Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorite Old Movies Seen in 2011

A friend of mine on Twitter @bobfreelander, who loves making lists on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, each year makes a Best of Year End List but instead of being comprised of the Favorite New Movies within a given year, it is a list comprised of the Favorite Old Movies he's seen for the first time in a given year. For instance your friends have always scoffed at how you've never seen "Deliverance" so you finally decide to see it and you love it like everyone else has always raved. That film would count for consideration on this particular Favorite Old Movies Year End List. Being an avid movie watcher, I loved the sound of this idea so I went ahead and copycatted Mr. @bobfreelander (with his blessing of course). Within 2011 I watched 492 movies, 268 of those movies were first time watches, and 122 of those titles could be considered under the stipulations listed above for my own Favorite Old Movies Seen in 2011 list.

45% percent of the films on this list were seen within the friendly confines of Los Angeles's New Beverly Cinema. A majority of which were also seen during Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. A month long celebration where Tarantino programs a number of his favorite films. This year the event climaxed with a special week long engagement of Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair" uncut as one thrilling movie. Okay, okay, enough of the setup; here's my Favorite 20 Old Movies Seen in 2011:

20. Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
At some point last year, I saw the trailer for this Robert Blake film and knew I just had to see it. From the trailer the film looks like a soft core for motorcycle police. The opening of the film, even goes out of its way to give the audience an extended suit up sequence with homo-eroticism on display. Plus a line-up all before the bike cops ride off on their designated patrols. Once the drama settles in however, it is apparent that 'Electra Glide' isn't just a movie about how great a Harley Davidson is, this film had something to say about the era. It looks at stereotypes and pits the "good guys" in a darker light then you'd expect from the trailer. The main character, John Wintergreen wonderfully played by Robert Blake, doesn't connect with the other officers who badger and harass locals in the rural Arizona town. He's sees himself as an outsider and I really connected with the character study the film took on. I expected a motorcycle enthusiast film and got that plus a well developed drama underneath that takes a stark look at society during the 70's.

19. Stone (1974)
This is "Point Break" twenty years before its time, except instead of revolving around surfing, it is pure motorcycle erotica. A dated Aussie biker movie that follows a cop who goes undercover and joins a bikie gang The Grave Diggers, that are being killed off one-by-one by an unknown assassin. While the film has a loose structure or plot to carry it along, the film really is an honest depiction and appreciation of bikie gangs in Australia. Plus a heaping pile of riding footage. The film includes a ton of thrilling stunts but I really loved all the electric POV motorcycle riding. The film is pretty rough around the edges, but the director Sandy Harbutt nailed the brotherhood of a biker gang. You can read my full review of "Stone" here.

18. 100 Rifles (1969)
Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown and Raquel Welch a cast that just smolders sex appeal for both men and women. I'm a sucker for the western genre and have been trying to catch up on all the old westerns I've never seen when then this title popped up on Netflix Watch-Instantly reminding me how much I wanted to see it. I'd also heard there is a scene with Raquel Welch showering and as lowly and chauvinistic as it is, that was a major driving force in seeing this film. Ok, enough testimonial, 100 Rifles is a solid western with a ton of chemistry between the studded cast. Reynolds has always been a charmer and here is no different. His sarcastic exchanges with Jim Brown are a riot and kept a smile on my face throughout. As for Welch, she is stunning as always and the shower sequence was definitely wet! 100 Rifles isn't the best western by any means, but its a fun ride and well deserving of a spot in this list.

17. Charley-One-Eye (1973)
A survival and friendship tale told through very peculiar means. The film follows an African American who is on the run from a bounty hunter and runs into a Native American. The two strangers travel together across the desert in search of water and shelter. The drama is pretty abstract and goes out of its way to put the audience through the experience but its actual weight comes in the stark look at racism during the late 1800s in America. This film also houses a poignant metaphor of how all men crave normalcy and have aspirations through use of a chicken, yeah, a chicken. Read my full thoughts on "Charley-One-Eye" here.

