Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Older Film Discoveries 2013

I watched more old movies last year than any year since I've been tallying up the movies I watch. Here are a few of the highlights that were discoveries for me.

An Enemy of the People [Satyajit Ray, 1989] - An adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play about a doctor who believes the holy water at the nearby temple is contaminated. He faces a lot of opposition including from his brother who is determined not to let the news out.

The Earthling [Peter Collinson, 1980] - The dying journey of a dreamer who meets a young boy lost in the wilderness after the death of his parents. A movie that is both tough and touching but without being sappy. [I wrote it about it here].

Hard Times [Walter Hill, 1975] - Charles Bronson plays Cheney a drifter who travels around the south during The Great Depression earning money by prize fighting and beating just about everyone in sight. A streamlined tale directed by Walter Hill [his first] with no frills just solid action.

Heidiko The Bus Conductor [Mikio Naruse, 1941] - My discovery of Naruse continued last year and this fun short film about a young woman who comes up with the idea of a starting a bus travel guide business on in her small town. A delightful comedy romance.

Justin De Marseille [Maurice Tourneur, 1935] - A French gangster film set in Marseille about a suave but likable gangster who attempts to set the black market business right. A film that captures a particular locale with color and mood and characters in ways that are purely French - but not Parisian.

The Last Valley [James Clavell, 1971] - Novelist James Clavell directed this historical drama set in the 17th century that pits a captain who leads his group of rough shod soldiers into a quiet valley where they consider their next move. Surprisingly good considering it's B-movie trapping.

Millions Like Us [Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launde, 1943]  This is one of best British propaganda films made during the war. Tightly scripted, well acted and directed it combines humor, drama, tragedy and the characteristic positive British attitude.

A New Leaf [Elaine May, 1971] - Elaine May's first and possibly best film about a rich man who is soon to lose his fortune and decides to marry a very naive woman whom he plans to kill for the insurance money. A comedy and while not always politically correct or comfortable full of many laughs.
Quatorze Juillet [Rene Clair, 1933] - Clair is best known for Le Million and À nous la liberté but, in fact, this movie is more in the classic tradition of French films of the 1930's. And in my view certainly as good.

A Pig Across Paris [aka Four Bags Full] [Claude Autant-Lara, 1956] - A terrific French comedy set during the Occupation in which Jean Gabin - an erstwhile artist - decides to help [or maybe it's hinder?] his new found friend get pork delivered around Paris. A true classic that deserves to be discovered.
Rome Ore 11 [Giuseppe De Santi, 1952] - Italian drama about a group of women searching for a job in a tough market who experience an accident while waiting in line for an interview. A film right on the heels of Italian neorealism but with a romantic twist.

Here were a few I knew about and finally caught up with.

Applause [Rouben Mamoulian, 1929] - Classic early talkie that used sound in novel ways.

The Blue Lamp [Basil Dearden, 1950] - Awesome British crime drama.

Breakfast at Tiffanies - [Blake Edwards, 1961] Yeah, I know, I hadn't seen this until last year.

The Breaking Point - [Michael Curtz, 1950] John Garfield in a noir classic version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.

Contraband - [Michael Powell, 1940] World War II drama with Conrad Veidt as a Danish sea captain who uncovers a Nazi spy ring.

The Lady and the Beard [Yasujiro Ozu, 1931] I had a chance to see this twenty years ago at an Ozu retrospective but passed up the chance. Glad I finally saw it.

Witchfinder General [Michael Reeves,1968] - Terrific British horror drama featuring one of Vincent Price's best roles.

Zoo in Budapest [Rowland Young, 1933] - Always loved the title. And Loretta Young just shines.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Best Movies 2013

I watched more movies in 2013 than I have ever watched and I still feel like there are great films I missed. Nonetheless, it's time to make the annual list. Here are the top ten films I saw in 2013.

1) Inside Llewyn Davis - The movie that stayed with me longer than any other this holiday season. Melancholic, melodic and humorous it's a film that shows the Coen Brothers at the top of their game. It's also nice to see one of their characters garner our sympathy a bit. [Some say he is unsympathetic but in my view he simply makes bad choices and knows when he screws up].
2) Gravity - Hollywood - with the talents of Alfonso Cuarón - found how to use IMAX 3D without overdoing the 3D and yet immerse us in an awesome story of survival.
3) Upstream Color - Shane Carruth jumbles his narrative in such a way that is at once perplexing and impressive. At the heart is a movie about doubts and loneliness that just happens to push the narrative envelope a bit so we pay attention.
4) Short Term 12 - If there was justice in the big bad film world then this SWSX winning film by Destin Cretton would be nominated for best picture and Brie Larson would win best actress.
5) Hannah Arendt - This movies dares to tread where few movies do; into the world of intellectual battles. At the heart this movie, by Margarethe von Trotta, is a woman who chose to defend a common
sense idea over common sense.
6) Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley went in search of the mom she
never knew and in the process she found herself.
What else are documentaries supposed to do?
7) All Is Lost - Robert Redford lost at sea for a couple hours, working hard to survive but doomed to sink all without saying anything except 'Fuuuuuuuckkkk!'. What's not to love? J.C. Chandor shows with only two films he has considerable range.
8) Tim's Vermeer - Penn & Teller take on Vermeer. Or more exactly Vermeer art historians in this fascinating, engaging documentary. The theory is certainly debatable but the process of creating a Vermeer is undeniable.
9) The Past - Asghar Farhadi makes films about the complexity of human relations. This is his second film about the effects of divorce and while it may not be as rich as his last film it still offers much more than the average 'divorce picture'.
10) Becoming Traviata - I know what you're saying; What is Becoming Traviata? It's a behind the scenes documentary about a staging of Traviata at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Presented by Philippe Béziat as a fly on the wall approach it avoids all the reality TV b.s and just shows us professional singers and a director doing what they do best. I was riveted.

The next twenty [alphabetical]:
American Hustle
The Attack
Blue Jasmine
The Company You Keep
Computer Chess
Drinking Buddies
Fill the Void
Frances Ha
The Great Beauty
Mother of George
Museum Hours
Pacific Rim
Something in the Air
A Touch of Sin
The World's End