Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 100 Films: 10-1

10. Pulp Fiction (1994) - Quentin Tarantino
Some things will always amaze me regarding film.  One is the fact that some people actually have lived their lives without having seen Star Wars, the other is people who hate Quentin Tarantino and particularly Pulp Fiction.  I don't get it honestly, this film is as good as any from the last several decades.  Thus is the price of fame, Tarantino has made a career out of his mashups of his influences that arguably his most wholly original work (this and the sadly neglected Jackie Brown) seem to be disregarded.  That isn't to say that Pulp Fiction isn't highly praised it's just that with great fame comes a lot of hatred.  People watch Tarantino movies and think they could make them which is one of the endearing things about them, but the truth is no one can, believe me.  For the last twenty years people have been trying to be the next Tarantino and whether it's Doug Liman, Kevin Smith, Richard Kelly, or any number of others there really is something special with QT's work.  Pulp Fiction I saw all the way back in the theater and so much of it went over my ten year old head, but since then I get a little more out of it.  It took years before I started paying attention to the incredibly well orchestrated tracking shots and the sound design, but they're superb.  It is the type of film that can win you over with it's never ending brilliant dialogue, but keep you enthralled on a subconscious level because it's an incredibly well made film from a director who clearly knows what he's doing.  Roger Avery who co-wrote the film with Tarantino has often been neglected in it's praise but it makes me wonder if he Quentin shouldn't collaborate a little more often.

9. Tree of Life (2011) - Terrence Malick 
For someone with a self diagnosed prejudice towards new movies it might seem mind boggling that a film less than two years old would make my top ten.  Well that's just how damn good Tree of Life is.  Words cannot express the feeling I had seeing this film in the theater.  I was utterly blown away like no other film had ever done to me.  I couldn't even believe what I was seeing, how anyone could have made a film so incredible, so beautiful, so mind expanding, so full of questions.  This is the type of high end big budget art film that most self proclaimed auteurs dream about making.  It is the most elliptical of Malick's films, which seem to have gotten progressively more abstract over the years.  It seems more like a dream about childhood than a film about a domineering father.  I almost don't want to call this a film, the level of artistry seems to demand a new word to describe it.  I'm sure many of you have taken my recommendation to see it, and some of you probably were pretty damn impressed.  For those of you that haven't, good god the time is now, I don't think there will ever be a better film made after this.

8. 8 ½ (1963) - Federico Fellini
For a long time now this has been my favorite foreign film.  It really is a testament to how great Fellini was at his peak that he could deliver two "greatest ever" level of masterpieces in a row.  This is the ultimate in semi-autobiographical surreal dream masterpieces about film making.  Even though so much of the film is about what to make his next movie about, there really is nothing that ever gets done.  A brilliant film with the ironic subject of a director who has no ideas, or at the very least can't articulate them.  Countless directors have tried often in vain to fill Fellini's shoes or make their own 8 1/2, but well that's just part of what makes this film so damn good.  Fellini takes his film from the real to the surreal within a scene and often it takes a minute or two to even realize we're in a flashback or complete fantasy.  It's a film that keeps you guessing but never loses you.

7. Apocalypse Now (1979) - Francis Ford Coppola
It's nearly impossible to describe just how god damn brilliant this movie is.  It takes it's story very loosely from Heart of Darkness, throws a little Vietnam in there, then veers into Aguirre territory before finally ending up in a strange surreal land where nothing really makes sense.  This was another one of the "first" films I watched when my obsession began and I thought it was a pretty good war movie until all that weirdness at the end.  Since then I think it's a pretty good war movie that becomes the greatest thing ever at the end.  As soon as Dennis Hopper comes to greet them on their boat things take a brilliant turn for the strange.  Sure the bizarreness begins to set in a little earlier, but something truly profound happens when they arrive on Kurtz' island.  Marlon Brando for all his problems he caused during filming is absolutely brilliant.  He embodies the mad man god who tosses pearls of wisdom at his subjects yet remains in the shadows often speaking in parables.  Visually this is as good as any film has ever looked, yes courtesy of our old friend Vittorio Storaro who makes his third appearance on the list.  It is a mind boggling mess of a movie that transcends the sum of it's parts.  Simply put this is the type of film you respond to on an emotional level, a transcendental level, the kind you feel and experience.  I could watch this a million times and never grow tired of it.

6. Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (1977/1980/1983) - George Lucas/Irvin Kershner/Richard Marquand
The greatest trilogy of all time still reigns mighty high on my list.  I had a chance to revisit it before making this list and everything right about these films is essentially everything wrong with the pre-quels.  I don't know what's going to happen with the next installments, but as a stand alone trilogy these three films set the standard that will never be equaled.  Born out of the film school generation of directors with an ode to classic genre pictures, it far eclipses everything of it's kind.  A wonderful universe of fully developed characters, interweaving plots, brilliant sound design, and an incredibly compelling overarching tale throughout.  Not without a few bombshells these are the films I remember most growing up.  They're taken for granted today mainly because people tend to forget how great they were.  Everything has been absorbed by popular culture references and constant parodies and/or homages that it isn't until you watch the original trilogy (in the original theatrical edition) that you see just how special these movies are. 

5. Persona (1966) - Ingmar Bergman
Of all the films I've watched again over the past decade none of them had quite the effect Persona did on me.  When I first saw Persona I believe it was the third Ingmar Bergman film I had seen.  After I watched every one of Bergman's available films I watched this one more time and I honestly thought this was one of the greatest films ever.  I didn't even know it would top 8 1/2 on this list as my new favorite foreign language film but well I don't regret the change.  This film might be better for people familiar with Bergman's work because although it might seem like just another Bergman film it's so much more.  He outdid himself after taking a two year break from cinema which featured some very troubling personal issues.  The result is on paper arguably his most simple film but there's so much going on.  From the avant-garde deconstructive introduction to the ambiguous dream within the film that makes you question the very nature of existence.  This is a film that will make your brain do some work but like the best films of this kind there aren't any right or wrong answers to the questions posed here, just brilliant movie making.

