2011: Favourite new-to-me films

In alphabetical order…

1. Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970)
This under-seen German/English gem by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski belongs with Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) as one of the great European-eyed-views of London. This year’s celebrated restoration made each of Skolimowski’s bold, colourful strokes seem freshly painted.

2. Dr Mabuse, the Gambler [Dr Mabuse, der Spieler] (Fritz Lang, 1922)
At four and a half hours long, this silent crime classic by Fritz Lang, a blueprint for so much that’s come since, was a magnificent wallow. Packed with incident and invention and building slowly to an unforgettable climax, this just pip’s Jean Epstein’s glittering Coeur fidèle (1923) as my favourite silent film experience of a year when I couldn’t get enough early cinema.

3. Equinox Flower [Higanbana] (Yasujiro Ozu, 1958)
It’s famously difficult to tell one of Ozu’s masterpieces from the other. I worked my way through several of them in 2011 and if I now recall the lesser-known Equinox Flower as one of the brightest blooms I put it down to the unusually busy mise-en-scène. For his first film in colour, Ozu takes delight in populating his frame with a kettle here, an Asahi there. If I need to tell this film apart from his others, I’ll know it as ‘the one with the beer bottles.’

4. Gerry (Gus van Sant, 2002)
Made under the sign of Béla Tarr, Gus van Sant’s peripatetic desert drama might easily be dismissed as a hopelessly pretentious piece of hero-worship were it not so completely entrancing. A great American desert film to rank alongside Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.

5. The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah, 1972)
A Peckinpah film I hadn’t seen before, and for some reason I didn’t expect it to be quite so electrifying. Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw are the couple on the run, heading south to the heat of Mexico. Some terrific scenes on the Amtrak and at San Antone station.

6. Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (Maurice Pialat, 1972)
One of my year’s great film adventures was working my way through each of Maurice Pialat’s films, from his brusque debut L’Enfance nue (1968) through to A nos amours (1983), with the rest to come next year. Any one of them could be on this list, with 1980’s Loulou with Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert a particular revelation, but I’ve gone for this less well-known marital drama from 1972 with a splendidly surly performance from Jean Yanne.

7. The Panic in Needle Park (Jerry Schatzberg, 1971)
I wasn’t expecting the raw power of this neglected New Hollywood classic, the second feature by photographer Jerry Schatzberg. A terse, wintry and compassionate New York tale of heroin addiction, with a career-making turn by Al Pacino.

8. Pauline à la plage (Eric Rohmer, 1983)
Balmy August nights spent watching Rohmer’s six Comédies et Proverbes were like a vicarious summer holiday. Apart from Le Rayon vert (which I already knew and loved), my favourite was this casually intricate beachside relationship farce. I could fill this list with other first-viewing Rohmer titles: Le Genou de ClaireConte d’automneLa Femme de l’aviateur…

9. Red Psalm [Még kér a nép] (Miklós Jancsó, 1972)
A formalist, revolutionary Communist-bloc folk musical no less. Miklos Jancso’s 1972 masterpiece was a treat of magnificently orchestrated long takes, dazzling colour and endlessly shifting tableaux. It would make a great double bill with Les Demoiselles de Rochefort – musicals with a living/breathing, mercurial mise en scène. Or even The Wicker Man.

10. La signora di tutti (Max Ophuls, 1934)
An early Ophuls classic, made in Italy, and a film of quite mind-boggling passion and visual invention. Contains intriguing pre-echoes, aesthetically and thematically, of Antonioni’s film starlet melodrama La signora senza camelie (1953), also released by Masters of Cinema this year.

Next ten:

1. Coeur fidèle (Jean Epstein, 1923)
2. 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
3. Early Summer [Bakushu] (Yasujiro Ozu, 1951)
4. Fat City (John Huston, 1972)
5. Le Genou de Claire (Eric Rohmer, 1970)
6. Je t’aime je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)
7. Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980)
8. La Nuit américaine (François Truffaut, 1973)
9. Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985)
10. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)

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