Today's guest post is from producer/executive Michael Jackson.
This is another of my annual lists dedicated to the proposition that this is the best time ever to see great films, if not - alas - to get them made. In the comfort and safety of your own home the combination of Netflix/Lovefilm, dvd's and TCM allows for the best ever - self programmed - repertory cinema.
These are all films I saw this year - not 'classics' or much written about, but all of which I found intriguing or fun or fascinating. Hopefully you'll find something you'll be happy to have seen in the following:
1. There's Always Tomorrow. (Douglas Sirk 1956). Maybe my favorite discovery of the year from the king of melodrama, Douglas Sirk. This reunites the stars of Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray and Barbra Stanwyck. He's a toy manufacturer trapped in conformist fifties family life with Joan Bennett and numerous annoying children, she's the other woman, with a successful fashion career. Uniquely for the time no-one is cast as the guilty party but everyone is trapped in the LA sunshine. It's great as drama, social history - and California architecture.
2. Moonrise. (Frank Borzage 1948). I stumbled on this obscurity from the forties by accident. It's 'about' a murderer's son driven to violence by others refusing to forgive his heritage, and the story is perfectly fine, the acting less so. What makes it compelling is the richness and emotion of the studio based film-making. Watching Moonrise is like living in a parallel dream world. If you like this try Borzage's exquisite color adaptation of A Farewell to Arms from 1933.
3. Revanche. (Gutz Spielmann 2008). Riveting hard edged twisty drama about two couples caught up in a fatal bank robbery and full of guilt, revenge - and, surprisingly, redemption. It has the distinction, like one of this years best films, A Prophet, of taking you to dark places yet by the end leaving you feeling better about the world.
4. Melvin and Howard. (Jonathan Demme 1980). The 'true' story of the milkman who picks up a grouchy hobo in the Nevada desert, who turns out to be Howard Hughes. Eight years later he inherits the Hughes fortune - or not. Subtle, funny, beautifully made, and perfectly judged film about living on the wrong side of the tracks and perpetually hoping for something more.
5. Welcome. (Philippe Lioret 2009). One of those effortlessly effective and moving French films that mixes emotional angst with current events. A Kurdish refugee is trapped in Calais, tantalizingly close to his girlfriend in London. He decides to escape by swimming across the channel. A local swimming instructor decides to help him.
6. The Phenix City Story. (Phil Karlson 1955). Supposedly based on the true story of an Alabama town which has been totally corrupted by organized crime. A few brave citizens try to clean it up. Newsreel crossed with noir and incredibly visceral and tense - it ought to be much better known.
7. Night Train to Munich. (Carol Reed 1940). Uniquely British wartime comedy thriller from the same writers as The Lady Vanishes. A beautiful woman, a spy, a train and the incomparable cricket obsessed British buffoons Charters and Caldicott.
8. Disgrace. (Steve Jacobs 2008). Intelligent undervalued adaptation of the J. M. Coetzee novel set in post apartheid South Africa with a very watchable John Malkovich at his surly best as a disgraced university lecturer.
9. His Kind of Woman. (John Farrow 1951). Mia's father was a handy actor turned director (The Big Clock) but this is in a league of its own. A surreal thriller with Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell and a hilarious Vincent Price, from producer Howard Hughes. It's said that much of it was made up in production - if so more films should be...
10. A Way of Life. (Amma Asante 2004). Anyone who's seen a Ken Loach film will be familiar with the backstreet life of this Welsh set drama about a group of teenagers which starts with a brutal killing of an immigrant and then flashes back to work out the reasons why. It could be utterly predictable but actually carries a genuine punch.
11. Who is Harry Nillson? (John Scheinfeld 2010). All the cliches of the rock life are encapsulated in this documentary but this is so well told you forget you've heard the story a thousand times before. And then there's the music.
12.The Prowler (Joe Losey 1950). Losey was famously blacklisted and want to England to make art house favourites like the Harold Pinter scripted The Servant and Accident. This is different but just as good. A cop is called to investigate a prowler, falls for a lonely wife and murders the husband.
13. Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (Felix Moeller 2009). Some thirties German directors like Dougas Sirk (see film no 1) fled to Hollywood and became some of the greats of film making, Viet Harlan stayed and made the most notorious anti-semitic film ever made. What makes this documentary fascinating is that most of the interviewees are Harlan's children and grandchilden, and their sometimes evasive comments - and beautiful home decor - are fascinating.
14. The Maid (Sebastian Silva 2008). A sly satire of a maid and the bourgeois Chilean family she works for. One of my favorite films this year.
15. Late August, Early September. (Olivier Assayas 1999). Seeing the terrific Carlos made me track back to Assayas' other films, hence this revealing and watchable Parisian twenty something relationship drama set over one year. An eighteen year old actress in the movie went on to become Assayas' partner and a director - see film 16.
16. The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen Love 2009). Drama based on an actual film producer colleague of Hansen's who fears bankruptcy and commits suicide. The film tells his story and tracks the effects of his death on his wife and daughters. A film in love with both film-making and family.
Happy New Year.
Michael Jackson is a New York based British tv and internet executive and producer who has worked for the BBC, Channel Four, Universal and IAC and recently produced The Genius of Photography for the BBC and The Story of US for the History Channel.