While I don’t want to become that guy who keeps saying that you should try and see things other than just the new releases that hits your multi-plex, I gotta be that guy for a moment. As many website are wrapping up 2015 films and giving their own definition as to what was the best of the year, and I’ll get to that shortly, I want to spend a moment talking about some films from years gone by that I hadn’t yet seen at the beginning of 2015 that I hope you will find the time to catch up with, if you ever find yourself scrolling through Netflix and unsure of what to take a look at.
This year I’ve decided to order my list alphabetically and not try to rank with the usual arbitrary hierarchy. Each of these films are pretty great, so any you can find time for will be well worth it.
7th Heaven (1927) (dir. Frank Borzage)
While we’re in the age of the “real” and “gritty” cinema, I’ve come to appreciate the films that play itself as magical. It puts logic to the wind to sweep us up in something more idealistic than one could really manage. In this story of a man who works in the sewers of the city with the ambition of working above ground his life takes on a crazy tale of how he reaches higher than he ever could’ve imagined.
Bound (1996) (dir. Wachowskis)
We love to say that “sex sells” and watch movies that over sexualize every and anything, while at the same time never quite being intimate. They provide you the parts without that ineffable thing that makes something sexy to you as a person. This movie has that unspeakable thing in spades and more. It’s not just that there are naked body parts, but that we see the passion and fire being lit as these parts come together.
Coffy (1973) (dir. Jack Hill)
I still have a long way to go into the world of blaxsploitation cinema, but this was a great introduction into what they were doing in the 70s and seeing Pam Grier as the icon that she’s known as rather than the after effects of these types of roles. There are parts of the movie that are ridiculous, but if you watch it closely you can see how all of the films ridiculousness comes together can be seen as a direct social response to the world that these filmmakers saw around them and how they then responded to that world. It’s history, not just for the surface level discussion of entertainment, but how it paints our viewing of a culture that as always needs even more chances to represent itself.
F for Fake (1973) (dir. Orson Welles)
Movies are magic. They are tricks. They are illusions. Orson Welles, a master of the art, shows us that the act of considering anything real is a mystery that is impossible and then fools us into thinking that all things are not real and real at the same time. I’m going to be unpacking this one for decades to come.
The Great Escape (1963) (dir. John Sturges)
When prisoners of war are allowed to trade and play with the world around them then hijinks ensue and escapes happen. It’s always a great time to see Garner and McQueen play off one another and play with others even better than that.
Gimme Shelter (1970) (dir. Albert & David Maysles)
Documentaries can frighten us because they present what we assume is reality. This one frightened me only because of a moment when a reality was presented to the subject of the film and we watched him take it all in. We sit there, as he does, recognizing what really happened in a moment and have to wonder what could’ve been and what wasn’t and how to move forward from that reality.
Grizzly Man (2005) (dir. Werner Herzog)
Nature us fierce and unforgiving. Werner Herzog is fascinated by this and takes the tragedy that is Timoty Treadwell’s death and frames the unforgiving world of our environment and nature into it. While sympathetic isn’t a word I’d use to describe the way we view Treadwell and his thoughts on his grizzlies; we definitely get a window into a world that many would never venture, but an interesting window none-the-less.
The Hit (1984) (dir. Stephen Frears)
A British crime thriller turned road movie when a hitman is sent to pick up this now older criminal who testified against his compatriots to get away with it all. We follow as these experience and unexperienced members of the hit try to take a fun loving almost apathetic criminal to their boss for certain death. It’s possibly the most time you’ll spend getting to love criminals in a while.
House on Haunted Hill (1959) (dir. William Castle)
Watching horror films you get the hear the name “Vincent Price” thrown around a bunch. Here I was finally introduced to him as he invites all of these guests to the hauted house for the night and one by one we have people being murdered and not so murdered. The camp nature of this film and Price’s performance kept me going with this fun trapped home film. Skeletons are to be weary about people.
