Paris, Texas (1984): Directed by Wim Wenders from a screenplay by Sam Shepard. This is an engaging portrait of the psychological journey of a tormented amnesiac. Wender’s camera looks at familiar American landscapes with a fresh, new eye. Harry Dean Stanton is completely underappreciated.
Hud (with Paul Newman) (1963): This is Newman back when he was the stud to end all studs. He plays a drunken charming womanizer in this very modern Western, set on a ranch at a moment of transition. Great cinematography. Great movie.
True Grit (with John Wayne)(1969): Wayne at his toughest. Probably some of his best acting too – the loner Marshall he plays is an intriguing, complex character.
Five Easy Pieces (with Jack Nicholson) (1970): This is Nicholson back when he too was a stud of sorts. He plays a crass fellow who turned his back on his family and a career as a pianist to go to work on a Texas oil rig. He’s a womanizer who acts like a total jerk to the sweet, dumb Tammy Wynette-wannabe girlfriend who loves him. He’s also witty as hell. There’s a scene in a diner when he’s trying to order toast that is one of cinema’s funniest interactions. The movie starts in Texas and the characters roadtrip to Washington’s San Juan islands, picking up a hilarious, filth-obsessed hitchhiker along the way. One of my favorites.
Sanjuro (by Akira Kurosawa) (1962): The movie is described on the box as a “hilarious action-packed samurai spoof,” which I suppose it is, but it’s also just a flat out great story. The larger-than-life Toshiro Mifune plays Sanjuro, a crude, mysterious samurai, who aids a somewhat incompetent group of young samurai and foils a conspiracy to take over the clan. Sanjuro is a classic, troubled hero. Mifune also stars in Throne of Blood (1957), a striking adaptation of Macbeth to 16th Century Japan. Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975) is a touching, beautiful film about the friendship between a Mongol hunter-guide and a Russian surveyor in the wilderness of Siberia.
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) is the tale of samurai who, disguised as monks, attempt to sneak their “master”, who’s life is in danger, across a border into safety. The movie has a formal feel, probably because it’s an adaptation of a classic Kabuki play. Interestingly, the movie was banned both by traditionalists, who felt the inclusion of hilariously expressive comic actor Kenichi Enomoto was inappropriate, and by the allied occupation forces, who perhaps were bothered by the film’s emphasis on feudal loyalty.
Harakiri (by Masaki Kobayashi) (1962): A fascinating film set in post-samurai-wars Japan. A complex examination of the samurai honor code when confronted with unemployment and scarcity. Deliberately slow pacing reflects the samurai’s ethic of composure and magnifies the psychological tension. Stark violence. Strong direction.
The Wild Bunch (by Sam Peckinpah) (1969) : A very gritty, violent Western about the last days of a notorious gang. Very well choreographed violence and original cinematography. An important film, though not the nicest by any means.