Thursday, December 27, 2007

Movie Roundup: Still Not Here Edition

I'd hoped to be back in the blog game this week, but I got a nasty head cold for Christmas instead. So I'm focusing on the mammoth Ford At Fox boxset (My new #1 DVD of the year), basketball and the wife's homemade chicken soup instead. I have managed to watch a few movies over the last few weeks, and here's the contentless updates to The Big List:

Late Autumn: 6, 1960
The Darjeeling Limited: 2007
Red Dust: 7, 1932
Kameradschaft: 4, 1931
Ace In The Hole: 5, 1951
Hot Rod: 2007
Juno: 2007
Once: 9, 2006
Drums Along The Mohawk: 11, 1939
The Prisoner Of Shark Island: 8, 1936

If all goes well, I'll be back next week with the 2007 Movies Of The Year (need to see There Will Be Blood still) and a contribution to the series on the Coen Brothers over at Vinyl Is Heavy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

DVDs Of The Year

Here's my top 5 for the year thus far, only including DVDs I own:

1. Eclipse Series: Late Ozu and Early Samuel Fuller. Fine transfers of some great, previously unavailable films at a reasonable price. Early Spring, Tokyo Twilight and The Steel Helmet are as good as any new movie I've seen this year.

2. Dragon Dynasty: The Weinstein Company finally does something good for Asian Cinema, putting out outstanding versions of Hong Kong classics at pretty cheap prices: The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Five Fingers Of Death, One-Armed Swordsman, Police Story 1 & 2, Last Hurrah For Chivalry, The Protector and Hard-Boiled. The RZA's commentary on 36th Chamber isn't the most awesome thing in the history of the world, but it's pretty good. The Police Story discs are plagued by Brett Ratner commentaries, but they aren't as bad as you'd think.

3. Criterion: The best DVD company in the world continues to put out great products. This year, I've got: Yojimbo/Sanjuro, The Third Man, La Jetee/Sans Soleil, Stranger Than Paradise/Night On Earth, Days Of Heaven, and Breathless. Days Of Heaven's probably the best of them, the Jarmusches next. Two-Lane Blacktop doesn't arrive until next week.

4. Masters Of Cinema: Britain's counterpart to Criterion puts out editions that are even more deluxe, though they're more obscure and, unfortunately, there aren't as many of them. This year, I've got a pair of FW Murnau classics, Nosferatu and Tabu. They've also started releasing Kenji Mizoguchi DVDs, with their version of Sansho The Bailiff (paired with the previously unavailable Sisters Of Gion) tempting me to double dip.

5. The Stanley Kubrick Collection: Long-rumored and finally released. I'd been waiting over two years to buy any Kubrick DVDs in anticipation of this. With 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut (uncensored!) the only complaint is that it isn't big enough to include Barry Lyndon, Paths Of Glory, The Killing, Killer's Kiss and Spartacus.

Honorable Mention: Rio Bravo and Funny Face, the best regularly priced DVDs of the year, great films, great transfers.

Three things I think would be great, but I don't have them yet: Jean-Luc Godard's 4-disc Histoire(s) du cinéma, which I have every reason to believe is one of the most important and best things he ever did. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, whose cost is prohibitive for a 15 hour, 7-disc TV series I've never seen. Finally, the mammoth 21 disc Ford At Fox boxset, perhaps the best DVD box ever.

Movie Roundup: I'm Not Here Edition

As you can tell, I have had no time for The End lately, what with holidays and family and Metro Classics sucking up all my spare moments/brain space over the last couple months. My movie watching is way down as well, as I'm trying to reconnect with the NBA after several years away. Still, I've got quite a few new additions to The Big List, and I figured I'd just list them all here, sans capsules. If you'd like to know details of what I thought about any of these films, or why I ranked them where I did, feel free to ask in the comment section.

The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers: 12, 1946
Executive Suite: 13, 1954
Grizzly Man: 5, 2005
The Steel Helmet: 2, 1951
The Tall T: 9, 1957
Blood On The Moon: 19, 1948
Vivacious Lady: 7, 1938
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: 11, 1941
The Charge Of The Light Brigade: 8, 1936
The Affairs Of Dobie Gillis: 11, 1953
Pat And Mike: 18, 1952
Macao: 12, 1952
The Ox-Bow Incident: 4, 1943
His Last Game: 1909
The Ball Player And The Bandit: 1912
The Bigamist: 20, 1953
À nous la liberté: 3, 1931
To Be Or Not To Be: 5, 1942
Lust, Caution: 2007
Blond Cheat: 9,1938
Maid's Night Out: 10, 1938
Passport To Suez: 14, 1943
Brigadoon: 10, 1954
Lust For Life: 15, 1956
Michael Clayton: 2007
Words And Music: 17, 1948
Mean Girls: 18, 2004
Lars And The Real Girl: 2007
No Country For Old Men: 2007
I'm Not There: 2007
The Newton Boys: 22, 1998
The Mask Of Dimitrios: 13, 1944
The Last Laugh: 2, 1924
A Midsummer Night's Dream: 7, 1935
Beowulf: 2007
Waitress: 2007
Rescue Dawn: 4, 2006

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and... growing and... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain. It's an unfinished country. It's still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is - is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever... goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists has - has created in anger. It's the only land where - where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at - at what's around us there - there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of... overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle - Uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation - we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban... novel... a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the - the stars up here in the - in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Metro Classics Returns

One week from today, Metro Classics will be back for the autumn, with eleven films over nine consecutive Wednesdays. We're focusing on directors this time around, with three weeks each of Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick and Howard Hawks. There will be two double features: Halloween night we're playing Herzog's Nosferatu, The Vampyre with FW Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror and Dec. 5th we'll have a pair of Howard Hawks screwball comedies with His Girl Friday and Twentieth Century. Two Classics for the price of one! Eleven Classics for the price of nine!!!

The full schedule is:

Oct. 24 - Fitzcarraldo
Oct. 31 - Nosferatu Double Feature
Nov. 7 - Aguirre, The Wrath Of God
Nov. 14 - Days Of Heaven
Nov. 21 - The New World
Nov. 28 - The Thin Red Line
Dec. 5 - His Girl Friday/Twentieth Century
Dec. 12 - The Big Sleep
Dec. 19 - Red River

All films but the Murnau and The Big Sleep are 35mm. Showtimes and tickets are available at Landmark Theatres. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Movies Of The Year: 1952

It's been over three months (one crazy summer), but we're back to the countdown. Lots of great films from this year, with no really bad ones.

19. Ivanhoe
18. The Marrying Kind
17. Clash By Night
16. Angel Face
15. The Bad And The Beautiful
14. High Noon
13. The Narrow Margin
12. Monkey Business
11. The Big Sky

10. Rancho Notorious - Fritz Lang's colorful Western starring Marlene Dietrich as the owner of the eponymous ranch, a hideout for all kinds of outlaws on the run. A man's fiancee is killed in a bank robbery, and he hunts the killers to the ranch and goes undercover to discover which of them actually did the killing. As always when Marlene Dietrich is key to the plot, love complicates things. Most of the performances are good, the Technicolors are really stunning, but the hero isn't especially interesting: Arthur Kennedy's pretty lame in the lead role. Bardot digs it, but Lang prefers M.

