Top Ten Movies: 2010


To steal an opening line from one of Roger Ebert’s reviews about a favorite filmmaker of his, “Sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu.” The same could be said of Abbas Kiarostami. Others like the Italian Neo-Realists had already played with documentary-like narrative but what Kiarostami perfected was new and refreshing. Why not imbue that much more of the real world into the story? In fact, immerse it so much so that there’s no mark point as to where verisimilitude ends and actual reality begins. Movies like Close-up and especially the Koker trilogy are prime examples in this mental exercise of establishing a new interpretation of the real world through several layers of its manipulation, fore-fronting the Iranian film wave that took high strides by the 1990’s. If it all might sound a bit too labored, it isn’t, really. There’s too much humanity in Kiarostami’s characters for any reduction into a sort of film essay genre. Take Certified Copy as an example, a sort of Brechtian Before Trilogy singularity. How far is Kiarostami playing the audience in its portrayal of the relationship between its two leads? They continuously argue about artwork copies in comparison to their original sources, never reaching a conclusion about whether forgery is valid in its own artistry. Once watched, the obvious extension made here is to the protagonist’s own veiled past. Are they two people that actually met for the first time or are they a married couple of fifteen years? Either way, they’re playing roles that the audience can’t separate truth from, for like Kiarostami’s other movies, it’s not easy to distinguish the real from the not. It’s quite astounding to be able to make a film that could express just about every complex trait of its filmmaker all in one narrative. It’s even more astounding to do that with characters like Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell, because no matter how clever the exercise is, you remember their banter and adoration for one another so much more. So who cares if the whole thing feels indecipherable, real or staged or both, if there’s love for it anyway. And so at number one it goes.

1. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Mysteries of Lisbon (Rául Ruiz)
3. Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
4. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski) and Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
7. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
8. The Social Network (David Fincher)
9. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasenthakul)
10. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)

Mysteries of Lisbon is one of two Rául Ruiz movies I’ve watched and should be more than enough proof to anyone of his directorial legacy as one of Chile’s best… even though this one’s a Portuguese film. Then there’s Patrico Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, another Chilean master with a heartrending – and I mean that with every sense of the word – documentary that parallels astronomy with Chile’s own tragic past during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Really, there’s something in the way the astronomers look up towards the stars that gets to you when compared to the relatives of fallen victims whose missing remnants they’re still looking for down in the buried and barren desert landscape. Carlos has the exceptionally well-executed OPEC terroist attack sequence and Poetry has Yoon Jeong-hee with a role almost too complex for anything American, perhaps with the exception of Michelle Williams in Meek’s Cutoff.

The Ghost Writer is my favorite thriller of the year despite some interesting work up against it like Chloe or All Good Things, and Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl is the funniest, although Four Lions comes pretty darn close. The Social Network needs no added commentary and Uncle Boonmee I remember in scenes more than as a whole. I could have also placed Vincere or Sweetgrass at number ten, two overlooked treasures lost in time, but I can’t deny my fandom for the pulpiness of 13 Assassins. I’m just happy to see Takashi Miike up there because a great movie it is.

And yes, I am aware I missed some pretty good stuff like The Kids Are All RightWinter’s BoneAnimal Kingdom, and especially Another Year.  But what I don’t miss is Inception and Black Swan. Just watch The Red Shoes instead.

Next Time: 1923. If Buster Keaton could talk I bet you he’d have a Southern drawl.


Top Ten Movies: 2017

Phantom Thread

If you’ve ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, there’s a looming question that begins to dominate your every thought while the movie progresses: Why the hell doesn’t she just leave? Why does demure Joan Fontaine allow herself to endure her husband’s ambiguous temperament and, even more reasonably questioned, why does she put up with that damn maid’s psychotic obsession to humiliate her? Paul Thomas Anderson runs with this premise and sets it ablaze in Phantom Thread. His film begins like his protagonist, staid and orderly. Begins. So the joke’s on anyone expecting a BBC masterpiece classic. Vicky Krieps plays the Joan Fontaine to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Olivier-like enigma, attempting to decipher her own place inside of his world. When she can’t, conventionality curtails and that’s when things go off the rails in a refreshingly unsettling manner. It’s as if her character must break the mold of classic storytelling to achieve her own personal goal, for like the film strip melting away in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, character motivation breaks the fourth wall. And so a countryside stroll sharply detouring off course and heading straight for us shocks more than any foreign film I’ve watched this year, granting Phantom Thread high enough kudos in my book to position it at number one.

