The pace has slowed significantly, but this is the 59th Movies Of The Year list I’ve done here, more than two-thirds of the way to completion. I find I’ve been a lot less motivated to write them since I figured out and posted all the lists in one spot (well, three spots) as The Big List. A large part of my motivation before was finding out what films would have to be ranked against each other with each new year. On the other hand, I really like having them all there for my own reference, if nothing else. Plus, I’ve already written about a lot of these older films in the roundups, which makes it more difficult as I’d try to not repeat myself. So I’m going to try quoting myself more and see if that speeds things up.
1950’s not a bad year, but it’s still only the 8th best of the decade.
15. Cinderella – Generic Disney movie, annoying comic relief animals, lame songs, though the animation manages to be nicely abstract at times.
14. Where Danger Lives – I wrote about this a little over a year ago:
Decent enough John Farrow noir starring Robert Mitchum as a doctor who gets suckered by a crazy woman. Her husband ends up dead and the two of them try to flee to Mexico, while Mitchum’s got a concussion and the girl gets crazier and crazier. Great supporting actors are largely wasted in much too small roles, namely Claude Rains and Farrow’s wife, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Honestly, I don’t really remember much more than a wild car chase that was filmed such that the car actually looks like it’s driving really fast.
13. The Baron Of Arizona – Transitional Sam Fuller film with a restrained performance from Vincent Price. The story is crazy enough to be true and the lynch mob scene at the end is funny, chaotic and exciting, like the best of Fuller.
12. DOA – Killer premise for a noir (guy gets poisoned and has a limited amount of time to find out who did it and why), but I didn’t like Edmond O’Brien as the hero and the whole thing felt overlong despite being less than 90 minutes. Some great set pieces and the film is often visually stunning, director Rudolph Maté had been a great cinematographer (he shot Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc).
11. Born Yesterday – I wrote this, which pretty well sums it up, I think:
Corrupt capitalist hires four-eyed journalist to tutor his ditzy blonde girlfriend so she’ll be less embarrassing in high society. Blonde learns a thing or two and realizes her tycoon is a crook and outs him, while running off with the geeky writer, who turns out to be William Holden. An iconic performance from Judy Holliday is the highlight, and director George Cukor never quite allows the film to descend into the filmed-theatre genre it so desperately wants to join.
10. The Father Of The Bride – Very pleasant light comedy from Vincente Minnelli and starring the always great Spencer Tracy and the very cute Elizabeth Taylor. Much better than the remake, of course. I want Tracy to make me a martini.
9. Rio Grande – The third part of John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (it’s not really a trilogy, just three films about the cavalry, but whatever) is the least of the three. Not as deep as Fort Apache, nor as entertaining and pretty as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Still, it’s Ford and it stars John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, who are always great together. Wayne’s training new recruits, one of whom turns out to be his son. Complications ensue when mom shows up to take him home. And there’s a war on.
8. Sunset Blvd. – Billy Wilder’s very noir Hollywood satire has the classic performance from Gloria Swanson as the washed-up loony silent film star, and a clever opening with narration by the dead guy in the pool and great supporting work from directors Erich von Stroheim and Cecil B. DeMille and even a cameo for Buster Keaton. The problem is, as it often is, William Holden. I really don’t like him, and the movie falls apart whenever Swanson’s not there chewing things up.
7. The Asphalt Jungle – John Huston heist film that manages to be both overrated and underrated at the same time. Overrated because it’s considered one of the best noirs ever by a lot of people who haven’t seen a lot of noir. The characters are cardboard, hackneyed and cheesy (think Sterling Hayden and his horses), the direction textbook noir with little style and the plot silly. Underrated because while all those things are true, it’s nonetheless very entertaining: the actors are terrific and Marilyn Monroe is at her most adorable in her small role.
6. In A Lonely Place – Nicholas Ray’s film is the second show business noir on the list (I don’t think you can make a case for there being three, but you’re welcome to try). Humphrey Bogart plays a screenwriter with writer’s block and an anger management problem who becomes the lead suspect in a murder case. Gloria Grahame plays the hot neighbor he becomes involved with, but it all ends, inevitably, in tragedy. One of Bogart’s greatest performances, the anger and the drinking feel very real. This is a movie I’ve seen, I believe, three times, but I still don’t fell I have a firm grasp on how great it really is. James Harvey writes about it at length in his great book Movie Love In The 50s. You should read it.
