Top Ten Movies: 1971

mccabe-and-mrs-miller

By 1971, the American New Wave brandished and wielded into an antithetical “screw you old-Hollywood” defiance that was as unshaken as it was uncompromising. Rage and gunfire superseded stealth, recklessly blowing the staunch lid off le cinéma de papa. Fists first in blind fury. Straw Dogs and rape warped. A Clockwork Orange and violence operatic. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song giving the finger to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? With a new administration at hand on this bleak inaugural day, this may be a Duel-induced ride we’re going to be shifting fast gear on. And so my number one, revisionist as all get out, plays for the team but on its own terms. How do you go about radicalizing the already violent? The Ballad of the Green Beret conservative call to action with combustion back? By placing a flower in the smoking barrel. McCabe and Mrs. Miller recedes the western into placidity. It disrobes the ideal to expose the human. It’s elegiac about the loss of battle rather than harboring on its gratified ferocity in victory. This mature sentiment has always kept it as my number one in a year unprecedented with quality, and I’ve no doubt it’ll stay that way for a very long time.

1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman)
2. Out 1 (Jacques Rivette)
3. The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich)
4. The Go-Between (Joseph Losey) and Two English Girls (Francois Truffaut)
5. The Merchant of Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
6. Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)
7. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby)
8. The Ceremony (Nagisa Oshima)
9. The Devils (Ken Russell) and Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff)
10. WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev)

Up to this point, I’ve had a very difficult time omitting films with each and every entry. But this year here, this one takes the cake. There’s Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, a deeply fascinating portrayal about two driven-down souls meeting in the shadows of their own demons. Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Jan Troell’s The Emigrants, those movie rarities that miraculously manage to encompass their nations. Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, an admitted trudge that becomes part of its amplitude. Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand, another poem in the western prose. And while we’re at it, master poet Jean Renoir also had The Little Theater of Jean Renoir. Then there’s William Friedkin’s The French Connection, that surprising Oscar-baiter which would have been relegated to B status fifteen years before. The black-and-white forgotten anti-war Trumbo passion project Johnny Got His Gun. Elaine May establishing her own kind of humor in A New Leaf. But wait! It keeps going! Mike Hodges’ Get Carter, Miklós Jancsó’s Red Psalm, Duck, You Sucker!, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Trafic, Vanishing Point, Carnal Knowledge!

I would, however, like to give a special nod to Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood for elevating their own blend of the thriller genre to even greater heights with Dirty Harry, Play Misty for Me, and a personal favorite of mine, The Beguiled. Good job, guys! This was truly their year.

Top Ten Movies: 1962

jules-and-jim

What a year, what a year. While there are countless venerations, books even, about Hollywood’s Golden Age reaching its zenith in 1939, there’s undoubtedly a strong argument to be held in favor for that underrated and infallible coalescing of world cinemas that took place in 1962. Hell, Hollywood’s bloated epics were rapidly deflating into hot air as emerging voices pushed their way out of conventionality. The likes of earnest political dramas in the vein of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington were giving way to acid-dripping bite in the contorted form of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate. The new kids on the block were taking over, mainly overseas. But those old guards that recognized this change, and accepted it, allowed their work to mature into a poignantly muted lament. I’m looking at you, Ford and Ozu. So why my number one? Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim has every deserved right to be identified as a French New Wave product. It malleates film grammar and brandishes it upon youth. But about midway through, unexpectedly, it begins to shift gears. That tire-screeching ride strolls countryside. It takes a long breath and holds it, wearing out into a deep self-reflection its fledgling director had every right not to experience yet. Having died young makes it all that much more touching. So Truffaut’s masterpiece beats out a whistle-blowing list of damn good cinema.

1. Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut)
2. Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni)
4. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
5. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)
6. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel)
7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford) and Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah)
8. An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu)
9. Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda)
10. Freud (John Huston)

You want to talk about omissions? Let me mention to you those that just missed the cut. There’s Roman Polanski’s scathing feature debut Knife in the Water. You had Kubrick behaving very naughty with Lolita. Bergman was especially Bergman this year with Winter LightKurosawa had his Yojimbo sequel, Sanjuro. Chris Marker had his brilliant short, La Jetée. The Brits provided us with their ever-so-dependable angry men in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Andrei Tarkovsky introduced himself to the cinephile world with Ivan’s Childhood. Pasolini collaborated with Italy’s brass beauty in Mamma Roma. In Hollywood, there was Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Penn’s The Miracle Worker, Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Hell, we even had the mother of predecessor indies through the horror vessel I like to call Carnival of Souls. Throw in Il SorpassoOs Cafajestes, Sundays and Cybele, The Trial, Salvatore Giuliano, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, A Kind of Loving, and I might as well be giving myself a heart attack. Seriously. Harakiri, Merril’s Marauders, Cape Fear, Two Weeks in Another Town, The Intruder, Advise and Consent. I can’t stop!

