Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How To Be Cool

Allow me to immediately invalidate everything I am about to write with this admission: I'm not cool. I don't really know what cool is. Cool to me is an abstract and debatable concept like "what is art?" or "what is existence?" However, in spite of my own personal feelings on this and the fact that no one can fully agree on what exactly defines something as "cool", I think I do know the secret to becoming cool. In the same way no one can really agree on art or existence, humans as a collective all seem to agree on a basic, flawed idea of what it is and that's what I can teach: how to be cool in the generally accepted definition of the word to the population at large.

I came by this secret knowledge through years of effort and eventually a revelation. People who have been cool their entire lives probably have this revelation at a young age and then live up to it from then on. Some people will never realize it and even if I explain it, you still might not be able to actually do it. Hank Green has a great video on how to escape the friendzone that is 100% accurate but once you watch it you realize it may not be something you could ever do yourself and that's okay. Maybe you'll find a way to be cool some other way but honestly, I have never seen anyone accomplish it differently.

So now with all the necessary disclosures out of the way, here's a story. For the first ten years of my life, I tried really hard to fit in. Fitting in is not a bad thing, mind you, but I was bad at it. I was able to make friends with people who were pretty and popular and I consumed the media and culture that was popular at the time which made it easy to belong. The problem was that I couldn't keep it up convincingly for very long once you started to get to know me. I didn't think any boy band members were cute and my favorite pop songs were always the weird album tracks no one liked. I didn't dress stylishly because I mainly just let my mom buy my clothes because I didn't know how to have a personal style and generally didn't like whatever was trendy and age appropriate (I wanted to dress more classically adult and somber in a children's section full of bright colors and strange late 90s styles). I thought a lot about my own mortality. I was smart but not witty or clever, my jokes fell flat, I wasn't pretty, my only somewhat notable accomplishment was being the 4th best artist in my year, and I got way too into the worlds of books and television that I liked and made up stories about them in my head. I couldn't be honest with my friends because I knew if I was, they would think I was weird which meant I was the opposite of fitting in.

I went through a depression that started when I was 11 that I think may have been caused by being unable to uphold the facade anymore and ended when I was 13. That might seem short for a depression and something you could easily write off as preteen angst but it was a really hard time for me when I lost all my friends and cried almost every day. However, during one lucid day, I stood in front of a mirror and thought to myself, "You think you're ugly and dumb and not worth anything. What do you need to do to be satisfied with yourself?"

And that's the only step to being cool: Don't give a damn what anyone else thinks of you.

This sounds simplistic, I know, but for most people it's impossible to fully accomplish or at least takes many years. You need to throw out everything you know and start from the beginning. Stop paying attention to trends or at least stop caring about them. Don't buy any clothes you don't absolutely love just because you think you need more. Style your hair the way you think looks best. Decide "social acceptability" is just a hindrance on your happiness. Search deep for music you really enjoy that makes you feel something real and ignore the radio. Stop doing things because you think you have to and try to figure out what will really make you happy and then work towards that instead. Throw out idealism for goals that are reachable even if they take work to achieve. Make efforts towards improving yourself in the way you think is most important. Want to be smarter? Read more. Want to be funnier? Watch how others do it and learn how to think on your feet. Want to be kinder? Do more for others and it will come naturally. 

Eventually once you are far enough into this mindset, you will get better and better at expelling outside influence. You will probably lose friends but you will make new ones better suited to you as you really are now. You might realize that when you really stop and think hard about your own life, that you will need to change everything you thought you would do and that's okay. As long as you are living, you get as many chances as you need to pick a new path. 

And if you are someone who is able to really detach so fully from all the world is trying to tell you, you will start to realize that people look at you differently. Even if people don't like you (and this process will likely increase the amount of people who don't like you honestly) they will probably respect you deep down. People might start telling you that you are cool or that they love how you are so "you."

And if this has really worked, you won't care at all. Once you are truly cool, being thought of as cool is something you couldn't care less about. You will like who you have become, the people you surround yourself with, and the way you live your life and who cares if someone else likes it or not.

Cool people do not need approval. That's what makes them cool.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Discussing "Lord Of The Rings" Via Text

Not long after I read Lord Of The Rings for the first time and finally got what all the fuss was about (I had liked and seen the movies a couple times, of course, but I wasn't obsessed and I found The Hobbit novel to be only okay) my friend Caroline, a LOTR fan since she was a kid, decided to relisten to the audiobook. Here are texts exchanged between us on the topic, only lightly editted to make them easier to read.

The Fellowship Of The Ring

Caroline: I'm doing a LOTR re-listen.
Kay: I'm on a LOTR binge after reading the book. Adam and I are in an extended edition watch. This Friday is Two Towers. And Zeyd and I watched the Rifftrax in Italy.
Caroline: Nice! Had you read the books before?
Kay: No. First time. Zeyd helped with some details because his friends are obsessed so he knows by association. Adam too. It was his copy I borrowed.
Caroline: LOL. I also know many things. I just got to the hobbits meeting Stryder so I'm very excited.
Kay: That's when shit gets real.
Kay: Oh man, you should have seen the commentary I had going with Zeyd while I was reading. So many thoughts.
Caroline: It is! Plus every time I go through it, I am reminded that Aragorn is SKETCH AS FUCK and also my favorite.
Caroline: I am SO DEPRESSED that I missed out!
Kay: I could find some of it. I did it while watching the movies too. There were a lot of comments like, "Wow. There's a lot more romantic tension than I remember. It's like everyone is in love except Merry and Pippin who are just bros" and "it's distressing how Aragorn is hot but Viggo Mortensen isn't. How?"
Caroline: That is confusing. He was HELLA HOT in the movie and not otherwise.
Kay: Right? Also definitely hotter the grungier he was.
Caroline: I feel like everyone else thinks Merry and Pippin are in love.
Kay: Probably.
Caroline: Very true.
Kay: Also while reading I may have sent a few messages to Zeyd that said something like, "OMG FARAMIR AND EOWYN."
Caroline: RIGHT. Movie Faramir is such a fail compared to Book Faramir.
Kay: Right? After reading I was so ANGRY none of that made it into the movie and so much was changed.
Kay: YESSSS. When I rewatched the film I was like WHAT WHY
Caroline: I was SO MAD. I love Faramir.
Kay: Agreed. I really should have texted you more while reading. Haha
Caroline: You should!
Kay: I'll try to find some of the weird things I said. I remember bitching about how long it took Frodo to start his journey.
Caroline: He fucked around 5ever.
Kay: So many real estate issues. Also fuck Tom Bombadil.
Caroline: LOL. Right? I almost didn't start it because I'd have to get through that part.
Kay: Yeah, it's a little rough for the first 100 pages. Once they get to Bree the plot picks up quickly. I breezed through Two Towers and Return.
Caroline: Yes yes. Although I really like that the movie alternates between the ring story and Aragorn's story. Just reading the ring story for hundreds of pages is rough.
Kay: Especially at the end. Frodo starves for a long time before they destroy the damn ring.
Caroline: Yeep.

