Friday, June 8, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #800 Thru #819

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between May 11 and June 01.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#800 - The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) - (#703 on TSPDT) Even though Preston Sturges may not be on the same level as Lubitsch, Wilder or Hawks when it comes to the screwball comedy - but then who the hell is - his films are usually quite hilarious.  The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is no exception.  Using the film as a blatant attack on the ridiculous production code era of Hollywood, Sturges takes the simple story of a young pregnant woman who has no idea who her husband is, and who tries to manipulate the boy next door, who incidentally has been crushing on her since childhood, to marry her, and piles it into a great big screwball heap of hilarity.  The film is made even funnier when you know the backstory of the censors coming down on the director and how the film itself is a big middle finger to these Hays office bullies.  See also: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and How Preston Sturges Had to Marry Off Betty Hutton, and Quick.

#801 - Tom Jones (1963) - (#878 on TSPDT)  Francois Truffaut once said, as a critic, before he took to the camera himself, that there is a certain incompatibility between the words British and Cinema.   I remember Godard seconding this at some point.  Now this statement is a bit foolish when you think of the films of Carol Reed and Powell/Pressburger (especially Powell/Pressburger) but when you really think about it, overall British Cinema is pretty far down there in the strata of great national cinemas.  Which brings us to the British film Tom Jones.  Sure, it has its moments, as do many of the Brit works of this period, but overall it is pretty far down there in the strata of cinema.  Simply put, the bland outnumbers the bawdy.

#802 - Van Gogh (1991) - (#612 on TSPDT)  This film is interesting in how melodic it is.  Post New Wavist Maurice Pialat's lyrical way of setting up a story's cadence works wonderfully with the subtle, almost non-acting style of its cast.  The final twenty minutes are so are a blast that reminds one of some strange melange of Kazan, Altman and Godard, all rolled into a breathtakingly candid piece of cinema. Bravo.

#803 - Spies (1928) - (#964 on TSPDT)  There are some pretty spectacular shots in this film, which of course is par for the course when it comes to Lang, but even with these pretty spectacular shots of M. Lang's, the film is just too long.  Now I am not normally one to advocate the cutting of films (I am highly anticipating the extended ten hour cut of The Tree of Life for Christ's sake) but really, this could have used some editing.  There are bursts of brilliance in here but not enough to warrant two and a half hours.  Perhaps though, I am just nit-picking.

#804 - Black Orpheus (1959) - (#725 on TSPDT)  God this is a beautiful film.  Watching it up on the big screen was an added delight.  I was not expecting anything  bad or even mediocre - I was expecting something rather fun - but I was definitely not expecting the spectacular and quite sublime film I got.  An easy addition to my personal top 100 list, this French made, Brazil set film, with its sheer exotic beauty and non-stop music, flitting from one Carnival-induced musical moment to the next with the smoothest of smooth style, is a thing of visual and aural radiance.  Marcel Camus has weaved together the most succulent of films.  Why it is so low on the list I do not know.  It should be much much higher indeed.

#805 - L'Enfance nue (1969) - (#839 on TSPDT)  A quiet disarming film from Maurice Pialat.  A smooth blend bridging the new wave yet still classic romantic poeticism of early Truffaut (even the film's ten year old protag bears a rather striking resemblance to a certain young M. Doinel) with the Millennial age of Desplechin, Téchiné and the Brothers Dardenne.  One could even call the film quite haunting if one were so inclined.

#806 - Storm Over Asia (1928) - (#650 on TSPDT)  Sure, there is some pretty spectacular imagery in silent Soviet cinema, but overall they all seem to blend in together.  I suppose that does not necessarily make them bad films, just without much diversity - which of course makes complete sense in the whole Communist world view thing that was trying to be put out at the time.  Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia is no different.  Stunning shots throughout but one would have a hard time differentiating between this and films like Mother and October and Strike and so on.  Give me some variety comrades - it is the spice of life after all.

#807 - America America (1963) - (#616 on TSPDT)  Suddenly this is my second favourite Kazan picture.  On the Waterfront keeps it from taking the top spot.  It is a rather underrated picture, even if it does make the list.  Nearly three hours long and not once does it lose one's interest.  At least it never lost mine.  The scenery (filmed mostly on location) is simply breathtaking as they say, and the cool detached way Kazan films it while at the same time giving it an intensity with close-ups and swelling momentum and his usual great work with actors, makes for some pretty fucking stunning cinema indeed.

#808 - The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932) - (#992 on TSPDT) Gotta say, anything with Barbara Stanwyck in, I will watch with unbridled glee - even those not so great films of which she did more than a few under the old studio system days.  This film, one of her multiple collaborations with Frank Capra shortly before he became the guy above the title, falls somewhere in the middle of the great and not so great Stanwyck films.  Kind of tepid but with enough oomph from the lovely and talented Babs Stanwyck to make it stick.

