Monday, March 19, 2012

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #740 Thru #759

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.

#740 - Roman Holiday (1953) - (#638 on TSPDT)  She may not be the best actress.  Nor is she even the most beautiful.  She is actually kind of funny looking in a cute sort of way (that funny face).  But still, Audrey Hepburn has a certain something - a je ne sais quoi if you will - that makes her and her characters instantly lovable - even those mostly unlikable characters like Holly Golightly.  But then we are not here to talk about Lula Mae Barnes.  We are here to talk about Anya, or Princess Ann, as played by the charming Miss Hepburn in William Wyler's Roman Holiday.   The film is rather slight, but it does show some rather powerful emotion in its second half, and the chemistry between Hepburn and costar Gregory Peck allows Wyler and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (the once blacklisted writer's name was later put into the credits where it should have been all the time) to play into that.  In the end, I am not sure I would personally include this film on such a list - though it could sneak in near the end.  I suppose that is something we will find out when I make my own list of the 1000 greatest once I finish watching this list.

#741 - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) - (#665 on TSPDT)  There is a line in the film that pretty much sums up the movie as a whole.  Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, as money hungry and man hungry showgirls respectively, are boarding a cruise ship bound for France (somehow it is going directly to Paris, but let's not worry about that rather ill-mapped cinematic route right now).  They are of course being ogled by all the men aboard.  One man says to another, "If we hit an iceberg and begin to sink, which one would you save first?" whereupon he receives the reply, "Buddy, those girls aren't drowning."  Oh yeah, and it has a few really fun musical numbers in it as well.  Some a bit homoerotic (really Howard Hawks!?  You did not see that when filming!?) and some just downright diamond happy.  Overall a fun, if not quite great, musical extravaganza.

#742 - Plein Soleil (1960) - (#937 on TSPDT)  The original French version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, has a lot going for it.   Starring a young Alain Delon as the titular M. Ripley, this René Clément film (released as the ill-translated Purple Noon in the US) is appropriately subversive and sneering, just like any good French film should be.   Still though, even though it is enjoyable I do not know about it being ranked on here.

#743 - The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) - (#420 on TSPDT)  As I watched this film from Roberto Rossellini, I felt a strong case of deja vu.  I think perhaps I had seen this film many years ago - sometime in my so-called misbegotten youth - and therefore should have already checked it off the list.  But then again, I probably did not appreciate it back then (I did actually forget seeing it, so...) as I do now.  A beautiful film, it is easily deserving of being on this list, and perhaps should even be a bit higher than it is.

#744 - The Ladykillers (1955) - (#887 on TSPDT)  A fun romp indeed.  Definitely better than the rather mediocre Coen Brothers' remake with Tom Hanks.  Watching Alec Guinness, and his work in the Ealing Studio comedies of the fifties is quite fun.  Perhaps this is isn't one of the great comedies in film history, but it is fun.  Perhaps not quite fun enough to deserve inclusion on the list, but still rather fun.  Maybe I just like my Sir Alec with a bit more Jedi in him.

#745 - Floating Clouds (1955) - (#284 on TSPDT)  I liked this film.  It has all those subtle yet melodramatic touches that stylize Mikio Naruse's cinema.  It had the tragedy of Naruse as well.  Still though, to include what is essentially lesser Naruse, and include it so high on the list, while not including the director's far superior works like Repast or Yearning or A Woman Ascends the Stairs (which used to be on the list) or even an early film like Wife! Be Like a Rose!, seems a bit off kilter.

#746 - Man of Aran (1934) - (#346 on TSPDT)  There are moments, shots in this film that are a thing(s) of naturalistic wonder.  The waves beating beating beating against the rocks.  The surf devouring  the beach.  The faraway longing of the characters.  Of course this is Robert J. Flaherty just doing what Robert J. Flaherty does best.  This one may not reach the pinnacle of the director's oeuvre the way Nanook and Louisiana Story do, but that does not mean it is not worth your time.

#747 - Gun Crazy (1950) - (#450 on TSPDT)  This B-Movie classic is easily one of the sexiest films ever made under the auspices of the Hays Code.  As Peggy Cummins and John Dall fondle their weapons, undressing each other with lusting, gunshot looks (really, how did this stuff get past such prudish censors!?), Joseph H. Lewis' bandit B-Flick explodes with action and intrigue, and of course bang bang gun crazy desperation.  Personally I think this film - very possibly my new favourite noir - should be a hell of a lot higher than where it is - perhaps even in that ever-so-elusive top 100.  To read more on this film, take a look at my full length peice on the matter, "The Wild & Rollickin' Good Times of Joseph H. Lewis' Whirlwind On-the-Run Romance-cum-Film Noir B-Flick Masterpiece."

#748 - The Round-Up (1965) - (#781 on TSPDT)  With the long, long, long tracking shots of Miklós Jancsó, The Round-Up plays out like a methodically tuned whirling dervish of a motion picture - and I mean that in a mostly complementary manner.  Jancsó has never rally been my thing, and even though a talented and sometimes quite stunning of a shot-maker he may very well be, I just don't dig all that much on his cinema.  Still though, this is not to say the Hungarian is unworthy of the list.

