Top Ten Movies: 1981

Cutter's Way

Not a memorable year for moviemaking. Other than Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 seems forgotten, tucked away in a decade that would help reinstate the overblown studio mechanism of the blockbuster as grand ruler supreme at the box office, a variation of the epic from twenty years before and one that would stay with us ’til this very day. Which is all the more reason for me to champion my number one pick. Cutter’s Way has got mythology in the making. Quietly released under the title Cutter and Bone – a more appropriate and superior choice – it was pulled, renamed, re-released, hailed by whatever group of small critics that actually got a chance to watch the damn thing, and vanished, awaiting some sort of “discovery” ever since. Well, it hasn’t gotten there yet, but I myself am living proof of word of mouth. Like the lingering echoes of the death nail that was Heaven’s Gate, Cutter’s Way is all the more devastating because it refuses to be forgotten, paralleling the near discarded mystery that gnaws away at the edges of its three leads, outcasts spited by something more than just life. Seriously, Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and particularly Lisa Eichhorn have hardly been any better, personifying a certain kind of American disenchantment that’s dulled them to the bone. Watch it and see for yourself. It’s a masterpiece. As for the rest, very good movies in a very off year.

1. Cutter’s Way (Ivan Passer)
2. Blow Out (Brian De Palma)
3. Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
4. Reds (Warren Beatty)

5. The Road Warrior (George Miller)
6. Possession (Andrzej Żuławski)
7. Coup de Torchon (Bertrand Tavernier)
8. Thief (Michael Mann)
9. Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth)
10. Blind Chance (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Brian De Palma has always been a kind of savant of imperfection, which is no knock off at all, believe me. But with Blow Out, the planets must have aligned because he sure delivered a thriller on par with its flawless inspiration. Then there’s Lola, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sinister continuation of his BRD trilogy and a gorgeous film to look at. Seriously, it’s my pick for favorite lighting in any film I’ve ever watched. Quite the hyperbolic overstatement but I’m sticking to it. Reds is possibly the best thing Warren Beatty ever touched, the thinking man’s Doctor Zhivago, and Possession is horror trash (my kind of genre) elevated to higher depths because of its raw take on jealousy, not to mention performances by its two leads that throw caution to the wind and so much more. So so much more. And have you watched Gregory’s Girl? Because you should watch Gregory’s Girl. A tiny quirk of a film that Bill Forsyth conducted with utter perfection.

The Road Warrior squanders the idea that sequels are distillations of their original source, and Thief builds up the tropes of the crime genre only to scrap them as a “I could give you what you want but I won’t” at the end. Then there’s Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, that does something quite remarkable by adapting a source material and throwing it in a whole other setting. I’m talking 180 degrees here. And it works!

A lot of stuff that could have easily made the list, and some had at certain points. But Blind Chance shares the spot alone for its pick your own adventure premise and making an inspired political drama out of it. I mean it’s Kieślowski! Has that guy ever made anything bad? But just to satiate, I guess that’s the word I’m using, your curiosity, the final slot could have gone to Jean-Jacques Beinex’s Diva, with a killer score to match its introduction to cinéma du look. Francois Truffaut was handling Hitchcock again with The Woman Next Door, introducing the film world to the wonder that is Fanny Ardant. And for that matter Lawrence Kasdan was doing just the same in America with Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, the best of the noir remake bunch that became a thing around that time (i.e. Sharky’s MachineThe Postman Always Rings Twice, Against All Odds). Then there’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course, which I like a lot but not enough apparently. And the list keeps going: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Das Boot, Prince of the City, They All Laughed, S.O.B., Escape from New York, The Aviator’s Wife, Scanners, My Dinner with Andre, Modern Romance, Gallipoli, Mephisto. And finally the horror genre, particularly The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in LondonThe others, while good, can’t match the fun of those two.

Next Month: 1944. I’m gonna start humming The Trolley Song, I know it.

Advertisements

Top Ten Movies: 1979

1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun

Last time I had promised 1995… again. But hey, I get to make the rules here. It’s been a while since I’ve watched several of the films from that year, so I’d rather wait and revisit a couple before I take on the challenge of, you know, listing them. 1979, however, is as fresh in my mind as Hanna Schygulla’s smeared lipstick. After a trailblazing decade of drug-fueled machine-gun paced work, Rainer Werner Fassbinder finally got the kind of budget he’d always admired when watching Hollywood soap dramas from the 1950’s. The Marriage of Maria Braun is a compact little epic about survival in post-war Germany as told through the experiences of one single woman. It’s trashy, at times overwrought, and perfectly sinister in its commentary about West German plight turned opportunism. Basically, it’s all of the things that make Fassbinder’s work so chillingly pleasurable. Enough so, in fact, to knock out a couple of bona fide classics off the top spot. I mean how much more could really be said about Apocalypse Now or Alien? Movies that still sell out tickets at retrospect screenings like Super Bowl games. And although as popular as Maria Braun is when discussing Fassbinder’s work, that’s still a claim that it sadly can’t achieve. Which is a shame because it’s one heck of film. Oh well. You can’t win ’em all.

1. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
2. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
3. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
4. Manhattan (Woody Allen)
5. Tess (Roman Polanski)
6. Vengeance is Mine (Shōhei Imamura)
7. Alien (Ridley Scott)
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog)
9. Life of Brian (Terry Jones)
10. Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Stalker is one of Tarkovsky’s lesser known works and, as we speak, still unavailable in the U.S. in a decent print. C’mon Criterion! But hey, they at least gave Tess and Vengeance is Mine the Blu-ray treatment, two art house films that continue to demand high praise. The latter is also a good first-billing in a double feature with The Silence of the Lambs, which always conjures up the theory in my mind that there is movie violence and then there is Japanese movie violence. And that’s a whole other category. And thank the Gods for Manhattan and Life of Brian, which lighten things up here. The former is a personal favorite of mine and one of Allen’s best, while the latter makes an audacious attempt at satire that only Monty Python could have the cajoles to get away with.

Movies that trail just behind include Francois Truffaut’s final installment in his Antoine Doinel series, Love on the Run, and idiosyncratic turns by Huston and Ashby with Wise Blood and Being There respectively. Oh! And throw in Winter Kills, too! Another oddball of a movie that’s truly unforgettable. Blake Edward’s had 10, with Bo Derek doing the Baywatch thing, and Bob Fosse had All That Jazz, with Roy Scheider doing the Marcello Mastroianni thing. David Cronenberg was finally in his “groove” with The Brood, and George Miller introduced a dystopian world we have yet to forget – and I hope we never do – with Mad Max. Cram in a couple of Oscar favorites like Kramer vs. Kramer and Norma Rae, along with some forgotten gems like Saint Jack, Going in Style, Breaking Away, and The Wanderers, and 1979 ain’t looking too shabby.

Next time: Who knows! I’ve been lying to you anyway, so why pretend? But I’ll leave you with this clip from Quadrophenia as an apology of sorts. I know, I know. Apology accepted.

Top Ten Movies: 2015

45 Years

A sporadic year overall. But while many critics bemoan the death of cinema, the commercial success of films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens reassure us that the experience of watching a movie in a theater and with an audience is still, you know, an actual thing. In the meantime, here’s my personal top ten list of the year. Unfortunately, I still have a lot of catching up to do before I expand on it any further. Guess I’ve got some homework to do. Happy New Year everyone!

1. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
2. Son of Saul (Lázló Nemes)
3. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
5. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
6. Phoenix (Christian Petzold) and The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)
7. Experimenter (Michael Almereyda)
8. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
9. Tangerine (Sean S. Baker)
10. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)