Last year, I vowed to see more old movies in 2018 to improve this annual list, but halfway through the year, I was failing to do so. I was a MoviePass subscriber, so I spent most of my free time seeing new movies in the theater. When MoviePass changed their deal toward the end of the summer, I canceled my plan, which was a blessing in disguise because I suddenly had a lot more free time to watch older movies. There are so many classics I’ve yet to see, plus masterpieces I want to rewatch. The ten-year rule is kind of arbitrary, but a decade is a good benchmark to judge a film outside of its original context. You can see how it stacks up in history and if it stands the test of time. Again, this is a somewhat random list, based on the movies (at least ten years old) that I happened to watch (or re-watch) this past year.
1. The Fountain (2006)
The Fountain is one of most underrated and misunderstood movies ever. I didn’t fully appreciate it myself the first time I saw it, about ten years ago, but upon rewatching now, as a more mature viewer, I realized its brilliance. Part of the reason viewers may initially feel frustrated by the film is because it doesn’t fully explain everything. It is purposely ambiguous, letting the viewer explain the film to themselves. But you must put in the effort to do so. Writer/Director, Darren Aronofsky said, “[The film is] very much like a Rubik’s Cube, where you can solve it in several different ways, but ultimately there’s only one solution at the end.”
Essentially, The Fountain is about the quest for immortality, or the “Fountain of Youth,” following different characters played by the same actors across three different timelines: a Spanish conquistador in the 1500s, a medical scientist researcher in the present day trying to save his dying wife, and a man in the far future on a spaceship containing the “tree of life.” The film is mind-blowing both visually and thematically and will leave you thinking long after the credits roll.
2. The Shining (1980)
It was Halloween night and I was in the mood for a good horror movie and The Shining, my favorite horror movie of all time, was on Netflix. It had been a while since I’d seen it, so I decided to watch it again, and… The Shining remains my favorite horror film of all time. It’s the movie that made me fall in love with horror. I first saw the Stephen King book adaption directed by Stanley Kubrick about a remote haunted hotel around ten years ago, and it opened my eyes to how artfully a horror movie can be done. Kubrick is a true master, perhaps the greatest filmmaker ever. He elevated the horror genre in this movie by scaring viewers more psychologically, with eerie sounds and images as opposed to gore and jump scares (though there are some of those too).
A horror film as good as The Shining is rare, if not nonexistent, but there are plenty of great ones made in this style (such as Hereditary, my favorite horror film from this past year, and the great Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House). Also, this was my first time rewatching The Shining after seeing the documentary Room 237, about the conspiracies behind the movie, foremost that it was Kubrick’s secret confession to faking the moon landings. I don’t know about that, but The Shining remains a masterpiece of horror cinema that I doubt will ever be topped.
3. Swingers (1996)
I’d first saw this movie in college and it instantly became one of my favorites. It’s the film that launched both Vince Vaughn’s and Jon Favreau’s careers. Back then, I watched Swingers wanting to be like those guys, living in Los Angeles trying to make it in the movie industry. Now, I am like those guys, living in Los Angeles, trying to make it in the movie industry. (Though I don’t go out drinking as much as them, and I haven’t driven to Vegas…yet.) It was kind of surreal rewatching the movie now, but I think I appreciate it even more, picking up on the local references. It’s a comedic classic, full of quotable lines. Swingers is so money, baby.
4. Dark City (1998)
This was my third time watching this science fiction noir film (my favorite genre), and as with The Fountain, I didn’t totally understand it upon my first viewing. The second time (a few years ago) I appreciated the movie more, and this third time I finally realized Dark City is a science fiction masterpiece. That is what often happens with challenging films that don’t spoon-feed exposition. You need multiple viewings to fully understand and appreciate them. That may be a turn-off to some viewers, but the best of films—true works of art—are worth re-watching, and Alex Proyas’s Dark City is a work of art.
5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This movie has a cheesy title (based on the 1956 movie which was based on a 1954 novel) but it’s actually quite serious…and quite good. I have to admit that the title is part of the reason it took me so long to see this film despite being a science fiction aficionado. I was expecting it to be cheesy and dated, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers stands up with Alien and The Thing as one of the best science fiction horror films of all time. It has a great concept (aliens replacing people with doppelgangers as they sleep) and was a clear influence for Annihilation, my favorite new movie of 2018.
6. Baraka (1992)
This documentary is essentially the story of humanity told with no words. Director/Cinematographer Ron Fricke shows human beings from various cultures and how they are completely different in some ways, yet utterly similar in others. Also, it shows how similar humans are to other animals. The visuals are stunning, some of the most beautiful ever captured on film. Samsara, the spiritual sequel from 2011, is on my watchlist for next year.
7. Apocalypto (2006)
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient lost civilizations like the Mayans. It’s a subject matter that’s underrepresented in movies, though I can understand why. It’s difficult (both financially and logistically) to make a movie set hundreds of years ago, about a culture so foreign, but somehow, director Mel Gibson was able to pull it off. Apocalypto was filmed on location in the jungles of South America with a full cast of actors of Mayan descent, wearing period-accurate costumes, and all the dialogue was in in the native Yucatec Maya language. The movie felt authentic, like we were really in 15th century Mesoamerica. As with Baraka, I was awed by some of the images captured in this film and the action was great. Unfortunately, the Mayans were depicted as overly brutal and savage in the movie, which I don’t think was entirely fair. They were a highly sophisticated civilization, advanced in art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. It would be nice to see another movie set in this time period with equally great visuals but a better story.
8. Amistad (1997)
This is one of the rare Steven Spielberg films that I’d somehow never seen before. Set in 1839, it’s a powerful story about a slave revolt on a Spanish ship and the courtroom drama that followed as they fought for their freedom.
9. The Others (2001)
The Others, written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, is my favorite kind of horror movie: more spooky than scary. It’s about a (possibly) haunted house, but there are no gross-outs, jump-scares, or gore. Like The Shining, the horror is more psychological. Above all, The Others is an intriguing mystery with a great twist ending, which I won’t spoil. (Though hinting that there’s a twist ending in a movie is a sort of spoiler in itself.)
10. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Every time I see I Woody Allen movie I enjoy it and tell myself I should see more Woody Allen movies. He’s been writing and directing one new film a year since before I was born. I’ve seen around ten of his movies now, which is barely even scratching the surface of his filmography (55 director credits on IMDb!). As the title of this one implies, it’s a murder mystery set in Manhattan, and as with most of Allen’s work, it’s also quite funny.
- Suspiria (1977) — I wanted to see the original before the remake. Great soundtrack and visuals; mediocre plot.
- Diner (1982) — This movie, set in 1950s Baltimore was a clear influence for Swingers.
- IQ (1994) — A romantic comedy featuring Albert Einstein.
- Battle Royale (2000) — The Japanese inspiration for The Hunger Games.
- Murder Party (2007) — Director Jeremy Saulnier’s first feature film.
- The Lost Boys (1987) — The most 80s-ish 80s movie ever.
- Lawnmower Man (1992) — The most 90s-ish 90s movie ever.
More “best of year” lists: