And now we're done. As best as I can tell, the only film from 1918 that I've seen is a documentary called Beautiful Japan, and while it's historically interesting I wouldn't say it's any sort of favorite. So this is where the road ends. We'll be back in December, to talk about the best movies made in years that end with a "9."
The Motion Picure Academy split its Best Picture award for "1927-1928" between two movies released in 1927, and it gave its "1928-1929" prize to a film from 1929. So it never did get around to honoring 1928. Here are some of the movies it missed:
1. There It Is Written and directed by Charley Bowers and Harold L. Muller
One of the strangest, funniest comedies of the '20s, or of any decade.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou
Part banker, part communist, part criminal, part clown, Lang's supervillain feels like a cubist abstraction of a Nesta Webster conspiracy theory.
3. The Docks of New York
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Written by Jules Furthman, from a novel by John Monk Saunders
This has one of the greatest wedding scenes in film history, made greater by the lurking question of whether the ceremony is a sham.
4. The Fall of the House of Usher Directed by Jean Epstein Written by Epstein and Luis Buñuel, from a story by Edgar Allan Poe
European surrealists do Poe.
5. The Fall of the House of Usher Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber Written by Watson and Webber, from a story by Edgar Allan Poe
The American version. Briefer and even more dreamlike than the French effort.
6. Speedy Directed by Ted Wilde Written by Al Boasberg, Albert DeMond, John Grey, Jay Howe, Lex Neal, Howard Emmett Rogers, and Paul Girard Smith, from a story by Grey, Howe, Neal, and Rogers
Baseball-crazy Harold Lloyd drives New York's last horse-drawn trolley. Is it possible to be nostalgic for another generation's nostalgia?
Directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
Written by Dovzhenko, Mikhail Ioganson, and Yuri Tyutyunik
An eccentric fantasy filled with bizarre images. As usual in early Soviet cinema, there are propaganda parts; as usual with Dovzhenko, he doesn't seem to care much about them.
8. KoKo's Earth Control
Directed by Dave Fleischer
This is how the apocalypse will come: with a clown and a dog stumbling their way into the world's control room and pulling the wrong lever.
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc Directed by Carl Dreyer Written by Dreyer and Joseph Delteil
It may seem a little perverse of me to rank this lower than KoKo's Earth Control, but it's my list and I can do with it as I please.
10. The Seashell and the Clergyman Directed by Germaine Dulac Written by Antonin Artaud
The movie that produced the British Board of Film Censors' most infamous judgment: "This film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable."
11. October (Sergei Eisenstein, Grigoriy Aleksandrov)
12. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Buster Keaton, Charles Reisner)
13. Ghosts Before Breakfast (Hans Richter)
14. The Wind (Victor Sjöström)
15. The Cameraman (Buster Keaton, Edward Sedgwick)
16. Études Sur Paris (André Sauvage)
17. Woos Whoopee (Otto Messmer)
18. The Crowd (King Vidor)
19. Two Tars (James Parrott)
20. La Zone (Georges Lacombe)
Of the films of 1928 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in L'Argent and Storm Over Asia.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1938, it gave its Best Picture award to Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You. That's a fine film, but I can think of five that are finer:
1. Porky in Wackyland
Directed by Bob Clampett
Written by Warren Foster
The most manic, dense, and Daliesque of Warner's classic cartoons.
2. La Bête Humaine
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir and Denise Leblond, from a novel by Emile Zola
Movie historians classify this as "poetic realism." To me it's a full-fledged film noir, even if it technically appeared a few years too early to qualify.
3. The Lady Vanishes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Sidney Gilliatt and Frank Launder, from a novel by Ethel Lina White
My favorite of Hitchcock's pre-Hollywood pictures.
4. Port of Shadows
Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Jacques Prévert
I like Children of Paradisewell enough, but I've never comprehended the cult around it. When it comes to Carné/Prévert pictures, I prefer curious, character-driven crime stories like this one.
5. Bringing Up Baby
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde
Cary Grant decides to go gay all of a sudden.
6. You Can't Take It With You
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin, from a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Who says there was no counterculture in the '30s?
Directed by John Cromwell
Written by John Howard Lawson with James M. Cain, from a novel by Henri La Barthe
Hollywood's take on Pépé le Moko can't equal the film that inspired it, but it still has many pleasures to offer.
