As usual another year is over, this post is late, and I saw way more movies than any human being (does this make Matthew Price an alien?) should be able to. That didn’t include just new releases at the theatre, but also a swarm of classics I caught up with, whether intently or just scrolling through Netflix bored one night.
Here are 20 great films I caught up with this year that you should try if you get the chance.
42nd Street (1933) (Lloyd Bacon)
A musical about a famed artist during the depression putting on the greatest musical of all time. The film has everything you expect from one like it. Something goes wrong with the star and an emerging talent appears; the director pushes the cast in ways that one may question is ethical; the show must always go on. The film has the warmth of a musical with the torture of creating art, like Birdman, and it definitely looks like it hurts through those smiles.
All the President’s Men (1976) (Alan J. Pakula)
In a year filled with news reporting that is questionable and a US Presidential election that felt like tabloid entertainment more than anything else a film about two reporters running down the leads about the Water Gate scandal related to Nixon could probably have been the best thing to have been watched for the very first time this year.
The Battle of Algiers (1966) (Gillo Pontecorvo)
This is notable one for me as it’s become the first classic I’ve actually seen in the theatres. I watched this while in Toronto at TIFF and it’s fantastic. It feels that weird blend of French New Wave and Documentary filmmaking and being about a revolution in Algeria. It’s dark and depressing while also having strangely fun moments watching a scrappy band of revolutionaries try to bring together a resistance against their oppresive government.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) (Sharon Maguire)
If it weren’t for the 52 Films by Women drive I probably would have never watched this one. This is a film that I’ve marginalised for the 15 years of its existence as a typical “chick flick” and probably trite and overall whatever. I couldn’t imagine how enthralled I was with this movie by the time it hit the end of its runtime. Bridget Jones is the female Scott Pilgrim without the comic books or fight scenes. It’s just a lonely woman walking through life self aware and enjoying dumb jokes.
I Believe in Miracles (2015) (Jonny Owen)
I’m Andrew and I love football. In a year that Leicester City won the EPL I discovered the tale of the scrappy Nottingham Forrest with the help of Brian Clough (that guy the Tony Blair played in The Damned United) went on to do the same thing, twice, and even win the European Cup as well. While I don’t see Leicester City being the sequel to this it was great to see this happen, for Leicester and Nottingham. Also this documentary is pretty great.
It Happened One Night (1934) (Frank Capra)
Frank Capra knows sentiment in ways filmmakers today can barely guess at. Here with a princess being taken across country by an in need and out of luck journalist looking to bag a good personal interest story, you can’t help but love watching the two butt heads constantly. It’s not new, but it’s so well done and the dialogue so well choreographed that it makes you forget how trite it is today.
Lady Snowblood (1973) (Toshiya Fujita)
The film that inspired Kill Bill, where a young woman attempts to avenge her parents death after training all her childhood to be the most deadliest killer with an umbrella katana. This film is ridiculous samurai kicker amazing. If people last year were talking about the craft of Zatoichi you have to see Lady Snowblood’s brilliance. Skip the sequel if you’re tempted btw.
Ninotchka (1939) (Ernst Lubitsch)
This year I made an effort to see more Lubitsch and he never fails to disappoint. With this effort we get the smile of Garbo and the laugh that’s heard around the world. I couldn’t pick a finer Russian emissary to enjoy spending time with.
The Nutty Professor (1963) (Jerry Lewis)
Jerry Lewis is a comedy treasure that’s done so much for the world of comedy and at times been lambasted. However, one thing we can never touch is his films and somehow to this date I’d never seen any of his work from when he was in his prime. Here’s a prime example of a film so ludicrious it works. With transformations that remind me of An American Werewolf in London and characters that make us cringe at their stupidity it works. Save for the “dumb” blonde game, this film still made me laugh in ways I didn’t know such juvenile humour could.
The Piano (1993) (Jane Campion)
Another film that I was brought to thanks to the #52filmsbywomen campaign. I’d never seen a Jane Campion film, and this remains the only one (for now), so seeing this was a grand introduction to her work. It’s easy to watch movies like these and be trapped into their intimacy and want to call them pulp or exploitative. This film however, feels just intimacy. As we watch on as Ada and Baines create this relationship it never feels like an episode of [insert HBO show here] where we’re staring at breasts and penises for the purpose of titiliation. This film feels touching and expressive.
