Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #780 Thru #799

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.

#780 - The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) - (#131 on TSPDT)  More oft than not, the Best Picture Oscar winner is a rather tepid, ordinary kind of affair, and at first glance, The Best Years of Our Lives seems like it is going to be just that.  But then one gets a rather welcome surprise - the film is actually very good, and even maybe somewhat deeper than is to be expected.  The performances given by Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright and Fredric March really help this along.  Yeah, it does tend to get more than a bit schmaltzy now and then, but overall a surprisingly well-done piece of cinema

#781 - True Heart Susie (1919) - (#953 on TSPDT)  Griffith and Gish, together again.  The adorable Gish is at one of her more Gishier moments here and her performance makes this film shine much brighter than it most likely would have with someone else in the role.  Griffith, for all his supposed groundbreaking cinematic tricks and tropes (many of which should be rightfully attributed to others, but that is another story altogether), always had a rather Victorian mindset, but even with this inherent old-fashionedness, his films come forth as being ahead of their time in many ways.  But of course this film's best attribute is Gish at her Gishiest. 

#782 - The Spider's Stratagem (1970) - (#899 on TSPDT)  I would definitely call this lesser Bertolucci.  Sure it has some really fun cinematic moments - after all, it is Bertolucci - but overall the film drags too often to be considered great, and also too often to be included on this list, even at its rather low ranking.

#783 - Los Olvidados (1950) - (#115 on TSPDT)  I love love love this film.  No really, I love it.  I am not sure what I was expecting - my attitude toward Buñuel definitely runs hot and cold, though his Mexican period is usually the hotter era - but what I got was one of my favourite films of 1950.  In fact I would place this film, in all its Buñuelian glory (actually this is my favourite period in cinema, period), in my top 200 of all-time.  Maybe even in my top 150.  We will find out for sure when this whole quest is over and I actually compile said list.

#784 - The 47 Ronin (1941/42) - (#807 on TSPDT)  Grand and epic Mizoguchi.  Actually kind of boring, especially considering it is a film by a director who can make his winding camera make anything look good.  And yes, Mizoguchi's wandering camera does do its thing here, but even with my admiration for Japanese cinema and the Jidai-Geki genre particularly, I could not keep interested here.  A shame really.

#785 - The Shop Around the Corner (1940) - (#206 on TSPDT) Lubitsch is always great.  I tend to go more for his pre-code work but this is still a more than solid film with that always great Lubitsch touch and a pair of more than solid performances by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  Witty and sometimes wicked (though not the way he was in his best work (Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living) the film is perhaps ranked a bit too high here.  I will probably end up placing it around 600 or 650.

#786 -  Providence (1977) - (#408 on TSPDT)  A strange strange English-language film from the usually more Gallic Alain Resnais.  Fun and quite twisted, taking place mostly in the mad mad mind of Sir John Gielguld's eccentric dying novelist.  The fun comes with how the story keeps changing, keeps evolving as our writer changes the story of his novel.  Fun indeed.

#787 - People On Sunday (1930) - (#978 on TSPDT)  This one was a welcome surprise.  Having bought the Criterion Bluray more than six months ago, I finally took this one off the proverbial shelf, and plopped it in the player.  What came out was a fascinating half-doc, non-actor, precursor to all the verite and reality cinema that has recently pervaded the cinematic world stage.  I actually sat in what one could and would call rapt attention.  Why it is so low on the list while much inferior films are well above it, we may never know.  Personally I would place it in the top 200 easy.

#788 - Gunga Din (1939) - (#747 on TSPDT)  Evidently I did not know much about this film going in because I was expecting a much more dramatic film that what I got.  Perhaps something more akin to Lawrence of Arabia or maybe Sgt. York.  Instead, Gunga Din, though it does have lots of action and drama throughout, is a quite funny film.  Much more comedic moments that I ever expected.  This does not make the film any lesser to me though.  It is a very fun film, and Cary Grant and Doug Fairbanks Jr. are both quite fun inside the film.  Hooha!

#789 - La Région centrale (1971) - (#593 on TSPDT)  Really!?  Really !?  Now anyone who knows me knows how much I hate experimental film - at least 97% of it anyhow - so it should come as no surprise how dreadfully bored I was while watching this 3 plus hour (!!???) work of supposed art.  I mean really!?  Michael Snow plants a robotic camera on the top of a mountain and turns it on, letting it spin back and forth and round and round, recording the sky and the dirt and the trees, and lets it go for more than three hours.  Really!?  Are we expected to watch this and enjoy it?  It is ridiculous!  Sure, some experimental film works (most notably the Snow-directed Wavelength) and most of it only works in short form.  Perhaps these images would be a nice inclusion between scenes of a Tarkovsky film, but on its own, for three plus hours?  No thanks.  Why this is is ranked so high, or why it is even on the list at all, befuddles the fuck out of me.  This is not cinema - this is something else.

#790 - A Touch of Zen (1971) - (#470 on TSPDT)  This film kinda blew me away.  The classic wuxia film that inspired such modern day wirefu films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and House of Flying Daggers, this King Hu work (my first and so far only look at Hu) is a blast.  Long, wandering camera takes, quick-paced bursts of action, visually stunning shots, this film is, well, like I said, it kinda blew me away.  So much so that I wrote a piece for The Large Association of Movie Blogs' Wuxia event.  It can be read at A Touch of Zen and the Art of the Wuxia Film.  And we have another one for my personal top 200.