1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. The Son of Joseph (Eugéne Green)
3. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
4. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen)
5. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
6. The Orinthologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) and Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
8. God’s Own Country (Frances Lee)
9. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
10. Happy End (Michael Haneke) and Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont)

The main perk of working at a movie theater is the ability to watch a glutinous amount of films without, say, mortgaging your house – although there is a movie pass to ease this sorta thing now, I hear. But yeah, this list reflects a wonderful opportunity to catch just about everything possible. The Son of Joseph is small-scaled and imperfect, a topical French trope – see also Happy End and Slack Bay – that works gangbusters. Then there’s The Lost City of Z, which since I’ve already made a habit of comparing new titles to older films (my life, basically), is a lot like The Bridge on the River Kwai in its ability to exceed genre and tap into novel-like depth. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is honorable mention territory in other people’s lists that cuts deeper for me for no other reason than its energy and fun. And Nocturama is quite remarkable at being so damn original in its news-topic premise that American films would have patted down for Oscar attention.

I’ve mentioned Happy End and Slack Bay, two eccentric pictures that look homespun compared to The Orinthologist. But since Apichatpong Weerasethakul took the year off, it was João Pedro Rodrigues who pointed his camera towards the jungle. The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Graduation are wickedly funny and incisive, respectively, and God’s Own Country is a movie that is probably better known in the U.K. but got kinda shafted in the States over Call Me By Your Name. Seriously though, give the former a chance if you can. Josh O’Connor gets my ballot for best male performance in the awards show playing in my head.

And where are all those runner-ups, you say? Well, here. Those that could have made the list include Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, Andrey Zvyaginstev’s (don’t even ask me how to pronounce it) Loveless, and Robin Campillo’s Beats Per Minute – BPM. Oh! And the first two-thirds of Escapes! It’s like watching Kenneth Anger film grammar with a gnarly segment on Teri Garr and another one on Flipper, amongst many.

Then there’s stuff like Ladybird, After the Storm, Get Out, Faces Places, Lady Macbeth, The Death of Louis the XIV, and Free Fire – which I just realized as I’m typing I liked more than Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri if we’re going that direction.

Things that I missed include Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, and Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone (did this even play in L.A.?), so I’ll be making the rounds for those in 2018. And speaking of 2018, here’s to hoping everyone has a great next year!

Top Ten Movies: 1966

Blow Up 2

Ah, such were the days when college freshman ransacked art house theaters, lurking in cramped little rooms full of budding green-horned intellectuals searching for discussion springboards in critical studies courses. And what a time! Up on screen they encountered pinnacles of sorts, movies tearing apart at the screen in radicalizations. It’s not an exaggeration then to read down at this list and note that any of these titles on any other given year could have easily ranked at the very top. But alas, the days of Persona and Au Hasard Balthazar are misty-eyed over. Not that there aren’t bona fide masterpieces – whatever that means – today. It’s just not the same scene, man. Far too many wonderful outlets prohibit a singular, dogmatic mentality to rule supreme. No Godardian deity to enshrine en masse or Sarris/Kael arena to pit oneself against as fervent cineastes nervously flip through the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma in defense of Louise Brooks and Allan Dwan. Hell, I wasn’t even born yet and I miss it. But we do still have the movies. And at the top are two of the best damn pieces of celluloid we’ll always have around. Masculin-Féminin captures said youth thriving in said habitat, all raised fingers in opinions, chugging down coffee, and chain smoking-cigarettes en route to bed for both sex, and, most importantly, more bon mots. The movie’s ethnographic (yeah), iconoclastic, and fun. Perhaps Godard’s most disarming, not that it isn’t dark (just picture a Disney star today casually discussing abortion). But then there’s Blowup, which takes it one step ahead by stripping away post-adolescent energy and leaving the remains, nihilism, knowing damn well that that’s where the generation was headed to anyway. Pretty hard to top that, don’t you think? And so at number one Antonioni stands in a hellishly impressive year.

1. Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni)
2. Masculin Féminin (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
4. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)
5. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)
6. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles)
7. Seconds (John Frankenheimer) and The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
8. The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (Pietro Germi)
9. Cul-de-sac (Roman Polanski)
10. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini) and Nayak (Satyajit Ray)

A sucker for buxom 60’s blonde expatriates dabbling in glitz town, – and who isn’t!? – The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians was a wonderful discovery for me in the Virna Lisi cannon, and, quite possibly, the very best of the commedia all’italiana genre. It speeds way through three story lines on crack, with each premise topping the one that preceded it until it reaches a mother of a politically incorrect conclusion. Seconds is the All That Heaven Allows with Rock Hudson playing the Jane Wyman role, while Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another shares an eerily similar premise to the Frankenheimer drama, which nevertheless is executed just as, get this, surgically. Cul-de-sac has always given me the impression of being Polanski in “pure” form and The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is remarkable in its nonchalant take on a period piece. Seriously, it’s so relaxed that it feels like you’re watching a cinéma vérité reel that just so happened to be filmed in the 17th century.

Those that missed the top include The Battle of Algiers, which on many days is better than most of the stuff I’ve got up here. Seriously, I’m beginning to regret its omission. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, whose reputation I’ll let speak for itself. And Black Girl, Ousmane Sembéne’s claim to international recognition and an incisively frigid piece that’s less than an hour long. Oh! And Monte Hellman’s The Shooting for several reasons, one being Jack Nicholson’s Byronic-like wardrobe and Will Hutchins, ah Will Hutchins. But the list keeps rolling off. There’s John Ford’s oddity Seven Women, somber and strange, really strange. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an actor’s workshop dandy. Closely Watched Trains and Daisies, Czechoslovakia’s outlets. Wings, Larisa Shepitko’s outstanding debut. Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, a stamp of the time, along with Modesty Blaise, Alfie, and Georgy Girl. Roger Corman’s surprisingly perceptive The Wild Angels. Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers. Alfred Hitchcock creating a tense scene on how hard it is to truly murder someone in Torn Curtain. And Seijun Suzuki with two wild tales of – surprise, surprise – youth in Fighting Elegy, and, my personal favorite of his, Tokyo Drifter. Lastly, I’d like to make a comment about Robert Downey Sr.’s Chafed Elbows. The comment being that if you like midnight movies here’s one hell of a way to sleaze still-photo storytelling. I wonder what Ken Burns would do with that.

I’ll be on hiatus for a couple of months but will return with 2010. In the meantime, enjoy some Chantal Goya and the wonderful Yé-Yé music I so passionately adore.

Top Ten Movies: 1944


A cigarette lighter extending from an unknown hand off-screen. A phone call with nothing but the sound of your own breath. And of course, the concrete clicks of heels walking in a shroud of something more than night. Before 1944, crime movies were Tommy guns and James Cagney. “Listen, see?” and devoted molls. The cops were righteous and sides were chalk-line clear. But the war did a little something. It muddled morality. After 1944, the good guys were bad and the bad guys were good, the women were seductive, corruptive, and the streets lingered in dread. There were desperate stoops above every gutter. Temperate con artists playing life like a rigged chess game. There were beggars pinching chump change ’til their fingers bled, crooked women straightening their seams, and American royalty throwing money like peanuts at a circus, demanding a show. Yes, 1944 cut the ribbon, shot the gun, waved the flag, whatever you’d like to call it. And the race was on. It could have gone to The Woman in the Window, honed. It could have gone to Murder, My Sweet, derisive. Hell, it almost went to Double Indemnity, iconic. But Laura has a little more: Clifton Webb, venom so deadly it cleans. That and a David Raksin score so specific to the film and yet so ambiguous overall, that it creates an anthem for a genre as elusive as smoke wafting in the air. “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.” And so at number one it’ll always be remembered.

