Monday, November 12, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #920 Thru #949

Here is a look at the latest thirty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These thirty films were seen between Sept. 25th and Oct. 16th.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

So I sat down to watch Elem Klimov's 1985 Russian war film Come and See (#920) with not much anticipation in my cinephiliac heart.  I had heard so much about it in my filmic corner of the world, but still had no real desire to see the damn thing.  An overblown foreign prestige piece and nothing more I thought.  I thought wrong.  A brilliantly and subversively harrowing drama (with moments of uncomfortable comedy) that, as they are prone to say (whomever they may be) blew me away.  Something grand scale but done in a very intimate style, a la Tarkovsky at his less grandiose moments.  And speaking of grandiose, Michael Mann's 1995 crime near masterpiece, Heat (#921), the film that finally put Pacino and De Niro face to face for the first, and by far the best time, is another film that blew me away - but this time I was rather expecting such a reaction.  I love nearly everything Mann does (save for the rather overrated Last of the Mohicans - though a second viewing on that one could change one's mind considering one's love for all other things Mannish) so it came as no surprise that when I finally got around to seeing the film (seventeen years after its initial release!!?) that I enjoyed every aspect of it, from Mann's dizzying camera to the bravura performances of Pacino and De Niro, to Mann's bluntly vague morality.  But I digress from all this Mann love, and move on to yet another film that one could easily describe as blown away worthy - Jacques Becker's 1960 prison film Le Trou (#922).   The director's final film (he died never seeing its release), and probably my favourite of the auteur's oeuvre, mixes the strangest concoction of awkward comedy and intense drama, but then again, the film is French.

Next up is what I believe to be the one and only Turkish film on the list - Yilmaz Güney's 1982 film Yol (#923).  It had its moments but we should probably move on out of fear of falling asleep at all those non-moment moments.  And speaking of falling asleep, next up is the sixteen plus hour German mini-series turned theatrical golliwog, Berlin Alexanderplatz (#924). Now Fassbinder is definitely a take him or leave him type of filmmaker for me (other than Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant and The Marriage of Maria Braun, they all seem to blend together) and there are definite ups and downs to this epic viewing, but overall this critic was not overly impressed.  This critic was impressed by the next film on his quest.  Akira Kurosawa's twenty-third film, Red Beard (#925), starts off quietly and rises crescendo-like into one of the better works in the auteur's oeuvre.  Turning back to the boredom side of things, Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui Peut (la vie) (#926) from 1980 is just godawful - and I say that as a lover of Godard's early work.  In the eight year period from Breathless through Week-end, JLG directed no less than fifteen great works, several of which could even be called masterpieces.  Since 1967, the auteur has given us nothing more than a sprinkling of good films (though none of them great) amongst a filmography of pompous, self-righteous claptrap.  This film is definitely part of the latter group.  Which, non-sequitor notwithstanding, brings us back to R.W. Fassbinder and his penultimate film Veronika Voss (#927).  I suppose I would put this unique film, shot in black and white and made to resemble some sort of film noir/melodrama melange, in the aforementioned take him category.

Next up is a sequel that is really a remake.  Yeah, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II (#928) made the list, even though the original Evil Dead did not, so I finally got around to seeing the damn thing.  Pretty neat actually.  Fun, campy stuff indeed, and even though I probably would not include it in my own top 1000, I can see why, unlike several films mentioned above, it is here.  Then we have The Hart of London (#929), a 1970 experimental film from Jack Chambers.  I think everyone here knows my thoughts on experimental cinema, and if you do not, you will be reminded about it later on down the page.  For now let's just move on to The Devil is a Woman (#930).  Let's see, Josef von Sternberg and Marle Dietrich.  How can you go wrong?  You can't!  Okay, this isn't the pair at their best, but even lesser Dietrich/von Sternberg is better than the best of many others.  So there!  Meanwhile, Antonioni's La Notte (#931) is a fun movie.  Well, as fun as any Antonioni film can be that is.  Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (#932) is an even funner movie - and Sam Peckinpah films are nothing if not fun.  Bloody and oft times demented, but definitely fun.  Fellini's Il Bidone (#933) is kind of fun as well, but on a lesser scale.  Did that sound patronizing?  Oh well, it wasn't meant to sound that way.  As for the film that beat Citizen Kane for the Oscar, John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (#934), it actually ain't half bad.  I am usually averse to Best Picture winners (more oft than not they are mediocre works when compared to the films they beat out for such an award) and I would certainly not call Ford's Welsh drama a worthy alternative to Kane, but I did find myself enjoying it much more than I expected. 