9. The Life Of Oharu - Another of Mizoguchi's films about how horrible it is to be a woman in medieval Japan. Oharu's the daughter of a high-ranking samurai who's love life leads her into scandal after scandal as she's repeatedly screwed by society on her way all the way down the social ladder. Like every Mizoguchi film I've seen, it's beautiful and heartbreaking, but it's also so so depressing. The piling on of every kind of anti-female evil possible in society onto the life of one character makes her a political statement instead of an actual human.

8. Europa 51 - Another woman gets screwed by society, this time it's Ingrid Bergman directed by Roberto Rossellini. After her son dies, a high society woman becomes obsessed with helping the poor and unfortunate. Her family then, quite naturally, has her committed to an insane asylum, making her some kind of martyr. The dark comedy of the premise (almost Buñuelian, see Viridiana) both tempers and makes more moving the saintliness of Bergman's performance and the religious ways Rossellini photographs her.

7. On Dangerous Ground - Nicholas Ray's terrific pseudo-noir sneaks up on you. It starts in an urban nightmare world as cop Robert Ryan works dangerously close to the edge of psychotic fascism. His superiors send him off to solve a crime in the country after he's pummeled one suspect too many, where he meets a blind girl (Ida Lupino, who may have directed some of the film while Ray was ill) who humanizes him. Turns out her brother is the #1 suspect for the murder of a young girl. Ryan and Lupino are at their best, and Ward Bond gives a fine performance as the dead girl's revenge-minded father. The photography, both of the city and the snowbound country is noir at its finest.

6. Bend Of The River - Jimmy Stewart-Anthony Mann Western about a reformed outlaw who guides a wagon train from Missouri to Oregon. They meet up with another outlaw Arthur Kennedy) along the way, who helps out until they get to Portland. As winter comes on, the gold crazy townfolk try to extort the poor settlers (selling food at jacked up prices, etc). Stewart and Kennedy steal the supplies, but on the way back Kennedy steals them again and tries to sell them to a mining camp, leaving Stewart for dead. So Stewart's got to defeat him, get the supplies to the starving farmers all while maintaining his newfound morality. Like with all their Westerns, Mann's terrific at bringing out the hard edges in Stewart: he's always convincing as a man struggling to not be violent. The scene where he finally snaps is one of the great scenes in the career of arguably the greatest actor in film history.

5. Othello - Orson Welles's terrific adaptation of the Shakspeare play, made under the adverse conditions that plagues him most of his career. The famous anecdote is that the proper costumes didn't arrive, so he moved a scene to a Turkish bath so the actors only had to wear towels. Where Olivier's Shakespeare films are formalized recitations of "great works" with little feeling, life, or cinematic style, Welles's are exactly the opposite. With a dark noir style and naturalistic acting, Welles gets the terrible emotions at the heart of all great Shakespeare. An Olivier Othello would be an unspeakable travesty. I think I prefer Welles's pitch black Macbeth, and the brilliant Chimes at Midnight over either, but this is still terrific.

4. Limelight - An aging Charlie Chaplin plays a retired vaudeville performer who everyone's forgotten. When his young neighbor (Claire Bloom) tries to kill herself, he nurses her back to health and teaches her that life's worth living. He helps her ballet career, and eventually she helps him get back on stage, where he does a reunion show with Buster Keaton. Sincere, poignant, wise and often funny, it, along with City Lights, is maybe the best example of Chaplin's unique ability to be sentimental without being maudlin. It also may be the finest performance of his career.

3. The Quiet Man - John Ford's Technicolor Valentine to the mythical Ireland of the imagination of the child of immigrants. A lightly comic romance about an American prizefighter (John Wayne) who has sworn of violence returning to his family home and courting the saucy redhead next door (Maureen O'Hara). O'Hara's brother, the bulging Victor McLaglen, is the big man around town who doesn't much like Wayne, and refuses to pay O'Hara's dowery. So Wayne stuck with a petulant money-hungry wife who won't sleep with him and a brother-in-law who wants to fight him. The film climaxes with on of film's greatest comic fight sequences, with the whole town cheering the two on. It's all very silly, stereotypical, and more than a little misogynist (one of my favorite parts is when a little old lady gives Wayne a stick with which to beat the independent O'Hara). But above all the film is beautiful shots of an idealized Ireland, bright primary greens and reds, terribly romantic and always good-humored and joyous.

2. Ikiru - Possibly the best of Akira Kurosawa's modern day films, and the one that most self-important Kurosawa-haters will say is their favorite of his (or his only good one). The great Takashi Shimura plays a mid-level beaurocrat who finds out he's dying of stomach cancer. This sends him off on a quest for some kind of meaning for his life. Family, friends, women, fun and games all prove to be dead-ends. In the end, he devotes himself to his work, spending his last days navigating the bureaucratic morass to turn an open sewer into a public park. This simple, humanist fable is told with all the power of Kurosawa's cinematic style, and is driven by Shimura's performance, an actor who never did much of anything, except when employed by Kurosawa, where he was one of the all-time greats. The iconic shot of Shimura alone in the snow at night, swinging in his park and singing to himself is one of the great moments in film history.

1. Singin' In The Rain - The consensus greatest musical of all-time, and I'm not going to disagree with that assessment. Gene Kelly plays a silent movie star who has to reinvent himself with the coming of sound. Much of the comedy comes from the actual complications this technological change caused, including his villainous costar, the hideously voiced Jean Hagen, in a brilliant comic performance. Along for the ride are Kelly's love interest, a young actress played by Debbie Reynolds and his lifelong sidekick played by Donald O'Connor. The entire history of Hollywood up to that point is encapsulated in the film, as every genre or film style is referenced or parodied at one time or another, all set by writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green to songs from the MGM vault from the late 20s - early 30s by Arthur Freed. The climactic long ballet sequence evens moves past the 30s to the films of the 40s and 50s, melding noir with a massive abstract ballet in the style of Vincente Minelli and Gene Kelly's own An American In Paris from the previous year. All of the musical sequences are terrific, but "Make "Em Laugh" by O'Connor and the title number by Kelly maybe the two greatest expressions of cinematic joy ever filmed. Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Some good stuff amongst the Unseen Movies this year. I've had The White Sheik on the tivo for awhile, but haven't watched it. And I love the title for the Ozu film.

Umberto D.
The Greatest Show On Earth
Forbidden Games
Viva Zapata!
Pat And Mike
Casque D'Or
The White Sheik
The Lusty Men
The Flavor Of Green Tea Over Rice
My Son John
Park Row
Son Of Paleface
Hotel des Invalides

Movie Roundup: Minimalist Capsule Edition

No time, no time. Gotta get back to the Movies Of The Year, but I want to catch up with these first. So we'll try to get through this as quickly as possible.

Henri Langlois: Phantom Of The Cinematheque - I really loved this documentary about the founder of the great Paris movie theatre who more or less invented the rep theatre, film preservation, laid the groundwork for the French New Wave and the auteur theory and caused riots in the streets of Paris when he got fired. Lots of great talking heads, and some fascinating archival footage. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in repertory cinema. The #9 film of 2004.

