PG Cooper’s Top 30 Best Non-2014 Films Watched in 2014

Posted: January 10, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

In the last few years, I’ve put together contemplative lists of the best films I saw that year which were not actually released in that year. It’s a lot of fun and helps me chronicle the highs of my cinematic education. I had planned to do a version of the list this year and from the get go it was clear to me that this time it’d be a massive undertaking. I saw more films in 2014 than in any other year of my life, and many of which were great. I had to make some genuinely tough cuts and there are a lot of films not listed which easily could have been. Ultimately, I’m pretty happy with the list I’ve compiled and hope 2015 will be half as good to me.

Honourable Mention: The Thin Blue Line (Watched April 1st)

There are a lot of films that deserve a shout out, but one I specifically wanted to give some attention to is Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line. I can’t really put it in the list, mainly because I find it very hard to compare documentary filmmaking with fiction filmmaking. However this was an important cinematic moment for me so it needs some attention. Before The Thin Blue Line, I had mostly gravitated towards documentaries that were inherently aimed at my niche interests and while I enjoyed a lot of docs, very few really blew me away as a piece of filmmaking. The Thin Blue Line changed that. This is a stylish and bold work of art which chronicles an important true story and suggests a lot about the justice system. It’s far and away the best documentary I’ve ever seen and in some ways I feel this has opened up a whole new door for me as a film-goer.

30. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Watched March 26thMPW-30740

The number thirty slot on my list became a tight race between three Italian filmmakers, Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Visconti’s work is heavily neorealist, Antonioni’s very stylish, and I ultimately decided for something of a middle ground with Fellini. To be sure, Nights of Cabiria is rooted in realism and the film is very much about exploring the economic and social poverty of Italy in the 1950s, but there are still elements of Fellini’s more playful and dreamlike style. It’s an interesting merger that could have been a disaster, but works very well here thanks to Fellini’s own skill, but also due to the central character and the performance from Giulietta Masina. Cabiria may be living in rough conditions, but she has a certain child-like innocence and naivety that informs Fellini’s playful style. Masina’s general hardships and arc are well-realized and the film presents an interesting world view.

“Madonna, Madonna, help me to change my life. Bestow your grace on me too. Make me change my life.”

29. The Player (1992) – Watched May 25ththe-player-movie-poster-1992-1020189666

Movies about Hollywood have existed almost as long as Hollywood itself, and The Player is one of the best. Robert Altman presents a satirical view of the world of film production by focusing on producer Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), as he is being harassed by a screenwriter whom Mill had wronged in the past. The satire here may not exactly be biting, but it is pretty funny and on point. Not only does the film satirize Hollywood, but the larger themes speak to the disconnect between workers and the corporate heads who make the major decisions. The film also has a great cast, particularly strong is Tim Robbins in the lead role. This is also a very technically accomplished film, with an early long shot being especially impressive. The plot is also pretty engaging on face value, and builds to a great ending which is hilarious, dark, and in keeping with the films themes.

“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to remove the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”

 28. The Killing (1956) – Watched March 5thThe-Killing-poster4

This was the last Stanley Kubrick film I had left to see, and while it does sadden me I’ll never be able to experience one of his works for the first time again, I am glad I got to finish on such a strong work. The Killing is an early Kubrick film which revolves around a group of criminals planning and executing the robbery of a racetrack. Pretty basic pulp noir material, but the execution really elevates the material. Kubrick is very interested in exploring the meticulous planning and total control Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) tries to exert over the heist which is a lot of fun to see, and even more so knowing about Kubrick’s obsessive filmmaking style going forward. Speaking of, Kubrick directs with confidence and style, maintaining such a steady hand that the film is totally engrossing even when the audience isn’t entirely sure what’s going on. Additionally, the central characters are all very interesting and memorable work is especially done by Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook, and Marie Windsor. The heist itself is very well-executed and overall the film is a tight, masterfully paced crime film which is a ton of fun. It lacks the elegant brilliance of Kubrick’s subsequence efforts, but it’s still a highly engaging film which was an important step for one of cinema’s most important directors, and a personal milestone in my own cinematic education.

