Category Archives: Lists
Top 20 of 1947
Some years are better than others. Maybe it is just me, but aside from some major heavyweights near the top of my list, 1947 seems like a subpar year. There are certainly some goodies. There are some wonderful British films on the list, many from Ealing Studios (which unfortunately are not readily available in the US). Aside from that, there are a handful of French and Japanese films, and of course some Hollywood fare.
Top 20 of 1957
One major problem with using IMDB as the authority for determining film dates is that sometimes it can be inconsistent. IMDB will change the year of a film and then change it back. There have been occasions where we have prepared to include a film on a list, only to find out that it has been changed at the last minute. It actually happens often, but not usually with higher profile films. It happened for the 1956 list with Aparajito, which would have topped that list as it did this one. It changed from 1956 to 1957, and then in the months since we got back to the 1950s, it changed back. That’s just a convoluted excuse for why I have it at the top of my 1957 list. The film was released in 1956, not 1957, but I cannot leave it out. I know the system isn’t perfect, but IMDB, despite the flaws and inconsistencies, is usually the most accurate.
I’m a big fan of film in the 1950s, and it isn’t much of a surprise that Criterion is represented well here. The top seven on my list are on Criterion, as are 9-11 and a couple others in the teens. It is a good year for international and American films. Many of the films that just missed my list were American productions, mostly in genre films, many of which were not recognized at the time. That is the case for my second rated film, which was embarrassingly not nominated for a single Academy Award, yet a few stinkers that will remain nameless took home prizes.
International film was a juggernaut, and it is strange seeing acclaimed films from Bergman and Fellini low on my list. Six out of my top ten are international and are spread out pretty evenly among eastern and western films.
War was a major theme of many of these films, which makes sense. The late 1950s were a period of relative peace while the world was still reeling from major wars over the last couple of decades. I’m not often a fan of war films that come out of their own time (with some exceptions, notably The Best Years of Our Lives. Several of these films explore the horror and futility of war, and it is likely an underlying theme of some of the genre films that I have listed here.
2. Sweet Smell of Success
3. The Cranes Are Flying
4. Throne of Blood
5. Wild Strawberries
6. Paths of Glory
7. Tokyo Twilight
8. Men in War
9. 12 Angry Men
11. 3:10 to Yuma
12. Bridge on the River Kwai
13. Witness for the Prosecution
14. Nights of Cabiria
15. Seventh Seal
16. A Face in the Crowd
17. The Tin Star
18. The Incredible Shrinking Man
19. Il Grido
20. 40 Guns
Top 30 of 1967
1967 was a crazy good year. Usually with these lists I just post a top 20, but there were so many worth entries that I am making an exception and posting 30. Many of those between 21-30 could make my list in other years.
My list is quite Criterion heavy. I didn’t plan it that way. I watch plenty of films, Criterion or otherwise. It just happens that Criterion has a great sampling of the year, whether they are on Blu-Ray, DVD, or as part of the Eclipse series. The label is represented well.
There is one omission that I could get some grief about, and that is Bonnie & Clyde. I do not hate the film. On the contrary, I think it was an important film that pushed the boundaries between what was happening overseas and was a crucial part of the American New Wave. So why is it not on this list? I’ve seen it three times, and it simply does not resonate with me.
Overall, I am pleased with this list. There is a nice balance of Hollywood and International film, and it is a diverse list, with even a couple cult classics and heavy art films that are probably not for everyone.
2. Point Blank
3. Belle de Jour
4. Marketa Lazarova
6. Dont Look Back
7. The Firemen’s Ball
8. Samurai Rebellion
10. La Collectionneuse
11. A Colt Is My Passport
12. The Graduate
13. Peppermint Frappé
14. Cool Hand Luke
15. Le Samourai
16. Branded to Kill
17. The Girls of Rochefort
18. In Cold Blood
20. Two for the Road
21. Japanese Summer: Double Suicide
22. The Dirty Dozen
23. In the Heat of the Night
24. The Two of Us
25. Oedipus Rex
26. Zatoichi Challenged
27. Spider Baby
28. Night of the Generals
29. Sing a Song of Sex
30. Far From the Madding Crowd
Top 20 of 1977
The timing of this list post is interesting. I often post these lists on Fridays. This is basically because the group that I assemble these with usually unveils the consensus results during the week. It is also partly because this is an easy type of post to write at the end of the week.