The Big Steal - Fun adventure noir with Robert Mitchum and jane Greer chasing money and being chased in turn in Mexico. Directed by Don Siegel, it's got an impressive car chase for the 40s, very fast. The #15 film of 1949.

Topaze - Mediocre comedy/drama about a naive teacher caught up with amoral rich folks after getting fired. John Barrymore's great, Myrna Loy;s alright, Ben Hecht wrote it, and it was directed by Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast, which sounds fake but apparently isn't. The #5 film of 1933.

Bad Day At Black Rock - Well-above average for a 50s social problem film, with Spencer Tracy as a vet investigating the murder of a local Japanese farmer during WW2. The whole town's involved in the cover up, led by Robert Ryan in another fine performance. Considering the KKK was still doing this kind of thing at the time, and the film's relative lack of preachiness, it's pretty impressive. Directed by Don Siegel. The #10 film of 1955.

Tower Of London - Roger Corman and Vincent Price tell the story of Richard III without all the Shakespearean poetry. Fine as far as it goes, and Price is a good Richard. The #19 film of 1962.

Odd Man Out - Carol Reed when he was still great. Lots of blacks and shadows and noir in Dublin after IRA agent James Mason kills a guy, is wounded and has to make his way out of the city with entire British Army after him. An improvement on John Ford's similarly themed The Informer. Mason's outstanding. The #5 film of 1947.

That's Entertainment! 3 - MGM's documentary about it's own musicals. Lots of fun clips, lots of stars, fun, but I've no idea why Jonathan Rosenbaum loves it so much. The #27 film of 1994.

Pillow Talk - Maybe Doris Day needed a great director to be hot. She was great with Hitchcock and Frank Tashlin, but fairly lame here. Michael Gordon directed, he's the grandfather of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The #16 film of 1959.

Murder! - Early Hitchcock film in which a juror begins reinvestigating the titular crime after they've decided to convict. It's alright, not the greatness of The 39 Steps of The Man Who Knew Too Much, nor as revolutionary as Blackmail, but Hitchcock's always entertaining. The #5 film of 1930.

A Farewell To Arms - It's been almost a decade since I read the book, which I liked, and I think this is a decent adaptation of it. Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes star, Frank Borzage directs. Borzage's an interesting auteur who's film's aren't as available as they should be. I certainly need to see more of them. The #7 film of 1932.

Kiss Me Kate - Another Rosenbaum favorite that on the whole escapes me. There's lots of fun unpacking the various levels of adaptation, and some of the Cole Porter songs are great ("Always True To You" was stuck in my head for days), but other than Ann Miller (who really stands out) the cast is mediocre. Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel? Bleh. The #11 film of 1953.

The Tomb Of Ligeia - Corman + Price + Poe = always awesome. Robert Towne (Chinatown) wrote the screenplay. Price and his new wife are haunted by his dead wife, colorful horror ensues. The #15 film of 1964.

Duel In The Sun - Pretty colors, overthetop melodrama, casual racism coloring an anti-racist plot, Gregory Peck as the bad guy versus Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones. Lots of fun. The #11 film of 1946.

One Mysterious Night - Boston Blackie B movie directed by Budd Boetticher. Not a fan of this series about an expert thief, and Boetticher's not yet learned how to be awesome. A couple nice shots, but on the whole, just not very good. The #13 film of 1944.

Too Late The Hero - Pretty decent WW2 film from Robert Aldrich. Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson lead a group of soldiers chased across an island by the Japanese. Good acting, lots of suspense, some fine action and a killer premise for an ending. The #8 film of 1970.

Flying Down To Rio - The first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers only comes alive when they're together, and since their the supporting cast, that doesn't happen nearly often enough. Otherwise, it's a generic 30s musical comedy. The #9 film of 1933.

One, Two, Three - Late Billy Wilder film starring James Cagney as a Coca-Cola exec in West Germany. There's way too much setup, but once it all starts clicking for the zany conclusion, the film nears greatness. Cagney's wonderful with the hyperactive dialogue. The #12 film of 1961.

The Merry Widow - Perfectly pleasant Ernst Lubitsch adaptation of the famous operetta starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. I'm generationally disposed to despise this kind of singing, which limits the enjoyment somewhat. The #7 film of 1934.

The Marrying Kind - Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray star in this George Cukor film about a divorcing couple who flashback on the history of their relationship. It's alright, lots of drama and not as much comedy as you'd expect from Cukor and Holliday. Ray really kept freaking me out because he sounds exactly like Super Dave Osborne (who you can now see on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm). The #18 film of 1952.

Morocco - Josef von Sternberg film which for some reason a lot of people I respect think is one of the very greatest films of all time. I must have missed something. It's really good, don't get me wrong. Gary Cooper's an officer in the French Foreign legion who hooks up with cabaret singer Marlene Dietrich. Romantic tragedy, some self-sacrifice and Adolphe Menjou clutter things up, but in the end there's a happy, apparently quite anti-feminist (?) conclusion. I like the young Cooper better than the old one, and I always like Dietrich. The #1 film of 1930.

Never So Few - generally generic and mediocre WW2 film by John Sturges, notable pretty much just for it's remarkable cast: Frank Sinatra, Paul Henreid, Steve McQueen, Dean Jones, Gina Lollabridgida, Charles Bronson, Brian Donleavy, Peter Lawford and George Takei. The #15 film of 1959.

The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer - Screwball comedy that isn't very funny, though it stars Cary Grant as a celebrity caught between two sisters: teenaged Shirley Temple and judge Myrna Loy. Irving Reis is no Howard Hawks. The #8 film of 1947.

Come And See - The only one of the Copeland poll films I hadn't heard of is this Soviet WW2 film directed by Elim Klimov. It's very striking to look at, stars real and becomes increasingly surreal until the last 45 minutes or so, which are an absolutely brutal account of the destruction and murder of a village by some subhuman Nazis. A horrific film. The #13 movie of 1985.

Letter From An Unknown Woman - Joan Fontaine stars in this Max Ophuls film about a woman's lifelong obsession with a philandering pianist who doesn't know she's alive. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and darkly tragic as we realize just how delusional the poor girl is. Ophuls masterly fluid direction is at it's best. This makes three of his films I've seen, and I know I've yet to scratch the surface of their greatness. The #4 film of 1948.

Tout va bien - The most famous of Jean-Luc Godard's Maoist films, Jane Fonda and Yves Montand star as a couple who get caught up in a strike at a sausage factory. There's lots of lecturing about horrible working conditions, but all filmed quite beautifully with long two-dimensional tracks across a cut away set (it's like the side views of the boat in Life Aquatic). Voiceovers deconstruct the filmmaking process (it's really a lot of fun) in the beginning. In the middle, the actors deconstruct their relationship. And in the end, Godard reflects on the ultimate failures of 60s radicalism. At least that's how it seemed to me. I wonder if he saw it as quite so elegiac at the time. Endless 2D tracks across a supermarket riot are really cool. One of the cooler tidbit I've learned reading Colin MacCabe's Godard biography: Fonda tried to back out of the film saying she had "evolved" and was no longer working with men. Hilarious. The #7 film of 1972.