Caroline: Traveling with a broken sword seems bad for self defense.
Kay: Yes but it depends on the way, I think.
Caroline: Oh?
Kay: A broken sword could become a dagger.
Caroline: True, although I don't know that Aragorn was using shards of Narsil as a dagger.
Kay: Right, right just saying. I'm sure he has more than a broken sword but he does show it as proof of not having a sword. He's sketch as hell yo.
Caroline: So sketch. What does he do? Fist fight people. It's almost as concerning as Legolas' never ending arrows in the movie.
Kay: So weird. Why do archers never run out of arrows?
Caroline: At least Katniss spends a fuck ton of time thinking about it. And does run out once.
Kay: True. Not in the movie but in the book she's always on that shit.
Caroline: Mhm. I'm always amused by people who act like the fact that Katniss doesn't get her period in the arena is a logic fail. Like they stop everyone from growing BODY HAIR. I'm betting they have the power to stop that too.
Kay: Right? You can stop your period in the world as it is right now!
Caroline: Exactly. Remember that time Aragorn decided that they should go to Weathertop and DICK AROUND on the off chance that they'd accidentally show up at the exact moment as Gandalf?
Kay: Ranger skills!
Caroline: Didn't work.

Caroline: "Where is Sauruman? What is his council?" "It turns out Sauruman is suffering from a touch of . . . evil."
Kay: Haha. Adam and I watched Two Towers extended last night.
Caroline: I love Two Towers.
Kay: I love when Sam says in Osgiliath, "We aren't even supposed to be here" because no, no you aren't. This didn't happen in the book.
Caroline: RIGHT? I forgot, did you watch all of How I Met Your Mother?
Kay: I have.
Caroline: Listening to LOTR on audiobook is funny because every once in a while when they say "ringbearer" I think of Barney saying "ring bear."

Caroline: You'd think it would have occurred to Sam that bringing a pony along on a journey on which all of the people, hobbits, elbows, dwarves kind of think they might die might be bad for the pony.
Kay: Poor Bill. Also, elbows. Damn you autofill.
Caroline: Yeah, I was texting with Siri.

Caroline: It's always interesting how truely unfit for this kind of journeying the hobbits are. Sam is not at all built for this but here he is. Frodo is the only one who had any idea what he was walking into.
Kay: Yeah, true. Also amazing: the lack of maps.
Caroline: Right? I'm not sure that "we sort of know where we're going" was really the best idea in terms of directions.
Kay: Yeah, let's just take off without a guide. We'll be fine.
Caroline: "Let's not consider the possibility that we might have to go to Moria and not make any contigency plans."

Caroline: Poor Boromir. So grumpy.
Caroline: Legolas is bitchy and really into trees.
Kay: Well, he won't have much to grump about soon.
Kay: And yeah, that's Legolas. He loves those freaking trees.
Caroline: Ouch. He'll have to get through Lorien first.
Caroline: Legolas: "I love these trees. I am so into these tres. I'm going to climb this tree and marry it. Or sleep in it at least." Pippin: "Slow your role, dude. I can't really sleep in a tree." Legolas: "Bitch, dig a hole then if that's what you freaks do. But you better dig fast."
Kay: Legloas' true love is indeed a tree. But since the tree cannot consent to being with him forever he defaulted to Gimli.
Caroline: True. Although he and Gimli are still in the "enemies" part of enemies to lovers where I am. Gimli just got un-blindfolded.
Kay: Racist elves, man.
Caroline: So racist. "It's not ME who's racist! It's just our super racist laws."

Caroline: The Legolas and Gimli bromance is on. Flowery much, Gimli?
Kay: Flowery?
Caroline: In his speech. His creepy obsession with Galadriel has begun.
Kay: Oh yeah. An obsession that takes him to the Undying Lands. Or maybe it's Legolas' love that does. I like to think it's both.
Caroline: Probably both.

Caroline: Boromir is such a dick.
Kay: Very corruptable. Decent minion potential.

Caroline: I like that Sam is the voice of reason here. "He's not wondering which way to go. Literally why would he go to Minas Tirith?"

The Two Towers

Caroline: I forgot Boromir doesn't die in The Fellowship Of The Ring book.
Kay: Yeah it feels weirdly cliffhangery compared to the movie.
Caroline: It also makes somewhat more sense to finish Fellowship with the fellowship completely split.
Kay: Yeah, it really does. I count this one of the biggest improvements the movies made.
Caroline: Agreed.

Caroline: We've got Eomer up in here.
Kay: I love the ambiguity of this text. Are you reading Two Towers or have you seen someone who resembles him (or is he in your house!)?
Caroline: Lol. All you really know is that he's somewhere.
Caroline: I started Two Towers.
Kay: That would have been the guess but I was sleepy when I read the text.
Caroline: I very much enjoyed your alternate theories.

Caroline: I like that Gandalf isn't like, "Yo! Bros! I'm back!" He just sucks around and lets them think he's Sauruman.
Kay: Gandalf is such a troll.

Caroline: Theoden be like, "I've realized Wormtongue is a douche. Let's RIDE TO WAR IN THE NEXT COUPLE HOURS. Who needs a plan? WE'LL FIND WAR SOMEWHERE."
Kay: Theoden got out of his trance like, "Shit, my muscles haven't atrophied?! I need to punch something!" He should punch Wormtongue really.
Caroline: Pretty much. "We're going to war?" "Which war, sir?" "Just fuck me up."

[insert discussion of Kay trying to explain to Caroline what the "Bone of Gondor" is and that it's a sex joke. She seems to finally get it at this point]
Caroline: I'm glad Aragorn has come to finally take the Bone of Gondor.
Kay: All night long.
Caroline: I hope he takes it gently. It's been a long time for Gondor.

Caroline: Gandalf: "Oh, I didn't do anything." Everyone else: "Dude, there's a motherfucking TREE ARMY."
Kay: Gandalf is a lying liar.