Which brings us to Ken Jacobs' Star Spangled to Death (#935).  As I alluded to above, all my regulars (those faithful readers and true believers out there - and you know of whom I speak) know full well my utter disdain for at least 80% of all so-called experimental cinema.  Most of it is nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing (yeah, I just used Shakespeare to diss experimental cinema) and I just do not get so many people's love for it.  I will certainly never understand the love for someone like Brakhage.  Really!?  But I digress, for we are here to discuss a film by Ken Jacobs and not to pick apart the folderol that is the cinema of Brakhage.  Well this one is most certainly not what we will come to call "Brakhage Bad."  A look at imagery throughout the twentieth century, Jacobs puts together a halfway intriguing collage of film.  Granted, the only interesting elements are the clips of old film (Dick Powell singing about the National Recovery Administration, old school animation from the likes of genius animator Ub Iwerks) while the rest (fellow avant-garder Jack Smith and his gang, various protest marches) is mere fiddle faddle that could have just as easily been fiddle faddled right onto the cutting room floor.  One of the best films of the year and decade some say.  Balderdash! So there.

I first saw part one of Abbas Kiarostami's Koker Trilogy, Where is the Friend's Home? about eleven years ago.  For some reason or other, it took me until just recently to finish the damn trilogy.  Part two, Life, and Nothing More... (#936), and the finale, Through the Olive Trees (#937) take the idea of the first film and twist them around in the oh so special way that Kiarostami pulls off so often.  What is real and what is not is a question (or two) that the Iranian auteur puts into most of his films, and throughout the second and third parts of this trilogy, he is near top form in such divisive antics.  And speaking of divisive antics, I successfully spent the first forty-five years of my life keeping away from The Sound of Music (#938), but this list, and my quest, has brought that all to a devastating crash ending.  But I figured, since I knew it was inevitable, and at some point I was going to have to cave in and watch the fucking thing, why not do it on the big screen.  So I invited a friend (her all-time favourite movie!?), her eleven year old daughter (according to her mum, her all-time most desired to see film!?), and her special edition bluray to the cinema, and we projected up n the big screen.  Incidentally, the aforementioned eleven year old wasn't all that much a fan afterwards.  Meanwhile, my lovely wife, having seen the film in her childhood, refused to be any part of any of this.  Anyway, for all the gruff I give to the film, I suppose it wasn't really all that bad.  Far from great, but not life-ending like I expected.  I will still have to cleanse my musical palette though - a thing that will happen just a few more entries down.

Werner Herzog's 1982 film Fitzcarraldo (#939) has always been just off my radar, but it took until now to see it.  My thoughts?  It is a movie that has the great Klaus Kinski, more than appropriately batshitcrazy, a few drunken Peruvian sailors, and a slew of wouldbe cannibal tribesmen, dragging a a steamship over a mountain, all in order to harvest rubber so he can get enough money to build an opera house in the South American jungle.  How can that not be something fun to watch!?  And while we are talking about things to watch, John Ford is always a good choice.   His inherently tragic WWII film, They Were Expendable (#940), is one of those films.  Granted, it is probably more lesser Ford than many others, but as they say, even lesser Ford, yada yada yada.  Next up though, is that special film, that special latter day musical that helped a certain someone (me, for those keeping score) cleanse his musical palette of a film such as The Sound of Music a few days earlier.  That film is Bob Fosse's acerbic 1979 musical All That Jazz (#941).  My personal tastes in the musical genre tend to lean toward either the early Busby Berkeley days of the precode era or that so-called genre heyday of the late 1940's and early 1950's (eg. Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, The Bandwagon).  I am usually less than enthusiastic toward the overblown musicals of the 1960's and the resurgence of sorts in the 1970's.  All That Jazz, along with Fosse's own Caberet a few years earlier, is definitely an exception to that rule.  Arrogant when in needs to be, tender when it calls for it, toe-tapping throughout, All That Jazz is probably the last great musical America has seen.  Some would claim another resurgence took place about a decade ago with films like Moulin Rouge and the Oscar winning Chicago, but the latter is highly overrated and the former is a whole other creature to contend with.  No, I believe All That Jazz is the last truly great musical - as well as a film that will almost assuredly make my own top 1000 when I compile such a list when my quest is over.