#791 - The Black Cat (1934) - (#987 on TSPDT)  Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, what could be better?  Seriously though, this is a fun fun fun b-movie from the classic days of Universal Horror.  I could listen/watch Karloff do pretty much anything and throw him into a classic piece of horror, and you got yourself a blast of a movie.  It certainly is not a great work of cinema, but for those of us who love cheap b-movies (see, I am not really a film snob after all) it is a blast.

#792 - Outskirts (1933) - (#640 on TSPDT)  When it comes to the Soviet cinema of the 1920's and 30's, one could easily make a claim for a seen-one-see-em-all kind of mentality.  Save for Potemkin and The Man With the Movie Camera, and maybe Earth, they really do blend in together for this critic.  Just a few weeks after seeing this film, which I remember being a solidly-made work of Soviet Cinema, I really cannot remember much else of it.  C'est la vie.

#793 - Cabaret (1972) - (#264 on TSPDT)  Between its dark tragic humour, its seventies-esque cinematography, its flashy, decadent musical numbers, the giddy, twisted performance of Joel Grey and the lustful Liza leering, Cabaret is a a much better film than I to be.  I am not sure why I expected so little out of the film, but for some reason I did, and in the end I was pleasantly surprised.  Enough of a surprise that now I am going to have to go and adjust by Best of the 1970's list.  

#794 - My Life as a Dog (1985) - (#461 on TSPDT)  I have never been much of a Lasse Hallstrom fan.  His films have a solid directorial foundation, but they always end up eyes-deep in schmaltzy phlegm.  This rather trite, cutesy-pie film (and yes, a film that is essentially a tragedy in many ways can still be cutesy-pie) is far from a bad film, but pretty damn close to a really really annoying one.

#795 - To Sleep With Anger (1990) - (#904 on TSPDT)  Upon hearing my rather tepid response to this film, many fellow cinephiles got all up-in-arms about how great this film is.  Sorry, I just don't see it.  Directed with the most pedestrian, Made-for-TV blandness and with a screenplay (based on the play) that never takes it beyond the aforementioned pedestrianism, this Charles Burnett film (and he made Killer of Sheep, one of the best films of the 1970's) ends up being one of the least interesting, save for most of the so-called experimental nonsense, films on the list.  Sorry all you lovers out there, I must call myself a hater.

#796 - Caro Diario (1993) - (#853 on TSPDT)  I had only seen one Nanni Moretti prior to this and quite liked it.  This film is not near as powerful as The Son's Room, nor is it as cleanly made, but still this pseudo-doc creature, reminding me a lot of a funnier, more absurdist Kiarostami, has many fine moments - especialy the quite hilarious "surprise" encounter with Jennifer Beals (Jenneefer Beeeals!!).

#797 - Mephisto (1981) - (#827 on TSPDT)  When discussing the individual performances in  films, one of the most cliche'd, hackneyed things to say (and we see it so often in the poster blurbs of all those poster whores out there) is how an actor/actress gave a tour de force performance.  The saying is pure critical drivel, and people like Mr. Travers of Rolling Stone should know better (just to name the most obvious big-name culprit of the bunch).  Of course after watching Mr. Klaus Maria Brandauer's bravura (probably another cliche'd term) performance in Mephisto, one is probably bound to let oneself go and say such a thing about said performance.  I will not, but you get the idea.  Sadly though, once one gets beyond Brandauer's performance, one is left with not very much at all.  But still, we have that so-called tour de force performance to keep us busy.

#798 - The Fireman's Ball (1967) - (#746 on TSPDT)  Loves of a Blonde is one of my favourite films, but I cannot say the same for the director's follow-up.  But then I would not say it was all that bad either.  Milos Forman, before coming to Hollywood and making a series of award winning but disdainfully middling pictures, was kind of a big thing in  the sixties movement known as the Czechoslovak New Wave, and therefore was part of an experimentalist cinema group that incorporated political satire into a sort of documentary style production, using mostly non-actors.  This style gives Loves of a Blonde a rather remarkable sense of foreboding.  In Fireman's Ball, though there are many moments of sheer absurdist comedy that keep the film on track, it does not hold up as well as Blonde.  It is still a better film that most of his future Hollywood mediocrities, even his two most-overpraised works, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.   

#799 - The Story of Late Chrysanthemums (1939) - (#265 on TSPDT)  Definitely one of Mizoguchi's greatest works - and that is saying a lot considering the auteur's oeuvre.  Tragic to its very core, this film with the questionable title (sometimes it is listed as Last Chrysanthemum) is a hauntingly beautiful film.  Mizoguchi's ever-roving camera keeps the action going in stunning fashion.  Definitely deserves inclusion on the list.


Dave Enkosky said...

Los Olvidados is definitely in my top five Bunuel films. I was blown away by it.

Kevyn Knox said...

Viridiana and Olvidados are by top two. Probably followed by Exterminating Angel.

Chip Lary said...

Just curious - the list changes every year. Do you toss out the ones that drop off the list when that happens and add in the new ones? I'm asking because I compiled a personal list of all the films that had been on the list since it started in 2006. It's a total of 1,314 films.