Thursday, December 11, 2008

A YEAR IN MOVIES 2008. In 2008, I watched a WHOLE LOT of movies. Some of them were old favourites but many were movies I was watching for the very first time ever. Last year at about this time I made a list (yes, ANOTHER list) of my 25 favourite films which I had seen for the first time in 2007. These were movies, old and new, which I had never seen until that year. If you want to see what I had newly discovered in 2007 click here. Well, this year I spent much time (and considerable filthy lucre) acquiring movies I had never seen before. So, because of that, this year I've had to expand the list to 50! And believe me, I still had to agonize over which movies did not make the cut. But in my ever-widening quest to track down and see more and more "must see" films, the year 2008 brought these films to my eyes -- movies I had never seen before this year but have now become new favourites. At the end of each brief description, I will also attribute credit to those who encouraged me to seek out the film. So, with your kind indulgence, I would like to once again list (in alphabetical order) these new favourites which I saw for the very first time in 2008:
  • AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) -- Klaus Kinski, the maddest of madmen, stars as the equally mad Spanish conquistador futilely tracking through the jungle to find the lost city of El Dorado. Apparently both director Werner Herzog and Kinski pulled guns on each other during the filming. Loaded with many haunting images, the final shot of the raft swarming with monkeys is one of the best evocations of madness and futility I've ever seen! Utterly delirious fever dream of a film. Who made me watch this?: Danny Peary's CULT MOVIES book recommended by Terry Frost of Paleocinema.
  • ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) -- Oh, what melodrama from director Douglas Sirk. Jane Wyman is the widow who falls for younger man Rock Hudson only to have her children, her friends . . . hell, the entire town disapprove and try to ruin their only chance for happiness. Completely soppy and damned effective, too. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • AMERICAN MADNESS (1932) -- The Frank Capra film that probably none of you have seen. This is the first truly "Capraesque" Capra film which finds Walter Huston heading a bank by using the "personal touch". However, when a Depression-panicky public embarks on a run on the bank, Huston's altruism is tested. The "run on the bank" scene is technically brilliant. This film is particularly appropriate to watch now that the economy has tanked here in 2008!
  • ATTACK! (1956) -- One of the best war movies I've ever seen -- and that's something since I usually don't LIKE war movies. Robert Aldrich directs a superb cast including Jack Palance, Eddie Albert and Lee Marvin. An incompetent Captain is getting his men killed while the higher brass refuses to do anything about it. Gripping, suspenseful and mesmerizing. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman over at FLEAPIT OF THE MIND.
  • L'AVVENTURA (1960) -- The first in director Michelangelo Antonioni's groundbreaking "trilogy". A group of friends go off for a day trip to a deserted Mediterranean island and one of the group disappears mysteriously. A truly revolutionary film beautifully shot and starring the sublime Monica Vitti! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) -- Surely one of the best movies about Hollywood. Director Vincente Minnelli is blessed with a superior cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan and Gloria Grahame (who won an Academy Award for this one). Tinseltown wheeling and dealing beautifully presented. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost from Paleocinema.
  • THE BIG RED ONE (1980) -- Yet another war movie on my list. What's going on?!? This is director Sam Fuller's restored DVD version and it's an epic! This is a depiction of World War II from the dogface point of view; from a director who actually fought in World War II. All Fuller's crusty humour and forthright truthfulness is evident. Lee Marvin is a wonder. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • A CANTERBURY TALE (1944) -- This Powell & Pressburger classic has made it's way on to my top ten list of all time. A gentle little tale concerning some English travelers during the Blitz who encounter a mysterious assailant who throws glue into women's hair. But not really. It's about much more than that; the glue hurler is just a maguffin to get the movie started rolling. A truly sublime and spiritually surprising film. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970) -- One of the first of the 70's "blaxploitation" movies and one of the best. This one was actually based on a novel by Chester Himes featuring his two famous detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger (Godfrey Cambridge & Raymond St. Jacques respectively). The film is jam-packed with great character actors: Calvin Lockhart, Redd Foxx, John Anderson and Cleavon Little among them. The late Ossie Davis directs with flair and humour.
  • CUTTER'S WAY (1981) -- A bizarre film with no real likeable characters that still manages to hold one's interest. John Heard plays a badly wounded Vietnam vet and Jeff Bridges plays his male hoyden friend who witnesses someone dumping what looks like a dead body in an alley. Heard becomes obsessed with proving a local bigwig has committed the murder while Bridges does everything he can NOT to help him. A true cult movie. Who made me watch this?: Danny Peary in his CULT MOVIES books via Terry Frost.
  • LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT (1967) aka YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT -- Infectious French musical with great Michel Legrand songs, directed by Jacques Demy with exploding colour and starring scintillating Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, Michael (WEST SIDE STORY) Chakiris and Gene Kelly himself; giving the production some real MGM musical cache! You can't stay depressed if you watch this movie! Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • THE DIVORCEE (1930) -- A pre-code Hollywood movie that doesn't pussyfoot around delicate subject matter. Norma Shearer and Chester Morris are a married couple very much in love until Shearer discovers that Morris has had an affair. Norma decides what's good enough for him is good enough for her and promptly goes out and starts sleeping around. Startling movie if you're not used to pre-code Hollywood.
  • L'ECLISSE (1962) -- The third in Michelangelo Antonioni's "trilogy", this has now become my favourite film of all time. I saw it for the first time this past January and I've watched it 11 times so far this year. Monica Vitti returns along with Alain Delon in a film impossible to describe. Even more groundbreaking than L'AVVENTURA, the final 10 minutes is stunning! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) -- Nothing could be more boring to me than the world of high finance. Which is why this Robert Wise film surprised the hell out of me by being so absorbing. The head of a manufacturing company drops dead without naming a successor. His entire board of directors begins jockeying for position as if they were in a Shakespearean play or the medieval court of King Henry II! Absolutely perfect cast includes William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Fredric March, Shelley Winters, Nina Foch, Louis Calhern and Paul Douglas. Who made me watch this?: Peter Biskind in his book excellent book on 50's films SEEING IS BELIEVING.
  • FIDO (2006) -- Billy Connelly is perfectly cast as a zombie (he has no dialogue and yet is excellent) in a world where zombies have been domesticated and utilized as servants. Andrew Currie directs with real comic flair. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • FRANCESCO, GUILLARE DI DIO (1950) aka THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS. A religious movie that is truly beautiful and not the slightest bit preachy. Based on a medieval work describing incidents in the life of Francis of Assisi, this movie can truly be called sublime. Robert Rossellini directs from a Frederico Fellini screenplay. A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • FREEWAY (1996) -- If you told me I'd watch and love a movie with Reese Witherspoon in it, I would've called you a doity boid. However, this is the one to watch. When she still had "acting cred", Reese stars as a delinquent who encounters a serial killer. The clash of these two immovable objects is jaw-dropping. Basically a twisted retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that also stars Kiefer Sutherland and a surprisingly good Brooke Shields. Who made me watch this?: The Finkmaster Flash, that's who!
  • THE FURIES (1950) -- A Western Gothic that plays like King Lear. Walter Huston plays an all-powerful cattle baron in New Mexico territory battling with his strong-willed daughter Barbara Stanwyck. Another magnificent Western directed by Anthony Mann which also features a stellar cast: Judith Anderson, Wendell Corey, Wallace Ford, Gilbert Roland, Thomas Gomex , Beulah Bondi and Albert Dekker among them. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • GIANT (1956) -- Sprawling adaptation by director George Stevens of Edna Ferber's epic novel of powerful Texas cattle rancher Benedict clan encountering the challenge of newly discovered oil. Notable as James Dean's last film, also starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Chill Wills, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor et. al. Who made me watch this?: Peter Biskind.
  • HANK WILLIAMS: THE SHOW HE NEVER GAVE (1980) -- Canadian country singer Sneezy Waters is spellbinding as country great Hank Williams. The film concerns an imaginary "last concert" in a honkytonk bar on the final night of Hank's life. The songs are great, of course, and the performance really gets to the heart of the man. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • HEIMA (2007) -- Concert film of Icelandic group Sigur Ros as they tour Iceland giving free, impromptu concerts for the locals. Breathtaking photography of the beautiful Icelandic terrain is accompanied by equally spectacular musical performances -- particularly the live version of their song "Von" given in what looks like a school cafeteria that sometimes reduces me to tears.
  • IKIRU (1952) -- Akira Kurosawa's meditation on death and the meaning of one's life as it has been lived. Takashi Shimura is a revelation as a bureaucrat who develops stomach cancer and looks back on a wasted life. Can he manage one great task to leave his mark on the world he's about to leave? Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • THE INFORMER (1935) -- John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for this film which, in many ways, is very unlike a John Ford movie. Ford ventures into German Expressionistic shots in depicting a down-on-his-luck man turning in his Irish rebel friend for money. The evocation of the 1922-era "Irish troubles" is a subject close to Ford's heart. Victor McLaglen won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of informer Gypo Nolan. Ford would tell McLaglen that he would not be shooting any scenes that day and then suddenly roll the cameras on him; resulting in a frantic quality in McLaglen's performance which is heartfelt and real.
  • JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) -- Another Gothic Western shot with a bizarre colour palette by director Nicholas Ray. Starring grande dame Joan Crawford as Vienna: a "takes no shit from nobody" saloon keeper who clashes with the strait-laced puritanical townfolk lead by Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden, Ward Bond and John Carradine also star. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • JUNGFRUKALLEN (1960) aka THE VIRGIN SPRING -- Director Ingmar Bergman takes us back to medieval Sweden as he retells an old folk tale concerning a young girl who sets off to deliver candles to church and is set upon, raped and murderer by three toughs. Unflinching and bold, this won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. A literally breathtaking final reel caps off a surprisingly spiritual film.
  • KUNDUN (1997) -- Martin Scorsese's overlooked depiction of the life story of H. H. the Dalai Lama, his discovery as a young boy and the eventual takeover of Tibet by Communist China. Visually beautiful film.
  • LADRI DI BICICLETTE (1948) aka THE BICYCLE THIEF -- One of the most famous of Italian Neo-Realist cinema, Vittoria De Sica's film about a destitute man who can only land a job if he's got a bicycle; and then someone steals his bicycle. The man and his son search for the bicycle. From this we get an immensely moving and powerful film. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) -- Yet another superb Powell & Pressburger masterpiece set during World War II. American servicewoman Kim Hunter picks up a radio call from British airman David Niven as his shot-up plane is going down in flames. He has no parachute and bails out to certain death. Only he survives. The battle is then on between those powers in Heaven who demand that Niven head straight for the afterlife and the living who try all they can to let him stay on Earth. Those scenes taking place in the afterlife are shot in black & white while the Earth-based scenes are shot in vivid colour. No one made 'em like Powell & Pressburger. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA (1999) aka MY VOYAGE TO ITALY -- Martin Scorsese's documentary examining the groundbreaking Italian movies of the 40's, 50's and 60's by such directors as Rossellini, De Sica, Antonioni, Fellini, etc. Every Italian film on this list is there because of this monumental documentary. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • THE NAKED SPUR (1953) -- Another wonderful Anthony Mann western featuring James Stewart giving a rather dark performance as a bounty hunter trying to bring back desperado Robert Ryan. Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell round out the cast of flawed characters in this western character study. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • NATTVARDGASTERNA (1962) aka WINTER LIGHT -- Now officially my second favourite film of all time, this Ingmar Bergman masterpiece concerns a pastor's crisis of faith. Devastatingly vivid performances by Bergman regulars Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Max Von Sydow anchor this bleak depiction of three hours on a wintery afternoon. Masterful, thought-provoking and emotionally raw. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980) -- William Peter Blatty wrote and directed this bizarre film which initially appears to be a cross between M*A*S*H* and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST but, before you know it, reveals itself to be about much more deeper subjects. Surprisingly spiritual as well as funny. Stacey Keach takes over the running of a military insane asylum. Co-starring Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, the magnificent Scott Wilson, and Robert Loggia. This is a movie you want to immediately re-watch after your first viewing. Who made me watch this?: my dear wife Ilsa*.
  • NOTORIOUS (1946) -- Alfred Hitchcock's tale of espionage took a second viewing before I really appreciated it. Party girl Ingrid Bergman is convinced to spy on a South American group of Nazis by US agent Cary Grant. Claude Rains plays the Nazi whom Bergman is asked to romance.
  • OM SHANTI OM (2007) -- The biggest moneymaker in the history of Indian film, this Bollywood musical spectacular is unlike any other Bollywood production I've ever seen. It stands on it's own as a top notch musical. I've never been a particular fan of Bollywood movies but this one surely blows them all out of the water. The ravishing Deepika Padukone co-stars with Indian superstar Shakrukh Khan in this musical which is genuinely funny as well as tragic and romantic. Also famous for cramming 30-some hugely famous Bollywood movie stars into a single dance number. This one's got it all.
  • A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES (1995) -- This documentary is Martin Scorsese's direct riposte to the famous AFI list of 100 Greatest Films. There isn't a much more infectious movie fan than Scorsese and going along with him as he looks at the entire history of American film is a dream come true. Packed with billions of movie clips, this film will send you racing to the DVD store. Who made me watch this movie?: Terry Frost.
  • THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1955) -- This is a terrible movie. Grade Z production budget and acting. But somehow I love it. A goofy underwater monster is butchering people. However, the movie seems to forget the monster for long stretches of ridiculous tomfoolery masquerading as a screenplay. This movie features Cathy Downs (Clementine herself from John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) slipping waaaaaay down the Hollywood ladder to this film. Pure fromage!
  • PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) -- This dreamlike movie dreamily directed by Peter Weir retells story of a group of students & a teacher at a young women's college in 1900 who go out on a daytrip to "Hanging Rock" and mysterious disappear. There is a real sense of eerieness evoked in this film which can't be explained. Rachel Roberts is notable as the crumbling headmistress.
  • RED RIVER (1948) -- Classic Howard Hawks western starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift battling each other over the first cross-country cattle drive in American history. This epic western saga is one of the best!
  • SASOM I EN SPEGEL (1961) aka THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY -- Ingmar Bergman's searing chamber piece about a family of four on an island dealing with insanity. All four actors (Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Lars Passgard and particularly Harriet Andersson) give great performances. Andersson's portrayal of mental illness is one of the best performances in screen history. Ever.
  • THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934) -- If not THE BLUE ANGEL, then this movie is the quintessential statement of the Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich movie partnership. Deliriously decadent and sumptuously shot, this film traces the life story of Russian Empress Catherine the Great from shy girl to powerful monarch. Dietrich is breathtaking and perfectly cast while Sam Jaffe is superb as her dimwitted consort. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) -- John Ford's little known film about black cavalry officer Woody Strode standing trial for the rape and murder of a white woman. Part Civil War-era western and part courtroom drama. Jeffrey Hunter and Billie Burke co-star.
  • SMULTRONSTALLET (1958) aka WILD STRAWBERRIES -- Another Ingmar Bergman masterpiece. An elderly doctor (Victor Sjostrom) is being given an award and drives to receive it along with his estranged daughter-in-law Ingrid Thulin. This film deals with strained family relationships, past regrets, approaching mortality and crippled emotions. Bibi Andersson and Gunnar Bjornstrand co-star. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • STROMBOLI (1950) -- Robert Rossellini directs and Ingrid Bergman stars as a woman who marries an Italian fisherman in order to leave a prison camp. She goes to live on his home island of Stromboli and immediately hates it. Vivid character study of people who know nothing about each other and understand each other less. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) -- Another classic film about the seedy wheeling and dealing that goes on in the show business world. Burt Lancaster plays a ruthless, all-powerful newspaper columnist who can make or break careers. Tony Curtis is the small-time reporter who wants to be something more. Exceedingly acidic portrait of New York celebrity nightlife.
  • THE TALL T (1957) -- The best of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns. Scott plays an aging cowpoke who stumbles into a deadly situation. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. Richard Boone is fantastic as the head desperado. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) -- Epic fantasy film with still-incredible special effects, brilliant colour, charming lead part for young Sabu, marvelous villainous performance by Conrad Veidt and magical whimsy. A stunningly perfect fantasy film. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1955) aka HANDS OFF THE LOOT! -- Classic French gangster film which brings back aging tough guy Jean Gabin (Pepe Le Moko himself) in a terrific gangland movie. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) -- My favourite Ernst Lubitsch film. That's right; even better than NINOTCHKA. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play two cat burglars who fall in love and join forces to burgle rich hottie Kay Francis. But while attempting to swindle the wavishing Kay Fwancis, Marshall instead falls in love with her. A movie that sparkles like good champagne. It's pre-code status also makes it more daring than you'd think. Urbane and classy to the nth degree. Who made me watch this?: Ilsa*.
  • UMBERTO D. (1952) -- Another classic Italian neo-realist film which will tear your heart out. Director Vittorio De Sica dedicated the film to his father. Carlo Battisti plays an old age pensioner about to be thrown out of his cheap apartment; his only friend is his little dog. With nowhere to go and no money at hand, Umberto becomes desperate. Beautifully heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • VIAGGIO IN ITALIA (1952) aka VOYAGE TO ITALY -- Masterful Roberto Rossellini film which stars Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as an estranged married couple who go to Italy upon inheriting some property. Wonderfully acted character study finds both Bergman and Sanders in top form. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.

Well, there you have it: the best 50 films I saw for the first time in 2008. Trust me, there could've been about 25 more other top contenders but I vowed to keep it down to just 50. I can't recommend these movies highly enough and, again, if you ever find yourself at a loss as to what to watch, do yourself a favour and seek some of these films out. I don't think you'll be sorry you did.


Dis Guy said...

Hey, what's wid all da wop movies?

Cerpts said...

I'll watch an Italian movie everywhere dago.

Unknown said...

Nice to see I've had a positive impact. I did watch Attack! for the first time just before Xmas. Eddie Albert and Jack Palance were great, as was Lee Marvin. To get any good movie buff to watch that film, just tell them who is in it. That should get them across the line. Hopefully we can all interract and enrich one another's movie viewing in 2009 too.

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