Directed by George Cukor
Written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman, from a play by Philip Barry
"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself: What would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite."
9. Les Disparus de St. Agil
Directed by Christian-Jaque
Written by J.H. Blanchon, from a novel by Pierre Véry
Start with a textured, well-observed, sometimes comic portrait of some boys at a boarding school. Cross that with a Gothic tale of secrets, hidden passageways, and disappearing children. And everywhere, suffusing everything, let there be the specter of an approaching war.
10. If I Were King
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Written by Preston Sturges, from a play by Justin Huntly McCarthy
The Adventures of Robin Hood is an entertaining picture, and you'll find it down in the honorable mentions. But if you watch just one rebel-outlaw-hero movie made in 1938, go for this one.
11. Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard)
12. They Drive By Night (Arthur B. Woods)
13. Quadrille (Sacha Guitry)
14. Goonland (Dave Fleischer)
15. The Chess Player (Jean Dréville)
16. Hôtel du Nord (Marcel Carné)
17. The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Mark Donskoy)
18. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley)
19. Cotillion (Joseph Cornell)
20. Merrily We Live (Norman Z. McLeod)
And finally, a shoutout to Fritz Lang's You and Me. I don't know if it's "good"—Lang himself called it lousy—but how wonderfully weird it is to see a movie start like a light Capra comedy and then veer into Threepenny Opera territory.
Of the films of 1938 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in J'Accuse, Mollenard, and Let's Go Up the Champs-Élysées.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1948, it gave its Best Picture award to the Laurence Olivier version of Hamlet. Which is actually rather good, despite the absence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and it's in my top 10. But it isn't as impressive as the film at number one:
1. Red River
Directed by Howard Hawks with Arthur Rosson
Written by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, from a story by Chase
Confession: I like the ending, which nearly everyone else (including one of the writers) dismisses as a copout. Why shouldn't those bullheaded rivals listen to the lady, recognize that they're being a pair of asses, drop all the macho posturing, and make up?
2. The Red Shoes
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Written by Powell, Pressburger, and Keith Winter, from a story by Hans Christian Andersen
In this film, on the other hand, I don't think there's any way to avoid a tragic ending.
3. They Live By Night
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Ray and Charles Schnee, from a novel by Edward Anderson
This planted the seed for virtually every other film about a couple on the lam, from Bonnie and Clyde to True Romance. It's based on the same novel that spawned Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us, and the two adaptations would make an interesting double feature.
4. Fort Apache
Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank Nugent, from a story by James Warner Bellah
It's almost an Old West Paths of Glory, though it has an undercurrent of respect for the military that I don't see in the Kubrick picture.
5. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston, from a novel by B. Traven
But read the book first. It's even better.
6. Brighton Rock
Directed by John Boulting
Written by Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan, from a novel by Greene
"I'm human. I've loved a boy or two in my time. It's natural, like breathing. Not one of them's worth it, let alone this fellow you've got hold of."
7. Germany, Year Zero
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Rossellini, Max Kolpé, and Carlo Lizzani
The third, best, and most relentlessly grim of Rossellini's antifascist War Trilogy.
Directed by Laurence Olivier
Written by Olivier, from a play by William Shakespeare
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Must Be Dead.
9. Key Largo
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston and Richard Brooks, from a play by Maxwell Anderson
"Listen, hick, I was too much for any big city police force to handle. It took the United States government to pin a rap on me. And they won't make it stick. You hick, I'll be back pulling strings to get guys elected mayor and governor before you get a 10 buck raise."
10. The Snake Pit
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by Millen Brand, Frank Partos, and Arthur Laurents, from a novel by Mary Jane Ward
On one level, this is a despicable picture: Allegedly an exposé of the mistreatment of psychiatric patients, it winds up justifying even the most invasive coercive procedures as long as the doctor making the decisions seems kind and liberal. But it's a remarkably well-made movie nonetheless, and Olivia de Havilland is great in it.
11. The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed)
12. Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak)
13. Macbeth (Orson Welles)
14. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock)
15. Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges)
16. Les Parents Terribles (Jean Cocteau)
17. Good Sam (Leo McCarey)
18. Raw Deal (Anthony Mann)
19. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton)
20. Buccaneer Bunny (Friz Freleng)
Of the films of 1948 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Paleface and Blood on the Moon.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1958, it gave its Best Picture award to Gigi, a musical so mediocre that even Maurice Chevalier couldn't save it. In fact—and I say this in sorrow, as a Chevalier fan—he wasn't very good in it himself. Maybe if they'd cast Harpo Marx hiding a phonograph under his coat instead...
