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

Thursday, January 06, 2022
FIVE DIRECTORS DO DOUBLE DUTY: We've toured the best movies of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, 1961, 1951, and 1941. Let's make one more stop.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1931, it gave its Best Picture award to Cimarron, a mediocre western that aspires to be an epic. It isn't on my list.

1. Bimbo's Initiation
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Betty Boop: Final Secret of the Illuminati.

2. Monkey Business
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by S.J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone

Starring the Marx Brothers as Maurice Chevalier.

3. Philips-Radio
Directed by Joris Ivens

Proof that an ad can be art.

4. M
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou

Instead of quoting a line from the film, can I quote the sound of a serial killer whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King"?

5. Le Million
Directed by René Clair
Written by Clair, from a play by Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemand

Just a couple years into the sound era, and already Clair has made two great musicals. And he has a third one just a few notches below this.

6. La Chienne
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir, from a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière

A man exploits a woman who exploits another man. In the end they all lose.

7. Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
Written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort, from a play by Peggy Webling and a novel by Mary Shelley

"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"

8. A Nous La Liberte
Written and directed by René Clair

You can see why this always gets compared to Modern Times. They both treat the assembly line as a slapstick dystopia.

9. Blonde Crazy
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright

In the world's most half-hearted crime-doesn't-pay ending, only one of the con artists we've been watching goes to jail—and in the meantime, we find ourselves cheering the dissolution of a marriage. This is the sort of story the Powers That Be brought in the Motion Picture Code to stop.

10. Safe in Hell
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Joseph Jackson and Maude Fulton, from a play by Houston Branch

Of all the pre-Code movies in the world, this one just might be the pre-Codiest. It starts with a sympathetic prostitute burning down a hotel, and then it just rolls from there.

Honorable mentions:

11. Marius (Alexander Korda)
12. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch)
13. The Threepenny Opera (G.W. Pabst)
14. Douro, Faina Fluvial (Manoel de Oliveira)
15. Night Nurse (William A. Wellman)
16. Kameradschaft (G.W. Pabst)
17. Mask-a-Raid (Dave Fleischer)
18. A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda)
19. Waterloo Bridge (James Whale)
20. Bosko the Doughboy (Hugh Harman)

Finally, a shoutout to Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde, which might have made it into the top 20 if Robert Williams had dialed back the smug by about 30%.

Of the films of 1931 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Rich and Strange.

And with that, the series stops. For the record, my favorite film of 1921 is The High Sign. But I haven't seen enough good movies from '21 to assemble a full top 10, so this year's crop of lists ends here.

posted by Jesse 10:23 AM
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Tuesday, January 04, 2022
ONE YEAR, TWO DEVILS: I've told you my favorite films of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, 1961, and 1951. Perhaps you have guessed what comes next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1941, it gave its Best Picture award to How Green Was My Valley, a cloying "quality" movie from John Ford. (The first rule of watching a Ford film: The more it's visibly trying to be artistic, the less likely it is to be good art.) That one isn't on my list.

1. Citizen Kane
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz

I don't think it's the best movie ever made, or even the best movie to be made by Orson Welles. But I'm not enough of a contrarian to deny that it's the best movie of 1941.

2. The Maltese Falcon
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett

Humphrey Bogart never looked or sounded as bleak as he did saying, "All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you."

3. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by W.C. Fields

This is Fields' funniest film. That's saying a lot.

4. The Sea Wolf
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Rossen, from a novel by Jack London

This is as good as Edward G. Robinson gets. That is also saying a lot.

5. Meet John Doe
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin, from a story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell, Sr.

In this movie's landscape of mutating memes, isn't just the audience that has a life of its own. The fictions that were supposed to manipulate that audience turn out to be beyond anyone's control too.

6. Hellzapoppin'
Directed by H.C. Potter
Written by Nat Perrin and Warren Wilson

Between this one and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, it was a great year for pop surrealism.

7. Schichlegruber: Doing the Lambeth Walk
Directed by Charles A. Ridley

YouTube avant la lettre.

