Monday, April 9, 2012

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest Films: #760 Thru #779

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.

#760 - Time of the Gypsies (1988) - (#562 on TSPDT)  I remember the first time I saw a film by Serbian-born director Emir Kusterica and my amazement at how he could take the most strange and unusual parts of life, many of them surreal even, and make them seem like the most normal happenings ever.  He did this in his masterpiece of Communist breakdown, Underground (that first film I spoke of), and he does that here in Time of the Gypsies as well.  A film that blends fantasy with humanism.  Not as great as Underground, but still quite good.  I think it sits pretty much where it should on the list. 

#761 - The Quince Tree of the Sun (1992) - (#855 on TSPDT)   Egad was I bored to death with this film.  I remember liking Spirit of the Beehive way back when I first saw it (though barely remember any of it) and I enjoyed El Sur quite a bit last year when I first saw that one, but this one was just dreadfully dull.  It isn't that it is a poorly made film (it is not really) just bored me to tears.  Is that bad?

#762 - Avanti! (1972) - (#740 on TSPDT) Many claim this to be lesser Billy Wilder, and I suppose when compared to veritable masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Some Like it Hot, it quite frankly is, but that by no means makes it anything less than fabulous.  Part comedy, part drama (Wilder himself called it a drama) this fun and romping romance-cum-emotional adventure story can stand on its own two Wilder-created feet anyday.

#763 - Kings of the Road (1976) - (#317 on TSPDT)  A rather fascinating work by Wim Wenders - one of his ubiquitous road movies - but certainly not for everyone.  Slow and quite meandering at times - we wander aimlessly just as Wenders' two wayfarers do - the film nonetheless is fascinating to the likes of whom have watched and become enthralled with films like Jeanne Dielman and Satantango.  Now granted, it never reaches the level of artistry those two films do (I prefer one man's tale over the other), but it is still a fascinating film to watch and (some would say) endure. 

#764 - The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) - (#479 on TSPDT)  The first half of Fritz Lang's Indian Epic.  I had to put this one (and its second half) up on the ole big screen.  Full of life and colour and typically Langian spectacle - and even more so since it is in the vein of the 1950's epic motion picture extravaganza.  This is a mesmerizing picture indeed and so full be continued a few spots down in part two.....  

#765 - The Wild Child (1970) - (#609 on TSPDT)  French cinema can certainly be a dry kind of cinema (and that is for better and for worse) and that dryness (again, for better and for worse) comes through here in Truffaut's otherwise rather provocative look at the titular wild child and the man, played by the auteur himself, who attempts, rightly or wrongly, to acclimate him to the so-called civilized world. 

#766 - Miracle in Milan (1951) - (#321 on TSPDT)  This is a film that has sat, unfulfilled until now, on my most-desired-to-see list.  I am not sure why it has taken me so long to see this film (it was hard to find for a while) especially considering my great love for both The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D., but now that I finally have, I can say without reservation that it is not as great as the aforementioned De Sica masterpieces.  Granted, it is a fun film indeed, but most certainly lighter De Sica - for better or for worse.

#767 - The Indian Tomb (1959) - (#861 on TSPDT)  .....the most cinematic of grandeur. Lang infuses his near four hour epic with swaths of brightly coloured pomp and circumstance while simultaneously giving it that expected sense of Langian dread and desire.  This film (and its first half) definitely deserve inclusion on the list, but dare I say they should be, at the very least, in the top 200 - maybe even in that vaunted top 100.

#768 - Awaara (1951) - (#865 on TSPDT)  Many Indian films seem to blend into one another (the good and the not so good) but this epic-y film from Raj Kapoor is one that stands out from the rest - or at least most of the rest.  Full of melodrama and the occasional song and dance number (of course!?), this quite stunning film - in both a visual and a narrative way - is, along with Ghatak's Cloud-Capped Star and Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, one of my three favourite non-Satyajit Ray Indian Films.

#769 - The American Friend (1977) - (#915 on TSPDT)  This Wim Wenders film (a sort of road movie) is probably not the German's best work.  It is fun, with Dennis Hopper in the Tom Ripley role (played at other times by Alain Delon and Matt Daman) and Bruno Ganz as his partner/foil/antithesis, and has some pretty nice camera work (as Wenders longing, languid style always puts forth), but still fell short of my anticipations.  

#770 - The Big Red One (1980) - (#857 on TSPDT)   This ain't your grandpa's war movie.  Fuller puts his own unique spin on the ideas of war (and its repercussions) and it comes out, perhaps not in that masterpiece mode in which the auteur has created such bravado-fueled films as Shock Corridor and Steel Helmet and Forty Guns and Pickup on South Street, but in a rather solid, albeit strange, manner. And hey, it has Luke Skywalker too.

