The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, January 04, 2021
YES, DEPRESSION: Over the last few weeks, I have blogged my favorite movies of
2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, and 1940. Now let's make one more stop.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1930, it gave its Best Picture award to All Quiet on the Western Front. The book is better but the movie is good, and you'll find it in my list of honorable mentions. But it isn't the year's best picture. It isn't even the year's best picture about World War I.

1. Earth
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko

This was supposed to be a Soviet propaganda film calling for the collectivization of agriculture, but Dovzhenko got away with making something much more interesting. It's lyrical, sometimes funny, more surrealist than socialist, more pagan than political; the propaganda parts play like tongue-in-cheek interludes. Stalin objected strenuously. There would not be many more movies like this as long as he was around.

2. People on Sunday
Directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak

One of the last great silent pictures, and one of the first great efforts by a gang of young filmmakers who would soon be fleeing Germany for America. Besides Wilder, Ulmer, and the Siodmak brothers, the future Hollywood hands include the photographer, Fred "Oklahoma!" Zinnemann.

3. Swing You Sinners!
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Eight years before Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, the Fleischer brothers animated a bad trip.

4. Le Roman de Renard
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz and Irene Starewicz
Written by I. Starewicz, Roger Richebé, Jean Nohain, and Antoinette Nordmann

Reynard the Fox, a trickster figure from French folklore, stars in a batty stop-motion masterpiece.

5. Animal Crackers
Directed by Victor Heerman
Written by Morrie Ryskind, from a play by Ryskind and George S. Kaufman

"Pardon me while I have a strange interlude."

6. L'Age d'Or
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dali

A few years later, Dali wrote a script for the Marx Brothers. They never made the movie, so you'll have to settle for an Animal Crackers/L'Age d'Or double feature instead.

7. Under the Roofs of Paris
Written and directed by René Clair

An early sign that filmmakers could use sound without forgetting everything else they'd learned about their craft. This has all the fluidity of the best silent movies, but it's a musical.

8. A Propos de Nice
Written and directed by Jean Vigo

Like Salt for Svanetia, listed one notch below, A Propos de Nice is a radical documentary. But this one was made by an anarchist, not a Leninist, and it has far more respect for the ordinary people onscreen.

9. Salt for Svanetia
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
Written by Kalatozov and Sergei Tretyakov

The anti-Earth: Communist propaganda proclaiming how wonderful it is that the Bolsheviks are bringing a backward village into civilization. It's a lie, but it's an artful lie; you can damn the picture's politics while admiring the talent on display.

10. Westfront 1918
Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Written by Ladislaus Vajda, from a novel by Ernst Johannsen

This year's other, better movie about the Western Front.

Honorable mentions:

11. Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch)
12. The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)
13. Borderline (Kenneth MacPherson)
14. Romance Sentimentale (Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov)
15. The Essence of the Fair (Ernesto Giménez Caballero)
16. Crabes et Crevettes (Jean Painlevé)
17. Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner)
18. The Big House (George W. Hill)
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone)
20. La Petite Lise (Jean Grémillon)

Of the films of 1930 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Part Time Wife.

I don't know enough good movies from 1920 to assemble a top 10, so I'm going to stop this year's batch of movie lists here. (For the record, my favorite from 1920 is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and my favorite from 1910 is Le Binettoscope.) We'll start this again in December, when it'll be time to tackle 2011.

posted by Jesse 9:25 AM
. . .
Saturday, January 02, 2021
ROLLING DOWN THE DECADES: I've posted my favorite films of
2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, and 1950. Now let's go to the dawn of the '40s.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1940, it gave its Best Picture award to Rebecca, a Daphne du Maurier joint. That one is in my top 10, but it isn't at the apex:

1. The Philadelphia Story
Directed by George Cukor
Written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Waldo Salt, from a play by Philip Barry

This one hits its high point when Katharine Hepburn starts wandering around drunk after dark.

2. His Girl Friday
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, and Charles Lederer, from a play by Hecht and MacArthur

"Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way."

3. The Bank Dick
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by W.C. Fields

"Shall I bounce a rock off his head?" "Respect your father, darling. What kind of a rock?"

4. A Wild Hare
Directed by Tex Avery
Written by Rich Hogan

The ur-text for the Bugs Bunny cycle.

5. They Drive By Night
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay, from a novel by A.I. Bezzerides

The first great truck-driving movie.

6. Rebecca
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald, and Michael Hogan, from a novel by Daphne du Maurier

The only Hitchcock movie to win a Best Picture Oscar, a fact that says much more about the Academy's prejudices than it does about the film's place in the director's body of work. It isn't top-tier Hitchcock, but it's still an enjoyably atmospheric Gothic tale.

7. Christmas in July
Written and directed by Preston Sturges

One of Sturges' sweeter comedies, but it has a sardonic bite.

8. Dance, Girl, Dance
Directed by Dorothy Arzner
Written by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, from a story by Vicki Baum

The flipside of all those Tex Avery cartoons about the Big Bad Wolf. (Someone should screen it with Red Hot Riding Hood as the opening short.) There is more emotional depth here than you'll find in the average low-budget melodrama, and there's an unexpected feminist edge.

9. The Grapes of Wrath
Directed by John Ford
Written by Nunnally Johnson, from a novel by John Steinbeck

Ford made genre films and he made "prestige" films. Most of the prestige pictures aren't very good, but this one's an exception: It may get a little heavy-handed at times—feel free to wince during Henry Fonda's final monologue—but it's filled with vivid moments, particularly the stunning dust-bowl sequence at the start.

10. Contraband
Directed by Michael Powell
Written by Emeric Pressburger with Powell and Brock Williams

If Peeping Tom is Powell's Psycho, then this is his 39 Steps.

Honorable mentions:

11. Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock)
12. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch)
13. The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan)
14. The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges)
15. Pinocchio (Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske)
16. Swinging the Lambeth Walk (Len Lye)
17. The Westerner (William Wyler)
18. Seven Sinners (Tay Garnett)
19. Tarantella (Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth)
20. The Ghost Breakers (George Marshall)

Brilliant Sequence in an Otherwise Unexceptional Movie: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland kiss in a cab, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante

Brilliant Sequence in an Otherwise Overpraised Move: the shaving scene in The Great Dictator

Of the films of 1940 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Sea Hawk.

posted by Jesse 10:10 AM
. . .
Thursday, December 31, 2020
FIFTYSOMETHING: I've gone through my favorite films of
2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, and 1960. And now...

