Movies Of The Year: 1959

Getting started on another list late at night while drinking some beer and watching the second half of David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, which I originally started watching two weeks ago. Been a weird day as I did some housework, watched some TV and movies and had my mind blown by Susan Sontag’s essay Against Interpretation, which if I had managed to read seven years ago would have made me feel a lot better about how much I hated the academic world.
Anyway, back to the list. As always, previous years’ lists along with methodology and disclaimers can be found at The Big List.

15. The Shaggy Dog – Yet another tragic scarring by a Disney Channel dominated youth. Fred MacMurray plays a nuclear dad who gets transformed into a dog. Much hilarity ensues. Costars Jean Hagen (Singin’ In The Rain) and seemingly the entire cast of The Mickey Mouse Club.

14. Plan 9 From Outer Space – Ed Wood’s famously terrible film is as bad as you’ve heard, but not quite as funny. It’s hard to rate the unintentionally hilarious in a format such as this. It fails in just about every way a film can fail, lacking even the bizarre horrible terror that his Glen Or Glenda inspires. Still, I’d rather have directed this travesty than The Shaggy Dog.

13. The Diary Of Anne Frank – George Stevens’s film, along with the book, is, I assume, still a requirement in junior high schools around the country. That’s where I saw it and I can’t say I’ll ever see it again. Like many a Hollywood social conscience film, it’s well-meaning, well-acted, competently made and makes you feel like a heel for not liking. Guess I’m a heel then. It’s just not that interesting to me. Sure its a tragic story, but I’ve real moral problems with the whole idea of making a movie about the Holocaust, let alone one that’s so very obvious and lacking in nuance. Is there more we are supposed to learn from this story than that the Holocaust is bad?

12. Ben-Hur – William Wyler’s film of Lew Wallace’s best-selling historical melodrama is an overblown epic in the way that only the late Hollywood studio system could overblow something. Charlton Heston stars as the eponymous hero, a Roman Jew gets himself punished for something, gets sent to a galley, competes in a vicious chariot race, then meets Jesus on his way to get crucified. It’s a fine example of the way only Hollywood could combine action violence, homoeroticism and sanctimoniously cheap religious piety in a way that makes way too many of people think it’s the greatest film ever made.

11. Darby O’Gill And The Little People – One of the few films I’ve seen that ever actually scared me, though granted I was aged in single digits at the time. A Disney compendium of over-the-top Irish clichés, leprechauns, banshees, comical drunkenness. Daarby O’Gill’s a cantankerous old drunk whose stories of leprechauns no one believes. He actually finds the pot of gold, but had to give it up when the banshee comes for his daughter (who’s been dating none other than Sean Connery). It’s the banshee arriving in his Coach Of death that terrified me, and probably still would. Along with Connery’s singing, truly scary.

10. Anatomy Of A Murder – Otto Preminger’s film is one of the greatest of all courtroom dramas. James Stewart stars as a small town lawyer acting as defense attorney for Ben Gazzara, accused of killing the man who supposedly raped his wife, Lee Remick. George C. Scott also stars as the prosecutor from the city. Stewart gives a fine, folksy performance as the kind of smarter than he seems country guy that Stewart’s perfect at. The greatness of the film comes from its ambiguity: we never know when or if Gazzara or Remick are lying, and it’s questionable whether or not it matters, to us or to Stewart. And the score’s by Duke Ellington, if all that wasn’t enough.

9. Good Morning – Yasujiro Ozu’s remake of his own I Was Born But. . ., it’s the story of a small suburban neighborhood, and specifically the kids in it who don’t understand their parents. The kids want their folks to buy a TV so they can watch sumo matches. The parents complain that all the kids do is whine. The kids complain that the adults are always talking and not saying anything, which of course, is true. The adult conversations are all politeness and formalism (“Good morning”) while the kids just say what on their mind (usually fart jokes). A fine introduction to Ozu, it’s got all the hallmarks of his style but is a little faster paced and a little funnier than his best films. If the idea of Ozu intimidates you, start here.

8. Pickpocket – Speaking of difficult directors how aren’t really as tough as their reps, acolytes or imitators want you to think, we’ve got Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, a film about the life and art of a Raskolnikovian pickpocket. A brainy young man dedicates himself to the pursuit of picking pockets, which we see demonstrated in some wonderfully informative yet stylish shots (closeups of various techniques and such). Along the way he attracts the attention of a local cop, who wants to reform him (or failing that, imprison him) and his mom’s nurse, a cute neighbor girl he pretends he’s not in love with. It’s a pretty, odd little film. The Criterion edition has an interesting bit of Paul Schrader talking about the film, where he points out that Bresson cuts everything just a little longer than you’d expect, which works to minutely unsettle the viewer and exacerbate the strangeness of the film. I can’t say the ending was as cathartic for me as it apparently is for Schrader (seemed more silly to me), but it’s still quite a fun film.

