Classic films never really get old. Like a fine wine it’s more about how they age. Though I have watched so many films over the years I still find there is always something to new discover. There are lessons to be learned; how we lived, dressed as well as mistakes we as a society have made and hopefully can learn and not to repeat. Sadly, that last part does not always happen. This year’s group of first time viewings is no different.
While the definition of what constitutes a classic film is always open to interpretation, for purposes of this year’s list, I have included one film that is only two years old. Not my usual definition, but if I did not include this one film it would have slipped through the cracks, therefore, I included it. As usual though the list leans toward older films including one silent classic. Six of the ten films on the list are foreign. There are two from France, one each from England, Italy, Japan and Brazil. There is also one co-production from the U.S., U.K. and Switzerland. The remaining films are from the U.S. From a decades perspective there was no one decade that stood out. Two from the 1940’s, the 1960’s, the 1980’s and the 2000’s. 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 ten honorable mentions.
The Angry Silence (1960)
A “kitchen sink” drama from 1960 that at the time was attacked as both left-wing and right-wing propaganda of the union movement in Britain. While you can read both interpretations into it, you can also read it as the price one pays for taking a non-conformist stand against the crowd. Richard Attenborough is superb as a worker at an engineering factory who refuses to walk out during an unauthorized strike. When transferred to another plant his reputation follows and he continues to be ostracized. Directed by Guy Green, the film also had three future directors on board, Attenborough, Bryan Forbes who wrote the screenplay and Anthony Harvey who was the film’s editor.
Au Revoir est Enfants (1987)
At first this film seems like a simple coming of age story, however, director Louis Malle shows you how life can completely change in one swift moment. A budding friendship between two young boys at a Catholic boarding school during the Nazi occupation of France. One of the boys is Jewish, along with two other boys in the convent. All are being concealed from the Nazi’s by the monks. Their secret is eventually exposed leading to an emotional and devastating ending.
City of God (2002)
A brutal, compelling masterpiece by director Fernando Meirelles of Rio’s violent youth gangs, lost in hopeless conditions of poverty and violence. The depressing conditions spawn more and more kids into a never-ending cycle of life in drugs, crime and murder. One boy, the narrator, finds a way to escape. Complex editing, multiple storylines, convincing acting, all by non-professionals, weaved together to form a depressing, and sometimes hard to look at. A brilliant must see of a film.
Intruder in the Dust (1949)
Released in 1949, the same year as Pinky and based on William Faulkner’s novel of the same name, Intruder in the Dust is a potent film on racism that still socks you right in the gut. The place is rural Mississippi where a financially well off black farmer, Lucas Beauchamp, is falsely accuse of killing a white man. The town is ready to lynch him without the help of a judge and jury. Coming to his aid are a young teenage boy, his uncle, a lawyer, and an elderly woman, all who along with the sheriff seem like the only decent, read that non-racist folks in town. Granted, the uncle is not entirely comfortable defending a black man. I assume most of the town folk in the crowd scenes were all locals. They have that dusty, hard lived, unforgiving look that you won’t get out of central casting. There’s no sugar-coating the discrimination. The white town folk are lowly educated and ready for revenge to see another black hanging from a tree. Juano Hernendez is dignified and proud as the wrongly accused man. It’s a fabulous performance. The direction, by Clarence Brown, is straight forward. This is a film that has been off the radar and needs to be seen. The movie was filmed in Oxford, Mississippi, Faulkner’s hometown, which certainly adds to the feel of the film.
The Kid Brother (1927)
While I consider Chaplin and Keaton the one two punch in silent film comedy, Harold Lloyd has been quickly build steam over the past few years in my own personal pantheon. The Kid Brother just may be Harold Lloyd’s most fully realized film. Filled with great gags and plenty of action.
Lacombe, Lucien (1974)
In Nazi controlled Vichy, France, a headstrong, uneducated and selfish young peasant, Lucien Lacombe (Pierre Blaise), desires to join the French Resistance but is rejected. Instead he joins the occupying German Gestapo helping them by providing information on the French Resistance fighters and others. Lucien’s activity is not politically motivated. He’s too self-centered to care about politics. At one point he blackmailed a Jewish tailor, threatening them with exposure to the Germans if the father does not allow him to spend time with the Jewish tailor’s daughter. Always a low-key filmmaker, Malle let’s the story unfold without criticism of the characters or any rhetoric.
Mamma Roma (1962)
It took more than thirty years for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma, to arrive on American shores. Made in 1962, the film finally had its day in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, our patron saint of forgotten cinema. Mamma Roma is a downbeat film about both the aspirations and pitfalls of upward mobility; filled with lost dreams of a better life and the high price that is sometimes paid. Anna Magnani is overpowering. It’s easily one of her best performances in a career filled with amazingly strong work and the film is worth seeing just for her alone.
Sophie’s Choice (1982)
It has taken me over thirty years to finally catch up with this film. Not sure why I avoided for so long, but that is exactly what I did. The film is exquisite, haunting, emotional and heartbreaking with three superb performances. Meryl Streep is flawless.
Throne of Blood (1957)
Absolutely my favorite version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Akira Kurosawa has made an exquisite meditation on the nature of power and the effects of dark secrets twisting our tragic “hero” into a frightening monster.
Under the Skin (2013)
You are going to either love this film or hate it. True, it is slowly paced. It is also moody, dark, imaginative and has a predatory, seductive femme fatale; the most alluring extraterrestrial to ever grace the screen. There is a remarkable opening scene, that is as cinematic as it is mysterious and original.
The Window (1945)
Based on a short story (The Boy Cried Murder) by Cornell Woolrich, the alcoholic reclusive writer, The Window is a claustrophobic tight little thriller. It’s filled with fire escapes and old tenement buildings that dramatically frame this tale of a young boy, a compulsive teller of tales, who witnesses a murder and no one believes him. The film builds to a tension filled climax with the dark shadowy background of abandon buildings in the poorer sections of the inner city (filmed on location in New York). The cinematography is appropriately atmospheric and dark aiding nicely in building up the suspense.
The Burglar (1957)
Camille Claudel (1988)
Crossing Delancey (1988)
Full of Life (1956)
Midnight Run (1988)
The Sniper (1952)
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)
The Victors (1963)
With Friends Like Harry… (2000)
Woman on the Run (1950)