Fantaisa has expanded its programming in the past five years and with that the festival has become even longer – perhaps too long. Ranging anywhere from three to four weeks, it leaves me pretty much brain-dead by the end of the month. Bloodshot eyes, Sleep deprivation and repetitive dinners at Al-Taib aren’t exactly a recipe for good health. Regardless I am addicted and the films seem to get better and better each year. 2008 and 2009 saw the best line ups of the entire history of the fest. Here are fifteen favourites with some special mentions below. Be sure not to miss part four of my list where I will name of my five favourite films of the entire fourteen year history.
Who would have ever guessed that a documentary about gamers obsessed with scoring a world record at Donkey Kong would be worthy of consideration for Fantasia’s best? An audience favorite on the film festival circuit, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is laugh-out-loud funny and brilliantly keeps up it’s dramatic pace while never losing sight of the personal stories of the stranger-than-fiction cast of characters. Fascinating, thoroughly engaging and a moving study of obsessive competition.
This creepfest may not only see more feminist deconstruction than the original Alien, but The Descent is also one of the most tightly effective horror films in a long time. Much like his previous film Dog Soldiers, director Neil Marshall relies on our familiar memories of past horror films. But the fascination of this film is anticipating how it will turn these familiar elements, particularly the inferior ones, into creative new ways.
House Of The Devil
House Of The Devil proves why Director Ti West is a name to look out for. West is not interested in cheap shocks and scares but rather takes a simple situation and spins tension out of it through careful craft. He’s a patient film maker, and makes great use of long sequences and static shots with an assortment of oddly askew camera angles, each camera positioned deliberately for creative reasons. He’s built a career on his preference for slow-building tension, atmosphere and suspense as opposed to fast-paced action, sex and splatter. His direction is smart, subtle, and passionate, and he likes to test the patience of his audience before rushing into its climax. No one including myself knew that this film was to screen at the festival. It was a last minute TBA and thankfully I not only had the chance to see the word premiere but I was among one of the first to review it. One of my most memorable moments at the fest… (read my full review)
A massive success in its native South Korea, The Chaser is an odd but effective thriller which holds no mystery and purposely reveals its secrets right from the start. The brilliance behind this approach is avoiding tiresome clichés and the need to include ridiculous plot twist and disappointing endings. First time director Na Hon-jin mounts his tension not on shocks and revelations but strictly on emotion, keeping the audience frustrated and aggravated with the police force who are more concerned with public image than public safety. Hong Jin delivers an amazingly assured crime thriller debut revolving around the grisly deeds of a real life serial killer who claimed more than twenty victims. Not quite a masterpiece like Memories of Murder, but on par with a film like Seven.
Life Is Hot In Cracktown
Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo
Writer and director Buddy Giovinazzo has successfully adapted his collection of the 1992 short stories into a full-length feature film. Similar to Magnolia, Giovinazzo’s movie inter-cuts between four groups of people who all reside in the same ghetto overrun by crime, drug abuse and poverty. The film is dark, truthful and violent, so much so that there is only one print left worldwide that hasn’t been cut. Often compared to Last Exit to Brooklyn, the indie gem is populated with one of the most talented groups of unprofessional actors who deliver in spades with groundbreaking and extraordinary performances. Cracktown is definitely worth a viewing.
In this bio-pic, Donnie Yen is Ip Man, one of the earliest Wing Chun martial arts exponents and the man credited to have elevated its popularity in the early parts of the 20th century. Best known for his role as Bruce Lee’s first mentor, Ip Man is godlike amongst martial arts fans. Donnie Yen has big shoes to fill with his entrance into the big budget retelling of a legend. Thankfully, fanboys won’t be disappointed.
Ip Man is a joy on various levels due mostly to the quality of the fights and the pure charisma of Yen. Ip Man also benefits largely from the lucid fight direction by the master Sammo Hung. The battle choreography is clever and Yen makes the action intense with his incredible speed, confidence, and abilities…(read my full review)
The Clone Returns Home
Clone is certainly one of the more cerebral films ever found at the genre festival. Director Kanji Nakajima is Japan’s answer to Andrei Tarkovsky – the similarities between Nakajima’s piece and the Russian master’s work is uncanny, be it the extremely strong water motifs (including one scene where it rains inside a room, a la Stalker) or with the replication of a deceased relative and the confusion and inner conflict it produces in those close to the clone (think Solaris). At the same time Nakajima states that his film deals with completely different metaphysical issues that, he hopes, inspires the audience to contemplate the meaning of family, science, religion, and ethics. It’s a think piece that will raise some interesting questions about the human soul. With his first film, the young director can already be labeled a master of Japanese cinema.
