Monday, October 22, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #900 Thru #919

Here is a look at the latest twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between Aug. 19th and Sept. 25th.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#900 - The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) - (#651 on TSPDT) No, I did not drag Annie Hall to see this - I watched it all by myself.  I am usually not much of a documentary fan and was kind of bored with Ophüls dragging style of filmmaking, but even so, the subject matter is interesting enough to keep one going even if the director cannot. 

#901 - The Red Circle (1970) - (#845 on TSPDT)  A typical French crime film from the modernist master of such things, Jean-Pierre Melville.  In other words, a cool, suave and quite convoluted film that never ceases to intrigue.  Still though, I do not think I would add said intriguing film to my own top 1000, but I bear no grudge over others having it included.

#902 - The Great Escape (1963) - (#538 on TSPDT) I have been whistling that damn theme music ever since watching this (well over a month ago, since I am quite late in putting this post together) but I suppose there are worse things to whistle.  As for the film itself, it is great fun.  Now granted, these are some of the worse prison escapees I have ever seen - they keep getting caught and sent back - and perhaps the film should be called The Mildly Successful, but Overall Failure of an Escape, and the historical accuracy (who really cares about that anyway) is put to the test since Steve McQueen insisted there be a motorcycle chase included, but still quite fun - especially McQueen and his motorcycle chase.  On a side note, there is a fun story of how McQueen did all his own motorcycle riding (save for one lone jump) and at the same time did the stunt work for the Nazi cyclists chasing him, so with some editing magic, we get to watch McQueen chase himself on several occasions.  As for its inclusion on this list - sure, why the hell not.

#903 - Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - (#258 on TSPDT)  I cannot say I actually liked this film.  I can say I respect it.  I can say it deserves better than to be tossed aside as mere filth like many contemporary critics did.  I can also say that it is art.  Granted, a demented, warped version of art, but art nonetheless.  Which I suppose means one need not enjoy a film to think it a great work of art.  Perhaps I just can never get past the fecal dinnertime scenes to actually enjoy this beast of a movie, but still, who am I to say it is not good, or even great.  Its inclusion on this list can be explained in the same manner.

#904 - Wild River (1960) - (#939 on TSPDT)  Kazan called this his personal favourite, and even though I would not go quite that far it is a rather intense work.  Of course it is an Elia Kazan film starring Monty Clift, so how could it not be intense as all fuck.  This film would probably end up just missing out on my own top 1000, but it would be close.

#905 - Funny Face (1957) - (#605 on TSPDT) I am still not sure why Fred Astaire and crew need to pretty someone like the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn up - or why Fred calls her funny face (not funny at all Fred old boy), even though he obviously has the hots for her (dirty old man, but then that particular part of Hollywood moviemaking is another story for another day) - but one can just call this the godfather of all those eighties and nineties films where the so-called funny-looking girl, usually only thought as such because of wearing her hair in a ponytail or having paint-splattered bib overalls instead of a dress or mini-skirt, and leave it at that.  Most of the musical numbers are fine, but none, save for the beat cafe dance number perhaps, is all that memorable when compared to most of the great movie musical numbers.  Still though, it is fun.  Maybe not 1000 greatest films fun, but fun.

#906 - Le Corbeau (1943) - (#961 on TSPDT)  We can certainly always count on Henri-Georges Clouzot to give us some of the best thrillers this side of Hitchcock - sometimes perhaps just as good, if not better.  This film, The Raven in English, is one of the director's more light-hearted fare, but still manages to incite dread and suspense from beginning to end.  As for its inclusion here, I have no problem with such, and suspect it might even sneak onto my own top 1000 when I make it after completion of my quest.

#907 - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) - (#572 on TSPDT)  Directed by Georgian-born, Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, and filled with both the beautiful and the ugly side of local Ukranian customs, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea as they say - a lot of it is watching lengthy social and religious rituals, which incidentally is something this critic loves - but the sheer beauty of it all, as well as the juxtaposing of such horrible moments, makes for a fascinating watch.  After Paranajov made this poetic, sometimes absurdist, film - a break from his social realist past - the director denounced everything he made prior to it.  Of course then the Soviets came in and denounced everything else as well.  Bastards.  The film will not make my own 1000 list, but that by no means is meant as an insult.  I am closing in on 7000 films seen these days, and not everything I like can make the final cut.

