It amazes me that the more films I watch, the more there is to discover. It’s a never ending black hole, and that’s a good thing. The thrill of a new discovery always sets the juices flowing. This year was no different.
Five of the ten films on my list are foreign. There are three from Italy, one a co-production with Algeria. One from England and one from France. Of the five U.S. films, two are silents and one a documentary. Decade wise, the 1940’s and 1950’s had three each. There were two from the 1920’s and one each from 1960 and 1990. All in all, a nice mix. If you are curious about the previous entries in this series, the easiest way is to go over to categories on the sidebar and select “Annual Ten Best Classic Films Watched…for the First Time.” I also included a dozen honorable mentions.
After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley) 1990
You may question whether a film from 1990 is a “classic” or not, but After Dark, My Sweet channels the best of film noir. Based on Jim Thompson’s dark brooding pulp fiction novel, the film died at the box office when first released. It has remained under the radar ever since. Critics complained at the time, director James Foley moved the film to the present day. That said, After Dark, My Sweet contains the dark, sun-baked, drenched California look that we have come to expect from noir. The pacing is a bit slow, but as I wrote in my review a while back, this is a film about characters, not plot. As uncompromising a bleak tale as any film noir from the golden age. The final part of the film is superbly done with a flawlessly constructed series of events, leading our three leads to their final destiny. Fantastic performance from Jason Patric!
Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo) 1966
Made it 1966, the film covers French Algier’s war of independence during the late 1950’s. Director Gillo Pontecorvo tells the story of Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a former petty thief, now a important member of the rebel Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). Ali and others are eventually killed by the French military, but Algerian freedom would soon follow in 1962. Filmed almost entirely in a newsreel style making it seem to pop right out of the nightly news. Powerful, and as relevant today as it was forty odd years ago. A textbook on guerilla warfare.We obviously have not learned much.
The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton) 1928
Buster Keaton’s last great work! It’s charming, funny and full of BK’s acrobatic stunts. Buster is a cameraman who falls in love with a pretty office clerk, a very good looking Marceline Day, who works at the MGM newsreel office. It’s heartbreaking to think that after this film, MGM, who Buster recently signed a contract with, would force him to tote the company line instead of letting his creative juices flow. They made him stick to a script and do it their way. But that was in the near future. Here Buster still managed to insert his own touches including a wonderful sequence where he pantomimes playing in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. The Cameraman was our last chance to see the stoic Buster before MGM transformed him into a sad clown.
The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed) – 1948
Lies, secrets and a young boy’s imagination all lead to murder accusations in this superbly paced suspense film from British director Carol Reed. A marvelous performance from Ralph Richardson. The beautiful cinematography adds to the visual pleasures. Admittedly, by the end of the film, I found the young boy really annoying.
Forbidden Games (Rene Clemente) 1953
A poignant, sad, funny and disturbing film with outstanding performances by the two child actors Georges Poujouly and Brigitte Fossey. Fossey who was only six years old when the film was made is exceptional. A masterpiece that exposes the uncompromising tragedies of war on the innocent.
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern) 1958
Famed photographer Bert Stern’s only feature length film was this documentary covering the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Like the music itself, the film has an improvisational feel to it. As you would expect,it is beautifully shot. Stern’s still photography background is evident in a lot of shots and it is all nicely edited by Aram Avakian. Performing artists include Louis Armstrong, Chico Hamilton, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Chuck Berry, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, and Big Maybelle among others. It is said to be the first feature length concert film.
Le Notti Bianchi (Luchino Visconti) 1957
A dream like romantic tale, based on a Dostoyevsky short story, with Marcello Mastroianni as the shy third wheel in a love triangle. Beautifully photographed and nicely acted by Marcello and Maria Schell.
Raw Deal (Anthony Mann) 1948
Superb film noir from the excellent combination of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. Dark, expressively lit photography and stunning camerawork blend together into a satisfying sinister delicacy. Mann’s uses the camera not to show off, but to further the story. His many low angle shots of a nasty Raymond Burr reflect not just his bulk, but his power, towering over everyone else in his gang. There is not one shot in Raw Deal that is not lyrically composed.
Shoeshine (Vittorio DeSica) 1946
Shoeshine is Vittorio DeSica’s bleak and tragic tale of the betrayal, lies and destruction of a friendship after two boys are arrested and thrown into jail. DeSica’s second directorial effort, compared to some later neorealist works, loses some its “shine” dripping at times with too much sentimentality. Still, this is a must see.
Speedy (Ted Wilde) 1928
Harold Lloyd’s final silent film is a classic on two levels. First, as one of the great silent comedies by one of its masters, and second as a historical document of 1920’s New York City. The location shots are amazing. We get to see Broadway, Wall Street, Coney Island’s Luna Park, the Elevated Subway (The El), Yankee Stadium, including Harold, as a cabbie, delivering the great Babe Ruth to the game. However, Speedy is more than a historical travelogue. It’s funny, charming with Lloyd playing one of his most likeable characters.
Bellissima (Luchino Visconti) – 1947
Blessed Event (Roy Del Ruth) – 1932
Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,The (Robert Altman) – 1988
Election (Alexander Payne) – 1999
Freshman,The (Newmeyer & Taylor) – 1925
I Love You Again (Woody Van Dyke) – 1940
I Want to Live! (Robert Wise) – 1958
Le Notti Bianchi (Luchino Visconti)
Proof (Jocelyn Moorhouse) – 1991
T-Men (Anthony Mann) – 1947
Uptight (Jules Dassin) 1968
Vincent & Theo (Robert Altman) 1990