#12 - Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
Citizen Kane… it’s terrific! But seriously - watch this film for the photography of it all. The depth of each scene is remarkable (and can be found in all Welles films) and this might be the most influential film of all time.
The Trial (1962) - dir. Orson Welles
Based on the eponymous Franz Kafka novel, Orson Welles lends his visionary directing to this psychological thriller starring Anthony Perkins.
Whoa!? Right? Those are some big names to drop - Welles, Kafka, Perkins. The thing is… this film leaves a bit to be desired. The shot structures are astounding (as expected), the creepiness/overall allegorical nature of the narrative is fantastic (as expected), and Perkins is terrific as the leading man (as expected)… but the film fails to entertain for two hours. That being said, when it’s good it’s really damn good (like… Citizen Kane good). But then it’ll just drop off for ten minutes during a scene or two and then all of a sudden it will all pick up again. Which wouldn’t be as frustrating if it wasn’t a psychological thriller… the one genre that absolutely cannot allow lapses.
Citizen Kane (1941) - dir. Orson Welles
When it comes to commenting on a piece of art such as Welles’ Citizen Kane there’s really nothing left to say. What continues to keep Citizen Kane relevant is the craft - the lighting, the rule-of-three, the newfound depths (visually and narratively) that Welles was able to take an audience over seventy years ago… they’re all still there. It’s all here… everything you need to know about filmmaking is here. It’s crammed in the recesses of the shadowy corners of C.F. Kane’s haunting tale… and you should watch it. You may not love it, but go ahead and treat Citizen Kane like its your favorite grandpa… give it the respect it deserves.
Stalag 17 (1953) - dir. Billy Wilder
Hotdamn William Holden, hotdamn indeed. Nevermind Network, nevermind Sunset Blvd., nevermind The Bridge on the River Kwai (stop… take a moment to realize just how good those three films are) - this film, right here, is the reason I love William Holden. Holden is one of Hollywood’s finest actors and is sadly under-appreciated half a century later.
Wilder’s Stalag 17 was a groundbreaking film that probably came out a bit too soon. Within a decade of WWII coming to its dramatic and long-awaited end, Wilder went ahead and released this articulate satire anyway. Stalag 17 pokes fun at WWII - it’s the great big sigh of relief only a short eight years after the event. Think of the reaction Paul Greengrass got when he released United 93 in 2006… now imagine if it was a comedy. This is the film that paved the way for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or even Christopher Morris’ Four Lions. It’s hysterical, riveting, and lead by one of Hollywood’s finest actors.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
The Coens have worked with cinematographer Roger Deakins time and time before, but something about the photography of this film makes it so unique. The storyline itself is one of the Coen’s worst, but the film itself couldn’t be any more beautiful to look at. Stylistically this remains one of my favorite films… but I get as much from the stills as I get from watching it.
The Rules of the Game (1939) - dir. Jean Renoir
A French filmmaker’s commentary on the lives of bourgeois French people. Well… it makes for a rather strange film. Renoir, the son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, sets his scenes up in a very wonderful setting, with a meticulous love for the craft of film that is apparent from the airstrip at the beginning, to the lively party at the end. The films comments on the menial lives these wealthy people lead are pretty obvious in their subtleties. It’s an interesting expose but not a hysterical one.
It’s not until about halfway through the film that the scenes begin to add up. There’s a gorgeous hunting scene in which you begin to really fear for a herd of rabbits, all of whom are brutally slain. This sets up the film’s raucous ending… but it’s all too much too late. The slapstick bits are splendid, the metaphor strong, but the overall film just takes too damn long to get going.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - dir. Woody Allen
The more you love movies the more you’ll love this particular one. Any person that’s ever sited film as a personal escape will fall in love with Woody Allen’s filmic fairy tale. Brokenhearted and downtrodden, young Cecilia (Mia Farrow) spends an entire day in a movie theater in 1930s New Jersey… finally someone notices her crying. And that someone is Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) who just happens to be one of the characters in the movie. It’s a beautiful story, rife with commentary on moviemaking, moviegoing, and everything in between.
I really hope they bring this to Blu Ray sometime soon, Gordon Willis (The Godfather) lends his cinematographic vision and its one of the few films that switches between black and white and color so seamlessly. Allen’s dialogue is top-notch and it’s one of the strongest works in his oeuvre.
Stardust Memories (1980) - dir. Woody Allen
It is as advertised: Woody Allen’s 8 1/2.
Neurotic, hysterical, thoughtful, and incredibly self-deprecating. It’s classic Allen, that should only be viewed by those that have already seen 8 1/2 and at least have some respect for Allen. If you can check off both of those things… you’ll certainly enjoy this film.
The Artist (2011) - dir. Michael Hazanavicius
A delightful return/homage to the silent era of cinema. Excellent character performances from Malcolm McDowell, Beth Grant, John Goodman. Fantastic editing. A great combination of Hollywood commentary and slapstick humor. It’s no wonder so many people liked this movie. The Artist is a great movie. It is. It just had no business winning Best Picture.
Jean Dujardin did nothing new in this film that he hadn’t already done in the OSS 117 franchise. He’s a ham-it-up actor. Hazanavicius wasn’t comfortable filming in black-and-white so he filmed in full color then digitally altered it. While that may seem impressive, it’s really laziness in my opinion. He should have studied up on some Chaplin or maybe even France’s own Jacques Tati. Sure, the cinematography is splendid, but it’s significantly less impressive and more time/money consuming to do it the way he did. I agree that the Artist is a great film, and is immediately canonical. But it’s not even one of the greatest silent films of all time, it’s just the best silent live-action (fellow Frenchman Sylvain Chomet’s animated work is far superior) film in the last… oh, at least forty years. But is the Artist really on par with City Lights or Modern Times? No. It’s not. An extremely well-made film that had the misfortune of being labeled one-of-a-kind.
8 1/2 (1963) - dir. Federico Fellini
Iconic from almost any filmmaking stand point, Fellini’s cerebral explorative memory stands as one of the greatest achievements in film of all time. From a cinematographic perspective, not many films can even compete with this classic. However, I’m not sure how many more times I need to see this. I appreciate it for what it is, and regard it in high esteem, but the actual film itself cannot draw me in anymore. It’s a one, possibly two, view film.