Dorothy McGuire as Helen in Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase
Since I watched 250 films this year, with more than 200 of those being prior to 2018, I decided to break this year-end wrap-up into two parts. This post will focus on those films released prior to 2018* and the next will feature 2018 releases.
First, some stats on my 2018 viewing (both new and old films):
Films watched in the theater: 15%
Films watched on DVD: 55%
Films watched via streaming: 30%
Most used streaming service: Mubi (33 films)
Films released in the silent era: 6
Films released in the 1930s: 10
Films released in the 1940s: 53
Films released in the 1950s: 22
Films released in the 1960s: 13
Films released in the 1970s: 20
Films released in the 1980s: 10
Films released in the 1990s: 19
Films released in the 2000s: 15
Films released in the 2010s: 82
Most watched genre: film noir (40 films)
Most watched director: Alexander Mackendrick (5 films)
Runners-up: Jacques Audiard, Fritz Lang, Claude Sautet, Jacques Tourneur
Films directed by women: 30 (12%)
Nothing too surprising given that my main focuses for the year were classic horror and #Noirvember. I had pledged to watch #52FilmsByWomen but that ended up taking a back seat to my other projects. In fact, the only reason I even watched as many films directed by women as I did is because so many appeared on year-end critic lists and I caught up with them in my traditional December blitz.
Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli in Claude Sautet’s Les Choses de la vie
Since I didn’t write up quarterly reports this year, let’s start by finalizing my thoughts on 2017 films. Did I see anything in 2018 that changed my original Top Ten posted in early January? Yes! Phantom Thread and Brigsby Bear both made their way onto the list, edging off Blade Runner 2049 and Logan Lucky.
Final Top Ten of 2017
A Ghost Story
The Florida Project
Ingrid Goes West
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
But those ten films weren’t the only movies from 2017 worth watching. If you are looking for something beyond the excellent films above, here are some ideas.
If You Have a Cinematographer’s Eye:
Blade Runner 2049
The wonders of architecture and framing are on display in Columbus.
If You Want a Film that Crushes the Bechdel-Wallace Test:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo has no patience for your bullsh*t.
If You Want a Movie That Keeps You Guessing:
Before I Fall
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)
Before I Fall is Heathers, wrapped in Groundhog Day, inside of Looper.
If You Want to Laugh:
The Big Sick
Gillian Robespierre teams up again with Jenny Slate for Landline.
If You Want Something to Warm Your Heart:
Victoria & Abdul
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Kyle Mooney breaks your heart in the best way possible in Brigsby Bear.
If You Think Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold:
I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Emmanuelle Devos walks the fine line between grief and vengeance in Moka.
If You Don’t Mind Something Disturbing:
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)
If You Want to See Things That (Literally) Go Bump in the Night:
A Ghost Story
It Comes at Night
A Ghost Story is the most haunting and affecting film I saw last year.
If You Want to See America’s Gritty Underbelly:
The Florida Project
If You Want to Travel in Time:
Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
Victoria & Abdul
Professor Marston & the Wonder Women tie their relationship up in knots for decades.
If You Want to Relive World War II:
The Zookeeper’s Wife
If You Want to Relive the 1960s:
The Shape of Water
If You Want to Relive the 1990s:
120 battements par minute (BPM)
If You Want to Travel Vicariously:
Call Me By Your Name
Queen of the Desert
Visages, Villages (Faces Places)
Queen of the Desert follows the incredible life of British explorer, cartographer, and political officer Gertrude Bell.
If You Want a Science Fiction Triple Feature:
Blade Runner 2049
War for the Planet of the Apes
If You Want a Wild Ride:
John Wick: Chapter 2
If You Want to Get Back to the Land:
God’s Own Country
God’s Own Country explores immigration, masculinity, and the rural-urban divide in contemporary Yorkshire.
If You Are Holding Out for a Hero(ine):
Battle of the Sexes
The Kids Are Alright (Star Performances by the Underage Set):
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)
Noée Abita as the eponymous heroine of Léa Mysius’s Ava
And that does it for 2017 recommendations. Now, on to even older films!
Best of “The Great Unseen”: Dog Day Afternoon (1975). The early part of the year saw me complete the final phase of my project to fill in the biggest gaps in my cinéphile life, The Great Unseen. While Dog Day Afternoon wasn’t quite what I expected and probably not something I would choose to rewatch, you should definitely check it out if you haven’t seen it.
Favorite of “The Great Unseen”: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). While not technically part of my original “Great Unseen” list, I watched Assault on Precinct 13 as a companion piece to The Thing (1982) and never looked back. One of my favorite discoveries of the year and a film I suspect I will return to more than once.
