Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wonderful Old Movies: The Write-up

Happy Holidays !!

We wish you a wonderful year with a list of wonderful movies that you can enjoy in the coming months…all movies that are easily accessible on DVD though Netflix.  Since Alan is a certificable movie nutcase, (and Cyane humors him from time to time) we want to share neglected films and near classics that we have seen and you might have overlooked.   We highly recommend every one.  (We avoided the standard classics although a few of our favs slipped in.)

The list started out as a calendar…52 movies for 2012.  But we ended up with 70 gems for 2012.  We know you’ve seen some of them.  We hope to introduce you to some new ones and encourage to revisit ones you haven’t seen in a while.    That is…if you are lucky enough to love movies and have access to Netflix.

Here’s a little intro on some of the movies (and genres) in our list…

Cyane’s Favorites:  Cyane says her Favorites are lightweight, but ‘NO’!  You’ll find two remarkable Joan Crawford classics…from her late period as a goddess of feminine liberation.   There’s a throughly charming Ingmar Bergman movie (did you know there was such a thing) called Smiles of a Summer Night which is the closest movies have ever come to a Mozart opera.  You’ll discover Dr. Arnold Franck, the director of the first mountain adventure films, The White Hell of Pitz Palü in southeast Switzerland, a mountain of 3,972 metres that we hope to climb someday.    One films each by Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, legendary directors, very French and married.    Then there is Jean Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, a minimalist classic, 3 hours and 20 minutes of the great Delphine Seyrig, as an aging prostitute, virtually alone in her apartment.  Slow, excruciating and worthy of the patience it requires to watch.  Not lightweight fare.

Alan’s FavoritesAlan’s preferences lean towards French and Japanese films,  Partly because their films open a window on cultures that are usually closed to visitors.   You’ll discover the most decadent of the Marlene Dietrich/Joseph von Sternberg pictures, The Scarlet Empress.   In a Lonely Place is Bogart’s most personal movie, and the most overlooked of his classics, a dark, brooding image of Hollywood in the 1940s directed by Nicholas Ray.  A second Nicholas Ray movie, Bigger than Life, is a brutal disection of middleclass American life in the mid-fifties, with James Mason, a school teacher overtaken by a then experimental prescription drug, Cortisone.   Lighter fare, the Jacques Tati comedy on Alan’s list, Mon Oncle, is a delicious satire on modern technology, funnier in 2012 than it was in 1956.    Another very cute comedy from the Japanese master, Yasujiri Ozu satirizes TV ownership and the coming of a comsumer society in  postwar Japan.  Ozu is celebrated for intense vivisection of the Japanese family.  Not here…Good Morning is a gentle comedy.    Another Japanese classic, Twenty-Four Eyes is not a science fiction film, but follows 12 students and their sensei.  It is a beloved and charming masterpiece about the maturation of a rural school teacher before, during and after WWII, starring one of Japan’s great actresses, Hideko Takamine.

On my list, I’ve added one very special movie…It’s titled The Human Condition, a 3 part Japanese anti-war film from the early 60s.  Its three parts run eight and a half hours.  When I saw it in one day in New York City a couple of years ago,  the film was simply the most powerful, the most divestating the most exhausting cinema experience of my life.  Challenging, engaging, and, despite its length, never boring.  However, it is a significant commitment to watch.  Because of its subject matter (Japan in Manchuria in the 1930s) and its length, The Human Condition is not for everyone.   If you are up for the challenge, you will not be disappointed.  I can not recommend any movie more highly.

For a related awesome film from another point of view, try Devils on the Doorstep a Chinese movie from 2002 also about the Japanese in China, this time at the end of WWII.  The war is shown from the point of peasants who have barely a clue about what is transpiring around them.    Often funny, intense and moving.

Here is the continuation of the discussion of the 70 recommended movies from Netflix...

Westerns:  Westerns are the morality tales of American society.  We picked five great ones you can build on.  Budd Boetticher is the poet of the B Western.   He directed six short Westerns all with Randolph Scott,  all about 80 minutes –  all on Netflix and worthy of your attention.  Seven Men from Now is the greatest of the group because Lee Marvin in an early role is a very bad dude.    The moral ambiguity of the West was tailor-made for the talents of director Anthony Mann.   Five of his Westerns star James Stewart and are all on Netflix.  My favorite is The Man from Laramie…if you like it try the others.  I couldn’t resist adding Mann’s first Western, The Furies, with Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston, in his last movie.   Even though it plays like an epic Greek tragedy, it is very entertaining.  I also added a personal favorite Western that is highly underrated, Yellow Sky, with Richard Witmark and Gregory Peck and The Big Country, an oversized epic directed by William Wyler that was marvelously engaging when we revisited it recently.