7. Sleeping Beauty – My favorite of all Disney animated films. The film uses the score of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, which I like a lot, even though the Disneyfy it with some silly lyrics and cute woodland creatures. And it’s one of the few Disney films with a distinctive visual style, modeled after medieval paintings (angular, two-dimensional people, lack of shadow, etc). It’s also got on the of the scariest villains in Disney films and the greatest, fastest climactic battle sequence. Cutting the comic relief of the annoying witches (faeries?) would make it a near perfect film. As it is, it can only be very good. Damn you Walt Disney!

6. Some Like It Hot – Often called the greatest comedy of all-time, I can’t agree with that though it is a very good film. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon star as musicians on the run from the mob who disguise themselves as women and join an all-girls band bound for Florida. In the band they meet Marilyn Monroe, playing your basic Monroe character: hot, sad, and a little dim. Curtis adopts another disguise (a wealthy yet impotent playboy, his Cary Grant impression) to try to seduce Monroe, while Lemmon is courted (in his woman disguise) by a rich old man played by Joe E. Brown. It’s got some classic comic moments, but I don’t think the drag comedy is as funny to my generation, one that grew up with Tom Hanks an Peter Scolari in Bosom Buddies.

5. Floating Weeds – The second Ozu film from this year, and the second that’s a remake of one of his own silent films. It’s a bigger, more dramatic film than Good Morning. A traveling acting troupe comes to a small fishing village, where they lead to some romantic trouble. The leader of the troupe has a son who doesn’t know he’s his son working as a mailman in the town. As the leader spends time with the boy’s mother, his girlfriend (one of the actors) becomes jealous. She gets one of the whorier actresses to seduce the son to punish the father. The actress and the son then fall in love. All this happens in Ozu’s simple, calm visual style (camera never moving, low angles, beautiful compositions of ordinary objects, long takes, no close-ups, etc), the serenity of the style plays of the violence of the emotions involved in the same way the characters hide their emotions behind politesse and restraint (to a point).

4. The 400 Blows – François Truffaut’s first film is a largely autobiographical coming of age story about a young boy who gets ignored by his parents, does poorly in school, loves movies, steals a typewriter and gets sent away to reform school. Jean-Pierre Léaud stars as the boy, Antoine Doinel, a character he’d play again in several other Truffaut films as he aged. Truffaut uses a black and white, smoothly realistic style that’s light years away from what Jean-Luc Godard was doing in Breathless (co-written by Truffaut and released the next year) or even the lyricism of Resnais or Demy, French but not quite New Wave directors. There’s little in the way of stylistic intrusion into the film. Instead, Truffaut Not having seen enough of the other New Wavers films (I’ve never seen any Rohmer or Chabrol, or any of Louis Malle’s French films), I can’t say for sure whether Truffaut is more or less typical of their style. I suspect that the crazy experimental nature of Godard (and Jacques Rivette) is the oddball in the group. Harvey Weinstein claims that he and his brother snuck into this film as kids thinking it was a porn movie. They stuck around and were entranced by it. They then fell in love with art movies and went on to found Miramax.

3. Rio Bravo – Howard Hawks’s refutation of Fred Zinneman’s prechy Western High Noon, this film stars John Wayne as a sheriff who must face a band of outlaws. The only help he accepts is from his deputy (the ancient Walter Brennan), his old friend and recovering drunk (Dean Martin, and a hotshot gunfighter who tries to stay out of the fight (Ricky Nelson). Wayne also manages to get Angie Dickenson to fall in love with him along the way. As entertainment, it’s questionable whether there’s a better Western. The balance between action and comedy and sex and music is as good as in any great Howard Hawks film (To have And Have Not, The Big Sleep, Only Angels Have Wings). The performances are uniformly terrific: Brennan’s cantankerous and funny as the still reliable comic relief, Nelson’s engaging and charming as the handsome young singer, Wayne’s terrific as usual but it’s Martin that steals the film as the old drunk trying to stay sober and redeem himself.

