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Then, as suddenly as it began it ended. The Star Wars monolith was joined by the Indiana Jones (a Saturday afternoon serial cheapie from the forties with a mega budget) franchise. Prequel and sequel disease became rampant, inferior remakes abounded and technology improved vastly. The great actors of the day (Di Nero, Pacino, Hoffman , Nicholson) became self parodies and the vaunted directors mentioned above were now either playing it safe, couldn't get backing or just ran out of things to say.
Today we have the celebrity-director (Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone etc.) who is more adept at PR than helming a film and actors who are cooler and more vapid than ever.
Will the twenty year drought continue? I believe so. With CGI and what comes after it we will only move further away from the everyday humanity that made cinema so powerful in the first place and closer to the computer game it's turned into.
Film like Opera and Jazz is past its peak, but we still have its history to refer to and take comfort in.
A Very Subjective Overview of Cinema History with My Transient Favorite/Best List
Top 25 English Language Films
(In order as of September 2007)
1. The 3rd Man (49)
2. Chinatown (74)
3. On the Waterfront (54)
4. Lawrence of Arabia (62)
5. Dr. Strangelove (63)
6. Rear Window (54)
7. Tabu (31)
8. Out of the Past (47)
9. Gunga Din (39)
10. My Darling Clementine (47)
11. King Kong (31)
12. Paths of Glory (57)
13. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (71)
14. Ace in the Hole (50)
15. Brief Encounter (45)
16. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (49)
17. The Maltese Falcon (39)
18. Midnight Cowboy (69)
19. Black Narcissus (49)
20. Double Indemnity (46)
21. Viva Zapata (52)
22. The Long Goodbye (73)
23. Shadow of a Doubt (43)
24. Fargo (96)
25. Sunset Boulevard (50)
Top 25 Foreign Language Films
1. The Conformist (70)
2. Rules of the Game (37)
3. The Bicycle Thief (49)
4. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (72)
5. Children of Paradise (45)
6. L'Atalante (31)
7. 8 1/2 (63)
8. Boudu Saved From Drowning (31)
9. M (31)
10. Nazarin (59)
11. Closely Watched Trains (67)
12. Viridiana (61)
13. Divorce Italian Style(61)
14. The Tin Drum (79)
15. Miracle in Milan (50)
16. The Sound of Trumpets (61)
17. La Dolce Vita (60)
18. Wings of Desire (87)
19. Au hasard Balthazar (67)
20. The Battle of Algiers (67)
21. I Am Cuba (64)
22. Stroszek (77)
23. Belle de Jour (67)
24. Umberto D(55)
25. La Chienne (31)
Top 10 Silent
1. City Lights (31)
2. Faust (26)
3. Sunrise (27
4. Broken Blossoms (19)
5. The Navigator (24)
6. The General (27)
7. Modern Times (35)
8. Metropolis (28)
9. The Man with a Movie Camera (29)
10. Nosferatu (22)
Top 25 Directors
1. Jean Renoir
2. Luis Bunuel
3. Federico Fellini
4. FW Murnau
5. David Lean
6. Vittorio DeSica
7. Charlie Chaplin
8. Stanley Kubrick
9. Billy Wilder
10. Werner Herzog
11. Alfred Hitchcock
12. Orson Welles
13. Preston Sturges
14. Marcel Carne
15. Elia Kazan
16. Robert Altman
17. Buster Keaton
18. Francois Truffaut
19. Ken Russell
20. Roman Polanski
21. Woody Allen
22. Martin Scorcese
23. John Ford
24. Fritz Lang
25. Joel Coen
Actors (in order)
1. Marlon Brando
2. James Mason
3. Marcello Mastroianni
4. Ronald Colman
5. James Cagney
6. Michel Simon
7. Peter O'Toole
8. Humprey Bogart
9. Charles Laughton
10. Burt Lancaster
Actresses (in order)*
1. Barbara Stanwyck
2. Maggie Smith
3. Bette Davis
4. Isabel Huppert
5. Glenda Jackson
6. Julie Christie
7. Wendy Hiller
8. Agnes Moorehead
9. Rosalind Russell
10. Ellen Burstyn
* This ain't no beauty contest which explains the abscence of Sophia Loren and Ava Gardner.
