Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top 20 Older Movies I First Saw in 2012

Hey, everyone, come look at pictures of my baby! I saw about 650 movies in 2012. That includes 75 Silly Symphonies, 67 Looney Tunes, 64 Alice Guy shorts, 50ish Mack Sennett one-or-two-or-half-reelers, and a night of shorts that TCM calls "rare animation" even though the ones that got garbled by my DVR were on Youtube. I finished off Nicholas Ray, Val Lewton at RKO, and Oscar's Best Pictures. Marathoned Soderbergh, Sternberg, and Anthony Mann. Filled in some Flaherty, Ophuls, Wilder. Met William A. Seiter, John Brahm, and Hammer Horror. All in all, it's been more of a completist year than an adventurous one. Here's hoping 2013 takes more side streets.

We still have another few days on Earth, but I'm posting this now in order to free myself from the burden of the DVR. Can't get to those beckoning TCM recordings until I write up my best TV list (not to mention my best movies list, which probably won't be here until February). These are my 20 favorite movies I saw for the first time this year, excluding 2012 releases. I go by worldwide commercial release dates because it's all the same this side of the pine curtain, which is to say The Turin Horse came out in 2011 and Pluto is not a planet.

20. “The Land Beyond the Sunset” by Harold M. Shaw (1912) - Youtube

19. “Rooty Toot Toot” by John Hubley (1951) - TCM

18. Detour by Edgar G. Ulmer (1945) - TCM

17. The Beaches of Agnès by Agnès Varda (2008) - DVD

16. The Prowler by Joseph Losey (1951) - TCM

15. “Fireworks” by Kenneth Anger (1947) - Youtube

14. Hail the Conquering Hero by Preston Sturges (1944) - TCM

13. Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan (2011) - Cinefamily

12. The Docks of New York by Josef von Sternberg (1928) - DVD

11. Caught by Max Ophuls (1949) - TCM

10. “From A to Z-Z-Z-Z” by Chuck Jones (1954) - Blu-ray

9. The Limey by Steven Soderbergh (1999) - DVD

8. A Matter of Life and Death by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (1946) - TCM

7. The Reckless Moment by Max Ophuls (1949) - TCM

6. The Spider's Stratagem by Bernardo Bertolucci (1970) - MFAH

5. “Outer Space” by Peter Tscherkassky (2000) - Youtube

4. This is Not a Film by Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (2011) - MFAH

3. Anatahan by Josef von Sternberg (1953) - TPB

2. The Black Book by Anthony Mann (1949) - TCM

1. The Shanghai Gesture by Josef von Sternberg (1941) - TCM

Also, since 650 is a lot, some more: Easy Living by Mitchell Leisen, "Gerald McBoing-Boing" by Robert Cannon, I Was a Male War Bride by Howard Hawks, "The Immigrant" by Charles Chaplin, Mad Love by Karl Freund, The Savage Innocents by Nicholas Ray, Silver Lode by Allan Dwan, The Tales of Hoffmann by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Ted Parmelee, West of Zanzibar by Tod Browning.


  1. Your pithy and rich verbal tumble is missing from each of these. Would love to know the whys of the whats. Not a request (you sound busy), only a lament.

  2. Aw, thanks, Robert. I'm working on a bunch of new pieces, but for now I can at least offer my Letterboxd "review" of The Black Book:

    Everyone in Anthony Mann's fire-poker gritty Expressionist noir take on the Robespierre chapter of the French Revolution is in it for himself, even the one-scene border guard. It's a coiled, menacing film of double-crossings, sudden betrayals, hushed conversations, show-trials shot like Dreyer outtakes, and John Alton shadow curtains, many of which serve a diegetic (and not just stylistic) purpose: You don't plan revolutions in the daylight. The Black Book (which is what the title card said, so I'm sticking with it, Reign of Terror be damned) is so engrossing in its paranoid suspense and so exciting in its action that it's easy to overlook how thoroughly the film explores the top-down injustices of autocracy and the serious costs of revolution (the list of accidental corpses in the democrats' wake is longer than the titular list of Robespierre's enemies), not to mention how it digests McCarthyism into a pungent parade of horrors. The sudden violence alone makes this an essential companion to Bend of the River and The Naked Spur. Mann just loves a bleeding head falling toward the camera. It's his defining image, leeringly confronting an audience with the violence of ostensible justice.

  3. Well, that helps the soul. One down, 19 to go. And Anthony Mann to boot! I'll watch all of Naked Spur every time just to get to Stewart's reading of "I'm gonna sell him for money", coming face to face with who he had to become to admit he needs a woman like the oh so fair Janet Leigh.