I recently shared my five favorite books of the year, out of 52 read. I said then that the picks were only my favorites, not necessarily the best five books I read in the past 365 days. The same goes for my picks among the 240 movies I watched in the past 12 months, only more so.
There are at least two people closely associated with this newspaper who know a lot more about film than I do. I do have some familiarity with literary criticism, having earned two degrees in literature at a pretty good Midwestern state university two decades and change ago. But movies started for me as an escape from serious literature, and it's only in the past couple of years, under the tutelage of a well-known Northwestern writer, that I have in any way deepened my approach to film.
Now that all those quibbles are behind me, here are the five movies I loved in the past year. If you haven't already seen any or all of them, I heartily recommend a trip to Scarecrow - don't cheat yourself out of the enjoyment these movies will give ya.
1) "Get Carter" (1971), not to be confused with the terrible American remake of the '90s starring Sylvester Stallone. Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a very British thug created by pulpster Ted Lewis for a very successful series of books pubbed "over there" in the '50s. John Osborne, the famed playwright ("Look Back in Anger"), is also wonderful in a turn as a veddy veddy British crime boss. Directed by Mike Hodges, who also did "The Croupier" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" later in an illustrious career, by my lights.
2) "Get Shorty" (1995), the best Hollywood film on Hollywood (just nip-ping Altman's wonderful "The Player"). "Shorty" stars John Travolta and Gene Hackman were lucky: the script of this funny flick was faithfully based on a clever mid-late Elmore Leonard novel of the same name. Satire, action and good performances throughout.
3) "Barry Lyndon" (1975), for my money the best and least appreciated of Stanley Kubrick's many fine films. Never again was such a blazing performance coaxed out of Ryan O'Neal (for God's sake). And never has a movie been so lovingly photographed. The light in this film, the natural settings, the green lush British and northern European settings are phenomenally beautiful, even on a 21-inch television. A fine, mainly European and Brit cast helps Kubrick and O'Neal bring a lesser-known William Makepeace Thackeray novel to life. You never forget this is a film, but it also feels like what it is based on, a long (3 hours and still too short for my liking) character- and incident-rich 19th-century English novel of morals and manners. Brilliant and oddly touching.
4) "The Bounty" (1984), the third (or fourth?) filming of the legendary "Mutiny on the Bounty" trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall, and for my money the best. Sure, it is fun to compare the hammy, scenery-chewing performances by Charles Laughton, 1935, as Captain William Bligh, and Marlon Brando, 1962, as a veddy fey Fletcher Christian, but Anthony Hopkins, as Bligh, and surprisingly, a young Mel Gibson, fresh from three Mad Max pics as Christian, backed by a fine cast including a near-novice but already strong Daniel Day Lewis, and Liam Neeson, not to mention a bevy of beauteous Polynesians girls performing the most erotic hula I've ever seen, live or on film, give you the taste and feeling of what it must have been like to "discover" a tropical paradise. Another gorgeously photographed film, too.
5) "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973), my favorite Western and my favorite Peckinpah, too - for my money much more realistic and gritty than the somewhat overwrought (and much more acclaimed) "The Wild Bunch." Only "Straw Dogs" even comes close for me. James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson and even Bob Dylan, in a small part, bring the feel of the wild and rancidly violent Old West to life. And, in its own dusty way, this film, too, captures a natural estate (New Mexico) in a similar way to the aforementioned films that show the more obvious beauty of England and Tahiti.
All five of these films reward re-viewing, too. "Pat Garrett" and "Barry Lyndon" especially, because their directors were genuine artists, and because both films were epical in nature, as opposed to "Get Carter"'s smaller, more parochial subject, or "Get Shorty"'s blatantly successful attempts to entertain, offer up new insights with each repeated screening.