The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Movie Annual

I don't usually indulge in this sort of thing, but what the hell.

1969 The Wild Bunch. Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece, in which some illegal immigrants get into trouble. Runner-up: David Cronenberg's Stereo, a fascinating early film in which many of his mature concerns are adumbrated in somewhat more concentrated form than in his commercial features.
1970 The Red Circle. Jean-Pierre Melville's late gangster film, with a superb cast including Delon, Volontè, Montand and Bourvil, and the brilliant set-piece jewel robbery.
1971 Macbeth. Roman Polanski's version was pilloried for cutting a third of the original dialogue and adding the cynical ending, but it remains one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever made, with fine widescreen cinematography and a convincing recreation of eleventh-century Scotland.
1972 Aguirre, Wrath of God. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski in their masterpiece. It starts with the representatives of civilisation carrying wheels on their backs and ends with a man lording it over a raft of monkeys.
1973 Don't Look Now. One of the cinema's best ghost stories. Nicolas Roeg's elliptical editing style is perfectly suited to the paranormal theme, and it also has Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie and a thoroughly nasty trick ending.
1974 Céline and Julie Go Boating. One of my five (or possibly three) favourite films ever: two beautiful heroines, a haunted house and a hugely imaginative, hilarious and beguiling fantasy in which the only special effects are the performances, the script and the editing.
1975 Death Race 2000. Cheap and cheery sci-fi satire in the best seventies tradition, directed by Paul Bartel and featuring Sylvester Stallone, who gets to deliver the line: "You know, Myra, some people might think you're cute. But me, I think you're one very large baked potato."
1976 The Man Who Fell to Earth. An astronaut lands on an alien planet in search of water, bearing technological gifts. The aliens take the gifts, seduce the astronaut and help him to destroy himself with alcohol and television. Runner-up: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, which I saw when I was about thirteen and which pleased me inordinately with its amoralism, elitism and Jodie Foster.
1977 Suspiria. When I was eight or nine, I saw a trailer for this in the cinema. I don't remember what the main feature was (it could have been Star Wars, or possibly even Grease), but the trailer was loud, spooky, weird and without the slightest hint of what the title meant or what the story was. Naturally, I was sold, but I had to wait twenty years to see it on video and another five or six to see it in its widescreen glory. A very close second for this nomination: George Romero's Martin. Honourable mention: Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which has its problems but also has James Coburn, James Mason, David Warner and an ending to rival that of The Wild Bunch.
1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Philip Kaufman's brilliant remake of Don Siegel's fine original. The words "brilliant remake" are pretty much an oxymoron these days, but it was not always so. Nicely characterised, beautifully acted and with another truly horrible ending. Honourable mentions to Eraserhead and Days of Heaven.
1979 Stalker. Tarkovsky's second greatest film, after the majestic Andrei Rublev. There are occasional longueurs, some over-explicit monologues and apparently the subtitles don't do the dialogue justice; but the sublime visuals, the unearthly music and the epic simplicity of the story blast all such quibbles to nothing. Runner-up: Cronenberg's The Brood, the last word on family values.
1980 Inferno. Argento's loose sequel to Suspiria, which bothers even less with plot and instead strings together a series of strange encounters and bloody murders. A girl's exploration of a flooded basement near the beginning of the film is one of the eeriest set-pieces I've ever seen, and Va, pensiero has never sounded quite the same since Leigh McCloskey's experience in the lecture hall and Eleonora Giorgi's taxi ride.
1981 Blind Chance. Kieslowski's famous film about three alternate lives experienced by a single protagonist. As always, the director does not rest satisfied with the High Concept and injects plenty of actual story and character for later ripoffs to ignore. Honourable mention to another film by a Polish director, Andrzej Zulawski's Possession.