1. Laura (Otto Preminger)
2. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)
3. Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minelli)
4. Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges)
5. Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk)
6. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Sergei Eisenstein)
7. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges)
8. A Canterbury Tale (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) and This Happy Breed (David Lean)
9. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks)
10. The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang)

A twofer by Mr. Sturges and his ideal blend of humor and Americana, with jolted performances by Eddie Bracken in both that were like a shot of heroin to a country lethargic by war. Then there’s Meet Me in St. Louis and Judy Garland, who does a lot of work to make up for a couple of kids that have me missing W.C. Fields terribly. But man, is she a movie star or what!? And Howard Hawks strew along a couple of his friends and told them to act, plucking Lauren Bacall amongst the crowd and saying “Hey, wait a minute. This one’s got something!”

Overseas, things were beyond rough. Obviously. And yet. And yet! Great movies were made. Powell and Pressburger had the oddity A Canterbury Tale, a very sincere and inspired booster for a nation not only fighting at its present but for its past. David Lean’s classical take on tradition and family in This Happy Breed is an exceptional case of that too. And the Soviet Union did that, boost national morale… well, sort of. Ivan the Terrible, Part I is patriotic without being so. It isn’t gentle and nostalgic but rides its chants of victory with lightning, overwrought even. It’s also one hell of a work of art, the way people are framed and shots are cut. But this is Eisenstein we’re talking about, so you know the drill.

Those that just missed the top ten include quite possibly the first deliberate camp movie – you know, like, on purpose – with Maria Montez (“Geev me the Cobra jewl”) in Robert Siodmak’s classic Cobra Woman. Which, since we’re on the topic, is one of four movies Siodmak directed that year! All wielded by a visionary with a firm hand and all wonderful: Phantom Lady, Christmas Holiday, The Suspect. Ella Raines is undoubtedly actress of the year (see also Hail the Conquering Hero above). Then there’s Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, magnificent in letting Shakespeare breathe and allowing Sir Laurence to don one of my favorite haircuts in movie history *ahem* Javier Bardem *ahem*. The Woman Who Dared, a quietly valiant effort by France’s underrated Jean Grémillon, is about French pride at a time it desperately needed it. Then there’s also Rita Hayworth glitzing in brilliant technicolor for Cover Girl and William Castle debuting with a Lewton-esque gem, When Strangers Marry. I can keep going with another Fritz Lang project, Ministry of Fear, the rich ghost story The Uninvited, Canada Lee stealing the whole movie from Tallulah Bankhead in Hitchock’s Lifeboat, De Sica handling kid actors in The Children Are Watching Us, MGM warming up for The Best Years of Our Lives with Since You Went Away, and Bing Crosby introducing Swinging on a Star in the Oscar darling, Going My Way. But I’ll stop here, I guess.

Next month: 1966. There might not even be an American film in the bunch.

Top Ten Movies: 1981

Cutter's Way

Not a memorable year for moviemaking. Other than Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 seems forgotten, tucked away in a decade that would help reinstate the overblown studio mechanism of the blockbuster as grand ruler supreme at the box office, a variation of the epic from twenty years before and one that would stay with us ’til this very day. Which is all the more reason for me to champion my number one pick. Cutter’s Way has got mythology in the making. Quietly released under the title Cutter and Bone – a more appropriate and superior choice – it was pulled, renamed, re-released, hailed by whatever group of small critics that actually got a chance to watch the damn thing, and vanished, awaiting some sort of “discovery” ever since. Well, it hasn’t gotten there yet, but I myself am living proof of word of mouth. Like the lingering echoes of the death nail that was Heaven’s Gate, Cutter’s Way is all the more devastating because it refuses to be forgotten, paralleling the near discarded mystery that gnaws away at the edges of its three leads, outcasts spited by something more than just life. Seriously, Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and particularly Lisa Eichhorn have hardly been any better, personifying a certain kind of American disenchantment that’s dulled them to the bone. Watch it and see for yourself. It’s a masterpiece. As for the rest, very good movies in a very off year.

