Top 30 Best Non 2016 Films Watched in 2016

Posted: January 10, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Before I begin honouring the best films of 2016 I want to take a moment and look at the best first time watches I had for films not released in 2016. A huge chunk of my time is spent watching older films and they’re just as important to my cinematic education as new releases are. Here are the 30 best first time watches I had in 2016. I hope anyone who’s a fan of anything I listed will share their enthusiasm and I hope that if you haven’t seen some of these films, you give em a chance.

30. The Killers (1946) (Watched May 8th)

the-killers

The Killers is a classic noir which takes a Citizen Kane-esque approach wherein the main character is murdered in the first ten minutes while the rest of the film unravels who the man was and why he was killed. The framing story proves an effective means of telling the story and while the mystery which unravels is a little obvious it nonetheless is interesting. The film is also really well-crafted, the performances work, and generally speaking is a fine example of how to make a film noir.

“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.”

29. Closer (Watched February 9th)

closer

One of the final films from the great Mike Nichols, Closer is a low-key drama which looks at four young people and their various sexual relationships with each other over the course of a few years. The film is based on a play and it does feel it, but that hardly matters when one considers the top-notch performances. Jude Law, Julie Roberts, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen are all excellent and they’re also given some really killer dialogue to work with. The film does have its issues and I get why it isn’t considered a modern classic, but it’s stirring stuff all the same and well worth a look.

“Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off – but it’s better if you do.”

28. Ordet (Watched June 14th)

ordet

Carl Theodor Dreyer was an exacting master of his craft and that skill comes out strong in his 1955 film Ordet. The film revolves around a religious family in rural Denmark and the internal drama which comes from their faith, but more than anything what stands out is Dreyer’s execution. The cinematography in particular is brilliant. The film’s look is not flashy, but the camera is used to very deliberate effect and every movement is felt. The film also builds to an intriguing ending sure to move the spiritual.

“And the rest of us, all the rest of us, we go straight down to hell to eternal torments, don’t we?”

27. Coraline (June 29th)

coraline

The fantasy genre is no stranger to stories about little girls traversing strange worlds, but Coraline stands out thanks in large part to its style. There is a lot of creativity that goes into creating the strange reality young Coraline explores. It’s a little bit whimsical, but details like the fact that people there have buttons for eyes are incredibly unnerving. I was also impressed by how dark the film is willing to go and generally speaking this feels way more cinematic than family films not made by Pixar tend to be.

“She wants something to love, I think. Something that isn’t her. Or, maybe she’d just love something to eat.”

26. Red River (Watched February 13th)red-river

It’s been said that Red River is basically just Mutiny on the Bounty with cowboys, but that’s a pretty good premise, one that Howard Hawks executes very well. What stands out here is John Wayne, who is subverting his usual persona and playing something of a villain at points. There’s a real viciousness to Wayne’s work here that he’d come to push even further eight years later with The Searchers. The tension between Wayne’s Thomas Dunson and his adopted son is well-realized and escalates nicely. The film is marred by an extremely lame ending which doesn’t deliver the epic conclusion promised, but the ride to that point is still more than worth taking.

“We brought nothing into this world and it’s certain we can carry nothing out.”

25. Go West (1925) (Watched June 27th)

go_west

This is not one of Buster Keaton’s more well-remembered comedies and it does indeed take some time to really get good, but there’s all sorts of charms here. The climax, which involves a stampede of cattle through downtown Los Angeles is immensely fun and provides a lot of laughs. Also, Keaton’s growing bond with one specific cow is both hilarious and even a little bit charming. Fun stuff.

“Captain, there’s a thousand cattle roaming the streets!”

24. The Man from Laramie (Watched July 14th)

man-from-laramie-poster2x

At a glance, this Anthony Mann directed film probably doesn’t seem very different from your average 50s Western, but in fact the film does stand above many of its contemporaries. What makes The Man from Laramie special is the ensemble cast, which is deeper and more developed than you might expect. Almost every character is interesting, has their own perspective, and a specific goal they’re working towards. The film is almost Shakespearian in how it explores its large set of characters and indeed many have called it “King Lear in the West”. This doesn’t hit the highs of something like The Searchers, but it is a really strong work and a treat for Western fans.

