Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Recap of 2013 (Old Releases)

This has become my favorite blog post to work on at the end of each of the last 3 years. It gives me a chance to revisit all the great older films that I saw over the year and acknowledge the special first time viewings for me of films that have quickly made an impact on me. For the third year in a row, I am compiling my year in review and looking back on the films I saw in 2013 (a new high total of 330 films) and handpick several films, performances, directors, and genres that made the biggest impact on me. As usual, I will only highlight films or performances that I saw for the first time, and these films are ones that were released prior to 2013. Therefore no films from the last year will be represented here, though I will revisit new releases from 2013 in an upcoming post.

10 Best films made prior to 2013:

10. Jubal (1956) - Delmer Daves: One of the best recent releases from Criterion, this magnificent re-telling of Othello out west has intense performances from Borgnine and Steiger, and Ford is smooth and heroic as a man fending off the sexual advances of Valerie French. Gorgeous cinematography in massive 2.55:1 aspect ratio.

9. Life is Sweet (1990) - Mike Leigh: Easily the funniest and most endearing comedy I saw this year. The simple joys of watching family and friends interact with each other yields lots of laughs and heart.

8. The Fire Within (1963) - Louis Malle: Clear-eyed examination of a life on the brink of extinction with simply nothing left to do to but watch, listen and wait.

7. Odd Man Out (1947) - Carol Reed: Epic film noir with an Odyssey-like portrayal of a man spending a fraught-filled night trying to survive. As beautifully photographed as anything else from this era.

6. The Burmese Harp (1956) - Kon Ichikawa: Vies as the most moving anti-war portrait ever made. There is simply no shortage of catharsis and humanism here the final speech where the monk's letter is read to his former soldier comrades is incredibly moving.

5. Warlock (1959) - Edward Dmytryk: Multi-layered western is one of the best ever to examine the mythology of the west and the insidiousness of violence and whether any kind of violence can ever be justified. 

4. Street Angel (1928) - Frank Borzage: Almost impossibly romantic, this is Borzage's most gorgeous and swooning romance. Gaynor and Farrell have tremendous chemistry and cement themselves as one of the great screen couples.

3. Voyage to Italy (1953) - Roberto Rossellini: As a personal document, Rossellini's romantic lament for his relationship with Bergman is wrought here in beautiful devastation. It's also a cinematic vision of the future of European cinema.

2. Seven Men From Now (1956) - Budd Boetticher: Boetticher's best film is also perhaps the most perfect distillation of western themes and motifs ever made. A beautiful film with fine performances from Scott, Russell and Marvin.

1. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder: One of cinema's most ambitious works was also one of the most intimidating to even begin. At 15 hours in length, this television series has been rightly called Fassbinder's best film, and it's definitely worthy of being in the discussion as one of the greatest works of all time. Performance and filmmaking here are in lock-step the whole way for maximum effect and potency. There is nothing else that one can compare this to. It's an unforgettable work on a scale and magnitude rarely attempted. 

On the other side of things, here are some acclaimed films that I did not connect with for some reason:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) - Weeresethakul
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) - Lynch
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) - McCarey
Repo Man (1984) - Cox

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

Barbara Sukowa - Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

Ingrid Bergman - Voyage to Italy (1953)

Janet Gaynor - Street Angel (1928)

Alison Steadman - Life is Sweet (1990)

Madhabi Mukherjee - Charulata (1963)

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

Kirk Douglas - Lonely are the Brave (1962)

Charlton Heston - Will Penny (1968)

Maurice Ronet - The Fire Within (1963)

Gunter Lamprecht - Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

David Thewlis - Naked (1993)

Director I spent the most time with in 2013:

Frank Borzage - 11 films

Through the course of viewing many of Borzage's greatest films, one thing became abundantly clear: Of any director who has ever been interested in the power of love, there was never another director more consumed with displaying the transforming and redemptive powers of such love. Though rife with what today would mostly be considered rather ridiculous amounts of sentimental melodrama, Borzage in fact is most interested in placing his lovers in situations where they are forced to outlast a fate that wishes to tear them apart. These lovers must perservere through toil and strain and if their love is pure enough, they will come through to the other side. This beauty, tragedy, and redemption is best viewed in his works with Janet Gaynor, like Street Angel, 7th Heaven and Lucky Star. It would be hard to imagine a circumstance in which Borzage's works would ever find a major revival but this speaks more to our jaded views toward romanticism than anything. 

(out of 4 stars)
7th Heaven (1928) - Borzage *** 1/2
After Tomorrow (1932) - Borzage ***
Bad Girl (1931) - Borzage ***
A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Borzage ** 1/2
Liliom (1930) - Borzage *** 1/2
Lucky Star (1929) - Borzage *** 1/2
Man's Castle (1933) - Borzage ***
Moonrise (1948) - Borzage ***
The Shining Hour (1938) - Borzage ***
Strange Cargo (1940) - Borzage ** 1/2
Street Angel (1928) - Borzage ****


Though I'd seen tons of westerns over the years, I realized I had to dig deep to prepare for the top 50 westerns countdown that I participated in at Wonders in the Dark. In preparing for my ballot, I ended up watching a total of 112 westerns over the course of the year, with many new viewings of unheralded films like Will Penny, Hombre, Cemetery Without Crosses, and Hell's Hinges among lots of others. One of the endlessly fascinating things about studying western film cinema, is just how themes, storytelling and filmmaking adapted to the genre over the years to keep up with new ways of thinking as far as social and psychological elements are concerned. Watching so many of them in such a short period of time added many new insights to the genre for me and helped synthesize the cinematic history of the western in a unique way.

So that was 2013! Thanks to all of you who read my blog and commented here this year. Here's wishing everyone a fabulous 2014.


Sam Juliano said...

Jon, this is an incredible post! Few on line moviegoer bloggers can boast the kind of year you had in 2013. Certainly you were just about as passionate a fan I have ever come across and it was just wonderful sharing ideas in discussions with you all year long. That's a mighty Top Ten led by the Fassbinder masterpiece BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. I adore THE BURMESE HARP, ODD MEN OUT, STREET ANGEL and LIFE IS SWEET, but also have very high regard for THE FIRE WITHIN, WARLOCK and VOYAGE TO ITALY. Your actor and actress round-up of course is magisterial, and I salute you for the great year you had examining the cinema of the great Frank Borzage. Who can blame you for rating SEVENTH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL highest? I am a big fan of UNCLE BOONME, but know it is divisive, however I am surprised you didn't connect with RUGGLES. But as I say, tremendous and passionate round-up here Jon!!! You really do rock!

Jon said...

Thanks Sam! You're my biggest supporter and I always appreciate it. This was a very fruitful year of movie watching and had lots of great first time viewings. Thanks again for all of the comments and discussions over the last year my friend. Looking forward to a great 2014!