Superbad - I'm certainly no running-time Nazi, the the Judd Apatow Group seriously needs to tighten up their films. This is getting ridiculous. A fine one night coming of age story in the tradition of American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and Can't Hardly Wait. Some funny moments, but nothing revolutionary.

Le Jour se lève - The great Jean Gabin stars in this Marcel Carné proto-noir about a murderer surrounded by police flashing back on the romantic folly that lead him there. Turns out it's a typical love triangle intersection caused almost entirely by people refusing to act rationally and actually tell each other what's going on, the silliness of which kinda deflates the drama. It's a good premise which Carné directs well, and Gabin's pretty terrific. The #13 film of 1939.

Le Petit soldat - Jean-Luc Godard's second film, and the first with Anna Karina, it was banned for three years by the French government for its political content. A young French soldier gets captured by some Algerian rebels and is tortured in an apartment. The low-key torture sequence (matter of fact, but still pretty horrific) is paralleled by an earlier extended sequence of the soldier photographing (and romancing) Karina. Anticipates The Battle Of Algiers in style. The #10 film of 1963.

Eastern Promises - The last thing I expected from this David Cronenberg Russian Mafia in London film was a generic Hollywood thriller, and unfortunately, that's what I got. Fine acting from Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl isn't enough to overcome the cliché that is the final 30 minutes or so. Very disappointing.

Les Carabiniers - The third Godard film of 1963 is a strident anti-war film about a pair of know-nothing nobodies who get caught up in a generic war in order to commit all variety of crimes and earn about the world. At times quite funny, it's also quite serious about the stupidity of all kinds of war. Godard includes actual soldier's letters home as intertitles throughout the film. I wonder if Ken Burns has ever seen this? The #12 film of 1963.

Forbidden Planet - Seen now, after all the sci-fi it has since influenced, it's tough to watch this version of Shakespeare's The Tempest (in Space!) as anything other than a long episode of Star Trek with a shot of Lost In Space and a dash of The Black Hole. But it's a surprisingly pretty film, with decent enough performances by Leslie Nielson and Walter Pidgeon. Anne Francis is quite pretty as well. The #14 film of 1956.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films

Edward Copeland has posted the results of his poll, along with some great pictures and lots of comments, none of which are by me because I never got around to writing them. But you can find comments here at The End about almost all of the films I voted for, and for most of the films that made the final list of 122 nominees.

My ballot was:

1. Seven Samurai
2. Chungking Express
3. The Rules Of The Game
4. Pierrot le fou
5. Playtime
6. The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
7. Au hasard Balthazar
8. Ugetsu
9. Ran
10. Andrei Rublev
11. Celine And Julie Go Boating
12. Satantango
13. 8 1/2
14. Three Colors: Blue
15. Hiroshima mon amour
16. Late Spring
17. The Double Life Of Veronique
18. Nights Of Cabiria
19. L'Eclisse
20. Rashomon
21. Day Of Wrath
22. Last Year At Marienbad
23. The Battle Of Algiers
24. The Seventh Seal
25. Sansho The Bailiff

All of the ones I voted for made the top 100, but they seemed to finish a lot lower that I thought they would have. Two of my top three ended up in the top two spots, so I can't complain about that. Although the world has apparently still to realize the greatness that is Chungking Express (it finished only 63rd). Pierrot le fou, I imagine, will grow in estimation to the point that if you took this poll two years from now, after Criterion makes the film freely available on DVD, it would finish much higher (up from its current #87 to somewhere near Contempt and Breathless at numbers 20 and 21.

This raises an interesting point about the list, just how dominated it is by The Criterion Collection, Netflix and the several other fine companies that make foreign language films readily available to all of us. None of this would have been possible less than a decade ago.

I grew up in Spokane, a reasonably large town, but not by any means, a major league city. There were many fine video stores there (back in those VHS days) but none of them had any reasonable selection of foreign films. Kurosawa and Bergman were pretty much it, with a smattering of Fellini, Truffaut and a variety of other films that all seemed to star Gerard Depardieu. When I was in college, my friends and I literally went to every video store in Spokane looking for Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. We'd all heard what a great film it was, how it started the French New Wave, etc etc, but it wasn't available: not a single store in town had a VHS copy of Breathless. I didn't want to watch any other Godard film until I'd seen Breathless (since it was the first), not that that was a major issue because the only other one I remember being available was a t a Hollywood Video that had a copy of Godard's King Lear starring Woody Allen and Norman Mailer.

Anyway, years went by and eventually a little jazz store opened in downtown Spokane, and they also rented films. They had a small selection of classic foreign films for rent at some outrageous price (I think it was $6 for a two-day rental, at a time when most of the films (the Kurosawas, for example) we were renting from the chain stores were 49¢ for five days). They had a copy of Breathless, I rented it, watched it. . . . and it was good, but not really worth the wait.

The point is, things aren't like that any more. When I moved to Seattle nine years ago, I was smart enough to get an apartment a mere three blocks away from The Greatest Video Store On The Planet where I was finally able to rent all those films I'd heard and read about for years: Renoir, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Godard, Truffaut, Tati, Wong etc etc. Later DVD, Criterion, Amazon and Netflix came along and changed forever the opportunities for film fans outside all but the very largest cities. Thanks to this format and these companies, among others, if a film is on DVD anywhere in the world, it is remarkably easy for it to be playing in your home in a matter of days.

You could look at the flipside of this, and say how limited this list is by what Criterion's decided to release, how films that aren't readily available on DVD are underrated or simply missing from the group of nominees (Mizoguchi's Chrysanthemums I think is underrated, along with Pierrot and Satantango, which needs to be seen in a theatre for full effect). There are any number of films that either aren't on DVD or are only available in other countries (and thus not distributed by Netflix). Someone else would be better at creating a list of those omissions than me, but off the top of my head I'd name any number of Hou Hsiao-hsien films, especially A City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster (the only English subtitled DVD of which is horribly cropped but is available from Netflix), Chantal Ackerman's Jeanne Dielmann, and King Hu's Dragon Inn. The highest ranked film not available through Netflix is Max Ophuls great Madame de . . . at #49 (it is available in a very nice, and pretty cheap, DVD from England). Next is Celine and Julie in another instance of underrating at #66.

Regardless, everyone has to start somewhere, and this list is a great place for it. There are still 25 or so of the nominees I haven't seen, yet more films to add to the queue.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Movie Roundup: Poll Research Edition

First a quick note for those Metro Classics fans in the audience. We are going to have a fall edition of the series starting sometime in October. We're shooting for the 10th, but that may not be feasible. We've got some great stuff in mind, so stay tuned and I'll announce the full schedule here as soon as everything's finalized.

I mentioned Edward Copeland's non-English language film poll a couple weeks ago. Of the 122 nominees for that poll, there were quite a few I hadn't seen. Before submitting my ballot, due Sept. 16, I wanted to watch as many of those as I could. Here's what I've seen thus far, with a few brief comments about them. And yes, most of these had been saved on my tivo for months, if not years.

