Like Adam mentioned in his film list, living in West Virginia makes it difficult to see all the films that we really want to see each year. Most of the more obscure films never make it into this armpit of a state, and when they do, it’s usually only for a week or two at most. And I don’t know about you folks, but I can’t drop everything going on in my life to drive two or three hours to catch a film that I can eventually see online. Needless to say, I haven’t seen everything I’ve wanted to see in 2019.

That said, however, running Psycho Drive-In does sometimes give us the opportunities to watch difficult-to-find films before they get home video or VOD releases. So this list is going to be a little eclectic. I’m not interested in the big films everybody already knows are good. You don’t need me to tell you that Knives Out, JoJo Rabbit, Midsommar, Parasite, Marriage Story, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Lighthouse, etc. are good. They’re on most 2019 Best Film lists.

Here are my seven favorite films of 2019. Some you will have heard of, but some others might surprise you.


Luz

Written & Directed by Tilman Singer

After getting in a car crash, taxi driver Luz (Luana Velis) stumbles into a police station and is hypnotized and interrogated by a demon-possessed doctor (Jan Bluthardt). Luz is the Academy of Media Arts Cologne thesis project of Tilman Singer and is to the Satanic Possession genre what Pontypool is to Zombies. The narrative relies on diegetic flashbacks reenacted with overlapping dialogue in both German and Spanish and editing that effortlessly slides between dreams and reality.

Luz is stunning in gloriously grainy 16mm and the synth soundtrack is reminiscent of films by Cronenberg, Argento, or Fulci, while incorporating classical components and occasional subtle manipulations of dialogue to create an aetheric soundscape that could lull you into a dreamstate.

If this is the work of a student filmmaker, I can’t wait to see what Singer can do with a real budget and equipment.


Nekrotronic

Written & Directed by Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is one of my favorite zombie movies of all time and one of the most exciting writing and directorial debuts of the past decade. The Roache-Turner brothers have an almost otherworldly ability to transform spare change into visually stunning gonzo Ozploitation films.

Their latest, just their second feature-length film, Nekrotronic is a neon mash-up of The Frighteners, Ghostbusters, and The Matrix, with a heavy dose of swearing, splatter, obscenity, and the incomparable Monica Bellucci. Basically, Necromancers have been hunting demons for centuries, but now a Pokémon Go-style ghost hunting game, launched by demon-queen/corporate head Finnegan (Bellucci) is actually harvesting souls and possessing players at the flip of a switch at Demon HQ.

Ben O’Toole plays Howie, a sanitation engineer who grew up in foster homes and discovers he has a mysterious past that is coming back to haunt him. He is recruited by the last demon hunters left alive since the launch of the game and the film swiftly takes a turn for the superheroic that makes me crave a Roache-Turner MCU joint.

The thing that really makes Nekrotronic special, though, is the set design and visual effects. Working with next to nothing for a budget, the Roache-Turner brothers have created one of the most eye-catching films not just of 2019, but maybe since Wyrmwood.


Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Written by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, Directed by Michael Dougherty

As someone who takes pride in the fact that I’ve watched every and loved almost every Godzilla movie ever released, in the original Japanese with subtitles – and not ironically, like those fuckers who think bad dubbing is hilarious – I can’t stress enough how Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an instant classic that immediately cleanses the memory of the horrifically boring American Godzilla from 2014.

Set in the same continuity, and helping to expand Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse (which also includes Kong: Skull Island and the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong), Godzilla: King of the Monsters introduces Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, along with a variety of other kaiju to the American audience. And Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) understands implicitly that the human characters are there to witness and respond to the appearance of forces beyond their understanding and control. He understands that the heart of a good kaiju film is the monster fight.

Dougherty leans into the over-the-top action of giant creatures going at each other with little to no regard for property damage, while also providing a somewhat by-the-numbers family drama that is nailed by the performances of Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga. From the opening moments, where Godzilla’s signature roar explodes out over the audience, to the unironic embracing of classic Godzilla scenarios – like the monster-studying organization Monarch, or the idea that some kaiju are protectors of humanity while others threaten our survival, or diving right into the idea that Ghidorah is an alien being and his rivalry with Godzilla extends back to before the dawn of recorded history – this is a Godzilla film made by a fan for the fans.