“Yeah, well, I figure this place owes me somethin’ and I’m gonna make it pay.

23. Sisters (1973) (Watched June 2nd)

sisters

Sisters was not Brian De Palma’s first film, but it was the first to really establish his aesthetic and style. Namely, Sisters boldly declared De Palma as a student of Alfred Hitchcock. This is a perverse little thriller with an emphasis on suspense, highly stylized set-pieces, and it even features a score from the legendary Bernard Herrmann. The film is a fun little mystery, but the real highlights are the stylized set-pieces, a freaky black and white sequence, and the quality performances from Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt. Poor health and age kept Hitchcock from making quality work in the 70s (save for Frenzy), but movies like Sisters offer a glimpse of what they man may have provided could he have kept going while also serving as an effective launching pad for De Palma.

“Did you know that the germs can come through the wires? I never call and I never answer. It’s a good way to get sick. Very, very sick… That’s how I got so sick! Someone called me on the telephone!”

22. Shock Corridor (Watched May 5th)

shock-corridor

Samuel Fuller was an independent auteur at a time long before independent cinema really took off. That puts his films in an interesting position where they have the look and feel of 60s Hollywood but can be a little bolder and more daring in their subject matter. The Naked Kiss might be his most famous 60s effort, but personally, I think Shock Corridor is the superior film. The plot revolves around a journalist who feigns insanity to he can investigate a murder in an asylum and win the Pulitzer Prize. The film is certainly sensational, but it makes some genuinely good points about the exploitation of the mentally ill and Fuller’s filmmaking also turns Shock Corridor into a pretty solid thriller.

“Life is a messy weapon.”

21. The Ring (Watched January 30th)

the-ring

Though it did launch a wave of really lame Japanese horror remakes, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring is still a quality horror movie and one of the better examples of the genre in the 21st century. The film does a really good job creating the feel of a creepy urban legend and the film’s relentlessly bleak atmosphere is really effective. The cast is also way more dignified than the horde of bland twenty-somethings that tend to lead these movies and Verbinksi also delivers on the horror. Also, the actual tape that the characters watch is a pretty cool short film in and of itself.

“Seven days…”

20. A Thousand Clowns (Watched July 3rd)

220px-thousand_clowns

A Thousand Clowns is one of the more obscure films I’ve seen in my quest to see every film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and it’s also a real gem. The story looks at a former comedy writer Murray (Jason Robards) whose jobless lifestyle is threatened when child services threaten to take away his nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon). That’s the plot anyway, but the real appeal of the film lies in the witty dialogue, the wonderful performances (particularly Jason Robards) and the film’s energy. The editing almost seems French New Wave inspired and the film as a whole is quite clever and fun. Looking back, I’m not sure I can describe much of what happens plot wise, but the film is so entertaining that it still works exceptionally well.

“You might call Nick a bastard… or a little bastard, depending on how whimsical you feel at the time.”

19. Dogtooth (Watched July 25th)

dogtooth

With films like Dogtooth and The Lobster, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos seems determined to break the belief that there are no original ideas left in modern movies. Dogtooth looks at a strange family where the parents have kept their now teenage children away from the outside world and built a bizarre power structure. A lot has been written about Dogtooth and I’m inclined to agree with those who argue the film is about dictatorships. In particular, I think the film is a fascinating critique of how pathetic dictators really are and how their power structures are really just a way to make themselves feel big. Removing any political readings, Dogtooth still works as a curious film about some curious people.

“The animal that threatens us is a “cat”. The most dangerous animal there is. It eats meat, children’s flesh in particular. After lacerating its victim with its claws, it devours them with sharp teeth. The face and whole body of the victim.”

18. Godzilla (1954) (Watched April 6th)

Gojira_1954_Japanese_poster.jpg

After seeing the various American takes on the character, I finally got to see the original Japanese classic Godzilla. The film sits alongside other 50s nuclear paranoia science-fiction films, but Godzilla is elevated by some key elements. The fact that the titular creature has become an icon certainly helps and the film also features a great score and some impressive visual effects. But more than anything what sets Godzilla apart is the seriousness the filmmakers approach the material with. The destruction caused by Godzilla directly parallels the atomic destruction of Japan and there are also serious conversations about weapons of mass destruction. Not bad for a movie about a rubber lizard.

“If my device can serve a good purpose, i would announce it to everyone in the world! But in its current form, it’s just a weapon of horrible destruction.”

17. Splendor in the Grass (Watched May 25th)

splendor

I’m fascinated by Hollywood films in the 1960s which pushed the boundaries of the production code (and ultimately helped lead to its demise) and Splendor in the Grass is among the boldest. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film looks at a young teenage couple who are driven apart by parental pressures, much of which rooted in old-fashioned views of sex before marriage (namely, you shouldn’t do it). The film makes an explicit argument that such a line of thinking is not only prudish, but actively dangerous and suffers huge consequences. Such a theme might seem archaic to our current times, but I’m not really sure that’s the chaos. If anything, with teen sexuality being so fiercely debated and politicized, Splendor in the Grass is more relevant than ever. Either way, Kazan’s work behind the camera is excellent and the performances from Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty are great.

“Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. Then I… I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn’t enjoy those things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children.

16. The Ice Storm (Watched March 1st)

the-ice-storm-27474

From the early 60s to the mid 90s, we move from Splendor in the Grass to The Ice Storm. Set in 1973, this early Ang Lee drama looks at an “average family” defined by sexual experimentation, confusion, and fractured relationships. Typically, these sorts of stories focus primarily on young people but The Ice Storm takes place in the aftermath of the sexual revolution and focuses on adults who are just as confused as their children. The film explores this sort of confusion in a way which is remarkably insightful and even handed. Lee never comes out and condemns any party, he merely presents everyone as is. His work behind the camera is every bit as dignified as one would expect and the performances are also uniformly excellent, from the adult veterans to the child actors. The Ice Storm is one of Ang Lee’s lesser appreciated works and I sincerely hope more people seek it out because it’s excellent.

“Your family is the void you emerge from, and the place you return to when you die. And that’s the paradox: The closer you’re drawn back in, the deeper into the void you go.”

15. Dazed and Confused (Watched February 1st)

dazed

The “one crazy night” youth movie is a staple of any generation and the subgenre’s best film might well be Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Linklater does a remarkable job capturing the feel of the late 1970s through clothing, attitudes, and of course, a killer soundtrack. Is this really what the 1970s were like day to day? Maybe not, but Linklater is more interested in creating a certain kind of mood. The film also presents a huge collection of fun characters and while I wouldn’t exactly call Dazed and Confused a full-on comedy, it does offer some good laughs. Beneath the veneer of shallow fun is a smart movie that understands high school years are not as wonderful as nostalgia suggests. The tone is more bitter-sweet than anything, which is probably a lot closer to how more people see their high school years.

“All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life – remind me to kill myself.”

14. La Roue (Watched May 19th)

la-roue

I don’t blame anyone who approaches this four-and-a-half-hour silent epic with a bit of trepidation. Indeed, I found the prospect of watching La Roue to be a daunting one but the film itself proved to be highly rewarding. The film’s story, involving a rather strange love triangle between an older man, his son, and their adopted daughter, is compelling and thematic, but it’s the filmmaking that really stands out. Abel Gance was a pioneer of early cinema and with La Roue he experimented with some revolutionary editing techniques. There are some quick scene transitions as well as some really exhilarating rapid sequences. On top of that, the film is also visually well-realized and there are also some incredible set-pieces. From a historical perspective, La Roue is undeniably important and it’s still a compelling watch today.

