, maybe not "best," but "most unexpected" for sure. In a show that has made not even a single feint toward musicality, it takes a hard left turn in the final episode of the second season where the ensemble performs a little Andrew Lloyd Weber to the literal Devil. If you know anything about me, you'll know I unequivocally loved it.

Best Guest Star: Kristin Scott Thomas, Fleabag



If you had asked me before this episode who I thought would be a perfect older foil for Fleabag's particular brand of messiness, I certainly wouldn't have pulled out the name Kristin Scott Thomas. I would have been dreadfully wrong.

Best Commercial: "Meteor"



OK, I was just tickled by this one. I like the inherent darkness to the concept that these people are so wowed by their trunk space that they're willing to risk being hit by a meteor to fill it up as much as possible.

Worst Commercial: "Samsung Jeans"



I never feel more like a dad than when I'm grumbling about the ridiculous characterization of the woman in this commercial, who states herself to be "laid back and casual." She's supposed to be setting up an Odd Couple-esque comparison with the guy who irons his jeans, but she looks even more preppy and buttoned-up than he does, so what am I supposed to be getting from this character? It makes me so irrationally mad


MUSIC

Top Ten Songs of 2019

#10 "Small Talk" Katy Perry


Katy Perry lost me somewhere in between "Chained to the Rhythm" and her performance of "Swish Swish" on SNL, and while her new single isn't what I'd call a barn-burner, it's at least a return to form. It's a perfectly lovely pop bauble that will roll around your brain for weeks and not do any damage.

#9 "Cool" Jonas Brothers


I do my best not to be a sucker for nostalgia, but you can't not give it a shot when a teenybopper band like the Jonas Brothers decides to return to the pop scene as grown-ups. I think "Cool" is their most sophisticated single, still embracing the daffy lyricism of bubblegum pop, but capturing the chill, slinky vibe of an afternoon strutting along the pier.

#8 "Church" Aly + AJ


2019 sure witnessed the return of a lot of classic Disney Channel pop, didn't it? Aly + AJ wasn't really my jam back in the day, but even I can recognize the sheer gulf between their teenybopper work and this dark, brooding single that paints a layered, fascinating soundscape.


#7 "Panini" Lil Nas X


Lil Nas X knows how to craft a single that digs its hooks into you immediately, then leave before you feel like you've had enough. In under two minutes, it delivers a verse, pre-chorus, and chorus that are sonically unique from one another and equally catchy. It's a sprint through a sonic landscape that never gets old.

#6 "Me" CLC


This genre-bending K-Pop song is a lot of fun when it starts out, but once the chorus strikes, it dives straight into the hardest dubstep breakdown this side of 2012, and I can't help but be swept up into pure delight. I like a song that seeks to overwhelm you, and "Me" is like a gale force wind of sonic energy.

#5 "I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix)" Luniz


I don't frequently include pieces from film scores on this list, but if it's listenable as a single detached from the visual element, then that means it's extra special. This remix from Us is one of the best things about the film, which is pretty terrifically rendered in a lot of aspects. Blending classic hip hop with the dark, minor key fantasia of a horror score creates an entirely unique track that drips with atmosphere.

#4 "Raising Hell" Kesha feat. Big Freedia


I loved that we got angry, wild country Kesha ripping up the haters on her album Rainbow. But "Raising Hell" is a delightful return to a Kesha who just wants to have fun, allowing herself to move forward, using all the musical complexity of Rainbow in service of a dazzling pop single. Special kudos to the delicious church organ riff during the bridge.

#3 "Good Things Fall Apart" Jon Bellion & Illenium


I hate to admit it, but I'm not always able to resist sad boy music. The fact that this is the third and final male artist in a list of ten should tell you where my heart lies most of the time. But as this list (and my entire history of lists) has probably proven, I love a chorus that knocks you off your feet and drags you out like a riptide. Bellion's acoustic sensibilities and Illenium's modern electric warbling combine terrifically here to hold you in the iron grip of this track.

#2 "Cuz I Love You" Lizzo


Lizzo has always been playful with her genre-bending, but she fits so well with the Wall of Sound schema. That blast of brass that concludes the chorus is bold, brash, and irresistible. It shouldn't make sense in this song with its R&B vocal track, trap beat, and playful lyrical edge, but it all. just. works.

#1 "Want You in My Room" Carly Rae Jepsen


This song is pure, addictive candy. Like all CRJ songs, the first verse starts off charming but a little underwhelming, but once the chorus (and, most importantly, the robotic choir) strikes, "Want You in My Room" is devoured by the spirit of ELO. Carly herself seems to be swallowed by the song (her voice is mixed unusually low in the chorus), as if even she can't escape the pure joy and magnetic force of the bubblegum.

Bottom Five Songs of 2019

#5 "One Thing Right" Kane Brown & Marshmello


Maybe this is petty, but the meter of this song is alllll out of whack. The line is supposed to be "I got one thing right: YOU!" But instead it goes like "I got one thing right... ... ... you," and by that time it has been completely divorced from the line it's a part of and gets more or less swallowed by Marshmello's overzealous bleeps and bloops. It just feels like a first draft mistake to me, and it makes it difficult to listen to.