Caroline: I can't even deal with how dumb Rainbow Sauruman is.
Kay: Um, Rainbow Sauruman?
Caroline: Sauruman of Many Colors.
Kay: I think I missed this somehow.
Caroline: Yeah, he gives up being Sauruman the White and and becomes Sauruman of Many Colors. White is lamesauce.
Kay: Wow, I missed that entirely. I'm imagining Sauruman dressed like a pride flag.
Caroline: Right? It's not supposed to be but that's what I always picture.
Kay: So, where are you in the story?
Caroline: Theoden has just told Sauruman to go fuck himself.
Kay: Ah, yes. Theoden is back and ready to pick fights because he can.
Caroline: Yeeeep. And Wormtongue is about to throw shit. Also Legolas and Gimli have their honeymoon planned.
Kay: And Theoden is about to throw him.
Caroline: Nah, Theoden already did that.
Kay: Ah, I'm all backwards.
Caroline: They're at Isenguard. Helm's Deep is over. Fangorn and Helm's Deep.
Kay: Oh, okay. THAT time he tells Sauruman to fuck off.
Caroline: Right. To his face.
Kay: Yes. As opposed to cursing his bloody name in private.
Caroline: Right.
Kay: I think it was at this point that I stopped imagining Sauruman as this super powerful dude and more like an "I'll get you next time!" villian with his bumbling assistant.

Caroline: Sauruman thinks Gandalf is exactly like him.
Kay: Sauruman is a dumbass. I mean, he thinks conquering the Shire is a decent alternative to being Sauron's right hand man.
Caroline: It's ABOUT the same.

Caroline: The Rohan half of the book has ended and now I'm stuck with trying to get to Mordor.
Kay: Oy. At least you have Gollum being a weirdo instead of slow starvation.
Caroline: Lol. True.

Caroline: I feel like they should have taken more than one person who could use a bow.

Caroline: Currently, Gollum showed up five minutes ago and I already want to shoot myself in the head because of his dialogue.
Kay: Hobbitses.

Caroline: Gollum is now legit conversing with himself.
Kay: Well, when everyone else is sleeping what are you going to do? I'm watching the cast commentary on Fellowship.
Caroline: Nice! It's been ages since I watched it. Let me know if anything funny comes up.
Kay: Well, Dominic Monaghan likes pointing out whenever he thinks he looks handsome.
Caroline: Well, thank God you have that information.

Caroline: Do we think that anyone had a plan for getting into Mordor other than knock at the front door?
Kay: No. That was the whole plan.
Caroline: That plan needed some work. What was their next cunning plan? "Everyone at the count of three?"
Kay: Trojan goblin?
Caroline: Best. Plan.

Caroline: "I would not take this thing if it lay beside the highway." YEAH
Kay: I forgot that line.
Caroline: Canon Faramir is the bestest.
Kay: Fact. No lie, Faramir is my favorite dude.

Caroline: Obnoxiously meta discussion of stories.
Kay: What?
Caroline; Frodo and Sam are on about what it would be like if they were in a story.
Kay: Shh, don't tell them.

Caroline: Hobbits: "It seems like daylight isn't a thing that happens anymore. What's with that?" Me: "You're standing on the doorstop of Mordor and knocking. TAKE A GUESS."
Kay: Aside from like, the smoke and orcs and general evil, Mordor seems like a good place for a vampire like me.
Caroline: Yes.

Caroline: Sam defending Frodo is getting kinda . . gay.
Kay: The whole Shelob scene is a romance as far as I'm concerned.

The Return Of The King

Caroline: Pippin: "Why would Aragorn coming be a problem for Denethor?" Me: "Pippin, a turnip has a greater understanding of its life situation than you."
Kay: Well, Pippin also decided to pledge himself to a mad man without establishing any boundries. He's got some issues.
Caroline: LOL. Turnip.

Caroline: Pippin is currently kicking it with a 10 year old.
Kay: Well, they're the same height. Bere-whatshisface who thinks his dad could beat up your dad.
Caroline: Yeeeeep. That's the one.

Caroline: "There will be no dawn. The darkness has come."  Did we . . . know this was going to happen? I feel like people should have been warned.
Kay: "People of Gondor . . . I hope you stocked up on oil for your lanterns."

Caroline: Be literal worst thing that has ever happened and Pippin's entire life is food rationing.
Caroline: Siri decided to send that even though it made no sense.
Kay: Are these two things connected? Is the worst thing ever Denethor being a turd?
Caroline: LOL. Let me try again.
Caroline: The literal worst thing that has ever happened in Pippin's entire life is food rations.
Kay: Ohhhh okay. And yes.
Caroline: He's fled the pursuit of Nazgul, walked through the mines of Moria, and been dragged across Rohan by an army of Orcs. But give him a too small pad of butter and his life is over.
Kay: Hobbit priorities. Maybe they starve to death quicker than men.

Caroline: Today on Worst Dad Ever, out contestant is: DENATHOR.
Kay: He's the only contestant.

Caroline: Alas. Theoden was mighty, but he hath kicked the bucket.
Kay: RIP.

Caroline: I'm back on Return Of The King. In true Tolkein fashion, I will list 45 dead people. You've heard of two and you already know one is dead.

Caroline: "How dare you deny me the right to burn my own son alive?" "Look crazypants this may come as a shock, but the rest of us LIKE Faramir."
Kay: Haha, also he's a little not dead so maybe you wanna hit up the Houses of Healing instead of the pyre just yet?

Kay: Arr.

Caroline: "Gee, we haven't had a king in hundreds of years, but it sure would be fantastic if we had one now! The hands of a king are the hands of a healer." "Thanks, conveniently placed bearer of seemingly erroneous prophesies! We happen to have a king!"

Caroline: Poor Pippin is not cunning enough to get that the Mouth of Sauron totes told them that he didn't actually have Frodo.
Kay: Poor Pippin. So slow.

Caroline: SOME OF US have become rather too attached to our evil jewelry.
Kay: Haha. It goes so well with his cape!
Caroline: Sam's in the process of rescuing Frodo.

Caroline: They're cosplaying as orcs!
Kay: They'll be a hit at Gondor Comic Con!
Caroline: Totally!

Caroline: "The King? What king?" Did none of you pay EVEN A LITTLE ATTENTION?
Kay: Memos are slow in Gondor.
Caroline: And hobbits are slow everywhere.

Caroline: In a modern AU, Legolas is a musical theatre student who bursts into song every 10 seconds.
Kay: Yes! Adam and I kept shouting "No one asked you, Legolas" every time he opens his mouth in the film.
Caroline: LOL.

Caroline: Warden of the Houses Of Healing: "OMG YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE UP!!!1" Eowyn: "Isn't there somewhere I can go to find an honorable death?" Warden: "Ummmm n-o-o-o?" Eowyn: "Who the fuck is in charge here?"
Kay: Haha. Oh Eowyn, there's no death over here but there's a man who really wants to make a garden with you.

