Updated: 3 days ago
Practical Magic Fall is here. Or is it Spooky Season? Or The Season of the Witch by Lana Del Ray? Whatever you call it, it's that time of year where we watch cozy/spooky/scary movies. Without further ado, I present to you the second annual Halloween Horror Nights Watchlist repackaged and rebranded as Practical Magic Fall Watchlist 2022.
This year we are starting out with some classically cozy fall indulgence.
1. Mystic Pizza
I really enjoyed Mystic Pizza. It is filled with breathtaking performances from the then largely unknown cast. Julia Roberts before Pretty Woman was somehow not the star of the show. Vincent D'Onpfrio is hot af in a largely peaceful role in contrasty to his explosive breakout performance in Full Metal Jacket. Lili Taylor surprisingly steals every scene she's in. The layers to her role and performance are staggering. A 17-year-old Annabeth Gish takes on the starring role launching her long career.
Written by Amy Holden Jones (who would go on to make a fortune writing Beethoven. Yes the one about the dog) and directed by Donald Petrie of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days fame, Mystic Pizza delivers an intimate feminist coming-of-age story that hits deeper than the reviews would suggest. This is an important film. Mystic Pizza should be required viewing for anyone growing up in America.
Available for streaming on HBO Max
78% on Rotten Tomatoes
2. Good Will Hunting
Carrying on the unexpected scene stealing role of Matt Damon in Mystic Pizza we are moving on to our second cozy film of the season, Good Will Hunting.
Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. This film is steeped in narcissism. I found myself pausing and ranting about the characters for most of the first half of the movie. My main complaint is it felt like every character had the same voice: that of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. The love interest, played by the wonderful Minnie Driver, definitely suffered from misogynistic tropes and her character only existed as a prop for Matt Damon's character. It is telling that they had a short-lived real-world romance around the release of this movie.
Robin Williams knock out performance sells this one. He doesn't appear until at least a quarter of the way through. There are a handful of scenes here that elevate Good Will Hunting to the reputation it deserves. By the end I was legitimately emotionally invested in the characters.
Available to stream on HBO Max
96% on Rotten Tomatoes
You can download the script here
3. Dead Poet's Society
If I had known that this was supposed to take place at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, TN, I would have watched this sooner. The themes resonated with me as I was reminded of my own teenage years in Williamson County. I went to a version of the public school featured in the movie. I had a few friends that went to MBA and I remember playing against them in soccer from time to time.
I have a lot of feelings about this story. I find myself siding with the faculty in that the teacher (Robin Williams) was, in fact, partially at fault for the student's suicide. I had a few friends (none of them close) that were victims of suicide around my high school years, so I felt like I related to the story. Yes, it was clearly his father's fault, but I think that's a reduction of the complicated emotions that lead someone to take their own life. Most of my biggest mistakes in life involve giving people advice to trust those that are supposed to love them to support them. It turns out, this is surprisingly rare, especially for the children of boomers.
There are some powerful scenes in this film and the writing is definitely worthy of the academy award, but I can't help but feel this was a stepping stone in the evolution of film as an art form. There were plenty of standout performances, and the directing was mostly good, with the exception of the suicide and the ending. I read that the script originally had Robin William's character dying of cancer and the director changed it. By omitting that fact, his character loses some necessary depth that only the writer would have been able to see ultimately lowering the impact of the ending. Robin William's character needed that conflict of personal demons and regrets of having not lived for today that he projected (forced) upon his student that combined with all of the other socio-economic forces that ultimately led to him making the decision to take his own life. Without that, the narrative is simply that he was fired unjustly and the social commentary (and the potential social change along with it) falls flat.
Available to rent/buy on iTunes.
84% on Rotten Tomatoes
You can download the script here
4. Pachinko (Apple TV+ Series)
This show is absolutely extraordinary. There is a lot to unpack here so I am going to start with why it is on the list. Pachinko was released on AppleTV+ in March of 2022, so why is it on the fall watchlist? I'm not entirely sure. I feel like the show feels like fall. Like the aesthetic, the themes, all seem fall-like. Like the passing of the seasons from summer into winter. The beauty in things passing away only to come back as something new in the spring.
