Since a similar post seemed to go down quite well last year, and in case you’re wondering what to buy folks (or yourself) for Christmas, I thought I’d again offer recommendations of classic movies released on BluRay and DVD during the last 12 months. Many of the films listed below come in glorious restorations and, if you’re feeling generous, there are a few marvellous boxed sets. I should confess here that in a very few instances I contributed an essay or filmed introduction to the extras; I should also, however, add that I don’t get any royalties on sales, and I wouldn’t of course have agreed to contribute in the first place had I not liked or loved the film in question. The list of ten is ordered alphabetically, not preferentially. I hope you find it useful.
Adoption (Second Run)
This 1975 film by the great Hungarian filmmaker Márta Mészáros was new to me, but its subtle, insightful study of a middle-aged woman keen to become a mother and befriended by a troubled teenager is well worth checking out. Impressive, too, for its naturalistic performances and precise black-and-white cinematography.
Ingmar Bergman Volumes 1 and 2 (BFI)
The first box is primarily for Bergman nuts and completists, consisting as it does of his fairly rare early works (including the very fine Torment, directed in 1944 by Alf Sjöberg from Bergman’s script); the second box, with eight titles including Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and other gems, offers an embarrassment of riches.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (Indicator)
Robert Altman’s shrewd and in many respects prescient satire on the American penchant for rewriting history, made for the nation’s bicentennial and centred on a pitch-perfect performance by Paul Newman. You can read more about it here.
Criss Cross (Eureka)
One of the very finest practitioners of classic film noir, Robert Siodmak pulled out all the stops with this terrific account of a heist going very wrong. The ace cast boasts Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo (both pictured top) and the dependably and delightfully repellent Dan Duryea.
The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Collection Vol 2 (Arrow)
Prolific he may have been but the wunderkind of the New German Cinema seldom short-changed on invention or quality, and the five films here – Fear Eats the Soul, Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, Chinese Roulette and The Marriage of Maria Braun – surely count among his very best.
Johnny Guitar (Eureka)
Nicholas Ray’s exhilaratingly rich and strange mid-50s western, fascinating for its proto-feminism, its political overtones and undercurrents, and its elemental, near-mythic sense of story, character and place. Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden and Mercedes McCambridge make the melodramatic twists and turns mesmerisingly convincing.
Buster Keaton: The Navigator / Seven Chances / Battling Butler (Eureka)
As last year, a collection of three superb features from the 20s heyday of one of the greatest filmmakers ever, as brilliant a director as he was a performer, storyteller and inventor of ageless comedy. The Navigator is arguably the best of the three films but all have many moments of pure cinematic magic.
The River (BFI)
Jean Renoir in India with a story (such as it is) by Rumer Golden. Notwithstanding the stunning colour, the film could not be more different from Powell and Pressburger’s version of her Black Narcissus; chronicling a year in the life of a British family (primarily from a teenage girl’s point of view), it often feels closer to documentary than fiction, and is imbued with a serenity bordering on the spiritual.
Twentieth Century (Indicator)
A frantic, fiery, often very funny comedy about the vanity, insecurity, inspirational outbursts and cruel cunning of theatrical folk, this is blessed with memorable turns from Carole Lombard and John Barrymore (the latter gamely parodying himself). Adapted from a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, it was directed by Howard Hawks in 1934, just as he was on the brink of becoming Hawks the archetypal auteur. You can read more about it here.