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1950, it gave its Best Picture award to a backstage drama called All About Eve. That one made it onto my honorable mentions list, but it didn't break into the top 10:

1. Orpheus
Written and directed by Jean Cocteau

Dreams, death, mirrors, mysterious radio transmissions, and the underworld.

2. Rashomon
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto, from two stories by Ryûnosuke Akutagawa

Four versions of the same event. Each account seems to circle closer to the truth, Kane-style, but by the time it's over you may doubt that you could ever arrive at the full facts.

3. Harvey
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney, and Myles Connolly, from a play by Chase

"I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."

4. Sunset Blvd.
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman Jr.

Part jet-black comedy, part backlot noir. If they burned all the movies about making movies, this is the one I'd miss the most.

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends
Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Ben Hecht with Victor Trivas, Frank P. Rosenberg, and Robert E. Kent, from a novel by William L. Stuart

"I didn't know a guy could hate that much. Not even you."

6. Les Enfants Terribles
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville and Jean Cocteau, from a novel by Cocteau

This feels more like a Cocteau movie than a Melville movie, and Cocteau was in fact present for some of the filming. At one point he called out "Cut!" while a scene was being shot, compelling Melville to throw him off the set.

7. Gone to Earth
Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

The images of nature here are so vivid and haunting that I'm not sure if they're underlining the characters' passions or if those passions are just a temporary extension of the landscape.

8. In a Lonely Place
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Andrew Solt with Edmund H. North, from a story by Dorothy B. Hughes

This and Sunset Blvd. would make an interesting double bill.

9. Night and the City
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Jo Eisinger, from a novel by Gerald Kersh

After you watch this, look up the contemporaneous reviews that damned it as sordid trash. Then ask yourself which entertainments being damned in similar terms today will turn out to be enduring works of art.

10. House by the River
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Mel Dinelli, from a novel by A.P. Herbert

This low-budget Southern Gothic noir didn't get much attention when it came out, and Lang later said he didn't care for it. I think it's one of the best films he made in America.

Honorable mentions:

11. Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini)
12. The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston)
13. Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel)
14. Rabbit of Seville (Chuck Jones)
15. Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann)
16. La Beauté du Diable (René Clair)
17. All About Eve (Joseph L. Manckiewicz)
18. Story of a Love Affair (Michelangelo Antonioni)
19. Last Holiday (Henry Cass)
20. Devil's Doorway (Anthony Mann)

Of the films of 1950 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in En Passant Par La Lorraine.

posted by Jesse 9:47 AM
. . .
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
ONE CHEER FOR MR. OSCAR: I've reeled off my favorite films of
2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, and 1970. You may have anticipated what comes next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1960, it gave its Best Picture award to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. I don't often say this, but the Academy got it exactly right.

1. The Apartment
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond

A comic drama—or dramatic comedy?—about the corrupting effects of hierarchy, and what it means to actually assert your freedom. The best American director's best film.

2. Cruel Story of Youth
Written and directed by Nagisa Oshima

The Japanese Rebel Without a Cause, which I actually like better than the original Rebel Without a Cause.

3. Psycho
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stefano, from a novel by Robert Bloch

It's a revered classic now, but back in the day this was widely condemned in terms now reserved for films like Saw.

4. La Dolce Vita
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, from a story by Fellini, Flaiano, and Pinelli

"Don't be like me. Salvation doesn't lie within four walls."

5. The Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith

There's a lot to like in this low-budget horror-comedy, including a very young Jack Nicholson in the role Bill Murray would play in the musical remake. But my favorite bit is the pair of cops on loan from Dragnet and their deadpan conversations. "How are the kids?" "Lost one yesterday." "How'd that happen?" "Playing with matches." "Well, those are the breaks."

6. Le Trou
Directed by Jacques Becker
Written by Jacques Becker, José Giovanni, and Jean Aurel, from a novel by Giovanni

A prison-break procedural.

7. Peeping Tom
Directed by Michael Powell
Wirtten by Leo Marks

Like Psycho, this was widely condemned in terms now reserved for films like Saw. But while Psycho was a huge hit for Hitchcock, Peeping Tom practically destroyed Powell's career.

8. The Virgin Spring
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ulla Isaksson

Unlike Psycho and Peeping Tom, this highbrow revenge flick was not widely condemned in terms now reserved for films like Saw. But this is the one that was remade as The Last House on the Left.

9. The Young One
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Hugo Butler, from a story by Peter Matthiessen

Much more complicated than the typical racial message-movie.

10. The Housemaid
Written and directed by Kim Ki-young

This Korean thriller progresses steadily from film noir to horror before revealing it belonged all along to a larger genre: the male fantasy disguised as a nightmare.

Honorable mentions:

11. Testament of Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)
12. Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut)
13. Comanche Station (Budd Boetticher)
14. Purple Noon (René Clément)
15. Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla)
16. Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti)
17. Tunes of Glory (Ronald Neame)
18. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang)
19. Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa)
20. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard)

Footnote: Someone really ought to remake Tunes of Glory as a catty backstage musical with an all-girl cast.

Of the films of 1960 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Cloud-Clapped Star.

posted by Jesse 8:58 AM
. . .
Sunday, December 27, 2020
THE YEAR YOUR HUMBLE BLOGGER WAS BORN: So far we've covered my favorite films of
2010, 2000, 1990, and 1980. Time for another 10-year jump.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1970, it gave its Best Picture award to Patton, a military biopic co-written by a kid named Francis Ford Coppola, who would go on to make The Godfather, and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who had just helmed Planet of the Apes. And isn't Patton ultimately a cross between The Godfather and Planet of the Apes?

(What's that? It isn't? Damn, you might be right. But it sounded good for a couple of seconds.)

Anyway. Patton is a good movie, but I like these better:

1. Five Easy Pieces
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Written by Carole Eastman, from a story by Rafelson and Eastman

Jack Nicholson gets a chance to play the lead, and he doesn't waste it. From here through Cuckoo's Nest, he'll be one of the most essential actors working in Hollywood.

Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Ring Lardner Jr., from a novel by H. Richard Hornberger and W.C. Heinz

This is, among other things, the greatest football movie ever made.

3. Gimme Shelter
Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin

Yes, I'm rating the Altamont movie higher than the Woodstock movie.

4. Le Boucher
Written and directed by Claude Chabrol

Chabrol's debt to Hitchcock is even more obvious than usual here, but this is more than mere imitation. If Hitch had made this, we'd be calling it Chabrolian.

5. The Honeymoon Killers
Written and directed by Leonard Kastle

It's tense, bleak, and artful. I should probably add, just in case you're the sort who is put off by such things, that it's also a low-budget exploitation flick about serial killers.

6. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
Directed by Elio Petri
Written by Petri and Ugo Pirro

It was a banner year for anti-fascist films by Italian leftists, and this was the best of the crop.

7. Hospital
Directed by Frederick Wiseman

One of several searing documentaries Wiseman made about life in different total institutions—in this case, an urban hospital.

8. Bed and Board
Directed by François Truffaut
Written by Truffaut, Claude de Givray, and Bernard Revon

400 Blows 4: The Voyage Home.

9. The Conformist
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by Bertolucci, from a novel by Alberto Moravia

"Ten years ago, my father was in Munich. Often, after the theater, he told me that he'd go with friends to a bierstube. There was a nutty man they thought a fool. He spoke about politics. He was quite an attraction. They'd buy him beer and encourage him. He'd stand up on the table making furious speeches. It was Hitler."

10. Le Cercle Rouge
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

"All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last."

Honorable mentions:

11. La Rupture (Claude Chabrol)
12. Claire's Knee (Éric Rohmer)
13. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh)
14. Chicken Real (Les Blank)
15. Wanda (Barbara Loden)
16. Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy)
17. Tristana (Luis Buñuel)
18. Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski)
19. Little Big Man (Arthur Penn)
20. Original Cast Album: Company (D.A. Pennebaker)

Of the films of 1970 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Twelve Chairs.

posted by Jesse 9:43 AM
. . .
Friday, December 25, 2020
HAPPY XMAS (LISTS AREN'T OVER): Over the last few days, I've listed my favorite films of
2010, 2000, and 1990. Onward to the '80s.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1980, it gave its Best Picture award to Ordinary People, an after-school special with high production values. It isn't on my list. The year's most commercially successful movie was The Empire Strikes Back. It's one of the few Star Wars pictures that's actually pretty good—but it's not good enough for the list. The most historically significant film of the year was probably Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, a longwinded western whose out-of-control budget and skimpy box office receipts brought the New Hollywood era to an end. It has a bad reputation, but I mostly like it, flaws and all. But I didn't put it on my list either.

1. Mon Oncle d'Amerique
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Gruault

A severely determinist vision, bordering on paranoia, in which human choices are little more than the involuntary responses of mice in mazes. Its storylines are fictional but the figure at the center of the movie—the sociobiologist Henri Laborit—is real, putting the picture at the little-traveled intersection where documentaries meet science fiction.

2. Melvin and Howard
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Bo Goldman

Demme's early movies tended toward eccentric Americana, and this one is the most eccentric and American of them all.

3. The Long Good Friday
Directed by John Mackenzie
Written by Barrie Keeffe

Bob Hoskins plays a gangster boss, and that really ought to be enough to get you to watch the picture right there.

4. UFOria
Written and directed by John Binder

Surely the only flying saucer movie in which key plot points turn on the protagonist's physical resemblance to Waylon Jennings.

5. The Stunt Man
Directed by Richard Rush
Written by Rush and Lawrence B. Marcus, from a novel by Paul Brodeur

I was blown away by this one when I saw it at age 18, and I renewed my affections for it by rewatching it every few years. Then I set it aside for awhile, pulled it out again in my thirties, and got the uncomfortable feeling that I'd outgrown it. Suddenly the lead character seemed like an asshole; his romance with the leading lady seemed implausible and contrived; the film-within-a-film seemed pretentious and inane. But I'll still put it here for old time's sake, and because Peter O'Toole and Allen Garfield are great in it, and because the movie is still entertaining even if it isn't all that profound. Besides, there's always the possibility that those flaws are supposed to be deliberate ironies. Maybe I should watch it again.

6. Bronco Billy
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Dennis Hackin

If Mon Oncle d'Amerique's determinist worldview was too depressing for you, let Bronco Billy be the antidote. It's a celebration of individual freedom, extolling America as a place where people can jettison their old identities and reinvent themselves. As clear a statement of Eastwood's libertarian values as you'll find this side of The Outlaw Josey Wales.

7. Kagemusha
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Masato Ide

"When the original is gone, what will happen to the double?"

8. The Falls
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway

Imagine The Birds as a surrealist encyclopedia.

9. Raging Bull
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Scorsese, Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, and Robert De Niro, from a memoir by Jake LaMotta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage

Not an easy movie to watch, but the De Niro and Pesci performances are enough to earn it a place on this list.

10. The Shining
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick and Diane Johnson, from a novel by Stephen King

All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. All wor—

Honorable mentions:

11. Bad Timing (Nicholas Roeg)
12. Atlantic City (Louis Malle)
13. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (Les Blank)
14. The Last Metro (François Truffaut)
15. Bye Bye Brazil (Carlos Diegues)
16. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)
17. Out of the Blue (Dennis Hopper)
18. The Ninth Configuration (William Peter Blatty)
19. Ashes to Ashes (David Mallet, David Bowie)
20. The Blues Brothers (John Landis)

Finally, let's have a shoutout to the final installment of Berlin Alexanderplatz. The miniseries as a whole may be 5 or 10 hours longer than it needs to be, but that 14th episode is sublime.

Of the films of 1980 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Alligator.

posted by Jesse 1:54 PM
. . .
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
THE LATE GORBY ERA: I've told you my favorite films of
2010 and 2000. Now let's slip back another 10 years.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked at 1990, it gave its Best Picture award to a white-savior fantasy called Dances with Wolves—the movie that definitively established that a revisionist western could be boring. I prefer these:

1. Miller's Crossing
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A story about power, loyalty, and violence, and the ways the first item on that list depends on the other two.

2. Ju Dou
Directed by Zhang Yimou and Yang Fengliang
Written by Liu Heng

From the days when Zhang made movies that worried the Chinese authorities instead of celebrating them.

3. The Reflecting Skin
Written and directed by Philip Ridley

This would make an interesting double feature with Martin.

4. An Angel at My Table
Directed by Jane Campion
Written by Laura Jones, from the memoirs of Janet Frame

The life of Janet Frame, who endured psychiatric torture just for being a bit of a nonconformist, survived the experience, and became a successful writer.

5. The Ear
Directed by Karel Kachyňa
Written by Kachyňa and Jan Procházka, from a story by Procházka

A Czech tale of surveillance, suspicion, and domestic discord, made in 1970 but suppressed until the Velvet Revolution. It's been called a paranoid picture, but you know the saying: Even paranoids have real enemies.

6. Jacob's Ladder
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin

Part Philip K. Dick, part Lucius Shepard, part Ambrose Bierce. Lyne's flicks are usually unwatchable, and Rubin is best known for writing the sappy Ghost; I wouldn't have expected those two to create such a riveting thriller, yet here we are.