The 15th of the month is a special day for me because it is (usually) Criterion Announcement Day. This month the 15th fell on a Thursday, and usually I get caught up in the social media hubbub that I don’t feel like blogging anyway. So yesterday I was hitting refresh like I always do, but there were no releases to be announced. I hoped they would come this morning, but the hours passed and still nothing. It was weird because often Criterion will give a warning if there are delays. As the evening hour approached, they abruptly went up, and it turns out one of the releases, The American Friend, is on this list. What better day to post it? I’m a fan of Wenders, and he has topped one of my lists before. He is not on top this time, but pretty close. Needless to say, I’m thrilled about this announcement.
Back to the list. 1977 was firmly in the post-Jaws era of Hollywood. The gritty, American New Wave pictures were quickly becoming a thing of the past. Woody Allen was moving away from his earlier, “funny ones,” and becoming one of the top auteurs of the time. In my opinion, 1977 is a weaker year than most of the years in the 1970s. I’m not blaming Jaws or mainstream American film in general. I have a few of those on my list. It just seems like the industry was in a state of flux.
When I look at the list, it looks pretty diverse. There are seven foreign films (eight if you count Australia), three Hollywood summer films, five American “high brow” films, one mini series, and a documentary. That fits the year. There are worse years, but this one is all over the place.
One of the frustrating issues with compiling this 1977 list was the lack of availability of some key titles. I particularly wanted to see The Lacemaker, The Devil Probably, Soldiers of Orange, Hitler: A Film, and others, but they were not available. If these or others get a proper release, then my list could change.
1. Annie Hall
2. 3 Women
3. The American Friend
5. Man of Marble
8. The Ascent
10. The Duellists
12. Star Wars
13. Slap Shot
14. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
15. That Obscure Object of Desire
17. Looking for Mr. Goodbar
19. The Last Wave
Top 20 of 1987
The series continues. As we head toward the late-eighties, there seems to be a lull. There are some international titles that made the cut, and a lot of the American titles range from somewhat artsy (Raising Arizona, to mainstream Princess Bride, to guilty pleasure (Spaceballs). Okay, maybe two guilty pleasures with Eddie Murphy Raw, but I still say that is one of the best standup comedy films ever.
There are only two that I would call American indies, Matewan and Housekeeping. Okay, three if you count Les Blank’s Gap-Teethed Women, but he almost defies categorization. There will be more of those to come as the indie revolution was soon underway. As I scoured my list, I found a lot of John Hughes wannabe films at the bottom of the pile. That cycle was beginning to run its course and American cinema was in a transitional period.
Even though I consider this to be a weaker year than most, the top five can stand next to any year. It is no surprise that none of them are American films. There are a handful of international films that I have yet to see, and really want to. Pialat’s Under the Sun of Satan is supposed to get a release sometime soon, but not in time for this poll. I had one Rohmer film on the poll, but I have a feeling it would be two if I had seen Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. Either way, I think it is safe to say that 1987 was a decent year for international film.
1. Au Revoir Les Enfants
2. The Last Emperor
3. Withnail & I
4. Where is My Friend’s Home?
5. Wings of Desire
6. Eddie Murphy Raw
7. The Man Who Planted Trees
8. Boyfriends and Girlfriends
9. Princess Bride
11. Broadcast News
13. Raising Arizona
14. Red Sorghum
15. Less than Zero
16. Wall Street
17. Full Metal Jacket
18. Gap-Toothed Women
19. Radio Days
My last cuts were many this year. It was tough to find a film for the last spot. I considered all of these:
House of Games
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Maybe the year wasn’t so bad after all.
My Beautiful Laundrette, 1985, Stephen Frears
There have been numerous post-colonial portraits of the United Kingdom, most of which deal with the new class system and how they adapt to this transformed society. Generally when portrayed from the lower class perspective, the story is about having to deal with past and continued oppression, and that they try to subsist when others are born in a more privileged position. In My Beautiful Laundrette, this type of story is turned on its head. The lower class immigrants have come so far since colonialism that they have not only assimilated into this society, but they have essentially become a version of this new, upper class. Rather than be exploited, they find the opportunity to be the exploiter.
