Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My End of the Year Summary

Last December I posted a Top 25 of 2010 list to round out the year and discuss my favorite new movies. I'm going to be doing something a little different this time around, for a couple of reasons: 1) I enjoyed in 2011 easily the most productive year of movie watching I've ever had (right around 500 total viewings) and 2) despite that quantity, only a small percentage represent new releases. Not to say that I saw no new movies at all, just not quite as many as I normally do (nevertheless I have tacked on my top 10 of the year at the bottom of the post). On the whole, it was for me a year of cinema defined more by digging into the past than swimming with the present, and so it would only make sense to create a wrap-up post focusing more on that experience.

I have organized the below as follows: there is the Movie of the Year, which was my single favorite older film discovery from 2011, followed by a couple of runners-up for that spot. Then there are two categories, The Masterpieces and The Gems, which are also comprised solely of titles I viewed for the first time in 2011. The Masterpieces (and I know some people, myself occasionally included, have a problem with how easily that label can be bandied about, but it gets the point across here) are the movies that were my highlights from the year, the ones that quite simply struck me the hardest, that occupied my thoughts and/or emotions the most, the movies I look forward to living with from here on out. The Gems are the movies that, while not quite "masterpiece" level, made a significant impression on me in one positive way or another, and I feel like giving them a shout out. Some of the Gems could be said to have minimal or dismal reputations, and many of them I came to with not much in the way of expectation, but all of them blindsided me by how much I liked them. I have also imposed on myself a rule of selecting only one film per director between all categories, and in a year where a large portion of my time was spent really sinking my teeth into the vast filmographies of more than a few directors, this can be seen as limiting in a sense, but it's the tack I've decided to take, if only to give this post a measure of economy. So just keep in mind that below when you run across a movie from the likes of, say, Ford, Walsh, Chabrol, Preminger, to name a few, the listed movie is the one I've chosen to put down, but it is also acting in a sense as a stand-in for a good handful of other great movies. Below the Masterpieces and Gems, I also have a few other random categories, where I do things like highlight a few of my favorite acting performances from all my first time viewings, list a few distinguished titles that didn't do as much for me as I'd hoped, and list a handful of my favorite pieces of film writing I discovered during the year.

When I originally set out to draft this post, I did so with the intention of writing a little something about each movie I selected, but as I went through my viewing logs and began assembling everything, it quickly became apparent that such an endeavor would be a much more exhaustive one than I had allotted time for, so I have to be content with simply listing everything sans comment. And in any case I'm not even sure that I could do justice to some of my experiences with these movies at this point in time. Maybe eventually. I guess that's what the blog here is for. Here it is:

Movie of the Year: The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)

First runner-up: Through the Forest (Jean-Paul Civeyrac, 2005)

Second runner-up (tie): Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)

The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, 1975)

The Masterpieces (37 total titles; in alphabetical order)
2/Duo (Nobuhiro Suwa, 1997); 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (Eric Rohmer, 1987); Afraid to Talk (Edward L. Cahn, 1932); Allures (Jordan Belson, 1961); Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, 1998); Anticipation of the Night (Stan Brakhage, 1958); Au bord du lac (Patrick Bokanowski, 1994); Betty (Claude Chabrol, 1992); The Big Trail (Raoul Walsh, 1930); Claire Dolan (Lodge Kerrigan, 1998); Cracking Up (Jerry Lewis, 1983); The Dangerous Thread of Things (Eros) (Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004); Deep In the Woods (Lionel Deplanque, 2000); Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira, 2009); Experiment Perilous (Jacques Tourneur, 1944); Four Nights of a Dreamer (Robert Bresson, 1971); Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009); Gertrud (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1964); He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjostrom, 1924); Hell's Hinges (William S, Hart, 1916); The Hills Have Eyes (Alexandre Aja, 2006); I Was Born, But...(Yasujiro Ozu, 1932); India: Matri Bhumi (Roberto Rossellini, 1959); The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924); Lazybones (Frank Borzage, 1925); Le Plaisir (Max Ophuls, 1952); The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942); Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947); The Moon Is Blue (Otto Preminger, 1953); Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa, 2009); New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara, 1998); Not Reconciled (Straub-Huillet, 1965); Queen of Diamonds (Nina Menkes, 1991); The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Budd Boetticher, 1960); The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949); These Are the Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963); Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)

