Fantastic Fest 2015: Top 10 Films & Fest Recap

by Alex White, Film Festival Correspondent for larry411.com

With sickness and exhaustion reigning, the fact remains that a week has passed since one of the best years in the country’s biggest genre film festival’s history. Whether you’ve fully recovered or not it’s time to try and organize a week of chaos into a series of comprehensible thoughts.  

After viewing over three dozen strong films and partaking in several other festival experiences, the struggle to form any sort of final cream-of-the-crop list is large. That being said, what follows is my best attempt at conveying what I loved at Fantastic Fest 2015. I’ve included blurbs for each film to hopefully give you a good idea of why I loved the film and placed it where I did on the list. Enjoy!

THE TOP 10 FILMS OF FANTASTIC FEST…and a few more:

SPECIAL MENTION:

  • Stand by for Tape Backup – I chose to lead off the list with this production because it’s exactly that…a production. This piece of performance art and fringe theater from Ross Sutherland centered around a lost VHS type and Ross’ late Grandpa proved to be the most profound experience I’ve ever had at Fantastic Fest. The immediacy of Ross’ in-theater performance compounded by the inherently personal nature of the work made this selection an unforgettable experience. Long story short, due to the different nature of the work, I felt I could not include this festival selection on my standard list.
  • Crimson Peak – I saw it. That’s all I can say for another few days. Check back with me after Oct 13 for more.

Now on to the top 10 list…

  1. The Witch – I’d often heard the term “jaw dropping” before but never had really felt anything that would invoke such a sensation. Well, that was before I saw The Witch. This debut feature from writer/director Robert Eggers plays like a well-oiled dread machine with a sheer sense of doom and terror throughout. Instead of peak-through-your-fingers type scares, The Witch will leave a pit in your stomach thanks to its brilliantly haunting script and ace cinematography. Needless to say, The Witch is a new lifetime favorite for me and I assume for many other Fantastic Fest attendees as well.
  2. Victoria – A one-take heartpounding thriller, Victoria grabs you and doesn’t let go. Promoted as a heist film, it’s actually anything but. Instead, Victoria tells a story of innocence, adventure and love at a relentless pace. This is a film that must be seen to be believed.
  3. The Lobster – Two dystopian tales mixed into one, The Lobster succeeds at making the absolutely absurd seem applicable to the real world. Despite dry and intentionally emotionless dialogue, The Lobster manages to pack a deep emotional punch with many laughs sprinkled throughout the madness.
  4. Green Room – I should lead this off by saying that I was largely underwhelmed by Jeremy Saulnier’s last effort BLUE RUIN. That being said, Green Room has made me a Saulnier fan big time! Expertly written writing with a cleverness and skill so many thrillers lack, Green Room uses a familiar villain (skinheads) to tell a modern tale of perseverance against all odds.
  5. The Martian – Yes, I’m including a studio film on here but since it played the main festival program I feel it deserved a place. Also, it’s just a ******* great movie. Less technical and more of a visually stunning popcorn flick, The Martian avoids the bumps and bruises suffered by many recent sci-fi adventures and will leave every member of the family with a deeply satisfying cinematic experience.
  6. Assassination Classroom – Perhaps not the most marketable film on title alone, Assassination Classroom will make any fan of whimsical and oddball films smile. With the central character being an emoji-headed octopus-like alien, one could easily dismiss this film (and upcoming sequel) as silly but that would mean overlooking the underlying themes and societal messages this highly successful Japanese series contains.
  7. Love & Peace – Shion (Sion) Sono has always had a huge following at Fantastic Fest but Love & Peace may have just earned him a few more fans. Unlike many of his bloodier and crazier romps of the past, Sono uses a blend of a Kaiju film, a romantic comedy and a Christmas film to help create a film that will never leave your heart….or your head…seriously, the main song is STILL stuck in my head.
  8. The Brand New Testament – What if God was a grumpy old man who was bored with the world? Also, what if he was alive today and had a family in Belgium? Well, welcome to The Brand New Testament. God’s daughter thinks she can run the world just a little bit better and seeks out apostles to help her right a modern day testament all while making the world a better place on person at a time. Another whimsical tale, the sweetness and emotional power of this foreign language Academy Award submission cannot be denied.
  9. Evolution – A slow burn and not the easiest to understand, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s dystopian wonder will dazzle your eyes and leave you thinking for days. Nothing in the island community is as it seems and the island’s mysteries are plentiful. What separate this film from the pack is that the mysteries are not explained while still giving the audience a general idea of what exactly this island community is all about.
  10. Son of Saul – A more straightforward period piece than genre film, Son of Saul captures the desperation, urgency and claustrophobia experienced by those held in Nazi concentration camps in their final days. Simple yet powerful writing helps this 35mm beauty seem special despite coming from one of the most over-harvested periods in film history.

Fantastic Fest 2015 ran from September 24 to October 1 at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin, Texas.



Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

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