The last year of our previous decade (2019 for anyone keeping track) was a big one for movies. Important, genre-redefining masterpieces and careful introspections of the human soul have crashed into the public consciousness. Billion-dollar titans of the box office have sent shock waves across the entirety of the globe. Lives have been affirmed, and illusions have been dashed against the splintering stones of cinema. Nations have laughed together, cried together, and felt what it means to stand (well, sit) witness as new cultural touchstones are set in place–
And here I was watching some dude barf up a mixture of milk and urine on VOD.
The search for beauty is a one-way street permanently bent toward technical mastery and precise, subtle resonance. Though I can appreciate the beautiful, my tastes are best described by King of the Hill season seven, episode six, “The Son Also Rises.” In it Bobby learns about Wabi-sabi, or the imperfections that make something more perfect. I don’t know anything about this philosophy outside of the episode, but I’m sure I get the gist of it. The five films below are all imperfect. Some are works of beauty as well, but that’s incidental. Others are so very imperfect that maybe it’s dumb for me to put them on an end-of-the-year list. It’s a mix of garbage and glory for sure, but what welds them together is the sheer fact that these are undoubtedly the five weirdest movies of 2019. Trust me. I may not have watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but I seek out stuff like Clownado, so I’m something of an expert in the field.
Relaxer will make you want to puke in the best way possible. It’s the grossest thing I’ve seen since The Greasy Strangler, a grimy gag-inducing comedy the likes of which infrequently graces film these days. It helps that Joel Potrykus crafted an inventive script and superbly frames a movie with one of the slightest sets you’re going to see–a single leather couch in a ratty apartment in the 90’s.
Joshua Burge is more than game to be drenched in gushes of human waste while sticky with sweat as he attempts Billy Mitchell’s Pac Man challenge before Y2K. It’s an impossible task, but this (perhaps super-powered) manchild is up to it! He boasts a doe-eyed and endearing sort of naivety in a role of a lifetime that the Oscars for some strange reason won’t be singing about.
This blessed rarity of gross-out humor won’t be everyone’s cup of pee, but a film that pleases everyone is a film loved by no one, and Relaxer is an exceptional example of niche art that I’m proud to champion. It made me feel like a kid again–a kid puking up spaghetti and struggling to push it all the way out of my throat.
Tammy and the T-Rex: Gore Cut
Though it originally released in 1994 as a PG-13 comedy with all the reasons to see it clipped from the film, Tammy and the T-Rex was bestowed with a second life last year, giving unsuspecting audiences a chance to revel in its insanity thanks to a newly discovered cut that retains all of the romantic comedy/horror spoof’s goriest moments. I can’t get enough of recovered curios of filmmaking’s past (like Dial Code Santa Claus), and this one’s a doozy. We have a big dumb T-Rex who bites off heads, crashes parties, and contains the brain of a football jock out for revenge–and for love. Do you want to see a T-Rex stand in the back of a truck and watch through the window of a mortuary while his friends raise dead bodies to the window, helping him decide which fresh corpse his brain ought to live in? Do you want to know what it sounds like for a dinosaur to leave a message on an answering machine? Do you want to see dude’s get into a fight by clamping each other’s balls in vice-like grips of death? Of course you do!
It’s over-acted, bloody as hell, super ridiculous, very 90s, and all of our lives are better for its resurrection.
Nicolas Cage does weird movies, and this is likely his weirdest one. Though it may not be all that great a film, Between Worlds is very much a spectacle that will leave you boggled for some time after you’ve sobered up.
Cage is an alcoholic truck driver who becomes entangled with a woman who can reach out to the dead (but only while being strangled in a public bathroom or stairwell) after she enlists him to help rescue her dying daughter’s soul. Little does he know, however, that the spirit they return to the girl’s body isn’t the woman’s daughter but rather his own departed wife’s. Soon a bizarre love-triangle ensues that sees Nicolas Cage humping his wife’s ghost through the body of a teenager while reading passages from a book of sexual remembrances and eventually crawling through the ruins of his old house while screaming for his daughter. It’s Southern Gothic at its trashiest, a sort of Twin Peaks with its skull bashed in by a metal bat. It’s something else.
For better or worse, Between Worlds is its own kind of unforgettable.
Robert Eggers and fart jokes? Sign me up!
Through beautiful cinematography, outstanding performances by both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, and Eggers’ own meticulous direction, The Lighthouse has beguiled critics and even the Academy itself into confusing it for a respectable film.
The Lighthouse exists in that slippery space between tragedy and comedy, and you’ll find that most film dudes think of it as a terrifying pressure cooker of a psycho-thriller. You could understand why they’d draw that conclusion with its low-tone soundtrack, constrained aspect ratio, artsy grayscale, and collection of jarring horror images. It’s not that at all. Frankly, The Lighthouse is a riot.
A film that at its core is about how gross and terrible dudes are has exceptional comic pacing and execution. Dafoe’s verbose mariner’s curse over his cooking is met with a perfectly placid response by Pattinson. The camera lingers just long enough on the asshole seagull to make its presence feel like a gag. Of course, two dudes about to kiss immediately turns into a fist fight. The rations buried outside are booze. Top all that with crag-faced and bearded Dafoe as a mermaid? Come on! There are definitely more laughs than scares here. All its disparate tones are blended in a seamless dreamlike collection of quick cuts and surreal set pieces, but if you watch The Lighthouse with a stern hand on your chin through the entirety of its runtime, then you’re watching it wrong.
It’s a weird flick by all accounts, but the weirdest bit is that the guy who made The Witch (one of the most self-serious horror films of the decade) snuck a beautifully ludicrous dark comedy into theaters. It’s like he took the one bit of unintentional humor from his first film, when Black Phillip jukes like a featherweight boxer, and spun that feeling into an entire feature. Every time The Lighthouse lulls you into its atmospheric horror, Pattinson shouts “Your goddamn farts!” at just the right moment and forces you to recognize the absurdity on screen. It’s wonderful.
The weirdest film of 2019 is also a dazzling stunner of retro photography and vivid performances, much like The Lighthouse, using (squandering?) all of its arthouse stylings on an unbelievably strange anti-consumerist dark comedy. A dress, haunted by the model who died wearing it, passes through an English community of busybodies and regular folks trying to keep their heads above water.
During one blowout sale, the dress finds its way into the arms of a middle-aged bank teller who hopes it can help her kindle new love. What she gets instead is a pretty red number that floats on its own, leaves ghastly splotches on her skin, and tries to suffocate her son’s girlfriend. With shopkeepers who replace customer service jargon with straight mysticism, descriptions of the inner workings of washing machines driving people into glazed-over trances of sexual bliss, and the most explicit mannequin fingering ever depicted on film, In Fabric is utterly bizarre, repellent, hilarious, beautiful, and just human enough to keep itself grounded. It pretty well encapsulates everything I love about film.
2019 was a very good year for the weird, and I only wish I wasn’t limited to five films so I could name some honorable mentions, but oh well. Hopefully this year will be equally stuffed with strange spectacles–and with a Nicolas Cage-led Lovecraft adaptation, VHYes, a killer lion comedy, and Glen Danzig’s Verotika all set to drop I don’t think we’ll have anything to worry about. I can’t wait.