Top Ten Movies: 1979

1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun

Last time I had promised 1995… again. But hey, I get to make the rules here. It’s been a while since I’ve watched several of the films from that year, so I’d rather wait and revisit a couple before I take on the challenge of, you know, listing them. 1979, however, is as fresh in my mind as Hanna Schygulla’s smeared lipstick. After a trailblazing decade of drug-fueled machine-gun paced work, Rainer Werner Fassbinder finally got the kind of budget he’d always admired when watching Hollywood soap dramas from the 1950’s. The Marriage of Maria Braun is a compact little epic about survival in post-war Germany as told through the experiences of one single woman. It’s trashy, at times overwrought, and perfectly sinister in its commentary about West German plight turned opportunism. Basically, it’s all of the things that make Fassbinder’s work so chillingly pleasurable. Enough so, in fact, to knock out a couple of bona fide classics off the top spot. I mean how much more could really be said about Apocalypse Now or Alien? Movies that still sell out tickets at retrospect screenings like Super Bowl games. And although as popular as Maria Braun is when discussing Fassbinder’s work, that’s still a claim that it sadly can’t achieve. Which is a shame because it’s one heck of film. Oh well. You can’t win ’em all.

1. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
2. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
3. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
4. Manhattan (Woody Allen)
5. Tess (Roman Polanski)
6. Vengeance is Mine (Shōhei Imamura)
7. Alien (Ridley Scott)
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog)
9. Life of Brian (Terry Jones)
10. Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Stalker is one of Tarkovsky’s lesser known works and, as we speak, still unavailable in the U.S. in a decent print. C’mon Criterion! But hey, they at least gave Tess and Vengeance is Mine the Blu-ray treatment, two art house films that continue to demand high praise. The latter is also a good first-billing in a double feature with The Silence of the Lambs, which always conjures up the theory in my mind that there is movie violence and then there is Japanese movie violence. And that’s a whole other category. And thank the Gods for Manhattan and Life of Brian, which lighten things up here. The former is a personal favorite of mine and one of Allen’s best, while the latter makes an audacious attempt at satire that only Monty Python could have the cajoles to get away with.

Movies that trail just behind include Francois Truffaut’s final installment in his Antoine Doinel series, Love on the Run, and idiosyncratic turns by Huston and Ashby with Wise Blood and Being There respectively. Oh! And throw in Winter Kills, too! Another oddball of a movie that’s truly unforgettable. Blake Edward’s had 10, with Bo Derek doing the Baywatch thing, and Bob Fosse had All That Jazz, with Roy Scheider doing the Marcello Mastroianni thing. David Cronenberg was finally in his “groove” with The Brood, and George Miller introduced a dystopian world we have yet to forget – and I hope we never do – with Mad Max. Cram in a couple of Oscar favorites like Kramer vs. Kramer and Norma Rae, along with some forgotten gems like Saint Jack, Going in Style, Breaking Away, and The Wanderers, and 1979 ain’t looking too shabby.

Next time: Who knows! I’ve been lying to you anyway, so why pretend? But I’ll leave you with this clip from Quadrophenia as an apology of sorts. I know, I know. Apology accepted.

Top Ten Movies: 1967

1967 Le Samourai

What a year for French cinema! While those wunderkinds of the New Wave continued to hack away at the content and form of film, one even going so far as to disown the medium, you had seasoned veterans producing some of their most distilled and finest work. And distilled is exactly the word I’d use to describe Robert Bresson’s Mouchette and Jacques Tati’s Playtime, both lauded masterpieces that produce a certain kind of purity in their directors’ visions. The same could also be said about Belle de Jour, a movie that has always struck me as the Buñuel film to initiate one unfamiliar with his sensibilities, foot fetish and all. But it is Jean-Pierre Melville’s lean and stoic crime drama that nabs the top spot with its astonishing balance of both quiet urgency and its counterintuitive weariness. Melville, caught between the French pre-war traditional method of filmmaking and its enfants terrible successors, always seemed to mirror a combination of the two. With Le Samouräi, he just so happened to also produce his most stylish and iconic gangster movie of them all. And in Melville’s world, that kind of detail makes every bit a difference.

1. Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville)
2. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel)
3. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn)
4. Mouchette (Robert Bresson)
5. Playtime (Jacques Tati)
6. Accident (Joseph Losey)
7. Weekend and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard)
8. Point Blank (John Boorman)
9. The Young Girls of Rochefort (Jacques Demy)
10. Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg)

Even American films began to exude with an invigorated youthfulness that had rubbed off from overseas. Bonnie and Clyde and Point Blank, the former initially orchestrated to be directed by Francois Truffaut, brimmed with an energy knowingly produced by French gangster movies like Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player, movies themselves influenced by, what else, but older American gangster pictures. I guess we Yankees just didn’t know how good we had it. But we did have Cool Hand Luke, an Americana piece of classical craftsmanship that beats out another peer amongst its class, El Doroado.