Cranes Are Flying - This Russian film from 1957, directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili follows a girl who's boyfriend leaves her to fight Nazis at the start of World War 2. She ends up marrying his cousin and hating herself, but things more or less work out in the end. It's fairly conventional, plot wise, but wonderfully executed. From the opening sequence, with an eponymous bird's eye view of the young lovers, the film is beautiful. Quite impressive are a series of long tracking shots following the leads through massive crowds and a sequence where the girl finds the smoking remains of her bombed-out home. The #8 film of 1957.

Viridiana - Seems to me like Luis Buñuel's response to Roberto Rossellini's Europa '51 (#8, 1952). That film is about an upper class woman who's son dies and to cope, she devotes her life to helping the poor, only to be declared insane by her family and society at large. Buñuel's film is about a nun-in-training who's uncle dies after trying and failing to seduce her. She leaves the nunnery and devotes her life (and inheritance) to helping the poor. Except the poor turn out to be not much worth helping. Well-made, but essentially a one joke movie. The #9 film of 1961.

The Exterminating Angel - This Buñuel I liked a lot, and it's a real contender to make my final ballot. A bunch of swells have a dinner party and find they can't leave. For days (weeks?) they're stuck in a single room, and no one can even enter the house they're trapped in. You can fill in your own meanings from their, but the real achievement of the film is that it's more than a clever metaphor, it never fails to be an entertaining film. Sure, it's weird and profound, but it's also hilarious. The #5 film of 1962.

Ashes And Diamonds - Andrzej Wajda's influential film follows an assassin in the Polish Resistance on the last day of WW2. He's ordered to kill a communist leader, but accidentally kills the wrong man and finds himself staying at the same hotel as his intended target. Some stunning imagery (a man's jacket catching fire as he's shot in the back, the shadow of an inverted crucifix in a bombed-out church, among others), excellent performances and an overwhelmingly apocalyptic mood and sense of place make it an unforgettable, if horribly depressing film. The #9 film of 1958.

Lola Montès - The DVD Netflix sent me of this was pretty lousy, but it's still easy to tell that this is a great film. Director Max Ophuls last film (he's uncredited on a later one at imdb), it's the story of a famous 19th Century woman who traveled around Europe and had a series of romances with a few famous people, including Franz Liszt and the King Of Bavaria. She's reduced to telling her life story at a circus, while the various acts act out or interpret the events under the direction of Peter Ustinov as the ringmaster. Ophuls's famously fluid camera (long, mobile takes that seemingly dance through the film space) and the lushness of the melodrama make this a highly enjoyable film. But after one viewing on a lame DVD, I'm not ready to call it the greatest film ever made (as Andrew Sarris has done). Actually, I think I liked Madame de. . . (#3, 1955) better, but I'm not sure about that. Frankly, only one showing each of only two Ophuls films is not enough evidence for me to raw any conclusions about anything. The #6 film of 1955.

To Live - One of two Zhang Yimou films to be nominated, and I don't really know why it did. It isn't a bad film by any stretch. Like any of Zhang's films, it's stunningly beautiful, with vibrant colors, terrific period detail and Gong Li. But the story's a conventional "follow a family through several decades of historical events" plot, with boatloads of coincidence and tragic contrivance piled on top. There's some really cool shadow puppetry imagery I'd never seen before, and Zhang deserves some credit for making a film critical of Mao and the Cultural Revolution (the movie's still banned in China, as far as I know), but it's merely a very good historical melodrama, not a truly great film. The #16 movie of 1994.

Every Man For Himself And God Against All - I like that title of Werner Herzog's film oh so much better than the title under which it was nominated, "The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser", which is far too literal and totally lacking in poetry. Anyway, the film is pretty good, a Herzogian companion piece to François Truffaut's The Wild Child (#4, 1970). Both films are about people who don't join civilization until late in life, adolescence in the case of Truffaut, well into adulthood for Herzog. Truffaut's film plays with film technique to create a sense of turn of the century film and science (black and white photography, lots of irises and other antique techniques), reflecting Truffaut's own obsessive cinephilia and the way he viewed everything in terms of film. Herzog's film is much more subdued technically, fitting his own more minimalist style as a director, it's in color, there's some quite beautiful landscapes and images of nature contrasting with the horrors of civilization (a freak show, an upperclass party) and the takes are relatively long and stationary. Bruno S. is quite remarkable as Kaspar, a character who never fails to be fascinating both as an idea and as a person. It might be the most depressing Herzog film I've seen, however. The #7 film of 1974.

The Decalogue - Director Krzysztof Kieslowski's 10 hour miniseries made for Polish television is a fascinating and serious inquiry into ethics and meditation of the ten commandments and their relevance to modern life. All ten stories are centered on a housing complex in Warsaw (the nicest one, according to Kieslowski, which is a political commentary all its own) where most of the people in the films live. The films aren't divided into separate commandments each, but instead explore the decalogue as a whole, the interrelations and contradictions between and within the commandments ("Thou shall not kill" seen through a psychotic murderer and his defense attorney arguing against capital punishment, for example). The films would be a fantastic syllabus for an ethics class, with each story raising more questions than it answers. But as a film, I can;t say it was a particularly enjoyable viewing experience. The cinematography is uniformly drab, reflecting the low-budget of the series, the mediocre DVD transfer and the colorlessness of life in communist Poland, which only adds to the oppressive melancholy of the whole experience. Kieslowki's later films are a lot more fun, both in terms of color and style, and thematically, as romantic (borderline mystical) explorations of modern life. The Decalogue is a serious and quite worthy film, but it's weighed down by a depressing lack of whimsy. The #7 film of 1989.

Dersu Uzala - The only Akira Kurosawa film among the nominees I'd not yet seen, made in the Soviet Union a few years after he tried to kill himself. It's a simple and sentimental story of a turn of the century Russian explorer and the remarkable Goldi tribesman he meets and employs as a guide. It's very much in line with Kurosawa's later pessimism about humanity and it's impact on the world, which crops up even more explicitly in the worst sequences of Dreams (#3, 1990). It's essentially a magical native story, with the civilized white man being shown the true way to live in harmony with the universe by an uneducated yet quite wise Asian (typically in films this role is played by a Native American, for example, Dances With Wolves). It's a step up in the western genre from portraying natives as murderous savages, but it's condescending nonetheless. See Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (#1, 1995) for a more fully human native character. Despite all this, Kurosawa's film is quite good, one of his more pictorially beautiful films (easy to tell, despite the terrible Kino DVD Netflix sent me) with some remarkable landscapes dwarfing the puny humans. There's a remarkable sequence where Dersu and the Russian are lost on a flat plain with night and a blizzard on the way, as well as some of Kurosawa's best ever sunsets. A fine film, but probably not among Kurosawa's 10 best. The #4 film of 1975.

I plan to watch Come And See, the only nominated film I'd never heard of tonight, then get my ballot done, with comments by the deadline on Sunday.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Movie Roundup: Scary Cats Edition

Catching up with the recently viewed while enjoying my brand-new Val Lewton boxset. I watched the commentaries on Cat People (#4, 1942), I Walked With A Zombie (#3, 1943), The Leopard Man (#10, 1943) and the first half of The 7th Victim (#8, 1943) this afternoon. Now I've got Cat People playing with its actual soundtrack.

