In sorting through some of the paper that is engulfing me, I found a list that I had made some time during the early 1980s of what I thought were the ten greatest films, supplemented by a list of my forty favorites. Eight of my ten earlier picks survived when I tried again in 2003 (just posted here). The two casualties were very great Japanese movies from the 1950s—Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” and Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu monogatori.” That I included the latter puzzles me a bit, since I now think Mizoguchi’s greatest movie was “Sanshô Dayû” (Sansho, the Bailiff).
All ten, including the one that is officially a comedy, are very serious. The list of my favorite movies has somewhat less art and more fun, and cleared the way for me to narrow down a list of the ten greatest movies of all time. In alphabetical order by director (I guess I’m an auteurist!) the list of favorites follow.
Robert Altman’s heartbreaking northern anti-romance “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971) with a tough Julie Christie and a bluff Warren Beatty melting for her… and a lot of snow. (Like Leonard Cohen, whose music is central to that movie, I liked “Brewster McCloud” (1970) a lot at the time. However, the revisionist “The Long Goodbye” (1973) with Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe has aged much better than BM has. I think that “Nashville” (1975) has aged well, too, as has “Short Cuts” (1993). Altman has made other outstanding movies, plus some bewilderingly bad ones.)
Having been present when Tuvan throat-singer Kongar-ol Ondar was astounded to hear and meet a San Franciscan musician (of Canary Island descent) who had taught himself to make those strange (to most of us) sounds, and being intrigued by Central Asia, I was predisposed to like “Genghis Blues” when it premiered in 1999. Ondar has a smiling charisma, and Paul Pena’s journey to Tuva is very much in the meeting of divergent cultures genre that fascinated me even more than Tannu Tuva does. I was also completely charmed by the film-makers, Roko and Adrian Belic, first at the film’s première in a San Francisco International Film Festival and in the DVD interview.
Peter Bogdanovich’s ((1971) film of Larry McMurtry’s novel about growing up in the early 1950s in a dying West Texas town, The Last Picture Show has great performances all-around and great deep-focus cinematography from master Rober Surtees. The movie especially resonates for me in that I grew up (later) in a small town that no longer has a movie theater and that I learned (after having left it) had just as much dirty laundry and McMurtry’s Archer City, Texas. (I also think that Brandon de Wilde, Patricia Neal, and Paul Newman are superb in Martin Ritt’s movie “Hud,” also based on a McMurtry novel, also shot in black and white.)
Marcel Carné’s too long, but still dazzling “Les Enfants du paradis” (Children of the Paradise, 1945, written by Jaques Prévert) with transcendent performances by Arletty and Jean-Louis Barrault.
Chen Kaige’s “Life on a String” (Bian zou bian chan,1991) is not at all an accessible movie (for Chinese audiences or non-Chinese ones). Although I found it heartbreaking (reminiscent of Bresson’s “Mouchette”), the lengthy final song is magnificent. Huang Lei’s pain, particularly the gratuitous cruelty practiced on the blind youth is difficult to watch, but he too has an arresting final scene. “Farewll, My Concubine” is not exactly upbeat or light-hearted and deserves its acclaim, but “Life on a String” is my Chen favorite.
Jack Clayton’s (1959) “Room at the Top“: At an early age I seem to have identified with the aged being dumped and was terminally devoted to Simone Signoret, though mystified that anyone would want to have a relationship with Laurence Harvey, one of the most repellent movie stars ever (not just specializing in repellent roles like Christopher Walken or the young Richard Widmark).
I was charmed by Sami Bouajila in the French road movie “Drôle de Félix“(Adventures of Felix, 2000), codirected by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (and by their “Crustacés et coquillages” (2005), titled “Côte d’azur” here.
George Duroy’s (1998) NC-17 “Lucky Lukas,” with the stunningly handsome (if a bit bovine) Lukas Ridgestone and his livelier buddy Ion Davidov going at it, and, eventually, each other. Earlier, both have it on with the film’s “lucky Pierre,” Vadim Hausman, who also seems to be enjoying himself between them.
