I started the year by writing full reviews, here’s a list of those:
Lost In Translation (2003)
Life in a Day (2011)
American Psycho (2000)
We Need To Talk About (2011)
The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
The Decalogue (1988-89) – An Introduction, and E1–E10
Then I hurt my back, and decided to post monthly posts with mini-reviews, which is not so time-consuming.
Here’s a summary of my favorite older films watched for the first time in 2012:
Loved it, my favorite by this director so far. Could be David Cronenberg’s most important, visionary, and ambitious work. A cult film that is disturbing and visually grotesque, so not for the faint of heart. Thought-provoking, not least because the film is a window into the future. Full of ideas, the film was in some ways not ready for audiences in 1983, but today is more relevant than ever. Open to multiple interpretations, Videodrome has somewhat taken on a life of its own beyond the filmmakers intentions.
Out of the Past (1947)
Loved it. A film you could watch again and again. Film noir starring Robert Mitchum. I like how unpredictable the story is. If you enjoy plenty of one-liners and snappy retorts, this is for you. The dialogue is some of the best I’ve heard in a while. Also, the framing of shots and lighting was very well done. (see above screenshot)
I wish I had watched it with subtitles, because there are so many great quotes, this is one of my favorites:
“Why me?” “I know a lot of smart guys, and a few honest ones, and you’re both”
Last Year in Marienbad (1961)
I was concerned might be too slow and arty, I was wrong. Amazing stuff. A cryptic film from the French new wave, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. For me, it’s about a married temptress enjoying the attention of another man, she doesn’t reject him entirely and plays along. I don’t think anyone has definitive answers, which is why Alain Resnais’ masterpiece continues to fascinate. Also, the setting is expertly portrayed by cinematographer Sacha Vierny. The dvd from amazon.co.uk is well worth getting your hands on, the extras containing interesting interpretations.
Directed by Robert Bresson, and nominated for the Palme d’Or. Mouchette is a sad and moving coming-of-age story of a confused, naive and lonely teenage girl. She has to take responsibility for the baby at home, her mother is sick, and her father uncaring. Mouchette wants to be loved, but struggles to find it. About alienation and quiet despair. Outstanding performance by Nadine Nortier in the lead role. The minimalistic, restricted point-of-view is comparable to the Dardenne’s brothers The Kid With A Bike (2011).
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Western. For me, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. The music score is legendary. Also remembered for the classic close up shots of eyes moving from side to side, and hand hanging down ready to grab pistol. I loved that there was no dialogue the first 10 minutes. Remarkably, the tension is maintained on a knife-edge during the whole film, one memorable scene after the other, despite a running time of three hours. Probably the best western I have seen to date. I don’t know if it holds up to repeat viewing, though
Favorite quote: “If you’re friends stay out in the damp, they’re liable to catch a cold, aren’t they, or a bullet….”
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Widely considered a horror classic. The special effects and action sequences were pretty good, considering the budget, though the grey makeup the zombies are wearing is at times a little too obvious.
Didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would, but certainly is disturbing to see braindead zombies in a mall. A social commentary, that there is little difference between zombies, and mindless consumers wandering aimlessly from shop to shop hypnotized by mall music. Killing these mindless creatures presumably is a statement about regaining our individuality, but the irony is the normal humans are equally as mindless by wanting stuff from the shops in the mall.
Perhaps another message is, that the mindless consumer will infect you, and turn you into a mindless creature too.
Favorite quote: “You’re hypnotized by this place, all of you, it’s so bright and neatly wrapped, that you don’t see that it’s a prison too. Let’s just take what we need and keep going”
On the Waterfront (1954)
Powerful drama directed by Elia Kazan. I thought I might be put off by loud-mouthed gangsters and lowlifes hanging around the rough neighborhood by the harbour. I wasn’t.
Obviously the “I could have been a contender” quote is a stand-out that people remember. My other favorite moment is when Marlon Brando sits on the park swing (above) and has a conversation with Joey’s sister.
“That’s what makes people mean and difficult, people don’t care enough about them”
A Place in The Sun (1951)
A film that stayed with me. I agree with Alex Withrow’s assessment, that George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is a vulnerable character, drifting along, going with the flow.
However you can also blame the decision-making of naïve Shelley Winters character to a certain extent, she doesn’t think ahead either, by entering into a relationship that is frowned upon.
There’s a great quote that relates to the main character, which is not in the movie, but popped into my head while watching: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody”
A candidate for my top 100 film list. A Place in the Sun won six Oscars, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, although it lost Best Picture to An American in Paris.
