Les Chefs-d’oeuvre

LES CHEFS-D’OEUVRE

Médiafilm is the “objectively subjective” reference in Québec. For more than 50 years, they have reviewed almost every movie to play in theatres, on video or on TV locally. They use an interesting 1-7 grading scale, with ‘1’ being a masterpiece and ‘7’ utter crap. These ratings are used in a lot of newspapers and TV guides, as well as in the Boîte Noire movie guide. And for detail-obsessed movie geeks like myself, it’s interesting to see what makes the cut with these notoriously difficult critics.

Below, you can see the list of all the ‘1’ they ever awarded. I counted 112, from 53 directors (Eisenstein, Fellini, Chaplin and Hitchcock have 5 each, Welles, Keaton and Bergman have 4, many have 2 or 3). There are 5 chefs-d’oeuvre from Germany, 22 from France, 7 from the former USSR, 14 from Italy, 3 from India (all from Ray), 4 from Sweden (all Bergman), 4 from Japan, 5 from the UK, 2 from Denmark (both from Dreyer), and 46 from the US.

3 are from the 1910s (all from DW Griffith), 17 from the ‘20s, 11 from the ‘30s, 13 from the ‘40s, 36 from the ‘50s, 17 from the ‘60s, 13 from the ‘70s and 2 from 1980. There hasn’t been a “chef-d’oeuvre” for 23 years, but one thing I find wise is that they’re not against re-evaluating previous ratings. It does take time for a film to qualify as a classic… Though I think it’s about time for them to upgrade “Casablanca” from its ridiculous current ‘2’.

UPDATE (06/07/05): For the first time in five years, Mediafilm has extended its list of ‘1’ films with 22 newly appraised titles, including long-overdue masterpieces like “The Third Man”, “West Side Story” and “Dr. Strangelove”, silent classics such as “Metropolis” and “Man With a Movie Camera”, the very first ‘1’ movie from Québec (“Pour la Suite du Monde”), a few more 1980s flicks and the most recent chef d’oeuvre, “Goodfellas”.

***


1990
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese) 95
[ review ]

1987
Der Himmel über Berlin (Wim Wenders)

1984
Brazil (Terry Gilliam)

1984
Once Upon a Time In America (Sergio Leone)


1982
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott) 97
[ “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

While not a very faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s brilliant “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” “Blade Runner” might be the most influential sci-fi flick this side of “Metropolis.” I couldn’t admire the vision and craft more, from the design of the futuristic Los Angeles to the neo-noir atmosphere, the dazzling Jordan Cronenweth cinematography, the amazing Vangelis score, plus the always great Harrison Ford as hard-boiled protagonist Rick Deckard, and Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Brion James and Joanna Cassidy as the replicants he’s hunting down. This timeless Ridley Scott sci-fi masterpiece is an endlessly fascinating exploration of identity and the nature of humanity. I wasn’t always its biggest fan, but watching it again for the first time in ten years, on the eve of the release of “Blade Runner 2049,” I was completely won over. ]

1980
Mon Oncle d’Amérique (Alain Resnais) 90
[ More a treatise on the biology of behavior than any kind of conventional storytelling, this feels like the most intellectual film ever – which is fascinating if you’re up for it. Consumption, gratification, punishment, inhibition and countless other concepts are explored as we learn through nearly non-stop narration about the details of the lives of textiles manufacturer René (Gérard Depardieu), actress Janine (Nicole Garcia) and radio news director (Roger Pierre), who illustrate the theories of Professor Henri Laborit. ]

