When the smoke cleared, I ended up seeing 27 movies over eight days at Fantastic Fest 2016. The Austin-based genre film festival always has a strong line-up of odd, unusual, and unique movies from around the world, but this year was truly exceptional – I saw very few movies I wouldn’t recommend in some capacity. I even saw a handful of movies that are in serious contention for my end-of-the-year top 10.
For the sake of completeness, I have compiled all of my Fantastic Fest coverage into one place, with links to my reviews and smaller capsule reviews for everything that didn’t get their own post. If you’re looking for a something terrifying or unique or action-packed or tear-jerking or just plain unusual, there is something here for you.
The Age of Shadows
“And this brings us back to Kim’s war of style versus substance, because this film is at its best when the filmmaker goes back to his old tricks for particular stretches. While the meat of the story can be difficult to parse, the action set pieces are not. As he has proven multiple times before, Kim is one of South Korea’s finest action directors, which puts him on the short list of the finest action directors in the world. When the chatter stops and the guns come out, The Age of Shadows sings. Each shootout is fueled by desperation and terror, never allowing us to forget that each member of the resistance is outnumbered and outgunned. The above-mentioned train sequence is a miniature masterpiece lurking within a large film. Taking up most of the second act, it’s easy to imagine it extended to a brisk 90 minutes and actually being its own intense, claustrophobic little movie. It just so happens to be jammed in the middle of an overlong 140-minute experience.” 7/10 [Full Review]
“Andrea Arnold pulls no punches and her cast doesn’t invite you like them. But American Honey isn’t about liking its characters or hating them – it’s about empathizing with them. It’s about slowing down to speak with the people you would drive by without thinking twice. It’s about asking you to drive a mile in a stranger’s shoes and try to sell some magazines nobody wants. It’s a movie as vast and frustrating and beautiful and tragic as America itself.” 9.5/10 [Full Review]
With Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve has delivered one of the great science fiction movies of all time. A cousin to movies like Interstellar and Contact (but superior to both), this tale of mankind’s first contact with alien visitors and one linguist’s attempt to learn their language is icy, hard science fiction masking an emotional, heartbreaking center that, once revealed, leaves you completely gutted. Amy Adams turns in one of her best performances. Eric Heisserer’s screenplay frames every fantastic element with recognizable humanity. Bradford Young shoots the hell out of it. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson turns in career-best work. Villeneuve has made a movie that is as smart as it is emotional as it is exciting as it is hopeful as it is tragic. I openly wept through the final half hour. This may be the best movie of 2016. 10/10 [Angie Han’s Review]
Asura: City of Madness
Look, sometimes all you need is a 136 minutes of angry Koreans stabbing and shooting the shit out of each other and Asura: City of Madness delivers on that front. Jung Woo-sung plays Detective Han, a corrupt cop who is having a really, really bad year. His wife is dying. The insane and corrupt mayor who pays him on the side is getting a little more insane and corrupt than usual. An ambitious prosecutor puts him under his thumb and forces his to work as a mole. For its first half, Ki Sung-su delivers a consistently hilarious and compelling dark comedy full of despicable characters being truly awful to one another. And in the second half, he dials things up to 11, breaks out the weaponry, and delivers the most violent (and stabbiest) Korean thriller since The Yellow Sea. That climactic bloodbath is the final ingredient in this complex and satisfying mixture of noir and farce and it’s the kind of insanity that sends you out of the theater buzzing. 8/10
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
“Beyond the undeniably effective scares, this is a movie about the point where the scientific process and detective work collide and how those methods of thinking become valuable weapons in a war they were never intended to wage. The bulk of the film is the autopsy itself, depicted in detail so gruesome that it will unsettle many stomachs, but for Cox and Hirsch, the inside of a dead body is another day at the office and Øvredal treats it as such. Watching this father and son take notes and collect samples and chat their way through a biological mystery is as thrilling as the scenes of pure terror that follow. And because these characters have been presented as so smart and because they’re smart enough to know when to fold ’em and walk away, it’s up to the rest of the movie to provide worthy roadblocks.” 8.5/10 [Full Review]
To his credit, director Andreas Johnsen never transforms Bugs into a freakshow. Yes, this is a documentary about two men traveling the world eating bugs, but those two men are researchers for the Nordic Food Lab and they’re on this gross-out mission in the name of science. Are insects and their creepy-crawly brethren the future of food as the human population booms? It’s a good question and the film does reach a fascinating conclusion…just in the driest, most made-for-TV way possible. Bugs is a fine educational document, but it’s not especially exciting cinema. In fact, the film is at its best when it’s journeying down side alleys next to its main subject, like when our two guides explore how to make bugs palatable to western tastes. You’d watch this if it was on the Discovery Channel. 5.5/10
You should know as little as possible about Colossal before you watch it. But know this: director Nacho Vigalondo has finally made a movie as good as his debut (the exceptional Timecrimes). The film begins as a high concept comedy about a giant monster rampaging through Korea and the American woman with an odd connection it, but it slowly reveals its hand in the most satisfying, surprising, and deeply relevant way possible. This is very much a genre movie for 2016, with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis selling this high-wire act of a movie with terrific performances. 8.5/10 [Angie Han’s Review]