Sunday, January 5, 2014

20 Favourite First-watches of 2013

I saw 256 films in 2013. 21 of them were re-watches. 49 of them were 2013 films and 20 from 2012 which I saw in first two months. 2012 movies got their due when I did my 'Best of' lists in March. 2013 movies will get theirs in this March. That leaves me with 166 films released previously that I watched for the first time this year. These are 20 of them that I liked the most:

20. The Breakfast Club(1985): A movie that is often called the best teenage film made ever. I don't know if I will call it best but it certainly was good one. First of all, I love the idea of choosing five characters from 5 different groups in high school giving representation to almost everyone in them. Secondly, and probably most important thing, there is nothing inorganic about the rest of the day these 5 completely different personalities spend with each other.

19. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind(1984): Film that helped Miyazaki launch Studio Ghibli and for that I will be forever indebted to this film. It also helps that I really like it too. You can easily see a lot of themes - Miyazaki's focus on environmentalist message, strong female protagonist, antagonist with redeeming qualities - that would go on to be trademark Studio Ghibli making this film just as great as what followed it.

18. True Romance(1993): I have seen all the films Tarantino directed already but I haven't seen any of those he just wrote. I still haven't got to the other two but this was a hell of a start. I am not much of a Tony Scott expert but if I didn't know QT just wrote this, I never would've known since QT is all over it. To Scott's credit, even though he had bunch of amazing characters, he assembled hell of a cast and got great performances out of them too.

17. Sweet Smell of Success(1957): This must have been the most quotable film I have seen last year. I knew about most of the popular ones before but my favourite was the one I had not heard before - "What do you think of the capital punishment, Senator? Because someone's just been sentenced to death". Overall, I actually didn't like it very much at first but it stuck with me for quite a while and more I thought about it, more I appreciated it.

16. Z(1969): I love political thrillers; they draw me in instantly. Z had an added advantage of it mirroring real events, another natural draw for me but it turned out to one of the best I have seen. What I like about it is sort of staged documentary feel of it. It doesn't add any melodrama to it but at the same time manages to keep viewer interested. It also doesn't muddle available data nor does it try to force it's own view.

15. The Long Goodbye(1973): It wasn't my first Altman(I had seen Gosford Park(2001) before) but it certainly was the one that made me go looking for his other films. I have been watching at least one film/month since then religiously. I haven't seen many noirs but it's got to be one of the best I have seen. Altman style almost makes it all look like he is taking a dig at it but at the same time being respectful by staying within the genre. And it all works!

14. It Happened One Night(1934): First and one of only three to win big five at Oscars. The more I think about this film, more I respect it. I mean, this movie is a simple, straight forward romantic comedy about two people on road who don't really want to be together. That's it! No heavy stuff. No deep implications, no high stakes at the end of line, no existential issues. But it's so good! Prime example of lightweight movie done properly being a good one.

13. From Here to Eternity(1953): It's one of those rare occasions where Academy seems to have got it right. Admittedly, there could have been better films this year though I haven't seen one and at least they didn't choose bad film which we all know that happens every so often. On another note, I have seen Burt Lancaster in 4-5 films and he has been the best part of every single one of them. I might be up to something, I guess!

12. Paris, Texas(1984): Like best films of year, if I did a list of my favourite scenes, Travis and Jane's conversation in her booth would easily top that list. No Contest there! There are very few things I have ever seen which are more beautifully devastating than that conversation. I love this film as a whole, I really do but that one scene has left such an impression on me that I scarcely remember anything else now.

11. The French Connection(1971): Out of 12 films I saw this year for Blind Spot series, 5 made this list. Friedkin's crime-action-thriller is considered one of the best BP winners and I certainly agree. What's more interesting is how many action films have done it since? or even crime films for that matter. Being what's now considered as one of the blockbuster-y films, it's great to see it still holding its candle among more drama oriented films.

10. Cool Hand Luke(1968): From the way this movie starts, I never in million years would have expected it to end the way it does. What's even more incredible is it isn't like you took couple of wrong turns and wound up somewhere unexpected. Now that I look back at it, I realize that all along it kept steering me little by little towards that end. But I was caught so unaware that the ending literally blew me.

9. Gentleman’s Agreement(1947): I want to watch every Best Picture winner there has ever been. Those who have already done it can attest to the fact that it means watching a lot of mediocre films, especially when you have seen most of what you really wanted to and are left with 'homework'. I still want to do this because that drive has led me to the discovery of this gem. It rekindled glimmer of hope in me that there could be another, just waiting for me to discover.

8. I Live in Fear(1955): After getting through most of Kurosawa's well known works, I continued getting deeper into his filmography. I still haven't seen a film I don't like but the best part of this exercise by far has been discovering gems like this. Toshiro Mifune is a great actor that often does great job with Kurosawa but he is at entirely different level here playing an old guy who wants his whole family to move to South America because he is paranoid of impending nuclear war.

