Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #840 Thru #859

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between June 20th and July 6th.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#840 - My Night at Maud's (1969) - (#296 on TSPDT)  Topping both Pauline at the Beach and Claire's Knee, this is now my favourite Eric Rohmer film.  The film, one of the auteur's Six Moral Tales, is very French in its cocksure aesthetic and precise yet meandering cadence (and I mean this in the most complimentary manner) and is filled to the veritable brim with all the pretentious things we look for in a film from the nouveau tradition of the Nouvelle Vague - and I mean that in a complimentary manner as well.

#841 - I Was Born, But... (1932) - (#497 on TSPDT)  This can be construed as Ozu's breakout film, as well as a damn fine example at just how funny the director could be.  Ostensibly remade by Ozu himself twenty-seven years later as Good Morning, this early sound work is a heart-warming tale that shows life through the eyes of children.  Now granted, I am not a huge fan of Ozu's work (though a fan I am, I have never truly disliked any of the man's films, but then again, I have never truly loved any of them either), but I can still see this film as an important piece in not only Ozu's oeuvre, but in Japanese cinema as a whole.

#842 - Husbands (1970) (#498 on TSPDT)  Being a Cassavetes film, there is a hell of a lot of improvising in Husbands.  Between Cassavetes stalwarts Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk, and the director/actor himself, we get long scenes of pure stage improvisations.  Some of these work, others just seem to drag on too long - and in a few cases too incoherently.  For the most part I enjoyed the film - these three do work well together - but I can not claim it as one of my favourite Cassavetes.  I actually watched this back to back with the director's follow-up film, Minnie and Moskowitz (featuring Mrs. Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands), a film that is not on the list.  I suppose if I had my druthers, in spite of the scenes that actually work in Husbands, I would kick it off the list and replace it with the aforementioned follow-up.
#843 - Vengeance is Mine (1979)(#692 on TSPDT)  A post Japanese New Wave film that takes the brooding feel of said new wave, and rips it open with sudden violent explosions that were near impossible to create just fifteen years earlier when the wave was still new.  Not a great work of cinema, but a brave one indeed (think Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers).  I suppose this is a film that deserves to be on the list (it would probably just miss out making my own list) if only for its sheer audacity of filmmaking.
#844 - Variety (1925)(#993 on TSPDT)  One of the lesser known works of the movement known as German Expressionist Cinema.  While Lang and Murnau and Pabst and even Robert Weine, get all the critical credit for the movement, E.A. Dupont's film noirish tale of betrayal, should not be forgotten.  Sure, it may not have the heft of a Murnau or the exuberance of a Lang, but this film, from its stunning cinematography (Karl Freund of course) to the central performance from that bulldog Emil Jannings, is still a rather powerful work of art.  Okay, it would not make my list, but hey.

#845 - An Angel at My Table (1990) - (#580 on TSPDT)  I have always loved the way Jane Campion styles her films.  I know it sounds cliché to say such a thing, but they have an other-world quality to them, almost as if they have come from another reality, and this gives them a strange beauty.  Now that I have finally seen her second film, I believe I can count this as my favourite Campion film yet.   Beautiful to look at and ofttimes heartbreaking to watch, the central performance from Kerry Fox is downright brilliant.  And that gigantic red mop of a hairdo is quite sexy to boot.  This film definitely deserves to be on here, and will probably sneak onto my own 1000 greatest list as well.
#846 - Cutter's Way (1981) - (#986 on TSPDT)  Jeff Bridges is always good, but he has such a natural ability, almost as if he is not acting so much as just being, that he doesn't get noticed as often as he damn well should.  Of course, in Cutter's Way, he is actually outshone.  John Heard's batshitcrazy performance is the highlight of the film.  Well that, and Ivan Passer's moody neo-noir setting and oozy-like camera work.  This probably will not make my own 1000 greatest list, but I have no problem with it being on this one.

#847 - L'Amour Fou (1969) - (#951 on TSPDT)  Sometimes I just don't get what Jacques Rivette is trying to do.  I was enthralled with Celine and Julie, and really liked both Duelle and The Nun, as well as some of his more recent work, and Out 1, though quite bloated, certainly has its moments, but this one I just do not get.  Boring beyond belief and really unnecessary in most of its aspects.  Rivette is a fine filmmaker, but sometimes...

#848 - Kameradschaft (1931) - (#852 on TSPDT) This is definitely not one of the highlights of this quest.  This G.W. Pabst film is rather uninteresting and quite lackluster - and from the man who gave us several intriguing films with Louise Brooks around this same time.  In fact, this film was so incredibly uninteresting to me (and it is not necessarily a poorly made film per se) that I do not even have much of anything to say about, for better or for worse.
#849 - Odd Man Out (1947) - (#512 on TSPDT)  Now this is a film that deserves to be on this list.  A stunning film noir from Carol Reed (my second favourite Reed after The Third Man) with shot after shot after shot of sheer cinematic brilliance.  From the race away from the crime scene to James Mason (who hands in yet another spectacular performance here) hallucinating into his beer (classic scene) to that tragic, near perfect finale, it is pure Brit-noir gold.
#850 - Paris, Texas (1984) - (#303 on TSPDT)  Wim Wenders is another one of those hit-or-miss directors for me, though he does hit more often than miss.  This is definitely a hit.  In fact it is my favourite Wenders of all.  Easily one of the finest films of the 1980's (and just missing out on making my newly minted 100 Favourite Films list), this anything-but-typical US road movie (by a German no less) is the kind of small, unassuming film that sneaks up on you and, in the end, kinda blows you away.  The long and harrowing conversation between Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski is especially mind-blowing.  I suppose I don't even have to add that it deserves inclusion on this list - and in spades even.