2. Hiroshima Mon Amour – One of the more beautiful films of all time is this Alain Resnais film about a French actress who meets, has a one-night stand with and falls in love with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada) while shooting a film in Paris. The first third of the film is a terrifying series of images of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, with the woman (Emmanuelle Riva, who gives one of the very best performances ever) narrating the transition from horrific images of victims and destruction to the transformation of the city to a museum and theme park. The film takes place over a single day, as the two try to figure out if they should stay together (the man is married, the woman set to return to France). The middle section of the film centers on the woman’s experience of World War 2, her own personal atom bomb. The film’s shot in a variety of styles and succeeds in, as Resnais claimed it did, shattering time, from the dreamy abstract images of the two bodies intercut with the hyperreal post-bomb footage in the opening sequence, to a lot of jump cuts and cuts between flashback and present time. The images often appear realistic, but as the scene progresses they become more poetic, as in a scene of protest marchers in the film the woman is working on, or in the final scene of the film, a long shot in a restaurant that we can’t tell is the past or the future or both.

1. North By Northwest – My current favorite Alfred Hitchcock film is perhaps the most successful of his relatively light films. Cary Grant plays a regular guy with a job and a mom who gets mistaken for a secret agent, kidnapped and framed for murder by James Mason. On the run from both the cops and the bad guys, Grant tries to find the guy for whom he’s been mistaken. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Eva Marie Saint, who’s got a few secret identities of her own. Filled with iconic sequences (the killer cropduster, the fight on Mt. Rushmore, the train entering a tunnel at a, well, climactic moment), clever comic dialogue (written by Ernest Lehman, who wrote Sabrina, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music and the great Sweet Smell Of Success), and more than a few subtle Hitchcock touches of terror and humor. Grant’s character is named Roger O. Thornhill, and the O stands for nothing, in more ways than one. He’s an everyman nothing hunted down by forces he can’t understand for reasons he doesn’t know, a Kafkaesque story of post-war modernity if ever there was. Hitchcock is one of the few directors in history to so successfully combine top-notch entertainment with psychological perverseness and subtlety. This multivalent brilliance is what makes his film so endlessly fascinating.

Not too much I’m in a hurry to see on the Unseen list this year. The Sirk movie is on TCM all the time, and I keep meaning to finally get around to it but haven’t yet. Satayajit Ray’s films, however, are not really available on decent DVDs in this country, as far as I know, so I’ve still not seen any of them.

Imitation Of Life
The World Of Apu
Shadows
Compulsion
The Human Condition
Pillow Talk
Operation Petticoat
Suddenly, Last Summer
The Mouse That Roared
Black Orpheus
The Horse Soldiers
Gidget
The FBI Story
Odds Against Tomorrow
On The Beach
Nazarin
The Tiger Of Eschnapur
The Indian Tomb
India

Advertisements

Movie Roundup: Perfectly Cromulent Edition

Been watching a lot of TV series recently. I’m almost finished with Veronica Mars, which is a very good, Buffy meets film noir show with an interesting mix of bubbly cuteness and horrible tragic crime and perversion. I also bought and purchased seasons four and five of The Simpsons, inspired by the book Planet Simpson by Chris Turner, which is one of the best cultural studies books I’ve ever read. Turner charts and analyzes seemingly the whole of pop culture from punk and grunge to American independent film, the Republican Revolution, the rise of the SUV, the internet and the multi-national corporation as seen through the lens of the best television show ever.

Snakes On A Plane – The next step in the information age’s destruction of modernity is this intentionally unintentionally funny animal action movie pastiche. The end result of every genre is self-conscious referentiality, and SOAP is to the animal action genre what Touch Of Evil is to film noir: the reducto ad absurdum of the genre, it’s distillation to its most essential elements and taken way over the top. The difference is that Touch Of Evil actually has a point to it (a lot of points, actually) while with SOAP the absurdum is the end in itself. While that makes for an entertaining night at the movies, especially with the benefit of some refreshing beverages, it doesn’t exactly make it a great film. Or maybe it does, that’s post-modernity for you.

Ivan The Terrible Part 2 – The second part of Sergei Eisenstein’s trilogy about the first great Russian Tsar ended up being the last as Stalin thought Ivan’s use of the secret police to destroy his enemies was a little to familiar. This film continues the radically bizarre staging of the first (described in an earlier roundup). Ivan returns at the behest of the people to Moscow, but finds the local gentry is still trying to kill him. His wife’s been killed, his best friend and general ran off to join with the Poles and his aunt wants him dead so her son, an idiot can be Tsar. No wonder he’s depressed. He tries to make friend’s with a priest, but even he ends up out to get him. The highly stylized mise-en-scène and acting is back from the first film, though 2/3 of the was through the film changes from black and white to a very strange color (imdb calls it Bi-Color, “an early experimental form of color film which has only blue and red shades, producing a vividly abstract effect) for a long party sequence, which only makes things weirder. The film wasn’t released until 1958, long after both Stalin and Eisenstein were dead.