“You know, I’ve often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They are admired and hero-worshipped, but there is always present underlying wish to see them destroyed at the peak of their glory.”

 27. Hamlet (1948) – Watched June 21sthamlet_1948_1

When I first saw Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, I thought it was a really strong telling of the classic play, but not necessarily a great film. However the film has stayed with me really well in the many months since and I feel comfortable placing it among these other greats. This is a really lean retelling of the play, and Olivier does a great job cutting the fat while still maintaining the essential beats. Despite some omissions, this still feels like a complete work. Additionally, Olivier gives the film a really atmospheric tone and while it’s obvious all of it was shot on a Hollywood set, the film does turn it into an interesting and stylish setting all the same. Olivier’s take on the central character is also great, playing him as something of a confused and vulnerable child, rather than the angsty and angry teen/young adult most play him as. The climax is sensational, and on the whole this is just a really well-made and exciting Hollywood picture.

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

26. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Watched June 18thstar_trek_vi_ver2

The Star Trek series was a major part of my film viewing in 2014, and as such it deserved representation on this list. Given that I had already seen The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country became the obvious choice. Riddled with Cold War parallels, this entry focuses on tensions as peace is sought between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The storyline carries a real sense of gravitas, and in general the film is able to speak to classic Star Trek themes of peace and cooperation. With the exception of a few scenes, the majority of the film is highly tense, engaging, and very well-made by director Nicholas Meyer. However what works best about The Undiscovered Country is where it brings the core characters and how it ends their story. It’s a perfect finale that ends that works beautifully, even for someone like me who hasn’t been invested in all of this for years. Beyond that, the film is just full of great scenes which rank among the series best.

“There is an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon could go to China.”

25. 3 Women (1977) -Watched May 30ththree_women

I don’t understand this film as well as I do previous Altman list entry The Player, but I am more captivated by it. The film focuses on the relationship between Pinky (Sissy Spacek) and Millie (Shelley Duvall), and the many transformations it undergoes. At its core, 3 Women is about many things, ranging from issues of identity, to the way women are often overlooked, to general character studies of outcasts. The abstract plotting might have been frustrating, but the film is always accessible, due in large part to the fantastic performances from Spacek and Duvall. Both play fully realized characters who change a lot and there is a lot of nuance to their work. Additionally, Altman is able to create a very dreadful tone through his long takes and Gerard Busby’s haunting music. It’s almost like a horror movie, even though nothing overtly horrific takes place. A great film that is both intellectually stirring and stylistically riveting.

“Dreams can’t hurt you.”

24. Apocalypto (2006) – Watched May 23rdapocalypto

It’s a shame Mel Gibson’s personal life is such a mess, because the man is very talented and at his best really adds something to cinema. Apocalypto is his (so far) final film as a director and it’s also his best work. The film looks at a Mayan tribe that is attacked by another with many of the members being taken as prisoners. It’s a very simple premise, but this allows Gibson to explore the world from a purely visual stand point. The sets and costumes are simply gorgeous and the fact that all the characters speak Mayan adds a palpable authenticity to the work. This also works as visceral experience, with the film being highly intense and dramatic, and the last third in particular consisting mostly of a masterfully well executed chase sequence. The fact that all of this is set against the backdrop of a civilization coming slowly to its end makes it all the more powerful.

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

 23. Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – Watched June 24thwitness-for-the-prosecution-movie-poster-1958-1020235586

Billy Wilder was a great director of both comedies and dramas, and with Witness for the Prosecution, he finds a perfect marriage of both. This is both a serious and tense court drama revolving around a ma (Tyrone Power) accused of murder, but Wilder also finds a lot of comedy from his lawyer (Charles Laughton) and his nurse (Elsa Lanchester). Juggling such disparate tones could have been a disaster, but Wilder is able to move seamlessly from one to the other without it ever feeling awkward. The fact that I got a lot of laughs from this film and was still riveted by the drama is a testament to the man’s craft. A big part of the success comes from the cast. Charles Laughton gives one of his best performances here, and he plays off real life wife Elsa Lanchester perfectly. Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power are also well cast and the writing is very sharp. I’m not crazy about the film’s ending, but everything leading up to it is great.