4. The Godfather/Godfather II (1972/1974) - Francis Ford Coppola 
Francis Coppola only has two entries on this list but both have made the top ten.  In fact the last time I did the list both of these were in my top ten as well, although one went up while another went down.  The Godfather along with it's sequel are nearly impossible not to love. Sure there is a lot of information and like many films from the 70s these movies respect their audiences intelligence in a way few American movies do today.  It took nearly three viewings of the first film and almost five of the second to really know all the who's who and what's what.  Inexplicably I might actually think the sequel is superior which puts it on the very short list of greatest sequels ever.  Either way taken as a complete saga it is the pinnacle of American storytelling and the high water mark of Hollywood's new renaissance in the 70s.  Shot by the "lord of darkness" Gordon Willis and featuring a cast that would be enshrined in a screen actors hall of fame if such a thing ever existed. 

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Stanley Kubrick
2001, just keeps getting better for me.  Moving up ever so slightly from the last list it remains my favorite film of the 60s.  It transcends the world of film to contemplate the very origin of our existence.  Visually the film was instantly praised as one of the most groundbreaking films regarding special effects.  The criticism then as well as now is often how cold and ineffectual it is, but that's one of the points to the film.  It's more of a criticism of the future that Kubrick envisioned.  It was interesting seeing how the real 2001 compared to his vision and certainly in terms of space exploration we're way behind but much of it has come to pass.  The final sequence is pretty much my favorite thing ever in film, and the similarity at times to Tree of Life is one of the things that made that film so great to me.  Still it remains the greatest film from the greatest director and who knows maybe one day it might climb even higher on this list.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - Lewis Milestone
All hail the new #2.  Most of the films in the upper part of my list are pretty predictable honestly, but this is the ultimate personal favorite of mine.  The reason for my obsession with this film is several fold.  For starters I tend to be a little obsessed with WWI, which may actually be the result of this film more than anything.  Then you take into account that the film was shot during that great and golden period of Hollywood between 1929-1934 before the production code was enforced.  Then you factor in that this film has no soundtrack whatsoever.  There is no glaring music to distract you or to tell you what to feel.  Then you take into account that Lewis Milestone was arguably the most innovative director of his era outside of Abel Gance.  He didn't let the limitations of sound keep him from making the movie he wanted.  The camera moves, tracks, and soars above everything.  Some of the shots and sequences are absolutely brutal and never would have been allowed just a few years later.  Unlike so many war films that show great spectacular battles then tell you it's hell, this film just goes straight for the hell part.  Every time I watch this film I swear it's the greatest of all time, but then there's another.

1. Citizen Kane (1941) - Orson Welles
If this is a surprising choice then clearly you know nothing of me or the general history of movies.  I've dropped many hints along the way particularly about the brilliance of Gregg Toland and Bernard Hermann, deep focus compositions, long tracking shots, etc.  Well it's all pointed to this, it has everything I love about movies.  Within about 15 of watching it I'm always convinced nothing has ever been better.  There are countless books, essays, and articles written about this film explaining all of the innovations, all of the brilliance so all I can really do is just agree with it.  I know that the winds of change have decided that maybe Vertigo is the greatest film of all time now, but I'll be damned if I agree with that.  Orson Welles might very well be the greatest director of them all and Citizen Kane is the only real proof we have of what he could do with complete control, a closed set, and final cut.  I suppose you can cry about what could have been or just thank the lucky stars that for one glorious moment in time the greatest film of all time was made.  So thank you very much for reading, see you next decade if I ever decide to update this mess. 

Top 100 Films: 20-11

20. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder 
If I had to make a case for any year as the greatest in all of cinema, it would probably be 1980.  Just look behind you and you'll see The Shining, Raging Bull, and Ordinary People, but there is one film even better than all of those, it's called The Empire Strikes Back.  Ok well Berlin Alexanderplatz is my official favorite film from the 1980s and god is it glorious.  It's more like fourteen films altogether that tells the tale of one Franz Biberkopf, played by Fassbendir regular Gunter Lamprecht, a bad luck man living in some tough times in Germany.  For those familiar with Fassbinder's work can see this more as just an extended version of all the things he tends to love in movies, that level of Sirkian melodrama with a host of compelling and sometimes odd characters.  The final episode though he not only outdoes himself but all of German cinema before him.  A strange and surreal odyssey that elevates this from a solid and great story to the best film of the decade.  I suppose it's technically more a miniseries than a movie, but it was shown theatrically and well it just doesn't seem right to make a top 100 list without my favorite film of the 80s.

19. The Big Lebowski (1998) - Joel and Ethan Coen
I'm sure all of you that know me knew this film was coming.  I can't really think of any film that has so steadily climbed my personal list of greatest films quite like The Big Lebowski.  I remember the first time I watched it thinking it was funny but a little stupid.  For some website I submitted a top ten list of 1998 and this was some embarrassingly low number like 8 or 9.  Then I watched it again, and again, and again, and well it's become a blur just how many times I've sat through this film.  When my friends are suggesting a movie to watch and one of us says Lebowski then it's pretty much decided.  I can't think of any film that gets better so regularly than this.  The script is quite possibly the best ever written, but if you disagree then you probably haven't seen it as much as I have.  Jeff Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the Dude, John Turturro steals the show as Jesus Quintero, and the rest of the cast is absolutley brilliant with a few Oscar winners to boot.  However this is all the brothers Coen's show, hilarious start to finish and so much better under closer inspection.  All too many films reveal continuity gaps, inconsistencies, and unexplainable blunders after I've seen them some two or three dozen times, but not this it really is a perfect movie.

18. Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen
I'll admit you probably don't have to see every Woody Allen movie, in fact you probably shouldn't, but when the man is good few have ever been better.  After a string of well liked but ultimately a little stupid movies he finally stepped up to the plate and made the movie he was dreaming of, kinda.  Annie Hall was originally a lot more like Deconstructing Harry, which I think is easily his best of the 90s, but he decided to trim down some of the fantasy elements and instead made the focus of the film about Alvy and Annie's relationship.  It was Allen's greatest triumph and the one that elevated him from comedian to great filmmaker.  He hasn't slowed down since averaging a movie a year to this day, good or bad, but a film like Annie Hall only comes around once in a lifetime.  It's probably his funniest film and to me it's his most innovative, easy to relate to.  He can have a tendency to lose touch with his audience but I always felt like Diane Keaton was his equal in this film and she was never better.  So many of the jokes still work wonders and you can literally see a filmmaker coming into his own as the film progresses.  Calling this a romantic comedy is a disservice to the film, let's just refer to it as one of the best damn movies of the 70s and the masterpiece of one of the best directors around.

17. The Man With a Movie Camera (1929) - Dziga Vertov
Many moons ago TCM played Battleship Potemkin on TV late one night.  I recorded it and saw a four star film named The Man With a Movie Camera was showing right after so I figured I'd just let the tape run.  When I saw Potemkin I thought it was good but didn't get all the fuss, when I saw the Vertov film I nearly lost my damn mind.  MWaMC is the most brilliant silent avant-garde film of them all.  A free form experiment that's part city symphony but an absolute clinic on editing, trick photography, super impositions, location photography, and literally constructing a narrative via captured reality.  It's part documentary but clearly a well orchestrated movie.  It was the crowning achievement in a damn brilliant period of great Soviet film making.  Finally this year it seems the rest of the world has started to agree with me that it is indeed better than Potemkin, but I could probably watch this every day and still never get tired of it.

16. Intolerance (1916) - D. W. Griffith
It is a thing of beauty to see a great director at the peak of his powers given free reign and a somewhat unlimited budget to make the film he envisions.  Griffith had that power after Birth of a Nation and this film was made almost in response to it.  It began with the modern story The Mother and the Law but following the success of Birth, Griffith decided this film needed to be a little bigger so he constructed four separate narratives to show "love's struggle through the ages" but instead of making the film something of an anthology he decided to mix all four stories together.  The idea of cross cutting narratives from different time periods might seem perfectly reasonable today, but no one was doing this in 1916, but that can be said for many of Griffith's innovations.  He built things to a massive scale and there is something real in his Babylon that makes it mind boggling to think this entire structure was put up in southern California.  Although Babylon and the modern story are the real show stoppers in this tale he doesn't exactly skip out on the Saint Barthalamew's Day massacre or his story of Christ.  It wouldn't be a Griffith film without a race to the finish rescue, and this is the best he had.  A huge influence on not only the Soviets but Abel Gance who as I already mentioned was a director who deserves your praise, this is damn near the best silent film ever.

15. La Dolce Vita (1960) - Federico Fellini
Not far behind 1980 might be 1960 as the greatest year of cinema.  A transitional period that saw some of the all time greatest directors make some of the all time greatest films.  Federico Fellini outdid himself and in my opinion all of Italian cinema with this monumental film.  An epic film that essentially is about one man's hollow existence in a world of artificiality.  It helped usher in a new wave of Italtian cinema that would no longer focus on non-professional actors playing poverty stricken war torn peasants.  Instead this was a glamorous life, but a hollow and superficial one.  It was the film that made Fellini a household name, brought him his first best director nomination and for better or worse seems to be largely responsible for the whole obsession with celebrity subculture we're constantly inundated with.  I can't say enough great things about this or Fellini, before he got too strange and extravagant he made one of the perfect films of the 60s, and he wasn't even done there.

14. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - David Lean
I can honestly say I never thought this film would drop this low on my list, although it's still damn high there are few words to describe how much I loved this.  One of the first couple of films I rented after Casablanca set me on my way I loved it almost immediately.  This is the epic to end all epics, where like Griffith during Intolerance, David Lean had all the time, money, and resources in the world to make the film he wanted.  The production went massively over budget and over schedule but the results were so glorious.  A film that takes it's time without being boring a glorious war film set in the middle of the desert most of the time.  It was Peter O'Toole's first film and his greatest, it took David Lean from the great British director known for adapting Charles Dickens to the master of the epic.  An absolutely stunning film start to finish you get the feeling like nothing was rushed in this film, and so much of the desert was combed over to re-shoot some incredibly long shots just to make it all look right.  It's a thing of beauty when you take the time to do it right.

13. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) - Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
This is another one of those films that I've always loved from the time I can remember.  I recently started to wonder if there is a film on earth funnier, ever, and I would probably say no.  The first feature from the legendary Monty Python group following their brilliant and utterly bizarre show it is the funniest movie ever.  To think I can be pounding my fist crying laughing even after seeing this 20 times shows that this is truly an extraordinary film.  Unlike Griffith and Lean, the two Terrys had no budget whatsoever, and laughably made it work to their advantage.  Instead of riding horses they hit two coconuts together.  Instead of fighting the great beast of AAAAGGGGHHH, they just turned it into a cartoon, in that strange animation style of Gilliam.  Rarely has a film turned so many of it's limitations into advantages quite like these guys.  It's nearly impossible to pick a favorite sequence or even the best line in the film.  Hanging out with my family on the holidays almost always resorts to mass quoting of this film, but isn't that every family?