I read the book, written by Min Jin Lee, earlier this year. It was my first library book in California. It was a National Book Award finalist for 2017. Go read it now. It is incredible. It is one of the most important books I have ever read. I literally wept for something like 30 minutes at the end of this book. Wow. Just wow.
Why is Pachinko important?
Liz and I discussed this at length last night. Japanese Colonialism. Capitalism. The effect of generational trauma versus generational love. Finding that deep passion within and letting it take over instead of whatever the world throws at you. Being yourself against all odds. Finding your identity within your own context. Racism. Global racism. Abuse. It feels like real life. In many ways it is. Finding beauty in the terrible. It is an exploration of what it means to be happy. Gender roles. The destruction wrought by fascism and the desire to control who and what can exist. Religion. Gambling. Alcohol.
The show is presented in Korean and Japanese. I highly recommend watching it with subtitles even though dubbing is available. Adapted for the screen by Soon Hugh and Directed by Justin Chon (Eric from Twilight) and Kogonada (After Yang). This is the first of four seasons of one of the best shows ever made.
Buy the book on Bookshop.org
Stream on AppleTV+
97% on Rotten Tomatoes
Download the Pilot script here
Week 1: Interlude
At this point in the list we are beginning our transition from strictly fall-ish cozy-ish emotional movies into the Mystery/Horror/Genre space.
5. Knives Out
I absolutely adore this movie. Bonus points for the screenplay being a joy to read. I feel like Knives Out launched a new genre of mystery comedies for the 21st century. The limited series The After Party would not have existed if it were not for this film.
Knives Out embodies what I see when I envision fall. The changing of the leaves, old drafty houses, cozy sweaters, death. Chris Evans is perfect in this movie. So is Ana D'armas. So is Daniel Craig (James Bond). So is literally everyone. A fun performance from Edi Patterson of Righteous Gemstones fame as Fran, the housekeeper.
If you've somehow been living under a rock for the last three years and do not know what Knives Out is, it is a locked room murder mystery/comedy/thriller about a rich and famous mystery author with a comically awful family who dies in questionable circumstances and the squabbling that follows. Detective consultant Benoit Blanc (played by the venerable Daniel Craig) is on the case.
Buy/Rent on iTunes
97% on Rotten Tomatoes
Download the script here
6. The Sandman (Netflix Series)
I read my first Neil Gaiman book this month. It was Coraline. While there is a pretty good movie adaptation of Coraline out there from 2009, it did not make this list. I've been hearing good things about Netflix's Sandman series (an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel series), so I thought it would be a good transition series for those of us with extra time for spooky season watchings.
I'm only a few episodes in and I am enjoying it so far. Specifically the performances of Narcos' Boyd Holbrook as well as David Thewlis (Remus from Harry Potter). Vivienne Acheampong is always a delight on the screen and Patton Oswalt as Matthew the Raven steals every scene he's in.
The writing is good and the world building is incredible. The narrative just isn't carrying much weight for me yet. Solid 8/10 so far.
Stream on Netflix
87% on Rotten Tomatoes
7. Jennifer's Body (Unrated)
Jennifer's Body has been on my list for years, but for whatever reason I kept pushing it off. I finally sat down to watch it this year, and let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint.
This is a strange film. Released in 2009, the 2nd film written by Oscar-winning Diablo Cody (Juno), and directed by Karyn Kusama (who would go on to direct the impeccable The Invitation, which you might remember from last year's list, and Yellowjackets), Jennifer's Body was not met with critical acclaim. Quite the opposite, it is currently sitting at 45% on Rotten Tomatoes. After watching this film, I feel like everyone should agree it is much, much better than 45%. I'd give it at least an 8/10, but because of the discussions it sparked after viewing, I'd bump it up to 9/10.
