Another Fantastic Fest is in the books, and once again we’re left counting down the days until next year. The fest continues to be the best week of the year for fans of the weird and the wonderful from all around the globe, and this year delivered on both counts.
From Indian martial artists to detectives with Down Syndrome, from men reincarnated as flies to a blackly comic look at a school shooting, this year saw dozens of films that entertained, challenged, and amazed. Sure, there was also Machete Kills, but they can’t all be winners.
Here are 9 that were:
Revenge has rarely been so simple and devastating. This unassuming little thriller accomplishes more with its miniscule budget and mostly unfamiliar cast than most Hollywood productions can manage with many times that. Macon Blair brings honesty and heart to a character trapped by events of the past and destined to bring them to a bloody conclusion. I saw it twice, and it’s already claimed a spot on my top ten of 2013. [Picked up by Radius-TWC, release date TBD] – Rob Hunter
Its constricting storyline has been playing with my head since the screeg ended in part because it’s a film that asks a lot of questions and leaves even more floating in its atmosphere. The tension and terror of not being able to trust yourself, let alone anyone else, keeps things interesting and moving. Others have tried to do what Coherence does, but it does it better than most. [release date TBD] – Michael Trevoloni
Confession of Murder
South Korea proves yet again that they make dark action thrillers better than just about anyone else with this slick, ridiculously entertaining face-off between a twisted serial killer and a grumpy detective. The story is filled with sharp turns and legitimate surprises alongside some crazy cool action sequences. Some are a little ludicrous, but they can’t slow down the film’s energy and spirit. It’s illegal in some places to have this much fun at the movies. [Available on import Blu-ray/DVD] – RH
Escape From Tomorrow
Disney apparently has no comment about this film. That makes me extremely happy because if they did, I’m sure it wouldn’t exist. It’s a lucid nightmare that hands your ass to you with a cartoon smile on its face. Gorgeously shot and extremely well acted, Escape From Tomorrow is bizarro world escapism at its finest. [Opens in theaters October 11th, 2013] – MT
Adding a secret screening title to our list, especially one due in theaters in a week, feels somewhat like cheating the purpose of Fantastic Fest. But there is something inherently Fantastic Fest-y about Alfonso Cuaron, a director that still flies slightly below the mainstream radar, making something so technologically astounding that it’s impossible to ignore.
Sure, it’s got big stars and big studio money, but it also has some of the most impressive visuals you’ll have seen in a movie in a long, long time. It’s next-level filmmaking from a true innovator. Genuine edge-of-your-seat stuff. [Opens in theaters October 4th, 2013] – Neil Miller
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons
When Stephen Chow makes a movie, it’s bound to be something memorable. With his take on demon hunters, he stays behind the camera and opens the film with a wild sequence that involves children in peril, a Rube Goldberg-esque fishing village, nursery rhymes and a giant demon fish. It only gets stranger and more wondrous from there. Chow’s work feels as fresh, funny and furiously choreographed as ever and thanks to the strong work of his cast, Journey to the West might be one of his best yet. [Available on import Blu-ray/DVD] – NM
A rough, rough gem that made my face hurt from wincing. It pushes boundaries in a lot of ways, confusing taboos and scrambling sympathies to the point where my brain melted. I came out of it utterly spent and fighting to interpret just what I saw. It took some time but this one floated to the top. Moebius is a tough film to enjoy, but it’s also one you won’t forget. [release date TBD] – MT
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear
If we haven’t learned it over the years, Fantastic Fest 2013 proved definitively that there is a right way and a wrong way to shoot fight choreography. Robert Rodriguez showed us how not to do it on opening night with Machete. Isaac Florentine showed me not once, but twice (yes, I saw it twice) with his sequel to Ninja.
Scott Adkins kicks ass at a wide angle and Florentine delivers an old school fight movie deeply rooted in Japanese heritage. With a big British guy who destroys everyone. It’s awesome. [Opens in theaters December 31st, 2013] – NM
What to say about a movie that features a character called “the Queen of Gobbling” and had me crying from laughter more than once? This tale of a salaryman father and husband who turns to a unique S&M club for a new form of satisfaction moves from funny to touching to absolutely bonkers again and again, making it one of the most uncommon films in recent years. But seriously. The Queen of Gobbling. [Picked up by Drafthouse Films, release date TBD] – RH
You might be wondering why we have a bait-and-switch image of the dark Israeli thriller Big Bad Wolves as the header up there, and there’s a simple explanation: while it deserves a spot on this list, I made room for three other lower profile choices so they could have a chance at the spotlight. Big Bad Wolves was my favorite film from the Stanley Film Fest, and it’s been racking up the acclaim from dozens of other fests as well. The point being, you should already have it on your radar. Now these should be there, too.