#749 - The Threepenny Opera (1931) - (#654 on TSPDT)  The brazen storytelling of Bertolt Brecht.  The cool sophisticated charm of Kurt Weill.  The smooth filmmaking style of Georg Wilhelm Pabst.  The stern cocksure attitude of Rudolph Forster as Mack the Knife.  The disassociated otherworldliness of Lotte Lenya.  All these things pile up to make this early sound, Wiemar Republic version The Threepenny Opera pretty hot stuff.

#750 - The Sun Shines Bright (1953) - (#745 on TSPDT) At first, this Judge Priest tale by John Ford seemed to play out as nothing more than quaint fiddlesticks, but as the story progressed, it transformed itself into one of the western master's most eloquent works of racial and societal inequalities.  Yeah, it ain't The Searchers, but then what is!?

#751 - Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) - (#94 on TSPDT)  Ya gotta love Max Ophüls and his ornate, succulent style, and it is in high gear in this Hollywood made work.  You also must love the drop-dead gorgeous Joan Fontaine going from a teenage girl to a desirous woman without really ever changing her look (something the actress has done before, most notably in The Constant Nymph - that time in love with a Frenchman as well).  Though the film was made on Hollywood back lots and sound stages, it simply and completely reeks (in the good way mind you) of turn of the century Vienna.  Beautiful work indeed.  Perhaps not quite top 100 material but close.

#752 - The French Connection (1971) - (#578 on TSPDT)  There are some fun chase scenes here (a rather famous car/train one even) and as far as Best Picture Oscar winners go it is the proverbial head & shoulders above most (granted though, not the most difficult of feats), and Gene Hackman hands in one of his best performances (though my vote would have still gone to Malcolm McDowell's Alex DeLarge that year) but still this is not one I would place on the list.

#753 - Olympia (1938) - (#528 on TSPDT)  Lavish and full of the typical bravado one would associate with the infamously cinematic Leni Riefenstahl.  Here, instead of helping to empower Da Fuhrer like she did (unwittingly perhaps??) in her earlier Triumph of the Will, Riefenstahl shows us the ins and outs of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Granted, Hitler is still involved, but as a much more minor character than before.  Many tend to brush off the talented Riefenstahl as nothing more than a propagandist and/or opportunist (the latter is probably more accurate a description) without also acknowledging how groundbreaking of a filmmaker she actually was.  I would never do such a thing.  Even if she were in bed (figuratively and quite possibly literally) with the Nazi party, this does not take away the bravura sensibilities of her directorial prowess.  And judging from the series of mountain films she did as an actress, she had pretty nice legs too.

#754 - Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) - (#648 on TSPDT)  This is the second early Bergman I have seen recently (the first being the oft-forgotten Sawdust and Tinsel) and it is the second that I have fallen in love with.  Crisp and chilling but ever so funny, this Swedish sex farce inspired many a future film (most notably Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy), and is surely one of Bergman's best.  Personally, it ends up in my Bergman top 5.  It definitely deserves a much higher ranking than what it receives here.

#755 - Seconds (1966) - (#955 on TSPDT)  This is a film that has always been on my must see list but for one reason or another has always eluded me.  Now that I have finally seen the damn thing, I must remember to put aside some time to beat myself mercilessly for waiting this long to see it.  A fantastic and quite twisted film indeed.  This should definitely be a lot higher.  In fact it (like Gun Crazy above) should be in the top 100.

#756 - All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - (#356 on TSPDT) The film certainly has some quite harrowing scenes of war, and is one of the better anti-war monuments around, but still, I prefer Kubrick's Paths of Glory or King Vidor's contemporaneous Big Parade

#757 - The Wind (1928) - (#310 on TSPDT)  One of the films Victor Sjöström did in Hollywood (handpicked by star Lillian Gish no less) but that does not mean it is a lesser work.  Granted, I personally prefer The Phantom Carriage (probably just my genre-giddy preferences) but The Wind is a pretty powerful work of art - and we get Lillian Gish (better with Sjöström than with Griffith - ha!) at her very Gishiest.

#758 - The Italian Straw Hat (1928) - (#959 on TSPDT)  Gotta admit that even though I normally enjoy the films of René Clair, this one kinda bored the ever-lovin' daylights outta me.  Perhaps it was because I was tired when I watched it (4am or something like that) but I do not plan on rewatching the damn thing just to find out.

#759 - Arsenal (1928) - (#997 on TSPDT) As far as the montage-heavy Soviet cinema of the 1920's goes, Eisenstein is the top dog, and his Battleship Potemkin is the top film.  The rest all seem to blend in together.  Two that manage to stand out a bit more are Earth and Arsenal, both by Dovzhenko.  Still though, Potemkin is the only one I could honestly call great.  Granted though, there are some moments of spectacular and harrowing beauty in Arsenal (the final shot is possibly, save for a certain moment in the Odessa Steps sequence of the aforementioned Potemkin, the best single shot in Soviet silent cinema) but overall it never comes together as a complete and great work of cinema.


Dave Enkosky said...

Wow, this is a great chunk of movies. Seconds, Gun Crazy and The French Connection are three of my favorites.

Kevyn Knox said...

I would name Gun Crazy, Seconds, Smiles of A Summer Night, Flowers of St. Francis & Letter From an Unknown Woman as my favourites from this batch.

The next batch is going to include Fritz Lang's Indian Epic, which I adored. Watching it on the big screen was an added bonus.