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TEN GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME

06 Nov

Casablanca ”
After seeing this film many times, I
think I finally understand why I love
it so much. It’s not because of the
romance, or the humor, or the
intrigue, although those elements are
masterful. It’s because it makes me
proud of the characters. These are
not heroes — not except for Paul
Heinreid’s resistance fighter, who in
some ways is the most predictable
character in the film. These are
realists, pragmatists, survivors:
Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, who
sticks his neck out for nobody, and
Claude Rains ‘ police inspector, who
follows rules and tries to stay out of
trouble. At the end of the film, when
they rise to heroism, it is so moving
because heroism is not in their
makeup. Their better nature simply
informs them what they must do.
The sheer beauty of the film is also
compelling. The black-and-white
closeups of Ingrid Bergman, the most
bravely vulnerable woman in movie
history. Bogart with his cigarette and
his bottle. Greenstreet and Lorre.
Dooley Wilson at the piano, looking
up with pain when he sees Bergman
enter the room. The shadows. “As
Time Goes By.” If there is ever a time
when they decide that some movies
should be spelled with an upper-case
M, “Casablanca ” should be voted first
on the list of Movies.

2″Citizen Kane ”
I have just seen it again, a shot at a
time, analyzing it frame-by-frame out
at the University of Colorado at
Boulder. We took 10 hours and really
looked at this film, which is routinely
named the best film of all time,
almost by default, in list after list.
Maybe it is. It’s some movie. It tells
of all the seasons of a man’s life,
shows his weaknesses and hurts,
surrounds him with witnesses who
remember him but do not know how
to explain him. It ends its search for
“Rosebud,” his dying word, with a
final image that explains everything
and nothing, and although some
critics say the image is superficial, I
say it is very deep indeed, because it
illustrates the way that human
happiness and pain is not found in
big ideas but in the little victories or
defeats of childhood.
Few films are more complex, or show
more breathtaking skill at moving
from one level to another. Orson
Welles, with his radio background,
was able to segue from one scene to
another using sound as his
connecting link. In one sustained
stretch, he covers 20 years between
“Merry Christmas” and “A very happy
New Year.” The piano playing of
Kane’s young friend Susan leads into
their relationship, his applause leads
into his campaign, where applause is
the bridge again to a political rally
that leads to his downfall, when his
relationship with Susan is unmasked.
We get a three-part miniseries in five
minutes.

3″Floating Weeds”
I do not expect many readers to have
heard of this film, or of Yasujiro Ozu,
who directed it, but this Japanese
master, who lived from 1903 to 1963
and whose prolific career bridged
the silent and sound eras, saw things
through his films in a way that no
one else saw. Audiences never stop to
think, when they go to the movies,
how they understand what a close-up
is, or a reaction shot. They learned
that language in childhood, and it
was codified and popularized by D.
W. Griffith, whose films were studied
everywhere in the world — except in
Japan, where for a time a
distinctively different visual style
seemed to be developing. Ozu
fashioned his style by himself, and
never changed it, and to see his films
is to be inside a completely
alternative cinematic language.
“Floating Weeds ,” like many of his
films, is deceptively simple. It tells of
a troupe of traveling actors who
return to an isolated village where
their leader left a woman behind
many years ago — and, we discover,
he also left a son. Ozu weaves an
atmosphere of peaceful tranquility,
of music and processions and
leisurely conversations, and then
explodes his emotional secrets, which
cause people to discover their true
natures. It is all done with hypnotic
visual beauty. After years of being
available only in a shabby, beaten-up
version usually known as “Drifting
Weeds,” this film has now been re-
released in superb videotape and
laserdisc editions.