Jennifer's Body is not quite horror, not quite slasher, not quite feminist, but VERY gay. It came out at a time where the female gaze was very much not accepted (we currently live in a time where it is only kind of accepted) let alone the LGBTQIA+ gaze. At it's heart, I think this is a twisted sort of love story. It's that twisted part that makes it hard to swallow. On one hand these two women are clearly in love, on the other hand that love is forbidden, even by their internalized bigotry.
The writing is far better than it should be (I think most of it went over people's heads). Jennifer's Body is a love letter (and a reclamation) to the horror genre. We've got a woman raping and killing virgin men (a gender swap of the disgusting trope). We've got a possession. We've got an incredibly complicated and nuanced relationship. We've got a cult of indie emo musicians. We've got extreme 2000s teen fashion. We've got some of the greatest one-liners ever written. We've got some of the worst one-liners ever written. We've got probably the sexiest scene ever filmed (this movie is VERY sexy). We've got peak Megan Fox. If you've ever questioned her ability to act, watch Jennifer's Body. Megan Fox IS this movie.
Jennifer's Body helped carve out a space for feminist horror in the 21st century. There are many films that would never have been made if it weren't for this movie. Do NOT skip.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime
45% on Rotten Tomatoes
You can download the script here
8. A Ghost Story
SPOILER FILLED REVIEW
I did not like this movie. I put it on the list because it seemed like a different take on the horror genre (though it is classified as romance) plus it has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's not that A Ghost Story is a bad movie, it accomplished what it set out to do, it is simply boring as hell and lacks much of a story at all. It is eternally perplexing as to why this movie was made. There were choices that seemed juvenile at almost every turn.
It is interesting to have this on the list alongside Jennifer's Body which was very much the female gaze whereas A Ghost Story is disturbingly male gaze. The film begins with what seems to be an examination of a woman's (played by the wonderful Rooney Mara) grief after losing their partner, but then she permanently leaves the story and we focus on the ghost (played by Casey Affleck if you can call it that). Rooney Mara's performance is wasted here. The pacing is what many people are calling deliberate, I call it "I only had enough story for 45 minutes so I'm just going to linger for way too long on literally every shot to make it seem artistic and hopefully people won't notice." And it worked! It DOES make you think. It DOES make you feel. But it is unclear what.
There were some scenes that felt racially problematic. There's this part where two ghosts communicate through subtitles where I literally laughed out loud because it was so ridiculous. But this was immediately followed by a sequence of a Spanish-speaking family that was told without subtitles. Normally I feel like this would be fine, but we subtitled the ghosts, so it felt like an othering of the family. And I probably would have let this go, but there is this bizarre, pointless sequence later featuring a Pioneer family that gets killed by Native Americans. Like what the fuck is that? Also there is a part where the ghost kills himself and it somehow reverses time. Not sure what you are trying to say with suicidal imagery like that.
The imagery of the ghost was fantastic. I particularly liked how the sheet got dirtier over time. This is a movie that definitely sticks with you and will genuinely creep you out. I'm betting that in a few days I will "get" it in the same way that The Lighthouse lingered in my subconscious for a long, long time. However, I do not recommend this movie to anyone.
Rent/Buy on AppleTV
90% on Rotten Tomatoes
You can download the script here. Just kidding, there wasn't a script. It was just a 30 page outline.
9. Do Revenge
I hate that I liked this movie.
Written and Directed by Jennifer Katyn Robinson, the screenwriter of Thor: Love and Thunder and Someone Great, Do Revenge is a retelling of the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train. It is a complicated tale of revenge and counter revenge and betrayal and then becoming friends again.
There are like 10 beginnings. And if you know me, I hate it when movies get mired in exposition for more than a few minutes. Like, just get going. Figuring out what is going on is part of what is fun about watching movies. With a 2 hour runtime, I feel like this script could have cut about 30 pages and would have been better for it. Even if 30 pages were then added back in at more interesting parts of the story. There's a lot going on here and a lot of precious screentime is wasted.
