Check out The Sundae’s 2017 in films that didn’t come out in 2017 here.
There’s a huge pressure on anyone who wants to talk or write seriously about film to pretend as if they’ve already seen every great film ever made, whether in the form of a self-imposed anxiety or others dismissing your opinions because you haven’t seen X or Y. This is silly, obviously, because no-one has seen every great film ever made: the last time anyone could conceivably watch every film ever was in the early 1930s, and here in the present, it would take someone years to work through the established canon of great American cinema – let alone the cinema of every other country, experimental and avant-garde filmmaking, and all the great films (and okay films) that have gone unnoticed or unrecognised.
But that’s no reason not to try. Sometimes when people reject the pressure to pretend to have already seen every great film, they throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject a desire to try to catch up all the great films they haven’t seen, as if boldly declaring that you will never watch Casablanca is anything but a tragedy. It’s looking at the whole thing backwards.
The joy of accepting that you’ll never see every great film ever made is realising that there will always be more great films that you’ll get to see for the first time.
In February, we’ll go through our favourite new releases of the year when we post the third annual Sundae Film Awards. But looking back on the year in film shouldn’t just mean looking back at what came out this year. 2018 is the year Ciara got into westerns and Michael Moore documentaries, the year Dean watched A New Leaf again and was like, oh no, wait, this is great. So here are some of the best films we saw in 2018 that didn’t come out in 2018.
It’s no big deal if you haven’t seen them, but we definitely recommend checking them out.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Dean: “I watched just under a hundred Georges Méliès films this year and, though I enjoyed most of them, there’s a reason A Trip to the Moon is his best-remembered work. Historians often cite A Trip to the Moon as one of the first sci-fi movies, but it’s really more of a fairy tale. It takes place in something like late 1800s France, but the main characters – a group of bumbling elderly scientists – dress like medieval wizards and carry telescopes that transform inexplicably into stools. The sets are exaggerated and fantastical, like the stage design of an opera: the scientists debate in a lecture hall with vaulted, palatial ceilings, then fly to the moon in a bullet-shaped ship fired from a giant gun, and explore caves filled with giant mushrooms.
It’s all extremely weird and extraordinarily pretty, especially if you watch one of the versions hand-coloured by Elisabeth Thuiller. Méliès’ surviving work is widely available for free on the Internet – legally even! – and I’d recommend you just watch it all, but if you can only fit one short in, then it has to be A Trip to the Moon.”
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Ciara: “Alfred Hitchcock made so many masterpieces that it’s easy for great films to get lost in the shuffle. Even if I say that Strangers on a Train is brilliant, it’ll sound like it’s a poor man’s Psycho or Vertigo or North by Northwest or The Birds or any other of the Hitchcock films universally acknowledged as among the greatest films ever made. But Strangers on a Train is amazing: it’s a delight, in the way where you clap and giggle and flap your hands because you can hardly contain your excitement.
Here’s something you probably don’t realise about Strangers on a Train: it’s one of the funniest films of all time. It’s hilarious, with Robert Walker delivering one of the best on-screen performances ever. It’s a wonderful reminder that a director’s “minor” works aren’t necessarily all that minor.”
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Ciara: “The image I had in my head of an Ingmar Bergman film was something dull and dry and self-important. But The Seventh Seal is none of those things: it’s a powerful film about death and faith and doubt and the silence of God, frequently funny and always arrestingly beautiful. It’s full of excellent performances: there’s Max Von Sydow in the lead role as a knight returning from the Crusades, who knows that he must die and, in his lack of faith, is terrified, but the entire ensemble shines, particularly Gunnel Lindblom as the mute girl.
But what sticks with me the most about The Seventh Seal is its imagery. The central image of playing a game of chess against Death was so instantly iconic that it feels more like something from folklore more than a 1950s Swedish film, but the whole thing is littered with stuff that pastes itself onto the back of your eyelids in the same way. It manages to really make the fourteenth century – as the Black Death consumes everything in its path – feel like the end of the world.”
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Dean: “For a Few Dollars More is literally and figuratively the middle child of the Dollars Trilogy, wedged between the funny, accessible A Fistful of Dollars and the iconic, epic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It’s much darker than its predecessor, with only flashes of its dry humour, and Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name is more of a supporting character. Lee Van Cleef is fantastic in the true lead role of Mortimer, but Gian Maria Volantè’s portrayal of the ruthless thief and violent murderer El Indio steals the film. El Indio is haunted by his crimes and abuses drugs to numb the pain, but Volantè manages to make him feel wounded and vulnerable without excusing or even softening his monstrosity.
Sergio Leone’s direction is great obviously – I pump my fist in the air whenever he does an in-camera zoom – and Ennio Morricone’s score is as taut and tense as anything he’s ever written. But if you need just one reason to watch For a Few Dollars More, it’s Volantè.”