The Gems (24 total titles; in alphabetical order) 
The 51 File (Michel Deville, 1978); The Beast of the City (Charles Brabin, 1932); Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 1971); Downstairs (Monta Bell, 1932); Ghosts (Christian Petzold, 2005); Gold of the Seven Saints (Gordon Douglas, 1961); Hotel (Jessica Hausner, 2004); Housekeeping (Bill Forsyth, 1987); I Can See You (Graham Reznick, 2008); Just Before Dawn (Jeff Lieberman, 1981); The Letter (Jean de Limur, 1929); Little Murders (Alan Arkin, 1971); Moonfleet (Fritz Lang, 1955); Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947); Noon Wine (Sam Peckinpah, 1966); Office Killer (Cindy Sherman, 1997); Payday (Daryl Duke, 1973); Quiet Please: Murder (John Larkin, 1942); Scream of Fear (Seth Holt, 1961); Sharky's Machine (Burt Reynolds, 1981); Some Call It Loving (James B. Harris, 1973);
Symptoms (Jose Ramon Larraz, 1974); Thirteen Women (George Archainbaud, 1932); Whistle and I'll Come to You (Jonathan Miller, 1968)


Performance of the Year (female) - Jeanne Eagles in The Letter (1929)
runners-up: Marie Trintignant in Betty (1992), Angela Pleasence in Symptoms (1974), Katrin Cartlidge in Claire Dolan (1998), Makiko Watanabe in 2/Duo (1997)

Performance of the Year (male) - Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
runners-up: Jerry Lewis in Cracking Up (1983), Jimmy Stewart in The Naked Spur (1953), Stacy Keach in Fat City (1972), Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh (1924)

Performance of the Year (animal) - Raimu the monkey in India: Matri Bhumi (1959)

Director I spent the most time with in 2011 - John Ford (48 movies, 61 viewings)

Movies with lofty reputations that I didn't connect with - The Butcher (Claude Chabrol), Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr), The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock), Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku), Accident (Joseph Losey)

Movie I previously disliked that I came to love this year - Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996) 

Movie I previously loved that lost a little something for me this year - Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma, 1993)

Original score I could not stop listening to - The Hired Hand (Bruce Langhorne)

Favorite film writing/criticism discoveries of the year, both new and old:
- The Doddering Relics of a Lost Cause by Jonathan Rosenbaum
- Craig Keller on Cindy Sherman's Office Killer
- Depression, Melancholia, and Me: Lars von Trier's Politics of Displeasure by Trevor Link
- Phil Coldiron on Sleepwalk and House of Tolerance
- Crisis, Creation, Compulsion - Dave Kehr on Raoul Walsh
- The Essential - Jacques Rivette on Preminger's The Moon Is Blue
- A Closed Door That Leaves Us Guessing - transcript of a Pedro Costa lecture
- The Searchers - Dismantled by Ross Gibson
- The Conversations: Terrence Malick pt. 1 and pt. 2 by Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy
- Think But This... David Phelps on Rivette's 36 vues du Pic-St Loup (from Girish Shambu and Adrian Martin's LOLA issue 1 )
- Zach Campbell's Counter Canon: A Viewing List
- Film Socialisme Annotated translated by David Phelps
- The Magnificent Ambersons: What's Past is Prologue by Jim Emerson
- Steven Shaviro on Neveldine/Taylor's Gamer
- "The Tree of Life": Great Events and Ordinary People by Adrian Martin
- The Dynamics of the Image, or Civeyrac Matters by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
- Poor, Old, Hollywood - Andy Rector on Losey's The Lawless
- Vertigo Variations by B. Kite and Alexander Points-Zollo - pt. 1 / pt.2 / pt. 3
- Perspective Reperceived: Brakhage's Anticipation of the Night by Ken Kelman (not online; found in The Essential Cinema: Essays on the films in the collection of Anthology Film Archives, Volume One)
- Experiment Perilous by Chris Fujiwara (not online; chapter in the book Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall)
- The Sun Shines Bright by Tag Gallagher (chapter in the book John Ford: The Man and His Films, which can be downloaded here)