This movie seemed like it was a ton of fun to make. And it was fun to watch, despite its imperfections. The movie is quite funny, if at times cringe. I feel like I'd be friends with the screenwriter if we ever met in real life.
The fashion is really the star of the show.
The performances were largely good. Maya Hawke is always a treat. Camila Mendes is Camila Mendes. I always love Rish Shah (Ms Marvel), whom I fancast as River in In the Shadow Garden. The only standout performance was from Sophie Turner who was clearly wasted in Game of Thrones.
There were some genuinely emotionally resonant moments and for the most part the twists and payoffs are worth it.
While not really fall, Do Revenge does give off fall in California vibes even though it is set in Miami.
I think, ultimately, this movie wasn't written to be great, it was written to be fun, and I have a hard time with that.
Available to stream on Netflix
83% on Rotten Tomatoes
Pig might be the best movie I have ever seen.
I'm not going to tell you much about it because it is simply something you must experience for yourself. Nicholas Cage plays a truffle hunter whose truffle pig gets stolen. He then embarks on a quest to get her back. Whatever you have in your head about what this movie is, it isn't.
Written by Vanessa Block and Michael Sarnoski. This was Michael's directorial debut. He's already been tapped to direct a Quiet Place spinoff slated to release in 2023. I will be eager to watch whatever he comes out with from here on out.
Watch this movie as soon as you are humanly able.
Available to stream on HULU
97% on Rotten Tomatoes
11. We're All Going to the World's Fair
I put We're All Going to the World's Fair on the list because it is billed as a Coming-of-Age Horror Drama. A lot of people have been upset that it's not horror enough. I'm beginning to think that there a lot of people out there that haven't had anything bad happen to them. On one hand this is a good thing, on the other hand, it seems like it leaves them with a shortage of empathy. But I'm not of the belief that we need tragedy or trauma to have empathy. Empathy is a choice.
I am eagerly awaiting whatever comes next from writer/director by Jane Schoenbrun. If you've read any of last year's list, you will know that I generally have a problem with writer/directors, but having watched a few from women filmmakers, I think it's simply a problem with white male writer/directors. Because this movie was great! The performance from Anna Cobb was phenomenal as well. She is definitely going places. Look for her in a supporting role in the upcoming cannibal love story starring Timothée Chalamet, Bones and All.
At first I wasn't sure how I felt about this movie. I'm not sure how much I want to say here. I almost want to invite you to discuss this in my DMs. I think I'm just going to block out the spoiler section so you can simply highlight it to see it. In short, this movie profoundly moved me, and it's likely because Liz had a similar experience in her childhood.
We're All Going to the World's Fair is a smart, extraordinary, somehow beautiful meditation on the vulnerability of being an isolated teenager with suicidal ideation in the digital age. At first I was worried that it would be the wrong kind of trauma horror, but this film was carefully crafted to somehow not be triggering, but empowering for victims of grooming. This was clearly personal for the filmmaker. It came across as a sort of love letter to her younger self. And yes, it IS horrifying, but not in the way you expect, but in a deeper, more complex, real way. I'm getting teared up writing this. I just hate that there are these monsters in the world, but this is how we beat them. We shine a light on it. We make sure people know the red flags and we acknowledge what happens in the darkness.
10/10, Possibly triggering for the reasons mentioned above. This movie is disturbing, but not in the way that you think.
Available to stream on HBO Max
90% (27% audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
While Constantine probably deserves it's 46% Rotten Tomatoes critics score, I genuinely had a good time watching it. Coming out in 2005 and starring Keanu Reeves it could not avoid being compared to The Matrix, much to its detriment. As the years went on and our cultural consciousness was cleansed drifting further and further towards comic book movies, our overall opinions of this movie have improved and it has garnered a cult following.
The writing is laugh-out-loud at times (Keanu's subtle one-liners are bangers), and the special effects are surprisingly impressive.
If you are at all into angels-versus-demons-noir-shoot-em-ups or a fan of Keanu then give Constantine a go. You won't be disappointed.