5. Stromboli – First saw this almost two years ago, it was my first Roberto Rossellini film and this is what I wrote:
stars Ingrid Bergman as a WW2 refugee who marries a young Italian man to escape the refugee camp. The young man takes her to his home island of Stromboli, a conservative little village dominated by an active volcano. The volcano metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but neither is Bergman’s performance as she becomes increasingly hysterical in her struggle against the provincialism of small-town life. But somehow, teetering on the edge of camp, it manages to be sincere and moving.
Since then, I haven’t been able to get the film’s eerie final sequence out of my mind: Bergman staggering hysterically across the smoking volcano, as apocalyptic an image as anything in film.
4. Winchester ’73 – Most schematic of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Stewart has the titular gun stolen from him, and has to track down the guy who took it along the way wandering through every Western plot point you can think of. As definitive a Western as Stagecoach, and as perfectly constructed. Even if Mann doesn’t fill his film with the quite flair for iconic imagery that Ford does, he ain’t bad.
3. Harvey – For those who wonder how I could contemplate placing these two entertaining, yet slight, James Stewart movies over the previous two auteur classics, I have this to say: In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. My love for this film may be wholly irrational, but I love it nonetheless.
2. All About Eve – Very difficult choice for the top spot this year, with two films that are not only among my all-time favorites, but also films that mark definitive stages in my cinephile life. Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film about Broadway and all its insecurities and manipulations is perfect: with an interesting structure, a brilliant script and a graceful visual style. Bette Davis’s iconic leading role is justly famous, but Anne Baxter’s Eve is just as good and George Sanders gives the most George Sandersy performance of his life. That the two other male actors are merely decent and not good as the leads (or Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter or Marilyn Monroe at her second most adorable either) is about the worst I can say about it. I remember very clearly being blown away by this film when I first saw it my freshman year in college, when every new movie was a revelation and I never knew old films could be so smart, so funny, so twisted and so . . . well, perfect.
1. Rashomon – This film, on the other hand, is not without its flaws. The hyperbolic acting (from Toshiro Mifune and Michiko Kyo particularly) can be off-putting, the Bolero-esque score is at best functional (it makes Donald Richie cringe at Kurosawa’s generic taste in classical music, but my taste is just as bad, so it doesn’t really bug me), and the addition of the coda (changing the original story) makes the film more uplifting and humanist and/or sentimental and cheesy, depending on how cynical you are. But I love it despite all these faults. I prefer the loud and crazy Mifune to the more normal, restrained Mifune, though all Mifunes are always awesome. Michiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori aren’t as good as they would later be in their Mizoguchi films, but they don’t bother me either. Takeshi Shimura is is usual brilliant self rounding out one of the greatest collections of actors ever in a single film. The puzzle of the film, about the nature of truth and whether or not everybody lies, to themselves and to others, is endlessly fascinating, and I’m simply not depressed enough to hate the ending. But the reason I owe Rashomon the top spot on this list is because it is the film that opened up foreign films for me. I’d seen The Seventh Seal before, and while I really liked it, it didn’t make me rush out and watch a bunch of non-English language films. Rashomon did. I watched it one afternoon and immediately after drove to the store and rented an armful of Kurosawa and spent the next several weeks doing nothing but watching his films, along with Fellini and Bergman and Truffaut and Eiesenstein and Renoir and before long, I wasn’t in college anymore. But I was much better off.
Some great Unseen Movies again this year. I sort of watched Wagon Master, but I need to see it again before I can properly rank it. Orphée I own but haven’t watched. I don’t know why I don’t have The Flowers Of St. Francis yet. It’s been near the top of my netflix queue for a couple of years now and there are reportedly great DVDs of it from both Criterion and Masters Of Cinema.
Stars In My Crown
Night And The City
No Way Out
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Les enfants terribles
The Flowers Of St. Francis
The Sound Of Fury
Panic In The Streets
The Flame And The Arrow
Annie Get Your Gun