Favorite quote: “I guess I loved you before I saw you”
The Gold Rush (1925)
Charlie Chaplin classic. Funny and touching. Never has the wind blowing through a door been used to such great effect. My favorite Chaplin film so far.
Widely considered a classic, black and white psychological-horror film recommended by Josh as part of his top 10 favorite horror films. Directed by Roman Polanski, and technically brilliant, the camera work and atmosphere of the film reminded me of The Double Life of Veronique (1991), showing personal intimacy and small details in a young woman’s day-to-day life. I think you can either find this style very intense or very boring. The visual language and exaggerated sound(phone, clock, church-bells) gives us a feeling of being inside the mind of the over-sensitive protagonist.
Repulsion (1965) is from the point-of-view of fragile, introverted, confused and beautiful Carol (Catherine Deneuve in a stand-out performance).
Favorite quote: “We all have to lead our own lives in the end, you know”
Black Sunday (1960)
Features in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Mario Bava’s directorial debut, which confusingly goes by several different titles (see poster above for evidence). About a vengeful witch.
Loved it, strong for atmosphere, set pieces, and suspense.
I believed this place is haunted!
According to Wikipedia, Black Sunday was a worldwide critical and box office success, and launched the careers of director Mario Bava and movie star Barbara Steele.
Recommended, if you are a fan of Tim Burton, or Coppola’s Dracula (1992)
The Blood of a Poet (1932)
Recommended by Cherokee from Can You Dig It(formerly known as Feminising Film.)
The Blood of a Poet (1932) is the first installment of a Jean Cocteau trilogy, part of the Criterion Collection. Peculiar, experimental and poetic, The Blood of a Poet has the logic of a dream. Statues turning into people, strange events when looking through key holes, you name it.
If you are newcomer to the world of Cocteau, he was a poet, he drew, wrote, made films. Jean Cocteau: “As I’ve always said, that I have used films as a vehicle for poetry to show things that I cannot say”
The metaphor of a mouth coming to life on his hand was an interesting idea, but not too difficult to decipher, as the painter communicates through his brush strokes.
According to a documentary I saw, Cocteau wanted to make a film which included characters that resembled his drawings.
Favorite (absurd) quote: “By breaking statues, one risks, turning into one, oneself”
The Son (Le Fils) (2002)
Directed by The Dardenne brothers. Initially, I didn’t know what to think of the protagonist teacher at the wood shop, creep? weirdo? Nerd? As we learn more, we begin to discard such notions. So I think part of the message is of letting go of prejudice.
Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) (1951)
Great performance by Kirk Douglas as an ambitious newspaper reporter in a small town, he really had some good roles back then. I haven’t seen many Billy Wilder films before, only 3-4. This one, and Some Like It Hot have encouraged me to check out a few more, Stalag 17, & The Seven Year Itch, in 2013
Favorite quotes: “I can handle big news and little news, and if there’s no news, I can go out and bite a dog”
“I’ve met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you, you’re 20 minutes”
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Western. First leg of the Dollars Trilogy. Only flaw I could find was during the machine-gun shoot-out, when the guy miraculously misses all the horses.
Contrary to popular belief, the Clint Eastwood character did have a name in all three of the films, ‘the man with no name’ was actually a marketing concept somebody at United Artist came up with.
Favorite quote: “When a man with a 45 meets a man with a rifle, you said the man with a pistol is a dead man, let’s see if that’s true. (…) Go ahead, load up and shoot”
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Enjoyable sequel to A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The dubbing for the trilogy can be annoying to some viewers, though I think all things considered they did an admirable job with it, and it wasn’t a distraction in my case.
Overall, for me, The Dollars Trilogy is deserving of the classic tag, and has got me interested in Westerns again, which I never thought would happen.
The only thing that confused me was the odd casting decision of the same actor(Gian Maria Volonté) who played the villain in For a Few Dollars More, played a different villain in A Fistful of Dollars? For a while I thought it was the same character, but looking on IMDb they have different names, Ramón Rojo, and El Indio. Perhaps it isn’t so odd, because Clint Eastwood changes his name a few times during the trilogy.
It’s A Gift (1934)
Comedy classic starring W. C. Fields. The couple seemed pretty old to have children, they looked more like grandparents. Very funny in a Fawlty Towers kind-of-way.
Modern Times (1936)
Classic Charlie Chaplin. Satire of the machine age. I’ve read it was the last film in which the beloved tramp would star, a character that first appeared in 1914. Eating corn on the cob at the automated feeding machine, carrying the roast duck in the crowd, and antics at the factory assembly line, were my favorite moments, and the biggest laughs.
