Monday, November 26, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #950 Thru #979

Here is a look at the latest thirty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These thirty films were seen between Oct. 17th and Nov. 23rd.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

Jacques Becker's immensely enjoyable Casque d'Or (#950), featuring the always wonderful and always alluring Simone Signoret, is hands down one of the best French films of its day.  Becker was always an auteur with a kind of straight forward artistic sense, and that mood creates here a tense and quite enthralling tragic love story.  Next up on our quest is one of five Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart westerns on the list - and the third one for me personally (numbers four and five are coming up a little on further down this very page).  The 1950 classic, Winchester '73 (#951), was the first of this vaunted director/actor collaboration.  My favourite is still The Naked Spur, but all five are quite good, and this one is highlighted not only by yet another great performance from James Stewart (my favourite actor of all-time if you want the truth) but also from Shelly Winters, John McIntire and a rather slimy Dan Duryea - as well as a young Rock Hudson as an Indian.  Which brings us to another 1950 classic.  Jules Dassin's own 1950 classic, Night and the City (#952) - a noirish tale of a good-for-nothing con-man played with rugged chutzpah by one of the legendary tough guys of old Hollywood, Richard Widmark.  We also get to see Gene Tierney in a rather thankless role, but hey, at least we get to see Gene Tierney.  Next up is Federico Fellini's 1965 film, Juliet of the Spirits (#953).  When I first starting broadening my horizons and got into foreign film, Fellini was one of my earliest sojourns.  Over the years, his legend has fallen a bit in my mind.  I am still a fan of his (though my argument that perhaps I, Vitelloni is a better film than 8 1/2 tends to piss off some purists) but just not as strongly as twenty years ago.  As for this particular film, all I can really say is - it is not one of my favourites.

The next two films I know I must have seen as a kid (and many parts were vaguely familiar) but just to make sure, I watched them, or rather maybe rewatched them, for my quest.  They are Top Hat (#954) and Swing Time (#955).  So, in other words, I had myself an Astaire/Rogers double feature.  A Pretty snazzy one at that.  I have always been a sucker for an old fashioned musical, and the fluidity of Fred and Ginger on those collective dance floors makes that suckerdom all the more powerful.  Pure class baby, pure class.  And speaking of double features, I decided to clear the rest of the Mann/Stewart westerns out while I was at it.  1952's Bend of the River (#956) and 1954's The Far Country (#957) complete the set of five on my quest.  All five films are moody and acerbic, with many Freudian drippings.  I would say The Far Country is now my third favourite (after The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie - the latter I saw in a double feature with Mann's non-Stewartian Man of the West at Film Forum a few years back for my birthday gift to myself) followed by Bend of the River and finally, the aforementioned Winchester '73.  All quite good, all deserving of inclusion here and all would easily make my own Top 50 Westerns list - a list that I will probably compile early next year sometime, right here on this very site.  But I digress.  Next up in the ole quest is Heimat (#958), a sixteenish houred German snoozefest.  Okay, it really wasn't that bad, but it sure ain't no Berlin Alexanderplatz - and that is a film I really am not all that fond of either, so...  But again, I digress.  Kenji Mizoguchi's Princess Yang Kwei Fei (#959) is a visually beautiful film.  Story-wise it somewhat lacks, but damn it looks good.  Then again, it is Mizoguchi (the equal to Ozu any day), so that visual beauty should go without saying.  Again, lesser Mizoguchi is still better than most.

Just two years ago, I could, and somewhat shamefully so I might add, claim that I had never seen a Douglas Sirk film.  Luckily this shameful lack of cinematic knowledge has since been remedied.  Now I consider myself a die hard Sirkophile, and proudly include the German-born, American auteur in my ten favourite directors.  The Tarnished Angels (#960) may not be Magnificent Obsession or All That Heaven Allows or Written on the Wind or my favourite, Imitation of Life (gee, I love a lot of Sirk films, don't I?), but it is a damn fine movie, and very Sirkian indeed.  Based on Faulkner's relatively overlooked novel Pylon, Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack (can we say Written on the Wind redux?) are all quite spectacular.  Have I mentioned how much I love Sirk?  I have?  Oh well, there it is again.  Next up is another film that deserves inclusion here, and will be included on my own top 1000 when I compile said list after completion of my quest in December.  That film is Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terribles (#961).  Now sitting atop my favourite Melville's (knocking Le Samourai down to number two), this film, based on the writings of Cocteau, is just simply beautiful.  In both its moody visuals and its even moodier performances, the film is just gorgeous.  Enough gushing though, let us move on.  Roman Polanski's 1976 film, The Tenant (#962), seems a bit too much like the director is trying to recreate both Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby in one fell swoop.  I mean, it isn't a bad movie, and Polanski is fun to watch as an actor (especially in drag), but I wouldn't put it on my list.  Meanwhile we have Angel Face (#963), Otto Preminger doing Marlene Dietrich (or is that the other way around).  I tend to, of course, prefer Dietrich's work with von Sternberg, but this one is fun too.