Bob Fosse’s (1972) “Cabaret,” the film for which Fosse not only beat out Coppola’s directing of the first “Godfather” for an Oscar, but probably should have. Despite the brilliance of Fosse’s “All That Jazz” and the success of “Fame,” until “Moulin Rouge” it seemed that “Cabaret” was “the ultimate musical” in the sense of last as well as in the sense of the best. Liza Minelli is too accomplished a singer to be Sally Bowles, but it’s hard to care.
Eytan Fox’s 2002 “Yossi and Jagger” is a love story, with the love between two front-line Israeli army officers garrisoning a desolate border outpost ((the burly Ohad Knoller and the long-eyelashed Yehuda Levi. It starts as a droll military comedy in the vicinity of “M*A*S*H.” What makes it, in my opinion, a great movie is the final scene. I also really like the music video of (more than from), “In Your Soul,” performed by Ivri Lider, aka Rita, and Fox’s 2004 “Walk on Water” and “The Bubble” (2006).
Georges Franju’s “Thomas, l’imposteur” (Thomas, the Impostor, 1964) from the World War I novel by Jean Cocteau (whose “La belle et la bête” was on my earlier list and which I remember better, having seen it again more recently).
Stephen Frears’s (1985) “My Beautiful Laundrette,” which launched Daniel Day-Lewis (Johnny) to international stardom, screenwriter Hanif Kureishi to international attention, and should have launched a career for the movie’s star, Gordon Warnacke (Omar), who carried the film. I don’t think Frears is on anyone’s list of auteurs, but he also directed the far superior version of “Dangerous Liaisons,” as well as “The Queen,” “The Grifters,” “Prick Up You Ears,” and “High Fidelity,” each of which has fervent admirers (I’m an admirer, but not fervent), plus the interesting “Accidental Hero,” “The Hit,” “Dirty, Pretty Thing,” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.” A diverse body of work but skip the western in it, “Hi-lo Country”!)
Jean-Luc Godard’s noirish, nominally science-fiction film “Alphaville” with Eddie Constatine as the brutal romantic quoting Paul Êluard, Lemme Caution, and Godard’s muse (and then-wife) Ana Karina as the love object in a menacing not-very-futuristis Paris with a gravelly-voiced predecessor of HAL in Kubrick’s “2001.” No drugs are needed to enjoy “Alphaville”!
(Just deceased director) Curtis Hanson’s stylish and stylized “LA Confidential” (1997) was a commercial and critical success, but it is his 2000 adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys that most delights me with Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Richard Thomas all superb (not to mention quirky). (I also like Hanson’s earlier “River Wild” with Meryl Streep, action hero, and Kevin Bacon.)
Howard Hawks’s (1944) “To Have and Have Not,” launching Lauren Bacall as a movie star and Humphrey Bogart’s mate, with Walter Brennan riffing on dead bees. This beat “Ball of Fire,” the best of Hawks’s comedies (with Barbara Stanwyck flummoxing Gary Cooper) in part because I like Hawks’s claim to have asked his hunting and fishing buddy Ernest Hemingway what was his worst novel and proving he could make a good film from whatever Hemingway named. Without interference with the censors, Hawks’s “Red River” would probably have made the list. There are other Hawks films I like a lot, including the snappy dialogue Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe trades with Lauren Bacall and others in the delirious “The Big Sleep” and Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the screwball comedy adaptation of “The Front Page,” “His Girl Friday.” (I love the ending of the 1947 Bogart/Bacall pairing “Dark Passage” and its nightmare on steps of San Francisco post-surgery sequence, too.)
Rajkumar Hirani’s (2009) “Three Idiots” is a hilarious Indian coming-of-age movie. The movie is innocuous enough to have found favor with many of those who did well in the ossified educational system, probably fantasizing about having had elements of Rancho, while more resembling “Silencer.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s (1946) “Notorious” with a luminous Ingrid Bergman, the ever-suave Cary Grant, and a pained Claude Rains, along with Nazis about to make nuclear bombs, and the famous zoom to the key. I think this is the second most romantic movie ever. (There are a whole lot of other Hitchcock films I like a whole lot, plus Bergman and Rains in “Casablanca” (1942), though I chose another Bogart movie just above.) “Vertigo” is the runner-up (and the film elevated to the top of the most recent Sight & Sound critics’ poll).
