Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Recap of 2012 (old releases)

I will just go ahead and make this an annual occurrence. For the second year in a row, I have decided to compile my year in review and look back on the films I saw in 2012 (a total of over 325) and handpick several films, performances, directors that made the biggest impact on me. Like last year, I will highlight films or performances that I saw for the first time, and these films are ones that were released prior to 2012. I am not able to keep up with all the new releases to do a best of 2012 films in a timely fashion, living in Kalamazoo, MI. Therefore no films from 2012 will be represented here. I will try to revisit new releases from 2012 in an upcoming post, perhaps around Academy Award timing to list my favorites from the recent year.

10 Best films prior to 2012 that I saw for the first time:

10. Seduced and Abandoned (1964) - Pietro Germi: This hilarious farce was probably the funniest film I saw all year.

9. Terminal Station (1953) - Vittorio De Sica: Achingly romantic and painful, this unique blending of Neorealism and Hollywood Melodrama was a wonderful surprise.

8. Thieves' Highway (1949) - Jules Dassin: A brilliant film noir, this gritty and gutsy film, made on location in San Francisco was passionate and had a script that kept me on my toes.

7. Fires on the Plain (1959) - Kon Ichikawa: Absolutely horrific. A war film that felt like the end of the world. 

6. Faces (1968) - John Cassavetes: My most difficult film watching experience of the year also yielded my most rewarding. Contains the best hour of American independent cinema ever made.

5. Dodsworth (1936) - William Wyler: Mature, knowing film is extremely well written and well acted and feels remarkably modern for a film from the 1930's.

4. Lonesome (1928) - Paul Fejos: This piece of exuberance and romantic longing was pure joy from the get-go. One of the great American silent films.

3. Orphans of the Storm (1921) - D.W. Griffith: Griffith's epic film was magnificently staged and plotted. And the teaming of Lillian and Dorothy Gish was electric.

2. Ivan's Childhood (1962) - Andrei Tarkovsky: My favorite Tarkovsky film. The most beautiful and haunting cinematography I saw this year.

1. The Last Laugh (1924) - F.W. Murnau: Maybe the greatest silent film ever made and it doesn't even need intertitles. Remarkable visual storytelling and Emil Jannings in his legendary performance.

Here are some acclaimed films that I did not connect with:

Dead Ringers (1988)
The Lives of Others (2006)
Eating Raoul (1982)
2046 (2004)

Here are the top 5 performances by an Actress (no particular order):

Jennifer Jones - Terminal Station (1953)

Lynn Carlin- Faces (1968)

Lillian Gish- The Scarlet Letter (1926)

Olivia de Havilland- The Heiress (1949)

Gena Rowlands- A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Here are the top 5 performances by an actor (no particular order):

Walter Huston - Dodsworth (1936)

Christopher Plummer- Hamlet at Elsinore (1964)

Saro Urzi- Seduced and Abandoned (1964)

Montgomery Clift- The Heiress (1949)

Emil Jannings- The Last Laugh (1924)

Director I spent the most time with in 2012:

John Ford- 7 films

The Iron Horse (1924) *** (out of 4)
The Informer (1935) - ** 1/2
How Green Was My Valley (1941) - *** 1/2
Fort Apache (1948) ** 1/2
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) *** 1/2
Wagon Master (1950) *** 1/2
Cheyenne Autumn (1964) ***

I decided to revisit John Ford this year and catch up on several films that I've never seen before for whatever reason. Some of these were some of his lesser discussed films, but some are highly acclaimed films that I have neglected. I was continually reminded of John Ford's ability to frame up the collective experience. Be it friends, lovers, or enemies, he is able to create a chemistry and camaraderie. There's also of course the melting pot experience... and the way he utilizes people from different cultural backgrounds together onscreen. Ford's way of framing up conflict is of course influential to everyone from Kurosawa to Spielberg. I think the most amazing film of his I saw was Wagon Master, which I believe I underrated at the time I saw it. It is unconventional even for Ford, as he adopts a semi-improvised feel, a lighter touch, and the complete absence of major stars like Wayne or Fonda, which gives the film an intimacy which is sometimes lacking in his BIG films. I think it's actually one of his greatest masterpieces, and if I watched it again, I would write an essay on it and rate it even higher than I did on my first viewing.

Further Exploration

Lillian Gish-

If I stated that for me this was the year of Lillian Gish I would not be exaggerating. I watched all of these films this year, 4 of them for the first time, and even watched Broken Blossoms twice.