1. Cutter’s Way (Ivan Passer)
2. Blow Out (Brian De Palma)
3. Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
4. Reds (Warren Beatty)

5. The Road Warrior (George Miller)
6. Possession (Andrzej Żuławski)
7. Coup de Torchon (Bertrand Tavernier)
8. Thief (Michael Mann)
9. Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth)
10. Blind Chance (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Brian De Palma has always been a kind of savant of imperfection, which is no knock off at all, believe me. But with Blow Out, the planets must have aligned because he sure delivered a thriller on par with its flawless inspiration. Then there’s Lola, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sinister continuation of his BRD trilogy and a gorgeous film to look at. Seriously, it’s my pick for favorite lighting in any film I’ve ever watched. Quite the hyperbolic overstatement but I’m sticking to it. Reds is possibly the best thing Warren Beatty ever touched, the thinking man’s Doctor Zhivago, and Possession is horror trash (my kind of genre) elevated to higher depths because of its raw take on jealousy, not to mention performances by its two leads that throw caution to the wind and so much more. So so much more. And have you watched Gregory’s Girl? Because you should watch Gregory’s Girl. A tiny quirk of a film that Bill Forsyth conducted with utter perfection.

The Road Warrior squanders the idea that sequels are distillations of their original source, and Thief builds up the tropes of the crime genre only to scrap them as a “I could give you what you want but I won’t” at the end. Then there’s Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, that does something quite remarkable by adapting a source material and throwing it in a whole other setting. I’m talking 180 degrees here. And it works!

A lot of stuff that could have easily made the list, and some had at certain points. But Blind Chance shares the spot alone for its pick your own adventure premise and making an inspired political drama out of it. I mean it’s Kieślowski! Has that guy ever made anything bad? But just to satiate, I guess that’s the word I’m using, your curiosity, the final slot could have gone to Jean-Jacques Beinex’s Diva, with a killer score to match its introduction to cinéma du look. Francois Truffaut was handling Hitchcock again with The Woman Next Door, introducing the film world to the wonder that is Fanny Ardant. And for that matter Lawrence Kasdan was doing just the same in America with Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, the best of the noir remake bunch that became a thing around that time (i.e. Sharky’s MachineThe Postman Always Rings Twice, Against All Odds). Then there’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course, which I like a lot but not enough apparently. And the list keeps going: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Das Boot, Prince of the City, They All Laughed, S.O.B., Escape from New York, The Aviator’s Wife, Scanners, My Dinner with Andre, Modern Romance, Gallipoli, Mephisto. And finally the horror genre, particularly The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in LondonThe others, while good, can’t match the fun of those two.

Next Month: 1944. I’m gonna start humming The Trolley Song, I know it.

Top Ten Movies: 2006

Dans Paris

A lot of revisiting and rediscoveries. For instance, so much of Pan’s Labyrinth is obviously about the creatures that I had pretty darn close forgotten the gripping historical drama that eases in and out of the macabre fantasies. Really, it’s spellbinding in its transitions and dares to question the nature of reality. I mean, what else is history but a long told tale of sorts? And A Prairie Home Companion, a coronation to bookend an idiosyncratic career in an idiosyncratic way, becomes richer as it distances in years. Its misty-eyed farewell never turns to saccharine because like most of Atman’s oeuvre, there’s nothing like its perfect imperfection. I just still feel bad for the crowds that had herded in expecting the radio show. But what a surprise my number one is! Whatever happened to Dans Paris? It came and went with very little fuzz and got shelved to dust. Or who knows! It could be the greatest rave in France to this day. No matter the case, it’s quite the vibrant movie, uncompromising in its manner of vision. It can be as cold and angry as Godard, as playful as Truffaut, and as riveting as any French New Wave film uncovered from the ashes of time. One moment its morose, the next they’re singing, but it never once loses its luster. So at number one it happily pops up.

