Les Chefs-d’oeuvre (2)

PREVIOUSLY: 1960-1990

1959
À bout de souffle (Jean-Luc Godard) 91
[ review ]

1959
Apur Sansar (Satyajit Ray)


1959
North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock) 75
[ review ]

1959
Jungfrukällan (Ingmar Bergman )

1959
Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)

1958
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles) 96
[ Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican (!) cop in a border town who must deal with local gangsters, the disappearance of his wife (Janet Leigh) and a racist, corrupted American police chief played with sleazy bravado by a morbidly obese Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed this powerful, morally ambiguous film noir. Masterful direction, solid performances, gorgeous black & white cinematography and an engrossing plot: this is classic moviemaking at its finest. ]


1958
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock) 100
[ review ]

1958
Hiroshima, mon amour (Alain Resnais)

1958
Les 400 coups (François Truffaut) 58
[ Saw this back in film school and thought it was pretty blah. Little brat acts up, whines, wanders around, ends up on the beach by the sea, FIN. I should probably give this another spin before making a final verdict. ]

1957
Smultronstället (Ingmar Bergman)

1957
Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati)

1957
Det Sjunde inseglet (Ingmar Bergman)

1957
Le Notti di Cabiria (Federico Fellini)

1956
Aparajito (Satyajit Ray)

1956
Un condamné à mort s’est échappé (Robert Bresson)

1956
The Searchers (John Ford) 64
[ John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards is a man on a mission. After Comanches massacre his kin and kidnap his young niece, he goes out after them and nothing will stop him. Some have accused the film of being racist, but I don’t think so. John Wayne’s character certainly hates “Injuns”, but the film doesn’t necessarily approve of it. He’s clearly drawn as an anti-hero, an obsessed man who will get the girl away from the Comanches even if that means he has to kill her. Wayne is riveting in the role, which makes up for some of the weak supporting cast, lame comic relief and the staged feeling of many of the scenes. I don’t reckon this really is one of the great Westerns, but Wayne’s performance is a must-see. ]

1955
Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)

1955
The Night of the Hunter ( Charles Laughton)

1955
Ordet (Carl T. Dreyer)

1955
Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray)

1955
East of Eden (Elia Kazan) 66
[ I read the book for a college class and adored it, one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read. Then I rented the film and couldn’t help but be sooooo disappointed… It basically skips over the first 3/4 and just hovers over the last part with the grown-up sons and the prostitute mother… I’ll have to give it another shot, I’m probably underselling it. ]

1954
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock) 95
[ Another great James Stewart film but in quite a different register. Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound magazine photographer who fights boredom by looking out the window into the apartments of his neighbours: the newlyweds, the sexy ballet dancer, the lonely single woman, the pianist… the murderer? This makes for one of the most voyeuristic and suspenseful films Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. “Rear Window” is packed with virtuoso visual storytelling, managing to remain absolutely engrossing even though we never leave Stewart’s tiny little apartment. It doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is played by the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace Kelly, who never looked better than in this movie. That first close-up of her when she bends to kiss Stewart would make anyone’s heart melt. ]


1954
Shichinin no samurai (Akira Kurosawa) 96
[ review ]

1954
La Strada (Federico Fellini) 88
[ Is there something more beautiful than 35mm B&W cinematography and Nino Rotta music? Was there ever a more adorable clown than Giulietta Masina’s Gelsomina? Do they make male leads as wonderfully brutish as the late Anthony Quinn anymore? “La Strada” is an enchanting, heartbreaking road movie – maybe a bit of a “trifle”, but one that sticks with you. ]


1954
On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan) 93
[ review ]

1953
Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi)

1953
Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Jacques Tati )

1953
Madame de… ( Max Ophuls)

1953
Tokyo monogatari (Yasujiro Ozu)


1952
Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen) 100
[ review ]

1952
High Noon (Fred Zinnemann) 70
[ This black and white Western is kinda square, with Gary Cooper’s Marshall walking around like he’s got a stick up his ass and Grace Kelly being all self-righteous (she plays a Quaker) and pretty (oh so pretty). But the plot’s clock (an infamous bandit is coming to kill Cooper on the noon train and the movie counts down the hour until then in real time) builds up a lot of suspense, there are some interesting morality issues (Cooper refuses to flee, even though no one in town will stick his neck out for him) and I love the recurrent theme song (the Oscar-winning Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’. ]

1951
The African Queen (John Huston) 90
[ Movie star heaven, with Humphrey Bogart doing his gruff man’s man boat captain against Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated English lady. Laughs, thrills and sensuality ensue as the two come across white water rapids, wild animals and German soldiers. “I never dreamed a mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” ]