7. Europa Europa
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Written by Holland with Paul Hengge, from the memoirs of Solomon Perel

Schindler's List asks the audience: Would you give up your riches to save thousands of lives, or would you selfishly serve the Nazis? And us viewers allow ourselves to believe that we would be as noble as Oskar Schindler, and we pat ourselves on the back. Europa Europa, the tale of a Jewish boy passing as an Aryan in the Nazi era, asks a much trickier question: whether we'd be willing to suppress our own identity to survive, inflicting tremendous physical and emotional pain on ourselves in the process. The answer is not as easy, and the movie is much more interesting.

8. The Nasty Girl
Written and directed by Michael Verhoeven

This one is about the Germans who weren't as noble as Oskar Schindler, and how they dealt with their history after the war was over.

9. Sink or Swim
Written and directed by Su Friedrich

"She didn't know whether to feel pity or envy for the young girl who sat alone in the sunshine trying to invent a more interesting story."

10. Metropolitan
Written and directed by Whit Stillman

"I've always planned to be a failure anyway. That's why I plan to marry an extremely wealthy woman."

Honorable mentions:

11. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston)
12. King of New York (Abel Ferrara)
13. To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett)
14. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
15. Quick Change (Howard Franklin, Bill Murray)
16. Miami Blues (George Armitage)
17. No Fear, No Die (Claire Denis)
18. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)
19. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami)
20. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante)

Maybe I should create an extra ranking beyond #1—call it #0—for movies that defy ordinary aesthetic qualities, seeming somehow simultaneously to be both the best and the worst of the year. This year that slot would go to Troll 2, a Bulldada gem that feels like someone recorded a fever dream and then ran it through a buggy translation program.

Of the films of 1990 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Radio Fishtown.

posted by Jesse 9:14 AM
. . .
Monday, December 21, 2020
listed my favorite films of 2010. Now let's jump back another decade.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked at the year 2000, it gave its Best Picture award to a sporadically watchable CGI demo reel called Gladiator. I've picked something else:

1. The Gleaners & I
Directed by Agnès Varda

An essay-film about people who glean food from the fields after the harvests are over; and urban scavengers who find sustenance in the trash, sharing their leftovers with the neighbors; and artists who make assemblages from trash-picked materials; and the director herself, making a movie filled with serendipitous moments she gleaned from all the hours her camera happened to be rolling. Without being obvious about it, Varda was documenting a gentle kind of anarchism—finding, as the slogan goes, the seeds of a new world in the shell of the old.

2. Yi Yi
Written and directed by Edward Yang

As rich a portrait of a family as you'll ever see at the movies.

3. You Can Count On Me
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Another sort of family, another sort of portrait.

4. Dark Days
Directed by Marc Singer

A documentary about the world some homeless people built in the tunnels beneath New York—sort of like that book The Mole People, only Dark Days is actually true. It could be screened as a darker, sadder companion to Gleaners.

5. Rejected
Written and directed by Don Hertzfeldt

There are your run-of-the-mill films about filmmaking, and then there is this mad masterpiece.

6. High Fidelity
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, and Scott Rosenberg, from a novel by Nick Hornby

Jack Black's breakthrough, and possibly his peak as well. No matter how many bad comedies he has wasted his talents in since, we'll always have the memory of him taking the stage to sing "Let's Get It On" and effortlessly stealing the show.

7. Memento
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Nolan from a story by Jonathan Nolan

"Maybe it's time you started investigating yourself."

8. Sexy Beast
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto

Ben Kingsley as the anti-Gandhi.

9. Almost Famous
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."

10. Code Unknown
Written and directed by Michael Haneke

The first decade of the 21st century saw several big-cast, multi-story, everything-is-connected movies, some of them so ham-fisted and didactic that it became easy to forget how great the genre can be when it's done right. But Haneke did it right. This window into a set of interlocking lives in Paris, Mali, and Romania is an antidote to Crash, Syriana, and the rest of the heavy-handed tedium that came later.

Honorable mentions:

11. Panic (Henry Bromell)
12. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson)
13. Brave New World (Theo Eshetu)
14. Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
15. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 4 (Joss Whedon)
16. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin)
17. Faithless (Liv Ullmann)
18. Gangster No. 1 (Paul McGuigan)
19. Tragos (Antero Alli)
20. Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan)

Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a TV show, so Whedon is listed as the showrunner, not the director. Though he did, as it happens, direct four of that season's episodes as well.

Of the films of 2000 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Tears of the Black Tiger.

posted by Jesse 9:54 AM
. . .
Saturday, December 19, 2020
MY ANNUAL MOVIE THINGIE: I have no idea what the best movies of 2020 might be, though I assume at least half of them are TikToks. Fortunately, I have a decade to figure it out: Here at The Perpetual Three-Dot Column we like to let these questions marinate a while before we answer them, so we wrap up each year with my picks for the best films of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and so on.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 2010, it gave its Best Picture award to The King's Speech, one of those middlebrow movies that check all the boxes that Oscar voters see as signs of quality without ever doing anything remotely interesting. These are all much better:

1. True Grit
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by the Coens, from a novel by Charles Portis

Portis finally gets the adaptation—and the adapters—that he deserves.

2. Tabloid
Directed by Errol Morris

A true tale of porn, Mormons, crime, cloning, and that psychic space where sexual desire mixes with paranoid violence.

3. Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Written by Michael Arndt, from a story by Unkirch, John Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton

Ned Beatty plays a plush, purple, cute, and cuddly Stalin.

4. Winter's Bone
Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, from a novel by Daniel Woodrell

"Talking just causes witnesses."

5. Meek's Cutoff
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Jonathan Raymond

I wrote a
book about conspiracy theories, and I devoted the bulk of the second chapter to the white settler's fear of the Indian. But if you don't want to read that, you could watch this instead.

6. Four Lions
Directed by Chris Morris
Written by Morris, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain

The best comedy about terrorism since The Third Generation.

7. Marwencol
Directed by Jeff Malmberg

A man loses his memory, builds a new self, and builds a small world for that self to live in.

8. Essential Killing
Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
Written by Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska, and James McManus

"It would be about a man in chains, who runs away barefoot through the snow into the wild forest," Skolimowski later said, looking back at his plans for the film. "I would leave the question of whether he is guilty or innocent open and ambiguous. The political aspects of the situation didn't interest me: to me politics is a dirty game and I don't want to voice my opinions. What is important is that the man who runs away is returning to the state of a wild animal, who has to kill in order to survive."

9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Wright and Michael Bacall, from a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Forget The Social Network. (Seriously: Forget it. It's lousy.) This is the year's best movie about life in the digital era.