Laurie Zimmer and Austin Stoker in Assault on Precinct 13
Best New-to-Me Classic Horror: The Innocents (1961). I watched a lot of horror in an effort to complete my series on classic horror (“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” I swear). However, many of these films were actually rewatches from when I started the original series so they didn’t impress me quite as much as this gorgeous take on The Turn of the Screw. The use of dissolves and other framing choices are absolutely stunning, and there is one moment that is one of the creepiest things I have ever seen on screen.
Favorite New-to-Me Classic Horror: Them! (1954). I was expecting something pretty cheesy when I started this film about radiated ants for my post on Creature Features, but it turned out to be so much better than I expected. It is hard to find but definitely worth catching if you can.
Probably a good thing I didn’t watch Them! before visiting White Sands National Monument.
I once again watched thirty films as part of the #Noirvember celebration on Twitter. All thirty were new to me. This year I am hoping to rewatch a few of the greats throughout the year and when November rolls around again come up with a definitive list of my favorites. In the meantime, here are my ten favorites from those I watched in 2018.
Top Ten #Noirvember Films
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Clash by Night (1952)
The Unsuspected (1947)
Criss Cross (1949)
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Ride the Pink Horse (1947)
The Big Steal (1949)
The Lineup (1958)
Cry Danger (1951)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Robert Ryan as Earl Pfeiffer, projectionist, in Clash by Night
Best Movie by a Female Director: Wanda (1971). This was one of those films that appears on every list of must-see women directors but I thought looked incredibly dreary, a study in coal-mining poverty and depression. However, when it turned up on the program of the Castro Theatre, I decided to “force” myself to sit through it. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when it turned into a sort of road-trip heist film. It’s definitely indie fare, and not a joyride by any means, but still far more enjoyable than I thought it would be.
Barbara Loden as Wanda Goronski in her groundbreaking film, Wanda
Best Math Greek Selection: Stalker (1979). There were a number of great films that I watched this year that I may never have seen without the Math Greek’s coaxing—Kieślowski’s Przypadek (Blind Chance) (1987), P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), Donnie Darko (2001), Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), among others—but the best of these was Stalker, which also holds a special place in my heart because it hearkens back to my first extended conversation with the MG, almost nine years ago, when I was more than a little tipsy and decided to argue with him about how much I hated his favorite Russian director, the whole time confusing Tarkovsky with Sokurov. Good times.
Given my love of Annihilation, it is perhaps not surprising I liked Stalker.
Best “Worst” Math Greek Selection: Mac and Me (1988). Given that Mac and Me features prominently on many “Worst Movies Ever” lists, I was dubious when the Math Greek suggested we watch the MST2K version currently streaming on Netflix. It certainly deserves its place on those lists, but I have to admit it was fun to watch that way.
Another fantastic suggestion from the Math Greek was watching all the A Star Is Born movies before Filmstruck disappeared (RIP Filmstruck). SPOILER ALERT for Part 2 of The Year in Film: I loved the most recent version, which is the first one I watched. To consider them all a bit more objectively, I ranked them from 1 to 4 on ten different story elements they had in common (for example, how they handled the discovery/big break moment). Interestingly enough, they all scored both 1s and 4s in at least one category. Here is how they fared overall.
A Star Is Born Ranked
I do think my assessment of the 1954 version suffered from the fact that the version I saw was the fuller version reconstructed with stills and existing audio, which made for an odd viewing experience to say the least. However, that aside, the songs in the 1954 version just aren’t good enough for me to embrace it the way that others do. Sorry!
A Star Is Born (1937) wins out over the 1954 version by a hair.
And that is it for projects and mini-projects for the year. But how about the other seventy-five or so older films I watched during the year? Well, here are some highlights…
Best on Rewatch: Pulp Fiction (1994). What can I say? After all these years, this film still holds up for me. The dialogue, visuals, and editing represent a masterclass in filmmaking.
Best on Rewatch (runner-up): Gosford Park (2001)
Best New-to-Me Film: Pleins feux sur l’assassin (Spotlight on a Murderer) (1961). If you read the Old Dark House post in my horror series, you know how much I love an old dark house mystery. Throw in an Agatha Christie–like plot twist by the writers of Les Diaboliques and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and, really, how can I resist? This is probably where I should talk about MUBI, because otherwise I never would have seen this gem.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Pascale Audret investigate in Pleins feux sur l’assassin by Georges Franju.
