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Discoveries in Film 2023

Due to many life events (two surgeries, losing our beloved pastor and others in our church, my upcoming retirement from the library, and more) I saw very few movies in 2023, under 200, a very low count for me. Although the number was low, I watched several films that will no doubt stick with me forever. Films are listed in the order of their release.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) Wallace Worsley

Filmed/animated at least a dozen times, the Victor Hugo novel seems to be perpetually with us, and that’s just fine with me. When people debate which version is superior, they’re usually discussing the 1939 version with Charles Laughton as the Hunchback or this 1923 version with Lon Chaney. I love both of them, but give me Chaney. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a tremendous 4K restoration and a superb audio commentary by Farran Smith Nehme.

The Blue Angel (1930) Josef von Sternberg

People who know far more than I do have written about Marlene Dietrich (here in her first sound picture), her relationship with director Josef von Sternberg (here in their first of seven collaborations), and how Dietrich’s rise coincided with the fall of costar Emil Jannings in this his last great film. The story of The Blue Angel is as old as time itself: an upstanding intellectual (Jannings) falling for an alluring dancehall girl (Dietrich). The film was shot simultaneously in German and English, both appearing on the 2013 Kino Lorber Blu-ray.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951) Robert Bresson

Bresson is a director who has fascinated me ever since I saw A Man Escaped (1956) more than ten years ago. Although he only made 13 feature-length films, seven of them made the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll of the 250 greatest films ever made. (And you’ll find another Bresson film on my list.) Claude Laydu (in his screen debut) plays a young priest assigned to his first parish in a small village in northern France. Sickly and somewhat reclusive by nature, the young man finds himself scorned and ridiculed by his parishioners as he attempts to faithfully fulfill his duties. A painful movie to watch, primarily due to Laydu’s tremendous performance. I viewed the film on the Criterion Channel, and it is currently unavailable on a U.S. Blu-ray.

All That Heaven Allows (1955) Douglas Sirk

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’m becoming more and more amenable to melodrama, especially melodrama done well as it is here with All That Heaven Allows. The way Sirk reveals his characters, the way he uses color to show all the different shades and hues of each player shows us facets of not only the leads, but also the supporting characters. It’s the story of a wealthy widow (Jane Wyman) and her younger gardener (Rock Hudson). Their relationship earns them scorn, disapproval, and in some cases rejection from the widow’s neighbors, friends, and children. Man, I’m a sucker for this movie… Originally viewed on an old library discard DVD, purchased on Blu-ray from Criterion.

Floating Weeds (1959) Yasujirō Ozu

I wrote a bit about this tremendous film back in July, watching it on the Criterion Channel. Criterion, when are you going to put this (and the 1934 silent version, A Story of Floating Weeds, available only on DVD) on Blu-ray?

Will Penny (1967) Tom Gries

If you don’t like Charlton Heston (and I know many of you don’t), you might just like Will Penny. This Western provides Heston the opportunity to lose himself and his cadenced line delivery present in all his other films to let the title character come through, allowing the audience to forget that they’re watching Heston rather than a believable character. Will Penny, an unremarkable cowpoke whose best years are behind him, takes a job which makes few demands on him other than keeping trespassers or squatters off of his boss’s property. When he finds a woman (Joan Hackett) and her young son hiding out there, he’s faced with a tough decision, which should be easy since the woman despises Penny.

The film boasts a tremendous supporting cast: Donald Pleasence, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Lee Majors, Anthony Zerbe, William Schallert, Luke Askew, and more. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is tremendous with an excellent audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972) Paul Newman

I know, the title’s a mouthful and most audiences in 1972 probably left theaters thinking, “What in the world was that all about?” What they missed was a powerhouse performance by Joanne Woodward as Beatrice Hunsdorfer, a middle-aged widow with two daughters Ruth (Roberta Wallach (daughter of Eli Wallach) and Matilda (Nell Newman, daughter of Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward, billed as Nell Potts). Ruth, a rebellious girl who is also epileptic, and Matilda, extremely intelligent but lost in idealism, are both trying to make sense of the world living with a mother who can’t even make sense of herself. It’s a tremendous, mostly forgotten film that you should see. If you’re put off by the title, it makes sense when you see the film. What you do with it after that is up to you. I watched it on the Indicator (Region B) Blu-ray.