1. Touch of Evil
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles, from a novel by Whit Masterson
"A policeman's job is only easy in a police state."
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samuel Taylor and Alec Coppel, from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
I'm not exactly in the minority here. Six decades after the fact, most critics are going to pick either this or Touch of Evil as the best American movie of 1958. So I'll just take this opportunity to remind you that the Oscar went to Gigi.
3. Ivan the Terrible, Part 2
Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Completed in 1946, but suppressed by Stalinist censorship until the Khrushchev thaw.
4. Mon Oncle
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Jean L'Hote
Slapstick vs. technocracy.
5. Elevator to the Gallows
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by Malle and Roger Nimier, from a novel by Noël Calef
By the way: Who took those older photos that were "lying around" at the end? Better not to think too hard about that, I suppose.
6. Man of the West
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Reginald Rose, from a novel by Will C. Brown
The last entry in Mann's series of layered, psychologically complex westerns.
7. Murder by Contract
Directed by Irving Lerner
Written by Ben Simcoe
"There are a lot of people around that would like to see lots of other people die a fast death, only they can't see to it themselves. They got conscience, religion, families. They're afraid of punishment here or hereafter. Me, I can't be bothered with any of that nonsense. I look at it like a good business. The risk is high, but so is the profit."
8. Broadway by Light
Directed by William Klein
An abstract tour of Broadway.
9. Diary of a Pregnant Woman
Written and directed by Agnès Varda
One of Varda's favorite subjects is her own neighborhood in Paris. Here she looks at it from the perspective of a pregnant woman—that would be Varda herself—as she goes about her day, takes in the sights, and sometimes lets her imagination run wild.
10. Ashes and Diamonds
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, from his novel
Another product of the Khrushchev thaw, or more precisely the Gomulka thaw, which is what you get when you combine Khrushchevism from above with labor unrest from below. The film's ambiguous attitude toward the Communists is handled delicately, but there's no doubt about where a lot of the Polish audience's sympathies lay.
11. Bridges-Go-Round (Shirley Clarke)
12. The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)
13. Endless Desire (Shohei Imamura)
14. Glass (Bert Haanstra)
15. The Big "O" (Carmen D'Avino)
16. A Movie (Bruce Conner)
17. Chansons Sans Paroles (Yoram Gross)
18. Du Côté de la Côte (Agnès Varda)
19. Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol)
20. The Fountain of Youth (Orson Welles)
Of the films of 1958 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and I Want to Live!
When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1968, it gave its Best Picture award to the Dickens-goes-Broadway musical Oliver! I wouldn't say I dislike that movie, but...best picture? That's just perverse.
1. Je t'Aime, Je t'Aime Directed by Alain Resnais Written by Jacques Sternberg
A New Wave film—"New Wave" as in both New Worlds and Nouvelle Vague—about a man who comes unstuck in time. It was shot around the same period that Kurt Vonnegut was writing Slaughterhouse-5, so presumably the writers invented the idea independently.
2. Hour of the Wolf Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
This isn't Bergman's only horror movie—you can make a case for classifying The Virgin Spring, Persona, even The Passion of Anna under that header—but it's the one most obviously indebted to the genre.
3. Shame Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
"Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream; it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it."
4. The Prisoner
Written by Patrick McGoohan, David Tomblin, George Markstein, Vincent Tilsley, Anthony Skene, Terence Feely, Lewis Greifer, Gerald Kelsey, Roger Woddis, Michael Cramoy, Roger Parkes, and Ian Rakoff
Directed by McGoohan, Tomblin, Don Chaffey, Pat Jackson, Peter Graham Scott, and Robert Asher
This spy-fi allegory about a mysterious totalitarian archive was both the most experimental and the most anti-authoritarian TV show of the '60s. And it has enough of an arc for me to treat it here as a miniseries, even if the fans have never been able to agree on the "right" order of the episodes.
5. Coogan's Bluff Directed by Don Siegel Written by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, and Howard Rodman
Clint Eastwood stars as a fool of a cop who stumbles his way through a case and somehow prevails. Suspenseful, quietly funny, thoroughly anti-heroic. Siegel's best movie.