The Loved Ones
Sean Byrne’s debut feature, The Loved Ones, crosses various horror touchstones, touching on teen angst, torture porn, melodrama and conventional slasher tropes. It’s a gore-filled shocker that goes for laughs by paying homage to the outlandish low-budget video nasties of the ’70s and ’80s, blending together Misery, Saw, Prom Night, The Evil Dead and Carrie. The fusion of these horror classics makes The Loved Ones one of the best offerings at this year’s festival. Bound to provoke reactions from more sensitive audience members, The Loves Ones is destined to become a cult fave… (read my full review)
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Tucker & Dale unfolds not so much as a horror film but a comedy where most of the characters are convinced they are in a horror film. First-time director Eli Craig pulls off a good mix of splatter and laughs but wisely chooses to emphasize the comedy side of the equation. Helping things immensely is the fact that his two leads are perfectly cast. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine have a great rapport and the chemistry between them is impeccable. Splat-stick is harder to do than it seems, as blood-spattered comedy is a hard sell, but their comic genius is the driving force of the pic. Watching the duo’s onscreen bro-mance recalls best of the Apatow brand and places them alongside the most memorable protagonists in any genre piece… (read my full review)
[REC]2 delivers the same nonstop thrills but adds on a new spin to the tale, taking cues from Aliens and The Exorcist with a subplot about demonic possession. This is far from your cut and dry sequel. It has enough invention and wit to keep fans happy; it’s a non stop adrenaline pumping terror ride into hell. Much like [REC], the sequel blends a clever mutation of horror standards seen in everything from Romero’s films to Outbreak to The Blair Witch Project… (read my full review)
The Revenant is outrageous, jaw-dropping, genre-busting filmmaking filled with audaciously grotesque special effects and witty black humor. It is the Re-Animator of a new generation and guaranteed to become a cult classic… (read my full review)
La Antenna (Antennae)
Argentinian Esteban Sapir, a director of documentaries and commercials surprised everyone with his feature-length film that uses only the technical resources of a silent movie and draws stylistically on the Soviet avant-garde, German Expressionism and the French cinema. Sapir’s extraordinary film is a allegorically, symbolically rich, black-and-white fairy tale of love and hope versus hate and television. It has garnered many awards throughout Europe and was the first film to be chosen, for the first time in 36 years, for the official competition and opening of the Rotterdam Film Festival. Unfortunately almost everyone missed this gem since it only screened once at Fantasia in the smaller deSeve Cinema.
The incredible 2010 lineup was highlighted by Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) – one of the greatest films ever made, The Devils originally carried an X rating—and it had to be cut to receive that. The X-rated version that appeared in the U.S. was two minutes short of the U.K. release print. Even the U.K. version was cut—Fantasia labels it the bravest, most powerful, most ferociously confrontational film ever to lay assault on the criminal opportunism and hypocrisies of the Church.
Adapted from Aldous Huxley’s “The Devils of Loudun,” the story revolves around a liberal-thinking priest in 17th Century France, whose womanizing exploits make him unpopular with the Catholic clergy and whose political views make him a liability for Cardinal Richelieu. He is denounced and accused of consorting with the devil and having sexual activities with the nuns in the town’s convent, most notably Sister Jeanne, an unsatisfied, humpbacked nun in love with him.
Fantasia which proudly screened the most complete cut of The Devils ever seen, also brought in Ken Russell himself, to present the film and receive a lifetime achievement award. Managing to win a Best Director for a Foreign Feature prize at the Venice Film Festival despite being banned in Italy itself, The Devils is not to be missed.
Directed by Stuar Gordon
This is the film that made stage veterans Stuart Gordon Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli household names, and Twenty-five years later, Re-Animator had its 25th anniversary screening (in 35mm) at the festival with Combs and Gordon present. Stuart Gordon’s 1985 horror-comedy opus set a boundary that no one has ever quite lived up to since in the genre. Making his film debut with Re-Animator, Gordon mixed bits of classic and contemporary horror elements, including a healthy twist on the “Frankenstein” story and over-the-top zombie gore, to create an undeniably entertaining feature that caught the critics’ attention during its initial release and gained a devoted cult following in the years that followed.
Stuart Gordon creates a provocative, over-the-top experience in Stuck, a tabloid-tinged thriller inspired by true events. A brutal, thoroughly engaging horror effort. Ingeniously nasty and often shockingly funny. Can you tell I like it? Director Gordon – whose résumé includes the provocative David Mamet adaptation Edmond and cult horror films from the ’80s, cleverly plays with audience expectations delivering his best film since Re-Animator.
Midnight Meat Train
Adrift In Tokyo
Dance Of The Dead
Best Worst Movie
Embodiment Of Evil
Lesbian Vampire Killers
The Immaculate Conception Of Little Dizzle
Must Love Death
My Dear Enemy
I Spit On Your Grave – 2010
Mandril – 2010
Ip Man 2
Check out the rest of the list: