Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#291: Ace in the Hole

Directed by: BILLY WILDER
1951, TSPDT Rank #669

Whenever I see a movie like this from the "classic age of Hollywood," I wonder how it possibly got made within the system. It definitely didn't have much success with the critics or audiences at the time. But it is glorious, and thanks to the Criterion Collection we can easily experience its greatness from a different perspective here in the 21st century. It's cynical, bitter, and stuffed with dark humor, and featuring big star Kirk Douglas in one of his darkest and least heroic roles ever. A savage vindiction of the media and the way it exploits peoples' trouble and pain for their own gain, it takes no prisoners and nobody leaves unscathed. Even the 'innocent bystanders' are shown as gluttons for tragedy, flocking to the scene of the accident in the cave when the story gets out and leaving as soon as there's nothing to see anymore. Great shadowy, lurid noir cinematography also. No happy ending, but we are left with one golden lesson: "Tell the truth." Wish I could coin 'em like that....

(Rating: 9/10)

#290: Sunrise

Directed by: F.W. MURNAU
1927, TSPDT Rank #12

This late Hollywood silent film (made while sound was making its first popular appearances in movies) is one of the true movie masterpieces of all time. Given free reign by Fox to make any movie he wanted, Murnau made a movie that runs the viewer through an intense and beautiful line-up of nearly all possible emotions in a relationship between a man and a woman. The story is simple on the surface, about a cheating husband who almost kills his wife to escape from his quiet farm life, at the last second reconciling with her as they try to pick up the pieces and start again. There is a lot of emotional depth, which is supported by Murnau's incredible cinematic images. This is one of the main essential silent films, one every kind of film lover should give a chance at least. If you do, you'll take a journey in which you feel fear, joy, love, and much more in between. And just thank your lucky stars that the powers at Hollywood have occasionally recognized the masters of the medium and allowed them to freely create like this.

(Rating: 10/10)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

#289: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Directed by: HOWARD HAWKS
1953, TSPDT Rank #632

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is another example of Howard Hawks' ability to master any genre he put his hand. Here he has a really good musical comedy, which is fast-paced and entertaining, and stars Marilyn Monroe in a stunning role that is one of her most famous. Jane Russell is her dancing partner and friend, but a brunette, and also her complete opposite (doesn't care for rich men, diamonds, etc.). To paraphrase the Dude, there are a lot of ins and outs in this movie, but ultimately we find that the moral is that diamonds are a girl's best friend. But maybe just if that girl happens to be blonde. The movie is now quite dated and campy, but it's a lot of fun to watch, very enjoyable. For a great double feature, watch Scarface and then Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to get an idea of Howards Hawks' incredible range as a director.

(Rating: 7/10)

#288: City of God

2002, TSPDT Rank #620

One of the few 21st century movies to make it onto the 1,000 Greatest Films listing, so obviously you know it's a must see. Maybe it's not as amazing as the hype would have you believe, but still an extremely solid film. It takes a lot of cues from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and could be seen as one of the best tributes to that film (although the director might not admit that). It features quick editing, and narration over a great variety of stories and anecdotes of the semi-organized crime in Cidade de Deus (City of God), Rio de Janeiro's roughest slum. It's extremely well-filmed and realistic feeling, considering it was based on real-life events. Of course that could mean a number of things but it certainly adds some emotional flavor to some of the gritty things we see happen in this film. As one of the more violent, exciting, and well-made foreign imports, one can see how City of God gets so much attention. But if you watch it, which I would recommend, I think you'll agree that it's quite worthy of that attention.

(Rating: 8/10)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#287: Harold and Maude

Directed by: HAL ASHBY
1971, TSPDT Rank #415

One of the great things about video is that it can give movies that failed at the box office a chance at becoming great cult favorites. Harold and Maude is just that kind of film: an odd and hilarious comedy that can only be enjoyed by a certain group of adventurous film viewers. And it might possibly be able to convert a few over to this "group" with its unique charms. It concerns the romantic relationship between a socially inept, death-obsessed young man in his 20s and a free spirited woman in her 80s. If the thought of this "makes you want to vomit," like the disapproving priest later in the movie, then you might want to stay away. But the idea works really well, and is very convincing. The film is filled with hilarious moments, and while the plot can feel pretty uneven, the dark and unique blend of humor is consistent and irresistible. It's a hard movie to describe, but it's worth giving a watch if any of my ramblings here make it sound at all interesting.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#286: The Thin Red Line

1998, Rank #660

(Hello everyone, I'm back due to "popular demand." I was on a short hiatus due to the amount of time school takes from my free time, but now I'm going to try to crank some posts out every now and then. Still don't think it will be as frequent as it is over summer break.)

I think that The Thin Red Line is possibly Terrence Malick's best film, other than Badlands (which I consider his masterpiece). This goes outside the boundaries of most war films, and is a mixture of intense heavy combat scenes, poetic cinematography, and introspection on the philosophy of war. Malick was a former philosophy student, and this film is probably his most philosophical. Various characters narrate their thoughts and questions regarding the horrors of war, and the almost nonstop barrage of battle scenes in the major central section of the movie work really well to support this. The beautiful shots of nature that appear along side these scenes of warfare show the main conflict between man and nature. Really this is such a good movie that although Malick's usually weaknesses (reliance on beautiful images to take the place of story, underusing actors' abilities, heavy-handedness) are still here, they seem to fit well with Malick's purpose here, and are balanced out by the movie's overall quality. Although the movie has an amazing cast and some of the actors give great, striking performances (Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas), some of them are just plain underused (Adrien Brody, George Clooney, John Travolta, John C. Reilly) and made me a little disappointed in this waste of talent. It's kind of a big, exhausting mess of a movie (Malick style) but there's a lot of greatness to be found here, I definitely recommend it.

(Rating: 8/10)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Big Parade

Directed by: KING VIDOR
1925, TSPDT Rank #798

Okay, if you're honest with yourself, this movie isn't that good anymore. It was important when it was released, specifically for not glorifying war, but showing it as something where decent young men get injured or killed for a cause that doesn't truly matter to them. Which was groundbreaking at the time. Many of the characters (excluding the American soldier and the French peasant he falls in love with) are really one-sided, or used for cheap laughs, which gets pretty old after a while. And the anti-war themes are pretty heavy-handed. On top of that (and I understand this isn't really fair of me to say), after seeing something like Napoleon, the technical aspects of The Big Parade seem pretty basic and average. So if you're interested in an early silent anti-war film, maybe check it out, but otherwise leave it to history.

(Rating: 5/10)


Directed by: ABEL GANCE
1927, TSPDT Rank #108

Another silent film. This one is much longer (about four hours in the Francis Ford Coppola restoration, which is still much shorter than the film originally was), and is impressive mostly for its technical complexity. The editing was the best of anything in silent film, and has rarely been matched in sound film any time since. It works to show you violence, power, exhilaration, and wonder with just the way the frames are arranged. At one point there's a split screen going on (during an epic pillow fight at Napoleon Bonaparte's boarding school) with nine different views going on at once. The last reel was filmed to be projected on three huge screens, with three separate images on 70mm film. The spectacle of this is diminished on Coppola's VHS release from the early '80s (the only one available on video), but it still sends chills down your spine realizing how amazing this would have looked in the theater on these huge screens. As far as plot goes, it's the story of Napoleon's rise to power from his beginnings in the previously mentioned boarding school. It was the first in a planned series of seven (obvious budgetary restrictions stopped this from ever happening, as Abel Gance ran the production company practically bankrupt), so it ends with Napoleon marching his enormous army into the first battle in his Italian campaign, with promise of a great ascension to power still to follow. When it's over, you feel you've seen something big, but you can't get that true feeling that you would get in the theater. Still worth seeing.

