A New Year’s Movie Resolution From The Credits: 50 Films to Watch in 2013
New Year's resolutions, we all make them only to find—come next December—we haven’t followed through on a single one of them. We here at The Credits propose you make 2013 the year you finally get around to watching all those movies you’ve been passing up at the rental store, and now online for decades. With thousands of titles (both classics and current critical darlings) available on Netflix and OnDemand, this is one personal goal you can accomplish much easier and cheaper than, say, getting into shape or growing your own organic vegetables. The next time you’re cruising for a feature on movie night, don’t give up and watch Die Hard for the thirtieth time, try some of these standout masterworks and cult hits from years passed. Become the cineaste you’ve always wanted to be. Your taste buds will thank us.
1. After Hours (Dir. Martin Scorsese, US 1985):
Overshadowed by classic works such as Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, this irreverent dark comedy visits the now Bourgie SoHo district when it still seemed a strange and barren territory to many New Yorkers.
2. The Beguiled (Dir. Don Siegel, US 1971)
The sophomore team up between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood failed to second the acclaim of Dirty Harry, but this strange and haunting adaptation of a novel about a wounded Civil War soldier from the North simultaneously cared for and imprisoned by an all girl’s school in the Confederate South is still sure to make your hairs stand on end.
3. Thief (Dir. Michael Mann, US 1981)
People who loved Drive (2011) owe it to themselves to seek out its stylistic father figure. In Mann’s debut feature, James Caan plays a high-stakes diamond thief forced into pulling one last job by a blackmailing Mafioso.
A 30 minute running time told only through voice over and still photographs may seem daunting to some—but in this, the very first documentary to be made about the Holocaust, Alain Resnais makes no attempt to ask questions that cannot possibly be answered.
Made in the alcoholic haze of Welles’ infamous “Frozen Peas” phase. Try and figure out what is true in this possibly fictionalized documentary about the most notorious forger of priceless fine art.
6. OC & Stiggs (Dir. Robert Altman, US 1985)
An attempt at making a raunchy 80’s teen comedy from the same person who directed Nashville (1975). No, I’m not joking.
7. They All Laughed (Dir. Peter Bogdanovich, US 1981)
A more Robert Altman style film that initially flopped but has been getting a second life—much in debt to its Wes Anderson seal of approval. Features Ben Gazarra and Audrey Hepburn in one of cinema’s most strangely entrancing romantic match-ups.
8. Shock Corridor (Dir. Samuel Fuller, US 1963)
Being slightly more avant garde than pulp put Fuller on the fringes of his Film Noir contemporaries, and while White Dog (1982) has become more popular with younger film buffs, Shock Corridor will always do a better job of representing him in whole.
9. The Monkees – Head (Dir. Bob Rafelson, US 1968)
When Head premiered, Rock N’ Roll tweens and The Monkees fans were looking for another Hard Days Night. What they got was an art-house pastiche of psychedelia written by Jack Nicholson and directed by the man who would soon win acclaim with Five Easy Pieces (1970). This flop is worth revisiting.
10. In A Lonely Place (Dir. Nicholas Ray, US 1950)
Starring Humphrey Bogart, this lesser known noir turned the murder mystery genre on its head. The first to change the age-old question of whodunit? into did-I-do-it?
11. Interiors (Dir. Woody Allen, US 1978)
Interiors has long been used as a go to reference for the type of film that separates the wheat from the chaff. You either love Interiors or hate it. This year find out what side you’re on.
12. Little Murders (Dir. Alan Arkin, US 1971)
Alan Arkin directs a script by famed satirist, Jules Feiffer. With Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland, the cast and crew is a veritable who’s-who of the greatest era in American cinema.
13. George Washington (Dir. David Gordon Green, US 2000)
Long before setting his sights on stoner comedies like Pineapple Express (2008) and Your Highness (2011), David Gordon Green wrote and directed this gut-wrenchingly delicate indie flick. When regular childhood horseplay turns deadly for one of George’s friends, he assumes the role of superhero and commits small acts of good around the rural southern town he calls home. (No relation to the president you may be thinking of.)
14. Under The Volcano (Dir. John Huston, US 1984)
Do you like to watch drunken British dandies bumble about and say things like, “I say!” and “Dreadful!”? This is the movie for you. It's also based on Malcolm Lowry's novel of the same name, one of the great overlooked masterpieces of 20th century fiction.
15. Port of Shadows (Dir. Marcel Carne, France 1938)
In Carne’s finest work he poses the question, “Is it a virtue to continue living when life has become unlivable?”
16. Stroszek (Dir. Werner Herzog, Germany 1977)
Cinema’s favorite renegade at his most vitriolic. Herzog makes a striking either/or argument contrasting Germany’s fascist past with America’s apathetic “sink or swim” brand of capitalism.