#851 - Midnight (1939) - (#824 on TSPDT)  This Mitchell Leisen directed modern day (well modern day 1939) adaptation of Cinderella is a rather fun film.  I actually did not expect as much as I got.  Claudette Colbert is simply adorable.  Don Ameche is brusque and full of beans.  And John Barrymore, as Colbert's fairy godmother, is as brilliant and as acerbic as ever.  Definitely a film that deserves to be where it is.
#852 - Down By Law (1986) - (#515 on TSPDT)  When the scene came up with Roberto Benigni chanting "I scream-a. You scream-a. We all scream-a for ice cream-a" and he along with prison cell mates John Laurie and Tom Waits, dance around their cell screaming this mantra over and over again, riling up all the prisoners around them, until the guards are forced to put a stop to it all, I was more than hooked.  The film, probably Jarmusch's best (I still have not seen Mystery Train though), is a hoot and a holler from beginning to end, but that was the scene that nailed my eternal love for this film.  This is another film that just missed out on making my 100 Favourite Films list, and therefore surely deserves to be listed here.
#853 - The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) - (#278 on TSPDT)  This film is rather high up on the list, and many of my fellow critics and cinephiles claim to love this film, but really, I just don't get it.  Yes, it is visually stunning at times (both in a typically naturalist beauty kinda way and a tragic sort of manner) but overall the film just dragged for me - and this coming from a guy who has loved more than his share of slow-moving motion pictures.  Maybe I just wasn't in the mood that night.  Who knows.
#854 - Not Reconciled (1965) - (#707 on TSPDT)  I have never been all that much of a fan of the more experimental bent of cinema and cinephilia, and that opinion/penchant does not really get turned around with this Jean-Marie Straub/Danièle Huillet almost hour long bon mot.  Sure, it is not nearly as annoying as Stan Brakhage, but it is still not my cup of tea.  I suppose that is the best way to describe my feelings for the film - just not my cup of tea.

#855 - The Magnificent Seven (1960) - (#714 on TSPDT)  As I watched this widescreen western (projected on the big screen of my cinema) I kept thinking how familiar it all seemed.  Not because of it being a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, but because I am pretty sure I saw this years ago and just forgot.   So I suppose technically this should have already been checked off the list, but now I will make it official.  Granted, the film does not even come close to matching the frenetic intensity of the Japanese original (but what film really can), but it is still a fun western romp of a movie.
#856 - Our Hitler: A Film From Germany (1978) - (#614 on TSPDT)  A seven hour film about Adolph Hitler, involving puppets?  How could this not be great!?  Seriously, it is a pretty fun film.  One may expect that the silliness of such an endeavor (did I mention the puppets?) mixed with a seemingly excruciating running time (did I mention puppets?) would make for either a bloated mess or the perfect cure for insomnia.  One would be wrong though.  This is a delightful film, even considering the subject matter, that somehow works as an avant-garde piece of pop cinema-cum-creepy docudrama.  Definitely deserves inclusion here.

#857 - Hallelujah! (1929) - (#621 on TSPDT)  This King Vidor directed work was the very first all black production to come out of a major Hollywood studio - MGM in this case.  Telling the story of the wrongs and rights and wrongs again of a young sharecropper who turns to gambling then religion then the wrong woman, Hallelujah! (and the exclamation point is indeed a necessary part of the title) is a musical hoo-hah of a movie, full of great ups and even greater downs.  I do not think it will make my own 1000 list when I compile it, but I can see why it is here.
#858 - Sugar Cane Alley (1983) - (#835 on TSPDT)  A quite harrowing story of Caribbean sugar cane pickers and the sorrow and death that was their everyday lives.  I wasn't expecting much out of this film save for perhaps some haunting imagery, and was quite surprised at how fascinating this story was.  From both a narrative basis (heartbreaking without the oft-clichéd part of the story) and a cinematic one (the cinematography is much like a modern day Tourneur film) Sugar Cane Alley is indeed what one would call a must see - and even though it will probably miss out on my own top 1000 (but probably not by much, and who knows, it may end up making the final cut) it surely makes sense to be on this list.
#859 - Medium Cool (1969) - (#920 on TSPDT)  Definitely a film of its time, this look at the radical aspects of the late 1960's, is a picture that both plays it cool and heats it up.  For some reason, I have always believed this film to be a documentary (still not sure why I always assumed such a thing), and was a bit shocked when a story began to unfold.  But whatever the case, the film is fun and should be right where it is on the list.

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