“I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders.”

22. Kingdom of Heaven (2005) – Watched December 8thkingdom-of-heaven-movie-poster-2005-1020450510

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings may have disappointed audiences in 2014, but the thrills I got from seeing the director’s cut of his 2005 epic Kingdom of Heaven more than make up for that on a personal level. The film is set during the Crusades and follows a blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) who becomes swallowed in religious and political conflict in Jerusalem. Given this is a Ridley Scott film, it goes without saying that the production values are excellent. This is a beautiful looking movie and simply exploring the world is a thrill. Additionally, while Kingdom of Heaven isn’t really an action movie, the set-pieces here are exhilarating and awesome. More importantly, the film is an interesting meditation on spirituality and explores religious conflict in a way that is both relevant and sad. I’m not too fond of Bloom’s lead performance, but the supporting cast, which includes the likes of Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud, Michael Sheen, and David Thewlis more or less make up for it. This is one of the best and most underrated films to come out of Hollywood in the last decade.

“You are not what you were born, but what you have within yourself to be.

21. Key Largo (1948) – Watched December 10th6a00d8341cfbd053ef017ee71be0d5970d-800wi

At this point I’m pretty comfortable saying John Huston is my favourite of the classic filmmakers of the studio system. He may not have been any more stylish than his contemporaries, but Huston was an excellent craftsman able to mine a lot out of his characters and the man made several classics. Key Largo, released the same year as Huston’s incredible The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is one such classic. The film revolves around a bunch of people being trapped in a hotel by a vicious group of gangsters during a hurricane. The power struggle that goes down between all of the characters is very gripping and Huston ratchets the tension as the film goes on. The performances are uniformly great, with Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco being an especially fun villain. Additionally, the film is extremely well-paced. Huston allows the audience to get to know the characters before the plot kicks in and it leads to some involving and emotional moments. I got to like these characters in the short time I got, so when they were in danger I really felt it and the film builds to a very intense climax. There are themes here regarding the nature of heroism, sacrifice, and the fact that Humphrey Bogart’s Frank McCloud is a war veteran is definitely of significance, but for the most part, this is just an excellent example of top-notch storytelling from a master at his peak.

“When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.”

20. The Remains of the Day (1993) – Watched on August 14thremains_of_the_day

I didn’t have high hopes for The Remains of the Day, as it had the pedigree of Oscar bait middlebrow filmmaking. Instead, I got one of the most subtly engrossing films I saw all year. Anthony Hopkins plays Mr. Stevens, a butler serving an English gentleman who ends up lending support to Nazi Germany during World War Two. Hopkins gives one of the best performances of his career as Mr. Stevens. The character is full of contradictory elements and he rarely (if ever) expresses himself verbally. However his performance is so good in portraying subtle emotional shifts that he’s totally captivating. Every postural choice, every slight facial tick means something. Playing off Hopkins is Emma Thompson as the woman who comes close to letting Stevens out of his shell. Watching those two act together is just awesome. The other side of the film has to do with Stevens’ employer’s Nazi ties, which is very interesting and makes for some really dramatic material. Both aspects of the film speak to a specific theme of inaction and the consequences that come with it. If you’ve avoided this film because you were worried it would be middlebrow and dull, I promise you it isn’t.

“It is not my place to be curious about such matters.”

19. Safety Last! (1923) – Watched September 22ndPoster - Safety Last_02

Safety Last! will forever be remembered for the film’s third act, where Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a skyscraper. This scene is riveting, tense, masterfully executed, and hilarious. The thing is, it’s a shame that this film is only remembered for tat aspect because Safety Last! is full of greatness throughout. The film is full of amazing gags, from subtle visual elements to large scale set-pieces, the film is consistently hilarious and I laughed a lot. Lloyd himself is a very likable screen presence and the stunts and effects which the film utilizes are excellent. 1923 is still pretty damn early in film history and yet this movie still looks great and moves with an excellent sense of energy and pace. There’s not much to say about this one; it’s fucking funny and made exceptionally well. A must-see for classic film fans.

18. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Watched June 9thwhat_ever_happened_to_baby_jane

Back in 1962, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was notable for pairing two stars who notoriously hated each other as enemies within the film, but today the film works just as an extremely well-made psychological drama. The story follows two sisters, formerly famous actresses, living together in Hollywood after they’ve faded into obscurity. The wheelchair bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) was a successful and loved actresses in her day, while Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) is a former child star who is bitter and takes out her aggressions by tormenting her sister. The key to this film’s success is Bette Davis, who is absolutely horrifying as the vile and evil Baby Jane Hudson. She’s scary, but she’s also so weak and pathetic that you also pity her. Crawford is really good here too, but Davis is the show stopper. The script is great with a late twist being especially surprising, and director Robert Aldrich proves a very strong craftsman. The underlying satire of Hollywood and celebrity culture is the cherry on top.

“Blanche, you aren’t ever gonna sell this house… and you aren’t ever gonna leave it… either.”

17. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) – Watched August 1stmad_max_two_the_road_warrior_ver7

With Fury Road on the way, I knew I needed to catch up with the Mad Max trilogy. The first film is fun, but held back some fundamental issues, and Thunderdome is kind of a silly mess, but one film lived up to the series’ legacy, and that film is The Road Warrior. The film really has the sense of a mythic tale, with Max himself feeling like a legendary hero who wanders through the world. George Miller’s dystopic future is fully realized through his desolate visuals, dirty clothes, and even the faces of the extras. These look like the type of people that would live in this world. The look clearly had an influence moving forward, particularly on the Fallout videogames. The film also has a very dark tone. This really does feel like a harsh and unforgiving future where the weak don’t last and one can lose everything in just a blink of an eye. The action sequences are also great, particularly the car chase that opens in the film, and the phenomenal chase that ends it. This is how you make a genre film.

“…and the Road Warrior…he lives now, only in my memories.”

16. Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – Watched May 8thborn_on_the_fourth_of_july

Oliver Stone may not have been able to maintain consistency over the entirety of his career, but god damn did the man have a great run from the mid 80s-90s. Born on the Fourth of July is not as iconic as something like Platoon, but it’s still a great and important film. The story follows Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) as a young man from Middle America seduced by propaganda to fight in Vietnam, however the war and what he sees coming home totally changes his view of the world. This was made at the peak of Stone’s career and his style is really unstrained here. The visuals and editing are often quite extreme and intense, but Stone also knows when the time is appropriate for quieter moments. The film also looks at a lot of important American issues, namely the propaganda for Vietnam, the shaming of the veterans, the disillusionment of the 1970s, and post-traumatic stress. All of these themes are well-realized in a way that is direct and powerful. Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances this year and he probably would have won an Oscar had it not come out the same year as My Left Foot. This isn’t always a pleasant watch, but it is great filmmaking which speaks to important ideas which deserve to be discussed.

15. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) – Watched March 21sttalented_mr_ripley

People don’t talk about The Talented Mr. Ripley very much anymore, and that’s really a shame because this is an excellent film. The film follows Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young and potentially unbalanced man who ends up growing a dark affection toward friend Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). This is an insidiously engaging story which wisely waits to play its hand. I knew very little about the film going in so when it first takes its major twist I had no idea where the film was heading. The film is also extremely well-made. The costumes and production design are accurate to the 50s, but the film retains a timeless feel, possibly due to the European setting. The cast is also perfect. Matt Damon is excellent as the awkward but intelligent Tom Ripley and memorable turns are also given from Jude Law, Gwenyth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is a damn near perfectly executed thriller and it’s a shame more people haven’t seen it.

“Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person.”

