Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1000 Favorites

by Eric Levy

Created 03/15/14

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Several people have created Criterion lists dedicated to film critics' favorite movies. There are at least five dedicated to Roger Ebert, three to Pauline Kael, one each to James Agee, David Thomson, Leonard Maltin, Richard Roeper, A.O. Scott, Richard Brody, and Elvis Mitchell. Film critic Kent Jones has created lists for Andrew Sarris, Otis Ferguson, André Bazin, Manny Farber, and critic-turned-filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. These inspired me to create one for my favorite critic—and my good friend—Jonathan Rosenbaum.

The following list is drawn from the final chapter in Rosenbaum's fantastic collection "Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons," which lists his 1000 favorite films from 1895 – 2003 (the year he wrote the book). Needless to say, the list includes quite a few Criterion titles. The list is presented chronologically in the book, and alphabetically within each year, and I have followed suit below. Rosenbaum also designates 100 of his 1000 titles with an asterisk as his top 100, and I have done the same. You can see the entire list here. In an afterword written for the 2008 paperback edition, Rosenbaum adds sixty more films that he neglected in the first edition or that were released in the years between editions. Those are included at the end of this list. (There are a couple discrepancies concerning the year of release; for all titles I include the year listed in Rosenbaum's book and website.)

UPDATE 2/16/16: A newly released Korean edition of the book includes yet another updated afterword, which adds 60 more new discoveries and newly released films through 2015. I am including those Criterion titles too (indicated below by Afterword 2). That list can be seen here on Mr. Rosenbaum's website. Special thanks to Kilianf286 for alerting me to this.

From 1987 until 2008, Mr. Rosenbaum was the film critic for the Chicago Reader, our free weekly arts and entertainment newspaper. In addition to weekly long reviews of films playing in Chicago for any given week, the Reader publishes short capsule reviews for new movies and revivals. I have copied and pasted the ones Rosenbaum did for the films below. The Reader's complete capsule reviews can be retrieved here. (All reviews © Chicago Reader.)

If you have not yet discovered Rosenbaum's work, you owe it to yourself to get to know him. His official website is a great place to start. He has also provided several essays for Criterion booklets, done commentaries for CLOSE-UP and THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN, and written even more essays for the Criterion website. Links to those are provided below in the notes for the specific films.

And please check out my list for Dave Kehr, Rosenbaum's predecessor at the Reader.

Cross-references to my other lists are included in the notes.

Personal statistics: S=Seen, D=Own on DVD, B=Own on Blu-ray Disc, *=non-Criterion edition. Totals: Films 247 (including PARIS QUI DORT, L'ÉCOLE DES FACTEURS, THE GRANDMOTHER, PASSIONLESS MOMENTS, and THE TRAVELER, and counting IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PARTS I and II as one film), Seen 215, Own 150, DVDs 93, BDs 81. (And of the 1120 films in the main list and both afterwords, I've seen 516.)

2/15/18: Added MOONRISE
1/17/18: Added DEAD MAN
11/16/17: Added AN ACTOR'S REVENGE
7/22/17: Added BARRY LYNDON
4/18/17: Added STALKER and L'ARGENT
3/16/17: Added THEY LIVE BY NIGHT
1/18/17: Added TAMPOPO
9/21/16: Added ROMA
4/18/16: Added MURIEL
3/17/16: Added LA CHIENNE
11/17/15: Added THE KID and DEATH BY HANGING
10/17/15: Added GILDA
8/18/15: Added APARAJITO
7/16/15: Added MULHOLLAND DR.
2/22/15: Added LIMELIGHT
1/15/15: Added ODD MAN OUT and THAT NIGHT'S WIFE
12/16/14: Added THE SOFT SKIN
10/16/14: Added THE PALM BEACH STORY
9/17/14: Added SAFE
8/16/14: Added THE SHOOTING
3/17/14: Added A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.

  • 1921 (S) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Evan

  • 1921 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Lyrics; Teach

  • 1925 (S) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Hints; Evan

  • 1925 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Formally and politically decades ahead of its time, Carl Dreyer's wonderful silent Danish comedy, his first substantial commercial success outside Scandinavia, recounts what happens when a working-class wife and mother, prompted by an elderly nurse, walks out on her tyrannical and demanding husband, who then has to fend for himself. Restricted mainly to interiors, Dreyer's masterful mise en scene works wonders with the domestic space, and his script and dialogue make the most of his feminist theme."

  • * 1928 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; Upgrade; Swing; Teach

  • 1928 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Sinister Preachers; What Is Cinema?

    "Carl Dreyer's last silent, the greatest of all Joan of Arc films. (Lost for half a century, the 1928 original was rediscovered in a Norwegian mental asylum in the 80s; other prints had perished in a warehouse fire, and the two versions subsequently circulated consisted of outtakes.) Joan is played by stage actress Renee Falconetti, and though hers is one of the key performances in the history of movies, she never made another film. (Antonin Artaud also appears in a memorable cameo.) Dreyer's radical approach to constructing space and the slow intensity of his mobile style make this 'difficult' in the sense that, like all the greatest films, it reinvents the world from the ground up. It's also painful in a way that all Dreyer's tragedies are, but it will continue to live long after most commercial movies have vanished from memory."

  • * 1929 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Lyrics

    "Paul Fejos's exquisite, poetic masterpiece about love and estrangement in the big city, deserves to be ranked with The Crowd as well as Sunrise, though it's not nearly as well-known as either. It begins with a dazzling evocation, using superimpositions and diptychs, of the hero and heroine, who haven't yet met, as they wake and pursue their morning work routines. They meet at Coney Island that afternoon, lose track of each other in a crowd, then are reunited back in the city in a surprising diptychlike scene. Fejos, who later became an anthropologist, was already interested in ethnographic archetypes when he made this picture, which makes city life seem like a labyrinth in a fairy tale—as intricate and inscrutable, but also as enchanted."

  • 1929 (S/D) Cross-reference: Theme Songs

    "Ernst Lubitsch's first talkie and first operetta, costarring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, contains the excitement of movies being reinvented, so that silence as well as sound becomes a brand-new plaything (in contradistinction to 'silent' movies, which usually had musical accompaniment). A study in playfulness, this fantasy about a country preoccupied with its queen getting married actually has a dog barking out half a chorus of one number, perfectly in tune, and the precode erotics and sexual politics seem pretty advanced in spots. Secondary leads Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane offer some acrobatic low comedy as servants whose best song is called 'Let's Be Common'.”

  • 1930 (S/D)

  • PARIS QUI DORT (1924 short, included on this disc), is also on the list. (S [both films]) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Theme Songs

    PARIS QUI DORT: "Rene Clair's first feature (1923), known in French as Paris qui dort, is a remarkable early SF effort about a mad scientist who immobilizes Paris—except for a watchman on the Eiffel Tower and a group of airplane passengers, who roam about the city while everyone and everything else is frozen. A brilliant meditation on some of the differences between film and still photography as well as an engaging comic story that is full of poetic notions, this is one of the landmarks of French silent cinema."

  • 1930

    "This uncharacteristic Sternbergian crime thriller by Yasujiro Ozu, one of his more interesting silent pictures, is set almost entirely inside a single cluttered flat, where a policeman, hoping to arrest a commercial artist who's robbed an office, is held at bay by his gun-wielding wife. The results are tense, claustrophobic, and visually striking throughout."

  • 1931 (S)

    "Jean Renoir's first sound feature and one of his best, about a bored banker (Michel Simon) who becomes hopelessly smitten with a prostitute (Janie Mareze). This was later remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street, a powerful film that nevertheless can't hold a candle to the original. Strongly recommended."

  • * 1931 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; I Caved; Swing; Evan; Lyrics; Teach; Cinéarts 6

  • * 1931 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Teach

  • 1932 (S/D) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • * 1932

    "One of Yasujiro Ozu's most sublime films, this late Japanese silent describes the tragicomic disillusionment of two middle-class boys who see their father demean himself by groveling in front of his employer; it starts off as a hilarious comedy and gradually becomes darker. Ozu's understanding of his characters and their social milieu is so profound and his visual style—which was much less austere and more obviously expressive during his silent period—so compelling that the film carries one along more dynamically than many of the director's sound classics (including his semiremake 27 years later, the more purely comic Ohayo, which has plenty of beauties of its own). Though regarded in Japan mainly as a conservative director, Ozu was a trenchant social critic throughout his career, and the devastating understanding of social context that he shows here is full of radical implications."

  • 1932 (S/D) Cross-references: Swing; Theme Songs

    "Many consider Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 musical remake of his groundbreaking silent The Marriage Circle (1924) inferior to the original, but I find it funnier and in some ways more sophisticated. Maurice Chevalier, who plays a doctor married to Jeanette MacDonald, becomes attracted to Genevieve Tobin (while Charlie Ruggles, as his best friend, goes after MacDonald) and periodically turns to the audience for advice. George Cukor was hired by Lubitsch to direct but almost had his name removed from the credits because Lubitsch did so many retakes; stylistically there's never any question that Lubitsch, working with his favorite screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson, is the one in charge."

  • 1932 (S)

  • 1932 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2

  • 1932 (S/B) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "The greatness of Carl Dreyer's first sound film derives partly from its handling of the vampire theme in terms of sexuality and eroticism and partly from its highly distinctive, dreamy look, but it also has something to do with Dreyer's radical recasting of narrative form. While never less than mesmerizing, it confounds conventions for establishing point of view and continuity, inventing a narrative language all its own. Some of the moods and images are truly uncanny: the long voyage of a coffin, from the apparent viewpoint of the corpse inside; a dance of ghostly shadows inside a barn; a female vampire's expression of carnal desire for her fragile sister. The remarkable soundtrack, created entirely in a studio (in contrast to the images, all filmed on location), is an essential part of the film's voluptuous, haunting otherworldliness. It was originally released by Dreyer in four separate versions—French, English, German, and Danish; most prints now contain portions of two or three of these versions, although the dialogue is pretty sparse."

  • 1932 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Teach; What Is Cinema?

  • 1933

    "Inspired partly by King Vidor's The Champ, this silent masterpiece by Yasujiro Ozu takes place in a Tokyo slum, where a slow-witted, good-hearted, heavy-drinking day laborer (Takeshi Sakamoto) tries to deal with his rebellious son (Tokkan Kozo). It opens with one of the funniest stretches of slapstick Ozu ever filmed, though the remainder is colored by Chaplinesque pathos. As the loving and lovable father, Sakamoto creates one of the most complex characters in Japanese cinema, and Kozo (who played the younger brother in I Was Born, But...) isn't far behind. The milieu they inhabit is perfectly realized, making this a pinnacle in Ozu's career."

  • 1934 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Teach

    "Jean Vigo's only full-length feature, one of the supreme masterpieces of French cinema, was edited and then brutally reedited while Vigo was dying, so a 'definitive' restoration is impossible. (The reassembled version released in France in 1990 is almost certainly the best and most complete we'll ever be able to see—it's wondrous to behold.) The simple love-story plot involves the marriage of a provincial woman (Dita Parlo) to the skipper of a barge (Jean Daste), and the only other characters of consequence are the barge's skeletal crew (Michel Simon and Louis Lefebvre) and a peddler (Gilles Margaritis) who flirts with the wife at a cabaret and describes the wonders of Paris to her. The sensuality of the characters and the settings, indelibly caught in Boris Kaufman's glistening cinematography, are only part of the film's remarkable poetry, the conviction of which goes beyond such categories as realism or surrealism, just as the powerful sexuality in the film ultimately transcends such categories as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and even bisexuality. Shot by shot and moment by moment, the film is so fully alive to the world's possibilities that magic and reality seem to function as opposite sides of the same coin, with neither fully adequate to Vigo's vision. The characters are at once extremely simple and extremely complex (richest of all is Simon's Pere Jules, as beautiful a piece of character acting as one can find anywhere), and while the continuity is choppy in spots—a factor skillfully cloaked by Maurice Jaubert's superb score—the film's aliveness and potency are so constant that this hardly seems to matter. A major inspiration to subsequent generations of filmmakers, yet no one has ever succeeded in matching it."

  • 1934 (S/D) Cross-reference: Wives/Muses

  • 1935 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Teach

  • 1936 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Evan; What Is Cinema?

    "I don't have much patience with colleagues who dismiss Charlie Chaplin by saying that Buster Keaton was better (whatever that means). To the best of my knowledge, with the arguable exception of Dickens, no one else in the history of art has shown us in greater detail what it means to be poor, and certainly no one else in the history of movies has played to a more diverse audience or evolved more ambitiously from one feature to the next. The opening sequence in Chaplin's second Depression masterpiece, of the Tramp on the assembly line, is possibly his greatest slapstick encounter with the 20th century, and as Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have brilliantly observed, the famous shot of his being run through machinery equates him with a strip of film. Still, there's more hope here than in Chaplin's preceding City Lights, perhaps because this time the Tramp has Paulette Goddard, another plucky urchin, to keep him company."

