Favorite "new to me" films seen in 2016

Even though new releases dominated my movie-watching experience in 2016, I took it upon myself to venture into the realm of older films more stridently than in year's past. This led me down various cinematic avenues, including zeroing in on many Criterion Collection titles as well as the entire filmography of Orson Welles. The resulting ten "new to me" favorites represented here range from masterpiece status to excellent, giving me even more hope that the future of film may very well reside in the past.


Death by Hanging (1968)

Nagisa Oshima's scathing satire about the validity of the death penalty is also a provocative indictment of Japanese hatred toward the Korean community. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white with documentary-esque style, Death by Hanging is surreal, funny, and troubling in equal measure.


A Report on the party and the guests (1966)

A damning allegory of nationalism which was banned in Czechoslovakia upon its release, Jan Nemec's disturbing comedy pits a group of hapless picnickers against an authoritarian tyrant during his birthday celebration. Packs more subtext into its 71 minutes than most films manage in twice the length.


Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Seijun Suzuki's neo-noir masterwork lays down a basic gangster narrative and then riffs like free-jazz all over the place. Beautiful splashes of color, jagged editing, absurdist action sequences, and some really cool smoking make this an unclassifiable wonder. 


F for Fake (1973)

Orson Welles's final film reinforces the idea of cinema as stunt, posing as faux-documentary about the nature of authorship. An intoxicating mosaic of fourth-wall breaking, rapid-fire editing, and montage that finds Welles in a delightfully playful mood.


Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Brian De Palma's strange and strangely endearing mishmash of pop and Faust is the ultimate cult rock opera (sorry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this one came first). Kitschy musical numbers, split screens, nods to Hitchcock, and of course, elaborate tracking shots make this an absolute blast.


MacBeth (1948)

Orson Welles's most fully realized and idiosyncratic of his Shakespeare adaptations, MacBeth follows the standard narrative of the famous play, but upends expectations with a nightmarish, gothic, almost sci-fi vision of another world.


Brewster McCloud (1970)

A zany comedy about a strange man-boy living inside the Houston Astrodome who dreams of flying like a bird....or something. Robert Altman's absurdist in-joke uses overlapping dialogue, long takes, a comically slow car chase, and detective Frank Shaft's glowing blue eyes to hilarious effect.


The Tin Drum (1979)

12 year-old actor David Bennett gives a chillingly aggravating performance as a never-aging child who witnesses decades of German history in Volker Schlondorff's art-house version of Problem Child.  A sprawling, funny, thematically troubling, and altogether brilliant adaptation of Gunter Grass's novel.


Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

A mesmeric rumination on the life of Japanese author Yukio Mishima which uses a traditional biopic structure and then combines it with an unconventional visualization of his writings. Paul Schrader's directorial magnum opus is an extraordinary formal achievement. 


Hearts and Minds (1974)

Peter Davis's monumental snapshot of the Vietnam War is essential viewing because it not only demythologizes America's shameful involvement in the war, but also becomes an empathetic statement regarding how and why hatred for the "other" exists. Emotionally devastating and intellectually profound.