Silent Actors (in order)
1. Charlie Chaplin
2. Buster Keaton
3. Lillian Gish
4. Lon Chaney
5. Douglas Fairbanks
Reason for arriving at these five choices.
Garbo and Shearer were as big but ended their careers before WW ll ended. Loy had a long career but not that much above the title. Colbert moved away from film to television and back to the theatre in the early 50s leaving these grande dames as the last one's standing.
Given the power of the studios and the attitude towards women in their times we shall never see the likes of these legendary actresses who had a much harder road to travel but ultimately did it their way.
Ranked in order as voted on by board members.
Rumble Fish (1983)
Rumble Fish's funny smell is laughable.
Nostalgic Rusty James (Matt Dillon) yearns for the good old days of gang fights and ultra violence in a choking Oklahoma town. Things ain't been the same since brother Motor Cycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) blew town for the coast in search of errant mom. But return he does just in time to avenge a cheap shot by a rival on feisty scrapper Rusty. Together with assorted hanger ons including their drunken old man (Dennis Hopper) MB imparts words of wisdom in a whisper to bro as they meander the dingy streets of long shadows and vice.
This was the third of FF Coppola's mediocrities after a spending the 70s making a quartet of classics and while it it does display moments of B&W surrealism and expressionism it drowns itself in pretense and self indulgence even before the arrival of hipster shaman Motorcycle Boy who lays it on thick from a deep state of torpor.
The cast is filled with named talent but all over the top. Dillon is outlandishly loutish, O'Rourke in a lugubrious funk while Hopper continues to trip along in one altered state or another and Nicholas Cage sports a pompadour in hue and height somewhere between Elvis and Andy Kaufman's send up of him.
Steve Burrum's photography offers up some striking graceful exposition in spurts but eventually lays it on too thick while Dean Tavalouris Ash Can School set design attempts to conjure up a Dante like circle of Hell but instead delivers a cloying purgatory out of Playhouse 90.
Coppola's construction is loose ended his dialogue vapid the pace limpid. It is a daring attempt for an old master to be au courant and in tune with the times but Rumble Fish instead of being Jim Jarmusch comes across more like Mickey One on sedatives. It is an unintentional stoic self parody that even Francis forgets to let himself in on.
Across to Singapore (1928)
Save yourself the trip.
Youngest of a seafaring family Joel Shore (Ramon Novarro) pines to travel the seven seas with his brothers. He is also falling for childhood friend Priscilla (Joan Crawford) that oldest brother Mark (Ernest Torrence), captain of his own ship, has designs on with her father's blessing. Priscilla prefers Joel.
Considered too young to ship out he convinces Mark he's got the right stuff after a bar room brawl. They ship out for Singapore where Mark in true sailor fashion finds his girl (Anna Mae Wong) for this particular port. Joel objects, Mark finds out about Priscilla's feelings and the brothers have a falling out with Mark staying behind in Singapore where he begins to dissipate. Joel along with Priscilla decide to go rescue Mark but with a double dealing crew to contend with soon find themselves in dark waters.
From the somewhat savaged print that I watched Singapore is choppy in spots with its plentiful action scenes which are raggedly put together to begin with. There is plenty of graphic bloodletting and Joanie wielding a pair of flintlocks gets to dispatch a scurvy dog from the mainsail but the film mostly plods between the well matched pairing of Novarro and Crawford in scenes together and Ernst Torrence's outbursts which offer up the film's best moments. Across to Singapore is not worth leaving the dock for.
Lady in the Lake (1947)
Novel noir allows you to watch the detective from another angle.
Employing a subjective camera angle from beginning to end Lady in the Lake not only allows you to observe but be Philip Marlowe as you look over his shoulder sizing up femme fatales and shady characters.
Marlowe (Robert Montgomery)sells a story to a magazine publisher and in the process is hired to find the publisher's errant wife who may have run off to Mexico. He abhors deception and when he detects it responds in a highly sarcastic tone that sometimes results in getting slugged by a dirty cop or smarmy gigolo. His deductive powers however are having a hard time trying to figure what eye candy Adrian Fromsette's (Audrey Totter)angle is.
