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

Monday, January 13, 2014
SILENCE AND THE SILENTS: I've listed my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, 1943, and 1933. And now...

Now we bring the series to an end. For the record, my favorite film of 1923 is the Harold Lloyd vehicle Safety Last! and my favorite film of 1913 is the Louis Feuillade serial Fantômas—or, at least, the first three installments of it. (I've got nothing against the other two chapters, indeed I like them better, but they didn't come out until 1914. Fitting serials into years can be tricky.) I don't know enough other good films from 1923 to fill a top 10 list, and in 1913 I doubt I could even fill a top five list, so I'm going to stop the sequence here. In December we'll start over with the best of 2004.

posted by Jesse 3:01 PM
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Friday, January 10, 2014
LOTS OF LAUGHS IN A DEPRESSING YEAR: We've gone through the best movies of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, and 1943. And a decade before that...

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1933, it gave its Best Picture award to Cavalcade, which isn't nearly as good as a movie based on a Noel Coward play ought to be. When I say "isn't nearly as good," I'm pulling my punches: Aside from a couple of montages and the song "20th Century Blues," Cavalcade is a study in tedium. It isn't on my list.

1. Duck Soup
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby with Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin

A cinéma vérité documentary filmed at the White House after the invasion of Iraq.

2. Zero for Conduct
Written and directed by Jean Vigo

Anarchy in the schoolhouse.

3. Snow-White
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Comparing this to the Disney movie is like comparing an R. Crumb comic to Archie.

4. I'm No Angel
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Written by Mae West

"I see a man in your life." "What? Only one?"

5. Design for Living
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ben Hecht, from a play by Noel Coward

"A man can meet two, three, or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice."

6. Alice in Wonderland
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, from two novels by Lewis Carroll

It was a stroke of genius to cast W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty.

7. International House
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Neil Brant

Fields is in this one too—and so are Cab Calloway, and Bela Lugosi, and Burns and Allen, and Rudy Vallee, and Col. Stoopnagle, and...

8. 42nd Street
Directed by Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley
Written by Rian James and James Seymour, from a novel by Bradford Ropes

It isn't the first backstage musical of the '30s, but it's the definitive one.

9. Lot in Sodom
Written and directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber

The only entry on this list that is not in some sense a comedy.

10. The Fatal Glass of Beer
Directed by Clyde Bruckman
Written by W.C. Fields

Man. This was Fields' year, wasn't it?

Of the films of 1933 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Ecstasy and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.

posted by Jesse 11:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 07, 2014
SELF-PROMOTION: It's been a while since this blog has run a roundup of the articles I've been publishing elsewhere. Since my last
post along those lines, I've written these:

"Wobblies, 'open mouth sabotage' and the history of American whistleblowing" (The National Post): In which I describe the Age of Easy Leaks.

"Conspiracies: Five things they don't want you to know" (The Boston Globe): A rundown of some themes from my conspiracy book.

"The Legend of the Child-Snatching Gypsies" (Reason): My Halloween column.

"Canadian Hate Speech" (Reason): Not really a full-fledged article—it's one of those mini-stories we run in the front of the mag.

"JFK Conspiracy Theories Will Never Die" (Time): Not the headline I would have chosen, since the article says it's possible that they will die.

"The roots of American conspiracy theories" ( Another rundown of some themes from my conspiracy book. For the most part, they aren't the same themes I covered in the Globe piece.

"Of Course the Law Should Tolerate Plural Marriages" (Reason): See? Not everything I write is about conspiracy theories.

"Pulp Paranoia" (TAC): I review a biography of Ray Palmer.

"Seven Pieces of Good News for Freedom in 2013" (Reason): Some Reason colleagues and I go hunting for silver linings. In my case, I write about the backlash against zero tolerance.

I also participated in The American Spectator's annual collection of Christmas book recommendations, and of course I've been blogging at Hit and Run. And I've had some stories in the print edition of Reason that haven't appeared online yet; I'll include them in the next roundup.

posted by Jesse 10:42 PM
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THE YEAR MY DAD WAS BORN: We've discussed my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, and 1953. I think I've spotted a pattern!

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1943, it gave its Best Picture award to Casablanca—a peculiar choice, since the film actually debuted in 1942. It appears in my top 10 list for that year, not this one.

1. Shadow of a Doubt
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville, from a story by Gordon McDonell

Few things are as odd as watching Thornton Wilder's sensibility collide with Hitchcock's. Wilder's screenplay is an ode to conformity, and Hitch's picture drily undercuts the script at every turn.

