Thursday, January 4, 2024

Movie ruminations and my favorite first-time watches of 2023

One of my earliest movie memories — and, yes, I know that Memory can be a Trickster, shuffling real or imagined things all around the brain's chronology for all sorts of reasons — is watching a reel from 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein projected onto the wall of my grandmother's living room at her house in Rose Valley, circa 1974. Fittingly, she also had those Ancient Greek comedy and tragedy masks (Thalia and Melpomene) on the walls of that room. As a preschooler, I found them fascinating and a little scary. That's what I remember, anyway: The projected moving image of a screaming Elsa Lanchester flickering against the wall, partially illuminating those eyeless, mouthless masks.

What a ways we've come in watching movies in the comfort of our homes in the past half-century. Now we can watch Barbie or Oppenheimer at home on our 55-inch high-definition televisions, just months after they were in movie theaters. (And how long will movie theaters last?) 

I didn't watch Barbie or Oppenheimer in 2023. In fact, I didn't watch nearly as many movies, old or new, as I was hoping to last year. My final count for the year was around 70. I could blame the cats, but there's never just one reason. 

Still, I was fortunate to see a lot of great stuff! And, as I did for 2022, I've compiled a list of my 20 favorite "first-time watches" of 2023:

  • Black Cat Mansion (1958, Nobuo Nakagawa)
  • Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974, Brian Clemens)
  • Dead of Night (1945,  Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)
  • Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento)
  • The Fifth Horseman Is Fear (1965, Zbyněk Brynych)
  • Game Night (2018, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) 
  • Ghostwatch (1992, Lesley Manning)
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001, Takashi Miike) 
  • The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)
  • Lonesome (1928, Paul Fejös)
  • Marjoe (1972, Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan)
  • Midareru [English: Yearning] (1964, Mikio Naruse)
  • No One Will Save You (2023, Brian Duffield)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)
  • Prey (2022, Dan Trachtenberg)
  • The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman)
  • Tabi no Omosa [English: Journey Into Solitude] (1972, Kōichi Saitō)
  • Where Chimneys Are Seen (1953, Heinosuke Gosho)
  • The Wind (1928, Victor Sjöström)

As it was in 2022, it's an eclectic list. Japanese films take up a quarter of the slots. There are some flat-out cinema classics that I didn't get to until I was 52. Better late than never! 

There are a lot of horror films here. Ashar and I watch a lot of horror films, and I'm glad some of them made it into my Top 20. Others had no shot (Sorry, Scary Movie 4. Actually, I'm not sorry. I'd like that 90 minutes back.). Other stuff was just perfectly fun, like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Spooks Run Wild (1941), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) and even the baffling Uncle Was a Vampire (1959), in which Christopher Lee's sense of having fun was contagious enough for all of us. 

Here are Ashar's thoughts on horror films from an Oct. 31, 2023, post he made on Instagram:
"Halloween is my fav time of year. I love the atmosphere of Halloween where things get spooky and you can see people who go all out into decorating their houses and you can go to haunted attractions and watch scary movies.

"Personally I tend to celebrate Halloween all year every year. I will watch horror movies even when it isn’t Halloween because I’m a big horror fan. I truly enjoy horror movies. I love the feeling of uneasiness and dread and anxiety and the way they can get your heart racing and just keep you on edge. Something about that is really unsettling but at the same time appealing. It’s hard to explain but if you are a horror fan you probably understand.

"Horror as a topic is vast but it’s really interesting to think about. It’s interesting to try and understand or learn about what makes horror so great and see how it has involved over the years. It raises interesting questions and points you may not have thought about before. It can make you feel uneasy and make you check every dark corner in your house at night because you just have this feeling that something could be watching you.

"This Halloween I just decided to watch a ton of horror movies and I kicked that off with watching The Amityville Horror (2005) starring @vancityreynolds last night into this morning and let me tell you that movie is really good and Ryan is an incredible actor. He does a fantastic job playing George Lutz.

"I didn’t really have a costume planned this year but I realised that I could dress up as Ryan’s portrayal of George Lutz like he is in the first picture. It’s not exactly the same but it’s my take on it and I honestly couldn’t be happier since I got to incorporate my hero into my fav time of year.

"Stay Spooky and have a Happy Halloween"
My movie goals for 2024 are to watch more movies; watch horror movies with Ashar (and also introduce him to great stuff from other genres); get to more of the classics I've never seen; chill out with some Shaw Brothers flicks; make it through more of the Varda and Bergman sets; rewatch my favorite Ozus; find some super-bizarre stuff; finally catch Barbie and Oppenheimer (but especially The Holdovers); have a Vincent Price marathon; watch more old documentaries and .... well, I could just keep going and going. Happy film-watching in 2024!
Lillian Gish in The Wind.

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