In looking back at the list of films I’ve watched this year I noticed many of my older movie watching contained repeated viewings and not as many newly discovered works as in the past. Not sure why, other than there were a few times during the year I was looking for celluloid comfort food and nothing more. Still, I did manage to find ten films, and a few runner-ups that are worthy of making this year’s list. For the first time since I began doing this, I believe, there are no foreign films included. It wasn’t intentional, just the draw of the cards.
The other thing that came to mind is I should remove the word classic from the title of this post (maybe next year). Eight years ago when I began this series, it applied. Today, not so much. It’s more a listing of films I have seen for the first time that I liked, but came out in a previous year, be it one year or many years.. As you will note, three of the films between the top 10 and runner-ups are from 2016 and two from 2015.
If you are curious about the previous entries in this series just click here.
I also included seven noteworthy honorable mentions. The films, as always, are in alphabetical order.
A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz (1981)
This TV film was broadcast on PBS’ American Playhouse back in 1991 and starred Jane Alexander as O’Keeffe and Christopher Plummer as Stieglitz. Written by Julian Barry (Lenny) and directed by Ed Sherin, the film reflects the unorthodox relationship between these two artists. Stieglitz was already famous as a photographer and supporter of modern art. O’Keeffe, a complete unknown. Despite a twenty year age different their relationship twisted and turned in a lot of directions from mentor and student to passionate and stormy. Their personalities were just as varied; Stieglitz, an old-fashioned, steadfast traditionalist while O’Keeffe was the poster child for the modern liberated woman. The film is available on youtube.
Alias Nick Beal (1949)
Ray Milland as Nick Beal makes for a cool diabolical devil in disguise while Thomas Mitchell comes across as a modern-day Faust entering into a hellish bargain accepting Beal’s evil methods in his efforts to become Governor. Additionally, there’s one of the 1940’s toughest and sexy dames in the splendid Audrey Totter. Directed by John Farrow.
An American Tragedy (1931)
I read Theodore Dreiser’s novel many years ago and have seen George Stevens 1955 romanticized version A Place in the Sun multiple times, but it was not until 2017 I got the opportunity to see Josef Von Sternberg’s uncompromising 1931 original adaptation. As much as a film can be faithful to an 800-page novel, Von Sternberg does his best. The drowning scene is appropriately vague and the mother-son relational more defining. Add Lee Garmes’ shimmering photography, and you have got a minor masterpiece.
By Sidney Lumet (2015)
Nancy Buirski’s tribute to Sidney Lumet is both fascinating and essential viewing. It’s perfect as both a reminder of what made Sidney Lumet great and as an introduction for those who are unfamiliar with his work. Buirski wisely spends a good deal of the film letting Lumet speak for himself.
China Moon (1991)
China Moon is a slick underrated neo-noir whose visuals evoke a moody feel harking back to the golden days of film noir. Released in 1994, China Moon stayed on the studio shelf for three years collecting dust. The characters are all well-developed and anchored by solid performances mainly by an intense Ed Harris, Benicio Del Toro, and Madeline Stowe. Stowe is an old-style movie star. She makes for a beautiful femme fatale. As Rachel, she falls right in line with Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson and Lana Turner’s Cora Smith, both women who are experts at seducing vulnerable men who think with only the body part below their waist.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
John Irwin’s Hamburger Hill met with mixed reviews at the time of its release. However, over the years, it has gained in respect. It brilliantly depicts the insanity and futility of war, especially a war like Vietnam that never had a clear objective. The film never preaches. Arguably it is one of the most realistic films about the Vietnam War. You won’t find any Rambo style one-man killing machines or false heroics here. You can read my full review here.
A brilliant screen adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel recreating the tightly repressive era of 1950’s America. Having not read the book, I cannot say for sure how close the screen adaptation is to its original source. However, the dialogue in this movie is of the highest order. It’s one of those films that you must listen to as well as watch carefully.
No Time For Love (1943)
Charming romantic comedy with Claudette Colbert’s photographer falling in love with blue-collar tunnel digger, Fred McMurray. Gay director Mitchell Leisen had plenty of fun revealing both Colbert’s female lust and Fred McMurray as a sex object. There is a pleasant chemistry between the two stars. You just need to ignore some of McMurray’s way outdated macho moments.
One Potato, Two Potato (1964)
This 1964 film is everything the glossy, rosy Stanley Kramer film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is not. Directed by Larry Peerce, One Potato, Two Potato is a grim, realistic, no holds barred look at the obstacles faced by an interracial couple who fall in love and marry. Wonderfully performances by Barbara Barrie, Bernie Hamilton, Robert Earl Jones Richard Mulligan.
Salt of the Earth (1954) Herbert Biberman
One of the most moving films about the forgotten lower class in America. Based on an actual zinc mine strike in New Mexico, the film focuses on a group of Mexican mine workers who go on strike due to unequal pay and other injustices. The film gives us an intimate humane portrayal of these folks just fighting for their rights and the little they have in life, and are trying to hold on to. Beautifully, acted by a combination of professional and non-professional actors. Salt of the the Earth was the only U.S. film ever blacklisted. It was directed by blacklisted Herbert Biberman, written by blacklisted Michael Wilson, composed by blacklisted Sol Kaplan and produced by blacklisted Paul Jarrico.
A Flash of Green (1984)
Hollywood on Trial (1976)
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Two Seconds (1932)
The Witness (2015)