Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #680 Thru #699

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#680 - Written on the Wind (1956) - (#222 on TSPDT)   The Sirkian melodrama, or weepie if you will (a friend calls them tear-jerking drivel, but who the hell listens to him!), may be an acquired tastes to many, but I must admit to instantly falling in love with the work of Sirk the very moment I saw my first one.  That first one came just under a year ago, so I am what one would call a newcomer to the world of the Sirkian melodrama.  After seeing several of these 1950's beasts lo this past year, Written on the Wind has taken its place atop my list of Sirk films.  Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, and full of gorgeous cinematography in glorious Technicolor, and  Sirk's bravura camera (Tarantino and Scorsese are his most similar modern equivalents), Written on the Wind simply oozes with the melodramatic flair that makes Sirkian cinema so damn tasty.

#681 - Partie de campagne (1936) - (#165 on TSPDT)  Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and just thirty-six minutes in length, this Jean Renoir picture is one of the most striking works of cinema that this critic has ever seen.  Seeming to play as both a slight tale of French provincial life and as a much deeper, almost unbearably tragic story of loss and regret.  Renoir will always be remembered as a master filmmaker and that mastery shows no less clearly, no less fervently and no less vibrantly in such a short work like here as it does in his many feature length masterpieces.

#682 - American Gigolo (1980) - (#919 on TSPDT)   With Blondie's Call Me slinkily oozing from the soundtrack, this Paul Schrader written and directed film is a coolly crafted voyeuristic look into the world of the male paid escort - or more succinctly, one of these same said male escort's downfall from prized stallion to gelded ex-show pony.  Actually, in essence it is a pseudo-remake of Bresson's brilliantly tragic Pickpocket, and when one watches the final shot, it is a modern retake of Bresson's famed final shot.  Though a very stylistic film - sort of noir meets modern chic - it is Schrader's screenplay, bordering on the perverse just as the writer/director is best at, that makes the film stand up and get noticed.

#683 - Gregory's Girl (1981) - (#648 on TSPDT)  I was quite surprised at my reaction to this film.  Having not much knowledge of the cinema of Bill Forsythe (I have only seen, and have mostly forgotten, his 1987 film Housekeeping) I really had no clue as to what to expect, and must admit to not expecting much.  Boy was I wrong.  This Scottish coming-of-age film is a pure delight, not to sound too cheesy.  A funny, and quite sly film, I am now, with great anticipation, looking forward to seeing the other Forsythe on the list, Local Hero.

#684 - The Phantom Carriage (1921) - (#763 on TSPDT)  Victor Sjöström, considered to be the leading artistic talent of Swedish silent cinema (a consideration I must concur with), hands in a film whose beauty and haunting presence forces me to find a spot in my top 100 somewhere.  The Phantom Carriage is one of those films where one can use terms such as haunting and not seem at all cliché.  Easily one of the greatest silent films ever made - and I don't want to hear any arguments.

#685 - Un chant d'amour (1950) - (#573 on TSPDT)  If you are looking for hard-core gay porn with a blunt pseudo-artistic style, then Jean Genet's 1950 experimental bon mot is the film for you.  I have never been much of a fan of experimental cinema in the first place, but this (and let's put it as bluntly as the film puts itself forth) big piece of artistic-wannabe crap, a film that makes the cinema of Kenneth Anger look tasteful in comparison, is certainly not about to change my mind.  Now I am far from a prude, but sexuality in cinema should be natural and artistic, not ugly and foul - at least not when you are going for something beautiful, which I believe Genet was.

#686 - Tobacco Road (1941) - (#956 on TSPDT)  I am sure it wasn't John Ford's fault that this is such a tame version of a much more intricate and hard-hitting novel - he did have the Fox to contend with (a thing that may have made his Grapes of Wrath suffer as well) - but whatever the case may be, this is definitely Ford light.  Ford is one my my favourite directors but I much prefer his westerns to his other works, and this is no exception.  Not a bad movie mind you (and we get to see a barefoot, wild child Gene Tierney hooping and hollerin' around) but just not as great as what I am used to from the great John Ford.

#687 - The 39 Steps (1935) - (#336 on TSPDT)  Hitchcock at the height of his British success (five years before coming to the States), this film, full of all those MacGuffin-loving things that made Hitch so fun to watch, is one of his better British works.  Perhaps not as well-rounded as his later Hollywood work of the 1950's, but with its savvy sophisticated wit and ability to combine action, comedy and romance into intertwining moments, it is fun indeed.

#688 - Poison (1991) - (#973 on TSPDT)  This Todd Haynes feature debut may have a few interesting moments throughout, but overall it is a film a sadly admit to disliking.  I love the director's more recent work (Far From Heaven and I'm Not There are pretty damn close to masterpieces) but this one, though showing signs of the filmmaker to come, just did not do it for me.

#689 - Performance (1970) - (#191 on TSPDT)  What a damn fine motion picture.  Cool and suave as fuck, this very mod take on stardom from Nicholas Roeg (his first film!) and Donald Cammell, and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger, is a fun and groovy film indeed.  Playing on the idea of split personality and mirror image, the film is a twisted, turning dance of po-mo cinema.  Even though Richard Schickel said of the film, "the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing," it has been a great influence on everyone from Paul Schrader to Guy Ritchie to Quentin Tarantino.  The film doesn't necessarily breech my top 100, but it does certainly make my second hundred.

