1. As Filhas do Fogo aka Daughters of Evil (1978)- Disjointed but highly atmospheric Portugese horror film in the loosest sense. Young Ana (Rosina Malbouisson) visits old friend Diana (Paolo Morra) on her palatial estate where they soon become embattled by peeping tom homeless men, electronic voice phenomenon and their own homosexual desires. Part Euro art film and part lesbian soap opera, it's ultimately a psychological thriller rehashed and pieced together from far superior vestiges of Polanski, Rollin and "The Haunting of Julia" from a year earlier.
2. Tiresia (2003)- French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello is a unique artist whose films straddle the salacious line between outright sexual shock and a pretentious philosophical outlook. "Tiresia" manages to encapsulate all of this into one sprawling, unexpected tale. The first half of the film predates his swooning observation of the sultry class (as in his masterpiece "The House of Pleasures") in bombastic tracking shots of transsexual hookers lining the nether streets of Paris, eventually following the titular character as she's picked up by a stranger and then held captive by him in his home. Slowly reverting to her male self without the assistance of her hormonal medication, the kidnapper grows weary of her and tries to dispose of Tiresia in an especially nasty way. She survives, only to suddenly gain the power of foresight and become a sort of mystic prophet in the small countryside where she's nursed back to health. Epic portions of Beethoven careen in and out of the soundtrack and "Tiresia" is complicated, even inscrutable at times, but its power and unusual scope are like nothing you've seen before.
3. The Flowers of War (2011)- Strong effort from wonderful Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou about the attack on Nanking from a more personal angle than "City of Life and Death", which took the atrocity to a hyper-real action film level. This one looks at the survival of a group of schoolchildren within the confines of a church and their unlikely protector, drunk mortician Christian Bale. Moments of over-sentimentality exist, but "The Flowers of War" is largely a gut wrenching and visually poetic treatise on the brutality of war. There's one tracking shot of two women being chased by Japanese soldiers- probably the best in Yimou's career- that careens up and down burned out hallways, across a littered rooftop and then down into the water as one girl jumps that made me gasp. Watch that scene here
4. Ballet 422 (2015)- The best kind of documentary. Enlightening, entertaining and fly-on-the-wally (if thats a word). Full review here at Dallas Film Now.
5. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)- Spike Lee has softened the experimental edges of Bill Gunn's 1973 film "Ganja and Hess" and spiced it up with crisp New York locales, singing church choirs and lesbian seduction. If those 3 things work for you, then this is your film. Reviewed at Dallas Film Now.
6. It Happened In Broad Daylight (1958)- Ladislao Vadja's take on the "M" murder series is a fascinating procedural that pits determined cop (Heinz Ruhmann) against child killer. The patience and calm attention to detail given to the hunt feels trendsetting for 1958. The only drawback is the violent score that telegraphs the presence of the killer on-screen. Still, hard to find but well worth the effort.
7. Night Across the Street (2012)- Prolific filmmaker Raoul Ruiz's final film wades in the excess of a mortal man lost in the haze of his half dreamt memories, awaiting his death by some unknown hitman. Or maybe simply death in the form of retirement? The potential, realized in such great films like those of Fellini or "The Great Beauty" about man's impending psychological crisis, feels wasted in Ruiz's overtly stylized and dry reliance on obscure literature and non-sequiter lines of dialogue. I understand this is Ruiz's aesthetic, but I was unmoved by it all.
8. The Children Are Watching Us (1944)- No one quite literalizes the scarring ramifications adults often place on children quite like De Sica, and this film, one of his earliest, sets the tone for later devastation such as "The Bicycle Thieves" and "Miracle In Milan". Oh, those final few minutes. Heart wrenching and a near perfect illustration of the feelings that have been boiling towards mom Nina (Isa Pola) for some time.
9. The Burned Barns (1973)- It's very disappointing when a film overflowing with this much talent- Simone Signoret, Alain Delon, Paul Crauchet, Miou-Miou- fails to engage. When the dead body of a young woman, elegantly discarded in the snow like the best giallo mise en scene, turns up on the outer edges of a farm owned by Signoret and her family, they become increasingly drawn into the mystery as Paris detective Delon tries to ascertain the truth. Signoret fares the best as the mother of the clan, quietly attempting to maintain the innocence of her sons even though all clues lead to their guilt. Still, "The Burned Barns" is a bloodless, lethargic affair. Director Jean Chapot seems to have toiled mostly in television work, which may account for the the film's stodginess and complete lack of dramatic inertia. Hard to find, but really only worth it for Delon's laconic coolness, even when he's wading through five feet of snow to solve a murder.
10. Focus (2015)- In the opening credits, the film gives props to someone named Apollo Robbins as con supervisor and pickpocket designer. I really wanna see the documentary on him. Otherwise, "Focus" is forgettable fluff, but brisk and amusing. Full review can be found here.