Category Archives: Lists

Top 20 of 1936

ladies and nature


1936 was a phenomenal year for French film, perhaps among the best ever. There are six French films on my list, all of which are in my top ten. Of course I’ve made it clear that 1930s French film is my favorite era of all time, so this should come as no surprise. There were also three Japanese films, all early pictures from future masters Mizoguchi and Ozu.

Someone noted in our group that this was quite the year for William Powell and Jean Renoir. This is absolutely true for Powell, who not only starred in Best Picture winner The Great Ziegfeld (not on my list), but also starred in what many consider to be among the best screwball comedies of all time, My Man Godfrey. On top of that he reprised his role of Nick alongside Nora in After the Thin Man.

Jean Renoir’s year is seen as fantastic only in retrospect. It was most likely a tough year for the man. My favorite work of his for the year, A Day in the Country, was a frustrating shoot for him and he left before the film was finished. The Crime of Monsieur Lange was successful, but also controversial and leftist. He also participated in La vie est à nous, a leftist propaganda documentary that I have not seen. He was embroiled in the politics of a volatile time.

There are a couple of notable omissions here, some of which will seem sacrilegious to classic film fans. Mr. Deeds Comes to Town is an example of the type of Capra film that does not work for me, unlike It Happened One Night. There are a few other Capra films that’ll be omitted from these lists, although I plan to give Lost Horizon a fair chance for my 1937 list. Another omission is Swing Time. There’s no doubt that Astaire and Rogers were a talented duo, but I’m not as big a fan of their acting, and their style of musical isn’t exactly my tastes. Show Boat and the Lubitsch musicals are my preference.

1. A Day in the Country
2. My Man Godfrey
3. Modern Times
4. The Crime of Monsieur Lange
5. La Belle Equipe
6. Show Boat
7. Story of a Cheat
8. Sabotage
9. Mayerling
10. The Lower Depths
11. Dodsworth
12. The Only Son
13. Secret Agent
14. Redes
15. Sisters of the Gion
16. Osaka Elegy
17. After the Thin Man
18. Fury
19. Libeled Lady
20. The Charge of the Light Brigade

modern times big brother 2

Top 20 of 1946

beast w cherub

1946 is an important year for cinema as it was a post-war turning point both in America and internationally. With the war over, the tone of film changed. The propaganda pieces were mostly a thing of the past, but the pessimism and negatively lingered in the form of film noir, which really flourished in 1946. Even though I have a handful of noir titles on my list, there were a number near misses.

One could argue that 1946 was a watershed year for Italian Neorealism, and I have two benchmark films on my list from Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rosselini. Things were returning back to normal in France, as Julien Duvivier and other filmmakers returned to their homeland. The top spot is occupied by one of the great French fantasy films, which was filmed during the tail end of the war — a remarkable achievement. Rene Clément worked as an assistant with Cocteau, but also released a landmark film of his own, Battle of the Rails, which could be seen as the first French resistance film. There would be more to come.

Finally, towards the tail end of the list, there are some familiar Japanese faces. No Regrets for Our Youth is significant because it showed the promise of a young filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, and a lead actress, Setsuko Hara, both of whom would be prominent in the major Japanese post-war film explosion. Utamaro and His Five Women marked the return of a near middle-aged Kenji Mizoguchi, who would make some of his best films in the years to come.

One notable American film that is missing from this list is It’s a Wonderful Life, which a lot of people might consider blasphemy. It is a film I’ve seen numerous times and is a good film, albeit not a great film in my opinion. I realize that I am in the minority in that opinion, and it almost made the list anyway. This just happened to be a crowded year.

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. A Matter of Life and Death
3. The Best Years of Our Lives
4. Shoeshine
5. My Darling Clementine
6. The Big Sleep
7. Panique
8. The Stranger
9. Gates of the Night
10. Green for Danger
11. Notorious
12. Great Expectations
13. The Killers
14. Battle of the Rails
15. Paisan
16. Humoresque
17. Gilda
18. No Regrets for our Youth
19. Utamaro and His Five Women
20. The Postman Always Rings Twice

stairway to heaven

Top 60 Adolescence and Childhood Films

yiyi

Sam over at Wonders in the Dark invited me to participate in a project to pick 60 of my favorite portrayals of adolescence and childhood. Sounds easy, right? Quite the opposite. I was happy to oblige as I live for lists like this, but it took some work to narrow down my favorites.

First off, what sort of criteria should I use? I was given freedom to formulate my list however I wished. Did I want to simply list the best films that have children in them? Did I want to list movies that are the best at capturing childhood and adolescence? Did I want to include movies only from a child’s perspective, or films where children are prominent yet not the protagonists? Or did I want to just list the best “coming of age” films?