At least that's what I was doing three weeks ago when I started this. Might as well post it now.

The Thing From Another World - This template-setting sci-fi/horror film from 1941 has been hugely influential and it's not hard to see why. The plot is essentially the same as any number of later films, most notably Ridley Scott's Alien (#4, 1979). A group of scientists on a remote arctic outposts discover a crashed flying saucer and bring it back to their base. Soon their on the run from a near invincible and quite murderous alien. Produced by Howard Hawks, and perhaps to some extent directed by him as well (it's credited to Christian Nyby, Hawks's editor on a number of classics who went on to direct a lot of television). The Hawks influence on the film is unmistakable. Professional men doing a difficult job in an extreme environment (The Dawn Patrol, Only Angels Have Wings, Red River, Rio Bravo, etc) combined with snappy, overlapping dialogue (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Ball Of Fire). This distinguishes it from Scott's virtual remake: Alien is a slasher horror film, Hawks and Nyby's film is a screwball adventure. The #2 film of 1951.

Jour de fête - The Northwest Film Forum's been running a five-week, five film 100th anniversary series of Jacques Tatí films that's required me to rearrange my work so I can see these essential films. This is the first, his first feature as a director, about a French village on the day the fair comes to town. Tatí plays the bicycle-riding mailman who sees a short film about, he is told, the American post office (it's actually a series of remarkable motorcycle stunts. Tatí tries to match the American speed and efficiency and hilarity ensues. Tatí's style is already in place, at least visually (fairly long takes chronicling the slow buildups op the sight gags) and in terms of dialogue (there isn't much), but the film doesn't play with sound as much as his later Hulot films do (especially Playtime). The #5 film of 1949.

Zhou Yu's Train - Gong Li and The Other Tony Leung star in Sun Zhou's atmospheric, but perhaps needlessly complex romance about a ceramicist and a poet. Li takes the train every weekend to visit TOTL. One trip she meets a vet and starts taking another train to hook up with him. This rather conventional love triangle story is complicated by a jumbled narrative timeline and the fact that Li apparently plays an entirely different character from some point in the future, a fact which we never really figure out until the end of the movie. I'm not sure if I'm happy or annoyed at this complexity. A Rubik's romance isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes I'd rather films be more narratively simple. Maybe I've just been watching too much Ozu (is such a thing possible?) The #8 film of 2002.

Born Yesterday - Corrupt capitalist hires four-eyed journalist to tutor his ditzy blonde girlfriend so she'll be less embarrassing in high society. Blonde learns a thing or two and realizes her tycoon is a crook and outs him, while running off with the geeky writer, who turns out to be William Holden. An iconic performance from Judy Holliday is the highlight, and director George Cukor never quite allows the film to descend into the filmed-theatre genre it so desperately wants to join. A fine film, #12 of 1950.

Knocked Up - Writer-director Judd Apatow's follow-up to The 40-Year Old Virgin (#10, 2005) has fat slacker Seth Rogan impregnate hot E! reporter Katherine Heigl. Inspiring a lefty hack critic backlash, she decides to keep the baby and try to have a relationship with the loser. Another kind of hack critic, David Denby, complains that Heigl isn't as funny as Rogan, which misses the point entirely. Denby presents an old school feminist critique of the recent wave on romantic comedies, of which Apatow's are two of the most successful, commercially and critically. They don't measure up to the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s because the women aren't as interesting, or as funny, as the men. But these films, and Apatow's in particular, are post-feminist. They're an example of Gen X's reassertion of traditional family values in a post-revolutionary world. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is a celebration of abstinence and monogamy and a rejection of sex without love (a favorite activity of the preceding generation). Similarly, Knocked Up examines all the arguments against the nuclear family and rejects them, reformulating the family on a gender-equal setting. Why this should be seen as more reactionary than the Screwball genre, with its women as either flighty agents of chaos (Bringing Up Baby, My Man Godfrey) or professionals to be put in their place (the Tracy-Hepburn films) is beyond me.

Grand Prix - John Frankenheimer's Cinerama racing film is a fine example of overblown all-star 60s melodrama, the kind than bankrupted the studio system. James Garner, Yves Montand, Eva Marie Saint and Toshiro Mifune (dubbed) star, along with Jessica Walter, the mom from Arrested Development (she's young here, and hot too.) Some of the Formula 1 racing scenes are kind of exciting, the film film goes on forever and is rather dull. The #19 film of 1966.

A Bucket Of Blood - Roger Corman horror film that's a whole lot of fun. A wanna-be beatnik artist accidentally kills a cat and covers it with plaster. When he takes this "sculpture" into to his bohemian café, he's hailed as a great artist. Soon, he accidentally kills a cop and pulls the same trick. And then follows the psychotic killing spree in the name of ultra-realist art. One of the better Cormans, quite creepy at times, despite the absurdity of it all. The #14 film of 1959.

The Terror - Another Corman, this one starring a very young Jack Nicholson as a Napoleonic soldier who gets sidetracked by a ghost girl and embroiled in a decades old murder with a crazy old man (Boris Karloff) and a crazy old woman seeking revenge. The list of uncredited directors on imdb is pretty impressive: Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholson, Monte Hellman and Jack Hill. The #13 film of 1963.

Plunder Of The Sun - John Farrow directed film that's about equal parts The Maltese Falcon, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Treasure Of the Sierra Madre. Glenn Ford, while vacationing in Mexico, gets caught up in a murderous quest for Aztec gold, or some such thing. An adventure noir, I guess you could say, though I don't know of many other possibilities for that subgenre. The #21 film of 1953.

Le Million - Wonderful little proto-screwball musical comedy by French director René Clair. A deadbeat artist wins the lottery, but the ticket's in his jacket, which his estranged girlfriend just happened to give away to a passing criminal. So the hunt is on throughout Paris to find the coat, the ticket, and fix his relationship. Some wonderful sequences, including an opening track of the city's rooftops and the two lovers silently reconciling while hiding behind some scenery on an opera stage. Totally charming, the #4 film of 1931.

The Simpsons Movie -

Spider-pig, Spider-pig
Does whatever a Spider-pig does
Can he walk, On a web?
No he can't 'cause he's a pig.

Ivanhoe - Being from 1952, it's a little early for the series of expensive Hollywood epics that epitomized the decadence of the late studio period. But this Sir Walter Scott adaptation is certainly as mediocre as any of those later films. Robert taylor plays the eponymous knight, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine play the women who love him, and George Sanders, of all people, plays the Norman knight who more or less opposes him. Directed by Richard Thorpe, who in a 45-year career managed to direct nothing else I've ever heard of.

The Spanish Earth - Propaganda documentary from 1937 valorizing the struggle against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Written by Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, and Archibald Macleish, which is impressive, and narrated by Hemingway himself (he decided to do it himself rather than use the narration Orson Welles had recorded). As a film its rather heartbreaking, in the manner of all films documenting a struggle you know will be lost. The #13 film of 1937.