“Ye ben” (Fleeing by Night, 2000, directed by Hsu Li-Kong and Yin Chi). Sometime in the 1930s, Shaodong, the son of a rich Tajing merchant family, who is more interested in the cello than in business (Huang Lei, the younger blind musician in Chen Kaige’s heartbreaking “Life on a String”) returned from his lonely American studies to his North China banking family who falls in love with and fails both his fiancée (Rene Liu) and the star of the Kun opera “Fleeing by Night,” Lin Chung (Yin Chao-Te) who loves him and whom he loves. I was also fascinated by the long hair of (Tai Li-jen) who more or less owns Lin Chung. There is less of the successive disasters for the people that was China’s 20th century history than in “Farewell, My Concubine,” but enough to forestall hapiness for any of the characters. The movie has the glamorous 1930s look and flawless performances all around.
Steve James’s (1994) “Hoop Dreams” is fascinating documentary about ghetto black boys trying to shoot their way out without bullets. (“Crumb” is way too creepy to make my list–maybe if I ever do a best films of the 1990s…)
Buster Keaton‘s (1927) “College” was on my earlier list, though I think I now prefer “Our Hospitality” (1923), “Sherlock, Jr. (1924) and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1924). “College” is one of the best sports movies ever, for sure, and to be even close to certain which is my favorite would require watching them all again in succession, and even then which one I like best would vary from moment to moment. (Keaton’s (1926) “The General” is on my list of greatest films.)
Stanley Kramer’s (1965) film of Katherine Anne Porter’s allegorical novel Ship of Fools is uneven, though it has one of Simone Signoret’s ravishingly ravaged performances and Michael Dunn’s dwarf chorus. The indelible image, though, is Vivien Leigh pounding Lee Marvin to the ground in an orgy of self-loathing (on both their parts). This is even better than Montgomery Clift felling John Wayne in the fistfight in Howard Hawks’s “Red River”! (After all, Clift played a boxer, albeit one who refused to box for the army team, in “From Here to Eternity.”) I wouldn’t argue that “Ship” is a very good movie, but Leigh pummeling Marvin is as memorable as Brando bellowing “Stella” in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Kobayashi Masaki (1916-1996) is not as well-known as some of the other Japanese masters, but made the awesome Human Condition trilogy (1959-61) with Nakadai Tatsuya, who was also phenomenal in Kobayashi’s “Seppuku” (called “Harakiri” in English, 1962). Kobayashi’s other masterpiece, Samurai Rebellion(1967), is slightly less gruesome, but still heartbreaking.
IMO, Kurosawa Akira (1910-1998) is the master among masters of film-making. Of the 24 movies he directed that I have seen, there is only one that I dislike (Dodes’ka-den, 1970). There are some others I am not very enthusiastic about… along with a slew of masterpieces (Stray Dog, Rashômon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Red Beard, High and Low, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran). The ultimate peak (the one in the second slot in my list of greatest films) is “Ran,” though Kurosawa’s adaptation of “King Lear” with Nakadai Tatsuya is easier to admire and even revere than it is to like. My favorites are the two dark comedies with Mifune Toshiro as a resourceful ronin (and Nakadai playing important supporting roles): Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962). Both question the greedy, duplicitous elite to whom samurai were supposed to serve loyally (and unquestioningly) with Mifune contemptuous of his supposed social “betters.” They also look great with ample visual as well as verbal wit. (I also recommend the documentary, Kurosawa and am hoping that Criterion will undertake issuing more of Kurosawa’s movies.)