12. Sunrise:  A Song of Two Humans (1927) - F. W. Murnau
Well all hail the new champion.  After many years I now think Sunrise is the greatest of all silent films.  There are some statements in film that virtually no one will argue with, even if they don't always agree.  It's really impossible to see this film and not recognize it's brilliance.  It's plot is incredibly simple but it is the strength of it's leads helps make it so compelling.  Janet Gaynor won the first best actress Oscar courtesy of her performance here (as well as Street Angel and Seventh Heaven but things were different then).  George O'Brien was never better as the tortured husband torn between two women and essentially two worlds.  However it is Murnau who was making his first American film after a brilliant career in Germany that really helps this film transcend all others.  With all the resources of a major Hollywood studio and complete artistic control he made the best film of the decade and a masterpiece that has stood for decades as one of the all time greats.  An enormous critical success during it's time, it's disappointing box office returns effectively put a cap on Murnau's future projects and he never came close to reaching these heights again before his untimely death in 1931. 

11. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) - Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
There are some times when ten films are not enough.  I've been running around saying Singin' in the Rain is in my top ten for so long I couldn't stand the thought of parting with it.  It still belongs there, but well so do at least ten other films.  The greatest musical ever made, my favorite film of the 50s, and a film of such universal joy makes Singin' in the Rain a truly special movie.  It is so good start to finish, with a group of songs that literally is a greatest hits of Arthur Freed.  Gene Kelly to me was the greatest of all musical stars and the best choreographer working during MGM's golden age of musicals.  A brilliant film about the silent era and the transition to sound it features so many iconic moments including arguably the most recognizable scene from any musical.  Like so many of my other favorite films this is just as good the 8th time watching it as the first or second.  It's a film so good I can't even imagine people who hate musicals to dislike it.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about the film is how little anyone cared about it in 1952 when it came out, as the Macho Man once said the cream always rises to the top.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top 100 Films - 30-21

30. Ordinary People (1980) - Robert Redford

If you know me this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for you.  Ok sure I’m a well publicized Scorsese fanatic, but I’ve gone on record countless times to say “yes I do think Ordinary People deserved the Oscar in 1980”.  It’s hard to say it’s a better film than Raging Bull but I just give it the slight edge.  Of all the actors turned director I don’t know if any where better than Robert Redford aside from maybe Clint Eastwood.  His first offering was easily his best.  A somewhat simple but incredibly moving tale of a rather comfortable family that’s torn asunder by the death of their oldest son and the suicidal tendencies of their youngest.  Maybe it was the fact that I saw this film at the same age as Timothy Hutton’s character, or maybe I didn’t grow up too far from where the film was set (although I’m far from a Lake Forest resident).  Whatever it is this film just touched a raw nerve in me and I was convinced a second viewing would reveal it as just one of those one-time reactions.  Well I watched it again and figured I’d be god damned if it still wasn’t a better film than Raging Bull and the best American movie of the 80s.

29. Psycho (1960) - Alfred Hitchcock

So here’s the best film from the most famous director the world has ever seen.  I’ve never wavered on what my favorite Hitchcock film is and frankly I’ve never understood how anyone could say it was something different.  The film still packs a few genuine shocks today, Bernard Hermann’s shrieking score was effective before too many other lesser directors started borrowing from it.  It’s plot is absolutely brilliant and it’s taken for granted just how unorthodox of a movie this was.  Sorry that it dropped a bit this time, not that I dislike it or anything, but these things happen.  I’ve gone into great detail my problems with the psychological explanation at the end and a few of the holes in the Dr.’s logic, but it’s just an afterthought.  This film opens brilliantly with a good looking couple wearing barely anything and ends with such a deliciously creepy shot of Anthony Perkins it’s damn brilliant.  Hitchcock was a director who would use any tactic or trick to make his film successful, he never adhered to one particular style, lens, or lighting, etc.  Here he seems to empty his bag of tricks for the best damn film of his brilliant career.

28. The Searchers (1956) - John Ford

I typed my review of this on another computer already, but well to hell with it, I’m cooking with gas here.  John Ford was known for his Westerns and he was known for shooting in Monument Valley.  Even today when you see shots of that famous spot out west the first thing that runs through your mind are all those great Westerns made by Ford along with John Wayne a man more synonymous with the cowboy than the Marlboro Man.  This film is considerably darker than most of their work, about the obsessive quest to find a niece who may or may not be dead after she was kidnapped by Comanche Indians.  Wayne plays Ethan Edwards who is as openly racist as any Western hero you’re likely to see whose character is deep down just the other side of the coin to Scar’s Indian chief.  I’d say none of Ford’s color films look better than this, courtesy of Winton C. Hoch.  Damn near the best Western ever made, damn near.

27. Casablanca (1942) - Michael Curtiz

Well this is the film that started it all for me.  The one that convinced me it would be a good idea to become completely obsessed with film and to try and see every damn brilliant movie I could.  So I can’t overestimate the importance this film has had in shaping my life and if I ever wanted to blame my obsession for some negative consequences this is the most glaring culprit, but I could never be mad at Casablanca.  This is another in a seemingly long line of classic Hollywood films that are so good people just blatantly take it for granted.  Despite it’s best picture status it actually took awhile and the emergence of cult movies for this to really catch on to the fanatical devotion it has now.  It makes sense when you consider how much fun it is to watch this film over and over again.  Hell I watched it two days in a row the first time I saw it, and well I haven’t been the same since.  I can’t really add anything new to it’s lexicon, but good heavens if you don’t like this movie you clearly have no soul.

