Last year, I began my “Top 10 Weirdest Movies of 2011” column by bemoaning the fact that, The Tree of Life aside, 2011 didn’t live up to the high standard of weirdness set in 2010. We won’t make that complaint again: 2012 was a good (if not a banner) year for cinematic surrealism. Although Hollywood was predictably silent on the weird movie front, tiny France stepped up to the plate with a duo of strange ones, the indie scene brought us a plethora of odd experiments, and a wellspring of weirdness bubbled up from deep underground to take the title of Weirdest Movie of the Year. In random order—the weirdest of orders—here’s our survey of the strangest of the strange from the past year.
2. Holy Motors: “Mr. Oscar” (Denis Lavant) drives around Paris in a limo taking on nine “assignments” which require him to take on the parts of, among other roles, an accordion player, a hitman, and a fashion model-abducting leprechaun. Lavant is excellent in multiple roles (he reprises the great “Merde” from Tokyo!), and the cool cast also includes French weird movie vets Edith Scob and Michel Piccoli alongside Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue. It also has chimps. It’s surreal in that postmodern, meta-movie way that makes “Cahiers du Cinema” critics (like its director, Leos Carax) all weak-kneed, but it’s perplexingly brilliant enough to power through its own pretensions. Review forthcoming on Wednesday.
5. Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux Prunes]: A beautiful movie about death, this live-action graphic novel adaptation from the makers of Persepolis is visually sumptuous, and all over the place stylistically. It’s a movie made up mostly of deathbed hallucinations that includes visits with Socrates, the Angel of Death, and a giant version of Sophia Loren; that’s enough to get it on the weird map.
7. The Devil’s Carnival: The team behind Repo! The Genetic Opera brings us another horror-musical, this one based on the idea that Hell is a circus where sinners are eternally punished by being forced to watch off-Broadway dancers perform ironic cabaret numbers based on Aesop’s fables. The sets and costumes are amazing; the musical compositions less so. The best thing that I can say about this is that it makes me want to go back and re-evaluate Repo!; I actually think director Darren Lynn Bousman might be onto something with this concept. A sequel, part of an intended series, is promised.
6. The Sound of Noise: Musical terrorists compose an avant-garde symphony by using the city of Malmö, Sweden as a giant percussion instrument, while a tone-deaf cop tries to stop them. “If David Lynch directed the Swedish cast of STOMP in an action-comedy, I think it might go a little something like this…” (We realize this was released in Sweden way back in 2010, but it didn’t hit the Western Hemisphere until this year).
3. Beyond the Black Rainbow: Panos Cosmatos’ debut, about a mysterious silent woman trying to escape from a nameless white institution, is considered a throwback/tribute to the golden age of midnight movies (circa 1982). Alex Kittle informs us that Rainbow “has weirdness in spades. At times it is overly self-satisfied in its ambiguity, but overall it’s a strong psychological thriller that revels in the bizarre.”
1. Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! Our Weirdest Movie of 2012 won’t be showing up on very many year end top 10 lists. In fact, this collection of cute, stupid and absurd footage of dogs, collated together into thematic montages loosely based on the plot of The Holy Mountain (!), stretches the definition of what a “movie” can be. But we’re not awarding this Fair Use poster boy effort the laurel of Weirdest Movie of the Year just to be, um, weird. It may be legitimately the most WTF fun you’ll have watching TV all year. As we wrote in our initial assessment, “There’s no deep meaning to the cross-breeding of Mexican surrealists with preposterous puppy clips, other than that Everything is Terrible! (correctly) thinks that both are cool, and that the mixture is uniquely bizarre. Picking out the clever correspondences is a fun bonus for those intimately familiar with Mountain, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the bow-wow barrage of barking mad dog clips.”
8. Alps: Giorgos Lanthimos‘ follow-up to his surprise arthouse hit Dogtooth is, if anything, even bleaker and more cynical about how human beings try and awkwardly fail to relate to each other. The scenario follows a group of volunteers who serve as stand-ins for deceased loved ones, adopting the recently departed’s looks and mannerisms to ease the grieving period. No one in this movie acts quite like a real person would; it’s set in an alienated alternate universe that will be uncomfortably familiar to fans of the first film. Review forthcoming.
9. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie: It may have flopped with critics and at the box office, but who can deny that this feature-length advertisement for “shrim” is weird? Still, Alex Kittle explained why the movie as a whole didn’t work: “Considering their brand of non sequitur, gross-out weirdness is hit and miss in short formats, it’s no surprise that a feature-length film doesn’t really suit Tim and Eric’s skills.”
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild: Despite the fact that “once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub” turns out to be a literal description of the plot in this ridiculously original fairy tale that resembles The Tree of Life set in a post-apocalyptic bayou, some of you may be doubting Beasts‘ weirdness just because that bastion of aggressive normality, Oprah Winfrey, is also championing the film. In case the idea of a floating catfish shack/bordello on an oil rig doesn’t sell you on Beasts‘ bizarreness, I’ll mention one more scene I neglected to discuss in my review: in a flashback/dream sequence, Hushpuppy’s mother kills a gator with a shotgun. While wearing a diaper. Take that, conventional notions of character development!
10. Mantua: Sort of like “Twin Peaks” done with public access production values, this homemade weird movie was produced by an artistic collective from Kent, OH. L. Rob Hubbard liked the film’s DIY spirit, but regretted that “the level of the performances and the backyard quality of the production… sandbag the ambitiousness of the project.” It’s still weird enough to snag the #10 spot on our annual countdown of strange flicks.
That’s it for 2012’s weirdness—see you in 2013!