Caroline: Eowyn and Faramir are engaged. You are now at the point where you're like, "Yay! Almost done!" And then you remember, "Oh fuck. Sacking of the Shire."
Kay: Here's where I peace out and go read Farawyn fanfiction because I'm trash.
Caroline: LOL. Probs less exhausting than the Sacking of the Shire.
Kay: It's at this point in the story that Sam realizes he left the oven on and comes home to find that it's not as big a deal ass he thought.
Kay: as* WOW.
Caroline: LOL. It worked.
Kay: And don't forget the appendixes. I literally was so excited about those when I read it. I wanted more even though the journey had been long and sometimes painful.
Caroline: Impressive!
Kay: What is?
Caroline: Still wanting more.
Kay: Maybe I'm that special person who would read The Silmarilion and not hate it.
Caroline: LOL. I don't hate it. It's just got . . . sections to skim.
Kay: When I have less on my plate I'm totally gonna read it.

Caroline: "We come now at last to the ending of the fellowship of the ring." My feels!
Kay: Well you still get to read about how everyone weirdly decides when they get to die except Sam, Legolas, and Gimli who ultimately peace for the Undying Lands.

Caroline: We've let Frodo sail across the sea and reached The End.
Kay: Looking back, that took you very little time. You must audiobook it up a lot.
Caroline: I do! I walk two miles a day to and from work, I put it on when I drive, when I do chores . . .

And some Bonus Movie Rifftrax Commentary:

Caroline: I'd forgotten in the movie that Gandalf told Frodo that he'd meet him in Bree. Tends to lessen the "Where in all fuck is Gandalf?" drama.
Kay: True, true. I mean he's never there when he says he will be but at least you have a chance he might be instead of having no clue.
Caroline: Right. And he's not missing as long.
Caroline: Movie Pippin is HELLA stupid.
Kay: Yes. Are you watching Fellowship?
Caroline: Rifftrax, yeah.
Kay: Ahh, delightful.
Caroline: Why is Legolas Aragorn's biggest fan at the council of Elrond?
Kay: They go way back.
Caroline: Is the audio sync robot crying?
Kay: it might be. I can't remember but I think you're getting to my favorite part.
Caroline: "Crabine from Dunland!"
Kay: They get so excited about it.
Caroline: These guys keep trying to drive.
Kay: Drive what?
Caroline: To Mordor! Rental cars, cabs . . .
Kay: Haha. "So you wanna rent a car? Avis has a great deal going."
Caroline: "The one belt buckle to rule them all wasn't avalable."
Kay: Haha. I think you're past it now. I love the bit of "You have my sword" "And I'd like it back please." And then Boromir: "And you have my Glock."
Caroline: LOL. Way past it. Yeah. That part was great.
Caroline: OMG the number of Tom Bombadil jokes.
Kay: Yeah, they really miss him. Or like making fun of him.

Caroline: I'm back to watching Two Towers Rifftrax.
Kay: Anything good?
Caroline: They just referred to Mordor as "Detriot."
Kay: Haha, wonderful.
Caroline: And more Tom Bombadil jokes.
Caroline: Omg. Now they're making fun of Eragon.
Caroline: Gollum: "Swear on the precious." The guys: "And a nerd's online handle is born."
Caroline: "They always made her be Anakin because of her feelings about sand."
Kay: I love that.
Caroline: Remember that time Aragorn fake died in the movie?
Kay: Haha, yeah and had sex dreams?
Caroline: And made out with his horse?
Kay: Oh my God. Zeyd just said that.
Caroline: LOL. I see we're inventing gunpowder.
Kay: Indeed. And suicide bombers.
Caroline: Fun!
Caroline: "In time, Aragorn will die." A really short time actually. Like 5 minutes.
Kay: "On a post apocalyptic college campus."
Caroline: On the upside Liv Tyler's fake dad is way less scary looking than her real dad.
Kay: Too true.
Caroline: Faramir showed up to be a dick without my noticing.
Caroline: I had one entire wine and I think that, combined with Rifftrax, is making me too giggly to shower.
Kay: He really needs to chill in the movie. Also wish I was there. I am amused by tipsy Caroline.

Here's hoping we will watch Return Of The King Rifftrax together.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015 Potentially Oscar Nominated Movies

This year has been a little underwhelming. The movies that were great were just as great as previous years but everything else felt flat and done. I think as a testament to how underwhelming this year was as a whole, I had to add a category for movies I thought were only okay and I had a really hard time putting movies into my created categories because even a movie that got four stars out of me (personal description as "really good"), I still might have put in the "liked it" category on here because it didn't match up to the other four star movies. I guess pay more attention to what I say than where I put things.

I still want to see "Song Of The Sea", "Mr. Turner", the other movies nominated for Best Documentary, and the movies nominated for Best Foreign Film in terms of movies that have been nominated for Oscars but I got mostly everything else. I also put a list at the end of non-Oscar movies I also want to see because I'm so far behind on my movie watching.

As always, the order is nonsense, starred movies are my picks for the five Best Pictures, and ones with plus signs are movies that weren't nominated for Oscars (usually films I saw earlier this year or movies nominated for other awards).

Previous Years: 2014   2013   2012   2011

Movies I Really Liked:

The Grand Budapest Hotel: I think Wes Anderson is actually getting better as a director because this was my favorite of his and I knew it the second it was over. I really liked "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Darjeeling Limited" but man, was this movie fun and so well tuned. 

Boyhood*: For the reference, I was super torn about narrowing down this, "Grand Budapest" , and "Imitation Game" in my nominees. I'm actually more likely to rewatch "Budapest" by far but I felt like this one might have done more as a movie. Ignoring the gimmick (as everyone should) I'll admit I didn't really GET this movie until it got closer to the end and then it clicked and I couldn't call it over-rated like so many are doing.

The Imitation Game*: Let's brush aside how badly I wanted to see this movie for reasons (Allen Leech) and let me just say that I really loved how it is part intriguing historical drama and part character study and balances both so well. I wish the historical inaccuracy didn't bug me so much.

Whiplash*: The fact that I am alive to write this is the only proof that I breathed while watching this movie. When it was over I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or possibly throw up. It was one of the most tense movies I have ever seen, wonderfully directed, and powerfully acted.

The Theory Of Everything: I don't know what I excepted of this movie but it wasn't what I got and that's a good thing. It was a tale of two people, a romance but not how you think and I loved that about it. 

Selma*: It's hard to talk about this without pointing out that Ava Duvernay really, really should have gotten nominated for Best Director over that guy who did "Foxcatcher" (see way, way below). This was a powerful film that seems to cover all sides in a way few historical movies manage to do. That aspect alone would be enough to make this movie notable.

Birdman*: It's honestly between this one and "Whiplash" as to which movie was my personal favorite this year. I love the acting, the black humor, the way it was shot, the social commentary. It was just so damn good.

Gone Girl: It's hard for me to talk about this movie since I saw the book so I know the plot is crazy and unexpected but I can say that I really trust and love the Fincher/Reznor director and composer combination and they did a fantastic job giving the movie the right feeling and balance. Rosamund Pike is mind-blowing, Ben Affleck didn't even bug me, and the rest of the cast was notably great too.