#809 - The Mother and the Whore (1973) - (#191 on TSPDT)  Just two years after his epic collaboration with Jacques Rivette in the experimentally sound piece of cinema of endurance Out 1, Nouvelle Vague poster boy Jean-Pierre Léaud starred in this "much shorter" film (by comparison this nearly 4 hour film is miniscule against the near 13 hour Rivette film) and it was just as interesting as the previous film - and just as exhausting, but in a good way.

#810 - The Organiser (1963) - (#910 on TSPDT)  A subtle and quite sly Commedia all'italiana that pokes fun at the establishment.  Actually there is a lot of tragedy and drama in here as well, including a stunner of an ending.  Definitely deserves inclusion on the list.

#811 - Angel (1937) - (#687 on TSPDT)  Marlene Dietrich doing Ernst Lubitsch.  How can this not be just delicious.  And guess what?  It most certainly is.   Also with Herbert Marshall, who steals the show - even from Dietrich.  A witty, wry film full of lust and longing looks and of course, The Lubistch Touch.

#812 - Unfaithfully Yours (1948) - (#685 on TSPDT)  With Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell giving stellar performances, this acerbic, oft-times wicked tale of perceived deception (or is it real?) is one of Preston Sturges' lesser known works, but still a delight of Sturgesesque dramedy. 

#813 - The Reckless Moment (1949) - (#800 on TSPDT)  One of Max Ophüls smaller Hollywood works but still a fun B-esque work of cinema.  Perhaps it isn't as powerful a film as something like Letter From an Unknown Woman or the director's European works, but I must admit to thoroughly enjoying it.  Of course I always love a movie full of deception and noiresque melodrama.  But then, who doesn't?  Seriously though, a fun fun fun (and perhaps a bit seedy) film that certainly deserves to be on the list.

#814 - Branded to Kill (1967) - (#787 on TSPDT)  More attuned to the sensibilities of the European art film than the director's Japanese compatriots (although the Japanese New Wave at the time was essentially full of European arthouse sensibilities to begin with) this Seijun Suzuki follow-up to Tokyo Drifter may not have the guttural impact of that film, but its layered pace and sharp-as-a-pin black and white cinematography give it a more powerful visual voice.  Again, this is a film that deserves inclusion on the list, though perhaps in the lower realms of the pack.

#815 - Dersu Uzala (1975) - (#455 on TSPDT)  Sure, this film has some pretty stunning moments from a visual standpoint, but it is still hard to believe that this otherwise above average at best film is by the same man who gave us Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, High and Low, Kagemusha and Ran.  Then again, comparing this film to other Kurosawa's may be a bit unfair, as this was the director's first film after his suicide attempt, and therefore perhaps not at his best emotionally.

#816 -Toni (1935) - (#1000 on TSPDT)  When one describes a film as Renoir-light, one does not necessarily mean it as an insult.   Even the greatest of directors (Hitchcock, Kurosawa, John Ford) have some off moments where they produce a film unworthy of their talents, but I have got to say that Jean Renoir is not one of them.  Even his lesser films, of which Toni probably is, are better than many filmmaker's better or even best films.  I still think this should have a spot on the list (it barely made it) as one of about a dozen Renoir films I would include.

#817 - Mother India (1957) - (#828 on TSPDT)  This singing and dancing melodrama, done in glorious Technicolor, may very well make my all-time Top 100 when all is said and done.  Many do not like the melodrama.  Many do not not like the musical-must of Bollywood films.  Many do not no of what they speak.  Just shy of three hours, this film, directed by Mehboob Khan and starring Indian icon Nargis, and playing out as a symbolist look on the modern history of the sub-continent and its pre and post colonialism, never once made me look away in boredom.  Never once.  Wow.

#818 - Le Feu Follet (1963) - (#929 on TSPDT)  I have never been much of a Louis Malle fan - take him or leave him was the attitude - but this film makes me thinks perhaps I should maybe rethink my earlier evaluation.   Okay, perhaps not, but this film - a stunner indeed - is a powerful beast of a movie that slow and steady-like, sneaks up on you until it all bursts in that final, incredible shot.

#819 - Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) - (#555 on TSPDT)  For years now, so many have been saying that I should watch this film - some quite surprised that I had never seen it - and really I have no idea what did indeed take me so long, but here I am now.  My verdict?  A moody, creepy, intense drama that plays out like a softer, not quite as chilly version of Antonioni's L'Avventura.  This is not a bust mind you.  I was quite enthralled with Weir's creepy-ass film and wonder to myself why I had indeed waited so long to finally watch the damn thing.  In the end, it probably deserves to be a little higher than where it is.


Dave Enkosky said...

Cool, two of my favorite Sturges pictures are in this section.

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