One reason I watched so many older films this year is that I decided to subscribe to MUBI, a film website that integrates a streaming subscription, a film database, and an online magazine. The site features classic arthouse fare, including series on specific filmmakers, genres, and national cinemas. For example, right now, you could watch Andrew Bujalski’s debut Funny Ha Ha, Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también, a double feature from Carol Reed (including The Third Man), the ethnographic films of Jean Rouch, or Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse. Two series I loved from this past year were one on comedies from the Ealing Studios (The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Maggie, The Man in the White Suit, Whisky Galore!) and another on Claude Sautet, a French filmmaker from the 1970s and 1980s whose films are hard to find on DVD. The subscription’s unusual conceit, which works very well for someone like me who has a tendency to add things to a queue and then never watch them, is that a new movie is added to the “now showing” list every day, but it streams for only a month before disappearing. Use it or lose it, as the case may be. All I can say is that it prompts me to actually watch many films I wouldn’t otherwise and that I’ve made some fantastic discoveries via the service, especially foreign films.
Favorite MUBI Discovery: Went the Day Well? (1942). This is a British propaganda film adapted from a story by Graham Greene. Though it came out of Ealing Studios, it was not part of the comedy series listed above, but rather part of a filmmaker series on the works of Italian director Alberto Cavalcanti. It tells the story of an English village being taken over by German paratroopers disguised as British soldiers. As the movie unfolds, it gradually dawns on the villagers that all is not what it seems with the soldiers they are housing and they realize they must take action to save themselves.
Top Ten Foreign-Language Films
Pleins feux sur l’assassin (Spotlight on a Murderer) (1961)
Fuk Sau (Vengeance) (2009)
De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) (2005)
Un prophète (A Prophet) (2010)
Przypadek (Blind Chance) (1987)
César et Rosalie (1972)
Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystals) (1969)
Un héros très discret (A Self-Made Hero) (1997)
Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life) (1970)
Johnny Hallyday stars as father seeking to avenge his daughter in the Hong Kong thriller Fuk Sau (Vengeance).
Best Film Seen in a Theater (tie): The Accused (1949) and Quiet Please, Murder (1943). Both these films played at the Castro Theatre as part of the annual Noir City film festival. The Accused, starring Loretta Young, is a noir with a feminist slant; Quiet Please, Murder takes place in the Los Angeles Public Library—what’s not to love?
Best Silent Film: Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). One of Lon Chaney’s greatest performances.
Best Silent Film (runner-up): Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). John Barrymore’s transformations from Jekyll to Hyde and back again are impressive.
Best Rom Com Rewatch: Moonstruck (1987)
Best New-to-Me Rom Com: Vivacious Lady (1938)
—Are you going to mind your own businesses, or must I really give you a piece of my mind?
—Oh, I couldn’t take the last piece.
—Helen to Francey in Vivacious Lady
Most Heartwarming: Paddington (2015)
Best Heist Rewatch: The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Best New-to-Me Heist Film: Ad ogni costo (Grand Slam) (1968)
Edward G. Robinson and Janet Leigh try to hang on to their loot in Ad ogni costo (Grand Slam).
Best Documentary Rewatch: Finding Vivian Maier (2014)
Best New-to-Me Documentary: Weiner (2016)
Best Would-Be Double Feature: Black Christmas (1974) and The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Best Use of Black and White: Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystals) (1969)
Best First-Half: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Film That Wasn’t As Good as I Remembered: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Most Oddly Relevant for Today: Fight Club (1999)
Most Existential Ennui (aka Frenchiest): L’Eau froide (Cold Water) (1994)
The Rupert Giles Award (aka Mathiest): Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystals) (1969)
Best Use of Plumbing as Plot Point: Cluny Brown (1946)
Worst Abuse of Geography: Fog Over Frisco (1934)
Best Movie to Transition from Noirvember into the Christmas Season: Remember the Night (1940), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray of Double Indemnity
Best Christmas Movie (tie): Black Christmas (1974) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman trying to enjoy an innocent Christmas party in Eyes Wide Shut.
Creepiest Use of Masks (tie): Black Sunday (1960) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Creepiest Dolls: Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
Carol Lynley visits a doll hospital in Bunny Lake Is Missing.
Top Five Films I Can’t Recommend
The Black Cat
Phantom Ship (The Mystery of the Mary Celeste)
Mac and Me
Sadly, Mac and Me is every bit as bad as it looks in this image.
How many films did you watch at home this year? What was your greatest discovery? What was your favorite rewatch? Let me know in the comment box below.
