By Mark Saldana
Photos by Mark Saldana
After eight days of film screenings, special events, parties and other fun and games, the 2016 Fantastic Fest has come to end. This end-of-the fest piece is always bittersweet for me. After spending a week at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar getting reacquainted with old friends and getting to know new ones, it is always difficult to say goodbye. I had such an awesome time watching movies, breaking bread, and having drinks with such a wonderful assortment of people.
Not only are the festival attendees some of the best people in the world, the people running the festival are superheroes for working so hard to
make sure everything goes smoothly, so that everyone has a wonderful time. Tim League, his awesome festival staff, the Alamo Drafthouse staff, Fons PR, and the hard-working festival volunteers all deserve a standing ovation for their dedication and diligence, despite the obvious lack of proper sleep. This festival may be smaller in scale than SXSW or some of the other film festivals in town, but so much work goes into its planning and execution nevertheless.
As usual, my second half of the festival was lighter than the beginning. I had to return to my day job and juggle that and the festival. Still, I managed to see more films and have a great time doing it. Thursday night was the last night of the festival and the closing night screening was a truly inventive and extraordinary movie by Fantastic Fest regular Nacho Vigalondo. His film Colossal delivered a delightful and exciting treat for the fest’s audiences and concluded another year of mostly superb programming.
Following the screening, fest attendees celebrated the conclusion with a fun party at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex where they could eat,
drink, skate, bowl, karaoke, play games, and be merry. In keeping with the monster theme of Vigalondo’s Colossal, the Complex was decorated with giant monsters, and attendees could even participate in mechanized robot battles. Some of the revelers dressed as their favorite monsters and robots.
So if my coverage pieces aren’t enough to convince new people to attend this truly Fantastic Fest, then something is seriously wrong with these people. It doesn’t happen very often that people attending the festival for the first time do not return. Every year, the festival staff and programmers plan something new and exciting. While the festival does have its staples, the staff do make an effort to change themes and have new and different attractions. Fantastic Fest is, for some people (including me), the most wonderful time of the year and an event that I would love to attend regularly for the unforeseeable future.
Before I conclude this piece, I will offer my top ten list of the films I viewed at the festival. The programmers for this year’s festival did an exceptional job. With the exception of one movie I did not like, I enjoyed the rest of the films I watched. I think I can go so far as to say that the programming this year is the best of all the times I have attended the festival. So, without any further delay, here are my top ten movies of Fantastic Fest 2016.
- The Handmaiden: (In the 1930s, country girl Sook-Hee is hired as a handmaiden to Japanese heiress Lady Hideko, who lives a secluded life with her uncle. However Sook-Hee is not what she seems… and neither is Lady Hideko, Count Fujiwara or Uncle Kouziki.) The newest film by Chan-Wook Park is mesmerizing, erotic, perverse, beautiful and full of wonderful surprises.
- Elle: (Paul Verhoeven’s debut in French cinema highlights an incredible Isabelle Huppert in a dramedy that first subverts then transgresses the rape-revenge narrative.) Dutch filmmaker Verhoeven brings his subversive sensibilities to a shocking and disturbing film that might be the best he has ever made. Less in tune with Robocop and Total Recall, and closer to Basic Instinct, Elle is Verhoeven’s feminist opus that features an extraordinary, award-worthy performance by Isabelle Huppert.
- Zoology: (Natasha is a lonely, middle-aged woman who still lives with her mother and feels insecure about her tedious life… until she grows a tail.) This Russian film by director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy tells a sweet, poignant and powerful tale about shy and lonely woman with a rare condition who tries to get her groove for the first time in her life. Exceptionally written and directed with an excellent performance by Natalya Pavlenkova as Natasha,Zoology is a heartfelt portrait with just the right amount of strangeness to fit right in at Fantastic Fest.
- S Is For Stanley: (Alex Infascelli’s documentary about Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant for more than thirty years, which provides never-before-seen insight into the private auteur.) This is less a documentary about Kubrick and more a portrait of his assistant/ best friend and the fascinating relationship he shared with one of the world’s more enigmatic filmmakers. It is a must see for all Kubrick fans.
- Original Copy: (In the heart of Mumbai, behind the screen of one of the last Hindi Film cinemas, lives Sheik Rahman, the city’s last painter of film posters. This is his story.) Cinephiles will appreciate this compelling and heavy-hearted story about a talented artist facing the end of his career as his theater struggles to stay in business.
- Colossal: (Fantastic Fest favorite Nacho Vigalondo (TIMECRIMES) wrings an extraordinarily potent allegory for personal responsibility and emotional toxicity in this witty and absorbing drama about an alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) who discovers an improbable connection between herself and a giant monster ravaging South Korea.) Vigalondo offers a highly imaginative and inventive film about empowerment and overcoming one’s demons paralleled with a monster-movie plot. The experience is giddy, powerful, and overall amazing. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis deliver outstanding performances.
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe: (When a mysterious body turns up at a crime scene, the local sheriff turns to the coroner and his son to find the cause of death.) Director Andre Ovredal delivers a chilling, creepy, and overall frightening horror film that had me cringing often and cowering in my seat. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are superb in this haunting movie.
- Bad Black: (A mild-mannered doctor is trained in the art of ass-kicking commando vengeance by a no-nonsense ghetto kid named Wesley Snipes (!). This is only one of the many delirious action-packed stories that converge in this exuberant DIY extravaganza from the home of “da best of da best movies”: WAKALIWOOD, UGANDA!!!) The movie itself will not win any awards for its quality and integrity, but the Ugandan tradition of movie presentation deserves the award for the most fun movie viewing experience of the festival. The Bad Black screening was an awesomely entertaining time that featured a no-budget exploitation action flick narrated by a “Video Joker” whose work rivals that of Master Pancake or MST 3K.
- American Honey: (Andrea Arnold’s first US feature follows 18-year-old Star as she leaves her home in Oklahoma and goes in search of adventure, adulthood and America.) Arnold presents a fascinating and mesmerizing coming-of-age film that offers commentary about the American dream and creepy male predators. Actress Sasha Lane, who makes her feature film debut here, delivers a tour-de-force performance.
- Dearest Sister: (After moving to the city, a poor woman realizes her recently blinded cousin can not only commune with the dead, but they can provide a path to much-needed wealth.) From Laos, director Mattie Do presents a strange and creepy horror story that offers commentary about Laotian society and the social stratification that exists there.