We Are What We Are
While this one technically made its debut in the fest scene in 2010, it didn't become widely available until last year. The premise sounds sort of hackneyed at first - a family of cannibals struggling to keep the larder stocked when the father dies unexpectedly. Who's going to bring home the, er, bacon? But the remaining family's quick fall into disarray among the the grimy realism of the Mexican streets makes it one of the most suspenseful and disturbing films I've seen in a long time. It's also great on multiple levels, whether you're just in it for the cannibalism or want to read deeper into what the film has to say about ritual, patriarchy, and obedience. By far one of the best directorial debuts in a while.
Hobo with a Shotgun
The film that beats Troma at their own game. Jason Eisener's depiction of vigilante hobo justice brought by Rutger Hauer to the streets of Fucktown was one thoroughly enjoyable ride. Despite the ironic faux-grindhouse title, this is no half-assed homage, but a genuinely enthusiastic and unapologetic piece of splatter cinema. Eisener isn't afraid to turn up the violence to 11 and drench everything in neon and gore. Add to that a killer score and the introduction of The Plague (definitely the coolest villains I've seen in a long time), and this is one that's earned its place in the spotlight.
Lucky McKee's neo-exploitation shocker pulls the rug out from those who think they can watch horror strictly for the social commentary and occasionally let loose a detached chuckle from the back row. While I can't by any means say I enjoyed the entirety of this film, it's one that had me thinking about it long after the credits rolled. Now that the initial discomfort has worn off a little bit, I'm thinking it deserves another look. Don't think you know what it's about, just see it before reading too much. (And afterwards, check out my review for more thoughts.)
This was actually my introduction to Almodóvar, and I had no idea that the baroque plot structure, slick visuals, and inexplicably unsettling atmosphere were setting me up for such a gut punch in the second half. Antonio Banderas plays a rogue plastic surgeon whose pet project is a woman who's confined to a room in his house. As the story unfolds backwards in time, it becomes even more sinister than it first appears to be. This is like if Eyes Without a Face took on the style of The Face of Another and adopted a wonderfully sick revenge plot.
After seeing this, I thought it would turn out to be the sleeper hit of the year, much like Moon a few years back. Then it disappeared without making too much of a fuss. Ignore the teen-angst tedium and pretense of the other "new planet in the sky" film Melancholia in favor of this quiet character study about a girl who sees the possibility for redemption and the renewal of lives she's destroyed when a mirror image of Earth suddenly appears in our solar system. The acting can't always carry the weighty themes, but the ideas here are profound enough to drive the film forward.