Still Alice: The idea of a language expert losing their words is a bit too on the nose but other than that I thought this movie was incredible. Anyone who has ever had to watch someone decline in a similar way can relate and it's all made even more interesting and terrible by her age and the way her family treats it.

Nightcrawler: It's been so long since I saw a good noir and this movie has kind of an interesting twist on the genre while still evoking the look and feel. The main character gives the impression of a high-functioning sociopath and the progression through his career is disturbing and fascinating to watch.

Two Days, One Night
Very strong character study. Totally straightforward and realist style allowing for everything to be put on the actors.

Wild: Although I find the way her life went off the rails a bit unbelievable, I liked this movie way more than I thought I would. I like the method of story telling and weirdly enough, the way music is used. Another very strong character study.

The Lego Movie: EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. No really. One of the best animated films I've ever seen. The fact that the movie itself wasn't nominated for the Animated Feature Oscar is a crime.

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya: I actually read "The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter" in my Japanese lit class and I'll be honest when I say that I didn't really get it (I also had a not great professor). This movie made me get it with interesting animation on top. 

Snowpiecer+: Gotta love a beautifully made classist dystropia! My one big complaint about this movie is that the end with the engine creator felt like it went on too long after the rest of the movie had gone at such a steady pace.

Big Eyes+: I seemed to like this movie a lot more than critics did and I am okay with that. Honestly, it was great to see a Tim Burton movie that was actually really good, with actors I like in it, and a plot that was interesting and had a lot to say. I remember hearing someone say that, "women seem to really get this movie" and I can totally understand.

Obvious Child+: The abortion romance is funny and sweet although I find a lot of the main character's behavior inexplicable and therefore a little bit contrived for plot reasons.

The Riot Club+: Did anyone see this British film about spoiled rich kids? It's intense and bleak and I liked it more and more as I watched it while simultaneously getting angrier and angrier.

Movies I Liked:

Citizenfour: This is a very, very significant movie and is about a topic that is difficult to film and these facts alone make me feel bad that I can only really say that I liked it. I gave it four stars and in all honesty, I wasn't crazy impressed with it as a film. I've seen a lot of documentaries, what can I say?

Beyond The Lights: I saw this on a whim with my friend Alex in between seeing plays in New York and we were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It's mostly a romance but with heavy themes of the cost of fame, depression (which comes up in the beginning and I was happy they didn't just drop it), and what it's like to be a pop star today.

Into The Woods: Important background information: I have a fierce dislike of the stage musical so my confidence that I was going to enjoy this movie was nonexistent. Funny thing is, I actually liked this. Probably because the songs didn't bother me as much (I hate a lot of them), the dumb humor was all but removed (which most people thought was a negative), and the first act was significantly cut down so I didn't want to leave midway. They took out some of the dark stuff they should have kept (like Rapunzel dying) but overall, I was pleased. "Agony" was flawless but weirdly I was the only one laughing in the theater.

Big Hero 6: I'm pretty sure Baymax made this movie but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's kind of a tech nerd's dream and very cute. Unfortunately, I do need to say that we need to dial back on the superhero everything.

How To Train Your Dragon 2: What an enjoyable sequel! I kind of wondered what more there could be to the plot of the first and they managed to create a new story that didn't feel forced and didn't result in a quality dip. I can actually believe they could make a good third.

The Boxtrolls: I have been pleased with every Laika movie I've seen and I didn't even feel a strong drive to see this one. It's a standard story that gets amusingly meta sometimes with good animation and an adorable theme song.

Under The Skin+: I like a good slow-moving meditation on humanity as much as the next person but there was something about this movie that made it not quite strong enough for me. It definitely had something to do with how it was told but I'm still struggling to put my finger on it.

Cake+: This movie had really low ratings and I'm not fully sure why. I thought it was a good meditation on pain and loss and kind of darkly humorous on top of that.

The Fault In Our Stars+: Probably the best adaption you could get of this very good book although the book made me cry way, way more.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1+: Solid movie although I can see how everyone who has not read the books (and even some who have) could be frustrated by the cliffhanger. Honestly I felt like the end wasn't abrupt enough which I also thought about the wham line at the end of Catching Fire.

Movies I Think Were Okay:

Interstellar: People seemed to either love this movie or think it was like a not as good "2001". I thought it was okay. The plot was okay. The characters were okay. The science was super questionable and didn't make the most sense. I wasn't bored but at the same time it was easily one of Nolan's weakest movies.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: This almost went in the over-rated category because in a way it was better than okay but definitely got more hype than I fully understood. Maybe I'm just over superhero movies with the saturation of films over the last few years but I do have a real complaint: I couldn't follow the plot in the second half. There were so many groups with unclear motivations or explanations of who they are fighting each other that I couldn't follow. The main characters were great and it was funny but man, that second half felt like a mess.

Maleficiant: Well, it's definitely one of the better fairy tale retellings I can remember seeing outside of a Gregory MacGuire novel. The explanation of the universe and motivations of the characters works for me. It wasn't exactly great but with all these retellings it's nice to see one that isn't intolerable.

The Judge: While I don't think this movie was amazing or anything, I think the reviews of it were kind of harsh. Yes, the plot felt done and the music was manipulative and cheesy but there was nothing egregiously wrong with it aside from that. The truth is, it just wasn't anything unique which i guess for some is more of a crime than being terrible. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall were fun to watch at least..

Movies I Think Were Over-Rated:

Foxcatcher: It didn't surprise me that the director of Moneyball had made another sports movie that I was completely underwhelmed by. The thing is, the story really does make a good basis for a film but the way they went about it put me to sleep. The movie dragged and the way time moved in the story was very strange. I also felt like it lacked the emotional impact it probably should have had. Steve Carrell was good though.

American Sniper: There's nothing more I could say about this movie that I haven't already said here aside from: I've seen better war movies. I've seen better war movies made by Clint Eastwood.

Inherent Vice: This movie was really good at showing you stuff happening without saying how it connected to other stuff at lightning speeds for twenty minutes and then slowing down for fifteen minutes for one long scene that doesn't advance the plot at all. There's a mystery in there somewhere. I almost feel like if this was two parts it might have made a lot more sense.

Movies I Didn't Like:

Divergent+: Here's the thing: this movie was extremely well cast and truthfully very faithful to the book. The problem is that the book isn't very good. This isn't really talked about since it is a very popular book read by many, many teens but it's really not a good book so a movie adaption of it can only be so good itself. Hunger Games it is not.

Winter's Tale+: There's nothing more I could say about this movie that I haven't already said here.

Other movies I want to see from this year but haven’t yet include:
The 100 Foot Journey
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A Most Violent Year
The Babadook
Bitter Honey
The Book of Life
Bound By Flesh
The Congress
The Dance Of Reality
Dear White People
The Guest
In Bloom
Jersey Boys
Jimmy's Hall
Maps To The Stars
National Gallery
Only Lovers Left Alive
Palo Alto
The Skeleton Twins
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Venus In Fur
We Are The Best!

