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

Monday, January 24, 2011
STALINISM, SURREALISM, AND SWING: If you're coming in late, you can click on the links to see lists of my favorite films from
2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, and 1940. For 1930, read on.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1930, it gave its Best Picture award to All Quiet on the Western Front, an adaptation of an antiwar novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The book is better than the movie, but the film is still good; you'll find it in the honorable mentions list. Meanwhile, here's 10 pictures I like better:

1. Earth
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko

It was supposed to be a Soviet propaganda picture 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 aces include the photographer, Fred "Oklahoma!" Zinnemann.

3. Swing You Sinners!
Directed by Dave Fleischer

The Fleischer brothers made many weird, wild, and funny cartoons in the pre-Code era. This was one of the weirdest, wildest, and funniest of them all.

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

In art, like this list, this film falls somewhere between Animal Crackers and Blood of a Poet.

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

An early sign that filmmakers could figure out how to 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 Nice 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. Monte Carlo
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ernest Vajda with Vincent Lawrence, from a play by Hans Mueller

The Lubitsch touch makes its true debut. This isn't Lubitsch's first sound picture, but it's the one where he masters sound so completely that it's hard to imagine he ever tried to make a movie without it.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)
12. Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau)
13. Borderline (Kenneth MacPherson)
14. Romance Sentimentale (Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov)
15. Crabes et Crevettes (Jean Painlevé)
16. Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner)
17. The Big House (George W. Hill)
18. All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone)
19. It's a Bird (Harold L. Muller)
20. Night Owls (James Parrott)

Of the films of 1930 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Jean Grémillon's La Petite Lise and Laurel & Hardy's Brats.


posted by Jesse 9:45 PM
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