  • 1936

  • 1937 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Lyrics; What Is Cinema?

    "A film about war without a single scene of combat, Jean Renoir's masterpiece about French and German officers during World War I suggests that the true divisions of that conflict were of class rather than nationality. The point is embodied in the friendship between two aristocratic officers, a German (Erich von Stroheim, in his greatest performance in a sound film) and a Frenchman (Pierre Fresnay), both of whom ultimately become sacrificial victims after a nouveau riche Jewish officer (Marcel Dalio) and a French mechanic (Jean Gabin) manage to escape from Stroheim's fortress to freedom. The relationship between the mechanic and a German widow (L'Atalante's Dita Parlo), who barely speak each other's language, is no less moving. The film doesn't have the polyphonic brilliance of Renoir's The Rules of the Game, made two years later, but it's still one of the key humanist expressions to be found in movies: sad, funny, exalting, and glorious."

  • * 1937 (S/D) Cross-reference: NFR

    "With the possible exception of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, this drama by Leo McCarey is the greatest movie ever made about the plight of the elderly. (It flopped at the box office, but when McCarey accepted an Oscar for The Awful Truth, released the same year, he rightly pointed out that he was getting it for the wrong picture.) Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play a devoted old couple who find they can't stay together because of financial difficulties; their interactions with their grown children are only part of what makes this movie so subtle and well observed. Adapted by Vina Delmar from Josephine Lawrence's novel Years Are So Long, it's a profoundly moving love story and a devastating portrait of how society works, and you're likely to be deeply marked by it. Hollywood movies don't get much better than this."

  • 1938 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1938 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1938 (S/D*) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1939 (S) Cross-references: NFR; Hints

  • * 1939 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 1; Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

  • * 1939 Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi's period masterpieces, but conceivably the greatest (1939). The plot, which oddly resembles that of There's No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a working-class woman who loves him, and eventually returns. Apart from the highly charged and adroitly edited Kabuki sequences, the film is mainly constructed in extremely long takes, and an intricate rhyme structure between the two time periods is developed by matching camera angles in the same locations. Never before nor after (with the possible exception of The 47 Ronin) would Mizoguchi's refusal to use close-ups have more telling effect, and the theme of female sacrifice that informs most of his major works is given a singular resonance and complexity here."

  • 1940 (S/D/B) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1940 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Teach; What Is Cinema?

  • 1940 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1940 (S)

  • 1942 (S/D*) Cross-references: NFR; Hints

  • 1942 (S/B) Cross-reference: Swing

    "Rudy Vallee turns in his best performance as a gentle, puny millionaire named Hackensacker in this brilliant, simultaneously tender and scalding 1942 screwball comedy by Preston Sturges—one of the real gems in Sturges's hyperproductive period at Paramount. Claudette Colbert, married to an ambitious but penniless architectural engineer (Joel McCrea), takes off for Florida and winds up being wooed by Hackensacker. When McCrea shows up she persuades him to pose as her brother. Also on hand are such indelible Sturges creations as the Weenie King (Robert Dudley), the madly destructive Ale and Quail Club, Hackensacker's acerbic sister (Mary Astor), and her European boyfriend of obscure national origins (Sig Arno). The Hackensacker character may be the closest thing to self-parody in the Sturges canon, but it's informed with such wry wisdom and humor that it transcends its personal nature (as well as its reference to such tycoons as the Rockefellers). With William Demarest, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, and Jimmy Conlin."

  • 1942 (S/D) Cross-reference: NFR

  • 1942

    "An eerie and often beautiful medieval fantasy parable about the devil sending two messengers to earth to break up a court romance, directed by Marcel Carne during the French occupation from a script coauthored by Jacques Prevert. An obscure antifascist message may have been intended, but it doesn't come across with much clarity; more sustaining are the film's memorable look and atmosphere, and the capacity of the messengers to freeze the action into tableaux that anticipate by nearly 20 years images in Last Year at Marienbad. Also known as The Devil's Envoys."

  • * 1943 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade; Sinister Preachers; Theme Songs. Essay

    "Carl Dreyer made this extraordinary drama, about the church's persecution of women for witchcraft in the 17th century, during the German occupation of Denmark. He later claimed that he hadn't sought to pursue any contemporary parallels while adapting the play Anne Petersdotter (which concerns adultery as well as witchcraft), but that seems disingenuous—Day of Wrath may be the greatest film ever made about living under totalitarian rule. Astonishing in its artistically informed period re-creation as well as its hypnotic mise en scene (with some exceptionally eerie camera movements), it challenges the viewer by suggesting at times that witchcraft isn't so much an illusion as an activity produced by intolerance. And like Dreyer's other major films, it's sensual to the point of carnality. I can't think of another 40s film that's less dated."

  • * 1943 (S/D) Cross-reference: Lyrics

    "Ernst Lubitsch's only completed film in Technicolor, the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies' man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from The Merry Widow on, it's about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson's script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary cast—Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington—is wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch's testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance."

  • 1944 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Hints

  • 1944 (S/D) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • * 1944 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • * 1958 (Parts I and II are included as a single entry) (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2. Essay

    "Sergei Eisenstein's controversial, unfinished trilogy, with a Prokofiev score and a histrionic, campy (albeit compositionally very controlled) performance in the title role by Nikolai Cherkassov. The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin's paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinema—freakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre."

  • 1945 (S/D) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1946 (S/D) Cross-references: Glass; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Lyrics

  • 1946 (S) Cross-references: NFR; Hints

    "Andre Bazin reportedly once hypothesized that if Hollywood were the court of Versailles, Gilda (1946) would have been its Phedre—which may just be a fancy way of pointing out the enduring greatness of a campy melodrama that, from certain points of view, isn't even very good. Directed by Charles Vidor, memorably shot by Rudolph Mate, and written by Marion Parsonnet, it's set in a highly fanciful Buenos Aires, where a professional gambler (Glenn Ford) goes to work for a casino owner (George Macready) who then marries the gambler's old flame (Rita Hayworth), thereby setting off the sickest and weirdest bout of repressed love and hatred (both hetero- and bisexual) you ever saw. And Hayworth, whether she's performing 'Put the Blame on Mame' (dubbed by Anita Ellis) or just being her glamorous self, was never more magnificent."

  • 1946 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Theme Songs

  • 1946 (S/D/B*) Cross-references: NFR; Swing; Lyrics

  • 1946 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade; Hints

  • 1947 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade; Hints. Essay

  • 1947 (S/D) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Theme Songs

  • * 1947 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Hints; Teach

  • 1947 (S) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    "A wounded Irish revolutionary (James Mason at his near best) on the run in Belfast encounters a cross section of human responses—self-interest, indifference, empathy, and charity—in this arty English thriller directed by Carol Reed and adapted by F.L. Green and R.C. Sherriff from Green's novel. This may be Reed's most pretentious film, but it also happens to be one of his very best, beautifully capturing the poetry of a city at night (with black-and-white cinematography by Robert Krasker that's within hailing distance of Gregg Toland and Stanley Cortez's work with Orson Welles). It also has a splendid cast (including Robert Newton, Kathleen Ryan, F.J. McCormick, Cyril Cusack, and Dan O'Herlihy) that wrings the utmost out of the quasi-allegorical material."

  • 1947 (S/D)

    "The skillful writer-director Henri-Georges Clouzot is mainly known for his corrosive misanthropy. Yet surprisingly, this accomplished noir turns that misanthropy precisely on its head without ever resorting to sentimentality or stereotypes. The milieus of a seedy music hall and police station in Paris are delineated with such richness and attentiveness toward the postoccupation climate that when the murder of a licentious film producer brings a police inspector (the great Louis Jouvet) into the music hall, Clouzot is able to reveal a complex and interactive working-class world in which cops and criminals are sometimes difficult to tell apart. The principal epiphanies in this tale emerge from Jouvet's expressions of kinship with a flirtatious singer (Suzy Delair) and a lesbian photographer (Simone Renant), but there are also memorable portraits of the singer's mousy pianist husband (Bernard Blier), a music publisher (Henri Arius), and several others."

  • 1948 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Cinéarts 6

    "An unemployed worker in postwar Rome finds a job putting up movie posters after his wife pawns the family sheets to get his bicycle out of hock. But right after he starts work the bike is stolen, and with his little boy in tow he travels across the city trying to recover it. This masterpiece is generally and correctly acknowledged as one of the key works of Italian neorealism, but French critic Andre Bazin also recognized it as one of the great communist films. (The fact that it received the 1949 Oscar for best foreign film suggests that it wasn't perceived as such over here.) The dominance of auteurist criticism over the past three decades has made this extraordinary movie unfashionable because its power doesn't derive from a single creative intelligence, but the work of screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, director Vittorio De Sica, the nonprofessional actors, and many others is so charged with a common purpose that there's no point in even trying to separate their achievements."

  • 1948 Cross-reference: Theme Songs

  • 1948 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Lyrics; What Is Cinema?

  • 1948 (S/B/D*) Cross-references: Swing; Teach

  • 1949 (S/B) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Jacques Tati's first feature, a euphoric comedy set in a sleepy village. As in all of his features, the plot is minimal: during Bastille Day festivities, the local postman (Tati) encounters a newsreel about streamlined postal delivery in America and attempts to clean up his act accordingly. But the exquisite charm of this masterpiece has less to do with individual gags (funny though many of them are) than with Tati's portrait of a highly interactive French village after the war—a view of paradise suffused with affection and poetry."

  • 1949 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1949

  • 1949 (S/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints

    "Roberto Rossellini's first filmic encounter with Ingrid Bergman, made in the wilds around the same time the neorealist director and the Hollywood star were being denounced in the U.S. Senate for their adulterous romance. Widely regarded as a masterpiece today, the film was so badly mutilated by Howard Hughes's RKO (which added offscreen narration, reshuffled some sequences, and deleted others) that Rossellini sued the studio (and lost). The Italian version, which Rossellini approved, has come out on video, and this rarely screened English-language version is very close to it. A Lithuanian-born Czech refugee living in an internment camp (Bergman) marries an Italian fisherman (Mario Vitale) in order to escape, but she winds up on a bare, impoverished island with an active volcano, where most of the locals regard her with hostility. The film is most modern and remarkable when the camera is alone with Bergman, though Rossellini wisely shows neither the wife nor the husband with full sympathy. Eschewing psychology, the film remains a kind of ambiguous pieta whose religious ending is as controversial as that of Rossellini and Bergman's subsequent Voyage to Italy (though its metaphoric and rhetorical power make it easier to take). Rossellini's blend of documentary and fiction is as provocative as usual, but it also makes the film choppy and awkward; the English dialogue is often stiff, and Renzo Cesana as a pontificating local priest is almost as clumsy here as in Cyril Endfield's subsequent Try and Get Me! Nor is the brutality of Rossellini's Catholicism to every taste; Eric Rohmer all but praised the film for its lack of affection toward Bergman, yet the film stands or falls on the strength of her emotional performance—and I believe it stands."

  • 1949 (S)

    "Perhaps the most unjustly neglected of Jules Dassin's preblacklist Hollywood pictures, and one of the best noirs ever made, this is a terrific, fast-moving thriller about the corruption of the California fruit market business. Adapted by A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly, Track of the Cat) from his own novel, it has a pretty exciting cast as well: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese (in her American debut), Lee J. Cobb (in a role anticipating his part in On the Waterfront), Barbara Lawrence, Jack Oakie, and Millard Mitchell"

  • 1949 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

  • 1950 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Hints; Lyrics

  • 1950 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Lyrics

  • 1951 (S) Cross-references: NFR; AGOGLIA; Hints

  • * 1951 (S/D) Cross-reference: Teach

    "Sam Fuller's first and greatest war film is even better in its terse and minimalist power than the restored version of The Big Red One. The first Hollywood movie about the Korean war, this introduced Gene Evans, the gruff star Fuller was to use many more times, as a crude, bitter, savvy sergeant who, despite his obvious racism, bonds with a South Korean war orphan. In addition to being visually and aurally brilliant, the film includes virtually unprecedented debates about America's racial segregation and the internment of Japanese during World War II. An independent production, The Steel Helmet did so well that it immediately won Fuller a contract at 20th Century Fox."

  • 1951 (S) Cross-reference: Wives/Muses. Essay

  • 1952 (S/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints

  • 1952 (S/B) Cross-reference: Swing

  • 1952

  • 1952 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints; Lyrics; Circuses

  • 1952 (S) Cross-reference: What Is Cinema?

  • * 1952 (S/D*) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "For all the liberties taken with the play, this may well be the greatest Shakespeare film (Welles's later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)—a brooding expressionist dream of the play made in eerie Moorish locations in Morocco and Italy over nearly three years, yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere (and beautifully shot by Anchisi Brizzi, G.R. Aldo, and George Fanto). Welles, despite his misleading reputation in the U.S. as a Hollywood filmmaker, made about 75 percent of his films as a fly-by-night independent in order to regain the artistic control he'd had on Citizen Kane; Othello, the first of these features, is arguably an even more important film in his career than Kane, since it inaugurated the more fragmented shooting style that dominates his subsequent work. The most impressive performance here is that of Micheal MacLiammoir as Iago; Welles's own underplaying of the title role meshes well with the somnambulistic mood, but apart from some magnificent line readings makes less of a dramatic impression."

