With the exception of Gentlemen Broncos, we were spot on with our Must See Films of Fantastic Fest 2009 list last year. While we’d love to take the credit for it, the truth is that it’s Fantastic Fest that came through with a large slate of winners from the weird world of genre.

Fantastic Fest is the movie festival for movie lovers, and as the FSR Death Squad assembles yet again, we’re gearing up to attack the event with a renewed fervor by shining the spotlight on the films we’re anticipating the most. We’re pleased to have Adam Charles, Robert Fure, Brian Salisbury, Rob Hunter and Cole Abaius (led by the slightly inebriated and deep fried Neil Miller) comprise the Squad this go ’round.

As for the Must See movies, this year, we’re enlisted four members of the Squad to choose 5 films each, and the result is a list full of blood, Hong Kong action, gritty Santa Claus stories, geriatric Kung Fu, Dystopian societies, ninjas from Norway, slasher follow-ups, mental trips, creepy clowns, and little girl vampires.

A truly sprawling feast for the eyes and ears. Hopefully you’ll be sitting next to us, but if not, we aim to make you feel that way with our coverage. It’s time to get excited. Here are the 20 films that have got us running to the famous Alamo Drafthouse for Fantastic Fest 2010.

Hunter’s Picks

Fire of Conscience

Directed by: Dante Lam

Country of Origin: China

The Pitch: There’s been a fantastic resurgence in recent years of the Hong Kong action genre finally climbing back to a place of prominence. Stars like Donnie Yen and directors like Dante Lam and Benny Chan are making exciting, (relatively) smart, fantastically choreographed action films again that grab and hold your attention all the way to the end credits. This flick from the director of Beast Stalker and Sniper sees two cops, one bad and one badder, go head to head. Car chases, foot chases, gun fights and brawls ensue as the two battle wills. Lam weaves heavy melodrama throughout his films, but the man knows how to shoot an action scene, and this flick looks to be filled with them.

Golden Slumber

Directed by: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Country of Origin: Japan

The Pitch: One of the best films to play at last year’s Fantastic Fest was Fish Story. Of course, I didn’t actually watch the damn thing until two months ago so I’m a little late to that particular party, but director Yoshihiro Nakamura is back again this year, and I don’t plan on making the same mistake twice. Golden Slumber is about an innocent man framed for assassinating the Prime Minister and forced to go on the run. The film promises a mix of action and suspense alongside a twisted, time-hopping narrative exploring the power of friendship, shared memories, and music. And yes, I realize that sounds like a strange mix of things that really don’t belong together, but Fish Story proved that Nakamura can make it work beautifully.

The Housemaid

Directed by: Sang-soo Im

Country of Origin: South Korea

The Pitch: This remake of the classic 1960 film makes a few changes, but the story’s core stays the same. A well-to-do family brings a new maid into the home and soon dramatic infidelity, lustful intrigue, and more begin spreading throughout the household. The trailer for the film is absolutely stunning, and it sets up a dangerous tableaux of class warfare, sexual politics, and abusive manipulation. And sex. I’d be lying if I claimed part of the appeal for me wasn’t the incredibly attractive Korean women engaged in naughty antics. But I’m also a big fan of adult thrillers of the kind they just don’t make very often anymore. This isn’t about car chases and gun fights, but instead is about the evils of adult immorality. And sex.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Directed by: Jalmari Helander

Country of Origin: Finland

The Pitch: The films at Fantastic Fest that I’m excited for are divided into two groups. The ones I have some prior knowledge of, and the ones I know little to nothing about. This Finnish flick falls into the latter category. An international group of archeologists makes a surprising find in the ice… Santa Freaking Claus. Only the reality doesn’t quite match the legend, and instead of a jolly fat man hoping to spread cheer throughout the children of the world this Santa is something altogether different. And caging him and offering him up to the highest bidder probably isn’t the brightest thing to do next. The trailer is impressively dark and fantastical and reveals just enough childish wonder and Grimm fairy tale reality.

Red Hill

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Country of Origin: Australia

The Pitch: Like Rare Exports above, I know absolutely nothing abut this Australian thriller aside from the presence of True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten. I haven’t even seen a trailer of any kind. The plot follows a young police officer trying to survive his first day on the job… which unfortunately coincides with an escaped convict’s quest to slaughter the entire Red Hill police department. Australia has had a resurgence of late when it comes to thrillers with films like Animal Kingdom, The Horseman, and Van Diemen’s Land, and I’m hoping that trend continues here. Kwanten’s Jason Stackhouse is continually one of the best characters on True Blood, and it should be interesting to see him take on a different kind of role.


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