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)