Jarring at first Lady in the Lake's novel approach is effectively buoyed by Montgomery's Marlowe wisecracking style and sardonic approach to the case. Being the recipient of facial and verbal responses puts the audience in the room with the suspects who all look like they have something to hide. Totter's raised eyebrows and exception to Marlowe's insults are comic but within the spirit of the film's pulp nature. Jayne Meadow's woman in black with a gun gives the film an added shot of adrenalin along the way while Leon Ames, Lloyd Nolan and Dick Simmons lie to our faces with hints of anxiety on theirs.
Lady in the Lake may not be classic noir but its unique take from a different angle along with Montgomery's impressive Marlowe allows it to rise above its "gimmick".
Love, Marilyn (2012)
MM doc drones on like memorial service.
In the latest exhumation of tragic movie icon Marylyn Monroe we are given a sober rehashing of the erratic star's career with a cast of ever so sober and somber A listers quoting from her diary and playing the past. Long on pretense with nothing new to reveal it is strictly for Monroe fans who can do without the organ music.
Dead half a century Monroe was basically a one note actress with an incredible charisma whose sex appeal packed them in the theatres. It had more to do with her curves than thespian turns however. In Love, Marylyn Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Lindsay Lohan et all speak in hush, reverential, almost pained tone while doc director Liz Garbus serves up speculation with today's perspective resulting in the same metaphorical soup out of her and her career that the print and celluloid media have been serving up since her death fifty years back. Same questions same answers.
Between the testimonials and the crying out there are some rare archival moments that capture her remarkable appeal towards the end of her career driving George Cukor crazy as she deconstruct's on the set of her last film Something's Gotta Give. A stunning façade of bright eyed beauty and optimism imploding before your eyes, it says more in these brief moments than the entire doc and its heavy handed director posing and framing the patronizing prattle of it's actors delivered with spot on wake like melancholy inflection.
Paid's payoff a few bucks short.
As MGMs Depression era every-woman Joan Crawford plays another hard luck story against an unsympathetic system but in this one she is out for revenge.
Mary Turner is sent up the river for three years for a crime she did not commit. Her boss, Mr. Gilder has it within his power to reduce sentence but he smugly declines. In the big house Mary hardens and makes connections. She hooks up with former inmate Agnes Lynch ( scene stealer Marie Prevost) and a small time crook Joe Garson (Robert Armstrong) and together they begin to make a lucrative business out of bilking wealthy old fools. Mary snags a young one though; the son of Mr. Gilder, making her revenge complete. When Joe gets duped into an art heist the cushy racket begins to come unglued.
Paid opens fast with Mary at her sentencing followed by a montage of degrading prison life. A broken woman she seeks out Agnes (already working a scam)and rises like a Phoenix with a hard as nails attitude and her self taught education in prison. In addition to the vivid prison scenes there are also some strong moments between Crawford and Armstrong as he feels her out. Once in the groove though Mary clearly takes charge especially the moment she announces to Gilder the elder she's hitched to her son.
When Mary goes soft so does the picture unfortunately and scenes go limp when the tough talk gets mawkish. There is a well edited and suspenseful heist scene and a superb in your face death scene where a mug takes his omerta oath to the grave as well as some lines of raw bias that contribute to the film's pre-code hard edge but when Crawford abandons her cynical self assured side and returns to the tremulous voice of the first reel Paid ends up shortchanging you.
The Hucksters (1947)
The ugly side of beauty soap.
Madison Avenue gets a dusting up by Hollywood in this mainstream star driven vehicle featuring Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr. Usually the topic of provocateurs and malcontents outside the big tent The Hucksters does not shy away from the surly, high pressure of selling beauty soap or any other product for that matter to the masses by incessant drilling, usually by way of a jingle, to the public.
Victor Norman has just been discharged after the war. He seeks a high paying job working for soap titan Evan Evans and quickly impresses him by signing war widow Kay Dorrance (Kerr) to endorse his product. Victor falls for Kay in the process but she is hesitant in committing leaving the door wide open for torch singer Jane Oglivie (Ava Gardner) to walk through. Meanwhile the job is peeling away Norman's self respect working for the humiliating Evans and playing some ugly hardball with former friends and associates. Dangling a huge salary before him Norman is faced with the decision to sell out or walk out.