Another major factor was Thatcherism (Margaret Thatcher for those not aware). Thatcher ‘s policies benefited and encouraged the upper classes, while neglecting the lower classes. Frears was clearly not a Thatcher fan, and he used minorities obtaining a privileged position as a way of being critical. He stopped short of being racist. In fact, I think the opposite was true, and he presented a balanced and perhaps realistic perspective of the situation. Under Thatcherism, minorities were able to get the upper hand on lower class whites. However, they were still not entrenched as the upper classes. One of the less scrupulous rich minorities at one point says, “we are nothing in England without money.” Through Thatcher’s capitalist policies, it is greed that defines position.
Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is the protagonist, and he sees both sides. He lives both in the white lower-class world through his interactions with Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) and with the privileged minority status of his rich uncles. He is also exposed to a staunchly anti-Thatcher father, whose political views resemble socialism more than any other. All of these forces tug at Omar, which makes him a captivating and well-developed main character.
Omar finds a Laundromat as a means to his success, and like his rich uncles, he embraces the thirst for money through a strong work ethic and a relentless desire to succeed. Once given the opportunity to manage the Laundromat, he pours everything into this project. What complicates the class-conflict dynamic is that he recruits Johnny as an employee. Johnny is a reformed skinhead and is decidedly anti-Thatcher. He is not racist, but his former “blokes” are. It is telling that the original Laundromat name was “Churchill’s Laundrette,” which Omar and his uncles later change.
One of the rich uncles says that, under Thatcherism, “in this country you can get anything you want. It is all spread out and available. That is why I believe in England. But you need to know how to squeeze the tits of the system.” This is a strange sort of loyalty to a country. It speaks little to their nationalistic pride. To the contrary, they still maintain some of their ethnic identity. It is more a statement that they will use the system to enhance their position, and that includes exploiting the lower class whites like Johnny. They are even proud of that exploitation. Even Omar succumbs to that sensation at one point, finding himself in a socially juxtaposed than what existed 30-40 years prior, and feeling a form of euphoria. It is intoxicating, and that is exactly the type of lure that his father warns against.
Omar and Johnny have a homosexual tryst, which was controversial back in 1985, although is more accepted nowadays. The fact that the two would pair says something about this dynamic. We have a strong main character in Omar who has been raised under two opposing ideologies, and Johnny, who relates more to the leftist of those influences and literally hates the right-wing element. Out of friendship and perhaps his desire for Omar, he does a good job helping develop the Laundromat, and in turn becomes an exploited worker. This conflict would come back into play to great effect in later, climactic scenes.
Writing this today, Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the top global movie stars, and many would argue that he is the best actor of his generation. He was stunning in Laundrette. One thing to keep in mind while watching his performance is that the person is far from lower class, yet he embodies the character with chameleonesque ability, a trait that would seem natural to him in the years and decades to come. The performances are all solid, especially Gordon Warnecke as Omar. Day-Lewis still manages to steal every scene he is in, and it is no surprise that this role would be a breakthrough and lead to plenty of success, although with his talent. It would have happened anyway. Johnny also represents an opposed ideology from Omar. Even though he does fine with the Laundromat, work ethic is not a means to success. He has different ideas about how to achieve wealth, which is crystal clear when he says, “This city is chalk full of money. When I used to want money, I’d steal it.”
This was my second viewing of the film, and the first in many years. I’ve seen other Frears’ projects and respect him as a director, although I would not go so far as to call him an auteur. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the shot selection and direction in this film. He makes good use of camera angles and even has a lot of mirror shots, all of which are important because many of the characters have multi-faceted experiences and perspectives, and I did not even touch on an adulterous Pakistani-English adulterous relationship that speaks more about the relationship between the two cultures as anything else in this film. I was also surprised to see such a rich and textured perspective of class dynamics, which is easier to pick up on in hindsight than it was in the 1980s. Not only is My Beautiful Laundrette a superb film, but it is a document of its time.
Film Rating: 8/10
Stephen Frears: 2015 conversation with producer Colin MacCabe
He was a middle-aged, working TV director while Thatcher was in power. Lindsay Anderson, Jack Clayton, Ken Loach, inspired the change in UK film (we discussed some of this here), and he worked at the BBC in the 1970s.
Thatcher changed the world for everyone, including for them in TV production. Channel 4 came around, which was mandated by Thatcher. Laundrette was intended to be a TV movie. Hanif Kureishi showed up at his office and explained the script.
He mentions the names of the actors that he considered, all of which are famous now, such as Branaugh, Oldman, etc. Nobody thought Day-Lewis would become a star, but it really happened by him playing this working class character and following it with A Room With a View. Of course Frears says he was very good.
