My Year in Movies: The Best
Your humble Cheese Magnet correspondent has been alternately working himself to death and suffering mightily and unfairly from the fact that he once had chicken pox as a child, but he has pulled himself together and dragged himself off his death and/or sick bed because, basically, he’s bored.
So finally after weeks of anticipation, here’s my list of the ten or so best movies that I saw this last year. But, really, do you actually need me to tell you that THE AVENGERS was a pretty good movie? I think not. So what I’m going to do is cover the ten or so best obscure/ unusual/unlikely movies that I saw this past year, hoping to share a couple that you-all might be unaware of and might enjoy. Let’s start at the top of the list.
10+ Top Hat (1935) To tell the truth I’m not much of a musical fan, but there’s a half dozen or so I really like and this one is at or near the top of the list. Astaire’s dancing is graceful and natural, not the histrionic over wrought jazz-hands that infects so many dance movies. And Ginger Rogers? What’s not to like. The music by Irving Berlin is good, the set design is something out of a strange fantasy (especially when they get to Venice, which is like no Venice that ever existed) and the staging of the musical numbers by Hermes Pan (And no, that’s not his real name. It was Hermes Panagiotopoules. Just a typical Greek guy from Tennessee.) are eye-catching. The movie is also quite hilarious, as Fred and Ginger share the spotlight with no less than four comic geniuses, most of whom are forgotten today: Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Helen Broderick. An uncredited Lucille Ball has a cameo. Blink and you’ll miss her.
10 Hidden Blade, The (2004) Beautifully filmed and acted samurai movie set in 1861. This superior story of friendships (broken and loyal), betrayal of trust, and love across caste lines defies the conventions of the genre.
Forbidden Planet (1956) This is not by any means an obscure movie, but I just watched it again recently, and thought I should mention it here, since it’s clearly one of the top five or so 1950s sf movies. Beautiful setting (and beautiful Anne Francis, who just recently passed away) and superior acting. This is a classic retelling of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, a cautionary tale of a man unaware of his own limitations. Top-notch effects for its time and it also introduced one of the classic characters of 1950s sf cinema: Robby the Robot.
9+ Bunraku (2010) A wild, highly stylized martial arts film set in a future (“east of the Atlantic”) where guns have been banned, but swords are still lethal. Ron Perlman portrays the tyrant Nikola the Woodcutter who rules with an iron fist and the assistance of nine lethal assassins and a bunch of spear-carriers called the Red Gang. Naturally, a couple of strangers arrive on the train and do something about it. Ths movie takes a lot of chances and succeeds beyond expectation.
Enemy From Space/Quartermass 2 (1957) Brian Dunlevy grumps his way through the Quartermass role taking on a hive-mind creature that’s hellbent on turning the world into a giant slime pit. Excellent early Hammer and best of the 50’s Blob movies. Maybe the best Quarter-mass movie. Maybe.
Secret of the Telegian, The/Denso Ningen (1960) Excellent crime/sf blend in the style that Toho utilized frequently in the 1960s, wherein a man uses a teleporter to gain vengeance on a squad of soldiers who wronged him at the end of WW II.
9 Centurion (2010) Superior historical about the Lost Legion in Roman Britain. An even-handed account of the Picts vs. the Romans with great scenery and cinematography and some nice acting.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Strange and eerie blend of hard-boiled detective noir and sf as Spillane’s Mike Hammer seeks the “whatsis.” In this movie Hammer is not a nice guy (not, come to think of it, that he ever was). Quirky characters in a brooding Los Angeles.
Reign of Assassins (2010) Ex-assassin Michelle Yeoh seeks to return the bones of a Buddhist monk to their rightful resting places, but, unfortunately these bones have mystic powers and her fellow assassins have been hired to find them — and they’re already pissed at her for leaving their happy little group. This movie also eschews Asian cliche endings.
War of the Arrows (2001) Superior South Korean war epic, concentrating on a legendary archer and a pack of bad-ass Manchurian invaders who try and to their regret succeed in running him down. Not many surprises in the script, but very entertaining. Check out the last scene carefully.