46% (72% audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes
13. Los Espookys
Stop what you are doing right now and go watch this show.
Los Espookys is a horror comedy produced by Fred Armisen and written by Julio Torres (you need to watch his comedy special) and Ana Fabrega. It is in Spanish with English subtitles. Season 1 premiered all the way back in 2019 and after a LONG hiatus due to the pandemic it has returned for season 2! Only the first two episodes of season 2 have aired.
This show is the queerest thing I have ever seen. It is my favorite show to go on the air in the last few years. It is SO funny I can't even. It's about a group of twenty-somethings in Mexico who find themselves faking hauntings for people. But there are some actual supernatural things going on. It is wild and wacky and weird and very VERY gay. But like somehow the queerness is never the butt of the jokes.
Fred Armisen shows up (speaking English) as an ever expanding cameo role. If you know me, you know how I feel about Fred Armisen. He's my literal fav.
Available to stream on HBO Max
14. Let the Right One In (2008)
Let the Right One In was weird. While objectively good, it is uncomfortable. It's an interesting take on vampire mythology. I'm also not sure if there is any deeper meaning here. I felt some undertones of a meditation on The Other, but that was undermined by some of the story choices. On one hand this was about Sweden's racism and intolerance, on the other it was a reinforcement of Sweden's racism and intolerance. This is probably just another example of me over-analyzing what is a simple vampire story. Or maybe just a cultural divide. I don't know. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles.
The performances of the young actors is quite good and I was surprised to see that they haven't been cast in any prominent roles in any major films since. The cinematography is the star of the show here. The visuals are stunning especially with such a low budget.
There is a Showtime series with the same name based on the same novel coming out in October. It would be interesting to see the direction they go with it for an American audience.
Overall, Let the Right One In is a quiet, somewhat contemplative, visually beautiful, coming-of-age-horror-romance that deserves a watch for anyone interested in vampire fiction.
98% on Rotten Tomatoes
15. Hocus Pocus 2
1993s Hocus Pocus sucked. I'm going to get a lot of backlash for that statement, but it's true. It never lived up to its cast or premise. It had some good elements, but ultimately it didn't deliver.
Now, 29 years later, we get another shot. And it delivers. Hocus Pocus 2 has a stellar cast and good writing. Some of the jokes fall flat, but we don't care because we are having a good time.
Y'all, Bette Midler can sing. You probably already knew this, but still. She can sing.
The real stars of this show are the three young actresses in the intro sequence that play the teenage versions of the Sanderson Sisters, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson (that guy from Veep and Werewolves Within) and Whitney Peak (simply phenomenal).
Available to stream on Disney+
62% on Rotten Tomatoes
Interlude: Thus concludes the September section of the watchlist. October is not for the feint of heart. Last year I watched so many scary movies that it literally changed my psychology for months afterwards. I became spooky season. This year we are welcoming that change with open arms. Prepare for full horror immersion. Find some comfy socks, popcorn (or candy corn) and prepare to have your socks knocked off. 👻👻👻
Nope is basically like Jordan Peele asked the question: What if we did Signs, but without Mel Gibson? And in typical Jordan Peele fashion, he did just that, and oh so much more.
Keke Palmer is the star of the show, though the rest of the cast gives her a run for her money. Brandon Perea as the dreamy Best Buy employee is my favorite. This guy's going places.
There is this moment when Daniel Kaluuya is sitting in his truck trying so hard to hold in his fear, but you can see it so clearly on his face. This moment was real.
Overall this is a pretty straightforward movie that is entertaining to watch and very weird. There are plenty of homages (and easter eggs) to the genres it pulls from (Science Fiction-Alien-Black-Western) reminding of us of Jordan Peele's extensive knowledge of film. I don't want to spoil really anything so, just go ahead and watch it already.
82% on Rotten Tomatoes
Coming Soon: Prey
As always, I will be updating this list as we go. I may even make some edits to the previous posts.