Thursday, January 26, 2012

Out of the Past: Best Non-2011 Films

The hip thing that all the kids are doing, as evidenced by the numerous posts at the wonderful Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog, is to look back at a year of vintage-movie watching and decide on a few favorites. As mentioned in the past on this very blog, 2011 was a watershed year for me.... opening myself up to the cinematic possibilities of the internet (no virus so far anyways) and finding a treasure trove of never-before-seen films that have eluded home video distribution. In addition, I've made some invaluable friends on this world wide web contraption that have added some serious attention to the blind spot in my movie-watching. So, here are ten films, made way before 2011, that rank as my favorites of the year, in descending order.

10. The Master Touch

Euro crime with Kirk Douglas spinning a caper to crack a safe and steal lots of money. Of course, nothing works out as planned. These types of films are usually hit and miss, but "The Master Touch" is just brilliant.

9. The Misfits

Working my way through all of John Huston's films earlier this year (with the exception of his 1962 "Freud", which I just found!), "The Misfits" slowly emerged as his true masterpiece, featuring a final third that is magnificent, sweeping and inherently sad.

8. The Terrorizers

The real revelation this year, for me, was finally getting my hands on a number of previously unreleased Edward Yang films and realizing the greatness promised by "Yi Yi". I'm looking forward to digging into "Taipei Story", "That Day On the Beach" and "A Confucian Confusion" soon, but "The Terrorizers" is a terrific place to start for any Yang novice. Featuring a prismatic narrative that blends several story lines together, it's a film that deserves numerous viewings.

7. Man On A Swing

The under appreciated Frank Perry directed this mid 70's whodunit about the enigmatic character of a psychic helping a police sheriff (Cliff Robertson) in a murder case. It never exactly goes where one thinks, and its craftsmanship is impeccable. Seek this one out, along with any other Perry film you can find!

6.Downhill Racer

Michael Ritchie never made a bad film, and this Robert Redford project about an American skier qualifying for the Olympics is mesmerizing. It's editing, which always seems to cut at the perfect moment and Redford's oblique performance create a unique film about a slight subject. Highly recommended and just released onto DVD last year.

5. The Mattei Affair

As I described when I wrote about this film a few months back, Francesco Rosi's dizzying procedural about the life and strange death of Italian oilman Enrico Mattei feels like a direct inspiration to P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" and a host of other modern films. Rosi deserves every one of his films readily available for R1 consumption!

4. The Heartbreak Kid

Oh what an entrance for the stunning Cybil Shepherd in this film, and Elaine May's poisonous comedy just keeps getting better as it goes along. The break-up scene in a seafood restaurant and the constant nervousness of Charles Grodin's performance push "The Heartbreak Kid" into the realm of extreme black comedy. I love Elaine May.

3. The Big Fix

Largely forgotten now, but "The Big Fix" deserves its place alongside Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" and other 70's sun-noirs as one of the best. Richard Dreyfuss is great as the P.I. caught up in political skulduggery and missing persons, but its the film's smart script and lackadaisical manner of explaining itself that really sparkle. 70's filmmaking at its best.

2. A Brighter Summer Day

Edward Yang's 4 hour epic about the intimate... a group of schoolboys growing up with neighborhood gangs, criminal mischief and budding love. I suppose there's hope of this film finally seeing the light of day on home video with its big screen re-issue late last year (and even topping some critics' best of lists... again), but we'll have to see. A completely enveloping experience.

1. Cold Water

Olivier Assayas' mid 90's tale of doomed teenage love stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it last year- from its 45 minute party scene to its eclectic soundtrack that merges with the jittery, handheld images perfectly. "Cold Water" is a raw, alive and tender masterpiece.

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