10. The Kids Are All Right
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg

"Why'd you donate sperm?" "It just seemed like a lot more fun than donating blood."

Honorable mentions:

11. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
12. Inception (Christopher Nolan)
13. Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn)
14. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
15. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)
16. And Everything Is Going Fine (Steven Soderbergh)
17. The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
18. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
19. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
20. Down Home Music (Dietrich Wawzyn)

Of the films of 2010 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Spark of Being.

posted by Jesse 12:18 AM
. . .
Friday, May 08, 2020
THE TRADITIONALIST COUNTERCULTURE: On February 4, 2008, First Principles published my review of Rod Dreher's book Crunchy Cons. My article has apparently disappeared from that website, and the Wayback Machine seems to have captured only the first third of it. In the interests of historical preservation, and also because I think the piece is pretty good, I am reprinting it here:

* * * * *

National Review didn't pay much attention to the Summer of Love as it actually transpired in the middle months of 1967. The flagship journal of the conservative movement ran a rather addled essay that August comparing the flower children to the Adamites, an early Christian sect that believed it had reclaimed the sinless innocence of the first man. The magazine then stayed mostly mum until November, when an unsigned article wrote off the hippies as a dying fad. "For many the affair ended with the first cold wave," the author declared. "For others, the irredeemable ones, it goes on, a hazy romance of poverty and degradation vainly seeking the lower depths of a society which permits all. When the last hippie dies, he will have been loved to death."

The world must need more love, because the last hippie has yet to die. Forty years after that editorial appeared, we still have hippies and we still have National Review. We also have Rod Dreher, the National Review writer best known for last year's cult hit Crunchy Cons. A jeremiad against the materialism and consumerism of the modern right, Dreher's book is a manifesto for—to quote its original subtitle—"Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives." (Sorry, no Adamites.) In a series of profiles and personal stories, Dreher describes a few of the places, from the Slow Food movement to the revolt against modern architecture, where cultural conservatism and countercultural rebellion can coalesce after all.

It's not as though the original Summer of Love was devoid of right-wingers. It's just that, at a time when the right was usually divided into "libertarian" and "traditionalist" tribes, it was the libertarians who were prone to wear their hair long and don beads. You didn't have to be a hippie to be a libertarian, of course, but if you were a hippie, you were much more likely to be a lib than a trad. In A Generation Divided, her 1999 study of the '60s left and right, the sociologist Rebecca Klatch notes that in the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, a "common joke" had it "that traditionalists wore colorless ties, sat straight, and prayed while libertarians wore necklaces and slurped their soup." A few of the trads in Klatch's study had some kind words for the dropouts—Alan MacKay, who would go on to serve on the board of Howard Phillips's Conservative Caucus, said he agreed with the hippies about the "hypocrisy in American institutions"—but an overwhelming majority hated the love generation. By contrast, when Ayn Rand tried to disassociate herself from the libertarian movement, she derided them as "hippies of the right." She never said anything like that about Russell Kirk.

But it is Kirk, the traditionalist who once wrote that "the devil was the original libertarian," whom Dreher taps as "the pater-familias of all crunchy cons." The most interesting thing about Dreher's volume is not that it combines conservatism with the counterculture. It's that it combines traditionalism with the counterculture, marrying two trends that seemed as they emerged in the postwar era to be opposites. What's more, it does this in a way that makes sociological sense. His crunchy cons might not be dropping acid or living in communes, but those aren't the only legacies of the hippies. When Dreher writes that "Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract," he could be quoting Kirk. He could also be quoting the liner notes of a dusty Dylan LP.

Dreher didn't invent this social category. He put a label on something that has been evolving for a while. American subcultures tend to bleed into each other, influencing one another in unexpected ways, even if they initially seem to be antagonists. And then, like other married couples, they start to look alike: They can peer back at their youthful selves and suddenly see resemblances that were invisible at the time.

The hippies, like the conservatives, can be divided into libertarian and traditionalist tendencies. The libertarians said things like "follow your bliss," "do your own thing," and "we are as gods and might as well get good at it." At the same time, from the folk music revival of the '50s and early '60s to the rural bohemia of the '70s—a stronghold of homeschooling, homesteading, and other activities celebrated in Dreher's book—there always was a strain in the counterculture that wanted to preserve the past and restore lost traditions. By 1970 or so, the paradigmatic hippies were not urban runaways eating acid at a lightshow but a troupe of would-be farmers heading to the countryside. On their soundtrack, instead of some endless psychedelic jam, you could hear a series of country-rock songs by Dylan, the Byrds, the Band. Granted, many of those farmers might never manage to get anything to grow. But that was true of some of the right's traditionalists, too. Call them Hi-Fi Agrarians.

Indeed, by 1975, in Up from Communism, the historian John P. Diggins could casually cap off a discussion of the I'll Take My Stand crowd by saying "it was not the Old Left but the young student New Left, with its pastoral idyll of small self-sufficient communities pursuing happiness through the joys of soil labor and craftsmanship, that would raise again the questions of decentralization that had occupied the Agrarians. Technology's children would find in rock music and drugs what the older conservatives had claimed for poetry—imagination, mystery, and the inviolability of consciousness against the threat of science." Diggins may use the phrase "New Left," but the picture he paints is more Whole Earth Catalog than SDS. Over the next couple of decades, as the dilettantes moved back to the city and the serious homesteaders learned to live off the soil, the people in that picture would intermingle with the anti-modernists of the right. Both found increasingly similar ways to reject industrial food, industrial education, and industrial medicine. (I am reminded of a conversation with a friend who was studying to be a midwife. Her study group, she told me, included three Protestant fundamentalists, one Catholic, one Orthodox Jew—and three pagans. They got along reasonably well, at least until one of the goddess-worshippers casually mentioned that she'd had three abortions.)

The libertarian and traditionalist wings of the hippie movement engaged in a similar interplay. The Whole Earth Catalog, for example, managed to reflect both sensibilities simultaneously, invoking the archetypes of both the cowboy (mobile, individualistic, settling a new frontier) and the Indian (rooted, communal, respectful of his ancestors). The Catalog readers' revolt against the centralized, bureaucratic segments of society was driven both by an individualist interest in shaping their own fate and a desire to strengthen the little platoons that rely on convention and cooperation rather than compulsion. (Just to confuse matters further, the Stanford historian Fred Turner makes a compelling case in 2006's From Counterculture to Cyberculture that the Catalog and its ethos were heavily influenced by the very technocratic Cold War institutions that both the libertarians and the traditionalists were rebelling against.)