26. Napoleon (1927) - Abel Gance

Another in my long list of shockingly brilliant films this one still apparently needs some publicity.  Abel Gance was a fairly virtuosic director, one who was so above and beyond all his contemporaries that it seems like he’s taking delight in toying with their prehistoric notions of how to make a movie.  This film’s brilliance tends to beat you over the head with it’s innovation and style, but oh what a joyous ride.  A monumental production that was going to be the first of several parts about Napoleon’s life but alas Abel Gance never made another part.  In fact I can’t think of anyone whose made a film about Napoleon coming anywhere near this good, although I’ve always wondered what Kubrick could have done.  The debate continues to rage over who owns the rights to which version of this film and which score it should have, etc so it’s been in film purgatory for years, but if you ever get a chance to see it, preferably with all the three-screen projection glory there’s no doubt you’ll be amazed.  Abel Gance deserves to be as highly recognized and praised as any filmmaker ever, and this is his masterpiece to end all masterpieces.

25. Mulholland Drive (2001) - David Lynch

Well I couldn’t leave Blue Velvet all alone on this list could I?  My favorite film of the 00s, this is one strange trip, but good god is it worth it.  It’s like a dream within a dream that gets pretty damn weird, slips back to reality, then just when you think the whole puzzle is figured out, there’s just one or two things that you can’t quite figure.  Thus is the conundrum of David Lynch.  The wtf quality of his films is part of the joy, but the sinister music, the dreamlike pace, the brilliant visuals are what really make his films tick.  It’s hard sometimes to put into words just how special his work really is.  In some ways I consider Blue Velvet like a Bachelor’s Degree in Lynch, whereas Mulholland Drive is your Masters.  I suppose Inland Empire is the PhD, but it’ll take decades to figure that one out.  If nothing else this is the film we can thank for having Naomi Watts in our lives.  She had made several films to no avail before but she’s certainly done well since.  Words really fail to do this film justice.

24. All that Jazz (1979) - Bob Fosse

There will never be another Bob Fosse.  No matter how much many, many, many people will try he was truly unique.  Although he only made five films as a director, one was a remake of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, and his final film was bashed by nearly everyone, this was his best.  Yes I realize Cabaret won a million Oscars (even won best director over The Godfather), but All That Jazz is something truly special.  It was agonizing sitting through the film of Nine which was an embarrassing attempt to make a musical out of 8 ½, I just thought “They already did that, it’s called All That Jazz”.  Fosse takes the semi-autobiographical approach here and even prophesizes his own death (he died of a heart attack 8 years after this film was finished).  His on screen counterpart of Joe Gideon is a type A man with far too much on his plate.  Roy Scheider has the performance of his life as Gideon and he runs through all of it as though it were actually Fosse on screen.  A chain-smoking, pill-popping, skirt chasing genius with some intricate fantasy sequences and some truly unique musical numbers.  There was only one Fosse.

23. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) - Sergio Leone

I can’t explain why this film is so low other than to say I guess I think all the upcoming films are just a little bit better.  Sergio Leone’s third film in the “not technically a trilogy” Dollars Trilogy is in my opinion the greatest Western ever made.  It’s a film that clearly distinguishes which one of these three leads are the “good”, the “bad”, and the “ugly” but you see pretty clearly all three fit each description.  An epic set during the Civil War about three despicable men all out for the same prize and their never ending quest to screw each other over for their own gain.  Leone’s still of Western was a new breed, full of superhuman gunfighters, where everyone was in need of a shave, they all needed a bath, and antiquated ideas of nobility were nowhere to be found.  It made Clint Eastwood a star and eventually a legend.  One of the perfect “guy” movies that’s just as brilliant after the 12th time as the first.

22. Goodfellas (1990) - Martin Scorsese

One of the requirements for this list was I had to see every film at least more than once.  It makes sense because I figure a great film should stand up on closer inspection or repeated viewings.  So it stands to reason that some of the films on this list are movies I’ve seen way more times than I can possibly count.  Goodfellas is one of those films that I can’t not watch if it’s on TV.  I turn it on, stop what I’m doing and there we go, cancel all appointments until coked up Henry Hill turns snitch.  The film is fast paced and has a genuine nostalgic longing courtesy of the narration.  So many things in the film are hilarious in a very black comedy way but things do tend to balance between the psychotic and the hilarious tipping over from one side to the next almost without warning.  At the end of the day these are all horrible people who pretty much all deserve what they got, but my goodness is there a better way to spend two and a half hours?

21. Los Olvidados (1950) - Luis Bunuel

Sometimes when I watch a movie again I truly am amazed.  I loved Los Olvidados the first time I saw it.  It wasn’t as surreal as many of Bunuel’s French films, but it was damn good.  So I figured I’d take another look before doing my 50s list.  Well on second thought, this damn near topped my list and it instantly became my favorite Bunuel film, where it’s likely to stay at least for the next decade.  This was the return of the prodigal son in some ways.  Bunuel was a brilliant filmmaker who debuted towards the end of France’s golden age of surrealism.  He went into seclusion for nearly two decades, working odd jobs shooting Spanish language versions of Hollywood films and eventually getting to direct in Mexico.  This film however, made as a response to the over sentimental treatment of the poor in Italian neo-realist films was his triumphant return to notoriety.  It was his masterpiece and firmly established him as the greatest surrealist of them all, but unlike his first couple of films this demonstrated beautifully that he could tell a great story aside from just being bizarre.  You’re not likely to ever see another movie about kids like this or one that so defiantly sticks it’s middle finger up to poor people.  Just damn brilliant, and yes there are two dancing dogs for like 10 seconds.