Some Thoughts On "American Sniper"

I never meant to write about this movie but while I was watching I was sending Facebook messages to my British half-Iraqi boyfriend (who was asleep) about how I was feeling about it at any given moment as a very politically left, anti-war humanist whose best friend happens to be a former marine and Afghanistan war veteran (a fact he often hides from people). Each break is a different message and aside from spelling errors I didn't change anything so it might sound like crap.

I've decided to be offended today so I'm watching American Sniper and will follow it with something animated. Ten minutes in and this is the most 'Murrica movie I've seen since Dallas Buyers Club. That movie ended with the cowboy giving medicine to gay men and hanging with a trans woman. I don't think this one is going that way I am a bit uncomfortable that they keep saying "bad guys" instead of "terrorists" I'm 99.9% sure leaving your post is a punishable offense in the military. Well, the first normal Iraqi character has been killed. "They're fucking savages." "You bought it from savages." The funny thing is, I feel like the story is not necessarily saying I'm supposed to like or empathize with the main character. i think he's an fucking ass and that's text; not my bias. Thoughts: Does no one make cerebral war films anymore? Will we never have another Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Deer Hunter, etc.? This guy has no sympathy for any of this fellow solders who have doubts about what they're doing. None. The main character had a human response to a kid curiously picking up a rocket launcher. I cannot understand him at all. To take a measured response here: it is unclear whether the main character is intrinsically bad or a product of his military indoctrination. Perhaps he has been conditioned to believe these things and it is only in brief moments that his true humanity peaks through. I mean, the character, not the human. The human seems like he was just a flat out racist. The point I'm making is: I feel like this movie can actually be read more than one way. The fact that SO MANY are reading it as "Grr, rah, kill Arabs" says more about the people watching it than the movie which I could easily see being about how war is the real villain and we are all playing it differently. Watching this movie and imagining that the real enemy is idealism, both American and that of the terrorist, it's actually easier to watch than just trying to view it through a lens of "Awful people doing awful things" (and by that I mean either side being said awful people). In that sense, the Hunger Games issue is at work. The Hunger Games is promoted and merchandised in the way the Capitol would do, thus proving it's point. If this movie is actually about the horrors of war and the ideas of false glory and promoting of ideals, the fact that so many people think it's about "MURRICA and badassery just shows how fundamentally flawed the American mindset is. Main character is now calling his wife and saying he wants to come home, crying while things get even worse. Another notch in the column of "product of the system" over "bad person." His PTSD is powerful. Adam knew a guy who was in Fallujah and said he was one of the most destroyed individuals he had encountered. So he goes through a lot of therapy. This ending is overwhelmingly patriotic. I want to vomit. Okay, conclusion. Yes, the representation of Iraqis is fucking terrible. Yes, the "Woo, 'Murrica" is strong However, I feel like for a fair portion of the time, the film was trying to actually be a thoughtful meditation on the horrors of war. The problem is, it is trying to be filtered through a character who is blinded by patriotism, who criticizes other men for a more balanced outlook. The movie does a poor job of trying to show him as a victim (which is what I think the goal is) when the mood fluctuates so much between that and his own external idealism. Having not read the book I can't make this assumption but from what I've heard about it, he IS unsympathetic and this movie seems to be trying to reconcile the actual terrible human with a character who is multi-dimensional and the end result for someone like me who is a critical analyzer and someone who is anti-war and anti-nationalism is, well, confusion. That confusion seems to be allowing for interpretations on every side of the coin based on your own beliefs. Also, from a film perspective, the direction was good but the war scenes were poorly put together and it was blatantly manipulative but I don't know WHAT IT WAS TRYING TO MAKE YOU THINK aside from the few times they went for base human emotions with things like his wife's pregnancy and the aforementioned kid with a rocket launcher scene. I don't know with this shit. I guess overall it wasn't bad. Wasn't great (it was no Zero Dark Thirty for sure) and it really, really doesn't deserve a Best Picture nomination but I do think that anyone trying to view this movie through one lens is doing it a disservice. Yes, be angry that the perspective of the people who had their homes invaded when they were doing nothing wrong got no representation. Yes, be angry that the film is based on a book that glorifies war and demonizes Iraqis. Yes, be angry that somehow this movie managed to make 9/11 seem like a justification for the invasion of Iraq (haven't we gotten past this yet; I didn't believe that crap when I was 12). Yes, be angry that this movie is being interpreted by many people as a justification for their racism and an example of how cool and noble war is. But remember that even if you think the author (in this case I mean Clint Eastwood, not Chris Kyle) is dead, the text really doesn't show a simplistic view of war. It shows war through a man who is patriotic and unwilling to think about all perspectives but the movie is not. Or at least is trying not to. This man doesn't see decent people among the Iraqis. This man doesn't realize that 9/11 has nothing to do with Iraq. But I think we as an audience are expected to know better or at least learn from the other soldiers around him. We are supposed to see that even with all his bullshit ideals, he was ruined by his experience. War can destroy the most devoted of patriots. And I should stop now because I just ranted about this to you for a really long time. Here's a list of things I hate: Racism False news reporting War Really nationalistic people Teaching your children to hate PTSD People who think all these things are cool and inspiring instead of tragic.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Black Mirror" Episodes Ranked

In honor of my new favorite show Black Mirror, I have decided to write a review of the show so far but to keep it short and sweet (relatively, of course, as I have a tendency to write lengthy, rambling blog posts and I don't want to nor do I feel like I should this time).

I have obviously been doing a great terrible job of sticking to my "Wait Three Seasons Before You Watch It" rule and I have made resolutions to fix this, which I'm actually pretty good at sticking to, but I needed to watch this show first. I just needed to. I felt it in my marrow. My rule is harder to apply with strikingly short British shows that only have three episodes a season. Fewer episodes generally mean more time to devote to creating each episode which often can lead to better quality.

So how do I describe Black Mirror? It's essentially The Twilight Zone with a different set of actors in a different verse every episode but with each episode being a commentary on society and its relationship with technology. And it is AWESOME. Seriously, it's one of the best shows I've ever seen. I pretty much decided it was my new favorite show after one episode. However, while I would usually say "Everyone go watch it", I actually don't here because some of this show is actually kind of intense or disturbing and there are some people (my mother) who might have some issues with that. Prepare to be freaked out and/or have your mind blow before you decide to watch it.

And now, a ranking of the seven episodes so far. It's pretty free of spoilers unless you want to be entirely surprised in which case just watch the show.