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Ciara: “1967 is one of the most interesting years for film ever – a moment of transformation for Hollywood, a moment that somehow managed to produce Doctor Dolittle and The Graduate – and Bonnie and Clyde is probably one of the most interesting films of 1967.
The dynamic between Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) is the film’s heart, and it is completely to the film’s credit that it’s so much more specific and unusual than it needs to be (Clyde clearly loves Bonnie, but won’t have sex with her). I love how it refuses to tell us Clyde’s backstory in wordy exposition, instead giving us just enough hints to plant questions in the back of your mind. I love how the film thinks about bank robbery as a kind of class warfare. Most of all, I love the camerawork and the editing, which still feels fresh and innovative half a century later.”
Dean: “Suspiria is one of the stranger films I’ve ever seen, a horror movie about witches that often plays more like a musical. I’m thinking especially of the scene when Suzy, our protagonist, arrives in Munich, and the score starts every time the sliding doors of the airport open, then stops when they close, like the world outside is a music box. Throughout the film, the score indicates the presence and influence of the witches even when they’re not on screen, and it’s probably the only movie I’ve seen that’s not explicitly a musical to place as much emphasis on how it sounds as how it looks.
Everything about Suspiria feels fresh and daring even forty years later: the lush vibrant colours, painted in light; the storybook world populated by such hyperreal, flesh-and-blood people; the violence that still seems, if less brutal than modern horror, far more intimate. It’s a nightmare in candy pink, a masterclass in visual composition, and a weirder film than you could ever guess.”
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Ciara: “The Deer Hunter is a three-hour film about the Vietnam War, about twenty minutes of which takes place in Vietnam. Those Vietnam sequences are astounding: impossibly tense, with Russian roulette serving as the perfect metaphor for the horror of war. But what I love the most about it – the thing that makes it such a special film – is the rest of it, where it is basically a hangout movie.
It’s about a group of working-class Russian-American friends, and it has a sharp eye both for the specificity of Russian-American experience and the generalities of being working-class in America in that period: working all day in the factory, going hunting with your buddies on the weekend, and being sent halfway around to world to fight in a war that has nothing to do with them, and come back disfigured, in their hearts and minds and bodies, or not come back at all.”
Dean: “Moonstruck is a difficult movie to praise in an era where “hammy” acting is understood to be intrinsically bad. It is, in part, a film where Cher and Nicolas Cage spend most of the runtime trying to see who can shout the most Italian-Americanly at the other. It’s also a film where Cher and Nicolas Cage are positively restrained compared to some of their castmates. The whole tone of the film is pitched at something so beyond theatrical I don’t have a word for it, but it’s not so-bad-it’s-good or a guilty pleasure or whatever. It’s the most exciting, fearless acting you’ve seen in your life.
Moonstruck wouldn’t work if it wasn’t played at such a heightened register, because it’s a story about the outrageous impracticality and irrationality of love. How the human heart is too big and bold and bursting with feeling to fit in the narrow confines of convenience or propriety. Moonstruck isn’t about how love completes us, it’s about how love destroys us, and why it’s worth it anyway.”
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Ciara: “I have a wariness of critically-beloved artsy animated films: I didn’t like Kubo and the Two Strings, or Song of the Sea, or The Red Turtle, because they were slow and boring and not visually astonishing enough to make up for it. And I have a high tolerance for boring. I love Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Because of this, I was wary of Studio Ghibli films, because they seemed like the apex of the kind of animated film I don’t enjoy.
Then I saw My Neighbour Totoro, and it’s the most wonderful thing thinkable. It’s wildly imaginative in a way that only animation can be, and takes unbridled delight in doing things no other medium could pull off with the same grace. This is a film that has a cat bus in it, as in, a giant cat that is a bus. How could you ever become slow and boring when there’s always some new mad thing to put on screen? My Neighbour Totoro stops for nobody, and is filled with small details of Japanese culture that it doesn’t explain, but make the whole thing feel more authentic and lived-in.”
Morvern Callar (2001)
Dean: “Morvern Callar begins with the title character clutching the corpse of her boyfriend. It’s Christmas Eve and she’s found him on the kitchen floor, dead by his own hand. Their cheap plastic Christmas tree blinks incessantly behind the door, bathing the room in soft orange light, then plunging it back into dark.
Morvern Callar has no plot, as such, just the long unfolding of Morvern’s reaction (or non-reaction) to her boyfriend’s suicide. Lynne Ramsay, the film’s director, specialises in movies about grief, guilt and the inscrutability of the human mind. Morvern, played with hypnotic precision by Samantha Morton, might be her most inscrutable character. Her actions refuse to bend to our understanding, even as we recognise some sense or logic beneath them.
But it’s not the kind of incomprehension that frustrates or baffles, where you throw up your hands and shout “what the fuck” at your TV. I spent the entirety of Morvern Callar on the edge of my seat, as if I was watching a thriller. It’s the third of Ramsay’s films I’ve seen, and it really made me feel like she might be the best director of her generation.”