Dreher doesn't explore this history, but as he profiles his fellow crunchies you can glimpse it in the background. In a chapter on religion, an Eastern Orthodox crunchy con tells Dreher that "Orthodoxy attracts a tremendous number of what you might call 'alternative-lifestyle' people. We see a lot of former hippies." Apparently, the same spiritual seeking that led young hipsters to Westernized Buddhism, the Jesus Movement, or est sometimes brought them to traditional faiths as well. Another figure in Dreher's book, this one an Orthodox Jew, sums up the last path: "When you see that the world as presented by pop culture can't add up to anything worthwhile, the logical next step is to look into the wealth of a religious or spiritual tradition. And you know what? It might as well be a real one."

Another recent book, the libertarian Brink Lindsey's The Age of Abundance, suggests another connection between hippies and conservatives. Both the counterculture and the evangelical movement, Lindsey writes,
sought firsthand spiritual experience; both believed that such experience could set them free and change their lives; both favored emotional intensity over intellectual rigor; both saw their spiritual lives as a refuge from a corrupt and corrupting world. That last point, of course, was subject to radically different interpretations. Aquarians rejected the world of the "establishment" because of its supposedly suffocating restrictions, while the evangelicals condemned its licentious, decadent anarchy. Even here, however, there was similarity. Both the antinomians of the left and the dogmatists of the right were united in their disaffection from the postwar liberal consensus—and, by extension, from the older form of therapeutic religiosity, the wan "faith in faith" that supported that consensus.
Lindsey turns Dreher on his head. The surge in spirituality, he argues, was a product of mass affluence: Where Dreher sees materialism crowding out religious commitment, Lindsey suggests that people whose material needs are met are more likely to look for something deeper and transcendent. Like Dreher, he sees a link between dynamic markets and dynamic social change; unlike Dreher, he thinks their combined effect is positive.

But if Lindsey and Dreher have opposing views, Lindsey's analysis helps explain where Dreher's countercultural conservatives came from. For Dreher, the culture Lindsey celebrates is too individualist, too prone to overvalue choice and self-fulfillment. But crunchy conservatism is obviously rooted in a set of choices. And whether Dreher is arguing for disciplined religious orthodoxy or for fresh local food, he keeps coming back to the idea that the crunchy path is more fulfilling. (Interestingly, all but one of the people profiled in his religion chapter are converts. So is Dreher himself.)

Indeed, there are places in Crunchy Cons where crunchiness starts to look like a set of consumption choices for the bobos of the right. At other moments, it looks like a radical call to secede from mass culture and build independent "monastic communities." Now, as a libertarian myself, I'm used to defending both market niches and separatist subcultures. (I also keep expecting one to evolve into the other, so that a couple generations from now the Trekkies all live on self-sufficient windfarms while the Amish work office jobs and only wear their aprons at Anabaptist conventions.) But to judge from his comments in his book and elsewhere, Dreher isn't comfortable with either fate, fearing cooptation on one hand, irrelevance on the other, and in both cases a failure to engage the larger culture.

Yet engaging the larger culture means listening as well as speaking. At a time when teenage drug abuse, crime, and out-of-wedlock births have been trending downward for years, it's entirely possible that at least some of the cultural regeneration Dreher wants is already taking place, just not always in ways that are conventionally crunchy or conservative. Even in small and rooted communities, tradition constantly evolves, adapting itself to the present without losing its connection to the past. That makes it powerful and resilient, but it also means that any given convention could be contingent and short-lived. If a little platoon is filled with gay men wearing wedding rings, foul-mouthed hip hoppers, or suburbanites meeting in ultramodern megachurches, it might not seem particularly crunchy or conservative. But it doesn't lose its status as a little platoon, and it might still have something to teach, and to learn from, the crunchier, connier communities next door.

Every substantial social trend can expect a little cooptation, and every radical critique can expect a little irrelevance. What allows them to transform a culture is when unexpected allies start to absorb them in unanticipated ways. Just ask the last hippie.

posted by Jesse 5:01 PM
. . .
Saturday, January 04, 2020
FROM ONE TWENTIES TO ANOTHER: Over the last couple of weeks, we've taken a tour through the best movies of
2009, 1999, 1989, 1979, 1969, 1959, 1949, and 1939. Let's make one last jump before the series ends.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1929, it gave its Best Picture award to The Broadway Melody, a thoroughly unexceptional film. Not that there were many exceptional films coming out of Hollywood that year. The sound era was just beginning, which meant there were a lot of awkward pictures produced by people who basically had to learn to make a movie all over again. Even their better efforts tended to be uneven: The Love Parade is enjoyable, for example, but it has lapses in areas as basic as the pacing of the dialogue.

The result? Usually these lists are dominated by American entries, but this time just three of my top 10—and just six of the top 20—were made in the United States. And only one of those six is a feature.

1. The Man With a Movie Camera
Written and directed by Dziga Vertov

The high point of the experimental Soviet cinema of the '20s. In just a few short years, Stalin would be enforcing the idiotic artistic dogma of Socialist Realism and movies like this would effectively disappear.

2. My Grandmother
Directed by Kote Mikaberidze
Written by Mikaberidze and Giorgi Mdivani

Even before Socialist Realism, of course, the Soviets were censoring subversive art. This Georgian mixture of slapstick, surrealism, and anti-statist satire—the same combo later on display in Brazil and Death of a Bureaucrat—was suppressed almost immediately and didn't reemerge until the '70s.

3. A Cottage on Dartmoor
Directed by Anthony Asquith
Written by Asquith, from a story by Herbert Price

A silent psychological thriller about a crime of passion and its aftermath, featuring some of the most brilliant montages ever set to celluloid.

4. Hallelujah!
Directed by King Vidor
Written by Wanda Tuchock, Ransom Rideout, Richard Schayer, and Marian Ainslee, from a story by Vidor

The first great American musical.

5. Nogent
Directed by Marcel Carné with Michel Sanvoisin

A wonderful wordless documentary about a working-class weekend resort.

6. Un Chien Andalou
Written and directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali

Buñuel would later denounce "that crowd of imbeciles who find the film beautiful and poetic when it is fundamentally a desperate and passionate call to murder."

7. Pandora's Box
Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Written by Ladislaus Vajda, from two plays by Frank Wedekind

If I could run a TV network for just a day in December, I would broadcast this under the title The Jack the Ripper Christmas Special.

8. Arsenal
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko

A war movie that sometimes feels like an antiwar movie—which is impressive, given that the conflict in question is the Russian Civil War and the film was made in the Soviet Union. That sort of subtlety wouldn't persist for much longer either, though Dovzhenko was more adept than most Stalin-era filmmakers at slipping things past the censors.