7. Season One, Episode Three: "The Entire History Of You"
For the reference, the least exciting episode of Black Mirror is still amazing and well worth watching over most other shows you could cram into your brain thing. This episode has probably the most straight forward and conventional plot of any episode: a man is suspicious on his wife's friendship with another man. The technological aspect is that in this future most people have things in their brains called grains that enable them to replay any memory. The episode begs the question of whether this tech is a good thing or not, leaving the answer kind of up to you even if the characters do come to their own conclusions.

6. Season Two, Christmas Special: "White Christmas"
To me this episode was a bit of a mess. It had three mini stories within an overarching story and the technology of it was revealed far more slowly than in previous episodes. Personally, I thought that having so many stories kind of weakened the overall themes especially when the stories themselves were kind of obvious. This episode was kept from the last spot because the last 10 minutes actually had some interesting twists and redeeming aspects and because if you look past the smaller tech themes, you have a story that focuses on mortality and judgment in a pretty clever way. Also, Jon Hamm is valiantly still attempting to guest star in everything ever. Good luck, Jon!

5. Season Two, Episode Three: "The Waldo Moment"
Funny how the two most political episodes take place in the modern day instead of 20 minutes into the future. This episode focuses on the mockery of politics when a cartoon bear jokingly runs for office as part of a marketing tool. There are a lot of themes in this one surrounding how politics is viewed by both politicians and the people and their ineffectiveness. There's also a debate about idea ownership, a personal story of a broken comedian, and the idea of how meaningless images can be assigned meaning (I read academic texts on this topic for my Japanese minor; true story). My only real complaints about this episode are that there was something a bit off about the pacing and that I can't believe anyone would find that bear funny (although I completely believe people would vote for it).

4. Season Two, Episode One: "Be Right Back"
Think "Her" but with a dead guy. A new service is provided that creates the illusion of talking to a deceased loved one using their public online presence as a basis to create them. The result is pretty much what you would expect but it's still a wonderful journey to watch with an ending that you probably won't expect. Aside from showing the fallacies in thinking you know someone from their online persona and how those are cultivated, it also meditates on mourning and how the internet and it's relative permanence creates virtual graveyards.

3. Season Two, Episode Two: "White Bear"
A woman wakes up with amnesia to see a world where mostly everyone has been turned into voyeuristic bystanders constantly filming others while the few people that haven't are embracing their murderous tendencies or running from those who are. The episode shows a fantastic result of the bystander effect and, even more so, the way phone cameras have allowed us to detach ourselves from experience. There's also another layer of questioning whether people are inherently evil and what exactly is an appropriate punishment.

2. Season One, Episode One: "The National Anthem"
The first one really stuck with me and I think that was the point. This episode manages to go from a bit humorous to completely horrifying and I think you can use when that point is for each individual person as a guide to who they are. The episode takes place in the present, which might make it even scarier, and talks about traditional media vs social media (a topic that is already all over the place and has been for years), how opinions shift in this instant world and the effect they have, and the power one can have if they know how to utilize technology.

1. Season One, Episode Two: "Fifteen Million Merits"
I could write a master's thesis on this episode. Probably two. While some people might say the first episode is more disturbing, personally, this was the one I could not stop thinking about. In a dystropia where everyone uses exercise bikes to power the world and can only amuse themselves with bad games and reality shows, nothing feels real anymore. The attempt to find and spread genuine human emotion has terrifying results. There are two many themes in this episode to even try to explain them. This episode has such an impact that it was referred in the Christmas Special. It will ruin your day. And it is one of the best episodes of television I have ever watched in my life.

So, in conclusion, I love this show and anyone who knows what love is will understand.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good Recent Horror Movies For Your Halloween Needs.

Oh, Halloween! How I love thee. Since I have managed to write an entry every year for the last two years with a tie-in to my favorite holiday (last year was a list of my favorite Satans and the year before that was a personal account of why Halloween is so important to me), I've decided to give you some suggestions of good horror movies to celebrate the season with that came out after the year 2000.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that making decent horror movies has become something of a dead art. The 20s and 30s saw the first film incarnations of gothic novels like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera. Hitchcock popularized (or some would say perfected) the art in the 50s and early 60s alongside films like House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, and later in the 60s, Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby. The 1970s and 1980s are full of classic horror films like Carrie, Nightmare On Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Wicker Man, Halloween, The Exorcist, The Shining, and many more. So what do we have now?

Good horror movies are not extinct but they do seem to be harder to notice nowadays. In the current world of short attention spans and producers determined to make money over quality, it often feels like the horror films that you hear about are either remakes, endless sequels (I'm looking at you Saw franchise), or driven entirely by jump scares and a sense of schadenfreude at seeing stupid teenagers die horrible deaths.

Being someone who just enjoys watching horror even if it's not good (especially if it's not good), I have managed to come across plenty of actual decent films that can scare you while still managing to tell a real story with well-written characters.

Just as few notes:
* I intend to be strict with my year 2000 cut off so there are some good 90s films that will not make the cut. The 90s were almost 15 years ago. They are not modern.
* No remakes or sequels. I'm trying to point out good original movies.
* Horror-comedies will not be gracing this list. I love horror-comedies and highly recommend Scream, Cabin in the Woods, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Inhuman Resources if a film deconstructing horror movies or joking around while scaring is more your thing.
* The "Scare Factor" is a zero to ten scale based on how much I personally was freaked out by the movie. Not how often I jumped (I can be very jumpy) or how much I screamed (I don't) but just how much it really got to me in a general uneasiness, can't-quite-sleep-right kind of way. Whether or not a horror movie should be judged based on how scary it is would be a debate for another time (alongside whether you can judge a comedy by how much you laughed) but for now I'm listing quality films but including this scale just for those who want an idea of how scary a film might be (in my own radically biased opinion).

And with that, the films listed from oldest to newest:

Final Destination (2000)
I will admit that I do not have the same affection for this movie that a lot of people seem to have but I understand why people like it so much. Although it does fall under the blanket trope of dead teenager movies, the teenagers in this movie feel a lot more real and likeable than the usual sort who you are supposed to want dead for the unforgivable crime of foolish choices. The movie also has a fairly interesting villain: death itself. Death is an inescapable bad guy. The movie also ties in common fears of bad dreams being prophetic and of airplanes. The sequels vary in quality (my personal preference goes 1, 3, 2, 5, and 4, which should never have happened) and have a tendency to add new rules to the franchise but the first will always be something of a classic.
Scare Factor: 2 (Only scary in that death is the only thing I truly fear.)

The Others (2001)
This movie is full of things I love. It's a period film that takes place right after World War II in a remote country house where the lady of the house, whose husband has gone missing in the war, hires some new creepy servants to take care of the place and her children who can't go out in the sunlight. Most of the horror of the movie comes from the atmosphere and the suggestion that there is something more going on than what you are seeing and that no one seems trustworthy. That uneasy feeling persists even as more details are revealed until you reach an interesting ending. 
Scare Factor: 1 (Eerie but the kind of eerie I would like to live among.)