(Rating: 7/10)

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Directed by: CARL DREYER
1928, TSPDT Rank #20

This is the type of movie that you know deserves to be high up on a list of great films, because it just has this aura around it. It was thought to be a lost film, until someone found the sole remaining print (the negative had been burned in a fire) of this silent Danish film in a mental hospital in Norway, in 1985 (no joke), after which it was restored by the French Cinematheque. First of all, Renee Falconetti's acting is one of the greatest performances - intense, desperate, and even scary at times, while still completely sympathetic, not over the top in the stereotypical silent film way, and without any words!!! Probably the greatest acting anyone ever pulled off with just facial expressions. I watched the movie with no music, and although I feel it tends to get pretty repetitive, it is often very hypnotic, and the camerawork is quite innovative. But I've heard the Criterion release has some pretty good music along with the movie, so I would most likely recommend that. It might make the movie easier to get into. But this movie is definitely essential in learning about silent films, acting, and film in general.

(Rating: 8/10)

The Rules of the Game

Directed by: JEAN RENOIR
1939, TSPDT Rank #3

This movie was butchered and panned by everyone when it came out - one man took his newspaper, lit it, and tried to burn down the theater where this movie was showing. Now its one of the most acclaimed movies ever. This is because, quite simply, this movie was an attack on the French society of the time; it was funny, and that was because it hit the nail right on the head with all of its characters. Its an enjoyable movie to watch, and the fact that it was finally restored and rediscovered in the 1950s is definitely a good thing. For a movie that is too close a reflection of its current time, its value increases a lot once the people who watch it can be detached from that time and view it on its own merits. This is a very well-made, well-written, complex work of film, I won't say its the greatest, but its definitely a landmark in the history of movies.

(Rating: 8/10)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Directed by: SAM PECKINPAH
1974, TSPDT Rank #386

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

I was blown away by this movie. Incredible. I am shocked by the people who call this movie "mindless violence," when that could not be farther from the truth. Obviously the character of Bennie is somewhat based on Sam Peckinpah, and the way I saw it the head was kind of a metaphor for success. All of that killing and bloodshed for something that doesn't really mean much anyway. I thought the movie fit together perfectly and was paced perfectly. Of course it's important to slow down for the love story in the first, because the business with the head in the second half all relates back to it. Plus, since the movie moves at a slower, calmer pace for the first hour (even though there are still some gritty and gruesome things happening), it makes it all the more exhilarating and bizarre when all hell breaks loose. One thing is clear, Peckinpah is baring his soul here. This movie is very personal, brave, ugly, and very violent - and it's all done with such brilliance. But I think it's better to have seen some other Peckinpah films first. I didn't find it a difficult experience at all - but then it seems like if you were still unfamiliar with Peckinpah, it might seem just like an uneven and strange action film, while if you're familiar with some of the other films, it feels like a masterpiece.

(Rating: 10/10)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simon of the Desert

Directed by: LUIS BUNUEL
1964, TSPDT Rank #967

This is another film that is just criminally low on the list. Luis Bunuel is probably my favorite director of all time, if I didn't mention that before. I once saw his movies described as "delightful provocations," which I think is totally on the mark. Movies that attack things such as religion, government, social conventions, the bourgeoisie, etc. and are extremely wicked entertainment at the same time. Always with a generous helping of the surreal. This one deals with a pious man in Syria in around the 5th century who lived for 8 years, 8 months, and 8 days (I believe that was the number) on top of a tall stone column, attempting to connect with God and acting as a source of guidance and healing for the community. At one point he begins to be tempted by Satan, played by Sylvia Pinal, the heroine of Viridiana, in various ways. Eventually he starts to give into his weaknesses, leading to a bizarre and amazing ending that leaves your head spinning with wonder in typical Bunuel style. The movie is only about 40 minutes long, but is just as effective in its approach as any full-length Bunuel movie. I watched the Criterion DVD but you may even be able to see it online for free. Seek it out, it would work as a good intro to Bunuel's work, if you are ready for the very ironic and savage humor in it.

(Rating: 9/10)

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Directed by: SAM PECKINPAH
1970, TSPDT Rank #978

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

I feel this movie is a near masterpiece, and I think it deserves to be higher on the list. Sam Peckinpah himself felt that this was his best film, and I don't think he was that far off. It's pretty much the only good western-comedy I've ever seen: funny, moving, and sublime, featuring great cinematography and Jason Robards giving probably his best performance as Cable Hogue. Watching him act in this movie makes me wish I could see Noon Wine, a made for TV movie Peckinpah made starring Robards before his return to film with The Wild Bunch. Joshua, the reverend of 'the church of his own revelation' is hilarious, especially the scenes which show his brand of "consoling" women. The main plot device that should motivate the film is Hogue wanting to get revenge on his former partners, who left him to die without water in the desert. But what becomes the driving force of the film is the tender romance between Hogue and Hildy, the prostitute who becomes the love of his life. I think the people who call Sam a misogynist sadist or whatever should check out the way this relationship is portrayed in the film, because it pretty firmly disproves that theory. Anyway, I think this movie contains a great cast, incredible script, and paints Sam's definitive picture of the fading Old West.

(Rating: 9/10)


Directed by: JEAN VIGO
1934, TSPDT Rank #16

A great early French romantic film, practically bursting with poetic images. I think this film is known as one of the best of all time because of the way it approaches such a simple story and turns it into a light yet very meaningful classic with universal appeal that will always impress with its amazing visuals and basic human emotions. It would take less than 3 hours to watch the four movies Jean Vigo made in his short life, before dying of tuberculosis, but it goes to show his greatness that he can make a story of love, heartbreak, and redemption between two people and have it endure this long. It's worth seeing for sure.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Directed by: HOWARD HAWKS
1932, TSPDT Rank #453

The original Scarface is a classic, quintessential gangster movie and, despite what some might think, not as good as the remake. This film is no-nonsense, gritty, and exciting - getting into the same basic storyline and themes looked at in Brian de Palma and Oliver Stone's overdone and way too complicated '80s remake. Granted, Pacino's role in that movie is iconic and great, but his character isn't so much a true American gangster as a political refuge looking for some sort of liberation or freedom. Paul Muni plays Tony Camonte with a sharp edge and: a totally convincing killer, who had all sorts of hang-ups (the same sister obsession featured in the remake is done much better here), and lived the gangster lifestyle to the fullest. This is definitely a pre-code film, with rampant violence (just as shocking to audiences in the '30s as the remake was in the '80s, for sure), and that long-lost method of witty sexual innuendo (which is what basically all that Trouble in Paradise, another pre-code film, consists of). So maybe you just can't let go of that chainsaw scene in the remake, or the ending battle (pretty cool, admittedly), but look to this original for the real deal.

(Rating: 9/10)

The Leopard

1963, TSPDT Rank #65

The Leopard is a crowning achievement by Visconti - a sweeping, romantic, and engrossing epic made in Italy in 1963 with an international cast, and set about 100 years earlier in the same country, while Italy was in the midst of political upheaval between the burgeoning middle class resistance and the dying aristocracy. Burt Lancaster does great acting here but his voice was dubbed by someone else into Italian. I'm tempted to watch the heavily cut English-language version now, just to see some of Lancaster's scenes with him speaking his native language. But I have to mention Claudia Cardinale: she is absolutely breathtaking - she steals every scene she is in to the point that you can't take your eyes off of her. In the grand ball scene that occupies most of the third hour, Visconti makes sure to accentuate the fact the Cardinale is the most beautiful woman at the ball - and we notice it too. In general, nearly all elements are working at full force here: from the amazing and painterly cinematography, to the story that runs the gamut from youth to old age, and shows us a healthy bit of the human experience, including the feeling of knowing you've outlived your time.

(Rating: 9/10)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

1932, TSPDT Rank #172

A very entertaining film, funny, and extremely fast-paced. It starts quickly, moves quickly, and ends quickly - not leaving any room to breathe. But it's a breezy 83 minutes, you wouldn't want it any other way, trust me. Stuffed to the brim with sly jokes and relentless sexual innuendo, Trouble in Paradise is most definitely a pre-code movie, and all the better for it. The story involves a thief who falls in love with a pickpocket, while they're both working over the inhabitants of an expensive hotel. The pair later plot to rob the safe of a beautiful manufacturer of high-class perfume, whom the thief falls in love. Being in love with two women, who will he choose? Watch the film, and find out what those people meant by the "Lubitsch touch."

(Rating: 8/10)

Catching up...

Well I've been unable to blog for almost a whole week, and happen to have watched quite a few movies off the 1,000 Greatest Films list during this time, so I'll have to be gradually catching up on those that I watched, writing blog posts for them. As I work on this, I won't be numbering my posts, since I'll be writing out of order. When I start numbering again, you'll know I'm caught up. Thanks for reading.


1954, TSPDT Rank #249

This is a very melodramatic, operatic film of forbidden love, filled with a rich pallet of colors and lush cinematography. Really what matters is the artistry in this film, it's a film that's calling out for much better treatment than the poor VHS release I watched. Also, you can't say that the visuals are the only good thing here, because the actors are so incredibly passionate and convincing; it's easy to get taken in by the film. Believe me, Senso is probably more impressive than I'm making it sound. And would be even more so if we got, say, a Criterion Blu-ray... Anyway, I give it my recommendation.

(Rating: 7/10)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

#260: Battleship Potemkin

1925, TSPDT Rank #7

The greatest political film ever made, and the highest silent film on this list, is Battleship Potemkin. It's pure Bolshevik propaganda, and its characters are clearly divided into the Tsarists and those against them. By this rationale of good and evil, anyone against the Tsarists is good, and the Tsarists themselves are most certainly evil. The greatness of this film is its unbelievable power to invoke emotion in favor of the revolutionaries and against the Tsarists. It is indeed one of the most influential films in terms of editing technique, to the point where even if you haven't actually seen Potemkin, you've seen enough scenes, shots, and cuts taken from it that you'll feel like you've seen Potemkin before. The emotion you feel so strongly is all in the editing and the camerawork - you might not know a thing about the Russian Revolution, or care in the slightest about the events that led up to it and the people who played a part in it - but you will still be affected by it. It's so essential, and completely undeniable. Before you can claim to have any substantial understanding of the art of film, you need to see Potemkin!

(Rating: 10/10)

EDIT (3/22/2020): In the years since this review was written, Battleship Potemkin has now been outranked by F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, meaning that it is no longer the highest ranking silent film on the 1,000 Greatest Films.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

#259: La Grande illusion

Directed by: JEAN RENOIR
1937, TSPDT Rank #24

Jean Renoir was basically the master of the classical French directors. His films usually contain visual poetry, introspective look at class status, light comedy, and a strong regard for human nature. Grand Illusion is no exception, with special emphasis on the latter.

La grande illusion ... the title refers to the invisible boundaries between countries and class. The illusion that we are all anything other than humans, members of the same race, making war against each other unwise and futile. So this is an anti-war film yes, but it doesn't shove that message in your face with terror or other manipulative means. Instead we are shown what humans from different classes or nationalities can do for each other in the face of great odds. Its a great film that will give you hope for humanity, and make you long for all wars to end.

(Rating: 9/10)

Friday, August 6, 2010

#258: El

Directed by: LUIS BUNUEL
1952, TSPDT Rank #333

This hard-to-find film from the middle Mexican period of the great Luis Bunuel is a definite masterpiece. The original title El is pretty blunt, it's the masculine singular definite article in Spanish (translating to "Him" in English), but the English title "This Strange Passion" is also very fitting, maybe more so than the original. This is a film about a middle-aged man named Francisco, who falls in love with a younger woman he meets in church one day. Eventually his charm wins her over and they get married, only to have their marriage ravaged by his growing paranoia that every move she makes is a sign of infidelity. This is classic no-holds-barred Bunuel, a vicious satire of love, jealousy, and obsession. His sarcastic joke throughout the movie is that Francisco, a man of high standing, continues to be viewed as a very rational and respectable person, even in light of his obviously irrational behavior. Bunuel's trademark surrealism is sprinkled throughout the film, more and more heavily as Francisco descends further into madness. The climatic scene in the church is brilliant, and quite insane. El is just another bit of evidence to why Luis Bunuel is one of the few true cinematic masters. Genius.

(Rating: 10/10)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#257: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

1947, TSPDT Rank #622

This is probably one of the most loved Mankiewicz films (other than All About Eve), and it is quite likable. The script is pretty good, and very workable, but it wouldn't have worked as well if the film wasn't casted so well. The scenes of dialogue between Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison are the best in the film, because they play out like pieces of music. Tierney's gentle and almost dreamy voice produces flowing sentences, which are countered by Harrison's rough, staccato sailor's way of speaking. I guess you could categorize The Ghost and Mrs. Muir as a romantic fantasy, but that doesn't account for the many subtle shifts in genre and tone throughout the film. Because of this, it seems to be somewhat of an all-encompassing film, and also very accessible - suitable to any kind of viewer, at least one who doesn't find it too sentimental. I didn't find it to be perfect, but it has the right amount of charm, and just the right actors, to make it a very enjoyable movie.

(Rating: 7/10)

Monday, August 2, 2010

#256: All About Eve

1950, TSPDT Rank #70

The following text is taken (with a little editing) from some writing I did for a group I belong to called the Internet Film Club. Information on this group, and how to join it, can be found on my earlier post about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. From now on, all posts I take from my writing in that group will be denoted with this: "Contains text from an Internet Film Club post." Thanks for reading.

Just finished watching All About Eve, and it is definitely an all-time classic, not the masterpiece Sleuth, one of Mankiewicz's later films, is maybe, but a great film all the same. Basically all elements are done well here, which makes it hard for me to comment on any particular one. I did think that the narration was done extremely well, better than The Barefoot Contessa (another Mankiewicz film) in the way that it was organized and executed - each narration blends seamlessly into the dialogue (actually, the entire script is amazing - one of the all time greats), and sometimes a scene with only narration accompanies silent footage, creating a brief "silent film" sensation. The story is a tour-de-force about ambition, jealousy, deception, love, and age - and it seems to be a film that's holding up extremely well with time, probably why it's one of the most popular classics in the US.

(Rating: 9/10)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

#255: The Dead

Directed by: JOHN HUSTON
1987, TSPDT Rank #379

John Huston's final film is a thoughtful and slow-moving ode to his native Ireland, featuring an all-Irish cast. Its based on a James Joyce story about who remembers a long lost love upon hearing an old Irish ballad. Its also quite easy to watch if you're in the right frame of mind to deal with its slow pace. But what's interesting about it is that the first 3/4 of the movie don't actually have anything to do with the 'plot' at all. For most of the duration we look upon this Christmas Eve party, set in 1908, where members and friends of a family all enjoy each other's company, eat and drink merrily, and entertain each other with songs and poem recitations. For the most part you can tell they try to stay away from offending the others with religious or political arguments, and although occasionally a few bad feelings come up with the help of alcohol, they quickly pass and are forgotten. When one of the women hears this Irish ballad upon leaving the party, old feelings are awakened, and the true nature of love questioned. I think some people exaggerate on saying this is John Huston's greatest films, but it does have some understated and beautiful cinematography, and a generally warm, meditative feel.