The roller-skating close to the edge of floor in the store was spectacular, was that really Chaplin, or a stuntman?
Accused of being a communist was an interesting parallel to Chaplin’s own life.
The Descent (2005)
Best to know as little as possible about the story going in, I avoided the trailer. Recommended by Eric from The Warning Sign. British horror film with all-female cast. If you want to follow a group of cute 20something girls while you watch your horror, give this a try.
I felt I was down there with them, and you won’t feel the urge to explore caves after a viewing, I can guarantee it! Confined claustrophobic spaces give me the creeps.
For suspense and tension, The Descent is brilliant. There are moments of gore, so not for the squeamish. Definitely a horror I want to revisit, has a great twist ending.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Considered one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era. Recommended by David at Taste of Cinema.
We are thrown into a nightmarish world in which no one is to be trusted. I had to look up somnambulist, which is another word for sleepwalking. Has a few creepy moments, but mostly it was the story and atmosphere that grabbed me.
The walls, shadows, and buildings are out of shape, and add to the surreal atmosphere. Even the acting is exaggerated.
A film I could easily rewatch. This movie is cited as having introduced the twist ending in cinema.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1969)
Debut film by horror director Dario Argento, he has a unique cinematic voice, I have waited too long to discover his universe. My favorite of the Argento films I saw. You’ll never guess the twist. A suspenseful giallo film right to the end.
Songs from the second floor (2000)
Swedish black comedy. Very funny, if it appeals to your sense of humour. He takes melancholy characters and makes their circumstances absurd. You can tell Roy Andersson has experience directing commercials, many of the scenes are mini-movies. The financial crisis makes the film even more relevant today, even though it was put together well before the stock markets tumbled. Has a Kafka-esque, doomed atmosphere, which you can laugh, or cry at.
Favorite quote: “Beloved be the one who sits down”(out of context the quotation doesn’t make sense)
Altered States (1980)
A smart, dazzling, and intense horror film directed by Ken Russell, starring William Hurt as a scientist obsessed with discovering mankind’s true role in the universe.
A love it or hate it kind of deal, I thought it was overwhelming and captivating. The highlights of the film are a handful of stream-of-consciousness scenes, very imaginative and totally batshit crazy! The stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best comparison I could come up with. Also there is a segment in the zoo which is very memorable.
To me, what holds Altered States back from being a masterpiece is the familiar path of taking an experiment too far, and that’s been done before.
Favorite quote: “She prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other, to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I’m not afraid of solitary pain”.
Career Girls (1997)
Only 83 minutes, a drama directed and written by Mike Leigh. About two university friends who reunite and how their relationship has changed, or maybe not changed. At first we wonder why they are even friends, they show it in very different ways. I think Leigh is trying to say something about friendship, can we turn a blind eye to insults and put up with a flat mate’s faults, how friendship is accepting the good and the bad. We get to think about our own lives, what friends have meant to us, and do we still have contact with them. Selective memory is another theme, who do you remember from your past, and why?
Riveting performances by the two leads, who play both younger and older versions of themselves very convincingly. Also, the dialogue is very well-written, albeit fast-paced, so I’m looking at a second viewing in future.
A problem I had were the coincidences, which I found a little contrived, and made the ending slightly unrealistic.
3 Women (1977)
Recommended by Sati at Cinematic Corner, an atypical Robert Altman film with only a few characters. My first thought was, why the ominous music in a peaceful old peoples home, and why are the nurses that are being hired so young?
I had a feeling this was going to be a girly film, the title was a warning, and that turned out to be the case. The key audience are females, I still quite enjoyed it.
Especially liked the character Millie (Shelley Duvall), who talks but nobody listens, and is a classic case of wanting constant reassurance, maybe out of a feeling of inadequacy, unworthiness or lack of parental love. You empathize with her predicament, she is trying really hard (maybe too hard?), and feel sad when people laugh at Millie behind her back.
Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) is so naive, that she doesn’t notice Millie’s weaknesses. Pinky is childlike and in need of a mother figure to guide her, and calls Millie perfect…Sissy Spacek’s performance was amazing when you consider her character’s journey. The more I think about 3 Women, the more it grows on me. A repeat viewing is definitely going to happen.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
A comedy directed by 70s wonderkid Peter Bogdanovich. Contains a brilliant chase sequence on the streets of San Francisco (likely inspired by 1968’s Bullitt), you should see the movie just to witness that. The hotel fire scene was extremely laugh-out-loud funny too.