  • 1952 Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Hints; What Is Cinema?

    "Screenwriter Cesare Zavattini likely deserves as much credit as director Vittorio De Sica for such masterpieces of Italian neorealism as The Bicycle Thief and this feature about a retired civil servant (schoolteacher Carlo Battisti) who discovers that his meager pension won't pay the rent for his room. He's befriended by a maid in the same flat who's pregnant but unsure of the father's identity; apart from her the only creature he feels close to is his dog, and though he contemplates suicide, he has to find someone to care for it. This simple, almost Chaplinesque story of a man fighting to preserve his dignity is even more moving for its firm grasp of everyday activities."

  • 1953 (S/D) Cross-reference: Upgrade. Essay

    "Essential viewing. Anna Magnani plays the head of a commedia dell'arte troupe touring colonial Peru in the early 18th century who dallies with three lovers (Paul Campbell, Ricardo Rioli, and Duncan Lamont) in this pungent, gorgeous color masterpiece by Jean Renoir, shot in breathtaking images by his nephew Claude (1952). In fact, this filmic play-within-a-play, based on a Prosper Merimee stage work, is a celebration of theatricality and a meditation on the beauties and mysteries of acting—it's both a key text and pleasurable filmmaking at its near best. Though generally regarded as a French film, the original and better version is in English, which is almost invariably what gets shown in the states."

  • 1953 (S/D) Cross-references: Teach; Swing

  • 1953 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

  • 1953 Cross-references: Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

  • 1954 (S/B) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2; Swing; Evan

  • * 1954

  • 1954 Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1954 (S/D) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints

    "In Henri-Georges Clouzot's suspense classic, four out-of-work Europeans (Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck), trapped in a squalid South American village that's exploited by a U.S. oil company, agree to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerine over 300 miles of primitive roads in exchange for $2,000 each—if they survive. When this existentialist shocker opened in the U.S., 43 minutes had been hacked away, but the gripping adventure elements left intact were still enough to turn the film into a hit. (This restored and at least semicomplete version of the film, 148 minutes long, was released in the early 90s.) A significant influence on Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, this grueling pile driver of a movie will keep you on the edge of your seat, though it reeks of French 50s attitude, which includes misogyny, snobbishness, and borderline racism. It's also clearly a love story between two men (Montand and Vanel)."

  • 1955 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; I Caved; Swing; Lyrics; Teach

  • 1955 (S) Cross-references: Hints; Circuses

  • 1955 (S) Cross-reference: Circuses

  • 1955 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Sinister Preachers; Hints; Lyrics; Teach

  • 1955 (S/D*) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Marker; What Is Cinema?

    "Only half an hour long, this is the greatest film ever made about the concentration camps. Directed by Alain Resnais from a script by camp survivor Jean Cayrol (who subsequently scripted Muriel), it's a perfect riposte to the eyewash of a New Yorker writer a few years back that Resnais, like Bergman, is noted for his 'metaphysical touch.' If there's a less metaphysical movie on the subject of the camps I haven't seen it. Claude Lanzmann's 1985 Shoah is so indebted to this film that it never could have been conceived, much less made, without Resnais' example, and Schindler's List is a cartoon alongside it."

  • * 1955 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade

  • 1955 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Circuses

    "A major early feature by Ingmar Bergman, also known as The Naked Night (though the Swedish title apparently means “The Clown's Night”). This is perhaps the most German expressionist of Bergman's 50s works, as redolent of sexual cruelty and angst as Variety and The Blue Angel, but no less impressive for all that. The aging owner of a small traveling circus who left his wife for a young performer in his troupe tries to regain his lost family. Visually splendid, but you may find the masochistic plot pretty unpleasant."

  • 1956 (S/B)

    "The second part of Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, fully comprehensible on its own terms, suffers at times from its episodic plot, which follows Apu from age ten in the holy city of Benares to his early adulthood in Calcutta. But this is my favorite film in the trilogy, and the reported favorite of Ray's fellow Bengali directors Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Its treatment of death—of Apu's father toward the beginning of the film and of his mother near the end—is among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences. An adaptation of roughly the last fifth of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee's novel Pather Panchali and the first third of his subsequent novel Aparajito, this benefits as much as the rest of the trilogy from the ravishing 'commentary' of Ravi Shankar's music. It's a masterpiece for which terms like 'simplicity' and 'profundity' seem inadequate."

  • 1956 (S/B)

    "Nicholas Ray's potent CinemaScope melodrama dealt with the ill effects of cortisone on a frustrated middle-class grammar-school teacher (James Mason) at about the same time that the first wave of 'wonder' drugs hit the market. But the true subject of this deeply disturbing picture is middle-class values—about money, education, culture, religion, patriarchy, and 'getting ahead.' These values are thrown into bold relief by the hero's drug dependency and resulting megalomania, which leads to shocking and tragic results for his family (Barbara Rush and Robert Simon) as well as himself. Ray's use of 'Scope framing and color to delineate the hero's dreams and dissatisfactions has rarely been as purposeful. (It's hard to think of another Hollywood picture with more to say about the sheer awfulness of 'normal' American family life during the 50s.) With Walter Matthau in an early noncomic role as the hero's best friend; scripted by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibum, and an uncredited Clifford Odets."

  • 1956 (S/D) Cross-references: Upgrade; Circuses. Essay

  • * 1956 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: AGOGLIA; Greenaway 2; Hints; Swing; Lyrics; Teach

    "Arguably Stanley Kubrick's most perfectly conceived and executed film, this noirish thriller utilizes an intricate overlapping time structure to depict the planning and execution of a plot to steal $2 million from a racetrack. Adapted by Kubrick from Lionel White's Clean Break, with an extraordinary gallery of B players: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, J.C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, and the unforgettable Timothy Carey. Orson Welles was so taken with this film that after seeing it he declared Kubrick could do no wrong; not to be missed."

  • * 1956 (S/B) Cross-reference: I Caved

    "Based on a French lieutenant's account of his 1942 escape from a gestapo fortress in Lyon, this stately yet uncommonly gripping feature is my choice as the greatest achievement of Robert Bresson, one of the cinema's foremost artists. (It's rivaled only by his more corrosive and metaphysical 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar.) The best of all prison-escape movies, it reconstructs the very notion of freedom through offscreen sounds and defines salvation in terms of painstakingly patient and meticulous effort. Bresson himself spent part of the war in an internment camp and subsequently lived through the German occupation of France, experiences that inform his magisterial grasp of what the concentrated use of sound and image can reveal about souls in hiding. Essential viewing."

  • 1957 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; AGOGLIA; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Lyrics; Teach

    "The film that established Stanley Kubrick's reputation, adapted by Kubrick, Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson from Humphrey Cobb's novel about French soldiers being tried for cowardice during World War I. Corrosively antiwar in its treatment of the corruption and incompetence of military commanders, it's far from pacifist in spirit, and Kirk Douglas's strong and angry performance as the officer defending the unjustly charged soldiers perfectly contains this contradiction. The remaining cast is equally resourceful and interesting: Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Ralph Meeker, and the creepy Timothy Carey, giving perhaps his best performance. Banned in France for 18 years, this masterpiece still packs a wallop, though nothing in it is as simple as it may first appear; audiences are still arguing about the final sequence, which has been characterized as everything from a sentimental cop-out to the ultimate cynical twist."

  • 1957 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Swing

  • 1957 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Evan; Teach

    "Sidney Lumet's first film adapts a Reginald Rose TV play about a serious-minded juror (Henry Fonda, naturally) who gradually convinces his 11 colleagues to reconsider the guilt of a Puerto Rican youth on trial for murder. A somewhat pat liberal parable that reeks of its period, the film is pretty much saved, or nearly, by Lumet's tight direction and the capable performances, which are virtually restricted to the same closed room. Mechanically written, but within its own middlebrow limitations, it delivers the goods."

  • 1958 Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1958. L'ÉCOLE DES FACTEURS (1949 [sic] short, included on this disc), is also on the list. (S/B, [both films]) Cross-references: Swing; Evan

  • 1959 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; 1959; Hints; Swing

    "This is a prime contender for Otto Preminger's greatest film—a superb courtroom drama packed with humor and character that shows every actor at his or her best. James Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer asked to defend an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) on a charge of murdering a local businessman who allegedly raped his flirtatious wife (Lee Remick); Boston lawyer Joseph Welch (of the army-McCarthy hearings), in his only screen performance, plays the judge; and George C. Scott is a lawyer working for the prosecution. There are also wonderful performances by Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden, and even a cameo by Duke Ellington, who composed the memorable jazz score. As an entertaining look at legal process, this is spellbinding, infused by an ambiguity about human personality and motivation that is Preminger's trademark, and the location shooting is superb."

  • 1959 (S/D) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Upgrade; What Is Cinema?

    "The controversial, highly charged masterpiece that put Michelangelo Antonioni's name on the international map. It's a work that requires some patience—a 145-minute mystery that strategically elides any conventional denouement—but more than amply repays the effort. The ambiguous title adventure begins on a luxury pleasure cruise. The disconsolate girlfriend (Lea Massari) of a successful architect (Gabriele Ferzetti) mysteriously disappears on a remote volcanic island, and the architect and the woman's best friend (Monica Vitti) set out across Italy looking for her, becoming involved with each other along the way. In the course of their epic travels, Antonioni paints a complex portrait of a crisis in contemporary values and relationships. His stunning compositions and choreographic mise en scene, punctuated by eerie silences and shots that linger expectantly over landscapes, made him a key Italian modernist director of the 50s and 60s, perhaps rivaled only by Rossellini. This haunting work—the first in a loose trilogy completed by La Notte and Eclipse—shows him at the summit of his powers."

  • * 1959 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 1; Greenaway 2; Hints; Swing; What Is Cinema?

    "Shot on a shoestring and none the worse for it, Jean-Luc Godard's gritty and engaging first feature had an almost revolutionary impact when first released in 1960. It lays down most of the Godardian repertoire that the later films would build upon: male bravado spiced with plug-ugly mugging and amusing self-mockery (brought to perfection in Jean-Paul Belmondo's wonderful performance); a fascination with female beauty and treachery (the indelible Jean Seberg as the archetypal American abroad); an emulation of the American gangster movie, and a love-hatred for America in general; radically employed jump cuts that have the effect of a needle skipping gaily across a record; and a taste for literary, painterly, and musical quotations, as well as original aphorisms. Less characteristic of Godard's later work are the superb jazz score (by French pianist Martial Solal), a relatively coherent and continuous narrative, and postsynchronized dialogue."

  • 1959 (S/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; 1959; Lyrics; What Is Cinema?; Cinéarts 6

  • 1959 Cross-references: 1959; Lyrics. Essay

  • * 1959 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; 1959

  • 1959 (S)

  • 1959 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing; Teach; What Is Cinema?

  • 1959 (S/D/B) Cross-references: 1959; What Is Cinema?

  • 1959

    "A very elegant and watchable 1960 French thriller starring Alain Delon in his prime, this film was adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by director Rene Clement and screenwriter Paul Gegauff, best known as Claude Chabrol's key script collaborator in the 60s and 70s. The Hitchcockian theme—transference of personality—is given almost as much mileage here as in Hitchcock's own Highsmith adaptation, Strangers on a Train, as Delon decides to take over the identity of a spoiled, wealthy playboy he's been hired to bring home to his father. Henri Decae's color cinematography is dazzling, and the Italian and Mediterranean locations are sumptuous. With Marie Laforet, Maurice Ronet, and Playtime's Bill Kearns."

  • 1959 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; 1959; Swing

  • * 1960 (S/D/B) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; 1959; I Caved; Hints; Swing; Teach; What Is Cinema?

    "John Cassavetes's first feature (1959), shot in 16-millimeter, centers on three siblings living together in Manhattan; the oldest, a third-rate nightclub singer (Hugh Hurd), is visibly black, while the other two (Ben Carruthers and Lelia Goldoni) are sufficiently light skinned to pass for white. This is the only Cassavetes film made without a full script (it grew out of acting improvs), and rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film. It's contemporaneous with early masterpieces of the French New Wave and deserves to be ranked alongside them for the freshness and freedom of its vision; in its portrait of a now-vanished Manhattan during the beat period, it also serves as a poignant time capsule. With Tony Ray (son of director Nicholas Ray), Rupert Crosse, Dennis Sallas, Tom Allen, and Davey Jones—all very fine—and a wonderful jazz score by Charles Mingus. It's conceivable that Cassavetes made greater films, but this is the one I cherish the most."