#690 - Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - (#798 on TSPDT)  Tragedy done as anime.  The story of a Japanese village during WWII and the death and destruction that happens.  Somewhere, I honestly forget where now, this film was voted the saddest movie ever made.  I don't know if I would go quite that far but there certainly is a deep sadness to this animated picture.

#691 - Pursued (1947) - (#770 on TSPDT)  Mitchum and Walsh - together.  Sounds pretty manly huh?  Well it is.  Actually Mitchum is just trying to do right as an orphaned boy all grown up, but circumstances keep saying otherwise.  Not Mitchum's best role (nor Walsh's best film) but still a decent enough action movie.

#692 - Imitation of Life (1959) - (#233 on TSPDT)  Damn!  Do I ever love  Douglas Sirk!  Just to think, a year ago today and I had not seen even a single film by the German ex-pat (yeah, yeah, I was late getting to the party!), and now I would consider him one of my favourite of directors.  Having just seen Written on the Wind a few weeks before this (see the first entry in this post), I seem to have hit the motherload of the Sirkian melodrama.  I am having one hell of a time deciding which of these two are my favourite.  I think the emotional firebomb that is the final act of Imitation of Life (a final act that a friend, mentioned above, calls drivel - how dare he!?) seals the book on this, the film that would become his final feature film, as being my favourite Sirk - but just by a hair.

#693 - The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) - (#257 on TSPDT)   Ah, Renoir.  With films like Grand Illusion, La Bête Humaine and The Rules of the Game (one of my twenty favourite films) - not to mention the gorgeous short film Partie de campagne (mentioned above) - I expected to like this film, made during the same time period, much more than I did.  Now do not get me wrong, I did quite like the film but I just did not love it as much as I had expected.  Yes, the camerawork is pitch perfect (it is Renoir after all), and there are moments of pure bliss (gotta love those melodic tracking shots), but still, overall, it lacked something that the other aforementioned films from the master had in spades.  Still, even lesser Renoir is better than many a director's best work.

#694 - White Heat (1949) - (#314 on TSPDT)  Top of the World Ma!  This Raoul Walsh directed Jimmy Cagney gangster vehicle may not be my favourite Cagney gangster vehicle (that would be The Public Enemy and/or Angels With Dirty Faces) but it still is great fun to watch the little guy go tough.  Plus you get that great iconic fireball ending.

#695 - The Conformist (1970) - (#62 on TSPDT)  Talk about a visually stunning motion picture!  Bertolucci's political thriller - a case study in the evils of fascism if you will - is breathtaking to behold.  The way the director and his DP Vittorio Storaro use light and colour and shadow and subjectivity is downright stunning.  One scene in particular, a rather brutal yet beautiful chase through the woods is done to sheer cinematic perfection.  The Conformist is very probably the best work Bertolucci has ever produced - and that is saying quite a lot.  Sadly I watched the film on my TV (via DVD), but I will remedy that later this year (once I am done with My Quest) and watch it on the big screen.

#696 - And the Ship Sails On (1983) - (#949 on TSPDT)  I have a friend, who incidentally happens to be on the same quest as I, who claims this as his favourite Fellini.  This may sound a bit silly, especially considering that this friend has indeed seen La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, but nonetheless, there you have it.  As for me, I may not go to the extreme of my friend and fellow quester, but I was quite enthralled by this latter day Fellini.  The story of a ship of fools, with typical Felliniesque surrealism and political satire, the film may not be my favourite Fellini, but it sure is much higher up in my esteem than I ever expected it to be.

#697 - Under the Bridges (1946) - (#950 on TSPDT)  With inevitable comparisons to Vigo's L'Atalante, this German film from Helmut Käutner, is a nearly constantly moving cinematic feast.  Full of beautiful imagery and romantic classicism (some perhaps a bit on the homoerotic side), this film was a great surprise.

#698 - Design For Living (1932) - (#691 on TSPDT)  Ernst Lubitsch doing what Ernst Lubitsch did best - a sophisticated comedy of manners wrapped inside a quite open, Pre-Code mindset of sexually evocative moviemaking.  The story of two men and one woman (played wonderfully on all sides by Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins) who strike up a ménage-à-trois, is based on the play by Noël Coward - a film version of which Coward was heavily critical of (Coward said, "I'm told that there are three of my original lines left in the film - such original ones as 'Pass the mustard'").  Released the same year as Lubitsch's Pre-Code masterpiece Trouble in Paradise, Design For Living may not sustain the same level of cinematic bravura that the former does (what film can say they do though?), but I would still call this one of Lubitsch's finest works of cinema - hands down.

#699 - Peter Ibbetson (1935) - (#815 on TSPDT)  This film, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Gary Cooper as a man lost in life who finds his long ago childhood love, only to end up in prison for accidentally killing her husband, is a film that was pretty much completely unknown to yours truly until finding it squirreled away on the list.  With magical qualities that inevitably remind one of William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie (also on this list but slightly lower down), this little film that evaded my gaze all these years is quite enjoyable indeed (though I would still put the aforementioned Dieterle film a bit higher up).


Dave Enkosky said...

Hey I just recently discovered your site. My hat's off to you for undertaking such an enormous proceeding. Can't wait to see you make it through the entire list

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