9. Big Business
Directed by James W. Horne with Leo McCarey
Written by McCarey and H.M. Walker

Laurel and Hardy's guide to good customer relations.

10. The Skeleton Dance
Directed by Walt Disney

Disney before it was Disneyfied.

Honorable mentions:

11. The New Babylon (Grigorii Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg)
12. Diary of a Lost Girl (Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
13. Les Mystères du Château de Dé (Man Ray)
14. Tusalava (Len Lye)
15. Hyas and Stenorhynchus (Jean Painlevé)
16. The Hoose-Gow (James Parrott)
17. Brumes d'Automne (Dimitri Kirsanoff)
18. H2O (Ralph Steiner)
19. Black and Tan (Dudley Murphy)
20. La Perle (Henri d'Ursel)

Of the films of 1929 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Woman in the Moon.

And that's it for this batch of historical movie lists. If fate allows it, we'll be back for more in December.

posted by Jesse 10:02 AM
. . .
Thursday, January 02, 2020
HELLO, 2020 (AND 1939): So far this series has covered the best motion pictures of
2009, 1999, 1989, 1979, 1969, 1959, and 1949. Now we get to the year often cited as the best in Hollywood history, though if you asked me I'd say most of those other years—basically, all of them but 2009—are better.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1939, it gave its Best Picture award to an exercise in Old South nostalgia called Gone with the Wind. I can scrounge up some nice things to say about that one—the stars are magnetic, the Technicolor photography is beautiful, and that shot of the wounded after the Battle of Atlanta is unforgettable—but ultimately it's an overlong, overwrought epic with shitty racial politics. Yet it's always one of the first films mentioned when someone goes on about how great 1939 was, followed by such other dubious choices as Dark Victory (a forgettable tearjerker) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (sentimental and dull).

Even when the big-name movies of 1939 aren't so bad, they're often overpraised. Gunga Din is a well-told tale, but it's also as racist as Wind. And William Wyler's Wuthering Heights has a hallucinatory Gothic intensity that mixes well, if you approach it in the right frame of mind, with the script's various Hollywood absurdities—but if it's hallucinatory Gothic intensity you want, there's much more of it in Luis Buñuel's version of the story, and he has a more acute sense of the absurd as well.

Winnow out the undeserving efforts, and here's the list that's left:

1. The Wizard of Oz
Directed by Victor Fleming
Written by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, from a novel by L. Frank Baum

IMDb cites five additional uncredited directors and 15 additional uncredited writers. You might expect the results to have a too-many-cooks problem, but instead that collective produced the Great American Movie—the one real masterpiece to come out of Hollywood in its alleged annus mirabilis.

2. The Rules of the Game
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir and Carl Koch

The year's one real masterpiece that didn't come out of Hollywood.

3. Destry Rides Again
Directed by George Marshall
Written by Felix Jackson, Gertrude Purcell, Henry Myers, from a novel by Max Brand

This undermines the conventions of the western as thoroughly as Little Big Man or McCabe and Mrs. Miller would three decades later. But it's funnier.

4. Ninotchka
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Melchior Lengyel, and Walter Reisch

The first great anti-Communist comedy of the sound era.

5. Stagecoach
Directed by John Ford
Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, from a story by Ernest Haycox

Formerly overrated, now underrated. To make it feel as fresh as possible, don't think of it as a seminal western; think of it as a tense thriller that happens to be set in the Old West.

6. Midnight
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, from story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz

Another home run for the Wilder/Brackett screenwriting team, three years before Wilder finally got a chance to start directing their scripts himself.

7. Only Angels Have Wings
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Jules Furthman, from a story by Hawks

Hawks insisted that he knew pilots who really lived like this. I don't believe him.

8. It's a Wonderful World
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Written by Ben Hecht, from a story by Hecht and Herman J. Mankiewicz

Not to be confused with that other Jimmy Stewart movie with the phrase "It's a Wonderful" in the title. This picture is practically forgotten—it never appears on those "1939 was the best year ever!" lists—but I think it's one of the funniest screwball comedies of the '30s.

9. Daybreak
Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Jacques Prévert, from a story by Jacques Viot

Like its villain, this movie talks too much. But when the characters are quiet and Carné's camera speaks, the film earns its exalted reputation.

10. Young Mr. Lincoln
Directed by John Ford
Written by Lamar Trotti

The flipside of Gone with the Wind: an exercise in historical mythmaking, this time pro-Lincoln rather than pro-Confederate. But it's a much more watchable movie, with a witty script and a charming performance by Henry Fonda as the future president. Hollywood history is a pack of lies, but here at least they lie with style.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi)
12. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra)
13. You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (George Marshall, Eddie Cline)
14. The Spy in Black (Michael Powell)
15. Of Mice and Men (Lewis Milestone)
16. Peace on Earth (Hugh Harman)
17. Love Affair (Leo McCarey)
18. Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee)
19. The Practical Pig (Dick Rickard)
20. Le Dernier Tournant (Pierre Chenal)

Of the films of 1939 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The End of the Day.

posted by Jesse 9:50 AM
. . .
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
NOT-SO-MINOR FORTY-NINERS: We've gone over my favorite films of
2009, 1999, 1989, 1979, 1969, and 1959. Time for another step back.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1949, it gave its Best Picture award to All the King's Men, a thinly veiled account of the career of Huey Long. It's one of those "serious" Hollywood movies that can't live up to their pretentions, but I couldn't help enjoying it—Long is pretty much the most interesting political figure in American history, and it's fascinating to watch Hollywood react to him when he was still a relatively fresh memory. But enjoying a movie is one thing; putting it on a year's-best list is another.

1. The Third Man
Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Graham Greene

"Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals."

2. Stray Dog
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima

Not just a riveting noir, but a meditation on how much responsibility the ordinary Japanese citizen bears for the crimes of the militarist government. It has (cough) relevance beyond Japan.

3. White Heat
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, from a story by Virginia Kellogg

I never understood the Cagney cult until I saw this movie.

4. Little Rural Riding Hood
Directed by Tex Avery
Written by Rich Hogan and Jack Cosgriff

The high point of Avery's Riding Hood cycle.

5. Kind Hearts and Coronets
Directed by Robert Hamer
Written by Hamer and John Dighton, from a novel by Roy Horniman

A dark comedy from Ealing Studios, which specialized in this sort of small, understatedly funny film. It was a good year for Ealing: The company also made Passport to Pimlico, which you'll find elsewhere on this list, and Whisky Galore!, which isn't on the list but just barely missed it.