Now up, is the last of the so-called experimental films on the list.  This one, Jean Cocteau's 1930 film, The Blood of the Poet (#964), which is less experimental than say Brakhage or Jacobs, and therefore much more tolerable to this noted experimental cinema hater.  Actually, this first of a trilogy based upon the Orpheus cycle (only two of the tree films are on the list), has more than its share of moments.  Granted, they are mostly surreal moments, and my tolerance for surrealism is not all that much higher than my aforementioned tolerance for experimental cinema, but still, there are some moments.  But that is all.  Which brings us to David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (#965).  Wow, I almost fell asleep just typing the title out.  I don't think I can go on about this one.  Yep, almost fell asleep again just thinking about it.  I mean really, how dreadfully boring do you have to be, to be David Lean's most boring film?  This is the man who made The Bridge on the River Kwai for crying out loud!  But we better move on before we all fall asleep thinking of this film.  Luckily, next up, we have a much much better film to keep us awake.  It is the 1971 action/gangster thriller Get Carter (#966).  It is not so much the film, nor Mike Hodges' direction, as it is the central performance of Michael Caine, that makes Get Carter as enjoyable as it most certainly is.  I dare ya to try and fall asleep during Get Carter, bitches!  Next we have another one of the longer list entries - Dekalog (#967).  Created as a ten part TV series by Polish auteur Krzystof Kieslowski, and meant to show the ten commandments (sort of) in filmic form, Dekalog (or Decalogue if you prefer), is some pretty powerful stuff.  Of course some segments are better than others, and I would say my favourites are parts five and six, both of which were expanded into full length features under the titles of A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love respectively. 

Now we come to one of the most fun films on the list, and a film that upon seeing it, was quickly inserted into my Favourite Films of All-Time list (the first film since seeing Seventh Heaven back in early September, that has been added to said list).   It is that legendary cult classic from Russ Meyer (and one of Quentin Tarantino's all-time faves - and possibly a film he may remake at some point), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (#968).  Many may blow it off as mere camp and/or schlock - and perhaps it is indeed that - but it is so much more.  Well, at least inside my warped cranium it is so much more.  I mean, c'mon - hot, trampy girls kicking big time ass - what's not to love?  I am sure, QT had this movie in mind while he was filming Death Proof.  Like I said - fun.  ow budget as hell, but quite fun indeed.  Which brings us to another low budget auteur, though not one that goes in for the schlock of Meyer's work.  How's that for a segue?  Anyway, next we have that granddaddy of indie cinema, John Cassavetes and his penultimate film, Love Streams (#969). I like most of Cassavetes' films, including this one, but sometimes these films get on  my nerves, with the constant use of adlibbing and experimental acting techniques.  Sure, this can be fun at times, but after a while it just drags on and becomes annoying.  This style of improvisation works best in a film like Opening Night, but is bit annoying here.  Still though, I wouldn't kick this film out of bed for eating crackers as they say.  At one point (the list is updated every year) John Ford was the king of the list.  The latest update placed Fritz Lang at the top, with sixteen films on the list, one more than Ford (a real battle of the eye-patched auteurs), but that doesn't mean it isn't a daunting task to see all fifteen films by Ford.  But what a fun daunting task it most certainly is.  When I began my quest four years ago, I had already seen 425 films on the list (the annual updates did make my quest countdown fluctuate every now and then) and seven of those were John Ford films.  Well, now here we are eight films later and I have seen the final Ford film on the list - on my quest.  That film is the 1949 western (of course) She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (#970) - and I would call it one of the better Ford's I have seen.  And now, since I have checked the great Ford off the list, and since I do love making lists, this is the perfect time to rank these fifteen films (all of which I like to varying degrees) in order of preference - so here we go.

1) The Searchers (of course)
2) My Darling Clementine
3) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
4) Stagecoach
5) Seven Women
6) The Informer
7) The Quiet Man
8) She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
9) The Sun Shines Bright
10) Young Mr. Lincoln
11) The Grapes of Wrath
12) Rio Grande
13) How Green Was My Valley
14) Wagon Master
15) They Were Expendable

As a sidenote, I would include five non list Ford films onto this list.  The Iron Horse, The Lost Patrol, The Hurricane, Tobacco Road (which used to be on the list) and Mister Roberts all deserve inclusion.  The Lost Patrol and The Hurricane would make my top ten Ford films of all-time, knocking out The Sun Shines Bright and Young Mr. Lincoln.  Of course, considering Ford, when including his early silent shorts, has 140 films in his filmography, there are still over a hundred Ford films to be seen by yours truly.  Only time will tell on those.