Those that just missed the cut include Mike Nichols’ little known comedy The Graduate (have you heard of it?), which unfortunately conventionalizes in its second half when it should have jabbed deeper into the Braddock-Mrs. Robinson affair. D.A. Pennebaker showed the world that Bob Dylan could be a not so very nice guy in Don’t Look Back, and Robert Blake gave the performance of a lifetime in In Cold Blood, eerily foretelling a future all too familiar to his movie’s character. Then there’s Shirley Clarke’s fly-on-the-wall Portrait of Jason, which, along with David Holzman’s Diary and Titicut Follies, makes for an astounding case of exceptional documentaries that emerged in 1967 – if Diaries could be considered that.

Czechoslovakia had the breathtaking Marketa Lazarová and The Firemen’s Ball, Sweden gave us the *ahem* mature I Am Curious (Yellow), and Brazil offered up the spellbinding Terra em Transe. More great French films included Éric Rohmer’s La Collectioneuse and Godard’s La Chinoise (which makes three!), while Britain bestowed the… what would you call it? Somber? Somber cinematic year with an underrated and still clever comedy, Bedazzled, that, come to think of it, could take a spot on the top ten any day of the week. Now where do I sign?

Next time it will be the year 1995. “There’s a snake in my boot!”

Top Ten Movies: 1960

1960 Psycho

Much to my many failed attempts, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this site. A year-and-a-half as a matter of fact. It’s safe to assume that Waterfront Cinema was beginning to look like quite the drought (and here’s hoping that it continues to rain for the one that actually matters in California). So I thought it would be interesting to develop a project, one inspired by a blog page I frequent. Robert Horton’s “The Crop Duster,” which is a collection of beautifully written reviews by the Seattle-based film critic who has a knack for wit to compliment his ingenious sense of film analysis. And just like his “Year by Year Best Movies” list, this one will be a categorization of films from a given year that have left the biggest impression in my viewing experience. Of course, it’s all subjective and you can take it anyway you’d like, but I always find myself attracted to lists. I feel like the need to create order is something innate in us all, like cleaning up a cluttered room. In the end, we might realize that the carpet is a different color than what we had originally imagined, or that an object we had given up for lost was actually stashed away amidst the mess. In other words, making lists can reveal a little bit more about us than what we originally thought composed our taste and outlooks. That and this project is one heck of a way to prevent getting rusty. Write. Write. Write!

So I’ll start off with the year 1960. Seminal in its transition from an older mode of filmmaking into one of complete freedom and experimentation. This is the decade where the “Waves” flourished (i.e The Japanese New Wave, the Czech New Wave, and of course, the French New Wave already kicking it off the year before). The studio system was beginning to collapse. And yet, my number one pick comes from a master of the craft who thrived under studio discipline. Psycho is as honed a genre piece as you can get; perfected through the expertise of artists and technicians taught, where else, but the on blood, sweat, and tears of the backlots in Hollywood. Still, Psycho is different. The shift in protagonists midway through the plot, the dark and disturbing psychological subject it chooses to portray, and of course, that infamous shower scene, are characteristics that would have been unheard of in the movies just a couple of years before. You can even compare Rebecca, Hitchcock’s first film in Hollywood, with this one and see how far movies had truly come. So here it is, solidly cemented as my number one spot.

1. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni)
3. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard)
4. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini)
5. Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti)
6. Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut)
7. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell)
8. The Apartment (Billy Wilder)
9. Wild River (Elia Kazan)
10. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz)

A couple of Italian landmarks at the top challenging those brazen and restless French directors catching their first wind (this was also the year of the wonderful Les Bonnes Femmes and Zazie Dans Le Métro). And as assured as I am that Rocco and his Brother is one of my absolute favorite films – of all time, so the saying goes – there it sits at number five.

Those that were close but didn’t quite make the cut include the kinetic Cruel Story of Youth and the not-so-kinetic When A Woman Ascends the Stairs. Strong turns by bonafide masters (Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well, Ozu’s Late Spring, and Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) and Purple Noon, adapted from a Highsmith staple that I believe holds up even better than Minghella’s very good 1999 film version.

Below that tier are two Robert Mitchum vehicles (Minnelli’s Home from the Hill and Zinnemann’s The Sundowners) that prove that the studios still had it in them (See The Apartment and Wild River). And then there’s Spartacus, which apart from being very entertaining, also made for one hell of a funny Pepsi commercial.

Next week (I sound like an old episodic show) will be the year 1991. Think again before taking a bite of those fava beans and nice chianti.