“There are no flowers amid the rails for us, son. You realize that, don’t you? And if by some miracle one should blossom some day, we can be forgiven for reaching out for it.”

13. Onibaba (Watched December 30th)

onibaba-movie-poster-1964-1020527030

Kaneto Shindo may not be as crucial a name to the golden age of Japanese cinema as Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, or Kenji Mizoguchi, but he is a pretty important figure in the movement and Onibaba is among his most famous works. The film is set during a period of civil war in Japan and looks at two women who get by via killing samurai and selling their possessions. The introduction of a male neighbor drives a wedge between the two but the film really takes a sharp turn into supernatural horror with the presence of a samurai who may or may not be a spirit. As a horror movie, Onibaba is atmospheric and foreboding. Shindo uses some aggressive compositions and dark lighting to create a sense of unease. The film also features some really deliberate camera movements and the whole thing builds to a climax which is equal parts exhilarating and provocative. Shindo also dwells on themes of gender, sexual desire, jealousy, religion, and the chaos of war.

“I’ve never seen anything really beautiful.”

12. Cloud Atlas (Watched July 26th)

cloud_atlas_ver2

Misunderstood, misjudged, and dismissed back in 2012, Cloud Atlas is one of the most sprawling and ambitious films of the decade. The film spans 100s years, starting in 1849 and ending in 2321, and tells a collection of stories with repeating themes of oppression, sacrifice, and power, with the main actors playing roles in each story. Many have seen the film as being about reincarnation, but the film can also be viewed less literally as being about repeated patterns in human history. Most of the stories are quite different from each other, but the Wachowski’s and Tom Twyker find the commonality across all six and they do indeed contribute to the greater whole. By the end, you feel like you’ve witnessed something grand. The film does have its share of problems, but only because it had the ambitions to reach so very high. Besides, the films moments of wonderment are well worth a few awkward steps here and there.

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

11. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) (Watched October 8th)

the_phantom_of_the_opera_1925_film

The Phantom of the Opera is seen as one of the hallmarks of silent horror and while I wouldn’t place it as high as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Nosferatu, it’s still a worthy accomplishment. The great Lon Chaney plays the titular role, doing a great job, and the make-up used is also excellent and (surprisingly) still holds up. The film also features some really awesome set-pieces and a really striking colour sequence where the Phantom attends a ball as the Red Death, complete with a really cool skull mask. Seeing that red cape blowing against a black sky is one hell of a visual.

“Beneath your dancing feet are the tombs of tortured men! Thus does The Red Death rebuke your merriment!”

10. The Last Detail (Watched June 20th)

220px-last_detail

We don’t talk about him much anymore, but Hal Ashby was a prominent filmmaker in the 1970s and thus far my favourite of his films is The Last Detail, which has a sense of rebellion without it ever being clear what exactly is being rebelled against. The film also spots an electric performance from a young Jack Nicholson, who brings a simmering rage to his role as a young sailor who, along with his partner, must escort a disgraced sailor to prison for a petty crime. The screenplay, written by Robert Towne, is perhaps most defined by the sheer vulgarity of the dialogue. Shocking stuff for a Hollywood movie of the early 70s, but even without the shock factor, the dialogue works purely for being clever and authentic. The film on the whole is an absorbing watch and a gem of New Hollywood cinema.

“Why does all of this make me feel so fucking bad?”

9. Days of Wine and Roses (Watched June 4th)

days-of-wine-and-roses

Movies about addiction often run the risk of being incredibly corny and I would not have expected Blake Edwards (a man most known for comedies) to so skillfully navigate these potential pitfalls. Granted, Days of Wine and Roses does dip into preachiness from time to time, but for the most part the film is an honest exploration of alcoholism and the toll it takes. The addicts in question are married couple Joe and Kirsten (Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick). Interestingly, one the two first meet, Kirsten does not drink, but her relationship with Joe gradually brings the addict out of her. What makes the film work are the performances from Lemmon and Remick, both of which are excellent. Not only do you feel their struggles, but you also like both and want them to come through okay. Consequently, the film is an emotional journey and the final scene is a gut punch.