2. Meshes of the Afternoon
Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
Written by Deren

If a movie is set in a spooky dreamworld, chances are good that it owes a debt to this.

3. Le Corbeau
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Clouzot and Louis Chavance, from a story by Chavance

A Vichy-era portrait of paranoia in a small town. The Resistance denounced the film as an attack on the French people, but in retrospect it looks like a critique of the culture of collaboration.

4. Red Hot Riding Hood
Written and directed by Tex Avery

The Male Gaze: A Comedy.

5. Ossessione
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Mario Alicata, Giuseppe De Santis, and Gianni Puccinim, from a novel by James M. Cain

The first and best of the pictures based on The Postman Always Rings Twice.

6. The Ox-Bow Incident
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Lamar Trotti, from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

There's more to this noir western than a morality tale about the evils of lynching. In some ways, the view of humanity on display here is as bleak as the outlook in Le Corbeau.

7. I Walked with a Zombie
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, from a novel by Charlotte Brontë

Tourneur and producer Val Lewton's follow-up to Cat People isn't quite as good as its predecessor, but it's still one of the best horror pictures of the '40s.

8. Five Graves to Cairo
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, from a play by Lajos Bíró

Billy Wilder's Casablanca.

9. Day of Wrath
Directed by Carl Dreyer
Written by Dreyer, Poul Knudsen, and Mogens Skot-Hansen, from a play by Hans Wiers-Jenssen

A film about a witch hunt. This would make an interesting triple bill with Ox-Bow and Le Corbeau.

10. The Eternal Return
Directed by Jean Delannoy
Written by Jean Cocteau

A fairy-tale romance. Remember, real fairy tales are cruel and weird.

Honorable mentions:

11. Tortoise Wins by a Hare (Bob Clampett)
12. Journey Into Fear (Norman Foster, Orson Welles)
13. Dumb-Hounded (Tex Avery)
14. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)
15. The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson)
16. The Fallen Sparrow (Richard Wallace)
17. Tin Pan Alley Cats (Bob Clampett)
18. Falling Hare (Bob Clampett)
19. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Bob Clampett)
20. What's Buzzin' Buzzard? (Tex Avery)

I'll spare you the trouble of counting: 7 of those 20 films are cartoon shorts, all from either Tex Avery or Bob Clampett. I've said before that if I allowed individual TV episodes onto these lists, there would be years in the '90s overwhelmed by installments of The Simpsons. I suppose this is the equivalent for the World War II era.

Of the films of 1943 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Lumière d'été.

posted by Jesse 8:34 AM
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Friday, January 03, 2014
WE LEAVE KOREA: I've listed my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, and 1963. Onward to the Eisenhower era.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1953, it gave its Best Picture award to From Here to Eternity. I like that one, but I like these better:

1. Glen or Glenda
Written and directed by Ed Wood

It draws heavily on found footage, espouses radical sexual politics, and refuses to obey any genre constraints. It jumps merrily from B-movie drama to mock educational film to surreal dream imagery. Unlike all those "socially conscious" liberal studio movies of the '50s, it actually challenges the consensus of its day, sometimes with arguments that adopt the era's assumptions and sometimes in ways far removed from the mainstream. And it casts the guy who played Dracula as God. Isn't it time we recognized this picture as a landmark underground film, as daring and unconventional as anything by Brakhage, Deren, or Conner?

2. Duck Amuck
Directed by Chuck Jones
Written by Michael Maltese

Bugs and Daffy never had much use for the fourth wall to begin with, but in this short they pretty much destroy it.

3. The Naked Spur
Written and directed by Anthony Mann

There's an intense psychological thriller lurking beneath this movie's cowboys-and-Indians setting, with James Stewart in one of his most complex and morally ambiguous roles.

4. Tokyo Story
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Ozu and Kôgo Noda

Self-absorbed adults grow emotionally estranged from their parents. Quiet but devastating.

5. Eaux d'Artifice
Written and directed by Kenneth Anger

Not much happens in this film—there's a woman walking in a garden, and there's water, and there's the color blue, and there's a burst of a different color. As far as I'm concerned, it's Anger's masterpiece.

6. Ugetsu Monogatari
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Matsutarô Kawaguchi and Yoshikata Yoda, from stories by Akinari Ueda

A samurai movie about potters, not a potted movie about samurais.

7. El
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, from a novel by Mercedes Pinto

Sometimes I think Buñuel was at his best when he was helming Mexican potboilers. He certainly had a knack for transforming them into something strange.