War Movies:  If I added too many war movies to the list (seven plus Human Condition), its because they are underrated and underwatched.  Like Twenty-four Eyes, Harp of Burma, a great anti-war film, emerged from Japan in the mid-50s when the Japanese where deeply questioning their recent past.    Army of Shadows is the best French film made about the French resistance during WWII, starring my favorite Frence tough guy, Lino Ventura.  In Which we Serve, Bitter Victory and The Big Red One are marvelous WWII pictures.

Noirs and Thrillers :  These don’t really need an introduction. There are seven American noirs featuring some underrated actors like John Payne (an unfortunate name), Sterling Hayden, Richard Conte and Cornel Wilde.  And The Hitchhiker is a sleek little thriller, directed by the actress Ida Lupino, who during the 50s was the only female director in Hollywood (no, make that the world).   Maybe you’ll discover my favorite Bette Davis movie, another William Wyler film, The Letter from 1940.   Despite my criteria (no classics), I added The French Connection, an acknowledged crowd pleaser,  because I saw it recently and like a fine wine, it just gets better…Night Train is a little clautrophobic Hitchcockian Polish movie featuring Zbigniew Cybulski known as the James Dean of Poland.  Dark, thrilling and undiscovered.  Perhaps you’ll look at one of  five French noirs….Le Corbeau, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s first masterpiece about paranoia in a French village shot during the German occupation, Le Cercle Rouge a police thriller from 1970 with Alain Delon and Yves Montand by Jean-Pierre Melville, Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle’s first feature, a tantilizing suspense film with Jeanne Moreau,  and Le Trou, my favorite prison escape film and Purple Noon, by Rene Clement, a creepy mystery/romance that introduced Alain Delon to the world.  You’ll even find three noirs made in Japan, two by Akura Kurasawa…I especially admire Stray Dog, a sweaty detective thriller, made on the summer streets of Tokyo during the occupation.  When a Woman Ascends a Stairs, is the masterpiece by Mikeo Naruse, a prolific but neglected director of films about the role of women in Japanese society.  

Subversive Favorites or black comedies:   Director, actor, screenwriter, Sasha Guitry was the Noel Coward of France.  Sassy, clever and a bit overbearing.  A stage performer, writer and director, although he distained making movies he made one very droll black comedy, The Story of a Cheat.   This is one of those, you have to see it to believe it movies.   Another black comedy, that I revisited while in London last summer, Kind Hearts and Coronets, is a mate to The Story of a Cheat in form and content.  Turns out, its director, Robert Hamer, worked with Guitry during his early career.  I had loved this movie as a teenager, but until seeing it this summer, I had forgotten how wonderfully subversive (and funny) it is.

Poetic realism/Neo-Realism:  During the early sound era, a genre of French films called Poetic Realism emerged most notably represented by movies by Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier and Marcel Pagnol.  I’ve included the three best ones (all with Jean Gabin, my favorite actor) that are available from Netflix.    You’ll find a precusor to this genre, in the very entertaining 1928 silent directed by Joseph von Sternberg, Underworld.  Neo-realism, which emerged in Italy during WWII, built on the style of the Poetic Realism, but moved the action to the streets, often with non-professional performers.  I've included three of the best, less known neo-realism films on DVD, The Children are Watching Us, Paisan, and Shoeshine.

Howard Hawks:  When Cyane and I travel, I am lucky to find the leading repertory film festivals in the world.  This year I was blessed to attend the Festival Cinema Retrovato in Bologna for a week, 30 movies in seven days.   One of the programs in Bologna featured some of the neglected films of Howard Hawks.  I included four Hawks films on the list, perhaps not the most neglected (because they are not on DVD), but films easily overlooked.  Hatari is a way better adverture movie than I expected, plus it puts John Wayne movie on the list.  Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Man’s Favorite Sport? are very sophisticated satires.  And, on a list that may be short on comedies, Twentieth Century just might be the funniest movie ever made.

Minimalism:  Three movies, two French and one Italian:  Il Posto, Leon Morin Pretre, and Au Hazard Baltazar.   Be patient!  These films deliver slowly, with the passion and power!  Alert...Au Hazard Baltazar, is the biography of a donkey and may be the most moving films ever made.

 I hope this list isn’t too big to digest.  Enjoy, and let me know if you see some of them.   (Alan will give a prize to anyone who sees them all.)  If you have questions, just me know.

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