Wake Island - Another John Farrow film, this one a fine, if generic WW2 film about a small island outpost holding out against overwhelming odds against the Japanese in the early days of the war. Some great action and good solid genre acting from a solid genre cast of people like Brian Donlevy, Macdonald Carey, William Bendix, and Robert Preston. The #8 film of 1942.

The Bournes Supremacy and Ultimatum - Matt Damon stars in these Paul Greengrss-directed action films, effectively underplaying his role as a amnesiac cypher that happens to be a CIA trained killing machine. In the Supremacy, the first sequel to Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity (#20, 2002), Damon quests to avenge the death of his girlfriend while uncovering some type of treason involving Brian Cox and some Russians. The MacGuffin doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and neither does the action: all swish pans and quick cuts. The Ultimatum is a little better, the action is easier to follow and the plot is a bit more essential to the Bourne character (involving the origin of his skills and CIA corruption not unrelated to the present administration). The first film is superior to either sequel. The Supremacy has almost no interest in character: aside from a very moving coda it's essentially one long action sequence. The Ultimatum doesn't have any single scene that good, but there is more exploration of Bourne's, ahem, identity. The Supremacy is the #21 film of 2004.

The Trouble With Angels - Hayley Mills is a bad influence as a teenage delinquent (she smokes cigarettes!) in this mediocre high school film. Frankly, I expect better from a fine director like Ida Lupino. The #21 film of 1966.

Mon Oncle - The third in the Northwest Film Forum's series of Jacques Tatí films, and the second I hadn't seen before. Also the second film in which he plays agent of chaos M. Hulot. A terrifically warm and funny film, as Hulot ceaselessly annoys his sister and her ultra-modernist husband and friends. If Jour de fête and M. Hulot's Holiday are about the charms of the countryside, and Playtime is about the charms of the big city, then Mon Oncle is about the intersection of country and city, old world and new. It may be the most purely funny of any of Tatí's films. The #3 film of 1958.

Cat Ballou - Revisionist/comic Western in which Jane Fonda gathers some men to help her protect her father's farm against, among them a drunken old gunfighter played by Lee Marvin, in a fine performance for which he won an Oscar. Another one of those 60s comedies which are just too weird to be funny. Though Fonda and Marvin are always fun, Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as singing minstrel narrators are too bizarre for me. The #17 film of 1965.

Becket - The story of the friendship of St. Thomas á Becket and King Henry II, complicated by Becket's conflicting loyalties and overdeveloped sense of honor (a whole church vs. state thing). The film's more a showcase for the great starring actors than interesting on its own terms. Richard Burton's very good as Becket, but Peter O'Toole's Henry is a lot more interesting when he played him again a few years later in The Lion In Winter (#1, 1968). John Gielgud also stars as the King of France. The #15 film of 1964.

Zodiac - Another tonal shift for director David Fincher, away from the ultra-noir darkness of Seven and Alien 3 and the over the top post-modernity of Fight Club, this mellow procedural about the famous Zodiac serial killer is all warm earthy colors and relatively long shots. It succeeds quite well in capturing both the look and the paranoid feel of the 1970s, with a few Hitchcockian attempts at suspense that don't really work if you know how the story ends. These are missteps, I think, as suspense should work especially well when you know the ending. Fincher's strengths lie elsewhere: in mood creation and shock. The cast, including Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, however, is very good.

La Notte - The second of Michelangelo Antonioni's early 60s alienation trilogy is the weakest of the three, though it paradoxically has the strongest cast. Marcello Mastrionni and Jeanne Moreau play a married couple who don't much like each other anymore, which they come to realize over a very long day which sees the death of a friend and a lavish rich people party. The film picks up at the party, when Mastrionni begins a flirtation with Monica Vitti, better looking and acting here than in the other two Antonionis. The stark and rather depressing film becomes sublime in the second to last sequence, when the three leads confront each other in Vitti's room and Antonionni's choreography of the actors movements in space is precise, moving and dramatically beautiful. This penultimate scene makes the whole film worthwhile. The #8 film of 1961.

A Walk In The Sun - Very fine WW2 film from director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front, Oceans 11). A group of American soldiers arrives in Italy and slowly advances to a strategic farmhouse. All the key elements of a WW2 film are there, most importantly the collective hero made up of a group of distinctive characters that are more than stereotypes or thematic signifiers (unlike in, say, Saving Private Ryan). The cast includes Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland and Sterling Holloway. The screenplay's by Robert Rossen, who went on to direct All The King's Men and The Hustler. The #10 film of 1945.

Hot Blood - Director Nicholas Ray's slumming in this gypsy musical comedy starring Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde (the great tagline: "Jane Russell shakes her tamborines and drives Cornel Wild"!). Wilde gets tricked into marrying Russell, when he'd rather be a free spirit (I'm unclear on whether or not he prefers the company of men, so to speak). But, eventually he comes around and all live gypsyly ever after. The #14 film of 1956.

While The City Sleeps - Fritz Lang pseudo-noir starring Dana Andrews as a journalist on the trail of a serial killer. The solution to the crime is set up by Vincent Price as a contest for control of his newspaper between the old school Thomas Mitchell (Andrews's friend) and George Sanders and his newfangled newswire. Dark and cynical, it's a fascinating exploration of the codependency of the media and crime from within the confines of a studio genre film. It works on both levels. The #11 film of 1956.

L'Eclisse - The best Michelangelo Antonioni movie I've seen thus far. In style it picks right up from that great next to last scene of La Notte and keeps it going for the rest of the film. Monica Vitti leaves her husband and their cozy book and painting film home to wander the modernist city. She meets a hyperactive stockbroker played by Alain Delon and fitfully begins a romance. There are a few fascinating long sequences in the Rome stock exchange, with the chaos on the trading floor being strangely comprehensible as the market collapses. Old World architecture and attitudes are constantly being replaced by modernity, and Vitti is stuck in between, with seemingly no idea where to go or what she wants. The final sequence is as hauntingly beautiful as it is inexplicable. The #4 film of 1962.

The Shootist - John Wayne's last film is a revisionist Western in the 70s style. Wayne plays a dying gunfighter who doesn't especially want to fight anymore but gets dragged into one last shootout with some local jerks. Set around the turn of the century, director Don Siegel pounds home the idea that Wayne's outlived his time. The excellent supporting cast includes Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Morgan and Ron Howard, who narrates the opening of the film, creating the eerie feeling that you're watching an episode of Arrested Development. The #7 film of 1976.

Stardust - Amiable fantasy/romance from director Matthew Vaughn and based on a book by Neil Gaiman. Claire Danes stars as a star who falls to Earth and gets captured by a young man who intends to bring her back to Sienna Miller so she'll marry him. Unfortunately, they get caught up in a power struggle of a family of princes who have to kill each other and find a jewel to become King while a murderous witch played by Michelle Pheiffer wants to capture Danes and eat her heart (to hold off old age). Fortunately, they meet up with a gay pirate played by Robert DeNiro who helps them out and teaches the kid some sword-fighting skills. And Ricky Gervais amd Peter O'Toole are in there somewhere, too. It doesn't have the subversive brilliance of The Princess Bride, but that's a high standard to hold anything to.