1951
Othello (Orson Welles)

1951
Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica)

1950
Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa) 93
[ A priest, a farmer and a vagrant meet in rain-drenched ruins and discuss the day’s court hearing regarding the murder of a samurai. We hear and see what happened according to the accused, the widow and even the victim himself speaking through a medium. It is clear that the bandit raped the woman and that this lead to the death of her husband, but no one can agree on the details… Akira Kurosawa’s film is rather slow, with sparse dialogue and intentionally non-spectacular scuffles, but where it becomes riveting (aside from the superb b&w cinematography and Toshiro Mifune’s gleeful overacting) is in the way the story is structured. By having each protagonist’s testimony contradicting the others, “Rashomon” sets up an ambiguous morality tale in which one’s truth is another’s lie. The sexual politics are questionable (“Women are weak by nature”) but probably reflective of Japan at the time, and the conclusion is underwhelming (“Thanks to you I can keep my faith in men.” “Don’t mention it.”) but this remains a masterful picture that’s still influential to this day. ]

1950
Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder) 95
[ Part film noir and part Hollywood satire, this endlessly rewarding film is about the events that led to a homicide in a mansion on the titular road, as recounted by the dead victim! Played by the great William Holden, Joe Gillis is a struggling screenwriter who enters a bizarre relationship with half-mad has been silent film star Norma Desmond, unforgettably portrayed by Gloria Swanson. Gillis also entertains a flirtation with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), a cute reader on the Paramount lot, but Norma has her claws too deep in him to allow her gigolo a chance at a normal life… Boasting exquisitely pulpy dialogue (and narration) and expressionistic B&W cinematography, “Sunset Blvd.” is truly one of the greats. ]

1950
Le journal d’un curé de campagne (Robert Bresson)


1949
The Third Man (Carol Reed) 94
[ review ]

1949
Louisiana Story (Robert Flaherty)

1948
Ladri di biciclette (Vittorio De Sica) 42
[ So this poor dude steals a bicycle and, um, that’s about it. One of many so-called masterpieces we were shown in film school that have obvious importance because of the context in which they were made (post-war Italy, neo-realism, etc.) but that feel dull and ordinary today. ]

1948
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston) 89
[ Humphrey Bogart is riveting as a down-on-his-luck American in Mexico who takes on prospecting with fellow bum Tim Holt and old-timer Walter Huston. They must face bandits, exhaustion and the paranoid fear of being robbed of one’s share by the others. This is classic studio moviemaking, well-oiled entertainment that never misses a beat but also has a thing or two to say about the darker chambers of the human heart. ]

1946
Roma, città aperta (Roberto Rossellini)

1946
My Darling Clementine (John Ford)

1946
La Belle et la Bête (Jean Cocteau)

1945
Ivan Groznyj II (Sergei Eisenstein)

1945
Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné)

1944
Ivan Groznyj (Sergei Eisenstein)

1942
Vredens dag (Carl Dreyer)

1941
The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)


1941
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) 100
[ review ]

1940
The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin) 88
[ Before the United States entered World War II, one of its leading filmmakers took a stand: Charles Chaplin. I personally don’t find his Tramp schtick all that funny, but the way he ridicules Hitler (“Hynkel”) is really ballsy, the better-laugh-than-cry depiction of the Holocaust is heartbreaking and Chaplin’s final plea for peace and tolerance is an inspiration, even sixty-some years later as war and hate are unfortunately still a reality. ]

1940
The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford) 84
[ Your family’s been living, working and dying on this land for generations and now the Man comes in with a piece of paper and wants to take it away? As if the harshness of the Oklahoma “dust bowls” wasn’t enough… Tom Joad and his folks pack up and head for California, hoping for greener pastures, but they only find more sorrow and abuse from the Man. This classic slice of old Hollywood moviemaking is a gripping adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Some of the supporting players overact a storm, but their heart is in the right place and Henry Fonda’s slow-burn performance elevates everything around him. “Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.” ]

1939
La Règle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)

1939
Stagecoach (John Ford) 73
[ A stagecoach must ride through Apache country, but the greatest challenge might be for the mismatched passengers to get along. The interaction between the “gentleman” gambler, the soldier’s wife, the drunken doctor, the whore, the banker and the Ringo Kid (a young John Wayne, already iconic) is indeed the most enjoyable thing about this classic B&W Western, though the impending threat does add suspense. And when the attack comes, it’s exciting and full of badass stunts. ]