(Rating: 6/10)

Monday, July 26, 2010

#254: Sans Soleil

Directed by: CHRIS MARKER
1983, TSPDT Rank #201

Sans Soleil is an incredible piece of film work by Chris Marker that unfortunately, seems to be going to be largely undiscovered. It's a free-form travel essay film of sorts - about a fictional cameraman who attempts to capture the "two extreme poles of survival," Japan and Africa, in order to form a memory out of film. Marker approaches this by filming whatever seemed interesting, or important to him. Which is to say, things like the daily life of ordinary people, cultural oddities, random curiosities, or some most likely forgotten history. Maybe he's just looking for "things that quicken the heart." Either way, he pulls it off in such a way that there is no pretension at all, and the movie feels really authentic and real. Not to mention quite dreamlike, a feeling which comes from the fact that all the footage was shot on 16mm silent film - not a synchronized shot to be found in the film. The soundtrack is filled with ambient electronic music, recreated sound effects, etc. Plus a narration that is both wise and nothing short of poetic. I could say more things about this film but I feel it's something you should experience, because nothing substitutes for seeing the film yourself. And multiple viewings works really well with this film - you'll miss out on a lot on your first viewing.

The Criterion Collection did well to package Sans Soleil along with La Jetee in their DVD release, because they complement each other very well. However, I must give them both the same rating because for all the similarity they share in their exploration of memory and time, they are such different films that I could not possibly compare them against each other. What matters is they are both very great films!

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

#253: Last Tango in Paris

1973, TSPDT Rank #250

I've been going through the films of Bernardo Bertolucci and this one really seems to stand out. Not because it was controversial for its portrayal of sexuality when it was released, but because of how personal it is. I think it feels different because it is truly HIS, dealing with himself and his desires rather than the usual political themes he focused on. He kept it no secret that Marlon Brando's character was a version of himself; and he certainly directed Brando in one of his most incredible acting roles. However, a valid criticism would be that the power of Brando's acting overpowered the other actors and subplots, including one with Maria Schneider and her fiancé, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud (brilliant child star of Truffaut's The 400 Blows). The emotionally intense story of a man who has an anonymous affair with a young, engaged stranger - using her as an outlet for his grief over his wife's recent suicide as she falls slowly in love with him - will probably not lose its raw power over time, even as our day and age makes the affair between Brando and Schneider seem more and more improbable.

(Rating: 8/10)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

#252: Mr. Hulot's Holiday

Directed by: JACQUES TATI
1952, TSPDT Rank #232

Jacques Tati is the famous French writer, director, and actor of the four Monsieur Hulot films, of which this is the first. Tati has often been called the 'French Charles Chaplin,' but American fans of Chaplin might be a little bored and unimpressed if expecting the same kind of movie. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is what I would describe as a restful and rhythmic sort of comedy, because it deals with a number of situations in which the bumbling but well-meaning Hulot gets himself into small amounts of trouble while staying at a vacation resort. These situations might seem somewhat repetitive after a while, but what some people don't pick up on is that this film is basically an indictment of the French culture of the time. Hulot should not be the main focus of your attention, because he acts mainly as a catalyst to continually expose the hypocrisy and selfishness of many of the people at the resort. As a contrast, he never really gets worried about the small dilemmas he might cause to others or himself, realizing them to ultimately be pretty small, and maybe serving to make the monotonous vacation schedule a little more interesting. But although it's enjoyable film, maybe with more to it than some realize, I don't think it ever really achieved greatness. I'm still game for the other films in the series though.

(Rating: 6/10)

Friday, July 23, 2010

#251: Freaks

Directed by: TOD BROWNING
1932, TSPDT Rank #177

This early MGM horror film by Tod Browning was shocking and ahead of its time for most of the public in 1932, not surprising due to the very unusual subject matter of the movie. It deals with a band of "circus freaks" and how the beautiful trapeze artist of the circus came to be "one of them" herself. Much of the opening half of the movie actually involves a number of sub-plots involving some of the other freaks, but the main action revolves around the beautiful Cleopatra and her relationship with the little person Hans. He thinks their love is serious, while she treats it like a joke - until she discovers he has a large fortune. The film is worth watching for some of the legendary scenes in the final act, which culminate into an ending which is still very creepy today. Browning's more famous film Dracula may not have the same effect anymore, but I still feel that Freaks is a very valid movie today.

(Rating: 7/10)

#250: La Jetee

Directed by: CHRIS MARKER
1962, TSPDT Rank #135

This short film is actually mostly composed of still images, but it feels like watching a movie. It was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys and deals with similar themes of time travel after the Third World War. I always thought the story was really poetic and powerful, especially since it's so brief, and even though the scientific themes could have been made complex, it deals with basic emotions. Because, at the center, it's about a man who longs for a more peaceful and simpler time that has passed him by. Seek it out.

(Rating: 9/10)

#249: Zelig

Directed by: WOODY ALLEN
1983, TSPDT Rank #711

With Zelig, Allen seemed to have perfected his mockumentary style that he first used in his earlier film, Take the Money and Run. Zelig lacks the sheer comedic power of that film, but is overall more consistent and expertly modifies stock footage and old newsreels to create a real period feel. In some ways, this seems to be the predecessor to Forrest Gump, which also used special effects to insert the main character into historic events and be seen with important figures. But I think this was the best use of those effects, and a better movie; because it doesn't resort to sentimentality or take itself too seriously. It's a brief but enjoyable movie that says something about the importance of individuality, and has some pretty hilarious scenes. The highlights of these are the scenes that show Zelig being hypnotized by Dr. Fletcher, I couldn't stop laughing.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#248: The Spider's Stratagem

1970, TSPDT Rank #830

This film was the follow-up to The Conformist, arguably Bertolucci's masterpiece, and also deals with fascism in a way. Vittorio Storaro's amazing cinematography is equally as good as that previous film (I could tell this even through the terrible VHS quality), but The Spider's Stratagem does not match The Conformist in terms of story and themes. It's about a man who is called by his father's mistress to a small Italian town where his father was supposedly killed by fascists 30 years earlier, and is considered an anti-fascist hero. He then tries to investigate the murder, but the truth seems at the end to be best left unrevealed. In this film, the main character is conforming in the interest of the people and anti-fascism in general, while in The Conformist the main character is trying to conform to an image of normality by becoming a fascist and leaving behind his secrets. I feel this could have had the makings of a great film, but it's too much of a mess, scenes from the present are mixed confusingly with flashbacks, characters are thrown in and taken out - leaving the movie not all that coherent. But it's still worth seeing as a companion piece to The Conformist, and for Storaro's cinematography - especially if it would be given a passable DVD release.

(Rating: 6/10)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#247: Young Frankenstein

Directed by: MEL BROOKS
1974, TSPDT Rank #575

I'll put this out there: I'm not a fan of Mel Brooks and I'm not a fan of this movie. I really don't find it that funny, and Brooks' style of humor generally leaves me cold. That being said, it's not the worst movie ever made and it has a few good scenes. Most of the acting is way over the top (and that shouldn't come as a surprise if you are familiar with the director), but the only character that really annoys me is Marty Feldman's Igor. I don't agree at all with the praise that's been heaped on him since the movie was released. Now I'm not real excited about this being my first new post in a few months, since it's pretty negative, but I honestly don't believe this movie deserves a spot on a list like this. If any fans read this, drop a comment and tell me what you think.

(Rating: 4/10)

Back to blogging

I've been off the blogging circuit for awhile again, due to my loss of interest in the project and the thought that no one except for a couple people, maybe, had been reading my writing. Well, a friend convinced me to get writing again so I will. It appears that I've watched 40 of the movies off the list since my last post 3 months ago, so to the best of my estimations, I will be starting my next post at #247.

