Few modern filmmakers are as divisive as Danish provocateur/psychopath Nicholas Winding Refn, he of neon-drenched landscapes and blood-soaked elevator shafts. He's a director as heralded for his style as he is criticized for offering little beyond it, and, to some, one of the best filmmakers working today. Even his terrible films are fascinating.
Refn's latest, Neon Demon—a horror fable set in LA's fashion scene—opens this week. It was drowned out by boos at Cannes, which, depending on your disposition, is either a great sign or a bad one. In anticipation, we ranked his previous films from worst to best.
9. Bleeder (1999)
Bleeder is the work of an artist trying to find a voice, but tripping on his worst tendencies. It's slow, sadistic and, worst of all, boring.
8. Fear X (2003)
John Turturro stars as a nebbish security guard unraveling his wife's murder. And sitting quietly. A lot. It comes off as a made-for-TV David Lynch-Coens hybrid, minus anything interesting.
7. Pusher II (2004)
Mads Mikkelsen's low-rent sidekick is promoted to leading man in this surprisingly staid redemption tale. It's still a sleazy drug movie, but this time with less evisceration. It's also marks a transition to maturity for the director himself.
6. Only God Forgives (2013)
How a movie billed as Ryan Gosling fistfighting the Angel of Death in Thailand could under-deliver is astonishing. It is worth a look, if only for Kristin Scott Thomas' performance as the most evil screen mother ever. You'll hate it. But you won't be able to shake it, either.
5. Pusher (1996)
"A desperate drug dealer racing to pay back a kingpin" could describe 90 percent of direct-to-video movies in 1996. That Pusher is somehow a standout is a miracle, and it established Refn as a filmmaker to watch.
4. Bronson (2008)
Tom Hardy and his dong give their best performances in this batshit biopic about notorious British celebrity convict Michael "Charles Bronson" Peterson. The film is like a cross between A Clockwork Orange, a prison flick, vaudeville and a fever dream, and in it Refn finally finds his eye for manic art.
3. Pusher III (2005)
The Pusher series' finale shifts focus to aging drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric) as he deals with murder and Ecstasy trafficking while preparing for his daughter's 25th birthday. Strangely, Milo is sympathetic: He's just a dad trying to give his daughter a proper birthday. And shoving hunks of Albanian down a garbage disposal.
2. Valhalla Rising (2009)
Refn goes full Aguirre in this trippy tale of a mute, one-eyed gladiator who follows Christian Vikings into a foggy hellscape that might be America. Shot with natural light in the Scottish highlands, it is one of the auteur's most divisive films—kicking off with brutal violence before seguing into a long, wordless sea voyage. It is a master class in crazy.
1. Drive (2011)
Audiences were promised a Fast & Furious-style romp with Ryan Gosling playing a stunt man moonlighting as a getaway driver. What they got was a pure distillation of cool, a neon-drenched ode to Michael Mann and Walter Hill that conveys depth with wordless glances. It's pure style. Pure romance. A blood-drenched masterpiece that is not just Refn's best. It's one of the best of the decade.
Church of Film brings its Pride celebration to the Clinton with 1971's pioneering Pink Narcissus, a fever dream fantasy following a young male prostitute as he sort of does an erotic Walter Mitty/Fantasia thing, but with less "gee whiz" and more male models. Clinton Street Theater. 8 pm Wednesday, June 22.
The Blues Brothers makes its way to Pix, with the general assumption that it's not ok to throw fancy glassware at the screen during the honkey-tonk sequence. Pix Patisserie. Dusk, Wednesday, June 22.
The Joy's free Weird Wednesday series ditches the camp for a screening of arguably the greatest horror film o all time, Night of the Living Dead, a film whose terrors still register and whose bleak social allegories have only become more potent nearly 50 years after its release. Joy Cinema. 9:15 pm Wednesday, June 22.
The documentary When We Were Kings would stand as essential viewing were it to just focused on Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle." Instead, it also uses the bout to examine the extreme political upheaval of Zaire in 1974, placing it in a class all its own. Laurelhurst Theater. Friday-Thursday, June 24-30.
Norman Bates is a prime-time television star, but even as he gets the origin-story treatment, Hitchcock's original Psycho remains so much more than the template from which all slasher and psychological horror would be drawn. It remains genuinely unsettling. Joy Cinema. Friday-Sunday, June 24-27.
Look, if Robert Altman wanted to make a musical version of Popeye starring Robin Williams as the spinach-addicted juicer and Shelley Duvall as her cartoon doppleganger, well, you let him. (Actually, maybe they shouldn't have…) Academy Theater. Friday-Thursday, June 24-30.
The Mission doubles down on the group sing-a-longs with The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz. Mission Theater. Both open Friday, June 24.
John Boorman—he of Deliverance—may have delivered the weirdest sci-fi film of a decade full of them with 1974's Zardoz, in which intergalactic killer/rapist Sean Connery dons a shiny red bikini with suspenders (and a braided ponytail) for a trippy battle against immortals and decency. And that's the non-acid-tinged Cliff's Notes. If anything every called for a dispensary crawl down the Green Mile before viewing, it's this. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Friday, June 24.
Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpiece Alien returns in all its claustrophobic, viscera-splattered glory. 5th Avenue Cinema. 7 & 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 3 pm Sunday, June 24-26.
The Hollywood goes off-site for its summer movies program, which kicks off at Mollalla State Park with Christopher Guest's still-brilliant Best in Show. Yes, your dog is welcome. There's even a canine fashion show, and there's a competitive poo toss. Prizes, ironically, include a catering package from Chipotle. Mollalla River State Park. Sunset Saturday, June 25.
Organ master Dean Lemire fires up the pipes for the silent 1922 take on Robin Hood, which makes up for its lack of Russell Crowe by being watchable. Hollywood Theatre. 2 pm Saturday, June 25.
Billy Zane and his nut-hugging purple body suit get the Hecklevision treatment with a screening of the 1996 bomb The Phantom. Hollywood Theatre. 9:30 pm Saturday, June 25.
Repressed Cinema dusts off the 1949 western Trouble at Melody Mesa, which the press materials compare—lovingly—to Manos Hands of Fate. So… yeah. This is going to be pretty great. Hollywood Theatre. 2 pm Sunday, June 26.
POW Fest presents a revival of Jamie Babbit's scathingly funny 1999 teen flick But I'm A Teenager, which follows a confused queer girl's journey to—and awakening at—a misguided sexual-reeducation summer camp. Clinton Street Theater. 7 & 9 pm Monday, June 27.
The Hollywood gets a jump on its upcoming Harry Dean Stanton retrospective with the overlooked '70s crime classic Straight Time, pairing Stanton with Dustin Hoffman as they go on a dangerous robbing spree. Given a 35mm print is rare, this is a must-see on the big screen. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, June 28.