My only problem was the dialogue, which was so fast I could hardly keep up, and the final scene wasn’t plausible.
Wonderful performance by Barbra Streisand, she was cute back in those days. Bogdanovich sure put together some gems in the early 70s: The Last Picture Show (1971), Paper Moon (1973) and What’s Up, Doc? (1972) included.
Too bad his career came off the rails and faded into obscurity after that, Mask (1985) I believe is his last hit?
Phenomena (Creepers) (1985)
Directed by Italian horror master Dario Argento. Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is capable of communicating with insects on an instinctive level, often while sleepwalking.
The premise of a girl arriving in a foreign country to attend a new school is a little overly familiar to Suspiria (1977), but it does have the director’s trademark creepy atmosphere, suspense, and pulsating soundtrack. A minor problem I had was that the chance meeting between the insect expert (Donald Pleasence) and the lover of insects (Jennifer Connelly) was too contrived.
Seems more Americanized than his early films, I would rank it among Argento’s best. For pure escapist fairy tale fantasy, it does the job, and it has aged well too.
“Valley” by Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor from the soundtrack is among my favorite pieces of score from the Argento horror films.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
John Carpenter directed action movie. Violent, yet lots of edge-of-your-seat suspense. Considering a budget estimated at only $150,000, Assault on Precinct 13 works very well as an action movie, which is mainly due to the claustrophobic atmosphere achieved by the director. A fairly unknown cast, and the death count is high. The 2005 remake got mixed reviews.
Horror film by director Dario Argento. I agree with reviewer Bonjour Tristesse, that the opening scenes are exceptional and very memorable. The trouble with it being a sequel to Suspiria (1977) is that the villain is not so surprising or shocking anymore. Even so, the colors, unsettling atmosphere, and suspense are top-notch. Could put you off buying a cat for good!
Excellent sequel, which without having rewatched any Dario Argento yet, I might even prefer over Suspiria(which granted I do like, and has amazing visuals, music, and atmosphere, but I think lacks story)
The only problem I had with this 1980 film was the costume of the villain in the final moments, which didn’t match the quality of the special effects in the rest of the film.
Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971)
Robert Bresson directed French drama. Again based on a story by Russian author Dostoyevsky. The scenes with the eccentric painter in his flat I found dull. The lodger scenes, following women in the streets, and the heart-to-hearts by the water were memorable.
I liked Four Nights of a Dreamer equally as much as Visconti’s adaptation of the same story, Le notti bianche (1957). Both are good, and very different stylistically.
The Mother and the Whore (1973)
A French drama about aimless 20something guy visiting the local cafe, pretending to read, and going on dates, and talking a lot. The conversational dialogue held my attention and is well-written, but 3 and a half hours was too long. Sort of movie doesn’t matter if you miss 10 min.
There is quite a lot of talk about sex, often when smoking cigarettes after intercourse. Surprisingly effective all things considered, especially if you enjoy dialogue.
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
Said to be Kirk Douglas’ favorite amongst his films, and most overlooked. I enjoyed watching, and does seem to deserve more widespread popularity. Kirk Douglas has been quoted saying “This is what attracted me to the story – the difficulty of being an individual today.”
The police force are spending so much on so little is an ironic undertone. Story is set in 1960s America about a free-spirited cowboy (Kirk Douglas) stubbornly refusing to conform to societies rules, and nostalgic for the Old West. Is he naive, is his individuality to be admired? The poster reads: Life can never cage a man like this!
Or is his friend Paul brave for settling down, giving up his freedom, and raising a family? See it for Kirk Douglas’ fine performance.
Thoughts on the list? What were your best old movie discoveries of the year?
There’s a risk this article could go on and on, so here are my honorable mentions in random order: Suspiria (1977), Tenebre (1982), Deep Red (1975), Opera (1987), Kwaidan (1964), Maltese Falcon (1941), Some Like it Hot (1959), Le notti bianche (1957), Orpheus (1950), Possession (1981), Paranormal Activity (2007), Fish Tank (2009), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Scenes from a marriage (1973), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), The Case of The Scorpion’s Tale (1971), The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), Vanishing Point (1971), La Strada (1954),Lilies of the Field (1963), Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), Walk The Line (2005), Rosetta (1999), The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Akira (1988), Carrie (1976), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Sans Soleil (1983), Taken (2008), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), L’Argent (1983), Double Indemnity (1944), Witness for the Prosecution (1957),