I'm not going to bother listing all of the 2011 releases I still need to catch up with; suffice it to say that there are a boatload, and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later before I get the opportunity to see them all. Out of everything in front of me, I'm most looking forward to A Dangerous Method, Margaret, House of Tolerance and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. As it stands now, here is, in roughly preferential order, my ten favorites:

Top 10 of the Year

1) Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
2) The Tree of Life (Terence Malick)
3) You Are Here (Daniel Cockburn)
4) Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
5) Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
6) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
7) Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzman)
8) Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman)
9) El Sicario: Room 164 (Gianfranco Rosi)
10) The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)


I'd love to hear about any of your favorite film discoveries from the year, newer and/or older. Please feel free to post them in the comments. Happy New Year!


Jon said...

This is a really good summary of your year Drew and a nice read. I thought I watched a lot of movies at 250, Ha! I too was really impressed with Wise's The Set-Up. I still think back though and the most powerful movie experience I had this year, in seeing a film I hadn't before, was 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) by Mungiu. I had heard really good things about it, but was totally floored by it. It approached perfection for me.

Drew McIntosh said...

Thanks a lot, Jon. The Set-Up is really great; it's funny, Wise is a director who I've run hot and cold with (mostly cold) for a long time, but the few movies of his I watched this year I really liked. His Cagney 'Scope Western Tribute to a Bad Man I also thought was excellent. I'm gaining more appreciation for him the further I jump in.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is a great movie for sure. I've only seen it the one time, but moments from it will stay with me forever. I remember being quite shaken by it.

Ed Howard said...

Great post, Drew. I'm with you in that I saw way more old movies than new this year, though that's usually the case for me; I'm really bad at keeping up with new films for some reason. Anyway, The Set-Up is fantastic, definitely one of my favorite Wise movies. Like you, I find him a bit hit-or-miss but that one's amazing.

I'm also really happy to see 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle and Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy in your "masterpiece" list. Those are two of my favorites right there, one an overlooked masterpiece by a director much better known for other films, and one an obscure avant-garde short that's as hilarious as it is insightful. I'm really not sure why Reinette and Mirabelle isn't widely considered in the top tier of Rohmer's filmography, or why it's not available on DVD to allow more people to see how great it is.

Jeffrey Goodman said...

Great post, Drew. You really set the bar high with this year-end wrap-up.

Highlights for me were the Ford that I still need to see, the Penn that I also love, and really just your entire piece. I look forward to filling in gaps and reporting back.

Thanks, Drew, really a tremendous list.

Drew McIntosh said...

Thanks, Ed. I'm not sure either why Reinette and Mirabelle doesn't have a better reputation. I actually feel pretty confident in calling it my favorite Rohmer at this point; the orderly vignette approach feels perfect for highlighting many of the qualities that make his work so special. And I had a mini-epiphany between that and Full Moon in Paris (which I liked almost as much) as to what a masterful colourist Rohmer was; what he was able to do in the first segment of Reinette alone, with the painterly pastels of the little country cottage and that searing deep blue of the morning, is really something else.

Jeffrey, thanks a ton. I can't recommend the Ford highly enough. It's not the easiest movie to track down a copy of, but it's well worth the effort. I have a couple of personal reasons as to why it struck me so hard, but it's as great as anything Ford ever did I think. Also glad to hear you're a fan of the Night Moves, it got under my skin like few movies did this year, and pretty much forced me to change my perception of Penn as a director. I didn't know he had that kind of movie in him, I think it's easily the best thing he ever did.

Peter Lenihan said...

Drew I'd love to hear your thoughts on The Hired Hand, a film I just don't get. Oates & Bloom are great in it, but I find Fonda's acting and direction distractingly heavy-handed (no pun intended) and more than a little narcissistic. It's one of those cult items whose appeal I have really tried to understand, but don't.

FWIW, the best movie I saw this year was Robert Rossen's Lilith, which I now consider one of my favorite films.

Ed Howard said...

Oh yeah, Rohmer's a total master of color, especially when it comes to the details of decoration. My epiphany on that front came with The Aviator's Wife, in which he makes such great use of green in the park scene and then again in the bedroom of the main character's girlfriend. I've never understood why he gets tagged as a director whose films aren't very visual. He's such a sensual, tactile, visual director, one of the best.

Drew McIntosh said...