1982 The Thing. John Carpenter's best film, and a far better one than Howard Hawks' 1951 production, of which it is supposedly a remake. In fact, The Thing largely ignores the Hawks film, being instead a rather faithful adaptation of the original John W Campbell story, "Who Goes There?" As with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there are plenty of special effects and a few in-jokes, but the wit, verve and craftsmanship are its own.
1983 Videodrome. Cronenberg's incomparable media satire, with a verbal wit to match its visual weirdness. "You'll excuse me if I don't stick around," says one corporate nasty to James Woods, whose head is encased in a luminous, pulsating electronic pod; "I just can't handle the freaky stuff." Runner-up: Michael Mann's dreamlike The Keep, which is just as strange, just as unique and even more criminally under-rated.
1984 Once Upon A Time in America. Sergio Leone's last, longest, bleakest, most moving film, and the best gangster movie ever made. An elderly ex-mobster returns home in response to a mysterious invitation, leading him to an unpalatable truth which, in true birth-of-a-nation, print-the-legend style, he chooses to ignore. Butchered by the studio on its original release, its complex associative structure dumbed into linearity for the mentally Hollywood, it lasts three hours and forty-five minutes and doesn't waste a single frame.
1985 Brazil. Terry Gilliam's manic variant of Nineteen Eighty-Four, with script input by Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown and with such visual and satiric verve that the studio couldn't understand it and wouldn't release it. An outstanding cast of British character actors, along with Robert De Niro and the under-used Kim Greist. Close seconds: Romero's Day of the Dead and Paul Schrader's Mishima.
1986 The Fly. The first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still impressive for its cute dialogue, depth of characterisation, and the hero's unconventional take on the business of undergoing horrible mutations. He does not say that his invention went wrong; he says that it turned into a different invention. Runner-up: Michael Mann's Manhunter, which treats of the perils of empathy and has Kim Greist again and Brian Cox as an impressive Hannibal Lecter.
1987 Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick in Vietnam. Rather than the horror, the horror (Apocalypse Now) or agonising about the awful, awful harm done to Americans by the Vietnamese (Platoon), Kubrick presents the war through the eyes of cheerful teenage killers who speak almost entirely in boot-camp clichés and leering sexual innuendoes. It makes a healthy change from the usual Vietnam-film drone of militant self-pity; and it's fascinating, too.
1988 Dead Ringers. "Two bodies. Two minds. One soul", ran the tagline, which for once has some relation to the film it's talking about. Twins played by Jeremy Irons find their life unbalanced by Geneviéve Bujold, who like most lovers only loves part of a person. In this case it's easier because the part has an entire body and mind of its own; nevertheless, it remains incomplete. Honourable mention: Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, again beautifully performed, particularly by the radiant Juliette Binoche.
1989 Heathers. The Internet Movie Database gives the year as 1988, but it was released in the US in 1989; lump it. The ultimate teen movie, with Winona Ryder as the heroine, Christian Slater as her amiably sociopathic boyfriend, Kim Walker as the incarnation of evil, and lines like "fuck me gently with a chainsaw".
1990 Henry and June. Kaufman's delightful film about the friendship between Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) and Henry and June Miller (Fred Ward and Uma Thurman) in 1930s Paris. Intelligent, urbane, and adult in the proper and all too rare sense of the word.
1991 Naked Lunch. Another film about a writer; this time William Burroughs, alias Lee, who in the opening shot knocks on the shadow of his own head and announces: "Exterminator". Cronenberg observed that a straight adaptation of Naked Lunch would cost billions and be banned everywhere in the world (even, possibly, Westminster), so the film is a surreal version of Burroughs' life between the accidental shooting death of his wife and the writing of the book that made him famous.
1992 Blade Runner. I know it came out in 1982, but that was the Producers' Cut, a very different and inferior film to the Director's Cut released ten years later. No voice-over, no illogical happy ending with out-takes from The Shining, and all the good stuff left in.