None one of these options by itself would work for a lengthy list, so I went with a combination of all of the above criteria. In most of the list, you’ll find high quality films with children figured prominently. They are not all strictly “coming of age” films, but childhood and adolescence are at least key themes and they are integrated well into the film.

I tried to portray a mixture of genre and era as much as I could, but of course I ended up with a lot of classic and foreign films. I also found for some reason that both Louis Malle and Studio Ghibli figured prominently. I had no idea I was such a fan.

1. Yi Yi
2. The 400 Blows
3. Kes
4. Aparajito
5. Cria Cuervos
6. Lacombe Lucien
7. Mirror
8. Au Revoir Les Enfants
9. Mouchette
10. Zero for Conduct
11. The White Balloon
12. Amarcord
13. Dazed and Confused
14. Bicycle Thieves
15. Fanny and Alexander
16. Shoeshine
17. Tree of Life
18. Nobody Knows
19. Grave of the Fireflies
20. Twenty-Four Eyes
21. Closely Watched Trains
22. Breaking Away
23. Come and See
24. My Life as a Dog
25. Pather Panchali
26. The Last Picture Show
27. When Father Was Away on Business
28. To Kill a Mockingbird
29. My Neighbor Totoro
30. Cinema Paradiso
31. La Promesse
32. Life of Pi
33. King of the Hill
34. Sundays and Cybele
35. The Red Balloon
36. Au Hazard Balthazar
37. The Innocents
38. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
39. Alice in the Cities
40. Almost Famous
41. Y Tu Mama Tambien
42. Murmur of the Heart
43. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
44. Let the Right One In
45. Night of the Hunter
46. We Are the Best
47. The River
48. Picnic at Hanging Rock
49. One Upon a Time in America
50. Beasts of the Southern Wild
51. Fish Tank
52. Spirited Away
53. Heavenly Creatures
54. Rebel Without a Cause
55. In America
56. The Children Are Watching Us
57. Daisies
58. Boyhood
59. Persepolis
60. Whale Rider

La-Promesse

Top 20 of 1956

Early Spring

Both 1954 and 1955 were dominated by international films, so it caught me by surprise when compiling my 1956 list that there were so many English language films to choose from. The majority of the list is in English, including 5 out of the top 10. It comes as no surprise when looking at the filmmakers. There are two Hitchcocks, plus selections from Ford, Kubrick, Ray, Aldrich, Stevens, Sirk, Siegel — all heavyweights in American cinema. There are others that barely missed the list, such as Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion, Kazan’s Baby Doll and Daves’ Jubal.

It was a solid year for American cinema, much of which I attribute to the end of the studio system and the competition from television. Auteurs were finally given some artistic and creative independence. On top of that, film became a way of portraying the subversion of the American dream, contrasted with the banality and morality of suburban life as portrayed on television. It is no surprise that the American entries are dark and seedy. There were two worthwhile boxing movies, but the portrayal of fighter that takes dives was more enduring and fit with the times than the rags to riches story (Somebody Up There Likes Me).

Of course there is plenty of international representation, including Ozu, Melville, Clément, Bresson, Ichikawa, and the debut film from Louis Malle (with Jacques Cousteau), which would begin two diverging careers. There were two international films that hurt to cut from the list, Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame and the last edition of Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy, Duel at Ganryu Island. Alas, there are only 20 slots and too many contenders.

The one film that stands apart is Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956, The Ten Commandments. Yes, it is as campy as any DeMille film goes, but it is so much fun to watch. The production value and special effects are awe inspiring, not just by 1956 standards. The parting of the red sea is still impressive. Of all the selections on this list, none were as fun as the DeMille epic.

1956 was a strong year for film, but I would not rank it up there with the previous two years, nor the year to come. Spoiler alert: 1957 is amazing.

1. Early Spring
2. The Killing
3. The Searchers
4. Gervaise
5. Bob Le Flambeur
6. The Burmese Harp
7. A Man Escaped
8. The Harder They Fall
9. The Ten Commandments
10. Attack!
11. Monde du Silence
12. The Red Balloon
13. The Bad Seed
14. Bigger than Life
15. Giant
16. Lust for Life
17. Written on the Wind
18. The Wrong Man
19. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
20. The Man Who Knew Too Much

the killing

Top 21 of 1966

Persona

1966 is a phenomenal year for International Cinema. In my list, only four are American productions, while four are British productions. That leaves 12 foreign language films. The last three cuts were all Asian: Tokyo Drifter, The Pornographers and Come Drink With Me. The next closest American film would be Alfie, which is good, but does not compare with the international heavyweights.