Talladega Nights – A perfectly entertaining Will Farrell NASCAR comedy that’s pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. Sasha Baron Cohen, John C. Reilly and Gary Cole are the competent comic foils and Amy Adams is in it far too little as a hot redhead. It’s funny, but not as brilliant as Farrell’s Anchorman or any of the other great 00s comedies (The 40-year Old Virgin, Dodgeball, etc).

Henry V – Laurence Olivier’s version of Shakespeare’s play has an interesting idea, the film starts in a replica of the Globe Theatre and eventually expands to a broader, but still stagey, landscape. It’s also shot in a vibrant Technicolor. Other than that, I can’t say I liked it. The staginess extends to the performances, which are that brand of Shakespeare that are more recitation than actual performance. Especially Olivier, who I’ve always liked and, of course, has an unmatched reputation as an actor. I found him unbearable. Henry V is supposed to be a fiery leader of men, with his experience slumming with falstaff putting him in touch with the common man. With Olivier, he seems like a rich kid who had to memorize this speech for English class and has no idea what it means. Give me Kenneth Branagh’s version any time. As obnoxious a person he may be, his Henry V (#2, 1989) at least has some life to it.

The Three Musketeers – This probably isn’t the worst Three Musketeers film ever, but it certainly ain’t good. It gets off to a nice start, with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan bouncing around in a fun opening action scene. But the middle of the film is long and dull with hardly any action. It does follow the book surprisingly closely, except it seems to have actually cut out a number of action sequences. The big cast includes Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, Keenan Wynn and Vincent Price, of all people, as Cardinal Richelieu.

Safe Men – Mediocre Ishtar wanna-be with a great cast. Steve Zahn and Sam Rockwell are bad singers mistaken for safecrackers Mark Ruffalo and someone else by Paul Giamatti and his gangster boss, Michael Lerner. They’re forced by the gangsters to crack safes, despite their total inability to do so. Along the way, one of them falls in love with a girl and the other becomes reconciled with his father, or something. The #53 film of 1998.

Meet John Doe – Barbara Stanwyck plays a reporter who, to save herself from getting fired, invents a suicide letter from a Depression victim who says he’ll jump off a building to protest society’s evils. The letter becomes a sensation and she and her newspaper hire Gary Cooper to pretend to be the guy who wrote the letter. He becomes the leader of a social movement of the disaffected masses. When the owner of the paper conspires to use Cooper’s popularity as a tool to increase his own political power, Cooper admits the ruse and the movement fails. It’s lesser Capra, not as moving as Mr. Smith or as brilliant as It’s A Wonderful Life, and it suffers most of all from having the bland Cooper in the lead instead of the great Jimmy Stewart. Like most Capra films, it’s a lot darker than it’s reputation, but the politics is much more obvious and heavy-handed than in those other films.

La Strada – Federico Fellini’s first big international hit stars his wife, the great Giulietta Masina as an innocent (with a capital ‘I’) waif who gets sold by her mom to be a wife for a traveling strongman (Anthony Quinn). The strongman’s a brute (pun intended) who beats his wife and cheats on her. They meet Richard Baseheart (looking eerily like Bobby Flay and nothing like I remember him looking in He Walked By Night), a tightrope walker who loves to taunt Quinn and suggests to Masina that Quinn may actually love her. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Woody Allen made the same movie and called it Sweet And Lowdown. The difference is that in Allen’s film, the strongman is an artist, a brilliant guitar player played by Sean Penn as a sympathetic misanthropist with major inferiority issues with the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Quinn’s strongman, on the other hand, is no artist and is totally lacking in charm or sympathy. While this makes us feel worse for Masina, she’s such a terrific actress that we don’t really need any more reason to sympathize with her. What it does, though, is make us care a lot less for the plight Quinn finds himself in once Masina’s actually left him. Anyway, it’s still a great film, shot beautifully and with great performances, especially by Masina, who’s almost as brilliant as she is in Nights Of Cabiria, made a few years later.