16. Johnny Firecloud (1975)
A harrowing revenge set in Arizona that follows a Native American returning from Vietnam to find his town overrun with racists. The film is uncomfortable with all of the racism going on, which is kind of a good thing. It is important Americans look back at how cruel we were, this movie is a neon sign of racism towards Native Americans during the 70s and is something we should be aware and ashamed about. The film isn't all just enduring racism though, because there is a tipping point and when it happens you are treated to an onslaught of violence at the hands of one Johnny Firecloud. Most of the kills are blatant stereotypes of Native American practices but they still are pretty damn fun to watch unfold. Lastly, I gotta mention one line of dialogue that I just can't wipe from my memory banks, EVER. "Sooner or later we are gonna tangle assholes." The craziest fighting words I have ever heard. For more on "Johnny Firecloud" checkout my full write-up here.

15. The Last American Hero (1973)
A racing movie set in the south with a fresh-faced Jeff Bridges behind the wheel. The Last American Hero is an inspiring story about a bootleg runner who turns to circuit racing trying to find a legal means of keeping a roof over his family's head. Watching this movie it is clear that Bridges has always had his charm. Whether he is behind the wheel or not Bridges shows off why he is a Hollywood icon. One disappointment about this film is the thrill of the racing sequences. When Bridges is bootlegging and evading the authorities, I've got no complaints, but once confined into a circuit race track all the thrill was lost. Much of this can be blamed on the cinematography that never really gives the audience a clear understanding of the stakes of the race. Positioning, cars bumping, the lay of the track, instead we get a multitude of close-ups of Jeff Bridges and the other racers faces. Complaints aside,  The Last American Hero is a memorable ride. Bridges and the rest of the fully loaded cast all shine in a genuine picture of the south during the 70's. You can read my full reaction on "The Last American Hero" here.

14. The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious (1976)
Three badass fighters on display for 90 minutes of pure unadulterated martial arts. Well, maybe not totally unadulterated, but really really close. The great Tommy Lee put together all of the choreography seen throughout and each fighter/actor really does a excellent job of displaying his strong-suit. Don Wong with his dynamic punching ability and Tao-liang Tan showing off his incredible leg strength. The story is pretty cut and paste, a mother is murdered and vengeance will be had but one extreme high point is the most hilarious torture sequence I have ever seen. Read my full rundown on "The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious" here.

13. Black Belt Jones (1974)
While talking about "Black Dynamite" with some friends Black Belt Jones came up and I embarrassingly revealed that I had not seen it. I was given the look of shame by the group along with a wagging of the finger, which promoted me to track down the Blaxploitation action film. How had I gone thirty plus years of my life not seeing this glorious piece of cinema I don't know! I had been deprived, but thankfully I now know the legitimacy of Black Belt Jones and his hilarity. The opening of the film is a perfect mood setter. The soundtrack is a classic 70's groove written by Dennis Coffey that is sure to get your toes tapping. I love the freeze frame editing within the opening as well, it showcases our main character in a light that gears the audience up for the rest of the film. As for the rest of the film, short and sweet. There's nothing new to storyline just loads and loads of good laughs and hilarious action.

12. The Mechanic (1972)
The remake to this Charles Bronson film was about to release last year when I realized, I'd not seen the original. Luckily, Netflix had it up on Watch-Instantly and I settled in for some Bronson-style wet work. Bronson is, like always, spot on as the hired gun. Bronson just has the stoic sense of masculinity that really worked in roles like this. The first thing anyone will notice watching this for the first time is its lack of dialogue. The thriller has zero talking for the first sixteen minutes, just Bronson's character Arthur Bishop setting up one of his jobs. The audience see how precise Bishop is at his work, which is all setup for the cat and mouse game that plays out for the rest of the film. The opening of The Mechanic cleverly sets up that Bishop will always have the foresight to think a couple steps ahead. Bronson creates in Bishop an iconic character that can go down as one of the better hit-men in a long list of assassins in cinema. Truthfully, this is easily one of my favorite Charles Bronson movies, one I watched three times last year.

11. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Outside of his new release "The Ward" last year, this was the last remaining John Carpenter movie I had not seen. Carpenter is a director/storyteller I adore and scratching this title off my must see list was an enjoyable one. First off, Carpenter is known for his scores and Assault on Precinct 13 is another magical piece of music that really helps to drive the action-thriller along. As far as the film goes, edge of your seat white knuckle thrills all set in nearly one location, absolutely brilliant! Carpenter really knows how to build tension and Assault is just another wonderful example of that. If you've never seen this Carpenter classic, make haste and see it!