8. Niagara
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard L. Breen

A Hitchcockian nightmare about death and marriage.

9. Stalag 17
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and Edwin Blum, from a play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski

I could do without some of the supporting cast, but it's still the funniest movie ever set in a wartime prison camp.

10. Summer with Monika
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Bergman, from a novel by Per Anders Fogelström

The film returns the stare.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
12. The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)
13. Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller)
14. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli)
15. Little Fugitive (Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin)
16. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks)
17. Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Jacques Tati)
18. Daybreak Express (D.A. Pennebaker)
19. The Tell-Tale Heart (Ted Parmelee)
20. I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini)

Great unsung performance: Richard Boone in Vicki.

Of the films of 1953 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Anatahan, The Beggar's Opera, and Under the Brooklyn Bridge.

posted by Jesse 3:12 PM
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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
NO OSCARS FOR ZAPRUDER: I've blogged my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, and 1973. Now we enter that wild zone I call Before I Was Born.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1963, it gave its Best Picture award to Tom Jones—the movie, not the singer. It isn't very memorable, and I didn't put it on my list.

1. The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter, from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier

Some say this is Hitch's silliest movie. I say it's his scariest.

2. Ikarie XB-1
Directed by Jindřich Polák
Written by Polák and Pavel Juráček, from a novel by Stanislaw Lem

This just might be the most stylish space-fiction film of the '60s—and yes, I've seen 2001.

3. The Silence
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

The final and finest segment of Bergman's Silence of God trilogy.

4. The Leopard
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, and Suso Cecchi d'Amico, from a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

I'm not sure what it says that Burt Lancaster's best performance features someone else's voice.

5. This Sporting Life
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Written by David Storey, from his novel

The other notable William Hartnell role of 1963. And with its flashback structure, it features several jumps through time. Hmm.

6. The Great Escape
Directed by John Sturges
Written by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, from a book by Paul Brickhill

"Perhaps we're being too clever. If we stop all the breakouts, it will only convince the goons we must be tunneling."

7. The Haunting
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Nelson Gidding, from a novel by Shirley Jackson

How I resented this picture the first time I saw it! The campy beginning relaxed my defenses and let me feel superior to the material, and by the time its superbly crafted chills were jolting me in my seat I was too proud to admit I'd been taken in. Forgive me, Haunting: You're a great horror movie, and I regret ever claiming to dislike you.

8. Méditerranée
Directed by Jean-Daniel Pollet with Volker Schlöndorff
Written by Philippe Sollers

"...if someone, somewhere, was slowly attempting to take your place..."

9. Judex
Directed by Georges Franju
Written by Jacques Champreux and Francis Lacassin, from a story by Louis Feuillade and Arthur Bernède

A semi-surrealist semi-superhero story.

10. Muriel
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Cayrol

The art of the abrupt edit.

Honorable mentions:

11. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman)
12. The Servant (Joseph Losey)
13. Hud (Martin Ritt)
14. An Actor's Revenge (Kon Ichikawa)
15. High and Low (Akira Kurosawa)
16. Moth Light (Stan Brakhage)
17. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini)
18. Renaissance (Walerian Borowczyk)
19. To Parsifal (Bruce Baillie)
20. Charade (Stanley Donen)

Finally, a tip of the hat to the Zapruder film. I stuck it into my top 10 as a joke when I made my first 1963 list a decade ago, and while I don't feel the need to repeat the gag this time I don't want to toss out the picture entirely either. It isn't art, but it has attracted so much meaning over the years, just by its proximity to history, that it can work like art if you let it. So let's put it adjacent to the list instead of inside it—in the back and to the left.

Of the films of 1963 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Fire Within, Suzanne's Career, and Hallelujah the Hills.

posted by Jesse 1:36 PM
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Sunday, December 29, 2013
THE YEAR I ENTERED NURSERY SCHOOL: I've reeled off my favorite films of
2003, 1993, and 1983. You may have anticipated what's coming next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1973, it gave its Best Picture award to a fun comedy called The Sting. That one made it into my list of honorable mentions, but it didn't break into the top 10:

1. F for Fake
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles and Oja Kodar

A deliberately deceitful documentary, bordering on a mockumentary, about storytelling, filmmaking, forgery, and other forms of fakery.

2. The Long Goodbye
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Leigh Brackett, from a novel by Raymond Chandler

I have heard this anti-noir condemned on the grounds that no one is less suited to play Philip Marlowe than Elliott Gould. I say that's part of the point.