Taxi Tehran (2015) (Jafar Panahi)
I’ve spent the last few years dipping my toe in the cinematic world of Iran and it’s been a joy. Catching up with this great movie from a year back with Panahi posing as a taxi and recording his day of fares that vary from two old ladies who’re trying to get to a mall carrying some fish in a bowl; to a seller of bootleg dvds; to his neice who’s trying to make a “marketable” film that adheres to the Iranian film conventions the film never stops being remarkable. It’s heartwarming with it’s interactions while underneath being revalatory as to the world of Iranian cinema with everyone recognizing Panahi and discussing his function in the world.
Red River (1948) (Howard Hawks)
This year I was made to watch more westerns (see TUMP) and this was one of them. I feel the best which dealt with not just the desperation of the times but the definition of the “wild west” in which a man can enact his own version of justice just because his gun is faster. With John Wayne and Montgomery Clift taking the leads of this cattle drive across country the film is sort of perfect.
River of No Return (1954) (Otto Preminger)
Here’s another western where Marilyn Munroe and Robert Mitchum take a journey rafting down the dangerous river on a path of revenge. The film’s cinematography is great and the way it brings Munroe into the western genre without making her into the same character she plays in all those office set romantic comedies is wonderful. Though, she does still play a showgirl pretty much playing in salloons; so it’s not a complete victory. Regardless this is a great western with high entertainment value.
Royal Wedding (1951) (Stanley Donen)
This was also a year for great musicals that I caught up on. Here I watch Fred Astaire litterally dance on the ceiling due to his feelings for his romantic counterpart. It’s a film that many have referenced when discussing the technical achievements and the choreography. With Astaire having to figure how to dance in a moving room that rotates as we watch his balance shift from the floor to the upright walls, like the famed fight sequence in Inception. The film has other great scenes and the wonderful Jane Powell playing Astaire’s musical partner and sister in the film they share a lot of great scenes.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) (Stanley Donen)
Here’s possibly my favourite musical I watched for the first time in 2016. Where a woodsman decides he needs a wife and attains one in a day in town only when he returns home to his six other brothers they all decide they should do the same. It’s ridiculous and down right unfounded. If you can look past all the questionable gender politics that I’m certain many will complain about (you probably shouldn’t watch any movie made before 9 to 5 or about then), it remains a musical wonder.
Stop Making Sense (1984) (Jonathan Demme)
I like The Talking Heads. I didn’t hear about this movie until a couple of years ago when it played at Ebertfest and heard that they played this with the lights still up in the theatre and having people dancing in the aisles. The concert is great and I still enjoy watching the first few songs just to see the band “assemble” one by one.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003) (Satoshi Kon)
Satoshi Kon is a filmmaker that I never quite had a great grip on, even though I adore Perfect Blue, but I felt I should take more chances with. This film follows a homeless trio who have found a baby on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. We then follow as they attempt to find their parents and return the child. The film is touching and hilarious as we find out so much of these three and where they all come from as well just the interactions they have while on their quest to perform this Christmas miracle. It’s also a wonderfully constructed film. We try not to look past the design when discussing animation cinematography, but Kon creates characters that every motion is engaging and downright wonderful.
What Maisie Knew (2012) (Scott McGehee, David Siegel)
I saw a lot of movies this year where the child knew better. There’s something about a movie like this where I get an adult who has the right level of compassion and general care in a fatherly role that I love it. A lot of bad things going on with one great and it plays it’s sentiment wonderfully.
Where Is My Friend’s House? (1987) (Abbas Kiarostami)
A film that completes the Koker trilogy for me with Kiarostami for me is maybe not my favourite of the three but by no means anything to schoff at. The film follows a young boy who accidentally takes his friend’s notebook after school home with him. He feels poorly and wants to return it before the next day so that his friend won’t be punished. The film takes Kiarostami’s muted humilty in a wonderful way. We sit there watching this simple problem being the greatest issue that this child could ever imagine. With all the elders around him constantly stopping him telling him it’s not important when he knows it is. If this isn’t done today the child could be expelled and he doesn’t want this to happen to his friend. We follow step by step praying for the success and it’s brilliant.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) (Billy Wilder)
A court room thriller where we get placed in the position of the lawyer put up to get his client off for murder with the most quizzical of circumstances. It never feels like a “who done it?” but by the time we get there where so enthralled with our characters that we can’t help but not care about who killed whom.
I feel my list is filled with musicals I never saw, and it’s great to catch up. As a fan of the genre it’s always great to find out I’ve only seen a drop in the bucket of films that make it great. I look forward to 2017 filling in even more gaps for me in the world of film.
What films did you catch up with last year that you think will stick with you?