To refresh the collective memories of my potential readers, I'm going to be blogging about every film I watch off of the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? 1,000 Greatest Films list (see for more info). This isn't the only film project I'm working on, but I still try to keep track of which ones I watch off of this list and write something regarding my feelings about them. I'm going to try to be a little less conventional from now on, and just try to throw out my thoughts without taking too much time about it. It's not really something that comes easily - I'm more apt to try to craft something that sounds nice. Like I'm doing right now. Ha...

So I'm going to muster up all of my strength and watch at least one more movie tonight so I have a new post. So on the small chance this is the first post you see, be patient. To quote one of the movies on this list, "I'll be back."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

#206: The Birth of a Nation

Directed by: D.W. GRIFFITH
1915, TSPDT Rank #133

The Birth of a Nation is an undeniable cinematic masterpiece. Seriously, every technique of narrative film ever used in films afterward (and still today) have their origins in this 1915 Civil War epic. Now there's no getting around the blatant racism of this film, or the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan in the second half. But virtually every film made since The Birth of a Nation owes something to it, and the film is still gripping, extremely well made, and powerful - even if it portrays inaccurate history, ridiculous political views, and racism. It's an astounding film, and one that should be seen by any self-respecting film buff, and appreciated - not for any moral message, but for the landmark of film art that it is. I take one star of the technically deserved 10, in respect for all who died at the hands of the KKK, as this film was definitely responsible for some resurgence of that hateful group.

(Rating: 9/10)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

#205: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

2001, TSPDT Rank #813

A.I. was the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick, and constituted most of his work in the 1990s toward developing ideas for it - although eventually Ian Watson wrote the official screen story, and after Kubrick's death the project was taken over by Steven Spielberg. Kubrick's name actually does not appear in the credits, except for a dedication. But this is probably all right, because this film only very slightly resembles anything that Kubrick may have done - one can tell that the ideas have been highly watered down and sentimentalized by Spielberg. This film would have been darker, imaginative, provocative, and brilliant had Kubrick been involved after the film was conceived. Even though the movie pales in comparison to everything else made by Kubrick except for Fear and Desire, there are still some nice touches and shots that you can tell are included in Kubrick's memory. Don't believe people who say it's a great movie - it's definitely mediocre at best.

(Rating: 5/10)

Monday, April 5, 2010

#204: Frankenstein

Directed by: JAMES WHALE
1931, TSPDT Rank #401

A classic horror film, made at Universal Studios in 1931, the same year as Dracula. However, Frankenstein is a much superior film. It shows us a monster (played by Boris Karloff) who is struggling for a place in the world - confused by the anger of the people around him and unaware of the harm he causes. When you see him in the windmill scene at the end of the film, you realize that he is really like a defenseless child in the body of a monster. This is a really well executed film that examines the questions of life and death, and the consequences that might follow if life is put in the hands of humans. What the screenplay lacks is made up for with striking images and a heartbreaking performance by Karloff. Worth watching.

(Rating: 7/10)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

#203: Once Upon a Time in America

Directed by: SERGIO LEONE
1984, TSPDT Rank #148

Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone's epic crime masterpiece, the film that he meant to define his career and which he had been hoping to make since the completion of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The first two films in the 'Once Upon a Time' trilogy (Once Upon a Time in the West, and Duck, You Sucker) were basically not much more than roadblocks in his path to making this film. It's a really great film, and I think it may be the defining portrait of the American gangster - outlining the emotional and societal limitations of the gangster lifestyle. Leone wonderfully balances the flashback structure of the narrative, and the film contains the same richness of character and setting, along with the masterful usage of cinematic tools, that were present in his previous films. I was completely riveted for the entire duration - it definitely doesn't feel like a four hour film. This is a film I'm highly recommending (along with all of Leone's work, especially Once Upon a Time in the West), one that I hope you will allow to sink in, while acknowledging the many layers of emotion and cinematic power contained within. I was ready to give this film a rating of 9, but as I feel it will definitely grow on me even more in subsequent viewings, I'm rounding it up to 9.5. Consider it also a tribute to the memory of Sergio Leone, one of the greatest directors ever, in my opinion.

(Rating: 9.5/10)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

#202: Dracula

Directed by: TOD BROWNING
1931, TSPDT Rank #826

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in this 1931 pioneering horror film is an iconic character that has come to define the vampire genre. However, I really don't think this film is worth seeing anymore, unless for its historical value. This was one of the first horror films made at Universal Studios, which soon became known for their monster movies, and really must have scared people at the time, especially since sound in films was a relatively new concept, and the smooth yet sinister speech of the Count must have been all the more chilling because of it. However, despite very good atmosphere during the Transylvania scenes, the other actors don't hold it up, and Browning (who one year later made the cult classic 'Freaks,' which is much higher on the list) doesn't much more than is needed to make the film functional. I would much rather suggest the 1958 Hammer version of Dracula with Christopher Lee as the Count (at #980 on the list), and possibly the earlier version as a historical curiosity if you're still interested.

(Rating: 5/10)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

#201: Pan's Labyrinth

2006, TSPDT Rank #739

Pan's Labyrinth is probably one of the most ambitious and exquisitely crafted films of recent years. It succeeds greatly in balancing the two worlds: the harsh reality of 1940s post-Civil War Spain, and the equally grim truths of Ofelia's fantasy world. A film such as this needs both a visionary imagination and an understanding of human nature to work. This one has both. The ending is a bittersweet but perfect close to a film which portrays a world which, although often cruel and violent, can sometimes show hope to those who persevere.

(Rating: 8/10)

#200: L.A. Confidential

Directed by: CURTIS HANSON
1997, TSPDT Rank #471

I don't really have much to say about L.A. Confidential, but I will say that I don't feel it belongs in the 1,000 Greatest Films - and certainly not at such a high rank. The acting was quite good, especially from Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito, but after watching the film I felt very dissatisfied. The director seems to be trying to imitate the seedy atmosphere of post-noir films like Chinatown - even down to the score. However, the look of the film is completely wrong for the time period and type of film, and the plot and characters all seemed very contrived. I would suggest that you skip this movie and watch Chinatown - or one of the old noir films. I could peg L.A. Confidential as a decent homage if there was anything that truly made it feel as such.

(Rating: 5/10)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#199: Dog Star Man

Directed by: STAN BRAKHAGE
1964, TSPDT Rank #927

Before watching Dog Star Man, you should understand that Brakhage was interesting in creating film as an art form, not as a form of entertainment, as he specifies on the Criterion DVD interview. Also be aware that it is completely silent with no music or sound of any kind. Some people suggest watching the film with a musical accompaniment of your choice, but I watched it without sound and feel that it may lose some of its power if you do this. I felt a strong visual rhythm while watching it. It's spread over five parts, and you'll need to watch all five. It is, at the base of it all, about a man and his dog attempting to climb a mountain. However it seems to cover the areas of birth, life, death, rebirth, and stellar things outside of our planet. This is a film with hard work written all over it - literally in a sense, since Brakhage actually scratched onto the film surface in some parts. I find Dog Star Man to be a remarkable and psychedelic experience - one with many facets that I'm sure I didn't catch on the first viewing. I'll definitely be watching it again sometime in the future.