#4 "Beer Never Broke My Heart" Luke Combs


Bro country about women and beer, am I right? Hilarious! Groundbreaking!

#3 "Medellín" Madonna & Maluma



"Despacito" inspired everyone and their mother to do a Latin pop song, so of course the pop music chameleon Madonna had to hop on that bandwagon and deliver this boring, uninspired, endless noodle. But hi Maluma! How are you? I bet you're sorry I eliminated my "prettiest men" category, huh?

#2 "Knockin' Boots" Luke Bryan


OK, am I biased against bro country? Yes. Does the genre mostly deserve it? Of course. Any 43-year-old man that willingly describes himself as a "boy" must be held under intense scrutiny. Especially when he is telling "girls" that he needs them to kiss him. No, thank you.

#1 "God's Country" Blake Shelton


This is just the antithesis to everything I'm about, y'know.

Best Music Video: "Memories" Maroon 5


You're either going to love or hate this video, but I found it really interesting. It's simple, it's low budget, but it's also kind of daring. Adam Levine's whole brand is that he's a sex idol, but this video really invites us to investigate every corner of his face at every lighting angle. Of course it's flattering because he is a very attractive man, but we're also welcomed to see how he has aged, an image that suits the reflective tone of the lyrics incredibly well.

Worst Music Video: "I Don't Care" Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber


A Snapchat filter has become self aware and declared war on humanity via this video.

Best Collaboration: "Old Town Road" Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus


The narrative behind this song is one of my favorite pop culture stories of the year: When Lil Nas X's song was pulled from the country charts for almost certainly racist reasons, Billy Ray Cyrus stepped in to help create a hit that couldn't be ignored by the genre's gatekeepers. It wasn't exactly brave to hop onto a song that would give the one-hit wonder his first number one single, but it's a fun middle finger to the bigoted people who want to keep popuating the charts with all the songs on my "Worst Of" lists.

Best Guilty Pleasure: "You Need to Calm Down" Taylor Swift


I don't respond to this as a pandering defense of LGBTQ rights (the line "shade never made anybody less gay" completely fails to understand that "shade" isn't just trendy slang, but literally a concept invented by queer people and thus inherently queer and in fact, makes people more gay). I respond to its bouncy synths, layered harmonies, and catchy hook. Sue me!

Best Album Cover: Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood



Have I heard a single song off this album? No way! But pretty is pretty, and I like the casually surreal beauty of it.

Best Cover Song: "Doin Time" Lana Del Rey


I'm no fan of Lana Del Rey, and maybe I'm just a sucker for lyrics that mention Long Beach, but her cover of Sublime is transportive. It uses her inherent woozy aesthetic to transpose the very 90's song into a dreamlike state that completely recontextualizes every element of the lyrics.

Worst Cover Song: "Africa" Weezer



And now we move to the polar opposite of that Sublime cover. Weezer has made it known that they attempted to recreate Toto's instrumentation as exactly as possible. So what's the point?! While this song was playing, I was telling a coworker that I'm vaguely irritated by the Weezer cover and they said, "oh, I've never heard it." They didn't realize they were listening to it right at that moment because they've done absolutely nothing to make it a cover worth anyone's time.

Here's Some Stuff That I Did in 2019


Attack of the Queerwolf


Now on the Fangoria podcast network, Attack of the Queerwolf is heading into a beautiful season 2. But what a 2019 we've had! I was sadly not able to be in the room when we recorded with Happy Death Day's Jessica Rothe or Dressed to Kill's Nancy Allen. But I was present for Adam Robitel (Escape Room), Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), Ben Baur (Something Like Summer), and many other illustrious guests that were such a blast!

Scream 101


This year on Scream 101, Sergio and I have powered through such varied franchises as Leprechaun, Final Destination, Gremlins, Lake Placid, Anaconda, and Frankenstein!

Other Podcasts

On Geek K.O., you can catch me running trivia on Child's Play, Leprechaun, and zombies. I joined the Horror Queers for a discussion of Cherry Falls. On Kill by Kill I chatted the opening twenty minutes of Nightmare on Elm Street 4. On Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr, I was asked to help compare Jane Austen's Emma and its modern adaptation Clueless. I brought the woozy supernatural slasher The Carpenter to the table for Keep Screaming. The Queerwolf gang and I joined Shock Waves to talk about camp. I was interviewed by Fright School, then rejoined them to talk From Beyond.

Delirium Magazine


In Delirium's 90's themed issue this October, I contributed an article about how damn well Bride of Chucky holds up. It's the first time I've ever been in actual print, and it was incredibly exciting!

Other Writing

On Alternate Ending, I did a summer feature of five foundational German krimi films. On Dread Central I ran through my top 10 songs from horror movies in 2019. 


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