Peter, I know you're a massive Western guy, and are probably bringing a lot to the movie that I'm not able to at this point, and the fact is that I can see exactly where you're coming from in calling it narcissistic. I think in those same spots I also found something unabashed and gentle and extremely moving. I mean it's true that Fonda is swinging away with a giant, clunky bat, and it's more than a bit overdetermined in its elegiacs to be sure. It's one of those movies where you replay scenes in your head and they seem impossibly ludicrous, but in the moment I found myself continually taken in with Fonda pushing all of his chips into the middle over and over, and for me there is something almost daring in how the movie cakes all of these expressive elements together and just runs with it. And having lived in the deep south in the vicinity of open country and farmland for pretty much my entire life, I thought the movie, in its own weird way and possibly unaligned with its intentions, was really able to summon up a particular kind of sadness that can be felt in that type of atmosphere. The whole thing just worked for me and wound up in my gut.

Lilith sounds wonderful. I'm not familiar with it at all but love Rossen's The Hustler. I'll make an effort to track down a copy.

Ed, I agree with every word there. Those scenes you speak of from The Aviator's Wife are excellent examples of Rohmer's subtle yet striking command of color and decor. He's definitely one of the best.

Peter Lenihan said...

Thanks Drew. I love The Hustler too, and they're very of a piece so I'd definitely recommend checking it out. Tragically, it was Rossen's final film.

Michael C said...

Fantastic round-up, Drew - always good to have a list filled with morsels that I haven't tasted yet, and films seen and loved but forgotten. I envy your viewing schedule for 2011 - mine has been woeful in comparison to other years - I'd say I've seen only 150-200 films, life has managed to push cinephilia to the side of the road. I've seen very little film from the 1930's to 1950's, and barely any silent film, which has left me feeling a bit lacking in enrichment this year - hopefully this can be addressed in 2012.
I have been concentrating a little more on experimental film, and happily noted Belson, Arnold, and Brakhage in your Masterpiece list. Arnold has become a old favourite of mine, but Belson was a new discovery this year, and Allures also nestles on my Best Of.. list for this year.
Arden/Bond's Anti-Clock and Jacke Raynal's Deux Fois melted my brain, spellbinding stuff.
Your list also happily reminded me of certain directors who I need to do a little catch-up on (Rohmer, Preminger, Ferrara, Boetticher). I have some film-viewing targets to meet in the new year - grand!
Happy New Year and happy viewing for 2012.

Drew McIntosh said...

Michael, thanks for the generous comment and the kind words! Arnold and Belson were new discoveries for me this year, and both are cases where the selected shorts I listed are basically standing in for the whole of everything I watched from them. I was really impressed with the handful of stuff I saw from both guys. And the Brakhage has quickly become one of my very favorite experimental works; I'm not sure the last time I had such a visceral experience with a film.

I watched Anti-Clock a couple of years ago right after it got that BFI release, and was thoroughly intrigued by it. I'm not sure I was able to make heads or tails out of anything, but it seemed like there were ideas to spare along with these very odd, very palpable emotional currents running all through it. I owe it another viewing for sure, and would love to get around to more of Arden's work at some point, she seems to be a rather fascinating and tragic figure. I have not yet seen Deux fois, but I read a little about it and it sounds really interesting. I will try and make an effort to catch up with it for sure. Thanks again, Michael, and a happy new year to you!

Sachin said...

Quite an incredible summary you have here Drew. Like you, I find that I am often watching a lot more older releases every year. 500 films is a lot to watch. A few years ago, I made it to 445 and promised myself I would never see so many films but that didn't last too long :)

Also, it is amazing that you saw so many John Ford films in a single year. That really would help giving a nice perspective on his directorial style and observing any patterns/similarities from film to film.

I like seeing You are Here on your 2011 list as it was one of the most unique films I saw. It didn't make my list but I found it fascinating nonetheless. I share 4 films from your list on mine and have seen 8/10 films. I am looking forward to seeing El Sicario: Room 164 as I finished reading the book last year. Since Charles Bowden and Gianfranco Rosi were in the same room at all times, I want to see if the perspective changes from the written word to the visual documentation.

Happy viewing in 2012...

Drew McIntosh said...