And now to somewhat dash through the next eight films so we can sew this baby up and go home til next we meet.  Joseph Mankiewicz's 1949 classic, A Letter to Three Wives (#942), has several wonderful performances, most notably Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell, but still manages to end up as a rather lackluster film overall.  Truffaut's The Woman Next Door (#943), the auteur's penultimate work, is one of those films whose intensity just keeps building and building until it finally bursts in the final climactic moments.  Probably the Frenchman's most passionate film.  Next up is the Michael Caine/Sean Connery fun fest, The Man Who Would be King (#944).  The storyline is okay, but it is the antics of Caine and Connery that make the film fly.  Next we have yet another John Ford - the penultimate Ford in my quest by the way.   Again, it is what one may call lesser Ford, but again, whatever Wagon Master (#945) may be, lesser Ford is still better than most others better films.   Which brings us to Robert Rossen's iconic Paul Newman film, The Hustler (#946).  I saw the sequel, Martin Scorsese's 1986 film The Color of Money, in theaters upon its initial release, but just saw the original a few weeks ago.  Easily one of the better American films of its day.  Nothing more need be said.  The next film on the list is from the man you love to hate.  Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives (#947) may not be Greed, but it sure is fun, and pretty much all of that fun is due to Herr Stroheim as both director and actor.  Next we have the 1968 Latin America doc The Hour of the Furnaces (#948).  It is long and at times it is tedious.  Still some interesting ideas within that long and tedious film.  And that brings us to the last film in this thirty-film batch - and it is from one of the greatest directors of all-time.  Jean Renoir's 1931 La Chienne (#949), the director's second sound film, is one of the earliest examples of the greatness that would be Jean Renoir.  And that brings us to the end of this batch of films.  Just fifty more to go and my quest will have been completed.  Meanwhile, I am getting a little behind in my writing of said films - I just hit #978 tonight - so the next batch of films will probably be posted quite soon after this one.  See you for the next thirty in no time at all.


Michaël Parent said...

Great progress in the list Kevyn! Red Beard is one of my favourite kurosawa as well!
I share the loath for Experimental Cinema. Just not my cup of tea to watch a three hour film about a guy who scratched film and draw on it afterwards.
I'm a little jealous because I'm at #542 on my own quest at tackling this list.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx Michaël. And do not worry about "only" being at #542. That just means you have a lot of good films in your future. Well, and some experimental ones too.

Anonymous said...

I've seen all the 1000 except "The Art of Vision" (the only one I haven't been able to get my hands on, but I'd like to... I don't share your contempt for Brakhage). My rankings for this batch:

TOP 100:
All That Jazz
Red Beard

Le Trou
La Chienne

Through the Olive Trees
The Man Who Would Be King
The Devil Is A Woman
A Letter to Three Wives
Life and Nothing More
Berlin Alexanderplatz
La Notte

The Hustler
Evil Dead II
The Hour of the Furnaces
Il Bidone

The Hart of London
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Star Spangled to Death
The Woman Next Door
Veronika Voss

Sauve qui Peut (la vie)
Wagon Master
Come and See
The Sound of Music
Foolish Wives

How Green Was My Valley
They Were Expendable