1993 Dust Devil. The posters for this one quoted somebody as comparing it to "Tarkovsky on speed". A riveting horror story by Richard Stanley who made Hardware in 1990; set in South Africa and Namibia, and featuring a demon, a woman and a burnt-out policeman.
1994 Death and the Maiden. Polanski's fine version of Ariel Dorfman's play: a three-hander with Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson. The encounter between a torture victim and a man she claims is the torturer leads to villain-victim role-swapping and power games in the best Polanski tradition.
1995 The Addiction. Abel Ferrara's concise black-and-white chiller is far and away the best among the 1990s slew of vampire films which also included Coppola's Dracula and Jordan's Interview with the Vampire. A young philosophy student is attacked by an elegant woman who tells her "look me in the face and tell me to go away". After making an attack of her own, the student coldly tells her victim: "It's not my actions but your incredulity that needs examination here". At her graduation party she says "I'd like to share a little of what I've learned" and savages the neck of the person standing next to her, turning the gathering into a vision of the Pit.
1996 Crash. Cronenberg's adaptation of J G Ballard's kit of desperate measures is less garish and more emotional than the book, but hardly less disturbing.
1997 Lost Highway. David Lynch's first foray into the theme of split and/or multiple identities which has been prominent in both of his subsequent features. Bill Pullman's nerve-jangling party encounter with Robert Blake is the bit I remember best, but none of it is terribly comfortable. Runner-up: L. A. Confidential.
1998 The Thin Red Line. Terrence Malick's war epic, with his usual glorious visuals and voice-overs which complement the action rather than just explaining the premise or filling in the plot-holes.
1999 Audition. I saw this because I saw the poster in London's Forbidden Planet - a delicate young Japanese woman in a plastic apron, her head lowered, holding a hypodermic at the ready. The film starts like a light romantic comedy - a middle-aged widower and his friend arrange a fake film audition so that the widower can meet a nice girl - but descends into horror as the man discovers, or possibly fantasises, what lies behind the demure exterior of the woman he chooses.
2000 Werckmeister Harmonies. Béla Tarr's tale of a tatty travelling show, featuring a man called the Prince and a dead whale, that precipitates chaos wherever it goes. Slow, mysterious, hypnotic, monochrome, eerie, and very, very peculiar.
2001 Mulholland Drive. David Lynch's dream of Hollywood, seen through the distorting lens of a mind trying desperately to get away from itself, featuring a great performance by Naomi Watts.
2002 Revengers Tragedy. Alex Cox's punk-sci-fi version of the Jacobean bloodbath, with Christopher Eccleston as the avenger and Eddie Izzard as his dupe.
2003 Memories of Murder. The factually-based story of a botched investigation by the corrupt and inept South Korean police into a still unsolved series of murders; directed by Bong Joon-Ho, who more recently made The Host.
2004 The Incredibles. The best superhero film ever made, featuring the diminutive genius Edna Mode, costume designer to the gods.
2005 The Proposition. Another blood-spattered birth of a nation; this time Australia, which Imperial lawman Ray Winstone is determined to civilise, whether by partaking of a traditional English Christmas dinner in the baking antipodean sun or by freeing the land of psychopathic gangster Danny Huston. The proposition is made by Winstone to Huston's brother, Guy Pearce: unless Pearce kills Huston, their mentally impaired younger brother will be executed. Things do not go smoothly, and the "civilisation" of the tough but uxorious Winstone is placed under a severe strain.
2006 Inland Empire. An extraordinary performance by Laura Dern (particularly in the course of a horrifying monologue addressed to a sordid private detective), and any number of extraordinary images by David Lynch. I can't begin to summarise it, but it scared the living daylights out of me the first time I saw it, and repeated viewings have hardly lessened the impact.
2007 There Will Be Blood. Visually stunning, with a splendid, partly atonal score and fine committed performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano as a megalomaniac tycoon and a smarmy preacher, this is Peak Oil's Apocalypse Now.
2008 I haven't yet seen anything made in 2008.


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