7. Broadcast News(1987): Couple of years ago, I wasn't even aware of existence of this film and then suddenly I found so many people calling it one of their favourite films. Now that I have seen it, I can certainly see why as I have become one of them. It was pure joy watching this film. I don't remember the last time I had so much fun or felt such an excitement watching any film. Finally, at the risk of sounding little sadist, Holly Hunter crying is the funniest thing ever!

6. Mulholland Drive(2001): Even though I haven't seen most of David Lynch's stuff, I know it isn't up my alley. I've seen two of his most revered works from film and television and absolutely hate it. So it came as a definite surprise to me when I found myself completely engrossed into this one, despite having distinct Lynchian qualities to it. Sure, Naomi Watts giving phenomenal performance going from wide-eyed beauty to drugged up white trash proved a very useful gateway but I even found the story utterly fascinating.

5. Junebug(2005): I might have seen a few films before but Enchanted(2007) was the first film I noticed Amy Adams in. Like I was introduced to her in Enchanted, I am sure Junebug was her introduction to the world. In my books this woman can do no wrong. I love the variety she has brought in her roles ever since and it would be almost impossible for me to choose one role over the other. But if I have to choose, I think her work here is superior than anything she has done since. If anyone have any doubts, they only need to watch her hospital scene.

4. Through a Glass Darkly(1961): The thing with Bergman films is I have seen a good dozen of them and you would think I'd have gotten hang of them now. Truth is, even now I often leave with a feeling that I have seen something great; I just don't know what? If you can get to that 'what', they can be real memorable experiences(I will never forget how I felt after watching Wild Strawberries(1957) the first time). Through a Glass Darkly got very close to that and Harriet Anderson's phenomenal lead turn played significant part in it.

3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948): Humphrey Bogart was a great actor. He was a great Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep(1946), a wisecracking, hard drinking private eye successfully repelling the charms of femme fatales. He was probably even better in his first truly romantic part in Casablanca(1942), the greatest love story of all time. But nothing prepared for me for raw, manic, almost deranged performance he gives in this film. He is spectacular even at his most pathetic and Walter Huston was just a cherry on top.

2. Tokyo Story(1953): This completes the trifecta of films from Blind Spots series last year that made it to the near top of this list. This was my introduction to Ozu and there are not many things that have blown me away like this. What's even more impressive is Ozu does that by being subtle and understated. With that almost bare-bone of a story, he manages to get maximum emotional response out of you. It may not be the most pleasant experience watching this but all I can say is everyone needs to watch this.

1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days(2007): First time I heard about Cristian Mungiu was after Beyond the Hills(2012) debuted at Cannes in 2012. I saw it earlier this year and quite liked it as well. Then I went back and got hold of his first film soon after. Saying I was even more impressed by that would be an understatement of the year! There is so much intensity in every frame of this film that it almost suffocates the viewer as much as the characters we see on screen are suffocating. I thought Anamaria Marinca was utterly fascinating in that role and would absolutely LOVE to see more of her work. And then there is that one image in this film that I desperately want to un-see. If ever you could do that!

Here is to hoping that 2014 will bring many more great discoveries just like those on this list!!


  1. Very interesting list! We had the same topic for our New Year's podcast episode so I'm interested in reading other people's choices. I literally have never heard of your #1 so that's cool - and there are many other here that I'd love to see!

    1. Thanks! I was listening to your episode the morning after I posted this. Good to see your love for The Breakfast Club. :)

      4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a Romanian film. Even I hadn't heard of it until I went looking for it. It's a hard watch but I totally think worth it. Give it a try when you can.

  2. A great group of films. Cool Hand Luke is nearly one of my Top 10 of all time, and Through a Glass Darkly... Bergman at his best.

    1. Thanks! I knew you would appreciate them both. :)

  3. Good stuff! For some reason I keep passing over 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in my queue, but you've just sold me on it. Glad you enjoyed Sweet Smell of Success and Cool Hand Luke -- those have been two of my favorites that I finally got around to in the last couple years.

    1. As I said above, it's a hard watch but totally worth it. I am going to guess, you'll like it. Sweet Smell of Success and Cool Hand Luke are getting better with time. I wouldn't be surprised if I appreciate them even more after 6 months or so.

  4. Great to read that you liked Mulholland Drive, it's my second favorite movie of all time and my favorite performance of all time. I'm a big David Lynch fan but it's awesome that this one has appeal even for those who don't like his style.

    1. I Know! I think Watts would rank up as one of my favourite performances as well.

  5. These are awesome choices! I love so many of these, and it's so great seeing Through a Glass Darkly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in the top 5.


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