The 10 Best Pre-2009 Films That I Saw This Past Year
December 31, 2009 in ListSmoker
I enjoy the hell outta film. Almost too much. I’m addicted, really. I consider my taste in film excellent, almost to the point of arrogance and elitism, but I’m okay with that. I tend to avoid American mainstream cinema, largely for it’s lack in creative and intellectual integrity, and instead steer myself towards foreign films, independent films, and films from highly thought of auteurs, the masters such as Kurosawa, Godard, Renoir, Tarkovsky, Melville and so on.
I watched a lot of films this past year, as any of you on my facebook would have noticed what with my incessant film ratings postings. I’ve gone back through all the ratings I’ve done and created a list of all the films I rated 5 out of 5 and come up with what I would consider the ten best films I saw this past year. I decided not to include films released in 2009 for some arbitrary reason that I can’t recall now, but probably because two of the ten would be taken up with recent films, those two being The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, and I needed the room for all the old talkies I spent time drooling over.
Seriously. I have a problem. And here’s the proof:
10!: Dry Summer – Dir: Metin Erksan / 1964 / Turkey – I wrote a fairly lengthy post on this film back in May that, looking back on it now, perhaps shouldn’t have contained so many spoilers. So, if you’re interested in watching this film for free, don’t read my post on it first. This film is an excellent study on possession, obsession and the nature of desire. It took me by complete surprise. It’s the kind of film you can’t shake, that you’ll find yourself thinking about long after you’ve seen it.
9!: Pierrot Le Fou – Dir: Jean-luc Godard / 1965 / France – I love Godard. There’s really not much more to say. Pierrot Le Fou seems to be the natural midway point between the story driven and ‘conventional’ films such as Contempt and Godard’s film essays of the late 60′s such as Made In U.S.A. and 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her. The film is fun and a brightly colored visual feast. An excellent first Blu-ray experience on my part. The story is simple – a middle aged man dissatisfied with marriage runs off with the babysitter and hi-jinks and social commentary ensue. It’s delightful.
8!: Ivan’s Childhood - Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky / 1962 / Soviet Union – This is Tarkovsky’s debut feature, a film about the effects of the violence of a country at war on childhood, and that of a young boy named Ivan specifically. Even though the craft here is film, the best word to describe Tarkovsky is ‘poet.’ The film is visually stunning, the images presented beautifully haunting. Tarkovsky has a way with the moving image like no other filmmaker I’ve seen. The standout scene here is when Ivan is left alone in the military barracks and his war-torn imagination runs wild, and through amazing use of lighting we follow Ivan as he delves into a fevered madness.
7!: Rachel Getting Married – Dir: Jonathan Demme / 2008 / USA – I really connected with this film. Having just celebrated a full year of sobriety, it’s easy to see why, but the story of a girl in recovery trying to reconnect with family is not the only reason I love this film. Every bit about it felt deliberate, hand crafted by a master artisan. Even the wedding party scenes, the minutes upon minutes of dancing and awkward interactions between family and friends all felt like they served the higher goal, the overall metaphor of the complications of dealing with life and just how fucked up it can be. I love the scene where Kym (played by Anne Hathaway, a tour-de-force performance) takes off in the car after a heated altercation with her mother and, when faced with a fork in the road, seems to deliberately refuse to decide to make a choice in direction, instead going straight between the two roads and crashing the car. Did I mention I love metaphors? Even obvious ones, and this one was awesome.
6!: Faces - Dir. John Cassavetes / 1968 / USA – I’ve only recently discovered John Cassavetes, the forefather of American independent cinema. I’ve seen two of his films and one thing has been consistent so far – the acting. An actor himself, Cassavetes seems to have the secret of drawing phenomenal performances from all his actors. Faces, at least on the surface, is simple – it follows a couple over the course of a night as their marriage goes through a crisis and shows how they decide to deal with it and the consequences of their actions on the marriage and on the other people around them that they bring into the mix. The performances are incredible – I was stunned, jaw agape throughout the entirety. Too bad his son Nick decided not to follow in his footsteps and instead makes emotionally manipulative drivel like The Notebook.