  • 1960 (S/D) Cross-reference: NFR

    "Just as The Ten Commandments (1956) was the apotheosis of Eisenhower conservatism, this blockbuster, which broke the Hollywood blacklist by crediting screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, seems the quintessence of Kennedy liberalism. Anthony Mann directed the first sequence but then was replaced by Stanley Kubrick, who said he enjoyed the most artistic freedom in the scenes without dialogue. Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons are appealing as the eponymous rebel slave and his love interest; no less juicy is the Roman triumvirate of Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, and Laurence Olivier, playing one of the first bisexual characters in a major Hollywood film (unfortunately one also has to put up with the embarrassing accents and performances of Tony Curtis, John Dall, and Nina Foch, among others). This may be the most literate of all the spectacles set in antiquity. This restored version, including material originally cut, runs 197 minutes, including Alex North's powerfully romantic overture."

  • 1960 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing

  • 1960 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing

    "Arguably Louis Malle's best work. Based on Raymond Queneau's farcical novel about a little girl (Catherine Demongeot) left in Paris for a weekend with her decadent uncle (Philippe Noiret), this wild spree goes overboard reproducing Mack Sennett-style slapstick, parodying various films of the 1950s, and playing with editing and color effects (the cinematography is especially impressive), all in an effort to create equivalents to Queneau's extravagant wordplay, though gradually it becomes a rather disturbing nightmare about fascism. Forget the preposterous claim by a few critics that the movie's editing influenced Alain Resnais, but there's no doubt that Malle affected Richard Lester—and was clearly influenced himself by William Klein, credited here as a visual consultant. A rather sharp, albeit soulless, film, packed with ideas and glitter and certainly worth a look."

  • 1961 (S)

  • 1961 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing

    "Agnes Varda's New Wave feature—recounting two hours in the life of a French pop singer (Corinne Marchand) while she waits to learn from her doctor whether she's terminally ill—is arguably her best work, rivaled only by her Vagabond (1985) and The Gleaners and I (2000). Beautifully shot and realized, this film offers an irreplaceable time capsule of Paris, and fans of Michel Legrand won't want to miss the extended sequence in which he visits the heroine and rehearses with her. The film's approximations of real time are exactly that—the total running time is 90 minutes—but innovative and thrilling nonetheless. Underrated when it came out and unjustly neglected since, it's not only the major French New Wave film made by a woman, but a key work of that exciting period—moving, lyrical, and mysterious."

  • * 1961 (S/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 1; Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

    "This radical experiment in film form by director Alain Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet was a surprising commercial success in 1961, even in the U.S., and it's been a rallying point for the possibilities of formal filmmaking ever since. A highly seductive parable about seduction, it's set in and around a baroque European chateau/hotel, where the nameless hero (Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to persuade the nameless heroine (Delphine Seyrig) that they met the previous year. Shot by Sacha Vierny in otherworldly black-and-white 'Scope, it oscillates ambiguously between past, present, and various conditional tenses, mixing memory and fantasy, fear and desire. The overall tone is poker-faced parody of lush Hollywood melodrama, yet the film's dreamlike cadences, frozen tableaux, and distilled surrealist poetry are too eerie, too terrifying even, to be shaken off as camp. For all its notoriety, this masterpiece among masterpieces has never really received its due."

  • 1961 (S/D/B) Cross-reference: Swing

    "Jacques Demy's first and in some ways best feature (1961), shot in exquisite black-and-white 'Scope by Raoul Coutard, is among the most neglected major works of the French New Wave. Abandoned by her sailor lover, a cabaret dancer (Anouk Aimee) brings up their son while awaiting his return and ultimately has to choose among three men. Chock-full of film references (to The Blue Angel, Breathless, Hollywood musicals, the work of Max Ophuls, etc) and lyrically shot in Nantes, the film is a camera stylo love letter, and Michel Legrand's lovely score provides ideal nostalgic accompaniment. In his third feature and biggest hit, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy settled on life's disappointments; here at least one major character gets exactly what she wants, and the effect is no less poignant. With Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, and Elina Labourdette (the young heroine in Robert Bresson's 1945 Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne)."

  • 1961 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    "Though more amateurish than the other celebrated first features of the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette's troubled and troubling 1960 account of Parisians in the late 50s remains the most intellectually and philosophically mature, and one of the most beautiful. The specter of world-wide conspiracy and impending apocalypse haunts the characters—a student, an expatriate American, members of a low-budget theater company rehearsing Pericles—as the student tries to recover a tape of guitar music by a deceased Spanish emigre who may have committed suicide. Few films have more effectively captured a period and milieu; Rivette evokes bohemian paranoia and sleepless nights in tiny one-room flats, along with the fragrant, youthful idealism conveyed by the film's title (which is countered by the opening epigraph from Charles Peguy: 'Paris belongs to no one')."

  • 1961 (S/D)

  • 1962

  • * 1962 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Swing. Essay.

    "The conclusion of Michelangelo Antonioni's loose trilogy (preceded by L'Avventura and La Notte), this is conceivably the best in Antonioni's career, but significantly it has the least consequential plot. A sometime translator (Monica Vitti) recovering from an unhappy love affair briefly links up with a stockbroker (Alain Delon) in Rome, though the stunning final montage sequence—perhaps the most powerful thing Antonioni has ever done—does without these characters entirely. Alternately an essay and a prose poem about the contemporary world in which the 'love story' figures as one of many motifs, this is remarkable both for its visual/atmospheric richness and its polyphonic and polyrhythmic mise en scene (Antonioni's handling of crowds at the Roman stock exchange is never less than amazing)."

  • 1962 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Swing; Lyrics; Teach

    "One of the strangest and most mercurial movies ever made in Hollywood. A veritable salad of mixed genres and emotional textures, this exciting black-and-white cold war thriller runs more than two hours and never flags for an instant. Produced by director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod, the film was made with an unusual amount of freedom, which pays off in multiple dividends. It's conceivably the only commercial American film that deserves to be linked with the French New Wave, full of visual and verbal wit that recalls Orson Welles. Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey, both brilliantly cast, have never been better; Sinatra and Janet Leigh have never been used as weirdly; and the talented secondary cast—including James Gregory, James Edwards, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver, and Khigh Dhiegh—is never less than effective. A powerful experience, alternately corrosive with dark parodic humor, suspenseful, moving, and terrifying."

  • 1962 (S/D) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • 1963 (S/D*)

  • 1963 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 1; Greenaway 2; Hints; Circuses; What Is Cinema?

    "If all you know about this exuberant, self-regarding film is based on its countless inferior imitations (from Paul Mazursky's Alex in Wonderland and The Pickle to Woody Allen's Stardust Memories to Bob Fosse's All That Jazz), you owe it to yourself to see Federico Fellini's exhilarating, stocktaking original, an expressionist, circuslike comedy about the complex mental and social life of a big-time filmmaker (Marcello Mastroianni) stuck for a subject and the busy world surrounding him. It's Fellini's last black-and-white picture and conceivably the most gorgeous and inventive thing he ever did—certainly more fun than anything he made after it. (The only Fellini movie that's about as pleasurable is The White Sheik.)"

  • 1963 Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa was a conservative, and filmmaker Luchino Visconti was a communist. But both men were aristocrats, and when Visconti adapted the posthumously published Il Gattopardo to the screen, he created one of the movies' richest portrayals of fading aristocracy since Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons. The 205-minute version that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes probably no longer exists, but this dazzling 183-minute restoration of Visconti's greatest feature is so superior to the dubbed and faded 161-minute version released in the U.S. that it feels complete. Burt Lancaster stars as Don Fabrizio, a gentlemanly landowner in mid-19th-century Palermo who realizes that the old world is dying. The painterly peripheral detail of Visconti's epic exteriors is surpassed only by the extended ball sequence in the last third, in which realistic details double as Fabrizio's stream of consciousness."

  • 1963 (S) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Lyrics

  • 1963 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Teach

  • 1964 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

  • * 1964 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade. Essay

    "Carl Dreyer's last film is for me the most beautiful, affecting, and inexhaustible of all narrative films, but it's clearly not for every taste—not, alas, even remotely. Adapted from a long-forgotten play by Hjalmar Soderberg, it centers on a proud, stubborn woman (Nina Pens Rode) who demands total commitment in love and forsakes both her husband and a former lover for a young musician who's relatively indifferent to her. It moves at an extremely slow, theatrical pace in long takes recorded mainly in direct sound (though shot principally in a studio) and deserves to be ranked along with The Magnificent Ambersons, Lola Montes, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the great haunted-memory films. Its meaning hinges partially on the refusal or inability to compromise and what this implies over the range of an entire life (in this case Dreyer's as well as his heroine's). It's exquisite, unbearable, and unforgettable."

  • 1964 (S/D*) Cross-references: Swing; Evan; Theme Songs

  • 1964 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Teach; Marker; What Is Cinema?

    "One of the best of all SF films is this haunting, apocalyptic 27-minute French short by the great Chris Marker about a man sent into the future—a story that is told almost exclusively in still frames."

  • 1964

  • 1964 (S/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Swing

    "Michelangelo Antonioni's first color feature uses colors expressionistically, and to get the precise hues he wanted, he had entire fields painted. The film came at the end of his most fertile period, just after L'Avventura, La Notte, and Eclipse, and it isn't as good as the first and last of these, but the ecological concerns look a lot more prescient today. Monica Vitti plays a neurotic married woman briefly attracted to industrialist Richard Harris, and Antonioni does eerie, memorable work with the industrial shapes and colors that surround her; she walks through a science fiction landscape dotted with structures that are both disorienting and full of possibilities. Like any self-respecting Antonioni heroine, she's looking for love and meaning and mainly finding sex. But the film's most spellbinding sequence depicts a pantheistic, utopian fantasy of innocence, which she recounts to her ailing son."

  • 1965 (S/D*) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; Lyrics

  • 1965 (S/D) Cross-reference: Swing

    "Jean-Luc Godard's edgy, moribund reflection on 'the children of Marx and Coca-Cola' had an exemplary vitality when it came out in 1966, with its currency, its mainly nonprofessional cast, and its determination to address anything and everything. It's still a lively and interesting artifact, limited by its sexual politics, which are manifested in Godard's attraction toward and contempt for women. Jean-Pierre Léaud, in one of his most touching roles, and his communist sidekick are the children of Marx, while Léaud's girlfriend (rock singer Chantal Goya) and her pals are the children of Coca-Cola (few of the females are asked or even allowed to think). The jagged form should keep you on your toes; as Dave Kehr has noted, 'Godard is very strict in his sloppiness.' "

  • 1966 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade; Sinister Preachers; What Is Cinema?

    "Andrei Tarkovsky's first major film (1966, though banned and unseen until 1971), cowritten by Andrei Konchalovsky, about a 15th-century icon painter. This medieval epic announced the birth of a major talent; it also stuns with the sort of unexpected poetic explosions we've come to expect from Tarkovsky: an early flying episode suggesting Gogol, a stirring climax in color. Not to be missed."

  • * 1966 (S/D) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Upgrade; Swing; Circuses; What Is Cinema?

  • * 1966 (S)

    "The 1965 first feature of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. A girl from a lower-class district in Dakar goes to work as a maid for a French couple and accompanies them on a vacation to France, where her newfound sense of freedom gradually turns into feelings of isolation and invisibility. Sembene keeps his metaphors under control, and the result is a message movie with an unusual depth of characterization."

  • 1966 (S) Cross-references: Swing; Lyrics

    "My favorite Czech film, and surely one of the most exhilarating stylistic and psychedelic eruptions of the 60s, this madcap and aggressive feminist farce by Vera Chytilova explodes in any number of directions. Two uninhibited young women named Marie engage in escapades that add up to less a plot than to a string of outrageous set pieces, including several antiphallic gags and a free-for-all with fancy food (rivaling Laurel and Hardy) that got Chytilova in lots of trouble with the authorities; disturbing yet liberating, it shows what this talented director can do with freedom. A major influence on Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating, this feature is chock-full of female giggling, which might be interpreted in context as the laughter of Medusa: subversive, bracing, energizing, and rather challenging to most male spectators."

  • 1966 Cross-reference: Wives/Muses

  • 1966 (S/D*) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints; Cinéarts 6

  • 1966

    "The most intellectually heroic of Jean-Luc Godard's early features was inspired by his reading an article about suburban housewives day-tripping into Paris to turn tricks for spending money. Marina Vlady plays one such woman, followed over a single day in a slender narrative with many documentary and documentarylike digressions. But the central figure is Godard himself, who whispers his poetic and provocative ruminations over monumentally composed color 'Scope images and, like James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, continually interrogates his own methods and responses. Among the more memorable images are extreme close-ups of a cup of coffee, while another remarkable sequence deconstructs the operations of a car wash. Few features of the period capture the world with as much passion and insight."