Beauty And The Beast – Writer, painter, poet, director Jean Cocteau’s surrealist version of the fairy tale abut the young woman who falls in love with the beast with a heart of gold. It’s got a certain low-fi magical beauty to it, disembodied arms holding candlesticks and such that gives the film a sense of poetry. And the story itself is a hotbed of possible interpretations and dissertations, especially given who the Beast turns into at the end of the film. But honestly, I was a little bored by it all. Maybe it was just my mood, but I was far from enchanted. It all seemed far too amateurish for me, like a dilettante making a film with his friends and a shoestring budget.

The Sands Of Iwo Jima – This quite generic WW2 movie stars John Wayne as the leader of the squad that famously raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi. The movie starts with the new recruits and follows the way Wayne trains them into an effective fighting force. The requisite plot elements all line up: the resentful soldier who doesn’t like how mean Wayne is, the tragic death of a squad member, Wayne proving his heroism in battle in front of his men, along with lots of homoerotic “wrestling” from two blond, midwestern “brothers”. The action sequences are quite good, with some seamless interpolations of stock footage, but the fights just aren’t enough of the film. When there’s no action, the film’s just a clichéfest.

Millenium Mambo – My second Hou Hsiao-hsien film (he also did Café Lumière, #3, 2003), and I’m on the verge of just getting everyone I can get if they keep being this good. Hou’s reputation is for Ozu-like slowness and lack of movement in his films, and CL certainly followed that profile with it’s total lack of camera movement. This film, however, is nothing but camera movement. There’s still no close-ups or any kind of traditional editing, but the camera is still in constant motion (much like it is in Noah Baumbach’s classic Kicking And Screaming (#4, 1995), just out on a very nice Criterion DVD). It’s befitting, if a little obvious, that this constant motion is indicative of the chaotic nature of the film’s heroine’s life. Qi Shu plays a young woman trying to escape her drug-using, quite jealous boyfriend. She leaves and returns to him a few times, tries to get a decent job, does drugs herself,. and goes to a film festival in snowy Japan. It’s a simple, even generic story elevated by the brilliance and artistry of the direction. The #2 film of 2001.

What Time Is It There? – The first Tsai Ming-liang film I’ve seen is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in awhile. A young Taiwanese street-vending watch salesman sells his watch to a woman on her way to Paris. He becomes a little obsessed, changing all the clocks he can find to Paris time, while she has a very weird vacation in France, including some events that seem somehow linked to what the guy’s doing in Taiwan. It’s a slow movie, with a static camera and little in the way of traditional editing (Tsai’s part of the same Ozu revival as Hou and Jim Jarmusch, among others), and takes awhile to get going, but once it does, there are some absolutely hilarious moments. The #7 film of 2001.

Blackboard Jungle – The film that launched rock and roll (Rock Around The Clock plays over the opening credits) is a prototypical idealistic teacher at an inner-city high school movie. Glenn Ford plays the teacher, trying to tame a group of juvenile delinquents led by Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. The delinquents talk a crazy 50s teenager lingo that Ford struggles to understand. He tries a variety of ways to get through to the kids, while fending of muggings, random acts of destruction and insinuating phone calls and letters to his wife. Directed by Richard Brooks, who did Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Looking For Mr. Goodbar and a god awful version of The Brothers Karamazov starring William Shatner.

Pickup On South Street – Classic Samuel Fuller film noir in which Richard Widmark lays a pickpocket who accidently picks up some microfilm being stolen by communist agents. The FBI had the agent under surveillance, and with the help of Thelma Ritter’s professional snitch, they soon track Widmark down. Like all Fuller’s films, this one is vibrant and direct and emotional, though it’s more restrained than, say, Naked Kiss or Shock Corridor. It’s the most cohesive, realistic world I’ve yet seen from Fuller. Widmark and Ritter are terrific, though Jean Peters is weak in the role of the pickpocketed courier.

Coffee And Cigarettes – A collection of short films made by Jim Jarmusch over several years with a variety of famous people sitting and talking over, well, coffee and cigarettes. Some of the shorts are great, some are boring, but I didn’t think any of them were particularly terrible. I especially liked: Jack and Meg White and Jack’s Tesla coil, Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, Steve Coogan and Alfredo Molina, Cate Blanchet and herself, GZA, RZA and Bill Murray and especially Tom Waits and Iggy Pop.