4″Gates of Heaven”
This film, not to be confused in any
way with “Heaven’s Gate ” (or with
“Gates of Hell,” for that matter) is a
bottomless mystery to me, infinitely
fascinating. Made in the late 1970s by
Errol Morris , it would appear to be a
documentary about some people
involved in a couple of pet
cemeteries in Northern California.
Oh, it’s factual enough: The people in
this film really exist, and so does the
pet cemetery. But Morris is not
concerned with his apparent subject.
He has made a film about life and
death, pride and shame, deception
and betrayal, and the stubborn
quirkiness of human nature.
He points his camera at his subjects
and lets them talk. But he points it
for hours on end, patiently until
finally they use the language in ways
that reveal their most hidden parts. I
am moved by the son who speaks of
success but cannot grasp it, the old
man whose childhood pet was killed,
the cocky guy who runs the tallow
plant, the woman who speaks of her
dead pet and says, “There’s your dog,
and your dog’s dead. But there has to
be something that made it move.
Isn’t there?” In those words is the
central question of every religion.
And then, in the extraordinary
centerpiece of the film, there is the
old woman Florence Rasmussen,
sitting in the doorway of her home,
delivering a spontaneous monolog
that Faulkner would have killed to
have written.

5″La Dolce Vita ”
Fellini’s 1960 film has grown passe in
some circles, I’m afraid, but I love it
more than ever. Forget about its
message, about the “sweet life” along
Rome’s Via Veneto, or about the
contrasts between the sacred and the
profane. Simply look at Fellini’s
ballet of movement and sound, the
graceful way he choreographs the
camera, the way the actors move. He
never made a more “Felliniesque”
film, or a better one.
Then sneak up on the subject from
inside. Forget what made this film
trendy and scandalous more than 30
years ago. Ask what it really says. It
is about a man ( Marcello Mastroianni
in his definitive performance) driven
to distraction by his hunger for love,
and driven to despair by his
complete inability to be able to love.
He seeks love from the neurosis of his
fiancee, through the fleshy carnality
of a movie goddess, from prostitutes
and princesses. He seeks it in
miracles and drunkenness, at night
and at dawn. He thinks he can
glimpse it in the life of his friend
Steiner, who has a wife and children
and a home where music is played
and poetry read. But Steiner is as
despairing as he is. And finally
Marcello gives up and sells out and at
dawn sees a pale young girl who
wants to remind him of the novel he
meant to write someday, but he is
hung over and cannot hear her
shouting across the waves, and so the
message is lost.

6″Notorious ”
I do not have the secret of Alfred
Hitchcock and neither, I am
convinced, does anyone else. He
made movies that do not date, that
fascinate and amuse, that everybody
enjoys and that shout out in every
frame that they are by Hitchcock. In
the world of film he was known
simply as The Master. But what was
he the Master of? What was his
philosophy, his belief, his message? It
appears that he had none. His
purpose was simply to pluck the
strings of human emotion — to play
the audience, he said, like a piano.
Hitchcock was always hidden behind
the genre of the suspense film, but as
you see his movies again and again,
the greatness stays after the
suspense becomes familiar. He made
pure movies.
“Notorious” is my favorite Hitchcock,
a pairing of Cary Grant and Ingrid
Bergman, with Claude Rains the
tragic third corner of the triangle.
Because she loves Grant, she agrees
to seduce Rains, a Nazi spy. Grant
takes her act of pure love as a
tawdry thing, proving she is a
notorious woman. And when
Bergman is being poisoned, he
misreads her confusion as
drunkenness. While the hero plays a
rat, however, the villain (Rains)
becomes an object of sympathy. He
does love this woman. He would
throw over all of Nazi Germany for
her, probably — if he were not under
the spell of his domineering mother,
who pulls his strings until they choke
him.

7″Raging Bull ”
Ten years ago, Martin Scorsese’s
“Taxi Driver ” was on my list of the
ten best films. I think “Raging Bull ”
addresses some of the same
obsessions, and is a deeper and more
confident film. Scorsese used the
same actor, Robert De Niro , and the
same screenwriter, Paul Schrader,
for both films, and they have the
same buried themes: A man’s
jealousy about a woman, made
painful by his own impotence, and
expressed through violence.
Some day if you want to see movie
acting as good as any ever put on the
screen, look at a scene two-thirds of
the way through “Raging Bull .” It
takes place in the living room of Jake
LaMotta, the boxing champion
played by De Niro. He is fiddling with
a TV set. His wife comes in, says
hello, kisses his brother, and goes
upstairs. This begins to bother
LaMotta. He begins to quiz his
brother ( Joe Pesci ). The brother says
he don’t know nothin’. De Niro says
maybe he doesn’t know what he
knows. The way the dialog expresses
the inner twisting logic of his jealousy
is insidious. De Niro keeps talking,
and Pesci tries to run but can’t hide.
And step by step, word by word, we
witness a man helpless to stop
himself from destroying everyone
who loves him.