The Last Waltz (1978) (dir. Martin Scorsese)
I hate to look at a movie and say “that’s some really good music” and not much more; but, “that’s some really great music”. The documentary where Martin Scorsese sat with The Band as they make their final performance ever along with a lineup of guests that on their own would get anybody in line for a ticket. Turn this one up loud, it will have you rocking out a lot any afternoon.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
I know that the Coens switch between serious drama, thriller and silly comedy so easily from film to film; I just didn’t expect them to do it from scene to scene with this film and it to work so well. From meetings with Johnny Caspar talking about rumpuses to Tom being the badass we all wish we were to Leo being that guy you’re afraid to cross. The film felt like the best cross between The Godfather and Dick Tracy that I never knew I needed.
Orpheus (1950) (dir. Jean Cocteau)
Cocteau does what he does best in creating an inventive look into the mystical world of death and the afterlife. We watch on as simple camera tricks enthrall and engage us into a world that today would be rife with cgi and just wouldn’t be believable at all. Which is a sad and weird way to look at it.
The Perfect Game (1958) (dir. Toshio Masuda)
Noir is the kind of movie that never gets boring. We just love seeing bad people having the better of them being taken, and at the same time it makes watching the fall of the righteous even sweeter. We start out empathizing with these group of youngsters who have figured out a way to trick a racing book maker out of some money and by the end of the movie there’s absolutely nobody that we care for, but the style and the ride is a fun one.
Streets of Fire (1984) (dir. Walter Hill)
I feel this movie is the one most bordering on not worth adding to this list. At the same time however, this is the film on this list that I probably had the most fun with. Everytime we got a fun musical interlude, anytime we saw our hero just smack his opponent and holster his gun as if it’s a modern day western or when things just went crazy in Willem Defoe’s hair. The film is 80s insanity that only Walter Hill could give us.
Safe (1995) (dir. Todd Haynes)
To think there was a time that we didn’t believe that this was a real illness to the changing environment, and then watching myself spend the entire runtime of the movie questioning whether it was real frightened me to the point of not wanting to disrepute anyone on anything for a while.
Stalag 17 (1953) (dir. Billy Wilder)
Did I mention the shenanigans of The Great Escape earlier? Here are even more prison shenanigans and bartering as the film, that’s based on a play that ended up making Hogan’s Heroes. It’s kind of great.
A Separation (2011) (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
I sort of had to pick one, having seen this and About Elly in the same week Asghar Farhadi had an impact on me this year more than his last film, The Past. There’s something about this one that struck me, maybe watching the little we see of the legal world of Iran or maybe it’s that it all cruxes of this man’s desire to care for his aged father who can’t care for himself anymore. It’s heartbreaking that everyone is wrong and just spiteful in ways that hurt me to watch people try to want to better the other in such a harsh way. It feels like I was that friend seeing everything happening and want to help someone make a better decision but understand why they want to be that bad in the moment.
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2006) (dir. Tommy Lee Jones)
Tommy Lee nails this weird revenge-ish plot when a trigger happy border officer shoots his friend and decides to capture him and make him bury him properly in his home deep in Mexico. The film takes us on this arduous journey and at every point we’re just taken deeper into the deicision that Pete made almost as if the further we get into Mexico is the further we get into completely agreeing and wanting this to happen.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) (dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
Last year’s version of this post actually had me mentioning the remake of this movie with Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks, so I had to check out the original and in some ways it’s even better. Maybe part of me will love the Brooks’ version because I love him and the way he plays roles like this, but this movie is perfection in the best sort of way. It never feels too heavy, but at the same time we never forget the stakes at hand as we watch these theatre troop do their best to become spies pretty much.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001) (dir. David Wain)
Here’s a movie that I swore I had seen before until I decided to watch it before the new series that hit Netflix this year only to realise that I had actually never seen it. Something about Wain’s downright silliness makes it work. From Cooper’s theatre practices, to Rudd’s unwillingness to clean up after himself or Meloni’s crazed discussions with cans this film just never stops and I’d never ask it to.
What did you catch up with this last year?