Any intention by The Hucksters to soft soap the advertising business is immediately extinguished by the ogre like appearance of Greenstreet's Evan's who enters the boardroom and spits on his polished table while lackeys quake about him. Gable may have been able to handle the China sea and darkest Africa but Greenstreet in the boardroom poses a different threat to his dignity and self worth.
Gable brings a war weary look and background to Norman that allows his incredulity to resonate in a business that calls for him to create fantasies for day dreaming housewives. At the same time he is seeking normalcy and knows if you are going to get along you have to go along.
As love interests Kerr as the tentative, responsible, vulnerable widow and Gardner as the vivacious good time girl are much better fits than Garson in Gable's first picture after the war Adventure. In spite of their disparate character personalities Gable shares a convincing chemistry with each causing me to wonder if Ms. Kerr might have been a better fit in Mogambo. In addition to the ladies fine performances veterans Adolph Menjou and Edward Arnold convey the pressures of the work while Keenan Wynn as a corny comic steals his scenes from everybody in the room.
While it may be a little dated and not be a full frontal assault or satire on the advertising business in total The Hucksters for its day lands more than a few subversive punches to get its point across. Not exactly Putney Swope but in its own tempered way still gets its digs in.
Wild Bunch light.
Released on the hooves of Sam Peckinpah's blood drenched last gasper The Wild Bunch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a kinder gentler more sanitized for public consumption look at outlaws on the run with the Twentieth Century gaining on them fast. It even has a pop tune video and a jolly Burt Bacharach score to keep things light and mawkish which might spell disaster for a wild west shoot'em up were it not for the legendary first and best pairing of Newman and Redford as Butch and Sundance.
The Hole in the Wall Gang has been making a living robbing trains for awhile when the Pinkerton's begin to intensify their pursuit. With their membership decimated Butch, Sundance and his girlfriend light out east to NY and eventually on to Bolivia in hopes of beginning anew.
The naturalness between the laid back Butch and the wound tight Sundance has the perfect cadence of a friendship partnership developed over time as they play off of each other with the comfortable familiarity of a Tracy Hepburn duo.
For a film featuring protagonists with a bounty on their head Cassidy has an upbeat mood most of the way as director Arthur Hiller keeps things light and polished but nearly sacrifices the picture in favor of entertainment with the intrusive BJ Thomas ditty video and an overlong montage of tintype imagery from Coney Island. It is left up to Conrad Hall's cinematography, especially in low light situations, to supply the film's power and suspense with one outstanding composition after another. With Hall's strong look informing the picture and Newman/Redford clicking like Rogers and Astaire Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is well worth a watch in spite of it's heavy saccharine aftertaste.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis is half empty.
For every Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel in the early 60s you probably had a thousand Llewyn Davis's; semi talented folkies who kept the dream alive by starving and crashing at other peoples pads, straining for that break, the brass ring remaining elusive. Inside Llewyn Davis is a week in the life of one aspirant whose dream is mostly a nightmare.
Davis (Oscar Issac) opens with our protagonist warbling a melancholy tune at a Greenwich Village coffee house where neophytes try their luck. After his set he gets punched out by a mysterious stranger in the alley, finds out he has a fellow folkie pregnant, is being grossly under represented by his agent and has it revealed to him that he is a dad with a two year old in Akron. He is also sidled with a friends cat that he eventually abandons. He decides to try his luck in Chicago when he has opportunity to hitch a ride with a jazz artist and poet. Chicago it turns out is as welcoming as NYC and he is soon headed back after an audition that offers some daylight which he rejects outright.
The Brothers Coen once again deliver a unique and original character in the self absorbed, irresponsible Davis. A moody ungrateful sponger you still find yourself rooting for him as he chases the elusive dream of making it big while refusing to confront reality. The overall narrative itself however is loose and raggedy with a patchwork quilt of stilted scenes and our hero literally going in circles with the contrived road trip, though John Goodman as the zonked out jazz cat does have a moment dissembling folk with his jazz comparison.