Scarface – The original Howard Hawks film, from 1932, is near impossible to separate from the genre it created and the Brian DePalma flm that’s every gangsta rapper and frat boy’s favorite bulletfest. Paul Muni plays Tony, the psychotic gangster to shoots his way to the top of the bootlegging racket. His sister p[roves to be his downfall as she tries to escape his “overprotectiveness”. The great Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Twentieth Century, Gunga Din, Notorious, Kiss Of Death, and a whole lot of uncredited work on some of the best films of the 40s and 50s) wrote the screenplay.

The Protector – Tony Jaa’s follow-up to Ong-Bak ( #6, 2003) had over 20 minutes of it cut out for it’s US release, and what’s left is an inane, non-stop action movie about a young man out to avenge his father’s murder and free his elephants from the Australian-Thai gangsters that have kidnapped them. “You killed my father, and STOLE MY ELEPHANT!!” is typical of the dialogue. But no one’s watching a Jaa movie for dialogue, or character or plot or any silly thing like that. Instead, it’s all about the action sequences, which are as amazing as you’d expect. There’s a silly nod to X-Gamers, a humorous boat chase, a never-ending series of bone-crunching bone-crunching and one of the greatest sequences in the whole history of martial arts movies: a four-minute plus single-take Steadicam shot of Jaa beating the hell out of an endless supply of bad guys while ascending a giant spiral staircase. One of the coolest, and most difficult, things I think I’ve ever seen on film. The #22 film of 2005.

The Conformist – Bernardo Bertolucci’s breakthrough film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant (Three Colors: Red) as a pre-WW2 young man so traumatized by a childhood brush with a homosexual chauffeur that he marries a dumb bourgeoise and becomes a fascist assassin so that people will think he’s normal. When he’s sent on his honeymoon to Paris, his superiors order him to kill his old professor, an anti-fascist communist exile. He meets the professor and falls for his wife, played by the very beautiful Dominique Sanda, and so has to decide if he’s going to kill them anyway. If this all sounds vaguely silly to you, that’s because it is. But still, the film is beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro, who went on to be the cinematographer for Apocalypse Now, Reds, Ladyhawke, and Ishtar. The #5 film of 1970.

Movies Of The Year: 1960

Back to the lists. You can, as always, find updated lists for the years 1961-2005 at The Big List.

16. Pollyanna – Ah the horror of a youth dominated by the Disney channel. Hayley Mills plays a very happy girl who uses the power of positive thinking to crush her stodgy enemies in small-town America. It is indeed as horrifying as it sounds. Also stars Jane Wyman, Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead, of all people.

15. Swiss Family Robinson – Robinson Crusoe Disneyfied and given a massive nuclear family of wacky kinds who love hijinks like racing ostriches and blowing up pirates. The pirate chief is played by Sessue Hayakawa, who played the prison camp commander in The Bridge On The River Kwai and whose film career goes back to 1914, when he was one of the first Asian-American film stars (he was the star of Cecil B. DeMille’s hit The Cheat). The director, Ken Annakin, also directed the 1975 David Niven-Toshiro Mifune film Paper Tiger, and for some reason imdb claim’s George Lucas named Darth Vader after him, but I don’t think I believe it.

14. Exodus – This Otto Preminger epic stars Paul Newman as one of a group of Jews who flee Europe to Palestine after World War 2 and get attacked when they declare themselves the state of Israel. I haven’t seen this since I was a kid, but I remember it being very long, but with some exciting action sequences, and it succeeded in relating the basic facts of the time period. Also stars Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson, Sal Mineo, Peter Lawford and Lee J. Cobb. The screenplay’s by Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer who also wrote Roman Holiday and Spartacus.

13. The Magnificent Seven – John Sturges’s cheesy and vastly inferior remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. The cast is great, as well as the score (very catchy) and the action sequences, but transplanted out of the social context of feudal Japan, the story loses any resonance or meaning beyond simple action. Yul Brenner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn star.

12. Inherit The Wind – This straightforward adaptation of the play about the Scopes Monkey Trial (It’s very thinly veiled), gets the good performances you’d expect out of Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, but director Stanley Kramer doesn’t really bring anything interesting to the film (not unprecedented in Kramer’s career). The trials interestng though, and those performances are really good. Also stars Gene Kelly, Dick York, Henry Morgan and Norman Fell.

11. L’Avventura – A group of swells have a party on a deserted island, from which one girl just disappears. Her friend and boyfriend search the island for her. Suspecting she caught a boat back to the mainland, they head off to town to look for her, where they forget about her because they’re too busy doing each other. It’s very slow, beautiful, and depressing, chock full of good old existential angst and the ennui of the rich. As yet it’s the only Michelangelo Antonioni film I’ve seen, but I really need to rewatch it and check out more of his work.