Thanks a lot, Sachin. You Are Here is indeed a very unique movie. I'd love to see it get some kind of proper distribution down the line. I'm really interested to read the El Sicario book at some point; the movie was chilling and left quite an impression. I'm also looking forward to finally seeing your #1 of the year, Le Quattro Volte, that one somehow eluded me.

Happy 2012 viewing to you as well!

Carson Lund said...

Drew, great work here!

I just wanted to chime in re: Rohmer and concur that he is a brilliant visual stylist, especially in his use of primary colors. Definitely overlooked in that regard.

Out of curiosity, Drew, why The Hills Have Eyes?

It's too bad that you couldn't get into Werckmeister Harmonies! I'm too hopelessly in love with the film to see how anyone could disagree with it.

Also, in response to the last comment, Le Quattro Volte's definitely an amazing film. It was one of my favorites of 2010 too.

Drew McIntosh said...

Thanks, Carson!

The Hills Have Eyes is one that I would really like to try and write something on this year. Aja's a brilliant director, and for me it's a model of what a horror remake should be. Too many recent remakes of in particular 70s horror have either taken on the impossible task of recreating messy energy unique to the time of the original, or have gone to the other extreme and been neatly assembled with what feels like some kind of sterile, indifferent corporate hand. Hills manages to bring over and flesh out some of the most interesting subtexts found in Craven's film (which I was never the hugest fan of), while grafting on its own very striking set of stylistic and thematic concerns. The whole thing works amazingly well for the most part, and adds up to this very profound, very American statement on what it means to be able to (or unable to) run away from your past.

re: Werckmeister Harmonies, the truth is that it was my first Tarr, and I liked some of it very much (particularly in the first half) while much of the rest did leave me a little out to sea. I look forward to viewing more Tarr and revisiting it at some point. There are certainly moments and sequences that are caught in my mind for good, and I think in all honestly I was having an off night when I watched it, but I had to list it because it was one of the more glaring instances for me this year of experiencing something like a disconnect with a work of such high regard. Its inclusion in that category is more than anything a concession on my part that I have a lot of work to do with Tarr.

Carson Lund said...


I should mention that my question about The Hills Have Eyes was out of genuine curiosity. I'm definitely a fan of good horror cinema, especially if it's on the quieter, more minimalist side. I don't know if that's the case with Hills, but the way you've described it sounds intriguing.

Werckmeister was also my first Tarr, but since then I've seen almost all his films. To me, he's really one of the most distinctive directors working today, with a remarkable visual sensibility and a solid understanding of the essentially primitive, tactile, and ephemeral nature of the medium. I encourage you to give it another shot, though it sounds like that's already your plan.

Drew McIntosh said...

Carson, The Hills Have Eyes is most definitely NOT an example of quiet, minimalist horror - it's often pretty loud and gruesome and nasty. But there's a real intelligence to the material, and an eye for clever, biting imagery that keeps it pretty far away from the schlocky, torture porn-type fare that a lot of people are probably compelled to associate it with. It's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a pretty great example of the kind of horror picture it's trying to be.

Sam Juliano said...

A towering post in concept and execution, and a chronicle of an amazing year of cinema. To boot, your readings on the subject have been equally as stupendous. The Ford choice is wonderful, and so many of your proclaim masterpieces are among my own favorites: films like Dreyer's GERTRUD, Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH, Chaplin's MONSIEUR VERDOUX, Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and the silent gem HE WHO GETS SHAPPED (which also won from you the top acting spot for Chaney, which is also a terrific choice) THE SET-UP is film economy at it's finest and the greatest sports themed movie ever in my mind. And a top-drawer noir to boot.

Brilliant choice too of Bresson's FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER, which I will be seeing in a few days at the Robert Bresson festival presently running at the Film Forum.

When it comes to discerning cineastes Drew, you are at the highest possible level, and this post is really keeper.

Have a great 2012!

Drew McIntosh said...

I'm most certain that I'm not worthy of that final compliment, Sam, but thanks for the kind words in any event. I'm very envious at your opportunity to see Four Nights of a Dreamer on the big screen. I only watched that crappy bootleg that's been floating around online, but even in that state it was clear that it's a special film. I really hope it sees some kind of proper DVD/Blu-ray release at some point.

A great 2012 to you as well!