I spent the last year watching some older stuff, filling in a few gaps, and catching up on films I had always wanted to see. Here's what I came up with -- my list, the several hands full that reminded me of why I continue chasing cinema past:
Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)
Antonioni's incredible talents are all over -- his meticulous framing, his daring yet languid camerawork, and his feel for spaces that the medium somehow forgot to cover. Slow and cerebral like all his work, The Passenger separates itself from the rest of A's films with its summer exteriors and rustic locations. It's simply one of the cinema's truly great road movies.
Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974)
The most sexually-charged of the Altman pics I've seen, and certainly one of the most interesting. Feels like a pet project, extremely unconventional stylistically just like McCabe. And strange as it may seem on paper, a precursor to Michael Mann's free-form stylings on Collateral, Miami Vice, and Public Enemies.
Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (2009)
The new Romanian cinema has gotten much acclaim of late, and after seeing 4 Months... and this film it's easy to see why. What's so striking is its fresh naturalism, running in such a different direction from cinema's other reigning naturalist champ, the Dardenne brothers. Unlike the handheld close-ups populating the work of the Belgian brothers, Porumbiou keeps the camera fixed and in wide frames. He also favors long takes in a way that we rarely, if ever, see in the work of the Dardennes. Other than the final ten minutes, I'd have no hesitation declaring it one of the greatest of recent films, and a full-blown masterpiece.
Jacques Tourneur's Canyon Passage (1946)
Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
A loose, mournful western from one of the late masters. Peckinpah meanders, ponders loyalty and lost ideals, and delivers what might be the most personal of all his works. The loss of a lifestyle, the onset of civilization, and a western about not fitting in, that doesn't really fit into anything that's come before or since.
Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)
Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking (2008)
The third of the director's films I've seen, and he continues to rank among my favorite of all the contemporary Asian filmmakers. Koreeda's undeniably a humanist, and as his with other two films, there are moments that carry a tremendous amount of power. Not perfect, I particularly found a little fault with the saccharine nature of some of the score. But all in all a memorable effort from one of the few directors still carrying Ozu's torch.
Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Part of that unique genre, the "extreme film", along with works such as Apocalypse Now and Sorcerer. These films all show filmmakers willing to travel to dangerous lengths to paint unprecedented canvases and test their own abilities as storytellers and dream purveyors. Herzog's film might feel slightly disjointed at times. But the scope at which he is working and the heart that drives both him and Fitzcarraldo allow the film to rise memorably above any shortcomings. A classic of the genre, and probably about as personal as Herzog's work can ever be.
Wim Wenders' Tokyo-Ga (1985)
An exploration that almost feels like a Godard or Marker essay. An unorthodox, somewhat meandering doc that seems essential viewing for any fan of Ozu's work. Wenders mourns cinema's loss of one of its most special practitioners using Ozu's favorite city, Tokyo, to look at how the world has changed since his passing. Wenders also memorably spends time with some of Ozu's closest collaborators.
Charles Ferguson's Inside Job (2010)
Roberto Rossellini's The Rise of Louis XIV (1966)
The first of Rossellini's historical dramas that I've seen, and admittedly it takes awhile to get used to his later style. But it snakes its way around, accumulating historical import, and by the end, finds its emotional highpoint. Another transcendent and powerful work by one of cinema's most unusual and rigorous stylists.
Maurice Pialat's La Gueule Ouverte (1974)