Friday, August 03, 2012
Edward Copeland's Top 100 of 2012 (60-41)
Perhaps the crowning achievement of the Italian neorealist movement. This story of Italians fighting back against fascism and the Nazis during World War II plays as powerful and moving today as it ever did, with a great cast led by Anna Magnani, who appears in one of the film's most memorable sequences. Despite being generally hard on the film, Manny Farber declared Open City the best film released in the U.S. in 1946 and called Magnani’s performance “the most perfect job by an actress in years and years.”
A breathtaking debut that launched a mostly great film series about Truffaut's screen alter ego, Antoine Doinel, and containing perhaps the most famous freeze frame in film history. It's not bad as a coming-of-age picture either. While The 400 Blows stands alone as the best of the Antoine Doinel films, it’s fascinating to watch Jean-Pierre Leaud play the character from an adolescent to an adult. In its own way, the film resembles the first installment of a fictional version of Michael Apted’s Up documentary series only focusing on a single character.
Pollack didn't just direct and act in this comic masterpiece, he really played tailor as well, stitching together multiple versions of its screenplay to come up with the exquisite finished garment. Dustin Hoffman's brilliant performance as perfectionist pain-in-the-ass actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona he creates to get work, stands as the crowning achievement of his acting career. It doesn't hurt to be surrounded by an equally solid ensemble that includes Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Doris Belack, Geena Davis and a nearly all-improvised role by Bill Murray.
Preminger’s crowning achievement could be a routine noirish mystery if it weren’t for its great ensemble of Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price and, most of all, Clifton Webb delivering its wry and witty dialogue by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt (with alleged uncredited contributions from Ring Lardner Jr.). A couple of examples: Price as Laura’s cad of a fiancé Shelby Carpenter declaring ,"I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes" and Webb as bitchy newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker describing his work, "I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom." Laura could be called the All About Eve of film noir mysteries.
Every time I hear that a friend or acquaintance is going to have a baby, I make the same simple request: Do everything in their power to keep all knowledge of this movie away from them until they see it. I would have loved to have seen it without knowing that the shower scene was coming or the truth about Norman Bates. I hope others can have that experience.
One of the biggest jumps of any films from the last list. When revisiting The Last Picture Show for its 40th anniversary last year after having not seen the movie in years, it truly captivated me with its stark beauty. Despite its setting in 1951 in a small Texas town, it contains a universality that resonates today both in human and economic terms. Plot doesn't drive the story — character, not only of the people but of the town itself, does. While you watch the movie, you aren't concerned with what happens next or how the film ends because you realize that life will go on for most of these fictional folks you've come to know. It's telling a coming-of-age story — several in fact — and not all concern the teen characters in the tale. It's also about love and loss, not always in the present tense.
Not only does Broadcast News hold up to repeated viewings, it holds such a special place in my heart that I almost can’t view it rationally. I overidentify with Albert Brooks’ character of Aaron Altman and I’ve known a couple of women with similarities to Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig. More importantly, James L. Brooks wrote and directed a very funny and touching valentine to the decline in television news standards and set it against an unrequited love triangle (with William Hurt’s Tom Grunick filling the third point as well as representing TV news’s deterioration). The supporting cast also aids the entertaining proceedings with the likes of Robert Prosky, Joan Cusack, Lois Chiles, Peter Hackes, Christian Clemenson and Jack Nicholson as the anchor of the network’s evening news.
Even people who view Capra as a sentimental sap tend to like this great madcap romantic romp thanks to the great chemistry of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The first film to sweep the top five categories at the Oscar continues to hold up thanks in no small part to the chemistry between Gable and Colbert. Memorable scenes pile up one after another involving great character actors such as Roscoe Karns and Alan Hale Sr. Perhaps the most magical scene comes when Colbert’s Ellie asks Gable’s Peter if he's ever been in love while on opposite sides of the blanket and he momentarily gets serious, wistfully describing his ideal woman while Ellie slowly melts on the other side of the blanket. May the walls of Jericho always fall.
Here comes Hitch again with his most personal and, in many ways, disturbing film about love and obsession and the need to replace what one has lost. It also happens to be another of my great moviegoing experiences, having been able to see the 1996 restoration at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Robert Burks’ cinematography never came across as vividly, especially the reds in the scenes set at Ernie’s. James Stewart delivered one of his best performances as a former cop, already damaged psychologically, pushed further to the edge when he falls for a woman named Madeline (Kim Novak) that he’s been hired to follow and later when he meets her doppelganger and attempts to make her over in Madeline’s image.