Pulse (2001)
There are a lot of 90s Japanese horror films like Audition and Ringu that I couldn't put on this list so I will make do with this one. What makes good Japanese horror different from good horror in other countries is that it is often tinged with an element of social commentary. This movie in particular uses horror and ghosts as a way to tell a story about how technology is driving people to be more lonely and removed from the world through two different main plots and many people's intertwining experiences. Also very atmospheric with its heavy shadows and occasional post-apocalyptic feeling, sometimes it can feel like a physical representation of depression which can be a lot scarier than a boogeyman.
Scare Factor: 4 (Too real, man.)

Suicide Club (2002)
Another Japanese horror film worth mentioning that I have seen quite a lot of times considering how disturbing I find it. A series of mass suicides start happening in Japan, especially among seemingly happy teenagers, which leads detectives to believe suicide clubs are forming. A commentary on pop music obsession and the cult of wanting to fit in or a reflection of cultural attitudes towards suicide in a country that's famous for it? Maybe both. Draw your own conclusions. Also, although this movie is peppered with some comedy, there are so many terrifying or gross things that even the comedy in hindsight becomes sad. I have never seen the prequel, Noriko's Dinner Table, but that also exists.
Scare Factor: 5 (Everything about the bowling alley is nope nope nope.)

28 Days Later (2002)
A zombie movie for you. A man wakes up from a coma to find that the island of Great Britain has been overrun with a virus that has turned people into zombies. What makes this zombie movie different from a lot of zombie movies is the fact that it starts in a world that has already been crippled by the attacks but you are following a clueless protagonist who has to learn how to survive in an undead world. The real meat of the movie comes from the introduction of the soldiers where you see a disturbingly realistic portrayal of how humans can treat each other in times of crisis.
Scare Factor: 2 (Humans are way scarier than the zombies.)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
A Korean psychological horror film that plays out like a family drama. A girl returns from a mental hospital to live with her sister, father, and evil stepmother where everything seems to be a bit odd. The stepmother appears to be abusing the girl's sister but at the same time the sister seems like she might also be doing some really messed up things. The movie manages to keep the viewer consistently unnerved and curious in all elements of the film right down to the startling but beautiful set designs and an ending that twists at least twice before you finally get the full story.
Scare Factor: 1 (Pretty but harmless.)

Saw (2004)
I know I dissed the franchise earlier in this post but I only do that because I love the first movie so much and everything else made after the second film, which is okay, is an insult to the original. The film surrounds a serial killer named Jigsaw who puts people who he thinks are taking advantage of their lives in puzzle-like situations that they must escape to live, thereby, in his mind, proving that they value their lives. While one plot is following a search for Jigsaw, the main plot is about two men who are trapped in a Jigsaw-set-up room who get to know each other and try to find ways to escape. While the films now have a reputation for gore, this film was mostly a character study that's almost Hitchcockian in intention.
Scare Factor: 3 (At least partially because of the time my brother closed the door in the garage on me while shouting "game over", leaving me in the pitch black. Much angry yelling ensured.)

Funny Games (2007)
I'm kind of cheating on my own rules with this one because it is a remake but it's a shot-for-shot remake done by the same director with the same music, script, and set except that it's in English instead of German and uses different actors. This movie is the same as the 1997 movie as far as I or anyone else is concerned. The film is about a happy family getting tortured by two random guys but according to the director was meant to be a commentary on violence in the media and not a horror film. Well, Death of the Author because this is a really scary film that may leave you walking away thinking about reality versus fiction or about how you should never let strangers borrow eggs. 
Scare Factor: 7 (Don't talk to anyone ever.)

Let The Right One In (2008)
After three movies where regular, albeit messed-up, people are the antagonists, how about a cuddly vampire film? This Swedish film is definitely a horror film but it would be wrong to call it that without also noting that it's kind of a romance and definitely a coming-of-age film. It's about a boy who is bullied by his classmates making friends who a girl who is a vampire. Love ensures. Also, a lot of violent murders in the snowy woods and locker rooms.
Scare Factor: 1 (Too happy to be scary in spite of the gore.)

The Loved Ones (2009)
This Australian film is sometimes referred to as a horror comedy but I really must not be getting the joke. A great example of how horror movies benefit from well developed characters, a teen who had been dealing with depression since the death of his father is kidnapped by the father of a girl whose invitation to a high school dance he turned down. From there his girlfriend and family search for him while he is made to endure various tortures from the slightly incestuous family before the plot is turned up to eleven. Maybe there's a little humor is the casual behavior of the family as they do these ridiculous things but mostly I think the sane response is wide-eyed terror.
Scare Factor: 6 ("AM I NOT PRETTY ENOUGH?")

The House Of The Devil (2009)
There is something magical about how this movie was made only a few years ago and yet, manages to replicate the feeling of an 80s horror movie down to every last detail of the score and the font the opening credits were in. The plot surrounds a college student taking a babysitting job in order to pay her rent and is another film that plays into the "people are really messed up" theme that can often be scarier than monsters that you can believe aren't real. It's a slow-burning film that really builds to its terror and the payoff is completely worth it.
Scare Factor: 9 (I have multiple Satans in my room and yet, ritualistic sacrifice to demonic things still manages to be a trigger point for me when it's outside of an episode of Buffy or Angel.)

In Fear (2013)
I'm going to be road-tripping through Ireland in a few months and you can bet that this movie will be on my mind the whole time. A guy and a girl who know each other through mutual friends decide to go to a music festival in Ireland and the guy has booked a hotel room for the night. However, as they try to get to their hotel, they find themselves going in circles as weirder and weirder things start to happen. Interesting enough, all the reactions in the film are real and the actors didn't even know the whole script with a lot of in made up based on how they responded in different situations. It's one of those movies that makes you wonder how you would react under the same circumstances.
Scare Factor: 7 (Still checking my backseat for attractive, Irish psychopaths.)

The Conjuring (2013)
Some of the films above have ghosts but this one is the only real story of a haunting. Based on a true story, the film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, exorcists by trade, as they true to cleanse the house of the Perron family. While many movies have been based on the Warren's work (The Amityville Horror, The Haunting In Connecticut, and most recently Annabelle), this was the first one that featured them as the primary characters with the family rounding out the cast. There are plenty of scary things going on in the house, sometimes even in broad daylight, but a lot of the film is focused on telling a story just as much as scaring.
Scare Factor: 2 (I want to believe in ghosts far more than I actually believe in ghosts.)

Sorority Row (2009)
Just kidding. This movie is kind of dumb. And yet I love it in a way that is unfortunate but true.
Scare Factor: 0 (Carrie Fischer has a shotgun though!)

Happy Haunting!