  • 1967 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Hints

    "Though it may not equal the sublimity of his three last features, Luis Buñuel's masterpiece remains a seminal work that clarifies his relationship with Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Buñuel was a prude with a strong religious background and a highly developed sense of the kinky and transgressive; what he does here with Catherine Deneuve, whom he used again memorably in Tristana, parallels Hitchcock's encounters with Tippi Hedren. Adapting a novel by Joseph Kessel, Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere recount the story of a frigid but devoted upper-class housewife (Deneuve) who secretly works at a high-class brothel to satisfy her masochistic impulses. Placing her fantasies, dreams, and recollections on the same plane as her everyday adventures, Buñuel comes closer to the French New Wave than he did before or after, and much of his secondary cast reinforces this association, including Michel Piccoli, Macha Meril, and Pierre Clementi as a dandyish gangster."

  • 1967 (S)

  • 1967 (S/D)

  • * 1967 (S/B) Cross-references: I Caved; Swing; What Is Cinema?. Essay

    "My favorite movie, this French comedy by actor-director Jacques Tati has the most intricately designed mise en scene in all of cinema. The restored 65-millimeter version, with four-track DTS sound, expands the possibilities of becoming lost in Tati's vast frames and creatively finding one's way again. His studio-constructed vision of Paris begins in daytime with nightmarishly regimented straight lines and right angles and proceeds to night with accidental yet celebratory curves of people instinctively coming together. It peaks in an extraordinary sequence, set in a gradually disintegrating restaurant, that comprises almost half the film: once various musicians start to perform, the viewer's gaze inevitably follows the customers in a kind of improvised dance, collecting and juxtaposing simultaneous comic events and details. In this landscape everyone is a tourist, but Tati suggests that once we can find one another, we all belong. In English, French, and German; it's sometimes shown without subtitles—but you won't need them."

  • 1967

  • 1967 (S/B) Cross-reference: Hints

    "Monte Hellman's remarkably hip avant-garde western (1967) was sold straight to television in the U.S.; while overseas it became a standard reference point for cinephiles, here, alas, it remains a cultist legend that's never received the attention it deserves. A provocative and often witty head scratcher, it stars Jack Nicholson (who also produced) as a hired gun and Warren Oates, both at their near best, along with Will Hutchins and Millie Perkins. With its existentialist approach to treks through the wilderness, this is one of the key forerunners of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man."

  • * 1967. (S/D/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Swing

    "One might argue for Lola (1960), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), or the lesser-known Une Chambre en Ville (1982) as Jacques Demy's greatest feature. But his most ambitious is this 1967 big-budget musical shot exclusively on location, a tale of various dreamers searching for and usually missing their ideal mates, who are usually only blocks away. The score is Michel Legrand's finest, with various jazz elements, lyrics in alexandrines by Demy, and intricately structured reprises that match the poetic, crisscrossing plot. Demy pays tribute to the American musical yet mixes in accoutrements of French poetic realism: dreams and reality coexist more strangely and stubbornly than in most other musicals. The results may be quintessentially French, but the energy and optimism are clearly inspired by America, and Gene Kelly's appearances are sublime."

  • 1967 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; What Is Cinema?

  • 1968 (S) Cross-reference: 1968

    "One of Nagisa Oshima's very best, this 1968 Japanese feature is concerned with the death penalty and the public understanding of a rape and murder committed by a Korean youth. The inventiveness of the staging is not merely dazzling but purposeful: a group of Japanese officials discover, through a fantasy conceit, that the Korean prisoner refuses to die because the issues of his crime and his punishments aren't understood, and the film works through a series of imaginative restagings of the events leading up to the rape and murder. (The issue of Japanese persecution of Koreans is also very pertinent to the proceedings.) The results are Brechtian in the best sense: entertaining, instructive, gripping, mind-boggling, often humorous, and very much alive."

  • 1968 (S/D/B) Cross-references: NFR; 1968; Wives/Muses; Hints

    "John Cassavetes's galvanic drama about one long night in the lives of an estranged well-to-do married couple (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) and their temporary lovers (Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel) was the first of his independent features to become a hit, and it's not hard to see why. It remains one of the only American films to take the middle class seriously, depicting the compulsive, embarrassed laughter of people facing their own sexual longing and some of the emotional devastation brought about by the so-called sexual revolution. (Interestingly, Cassavetes set out to make a trenchant critique of the middle class, but his characteristic empathy for all of his characters makes this a far cry from simple satire.) Shot in 16-millimeter black and white with a good many close-ups, this often takes an unsparing yet compassionate 'documentary' look at emotions most movies prefer to gloss over or cover up. Adroitly written and directed, and superbly acted—the leads and Val Avery are all uncommonly good (and the astonishing Lynn Carlin was a nonprofessional discovered by Cassavetes, working at the time as Robert Altman's secretary)—this is one of the most powerful and influential American films of the 60s."

  • 1968 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; 1968; Greenaway 2; Hints; Swing; Lyrics

  • 1968 Cross-references: Wives/Muses; 1968

  • 1969 Cross-reference: Wives/Muses

    "Rainer Werner Fassbinder's second feature is something like the decanted essence of his work. There's less plot than usual, but the portraiture already seems firmly in place. Based on his own play, the film consists largely of a lot of deadbeats standing around on the street in a Munich suburb, abusing women and showing one another how macho they are. (The title is Bavarian slang for “stud.”) Eventually a Greek immigrant (played by Fassbinder himself) turns up and becomes the target of their xenophobia. Hanna Schygulla is also present in one of her earliest roles."

  • 1969 (S)

  • 1969 (S) Cross-reference: Theme Songs

    "William Klein's over-the-top fantasy-satire is conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made, but only an American (albeit an expatriate living in France) could have made it. Despite Klein's well-deserved international reputation as a still photographer, his films are almost unknown in the U.S., so this spirited and hilarious second feature offers an ideal introduction to his volatile talent. Filmed in slam-bang comic-book style, it describes the exploits of a heroic, myopic, and knuckleheaded free-world agent (Playtime's John Abbey) who arrives in Paris to do battle against the Russian and Chinese communists, embodied by Moujik Man (a colossal cossack padded out with foam rubber) and the inflatable Red China Man (a dragon that fills an entire metro station). Donald Pleasence is the hero's sinister, LBJ-like boss, and Delphine Seyrig at her giddiest plays the sexy, duplicitous double agent who shows him the ropes. Done in a Punch and Judy manner that occasionally suggests Godard or Kubrick, and combining guerrilla-style documentary with expressionism, this feisty political cartoon remains a singular expression of 60s irreverence."

  • 1970 (S)

  • The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes, 1971 Cross-reference: Hints

    "Stan Brakhage's convulsive personal and silent documentary about a Pittsburgh morgue, made in 1971, is one of the most direct confrontations with death ever recorded on film."

  • 1971 (S) Cross-reference: NFR; What Is Cinema?

  • (nostalgia), 1971 (S/B) Cross-reference: NFR

    "Hollis Frampton's (nostalgia), one of his greatest works, is a profound and profoundly tricky meditation on photography and memory."

  • 1971 (S/D/B)

    "With his previous film, Playtime, Jacques Tati hoped to bid farewell to his character Monsieur Hulot by proving that the capacity to be funny belonged to everyone. But the financial disaster of Tati's supreme masterpiece forced him to rethink this strategy. In order to get another film financed, Tati brought back Hulot one more time to star in this satirical comedy about a journey from Paris to Amsterdam to attend an auto show. Despite the compromise, and the few reflections of the bitterness that accompanies it, Traffic is a masterpiece in its own right—not only for the sharp picture of the frenetic and gimmick-crazy civilization that worships cars, but also for many remarkable formal qualities: an extraordinary use of sound (always one of Tati's strong points), a complex interplay of chance and control in the observations of everyday behavior, and, in some spots, a development of the use of multiple focal points to articulate some of the funniest gags. There's also an elaborate highway accident choreographed like a graceful ballet, and a sweet contrast throughout between the unhurried touristic pleasures enjoyed and propagated by Hulot and a Dutch garage mechanic and the more blinkered and neurotic hyperactivity of some of Hulot's associates. Perhaps the best route into this wonderful movie is a consideration of the 'poster' designed by Tati to accompany its opening on the Champs-Elysees: the movie's title backed by an enormous mirror that reflects the delightful spectacle of the passing parade of pedestrians and traffic."

  • 1971 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; HDS

    "This exciting existentialist road movie by Monte Hellman, with a swell script by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Corry and my favorite Warren Oates performance, looks even better now than it did in 1971, although it was pretty interesting back then as well. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are the drivers of a supercharged '55 Chevy, and Oates is the owner of a new GTO (these nameless characters are in fact identified only by the cars they drive); they meet and agree to race from New Mexico to the east coast, though an assortment of side interests periodically distracts them, including various hitchhikers (among them Laurie Bird). (GTO hilariously assumes a new persona every time he picks up a new passenger, rather like the amorphous narrator in Wurlitzer's novel Nog.) The movie starts off as a narrative but gradually grows into something much more abstract—it's unsettling but also beautiful."

  • 1971 (S/B)

  • 1971 (S) Essay

    "We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it's hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant Yugoslav feature by Dušan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary shot in 16. The "WR" is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the "mysteries" involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs "killing for peace" as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom."

  • 1972 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Luis Buñuel's comic masterpiece, about three well-to-do couples who try and fail to have a meal together, is perhaps the most perfectly achieved and executed of all his late French films. The film proceeds by diverse interruptions, digressions, and interpolations (including dreams and tales within tales) that, interestingly enough, identify the characters, their class, and their seeming indestructibility with narrative itself. One of the things that makes this film as charming as it is, despite its radicalism, and helped Buñuel win his only Oscar is the perfect cast, many of whom bring along nearly mythic associations acquired in previous French films. Frightening, funny, profound, and mysterious. Produced by Serge Silberman and coscripted by Jean-Claude Carriere; with Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier, and Jean-Pierre Cassel, as well as Buñuel regulars Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, and Julien Bertheau."

  • 1972 (S) Cross-reference: Hints; Swing

    "An imaginative, highly personal travelogue and essay film by Federico Fellini (1972), one of his best works of this period. It features the filmmaker roaming around the Eternal City with his crew, musing about the recent and distant historical past, running into old chums and acquaintances (such as Anna Magnani and Gore Vidal), and occasionally indulging some flamboyant conceits for their own sake (e.g., the memorable ecclesiastical fashion show). As usual with Fellini, especially from the 70s on, spectacle tends to be everything."

  • 1972 (S/B)

    "Although Andrei Tarkovsky regarded this SF spectacle in 'Scope as the weakest of his films, it holds up remarkably well as a soulful Soviet 'response' to 2001: A Space Odyssey, concentrating on the limits of man's imagination in relation to memory and conscience. Sent to a remote space station poised over the mysterious planet Solaris in order to investigate the puzzling data sent back by an earlier mission, a psychologist (Donatas Banionis) discovers that the planet materializes human forms based on the troubled memories of the space explorers—including the psychologist's own wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who'd killed herself many years before but is repeatedly resurrected before his eyes. More an exploration of inner than of outer space, Tarkovsky's eerie mystic parable is given substance by the filmmaker's boldly original grasp of film language and the remarkable performances by all the principals."

  • 1973 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Hints; Swing; Lyrics; Teach

  • * 1973 (S/D) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Greenaway 2; DK. Essay

    "Orson Welles's underrated essay film—made from discarded documentary footage by Francois Reichenbach and new material from Welles—forms a kind of dialectic with Welles's never-completed It's All True. The main subjects are art forger Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, Welles himself, and the practice and meaning of deception. Despite some speculation that this film was Welles's indirect reply to Pauline Kael's bogus contention that he didn't write a word of Citizen Kane, his sly commentary—seconded by some of the trickiest editing anywhere—implies that authorship is a pretty dubious notion anyway, a function of the even more dubious art market and its team of 'experts.' Alternately superficial and profound, the film also enlists the services of Oja Kodar, Welles's principal collaborator after the late 60s, as actor, erotic spectacle, and cowriter, and briefer appearances by many other Welles cohorts. Michel Legrand supplied the wonderful score."

  • 1974 (S/B) Cross-reference: Wives/Muses

  • 1973

    "This 1973 first feature by Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety is one of the greatest of all African films and almost certainly the most experimental. Beautifully shot and strikingly conceived, it follows the comic misadventures of a young motorcyclist and former herdsman (Magaye Niang) who gets involved in petty crimes in Dakar during an attempt to escape to Paris with the woman he loves (Mareme Niang). The title translates as 'Hyena's Voyage,' and among the things that make this film so interesting stylistically are the fantasy sequences involving the couple's projected images of themselves in Paris and elsewhere."