6. Night of the Living Dead Directed by George Romero Written by Romero and John Russo
It was alternately ignored and damned at the time, but would anyone disagree today that it's one of the most important pictures of the '60s?
7. Once Upon a Time in the West Directed by Sergio Leone Written by Leone and Sergio Donati, from a story by Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci
There's making a revisionist western, and then there's casting Henry Fonda as a cold-blooded psychotic.
8. High School Directed by Frederic Wiseman
An academic dystopia.
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey Directed by Stanley Kubrick Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, from a story by Clarke
"Daiiisy, daiiiiiiiiiisy, give me your annnnnswer, dooo..."
10. The Lion in Winter Directed by Anthony Harvey Written by James Goldman, from his play
"If you're a prince, there's hope for every ape in Africa." (See also #20, below.)
11. Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut)
12. Madigan (Don Siegel)
13. Les Biches (Claude Chabrol)
14. Faces (John Cassavetes)
15. Picnic with Weissman (Jan Svankmajer)
16. Bullitt (Peter Yates)
17. The Swimmer (Frank Perry)
18. Death by Hanging (Nagisa Oshima)
19. The Flat (Jan Svankmajer)
20. Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner)
Of the films of 1968 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Hell in the Pacific.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1978, it gave its Best Picture award to The Deer Hunter. It's in my list too, but not at the top spot:
1. Gates of Heaven
Directed by Errol Morris
"Death is for the living and not for the dead."
2. Dawn of the Dead
Written and directed by George Romero
Everyone knows that these zombies are a Metaphor for Mindless Consumption, but the script is far too sly to stop there. When our heroes hole up in the abandoned Monroeville Mall, consumerism doesn't seem like such a bad thing; if anything, the place feels like a utopian playground. At least until we see the zombie hordes outside trying to push their way in. Then yet another layer of meaning presents itself, one where most of the world is locked out of the wealth that a lucky few get to enjoy. At that point you might be tempted to sympathize with the zombies.
3. Blue Collar
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Schrader and Leonard Schrader
"They pit the lifers against the new boys, the old against the young, the black against the white—anything to keep us in our place."
4. The Deer Hunter
Directed by Michael Cimino
Written by Deric Washburn, from a story by Cimino, Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, and Quinn K. Redeker
The scenes in America offer a closely observed realism, and the scenes in Asia are a paranoid fever dream. You can criticize that politically, and a lot of people have done just that. But that contrast does give the film a dizzy power.
5. Pennies from Heaven
Written by Dennis Potter
Directed by Piers Haggard
I like the American remake with Steve Martin too. But if you watch just one version, you've got to go with Bob Hoskins.
6. Days of Heaven
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
The plot is the stuff of a hard-boiled crime story, yet the movie is more like a pastoral mood piece.
7. A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway
The Tibetan Book of the Dead meets The Field Guide to Birds.
Directed by Claudia Weill
Written by Vicki Polon, from a story by Weill and Polon
"You know, I'm gonna be old before I get to do what I want. Then I'll have forgotten what it was."
9. Always for Pleasure
Directed by Les Blank
"This is one of the only cities in the world that you can do what you're doing here: drink beer out on the street, throw the cans on the sidewalk. It's one of the greatest places in the world."
10. The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital
Directed by Joe Rees
The title tells you what you're getting: A punk band plays a concert at a psychiatric institution. But that doesn't get across the ecstatic weirdness of a show where the audience wanders freely onstage and it's not entirely clear which people are the patients and which are the band's usual hangers-on. I want to believe the guy who takes the microphone about 13 and a half minutes in is a patient.
11. Make Me Psychic (Sally Cruikshank)
12. The Driver (Walter Hill)
13. Mongoloid (Bruce Conner)
14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman)
15. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
16. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi)
17. ...Forever and Always... (George Kuchar)
18. Afterlife (Ishu Patel)
19. Special Delivery (John Weldon, Eunice Macaulay)
20. Phase Transitions in Liquid Crystals (Jean Painlevé)
And finally, a shoutout to The Last Waltz. I don't like this one as much as I used to: The older I get, the more absurd it seems to be so valedictory about a bunch of guys in their thirties. But it's still one hell of a concert.
Of the films of 1978 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Big Wednesday, The Suspended Vocation, and Future Boy Conan.