Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #860 Thru #879

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between July 7 and July 27.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#860 - Diary of a Country Priest (1951) - (#247 on TSPDT) Introspective (duh, it's Bresson after all) and disarmingly subtle (duh again), this work from the earlier years of the auteur is considered a masterpiece by many.  I don't think I would go quite that far, but perhaps close to that.  Similar in vein to Rossellini's 1950 The Flowers of St. Francis, but more tightly wound (as would be the case considering the spiritual fear of Bresson's priest as compared to the free form spirituality of Rossellini's Francis), this film works in double time - as Bresson's quiet but imposing camera weaves its way around the performance of Claude Laydu, we are drawn into the very film itself.

#861 - Scorpio Rising (1964) - (#434 on TSPDT) Now anyone who knows me, and/or has read this site's ramblings on at least a semi-regular basis, knows perfectly well that I am not a big fan of experimental cinema.  Bah, I say to the so-called genre.  Bah!  But here things change a bit - at least for the half hour duration of Kenneth Anger's ode to rebel culture (everything from bikers to the occult to nazis, Jimmy Dean and of course homosexuality) - as I actually was quite enthralled in the film.  I have never been much of a fan of Anger's cinema, but this one caught my fancy (what does that say about me?), and therefore, along with a few works of Deren and Warhol, and most of the oeuvre of Peter Kubelka, becomes that oh so rare thing - an experimental film that I actually enjoy watching.  The 50's and 60's pop music soundtrack helped too.

#862 - The Conversation (1974) - (#164 on TSPDT) There is Apocalypse Now, my favourite, and of course the first two Godfather films (there was a third?) and then there is that "other" Francis Ford Coppola film of the 1970's.  Now coming from someone who has kept enjoying Coppola through the 1980's and One From the Heart (I really do love that film) and The Outsiders, and even into the past decade and Tetro (let's just ignore the 1990's and Jack for now), I can say that I am indeed a Coppola fan, and not just the always vaunted 1970's output.  With that said, I now claim to not really getting all that into The Conversation.  Granted, Hackman gives a fantastic performance - one of his best actually - but that aside, The Conversation is a well done work of cinema, but just not all I was expecting it to be cracked up to be.

#863 - Tristana (1970) - (#394 on TSPDT) Normally I much prefer Buñuel's more heartfelt Spanish/Mexican period to his later, more flippant French works, but both Belle du Jour and this film make fine examples of exceptions to that so-called rule.  Perhaps it is Catherine Deneuve who makes this happen (another strong French period Buñuel is the Deneuve-less Diary of A Chambermaid), but whatever the case, Tristana is a stunning film indeed. 

#864 - Destiny (1921) - (#896 on TSPDT) With the exception of his Metropolis, this is my favourite Lang silent.  Forget the often overshadowing Dr. Mabuse or Spione.  They are interesting films, but certainly not worthy of the great praise they have hammered down on them.  Wracked with psychological horror, and not as long and overwraught as many of the director's other films of the period, Destiny is a quietly powerful near masterpiece of silent cinema.

#865 - In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) - (#403 on TSPDT) The prolific Fassbinder - he made 42 films in just a 14 year career (!?) - is rather hit-or-miss with me.  I mean, if you make that many films in such a short period, there are bound to be some not as worthy as others.  In a Year with 13 Moons is one of the better ones - one of the hits, if you will.  Perhaps it never quite reach the realms of Ali or Petra von Kant (my two faves), but it is quite an intriguing work - and made even more intriguing because of the performance of Volker Spengler in the central role.

#866 - 7 Women (1966) - (#547 on TSPDT) The great John Ford's final feature film, and one of his better works.  Definitely one of, if not his most provocative and subversive work, made just after the studio system, and the production code with it, crumbled into history.  It is fitting that a man who made his living from making movies with a strong moral code of ethics (even if this code wasn't always first and foremost in his character's minds) would go out on a film that took the ideas of morality and ran the fuck away with them.  In other words, this is definitely a film that belongs on a list such as this, as well as a film that will surely make my own Top 1000.

#867 - Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) - (#589 on TSPDT) I watched back to back John Ford's here.  One, his final film (see just above), is a psychologically brutal affair (just like I like 'em).  The other, one of his earlyish-to-early-mid career works, is more of a quiet gem of a film.  A film that slowly caresses you until you are all in, so to speak.  Appropriately enough, the film stars Henry Fonda as the titular young president-to-be (made in the year the actor went from budding newbie to full fledged movie star) - an actor that can also be described in that same caressing way.

#868 - Spartacus (1960) - (#390 on TSPDT) Yeah I know.  I claim Kubrick as my favourite director, and yet I am only now just getting around to watching Spartacus.   Granted, it is probably his least Kubrick-esque work (definitely a work-for-hire job) and, now that I have finally seen the damn thing, my personal least favourite of his thirteen features, but still, why the hell did it take me this damn long to see it.  Anyway, it is a well done film - after all, it is Stanley Freaking Kubrick - and I love all the homoerotic themes they managed to get past the beginning-to-crumble production code (and the fact that Kubrick and Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo his name back!), but it is just not all that great when propped up next to things like 2001 or Strangelove or The Killing or Lolita or Paths of Glory or Barry Lyndon or Full Metal Jacket or...well, you get the picture.

