Savlov's Top Ten Redux Part One: The Good, the Badass, and the Weirder
Savlov's other Top Ten
By Marc Savlov,
7:03PM, Fri. Jan. 2, 2009
To begin with, Marley is dead, and top ten lists are insane, or, at the very least, they can drive you insane. It's a sweet kind of madness, however, blood kin to that of Bram Stoker's insectivorous Renfield. Locked away in a small, dark room, sustaining himself on madhouse flies and in thrall to the black-light flickerings of his master, Renfield is the very model of a modern minor film critic at year's end. "He's coming," this pasty-faced fanatic gibbers to anyone within earshot. "The Master is coming!" Which, frankly, sounds way too close to what I and my fellow critical counterparts have been writing lately: "It's coming! The best movie of ... ever! For god's sake, man, you've simply got to see it!" Or, in the case of, say, Baz Luhrman's Australia, "Unclean! Unclean! Beware! Steer clear!" Frankly, I much prefer Brian Trenchard-Smith's Australia:
Still, we are similar in our derangements, Renfield and I. We inhabit the dark and we worship the shadows that play across the walls. True, he devours bugs while I prefer to snack on edamame, and my dreams-to-nightmares ratio benefits from a superior audio/video system and precious few rats to speak of, but the metaphor remains apt. Mad about the cinema is still mad. Call me crazy.
Like all art and most worthwhile experiences, writing about film is an innately subjective endeavor: one person's Death Race 2000 is another, lesser person's Death Race. And no critic's top ten list is ever truly complete. Ten is a fine figure with which to tally digits, dimes, and dames, but movies? Not so good. Even the worst year has twice that many overlooked, under-marketed, or unreleased gems that simply beg to be seen, and believed. Hence this addendum list. Ten extremely worthy films (in one case a book) that didn't make it onto my official Austin Chronicle year end canon.
Why not? Various reasons: some only screened at Fantastic Fest, a couple didn't play at all and went straight to DVD, or they simply haven't been released. Nevertheless, each and every one blew my eyes out the back of my head, or made me cheer, or had somebody cheering at the fact my eyes were exploding out the back of my head (David Cronenberg, I suspect). They're all cinematic triumphs in their own unique ways, and they deserve to be seen. Preferably in the dark, and nowhere near Carfax Abbey, unless, you know, you're mad too...
1.) Heavy Metal In Baghdad is exactly what it sounds like, and it rocks like few documentaries do. Co-directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti (both of Vice Magazine), HMIB charts the improbable birth -- and eventual diaspora -- of Baghdad's one-band heavy metal scene, but it's also a surreal glimpse into the potentially deadly daily grind that faces Iraqi civilians living on the wrong side of the Green Zone's blast-barriers. The four core members of that band -- christened "Acrassicauda" after the black scorpion native to Iraq -- have literally repurposed their lives around the creation of heavy metal in the middle of the most dangerous city on earth. Practicing in a cramped basement that eventually falls prey to far heavier metals -- the Americans' Hellfire missiles and the Jihadi's AKs and mortars -- the changing members of Acrassicauda serve as rock-and-shell-shocked, PTSD-tour guides through their bloody, dusty, dying city while being simultaneous living proof that the more dire the situation, the more it helps to Rock the Fuck Out.
2.) Jon Reiss's hip hop doc Bomb It is, indeed, the bomb. Picking up where 1983's semi-fictional Wild Style left off, Bomb It explores the shadowy-cool global network of graffiti artists, taggers, bombers -- whatever the sobriquet, it's the Krylonistas world, we're just privileged to live here. Reiss goes through the roof and underground and nets some lyrical face time with the likes of Marc Ecko, Paris's sublime Blek le Rat, culture-jammer Ron English, and the always intellectually rigorous KRS-ONE. But that's not what makes Bomb It one of the most thrilling docs on the unprecedented viral nature of underground urban culture ever made. That occurs when Reiss takes the story out of the South South Bronx, past Philly, and into the world beyond, where you suddenly realize exactly how much graffiti culture has metastasized into a fearless, fabulous art form that gives props to Warhol and Haring while tirelessly resisting the emasculative threat posed by pop cultural acceptance. Traveling from Barcelona to Sao Paulo to Cape Town and, finally, Los Angeles, Bomb It makes an eloquent and righteous case for graffiti artists as modern-day class warriors, neon revolutionaries defiantly speaking truth to power the world over, their riotously creative bomb-craters leaving behind Day-Glo shrapnel like art in your heart. Viva la revolucion!
3.) Kidnapper Films' Who Is KK Downey?, which screened twice at the 2008 Austin Film Festival, is the the most insanely spot-on satire of indiehipsters, gadfly novelists, alt-weekly music critics, and that reliably evil bitch goddess Fame since forever. It is the comedy shit and that is no lie, unlike J.T. Leroy, who was a total fabrication and still managed to sell about a gazillion books and scam the unscamable Asia Argento. Loosely based on the Leroy business (not to mention James Frey's Million Little Pieces kerfluffle), KK Downey plays out like some deranged Kids in the Hall skit if the Kids in the Hall were actually the Kids at the Beauty Bar doing clandestine rails in the bathroom stall. But, you know, in a good way. Writers Darren Curtis, Pat Kiely, and Matt Silver play a failed rocker, a failed writer, and a failed altweekly music critic with a Bona Drag/Kill Uncle-era Morrissey coif, respectively, and all three inhabit their roles with such a degree of manic, leering, unhinged schadenfreude that hyperbolic praise is rendered moot. You've got to see it to believe it and when you do, you won't believe what you saw, but trust me, oh yes they did.
4.) The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is South Korean director Ji-Woon Kim's astonishingly vivid riff on the traditions of the Spaghetti Western. Kim helmed one of my favorite South Korean nightmares, A Tale of Two Sisters, a few years back, and while GBW is about as tonally distant from that film as possible, its pitch-perfect blend of Asian retro-western action, physical comedy, and impossibly superbad characters (I'm talking to you, Lee Byung Hun) is a wonder to behold. This is a film that demands to be experienced in a theater, preferably with the best sound system money can buy and a screen the size of Sergio Leone's ego. Hands down the single most exhilarating South Korean action-comedy-shootemup yet made. Bandits! Bullets! Bizarre hi-jinks and a exquisitely calibrated comic performance from Kang-Ho Song (The Host). Epically satisfying, it's both an all-out action spectacular *and* a textbook example of archetypal acting chops.
5.) This last one is not actually a film, but a piece of musical score from a film. In fact it's the only piece of non-diagetic music in the entirety of Cloverfield, the absence of which added greatly to the monster movie's chaotic emotional versimilitude, but did little for composer Michael Giacchino, whose Roar! (Cloverfield Overture) played under the end credits and was for the most part overlooked by exiting audiences. Well, they're suckers, because Roar!, which consciously evokes the work of longtime Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube, is my favorite score of the year. You can find it online -- for free! -- right here.