#908 - The Fountainhead (1949) - (#792 on TSPDT)  If one can get past Ayn Rand's ugly politics (and yes, I know that is a hard thing to do) this King Vidor-directed melodrama is pretty good.  Well, okay, the crazy libertarian-cum-fascist storyline is quite offensive, but the acting by Cooper and Neal (who incidentally were running around with each other at the time of filming) and the direction of Vidor (some say heavy-handed, but I like that about the guy) make up for all the bullshit that Rand spewed forth all of her crazy-eyed life.  I could go on and on and on some more about the self-centered fascism of Rand and her writings (the bastard godmother of the tea party crowd) but we are only here to talk about the film and not the politics surrounding its creation.  With that said, I enjoyed the film, but then I always like Vidor and his supposed heavy-handedness - something that comes in handy (ha!) for a story such as this.  It will not make my list, but I did enjoy it for what it's worth.

#909 - Abraham's Valley (1993) - (#854 on TSPDT)  He puts a grand visual beauty in front of us, but I have never been able to get all that into the work of centenarian Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.  I have never disliked one of the director's films (granted, I have only seen a handful, or maybe even less than a handful) but I have never truly loved one either.  Still, they do look good, in that Eastern European (I know, Portugal is not in Eastern Europe, but work with me here folks) kinda way, and this one, for better or for worse, is no different.

#910 - The Traveling Players (1975) - (#181 on TSPDT)  He puts a grand visual beauty in front of us, but I have never been able to get all that into the work of Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos.  I have never disliked one of the director's films (granted, I have only seen a handful, or maybe even less than a handful) but I have never truly loved one either.  Still, they do look good, in that Eastern European (I know, Greece is not technically in Eastern Europe, but work with me here folks) kinda way, and this one, for better or for worse, is no different. 

#911 - Ben-Hur (1959) - (#369 on TSPDT)  As is the case with many, or should we say most, Best Picture Oscar winners, this film is mediocre at best.  In fact, other than the famous chariot race, and the scenes involving the leper colony, this epic classic is certainly nothing to write home about - and even those things are pretty unspectacular.  Pure spectacle over substance, and even the spectacle is lackluster.

#912 - Carnival in Flanders (1945) - (#673 on TSPDT)  When giving the reasons behind his and his Nouvelle Vague compatriots' disdain for the so-called classics of his nation's cinematic history, François Truffaut spotlighted this film as the prime example of this troubling mediocrity in filmmaking.  Now granted, I did not think that lowly of the film - it had what one would call moments and is certainly better than a lot of films of such mediocre bent - but I can see where Truffaut was coming from.  We should give this film the proper credit it deserves though, for helping to create the radical revolution in cinema that came about thanks to Truffaut, Godard and ses ami's.

#913 - Seventh Heaven (1927) - (#970 on TSPDT)  The moment I finished watching this film, I went to my laptop and added this film to my 100 Favourite Films list.  Gorgeous and tragic.  Beautiful and haunting.  Tender and cruel.  Mesmerizing and stunning indeed.  Easily one of the finest examples of silent cinema to ever exist.  I was already a fan of the adorably urchin-esque Janet Gaynor, and her contemporary classic Sunrise (Miss Gaynor was awarded the very first Best Actress prize at the Academy Awards for a combination of this film, Street Angel, also a Frank Borzage film, and the aforementioned Murnau film, Sunrise), so this just adds to my adoration.  Some would say this is an even better film than Sunrise (I would not, but it is not too far behind) and this film really began getting followers when it was released on the Murnau, Borzage & Fox boxset.  My next step is to watch more Borzage films.  He is a director that I have not explored very much of, and judging from this film (and 1948's Moonrise, as well as the 1929 unfinished film The River, the only other ones of the director's oeuvre that I have seen) he is definitely one I should begin exploring - immediately. 