“Well, anything worth having is worth suffering for.”

8. Winter Sleep (Watched August 22nd)

winter_sleep_poster

If the description, “three hour and fifteen-minute intimate Turkish drama” doesn’t really sound like your bag I can’t blame you. Indeed, Winter Sleep does not sound like an accessible film but it’s a staggering work all the same. Set in a Turkish village, the film follows wealthy hotel owner Aydin and explores his interactions within the community and with his own family. On one level, the film is an ensemble piece about a collection of really well-defined and complex characters. Every character can justify their own actions articulately, but the film is also aware of the possible hypocrisies and self-interest lying beneath the surface. On another level, Winter Sleep is really about class conflict and it explores these themes in a very novel way. The fact that Aydin is not truly a 1 percenter says a lot about how matters of wealth are relative, but more than anything what stands out is the fact that the antagonism between classes is more understated than anything. All of this is presented in a beautifully shot film which makes great use of its mountain location and features a handful of really solid performances.

“Philanthropy isn’t tossing a bone to a hungry dog, it’s sharing when you are just as hungry.”

7. Black Narcissus (Watched May 3rd)

black-narcissus

In 2015, I started to really “get” the Archers and my enthusiasm continued into 2016 with Black Narcissus. The film looks at a group of nuns running a convent in the Himalayas. Clearly, the story touches on colonialism, but to some extent Powell and Pressburger approach the story apolitically. There’s definitely some observation about the effects of forced cross-cultural communications, but the film is more interested in the repressed desires of the nuns. This comes through in Deborah Kerr’s powerful performance, but the Archers also emphasize it visually through use of gaze. As one would expect from the Archers, Black Narcissus is shot in some gorgeous colour, but the filmmakers throw a curve ball in the third act which almost becomes a horror movie. It’s exhilarating stuff, and further proof that Powell and Pressburger were among their generations best.

“The superior of all is the servant of all.”

6. The Cameraman (Watched July 15th)

camerman-poster

Buster Keaton is a great silent comedian best known for being a daredevil who pulled off some of the most amazing stunts in film history. Interestingly, The Cameraman features less of the amazing stunts one might expect. Instead, the focus is on the love story between the socially awkward cameraman (Keaton) and an MGM secretary (Marceline Day). It’s a simple, charming little story and both characters are endearing. The film also delivers hard as far as silent comedy goes. A lack of stunts shouldn’t imply a lack of set-pieces as The Cameraman is full of great, often very funny bits. The battle in Chinatown in particular is all kinds of fun.

“Within an hour he was photographing everything from soup to nuts… mostly the nuts.”

5. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Watched April 11th)

parapluies-poster

Most of the French New Wave’s most famous films are either realist dramas or incorporate some sort of crime element. How curious then, is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a musical love story. Specifically, the film is a recitative musical (that means all dialogue is sung) that tells of two young lovers who are separated by circumstances and the choices they make. The music here is wonderful, perfectly echoing the kind of bitter-sweet feelings of the story and the film is also beautiful to look at. The vivid colour is clearly meant to evoke the technicolor of Hollywood musicals, but there’s a reality here that many of those films lack. It might be the film’s sober analysis of relationships and human nature. Jacques Demy certainly embraces youthful romance, but he also isn’t blind to the sobering realities of aging. The film ends perfectly, with a scene that is both small but says everything it needs to.

“People only die of love in movies.”

4. The Virgin Spring (Watched May 3rd)

virgin-spring

A sharp turn from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Virgin Spring is from the great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman classic is incredibly bleak and harrowing. The film is set in medieval Sweden and focuses on a young girl who is raped and killed, and whose assailants come to stay with the girl’s family. It’s a simple story, but Bergman injects a lot more depth than one might expect. All told, the film is really about the continuing hardships this family has faced and the ways in which they feel they’ve been abandoned by their God. It’s a classic Bergman theme, one that is explored in a particularly simple and primal fashion here. On a more emotional level, Bergman takes his time in the first act to develop all of his characters and as a result you genuinely care about their struggles. Additionally, as one would expect from Bergman, the film is shot in exquisite black and white and holds a somber tone. Not exactly easy, but certainly insightful viewing.

