We'll stop. I haven't seen enough good movies from 1916 to fill a list of 10, and I haven't seen 10 movies of any quality from 1906. (Though for the record, my favorite film of 1916 is Les Vampires and my fave from 1906 is The '?' Motorist.) So that wraps it up for this year's lists. See you in December.
1. The General
Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton
Written by Bruckman, Keaton, Al Boasberg, Charles Henry Smith, and Paul Girard Smith
Forget D.W. Griffith. This is the great American Civil War movie.
2. Now You Tell One
Directed by Charley Bowers and Harold L. Muller
Written by Bowers, Muller, and Ted Sears
3. A Page of Madness
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Written by Kinugasa, Yasunari Kawabata, Banko Sawada, and Minoru Inuzuka
It reminds me of Eraserhead, which probably isn't what you expect from a 1920s Japanese drama.
4. The Overcoat
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg
Written by Yury Tynyanov, from stories by Nikolai Gogol
The FEKS crowd made the most anarchic art of the early Soviet Union, in that brief period when the early Soviets tolerated anarchic art. This was their take on Gogol.
Written and directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff
6. Love's Berry
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
A cheerful little comedy about a man trying to dispose of a baby.
Directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin
Written by Nathan Zarkhi, from a novel by Maxim Gorky
As with a lot of Russian films from this era, the propaganda parts are palatable because they're about the evils of the old order, not the alleged glories of the new one. If you'd like, you can even pretend that red flag at the end is another color. The movie's in black and white, after all.
8. The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Written and directed by Lotte Reiniger
Somewhere between a cartoon and a puppet show.
9. Mighty Like a Moose
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Charley Chase and H.M. Walker
In which a man cheats on his wife with a woman who turns out to be his wife, and his wife cheats on her husband with a man who turns out to be her husband. Come for the gags, stay to puzzle out whether this qualifies as adultery.
10. Le Voyage Imaginaire
Written and directed by René Clair
Clair's comedies and his avant-garde experiments collide.
Of the films of 1926 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in By the Law, The Devil's Wheel, and So This Is Paris?
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1936, it gave its Best Picture award to The Great Ziegfeld, a film I've seen but forgotten virtually everything about. These movies are more memorable:
1. Rose Hobart
Directed by Joseph Cornell
The first and greatest unauthorized reedit of a Hollywood potboiler.
2. Theodora Goes Wild
Directed by Richard Boleslawski
Written by Sidney Buchman and Mary McCarthy
A screwball comedy that mocks small-town prudes and censors, then turns around and also mocks the thinly masked parochialism of the urbanites who look down on small-town prudes and censors.
3. Rainbow Dance
Directed by Len Lye
This animation feels like it's from 1986, not 1936.
4. Modern Times
Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin is usually conspiciously absent from these lists, but even I have to admire this man-vs.-the-machine comedy. And if it owes more than a little to À nous la liberté, at least he's stealing from the best.
5. My Man Godfrey
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Written by Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch, from a novel by Eric Hatch
"All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."
6. Swing Time
Directed by George Stevens
Written by Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott
I always mix this up with Top Hat. But they're both great, so you're safe with either one.
7. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin, from a story by Clarence Budington Kelland
There is—I am not kidding—a book published by the American Psychiatric Association that reproaches this film for its "cinematic stereotypes contributing to the stigmatization of psychiatrists."
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Charles Bennett, from a novel by Joseph Conrad
Confusingly, this Hitchcock movie based on Conrad's novel The Secret Agent came out the same year Hitchcock made a movie called Secret Agent that had nothing to do with Conrad at all. (And that one's good too!)
9. Libeled Lady
Directed by Jack Conway
Written by Maurine Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer, from a story by Wallace Sullivan
"You can't build a life on hate, or a marriage on spite. Marriage is too important. Mine only lasted an hour, but...I know."
10. Thru the Mirror
Directed by David Hand
Written by William Cottrell and Joe Grant
Mickey Mouse does Lewis Carroll. I actually prefer this to Disney's feature-length take on the Alice books.
Of the films of 1936 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Wife vs. Secretary and The Crime of Monsieur Lange.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1946, it gave its Best Picture award to The Best Years of Our Lives, a well-intentioned film that is nowhere near as good as any of these:
1. It's a Wonderful Life
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Jo Swerling, from a story by Philip Van Doren Stern
I have heard your complaints about this movie. You think Potterville looks like a pretty fun place to live. You think it's ridiculous that it's considered such a terrible fate to become a spinster librarian. You think that romantic portrait of a building-and-loan is partly responsible for the S&L crisis. You've got a ton of arguments against this beloved classic, and I understand them. I even agree with some of them. (Go, librarians!) But it's still a damn masterpiece, a film of depth and nuance that keeps yielding more depths and nuances the closer you look at it. The best thing Capra ever did.
