Over on the members-only Movie Nerd Discussion Group I frequent, we have an annual January tradition in which folks list their top ten discoveries of the previous year—older films encountered for the first time. It occurs to me that since this blog sits dormant most of the time, I may as well recycle the more substantive Nerd Group posts here, for the benefit of the dozen or so readers who don't belong to it. (I may even start recycling some older debates—checking the archives in preparation for this post, I was amazed to see how much time and energy I'd devoted a year ago to a discussion of the show-offy tracking shots in Children of Men. It seems a shame to not have that material publicly available somehow, even though it takes the form of a dialogue rather than a monologue.)
01. Daisy Kenyon (1947, Otto Preminger)
Man, I hate when the auteurists are right. Now I feel obligated to trudge out to Film Forum in the freezing cold to see In Harm's Way next week, just because Peter and Dan both like it.
02. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945, Elia Kazan)
A film I'd always somehow assumed to be maudlin and cozy turns out to be almost unbelievably harrowing, to the point where I was almost never not on the brink of tears. Seriously, the image it conjures up for me is that wrestler in Barton Fink who keeps shouting "I will destroy him!" If it went any further it'd be opera, and yet there are tons of moments more truthful and clear-minded than most contemporary melodramas can even come close to offering.
03. Ulzana's Raid (1972, Robert Aldrich)
Best. Vietnam movie. Ever. (Apocalypse Now is, paradoxically, not a Vietnam movie.) In fact they could have called this Hearts and Minds, really. Astonishingly frank; infinitely sorrowful. I don't understand why this isn't firmly canonized, spoken of in the same breath as The Wild Bunch and Once Upon a Time in the West.
04. El Dorado (1966, Howard Hawks)
It's been too long since my one and only viewing of Rio Bravo to say whether I prefer this even goofier retread, but I strongly suspect that I do. Mostly because of Caan, or more specifically Wayne's contempt for Caan.
05. La Signora di tutti (1934, Max Ophüls)
Meanwhile, I prefer this early and it seems to me little-heralded (though it's got a number of History Project votes*) Ophüls effort to most of his consensus masterpieces, perhaps because it's a rare case in which the heroine is to some degree complicit in her own downward spiral.
06. The Spy in Black (1939, Michael Powell)
Hard to believe this movie even got made, really. Maybe the script was so diabolically entertaining that nobody paid any mind to how subversive it was. A contemporary equivalent would have the Fox News team burning its maker in effigy. Why, Veidt's character is very nearly human!
07. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965, Martin Ritt)
I think the word here is "singleminded." Possibly to a fault, but it's hard not to admire such grim commitment, especially right smack in the middle of the first Bond era.
08. Pigs and Battleships (1961, Shohei Imamura)
I enjoyed this picture's manic energy, its bold widescreen compositions and its allegorical fervor. But I do wish that it hadn't spent quite so much time focusing on Major League Baseball predictions; that Sports Illustrated cover got old.
09. Once Upon a Time in America (1984, Sergio Leone)
For those who read Theo's post**, this was my Daisy Kenyon—an excellent film that still wound up feeling like a disappointment because it couldn't live up to the out-of-control hype. (Yes, I saw the long version.) Unfortunately, I can't remember now what exactly I found problematic about it, though I do recall rolling my eyes during the scenes with Noodles in the opium den.
10. The Burglars (1971, Henri Verneuil)
You have to see the insane car chase in this picture to believe the insane car chase in this picture.
ALSO QUITE STRONG: Barbary Coast; Barking Dogs Never Bite; Black Rain (Imamura); Bride of Frankenstein; The Insect Woman; La Ronde; The Landlord; The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (especially when I mistakenly thought the dual ending was intentional); Objective, Burma!; The Scarlet Empress; Scarlet Street; Sorcerer; Teorema; Three Girls About Town; White Dog; White of the Eye; A Zed & Two Noughts.
MOST INEXPLICABLY OVERRATED: Mafioso. Just because it's a black comedy doesn't mean it isn't one lame joke beaten into the fucking dirt for two hours. I couldn't abide Divorce—Italian Style, either, so maybe it's just the frenetic Italian sense of humor that rubs me the wrong way.
* refers to a Nerd Group project involving concatenated top ten lists for every year in cinema history. La Signora di tutti is currently #7 for 1934, and is likely to rise since it's now on my own top ten for that year.
** "[Daisy Kenyon] would be my No. 1 oldie of the year, if I were ranking - yet I feel it was somehow a disappointment, since everyone else seems to place it among the Greatest Films of All Time whereas I just found it Very Good Indeed."