Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE YEAR IN MOVIES 2009. Just as I did at the end of last year, I've compiled a list of films which, though not new, were first seen by yours truly this year. Needless to say, I watch a lot of movies. And this is a list of my 25 favourite films which I saw for the first time in 2009. It was a tough job whittling it down to 25 and some runners-up will follow at the arse end of the list. But right now, let's lift up the lid and take a look at my favourite 25 "first see" films:
  1. AGE OF CONSENT (1969) - Michael Powell's last directorial hurrah after the debacle that was PEEPING TOM (1960). James Mason is the burnt-out artist who retreats to the Great Barrier Reef to recharge his batteries but encounters wild child Helen Mirren. The future dame's copiously-displayed pulchritude is also a plus.
  2. THE BIG KNIFE (1955) - Robert Aldrich's backstab at Hollywood is nice and trashy in that mid-50's kinda way. Jack Palance (perhaps miscast but not really a problem) as the big star trying to get out of his movie contract with tyrannical movie mogul Rod Steiger (chewing the scenery as usual) while trying to save his marriage to Ida Lupino. Able support by Wendell Corey, Shelley Winters and Everett Sloane completes the picture.
  3. BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) - The rock and roll juvenile delinquent classic that still has guts. Richard Brooks directs new teacher Glenn Ford as he takes on a group of unruly, violent students. Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Richard Kiley and Louis Calhern fill out the cast while Bill Haley & the Comets blare out "Rock Around the Clock".
  4. BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) - Classic Powell & Pressburger mad nun movie! Beautiful colour photography and breathtaking scenery. The usual brilliant direction by P&P with a brilliant script and superb acting provided by Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron (in a stunning performance), Flora Robson, an incredibly young Jean Simmons, David Farrar and even Sabu!
  5. BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) - Jean-Pierre Melville's answer to TOUCHEZ PAS LE GRISBI, this French caper film may miss the presence of Jean Gabin (he was too expensive) but Roger Duschesne as "Bob the Gambler" is an adequate substitute.
  6. BREATHLESS (1960) - Godard's assault of the "new wave in French cinema" starring the immensely appealing Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg as the murderer on the run and his enigmatic American acquaintance. Hugely influential, it took me a couple viewings to really become immersed in it.
  7. CALLAN (1974) - Veteran director Don Sharp takes the TV series starring Edward Woodward and makes a superb . . . what is it? . . . a crime picture? . . . an espionage picture? . . . I'm not sure. What it IS is a breath of fresh air!
  8. DAY OF WRATH (1943) - Director Carl Theodor Dreyer (of VAMPYR fame) takes us back to the witch trial hysteria of 17th century Denmark and gives us a multi-layered, subtle film about the power of evil.
  9. DOUBT (2008) - Yes, I do watch new films. Trouble is most of them ain't worth watching. This one, while not what I'd call a "great" film concerns the by-now-hackneyed child abuse angle in a Catholic school. However, the film is saved by an intelligent script that draws deeply-layered characters and by the uniformly excellent acting of the cast headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep.
  10. HIGH AND LOW (1963) - Akira Kurosawa reunites with Toshiro Mifune in a departure for the director: a police procedural in modern-day Japan. Mifune plays the shoe company executive about to try a buyout of the company. A kidnap attempt on his son mistakenly takes a servant's boy instead. Will Mifune scuttle his takeover attempt and bankrupt himself to pay the ransom for his servant's child?
  11. LE JOUR SE LEVE (1939) - The great Jean Gabin plays a murderer holed up in his apartment while the police set up a siege outside. Director Marcel Carne utilizes a series of flashbacks to show us what led this decent-seeming guy to murder.
  12. LADY IN THE WATER (2006) - M. Night Shyamalan's generally lambasted movie is actually a superbly-realized fairy tale which didn't deserve it's incredibly hostile reception. Super acting by all involved with nice special effects that serve the story.
  13. LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960) - Frankly one of the greatest "caper" films I've ever seen. Jack Hawkins leads an all-star cast of delightful British character actors as they plan and execute a bank robbery. Basil Dearden's direction is sure and crackling.
  14. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) - Frequently hailed as one of the best horror films ever made, Tomas Alfredson's exquisitely realized vampire tale is unbeatable!
