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I'm still broken up about the loss of Anton Yelchin. Art, when it's done well, transcends its time and the artificial boundaries we place between each other, and it helps us reflect on our humanity in the long term. Yelchin was one of those rare artists whose restraint, subtlety, and fierce intelligence made his performances stand apart and speak volumes. (Remember that at the age of twelve he not only held his own opposite but also stole many scenes away from Anthony Hopkins in the adaptation of Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis in 2001.) He died just weeks before he was scheduled to direct his first film (which he also wrote), and beyond feeling very badly for his family and friends in their loss (which I certainly do), I feel sorry for all of us, because I can't help thinking that the world might have had the pleasure of enjoying another fifty years or more of his talent if tragedy hadn't struck.

But this post is meant to be a celebration, so let's get on with it.

If I had to recommend a starting place for a Yelchin movie marathon, I'd have to go with Rudderless (2014), which may in fact be as close to a perfect film as I've seen in the last decade or more. This marks William H. Macy's directorial debut, and it showcases Yelchin's acting, singing, and skill with several musical instruments. But while it's a dark drama in many ways, I wouldn't exactly call it Halloween viewing. Ditto for the dark-but-not-Halloween-dark Fierce People (2005), which is a "must see" for Yelchin's performance. And regardless of one's opinion of the reboot idea as a concept (I know this is up for debate in certain circles), I don't see how anyone could fail to be won over by his interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot films (2009-2016), but that series is not exactly Halloween viewing, either. Yelchin also shines in several thrillers, perhaps the most intense of which -- yes, even more intense than Green Room (2015) to me -- is Broken Horses (2015). Not quite Halloween-esque, but getting much warmer.

(Note: His voice work in Guillermo del Toro's Trollhunters promises to be list-worthy, so be watching for that this December.)


So here is my list of the most Halloween-friendly Anton Yelchin films, ranked in ascending order of recommendation. I hope you watch, enjoy, and celebrate.

#5 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
This moody, impressionistic, highly visual film (what else do you expect from Jim Jarmusch?) follows Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, vampires and lovers who share a long history but now live half a world apart. Really it's a study of entropy, as everything eventually falls apart, and the spookiest character by far is the crumbling ruin-in-progress of Detroit, which serves as the backdrop for much of the film. Shakespeare aficionados may or may not like the film's argument about the Bard's identity. Yelchin portrays practically the only human character in the movie and connects with viewers in a poignant and subtle way the other characters do not, and he shares some crucial scenes with Hiddleston, in particular. I couldn't take parts of it too terribly seriously -- especially because Hiddleston's character is like a vampiric Forrest Gump who apparently knew everyone who was ever interesting anywhere and anytime throughout history -- but certain scenes were dark magic, and I'm glad I watched it.

#4 Burying the Ex (2014)
This is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the horror genre. Yelchin's character works at a horror shop called Bloody Mary's, and his new love interest works at a Halloween-themed ice cream parlor called I Scream, and if only his deceased ex-girlfriend weren't undead and more than a little territorial, the hero and heroine could share real romance. The movie makes nods to everything from the original The Twilight Zone series to Shaun of the Dead, and if you're going to have a make-out scene in a film, this is how to do it: that is, in a graveyard at an open-air showing of Night of the Living Dead. Yes, that's my aesthetic exactly. It's crass and bawdy and the easily offended will be, but it's also exuberantly self-indulgent in its embrace of genre. If you watch it, be sure to note all the details of each set: the posters on the wall, the items on the shelves, etc. Jolly Halloween goodness.

#3 Fright Night (2011)
This is a horror-heavy reinterpretation of a humor-heavy camp film, and if you take its origins into account, you can have quite a good time with this movie. In many ways it is much smarter and more stylish than the original. Colin Farrell is Jerry Dandridge, the vampire who just moved into the neighborhood; David Tennant is Peter Vincent, the over-the-top Vegas showman and self-styled vampire expert; and Yelchin is Charley Brewster, the teenager who has to step up, step in, and save his town from evil almost single-handedly. Some very good actors (including Toni Collette as Charley's mother) had some very good fun making this movie, and the cat-and-mouse back-and-forth between Farrell and Yelchin, in particular, is simply delicious to watch.

#2 Odd Thomas (2013)
No warnings or caveats here: I recommend this to everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this charming film about Odd Thomas (an absolutely perfectly cast Yelchin), an unimposing and self-effacing young Everyman who just happens to be psychic. ("I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it.") It's based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, which I readily admit I haven't read (please don't throw rotten tomatoes... or, you know, anything else), but I understand from those who have that the movie stays quite true to the dry wit and unexpected poignancy of the book. Odd Thomas heroically helps both the living and the lingering dead, and this film has it all: horror, mystery, action, romance, humor, heartbreak, and hope. I don't see how you can go wrong with this kind-hearted gem.