The Coens do an excellent job of utilizing the cold harsh winter to emphasize Davis's wearying struggle as well as portray the times by lining the sidewalks and some expansive shots with massive eight cylinder behemoths covered in winter grime. There is also a wonderfully energized scene where Davis and the boys do a studio take of a Ray Stevens ( Please Mr. Custer, Alley Oop) type comedy tune popular back then that lifts Inside from its morose gloom momentarily before Llewlyn once again self implodes by signing away the royalties for cash upfront.
The Coens are once again to be commended for continually going against the grain of formulaic main stream film in both character and scenario but with Davis little of the supporting cast is fleshed out and the ancillary characters that inform their past works with telling incidentals fail to register amid the glum theme here and the film like one of the Oldsmobile 88s mired in a snow bank spins its wheels much of the time.
They Won't Forget (1937)
North and South at it again in the Twentieth Century.
They Won't Forget may not be the first Hollywood movie to stereotype Southern justice as knee jerk reactionary ( I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang) in the sound era but one can see the pattern evolving to this day where the South and the Left Coast still find themselves at odds over interpretation. Strident but sober Forget is one cynical walk down the road of ambition.
On Confederate Decoration Day student Mary Clay (Lana Turner in her memorable debut to movie audiences) is murdered at empty due to the holiday school. Suspects abound but higher office craving DA Andy Griffin (Claude Rains)and sleazy reporter (Allyn Joslin) Bill Brock form a corrupt bargain to sell papers and get votes by railroading a northern teacher and ignoring other plausible suspects. The defense strikes back by bringing a hot shot lawyer (Hardy Kruger) from up north to defend the teacher and he soon begins to poke holes in the prosecutions case but it fails to defuse the towns white hot anger.
With the Leo Frank case as background and then communist writer Robert Rossen about to embark on a career exposing the corrupt underbelly of American society ( All the King's Men, The Hustler) They Won't Forget pulls no punches in its portrayal of southern yokels doing what they do best in Hollywood films, act irrationally with a strong sense of bias. A black janitor is naturally implicated and brow beat to casting suspicion on a bigger fish, a white liberal northerner. Lynching a black would be commonplace but convicting a Yankee of murder might make a man governor and that is just what Griffin has in mind as he enlists the press to help convict.
As the power hungry DA Claude Rains goes over the top more than once in a bravura performance that calls for it even if he does at moments find his highly refined British accent wrestling with his southern twang. Edward Norris, Otto Kruger and Joslin's the conniving reporter effectively convey their viewpoints while director Mervyn Leroy delivers one powerful scene after another depicting the helpless plight of a suspect with the deck stacked against him. It is a watch that is both unfair and frustrating with an outcome that will leave you drained in which the truly guilty are the victors.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Face paced comedy satire screwball at its best.
Ben Hecht and Charles Mc Arthur's "tribute' to newspaper reporters working the police blotter was already a successful stage play and a sound film when director Howard Hawks decided to tinker with the story's basic recipe and substitute a female (Rosalind Russell) in the role of Hildy Johnson an ace reporter that plans to leave the game in order to get married much to the objection of editor and in another twist former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hawks gamble pays off in spades with as fine of an example of screwball comedy in film history to be found this side of Preston Sturgis.
Cop killer Earl Williams is about to be executed but the governor is having second thoughts. Both the mayor and sheriff want him executed to improve their re-election bids. Hildy drops by the press room at the jail to bid fond farewell but Walter wants to keep her on the job as well as have second thoughts about leaving her so he concocts a plan to get her fiancé arrested repeatedly while he keeps Hildy on the job.
In one of the truly great pairings in comedy film history Russell and Grant are sharp as tacks spitting benign venom at each other as Walter connives and pushes buttons to drive Hildy on to do her job and away from the arms of the haplessly perfect and put upon Ralph Bellamy as the fiancé.
As a cynical Greek chorus (Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey among others) the newsroom boys chip in another fine performance en masse as they wax acerbic Hecht and Mc Arthur's biting dialogue. Clarence Kolb as the mayor attempting to stay on point bribing an official with double talk is another highlight as well in a film that never stops to catch its breath as Hawks masterfully keeps the energy level high from start to finish smoothly intermingling both of Burns ulterior motives to make Hildy stay put while making wry commentary about political corruption and the death penalty. Few in film have re-tooled a proved winner and come up with a better version. Going from Front Page to Friday merely turned it into a film classic.