#771 - Samson and Delilah (1949) - (#859 on TSPDT)   Anyone who knows me and my darker cinematic tastes, knows full well of my sort of demented love for the overblown, cheesy melodramatic biblical (and generally ancient times overall) epics of the 1950's and early 1960's.  Okay, this one comes in as late 1940's, but you get the picture.  With their gigantic craziness spewing forth from such uber-seriousness performances, they are great fun indeed.  If I had any guilt whatsoever, I would call these my guilty pleasures.  And who better to do overblown, cheesy melodramatic biblical epics than Mr. Cecil B. DeMille.  With the perfect casting of the lustful Hedy Lamarr and the libidinous Victor Mature as the titular couple from proverbial hell.

#772 - Bob le Flambeur (1955) - (#563 on TSPDT)  One of those almost always fun French gangster films of the 1950's and 1960's, this Jean-Pierre Melville flick plays out somewhere less than the better ones (Rififi, Shoot the Piano Player, Breathless of course) but it is still a rock solid highlight of the genre.  One can easily see the influence this film had on the likes of Truffaut and especially Godard.  It certainly deserves inclusion on the list.

#773 - Dodsworth (1936) - (#816 on TSPDT)  It is always fun to watch Walter Huston ply his trade, even if it is in a film that is otherwise quite bland, like this one.  William Wyler has never been the most exciting of directors.  One will certainly never mistake a Wyler film for a Welles or a Hitchcock, or a Fuller, Ray, Hawks, Wilder, et cetera, but then the director is still above any typical hack.  Still though, Dodsworth ends up being not much of anything outside of Huston's Oscar nominated performance.

#774 - Titicut Follies (1967) - (#603 on TSPDT)  Some say this doc from Wiseman, a take on the mental health institutions of the time, is something that will dig into your brain and/or soul (if the latter even exists is a whole other question) and devour it.  I suppose it has a certain power about it, but for the most part this is just annoying half the time and boring the other half.  Neither of which is something I want to watch.  

#775 - The Devils (1971) - (#534 on TSPDT)  A chilling, gleefully gloomy, death-defying high wire act by absurdist, antagonistic auteur Ken Russell, The Devils, based on the Huxley book "The Devils of Loudun", is a film that plays out as harrowing for many - though harrowing in a very cinematic way - but plays out as some sort of twisted romp to this critic - though a very cinematic twisted romp.  Perhaps this is my desensitized outlook on all things artistic (I mean really, some more sensitive souls cannot bear to watch this film a second time!?) but this does not stop me from being impressed by the results of Russell's maniacal turn of events.

#776 - Way Down East (1920) - (#975 on TSPDT) Griffith, for all his early cinema chutzpah, and for his three great works - the brilliant though retroactively quite intolerable masterpiece Birth of a Nation, Intolereance, its follow-up that in many ways attempted to make up for his writing history with lightning and the director's heartbreaking emotional punch-in-the-face, Broken Blossoms - can be a rather boring filmmaker.  Yeah yeah, his reinvention of cinema (though perhaps that contribution is a bit on the build me up buttercup side of things) and his innovative use of differing camera tricks and tropes and his (some would say - I would not, at least not wholly attributed to Griffith) groundbreaking use of narrative storytelling, are things of legends, but really, other than the aforementioned three great works, as well as some of his shorts, particularly Musketeers of Pig Alley, the silent auteur only made films that went from passable to pretty good.  This is one of those passable ones.

#777 - Ludwig (1972) - (#694 on TSPDT)  I had to watch this one on the big screen!  Had to!  It is widescreen Visconti after all.  So watched it on the big screen I did.  Beguiling and oft-times bordering on the beatific (can you tell I am a Visconti fan) this four hour epic tale of Mad King Ludwig, is a wonder to behold on the big screen.  Visconti's use of light and shadow, and his way with colour, is quite a thing indeed.  Perhaps not in a realm with Senso (my favourite Visconti) but definitely a great film - and one that deserves a much higher ranking on the list.

#778 - A City of Sadness (1989) - (#352 on TSPDT)  I cannot say I am the biggest fan of Hou Hsiao-hsien.  I really enjoyed both Flowers of Shanghai and Three Times (especially the first third of the latter) but the rest of the auteur's oeuvre lacks something.  Yeah yeah, he is heralded as a great filmmaker (one of the best working today) by many critics today, and I do not deny that he is just that - many of his individual shots are quite stunning - but overall, though I have never actually disliked a Hou film (his work usually sits around the 6.5 or 7 out of 10 spot), he fails to excite me the way he probably should.  A City of Sadness fits into that line of thinking pretty well.  Many of its shots are cinematically beautiful (in the driest, Rivettian, Bressonian way) but still it does not shine the way others claim the director shines.  I know this seems quite the backhanded compliment and/or the fronthanded insult (!?) but that is just the way it is.

#779 - On The Town (1949) - (#532 on TSPDT)  New York New York, it's a wonderful town.  The Bronx is up and the Battery's down.  People ride around in a hole in the ground.  New York New York.  What a fun time to be had here.  Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller.   A great cast and some great musical numbers.  This was Stanley Donan's directorial debut (co-directed with Kelly in charge of the choreography).  This fun fun NYC romp definitely deserves inclusion on the list, but should be a bit higher - the top 250 or 300 perhaps.

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