#1 The Driftless Area (2015)
Wow. Just wow. This film is based on the "neo-noir" novel of the same name by Tom Drury (which I have read, thank you very much), and it's dreamlike and haunting and very powerful. Yelchin and Zooey Deschanel lead a remarkable, pitch-perfect cast (including John Hawkes, Alia Shawkat, Aubrey Plaza, Frank Langella, and Ciarán Hinds) in unfolding a narrative that's part coming-of-age tale, part love story, part mystery and revenge saga and murder drama, and part study of life in a small town. The real heart of The Driftless Area is the question of whether we simply drift along and let life happen to us (as it often seems) or if there is meaning and quite possibly destiny involved in our stories and choices, as well. I put it on this list because it's also a ghost story of the most literal (and also the most figurative) kind. True confession: I found both the film and the book to be gutting, personally, but in the best possible way. This is the sort of art I was talking about above, and Yelchin's quietly intense and invested performance is one of its highlights and revelations. This isn't a jump-in-your-seat kind of Halloween spine-tingler; instead it's the kind of film that insists you connect the dots and work on it (during and after the viewing), but if you're looking for haunting, well, this is it.

Here is the trailer.

(Note: The above is also the subject of my latest "Looking Back into Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast, which is available here.)


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 15th, 2016 03:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this list! How could we lose such a huge talent in such a senseless way? Weirdly, my first experience of Anton was the "Criminal Minds" episode "Sex, Birth, Death" (season 2 episode 11, 2006). He plays a brilliant high school student, Nathan Harris, who seeks out Matthew Grey Gubler's character, Dr. Spencer Reid, for help when he can't stop fantasizing about killing prostitutes. It's one of my favorite episodes, and both Matthew and Anton were extraordinary in it. Normally a guest star of a tv show, even a very good one, will not inspire me to find out who they are (assuming I don't know them already). I was looking up Anton Yelchin while the credits were rolling. I have since watched that episode several more times and I still think it is one of the best episodes of the (so far) 12 year run of the show, and they have had a number of brilliant guest stars playing some powerful characters.
Oct. 17th, 2016 12:47 pm (UTC)
Yes! That was an exceptional guest starring performance on "Criminal Minds." I'm not surprised you were looking him up after that. It stuck with me, but I haven't rewatched it in ages. Thanks for the reminder! I need to do that ASAP!
Oct. 19th, 2016 05:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks to you I rewatched this episode this morning during my workout (yay Netflix!) and, wow, it still packs an incredible punch. What a performance.

Edited at 2016-10-19 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oct. 15th, 2016 06:03 pm (UTC)
Regarding Only Lovers Left Alive, is this another sad case of someone believing that Shakespeare's plays were written by Edward de Vere? I think the following by Kenneth Hite counters that attitude nicely:

As a conspiratologist, my favorite theory is Calvin Hoffman's -- that Francis and Anthony Bacon faked Christopher Marlowe's death in 1593 and Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays from a hideout in Verona, Italy. (Where he also apparently learned to write female characters. But that's beside the point.) But by and large the Authorship Controversy is less plausible than, say, the Loch Ness Monster -- there are historical cases of new mega fauna being discovered, but there aren't any I know of where a rich and famous person pays a nonentity to sign masterpieces he wrote, instead of the other way around. And the notion that Ben Jonson, to pick just one of Shakespeare's contemporaries who would have to be part of any cover-up, would willingly conspire to keep his great rival's secret is beyond ridicule.

A lot of it seems like a weird flinch from the notion that middle-class nobodies can make art -- when of course that's who made the vast majority of art throughout history, and especially English history, and even more especially English literature. By comparison, in all English history, there are only two hereditary peers who have written great literature. (Two and a half if you count Dunsany.) The Marlowe theory at least picks another middle-class tradesman's son, although he went to Cambridge like a gentleman.

I've both read and seen Odd Thomas, and it is a faithful adaptation with just a few judicious cuts.
Oct. 17th, 2016 12:51 pm (UTC)
I do love Hite's analyses on just about everything. Thanks for this! The film goes with vampire!Marlowe.

I've both read and seen Odd Thomas, and it is a faithful adaptation with just a few judicious cuts.

This is great to hear! If I really loved the film, would you recommend that I read the book? And what about the subsequent books in the series? Are they good, too? I found him to be a really compelling and likable character with a terrific internal voice. Thanks for weighing in on this!
Oct. 15th, 2016 07:26 pm (UTC)
RIP Yelchin
Such a loss. Haven't felt this cheated out of someone's talent since the death of River Phoenix.

I will definitely check out some of these so thanks.
Oct. 17th, 2016 12:51 pm (UTC)
Re: RIP Yelchin
Yes, that's it exactly. Cheated is the perfect word for it.
Oct. 15th, 2016 09:53 pm (UTC)
re: Halloween Countdown Day 15
I enjoyed "Only Lovers Left Alive", but it is dark and claustrophobic.

Must admit that I watched the remake of "Fright Night" because of DT. :)

Anton Yelchin's loss was very tragic.
Oct. 17th, 2016 12:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Halloween Countdown Day 15
Very tragic indeed!

Speaking of the film's darkness and claustrophobia: while I've been to Detroit, I'm glad I didn't have any close ties or memorable experiences there, because I think it would be devastating to see "your" city in this light. It's tragic even from an outsider's point of view.