10. Tunes Of Glory – This stagey film is notable for a great performance from Alec Guiness (despite the overthetop accent). Guiness plays the leader of a Scottish regiment who gets passed over for promotion and does what he can to subvert the new commanding officer, John Mills (who was also in Swiss Family Robinson). IMDB claims James Kennaway adapted the screenplay from his own novel, which surprises me because I would have sworn this film was simply transplated straight from the stage. Directed by Ronald Neame, who was a cinematogropher (In Which We Serve, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing) and went on to direct The Poseidon Adventure.

9. Ocean’s Eleven – As far as I can tell, the best of the Brat Pack films. Frank Sinatra leads a gang of hipsters as the ripoff five Vegas casinos in one night. The heist sequence itself is exciting and suspenseful, and the maybe to long buildup to it has some fun martini-drenched humor and songs. The fun-having cast includes Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickenson, Shirley MacLaine, Cesar Romero, Joey Bishop, Richad Conte, George Raft, Red Skelton and Akim Tamiroff. Directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front). I understand the Soderberg remake changed the ending, which makes me never want to watch that travesty.

8. La Dolce Vita – Federico Fellini’s epic of urban hipster dissipation stars Marcello Mastrionni as a paparazzi bored with his fake life of parties and glamour and his troubles with women and his father. The famous opening shot of a statue of Jesus flying over the city is very cool, and some of the sequences are very interesting, but frankly I just got bored with the film after awhile. That may be intentional, getting us to empathize with the main character’s boredom or something, I don’t know, I probably need to see it again, as it’s been about 10 years. Also stars Anita Eckberg and Anouk Aimée.

7. The Apartment – I’ve never understood the worship this very fine Billy Wilder film seems to evoke in so many people. It’s good, but it’s not that good. Jack Lemmon plays a loser accountant who lets his bosses (Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, etc) use his apartment so they can hook up with their mistresses. When Lemmon falls for one of MacMurray’s girls, the suicidal Shirley MacLaine, he tries to quit being a loser to bittersweet comical effect. It can’t think of any real flaw the film has, it just doesn’t inspire the passion in me that it seems to in others. I wonder how much its many Best Picture wins had to do with the prior year’s Some Like It Hot. . . .

6. The Bad Sleep Well – Akira Kurosawa loosely adapts Hamlet to a contemporary Japanese business world. After Toshiro Mifune’s father kills himself by jumping out a window in his company’s headquarters, Mifune sets out to expose the corruption and murder at the heart of the corporation. One of Kurosawa’s most slowly paced films, the plot is a convolution of betrayals and villainies, told deliberately in high-contrast black and white. The tremendous cast features Takeshi Shimura, Masayuki Mori, Chishu Ryu, Susumu Fujita, Ko Nishimura, Takeshi Kato and Kamatari Fujiwara.

5. Peeping Tom – Oner of the first great serial killer films, and also a very dark satire on the nature of film directing and viewing. Michael Powell’s late masterpiece stars Carl Boehm as an assistant camera operator who moonlights as an underground pinup photographer who also happens to be a murderer with some serious issues with his father, a psychologist who used his son in his experiments on the nature of fear. The great Moira Shearer (The Red Shoes) plays one of his victims in the best sequence in the film, a photo shoot in the film studio that everyone but the poor girl knows is going to end badly for her. Suspenseful and endlessly useful as fodder for grad student essays.

4. Spartacus – This classic of Hollywood’s obsession with films set in Ancient Rome started as an Anthony Mann film and ended up directed by Stanley Kubrick and feels like a weird combination of those two very different directors and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. This muddles the directorial aspects of the film and allows the truly great thing about it to take over, and that’s the performances, especially by Charles Laughton and Laurence Olivier. Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis (oyster fan) and Jean Simmons also star. Kirk Douglas, as Spartacus, is occasionally very good,, but really I think is the weak link of the entire film. Still, it’s probably the best of this cycle of films.

3. Breathless – Jean-Luc Godard’s first full-length film is a simple story of a wanna-be gangster who steals a car, finds he’s shot a policeman and tries to get an American girl to go on the lam with him. The middle third of the film is a long, poetic, pretentious, confusing series of conversations between the thief (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and the girl (Jean Seberg). The rumor is that Godard asked director Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai, Army Of Shadows) for advice when cutting the film and he told him to cut out the boring parts, the result is the jump-cutting that the film is famous for. I don’t think I believe that. This is Godard being Godard right from the start: taking the whole history of cinema, chewing it up and spitting it back out in a form wholly new and yet totally recognizable. It’s as good a place to start with Godard as any.

