One of my main goals for 2017 was to watch more older films than new releases; a task which took me down obsessive rabbit holes searching for the kind of shock and awe only cinema can provide. Focusing in on The Criterion Collection and blindspots from filmmakers like Spike Lee, Bruno Dumont, and Francis Ford Coppola, 2017 was a year filled with genuine surprises and masterpiece-level discoveries. The resulting 15 "new to me" films listed here gives me hope that the future of cinema very well may reside in the past.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
A woman survives a car crash, takes a job as an organist, and begins having bizarre visions in Herk Harvey's low budget exploitation picture which feels like a prime influence on George A. Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead. Groovy undead makeup, a killer organ score, and zombie slow-dancing makes this a macabre horror classic.
Jim Jarmusch's quietly meditative masterpiece concerns a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) who writes poetry, but has minor ambitions as an artist. A film about the creative process that actually takes the time to consider the slow pull of time; marked by the ordinary details happening on the fringes of life that often go unnoticed.
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Humprey Bogart delivers a complex, towering performance as washed up screenwriter Dixon Steele in Nicholas Ray's noir chamber drama; which initially feels like a mystery thriller concerning the murder of a young hat-check girl, but eventually reveals itself as more fundamentally concerned with irrational male delusion. Bleak and brilliant.
3 Women (1977)
Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule star as the titular "3 women" whose different personalities clash, interlock, and merge in Robert A;tman's wholly original psychodrama/dark comedy. Altman claimed he thought up the film after a dream, and the results are one of the most haunting films about identity ever made.
One More Time with Feeling (2016)
In July 2015, Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, died after falling off a cliff in England. Director Andrew Dominick, shooting in black-and-white with 3D cameras, taps into the way grief paralyzes as Cave records the Bad Seeds album, Skeleton Tree following the tragedy. A probing, raw, and heart-wrenching act of creation as catharsis.
Polarizing auteur Bruno Dumont's dissection of how the human body is abused and discarded is a rigorous work obsessed with ideas of morality, desire, and the link between sex and violence. The central plot follows an emotionally vacant investigator seeking answers to the murder of an 11-year-old girl; but Dumont isn't interested in plot, but in process.
Play Time (1967)
Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) and a group of American tourists repeatedly cross paths during a single 24-hour period in this masterful, nearly wordless example of mis en scene. Shot in glorious 70mm with ingenious compositions and visual gags, Play Time is like observing a master builder set up his architectural playground and then watching the dominoes fall.
Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters (2006)
Canadian cult weirdo Guy Maddin's singular melodrama is shot mostly in black & white; with vintage pop-culture iconography, silent movie tropes, and avant garde editing. Memories have never been this nightmarish or perversely funny.
I Vitelloni (1953)
Federico Fellini’s second solo directorial effort is a semi-autobiographical tale of five young men drifting through their hometown which both satirizes and embraces male arrested development. Rich characterizations, alluring atmosphere, and bleak/funny neo-realism is at the forefront, but its Fellini looking honestly at Italy's post-war issues, that really lingers.
A young man obsessed with the occult stumbles through a small town cursed by a vampire in Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer's baffling and enigmatic Gothic classic. Astounding tracking shots, erie juxtapositions, and double exposure optical effects makes this one of the most terrifying horror films ever made.
Seven Beauties (1975)
Lina Wertmuller's audacious farce is one of the most unlikely Oscar nominees ever; a fractured epic about egotistical fool Pasquali (a monumental Giancarlo Giannini) shambling through Italian history. Dismembered pimps, totalitarianism, whip-carrying female Nazi commandants, and the Holocaust all factor in; with Wertmuller deftly straddling wacky comedy with stark drama.
Two men leave their wives to pursue their own obsessions, but Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece is no ordinary morality play. Instead, the film touches on wartime tragedy, dissects the male ego, and emerges as a powerful ghost story like no other. Ugetsu may be set in 16th-century Japan, but its themes are not bound by any time or place.
Read Beard (1965)
Akira Kurosowa's deeply felt story of a 19th century doctor (played by the great Toshiro Mifune) and his young pupil is a daringly intimate epic. Most startling is the film's lack of cynicism; with Kurosawa championing the goodness of humanity, even as tragic events occur throughout. Compassionate, human, and sweeping,
Fists in the Pocket (1965)
Marco Bellocchio's mesmerizing debut is the all-time dysfunctional family movie; a twisted, darkly funny takedown of bourgeoisie values and Catholic morality. This is a film about young male rage and pent-up angst, with Swedish actor Lou Castel delivering a tour de force as the antihero, Alessandro. Bellocchio, meanwhile, shoots everything with explosive style.
Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren's astonishing silent short combines avant-garde editing, dance choreography, and gender issues to formulate a master thesis on feminine strength. Throughout, Deren's camera captures women in various states-- content, playful, confused, fearful--while statuesque men attempt to pursue as a means of possession. Dreamlike and shockingly contemporary.