It’s been 25 days (more than six weeks for press), but another Seattle International Film Festival is in the books. An epic undertaking, I saw north of 50 movies—not my highest total, not my lowest, but a solid amount—and lived to tell the tale.
This was a weird year. Never known for the strongest genre program, SIFF 2019 was especially light in that regard. And honestly, it wasn’t the strongest program across the board—I think I saw more movies that I hated this year than ever in the ten years I’ve covered the fest and all the years I attended before. The less said about those, the better. I didn't write about them; I prefer to spend no more time thinking about them either.
Though that may be the case, there were still a ton of worthwhile movies. And with that in mind, here are my ten favorites of the dozens I of films I watched over the past month and a half (seriously, I started watching SIFF movies in April). A few even fall in my running top ten for the year.
As usual, there’s no real order to this list, but know if I include it, I think it’s pretty damn fantastic and well worth tracking down.
David Shields’ collage documentary about former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch paints a portrait of the enigmatic athlete, his time and place, and the societal forces surrounding race and sports, among other things. It’s an engaging formal experiment and presents Lynch as the modern incarnation of Melville’s Bartleby.
This 1980s Japanese musical oddity has been largely lost, but holy hell, I’m happy it was found. Nodding at everything from Grease to “Thriller” to the French New Wave, the fictional story of a manufactured pop duo watches like A Hard Day’s Night filtered through the dystopian world view of The Apple.
The mystery has haunted humanity since the beginning: Who did let the dogs out? Apparently, it’s not as easy a question to answer as it initially appears. Brent Hodge’s documentary tracks the efforts of Ben Sisto as he embarks on an epic, twisted journey to discover the truth—a journey that began as a bored, unemployed lark when he found a missing Wikipedia citation. The story involves a British hair dresser, Canadian DJs, hearsay, speculation, and more than a few lawsuits. Who knows if we’ll ever actually truly know the answer?
Documentaries about the redemptive power of sports aren’t new by any means, but that doesn’t make this look at the basketball program in San Quentin Prison, and the men whose lives it changes, any less impactful.
Part Lord of the Flies, part Apocalypse Now, Alejandro Landes’ film watches like an adolescent war-is-hell fever dream. It follows a heavily armed, remotely located cadre of teen soldiers with names like Smurf, Boom Boom, and Rambo, a faction of a mysterious group called The Organization, as they guard a prisoner of war and a milk cow. What could possibly go wrong?
“A heavily stylized, giallo-inspired, queer slasher about a masked, dildo-knife-wielding serial killer stalking a low-budget gay porn crew in late-1970s Paris.” What’s not to love about Yann Gonzalez’ sleazy, strange, funny throwback? It also features a near-perfect Vanessa Paradis.
This is bleak, bleak comedy about the unlikely connection between a low-level comedian and a harried small-town wife and mother. It’s uncomfortable and real and features remarkable turns from Rob Huebel and Rachel Harris, both known primarily for being funny, showing off stellar range with soul-crushing dramatic aplomb. They give two of the best performances I saw at SIFF 2019.
Peter Strickland’s Duke of Burgundy is one of my favorite movies of the decade, and for his latest trick, he offers up a giallo-inspired saga about a murderous red dress that’s funny and horrifying and also a screed about the dehumanizing effect of capitalism and consumer culture on the working class. Win win.
Swedish director Johannes Nyholm takes a Groundhog Day style concept and turns it into a nightmarish time-loop of grief and death as a pair of traumatized parents attempt to fix their crumbling marriage on a camping trip only to be repeatedly brutalized by backwoods circus folk and their dogs.
The Death of Dick Long
Easily the best movie about an Alabama-based Nickelback cover band I’ve ever seen. From director Daniel Scheinert (co-director of Swiss Army Man), this startling comedy is not the movie you expect. To say more is to ruin the fun, but know that it’s hilarious and twisted and unexpected and shocking and legitimately moving and introspective.