Cries and Whispers (1972) Ingmar Bergman

My friend Bilgesu encouraged me to watch this Bergman classic that I’ve somewhat avoided for years, thinking (1) it’s too daunting emotionally and (2) I wouldn’t understand it. (1) is true: it is daunting, but (2) is not, at least not totally. I’m going to save my comments for my discussion with my friend, but this is a tremendous film. I watched it on the Criterion Blu-ray, part of the massive Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema box set.

L’Argent (1983) Robert Bresson

Bresson’s final film, made over 30 years after Diary of a Country Priest. A young man being denied an advance on his allowance sets into motion a chain of events that will taint the lives of everyone connected with him. The plot is simple, yet the examination of human nature and the consequences of actions is presented with a stark brutality that becomes more apparent and powerful as you reflect on the film. Watched from a library discard, which I snatched up immediately.

Ran (1985) Akira Kurosawa

Why did it take me so long to watch this epic masterpiece from Kurosawa? There’s much more to this film than a simple description such as “Shakespeare’s King Lear in 16th century Japan,” but hopefully that’s enough to get you started. Absolutely spectacular in every way. I viewed it on the Studio Canal Blu-ray.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) John Hughes

I watched this movie on a plane during the Thanksgiving holiday. No lie.

After Dark, My Sweet (1990) James Foley

Based on the Jim Thompson novel of the same name, After Dark, My Sweet is a terrific noir with superb performances, which are crucial in understanding how the film plays out and its character motivations. As Bruce Dern mentions in one of the disc’s extras, the film opened the same weekend as The Grifters, so guess which film got the most attention? Speaking of extras, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes two from the Imprint release from last year, separate interviews with Jason Patric and Bruce Dern as well as an audio commentary from director James Foley.

The Age of Innocence (1993) Martin Scorsese

The camera rarely rests in this gorgeous tale based on Edith Wharton’s novel of life and love in 19th century New York. Scorsese’s films often explode with violence, a natural consequence of the rage, longing, and despair in his characters, and although there’s no real violence here, the rage, longing, and despair are just as evident here. Viewed on the Criterion Channel.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) Tommy Lee Jones

A tough watch that certainly won’t be for everyone, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada follows a brazen Texas border patrol officer (Barry Pepper) who wrongfully kills a man and covers up his act by burying him. The dead man’s friend (Tommy Lee Jones) tracks down his friend’s killer not so much for revenge, but in the fulfillment of a promise. I finally watched the DVD which had been sitting on my shelf for over a decade.

The Lighthouse (2019) Robert Eggers

Thanks to my friend and coworker Matthew for suggesting that I give this movie a try, which compelled me to program it for one of our Great Movies discussions this year. The glorious black and white by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Blaschke deservedly earned an Oscar nomination, but I was dumbfounded to discover it was the film’s only nomination. Robert Pattinson is excellent, but Willem Dafoe? Absolutely superb. Initially watched on Kanopy, then purchased the Arrow Blu-ray.

Oppenheimer (2023) Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer and Barbie… It’s all moviegoers were talking about for some time and although I liked Barbie (Hey, I’m as surprised as anyone), Christopher Nolan’s take on the book American Prometheus is stunning without getting too caught up in Nolan’s embedded narratives, bouncing through time, and sound experiments, and other stylistic characteristics. Yet more than anything else, it’s a great story captured on film.

So let me know what you enjoyed in 2023 regardless of the films' release dates. Thanks for reading.

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That's an impressive array of films Andy! I would also include a first time viewing of Floating Weeds on my list as well as a first time seeing All That Heaven Allows on the big screen. Yi Yi (2000), Zulu (1964), Past Lives (2023), Beijing Watermelon (1989), Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Heat (1995), The Train (1964), The Black Vampire (1953), Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), A Day Off (1967), The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner (1962), A Wife Confesses (1961), Mississippi Masala (1991), The Story of a Three Day Pass (1967), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), and A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) were all first time viewings for me this year!

Wish you all the best! …

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28 dic 2023
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Tynan, many thanks for stopping by and for sharing what you enjoyed in 2023! You've got several great ones there, some I'd love to revisit and others I'm eager to discover. Wishing you the best in 2024!

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