2. Shoot The Piano Player – Speaking of the French New Wave, here’s François Trufffaut’s second film, and my favorite of his. It’s a film noir, more or less that doesn’t exactly deconstruct the genre but rather plays with its conventions as a sideline instead of as the main focus of the film (in the manner of Scorsese’s Mean Streets as opposed to the Coens Big Lebowski). Charles Aznavour (the feature artist in Godard’s A Woman Is A Woman) plays a former great pianist slumming in the wake of his wife’s suicide. He’s brother shows up on the run from gangsters and drags him and the waitress who’s sweet on him into a noir adventure filled with shootouts, kidnappings and snow. A beautiful, funny and tragic film, it’s my favorite Truffaut.

1. Psycho – Perhaps the most famous of all Hitchcock films, and one of the 4 or 5 films that alternate as my favorite Hitchcocks. Anthony Perkins is brilliant as the hotelier with mommy issues who interrupts Janet Leigh’s shower. A profoundly weird film, it can be experienced any number of ways: Freudian satire, straight comedy, lurid serial killer pot-boiler, slasher-film archetype. It’s all of those things and more.

It’s often said that the speech at the end of the film, the one where the psychiatrist explains what and why Norman has done is either pointless, really badly acted and/or idiotic, but I don’t know why. I can’t say it’s ever bothered me. Hitchcock explains things, the only time I can think of him leaving the central mystery of the film a mystery is in The Birds. Every other film ends with an explanatory resolution. It works great in The Birds, of course, and maybe it’d work here too. But I’m generally skeptical of films that leave out their resolutions. they tend to do it because they can’t think of an intelligent way to end their film, or to make the film seem more profound than it really is (see Michael Haneke’s Caché or any number of American indie films). Anyway, Psycho’s one of the first great classic films I ever saw, and it’s still one of my favorite, probably in my top 40 or 50 films of all-time.

A lot of Unseen movies this year as I’ve gone ahead and added any films Jonathon Rosenbaum included in his top 1000 that I haven’t seen, which I’ll be doing for the rest of the Movies Of The Year lists.

The Thousand Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse
Purple Noon
The Virgin Spring
Le Testament d’Orphee
The Bellboy
Late Autumn
When A Woman Ascends The Stairs
Les Bonnes Femmes
The Naked Island
Cruel Story Of Youth
The Savage Innocents
Sergeant Rutledge
Bells Are Ringing
The Cloud-Capped Star
Elmer Gantry
Devi
The False Student
Let’s Make Love
Wild River
Zazie Dans Le Metro
The Young One
The Alamo
Le Trou
North To Alaska
Two Women
Butterfield 8
Murder, Inc.
Eyes Without A Face
13 Ghosts

Looking For Alicia Keys


Notes on the new Dylan album:

Modern Times finally arrived in the mail yesterday, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop ever since. On first listen, it’s very mellow sounding, light and even pretty. There appears to be a lot of cynical darkness lurking in the lyrics, however. “Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains” and “This woman so crazy I swear I ain’t gonna touch another one for years” are some fine examples from Rollin’ and Tumblin’.

The album generally has the same loud/soft/loud/soft pattern that Love And Theft followed, though the album as a whole flows very nicely, whether that’s a flaw of Dylan’s producing or, more likely, exactly the effect he was looking for I can’t say.

My favorite song on first listen was Workingman’s Blues #2, a deceptively pretty tune holding such lyrical gems as:

There’s an evenin’ haze settlin’ over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buyin’ power of the proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin’ shallow and weak

My favorite moment on first listen, however, was in the song Nettie Moore, a melancholy balled whose first couple of minutes are punctuated by a slow insistent heartbeat drum. As the chorus begins, however, the music suddenly swells and the drum is taken over by what appears to be an actual string section. It comes as a complete surprise, which, in my foolishness, I didn’t think was possible for Dylan at this point. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think I may have swooned.

The rollicking album opener, Thunder On The Mountain, has some fun lyrics, including this striking passage:

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman’s church, said my religious vows
I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

At this point, I’m thinking the album is akin to John Wesley Harding, in it’s smoothness, apparent simplicity and its relation to the albums that came before it (Love And Theft as Blonde on Blonde, Time Out Of Mind as Highway 61 Revisted).

I got the porkchops, she got the pie.
She ain’t no angel, and neither am I.