This will be the first in a series of lists that I'll be posting throughout the month and most likely in February as well. As for pre-2000 movies I saw for the first time in 2011, I'll be doing a separate list for horror movies. It should be said, three of the movies on this list are films that I hadn't heard of and probably wouldn't have watched if they weren't recommended to me by readers of this blog.
#13 CALIBER 9 - There's no point in regurgitating what I already talked about in my original review of this film, but I'll just say that CALIBER 9 is one of the most solid Eurocrime films I've ever seen, with a great cast and one hell of an ending. Lead actor Gastone Moschin (normally a comedic actor from what I understand) is superb as the underdog of sorts, Mario Adorf plays a memorable scumbag, and Barbara Bouchet, who plays the love interest of Moschin's character, is a goddess.
#12 THE LIMEY - In my opinion, one of director Steven Soderbergh's most memorable films thanks to some unorthodox editing and a great performance from Terence Stamp as a pissed-off Brit who travels to Hollywood with hopes that he can put the pieces of the puzzle together in regards to the mysterious death of his daughter. THE LIMEY partly focuses on the fish-out-of-water aspect of Stamp's character adapting to not only life outside of prison after spending a considerably long stint behind bars, but the culture shock that he gets when settling in Los Angeles. There's a great supporting cast here as well, with Peter Fonda, Barry Newman from VANISHING POINT, Luis Guzman (who's always great in Soderbergh's films by the way), Joe Dallesandro, and Nicky Katt, but it's ultimately Stamp who knocks it out of the park. Soderbergh brilliantly works in footage from one of Stamp's older films, POOR COW, as flashback scenes, which is a nice touch.
#11 PLACE WITHOUT LIMITS - Neil Fulwood from Agitation of the Mind picked this one for me to cover as part of a Reader's Choice thing I did last year. I had never even heard of it prior to his recommendation; ironically, it was one of the films that I was least looking forward to seeing, and it ended up being one of the better picks that I covered. You can check out my review of it here if you'd like to know more about this solid Mexican drama about a flamenco-dancing transvestite who runs a bordello with his prostitute daughter.
#10 ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE - To me, this is one of the movies that epitomizes what 70's Americana cinema is all about. Robert Blake is fantastic as a somewhat vertically-challenged Arizona highway patrolman who finally lands his dream job of working in the homicide department. I don't remember if I mentioned this in my original review of the film, but it has without a doubt one of the best endings I've ever seen in a movie.
#9 FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS - A hilarious and extremely over-the-top movie from Shaw Bros. studios about a Martial Arts master who assigns his best students the task of taking out a group of deadly ninjas who base their style and methods of attack on the five elements. Brian from Cool Ass Cinema picked this one for me to cover as yet another Reader's Choice pick, and, obviously, it really left an impression on me. Admittedly, I'm very underwatched when it comes to Martial Arts films (Shaw Bros. or otherwise) and it's a huge "blind spot" for me when it comes to genre cinema, so I didn't really have any context to base this movie on; I just took it at face value and had a lot of fun with it. Check out my review of it here.
#8 THE HURRICANE - This one should be much, much higher on the list if I were to base it on how much I enjoyed it upon watching it, but it frankly didn't sit very well with me when I did some research on the film after the fact and found that most of what was presented in the movie was basically bullshit and either greatly exaggerated or completely fabricated compared to what actually happened to Rubin "Hurricane" Carter - the person whom this "biopic" was based on (I admit, I knew nothing about this person prior to seeing the movie outside of hearing the Bob Dylan song "Hurricane"). Fortunately, this revelation hasn't completely tainted my thoughts on the film; I enjoyed it immensely for what it was and thought Denzel Washington did an amazing job in it.
#7 LONE WOLF AND CUB 2: BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX - One of my most rewarding movie-watching projects of 2011 was checking out the entire LONE WOLF AND CUB series. These are truly amazing samurai films, and in all honesty I should just put the entire series together as a single entry and place them very close to the top of the list, but I thought I'd show some love to a couple of individual LONE WOLF films that left the biggest impression on me. In retrospect, this was probably my favorite of the series in terms of enjoyability, and it's the one that I'm more likely to go back and revisit as a standalone film, but I opted to keep it lower on the list than another film in the series for reasons that I'll talk about when I get to that particular film. Lead character Ogami Itto's foes in this film are, quite simply, fucking bad-ass, and that's all I'll say for now. Reviewed it here.