1. Dans Paris (Christophe Honoré)
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
3. A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman)
4. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
5. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
6. Inland Empire (David Lynch) and Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin)
7. Still Life (Jia Zhangke)
8. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
9. Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran)
10. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa)

The Lives of Others has become one of those cases of a dignified, intelligent work cast amongst respectfully neglected foreign films whose directors never bloomed as renowned auteurs (i.e. Sundays and Cybele, The Official Story). But its reputation is something I’m glad to continue to somewhat hear about today, even if it’s not as commonly referenced to as when compared to a PT or Wes Anderson movie. Then there’s stuff like Syndromes and a Century, Still Life, and Inland Empire, films all about their director’s visions and inseparable from their creator’s cannons. And without mentioning all of those wonderful movies that I painfully had to exclude – and trust me, there were a lot – I will proclaim that Lady Chatterley and Colossal Youth are nearly three-hour long dramas that rightfully deserve that time to ruminate.

Next post, and at this rate once a month, will be the year 1981. All I can think of is throwing a chair through a window, Mr. Bill Hurt.

Top Ten Movies: 1929


A popular observation about silent films was that they had reached their peak by the time sound was introduced. Recently watching Dziga Vertov’s avant-garde Man with a Movie Camera, it’s hard to argue with such a case. Often found on countless “greatest movie” lists, including the always reputable Sight and Sound poll, this culmination of the “city documentary” genre exceeds in just about every boundary imaginable. As Soviet montage formalism, Man’s impressive in its seamless control of actuality and subjectivity. As nationalistic propaganda, it deviates from parading any set of forced ideals and focuses on people. As a silent film in general, it tells the story of a whole nation without a single intertitle. Add to it its ingenius use of self-reflexivity, allowing to see a day in a life of an unnamed city and then watching as, brace yourself, the editor pieces the film for us to watch as an audience in the actual movie, and you’ve got a master at hand orchestrating a well-maneuvered requiem to a medium we had already bid farewell. So at #1 Man with a Movie Camera goes.

1. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov)
2. Un chien andalou (Luis Buñuel)
3. Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock)
4. Lucky Star (Frank Borzage)
5. A Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith)
6. Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst) and Diary of a Lost Girl (G.W. Pabst)
7. Hallelujah (King Vidor)
8. The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch)
9. Spite Marriage (Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton)
10. The White Hell of Pitz Palu (Arnold Fanck and G.W. Pabst)

You want to talk about unprecedented, Luis Buñuel did to experimental cinema in less than twenty minutes what few, if any artists in that vein, could claim in a career’s lifetime. Then there are those films that treaded the fine line between silence and sound. I’ve had the fortune of watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail on the big screen with Anny Ondra driven mad by the word “knife.” It is said that a silent version of the film exists, but I can’t imagine its delivery being just as impactful. A Cottage on Dartmoor mirthfully plays with a scene mocking sound at a movie theater that’s as scathing as Chaplin’s jabs towards talkies in City Lights and Modern Times. But other than that, Asquith’s glum thriller is anything but playful. Vidor’s Hallelujah and Lubitsch’s The Love Parade take leaps and bounds by becoming some of the very first musicals in film, all the while directors like G.W. Pabst and Frank Borzage presented works that were nothing less than masterpieces of the silent movement.

Those titles that just missed the ranks include a twofer from Dudley Murphy. Both St. Louis Blues and Black and Tan are exceptional in conveying just what exactly the blues and jazz meant respectively at the time, not to mention becoming cinematic landmarks on music history by preserving in film the enigmas that were Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington. Erich von Stroheim had his problem picture Queen Kelly, with Gloria Swanson taking control midway and unfortunately losing focus, and The Marx Brothers debut was forever embedded in nitrate with The Cocoanuts. Notable performances (apart from Louise Brooks cementing a mother of a legacy in one year alone) include Helen Morgan in Rouben Mamoulian’s remarkably fluid Applause, Anna May Wong overseas in E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly, and Gary Cooper in Victor Fleming’s Wolf Song and The Virgininan. My argument for the latter being that while Cooper wasn’t the most versatile actor around, he had the poise and disposition of what I always found myself to believe was a true movie star. So there you go.

Next time: 2006.