5!: The Rules Of The Game - Dir: Jean Renoir / 1939 / France – I first watched this in January or February of this year and I’ve watched twice again since. Renoir’s Grand Illusion is touted as more of the masterpiece, but I prefer The Rules Of The Game. It’s damn near perfect, down to every little detail. Renoir had a keen eye for overlapping action, and in the scenes during the party where characters are chasing characters are chasing characters in one big choreographed glorious mess of comedy and drama the background is used as brilliantly as the foreground. A grand indictment of France’s leisure class, The Rules Of The Game is a brilliant film from one of the world’s most brilliant filmmakers.
4!: Army Of Shadows - Dir: Jean Pierre Melville / 1969 / France – A film about the French resistance during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII, it follows a small band of would-be revolutionaries and their struggles, delving deep into the realm of honor and trust and the necessity of violence. Even though it could be classified as a wartime thriller, the suspense doesn’t come from action, but rather in the long lingering shots on the expressions of prisoners contemplating their potential fate. Melville knew suspense and was a master at drawing tension and letting the horror of violence grow exponentially in the mind of the viewer by leaving it off screen.
3!: Bicycle Thieves – Dir: Vittorio De Sica / 1948 / Italy – In terms of importance to the world of cinema, I compare this film to Citizen Kane. A defining film of the Italian neo-realism movement, Bicycle Thieves brutal honesty and realism left me floored. This film, following a father and son as they search for the father’s stolen bicycle, his only means of transportation for his new job he desperately needed to support his family, is perhaps one of the earliest I’ve seen that doesn’t really wrap things up at the end, an echo of real life. Instead of using metaphor and allegory, Bicycle Thieves instead portrays life as it is, and sometimes things just don’t work out and you’ve just got to roll with it.
2!: La Haine – Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz / 1995 / France – I was blown away by this film. It was even better the second time around, and, surprisingly to me, the tension seemed to be intensified by knowing what was coming. A film about class struggle in the projects of the Paris outskirts and the rage and violence that festers there, La Haine follows three ethnically diverse young men as they move from point A to point B, trying to avoid trouble or intentionally getting involved in it. The film is beautiful, shot in gorgeous black and white. The tension is explosive and palpable, and the final words of narration spoken at the end, “jusqu’ici tout va bien,” echoed from the beginning, still haunt me and give me chills.
1!: The Human Condition - Dir: Masaki Kobayashi / 1959-1961 / Japan – An astonishing achievement, the nine and half hour epic that is The Human Condition is one of the greatest films ever made. Separated into six parts, I watched this film over the span of two and a half days and I am amazed that such a mammoth undertaking was ever able to come to fruition. Here’s the synopsis from theauteurs.com:
Masaki Kobayashi’s mammoth humanist drama is one of the most staggering achievements of Japanese cinema. Originally filmed and released in three parts, the nine-and-a-half-hour The Human Condition (Ningen no joken), adapted from Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel, tells of the journey of the well-intentioned yet naive Kaji (handsome Japanese superstar Tatsuya Nakadai) from labor camp supervisor to Imperial Army soldier to Soviet POW. Constantly trying to rise above a corrupt system, Kaji time and again finds his morals an impediment rather than an advantage. A raw indictment of its nation’s wartime mentality as well as a personal existential tragedy, Kobayashi’s riveting, gorgeously filmed epic is novelistic cinema at its best.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, which is why I didn’t. Here’s the trailer that you’ll recognize from Samurai Panda Planet:
There’s a few other films that stunned me that didn’t quite make the top ten but that I ought to honorably mention here: Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains, Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Lars von Trier’s Europa, Seijun Suzuki’s Branded To Kill, Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana, the Maysles brothers documentary Salesman and the timeless classic Casablanca by Michael Curtiz.
I’ve also got a pretty expansive list of must see’s for early in the upcoming year to feed my fix, including: John Cassavetes A Woman Under The Influence, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman In The Dunes, Carl Th. Dryer’s Vampyr, Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole, Akira Kurosawa’s Dodes’ka-den, Wim Wenders Wings Of Desire, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad and Carol Reed’s The Third Man. I’m also open to suggestions, so let me have it.
Happy viewing in the new year!