Broken Blossoms (1919) - Griffith *** 1/2 (out of 4)
True Heart Susie (1919) - Griffith ***
Way Down East (1920) - Griffith ****
Orphans of the Storm (1921) - Griffith ****
La Boheme (1926) - Vidor ** 1/2
The Scarlet Letter (1926) - Sjostrom ****
The Wind (1928) - Sjostrom ****

I determined that not only was Lillian Gish the greatest silent film actress.....she might be the greatest film actress....period. I felt throughout the year that I was continuing to see her for the first time. I don't know if it was my slight apprehension and aversion to Griffith's histrionics in the past, but for some reason I had a hard time getting into his films in years prior. I finally found my liking for both Griffith and most importantly, really loved getting to know Gish. Her techniques of using slight facial expressions and emotions were balanced by an openness of spirit. Her graceful presence also belies a strong willed attitude in the face of obstacles. She is endlessly watchable.

So that was 2012! Thanks to all of you who read my blog and commented here this year. Here's wishing everyone a fabulous 2013.


Drew McIntosh said...

So glad to see some love for Fejos and Lonesome. My only viewing was a few years ago via a crappy bootleg, but its complete masterpiece status was evident even in that condition. I really need to get my hands on that Criterion disc, I can only imagine how well it cleans up.

"Contains the best hour of American independent cinema ever made."

I actually think this could apply for me to any single hour of most of Cassavetes' work - there are few directors who mean more to me - but Faces is definitely worthy of the compliment.

Great post, Jon!

Jon said...

Thanks Drew for your comment. I am new to the Cassavetes camp. I saw Bookie and Shadows a few years ago and didn't quite get it. Faces and A Woman Under the Influence were another thing altogether. Faces in the first hour was a tough slog, but that final hour with the long seduction scene and then Lynn Carlin's suicide attempt etc. Just incredible stuff.

Carson Lund said...

I was also going to comment on the quote Drew picks regarding Faces. Which hour? I agree with the idea that any Cassavetes hour is an hour well spent.

I love seeing Ivan's Childhood that high on your list. It's one of my favorite Tarkovsky movies as well, featuring at #3 on my ranked list of his work.

I agree about The Lives of Others being a cold and somewhat flimsy movie.

Thanks for the post! If it proves to me one thing it's that I need to watch more silents this year.

Jon said...

Hey Carson thanks for the comment. I'm particularly talking about the final hour of floored me.

John/24Frames said...


THEIVES HIGHWAY is such a great film! I watched it a few years ago for the first time. Dassin's use of the camera is extraordinary. Richard Conte, I have never seen give a bad performance and Valintina Cortese is alluring. As you know, SEDUCED AND ABANDONED and THE HEIRESS made my list also. FACES and ORPHANS OF THE STORM I both saw many years ago and need to revisit them. That said, the rest of the films on your list I still need to watch. There is no excuse for not seeing DOSWORTH and THE LAST LAUGH. Copies can easily be obtained at my local library. The others you mention, I am completely unfamiliar with and will have to do some research.

Gena Rowlands is a fantastic actress. She's enhanced every film she has ever been in as did Montgomery Clift. I can watch these two paint a wall and find it fascinating!

One other thought. I am a bit shocked by the **1/2 rating for THE INFORMER.

Sam Juliano said...

A bit late to the party here Jon, but I am just now beginning to grasp the reality of 2012, after a year-end flurry of film-related activity pre-Christmas. One your list of absolute favorites I would say my own adored titles would be: LONESOME, IVAN'S CHILDHOOD and THE LAST LAUGH in no particular order. I well remember your reviews of each at the site, and applauded your beautiful prose to frame each! TERMINAL STATION, THIEVES' HIGHWAY, FIRES ON THE PLAIN, DODSWORTH, and all those priceless Gish silents all are wonderfully recalled here in as passionate an annual yearly recap as I've read online. Can't argue with a single one of the lead actor and actress round-up either!

Ha! A Post for the ages!

A Happy New Year to you and your lovely family. I can never thank you enough for your incomparable support all year long, and for your superlative reviews.

Jon said...

Thanks John for stopping by! I think you will really like Dodsworth and The Last Laugh. Hope you find them sometime this year.

Jon said...

Sam thanks for your comment and you're never too late! You and I have discussed most of these films already this year and I thank you for your tremendous continued support of me. I look forward to another year engaging with you in cinematic dialogue.