Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Crackers

What I used to call The Tome of Knowledge hasn’t been updated for a couple of years now. It’s a tradition for me to suggest 10 new entries every Christmas, but because the last update on the 1001 Movies list (to my knowledge—correct me if I’m wrong!) contained movies from 2020, I’m going to focus a lot more heavily on the last few years—movies that legitimately could be added if The List ever resumes. With that said, here’s 10 that should show up if there’s any justice in the world. Also, since The List always includes Oscar’s Best Picture winner, I will not be including those movies—if the series starts up again, those are shoo-ins.

1. Mass (2021)

An absolute gut punch of a movie, this focuses on two married couples talking in a small room in a church. As the film plays out, we soon realize that one couple lost their son in a school shooting and the other couple’s son was the shooter. Terrible and emotional, there is nothing here that is truly cathartic. It’s raw and painful and a difficult watch, but it’s also a film that demands watching. Reed Birney, as the shooter’s father, is the weak link here, and he’s still great. This is career work from Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and especially Jason Isaacs, who should have not only been Oscar-nominated, but probably should have won.

2. Mad God (2021)

Often, the movies that end up on this yearly list of mine aren’t my favorite movies from the past year or so, but movies that I think have something important to say. And sometimes, they are thinks like Mad God, where the production is what makes it interesting. Phil Tippett spent years crafting this stop-motion exploration of Hell. It’s fascinating and disturbing, and the sort of thing that everyone should see because of the dedication it took to make it. It won’t be everyone’s tastes, of course, but the skill involved in the making of it is what makes it worth seeing. You’ll never experience anything else like it.

3. Scream, Scream VI (2022, 2023)

Hollywood loves horror movies, except when it comes to award season and to collections like the 1001 Movies books. Sure, the original Scream is enshrined, but none of the later ones. The latest two in the series are examples of how to keep a franchise exciting, interesting, and fresh. There are nods to the past, moments of fan service, and callbacks to early movies while at the same time, the series moves into the present and stays relevant and current. While the Evil Dead franchise is probably the most consistently great horror franchise going, the Scream franchise is far-and-away the best slasher series, and that’s due to a lot of what went into these two films.

4. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

Say what you will about Nic Cage, the man knows who he is and knows what people expect of him. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a film that plays with that idea, with Cage performing a fictional version of himself with a massive ego coupled with crippling self-doubt. This film dives full-force into meta territory, which is what makes it work, and eventually, it becomes an ouroboros in the best way possible. Cage is great, but the real reason to watch this is for the scenery chewing of the great Pedro Pascal. All of the terrible Nic Cage movies were worth it if they caused us to get this one at the end of them.

5. Infinity Pool (2023)

Longtime readers of this blog will know that the closest I ever came to throwing up while watching a movie was when I watched Salo. Infinity Pool is a spiritual twin of that film, but without the coprophagia and explicit torture. This is a film that explores the natural result of extreme hedonism and people who are able to behave when they have no real consequences to their actions. When the punishment for a crime, no matter how heinous, is a fine, it’s not really a crime for the extremely wealthy. Infinity Pool takes that to its natural conclusion, and the results are ugly and impossible to turn away from.

6. Prey (2022)

When an action movie can provide a really good and entertaining sit-down, some quality action scenes, a great connection to a classic film of the past, and still piss off racists and misogynists, it’s a win all the way around for me. Prey takes place in the Predator universe, and pits the quintessential galactic hunter against native Americans. The results are tremendous. Amber Midthunder deserves to be in the pantheon of action stars if she can keep up work like this. Even if she can’t, this is evidence that a female-driven action movie is a great idea when it’s done with a quality script and great direction. I want to see more of this—and of her.

7. Weird: The Al Yankovich Story (2022)

Leave it to Al Yankovich to make his own biopic and to do so without any real reference to his own life. Yankovich, who has made his bones through musical parodies, essentially made a parody of biopics in which he—played by Daniel Radcliffe—has an affair with Madonna, who becomes a drug kingpin. It’s ridiculous and wonderful and funny as hell. It’s also the right kind of stupid—the kind of stupid that you have to be really smart to make. It’s frustrating that this was released in a way to make it ineligible for a lot of awards (like the Oscars), because it genuinely deserved that kind of recognition.

8. The Menu (2022)

Plenty of movies have attacked the extremely wealthy in a lot of different ways, but I don’t know if there is a better fully-extended middle finger to the 1% of the 1% than The Menu. While there is a bit near the end that doesn’t quite ring true for me, everything else about this is pitch-perfect. Once this rollercoaster car gets to the top of the hill and we realize exactly what is happening, there’s no stopping this until its inevitable (and delicious) conclusion. There was a time a few months ago that I got into a loop and watched this four or five times in the same week, and it never got boring. Ralph Fiennes never gets enough credit for being as flexible as he is or for how much he can chameleon into different genres.

9. Barbie (2023)

There is a solid chance that Barbie will be Oscar-nominated this coming year and a better than average chance that it will win Best Picture. I’m all for it. A lot of people (including me) went into this figuring it would be fun and perhaps kitschy based on the set design and costuming in released photos and trailers. Nothing could have prepared me for what it actually was, though—a feminist film of surprising power and honesty. Barbie is going to spawn a host of toy-themed movies, which is stupid. What it should spawn is a host of women-directed and -driven movies with stories that speak to their experience. I hope this wins everything it gets nominated for, and if America Ferrara is nominated and doesn’t win for Supporting Actress, people should rush the stage.

10. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)

I’ve hit the letter M pretty hard this year, but there was no way I wasn’t going to include this one. Arguably my favorite movie from the past five years, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is touching, sweet, heartwarming, and will almost certainly draw some tears. He’s such a great little character, and the film is one that is beautiful and unique in the world of filmmaking. His world is one I want to live in. This is one of those rare movies that would make the world a better place if everyone watched it. I was so excited when it was nominated for an Oscar, and it was literally the first time ever that I was disappointed when Guillermo del Toro won anything. Marcel is the definition of must-watch.


  1. I've seen a few of these picks as the 1001 list needs to be updated and not make the same mistakes of the past such as saying The Greatest Showman is among those 1001 Movies to see as I was like "fuck that".

    1. The fact that there are a lot of The Greatest Showman-like choices is why I figure I can offer a suggestion of 1% of movies every year.

  2. I didn't care for the new Scream entries and haven't seen Mad Dog, but I really enjoyed the rest of these picks! Especially Mass and The Menu.

    1. I think Scream has really stayed true to the original vision, and I respect that. The Evil Dead films are great, though--I was a little worried about the remake, but it's really good despite being probably the lowest point.

  3. The unbearable weight of massive talent is hands down the best movie across the past three years. It would get my vote any day.
    I was less into The menu than everyone else. The movie fell apart into nonsense for me. Only in isolated moments did it work for me, but not as a whole.

    1. The Menu is extreme, but there are some moments in it that I think are all-time great.

      The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is tremendously fun. I've seen it a couple of times and it holds up to repeated watches.