Ready or Not

Written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Have you heard of Radio Silence Productions? How about Chad, Matt & Rob? I had, but still missed the fact that two thirds of RSP and CM&R directed Ready or Not when it was in theaters. If I had realized this, I would have been there opening day. I also didn’t know who Samara Weaving was at the time, really.

I’m a little out of touch these days.

The premise is pretty straightforward. Weaving plays newlywed Grace Le Domas and discovers on her wedding night that her new husband’s family – who made their fortune designing and selling games, or so we are led to believe – requires that the new bride play a randomly chosen game with them as a sort of indoctrination/welcome to the family. Except it’s not random and while they do make games, that’s not the source of their wealth.

When she draws the “Hide and Seek” card, everything goes to hell. Quite literally, as the family arms themselves with antique weapons and begin to hunt her throughout the immense mansion setting. Once the chase kicks in, Ready or Not blows the wheels off most contemporary horror films and immediately launches itself into the stratosphere of best horror films of the past decade. It’s gory, innovative, and hilarious.

And who doesn’t love a good Satanic Cult in their horror movie?


Queen & Slim

Written by Lena Waithe (from a story by Waithe and James Frey), Directed by Melina Matsoukas

There’s an entire genre of film based on the idea of young lovers on the run from the law. It really kicks off with They Live by Night in 1948 and then 1950’s Gun Crazy. Then over the years, you get Godard’s Breathless (A bout de souffle) in 1960, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, Peckinpah’s The Getaway in 1972 and Malick’s Badlands in ’73, all the way up through Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant 1989), Wild at Heart (David Lynch 1990), True Romance (Tony Scott 1993), Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone 1994), and even Baby Driver (Edgar Wright 2017). There are literally dozens more I’m not mentioning.

But here’s the thing. All of these films are about white people. I mean, there was One False Move in 1992, which featured an interracial couple (Billy Bob Thornton and Cynda Williams) and City of Lost Souls in 2000, directed by Takashi Miike, which also featuring an interracial couple (a Brazillian-Japanese criminal and his Chinese girlfriend), but as far as I’m aware, it’s not a genre that has attracted black filmmakers.

The closest comparison might be to Mario Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) mixed with a dash of the May 1973 shoot-out between members of the Black Liberation Army and the New Jersey State Police, where Trooper Werner Foerster was killed and Assata Shakur was sent to prison. She then escaped (in 1979) and is a fugitive in Cuba to this day.

Unlike most of the other young lovers on the run films, though, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) – the only names we know them by until the end – are not criminals. Queen and Slim makes it clear that in America, being black itself is criminalized. When they are pulled over on their first date, the police officer (Sturgill Simpson!!) ends up pulling his gun on Slim and shoots Queen in the leg when she tries to record the incident. Slim struggles with him, the officer is shot dead, and it’s all captured on the dash cam.

On the advice of Queen, who is actually a lawyer – the couple run, rather than turn themselves in. As the film’s writer Lena Waithe stated in an interview with CBS, in America it’s “open season on Black bodies.” From that point on, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya turn in star-making performances as they flee south, ultimately attempting to get to Cuba (like Shakur, who is name-checked in the film). Director Melina Matsoukas (Insecure, Master of None, and Beyonce’s “Formation” video), another first-time feature film director cracking this list, crafts a love story that is powerful, moving, and political as fuck.

Literally the only truly safe space Queen and Slim find on their journey (in a world where cops are called on black people having barbecues, sitting in coffee shops, mowing their lawns, sleeping outside their dorms, or hell, even in their own churches or homes) is in a juke joint called The Underground, where they are recognized, but protected. In the outside world, the couple become folk heroes to many, inspiring violence and compassion, as the video of the shooting goes mainstream.

The ending is controversial and doesn’t come as a surprise when Queen and Slim are finally gunned down by the police just before escaping to Cuba. This is the only real point of contention I had with the film overall. It holds to the traditions of the young lovers on the run from the law genre, although it’s not an ending that is required (see Natural Born Killers). It’s doubly harsh when Shakur is still alive to serve as real-life proof that escape is possible.

Waithe and Matsoukas could have sidestepped nihilism and at least tried to provide a semblance of hope. But to be honest, hope like that might be hard to come by.


The Day Shall Come

Written by Jesse Armstrong and Chris Morris (with additional material by Sean Gray and Tony Roche), Directed by Chris Morris

Speaking of hope being hard to come by… The Day Shall Come is the latest from British satirist Chris Morris (Brass Eye, Jam, Nathan Barley, Four Lions) and it is devastating, being based on over a hundred accounts of FBI sting operations in the years since 9/11. Basically, what they do is use undercover agents to engage with people, usually people of color, talk them into attempting an act of terrorism, usually by offering to supply them with the means of committing said act, then arrest them for being terrorists whether they ever showed any terroristic inclinations before the undercover FBI agents engaged them.

It’s some shady bullshit so Chis Morris made The Day Shall Come to help shed some light on the practice.

Moses Al Shabazz (Marchant Davis) is the leader of a small religious commune in Miami and is avoiding taking his meds – the ones that keep him from hearing animals talk to him. The commune has three other members, his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks), and followers Farmer X (Malcolm Mays), and Farmer Afrika (Andrel McPherson). Anna Kendrick plays the FBI agent who, after seeing Moses’ Facebook livestream sermons, decides he’s a prime target. So using a pedophile named Reza (Kayvan Novak from What We Do in the Shadows) as an undercover operative – they keep him out of jail so long as he plays ball, despite the fact that he is an active predator – to convince Moses to take money and firearms from a “sheikh” affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

This is a dark political satire that provides a few good laughs but is mostly a disturbing commentary not only on the FBI’s actions, but also on poverty and mental health care in America. The only reason that Moses even considers taking the bait is because he and his family are being evicted from their commune. And when Kendrick’s agent decides that Moses is actually harmless, and maybe mentally ill, she backs off, but only until Moses stumbles into another entrapment scheme – this time by the local police, whose fake Nazi gang are trying to buy nuclear material for a bomb, and Moses’ landlord tries to hook them up with Moses’ fake Al-Qaeda contact in exchange for rent.

It’s a train wreck that leads to a nightmarish closing scenario where the only good thing to come out of the whole thing is that Moses and his family end up in prison instead of ending up dead.

Oh, and all the FBI agents and cops involved get promotions.


Possum

Written & Directed by Matthew Holness

With a visual style inspired by the horrifying Public Information Films Holness had seen growing up in the UK, and a story inspired by Murnau’s Nosferatu, Romero’s Martin and the “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” story from 1945’s Dead of Night, Possum is just plain disturbing from it’s opening frame to the final scroll of credits. It’s definitely not the film I would have expected from Matthew Holness, the man responsible for Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Man to Man with Dean Learner.

Possum is the disturbing tale of Phillip (Sean Harris), a disgraced puppeteer who returns home to his dank, moldy, nightmare-inducing home in Norfolk, to live with his equally dank, moldy, nightmare-inducing uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong). Phillip has some severe psychological issues that repeatedly manifest in the form of his horrific puppet, Possum – a human face mounted on a spider body the size of a small dog. After the unspecified scandal that initiated his return home, Phillip is desperate to escape the pull of Possum, but the puppet is having none of it.

Oh yeah, and a local teen boy has disappeared shortly after Phillip tried to awkwardly chat him up on the train into town.

One of the best things about Possum in addition to the acting, directing, sound design, and set design, is that there is literally nothing in this film that would prevent it from being shown on TV on a Sunday afternoon. There’s no gore, no overt adult language, no nudity or explicit elements. And despite an ending that might be a little underwhelming, this film is a masterwork of tone and mood that is remarkable for a first-time feature film director.

Garth Marenghi would hate this film.


Bonus List

Seven I still want to see: The Golden Glove, Bliss, Hagazussa, The Nightingale, Synchronic, The Painted Bird, and After Midnight (officially this is a 2020 release, but it debuted this year at the Tribeca Film Festival and played Fantastic Fest and Knoxville Horror Film Fest).

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