1. Stormy Weather
This musical is often remembered as Lena Horne’s breakout performance, containing the song she is most remembered for. In reality, it is the best variety show I’ve ever seen. There is very little time spent on plot—less so than an early Fred and Ginger pic—instead focusing all eyes on the most inspiring, stunning, energetic performances I might have ever seen. Dancing and singing that just gets better as the film continues. Discovered in Musical group marathon.
2. The Hole
Tsai Ming-Laing, as I watch more of his films, is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. He isn’t concerned with keeping us from feeling bored. Rather, his films tend to be meditative, focusing on giving us content and time to consider what we are seeing rather than giving us more to see. This film about a couple of neighbors in an apartment building during a health crisis is a romance… or, well, it is about human relating. But it communicates to us with odd metaphors and strange events. Discovered in Top 100 Club.
3. Fanny and Alexander (miniseries)
I watched the three hour Fanny and Alexander two times and I was done with it. There were so many characters and they all fell flat to me, and the narrative barely held together. This year Junior, whose opinion I trust, announced this film as his favorite of all time. He also mentioned that he watched the 312 minute miniseries version. I have never understood how a longer version of a film could be better than the official release, but I have had that experience before. Sure enough, this Bergman film is a genius work of art, a fitting capstone to the legendary director’s career. But only in the longer version.
Ken Loach is a director with a unique reputation, focusing on social issues. This is his film with the highest reputation, and well it deserves it. Years ago, I watched another film with a terribly high reputation, the 400 Blows. (Any film that is considered “essential” is just too high of a reputation—if we don’t like it then we wonder what is wrong with the majority of the film world.) This film feels like an English remake of that with symbols I better understand and a protagonist I better relate to.
Shakespeare as an experimentally violent landscape. The colors and actions strike the viewer as much as the characters. A simple King Lear with Anthony Hopkins perpetually mourning at the butchery of his family. But it is done with such brutal artistry! Discovered in 1999 Retrospots.
The Dardenne brothers are my favorite Christian filmmakers. Here, they focus on one woman, desperate to escape the cycle of poverty. But her mother, her employers, her friends, all seem intent on keeping her in a position of lowliness, which her pride cannot stand. The central performance is busy, active, powerful, hypnotic. Discovered in 1999 Retrospots.
7. They Live
John Carpenter’s disappointment with consumer society translates into a science fiction film where truth is disregarded for the sake of a small percentage of humans who surrender the earth to aliens. Too close to reality to be comfortable, but Carpenter makes it an entertaining, joyful ride. Discovered in Horror group marathon.
Australian art film has a unique flavor, a different kind of stark beauty, both in landscape and in plot. There are many scenes walking, walking, walking, but in the long times of nothing happening we learn about character and the power of environment to change personality. Discovered in List of Shame.
9. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The classic film with Paul Newman and Liz Taylor. Yes, this is the first time I saw it. And, yes, it is worth it to see performances of a lifetime, especially by Burl Ives who I didn’t expect to be so powerfully nasty.
A hilarious short about the strangeness of a non-normative gender. And a better musical sequence than most in La La Land. Highlighted by Bondo in Musical group marathon.