A high percentage of the films are on the Criterion Collection, and three of the Blu-Rays, I have yet to review. I’m saving those for later. A Criterion supplement even came close to making the cut, Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, which is on the L’Avventura.

For a year with such a large international presence, this year many of my choices were Oscar contenders or winners. The most notable is the big winner, A Man For All Seasons, which won six Oscars including Picture, Director, Actor, and Cinematography. Elizabeth Taylor won for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and I imagine Burton gave Scofield a run for his money (I would have chosen Burton).

My top two would be in contention for my favorites of the decade. Even though Persona is on top now, I could bump Battle of Algiers after my next viewing. They are close.

1. Persona
2. Battle of Algiers
3. Blow-Up
4. The Sword of Doom
5. Seconds
6. Andrei Rublev
7. A Man For All Seasons
8. Here Is Your Life
9. The Face of Another
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
11. Au Hazard Balthazar
12. Violence at Noon
13. Le Deuxième souffle
14. Black Girl
15, Closely Watched Trains
16. The Shooting
17. The Sand Pebbles
18. Daisies
19. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
20. Cul-de-Sac
21. Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage

BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE / BATTAGLIA DI ALGERI, LA

Top 20 of 1976

Kings of the Road

The 1970s were a great decade for German cinema. This list includes works from masters like Wenders, Fassbinder, and Schlöndorff. Another notable, Herzog, was omitted this year, but pretty much all four of these have been and will be regular fixtures on these lists.

My number one might surprise many because it’s nearly impossible to see. Here’s hoping that Criterion has the rights and will give it the release it rightfully deserves, preferably bundled with the other two road movies. It is a fitting end to the Road Trilogy, and ranks right up there with the best of Wenders work.

There are two Italian films, including my second favorite, which is probably also under-seen. It is a magnificent piece of character exploration, procedural, and political statement, with a whopper of an ending. It is the second time Francesco Rosi has appeared on one of my lists, which is fitting because we just lost him recently.

Technically this is after the American New Wave, which most people consider ended around the release of Jaws. There are still no shortage of tremendous American releases. Many people would list Taxi Driver as one of the best films of the decade. Network is still relevant in its skewering of the media. The rest are adventurous action movies, thrillers, and of course, Rocky, which has been unfairly vilified as a Best Oscar Winner.

1. Kings of the Road
2. Illustrious Corpses
3. Network
4. Harlan County USA
5. Cria Cuervos
6. Taxi Driver
7. All the President’s Men
8. The Tenant
9. Monsieur Klein
10. Marathon Man
11. 1900
12. The Outlaw Josey Wales
13. The Front
14. The Omen
15. Assault on Precinct 13
16. Chinese Roulette
17. Rocky
18. Coup de Grace
19. Carrie
20. In the Realm of the Senses

Taxi Driver

Top 20 of 1986

Blue Velvet

1986 was a good year. It gave us one of David Lynch’s finest, the best of the Alien franchise, and a lot of good smaller films. Some that flew under the radar back when they were released, like Manhunter and River’s Edge, have achieved cult status. The same happened with Demme’s Something Wild, and while I appreciate some things about it (especially Liotta!), it did not make my list.

I don’t consider the 1980s as one of the best decades for French films, but there are some good ones this year. I included Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring together on the list because I think of them as one long movie, although the first is the best.

There are three Dennis Hopper movies on this list. I doubt that’ll happen again, ever.

1. Blue Velvet
2. Aliens
3. Stand By Me
4. Castle in the Sky
5. Jimi Plays Monterey
6. When the Wind Blows
7. Hannah and Her Sisters
8. Le Rayon Vert / Summer
9. Down by Law
10. Platoon
11. Jean de Florette
12. Manon of the Spring
13. The Sacrifice
14. Manhunter
15. River’s Edge
16. The Name of the Rose
17. The Fly
18. Hoosiers
19. Mona Lisa
20. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Some near misses were: The Mission, The Color of Money, Sid & Nancy, and Something Wild.

when-the-wind-blows

Top 20 of 1996

Breaking the Waves chapter

The 90s were generally good years for film, but I was surprised by how tremendous this year was. The resurgence of indie Americans was in full swing; Dogme 95 was in motion (although the Von Trier film on this list isn’t really Dogme); and there was still quite a bit of foreign cinema going strong. This list also has two of the best and most influential documentaries of the decade.

One addition that might surprise some people is James and the Giant Peach. Many people wrote it off as a standard Roald Dahl animated children’s tale. This was in the era where Pixar was getting all the accolades and other animated films were being overlooked. I discovered it later and consider it to be a gem. I’ve watched it several times and appreciate it more each time. I implore people to check it out if they haven’t seen it.