  • * 1974 (S/B) Cross-reference: Circuses. Essay on Tati

    "Jacques Tati's last film—his least-known work, shot mostly on videotape for Swedish television—is seldom shown, but it's a far greater achievement than most accounts would lead you to expect. Ostensibly nothing more than a series of circus and music-hall acts (including several of Tati's most famous pantomimes) hosted by Tati and performed for an ordinary family audience, it is in fact a powerful testament that further develops the radical formal and social ideas of his masterpiece Playtime in more modest terms without sacrificing any of that work's revolutionary implications. It's literally impossible to determine when one 'act' ends and another one begins, because of a complex process of displaced emphasis and a graceful dovetailing of details; it's equally impossible to tell from the brilliant and deceptively simple mise en scene how much is straight documentary and how much contrived fiction. All this proceeds so naturally and effortlessly that one might misread the film as nothing more than minor light entertainment (although it certainly succeeds on that level). But Tati is clearly after much more—a vision of spectacle, of dexterity versus awkwardness, of seeing versus being seen that carries the filmmaker's antielitism to the point of dissolving all distinctions between stars and stargazers, performers and spectators, accomplished acrobats and children at play. It's a sign of this film's greatness that the enormous sadness that accompanies the final leave-taking of the circus interior is a good deal more than the conclusion of an unpretentious evening's entertainment; it's a sublime and awesome coda to the career of one of this century's greatest artists."

  • 1974 Cross-references: DK; Lyrics

    "Following on the heels of his 1972 masterpiece The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel's penultimate feature, made two years later, struck many critics at the time as a disappointing tapering off for the old master. But time has treated this puzzling provocation well, and today Buñuel's episodic procession of mini plots may seem even more daring—less immediately accessible to be sure, yet perhaps closer in its radicalism to L'age d'or than any other of Buñuel's late works. The challenging lack of a narrative center doesn't prevent this film from having a great deal to say about the modern world and its ambivalent grasp of freedom. With an all-star cast featuring, among many others, Monica Vitti, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi, and Michel Piccoli."

  • 1974 (S/D/B) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Hints; DK

  • * 1975 (S/B) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "All of Stanley Kubrick's features look better now than when they were first released, but Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated. It may also be his greatest. This personal, idiosyncratic, melancholy, and long (three hours) adaptation of the Thackeray novel is exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, with frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O'Neal). Despite its ponderous, funereal moods and pacing, the film is a highly accomplished piece of storytelling, building to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey."

  • 1975 (S/B) Cross-reference: What Is Cinema?

    "Chantal Akerman's greatest film—running 198 minutes—is one of those lucid puzzlers that may drive you up the wall but will keep you thinking for days or weeks. Delphine Seyrig, in one of her greatest performances, plays Jeanne Dielman, a Belgian woman obsessed with performing daily rounds of housework and other routines (including occasional prostitution) in the flat she occupies with her teenage son. The film follows three days in Dielman's regulated life, and Akerman's intense concentration on her daily activities—monumentalized by Babette Mangolte's superb cinematography and mainly frontal camera setups—eventually sensitizes us to the small ways in which her system is breaking down. By placing so much emphasis on aspects of life and work that other films routinely omit, mystify, or skirt over, Akerman forges a major statement, not only in a feminist context but also in a way that tells us something about the lives we all live."

  • 1975 (S/D/B) Cross-references: AGOGLIA; Hints

    "John Cassavetes's first crime thriller, a postnoir masterpiece, failed miserably at the box office when first released in 1976, and a recut, shorter version released two years later didn't fare much better. This is the first, longer, and in some ways better of the two versions; it's easier to follow, despite reports that—or maybe because—Cassavetes had less to do with the editing (though he certainly approved it). A personal, deeply felt character study rather than a routine action picture, it follows Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara at his very best), the charismatic owner of an LA strip joint—simultaneously an asshole and a saint—who recklessly gambles his way into debt and has to bump off a Chinese bookie to settle his accounts. In many respects the film serves as a personal testament; what makes the tragicomic character of Cosmo so moving is its alter-ego relation to the filmmaker—the proud impresario and father figure of a tattered showbiz collective (read Cassavetes's actors and filmmaking crew) who must compromise his ethics to keep his little family afloat (read Cassavetes's career as a Hollywood actor). Peter Bogdanovich used Gazzara in a similar part in Saint Jack (1979), but as good as that film is, it doesn't catch the exquisite warmth and delicacy of feeling of Cassavetes's doom-ridden comedy-drama. With fine performances by Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, Meade Roberts, and Alice Friedland."

  • 1976 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Nagisa Oshima's depiction of the obsessive lovemaking between a prostitute and the husband of a brothel keeper, which leads ultimately to the death of the man (with his own consent), is one of the most powerful erotic films ever made, but it certainly isn't for every taste. Based on a true story that originally made headlines in Japan in the 30s, which turned the woman into a tragic public heroine, the film concentrates on the sex so exclusively that a rare period shot—the man observing a troop of soldiers marching past—registers like a brief awakening from a long dream. This feature is unusually straightforward for Oshima, and those who are put off are likely to be disturbed more by the content than by the style. But the film is unforgettable for its ritualistic (if fatalistic) fascination with sex as a total commitment. With Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda as the couple, and Aio Nakajima as the brothel keeper."

  • 1977. THE GRANDMOTHER (1969 [sic] short, included on this disc) is also on the list. (S/D*/B [both films]) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; I Caved; Swing; Lyrics; Teach

  • 1977 Cross-references: Greenaway 2; DK

  • 1978 (S) Cross-reference: DK

  • 1979 (S/D*) Cross-references: NFR; Swing; What Is Cinema?

  • * 1979 (S/D*/B) Cross-references: I Caved; What Is Cinema?

    "Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 masterpiece, like his earlier Solaris, is a free and allegorical adaptation of an SF novel, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic. After a meteorite hits the earth, the region where it's fallen is believed to grant the wishes of those who enter and, sealed off by the authorities, can be penetrated only illegally and with special guides. One of them (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), the stalker of the title, leads a writer and a professor through the grimiest industrial wasteland you've ever seen. What they find is pretty harsh and has none of the usual satisfactions of SF quests, but Tarkovsky regards their journey as a contemporary spiritual quest. His mise en scene is mesmerizing, and the final scene is breathtaking. Not an easy film, but almost certainly a great one."

  • 1979 (S/D) Cross-references: HDS; I Caved; Upgrade; Sinister Preachers; Lyrics; Teach

    "Along with The Man Who Would Be King and The Dead, this is arguably John Huston's best literary adaptation, and conceivably his very best film—a very close rendering of Flannery O'Connor's remarkable first novel about a crazed southern cracker (a perfectly cast Brad Dourif) who sets out to preach a 'church without Christ,' and winds up suffering a true Christian martyrdom in spite of himself. The period, local ambience, and O'Connor's deadly gallows humor are all perfectly caught, and apart from the subtle if highly pertinent fact that this is an unbeliever's version of a believer's novel, it's about as faithful a version of O'Connor's grotesque world as one could ever hope to get on film, hilarious and frightening in equal measure. O'Connor conceived her novel as a parody of existentialism, and Huston's own links with existentialism—as the director of the first U.S. stage production of No Exit, as well as Sartre's Freud script—make him an able interpreter. With Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Daniel Shor, Ned Beatty, and Huston himself as the hero's fire-and-brimstone grandfather. The producer is Michael Fitzgerald, whose family's friendship with O'Connor guaranteed the fidelity and seriousness of the undertaking."

  • 1981 (S/D) Cross-reference: Teach

    "Samuel Fuller's masterpiece about American racism—his last work shot in this country—focuses on the efforts of a black animal trainer (Paul Winfield) to deprogram a dog that has been trained to attack blacks. Very loosely adapted by Fuller and Curtis Hanson from a memoir by Romain Gary, and set in southern California on the fringes of the film industry, this heartbreakingly pessimistic yet tender story largely concentrates on tragic human fallibility from the vantage point of an animal; in this respect it's like Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, and Fuller's brilliantly eclectic direction gives it a nearly comparable intensity. Through a series of grotesque misunderstandings, this unambiguously antiracist movie was yanked from U.S. distribution partly because of charges of racism made by individuals and organizations who had never seen it. But it's one of the key American films of the 80s. With Kristy McNichol, Burl Ives, Jameson Parker, and, in cameo roles, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Christa Lang, and Fuller himself."

  • 1982 (S/D/B) Cross-reference: DK

    "Jacques Demy's highly personal aesthetic coincided with public taste exactly once—on the 1963 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which became an international success. But later audiences never quite accepted Demy's conception of a musical cinema, which combines location shooting, naturalistic narratives, and psychologically complex characters with the high stylization of sung dialogue. When released in France in 1982, A Room in Town died at the boxoffice, yet it is one of the most beautiful, assured, and cinematically inventive films of its period, a stylistic tour-de-force that doesn't distort and destroy the real (as did Diva) but inflects and accentuates it—that brings out the lyricism, nobility, and tragedy inherent in ordinary situations. The action takes place in Nantes in 1955, during a violent ship-builders strike; one of the strikers (Richard Berry), though he is engaged to marry his pregnant girl friend, finds himself drawn to his landlady's unhappily married daughter (Dominique Sanda). The epic, social background provides a counterpoint (literally, because the strike, too, is carried on in song), to the intimate domestic tragedy of the foreground, where the same broad issue (the relationship of workers and bourgeoisie) is replayed. But the simple material is not played simplistically: though Demy offers melodramatic figures of good (the innocent girl friend) and evil (Sanda's husband, the cruel owner of a small electronics shop, played with operatic fury by Michel Piccoli), the emotional center of the film is an apparently marginal figure—the landlady, magnificently incarnated by Danielle Darrieux, who must witness the conflict, divided between her affection for Berry and her love for her daughter, between the romantic fulfillment that Berry promises and the financial security provided by Piccoli. All of the expressive tensions of Demy's cinema are focused on her: a sober acceptance of reality undermined by a yearning for the absolute, an epiphaic romanticism in tragic collision with incontrovertible facts."

  • 1983 (S/B) Cross-reference: DK

  • 1983 (S/B) Cross-references: I Caved; Marker. Essay

    "Chris Marker's masterpiece is one of the key nonfiction films of our time—a personal philosophical essay that concentrates mainly on contemporary Tokyo but also includes footage shot in Iceland, Guinea-Bissau, and San Francisco (where the filmmaker tracks down all the locations from Hitchcock's Vertigo). Difficult to describe and almost impossible to summarize, this poetic journal of a major French filmmaker radiates in all directions, exploring and reflecting upon many decades of experience. While Marker's brilliance as a thinker and filmmaker has largely (and unfairly) been eclipsed by Godard's, there is conceivably no film in the entire Godard canon that has as much to say about the state of the world, and the wit and beauty of Marker's highly original form of discourse leave a profound aftertaste. A film about subjectivity, death, photography, social custom, and consciousness itself, Sans Soleil registers like a poem one might find in a time capsule."

  • 1983 (S/B)

  • * 1984 (S/D/B) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints; DK

  • 1984 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; Wives/Muses; Upgrade; Swing

  • 1985 Cross-references: DK; What Is Cinema?

  • 1985 Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Hints

    "A turning point in the history of Taiwanese cinema, Edward Yang's 1985 masterpiece suggests a rough parallel with Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up in relation to Iranian cinema by virtue of featuring the other key Taiwanese filmmaker, Hou Hsiao-hsien, in a leading role, much as Mohsen Makhmalbaf is featured in Kiarostami's film. Hou, who also collaborated on the script, plays an alienated businessman working for a textile manufacturer who was an ace baseball player in his youth; when his girlfriend (pop star Tsai Chin) loses her job at a computer firm, their relationship begins to crumble. But this couple's malaise is only part of a multifaceted sense of confusion and despair that affects three generations of Taipei residents during a period of economic boom, and Yang's mastery in weaving together all his characters and subplots against a glittering urban landscape anticipates the major themes of his subsequent works. Essential viewing."

  • 1985 (S/D) Cross-references: Swing; DK

  • 1986 (S/B) Cross-reference: Swing

  • 1986 (S/B) Cross-references: Swing; Lyrics

  • 1986 Cross-reference: Wives/Muses

    "Juzo Itami's second comedy represents a quantum leap beyond his first (The Funeral): without abandoning his flair for social satire, he expands his scope to encompass the kind of narrative free play we associate with late Buñuel. His subjects are food, sex, and death, roughly in that order, his ostensible focal point the opening of a noodle restaurant. Working with a venerable cast that includes veterans of Kurosawa, Ozu, Shinoda, and Terayama, he takes us on a wild spree through an obsession, winding his way through various digressions with a dark, philosophical wit that is both hilarious and disturbing. Not to be missed."

  • 1987 (S/D) Cross-references: Wives/Muses; Upgrade; Swing; Teach

    "Hitchcock lives! David Mamet's first time out as a director is a thriller about compulsive behavior and con games, done with a sureness of touch and taste that shows a better understanding of Hitchcockian obsessions than the complete works of Brian De Palma. The viewer has to adjust to Mamet's theatrical reflexes, which impart a certain strangeness to both the performances and the staging—such as confidential conversations held within earshot of characters who don't hear them—because the conventions of theater space are employed rather than the usual conventions of filmic space. But once past this barrier, one is easily seduced by Mamet's storytelling gifts, which deliver a shapely script (developed with Jonathan Katz), full of its own con games and compulsions, with an adroit grasp of emphasis and pacing. Lindsay Crouse plays a successful upper-crust psychiatrist and author whose feelings of frustration in treating her criminally involved patients goad her into a walk on the wild side, beginning with the eponymous gambling den, with Joe Mantegna as her guide. Apart from uniformly fine performances—with Mike Nussbaum, Lilia Skala, and J.T. Walsh among the major secondary parts—the film has striking hard-edged photography by Juan Ruiz Anchia, and a good score by Alaric Jans that nimbly integrates a Bach fugue."