2. My Darling Clementine
Directed by John Ford
Written by Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller, and Sam Hellman, from a novel by Stuart N. Lake
"Mac, you ever been in love?" "No, I've been a bartender all my life."
3. The Big Sleep
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, from a novel by Raymond Chandler
The picture with a plot so convoluted that even Chandler wasn't sure who killed one of the characters. Somehow that makes it better.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ben Hecht
"My car is outside." "Naturally."
5. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Robert Rossen, from a novel by John Patrick
Quite possibly the single most bizarre movie in all of '40s and '50s film noir. Yes, I realize that's saying a lot.
Directed by Charles Vidor
Written by Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet, and Ben Hecht, from a story by E.A. Ellington
"I cheat with my own money, sure. But with your money, I wouldn't have to cheat."
7. The Killers
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Written by Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, and John Huston, from a story by Ernest Hemingway
Putting that Citizen Kane structure to use on a rougher, more violent tale.
8. Hair-Raising Hare
Directed by Chuck Jones
Written by Tedd Pierce
Bugs Bunny meets Peter Lorre.
9. Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Jean Cocteau
Written by Cocteau, from a novel by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
No, not the Disney movie. For heaven's sake.
10. The Postman Always Rings Twice
Directed by Tay Garnett
Written by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, from a novel by James M. Cain
Like the movies at #s 3, 5, 6, 7, and arguably 4, this is a noir. Did I mention that this was a good year for noir?
Of the films of 1946 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Duel in the Sun.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1956, it gave its Best Picture award to Around the World in 80 Days, a fairly entertaining but not particularly memorable adaptation of Jules Verne. Here are some films I like more:
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Daniel Mainwaring, from a novel by Jack Finney
The fact this works as a metaphor both for Communism and for McCarthyism tells you something about the era.
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Ray, from two novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
What feels liberating for the son can seem selfish to the mother. Ray shows the truth in both perspectives.
3. Baby Doll
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams, from his play
"Mrs. Meighan, your husband sweats more than any man I know and now I can understand why."
4. Night and Fog
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Cayrol
The standard against which to measure all other Holocaust films.
5. The Searchers
Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank Nugent, from a novel by Alan Le May
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: The Western.
6. Death in the Garden
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza, and Raymond Queneau, from a novel by José-André Lacour
Buñuel had the kind of politics where the oppressive state is venal, so you sympathize with the revolutionaries; but the revolutionaries are kind of venal too; and the kindly priest who means well is also pretty unbearable; and the charming rogue who knows the score is an unbelievable asshole.
7. Crazed Fruit
Directed by Kō Nakahira
Written by Shintaro Ishihara, from his novel
Starts like a teen sex comedy, ends like a noir.
8. Bob le flambeur
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville and Auguste Le Breton, from a story by Melville
"With a really good lawyer, I could sue for damages."
9. A Man Escaped
Written and directed by Robert Bresson
One of the great jailbreak movies.
10. Number 10
Directed by Harry Smith
I swear I didn't go out of my way to put this one in the #10 slot. Not way out of my way, anyway.
11. Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher)
12. Toute la mémoire du monde (Alain Resnais)
13. Mirror Animations (Harry Smith)
14. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock)
15. The Wormwood Star (Curtis Harrington)
16. The Silent World (Jacques Cousteau, Louis Malle)
17. O Dreamland (Lindsay Anderson)
18. Symphonie Mécanique (Jean Mitry)
19. Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray)
20. The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock)
Speaking of The Silent World, I've got to get something off my chest. At one point, by accident, Cousteau and his men mortally injure a baby whale. They then kill it to put it out of its misery. Some sharks show up to eat the carcass, and so the crew decides to avenge the whale’s death by slaughtering the sharks, even though it’s the crew that killed the damn thing and the sharks are just there to feed. What the hell, people?
(By the way: All this time I thought The Seventh Seal came out in 1956. But apparently it's from 1957. So don't ask me where The Seventh Seal is. We'll get to it.)
Of the films of 1956 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Elena and Her Men.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1966, it gave its Best Picture award to A Man for All Seasons. That one just missed my top 10; here's what made the list instead:
1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone, Luciano Vincenzoni, Age Incrocci, and Furio Scarpelli, from a story by Leone and Vincenzoni
"In this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
It's either the original 3 Women or the original Fight Club, depending on how you prefer to interpret the story.
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by Lewis John Carlino, from a novel by David Ely
If Philip K. Dick had written a Twilight Zone, it would've looked something like this.