Top 100 Films: 40-31

40. The Shining (1980) - Stanley Kubrick

Well for those of you who read my top 100 horror list first of all thanks, and second of all you'll probably recognize this from the top of that list.  You may have also noticed that I wrote a review of this film for this site as well as posted it in my top ten of the 80s.  All of those instances probably involved me telling you that this was my favorite horror film ever.  Not sure what I can add to the extensive commentary I've made on the film except to just remind you for the millionth time that this really is the greatest horror film ever, Stanley Kubrick really is the greatest director ever, and well this is just damn awesome.  So crack open a beer and watch it hopefully for the 5th or 6th time.  Read the book to, it's damn good in a slightly different sort of way, and remember that this is as good as it gets.

39. Before Sunrise (1995) - Richard Linklater

One of my absolute favorite films, but I guess they all are when the list gets this high right?  Richard Linklater was pretty flawless by this point in time, Slacker was great if not uneven and Dazed and Confused is compulsively re-watchable, but I think he captured something truly magical with Before Sunrise.  Written along with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy the film was largely just improvised at the time but there is something wonderful going on here.  I suppose that it might not hit you the same way, or maybe you're one of those people who prefer the sequel Before Sunset, but I appreciate the optimism in this film.  It's a film that seems to capture that magical quality of youth where everything can and just might happen without a moment's notice.  To me Before Sunset seemed to betray that with the reality of it all, but oh what a film.

38. City of God (2002) - Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund

The best foreign film of the last decade according to me and that's the only opinion you should trust anyways.  It comes from the merry old land of Brazil where kids play soccer and apparently kill people and deal drugs before the age of 10.  Ok maybe it reinforces some bad stereotypes but it comes from a long line of gritty and politically charged films from the country.  The film is violent but not in a comically gory way that all too many films are these days but it's far from a kids movie, even if the cast are largely kids.  Fast paced and gloriously watchable I'd recommend it for anyone even those pesky "I don't like movies with subtitles because I'm illiterate" people.  I will apologize that this is the only film directed by a woman on my list.  Not that I should apologize for that but the fact that it was co-directed by a man and when the Oscar nominations were announced she wasn't even given a credit alongside the better known Meirelles, well makes me a little guilty I suppose.  Anyways a great film, watch it, and love it or watch it again if you happened not to enjoy it the first time around for some strange unexplainable reason.

37. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - John Frankenheimer

This is by far my favorite film about Korean war brainwashed veterans set to assassinate a political figure in a huge conspiracy movie ever.  By that extremely specific sentence it would seem to ask, well what's your point?  My point is this movie is a bit unique and yes its really, really god damn awesome.  Unlike some movies with surprise or twist endings that often fall apart on a second viewing, this film just gets better.  That doesn't mean it has a shocking ending, because I'm not in the business of giving spoilers but I will say it holds up on the second, third, fourth viewing, and if I saw it a fifth time I might even like it more.  Frank Sinatra is great, probably even better than he was in Man With a Golden Arm, and this is one of three films on my list with Janet Leigh.  At the end of the day though John Frankenheimer really runs this ship and he does a great job throughout.  Then again I love deep focus photography and long uninterrupted shots, so you should have figured that out.

36. They Live by Night (1949) - Nicholas Ray

Well here's the last film featuring Cathy O'Donnell on my list, it also happens to be the first film from Nicholas Ray a god among men.  Shot in 1947 but not released for another two years it was still ahead of it's time when it finally came out.  A love on the run story about two people who just happen to be more victims of bad luck than outlaws.  This can and has been described as film noir and bares a great deal of similarities to Joseph H. Lewis' Gun Crazy.  Like many of my favorite films it involves long takes, deep focus and all kinds of great tracking shots.  The real strength of this film though to me is with Farley Granger and the aforementioned Miss O'Donnell, they are the perfect young, kinda naive, dumb couple that can't seem to catch a break.   

35. Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Billy Wilder

There are some films that you recognize as great but seem to forget about.  I've seen Sunset Boulevard several times and every time I recognize it as a masterpiece, but it wasn't until this past time that I really seemed to get it.  Not just a five star film or even a best picture contender (the debate between this or All About Eve still rages on), but one of the all time greats, and yes even the best film Billy Wilder made.  So hate to spoil the rest of the list with that admission, but good heavens this is a film that has been so consistently praised and referenced throughout that people can sometimes forget what a great movie it is on a human level.  Stylistically it has all my favorite things in it, but of course an incredibly witty script from Mr. Wilder and some of the best lines you're likely to hear in any movie.  Of all the movies about Hollywood I can't think of any with this much of an impact that are still so good today. 

34. Ashes and Diamonds (1958) - Andrzej Wajda

You may start to see a pattern, hell I didn’t notice it when I was making this list but stylistically a whole lot of films in this group are similar.  This one is remarkably different only because it happens to be in Polish.  The third part of Andrzej Wajda’s not-exactly-a-trilogy about WWII, it takes place on the last day of the war, and like several other favorites (Before Sunrise for one) this is another 24 hour movie.  If this is the first you’re hearing of this film then clearly you have not been reading my blog, but I say again this is as good as Polish cinema gets.  Now that I’ve officially ranked these films I can say this is the best that Eastern Europe gets, at least in that period anyways.  Wajda was taught via film school and was part of a new wave (yes every country had a new wave) of Polish cinema that put it on the map internationally.  He’s still active nearly 60 years later at the age of 86, but well he hit his peak here when he was just entering his 30s.  The final piece of his WWII puzzle it is the most visually arresting, contemplative, and honest of the bunch and a true masterpiece in any language.