James_and_the_Giant_Peach_by_SharpMarker108

This year was so strong that a lot of wonderful movies had to be cut, and that always hurts. Some of my last cuts were Citizen Ruth, Drifting Clouds, Flirting with Disaster, Sling Blade, Pusher, and The People vs. Larry Flynt.

1. Breaking the Waves
2. Secrets & Lies
3. Fargo
4. Paradise Lost
5. James and the Giant Peach
6. Trainspotting
7. When We Were Kings
8. La Promesse
9. A Summer’s Tale
10. Mars Attacks!
11. Bottle Rocket
12. Big Night
13. Lone Star
14. Irma Vep
15. The English Patient
16. A Moment of Innocence
17. My Sex Life … Or How I Got Into an Argument
18. Ridicule
19. Hard Eight
20. Shall We Dance.

secretslies-meal

Top 20 of 2006

Children of Men

For those who are new to this blog and these lists, a close group of cinephile friends have an exclusive club where we pool our favorite films and put together consensus lists. This usually requires me to see a few additional films for the upcoming year, fewer from the 1970s and on, and more for the 1950s and earlier. We go backwards every decade by a year number. We just finished the ‘5 movies, so we traveled from 2005 to 1935 in several months. Now we are back to the top, looking at 2006 now, 1996 next, and so on.

I would call 2006 a particularly good year for film, both in the USA and abroad, although I was surprised by how prominent American titles were. There were some acclaimed foreign films that I liked, but did not love enough to include on my list, such as Volver, Syndromes and a Century, and The Host, yet I have a couple more obscure foreign titles that I encourage people go out to see.

2006 had some tough movies to cut. It was a good year for documentary, and you’ll notice that two made my list. Both of them happen to be quite depressing. Another depressing documentary that just barely made my list was Jonestown: Life and Death of the People’s Temple. Some good and underrated comedies also missed my list, such as The Devil Wears Prada (not a film I expected to like), Clerks II, and the toilet humor of Grandma’s Boy. Those last two are guilty pleasures, and I had only two are guilty pleasures and overshadowed by Borat. A couple other close shaves were The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and Sweeney Todd.

The top five of this year is especially strong, and my top three could all contend for favorites of the decade. Children of Men not only had an engaging, thought-provoking and politically relevant plot, but it was also a groundbreaking film from a directorial and photography perspective. Yes, I like long tracking shots, and it had two of my favorites.

1. Children of Men
2. Inland Empire
3. Letters from Iwo Jima
4. The Lives of Others
5. When the Levees Broke
6. Paprika
7. 12:08: East of Bucharest
8. Borat
9. The Prestige
10. The Namesake
11. A Scanner Darkly
12. This is England
13. The Departed
14. United 93
15. The Fall
16. Pan’s Labyrinth
17. Casino Royale
18. Babel
19. Apocalypto
20. The Bridge

letters from iwo jima

1935 List

Devil is a Woman

Phew. What a tough year! Thanks to Josef Von Sternberg, I have a solid #1 title and also another title towards the end of the list. There are some excellent films from the year, both in America and abroad, but there were a lot to navigate through to get to this list. This was the period where Hollywood started producing a lot of literary epics because they did well overseas, notably Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, both of which are good and deserve a place on the list. Sternberg also tackled a literary classic with Crime and Punishment, which is not on par with the rest of his work, but still worthy of being on the list.

There are some good French films, but perhaps because of the happenings with the National Front, this year is lacking compared to 1934 and especially 1936. There are some good American comedies and musicals, including Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935, which has some tremendous musical set pieces, especially considering the year.

There are two notable omissions. Top Hat would probably make most people’s lists, but I have some sort of aversion to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The biggest omission is Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. I’ve seen it and studied it, and realize that it truly is a great documentary, one of the best ever made. That said, I cannot bring myself to list it and would rather watch paint dry than see it again. I can go into a movie like Birth of a Nation and appreciate it as art even if I do not agree with the message, but I struggle with the Nazi documentary. Yes, that is a Tati Short at #20. I have it rated higher than the better known documentary, and make no apologies.

1. The Devil is a Woman
2. Toni
3. Bride of Frankenstein
4. Mutiny on the Bounty
5. A Night at the Opera
6. The 39 Steps
7. Carnival in Flanders
8. A Tale of Two Cities
9. The Ruggles at Red Gap
10. The Good Fairy
11. Man on the Flying Trapeze
12. Gold Diggers of 1935
13. David Copperfield
14. Captain Blood
15. Steamboat ‘Round the Bend
16. The Clairvoyant
17. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
18. Crime and Punishment
19. The Informer
20. Gai Dimanche