Jan 11, 2012


Last week I posted my list of top Older movies I discovered in 2011 (another great list idea inspired by Rupert Pupkin speaks - who has posted his own list just this week). This week is my top films I re-visited in 2011.

As an avid movie lover with a substantial collection - and now so many new ways to watch movies like Netflix streaming, TCM, etc. - I find myself constantly reviewing and revisiting movies, usually inspired by something that happened that day, or a discussion, or a theme or whatever inspires me to grab something off the shelf.

When I was working in motion picture development, a writer/director we were working with told one of my co-workers that the Oscars should be given out 10 years later to truly judge how well a movie has held up over time. That was such a great idea that I took up going back 10 years and revisiting titles in a mini-film fest, as well as every year on New Years e-mailing a select list of friends movies that are celebrating key anniversaries. I use 1977 as a starting point, and go back in 10 year intervals (with the exception of 25 as that is a milestone). I might start posting it to the blog, but it's usually pretty long.

This year, I was all over the place in my viewing, so never really got around to my usual methods of selecting theme festivals. Having been wandering around North America in an attempt to settle in a few locations (and have it not work out) over the previous 2 years my discs were all in storage so I pretty much entirely relied on Netflix, etc. As well, I have ended up (temporarily) living in a location that is very isolated from the sources where I would have access to some titles which further limited some of my access to titles.

Usually, my re-watching also corresponds with the titles that are released on Blu-Ray or DVD in a given year which will be obvious given most of my choices were new to Blu this year.

One web site I have been using to journal my movie watching is MUBI, which allows you to create lists which are available for viewing on your profile. Not every movie is listed in their database, but it's a fun way to share your movie watching habits with others.

So here are some films that I revisited this year and either re-fell in love with them, or found a new appreciation for.

THE PAPER (1994, Dir: Ron Howard)

I know many other film buffs do this as well, but I keep a watching log in order to keep track of what I have seen, where I saw it and when. So it was quite surprising to discover that I re-watched THE PAPER in 2011 on the same exact day that I viewed it for the first time in 1994 (November 19). Back then, I had recently moved to Los Angeles and rented it on VHS from a Blockbuster at the corner of Orange Grove and Sunset (being a poor film student at the time, I was limited to a small TV with built in VCR - my Laserdisc and theater system still in Canada). This year, I viewed it via Netflix instant streaming.

The first time I saw this movie I was completely underwhelmed and awarded it a 1 star rating of 4. This year however, I was completely taken in by the movie, the quirky characters, the fast pace and tone of the film and in the end, realized how much I missed Michael Keaton as a leading man.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the newspaper business is being quickly replaced by instant blogging, tweeting and instant news gratification that I have a new found respect for this movie. But really what I discovered was a well made film with great characters and some memorable moments like a fight scene between Michael Keaton and (of all people) Glenn Close. Also love the moment of Randy Quaid egging on Michael Keaton to yell "STOP THE PRESSES".

ACE IN THE HOLE a.k.a. THE BIG CARNIVAL (1951, Dir: Billy Wilder)

I have seen this movie a few times, and it still leaves an impression with each new viewing. Kirk Douglas in one of his best performances as an ousted big city news guy, creating a sensational story out of nothing in rural New Mexico to get himself back into the spotlight.

It's a movie that was way ahead of its time in theme and tone. It helps that the DVD is a gorgeous Criterion collection transfer.

KISS ME DEADLY (1955, Dir: Robert Aldrich)

Speaking of gorgeous Criterion collection transfers, one of their best releases of the year (and they had a REALLY good year) is this film noir gem. This is one of those prints that really sells the Blu-Ray format too - especially for an older black-and-white movie that many people think wouldn't be that big of a change in high definition but it felt like I was watching a new film print of this instead of an at-home digital format.

Oh yeah and the movie is amazing and holds up well. Film Noir is easily the most intriguing genre of films, and this is one of the top titles.

As you'll see below, Criterion had a really good Noir Blu-Ray year because there was also...

THE KILLING / KILLER'S KISS (1956 / 1955, Dir: Stanley Kubrick)

THE KILLING never fails to excite me no matter how many times I view it - and I hadn't seen it since 2006, so watching it here was like being introduced to an old friend who somehow looks better than they did when you first met them. That is of course thanks to the transfer which once again looked like a new film print rather than a digital disc format on a flat-screen TV.

As a bonus, Criterion includes KILLER'S KISS on the disc, a film I hadn't seen since I was in college, and the photography and shot composition in this film is simply outstanding. I almost viewed it again right after just because I was so taken with it.

