Saturday, January 12, 2008

Best Lists, part 1

I've been putting off writing a year-end list of my favorite movies of the year until I had a chance to catch up with a few more titles, but today seemed like a good day to get the ball rolling a little bit. For starters, here's a list of the ten best old movies that I saw in 2007 that I had never seen before, in chronological order:

A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (1936): This Jean Renoir film is only about 40 minutes long and unavailable on DVD, but it feels like an influential touchstone, a lyrical look at a single day in the summer on a country getaway leavened with an undercurrent of class issues and emotional weight, as only Renoir could manage.

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944): Preston Sturges could do no wrong and it's amazing that this satire on hero worship was made while the war was still in full swing.

THE BAND WAGON (1953): Not as iconic as its MGM sibling Singin' in the Rain but full of Vincente Minnelli's color and style and featuring an amazing duet between Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (1955): This is one of Bergman's early, funny films, featuring an earthy farcical love triangle amidst the typical musings on the meaninglessness of life.

JIGOKU (1960): An amazing Japanese horror film virtually screaming to be remade, in which a string of horrible characters are introduced, killed off, and then sent to hell for the movie's last third.

BECKET (1964): Great performances from Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton anchor this medieval drama of friendship and betrayal.

(1975): This was the best film to be screened at Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse festival this last March and April, a blue-collar epic of truck driving and interstate corruption packed with entertainment value.

KILLER OF SHEEP (1977): A lyrical, semi-experimental look at a subject the movies typically ignore, an ordinary working-class life. Good stuff.

STROSZEK (1977): Herzog's coming-to-America drama is surreal and grounded at the same time in heartbreak and humor, I can't believe I hadn't seen this one before.

LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY (1997): The original version of Rescue Dawn, and a stranger film with a broader scope, including not just Dieter Dengler's Southeast Asian adventures but his life growing up in wartorn Germany and how his life continued in America. As interesting as the same events were dramatized in Rescue Dawn, it was more fascinating to see them narrated by the man they really happened to.

Also, a pair of booby prizes to two notably bad movies I saw this year: SKIDOO (1968), Otto Preminger's acid-trip movie which desperately wants to be counter-cultural but pretty much fails; and ELVES (1990), one of the stranger post-Gremlins monster movies I've seen, featuring Dan Haggerty and a Nazi cabal. Try this on for size:

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