Time to count down the best movies I saw, and reviewed for Journeys in Classic Film, in 2013. To commemorate the occasion, I had the delightful Talky Tina show up to help us count. Just don’t upset her, she holds a grudge. Because I wrote far more this year than last I narrowed the list down to only movies I reviewed for this site, and was watching for the first time. The movies here also were rated between 4-5 Ronnies, and in some cases I boosted the rating if the particular film stuck with me by year’s end. If you missed my original reviews clicking the titles will take you to my original review. What movies should I have honored and included on this list?
20. Jezebel– 4 Ronnies
To me, Jezebel remains the superior 1930s take on the antebellum South. Take that, Gone With the Wind! Bette Davis’ face appeared several times on the site in various movies, many of which didn’t make either the best or worst list, but Jezebel proves her immense power. Her walk into the party in her provocative dress turned my head as it did audiences everywhere. Jezebel is also the first film starring Henry Fonda to make my year-end list…we’ll be seeing him a lot over the next two days.
19. The Grapes of Wrath – 4 Ronnies
A lot of words were written about Henry Fonda this year; not only as part of my Father’s Day Guide wherein I reviewed a box set of his works, but he also appeared in countless movies with top-tier talent. The Grapes of Wrath is an American classic, and deservedly so. Fonda’s quite performance as Tom Joad, coupled with the struggles of his family, gave realistic hope to war-torn families and continues to inspire audiences today.
18. My Darling Clementine – 4 Ronnies
A beautifully complex and incisive Western with enough entertainment to tell the story as well as deliver the message seamlessly. Westerns aren’t my forte, but this John Ford epic starring Fonda, Linda Darnell and Victor Mature sure swayed me. It’s aired a few times on FX Movies and I’ve made a point of giving it a second sitting where it gives as much power now as it did to me originally.
17. The Rose Tattoo – 4 Ronnies
I couldn’t rank this higher because of the ludicrous Burt Lancaster, whose laughable performance increases in my memory whenever I think about this film. A unique story for playwright Tennessee Williams exploring love and sex in an Italian-American household. The lead females, Marisa Pavan and Anna Magnani are probably the best female roles of the year that I’ve witnessed. Such a searing film and one of several amazing DVDs Warner Archive presented to fans this year.
16. Gods and Monsters – 4 Ronnies
Bill Condon directed one of my favorite entries in Biopic Theater, lovingly paying homage to the movie Frankenstein while presenting an excoriating condemnation on Hollywood’s treatment of Frankenstein director James Whale. Ian McKellan is spellbinding as Whale, a man striving to capture his lost youth, while Brenden Fraser acts in the best work of his career as the sexually confused “monster,” Clayton Boone. A true Hollywood love letter about horror movies and the people trapped while making them.
15. The Narrow Margin – 4 Ronnies
The quintessential B-movie, The Narrow Margin has the distinction of being the only film noir on this year’s list. Adhering to convention while simultaneously breaking new ground, the movie packs a punch including a twist you might see coming, but the journey is still worthwhile. Taking place almost entirely in an enclosed, moving train, you’ll feel as claustrophobic as the characters themselves and Marie Windsor as the femme fatale: fatally fantastic.
14. Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story – 4 Ronnies
The only documentary to grace this year’s list and one so endearing to its source. William Castle is a director whose movies may not scare, but always leave you with a smile on their face. The man was the master of the gimmick and the documentary reveres him and applauds him for being the last great showman on par with P.T. Barnum. The man’s ilk will never be challenged, and this doc will inspire you to rewatch his oeuvre and grin.
13. Nicholas and Alexandra – 4 Ronnies
Nicholas and Alexandra is an historical epic I praise to anyone who mentions history in movies. The movie is looong but so worth the time for a multitude of reasons I covered in my lengthy review. The story is simultaneously redemptive of the Russian royal family as well as aware of their delusions and standoffish reception to their people. Janet Suzman and Tom Baker remain the standouts of the cast, and the final scene is burned into my brain with all the impact of a brand. The Blu-ray is also an excellent Twilight Time release I recommend people buy if they’re looking to purchase from the retailer.
12. The Ox-Bow Incident – 4 Ronnies
My original review had me comparing this to Bad Day at Black Rock and it’s a comparison holding true today. The best movies of the Golden Era were ones acting as a metaphor for our own society, turning the camera at us in a way. The Ox-Bow Incident plays on fears of Communism and the enduring belief one has to get theirs before the other gets his. A shockingly realistic film leaving the audience sad but bitterly aware of its authenticity.
11. The Canterville Ghost – 4 Ronnies
You knew Margaret O’Brien would show her adorable face on this list and Warner Archive delivered it through their release of The Canterville Ghost. A delightful mix of ghostly fun and bravado pervades this story of a tiny heiress (O’Brien) and the selfish ghost (Charles Laughton) who needs to commit a courageous act in order to rest in peace. Put this next to I Married a Witch and you’d have a spooky adventure appropriate for the entire family.