As the years roll by, many find themselves less enthused by Tarantino's film. I am not among their ranks, finding that I'm as enthralled, entertained and as giddy as I was the first time I saw it whenever I see any part of it again. Similarly, my faith in Quentin remains strong as well, especially in the wake of Inglourious Basterds, which I definitely could see on a list like this once it reaches its eligibility if it holds up as well as it has so far.
Billy Wilder made so many great comedies with varying levels of pathos that it's hard to pick just one. I considered Some Like It Hot and One, Two Three, but this one remains for me his best film among the ones played primarily for laughs. In the wake of Mad Men, the film proves particularly interesting to watch (even if Roger Sterling thinks female elevator operators defy reality).
Even before the recent passing of Andy Griffith, I had decided that I had to make a spot for A Face in the Crowd on this list. As far as I’m concerned, it undoubtedly stands as Kazan’s best film and as a bit of a prescient one. Without this film, I’m not sure Paddy Chayefsky would have been inspired nearly 20 years later to write Network. Budd Schulberg deserves the bulk of the credit, adapting A Face in the Crowd from a short story he wrote called “Arkansas Traveler.” The film broke ground in its depiction of the convergence and intermingling of the media, corporate and political worlds. In addition to Griffith’s stellar performance as Lonesome Rhodes, the cast includes exemplary work from Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau and Tony Franciosa. Mike Wallace, John Cameron Swayze and Walter Winchell even make cameos as themselves. The film’s reputation should only grow.
When one of the early moments of a movie shows Edward Norton squeezed against the man breasts of a sobbing Meat Loaf, it boggles my mind how many people who saw Fight Club when it came out didn’t immediately recognize the film as a satire. Every time I’ve watched this film, I’ve loved it more than I did originally. To further emphasize its strength, the first time I saw it, I already knew the twist because of an out-of-nowhere comment by David Thomson in a completely unrelated article in The New York Times. Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Jim Uhl’s screenplay and David Fincher’s direction spin a funhouse tour of the consumer culture, self-help groups and machismo. Norton turns in a great performance as always as do Brad Pitt as the devil on his shoulder and Helena Bonham-Carter as a twisted kindred spirit.
A running gag between Wagstaff and I in recent years is that I believe Die Hard is the greatest film ever made. OK, I don't really believe that, but this is one of the best, especially as far as action goes and Alan Rickman remains one of the all-time great movie villains. In addition to having a great bad guy, what sets Die Hard apart from other action films is that its hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis) isn't superhuman. By the end of the movie, he looks as if he's been through hell.
This film doesn't get mentioned as often as it should, but its portrait of the perils of vigilante justice comes through as strongly today as I imagine it did when it was originally released. Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan try to speak for calm and rationality against the horde ready to inflict mob violence.
The time is over for the debate as to whether the Oscar this classic silent won in the Academy's first year was the equivalent of "best picture." All that needs to be said is that is a great film, Academy seal of approval or not. It remains both heartbreaking and beautiful 85 years after its debut.
The Godfather Part II may have won best picture in 1974, but for my money it wasn't even the best Coppola film that year, let alone the best picture (not that it isn't good). This simple tale of an eavesdropping expert (Gene Hackman giving one of his best, most restrained performances) experiencing sudden moral qualms remains riveting and thoughtful to this day.
Supposedly, Hitchcock often named this gem as his personal favorite of his films and it certainly remains one of his best with its dry, mordant wit and a great lead in Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie, worshipped by Teresa Wright as his niece Charlie. Much comic relief gets provided by Henry Travers as young Charlie's father and Hume Cronyn as his murder mystery-loving friend.
I'm not talking to you Travis, but about you, and Scorsese and Paul Schrader's dark, modern spin on The Searchers only grows more stunning as the years roll on. Robert De Niro gives one of his greatest performances and, for my money, this may remain Jodie Foster's finest work.
Jean Renoir made a lot of great films and at least two unquestionable masterpieces, including this one, yet you seldom hear his name come up unless you are talking with real cinephiles. Shameful — because his films don't belong to elite tastes: They belong to everyone. This vivid portrait of WWI prisoners of war proves that since it was the very first time the Academy bothered to nominate a foreign language film for best picture. It should have won too.