Fritz Lang’s “Die Kriemhilds Rache” (Kriemhilda’s Revenge, 1924), the second part of “Nibelung” (recently released with “Siegfried” on DVD as Die Niebelungen) with naked children dancing around the tree as the horsemen of Attila the Hun wreak revenge for Siegfried’s death at the behest of his single-minded widow. “Siegfried” is relatively staid, even with its dragon and the intrigue to gain and tame Bruhilde. Hitler allegedly did not like the second part, which is more an antithesis than a sequel… and brings down an apocalypse on the Burgundy court not unlike what Hitler would bring down on Germany two decades later. (“M” is Lang’s greatest film with a phenomenal performance by Peter Lorre, and The Big Heat with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame one of the very best film noirs. And Lang even made a surprising good western in Western Union— surprisng in that its subject matter is stringing telegraph lines.)
Alex Law’s “Qi qiao fu” (Painted Faces,1988) a harsh but lyrical portrayal of the ten-year indentured servitude/training of the young Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, and Yuen Biao under Master Yu (played by Samo Hung) in Hong Kong’s Peking Opera Academy. Less melodramatic and funnier than “Farewell, My Concubine,” the life portrayed was very hard, but the boys were exuberant, as one would expect from watching the adult Jackie Chan mug and do amazing stunts in his own movies.
Ang Lee’s (1999) “Ride with the Devil”: I really like “The Wedding Banquet,” probably more, but “Ride” deserves to be better known, not least for Tobey Maguire’s quintessential losing-innocence performance. “Brokeback Mountain” is a superlative adaptation and expansion of Annie Proulx’s hammer-blow story that is better known than “Ride.”
Sergio Leone’s 1968 “Once Upon a Time in the West“: With its contemporary, Sam Peckinpagh’s “The Wild Bunch,” this was the culmination of the western genre (with a less apocalyptic send-off), Like the misnamed “Man with No Name” trilogy, Ennio Morricone’s music did much to make this a great film. It’s a bit sprawling, and I wish it had Clint Eastwood instead of Charles Bronson, but… it’s filled with shots and sequences at which to marvel– as is Leone’s 1984 “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Joseph Losey’s (1975) “The Romantic Englishwoman” with Glenda Jackson in the title role, fleeing her marriage to Michael Caine for a romantic gallop across Europe with the meretricious Helmut Berger in a witty script by Tom Stoppard.
Baz Luhrman’s (2001) “Moulin Rouge“: The first time I saw this, I was tempted to walk out after the first uninspired and exhausting 15-20 minutes. Then I got used to the constant cutting and admired the cinematic genius involved and the performances of Jim Broadbent, Ewan MacGregor, and Nicole Kidman. (I also think that “Strictly Ballroom” is superb.)
Louis Malle’s ultimately unsettling coming-of-age and incest movie “Le souffle de coeur” (Murmur of the Heart, 1971) set against French jazz adoration (also see Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 “‘Round Midnight” with Dexter Gordon) and news from Dienbenphu. Malle’s Bardot/Moreau Mexican Revolution comedy “Viva Maria” is very entertaining, too, and “Lacombe, Lucien” is superb (if not all that likeable).
Joseph Mankewicz’s witty back-stabbing backstage romp “All About Eve” (1950). The standard rap, even repeated by his son on a comment track to the DVD, is that Mankewicz had no particular visual interest, but can those who say this have looked at the framings in this film? Or have seen the dazzling cinematography of “The Quiet American” or “Five Fingers”?
Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le samourai” (The Samurai, 1967) with Alain Delon as a contract killer. I consider this the culmination of “cinema noir.” (I consider Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” the greatest noir.) Another of my favorite films that is quite different in tone is Melville’s film of Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles. And Melville directed two other great noirish films with Alain Delon, Le Cercle Rouge and Un flic.
Keni Mizoguchi’s “Sanshô Dayû” (Sansho, the Bailiff, 1954). I can remember being knocked out by this film when I saw it in college. It held up (as did “Ugetsu,” though I disliked the 1940s Mizoguchi films I saw between viewings of “Sansho,” especially his tedious version of 47 Ronin).