According to the masters of The List (ie. the fine folks over at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?), said list includes a total of 493 films from North America and 409 films from Europe, leaving just a puny 98 films to represent the rest of the world.  So, with that being the case, next up are some rarities - a pair of Asian films.  The first, from Taiwan, is Hou Hsiao-hsien's A Time to Live and a Time to Die (#971) and the second, from Japan (which, along with India, I am guessing a good chunk of those aforementioned 98 come from), is Nagisa Oshima's The Ceremony (#972).  The former is what one would call a typical Hou film - dry and seemingly rigid, but with a fluidity that keeps it going - while the latter is a bracing, assertive piece of new wave modernism, that can be called typical Oshima.  The only difference being, that I tend to prefer typical Oshima over typical Hou.  I much prefer Hou's more recent fare (from Flowers of Shanghai on), so this one did not do much for me.  The Oshima though is right up there with the auteur's sixties and seventies fare, which fits right in with me, in opposition to my rather recent statement about Hou, preferring his earlier stuff rather than later.  For our next three films we travel back to that place with 409 films included - Europe.  In fact let us narrow it down even further and travel to France.  First we have Claude Chabrol's Le Boucher (#973), followed by Alain Resnais' Muriel (#974) and then Luis Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty (#975).  Both Chabrol and Resnais are hit and miss with me, and both of these are a bit more miss than hit, and when it comes to Buñuel, give me his Spanish/Mexican period over his later French stuff any day.  Granted, none of these three films are what I would consider bad filmmaking, but none of them are films I would include in such a list as this either.  I do like the poster for the Buñuel though, as can certainly be ascertained by mere look.  Anyway, we have four more films to include in this penultimate batch of quest films - and, as has not been the case with these last three, they are all films I enjoyed thoroughly.

The great Howard Hawks once mad a film called Rio Bravo.  This 1959 classic western is one of my all-time favourite films.  Apparently the director liked it as well, since he kept going back to that same well.   Then again, maybe he did not like it and that is why he tried to remake it twice in the waning years of his long career.  The first of these remakes is our next film - El Dorado (#976).  The second remake, Rio Lobo, Hawks' final film, is not on the list, and being one of the director's worst films, nor should it be.  El Dorado though, is a film that surely deserves inclusion here.  Granted, it's no Rio Bravo, but then not many things are.  Incidentally, this is my next to last Hawks list film to see.  The last one, along with another list, this time of all eleven Hawks films on the list, will be coming up shortly.  But first we come to the final De Palma on the list.  De Palma is a filmmaker that I only just recently began getting into.  Now, as with seeing or re-seeing the films of Scorsese, Kubrick, Nick Ray and Powell/Pressburger, I have tried to watch as many of De Palma's films up on the big screen of the cinema my lovely wife and I run together.  With films like The Phantom of the Paradise, Dressed to Kill, his Scarface remake and my favourite, Blow Out (all four of which I just saw for the first time in the past year - and all of them on that aforementioned big screen), I could not help but start digging the guy I have always blown off as nothing more than a mere Hitchcock wannabe.  Carrie (#977) only adds to that newly found admiration.  Getting to see it on the big screen just added to that.  Next we have a film simply called If... (#978).  Made by Lindsay Anderson in 1968, and starring Malcolm McDowell as the rabble-rousing boarding school agitator Mick Travis, the film is a satiric look on English public schools and the then modern day society of the UK.  Quite intriguing this film most certainly is.  Strangely enough, it made me wish I had gone to boarding school.  Oh well.

Anyway, that brings us to the final film in this batch.  Hatari! (#979) is the final Howard Hawks film to be seen in my quest.  Of the eleven Hawks films on the list, I had already seen all but three.  This 1962 film, a loose retelling of the director's own 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings, is the story of an international group of wild game hunters, catching African animals for zoos.  It is both action-packed and quite funny - including John Wayne doing screwball comedy.  As far as Hawks goes - and I consider the great man to be one of the five best directors of all-time - this would probably land somewhere in the middle of the guy's oeuvre.  Considering said oeuvre has very few true duds, this assessment is pretty favourable.  Now since this is the last Hawks on the list, and since I already did it with John Ford above, here is a list of the eleven Hawks on the list, in order of preference - and, of course, there's not a bad apple in the bushel.

1) His Girl Friday
2) Rio Bravo
3) The Big Sleep
4) Bringing Up Baby
5) Only Angels Have Wings
6) To Have and Have Not
7) Red River
8) Scarface
9) Hatari!
10) Gentleman Prefer Blondes
11) El Dorado

The first three on this list can be found on my Favourite Films list.  The next two came really close to making that list.  As for the Hawks that are not on this list, I would include such films as The Dawn Patrol, The Criminal Code, Twentieth Century, Air Force, Land of the Pharaohs (yeah, that's right) and one of his mostly forgotten silents, Fig Leaves.  But that is something for another day - which will happen when I release my own Top 1000 early next year.  So that brings us to the end of this batch.  The next batch will include films #980 through #999, which will be followed by one final piece on the last film in My Quest (which will be Chaplin's Limelight, watched on that aforementioned big screen) and a final wrap up, as well as a look into what is next for me and my then completed quest.  Possibly a book.  Well, okay, definitely a book, but we'll talk about that later.  See ya on the flip side.


Michaël Parent said...

Enjoy the ending of this amazing quest! Thanks for mine I'll probably need some years to get through it.

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