(Rating: 8/10)

Friday, March 26, 2010

#198: Days of Heaven

1978, TSPDT Rank #154

Days of Heaven is about as far away from Rear Window as you can get, but it's equally as great. It's a beautiful, amazing, and visually astounding film; the narrative is at most a secondary function here. In fact, I don't think the narrative (a simple and somewhat disjointed tale of a love triangle on a wheat farm during the Great Depression) is important at all. Malick was a visionary, and is more concerned with showing us towering yet poetic images to convey moods, and having the dialogue and actions of the characters serve only to give us some thematic base. The cinematography is as good as you've heard - some of the greatest and unbelievable work ever done with a camera. I find it to be a slightly lesser film than Badlands, but it definitely packs a punch - and you're experiencing the right thing if you are a bit confused once it's over as to why it works so well. I guess the way I see it is: it's taking a common human story and placing it in the middle of an overwhelming sense of time and place, without robbing it of its poetic qualities, that makes it such a great film. Malick was a true visionary, and after seeing his first two works, I would say he is one of America's greatest unsung cinematic geniuses.

(Rating: 9/10)

Great Blu-Ray release by Criterion, by the way.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

#197: Rear Window

1954, TSPDT Rank #44

This is a film which reminds us the power of a great script, perfect actors, genius use of the camera, and a master director. All of these elements combine here to make a really great and entertaining film. While watching it, you feel as if you are in the apartment with the characters, and because of this, get involved in the suspense - feeling, like James Stewart's character, an inactive participant - engrossed and terrified from the events taking place in front of your eyes, but unable to do a thing about it. Rear Window is a relatively simple idea, which continues to captivate viewers because eavesdropping of this sort is something we've all done at one time or another, and we are expertly tricked into becoming a part of the film. And that, folks, is what good entertainment really is.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

#196: Mothlight

Directed by: STAN BRAKHAGE
1963, TSPDT Rank #981

This is the shortest film on the list, and it's very amazing - as in, absolutely mind-blowing. Let me preface this by saying that I have never seen a thing by Brakhage and was planning to rent the Criterion DVD set at some point here (probably still will, for Dog Star Man primarily) but watched this when I found it on YouTube. And I know many are opposed to this film and others of Brakhage's and find them frustrating and pointless, so if you read this and you're one of those people please note - I'm not just pulling some pretentious nonsense out of thin air, and I actually have a few thoughts on this film. Technically speaking, it's a feat of wonder; produced using wings of dead moths and various foliage pasted between two strips of tape. But it's what the film means metaphorically that floored me. Brakhage took a bunch of dead material from nature and brought it to life by way of film - bright, violent, flashing light in our face - a trip through life and death made interchangeable - and because of this is truly more than the sum of its parts.

I also realize that YouTube is not a good way to watch Brakhage. It's meant to be viewed in a cinema, and less preferable then that but still a step up from the former is DVD (soon to be Blu-ray). But even in the manner I viewed, it still feels one galvanizing film. Here's the You-tube link for anyone who wants to see if I may have a few valid points. This is an eye-opener, expanding the reach of my film appreciation.

(Rating: 10/10)

Friday, March 19, 2010

#195: The Manchurian Candidate

1962, TSPDT Rank #364

The Manchurian Candidate is a gripping, surreal, and fascinating political thriller - one that must have also been quite provocative for its time. In the heat of cold war tensions, it really took guts to produce an unusual and button-pushing script like this, and with big name stars like Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh. It just goes to show that a movie with some courage really has the potential to stand the test of time. I don't know what exactly I can say about the plot without ruining it - but basically it's about a platoon of soldiers who are kidnapped and brainwashed, one of them being unwittingly conditioned to be an assassin for the Communists. It could also be viewed as a satirical film, as the character of John Iselin has come to be mirrored in modern political figures like George W. Bush - and was certainly an attack on the hypocritical and anti-Communist politicians in our country at the time period. This is a thriller which truly puts you into its world, involving you with key catch-phrases and frankly depicted actions which provided a little taste of reality along with entertainment. It's also a very well made film, which has helped keep its freshness throughout the years. Definitely still relevant and worth watching.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#194: Ikiru

1952, TSPDT Rank #79

This is not the Kurosawa film that most people would expect or want to see - mostly because it's not a samurai film and it doesn't have Toshiro Mifune. It is however, one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking films Kurosawa made; with a great performance by Takashi Shimura, as a man who realizes that he's been wasting his life once he gets stomach cancer. This is a film of incredible emotion and texture, with Kurosawa showing himself as the cinematic equivalent of a great novelist: the images contain rich description that communicates the feelings of the characters or important aspects of a certain scene, without specifically pointing it out to us through dialogue. Although the final section of the film seems to bog it down somewhat - that shot of Wantanabe on the swing in the snow ... it just sends chills down your spine. I'd like to know how one composes a shot that is that aesthetically brilliant - it doesn't seem to be something you could communicate through words; you need to have a strong vision. This is a film well worth seeing, it will provoke a lot of thought and feeling from your soul. And I think it's just as great as the other Kurosawa films that are so often spoken of.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#193: A Trip to the Moon

1902, TSPDT Rank #449

The earliest film on the list, A Trip to the Moon is definitely one of cinema's great milestones. It signaled a new direction for the film medium; a pioneer in narrative, style, and special effects. At a time when most directors were still filming simple one-shot scenes or "actualities," Melies pointed his camera at the moon, telling a detailed (for the time) and fantastic tale of scientists who fly to the moon in a cannon and eventually run into the tribe living there in an underground cavern. This must have blew minds back in the day! In my opinion, Georges Melies was the first really "important" director of films.

(Rating: 8/10)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

#191: The Big Lebowski

Directed by: JOEL & ETHAN COEN
1998, TSPDT Rank #404

"The Dude abides." So states the final line of this hilarious cult comedy - and it's a line that says both everything and nothing about the film. The Coens needed to blow off some steam after creating their masterpiece, Fargo, and ended up creating a movie that is great in its own right. It's a homage to a number of genres and styles past and present, rife with profanity - and all centered around a stoner known as The Dude. The plot revolves around a possible kidnapping case, but the Coens inject every type of bizarre and crazy thing imaginable into it, still allowing it to be cohesive, light, and really cool. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi are especially funny as The Dude's bowling buddies. I wouldn't miss this one.

EDIT (7/23/10):
This has become one of my favorite films, since I first wrote this review. I think it's hilarious and genius in pretty much every way, so I just felt I needed to give this movie a better notice than I originally did.

(Rating: 10/10)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

#190: Se7en

Directed by: DAVID FINCHER
1995, TSPDT Rank #914

Well I just finished watching Se7en, and I just have to say that had to have been a terrible first week at work. This is a truly dark, sick, and twisted film, but it mirrors those grim aspects of our world today. It's not even just the murders, although some of the afterviews of the victims can be quite disturbing - but it's the moral and social implications of the film that make it all the more troubling. With the serial killer movie formula seemingly in place, and starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, one could be deceived into thinking this a token detective film. It is no more that than "John Doe" was a run-of-the-mill serial killer. If you find yourself able to watch this film through to the end, you will find that you have just watched a compelling, thought-provoking, disgusting, totally masterful, yet thoroughly disturbing film. It's meant to be this way, and if you think about it, you might find yourself questioning who we are as humans, what our world is moving towards, and whether or not it is "still worth fighting for."

(Rating: 9/10)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

#189: The Adventures of Robin Hood

1938, TSPDT Rank #488

Not exactly sure on what the story is about the two directors on this one, but I do know that Curtiz is known as the master of the swashbuckler (although he worked in basically every film genre) and that he should probably be given the most credit for directing this film. That being said, Robin Hood is the quintessential swashbuckler film. Unfortunately, the swashbuckler is a dead genre, and with today's political climate, and the invasion of CGI technology, we will never truly see one again (although the makers of films like Pirates of the Caribbean have tried). The film involves a former knight (Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, one of the classic cinematic heroes), who selflessly protects the good Anglo-Saxon peasants from the tyrannical Norman government in Medieval England. Today viewers sometimes demand a gray area in their characters to make them more realistic. Thankfully this old film doesn't take itself so seriously, presenting a clear battle between a clearly defined good and evil, with a lot of humor, romance, action, and color. A thoroughly enjoyable film, and not soon to be forgotten, I hope.