  15. MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944) - Far from a classic film, the creepy atmosphere provided by director Jean Negulesco combined with the mystery maguffin element and the reteaming of superb screen team Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet make this a barrel of fun.
  16. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) - I've never been THAT much of a James Bond fan but this has shockingly become probably my favourite Bond film of them all! No one could be more surprised than myself. Sure, the absence of Sean Connery is a huge blow to the film but George Lazenby makes an acceptable 007 and, I'm firmly convinced had Connery actually starred in this film it would be known as the best of the lot. Hell, it's even got Diana Rigg in it! What's not to like?!?
  17. RED DESERT (1964) - Michelangelo Antonioni's fourth chapter in his trilogy, I guess you'd call it. The first colour film by the director makes breathtaking use of the colour film. Oh, and Monica Vitti's back! While not up to the heights of L'ECLISSE or L'AVENTURA, it's still wonderful.
  18. ROAD HOUSE (1948) - Director Jean Negulusco is back with this barnstormer of a semi-noir that finds poor Cornell Wilde acting between the two powerhouses of Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark; it's a wonder he didn't get crushed! Lupino is superb as the blousy lounge singer constantly putting out cigarettes on the piano while Widmark wheels out his patented psycho act from KISS OF DEATH. A tremendous treat!
  19. THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) - One of the greatest of Warner Bros. gangster films. Directed by the great Raoul Walsh (who knows a thing or two about Warner Bros. gangster films) and starring tough guy James Cagney and a still up-and-coming Humphrey Bogart.
  20. THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001) - Just the kind of movie I like: everybody in it is miserable!!! Lasse Hallstrom (CHOCOLAT, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES) directs a superb cast headed by Kevin Spacey, Judi Densch, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. More plusses as far as I'm concerned: the movie is set near the sea, it's in the winter in Newfoundland and . . . well, everybody's miserable. I'm a sucker for it all!
  21. THE STEEL HELMET (1951) - The first movie EVER about the Korean War; Samuel Fuller made it while the war was STILL GOING ON!!! As with every Fuller movie, it's hard hitting and pulls no punches. Excellent lead performance by Gene Evans as Sgt. Zack. You can tell this film was made by a guy with actual combat experience. Simply one of the best war films ever made.
  22. SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953) - Early Ingmar Bergman film gives us this full Bergman treatment. The story of a pair of young lovers who fall in love, run away together and discover that life ain't all beer and skittles.
  23. UNCLE SILAS (1947) - Film adaptation of the classic J. Sheridan LeFanu gothic novel by extremely mysterious director Charles Frank. This delirious fever dream is everything a gothic melodrama should be. Just beginning screen actress Jean Simmons is the menaced ingenue, Katina Paxinou is deliciously evil as her French governness and Derrick De Marney is slimy as all hell!
  24. WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (2007) - Razor-sharp skewering of all those musical biopics (RAY and WALK THE LINE are particular targets), Jake Kasdan's comedy does something pretty rare these days; it's a comedy that's actually funny. John C. Reilly has the role of his career and the soundtrack is bitingly funny and musically damn good.
  25. WATCHMEN (2009) - Zack Snyder took the movie that couldn't be made and made a pretty respectable film out of it. The revered Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons graphic novel is still better than the film but the sheer chutzpah that made a coherent film of it has got to be respected. Who watches the Watchmen? Well, I certainly did and I enjoyed it.

As promised, I thought I'd mention those movies which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing for the first time this year but just missed being on the list: Ingmar Bergman's THE DEVIL'S EYE, FLASHBACKS OF A FOOL (more miserable people!), Douglas Sirk's monumental tearjerker MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, the hypnotic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, Kurosawa's RASHOMON, classic 70's chase film VANISHING POINT, Luchino Visconti's early neo-realist classic LA TERRA TREMA and OTOSHIANA aka PITFALL.


Star said...

lazenby is my favourite bond ever!! and 'on her majesty's secret service' is by far one of the best of the bond films. (actually, that's not saying much since most of them were either trite and predictable or boring and ridiculous.)

Cerpts said...

Actually never much of a 007 fan either but my favourite Bond is probably Daniel Craig now. Haven't seen QUANTUM OF SOLACE though.