DT was terrific in "Fright Night"! I really liked his character's arc. And, like the rest of the cast, you could tell he was having fun! He rocks his eyeliner. ;)
Oct. 16th, 2016 03:34 pm (UTC)
thank you for this! Didn't follow his career before Star Trek, but some of these must go on the 'must see' list....

Loved "Only Lovers" even if it confused me (by being so darkly compressed....i felt as if I were stuck in a black hole) and always meant to write to it.

So many words.....so little time.....
Oct. 17th, 2016 12:59 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! There are several great performances he gives I didn't list, as they weren't really relevant to the theme, but of those I'd particularly recommend Middle of Nowhere (2008) with Yelchin and Susan Sarandon. Yelchin's character is remarkable, and he blows the sequence where he finds his birth mother out of the water. Wrenching! It's a wandering slice of life kind of film, but it ends in a bittersweet and affirming kind of way.
Oct. 17th, 2016 01:28 pm (UTC)
i'll check that out, thanks!

(yesterday i watched "Bury"......ai....it's a bit difficult, i felt very weird and sort of ....i don't know...mean? watching it, since now he is gone.

i can't stop thinking (now) about how the last seconds of his life must have been. Sort of like her getting run down by that bus in the movie. Will there someday be a legend that the drive by his home is haunted? ....But i imagine that the very worst forms of hauntings are the one we already have, there in our minds). Sigh.
Oct. 19th, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC)
You bet!

i can't stop thinking (now) about how the last seconds of his life must have been.

I know what you mean. It's absolutely horrifying and devastating to contemplate. I have to forcibly stop myself from considering it.

it's a bit difficult, i felt very weird and sort of ....i don't know...mean? watching it, since now he is gone.

I recently saw his fellow castmate Simon Pegg talk about viewing his work -- he choked up as he did so -- but he emphasized that we shouldn't be sad to watch his performances, because we're watching a gifted person doing what he most loved to do. He phrased it better than I'm paraphrasing it here, but I did get the impression that he felt it was a proper tribute to Yelchin. And I know his other castmate John Cho has mentioned going through and rewatching his body of work as a way of dealing with the loss and lifting up his friend's memory. So, seeing that two people who worked with him for years and knew him well felt this was a fitting way of celebrating his life, I kind of took permission from that to appreciate his films without feeling weird, although of course I can't shake the lingering sense of loss that comes along with getting so much out of his performances.

This may be splitting hairs, but I see this as a different case than watching someone who was in self-destruction mode and no one was aware or able to step in and save the person before it was too late. Does that make sense? For instance, I found it difficult to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mockingjay, knowing he didn't finish filming his original scenes due to his overdose. You have to wonder if he wasn't already in significant distress and trouble while filming those scenes he did complete, and perhaps if someone had seen this and responded, his downward spiral might have been averted somehow. It's disturbing.

Yelchin, on the other hand, seemed so positive in what he chose to do and how he threw himself enthusiastically into his projects and life, that I don't have that same sense of discomfort, if that makes any sense. His performances come across as very sensitive, affirming, and humane to me.
Oct. 19th, 2016 07:00 pm (UTC)
I think that it was my mistake to watch the zombie movie, since that is what opened the floodgate of my unhappiness (at myself, really).

I watched the 'new' Star Trek without feeling guilty (although, yeah, I felt sad, very sad, that he was gone). I think that emotionally I was (then) on the same plane you describe: I knew he took joy in his work and his life and although *I* was incredibly sad, I surely didn't feel the same way (as you say) as when someone dies while on a self-destructive course.

It's hard to parse things when it comes to nuances of feelings, isn't it? I feel mean in saying this, too, and I think it comes from anger, but, yes, I feel utterly different about PSH than I do about Anton.

You know, several years ago, a friend in the Tolkien community committed suicide. I was shocked, sad, angry. I talked to a fellow community member who is a psychiatrist. And she said......you may be able to prevent them from killing themself for a moment, but if that is their intent, they WILL do it.

It doesn't help much. It really doesn't, since they have gone and we remain with the sadness, anger, shock, questions that can never be answered. But it does help a little, to know that really, only the person involved in destructive behavior can change that behavior. (I leave out those who are damaged mentally/emotionally by things not of their doing) .....and, if they choose not to, there is not much we can do but restrain their physical bodies momentarily.....while their minds continue to *float* away from us, as it were.

Re someone seeing and responding to Hoffman's behavior: I'm sure many people saw and responded to it. Last week, I was watching a documentary about Belushi, and it was rife with not only how many people were in a hurry to help him od, but also how many tried to stop that.

I know this is a novel of a reply, but such a grave matter deserves nothing less. In ending....I recall what i simply think is a fabulous quote, although it sounds like something that Simple Sam would say:

"Everyone in their heart knows what is right".

Yes, Samwise, we all DO know that. Now, we have only to *do* what our heart knows.

Ai. Rest in Peace, young Anton. And Mr. Hoffman.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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