17. Elephant Man (Dir. David Lynch, US 1980)
You don’t have to watch Citizen Kane (1941) or Gone With the Wind (1939) to be able to tell when their most famous scenes are being referenced or spoofed in pop-culture. Well, Elephant Man’s “I am not an animal!” certainly ranks up there, too. Do yourself a favor and see the whole thing once and for all. It’s a lot shorter than the other two.
18. Auntie Mame (Dir. Morton DaCosta, US 1958)
Written by Broadway veteran, Adolph Green – who penned the lyrics for countless Gene Kelly films, including one of the songs from Singing In The Rain (1952) – this classic tells the story of a young boy who goes to live with his eccentric Aunt. Although successful when it premiered, this classic madcap comedy has been lost on younger generations. Seek it out; you’re guaranteed a timeless film that the whole family can enjoy.
19. Bye Bye Birdie (Dir. George Sidney, US 1963)
Arriving just at the tail-end of the musical’s three decade long grasp on Hollywood, Bye Bye Birdie seamlessly and simultaneously works within and deconstructs said cinematic form. And isn’t Ann-Margret just the cutest?
20. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Dir. Jacques Demy, France 1964)
Speaking of deconstructed musicals, this French New Wave classic pays homage to the great American genre, but with a twist of post-modernity. A bittersweet romance told entirely in sing-song plus Techincolor so gorgeous it recalls Douglas Sirk by way of Godard.
21. All That Heaven Allows (Dir. Douglas Sirk, US 1955)
While we’re on the subject, Douglas Sirk’s career has been one of success turned failure, turned success again. Although popular in his time, by the wild era of the 1970’s New Hollywood movement, films like All That Heaven Allows were relegated to late night network television airings and dismissed as little more than romantic pap. Luckily, film buffs of today—ready to look at the past through rose colored glasses—have reconsidered these classics, praising Sirk’s creative use of mise-en-scène and color.
22. Margaret (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan, US 2011)
Filmed earlier but not released until 2011 due to troubles during the editing process, Margaret never got the wide release nor praise it deserved. No film before it ever managed such a realistic portrayal of the frustrations that both drive and beleaguer one’s teenage years. Anna Paquin and Matt Damon star.
23. Deconstructing Harry (Dir. Woody Allen, US 1997)
What makes this unspoken take-off on Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) so great is that rather than being a return to form, it was a giant leap forward. Some of Allen’s most ambitious writing and set pieces will have you wondering what he was drinking for that short period in the late 90’s, and can he still get a glass of it?
24. Night of The Hunter (Dir. Charles Laughton, US 1955)
Night of the Hunter is a classic Hollywood film, starring Robert Mitchum, with an experimental twist. As surprising as it is campy, but not so campy that it isn’t still frightening, this film is so bizarre that it’s hard to discern whether or not it’s intentional. But that hardly matters; it's a great film.
25. Modern Romance (Dir. Albert Brooks, US 1981)
There are two types of comedies; those that are funny on the page and those that only work as a finished film. To look at the script of Brooks’ most famous feature, one might not even know it was a comedy at all. There are no jokes, per se, in this rumination on love and longing. Instead it’s all in the performances. But it is hilarious, I assure you. [Note to Curb Your Enthusiasm fans: keep your eyes peeled for Bob Epstein (A.K.A. Marty Funkhauser) in the role of the shoe salesman.]
26. Crips And Bloods: Made In America (Dir. Stacy Peralta, US 2008)
Peralta’s Dogtown and Z Boys (2001) will always be his standout work (and that is not undeserved), but this simple, yet enthralling, doc about the social and political history surrounding South Los Angeles street gangs is gravely under recognized. Compassionate and insightful, one wonders why Made In America hasn’t found a place alongside works by Ken Burns and Erroll Morris.
27. 1991: The Year Punk Broke (Dir. Dave Markey, US 1992)
It’s not every day you see a rock-doc/concert film as funny as this one. Sonic Youth frontman, Thurston Moore’s antics run the gamut from irreverently smart to gut-bustingly hilarious. You'll also see Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and the Ramones, among other epic musicians. While maintaining cult film status in rock circles for 20 years, it’s about time The Year Punk Broke reached a wider audience.
28. Over The Edge (Dir. Jonathan Kaplan, US 1979)
An idyllic planned community in America’s southwest may be paradise for the middle class parents who inhabit it, but the kids are getting restless and it’s only a matter of time before they take things over the edge. It was the first film for a 15 year-old actor by the name of Matt Dillon and inspired Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. With a soundtrack that features Cheap Trick and the Ramones, this movie was a rallying cry for the still nascent Generation X.
29. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dir. Carl Theodor Dryer, France 1928)
While the fact that it’s silent and directed by the Danish-born Dryer may turn some away (they aren’t exactly known for making feel-good summer blockbusters up there), this film is less inundating in practice than one might assume. Thanks to stylistic choices on behalf of the filmmaker (no one in the film wears any make-up—extremely rare for the age) this film looks and feels strikingly modern and stands as a feminist manifesto far ahead of its time.
30. And The Ship Sails On (Dir. Federico Fellini, Italy 1983)
This enigmatic thesis on the bourgie artistic class and their ignorance of the social woes that surround them is enchantingly strange even in the context of Fellini. Filmed on a near complete set of a luxury ocean liner, the style and tone of this film recalls the best of Jean Renoir and can be seen reverberating in such unlikely places as the man-child comedy flick, Cabin Boy (1994).
31. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin, US 2011)
A year before its release, more than a handful of film critics were writing articles bemoaning 2010 as a lackluster year for movies and asking if the trend would not soon abate. The unassuming thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene was the perfect response from a filmmaker who, thankfully, wasn’t ready to throw up his hands.
32. The Master (Dir. Paul T. Anderson, US 2012)
The key to understanding Anderson’s most arcane and understated tour de force is to not focus so much on any one character. Much like the ruthless businessman and the huckster preacher of There Will Be Blood, he’s taken one man and split him into his id and super-ego, a character for each. It’s much less about a certain Los Angeles-based religion no one is allowed to talk about, than it is about two men who form a complete whole. Add to that the philosophical void in which the American masculine archetype found itself following at the end of WWII, when we began to see that men acting like men had so far lead us into some very fine catastrophes.
33. Slacker (Dir. Richard Linklater, US 1991)
Slacker quite literally started the 90’s indie boom—so much so that in the credits of Clerks (1994) Kevin Smith granted Linklater a special thanks for “showing [him] the way.” Clips from this film will be used for centuries in documentary specials about Generation X. That is, if centuries from now, we’re still just as puzzled over what Gen X’s ubiquitous apathetic-irony meant.
34. Amour (Dir. Michael Haneke, France 2012)
I was in a movie theater that was showing Amour. When the film let out, a woman I didn’t know came up to me and said “Oh, gosh, that movie was just so… I don’t know, so intense.” I asked if she’d seen any of Haneke’s other films. She said, “no.” I said, “They’re all like that.” A third woman, who also knew neither of us, walked up and said, “Well, they’re all kind of like that, but that was…” And she just sort of trailed off like that. In other words: this film is intense, in a trademark Haneke way, which is a very good thing.
35. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Dir. Joseph Sargent, US 1974)
Until Tony Scott’s 2009 remake, this was a best kept secret of tried and true New Yorkers and 1970’s film-buffs—two groups who share plenty of venn diagram overlap. The original tells the tale of a NYC subway train car held for $1 million dollars ransom, and it features a standout cast of familiar faces: Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld), Robert Shaw (Jaws), Tony Roberts (Annie Hall, Serpico), and Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman).
36. Zero Dark Thirty (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, US 2012)
Like The Master, this movie presents almost no character development in its exposition. The true motivations of its two main characters are never really known, and there may be no end in sight to figuring them out. If you come in expecting a tense war drama, a la Jarhead (2005) or The Thin Red Line (1998) you might be disappointed. Zero Dark Thirty is about what drives a government body that does not change with presidents, is not motivated by jingoist militarism, is staffed by type-A personalities with PhDs who understand the full psychological spectrum of their actions, yet act in full compliance with the former two governmental bodies, while presupposing that that isn’t really a contradiction.
37. Love In The Afternoon (Dir. Eric Rohmer, France 1972)
Also known as Chloe In The Afternoon, the final installment of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” paints the portrait of a prudent husband and father whose devotion is tested when a bohemian coquette he knew in college begins showing up at his office for routine lunch-dates. Given the slapstick comedy makeover by Chris Rock and Louis C.K. in 2007 as I Think I Love My Wife, the original is worth seeking out.
38. Gone With The Wind (Dir. Victor Flemming, US 1939)
This film is so ingrained in our culture you may have been assuming all these years that you’ve already watched it without watching it, but this masterwork is so expansive and historic it behooves you to finally see what all the hubbub’s about. You’ll find its place in the record books is no act of hyperbole.
39. City Lights (Dir. Charlie Chaplin, US 1931)
City Lights is as heartbreaking as it is funny. Through a series of convoluted mishaps, a blind flower girl mistakes Chaplin’s penniless tramp for a wealthy gadabout. Chaplin promises to use the millions he doesn’t actually have to pay for an expensive procedure that will restore her sight—even though this means she’ll see him for the vagabond he really is.
