10. The Limey (1999)
Terence Stamp plays a dangerous Englishman, his signature role, and Peter Fonda is the man who may be responsible for the death of Stamp’s daughter. Director Steven Soderbergh’s most-brilliant choice in the film is to use footage from Poor Cow, a 1967 film Stamp made with Ken Loach, as flashback footage for The Limey. It’s remarkable how seeing a significantly younger version of the lead actor, instead of a look-a-like, can impact the reality of the new performance.
9. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Woody Allen has made at least one film every year since 1976. I’ve been slowly making my way through them (out of order). Most critics agree that there was a “dark period” from the early ’90s until Match Point in 2005 where Allen’s films were not very good. Right in the middle of all that, however, is this ensemble comedy about a writer and his creations and all of the lies that come with them. A standout section involves Robin Williams as an actor who has “lost his focus” and is literally blurry and out of focus to everyone around him.
8. The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)
The 2-CD soundtrack to this film was always loaded into the household’s 6-CD changer when I was a kid. I learned to love the music even though I was too young to see the film. Somehow I only got around to watching it this year, and I’m not sure if I’m glad or not. I can appreciate its technique more because I’m older, but the film has such grandeur that I can imagine my younger self would have been even more swept up in its romantic power.
7. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Some films are good because you see how everything works and it’s all a well-oiled narrative machine. Others are good because they force you to ask questions and wonder about the “meaning” of the story. Nicolas Roeg’s science-fiction drama is firmly in the second category alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barton Fink. But one thing that is clear is David Bowie has been a capable actor from the very beginning.
6. Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
When I watched Frankenstein I was disappointed with how dated it was, so I didn’t look up the sequel until I saw the film Gods and Monsters about the films’ director. I was shocked. This film restores the monster’s voice, pulling inspiration from the original novel even more than the first film. The character of the Bride is legitimately disturbing, and there are special effects shots that still stand up to scrutiny.
5. Kiss Of The Spider Woman (1985)
A major influence on the independent cinema of the ’80s and ’90s, this is the story of two men (Raul Julia and William Hurt) held for political reasons in a South American prison. The anonymity of the country and its politics pushes this in the direction of Kafka and Orwell. And despite being from 1985, Hurt’s Oscar-winning performance as the effeminate gay Luis is very genuine and free of dated stereotypes.
4. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
There is a scene in the original Manchurian Candidate where the POWs are being brainwashed, and the cartoonish, evil doctor is walking around. The scene is almost laughable until one man is ordered to shoot another and the wall is splattered with blood. It’s the sort of thing you expect from modern films, but to see it in ’60s black and white is truly shocking. Also, Angela Lansbury, that nice lady from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Murder She Wrote, is one evil mother.
3. The Hill (1965)
A military detention camp in the Libyan Desert has a lone hill of sand at its center. As the men are forced to repeatedly charge up and over with heavy packs, the camera follows them in long tracking shots, meaning their pain and exhaustion is completely authentic. This is another great anti-war film in the vein of Paths of Glory. Sean Connery stars. Sydney Lumet directs. And it’s in black and white, and not the pre-50s “everything is in black and white,” but the post-1960 “moral ambiguity looks best in monochrome” black and white.
2. The Third Man (1949)
Pulp Western writer Holly Martins arrives in post-war Vienna looking for an old friend who promised him a job, but on arrival he discovers that his friend was killed by a car while crossing the street. This turns out to be just the start of a twisting noir thriller with Orson Welles’ most dashing performance, and an unforgettable zither soundtrack.
1. The Lion In Winter (1968)
Modern film actors play medieval royalty. The theatrical dialogue abandons authenticity to be an unrelenting battle of wits. King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) lets Queen Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) out of prison for Christmas. Their sons, including Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionhearted, round out the happy family as the King negotiates with young King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton). Every scene crackles with so much energy that it is shocking the film is not yet available on blu-ray.