John Waters, the Baltimore-bred “Pope of Trash,” lives at a very specific nexus of high and low art, a cultivated (and hard to replicate) aesthetic of his own making. Fans are reminded of this when the creator of Hairspray and Pink Flamingos releases his top ten movie list in Artforum each year.
2019 is no different, and this year’s selection is curated to inspire the expected rainbow of reactions from “yes, brilliant!” to “oh, John, really?” (Who can forget 2017 when he stuck Woody Allen in between Lady Macbeth and Tom of Finland?)
Number one on his list is Climax by Gaspar Noé, the Franco-Argentine film director who made Irréversible and Enter The Void. His thumbnail review concluded “freak out, baby, freak out!” (V.F.’s K. Austin Collins called it “a vapid but lively new mindfuck.”)
Eight of Waters’ picks would hardly be fodder for mainstream multiplexes, but those that did sneak in there include Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood and, prepare yourself, Joker. Of the Todd Phillips/Joaquin Phoenix supervillain tale, he called it “the first big-budget Hollywood movie to gleefully inspire anarchy.” (V.F.’s Richard Lawson found it a bit more troubling.)
Elsewhere in the mix you’ll find celebrated titles like The Souvenir, Pain and Glory and the long-delayed Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace. Additionally, Waters recognized off-the-radar films like the Swedish fantasy Border from the Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi (“if Eraserhead had cousins”) and Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? (“don’t send money to Toys for Tots this Xmas; give it to these heretics,” he said of the film’s subjects, Lucien Greaves and the Satanic Temple.)
He also gave prominent placement once again to a favorite of his, French director Bruno Dumont, for the movie Joan of Arc, and found a spot for Fatih Akin‘s reviled German film The Golden Glove, which boasts a 38 on Metacritic and Waters calls grotesque and appalling. “Shame on you, Fatih Akin, for making it. Shame on me for putting it on this Top Ten list.”
Waters hasn’t sat in the director’s chair himself since 2004’s A Dirty Shame, though you did hear his voice as a first class airline passenger in 2015’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Trip, in which the computer generated titular rodent made it clear that he was familiar with the filmmaker’s oeuvre, and preferred his unrated, early work.
The man who claimed to have been often mistaken for Don Knotts hits the road with A John Waters Christmas in Seattle this week, making stops in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York and, yes, Baltimore.
Waters’ ranked list (minus his remarks) is:
10 – Joker
9 – The Souvenir
8 – The Golden Glove
7 – Pain and Glory
6 – Hail Satan?
5 – Amazing Grace
4 – Border
3 – Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood
2 – Joan of Arc
1 – Climax