Monday, January 2, 2012

Blind Spots 2012

So, various bloggers I read and like have decided to address various, wait for it, blind spots in their movie viewing in 2012. I consider much of my blog writing an attempt to fill various gaps in knowledge, but I love a good writing meme, and considering how many "must-sees" end up falling through the cracks as I get distracted with other things, perhaps listing 12 here (one per month) will at least commit me to watching some of the movies I tell myself I must see with all haste.

Actress [a.k.a. Centre Stage] (Stanely Kwan, 1992)

I love me some Maggie Cheung, and this film sports what, as far as I've seen, is her most lauded performance. Based on the tragically short life of '30s Chinese film star Ruan Lingyu (whose own seminal film The Goddess I also need to see), Actress got plenty of plaudits, the most prominent of which was Jonathan Rosenbaum listing it among the best films of the '90s.

L'argent (Robert Bresson, 1983)

A) It's Robert Bresson, thus necessitating I see it. B) It's on damn near every serious list of the best films of the '80s, a decade I'm still slowly mapping, cinema-wise.

The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)

I believe it was on Twitter that the Self-Styled Siren (probably the best film writer in the country at the moment) argued for the underrating of William Wyler, furthermore arguing that this movie was the best Best Picture winner ever. I think she meant that literally, but I also got the sense she was speaking in terms of the mental image of a Best Picture winner, a.k.a. a typically middlebrow, easily digestible affair. But if the Siren sees artistry in it, you can be damn sure it's there, and I love the handful of Wylers I've seen.

Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)

Comparisons to Kubrick and a celebrated score by my favorite modern film composer, Alexandre Desplat. I have neglected this for far too long.

Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

Supposedly one of the most unsettling films ever made. Given my preference for horror in the Repulsion vein of disruption and disturbance over jump scares, Nic Roeg's movie should be for me.

Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926)

This has just been a major oversight I've sought to correct for a while. Murnau was perhaps the first poet of the cinema, and I've been looking forward to completing my gaps in his filmography.

Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996)

Another film starring Maggie Cheung, this one by one of my favorite modern directors, Olivier Assayas, and drawing its subject matter at least partially from the director of the next film on my list...

Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1916)

I've only seen short films by Feuillade and found them to be incredible, the perfect balance between Méliès' fantasy and the Lumières' flat documentation. I'd therefore like to check out one of his serials, and I think I'll start with this one, though Les Vampires and the Fantômas series are also priorities.

The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)

Davies Distant Voices, Still Lives is a masterpiece, and this sequel seems to get about as much praise. I figured I'd watch this in anticipation of Davies' new film, The Deep Blue Sea, which toured the festival circuit last year but has yet to get wider release in the States.

Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

The only von Sternberg/Dietrich collaboration I've seen is The Blue Angel, but I have it on good authority from several that this commercially unavailable pairing brings out the best in both of them. Considering how great The Blue Angel is, I can't wait.

Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)

I am deeply ashamed to admit I've never seen any Minnelli film, a problem I hope to rectify in the coming days with my new Blu-Ray of his Meet Me in St. Louis. But while the rest of his acclaimed musicals are also on my to-watch list, I must finally stop neglecting to see this drama, praised to the high heavens by damn near everyone I know and follow who's seen it.

There's Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

Douglas Sirk, maker of hyperstylized Technicolor films, also made equally artistic black and white films, or so I'm told of his four monochrome features. I can't remember where I saw a rave for this but it made me more eager to watch it than even Sirk's Faulkner adaptation The Tarnished Angels, which I may also get around to this year.


  1. Hey Jake -- just wanted to comment on Shanghai Express. You mention it as being commercially unavailable -- while that's true in U.S., there's a pretty good DVD of it in the UK. I got it into my head I needed to see this movie last month and imported the UK DVD -- the picture quality is great, although as I recall there's not much in the way of extras. And it's cheap too -- I got it for £5. So if you have a region-free player, I highly recommend you go that route.

    Regardless, definitely a movie you'll love. The funny thing is I had literally just finished watching Blue Angel for the first time when I pulled up my RSS reader and saw your post. Loved BA, but would probably give the nod to Shanghai between the two.

  2. This is a great list, Jake. It's like the list I would see after I see the 12 I've already listed. I'm glad that Mark Cousins spends some time on the sad story of Ruan Lingyu in his amazing series The Story of Film: An Odyssey. It's how I found out about her, and of Kwan's film, which either is or contains an almost shot-for-shot remake of The Goddess.

    Also, I've owned The Best Years of Our Lives on DVD since you were in short pants, but have yet to watch it. That one really should have made my own list, but I tried to mix it up a bit, and not include too many Hollywood films.

    Good luck with this, it should be fun keeping track of each other's progress!

  3. I watched the movie Birth for the first time four years ago, and I thought it was great. One of my favorite Nicole Kidman performances :)

  4. Why do I have a feeling your addition of Birth was influenced by my recent glowing review of it?

  5. I've only ever seen Faust in a shitty print and still thought it was amazing. Looking forward to finally seeing the Masters of Cinema DVD of it.

  6. Daniel: I don't have a multi-region player, sadly (I want a region-free Blu-Ray player, but every time I check they're still too expensive. I think I can track down the film in digital format easily enough, though.

    James: I tried to mix mine up too, though I've skewed toward some classic Hollywood. I wanted to add something of Hong Sang-soo and Eric Rohmer, but those two are more general "Just watch SOMETHING" so I decided not to just pick one at random.

    Meghan/Carson/Anna: I've been meaning to watch it for about two years now. Really looking forward to it.

    James1511:MoC gives me such incentive to buy a region-free player, and it makes me all the sadder I can't afford one.

  7. Good list, Jake. Don't Look Now is really something, unsettling is a great word for it.

    And Irma Vep is one of my favorites, just a remarkable movie in every way. I mean, I could watch Maggie Cheung do pretty much anything for two hours, so that doesn't hurt, but there's much more to it than that. It's one of the great meta movies.

  8. I joined the fray as well Jake and I've actually already watched one of my 12 (nothing written up yet though). Normally, I've seen a good chunk of other people's 12, but I've only seen 3 of yours. Actress and Shanghai Express are high on my list of REALLY want to see, but Best Years Of Our Lives just never seems to bubble up anywhere near the top - I guess I should see it, but I've never felt compelled to, ya know?

    I adore Irma Vep. I'll admit - like Ed stated - I could watch Maggie Cheung on the Home Shopping Network and be happy, but there's a great deal of fun and ideas about movie making wrapped up in this. Maggie is so incredibly charming and wonderful, though, that you might not notice the first time through it.

  9. Bob, looking forward to see what you think of your own picks!