Monday, December 30, 2002

2002: The Best of My Movie-Watching Year

I wrote up over 200 movies on my web log this year and as I glanced over all my reviews to pick my favorites, I easily found almost 50 that I would watch a second time, or recommend to friends. I've tried to narrow this list down to 10 that were my favorite favorites, so to speak. I've noted the year of release and the month in which my review appears on the blog

AIR FORCE (1943/May): I liked this partly because it was the only time that one of my favorite minor supporting players, John Ridgely, got a starring role, but it's also one of the better "soldiers in isolation" war movies of the WWII period.

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950/Dec): One of the first and still one of the best "heist" movies, with good writing, great acting (especially from Louis Calhern & Jean Hagen), and fine noirish direction from John Huston

BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE (1938/March): One of my very favorite screwball comedies, despite some ludicrous plot weaknesses; Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper have great chemistry and get solid support from Edward Everett Horton and a very young David Niven. Sophisticated and witty at the beginning, slapsticky at the end, and fun all the way.

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936/April): Despite the outdated colonialist politics, this is a rousing "Brits in India" film with romance, action, and criminally handsome leading men (Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles). A notch below GUNGA DIN, perhaps, and just a smidge above BEAU GESTE.

CLEOPATRA (1934/Feb): Claudette Colbert was a surprise to me as a sexy and wily Cleopatra and Henry Wilcoxon is very good as Marc Antony. Heads and shoulders above the Elizabeth Taylor version of the 60's (May), although that film wasn't as bad as its reputation had led me to believe.

FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934/Jan): I gained new respect for Clark Gable and Joan Crawford this year, mostly due to their 30's movies, and this one presents them together, showing off good acting and fine romantic chemistry. If you like the two of them, I would also highly recommend STRANGE CARGO (1940/Nov).

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944/March): Possibly my favorite Preston Sturges comedy, with Eddie Bracken as a mild-mannered guy who has been discharged from the Marines due to hay fever; a bunch of real Marines take pity on him and stage a hero's welcome for him in his home town, leading to much farcical misunderstanding.

OSSESSIONE (1943/Nov): Luchino Visconti's take on James Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and more compelling and sexier than the Lana Turner/John Garfield version of a few years later. The French film L'ATALANTE (1934/June) is another surpsisingly sensuous treat.

THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934/March): This was the year I discovered the movies of Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg, and this was my favorite of them, a delirious, almost avant-garde telling of the life of Catherine the Great. The physical look of the movie, from cinematography to set design to costumes, is stunning. Watch it on DVD if you can. I also very much enjoyed two other Dietrich films this year, SONG OF SONGS and DISHONORED.

THE SWIMMER (1968/Sept): An allegorical film about a man's midlife crisis. Burt Lancaster, clad for the entire film in only a pair of swimming trunks, swims through the pools of all of his well-heeled suburban neighbors and confronts some hard truths about his past and present. Occasionally mystifying and not for all tastes, but very interesting and challenging.

I could just as easily have included any of the following in my list: THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, THE GOOD FAIRY, THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (perhaps Robert Young's best performance ever), THE GREAT GARRICK, NORA PRENTISS, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE, THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD, and BLUES IN THE NIGHT. Some I liked mostly for strong supporting performances including DODSWORTH (Mary Astor), THIS LAND IS MINE (George Sanders), THE MIRACLE WOMAN (David Manners), and REMEMBER? (Lew Ayres). I enjoyed the over-the-top performance of Bette Davis in BEYOND THE FOREST, and I very much liked Paul Lukas in STRICTLY DISHONORABLE.

Two very good films I reviewed this year but that I had seen before were MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934/Dec) and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940/Feb). Some fun B-movie discoveries were MY LOVE CAME BACK, THEY MADE HER A SPY, and HOT RHYTHM. Tomorrow, I'll present the worst of the year, and briefly discuss the best and worst of recent movies I saw this year.

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