  • 1987 (S) Cross-reference: Greenaway 2

    "Bernardo Bertolucci's visually ravishing spectacle about the life of Pu Yi (1905-'67) is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the family—though two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O'Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison."

  • 1987

    "Like Alex Cox's previous films (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy), this delirious fantasy about William Walker, the American who ruled Nicaragua from 1855 to 1857, is all over the place and excessive, but as a radical statement about the U.S.'s involvement in that country it packs a very welcome wallop. The witty screenplay is by novelist Rudy Wurlitzer (Nog, Slow Fade), whose previous screenwriting forays include Two-Lane Blacktop and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; Ed Harris plays the crazed Walker, Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) is his deaf-mute fiancee, and Peter Boyle is Cornelius Vanderbilt. Deliberate and surreal anachronisms plant the action in a historical version of the present, and David Bridges's cinematography combined with a liberal use of slow motion creates a lyrical depiction of carnage and devastation. Significantly, most of the film was shot in Nicaragua, with the cooperation and advice (but without the veto power) of the Sandinista government, and Edward R. Pressman—whose previous credits include Badlands and True Stories—was executive producer. One can certainly quarrel with some aspects of the film's treatment of history, but with political cowardice in commercial filmmaking so prevalent, one can only admire this movie's gusto in calling a spade a spade, and the exhilaration of its anger and wit."

  • 1988 (S)

    "Krzysztof Kieslowski's major work (1989) consists of ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two high-rises in Warsaw. The films are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments—specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today's world might entail. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the 'Three Colors' trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination; they don't depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you'll notice that major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. One reason Kieslowski remains controversial is that in some ways he embodies the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me,' is about trust in computers; the often ironic and ambiguous connections between most subsequent commandments and their matching stories tend to be less obvious. (One of the 60s traditions Kieslowski embodies is that of the puzzle film, though he takes it on seriously rather than frivolously, as part of his ethical inquiry.) The fourth ('Honor thy father and mother'), for instance, one of my favorites, pivots around the revelation of feelings between a young acting student and the architect who may or may not be her real father, and the eighth ('Thou shalt not bear false witness') focuses on the investigation of an American Jewish academic about why she was denied sanctuary from the Nazis when she was a little girl. (Episodes five and six were expanded into A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, which ends more effectively than its shorter version.) One of Kieslowski's best ideas was to use a different cinematographer for each film (with the exception of the third and ninth, both shot by Piotr Sobocinski, who also shot Red), though the script—which he spent a solid year preparing with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, his regular collaborator—is more important here than the mise en scene, which isn't the case in Kieslowski's later films. Each segment is shaped like a well-constructed short story, often with a sardonic twist at the end, and though the performances—by many of the best actors in Polish cinema—are powerful, the direction is mainly a matter of realization rather than stylistic filigree."

  • 1989 (S/B*) Cross-references: NFR; Greenaway 2; Swing; Lyrics

    "With the possible exception of his cable miniseries When the Levees Broke, this feature is still Spike Lee's best work, chronicling a very hot day on a single block of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, when a series of minor encounters and incidents lead to an explosion of racial violence at an Italian-owned pizzeria. Sharp and knowing, though not always strictly realistic, it manages to give all the characters their due. Bill Lee's wall-to-wall score eventually loses some of its effectiveness, and a few elements (such as the patriarchal roles played by the local drunk and a disc jockey) seem more fanciful than believable. But overall this is a powerful and persuasive look at an ethnic community and what makes it tick—funky, entertaining, packed with insight, and political in the best, most responsible sense."

  • 1989 PASSIONLESS MOMENTS (1985 short, included on this disc) is also on the list. (S/D, [both films]). Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Hints; Lyrics

    "Those lucky enough to have seen Jane Campion's eccentric and engaging shorts had reason to expect her first feature to be a breakthrough for the Australian cinema. But nothing prepared one for the freshness and weirdness of this black comedy about two sisters (Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston) locked in a deadly struggle. Practically every shot is unorthodox, unexpected, and poetically right, and the swerves of the plot are simultaneously smooth, logical, and so bizarre you'll probably wind up pondering them days later. The mad behavior of both sisters may make you squirm, and there are plenty of other things in this picture—including the other characters—to make you feel unbalanced, but Campion does so many beautiful, funny, and surprising things with our disquiet that you're likely to come out of this movie seeing the world quite differently. In short, this is definitely not to be missed."

  • * 1990 THE TRAVELER (1974 feature, included on this disc), is also on the list. (S/B [both films]). Cross-references: I Caved; What Is Cinema?

    "A dense and subtle masterpiece from Iran, this documentary—or is it pseudodocumentary?—follows the trial of an unemployed film buff in Tehran who impersonated acclaimed filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and became intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare a film that was to feature them. Kiarostami persuades all the major people involved to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much of the implicit comedy here comes from the way 'cinema' changes and inflects the value and nature of everything—the original scam, the trial, the documentary Kiarostami is making. Werner Herzog has called this the greatest of all documentaries about filmmaking, and he may not be far off—if only because no other film does more to interrogate certain aspects of the documentary form itself."

  • * 1991

    "Bearing in mind Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing 230-minute epic by Edward Yang (1991), set over one Taipei school year in the early 60s, would fully warrant the subtitle “A Taiwanese Tragedy.” A powerful statement from Yang's generation about what it means to be Taiwanese, superior even to his recent masterpiece Yi Yi, it has a novelistic richness of character, setting, and milieu unmatched by any other 90s film (a richness only partially apparent in its three-hour version). What Yang does with objects—a flashlight, a radio, a tape recorder, a Japanese sword—resonates more deeply than what most directors do with characters, because along with an uncommon understanding of and sympathy for teenagers Yang has an exquisite eye for the troubled universe they inhabit. This is a film about alienated identities in a country undergoing a profound existential crisis—a Rebel Without a Cause with much of the same nocturnal lyricism and cosmic despair. Notwithstanding the masterpieces of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Taiwanese new wave starts here."

  • 1991 (S)

    "Gus Van Sant's feature, his best prior to Elephant, is a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie about two male hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) in the Pacific northwest. Phoenix, a narcoleptic from a broken home, is essentially looking for a family, while Reeves, whose father is mayor of Portland, is mainly fleeing his. The style is so eclectic that it may take some getting used to, but Van Sant, working from his own story for the first time, brings such lyrical focus to his characters and his poetry that almost everything works. Even the parts that show some strain—like the film's extended hommage to Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight—are exciting for their sheer audacity. Phoenix was never better, and Reeves does his best with a part that's largely Shakespeare's Hal as filtered through Welles."

  • 1992 (S) Cross-reference: Swing

    "The conclusion of Terence Davies's second autobiographical trilogy may not achieve the sublime heights of parts one and two (which comprised 1988's Distant Voices, Still Lives), but it's still a powerful film, possibly even a great one—the sort of work that can renew one's faith in movies. Part three chronicles his life in working-class Liverpool between the ages of 7 and 11, a period he compresses into the years 1955 and 1956, but Davies focuses less on plot or memory as they're usually understood than on the memory of emotions and subjective consciousness. Music, lighting, elaborate camera movements, and the sound tracks of other films are among the tools he uses in relation to the basic settings of home, street, school, church, pub, and movie theater. Davies emphasizes the continuities and discontinuities between these places and the emotions they evoke, creating a consistent sense of religious illumination and transfiguration. What he does with the strains of 'Tammy' in one climactic sequence and with the drift of moving clouds in another are alone worth the price of admission."

  • 1992 (S/D) Cross-reference: Swing

    "This David Cronenberg masterpiece breaks every rule in adapting a literary classic—maybe 'On Naked Lunch' would be a more accurate title—but justifies every transgression with its artistry and audacity. Adapted not only from William S. Burroughs's free-form novel but also from several other Burroughs works, this film pares away all the social satire and everything that might qualify as celebration of gay sex, yielding a complex and highly subjective portrait of Burroughs himself (expertly played by Peter Weller) as a tortured sensibility in flight from his own femininity, proceeding zombielike through an echo chamber of projections (insects, drugs, typewriters) and repudiations. According to the densely compacted metaphors that compose this dreamlike movie, writing equals drugs equals sex, and the pseudonymous William Lee, as politically incorrect as Burroughs himself, repeatedly disavows his involvement in all three."

  • 1994 (S/D) Cross-reference: Hints. Essay

    "Terry Zwigoff's penetrating, thoughtful, and disturbing essay about the great underground comic artist Robert Crumb, best known for Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural as well as his 'Keep On Truckin'' drawings, though also a semiprofessional musician and connoisseur of early jazz and blues. Made over a six-year period by a longtime friend and fellow musician, the film's intimate, multifaceted portrait is exceptional in many respects. For starters, it presents Crumb not as a cartoonist but as an artist, plausibly described by critic Robert Hughes as 'the Brueghel of the second half of the 20th century.' It then shows how difficult it is to assess artists, exploring in considerable depth Crumb's dysfunctional family background, sexual obsessions, working methods, and political positions. By the end of two hours we're persuaded that if Crumb weren't drawing constantly and compulsively he'd probably be as doomed as his brothers Charles and Max, both of whom are also comic-book artists. Never letting his participants or his audience off the hook, Zwigoff traces Crumb's ideological and psychological ambivalence toward his art through the perceptions of friends, acquaintances, relatives, former lovers, and Crumb himself. Zwigoff not only presents a complex human being and the range of his art but also guides us through a profound and unsettling consideration of what it means to be an American artist. Essential viewing."

  • 1994 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Hints

  • 1995 (S/B) Cross-reference: Hints

    "Richard Linklater goes Hollywood—triumphantly and with an overall intelligence, sweetness, and romantic simplicity that reminds me of wartime weepies like The Clock. After meeting on a train out of Budapest, a young American (Ethan Hawke) and a French student (Julie Delpy) casually explore Vienna for 14 hours; what emerges from their impromptu date has neither the flakiness of Linklater's Slacker nor the generational smarts of his Dazed and Confused (though it's closer in its picaresque form and lyricism to the former), but it does manage to say a few things about the fragility and uncertainty of contemporary relationships. Linklater's tact in handling such potentially mawkish material is as evident in what he leaves out as in what he includes, and if Hawke sometimes seems a mite doltish and preening, Delpy is a consistent delight. Kim Krizan collaborated with Linklater on the script, which abounds in lively dialogue and imaginative digressions."

  • * 1995 (S/B*) Cross-references: I Caved; Hints; Lyrics; What Is Cinema?

    "A quantum leap by American independent Jim Jarmusch—a hypnotic and beautiful black-and-white western. Johnny Depp plays an accountant from Cleveland named William Blake who travels west with the promise of a job to the infernal town of Machine, only to be told that the job's been taken. After killing a man (Gabriel Byrne) in self-defense and sustaining a mortal bullet wound, Blake is guided toward death by a Native American outcast named Nobody (Gary Farmer) while a trio of bounty hunters and various others try to track him down. This masterpiece is simultaneously a mystical, highly poetic account of dying; a well-researched appreciation of Native American cultures; a frightening portrait of modern American violence and capitalist greed that refuses to traffic in the stylistic alibis of Hollywood; a warm, hilarious depiction of cross-cultural friendship; and a hallucinatory trip across the American wilderness. With Billy Bob Thornton, Mili Avital, John Hurt, and Robert Mitchum (in his last screen performance)."

  • 1995 (S/B) Cross-reference: Sinister Preachers

    "An unsettling work by subversive American independent Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), his first film in 35-millimeter and best film overall. It's been described as a movie about 'environmental illness,' but don't let that fool you: the alienation of one suburban housewife in southern California, effectively captured by Julianne Moore, may take physical form, but its sources are clearly spiritual and ideological. Haynes does a powerful job of conveying his hatred for the character's Sherman Oaks milieu (where he himself grew up) through his crafty and at times almost hallucinatory layering of sound and image. (Though Haynes's methodology is his own, you may be reminded at times of Michelangelo Antonioni and Chantal Akerman.) He also offers a scathing (if poker-faced) satire on New Age notions of healing. This creepy art movie will stay with you."

  • 1997 (S/D) Cross-references: Swing; What Is Cinema?

    "A middle-aged man who's contemplating suicide drives around the hilly, dusty outskirts of Tehran trying to find someone who will bury him if he succeeds and retrieve him if he fails. This minimalist yet powerful and life-enhancing feature by Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend's House?, Life and Nothing More, Through the Olive Trees) never explains why the man wants to end his life, yet every moment in his daylong odyssey carries a great deal of poignancy and philosophical weight. Kiarostami, one of the great filmmakers of our time, is a master at filming landscapes and constructing parablelike narratives whose missing pieces solicit the viewer's active imagination. Taste of Cherry actually says a great deal about what it was like to be alive in the 1990s, and despite its somber theme, this masterpiece has a startling epilogue that radiates with wonder and euphoria."