Fanta Régina Nacro’s La nuit de la vérité” (The Night of Truth, 2004) a very tense film about a truce in a tribal war in a West African failed state. Nacro said that despite her own family experience of atrocities in inter-ethnic atrocities, she drew especially on testimony from the survivors of the fission of Yugoslavia.
Okamoto Kihachi’s 1968 movie “Kiru” (Kill!) provides the most pointed social critique of any samurai movie I’ve seen (including “Sanjuro,” which was based on the same book). It is also very funny. There’s some cartoonish violence, but I mean the ironies with one main character eager to become a samurai and the other, a master swordsman, wanting to put being a samurai behind him (which proves as difficult as it is for Gregory Peck to retire from being “The Gunfighter” in the first great postheroic western). “Kiru” has considerable visual wit, too, and cinematographer Nishigaki Rokuro produced many excellent (widescreen, of course) compositions. “Kill!” has a superlative performance from the great Tatsuya Nakadai (along with those in such masterpieces as The Human Condition, Harakiri, Kagemusha, Ran).
Max Ophuls’s (1948) “Letter to an Unknown Woman“: I like Olivia de Havilland a lot more than her sister, Joan Fontaine, and Charles Boyer more than Louis Jordan, yet no de Havilland picture is on my list and I chose this instead of Ophuls’ probably greatest film, “The Earrings of Madame de…” with Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, and Vittorio de Sica and instead of William Wyler’s film of Henry James’s Washington Square, “The Heiress” with de Havilland, a caddish Montgomery Clift, a brutal Ralph Richardson, and a superb musical score by Aaron Copland. The two Ophuls movies are the greatest movies about obliviousness ever made; “The Heiress” more a masterpeice portraying rejection. Obsession, heartbreak, swirling cameras—”Letter from an Unknown Woman” has it all.
I recognized that “The Wild Bunch” (1969) was one of The Great American Movies on its orginal 1969 release, and still think so. It is Sam Peckinpah’s greatest ode to the End of the American West, but my favorite Peckinpah movie is “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973) with James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson in the title roles (Coburn’s closely related to the one Robert Ryan played in “The Wild Bunch”). It also has a knife-throwing Bob Dylan and a scene with Chill Wills and Katy Jurado at a water-hole as the sun setting that uses Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” to heart-rending effect.
Gilo Pontecorvo’s “Quiemada!” (Burn!, 1969). Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack has more to do with this choice than Marlon Brando’s somewhat suspect characterization. So much for this list being more light-hearted than my “10 greatest” list, ’cause this is definitely not an upbeat film. (Pontecorvo’s great “Battle of Algiers” strikes me as even more despair-inducing!)
Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949), one of the great anti-romantic movies ever with the justly famed chase through the sewer system of Vienna and the late-in-the-proceedings shadow of Harry Lime and the later aerial encounter. Reed’s “Odd Man Out” with a desperate, fleeing James Mason is right up there, too.
Martin Scorcese’s “New York, New York” (1977). It’s odd that this alphabetizing puts together four candidates for best anti-romantic movie almost contiguous to each other. And I’m surprised that Liza Minelli appears twice on this list, but I like Scorcese’s stylization here (as much as I admire it in “Raging Bull”). And kudos to “Kundun,” not least for Phillip Glass’s soundtrack.
Josef von Sternberg’s (1942) “Shanghai Express,” my other candidate for the most romantic movie ever with Marlene Dietrich refusing to explain and finally overpowering Clive Brook’s reservations. It also has great train photography, Anna May WOng, and some geopolitical bite.
George Stevens’s 1953 “Shane” with the Grand Tetons looming behind the yearning young Brandon de Wilde as he hero worships Alan Ladd and Ladd faces off with one of Jack Palance’s snarling 1950s villains has superb (Oscar-winning) color cinematography by Loyal Griggs. Also iconic are Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in Stevens’s 1951 “A Place in the Sun”
Preston Sturges’s (1941) “Lady Eve,” a hilarious romantic comedy with Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck as grifters and Henry Fonda as an innocent herpetologist on a boat from South America. (This barely beat out “Unfaithfully Yours” with Rex Harrison imagining infidelities while he conducts a symphony orchestra.) Stawnyck could do many things; her other great comedy was Hawks’s “Ball of Fire” with Gary Cooper.