3. Badlands
Written and directed by Terrence Malick

" is strange."

4. The Last Detail
Directed by Hal Ashby
Written by Robert Towne, from a novel by Darryl Ponicsan

Part of that amazing streak Jack Nicholson had in the early to mid 1970s, when it must have seemed like he was incapable of starring in a bad movie.

5. Charley Varrick
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, from a novel by John Reese

One of Hollywood's most individualistic directors offers an elegy for individualism.

6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Paul Monash, from a novel by George V. Higgins

The book is great too, but it doesn't have Robert Mitchum.

7. Mean Streets
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin

An ur-movie whose influence echoes from The Bad Lieutenant to The Wire.

8. Paper Moon
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Alvin Sargent, from a novel by Joe David Brown

If Bogdanovich's career had ended here, he'd be a legend.

9. Day for Night
Directed by François Truffaut
Written by Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, and Suzanne Schiffman

There's a whole genre of movies about making movies, from The Cameraman to 8 1/2 to Ed Wood to, um, Hardbodies 2, which isn't any good but it's the first specimen of the genre I ever saw, watching cable one night in my teens, so I'll mention it too. Day for Night is one of the best of these.

10. Sleeper
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman

They could've called it They Saved Hitler's Nose.

Honorable mentions:

11. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)
12. Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
13. Serpico (Sidney Lumet)
14. Juvenile Court (Frederick Wiseman)
15. Frank Film (Frank Mouris)
16. High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood)
17. The Sting (George Roy Hill)
18. My Name is Nobody (Tonino Valerii, Sergio Leone)
19. Hell Up in Harlem (Larry Cohen)
20. The Marcus-Nelson Murders (Joseph Sargent)

Finally, a tip of the hat to Lindsay Anderson's uneven but sporadically brilliant O Lucky Man!, which made it onto my list the last time I covered this year but got squeezed out this time around.

Of the films of 1973 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Amarcord and Touki Bouki.

posted by Jesse 8:11 AM
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Thursday, December 26, 2013
THE YEAR I BECAME A TEENAGER: I've told you my favorite films of
2003 and 1993. Now it's time to drop by the Reagan era.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1983, it gave its Best Picture award to an all-star weepie called Terms of Endearment. It's a fairly capable production, but I like these better:

1. Sans Soleil
Written and directed by Chris Marker

A strange and lovely essay-film about Africa, Japan, festivals, robots, Hitchcock, and much more. No other movie in the world is like this one.

2. Videodrome
Written and directed by David Cronenberg

"It's just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it's what's next."

3. The King of Comedy
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Zimmerman

This and Videodrome would make an interesting double bill.

4. Tender Mercies
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by Horton Foote

Robert Duvall plays a country singer who's down on his luck. If you don't think that sounds great, you might be reading the wrong blog.

5. Zelig
Written and directed by Woody Allen

"It shows exactly what you can do, if you're a total psychotic."

6. Pauline at the Beach
Written and directed by Eric Rohmer

I don't know if honest self-deception is possible, but that's what the final scene seems to show.

7. The Meaning of Life
Directed by Terry Jones with Terry Gilliam
Written by Jones, Gilliam, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin

Holds nothing sacred, save sperm.

8. El Sur
Directed by Victor Erice
Written by Erice, from a novel by Adelaida García Morales

"That was the first time Dad left home in the middle of the night without a word to anyone."

9. El Norte
Directed by Gregory Nava
Written by Anna Thomas

I swear I didn't deliberately tweak this so El Norte would be immediately adjacent to El Sur.

10. A Christmas Story
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Clark, Leigh Brown, and Jean Shepherd, from the novel by Shepherd

My father watches this every year, and I can't say I blame him. I like the shopping mall Santa scene best.

Honorable mentions:

11. À Nos Amours (Maurice Pialat)
12. John Cage (Peter Greenaway)
13. Carmen (Carlos Saura)
14. Trading Places (John Landis)
15. The Store (Frederick Wiseman)
16. Risky Business (Paul Brickman)
17. Local Hero (Bill Forsyth)
18. Rockit (Kevin Godley, Lol Creme)
19. Smorgasbord (Jerry Lewis)
20. Chance Encounters (James Williams)

Of the films of 1983 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in My Brother's Wedding.

The last time I published a list for this year, I didn't include an honorable mentions section. Also, I was under the impression that Sans Soleil had been released in 1982. So there's been a few changes.

posted by Jesse 1:09 AM
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