#6 JESUS' SON - Yet another Reader's Choice pick (this one being suggested by J.D. of Radiator Heaven) and my absolute favorite of the bunch. It's really hard to put into words why I love this movie; some films just hit you on a personal level and some don't. I certainly admired the fact that it was able to perfectly balance comedy, drama, surrealism, and romance without being an utter mess. You can check out my review of it here if you'd like.
#5 PERFORMANCE - I really had no expectations going into this one and I honestly didn't even know what it was about; I had only sought it out after learning about the film's co-director Donald Cammell (DEMON SEED), who had an interesting career as a filmmaker before committing suicide in the 90's. Apparently Cammell and legendary Rolling Stones frontman and one of the lead actor's in PERFORMANCE, Mick Jagger, ran in the same circles as avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, whose films I only discovered for myself a couple of years ago and quickly grew fascinated with. To call this bizarre British film a "pleasant surprise" would be a huge understatement. Yep, reviewed this one too. Check it out here.
#4 LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE - The first installment of the LONE WOLF AND CUB series. Like Martial Arts films, which I talked about earlier in this post, my cinema education is sorely lacking when it comes to the Samurai films of Japan - and, yes, this includes pretty much all of the essential Akira Kurosawa films. Shame on me! As I talked about in my review, SWORD OF VENGEANCE is visually stunning films with an engaging story, great characters, and a high body count. Most importantly, it introduced me to actor Tomisaburo Wakayama, who is without a doubt one of the coolest-looking motherfuckers I've ever seen step foot in front of a camera. Full review here.
#3 DOBERMANN - A squad of bumbling criminals, led b the ruthless Inspector Cristini, attempt to nab a group of thieves who are in the middle of a string of bank robberies. The criminals are led by the charismatic Dobermann (Vincent Cassel), and comprising the group are a colorful assortment of characters who resemble a cross between larger-than-life comic book caricatures, crime movie stereotypes, and a band of Gypsies who co-exist in a nomadic, family-like atmosphere. Being the Vincent Cassel completist that I am, I had to go out of my way to see this one since it's not his most readily available film in North America, and by "go out of my way to see it" I mean bust out the ol' wallet for once and order the movie through Amazon instead of renting it. You can read my review of this film here and my pre-DOBERMANN love letter to Vinnie Cass here.
#2 SANTA SANGRE - Aside from the obvious pretentiousness that comes with the territory of Jodorowsky's work, I didn't know what to expect from SANTA SANGRE since I didn't read too much into it beforehand. Needless to say, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. To be more specific, I was surprised by how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it was, but even more so than that, I was stunned by how coherent it was. SANTA SANGRE is all over the place in terms of influences and styles: Universal Monsters, Tod Browning's FREAKS, Lucha, Hitchcock, and Dario Argento just to name a few. It would have probably been a train-wreck of a film in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Jodorowsky created what I can honestly say is one of the most gorgeous, unique, endearing and refreshing films that I've ever seen in my life. It's impossible to sum this movie up in just a single paragraph, so I highly urge anyone who hasn't seen it to give it a shot and see this glorious piece of cinema for yourself. Also, I'm a sucker for the carnival/sideshow aesthetic, and this film nails it.
#1 SLING BLADE - Yes, my favorite pre-200 film that I watched for the first time last year is SLING BLADE. I honestly couldn't tell you why it's eluded me for so long, and I was certainly aware of it ever since its release. It's just one of those things, I guess. Really, is there anything to say about fucking SLING BLADE? It's a damn near masterpiece of American cinema. Despite Billy Bob Thornton being an asshole with delusions of rock stardom, he made himself one hell of a movie with SLING BLADE. Thornton does an excellent job both behind and in front of the camera, having pulled what I can only assume was not an easy double-duty as director and lead actor; and not just an actor, but an actor playing the role of a simple-minded man-boy with a darkside. For what it is, SLING BLADE is flawless. I'm glad I saw it finally saw it for the first time in 2011 and I can't wait to see it again.