I saw thirty films at this year's Fantastic Fest (that's sort of a lie; I saw some before the fest began), and only disliked a couple. I saw less last year and only really disliked one. It's a pretty kick-ass festival. I also fell head over heels in love with Nacho Vigalondo, but he's not a movie yet.
To kind of decompress and help get over the mild depression brought on by my return to civilian life (and the end of Breaking Bad), I thought I'd offer thoughts on my particular fest favorites. One of the beautiful things about Fantastic Fest is how varied these sorts of lists can be. As a wacko comedy and action film kind of guy, I experienced an entirely different fest than my horror friends. And somehow they still managed to have a good time.
Fantastic Fest hosted three films from India this year, and while Monsoon Shootout was probably the best straight film of the trio, it had nothing on Eega or Commando: A One Man Army when it comes to sheer entertainment. I highly recommend them both (especially if you can watch them turned up LOUD), but Eega wins out for mining a shocking amount of exhilaration and legitimate adventure from a premise which finds a guy seeking revenge on his killer after getting reincarnated as a housefly. I must admit, however, that Commando has way better songs.
Maruyama The Middle Schooler
Here's another one where a goofy premise takes the attention away from the greatness underneath. If you know Maruyama, chances are you know it as the film about the kid who tries to lick his own penis. But it's really a charming, heartwarming slice of life kind of movie about an everyday apartment complex and how it can be transformed by a boy's abundant imagination. I was on the Fantastic Fest jury for the comedy category along with E.L. Katz and Todd Rohal, and I walked into deliberation prepared to give Maruyama best screenplay or die trying. It wasn't even an argument.
The funniest, craziest film I've seen this year. I'm not just dying to see it again; I'm dying to show it to others. My tastes are weird, I admit, but if you're reading this site this is kind of a blind buy. If you can someday double feature it with Why Don't You Play in Hell, you will be in for quite a night.
Because I write about movies everyday, I had a much wider knowledge of this year's Fantastic Fest entries, making it harder to find those completely unknown gems that blow you away. So I'm doubly grateful for Blue Ruin. A small, extremely straightforward revenge tale that focuses on a much wider spectrum of emotions than mere misery, this is one of the Fests' most classically great films. I sincerely hope it gets the future it deserves.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear
Are you fucking kidding me? If Man of Tai Chi was a really good hamburger, this is the whole restaurant. Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins get right to the heart of everything you want from a modern action film. I've heard a lot about how silly it is. I've even had to argue with people who claimed Ninja: Shadow of a Tear - simply by being Ninja: Shadow of a Tear - was made without heart. That's nuts. While it's true even the best B-action film will have a hard time convincing the non-converted of its value, this is the new demo movie for giving it a try anyway.
Honorable mentions: The Congress, Why Don't You Play in Hell, and Grand Piano are all incredible. I loved Gravity, too, but don't feel like it should count.
Honorable honorable mention that wasn't mentioned anywhere above: Detective Downs.
Movie I most regret not seeing: Moebius.