33. Raging Bull (1980) - Martin Scorsese

This may not be the best film of the 80s but it’s certainly on the short list of them.  Scorsese one-upped himself brilliantly with this biopic of Jake LaMotta and Robert De Niro gave arguably the best screen performance anyone had ever seen.  His obsession to his craft became the stuff of instant legend but the results were so worth it.  Visually as brilliant as anything Scorsese has done, a brutal film that isn’t always pleasant to watch but always compelling.  For most people this is the best sports movie ever made, but I’ve always hesitated to call it a sports movie.  Not that boxing isn’t a sport, but this film is so much more than a film about boxing.  It’s about one self destructive man whose incomprehensible jealousy alienated him from everyone.  Not a pleasant picture of someone’s golden years and their fall from grace, it’s unflattering and unflinching throughout, and probably the best collaboration from my favorite star-director duo ever.

32. Schindler’s List (1993) - Steven Spielberg

As Lincoln makes it’s nauseating campaign to win more awards I think it’s fair to look back 19 years when people were convinced that the Academy was prejudiced to Steven Spielberg.  This was the film that silenced all the critics and firmly established him as Hollywood’s brightest and best.  A man more associated with box office than acclaim this film was his monstrously successful “art film” and man is it good.  He wasn’t afraid to get dirty here, a complaint I have with some of his recent films.  Ralph Fiennes is brilliant and inexplicably evil, and Liam Neeson proves he was a damn good actor before he became an old action star for some strange reason.  Visually it’s as good as any film of the decade, but you may have noticed from the last several entries I kinda like black and white films.  You can say what you will about his crowd pleasing ways, his sentimentality, or sometimes his juvenile mentality, but Schindler’s List is as good as it gets.

31. Blue Velvet (1986) - David Lynch

Well you had to figure David Lynch would pop up at some time on this list.  I didn’t even know how high Blue Velvet would get but it’s a damn near perfect movie.  I only say near because I can’t think of any real reason why it isn’t perfect.  It is so perfectly Lynchian the way it blends his odd obsessions with his long preoccupation with the seedier side of life hidden in suburban neighborhoods right next to white picket fences.  I’ll wager to say he’ll never make another film this good again but who will?  Dennis Hopper made one of several great comebacks as arguably the most evil man ever on a film, even more so than the briefly redeemable Nazi played by Fiennes in Schindler’s List.  Yet this is just good old fashioned odd, eerie, slightly disturbing brilliance and the reason why so many people will regularly point to David Lynch as the most interesting filmmaker working today.  Saying something is “Lynchian” is a bit misleading because no one makes movies like him and this is damn near his best.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Top 100 Films: 50-41

50. Corn’s-a-Poppin’ (1956) - Robert Woodburn
Well here's my "what the hell is this film?" film.  For those of you not priveleged enough to see it in one of the random screenings here in Chicago then I hope to holy hell it gets released somewhere.  Never on VHS, never on DVD, and not even a version of it floating around on youtube or in torrent form.  If any of you have a copy of it please let me know.  I went to see this film after hearing one of the characters was named Thaddeus Pinwhistle and another Waldo Crummit.  The film was described as a film version of the show that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were always putting on to save some barn or something in all those formulaic MGM musicals.  What makes this film elevated from just pure camp is the songs.  They're really damn good and apparently the actor who played Johnny Wilson (Jerry Wallace) wound up with a pretty respectable singing career in country music.  There's also Little Cora Rice who made her debut here, but according to her imdb page this was her first and last film.  Anyways this is the best thing Robert Altman ever did, even if he completely disowned it.

49. The Mother and the Whore (1973) - Jean Eustache 
Jean Eustache had one of the briefest and brightest careers in France's immediate post-new wave.  He only made two features, but this was his one unquestionable masterpiece.  Clocking in well over three hours it essentially tells the tale of a love triangle in post-May '68 Paris.  Long since one of my favorites it might seem a bit daunting at first considering it's length and the talk friendly nature of rambling 20-somethings, but it's worth it.  If it's any consolation I'm far from the only person to think this film is brilliant.  Cahiers du Cinema voted it the best film of the seventies, and a recent Film Comment poll listed it as the best long film ever.  So in other words all 220 minutes of this are brilliant, from the compelling to the banal, the dramatic to the trivial it all paints a great picture. 

48. The Dark Knight (2008) - Christopher Nolan
I'll be perfectly honest when I say I didn't expect this film to be that great.  Fact is even the best of the Batman films (which is clearly Batman and Robin) weren't exactly masterpieces.  Well my expectations got a little higher for this film and well it's in my top 50 so that goes to show how incredibly it met and exceeded my expectations.  Much of this is rightly due to Heath Ledger's performance which as we all know won every award ever.  Christopher Nolan who made a couple of pretty good films but to me this was his first real masterpiece and it's a damn good thing.  He's followed it up with two damn good movies and I for one can't wait to see what he'll do post-Batman.  The film is a little bittersweet because I think we all realize there will never be a super hero movie better than this.

47. Weekend (1967) - Jean-Luc Godard
The last time I made this list I was under the impression that Weekend is what every film should be.  To me it is the culmination of Godard's best period, the final evolution where he his his peak.  Of course there was only one way to go from there, but I won't completely dismiss his films of the last four decades.  Shot with some extremely long takes which as you know by now I'm a huge fan of, and some of those trademark on screen monologues about all that is wrong in the world.  It also features the most comically ridiculous traffic jam in any movie.  His famous quote that every film needs a beginning, middle, and end but not necessarily in that order certainly applies here.  The film is linear in the loosest definition of the term but things quickly take their own turn and all semblance of a couple on a weekend getaway immediately disappears.    