*The movies I saw or rewatched that were released prior to 2018 include:
2017: Ava, Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats, Beauty and the Beast, Before I Fall, Brigsby Bear, 120 battements par minute (BPM), Coco, Darkest Hour, A Ghost Story, God’s Own Country, It Comes at Night, Landline, Logan Lucky, Maison du bonheur, Molly’s Game, Mudbound, Oscar Shorts: Animated, Oscar Shorts: Live Action, Phantom Thread, The Post, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Queen of the Desert, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Victoria & Abdul
Released prior to 2017: The Accused, The Ace of Hearts, Act of Violence, Ad ogni costo (Grand Slam), The Anderson Tapes, Assault on Precinct 13, The Bad Seed, Barry Lyndon, The Beast with Five Fingers, Beau travail, Bedlam, Ben-Hur (1926), Ben-Hur (1959), The Big Steal, The Black Cat, Black Christmas, Black Sunday, Body Double, Boy, Brighton Rock, Brute Force, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Call Northside 777, Captain America: Civil War, Cat People, César et Rosalie, Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life), Le Clan des Siciliens (The Sicilian Clan), Clash by Night, Cluny Brown, Le Concert (The Concert), Conflict, Cool Hand Luke, Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), Criss Cross, Cry Danger, The Curse of the Cat People, The Dark Mirror, Daughters of the Dust, De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped), Dead Reckoning, Defending Your Life, The Devil Rides Out, Le Dîner de cons (The Dinner Game), Doctor Strange, The Doctor Takes a Wife, Dog Day Afternoon, Donnie Darko, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, L’Eau froide (Cold Water), The End, Eyes Wide Shut, Les Femmes du 6e étage (The Women of the 6th Floor), Fight Club, Finding Vivian Maier, The Fly (1958), Fog Over Frisco, Following, The French Connection, Fuk Sau (Vengeance), Full Metal Jacket, Gap-Toothed Women, Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, The Ghost Ship, The Glass Key, Gosford Park, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai (Triad Election), He Walked by Night, High Sierra, House of Usher, The House on 92nd Street, The Hudsucker Proxy, I Know Where I’m Going!, I Walked with a Zombie, If You Could Only Cook, Impact, In a World…, The Innocents, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Isle of the Dead, It’s a Wonderful World, Johnny Eager, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Kiss of Death, L.627, The Ladykillers, Laugh, Clown, Laugh, The Lavender Hill Mob, Legally Blonde, The Leopard Man, The Letter, The Lineup, A Little Romance, Looker, Mac and Me, The Maggie, Magnolia, The Man in the White Suit, The Man Who Cheated Himself, The Matador, Maverick, Max et les ferrailleurs (Max and the Junkmen), Medicine for Melancholy, Meshes of the Afternoon, Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore (The Seduction of Mimi), Ministry of Fear, Moonstruck, Murder by Death, Murder Party, My Sister Eileen, Mystery Street, Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light), Night of the Demon, A Night to Remember, One A.M., Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac), Orlando, Out of the Fog, Paddington, Phantom Ship (The Mystery of the Mary Celeste), Pleins feux sur l’assassin (Spotlight on a Murderer), Police Python 357, Przypadek (Blind Chance), Pulp Fiction, Quiet Please, Murder, The Racket, Raising Arizona, The Raven, Remember the Night, Ride the Pink Horse, Rings on Her Fingers, Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly), Scarlet Street, 711 Ocean Drive, The Seventh Victim, The Shanghai Gesture, She Wouldn’t Say Yes, The Silent Partner, Six Shooter, Sleeping Beauty, The Sniper, Sliding Doors, Sous le sable (Under the Sand), The Spaghetti West, The Spiral Staircase, Stalker, A Star Is Born (1937), A Star Is Born (1954), A Star is Born (1976), The Stranger, Stranger on the Third Floor, Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystals), Sweet Smell of Success, Tais-toi! (Shut Up!), Taxi Driver, Them!, Theodora Goes Wild, They Drive by Night, The Thing, The Thomas Crown Affair, 3:10 to Yuma, Together Again, Too Many Husbands, Un prophète (A Prophet), Un héros très discret (A Self-Made Hero), Una pura formalità (A Pure Formality), The Uninvited, The Unsuspected, Victoria (In Bed with Victoria), Vincent, François, Paul et les autres, Vivacious Lady, Wanda, Weiner, Went the Day Well?, Where Danger Lives, Whisky Galore!, White Zombie, Wild at Heart, The Woman in the Window, Z, ZIPPER: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride