Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New favorites from 2007

2007 was a career year for me as a movie watcher. I made some tweaks to my schedule that allowed me more time to take in films, and for the first time I committed to writing down all my viewings. The result was nearly 300 movies viewed, and many new favorites experienced for the first time. Wrapping up the year a little late, here are my personal highlights of what I saw on DVD/DVR in 2007.

THE FURY (1978) -- Brian DePalma's marathon sprint of energy and desperation, as teens Gillian (the striking Amy Irving) and Robin (Andrew Stevens) come to terms with their raw psychic abilities and the government agency that seeks to control it. Kirk Douglas is a maniac from start to finish and John Williams' score perfectly fits the frenetic action. And of course, it all wraps up with the famously explosive climax.

GUN CRAZY (1950) -- Unique film noir crime adventure, where an impressionable lad is criminally influenced by a dangerous woman, hence the original title Dangerous is the Female. As the trick shooting character Annie Laurie Starr, Peggy Cummins carries the film and provides one of the sexiest moments of the genre in a surprising scene of gun shots and seduction.

THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985) -- Not the first time I've seen it, but the only time since about 1989 that I've had the pleasure. They sure don't make 'em like this any more (for good and bad), and it's outdated in a pleasing way: the over-usage of Pat Benatar's "Invincible," a pre-Simpsons Yeardly Smith, youth across the country chanting the same cry for justice, Peter Coyote. Oh yeah, and one of those rad motor scooters that were the coolest things on earth for about 16 months plays a pivotal role.

VIDEODROME (1983) -- The Criterion version was a blind buy for me, after reading much about it over the past year. Cronenberg's tale of vacuum and cathode tube analog horror is unsettling -- and still relevant. While Brian Oblivion appears only on a television, today he would be a video blogger on YouTube.

DEMONS (1985) -- Maybe my favorite horror viewing of the year. Lamberto Bava brings terror to a zombified movie theater, where the monsters in the aisles are scarier than what's on screen. Way too much fun, especially when Bava adds in the Italian punks and the motorcycle.

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966) -- A stunning journey through a revolution from the roots up. Each side is represented well, and neither looks pretty in this portrayal of the Algerian revolution in France.

PETULIA (1968) -- Richard Lester's odd, original look at the evolution of romance leading up to the Summer of Love is impossible to look away from. Archie (George C. Scott) is transfixed with the title character (Julie Christie, never more beautiful) but constantly befuddled by a world he increasingly can't recognize. Filled with odd 60s culture like a futuristic drive-up hotel and a castle of a modern California home.

HARD EIGHT (1996) -- Paul Thomas Anderson's breakthrough debut is filled with strong acting by Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow. A story of temptation and regret in Las Vegas, it's a low-key production that builds from the opening credits.

A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) -- It's not often you get to see Dick Miller in a lead role, but he's perfect as a plucky loser hoping to get in with the beatnik crowd -- no matter the cost. Directed by Roger Corman, the story of a man who becomes a ceramic artist by covering dead bodies in clay is consistently unsettling, and often hilarious.

3 WOMEN (1977) -- Robert Altman's interesting spiral into the mystery of the female psyche was one of my 5 favorite movies I watched this year. The odd dynamics that form between two troubled roommates (Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall) takes stranger and stranger turns, and becomes a perfect circle when they enter the life of a third woman. Filled with provoking looks into identity and memory, I'd like to see it a few more times.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1983) -- One of the most unheralded of Mel Brooks' comedies, this is undoubtedly one of his best (and funniest). Taking a sensitive subject, the Nazi occupation of Poland, Brooks presents a wonderfully-paced slapstick comedy that peaks with one of the funniest scenes of any Brooks comedy (Bronski trying to imitate Col. Ehrhardt).

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) -- From my pick for the best DVD of 2007 (more on that in a forthcoming post), Alejandro Jodorowsky's films had been out of the public view for decades before this year. The Holy Mountain is one of the most visually captivating movies you'll ever see, from its beautiful bewildered opening credits, through a ridiculous battle between toads in a miniature Mexico City, to the unpredictable ending. It's often disturbing and challenging, but never like anything else you've seen.

PRETTY POISON (1968) -- One of my favorite surprises of the year, Pretty Poison is one of those rare movies that manages to deliver suspense, quick wit and disturbing humor in a wonderful package. With a sharp script, Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins are memorable as an unlikely couple brought together by paranoia and lost youth. Weld's character may be one of my all time faves, as a seemingly innocent glassy-eyed girl who becomes more devilish as she gains more confidence.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) -- The best kind of sci-fi movie, where the genre is used to serve up a powerful message -- in this case, a straight-faced existential musing. Amazing special effects and a bold, perfectly-executed ending.

SUNRISE (1926) -- This is probably atop my list of silent movies, with genuine emotions of hope and despair throughout. Beyond the great story, it is also filled with some of the best visuals of the era.

DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) -- I had read numerous glowing reports of this Donald Sutherland/Julie Christie chiller, and they were all richly deserved. I love the atmosphere of looming terror created by Nicolas Roeg, and the infamous ending lived up to the hype.

PLAYTIME (1967) -- I had passed over viewing this a few times, but after reading it was Andy Horbal's favorite movie, it moved to the top of my queue. Wow. Definitely my best viewing of the year, Playtime is literally like nothing else, with Jacque Tati creating his own world of comedy and human observation where every scene is a virtual mosaic of characters, setpieces and emotions. This is one of those movies you watch repeatedly to find something new with each viewing, and you find it more rewarding each time. Also, I can't imagine another movie with more potential from a Blu-Ray remastering.

THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936) -- This sensationally-titled tale of the doctor who was wrongly implicated in Abraham Lincoln's assassination was one of John Ford's early Fox films. While the facts get skewed to present a more favorable story, it's a wild adventure told passionately by Ford.


Anonymous said...

Demons? Awesome! I reviewed Demons 2 recently, it might be better than the first

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm just wondering if you saw the original To Be or Not to Be by Ernst Lubitsch, with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard?

Adam Ross said...

I haven't seen the other "To Be or Not to Be," although I've heard a lot of good things about it. I actually embarrassed myself a bit once trying to speak up in a blog's comment section about the Brooks version, when in reality everyone was talking about Lubitsch's. Oops.

MayorMcCheese said...

"... Algiers" was intense!

Anonymous said...

I finally got the chance to see The Holy Mountain for the first time this year as well. Aaaand....Oh My!! That film is incredible on so many levels, both right and wrong, that it's frightening.