He denies auterism. “How can I be an auteur if making a film about a culture I don’t understand?”
Hanif Kureishi: 2015 interview.
The story is about a boy and a father spending too much time with each other, which reflects Kureishi’s life. This was a traditional story with an uncle leading a youngster out into the world, and he becomes sexualized by this experience.
Kureishi wanted to show the abuses of racism, which he had experienced before, but he also wanted to find his own voice. He called A Passage to India and the Merchant-Ivory films as boring, while Thatcher was destroying the working class.
He was influenced by Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, and also Paris, Texas, especially the mirror.
Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe: First feature production of theirs and they founded Working Title. 2015 interviews.
This came at an interesting point in cinema. Channel 4 had started, so independent film began. Music videos were getting popular, which got young people into the industry. Thatcherism also got rid of the unions.
They started as music video company, and to get to know directors, they asked these directors to do music videos.
They talk about how Hans Zimmer did good work and was recognized in Hollywood from this and another movie they did, A World Apart and was hired to do Rain Main, which basically launched his Hollywood career.
They went from film to film, and were focused on that more than running a company. They were basically unorganized and insolvent. They were not paying any bills, just flying by the seat of their pants. They found funding and that established the company as it is today.
Oliver Stapleton: 2015 Criterion interview.
This was cinematographer Stapleton’s first collaboration with Frears and they would go on to make seven more films.
His shooting style at the time was very early eighties, wide lenses, vibrant colors, and very much like music videos. That was in frame of mind when starting his career. He had worked with Julien Temple as well.
When he sees it today, he sees it as very stylized, more than what he did ten years later. He no longer uses the type of extravagant colors that he did then, for example. He was following his instincts, which Stephen was doing as well. They didn’t storyboard, but let the action dictate wheat they would do.
Criterion Rating: 8.5
Top 20 of 1997
The late 1990s were a period of transition. The indie movement was running its course. Instead we had a new brand of auteurs, both American and international, making their mark and establishing themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson was getting rolling with Boogie Nights, as was David Fincher, further distancing himself from being a music video director. Abbas Kiarastomi, Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano were in their prime, while newcomer Michael Haneke showed some promise with a caustic take on the thriller genre. We would hear a lot more from him. Atom Egoyan and Quentin Tarantino were the main holdouts from the indie era. The former’s career would take a nosedive after this high point, at least in my opinion. QT is still hanging around.
I recently wrote a piece for Kiarostami’s Where is my Friend’s House? over at Wonders in the Dark, but I used Taste of Cherry as a point of comparison. If you have seen both films, you can see the parallels. Many will see it as a film about an older man driving around on dirt roads, but it is much deeper than that, and is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking.
There are a couple of guilty pleasures. Contact stands out, but part of that is because I’ve been an astronomy junkie and read the book when I was younger. I found it fascinating how it mixed real science in with the narrative. Most of that is thanks to the late Dr. Sagan. Starship Troopers could be considered a guilty pleasure, but I truly feel it is unfairly maligned. Flixwise had a good discussion on the subject. I feel that number 20 is low, but this turned out to be a good year for film.
Other late cuts were comedies like Grosse Point Blank, Wag the Dog, and Fierce Creatures. David Lynch’s Lost Highway was in the mix, and I think it could in the mix after a rewatch (Criterion?). The other two that I hated cutting were Donnie Brasco and the brilliant documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement.
1. Taste of Cherry
2. The Sweet Hereafter
3. The Ice Storm
4. Boogie Nights
5. Princess Mononoke
7. Funny Games
8. L.A. Confidential
9. The Game
11. In the Company of Men
12. Perfect Blue
13. Jackie Brown
14. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
15. Hana Bi
17. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
19. Open Your Eyes
20. Starship Troopers
Top 20 of 2007
Again, I like a little bit of time between lists because over time films that were not buzzed about will get discovered, and some films settle better over time. I liked my top three initially, but I also liked other movies initially that have worn some. Ratatouille and Knocked Up are two such examples. They are good films, but do not have the replay value of the top three, all of which I have seen at least once.
There are three Criterion films on this list, and I saw all of them for the first time this year. There is one other Criterion 2007 release that did not make my list, and that is The Darjeeling Limited. It is my least favorite Wes Anderson, but I was going to try to revisit for this poll and keep an open mind. For whatever reason (and honestly, a big one was lack of motivation), I did not get back to Wes. Another time.