Oh and one of the best extras is an interview with Sterling Hayden by French TV. It cracked me up, and he tells some great stories. Oh yeah and the cover art ranks as one of the best of the year.

Oh yeah so Criterion Collection...I'm not done with you yet because there is also....

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957, Dir: Alexander MacKendrick)

This is a movie I can watch multiple times and still find new reasons to love it and this time round was no exception. It's a movie I revisit often, but it's so good that it still makes a list like this, and look out because it may end up again on the 2012 edition.

Populated with the most unlikable characters possible, uttering clever, biting dialogue and shot by James Wong Howe in glorious black-and-white that makes New York just come alive and not in a glamorous way - but it feels real, and dirty and congested and yes, I would live there in a heartbeat. A movie about ambition, and corruption and doing whatever it takes to gain power and prestige, you cheer for people who you should despise.

Ok so that has to be the last Criterion entry...right? WRONG!

TOPSY-TURVY (1999, Dir: Mike Leigh)

This movie isn't that old, but wow on this Blu-Ray release does it ever leap off the screen. It leaves any previous transfer in the dust!

This was a movie I haven't seen since release (where I saw it at the Mann Criterion theater on the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica), and was excited when Criterion announced it for Blu-Ray release.

Seeing it again this way felt like seeing it for the first time. Mike Leigh just has this knack for capturing nuances in character and in production design. This movie has an artistic photographic quality that gives it the feeling of a 2 hour painting. I could easily turn the sound off and still be entertained (although the musical numbers are part of this movie's charm, so that's just an overall bad idea).

THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940, Dir: Charles Chaplin)

Told you it was a good Criterion year. Chaplin on Blu-Ray, need I say more? Great Criterion release has behind-the-scenes outtakes and again, the print is beyond gorgeous. Having also released MODERN TIMES, here's hoping Criterion gets around to releasing MONSIEUR VERDOUX.

APOCALYPSE NOW (1979, Dir: Francis Ford Coppola)

This Blu-Ray set came out the previous year, but I didn't really sit down and go through it until 2011. Easily one of the best Blu-Ray releases ever. Again, I felt like watching this movie on Blu-Ray was the closest thing to seeing it in a theater (which I still prefer and have done so on many occasions). This movie never gets old.

BLACK RAIN (1989, Dir: Ridley Scott)

I dusted off the Laserdisc player for this one night before heading off to Comic-con. I love the production design which reminds me a lot of BLADE RUNNER (which I think is intentional - given they're both directed by Ridley Scott). Most of all though, this was the movie that sold me on just how cool Michael Douglas is. BASIC INSTINCT enforced it, but man Douglas can play "on the edge" better than anyone else I know.

Watching now still felt very 80s, but in a good way.

BEN-HUR (1959, Dir: William Wyler)

There is nothing like seeing this movie in 70mm at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (which I've done 4 times) nor when I saw it at the Academy theater and Charlton Heston spot before the movie (much deserved standing ovation, and again when he walked out of the theater during the intermission).

BEN-HUR is a movie of epic scope, and the chariot race still is breathtaking today - especially given the 100% lack of CGI. I usually hate it when people go on and on about how the art of movie making is dead thanks to CGI, but this is one case where the thrills are as real as the horses pulling the chariots wildly around the track.

Warner Home Video went to great lengths to restore this movie, and it shows. The presentation is outstanding (although I have to say THE TEN COMMANDMENTS from Paramount beats them in the packaging department. That box parts like the red sea and the discs are housed in tablets).

Movies like this deserve to be treated with respect, and this one has been.

ALIEN (1979, Dir: Ridley Scott)

ALIENS (1986, Dir: James Cameron)

How can you watch a scary movie or thriller multiple times yet still be on edge or excited even when you know what's coming next? ALIEN and ALIENS are prime examples of movies where I still get chills in moments I have seen dozens of times.

The entire sequence in ALIENS where the marines head into the depths of the compound only to be slaughtered, as well as the entire ending from the point where Ripley goes in after Newt (who has been grabbed by the Aliens) until the ending credits...well let's just say I received 2 phone calls and was so into the movie that I let them go to voice mail.

Both these movies are prime examples of expert filmmakers perfectly combining art with commercial movie making, and obviously having fun doing it. They know how to take the audience on a ride, and in the process made timeless classics that thrill again and again.

Not only did I watch each of the theatrical versions of these movies, but almost immediately viewed the director's cuts right after and still was fully engaged even though they were being viewed with their original counterpart back-t0-back.

Other key re-visits:

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (Blu-Ray - another outstanding remaster)
FANTASIA 2000 (Blu-Ray)