“Onmyoji” and “When the Last Sword Is Drawn” were both gorgeously shot historical dramas, but Takita Yôjirô attained another level in “Okuribito” (Departures, 2009), about a man (Motoki Masahiro) who loses one sense of vocation and finds another, also moving from Tokyo to a small seaside town. Astonishingly, this was the first Japanese movie to win the best foreign-language film Academy Award.
Johnnie To’s “Am zin” (Running Out of Time, 1999) with Andy Lau as a dying (of cancer) gangster toying with a police inspector played by Lau Ching Wan. Lau was also excellent in other To movies. And both have made lots of movies!
Along with most other viewers of the theatrical release of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso” (1988), I loved it. Along with most other viewers of the “director’s (un)cut” I was dismayed by the dilution of the story of the boy and the film projectionist with the grown-up boy’s neuroses. The original “Cinema Paradiso” doesn’t need another cheerleader, but Tornatore’s 2000 “Malèna” with a somewhat older boy smitten with a beautiful war widow and watching in horror what happens to her was not as universally admired, though I made a passionate case for it early in my epinions career.
The first time I saw “Run, Lola, Run” (“Lola rennt,” written and directed by Tom Tykwer) I thought it was exhilarating, hyperkinetic cinema with Franka Potente extraordinary in the title role. The second time, I was able to see the romance central to the three iterations of Lola’s run to save Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu)—and I had seen both stars and more work from director Tykwer that I enjoyed. (I hated “Perfume,” except for its helicoper shots and Dustin Hoffman; “Heaven” has great helicopter shots with more on a DVD bonus feature.)
Jean Vigo’s “Zero de conduite” (Zero for Conduct, 1933) a short, surrealistic film about a boarding school rebellion that was trampled in a 1960s remake as “If…”
Luchino Visconti’s epic of a Sicilian family trying to improve its lot in Milan, “Rocco e i suoi fratelli” (Rocco and his Brothers, 1960) starring Alain Delon at a time when he was the most beautiful man in the world. It surprises me that he pops up twice on my list not at all (I was smitten by the San Francisco updating of “Les Miserables” with him being hounded by Van Heflin, “Once a Thief” at an impressionable age.) I also love Visconti’s (1954) “Senso” with Alida Valli and Farley Granger. And Delon with Claudia Cardinale and Burt Lancaster in Visconti’s adaptation of The Leopard.
I especially like the vanished San Francisco locations in Orson Welles’s “Lady from Shangha,” but, for me, his masterpiece is “Falstaff“/”Chimes at Midnight” (1967, just released on DVD and blu-ray by Criteiron) in which he plays a not-very-jolly Falstaff, John Gielgud and Keith Baxter convincingly play kings Henry IV and V. The battle is memorable, as is Gielgud’s (Henry IV) “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” speech with his breath visible. They are matched by the putting away childish things speech (of the newly crowned Henry V) withering, the final scene of the coffin unforgettable.
Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three” (1961). Wilder was the master of many genres, including the great noir “Double Indemnity.” “Some Like It Hot” is the usual choice as his best comedy, but “1,2,3” is his fastest-talking, with James Cagney delivering machine-gun line delivery. I thought it was hilarious when I was a preteen, and it remains the most irreverent satire of Cold War capitalists and communists. (Though I think that it is a bit too long and has too much of George Raft in it, I enjoy “Some Like It Hot” a lot. I find Wilder’s Oscar-winning “The Apartment” and its follow-up with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, “Irma la Douce”, harder to like, though championing the widely panned and condemned “Kiss Me, Stupid,” and the earlier Americans in postwar Berlin, “A Foreign Affair. along with Wilder’s work in other genres, such as “Sunset Boulevard” and “Double Indemnity.”)