14. MASH (1970) – Watched February 4thmash

Every year I’ve done these lists, one director is represented a lot and is sort of my discovery of the year, and this year that director is Robert Altman. I had seen a few Altman films before, but none had really blew me away until this year, and the film that started that trend was MASH. First and foremost, I respect MASH for its courage. Though the film is technically set during the Korean War, it’s pretty clear this is really about Vietnam, and for Altman to tackle such a subject matter during the war is pretty bold. Not only that, but the fact that he chose to do it as a comedy is very risky. This could have been horribly disrespectful and in poor taste, but Altman is able to balance the humour with acknowledgement of the atrocity of war, and he does so without dwelling on the suffering. In fact it is the bloody conflict there in the middle of that makes the humour all the more profound. These characters aren’t just jokers, but they’re using comedy as a means of retaining their humanity. And finally, the film is just really funny, with great characters, memorable moments, and never a dull moment. I look forward to revisiting the film soon.

“Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way along the front lines…”

13. Waltz with Bashir (2008) – Watched May 12thwaltz-with-bashir-movie-poster-2008-1020457621

I can’t say I knew much about the 1982 Lebanon War going into Waltz with Bashir and I’m honestly not sure if I knew much more about it after, but I knew the cinematic experience would sit with me for a long time, and it certainly did. This is a unique look into a conflict rarely explored on film, and the visual style used to render it is equally unique. I love the animation used here and Ari Frolman is able to do some really interesting things with it stylistically. The film is also full of well-crafted scenes, a great score, and some very powerful moments. This is a very stirring meditation on war, responsibility, memory, power, and identity and these all come through in a big way. It’s not the easiest film to explain, but as an experience of style and thematic ideas, Waltz with Bashir is a triumph.

“Do you ever have flashbacks from Lebanon?”

12. Princess Mononoke (1997) – Watched April 24thprincess-mononoke-movie-poster-1997-1020473311

I don’t worship at the altar of Miyazaki the way many do, but when the man is on, he is a force to be reckoned with. Princess Mononoke is one of the man’s most revered films and it is deserving of that status. This is a grand, epic film of creativity, beauty, and inspiration. The story is cool with many sides working toward different ends and I like how the characters are archetypical while still feeling unique, but the real star here is the visuals. Not only is the animation used to bring this world to life technically brilliant and impressive, but the designs are just beautiful. This is a very unique and unforgettable world and indeed half the fun of the film is just exploring what Miyazaki has created. The film also boasts one of my favourite scores of all-time. It’s heroic, epic, and beautiful, just like the film. This film transcends being just an adventure story, but is also a rumination on nature and I think it expresses Miyazaki’s own vision quite well, not unlike something I’d expect from Akira Kurosawa or Terrence Malick. I do think this movie has some holes mind you, the final scene seems a bit too happy go-lucky for my tastes for example. However the sheer enormity and power of what this movie does well more or less destroys any objections I have.

“You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.”

11. Hustle and Flow (2005) – Watched May 3rd hustle_and_flow

I think one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had in 2014 is when a song called “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” moved me to tears, but such was the case with Hustle and Flow. This is an excellent and underrated film about the power of music that anyone, regardless of musical preference, should connect with on some level. On an immediate level, this is the story of DJay (Terrence Howard), a pimp in Memphis with ambitions of being a successful rapper. This isn’t just a rags to riches story though, but the story of a man who finds greater purpose through his art, which could improve not only his own life, but the people around him as well. Indeed, a major theme of the film is the way that music unites a seemingly disparate group of people and it’s honestly beautiful to see. Additionally, I really like all these characters. They’re all flawed to some degree or another, but they also seem like good people deep down and I really rooted for them. All of the actors give strong performances, but this is Terrence Howard’s movie and it’s honestly a shame he hasn’t really come close to work this good since. This is one of the most inspiring movies I’ve seen in some time.

“I’m here trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dime, and I ain’t even got a cent man.”

10. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) – Watched December 21stsethcriterion

Leo McCarey is mostly known for directing light comedies and romances, but is greatest and most enduring work is almost certainly Make Way for Tomorrow, which is certainly not light. The film is set during The Great Depression and follows an elderly couple who lose their homes with each going to live with a different one of their adult children. However their presence is quite the burden on their young children and the two find themselves longing for each other’s company. The film is a subtle tragedy about ageing and gradually being left behind by the world. What makes this content so sad is that the film does not treat this in a melodramatic or overdone fashion, but rather an inevitable thing that just happens. Eventually you get old, you become irrelevant, and a burden. It’s a depressing thought, but the depiction feels honest and real. The central performances from Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore are great. They’re sympathetic, but they’re also flawed themselves and there are times where you sympathize with the children and their frustration. The last third of the film is a bit unrealistic as the two eventually have one great afternoon, but it’s so emotionally moving that it really works. The scene makes one feel good, but there is an underlying sadness that runs through the moment. Make Way for Tomorrow is a film of subtle tragedy and the fact that this came from a major Hollywood studio in the 1930s is shocking to me.

“When you’re seventeen and the world’s beautiful, facing facts is just as slick fun as dancing or going to parties, but when you’re seventy… well, you don’t care about dancing, you don’t think about parties anymore, and about the only fun you have left is pretending that there ain’t any facts to face, so would you mind if I just went on pretending?”

9. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – Watched April 30thAwqsWJGD3P9YJKpOQ48DcXptyEy

This seems one of the least celebrated Best Picture winners and the only reason I can think of is because it beat Apocalypse Now. It’s a shame because Kramer vs. Kramer is a truly great film. The story is focused on a family of three that is split apart when Joanna (Meryl Streep) finds herself unhappy and leaves, leading to Ted (Dustin Hoffman) having to improve himself as a father for young son Billy (Justin Henry).  Kramer vs. Kramer is a domestic drama which finds its success in honesty. Writer/director Robert Benton never turns either parent into a villain. This is not a movie about taking sides, but about sitting back and observing the human drama unfold. Both parents are equally flawed in their own ways and both also strive to be better people. The performances are excellent, with both Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep giving tremendous turns as the two ordinary people they play, and the young Justin Henry is also quite good. The film is full of really well-executed scenes some of which are very dramatic and emotional, but also scenes of simple pleasures and fun which worked very well. This is also a film which really got to me on an emotional level and I imagine most can relate to this one some level or another.

“You put that ice cream in your mouth and you are in very, very, VERY big trouble.”

8. A Separation (2011) – Watched March 22nd tumblr_m7h8jdndR91qe2w1uo1_500

A Separation was a critical darling when it was released in 2011 and I, unfortunately, was never able to get to it. However I finally rectified that in 2014 and the film definitely lived up to the massive praise. At the start, the film focuses on an Iranian couple on the verge of divorce. Simin (Leila Hatami) wishes to leave the country in the hopes of finding better opportunities for their daughter, while Nader (Peyman Mooadi) wants to stay and tend to his elderly father. Though this is the initial set-up for the film, things quickly take a dark turn that I dare not spoil. Suffice it to say said turn totally changes the dynamics of the film while simultaneously heightening the tensions between the film’s central couple. After this, the film begins to ask some really tough and engaging questions as more and more turns enhance the complexity of the situation. It’s riveting and intense to see unfold and the film also says a lot about relationships and class divisions. Asghar Faradi shoots the film with minimal tech, but it’s clear the man has a strong grasp on what he’s doing, the writing is top-notch, and every actor plays their part quite well. This isn’t a movie which overwhelms with its brilliance, but upon analysis it’s clear this is a complete work.

“What is wrong is wrong, no matter who said it or where it’s written.”