  • 1998 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Teach

    "There's less sense of period here and more feeling for terrain than in any other World War II movie that comes to mind. Terrence Malick's strongest suits in his two previous features, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978)—a painterly sense of composition and a bold and original use of offscreen narration—are enhanced in this feature, first by a successful wedding of ecology and narrative (which never quite happened in Days of Heaven) and second by the notion of a collective hero, which permits the internal monologues of many characters in turn. I haven't read the James Jones novel this is based on, which some feel is his best, but Malick clearly is distancing the material philosophically and poetically, muting the drama periodically and turning it into reverie. This may have its occasional dull stretches, but in contrast to Saving Private Ryan it's the work of a grown-up with something to say about the meaning and consequences of war. The fine cast includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, and, in tiny parts, John Travolta and George Clooney."

  • 1999 (S)

    "From its opening seconds, this feature from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La promesse), winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes film festival, has to be the most visceral filmgoing experience of the past year, including all of Hollywood's explosions and special-effects extravaganzas. It concerns the desperate efforts of the 18-year-old title heroine (played by Emilie Dequenne, a remarkable nonprofessional), who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and suffers from stomach cramps, to find a steady job; she particularly hopes to work at a waffle stand whose current employee has romantic designs on her. This may sound like the grimmest sort of neorealism, but the Dardennes keep the story so ruthlessly unsentimental and physical it would be a disservice to describe it as neo anything. You feel it in your nervous system before you get a chance to reflect on its meaning—it's almost as if the Dardennes were intent on converting an immediate experience of the contemporary world into a breathless theme-park ride—and it makes just about every other form of movie 'realism' look like trivial escapism. It's certainly not devoid of psychological nuance either, and it's had such an impact in Belgium that a wage law for teenagers, which passed in November 1999, is known as 'the Rosetta plan'."

  • 1999 (S/B) Cross-references: NFR; Hints; Swing; Teach

    "Wes Anderson's second feature has some of the charm and youthful comic energy of its predecessor (Bottle Rocket), also coscripted by Owen Wilson, but it also represents a quantum leap. Jason Schwartzman plays an ambitious working-class tenth grader who's flunking out of a private school—the Rushmore of the title—because he's too engrossed in extracurricular activities. To make matters worse, he develops a crush on a young widow (Olivia Williams) who's a grammar-school teacher there. His two best friends are a schoolmate who's much younger and a disaffected millionaire alumnus (Bill Murray) who's much older, and part of the lift of this movie is that it creates a utopian democracy among different age groups. Things come to a crisis when the millionaire becomes the hero's romantic rival. Stylistically fresh and full of sweetness that never cloys, this is contemporary Hollywood filmmaking at its near best."

  • 2000 (S)

    "David Gordon Green sometimes comes across as a gifted poet who hasn't yet mastered prose; his characters and images are memorable, but this story about working-class kids, most of them black, in a small town in North Carolina is elusive and occasionally puzzling. Working with nonprofessional actors who improvise some of their dialogue, Green seems at certain junctures to be brandishing strangeness like a crown, but the lyricism of his 'Scope framings, junkyard settings, and extremely vulnerable teenage characters registers loud and clear even when some of his ideas come across as amorphous or self-conscious. Though the film isn't especially violent, particularly by contemporary standards, it arguably has more to say about the desperation behind the Columbine High School killings than any number of editorials. You have to bring a lot of yourself to this film if you want it to give something back, but the rewards are considerable."

  • 2000 (S/B) Cross-reference: What Is Cinema?

    "A brooding chamber piece about a love affair that never quite happens. Director Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong's most romantic filmmaker, is known for his excesses, and in that sense the film's spareness represents a bold departure. Claustrophobically set in adjacent flats in 1962 Hong Kong, where two young couples find themselves sharing space with other people, it focuses on a newspaper editor and a secretary at an export firm (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the sexiest duo in Hong Kong cinema) who discover that their respective spouses are having an affair on the road. Wong, who improvises his films with the actors, endlessly repeats his musical motifs and variations on a handful of images, rituals, and short scenes (rainstorms, cab rides, stairways, tender and tentative hand gestures), while dressing Cheung in some of the most confining (though lovely) dresses imaginable, whose mandarin collars suggest neck braces."

  • 2000

    "Shot in 16-millimeter black and white with Dolby sound, then blown up to 35-millimeter, this singular experimental feature from Thailand (2000, 83 min.) is a freewheeling collaboration between filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and villagers he encountered while driving south from Bangkok. After hearing a story en route, Weerasethakul asked others to continue and/or modify it; back in Bangkok, he shot portions of the narrative with nonprofessional actors. The entire film is a heady mix of fiction and nonfiction, with fantasy and actuality rubbing shoulders at every stage, and what emerges from the collective unconscious of the participants is surprising and fascinating. Weerasethakul packages his findings in diverse and inventive ways: as an improvised outdoor musical performance, as a game played by school children, as a collaborative description in sign by two teenage deaf-mutes. I can't think of another film remotely like it."

  • 2000 (S) Cross-reference: Hints

    "Edward Yang's most accessible movie follows three generations of a contemporary Taipei family from a wedding to a funeral, and while it takes almost three hours to unfold, not a moment seems gratuitous. Working with nonprofessional actors, Yang coaxes a standout performance from Wu Nien-jen as N.J., a middle-aged partner in a failing computer company who hopes to team up with a Japanese game designer and who has a secret rendezvous in Tokyo with a girl he jilted 30 years earlier; other major characters include the hero's eight-year-old son, teenage daughter, spiritually traumatized wife, comatose mother-in-law, and debt-ridden brother-in-law. The son, who becomes obsessed with photographing what people can't see, may come closest to being a mouthpiece for Yang, who seems to miss nothing as he interweaves shifting viewpoints and poignant emotional refrains, creating one of the richest families in modern movies."

  • 2001 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Swing; Lyrics; What Is Cinema?

    "I'm still trying to decide if this piece of hocus-pocus (2001) is David Lynch's best feature between Eraserhead and Inland Empire. In any case, it's immensely more likable than his other stabs at neonoir (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway), perhaps because it likes its characters and avoids sentimentalizing or sneering at them (the sort of thing that limited Twin Peaks). Originally conceived and rejected as a TV pilot, then expanded after some French producers stepped in, it has the benefit of Lynch's own observations about Hollywood, which were fresher at this point than his puritanical notations on small towns in the American heartland. The best-known actors (Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya) wound up relatively marginalized, while the lesser-known talents (in particular the remarkable Naomi Watts and the glamorous Laura Elena Harring) were invited to take over the movie (and have a field day doing so). The plot slides along agreeably as a tantalizing mystery before becoming almost completely inexplicable, though no less thrilling, in the closing stretches—but that's what Lynch is famous for."

  • 2002 (S/D*)

    "A genuine rarity: a sex comedy with brains. Even rarer, one with smart politics—so unobtrusive you may not notice—and wonderful acting. Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron went back to his native Mexico to put together this 2001 road movie about two 17-year-old boys from Mexico City, one privileged, the other working-class. On an impulse, they take off for a remote coastal beach with a 28-year-old married woman. It's not difficult to understand why this movie was a smash success in Mexico, especially with teenagers; few films deal with teenage hormones, Latin machismo, and the complexities of friendship in such a refreshing way. The movie keeps surprising you and stays with you long after it's over."

  • Afterword. 1939 (S/D) Cross-reference: NFR

  • Afterword. 1942 (S) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    "Produced by Preston Sturges and directed by Rene Clair, this adaptation of The Passionate Witch, the last novel of Thorne Smith (who also wrote the novel that Topper was based on), is a light bit of whimsy about a Salem witch (Veronica Lake) and her sorcerer father (Cecil Kellaway) haunting the descendant (Fredric March) of the Puritan who had them burned. (As spirits, they've been hiding mainly inside a couple of wine bottles.) Smith, who's been adapted here by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, once was considered fairly ribald, and while some of the erotic material from the original has been dry-cleaned, fans of Veronica Lake won't be disappointed; the special effects are nicely done too."

  • Afterword. 1944 (S/D) Cross-reference: Upgrade

  • Afterword. 1948 (S/D) Cross-reference: Teach

  • Afterword. 1966 (S/B) Greenaway 2; Lyrics

  • Afterword. 2004 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    "Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the young American and the Frenchwoman who met on a train and spent the day together in Vienna in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995), run into each other again nine years later, this time in Paris. What we see of their reunion unfolds in real time and lasts only 80 minutes, but it's so concentrated that the film is about the previous nine years as much as the breathless present. You won't need to have seen the earlier film to enjoy this to the utmost; in its performances, direction, and script (by Linklater, Kim Krizan, and the two actors), it's so perfectly conceived and executed that you may be hanging on every word and gesture. Just as romantic and compelling as the first film, this is a beautiful commentary on what might be described as nostalgia for the present."

  • Afterword. 1969 (S/D*) Cross-reference: Swing

    "Jean-Pierre Melville's thriller about the French Resistance, which received its first U.S. release only in 2006, is a great film but also one of the most upsetting ones I know. Melville based his story on a novel by Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) published during the occupation that's reportedly far more optimistic; in the movie a resistance leader (Lino Ventura) gradually discovers that he and his comrades must betray their own humanity for the sake of their struggle, though in the end their efforts are mainly futile. As Dave Kehr wrote, 'Melville is best known for his philosophical pastiches of American gangster films (Le Samourai, Le Doulos), and some of their distinctive rhythms—aching stillness relieved by sharp flurries of action—survive here.' With Simone Signoret (in one of her best performances), Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Serge Reggiani."

  • Afterword. 2007

  • Afterword 2. 2007 (S)

  • Afterword 2. 2011 (S)


  • By Kilianf286
    November 19, 2015
    11:46 AM

    Thanks for the info on links not working in the comments.
  • By Kilianf286
    February 08, 2016
    07:37 AM

    Rosenbaum has updated his list of favorite films to include the 2007-2015 period. This list appears as an afterword in the 2016 Korean edition of Essential Cinema. MY WINNIPEG & CERTIFIED COPY appear on this list.
  • By Eric Levy
    February 16, 2016
    09:24 AM

    Kilian, I am so sorry it took me so long to respond. Crazy busy lately. But thank you SO MUCH!!! I had no idea about the new addition. I have added a paragraph about it in my introduction, added both films, and updated the statistics. I can't thank you enough--and a very exciting list. I've only seen six of the new additions, but the whole list looks pretty interesting. I love that he included THE WIRE!
  • By Kilianf286
    February 16, 2016
    10:41 AM

    No problem. I just saw the link come up that week and decided to share it. As I type I was alerted that the copy of Essential Cinema (the first edition) that I put on hold at my library arrived. I finally decided to read the book. I was glad to see THE WIRE made the list along with Carax's HOLY MOTORS.
  • By Jonathan R.
    February 29, 2016
    01:33 PM

    When old links of mine on my web site don't work, this is almost always because I've preset those items to be reposted (usually over the next couple of weeks). Sorry for this inconvenience.
  • By Eric Levy
    March 01, 2016
    08:18 AM

    Thanks Jonathan! And how nice to hear from you on my list. So far all of the links are working, but I'll check them from time to time to make sure.
  • By Eric Levy
    September 21, 2016
    06:16 AM

    You are correct sir! It's listed under "Fellini Roma" in his book, and I foolishly didn't look a few lines up on the list (blush).
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    May 27, 2017
    02:56 PM

    I made a new Pauline Kael list
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    May 27, 2017
    03:57 PM

    Also made Andrew Sarris Top 10
  • By Eric Levy
    May 30, 2017
    10:04 AM

    HI Sean. Sorry it took me a few days to respond. Wonderful new lists! I favorited both of them. Also, I finally finished watching Season two of DOCUMENTARY NOW! Brilliant! All of them were hilarious, but the KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE parody was where I laughed hardest. Those guys are geniuses!
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    June 01, 2017
    08:51 AM

    I wonder if Season 3 soon?
  • By Eric Levy
    June 02, 2017
    05:57 AM

    Coming later this year apparently, and Season Four is planned already too! I wonder which films they'll do next...
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    June 12, 2017
    12:31 PM

    AO Scott and Richard Brody's Front Row
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    June 12, 2017
    12:32 PM

    Two instead of three on Kael
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    June 12, 2017
    10:22 PM

    Add Richard Roeper to your list
  • By Eric Levy
    June 13, 2017
    01:22 PM

  • By Sean Ramsdell
    June 14, 2017
    08:30 AM

    Also add AO Scott and Richard Brody (Front Row)
  • By Eric Levy
    June 14, 2017
    05:22 PM

    Done and done. Thanks again and great work!
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    October 04, 2017
    08:19 AM

    You can add Elvis Mitchell
  • By Eric Levy
    October 05, 2017
    05:19 AM