It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite film directed by William Wyler. I think it is “The Collector,” (with Terrence Stamp and Samantha Eggar), but I also like “The Heiress” (with a great score by Aaron Copland and great performances by Olivia de Haviland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson), the early (1936) Dodsworth, and the great Bette Davis vehicles “”Jezebel,” “The Letter” and “The Little Foxes.” (Definitely not the multi-Oscared but tedious and preposterous 1959 “Ben Hur”!)
Edward Yang’s “Yi Yi” (2000), a meditation on freezing life with a camera, one wielded by an 8-year old. This movie shows that films from Taiwan need not be static and audience-unfriendly.
Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers” (2004, the Chinese title of which means “ten-sided ambush”) has incredibly gorgeous cinematography, more advanced (if overused) CGI than his previous international success, the also great-looking “Hero” and a romance between Zhang Ziyi and Kaneshiro Takeshi, Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau, none of whom is hard on the eyes, all of whom have many talents. Although I read “Hero” differently from most (it seems to me to show that you can support or oppose central power, but will be killed either way; “Daggers” shows a dynasty in collapse rather than expansion).
I’ve skipped my favorite films by
Federico Fellini (Satyricon, edging out Nights of Cabiria),
Pedro Almodovar (Mala educación supplanting La Ley del deseo),
Michelangelo Antonioni (L’eclisse with Alain Delon and Monica Vitti at their most iconic),
Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries holds up very well; as does “Smiles of a Summer Night”and the later “Autumn Sonata” with the other Bergman and Liv Ullmann),
Kristen Bjorn (alternating between “Comrades in Arms” and “Caracas Adventure”),
Jean Cocteau (“La belle et la bête” edging out “Orphée”),
Francis Coppola (“The Conversation”, edging out “Godfather II”),
Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine),
John Ford (“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “print the legend”over “The Searchers”),
Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo—I love Claudia Cardinale!),
John Huston (“Night of the Iguana” or “The Maltese Falcon”? What casts both have!)
Imamura Shohei (The Eel).
Kinoshita Keisuke (Spring Dreams)
Ozu Yaujiro (Ohayo/Good Morning)
Pier Paolo Pasolini Pasolini (“The Gospel According to Saint Matthew” or “Teorema”?)
Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, mon amour)
Roberto Rossellini (the very uneven Paisa[n] edging out “Il Generalle della Rovere” despite its great De Sica performance in the title role),
Shinoda Masashiro’s “Moonlight Serenade” (over “Pale Flower” and “Double Suicide”),
Also, Richard Brooks’s film of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), more notable for its performances by Burl Ives, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor than for its cinematicness (and suffering from censorship)… Similarly, “Becket”( 1964) with Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, and John Gielgud.
plus the somewhat guilty pleasure of the middle story from Anthony Asquith’s “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” (1964, directed by Anthony Asquith) which has the usually ultra-cool Alain Delon as a voluble Amalfi Coast gigolo romancing Shirley MacLaine, who is gangster George C. Scott’s moll and is under the lax supervision of Art Carney (all to the catchy song “Forget Domani,” that is “forget tomorrow”).
And also from 1964 Robert Aldrich’s Grand Guignol vehicle for Bette Davis, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” which introduced Bruce Dern and costarred Olivia de Haviland, Joseph Cotten, Mary Astor, and Cecil Kellaway (all of whom did memorable work during the 1940s that I only discovered later in my cinéaste career). Perhaps because I saw “Charlotte” in its theatrical release, I cherish it more than Aldrich’s 1962 hit “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, in which Davis played the title role, persecuting Joan Crawford. I also think that Aldrich’s 1956 “Attack!” ( with Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin) deserves to be better known.
Even in its truncated forms, I am mesmerized by Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexican film footage (some released as “Thunder Over Mexico,” some as “Que Viva Mexico!“), and the prospects of the never-begun Part Three of “Ivan the Terrible” (the end of part one, reprised at the start of part two is an indelible image for me)…
©2003, 2016, Stephen O.Murray