40. Bringing Out The Dead (Dir. Martin Scorsese, US 1999)
Since After Hours’ recent resurgence amongst film buffs, Bringing Out The Dead has moved into the top spot of Scorsese’s most forgotten films (Well, there is still Kundun (1997).) Nicholas Cage plays a graveyard shift ambulance driver who, after seeing the worst of what humanity has to offer night after night, begins to question if people are worth saving. Given his position as an EMT this is actually a literal, rather than philosophical, quandary.
41. Badlands (Dir. Terrence Malick, US 1973)
Somewhere between Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play a couple of rebels without a cause making their way across a desolate America. While the film sounds a lot like Natural Born Killers (1994), you’ll find more than a striking resemblance to the other Tarantino penned crime/love story, True Romance (1993).
42. Wake In Fright (Dir. Ted Kotcheff, Australia 1971)
An indentured teacher, bound by a $10,000 bond leaves his elementary school for Sydney to see his girlfriend during a holiday. He has hopes of making enough money to pay off his bond and move to London, but during an overnight connection in the barren wasteland of Bundanyabba he swiftly doubles, then loses all his money in a backroom gambling game. Unable to return, he shacks up with the local “doctor” (Donald Pleasance) and succumbs to the immoral no-mans-land where, as Pleasance puts it, “all the little devils are so proud of their hell.”
43. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Dir. Mike Nichols, US 1966)
If you’re one of the millions of cable subscribers recently entranced by the multi-layered irony that was Liz And Dick (2012), Lifetime’s original movie about the train-wreck marriage between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, you owe it to yourself to see the real thing. In this adaptation of Edward Albee’s play, two elderly college professors (Burton and Taylor) invite their newlywed colleagues over for drinks and soon drag them down into the rabbit hole of their own alcoholic and joyless existence.
44. Wait Until Dark (Dir. Terence Young, US 1967)
A brilliant performance to start off the later years of Audrey Hepburn’s career, she plays a blind woman harassed and duped by three heroin traffickers trying to retrieve a cache of drugs accidentally hidden in her basement apartment while her husband is away. Chilling as it is beguiling, Alan Arkin turns his usual smart aleck routine into a truly terrifying role as the lead villain.
45. Sid And Nancy (Dir. Alex Cox, UK 1986)
A rock biopic about heroin addicts featuring the acting debut of Courtney Love would seem to be a triple threat allowing any movie to coast by on subject matter alone, but Cox puts his all into this perfect mix of humor and stirring visual metaphors. [Note to Seinfeld fans: Watch out for Sandy Baron (A.K.A. Jack Klompus) as the Chelsea Hotel manager.]
46. The Third Man (Dir. Carol Reed, UK 1949)
Starring but not directed by Orson Welles, this circuitous suspense film is nowhere as epic but just as stunning (both narratively and visually) as Citizen Kane. When Joseph Cotton arrives in Post-War Vienna only to find the friend who invited him died in a suspicious accident, he makes his rounds in Black Market circles to discover the truth, which—when all is said and done—may be more disturbing than any lie.
47. The Loves Of A Blonde (Dir. Milos Forman, Czech 1965)
A factory owner implores the army to deploy some reserves to his remote Czech town in hopes that the influx of men will raise the spirits of the ingénues he employs and boards. The plan backfires when the army sends only older married men and the disenchanted Andula spends a one night stand, instead, with one of the touring musicians playing at the factory’s matchmaking event. Andula, taking the young man’s affections at face value, shows up at his parents’ apartment in the city expecting to be his girlfriend. What starts off as typical 60’s New Wave fare, ends with an awkwardly hilarious second half recalling the best of Woody Allen.
48. Meek’s Cutoff (Dir. Kelly Reichardt, US 2010)
A tense and panoramic indie sleeper hit about a caravan traveling through the rocky terrain of Oregon in the mid 1800’s that becomes hopelessly lost when their guide suggests they take a suspicious short cut.
49. Gimme Shelter (Dir. Charlotte Zwerin, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, US 1970)
One of the greatest Roc-Docs ever produced, it made the mold and then ignored it. Shot mostly in a vérité style, it’s the constant details this dream-team of directors catch in their lens that makes it so impressive. One wonders “what on earth possessed them to point the camera exactly there at that exact time?” Especially noting when you have Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in front of you, few could say it would occur to them to move focus anywhere else. Movies like this prove that great filmmaking is as much a talent as a learned skill.
50. Seconds (Dir. John Frankenheimer, US 1966)
Much like Night Of The Hunter this Hollywood classic is shockingly cutting edge. Tony (Rock Hudson) gets hipped to a secret company that—for an expensive fee—will fake your death, change your appearance and implant certain talents or knowledge into your brain, giving you a whole new life by design. A second chance, if you will. Soon Tony discovers that he can change himself, but he can’t escape the existential ennui that everyone, no matter their life, succumbs to from time to time. When he decides he wants to change back, the company’s refund policy turns out to be a little more severe than he anticipated.