If new release viewing in 2018 was kept to an all-time low, old films once again came out swinging in spectacular fashion. From going deep into the Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber archives to hitting some key blindspots (De Palma, Fellini, Fassbinder, I’m look at you), this year was a gallery row of cinematic shock and awe. The resulting 10 “New To Me” films listed here gives me further confidence that the future of the movies resides in the past.
Boiling Point (1990)
Japanese provocateur Takeshi Kitano’s second feature is a riotous fusion of offbeat humor, shocking violence, and gangster tropes following a young baseball player who gets in deep with the local yakuza. As a weathered gangster owing a debt to the mob, Kitano himself commands the screen with his stoic gaze and crooked smile, and his film follows suit as a rambling, hilarious, and unpredictable odyssey into the heart of darkness.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
Lotte Reiniger’s pioneering fantasy film based on stories from The Arabian Nights is the oldest surviving animated feature, and it’s a doozy. The combination of manipulated cardboard shadow cutouts, color tinting, and frame by frame animation is mind-boggling, gorgeous, and haunting. The simple collision of sound and imagery has rarely been this tactile, putting most modern 3D animated fare to shame.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)
Peter Greenaway’s operatic satire is literally Brechtian in using every cinematic trick in the book as social metaphor; which includes neon-red lighting, artificial sets, and gaudy costumes. There’s revenge tragedy, cannibalism, and a freewheeling Michael Gambon chewing scenery as an overbearing gangster, but Greenaway’s heightened style and political points regarding tyranny never overwhelm the film’s macabre entertainment value.
Brief Encounter (1945)
David Lean’s swooning adaptation of Noël Coward’s play Still Life is the godfather of illicit romance movies, featuring tremendous performances from Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as doomed lovers after a chance meeting on a train platform. Shrouded in fog, shot in crisp black and white, and enhanced by a lush score, Brief Encounter is a bonafide classic.
The Servant (1963)
Joseph Losey’s The Servant is rarely mentioned in the pantheon of great movies, but it should be. Essentially a chamber drama about a wealthy aristocrat who hires a cockney man-servant, the film is a shrewdly funny, suspenseful, erotic, and wildly unpredictable comedy of manners. Harold Pinter’s acidic dialogue stings, and Dirk Bogarde as the valet who begins pulling the strings, is absolute perfection.
Hi, Mom! (1970)
Brian De Palma crams French New Wave, Hitchcock, and experimental theater into this deceptively complex film which manages three major story threads; all involving a young Robert De Niro playing a Vietnam vet moving through different social environments. What starts as a shambolic comedy morphs into a parody of public television and finally, a socio-political rant about race relations. Daring, hilarious, and unexpected.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece about family, religion, and death is without a doubt one of cinema’s most rigorous works of beauty. As the camera follows members of a poor family dealing with life’s hardships, Dreyer achieves something both austere and intimate; revealing the ways in which religion can provide comfort as well as engender blind zealotry. The ending, meanwhile, is one of the most moving sequences ever put to film.
Fox And His Friends (1975)
One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s crowning achievements, this story of a poor circus worker who is systematically drained of his lottery money by upper class leeches, is a damning encapsulation of social darwinism. Though attacked in some quarters for its depiction of queer culture at the time, Fassbinder’s hardened cynicism about humanity in general, regardless of sexual orientation, is his true aim. Tragic, funny, tender, and unsparing.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
This silent era astonishment from Carl Theodor Dreyer is one of the most starkly emotional and haunting pictures ever made. Following Joan of Arc’s trial right up to her execution, Dreyer uses the art of atmospheric lighting and closeup to startling effect by drawing on Renée Falconetti’s extraordinary central performance. Her face, caught in throes of spiritual epiphany and fearful misery, will linger forever.
Nights of Cabiria (1957)
A naive prostitute roams the underbelly of Rome in search of love in Nights of Cabiria; a sweeping, near spiritual moviegoing experience where director Federico Fellini’s aesthetic gifts are completely at the service of Giulietta Masina’s all-time great central performance. A soul-stirring depiction of a life trapped in stasis, featuring one of cinema’s most heartbreaking final images.