1938
Aleksandr Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein)

1937
La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir)

1936
Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin) 70
[ A clock (time is money!), titles (“A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”), then a shot of cattle fading into one of workers rushing out of a subway station! Not very subtle, but an effective opening to this whimsical anti-capitalism / pro-proletariat comedy. I’ve never found the Tramp’s pratfalls particularly funny, but I do admire Chaplin’s physical prowess and the heartfelt, unpretentious way he expresses his convictions. And how cool is it that there’s actually a scene here where he’s high on cocaine and beats up escaping convicts? ]

1934
The Scarlet Empress (Josef Von Sternberg)

1934
L’Atalante (Jean Vigo)

1931
M (Fritz Lang)

1930
Der Blaue Engel (Josef von Sternberg)

1930
L’Âge d’or (Luis Bunuel)

1930
Zemlya (d’Alexander Dovjenko)

1931
City Lights (Charlie Chaplin) 65
[ Most of this “timeless classic” didn’t make much of an impression on me, but I have to say, the ending is absolutely marvelous. ]

1929
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov) 95
[ review ]

1928
The Wind (Victor Sjöström)

1928
Steamboat Bill, Jr (Charles F. Reisner)

1928
La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer) 90
[ The story of Jeanne d’Arc’s trial and execution by fire, this outstanding silent film is shot almost only in close-ups, putting us directly face to face with all the vile clergymen haranguing the poor girl, and with Jeanne herself, portrayed with overwhelming heart and soul by Falconetti. ]

1928
Oktyabr (Sergei M. Eisenstein)

1928
Die Büchse der Pandora (Georg Wilhelm Pabst)

1927
Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Walther Ruttmann)

1927
Sunrise (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) 70
[ Murnau’s first American picture (after making “Nosferatu” and “The Last Laugh” in Germany) was the toast of the very first Academy Awards ceremony, winning Oscars for “Most Unique and Artistic Production”, Best Actress and a particularly deserved Best Cinematography. “Sunrise” may feel slow, dull and desperately corny to today’s audiences, but visually it remains as stunning as ever (the use of super-imposition alone is pure genius). Too bad the story and characters aren’t particularly interesting – the film could have used more of the coolest dog ever (watch him swim!) and of the city woman (who smokes cigarettes!!!) who threatens to come between the virtuous husband and wife. ]

1927
Napoléon (Abel Gance)

1926
Metropolis (Fritz Lang) 96
[ Some of the sillier plot specifics and the over the top acting characteristic of most silent cinema have aged, I guess, but as a thematically rich Marxist revolution allegory and a sci-fi epic filled with iconic imagery, this remains as visionary, groundbreaking and masterful as ever. Watching a restored print of it in a packed 3,000 seat theatre with an amazing new score performed by a live orchestra made it all the better. ]

1926
The General (Buster Keaton) 64
[ Keaton stars as a train engineer who’s rejected from enlisting in the Civil War and is seen by his peers as a “disgrace to the South”. His girlfriend even tells him that she doesn’t want him to speak to her again until he is in uniform! I have always been uneasy with this kind of rah-rah patriotism and as the current President of the USA encourages “either you’re with us or you’re against us” sentiments, it’s even harder to swallow even in a light-spirited film like “The General”. In any case, other than from a historic viewpoint I don’t see how this should rate as one of the best films of all time (according to a Sight & Sound poll). It’s little more than a couple of long chase sequences (between a locomotive driven by Keaton and one filled with soldiers from the North) filled with slapstick. Keaton’s stunts and pratfalls are impressive and amusing enough but then so’s the average Jackie Chan movie! ]

1925
The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin) 60
[ Maybe this shoots down whatever credibility I have as a critic, but I just don’t find Charlie Chaplin particularly funny. Oh, I can see his physical skills and sense of timing, and the sentimental beats always touch me but in general this kind of slapstick leaves me cold. ]

1925
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Sergei M. Eisenstein)

1924
Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton)

1924
The Navigator (Buster Keaton)

1924
Der Letzte Mann (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau)

1923
Greed (Erich von Stroheim)

1922
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau)

1921
The Kid (Charlie Chaplin)

1921
Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty)

1919
Broken Blossoms (David W. Griffith)

1919
Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (Robert Wiene) ???
[ Another classic that was shown to me when I was a punk-ass teenager studying cinema in CEGEP. I slept through most of it, so I don’t remember much beside some cool design and not much of a discernable story. ]

1916
Intolerance (David. W. Griffith)

1915
Birth of a Nation (David. W. Griffith) ???
[ An extreme case of dichotomy between artistic genius and abject morality. You want to praise this as early cinema’s most important film, with DW Griffith basically laying out all the bases of camerawork and editing still in use today, but at the same time one wants to throw this ode to the KKK in the darkest pile of cinematic trash. ]