There are five international films, which seems small. A Girl Cut in Two is a late Chabrol that I seem to be in the minority about. Although I don’t think many in the states have seen it. Funny Games was an American remake of an international film by the same director, which is quite unusual. What’s a coincidence is that the original film came out 10 years earlier, and spoiler alert, it will make my upcoming 1997 list. There is a similar scenario, albeit not identical, where an adaptation and the original will make two lists, but I won’t say which that is yet. Some will probably guess.
There are three documentaries on the list, although I’m not sure that the Guy Maddin film really counts. No End in Sight is a movie that was impactful at the time, but may seem dated now. I have not rewatched it, so there’s no way to know. Another highly regarded documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side did not hold up and did not make the list.
Finally, this is the first time that I’ve had a list entry directed by someone who follows me on Twitter. That would be Larry Blamire and Trail of the Screaming Forehead. The fact that he follows me had no influence on the film’s inclusion. To my surprise, it only has a 5.9 rating on IMDB (granted, that isn’t the ultimate arbiter). I think most do not get his humor or his aesthetic.
1. There Will Be Blood
3. No Country for Old Men
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
5. Secret of the Grain aka Couscous
6. I’m Not There
7. My Winnipeg
9. No End in Sight
10. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
11. Secret Sunshine
12. Into the Wild
13. King of Kong
15. Trail of the Screaming Forehead
17. A Girl Cut in Two
18. Michael Clayton
19. Hot Fuzz
20. Funny Games
Top 20 of 2012
You may be wondering why I am posting this today when I just posted 2013 yesterday. That’s easy. I forgot to post 2012 back when I put the list together a number of months ago. I just realized it after updating the Lists section to add 2013. Oops.
As I mentioned yesterday, it is difficult to rank recent film because age is the ultimate arbiter. As it turns out, when I dusted off this list, I found that some films had already fallen out of favor. The changes are only minor, but the fact that I made changes this soon means that in a year, two, three, and definitely ten, the changes will be a lot more drastic. Maybe I’ll plan to revisit these lists every so often as an exercise in how tastes change.
For now, this is the list. It is still English-language heavy, but it has six international releases versus four from 2013. There are three documentaries, and the last entry on the list is actually from the Persona Criterion edition. Liv & Ingmar was not on the original list. The only other Criterion title is Frances Ha, which I have not yet seen on Criterion, but I have a suspicion that it won’t hold up as well on a second viewing.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. The Act of Killing
3. The Master
5. Laurence Anyways
6. Life of Pi
7. Holy Motors
10. Frances Ha
11. Broken Circle Breakdown
12. A Royal Affair
13. The Hunt
14. Cloud Atlas
15. Cabin in the Woods
16. Beasts of the Southern Wild
17. What Maisie Knew
19. The Attack
20. Liv & Ingmar
Top 20 of 2013
I’m always reluctant to post lists for recent years. Even though I consider myself a general film fan, I am mostly a classic film fan. Good films age better with time. Flawed films do not. My top 20 list for 2005, for example, is a lot different today than it would have been in 2005. This list will probably be a lot different in 10 years, partly because films age differently, but also I’ll have opportunities to see more gems that fell under the radar, many of which will probably be international films.
As it turns out, this is an English heavy list. My top four were all late Fall, “awards season” releases, and top pick won Best Picture at the Oscars. Now that’s a rarity. It’s also the subject of one of the first posts I wrote on this site — a historical analysis, and quite different from the posts I write now.
There are some omissions. Gravity missed my list, but that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate and respect the film. It was one of the most technically impressive films in recent memory. I actually liked it more in the theater, and it dropped a notch when I watched it in 3D at home. It felt more like a roller coaster ride than a film.
Inside Llewyn Davis is one that has grown on me over the short time since I’ve seen it, and now I think it as one of the better American character studies, and an underrated Coen Brothers film (which feels weird saying). It is rumored to come out on Criterion someday, and I would really enjoy revisiting Llewyn’s world, however bleak it might be.
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Captain Phillips
4. Wolf of Wall Street
6. We Are the Best
7. The Spectacular Now
8. The Great Beauty
9. Computer Chess
10. The Wind Rises
11. Under the Skin
12. The Armstrong Lie
13. Jodorowsky’s Dune
14. The Immigrant
15. Blue is the Warmest Color
17. 20 Feet From Stardom
18. In a World
19. Before Midnight
20. The World’s End