8″The Third Man”
This movie is on the altar of my love
for the cinema. I saw it for the first
time in a little fleabox of a theater on
the Left Bank in Paris, in 1962,
during my first $5 a day trip to
Europe. It was so sad, so beautiful, so
romantic, that it became at once a
part of my own memories — as if it
had happened to me. There is infinite
poignancy in the love that the failed
writer Holly Martins ( Joseph Cotten)
feels for the woman ( Alida Valli) who
loves the “dead” Harry Lime (Orson
Welles). Harry treats her horribly,
but she loves her idea of him, he
neither he nor Holly can ever change
that. Apart from the story, look at the
visuals! The tense conversation on
the giant ferris wheel. The giant,
looming shadows at night. The
carnivorous faces of people seen in
the bombed-out streets of postwar
Vienna, where the movie was shot on
location. The chase through the
sewers. And of course the moment
when the cat rubs against a shoe in a
doorway, and Orson Welles makes
the most dramatic entrance in the
history of the cinema. All done to the
music of a single zither.

9″28 Up ”
I have very particular reasons for
including this film, which is the least
familiar title on my list but one
which I defy anyone to watch without
fascination. No other film I have ever
seen does a better job of illustrating
the mysterious and haunting way in
which the cinema bridges time. The
movies themselves play with time,
condensing days or years into
minutes or hours. Then going to old
movies defies time, because we see
and hear people who are now dead,
sounding and looking exactly the
same. Then the movies toy with our
personal time, when we revisit them,
by recreating for us precisely the
same experience we had before.
Then look what Michael Apted does
with time in this documentary, which
he began more than 30 years ago. He
made a movie called “7-Up” for
British television. It was about a
group of British 7-year-olds, their
dreams, fears, ambitions, families,
prospects. Fair enough. Then, seven
years later, he made “14 Up,”
revisiting them. Then came “21 Up”
and, in 1985. “28 Up,” and next year,
just in time for the Sight & Sound list,
will come “35 Up.” And so the film
will continue to grow… 42… 49…
56… 63… until Apted or his subjects
are dead.
The miracle of the film is that it
shows us that the seeds of the man
are indeed in the child. In a sense,
the destinies of all of these people
can be guessed in their eyes, the first
time we see them. Some do better
than we expect, some worse, one
seems completely bewildered. But
the secret and mystery of human
personality is there from the first.
This ongoing film is an experiment
unlike anything else in film history.
10″2001: A Space Odyssey ”
Film can take us where we cannot go.
It can also take our minds outside
their shells, and this film by Stanley
Kubrick is one of the great visionary
experiences in the cinema. Yes, it was
a landmark of special effects, so
convincing that years later the
astronauts, faced with the reality of
outer space, compared it to “2001.”
But it was also a landmark of non-
narrative, poetic filmmaking, in
which the connections were made by
images, not dialog or plot. An ape
uses to learn a bone as a weapon,
and this tool, flung into the air,
transforms itself into a space ship–
the tool that will free us from the
bondage of this planet. And then the
spaceship takes man on a voyage into
the interior of what may be the mind
of another species.
The debates about the “meaning” of
this film still go on. Surely the whole
point of the film is that it is beyond
meaning, that it takes its character to
a place he is so incapable of
understanding that a special room–
sort of a hotel room–has to be
prepared for him there, so that he
will not go mad. The movie lyrically
and brutally challenges us to break
out of the illusion that everyday
mundane concerns are what must
preoccupy us. It argues that surely
man did not learn to think and
dream, only to deaden himself with
provincialism and selfishness. “2001”
is a spiritual experience. But then all
good movies are.

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Posted by on November 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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