Closely Watched Trains - Classic of the Czech New Wave, it clearly owes a lot to François Truffaut. During World War 2, a young man begins training as a train dispatcher. He's got a cute girlfriend, but is having trouble consummating their relationship (she's all for it). So, he tries and fails to kill himself and is advised by his doctor to seek the company of an older, experienced woman. He finds one in the resistance and in that and the act of blowing up a train he finally "becomes a man". A rather silly, depressing film enlivened by some genuinely funny moments, good acting all around and some very nice black and white cinematography. The #9 film of 1966.

Air Force - Pretty much the perfect World War 2 film. Director Howard Hawks's style is perfect for the collective hero of that genre, where everyone talks at once but still manage to become distinct and interesting characters. The film follows the crew of a B-17 bomber as it leaves San Francisco for Hawaii on December 6, 1941 and arrives at Pearl Harbor just after the attack. They then have to leave immediately for Wake Island, where the Marines are under siege and from there they go straight to The Philippines. Along the way they get a tour of the early stages of the war, get shot at, and mold into a real crew, with each member playing their role in the plane's survival. There's plenty of comedy, but real pathos to, especially with Harry Carey as the grizzled crew chief with a son stationed in Manilla. John Garfield is also fine as a gunner who initially wants to quit but changes his mind after Pearl Harbor. The action scenes are outstanding, with what looks like a blend of original, stock and documentary footage. One dogfight in particular is a clear influence on Star Wars and is very good, though without Lucas's hyperkinetic editing. The #3 film of 1943.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Best Non-English Language Films Of All-Time

A blogger named Edward Copeland is polling the internet film community to find out the consensus best non-English language films ever made.  He polled 51 people (a fairly prestigious group: Jonathan Rosenbaum, David Ansen, Jim Emerson, Amy Taubin among others) to come up with a list of 121 nominees (every film that received at least 3 votes).  Any one can vote and we have until Sept. 16 to submit a ranked ballot of 25 films.

These are the nominees:

Aguirre, the Wrath of God directed by Werner Herzog
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
All About My Mother directed by Pedro Almodovar
Amarcord directed by Federico Fellini
Amelie directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Amores Perros directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Andrei Rublev directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Army of Shadows directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Ashes and Diamonds directed by Andrzej Wajda
Au Hasard Balthazar directed by Robert Bresson
Band of Outsiders directed by Jean-Luc Godard
The Battle of Algiers directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Beauty and the Beast directed by Jean Cocteau
Belle de Jour directed by Luis Bunuel
The Bicycle Thief directed by Vittorio de Sica
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Black Orpheus directed by Marcel Camus
Three Colors: Blue directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Blue Angel directed by Josef von Sternberg
Breathless directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Celine and Julie Go Boating directed by Jacques Rivette
Children of Paradise directed by Marcel Carne
Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
City of God directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
Cleo From 5 to 7 directed by Agnes Varda
Come and See directed by Elem Klimov
The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Contempt directed by Jean-Luc Godard
The Cranes Are Flying directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili
Cries and Whispers directed by Ingmar Bergman
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Ang Lee
Das Boot directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Day for Night directed by Francois Truffaut
Day of Wrath directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
The Decalogue directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Dersu Uzala directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie directed by Luis Bunuel
The Double Life of Veronique directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Earrings of Madame De... directed by Max Ophuls
8 1/2 directed by Federico Fellini
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser directed by Werner Herzog
Exterminating Angel directed by Luis Bunuel
Eyes Without a Face directed by Georges Franju
Fanny and Alexander directed by Ingmar Bergman
Farewell My Concubine directed by Chen Kaige
Forbidden Games directed by René Clément
The 400 Blows directed by Francois Truffaut
The Gospel According to St. Matthew directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Grand Illusion directed by Jean Renoir
The Great Silence directed by Sergio Corbucci
High and Low directed by Akira Kurosawa
Hiroshima Mon Amour directed by Alain Resnais
Ikiru directed by Akira Kurosawa
In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Jules and Jim directed by Francois Truffaut
La Dolce Vita directed by Federico Fellini
La Strada directed by Federico Fellini
Last Year at Marienbad directed by Alain Resnais
L'Atalante directed by Jean Vigo
Late Spring directed by Yasujiro Ozu
L'Avventura directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
L'Eclisse directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
The Leopard directed by Luchino Visconti
Le Samourai directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Lola Montes directed by Max Ophuls
M directed by Fritz Lang
The Marriage of Maria Braun directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Masculin-Feminin directed by Jean-Luc Godard
My Night at Maud's directed by Eric Rohmer
Nights of Cabiria directed by Federico Fellini
Nosferatu the Vampyre directed by Werner Herzog
Open City directed by Roberto Rossellini
Ordet directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Orpheus directed by Jean Cocteau
Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman
Pickpocket directed by Robert Bresson
Pierrot le fou directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Playtime directed by Jacques Tati
Raise the Red Lantern directed by Zhang Yimou
Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa
Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa
Three Colors: Red directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Red Desert directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Rififi directed by Jules Dassin
Rocco and His Brothers directed by Luchino Visconti
The Rules of the Game directed by Jean Renoir
Run Lola Run directed by Tom Tykwer
Sansho the Bailiff directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Satantango directed by Béla Tarr
Scenes from a Marriage directed by Ingmar Bergman
Seven Beauties directed by Lina Wertmuller
The Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Seventh Seal directed by Ingmar Bergman
Shoot the Piano Player directed by Francois Truffaut
Smiles of a Summer Night directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sonatine directed by Takeski Kitano
Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Stolen Kisses directed by Francois Truffaut
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Suspiria directed by Dario Argento
Talk to Her directed by Pedro Almodovar
Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami
Throne of Blood directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Tin Drum directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Tokyo Story directed by Yasujiro Ozu
To Live directed by Zhang Yimou
Ugetsu monogatari directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Umberto D directed by Vittorio de Sica
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg directed by Jacques Demy
The Vanishing directed by George Sluizer
Viridiana directed by Luis Bunuel
The Wages of Fear directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Three Colors: White directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Wild Strawberries directed by Ingmar Bergman
Wings of Desire directed by Wim Wenders
The Woman In the Dunes directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Yi Yi: A One and a Two directed by Edward Yang
Yojimbo directed by Akira Kurosawa
Y Tu Mama Tambien directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Z directed by Costa-Gavras

All but three of my nominees made the cut.  Guess there weren't two other people who love Millennium Mambo, A Woman Is A Woman and Taste Of Cherry as much as I do.

My nominees were:

Seven Samurai
Chungking Express
The Rules Of The Game
Millennium Mambo
Pierrot le fou
Au hasard Balthazar
8 1/2
The Seventh Seal
A Woman Is A Woman
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
Three Colors: Blue
Hiroshima mon amour
Late Spring
Andrei Rublev
Celine And Julie Go Boating
Last Year At Marienbad
The Double Life Of Veronique
Nights Of Cabiria
Day Of Wrath
Sansho The Bailiff
Taste Of Cherry

And those are in ranked order, because I do that. Since I submitted the ballot, I've seen L'Eclisse and would certainly have voted for it ahead of, at least, Taste Of Cherry.