7. Sunshine (2007) – Watched January 7thmpasunshineposterb

Danny Boyle is a great and important modern filmmaker, and Sunshine might just be his best film. In the future, the sun is slowly dying, thus a group of astronauts are sent with a bomb to reignite the sun and save humanity. This is the kind of epic, big idea science-fiction that I can’t help but love. Visually, the film is a marvel of excellent special effects and I also love the visual design of the ships. Concepts like the Oxygen Garden are just awesome and logical. On a visceral level, the film works quite well thanks to awesome set-pieces like an early ship repair, airlock jumping, and the final chase. Boyle’s kinetic style is used here, but is also more reigned in to match the more restrained tone. Additionally, I really like the characters and watching them interact. This is essentially a bottle film, with this large group of people being trapped together in one ship. The tensions and dynamics that emerge between each character is excellent and probably the secret reason the movie is so good. Chris Evans is especially great as the logical and driven Mace, who just wants to see the mission complete. Sunshine is also a film about spirituality, God, and the unknown. Oh and that score? Beautiful.

“So if you wake up one morning and it’s a particularly beautiful day, you’ll know we made it.”

6. Of Mice and Men (1939) – Watched April 22ndof-mice-and-men-movie-poster-1938-1020529477

John Steinbeck’s original novel is one of my all-time favourite books, but I genuinely believe this adaptation from Lewis Milestone to be an amazing work. The film captures Steinbeck’s portrait of a strained friendship amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression is wonderfully well-realized, and I love the themes of friendship, prejudice, outcasts, and the endurance of this who lived through the Depression. On a more basic level, the story is an almost perfectly woven tragedy. Despite the obvious limitations, you almost believe George and Lennie might have their own farm one day, which makes things all the more heartbreaking when it’s clear they won’t. Speaking of, Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. both give excellent performances and it’s a shame people don’t associate that with these characters more. In fact, it bothers me in general how overlooked this movie is. This comes from the much lauded year of 1939, and I’d say this ranks among the best films from that year. It’s an authentic and moving tragedy adapted from one of the most important novels of the century, directed with control and skill, and acted with utter conviction. I hope people come to realize how great this film is in the years to come.

“Tell me about the rabbits, George.”

5. The Circus (1928) – Watched September 4thCircus-Poster

The Circus is not Charlie Chaplin’s most intellectual, poignant, or important film, but when it comes to comedic execution, this is a masterpiece. The premise is essentially “The Tramp joins a circus” and while that is thin, Chaplin is able to squeeze every last bit of comedic nuance out of it that he can. There are a ton of great gags here, and each comedic set-piece seems to top the last. From the opening chase, to the content in the mirror room, the automaton, the lion cage, and any of The Tramp’s circus performances. All of these scenes are technically accomplished very well and are hilarious. All of these build to one of Chaplin’s greatest climaxes, the high wire walk which is thrilling, funny, and awesome. Of all the Chaplin films I’ve seen, this is probably the one I laughed the hardest at. Additionally, I do think there’s some strong stuff going on in the forms of a romance and some subtle commentary on class inequality. Mostly though I love The Circus for being a perfectly executed and hilarious comedy.

4. La Dolce Vita (1960) – Watched August 12thla-dolce-vita-movie-poster-1961-1020325821

When it comes to classic world cinema, Federico Fellini is a giant and La Dolce Vita is one of his best works. This is a bold and beautiful movie made with the utmost style and skill. It is here that Fellini fully abandons neorealism and descends fully into his more lyrical work. The way the camera whirls through the world is mesmerizing and Fellini is able to capture some absolutely gorgeous imagery. Nina Rota’s score is beautiful, fun, exciting, and exotic. The focus of the film is on reporter Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) as he goes through seven days and nights working on various stories in Italy. The things he sees are strange, the people stranger, but the whole journey is captivating. Through the story, Fellini explores a number of themes, a majority of which I’m not really able to pontificate on after only one viewing. However a few things did come to me, particularly Marcello’s longing for something missing in his life, though what is missing he himself is not sure. In some ways the film seems an exploration on unhappiness, specifically unhappiness where in there are no overt reasons to be unhappy. Fellini also evokes thoughts of religion and Italian society throughout the film, though I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to say. Then again, maybe he isn’t trying to say anything, but is instead interested in simply exploring these concepts through film. Regardless, it’s a beautiful film which despite being challenging is also a lot of fun to watch.

“By 1965 there’ll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be.”

3. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – Watched August 26thGrave_of_the_Fireflies_Japanese_poster

1988 was a big year for Japanese animation. Akira introduced the format to Western audiences in a bold way while revealing that the medium could be used to tell stories for adults. Meanwhile, Miyazaki made a damn near perfect kids’ movie in My Neighbor Totoro which established both he and Studio Ghibli as a major artistic force. Great as both those films are, it is the more low key and simple Grave of the Fireflies that I believe to be the best film of the three. Set in Japan during the last few months of World War Two, Grave of the Fireflies follows a teenage boy as he tries to care for his young sister amidst the conflict around him. Most of the story is the two simply trying to survive in worsening conditions. Director Isao Takahata does not make the film all doom and gloom however. There are moments of joy and hope amidst the grief, and often times the film is most powerful in its moments of silence. The film is a very interesting commentary on war and youth which I think many can bring different things to. Many see the film as being anti-war, and even though Takahata denies this, I can’t help but agree. War is such an inherently ugly and terrible thing that to portray it honestly and how it destroys the lives of innocent people can’t help but carry those messages. On a more basic level, the characters of the brother and sister are wonderfully well-realized and their relationship is completely authentic. It is in feeling for these characters that the tragedy really hits home in the final act. Many have described Grave of the Fireflies as a depressing and heart wrenching films. It can be those things, but it is also inspiring, thoughtful, and masterful filmmaking which demands to be seen.

“Why must fireflies die so young?”

2. Harakiri (1962) – Watched June 17thHarakiri (1962)

A disenfranchised samurai comes to a warrior monastery with a request to perform hara-kiri, but it is gradually revealed he has something more up his sleeve. If I were teaching a screenwriting class, Harakiri would be my exhibit A for how to frame a story. As the samurai tells his story at the monastery, flashbacks are used to flesh out the story. Not only do the flashbacks inform the current narrative, but vice versa as well. It’s a very skillful way of dispensing information to the audience and it makes for a captivating film. One of the great pleasures of the film is simply seeing the unpredictable narrative unfold. The story continuously builds excellently to an absolutely perfect cynical ending. The film is also something of a deconstruction of the glamour of the samurai which also speaks to more contemporary themes of class and displacement. The film is also very well-shot, with fantastic editing, and Masaki Kobayashi has a great handle on how to stage is scenes. Also, while this doesn’t have as much sword play as one might expect in a samurai film, the action is quite good when it appears. An excellent film and a very impressive introduction to the work of Kobayashi. I look forward to seeing more.

“What befalls others today, may be your own fate tomorrow.”

1. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – Watched January 28thonce-upon-a-time-in-the-west-1968

There are two main plotlines going on in Once Upon a Time in the West; the story of a land dispute and a mission of vengeance, though both plots are actually related. These seem like clichéd Western tales, but truth be told I hardly think about story when I think of this film. The brilliance of Once Upon a Time in the West all comes from the direction. Sergio Leone had directed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly prior to this, an amazing Western which was like the culmination of all his stylistic skill up to that point. To try and top that film would have been ludicrous, so instead, Leone’s style evolved. Once Upon a Time in the West is a much more lyrical, grand, and almost operatic film. It’s not just that the action set-pieces are perfect (although they are) but that Leone takes his time to linger on the moments before the violence and the moments after. It gives the film a greater feeling of depth and importance. Leone’s slow pace also allows the story to move in a much more nuanced way and the way the two plotlines crossover is handled masterfully. The characters are also great. Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and especially Henry Fonda are all great and each have their own distinct screen presence. Beyond that, it is abundantly clear from the opening scene that one is in the hands of a master, and that this particular work is a masterpiece.

“People scare better when they’re dying.”

Comments
  1. le0pard13 says:

    A wonderful set of film, Daniel. Glad to hear you enjoyed Ridley’s director’s cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Truly underrated. So, too, for Masaki Kobayashi’s magnificent HARAKIRI. Takashi Miike’s 2011 remake was okay, but the original remains unsurpassed, IMO.

  2. ianthecool says:

    I can reorder there for you if you want Some great films are too low on the list.

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