Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Top 10 (or so) Films for 2012

I watched fewer films this year than I have in a really long time.  Other life took the lead.  And I have always watched more older stuff, wanting to fill in the gaps, but this year I saw almost no new releases.

I still though had a few moments of incredibly satisfying discovery and wanted to share.  It's my hope that a few of these will be good to you, too.

Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love (1947)

An extremely interesting noir, with a backbone that's as dark as can be even if devoid of any on-screen shootings, murders, or remotely graphic violence.  The mood is foggy, and Walsh's great tool here is restraint.   You feel the atmosphere building, at any moment ready to fall apart. The people are trapped, the outlook somber, and the effect all the more effective with no real catharsis ever offered.

Samuel Fuller's Park Row (1952)

A wound up, wonderful example of the physical cinema we've come to expect from Fuller.  It's abundantly clear this is a personal project for Sam.  He uses his camera like a weapon, thrusting it through spaces and spewing bile on all who stand in his way.

Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica (2010)

My first experience with a de Oliveira film so I can't frame it alongside the rest of his work.  But what I can say is I found it masterful - one of these late films by a great filmmaker that is deceptively simple (think Gertrud) where the formal simplicity belies a specificity and depth that are the true signs of greatness.  Most shocking to me was the vitality of the editing, always cutting away seconds earlier than expected, to produce a level of restraint so vital to the heavyweight feeling the film ends up producing.  I could go on and on about the brilliance of metaphor here, de Oliveira's wonderful visual tics, and a cinema that is as mannered as Hartley's but as weighty as Dreyer's, but I'll wait to elaborate on those things until I have the pleasure of seeing a few more from this great Portuguese filmmaker.

Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home (2005)


This should go down as one of the greatest of all Scorsese films and the single best doc on Dylan (Pennebaker, sorry).  It's moving, incredibly cinematic, and captures the great one at his absolute, creative peak.

Andre de Toth's Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Raw, dark, and artful - there's something absolutely uncompromising about De Toth's work here.  The tone almost makes you think you're watching a horror film, but the pacing and cinematography feel straight out of an European art film.  One of the most unique westerns I have ever seen and simply a key work of any genre.

Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point (1950)

So many things at once - a family melodrama, an action-adventure flick, a noir of reckless abandon, and a great film.  Curtiz shoots it with such a wonderful sense of invention, every shot a little off and angular, immediately creating an atmosphere of complete unpredictability.  With a third act that can be felt strongly in Taxi Driver and so many cylinders firing, it's a complete mystery to me why this one doesn't come up more during discussions of the great noirs.

Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937)

Perhaps the greatest of all films are those haunted by either life or death.  In this case, there's a cloud hovering over every moment suggesting the latter and a vitality in every frame leaning more towards the former.  Either way, this earthy, hefty film is among my favorite of Powell's work.

Tim Irwin's We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen (2005)

Great doc in just how intimate and close it puts you to the band. About as satisfying a portrait of a group as I have seen on film - between the long, un-cut performance footage to the fly-on-the-wall hang-outs with the band.

Howard Hawks' The Crowd Roars (1932)

An early Hawks film I have been wanting to see for the longest time, I was finally able to catch up with it on TCM.  Already in 1932, Hawks proves himself adept at filming action, and there is a scene or two I would rank with the very greatest ever filmed by Hawks. The long sequence that begins with Cagney arriving at Indianapolis and ends with him at the diner illustrates the unique greatness Hawks possessed as storyteller. With just simple, direct, and fluid brush strokes, Hawks arrives at truth.  Profound, very human, and with all that is immaterial left behind.

King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937)

I'll admit I'm a sucker for these types of weepies, and it doesn't hurt that Vidor was a real master.  Here he impresses by being so unafraid and uninhibited as he lingers in some VERY dark, uncomfortable places (like that hyper-disturbing scene at the soda shop).  Melodrama like we really don't see anymore and one of the better of its kind.

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