#869 - Le Plaisir (1952) - (#417 on TSPDT) Max Ophüls takes three of Guy de Maupassant's short stories and collects them into a charming triptych of a motion picture.  The first and last ones, the shorter of the three, are more flippant and more fun, but the center section (which comprises over half the film), is a deep and resonating work.  Well, okay, that one is fun as well.  What I am trying to say amongst my babblings and ramblings is that I quite enjoyed this film.  One of Ophüls better works - which I suppose is saying quite a bit considering he is Max Ophüls.

#870 - The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974) - (#472 on TSPDT) Herzog tends to be hit or miss with me, but this one seems to hit, for the most part.  It is quite an intriguing work from Herzog.  I do not think it works completely, but when it does it is quite an interesting creature - as is the title character.  What more can I say?

#871/872 - Winter Light/The Silence (1962/63) - (#459/509 on TSPDT) A double feature of Bergman is always a good thing.  These may not be up there with some of my favourite Bergman's (Seventh Seal, Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, Sawdust and Tinsel), but both are still quite good.  If forced to pick a winner so to speak, it would probably be The Silence.  While Winter Light is a solemn film, full of much of the religious questions so prevalent in Bergman's cinema, The Silence, though no less tragic and no less lonely in its substance, is more attuned to the kind of Bergman I like best.  I do not think either one would actually make my own top 1000, though The Silence could feasibly sneak in there (we'll all find out when I finally compile said list sometime in late Autumn), but I have no problem with them both being here now.

#873 - Lone Star (1996) - (#866 on TSPDT)  I must be honest.  Before seeing this film, my attitude toward John Sayles was of a competent but ultimately tepid filmmaker.   I have liked most of his films (Matewan and Silver City are both quite good) but none have been what one would call great or spectacular or a masterpiece or anything of that ilk.  That was, until I saw Lone Star.  Perhaps giving Fargo a run for its money as the best film of 1996 (though Fargo probably still ends up the photo finish winner in the end), Lone Star is easily what one would call great or spectacular.  Perhaps not quite in that masterpiece realm (a term I reserve for only a select few films) but certainly spectacular indeed.

#874 - Charulata (1964) - (#351 on TSPDT) Most Indian films seem to blend in together and this one is no different.  It is made by Satyajit Ray, and therefore more artistic, more creative and more visually stunning than most of the others though.  In fact, it is indeed better than most of the others, even if it is quite similar.  Make sense?  No, probably not, but that's how it is.

#875 - Judex (1963) - (#877 on TSPDT) Georges Franju did not make many feature films, so we should cherish the ones he did.  Luckily, such a thing is made quite easy by Franju making films as cherishable as Judex.  Taking the feel of the old Feuillade serials from whence the story came, and giving it a more modernist flair, Franju creates a stunning work that damn well deserves to be included on this list.  

#876 - Pakeezah (1972) - (#705 on TSPDT) I know.  I know.  Just two entries above, I rag on about how most Indian films seem to be the same ole same ole, but this doesn't mean they are bad because of it.  As a matter of fact, this particular one, directed by Kamal Amrohi, is one of the better looking ones - even though it plays out in the same ole same ole way once again.  Still not making sense?  Oh well. 

#877 - Europa '51 (1952) - (#897 on TSPDT) Just watching Ingrid Bergman act is worth the so-called price of any admission (not that I paid any to watch this particular film) and then combine that with the direction of Roberto Rossellini, and you have a simply incredible run of films from Stromboli to this one and then on to Voyage to Italy (yes, they did three others together, but I have not seen them, I am sorry to say).  This may be the least of these three films (and by least, I of course mean still pretty goddamn spectacular) but the power of Bergman's performance alone makes it worth that aforementioned so-called price of admission.

#878 - Scarface (1983) - (#606 on TSPDT) I am still my old school self, and cinematic purist, not to mention a certified Hitchcocko-Hawksian, and therefore prefer the original 1932 Howard Hawks version to De Palma's in-your-face remake, but that does not mean this wasn't a fun as hell film to watch up on the big screen, projected in all its blu-ray guts and glory.  Actually, even though I think the original a better film, I do still quite like what De Palma's gleefully heavy-hand (and Pacino's equally gleeful over-the-top-ness) does for the production.  It is often called De Palma's best work (at least that is what the hipsters and Harry Knowles acolytes claim), and even though that is a blatant falsehood (Blow Out is my choice), it is a spectacular spectacle indeed.  With iconic images that rival Che in pop art longevity, De Palma's film (and I do love me a good De Palma production) is an overblown work of brazen chutzpah, that makes even his other well-over-the-top films seem conservative - and that is just how it should be.

#879 - The Docks of New York (1928) - (#784 on TSPDT) A stunning Pre-Pre-Code film and now one of my favourite von Sternberg's (my second fave actually, after just The Shanghai Gesture).  The more than mere innuendo, the matter-of-fact talk of sex, and a gritty kind of poetic frustration combine to make a remarkable film.  Even little things, like the dramatically subtle closing of a door, are used by the director to such perfect effect.  A film that not only deserves insertion here (though ideally at a much higher position) but almost made my own 100 Favourite list I recently compiled, coming in at around 112 or so if I were to extend said list.

Well that is it for this round of twenty.  I will be back with my final twenty before getting down to my final 100.  Numbers 880 through 899, will include such Cool Hand Luke, The Last Temptation of Christ, Spring in a Small Town, A Place in the Sun, Splendor in the Grass, as well as Gilda, a film that has taken its rightful place in my own 100 Favourite Films list.  See ya soon.

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Chip Lary said...

I'm glad someone is mentioning Lone Star. I thought it was a terrific film.

I agree that the original Scarface is better than the remake.

I've got to disagree on Spartacus. I actually consider it to be the best film Kubrick made.

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