#914 - War and Peace (1965-67) - (#568 on TSPDT)  Ugh.  I have never been much of a fan of Tolstoy's novel to begin with.  Give me Anna Karenina or anything by Dostoyevsky instead.  But alas, this nearly seven hour Soviet produced version (originally released in four parts between 1965 and 67) is on the list, so watch it I must.  Actually the film isn't all that bad (certainly better than the book) and has a unique feel to it.  It is rather difficult to lay out in writing, but the film had a very, for lack of a better term (I'm tired dammit), magical feel to its cinematography.  Something akin to a Lynchian feel if you will.   It is not going on my list, but hey, why not here?

#915 - I Know Where I'm Going (1945) - (#413 on TSPDT)  Anyone who knows me, surely knows my great love for anything Powell/Pressburger, and this film makes no change whatsoever to that great love.  Lovely and mysterious, this is one of the last P&P films I had yet to see (and the final one from the list) as well as the third in a series of six masterpieces in six years from the men known as The Archers.  If one were so inclined, one could read about such a streak of masterpieces (a term I do not use willy-nilly) at my piece entitled The Archers and Their Masterpiece Theat...er, I Mean Cinema.  And of course, this film will surely make my own top 1000 when the time for such things finally comes.

#916 - Il Posto (1961) - (#952 on TSPDT)  Take Italian Neorealism and toss in a bit of Kafkaesque storytelling (just a bit) and you have this quietly enthralling work from Ermanno Olmi, the man who would later give us The Tree of Wooden Clogs - a film that is higher on the list than this one, but I still enjoy this one better.  Then again, I have always been a sucker for neorealism.  Will it make my list though?  Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not.  It is going to be a close call on this one.

#917 - The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - (#370 on TSPDT)  I once attempted to watch this film - probably about ten years ago - but ended up falling asleep about forty-five minutes in.  This is not meant as a criticism of the film, because I think I was probably just tired at the time and it was on TCM late night or something like that.  I only got back to the film a few weeks back and, staying awake from beginning to end, my new verdict of the film makes me wonder just how tired I was lo those ten years ago.  Intriguing and quite intense throughout.  Well deserving of inclusion on the list, and it just may make my list as well.

#918 - The Tin Drum (1979) - (#551 on TSPDT)  If I were honest (and why the hell wouldn't I be) I would start out by saying I was not expecting much out of this film.  Mainly this was due to the rather poor record of Oscar winning Foreign Language Films being something better than mediocre.  C'mon, ya know I'm right.  Take a look at the track record.  Anyway, as I said, I was not expecting much here.  Surprisingly I was thrown for quite a loop when I realized how much I enjoyed the damn thing.  It may not make my eventual list (though it might sneak on) but it certainly is a fun, if not a bit on the demented "why are you laughing at this" side, motion picture experience.

#919 - Hotel Terminus (1988) - (#701 on TSPDT) Gotta admit, this film kinda bored me.  Kinda bored me to tears.  I am not really sure why, because the subject matter, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, should be an interesting story, but alas, Marcel Ophüls' long, drawn-out doc was just not all that spectacular.  I am sure it is on the list more because it is something so-called important than for any other reasons.  Needless to say, I am not going to be including this one on my list.

3 comments:

Chip Lary said...

The Great Escape was entertaining to me, although downbeat like you mentioned.

Salo is just one of those films that professional critics like to say is great in order to show how brave they can be. It's nothing but crap. It doesn't take filmmaking skills to generate a strong reaction by showing people eating feces.

Funny Face was an enjoyable little film, but nothing more.

The reason to see Ben-Hur is for the chariot race. Can you believe they cut away more than half of it for pan and scan?

The Manchurian Candidate worked for me, but it was so many years ago I have lost some of the details of it.

martinteller said...

A particularly weak batch, IMO...

GREAT:
War and Peace
Wild River
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

VERY GOOD:
Carnival in Flanders
Il Posto
The Great Escape

GOOD:
Seventh Heaven
Le Corbeau
The Sorrow and the Pity
Funny Face
I Know Where I'm Going!
The Manchurian Candidate

OKAY:
Le Cercle Rouge

MEH:
Ben-Hur
Salo

DISLIKE:
The Travelling Players
Hotel Terminus
The Tin Drum
Abraham's Valley
The Fountainhead

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