4. The Battle of Algiers
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas
In the '60s, would-be Guevaras watched this to teach themselves revolution; four decades later, the Pentagon screened it for tips on fighting terror. Whatever else they found in it, both groups got to see one hell of a movie—a film so utterly unflinching in its amorality that it feels more like a dispassionate documentary than a propaganda picture.
5. Punch and Judy
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer
A surreal and brutal take on the world's most famous puppet show.
6. Death of a Bureaucrat
Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Written by Alfredo L. Del Cueto and Ramon F. Suarez, from a story by Alea
A dissident Cuban comedy. Like Kafka crossed with Laurel and Hardy.
7. Le deuxième souffle
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville, from a novel by Jose Giovanni
"It's easier to find someone who's hiding. They lead an unusual life."
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Edward Bond, from a story by Julio Cortázar
The Zapruder film of arthouse pictures.
9. The Shooting
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Carole Eastman
The Zapruder film of westerns.
10. Andrei Rublev
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky
I'm not a Tarkovsky cultist, but I do admire this fresco of a feature. The fourth chapter—"The Feast"—is the high point.
11. A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann)
12. Et Cetera (Jan Švankmajer)
13. Who Wants to Kill Jessie? (Václav Vorlíček)
14. Alfie (Lewis Gilbert)
15. El Dorado (Howard Hawks)
16. A Report on the Party and the Guests (Jan Němec)
17. Death of the Gorilla (Peter Mays)
18. The Cut-Ups (Antony Balch)
19. Lapis (James Whitney)
20. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Bill Melendez)
Note that The Cut-Ups was co-written by William Burroughs and The Great Pumpkin was written by Charles M. Schulz. (I have no big point to make about that; it's just that those two don't often get to appear in the same lineup.) Also worth noting: The U.S. usually dominates my movie lists, but this time there are only two American pictures in the top 10. This wasn't a great era for Hollywood. (Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, was clearly punching above its weight.)
If that Battle of Algiers blurb sounds familiar, it's because I included the movie in my 1965 list last year. Apparently I misdated it, so here it is again in its proper place. If you want to fill last year's list back up to 20 places, add Tokyo Olympiad to the honorable mentions.
Finally, a special Golden Punchline Award to After the Fox. Most of it is mediocre—just another forgettable film wasting Peter Sellers' talent—but that final gag is great.
Of the films of 1966 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Endless Summer and The Big Gundown.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1976, it gave its Best Picture award to Rocky. It was a weak choice for such a strong year:
1. Seven Beauties
Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller
A pitch-dark comedy about sex, fascism, domination, submission, cruelty, conformity, and machismo.
2. Taxi Driver
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader
The lost bridge between John Wayne and John Hinckley.
3. The Outlaw Josey Wales
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Philip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, from a novel by Forrest Carter
The most anarchist western since The Oklahoma Kid.
4. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Written and directed by John Cassavetes
The oddest, least predictable gangster movie I've ever seen.
5. Television Assassination
Directed by Bruce Conner
The death of John F. Kennedy as a televised dream.
6. Harlan County U.S.A.
Directed by Barbara Kopple
Anyone who thinks actually existing capitalism is a product of purely peaceful trade should watch this documentary. Anyone who thinks unions are uniformly devoted to the interests of the working class should watch it too.
7. The Tenant
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski and Gerard Brach, from a novel by Roland Topor
With its intense claustrophobia and paranoia, this is Polanski at his most Polanskian.
8. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Directed by Nicolas Gessner
Written by Laird Koenig, from his novel
Free Range Kids: The Thriller.
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
No, it isn't "prophetic"; and yes, like most of Chayefsky's efforts, it's absurdly overwritten. But it still carries more laughs in any given 15 minutes than most comedies can conjure in two hours. The best scene: when the host of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour renegotiates her contract.
10. The Shootist
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale, from a novel by Glendon Swarthout
The film that finally proved, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that John Wayne could act. He was still playing the same character he always did, mind you; but now that man was dying.
11. Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May)
12. Small Change (François Truffaut)
13. Dôjôji (Kihachiro Kawamoto)
14. All the President's Men (Alan J. Pakula)
15. Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby)
16. Carrie (Brian De Palma)
17. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg)
18. Impressions of Upper Mongolia (Salvador Dalí, José Montes-Baquer)
19. Massacre at Central High (Rene Daalder)
20. To Fly! (Jim Freeman, Greg MacGillivray)
I think Seven Beauties might technically be a 1975 release, but I left it out of my 1975 list last year because at that point I thought it was first screened in 1976. So here is where it goes.
Of the films of 1976 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Face to Face.