(Rating: 8/10)

Monday, February 15, 2010

#188: Donnie Darko

Directed by: RICHARD KELLY
2001, TSPDT Rank #709

Donnie Darko was one of the cult hits of the decade, declared as a bizarre and original trip. Well it is pretty trippy in parts, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. This is basically a rip-off of a bunch of stuff David Lynch has already done. I mean, come on - Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet - these were darkly comic visions of small-town life with secrets hiding under the calm facade. Kelly borrows (steals) a lot from these, with a little of the 'intertwining fate' dramas we've become used to seeing in recent years. When it was over, I couldn't help feeling that although some of it was interesting and it was fairly entertaining, it doesn't amount to much.

(Rating: 6/10)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#187: Memento

2000, TSPDT Rank #790

This has been called one of the best and most confusing movies of the 2000s. It is neither, but it is pretty enjoyable, and very well-made. I knew it would be told in reverse, but I wasn't sure exactly how that would work out. We start at the end (with fragments of black and white footage from an unspecified time separating the scenes as they progress backwards), slowly working our way back to what we think is the beginning, only to find out that the story's been going on for probably quite some time (this shouldn't be a spoiler). The film is somewhat of a puzzle, however, and will lose much of its enjoyment factor is spoiled, so I will just say this: even during the "final revelation," pay attention to what is being said, what transpired before, and the truth should be there. Although some think there are many interpretations possible, I think that the pieces do fall together if you keep track of them while watching, and the plot of the film is pretty straightforward when it's over. Enjoy this film for what it is, a very good puzzle of a thriller - if you want a bona-fide head trip of a movie, head straight to David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., definitely one of the best of the decade.

(Rating: 7/10)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#186: Man of Aran

1934, TSPDT Rank #345

I watched this one impulsively, not really knowing what to expect (I'd seen most of Nanook of the North before, but not enough to include it in my running count). It contains a lot of very beautiful and alluring images - infused with an inventive sense of editing and often brilliant camerawork. Unfortunately the other aspects of the film are quite thin. We are often shown the same shots or images over and over, or at least similar ones, so at times the film can feel quite repetitive. And it's very unclear as to what Flaherty was attempting to accomplish with the film. It's clearly not a documentary, as much of it is fictionalized. Apparently it is supposed to have a sense of realism, but the titular Man was not even from Aran, and had to be trained in a number of tasks for the film - including the hunting of the basking shark. That task itself had not been performed by the inhabitants of the island for generations when the film was made. So maybe it is supposed to represent the spirit of the inhabitants in general - old and new. Or a sort of tribute to them if you will. In any case, although the visuals are amazing, I don't think there's really a whole lot else here of great worth. It's definitely better than watching Avatar, that's for sure.

(Rating: 6/10)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#185: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Directed by: PETER JACKSON
2001, TSPDT Rank #780

The Lord of the Rings films were some of the most popular and acclaimed films of the past decade, and based on this film, I think those feelings are justified. It's a movie of great scale and vision; Jackson has painstakingly created a vivid world and the people who live in it are portrayed just as vividly. This is one of those fantastic movies where the CGI is used to actively enhance the material on screen - it's not just for show, it's a part of the tale, and with all the various creatures, battles, and landscapes, it's much needed. The film is not without it's flaws and some overly sentimental drawn-out sequences, but all in all it's a solid film and also a very creative one - both visually and narrative-wise. It was good for a starter, and I'm ready for the others.

(Rating: 8/10)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

#184: The Blues Brothers

Directed by: JOHN LANDIS
1980, TSPDT Rank #795

Originally an act on Saturday Night Live (during the early days), The Blues Brothers completely transcends these beginnings and becomes one of the greatest comedies of all time. And not only is it a comedy, but it contains great rhythm and blues music, a radiating sense of coolness, a whole palate of cameos - and also one of the best car chases of all time. Yes, out of my least favorite decade in film history comes one of the most awesome and perfectly executed comedies of all time. There are so many hilarious scenes and a lot of interesting cinematic touches too; really it's impossible to go wrong. I'm not making a case that it's perfect, only that it's pretty damn good and (along with Animal House, also directed by Landis and one of my favorites) definitely is right where it belongs within the 1,000 Greatest Films. I hope it stays here.

(Rating: 9/10)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

#183: Casablanca

1942, TSPDT Rank #17

A definite masterpiece, it is very hard to pin down why exactly Casablanca is so perfect. Certainly all of the parts just seem to fall in to place; and it ends up being a transcendent film that defines classic film. All of the actors are superb - Ingrid Bergman was one of the most beautiful actresses ever to grace the screen, and the versatile Claude Rains gives one of his best performances in this film. Not to even mention Bogart. The script is incomparable, and Casablanca has probably become so iconic as to defy criticism. It doesn't deserve any, so I will leave it at that.

(Rating: 10/10)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

#181: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

1976, TSPDT Rank #359

(The following text is excerpted from a post I wrote for the Internet Film Club, an international online group that I am a part of. The content is only changed slightly for coherence in the blog. If you would like to join the film club or find out more about it, you can visit either of these websites: or Thanks for reading.)

I watched The Killing of a Chinese Bookie last week and thought it was amazing. (By the way, I watched the 108 minute cut, and I really loved the flow, I don't understand how the 136 minute cut could be better - Cassavetes didn't think so anyway.) Everything is very well done - the camerawork astounding, performance by Gazzara is top-notch and quite deep, and it's narrative is very unique. It's made to look like a gangster film from the outside, but internally, it's very much a Cassavetes film. One specific thing I noticed is that when Cosmo fires his first shot at the Chinese man, we remain in close-up on his face as he fires the shot, with the bullet hitting the body off-screen. This is quite a unique move, I know I was shaken, I was all primed for the cut but we stayed focused on the face. It makes sense though, because we as an audience have no call to care what happens to the man - we know he is going to die (at least once Cosmo enters the apartment). It seems that when Cosmo fires the shot, by looking at his face, we know that besides just killing the Chinese man, he is killing a part of himself. For better or worse, the person he had made himself up to be, the person he imagined had a lot of class, and carried himself perfectly with a strict code of conduct was being taken over by the fact that that same code had been breached, he had lowered himself to killing to erase a debt, and he begins to question who he is. The film has perfect pacing, it's compelling and fascinating all the way through, and I believe it also says something about Cassavetes' perception of the life of a film director, and all the forces they go up against. I consider the film to be the best example of Cassavetes' work and his style that I've seen so far, runner-up is A Woman Under the Influence.

(Rating: 9/10)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

#180: I Am Cuba

1964, TSPDT Rank #464

As I look back on the other films I've reviewed here so far, I find in shock that this is the foreign film featured in the blog. I usually love watched films from all over the place, it just so happened that I had been watching a long string of American films. Well, I Am Cuba was a joint production of Cuba and the USSR, but what truly matters is that this is a great film. The images here are incredible - it's a visual rollercoaster, filled with sumptous sights and beautifully composed shots. In short, it's a feast for the eyes. Looking at the film from another standpoint, it consists of four vignettes set before Castro's revolution (the film was made during his reign), all of which are deceptively simple, poetic, and filled with great communist spirit. I can somewhat sympathize with communism in theory anyway, but the film does a fine job of leaning you toward that feeling even if you are very much against the idea of communism (although, if that's the case, this probably isn't the best film to watch). So you may say you are being manipulated, and in that you would be right. But isn't that essentially the point of every film, to prove a point, or try to have us believe or realize something that the director has to say? Especially many of the films made here in the U.S. during World War II, I don't see how you could look on those and not realize most of them as very strong pro-American propaganda. But all politics aside, this is a great film well worth watching for those with a taste for somewhat obscure cinema, and an open mind when addressing the films message.