1980
Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese) 92
[ A brilliantly crafted character study with some of the most stunning boxing scenes ever shot and blistering performances by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. What’s more brutal: the violence in the ring, or the one at home, back in the Bronx? Jake La Motta’s rage is a plus in his boxing career, but it means trouble when he carries it with him in his relations with women, his brother and just about everybody else. This is Scorsese at his best, in form, with virtuoso B&W cinematography and editing, and in content, with another raw yet profound “street-smart” screenplay by Paul Schrader and some of the best acting you’ll ever see. Pesci and De Niro have become self-parodies, but their back-and-forth here is incredibly intense and multi-layered, the two brothers’ relationship being rough, tender, sad, sometimes all at once. The fight scenes are unglamorous, all blood and sweat, hardly Rocky-like inspirational; this is more like something out of German expressionism, with Sugar Ray Robinson looming like an African-American Nosferatu! And then there’s the pathetic third act, with De Niro/La Motta all fat, doing bad stand-up… A truly great biopic. ]

1979
Manhattan (Woody Allen) 85
[ review ]


1979
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola) 100
[ review ]


1978
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick) 92
[ review ]


1977
Annie Hall (Woody Allen) 95
[ review ]


1976
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) 100
[ review ]

1975
Nashville (Robert Altman) 76
[ It might be set in the country-western capital of the world, but I’m not sure that “Nashville” is actually celebrating that music. Right from the start, Altman contrasts a middle-aged cowboy jerk recording a corny patriotic ditty with a soulful gospel choir blowing the roof off the studio down the hall – it’s easy to see where his allegiance lies. Altman is clearly a liberal, anti-establishment filmmaker, and this shows through this cynical, irreverent but also humanist picture.

Set over 5 days during which a presidential candidate’s helpers are recruiting Nashville artists to perform at a rally, the movie has stars, wannabes, groupies, reporters, politicians and Elliot Gould (as himself!) bonding, clashing and everything in between. The 160 minute running time is a bit much – it could have lost many of the bad country songs – but Altman keeps things engaging and surprisingly cohesive, with a great ensemble of character actors and a climax that still feels shocking and sad. ]


1974
The Godfather Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola) 86
[ review ]

1974
Zerkalo (Andrei Tarkovsky)

1974
Chinatown (Roman Polanski) 88
[ This late addition to the film noir tradition has Jack Nicholson playing a private eye in Depression era Southern California who stumbles upon a political scandal involving the Water Department. This is a tight, tight picture, well written, well acted, well shot and well scored, full of surprising twists and gritty confrontations – how about “midget” Polanski cutting Jack’s nostril! ]

1973
Amarcord (Federico Fellini) 79
[ For more than half an hour, “Amarcord” is an irresistible satire of 1930s provincial Italy, filled with quirky characters and irreverent humor. There is no plot to speak off, just a real sense of a time and a place but with a fantasist/nostalgic tint. The film moves through a small city, from school to the church, the beach to the piazza, following all these “exuberant, generous, tenacious” people. It can get quite lowbrow, especially around the horny young men or town whore Volpina (“I bet she even dips a cock in her morning coffee!”), but it’s in good spirit.

Then comes the Fascist rally, and it comes off as a shock. We like these characters, yet here they are saluting Mussolini and his black shirts? Fellini depicts these manifestations in the same playful manner as the rest of the film, like harmless demonstration of adolescent national pride. Maybe this is how it felt to people at the time, unaware of the evils Fascism would wreak across Europe… But we’re also shown some of the abuse and oppression characteristic of a dictatorship – in one scene. What seemed like the main theme of the film is ultimately just one part of a general chronicle, which is kind of a letdown.

I don’t mind the disconnected narrative and the caricature-like characters, that’s part of the movie’s charm. But it’s odd how Fellini hints at something more serious then moves on, never to mention it again. That kind of breaks the aforementioned charm and the remaining vignettes, while still amusing enough, don’t feel as refreshing as what came before. “Amarcord” remains a superior picture, full of sensuality and wit, with memorable images and a great Nino Rota score, but it’s not quite the masterpiece it could have been. ]


1972
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) 100
[ review ]

1972
Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel)

1972
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) 34
[ Everything is either red, black or white, every other shot looking like a White Stripes album cover, but don’t expect to be rocked much. This is a sloooow, bleak art film about desperately bored Swedes who stare vacantly, exchange a few solemn words, flash the occasional skin and die, eventually. Formally brilliant, but criminally dull. ]

1971
Morte a Venezia (Luchino Visconti)


1971
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick) 92
[ review ]

1969
Il Conformista (Bernardo Bertolucci)

1968
Teorema (Pier P. Pasolini)

1968
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone) 65
[ Haven’t actually seen this in, oh, 7 or 8 years, so I’ll be sure to revisit it when it finally comes out on DVD later this year… But back then I liked the mood and the music, but I felt it was too slow and long and nowhere near as great as Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy with Clint Eastwood. ]


1968
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) ???
[ What am I supposed to do with this film? Is it a masterpiece or a bore? Could it be both? In a way, it is indeed truly great. The storyline is very ambitious, attempting to tell the story of humanity from the Dawn of Man to the future, into deep space. Kubrick’s direction is brilliant, the camerawork is inventive, there are countless beautiful shots, and the special effects are excellent for the time. But… It’s so slow! I think it’s the most actionless, even motionless film I’ve ever seen! Then again, I haven’t watched it again since my late teens, so the wise thing might be to revisit it in the near future. ]

1967
Play Time (Jacques Tati)


1966
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone) 100
[ review ]

1966
Andrei Roublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)

1966
Persona (Ingmar Bergman) 50
[ The opening montage really took me by surprise, with its barrage of fucked-up imagery : a tarantula, a sheep being bled to death, a nail being hammered into a hand (Jesus’?)… And was that a subliminal shot of an erect cock? Who’s the projectionist, Tyler Durden? Then there’s a curious scene with a boy, followed by the cacophonous title sequence and, finally, a first non-experimental scene setting up the story of Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who has lost the ability to speak, and of Alma (Bibi Andersson), the nurse taking care of her. After that, it’s pretty much just the two of them, one silent, one who talks a lot. And I mean a lot – Alma even has a long monologue that’s repeated twice in a row. Despite the gorgeous B&W cinematography and sometimes striking editing, “Persona” feels very theatrical. It’s also generally dead-serious, humorless and well, dull. Pure Bergman, from what I understand. I’ve only seen “Cries and Whispers” and this so far, and I can’t say I’m a fan. Oh, the man was clearly a brilliant filmmaker (his sense of shot composition alone sets him apart), but the films of his I’ve seen so far leave me cold for the most part. ]

1966
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni)

1964
Il Deserto rosso (Michelangelo Antonioni)


1964
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick) 97
[ review ]

1964
Les parapluies de Cherbourg (Jacques Demy) 69
[ review ]

1963
Pour la suite du monde (Pierre Perrault & Michel Brault)

1963
8 1/2 (Federico Fellini)

1963
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock)

1962
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean) 66
[ review ]

1962
L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni)


1961
West Side Story (Robert Wise) 95
[ review ]

1961
La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni)

1961
Jules et Jim (François Truffaut) 33
[ I don’t get this, just as I didn’t get “Les 400 coups”. Whereas I can see the attraction in early Godard, this melodramatic Nouvelle Vague slice of life left me indifferent. Jules’ a bore, Jim’s a bore and Jeanne Moreau does little more for me. The B&W cinematography is nice to look at and the score is great, but I still didn’t care much for this ménage-à-trois story. ]

1960
L’année dernière à Marienbad (Alain Resnais)

1960
L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni)


1960
La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini) 93
[ review ]


1960
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock) ???
[ This is the second time that I decide not to give a rating to a film. The first time was for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The thing with these two films is that I just couldn’t decide if they were truly great or not. I’m aware that they’re timeless classics that were masterfully directed by brilliant filmmakers, and that the logical thing would be to reward these masterpieces with high ratings. The problem is that these two films are… Well, kinda boring to me. Then again, I haven’t watched them again since my late teens, so the wise thing might be to revisit them in the near future. ]

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