Monday, January 28, 2008
TO THE THIRTIES: Over the last month and a half, we've run through the best movies of 1997, 1987, 1977, 1967, 1957, and (pause for breath) 1947. Why stop now?
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1937, it gave its Best Picture award to a formulaic biopic called The Life of Emile Zola. You won't find that one here:
1. Grand Illusion
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir and Charles Spaak
"Frontiers are an invention of men. Nature doesn't give a hoot."
2. Night Must Fall
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Written by John Van Druten, from a play by Emlyn Williams
This atmospheric crime story's origins as a play are obvious but not overwhelming: It's dialogue-heavy but never too talky, placebound without seeming stagy.
3. Nothing Sacred
Directed by William Wellman
Written by Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner Jr., and Budd Schulberg, from a story by James H. Street
The secret origins of Oliver Stone.
4. Stage Door
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Written by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller, from a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman
It isn't as famous as the year's other aspiring-actress story, William Wellman's A Star is Born, but it's much, much better, with a young Katharine Hepburn in one of the abiding Hepburn roles.
5. The Awful Truth
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Viña Delmar and Sidney Buchman, from a play by Arthur Richman
I haven't seen the other much-praised McCarey film of 1937, Make Way for Tomorrow, but this screwball romance earns the director a place on the list.
6. Easy Living
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Preston Sturges, from a story by Vera Caspary
Like many of Sturges' comedies, this is stuffed with jokes about class, convention, hypocrisy, and mistaken identity.
7. On the Avenue
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Gene Markey and William M. Conselman
"Some fellows see the girl that they love in a dream/Some fellows see their love in a rippling stream/I saw the girl that I can't forget/On the cover of a police gazette."
8. The Edge of the World
Written and directed by Michael Powell
Haunting and dreamlike yet extremely realistic, this manages to feel fantastic and naturalistic at the same time.
9. Shall We Dance
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Ernest Pagano, Allan Scott, and P.J. Wolfson, from a story by Harold Buchman and Lee Loeb
To be honest, I tend to get all those Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals mixed up. That's partly because they frequently follow a formula, but it's also because so many of them are so good.
10. Even—As You and I
Written and directed by Roger Barlow, Harry Hay, and LeRoy Robbins
The framing story is overlong, but that's forgivable. The heart of the film is one of the first and best cinematic parodies of surrealist art -- and, perhaps, a surrealist mini-masterpiece itself.
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For past entries, click here.
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