(Rating: 9/10)

Monday, January 25, 2010

#179: McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Directed by: ROBERT ALTMAN
1971, TSPDT Rank #124

In my opinion the 1960s and '70s were the best years in the history of the western film, because there was so much originality and change going into the genre at that point - a genre which before then had been more of a cheap entertainment was becoming an art, the past a means of expression. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is Altman's ode to the Old West, a film that dismisses the traditional image of the Western frontier (gunfights in the blazing desert) and transports it to the Pacific Northwest, with a sense of historical realism along with a modern feeling, that helps the viewer connect more easily with the people of the past. The film has some beautiful cinematography, and Altman's directorial style encompasses a fairly large cast with ease and control. The images are very poetic; in particular the ending gunfight and pursuit sequence, which despite it's gritty violence, possesses a sort of tragic serenity. I don't think this is one of Altman's best films, but it's definitely one worth watching, with a perspective on the American Frontier life that still feels fresh today.

(Rating: 7/10)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

#178: A Woman Under the Influence

1974, TSPDT Rank #160

A Woman Under the Influence is a heart-wrenching film because (like much of Cassavetes' work) it achieves a sort of brutal realism that cuts right to the bone. The performances of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk are amazing - but you already knew that. It's so terrifying and sad - it becomes quite hard to watch at times because of its emotional intensity but also compelling in a way. Even when you think it's taken all it can take from you, it comes back for an absolutely crushing final section, which is thankfully fairly brief, but still long enough the viewer nearly crushed by the time the end credits roll. I don't even know what else I can say about it - except that it's just so real, you can truly believe the feelings and situations that this director is presenting and recognize some of them in society and in your own life and relatives. It's a great film, and definitely an important one in our country's cinematic history, but it might come a little too close to reality for some.

(Rating: 9/10)

#177: Weekend

Directed by: JEAN-LUC GODARD
1967, TSPDT Rank #236

Weekend is a film which is sometimes interesting and fascinating, but usually very pretentious. This isn't a mistake either. Godard intended it to be the "end of cinema" and assumed that no one would be able to sit through it. Well I did, and easier than one would expect; I was in a very open state of mind and was convinced that I was ready for whatever was thrown at me. Turns out I was thrown off anyway. Ultimately a Marxist examination of the phrase "freedom is violence," it starts out sort of like a Bunuelian critique of the bourgeoisie, until it becomes slowly more episodic, elusive, and experimental. The Marxist strains become more and more apparent, especially with the eight-minute rant about the Iroquois Indians and the dangers of globalism - at least from what I could tell, I'm sure it's harder as an English speaker. But at a certain point, the film goes off the deep end - suitably, into complete anarchy - and we see parricide, cannibalism, communist poetry, unsimulated animal killings, and a lot of pointless violence. This is the point where the film has completely distanced itself from the audience, leaving us scratching our heads and dismissing it as an exercise. Which it is. This is Godard at his most mean-spirited and socio-political point - it might be worth watching for some viewers, but it is not really a good film in the common sense of the word, and definitely not a good intro to those unfamiliar with his work.

(Rating: 5/10)

Friday, January 22, 2010

#176: Eyes Wide Shut

1999, TSPDT Rank #769

Wow. Stanley Kubrick's last film is virtually perfect. Some words to describe: breathless, awe-inspiring, dreamlike, erotic, chilling, beautiful, truthful. It's not a film about sex, at least not completely. Mostly it's about the fact that we, as humans, desperately grasp around for something we don't have when things are actually better when we open our eyes. What's great about this film is the dreamlike way that it's filmed and the slow but calculated pace of the action, which eventually allow you to realize what's happening internally to these characters. In recent films it's really rare for the viewer to have to do work and be rewarded, instead of having everything spelled out for you to briefly take in and immediately forget. Clearly, Kubrick has something else in mind for his swan song to the world. And if you turn off the lights and allow yourself to be taken on Kubrick's final journey, you'll be amazed, captivated, and enlightened - just as I was. My hat's off to Stanley, now and forever - one of the greatest of all filmmakers.

(Rating: 10/10)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#175: Greed

1924, TSPDT Rank #67

Another amazing film. The story of its truncation by MGM is cinema legend, but the film is best viewed, in my opinion, at it's original theatrical length of 140 min; not the "restored" film still version of recent years. In this cut version it remains a cynical, vicious, and absolutely compelling tale of American avarice; a film to forever showcase the power of cinema. If the cut footage ever resurfaces, we'll see if the nine hour cut improves on the current two hour one, but my guess is we've got the best version we'll ever have right here at our fingertips. (The 140 min version is still available in the U.S. on the VHS tape released by Turner Entertainment in the '80s. Trust me, it's worth it.)

(Rating: 10/10)

#174: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Directed by: WOODY ALLEN
1988, TSPDT Rank #244

A surprisingly great film, a very mature and fully realized film from Allen. With Crimes and Misdemeanors it becomes clear that Allen has stepped away from his silly slapstick humor of the '70s and gotten into more important matters such as ... life, love, responsibility, guilt, death. You know, things like that. I think in a way this film is better than my personal Allen favorite, Annie Hall, because of it's astounding way of having you feel deep despair in a scene of harrowing drama, and right into laughing heartily in a scene of hilarious comedy. What's great about this is that life itself also hosts both feelings (and many in between) which makes it, and this film, all the more interesting. For those who say Woody's not a really filmmaker, just a good writer, check out this movie.

(Rating: 10/10)

Monday, January 18, 2010

#173: Fort Apache

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1948, TSPDT Rank #920

I think that John Ford westerns like this one might have been reduced to sub-par genre pics, if not directed by the master, filmed in beautiful Monument Valley, and using such great actors like Henry Fonda and obviously John Wayne. Ford has an extraordinary way of composing his shots; the glorious and heroic way he shows the cavalry in the final battle scene has much in common with the films of Eisenstein. However its meandering middle section and quite average-feeling plotline leave it somewhat lower in the ranks of Ford's filmography. In any case, The Searchers its not, but a fine film it still is.

(Rating: 6/10)

Friday, January 15, 2010

#172: Faces

1968, TSPDT Rank #469

John Cassavetes is famous as being one of the great directors of actors, and in Faces he seems to be at the point of his career where he seems to have really perfected his method of directing actors. There is a common misconception that all of Cassavetes' films used improvisational acting, but this is only true of his debut, the groundbreaking but chaotic mess of a film Shadows. Here all of the action is scripted, but he allows the actors to use their expertise to create their interpretation of the character - stripping down the acting craft to it's most basic element and allowing the viewer to feel closer to the characters. It's about the disintegration of a marriage, but also more than that: it's about the American people as a society, the confused and floundering way that we people relate to the opposite sex, and how the middle-age period brings out all of the brutal truths in how you live your life. It's utterly believable, and often painful to watch because of this. However, this is a truly important film, if not necessarily a great one, and a good way to start understanding what Cassavetes was trying to accomplish with his work.

(Rating: 8/10)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Officially beginning the quest

As the new January 2010 edition of the 1,000 Greatest Films list was released to the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? website today, I decided to officially begin my quest to watch all the films on the list. I've been an avid film buff for a few years now, and have seen 171 films from the list so far, by my count. This blog will document my progress as I work my way through this amazing and diverse list. I hope you enjoy reading my posts; my next one will feature Film #172.

You can view my progress so far at: