Lists of top films will often appear in newspapers and online at this time of the year. My wife and I are avid film fans but rarely go to the movies anymore. We prefer to stay home and watch dvds from Netflix or my own collection. Below find a list of films that we have enjoyed in the past year. This year, in addition to foreign films, I include some classic American “film noir” classics from 1947-8. These black and white thrillers have stood the test of time and can be viewed over and over again.
To Live: Zhang Ximou, China’s most renowned filmmaker, directed this epic tale of four decades of Chinese political turmoil. “To Live” follows the lives of one couple as they struggle to survive their own changing station within the upheaval of the Maoist revolution. As the years go by, bringing bizarre twists, tragic losses, and profound hope, the family perseveres, striving to reach a calm within the storm. The film stars the beautiful Gong Li.
Touchez Pas au Grisbi: Famed French film star Jean Gabin plays Max, a gentleman French gangster who hopes to retire after pulling off his last and most successful heist. However, things go wrong in this French film noir when Max’s partner is kidnapped by rival gangsters and held for ransom. Jacques Becker directed the film that also featured a young Jeanne Moreau and the streets of post-war Paris.
Monsignor Quixote: Alec Guinness and Leo McKern star in this delightful adaptation of a novel by famed British author Graham Greene. Guinness plays an elderly Spanish priest who fancies himself a descendant of Don Quixote. Circumstances lead Fr. Quixote and his friend Sancho to embark on a series of adventures both comic and tragic in the years after the death of Generalissimo Franco. Although unavailable on dvd, it can be seen on YouTube.
Callas, Forever: Famed director Franco Zeffirelli beautifully recreates the magic, passion, and artistry of the opera diva who was also his longtime friend. Callas died tragically at the age of 53, and Zeffirelli presents an imaginative retelling of her last years. Beautiful French actress Fanny Ardant perfectly fits the role of Callas, capturing all her fiery intensity on and off the stage. Jeremy Irons co-stars. The film is a unique rare gem featuring actual sound recordings of Callas in performance.
Together: A young violin prodigy travels to modern Beijing with his peasant father to encounter the ways of the modern Chinese metropolis as well as the cut throat world of musical ambition. The encounter will test not only his musical ability but also his relationship with his simple father. Famed Chinese director, Chen Kaige was inspired to make this film of the new Chinese cultural revolution partly by the fact that he was forced to denounce his own father as a “counter-revolutionary” during the Maoist revolution.
Babette’s Feast: a lovingly crafted tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers in late nineteenth-century Denmark. This 1987 film, based on a story by Isak Denisen, won the Oscar for best foreign film. It stars French actress Stephane Audran in the title role.
|Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum|
Out of the Past: This 1947 film about a former private detective who is forced to get involved in a search for a gangster’s girlfriend is generally regarded as one of the best of all film noir. Robert Mitchum plays the detective and Jane Greer plays the sultry murderous moll. A young Kirk Douglas plays the gangster.
Nightmare Alley: Tyrone Power plays a two-bit conman working in a lowlife carnival who learns the tricks of a mind-reading act that elevates him to stardom. He brings his act to fancy nightclubs and becomes the toast of high society until he is finally exposed and brought down. This grim 1947 film portrays 1930s America as “a sleazy, run-down carnival, where everyone is either on the make, a born sucker, or trapped in a real or psychological cage.”
Body and Soul: John Garfield delivers an Academy Award nomination performance in this film classic of a boxer who will do anything to rise to the top. The film also features Lilli Palmer and Anne Revere as the two women in his life. The climatic fight scene, filmed by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, puts the viewer right in the ring.
He Walked by Night: Richard Basehart stars in this tense police drama as a crafty and elusive thief who becomes a cop-killer. The 1948 film, set in Los Angeles, became the prototype for the famed TV series, Dragnet. Jack Webb, the creator of Dragnet, appears in a supporting role. The ending of the film is remarkably similar to the ending of the great film classic, “The Third Man.”
Happy New Year!!!
Happy New Year!!!