“You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child’s death and my revenge. You allowed it. I don’t understand you. Yet now I beg your forgiveness. I know no other way to be reconciled with my own hands. I know no other way to live.”

3. The Last Emperor (Watched May 2nd)

last_emperor

Any film buff who has endeavoured to see every Best Picture winner will tell you it’s a mixed experience. You have to sit through a lot of bullshit, but there are also a lot of good movies, and even a few that deliver on what you’d expect from a film labelled “Best Picture”. The Last Emperor was the last Best Picture winner I had to see and its also among the upper echelons of winners. Its status as a historical biopic may bore some, but Bernardo Bertolucci’s film soars. What it comes down to is that the subject in question genuinely led a fascinating life. Puyi’s path from child emperor, to political exile, to traitor, to criminal, and finally to just a man is a massive journey, one which is rendered brilliantly. The film also spots infamously striking production value, being among the first shoot in the Forbidden City in Beijing. There’s a sense of grandness to all of this, which is enhanced by Vittorio Storaro’s breathtaking cinematography and the film’s amazing score.

“The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he’s growing up, he may wonder why he’s the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door.”

2. The Last Picture Show (Watched September 28th)

the_last_picture_show_movie_poster

We’re certainly not starved of coming of age movies in American cinema, but when one can rise above the crop and deliver something powerful the results can be very special. The Last Picture Show is such a movie. Set in a desolate West Texas town in the 1950s, the film follows a collection of teenagers (as well as a few adults) struggling with their identity and their future in a dead-end town. These are some great characters and they’re brought to life by an interesting collection of actors, from soon to be huge stars (Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Cybil Shepherd) to Hollywood veterans (Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson). The film also explores sex in a really stark and uncompromising way. There’s a lot of bravado, but the actual sex scenes range from awkward to full-on disturbing. The film is fairly episodic, but all does build to something and by the end it feels like the characters have gone through something profound even if they can’t quite articulate it.

“Y’see? You shouldn’t have come here. I’m around that corner now. You’ve ruined it and it’s lost completely. Just your needing me won’t make it come back.”

1. Wild Strawberries (Watched May 3rd)

wild-strawberries

Though he’d been making movies for years, it was in 1957 that Ingmar Bergman declared himself to be one of the great directors. His most famous film is undoubtedly The Seventh Seal, but right behind it is Wild Strawberries, a smaller, but nonetheless challenging and profound film. The film is about Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), an elderly professor driving to accept a lifetime achievement award. During his drive, Isak looks back on his own life and contemplates whether he lived a good and full life. That’s the kind of simple existential question that drives much of Bergman and what’s great is Wild Strawberries never falls on an easy answer. Some masterful flashbacks illuminate Isak’s life as do his many conversations, but the film doesn’t tell the audience how to feel. Just as Isak is left to continue and contemplate his life’s worth, so too is the audience. Isak is played by Victor Sjöström, himself a film director, and a major influence on Bergman. That’s certainly interesting, but even without those connections he gives a great performance. The film also has some excellent scenes, particularly the opening dream sequence which is a master stroke of surreal filmmaking. It might forever be viewed as Bergman’s “other” masterpiece from 1957, but it’s still a masterpiece.

“All along the line, there’s nothing but cold and death and loneliness.”

Comments
  1. Dixie Burge says:

    Maybe you had a “cinematic education”, but you need a spelling education, too. “There just as i,portant”? Try “they’re”.

  2. ruth says:

    I saw The Last Emperor years ago when I was a teenager and it left a huge impression on me then even if I didn’t fully understand the story. I haven’t re-watched it since, but certainly it was a fascinating story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s