46. Rocco and His Brothers (1960) - Luchino Visconti 
Oddly enough this isn't the first Italian film from 1960 that I shrugged my shoulders at while wondering what the big deal was after my first viewing.  In fact I've thought that about La Dolce Vita and L'avventura as well.  I believed maybe all of Luchino Visconti's work might be slightly overrated.  Then I took another look at this film, a transitional masterpiece from arguably the most important year in film.  Well it didn't take too long to realize I must have REALLY missed something the first time around because this film is damn near perfect.  Absolutely amazing start to finish and it's probably the first film I would mention as a cinematic equivalent to the novel.  Although episodic in structure it tells a deeply personal and incredibly rich story of a family in transition.  As Antonioni and Fellini turned their attention towards the upper classes (as Visconti would do later) here he makes his epic on the working class and their struggle to survive and hopefully eventually prosper.  This is also the film that helped make Alain Delon a star, and it also features Claudia Cardinale in a supporting role.  Seriously though this film is amazing, you just might need to see it twice.

45. Predator (1987) - John McTiernan 
Oh well allow myself to indulge in being a man for a bit.  This has been a favorite since forever yet for some idiotic reason I allowed myself too much time on my pretentious high horse to put it on my previous film lists.  Perhaps I thought it was childish or juvenile, but well the older I get maybe I'm getting nostalgic or maybe I'm just coming to grips with who I am.  I'm a man who fucking loves Predator, this is the best action movie ever and I will fight anyone to the death who thinks otherwise, unless they say Die Hard that's acceptable I guess.  Anyways Arnold and Carl Whethers share the greatest handshake in movie history, then Jesse Ventura mows down the jungle, Bill Duke (THE Blurple one himself) shaves sweat off his face, an Indian yells while cutting his chest, and then there's the Predator himself.  Like the first Alien most of the film goes by before we even get a glimpse of the Predator, but this film seems like a rescue mission straight out of the second Rambo film before things start getting weird and totally fucking awesome. 

44. Gone with the Wind (1939) - Victor Flemming, Sam Wood, George Cukor
The epic of all epics that set and raised the bar for what a true Hollywood blockbuster can be.  At nearly four hours it is the fastest moving film you're likely to see.  David O'Selznick is in some ways the original James Cameron because he couldn't do anything on a small scale.  The cast was exceptional and is there anyone else who ever lived that could be Rhett Butler besides Clark Gable?  So many sequences are spectacular and it in many ways follows a similar structure to Griffith's Birth of a Nation, albeit with far less Klan members.  However it's all about Scarlett, or mainly Vivian Leigh who was the result of a nearly two year talent search to play the heroine.  She was unlike any female lead before or since.  Never was anyone so determined, so manipulative, so strong, and so complex.  A flawed character for sure but she's the type of role that rarely if ever comes around for an actress.  It is also in my opinion the first truly great looking color film of the 30s, even if the three strip process had been around for four years prior.  What can you say but Selznick knew how to make an epic?

43. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - Frank Capra
In the annals of film history many, many people have wondered what the greatest year in film is.  A whole hell of a lot of them would point to 1939, which featured GWTW, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, and many others, but none better than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, sorry for my Rules of the Game fans.  Capra made a special kind of American cheese, or rather Capra-corn, and idealized version of America where the little guy would always eventually triumph, but I get the feeling like Mr. Smith was the first of his films that started to take things down a darker path.  For many It's a Wonderful Life would be the peak, but it's always been Mr. Smith.  Jean Arthur is fantastic and Jimmy Stewart should have won his Oscar here.  His wide eyed idealist Jefferson Smith is a perfect Capra hero.  Simply watching him fumble with his hat around Susan Payne is a thing of brilliance.  It may have seemed like a shocking idea to suggest that even our Senators could be bought and sold by the wealthy, but it's all the more convincing today.  I just hope we can get our own Jeff Smith to make things better.

42. Maltese Falcon (1941) - John Huston
Orson Welles wasn't the only one making his first and best film in 1941.  John Huston had some success as a screenwriter before Warner Bros. let him direct his first feature.  He chose to adapt Dashiell Hammett's detective story The Maltese Falcon, which had been made twice before in the last decade.  I guess third time's the charm because no one ever seems to mention those other two versions.  In the process he helped make Humphrey Bogart one of Hollywood's biggest movie stars and delivered the first masterpiece in a style that was soon to be re-christened film noir.  It may be plot heavy but it has all the wonderful trappings of a great noir.  There's a woman who can never be trusted, a group of foreign thugs, constant betrayals and back-stabbings, and one man who seems to survive by sheer dumb luck or rather just knows way more than he ever lets on.  To this day Bogart is still the original private eye in most people's minds and the first person they think of in the movies to fit that role, Sherlock Holmes be damned.

41. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Carl Theodor Dreyer
Some films take some time to find their audience, others find their praises sung from the highest rooftops immediately.  Although a complete 35mm print turned out to be hard to find for years, and many thought lost, critics all over were hailing Dreyer's film as quite possibly the greatest thing ever filmed pretty much from the time it premiered.  It was a large gala event when it finally made it's way to America and it still ranks high in so many critics minds, cracking the most recent edition of Sight and Sound's top ten poll. For a director that later earned his reputation for being slow paced and favoring very long takes, this film is a completely different cinematic language.  It is shot almost entirely in close ups with incredibly short shots, edited at a blistering pace.  Plenty of filmmakers have tried tackling Joan of Arc and I honestly can't see why.  No one will ever, or can ever make a better film about Saint Joan, it's really not possible.