8. The Wolf Man
Directed by George Waggner
Written by Curt Siodmak

This isn't the last good movie in the Universal Monsters series, but it is the last essential one. Unless you count Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

9. Ball of Fire
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder

"It's as red as The Daily Worker and just as sore!"

10. The Lady Eve
Directed by Preston Sturges
Written by Sturges, from a story by Monckton Hoffe

This one narrowly beat out the great Sullivan's Travels for a spot in the top 10 because I wince a bit at that "cockeyed world" speech at the end of Sullivan. But if you want to count them as a tie and call this slot a Preston Sturges double-header, that's fine with me.

Honorable mentions:

11. Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges)
12. Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock)
13. Tortoise Beats Hare (Tex Avery)
14. The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle)
15. Hold Back the Dawn (Mitchell Leisen)
16. Among the Living (Stuart Heisler)
17. Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen)
18. Ladies in Retirement (Charles Vidor)
19. The Devil and Miss Jones (Sam Wood)
20. The Iron Crown (Alessandro Blasetti)

Plus a bonus award to Victor Mature, who had big roles in two pictures bubbling under my top 20: The Shanghai Gesture, a gloriously mad mess that has become a cult favorite, and I Wake Up Screaming, a curious quasi-noir that really ought to be a cult favorite. Mature plays rather different characters in that pair of pictures, but he plays them the same way: as a sleazy Cary Grant. That's just as great as it sounds.

Of the films of 1941 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Swamp Water.

posted by Jesse 12:08 PM
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Sunday, January 02, 2022
HELLO 2022 (AND 1951 TOO): This blog has just covered my favorite movies of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, and 1961. And now...

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1951, it gave its Best Picture award to An American in Paris, a musical that I neither dislike nor am especially fond of. Any of these would have been a better choice:

1. Ace in the Hole
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman

Wilder's darkest, bleakest film. But it's still a funny one.

2. Strangers on a Train
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Czenzi Ormonde, Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, and Ben Hecht, from a novel by Patricia Highsmith

Walker's 32nd Law: You shouldn't bother trying to remake a Hitchcock movie. Corollary to Walker's 32nd Law: If you absolutely must remake a Hitchcock movie, for the love of God don't give your starring role to Billy Crystal.

3. The Thing from Another World
Directed by Christian Nyby and/or Howard Hawks
Written by Hawks, Charles Lederer, and Ben Hecht, from a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.

"An intellectual carrot? The mind boggles."

4. A Streetcar Named Desire
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul, from a play by Williams

Yes, they bowdlerized the play, but I have yet to see a better performance of it. No, not even the one with Marge Simpson.

5. The Tales of Hoffmann
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Written by Powell, Pressburger, and Dennis Arundell, from an opera by Jacques Offenbach and Jules Barbier

Many years ago, I watched this in the middle of the night while my wife was out of town. Our daughter woke up in her crib and started crying, so I let her rest with me and the movie; looking at the dancers calmed her down. The next time someone tells you this is a "difficult" film, remember that a baby can enjoy it.

6. The Lavender Hill Mob
Directed by Charles Crichton
Written by T.E.B. Clarke

"I propagate British cultural depravity."

7. Miracle in Milan
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Written by De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Mario Chiari, and Adolfo Franci, from a novel by Zavattini

A strange hybrid of neorealism and fantasy, with squatters using witchcraft to battle the authorities. My favorite De Sica film.

8. The Man in the White Suit
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Written by Mackendrick, and Roger MacDougall, John Dighton

Unions and corporate chieftains join forces to suppress an invention that would make their industry unnecessary. Screw Star Wars: This is Alec Guinness' best science-fiction movie.

9. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Written and directed by Albert Lewin

The high point in Jack Cardiff's career as a cinematographer.

10. Bellissima
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, and Francesco Rosi

For a comedy, this made me awfully sad.

Honorable mentions:

11. People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
12. The African Queen (John Huston)
13. Four Ways Out (Pietro Germi)
14. Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson)
15. On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray)
16. He Ran All the Way (John Berry)
17. Susana (Luis Buñuel)
18. Rabbit Fire (Chuck Jones)
19. The Man from Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer)
20. The Tall Target (Anthony Mann)

Of the films of 1951 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Venom and Eternity.

posted by Jesse 10:57 AM
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