10. Fandango (1985)
At the beginning of the year I told myself I wanted to have a 24-hour marathon of Kevin Costner movies. I've always been a fan and a defender of Costner's films, yes, even the ones most people hate like "The Postman" and "Waterworld." Anyways most of this marathon I wanted to be a select few titles of Costner I'd not seen or films I'd only seen once. So I selected about thirteen titles to watch and had about five or six alternates ready to go so if on a whim I felt like watching something different. So yeah about nineteen titles to choose from, anyways kicking off the marathon I went with one of Costner's films I'd never seen Fandango.  Told in a day in the life format, the film follows a group of friends after graduating college in late 60's and decide to take off on a short adventure. Along the way we learn that each of the friends had gone to college to avoid going to Vietnam and now that they'd graduated they would have to join the war. Let me just say that Fandango is a great friendship movie and the backdrop of the Vietnam war gives the film some poignant emotions to chew on. What it must have been like to have that weight on your shoulders. Outside of the heavy and controversial war storyline, Fandango is really a barrel of laughs too. Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson really plays off each other in excellent fashion. This was a rising start to my 24-hour Costner Marathon and a film I will definitely be watching again and again.

9. Fish Story (2009)
Yoshihiro Nakamura is a director you should all be aware of. He is a director that is currently creating continual powerful cinema. Fish Story is one of two movies of his I watched in 2011 both of which are incredible. The other film is actually a new release (Golden Slumber) so it doesn't qualify but Fish Story is available on Netflix Watch-Instantly and I highly recommend you watch it. The film is kind of complicated to explain but the gist is a Japanese rock band wrote a song called "Fish Story" and this song will save the world. I know, it sounds far fetched, but it really is a one of a kind film. I don't want to run off some explanation of the film because it will spoil the fun of it. All you need to know is it is well worth your time and by the end of it you will be singing the song along with the movie.

8. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)
I've seen "Shogun Assassin" and "Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death" a bunch growing up but I'd never seen the original source material. Shogun Assassin is the English language dubbed version of 'Lone Wolf and Cub' and decided it was time I sat down and watch the original films in the entire Lone Wolf and Cub series. There are six movies and 'Sword of Vengeance', the first, is by and large my favorite of all six movies. One thing remains constant throughout these films is the love a father has for his son. While most of these movies are heavy handed with ridiculous violence, there is a softer side to them, one that really pushes my parental emotions. Of course the violence is a blast to watch and Tomisaburo Wakayama wielding his samurai sword will always continue to be cheer educing. Wakayama is so iconic as hired assassin who tows his son around wherever he goes. Some mention must also be made of Akihiro Tomikawa who plays the child. While he isn't given much to do, the little guy sure pulls his weight on screen. One of these years I'd like to buy a definitive set of the 'Lone Wolf and Cub' series, it is a piece of cinematic history that belongs on any action/martial-arts fan shelf.

7. The Driver (1978)
Walter Hill is a damn good director that has made a number of films I cherish. Last year, during Edgar Wright's Wright Stuff II at the New Beverly he programmed a driving double feature including Walter Hill's "The Driver" and Steven Spielberg's "Duel." As for the evening, it included a sensational Q&A with Walter Hill himself after watching his Noir crime thriller about a nameless driver that has never been caught. The Driver is a quiet thriller, one that probably not everyone will enjoy. Much like this year's film "Drive" (which was clearly influenced by Walter Hill's classic) the movie is not overloaded with action. It is deliberately paced and takes it time building the tension between a wheel-man who has never been caught and a cop hellbent on catching him. That said, the action that is within is precise and electric. If you loved "Drive" this year and haven't seen Walter Hill's "The Driver," make it a priority.

6. Midnight Run (1988)
Described to me as possibly the best action-comedy of all time left this title in some mighty big shoes to fill and me constantly hesitating to watch it in fear of not liking it. Well, its placement in the list is a dead giveaway I finally broke down and watched. While I wouldn't call it the best action-comedy, Midnight Run is a definitely a worth considering. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin play off each other like so many of the other great comedic tandems. In retrospect, it is a shame that these two didn't work more together. Not in a crappy sequel or anything but just another movie, like how Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor continually worked together. Perhaps the on screen chemistry, was just that on screen only, leaving De Niro and Grodin to not hit it off in real life. Who knows, back to the film, I can safely say this is the best bounty hunter action-comedy I have ever seen. The movie itself is pretty standard, but the performances are so good they elevate the film into a different territory, a territory that easily landed Midnight Run a spot on the list.

5. Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)
This midnight movie is a erotic delight full of surprises that I totally loved. The film basically starts off by taking the inner-sexual thought process of a teenage boy and projects it on to the big screen for all to see. On the surface 'Maids' seems like a film that was just made to feature tons of hot women in revealing clothing or no clothing at all, but it really has a lot more going on that is better left untold. Let it be known that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote the script, and its nothing to mistake as some cheap midnight smut. Read my full breakdown of "Pretty Maids All in a Row" here.

4. Sheitan (2006)
Over the summer Reel Grit, a weekly screening group I belong to, planned a 12 hour marathon titled; Reel Grit: From Dusk Till Dawn. Plan was to watch 6 genre titles across 12 hours and luckily it went off without a hitch. Smack dab in the middle of the marathon was this French horror gem starring Vincent Cassel. Directed by Kim Chapiron, Sheitan follows a group of twenty-somethings who end up at a strange farmhouse out in the french countryside after clubbing at a disco in the city. This horror threw me and the rest of the Reel Grit crowd for a loop. It is imaginative, provocative, spliced with comedy and horrific through and through, not to mention the unanimous winner of the marathon. This is a film that is best left knowing as little as possible about and just watching. Allowing the movie to lead you along the path it intends. To its strength, this is a horror film that doesn't really compel the audience to question the motives or actions, instead it flows really well and just happens. Last I checked, this title was still available via Netflix Watch-Instantly, so have at it! A movie you are likely never to forget.

3. Branded to Kill (1967)
If a movie is within The Criterion Collection, chances are its a good movie. Clearly, I jest. Film lovers know that anything under the Criterion banner has some form of cinematic quality worth appreciating. Over my years I have always tried to watch as many of the Criterion titles as I could. I'll admit I have not seen all of them. There are a number I need to see and Branded to Kill was one at the top of my list for a couple of reasons but mainly because it revolves around the Japanese Yakuza. This is a film I'd heard about since college. Always branded with, "you've never seen Branded to Kill?" as if the film was handed down to every child at birth to watch. Being a film that was heavily built up over years, I have to say it is a magnetic film that wears its acclaim in tremendous fashion. Joe Shishido is perfect as Goro Hanada, the Number Three Killer. You can see film noir's influence all over Branded to Kill while the film also steps out on a limb and becomes very avant garde creating its own wave of influence. Seeing this movie having watched so many of the films that were influenced by it added to the enjoyment of this watch. It is like looking into the past and seeing what inspired some of my current favorite filmmakers.

2. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
This flick is easily in the Top 5 of Best Romantic Comedies ever. Director and writer Paul Mazursky delivers a realistic and humorist look into relationships. The film is dated to the late 1960's when American amoral society was changing but all of the themes and topics still hold water in today's relationships. This movie is utterly honestly and hilarious. It houses some of the funniest martial sequences I've seen, sequences that anyone who has gone through a lengthy relationship has endured. It is provocative, whimsical but it never pull any punches, it is one of the best, if not the best film Paul Mazursky has directed. Read my full review of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" here.

1. Dark of the Sun (1968)
The best men-on-a-mission movie I have ever seen, period. A true classic with heart-throb male leads, edge of your seat action and stunts, an infectious score that will leave you humming, and outstanding moments of comedic relief. Dark of the Sun is overall just a powerhouse of a movie. It is a sin that Warner Archive has not released this film to Blu-Ray. Rod Taylor and Jim Brown just drip of charm throughout meanwhile they take on dangerous stunts one after the other making today's "action stars" look like cheap impressions of these true action stars. Dark of the Sun is a film I can't recommend enough, track it down and see it. Checkout my full write-up on "Dark of the Sun" here.

So there you have it, started this list thinking I'd only talk about 10 films, but I just had to make it 20 because they were all worth sharing.


Nice list. I have also made a list of favorite old movies This was the last in a series of posts about them.