10. Cleopatra – 4 Ronnies
I was fortunate enough to watch this on the big screen as God intended; make no mistake the expanse of this film can only be contained on the widest of screens. Beautifully costumed Elizabeth Taylor may lack the manners of the Egyptian Queen but her relationship with Richard Burton scorches the screen throughout, and a very blonde Roddy McDowall is equally amazing as the slighted Octavian. If you missed this in theaters 20th Century Fox put out a sumptuous Blu-ray to fill the void.
9. Christine – 4 Ronnies
Who’d have thunk a movie about a killer car would be so rife with imagery referring to the treatment of women and male identity? Apparently, John Carpenter knew how to translate Stephen King’s story into the right amount of rampant horror and thought-provoking imagery. Christine is part of my Halloween film viewing now, and my review of the film remains one of my better write-ups.
8. Gold Diggers of 1933 – 4.5 Ronnies
One of my new-found favorites directed by Busby Berkeley, Gold Diggers of 1933 has everything going for it; the ladies (including Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell and Aline MacMahon) are hilarious, the songs are memorable, and Guy Kibbee holding a dog remains a hilarious image in cinema history. I dare you to watch it and not hum “We’re in the Money” or “Remember My Forgotten Man.”
7. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – 4.5 Ronnies
Preston Sturges directed Sullivan’s Travels, one of the best movies ever made starring my Veronica Lake, and this year I watched his equally hilarious, and controversial, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. A film about “inspiring” the troops by taking off your panties, Betty Hutton’s sly role as Trudy Kockenlocker is side-splitting; her little sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn) as the sarcastic smartie leaves you in stitches, and the ending of the movie winks at the audience while satirically poking fun at the standards and practices of the Hollywood Production Code. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is cheeky fun.
6. Too Many Husbands – 4.5 Ronnies
I rewatched Too Many Husbands this year and I love it as much today as I did back in June when I first saw it. Yes, it mines the same territory as My Favorite Wife with a gender swap, but Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas and Fred MacMurray are a phenomenal trio who should have done more together. The ending fails to solve anything, leaving events as convoluted as they started, but the lines pack a punch and Arthur’s ditzy socialite who revels in the affections of two men is darling.
5. Curse of the Cat People – 4.5 Ronnies
A sequel in name only, The Curse of the Cat People is a charmingly rendered exploration of childhood imagination with Ann Carter (Veronica Lake’s daughter in I Married a Witch) as the creative child to Cat People alum’s Oliver and Alice (Kent Smith and Jane Randolph). Carter and Simone Simon, our resident cat person from the first film, create a tender, loving relationship turning a child’s mind into Heaven for a tortured soul. Val Lewton is the master of horror to me; one of the few directors who can take a sequel idea and turn it into a wholly original premise.
4. The Song of Bernadette – 4.5 Ronnies
You knew The Song of Bernadette would appear rather high on this list since I reviewed it back in May and then immediately entered it in as part of my 25 Days of Christmas. Jennifer Jones is angelic as the ethereal Bernadette Soubirous in a story of faith both secular and organized. Vincent Price and Anne Revere also lend this movie a moral core as well as a testament to the power of beliefs and family.
3. A Star is Born – 5 Ronnies
Judy Garland, a legend in her own right, is the first in the trio of films I consider the best of the year. Garland is Vicki Lester into her very being. Watch “The Man That Got Away” number as proof of the sheer magnanimity Garland has in her voice and carriage. James Mason competently holds his own, but Garland races through the three-hour runtime, never breaking a sweat. She turns this “perils of Hollywood” movie in a humanistic portrayal of a doomed relationship. Her speech about loving and hating Norman Maine (Mason) feels so true and painful it leaves me sobbing.
2. Frozen – 5 Ronnies
It’s fitting the final review in the Journeys in the Disney Vault series is one of the best reviewed movies of the year. Frozen is about female empowerment and the strength of the bond between sisters coupled with pounding, Broadway-style musical numbers. In reviewing the Disney films of the last decade, they’ve desperately struggled to find a way to return to prominence, and it was through returning to, and enhancing, what the studio was once built on. If you haven’t watched Frozen yet, or if you want an excuse to watch it again, I urge you to do so!
1. Meet Me in St. Louis – 5 Ronnies
Readers this year should have expected Meet Me in St. Louis to appear on this list, and when I narrowed my list I knew it would be number one. Vincente Minnelli’s musical ode to the turn of the century tugs at the heartstrings and refuses to budge an inch. Garland is the girl next door and her relationship with Margaret O’Brien turned me into a life-long fan of both ladies. This is the perfect movie and it’ll be hard to top this one next year.
The Worst of the Year is just around the corner. In the meantime, anything I should have placed here?
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.