6. Passport to Pimlico
Directed by Henry Cornelius
Written by T.E.B. Clarke

The most Chestertonian comedy I've ever seen. "We've always been English and we'll always be English; and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians."

7. Thieves' Highway
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by A.I. Bezzerides, from his novel

Truck-driving noir.

8. The Reckless Moment
Directed by Max Ophüls
Written by Mel Dinelli, Robert E. Kent, Henry Garson, and Robert Soderberg, from a story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

"You're quite a prisoner, aren't you?"

9. Jour de Fête
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Henri Marquet, and René Wheeler

The slapstick ballet of a rural postman.

10. The Set-Up
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Art Cohn, from a poem by Joseph Moncure March

"I remember the first time you told me that. You were just one punch away from the title shot then. Don't you see, Bill? You'll always be just one punch away."

Honorable mentions:

11. Bad Luck Blackie (Tex Avery)
12. Long-Haired Hare (Chuck Jones)
13. I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks)
14. Blood of the Beasts (Georges Franju)
15. Señor Droopy (Tex Avery)
16. D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté)
17. Twelve O'Clock High (Henry King)
18. The Queen of Spades (Thorold Dickinson)
19. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz)
20. The Heiress (William Wyler)

Of the films of 1949 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Silence of the Sea.

posted by Jesse 8:42 AM
. . .
Sunday, December 29, 2019
BEYOND IKE: I've told you my favorite films of
2009, 1999, 1989, 1979, and 1969. Clever readers may have anticipated what comes next.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1959, it gave its Best Picture award to Ben-Hur. Chariot race aside, I find that one pretty dull; if you find yourself watching it and have trouble staying awake, you can amuse yourself by searching for signs of the gay subtext that Gore Vidal claims to have inserted into the script.

1. The Four Hundred Blows
Directed by François Truffaut
Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy

"To escape is bad enough, but getting caught is worse."

2. North by Northwest
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ernest Lehman

Hitchcock's most paranoid picture.

3. Some Like it Hot
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, from a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan

Of the other male stars of the period, only Bugs Bunny was this comfortable wearing women's clothes on camera.

4. Rio Bravo
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, from a story by B.H. McCampbell

You know a director is in control of his material when he can stick a Ricky Nelson/Dean Martin duet in the middle of an action-packed picture and make it feel like the most natural thing in the world.

5. Warlock
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Written by Robert Alan Aurthur, from a novel by Oakley Hall

A cowboy movie that doubles as a bleak political fable.

6. Nazarin
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel, Julio Alejandro, and Emilio Carballido, from a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós

Buñuel had a knack for turning liturgical drama on its head.

7. Ride Lonesome
Directed by Budd Boetticher
Written by Burt Kennedy

It didn't hit me until I started compiling these lists that Rio Bravo, Warlock, and this all came out the same year. We just might have stumbled onto a golden age of the Hollywood western.

8. Jazz on a Summer's Day
Directed by Bert Stern and Aram Avakian
Written by Albert D'Annibale and Arnold Perl

The best jazz documentary this side of Straight, No Chaser and the best concert film this side of Gimme Shelter.

9. The World of Apu
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Ray, from a novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

The endpoint and high point of the Apu trilogy.

10. Anatomy of a Murder
Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Wendell Mayes, from a novel by John D. Voelker

"Just answer the questions, Mr. Paquette. The attorneys will provide the wisecracks."

Honorable mentions:

11. I'm All Right Jack (John Boulting)
12. A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman)
13. Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa)
14. Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise)
15. A Midsummer Night's Dream (Jiří Trnka)
16. Science Friction (Stan van der Beek)
17. Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu)
18. Shadows (John Cassavetes)
19. Cat's Cradle (Stan Brakhage)
20. Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Manckiewicz)

Finally, let's give a shoutout to one of the giddiest, most delightful, most transcendent movie moments of all time: Criswell's introduction to Plan 9 from Outer Space. I unreservedly, unironically love that scene; to reject it is to reject the cinema itself.

Of the films of 1959 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Overcoat and The Great War.

posted by Jesse 8:05 AM
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Friday, December 27, 2019
2009, 1999, 1989, and 1979. Time now for the year of Altamont, the Manson murders, and the inauguration of Richard Nixon.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1969, it gave its Best Picture award to Midnight Cowboy. They should've given that a pair of Best Actor statuettes and reserved Best Picture for one of these:

1. The Wild Bunch
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by Peckinpah and Walon Green, from a story by Green and Roy Sickner

The best American western of the '60s.

2. The Passion of Anna
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

"Has it ever occurred to you that the worse off people are, the less they complain? Finally, they're silent even if they're living creatures with nerves, eyes, and hands. Vast armies of victims and hangmen. The sun rises and falls, heavily."

3. Goyokin
Directed by Hideo Gosha
Written by Gosha and Kei Tasaka

The ronin vs. the state.

4. The Milky Way
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière

The Contra Haereses of road movies.

5. Take the Money and Run
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Allen and Mickey Rose

"I think that if he'd been a successful criminal, he would have felt better. You know, he never made the '10 most wanted' list. It's very unfair voting—it's who you know."

6. Army of Shadows
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville, from a novel by Joseph Kessel

When it comes to films about the French resistance, this is Casablanca's cheerless cousin. There's no shortage of nobility here, but there is far more ruthlessness than romance.

7. The Sorrow and the Pity
Directed by Marcel Ophüls
Written by Ophüls and André Harris

Another film about the resistance. This one makes Army of Shadows look starry-eyed.

8. The Rain People
Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Of Mice and Men on mescaline.

9. Burn!
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by Franco Solinas and Giorgio Arlorio

Start with the storyline of a Zapata western, but move it from Mexico to the Caribbean. Remix your history, so William Walker is transformed from a Tennessee filibuster to a British covert agent. Marinate those ingredients in anti-imperial New Left politics, then season with one of Morricone's best scores. Serve with Molotov cocktails.

10. Z
Directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras
Written by Costa-Gavras and Jorge Semprún

This one has that '60s revolutionary spirit too, plus a conspiratorial ambiance that we're more likely these days to associate with the '70s.

Honorable mentions:

11. La Femme Infidèle (Claude Chabrol)
12. Downhill Racer (Michael Ritchie)
13. My Night at Maud's (Éric Rohmer)
14. Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper)
15. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill)
16. The Sun's Gonna Shine (Les Blank, Skip Gerson)
17. Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin)
18. The Adding Machine (Jerome Epstein)
19. Invocation of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger)
20. Bambi Meets Godzilla (Marv Newland)

Of the films of 1969 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Swimming Pool and Blaumilch Canal.

posted by Jesse 8:41 AM
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