1. Children of Paradise (Carné)
2. Spellbound (Hitchcock)
3. Mildred Pierce (Curtiz)
4. Scarlet Street (Lang)
5. The Southerner (Renoir)
6. Brief Encounter (Lean)
7. Rome, Open City (Rosselini)
8. And Then There Were None (Clair)
9. I Know Where I’m Going! (Powell, Pressburger)
10. The Lost Weekend (Wilder)
HM: Detour (Ulmer)
Really need to see: Leave Her to Heaven and The Fallen Idol.
CHILDREN OF PARADISE - A friend of mine watched this last year and the first thing she said was that she couldn’t believe that it was actually three hours long. It had just gone by so quickly that she hadn’t noticed. I had the same reaction. I remember it being such a delight that I didn’t even care about the running time. Utterly alive, poetic, and brisk storytelling from a truly great director who understood what it meant to completely wrap you up in the majestic landscape of a film. I haven’t seen this in a while now, but it left such an indelible impression on me that I feel confident of its stature. Often considered alongside THE RULES OF THE GAME as the greatest of all French films, CHILDREN OF PARADISE is pure magic and impossible to resist. I’m really glad we agree on the top spot for this year, Brandon. I don’t think it could be any other way. Between this, LE JOUR SE LEVE, and LE QUAI DES BRUMES, Marcel Carné has quickly become one of my favorite filmmakers.
SPELLBOUND - It’s probably extremely unfashionable to like this film so much, but I don’t care. It was one of the first Hitchcock films I ever saw. I rented it from the library when I was 16 and I just loved it (I ended up buying that same VHS copy from the library a few years ago). It was seminal in making me interested in classic films. It may not be perfect, but I think it just continues to prove how great Hitchcock was and how superior his films were to just about everything else. I love Bergman and Peck so much in the film. The Dali sequence is awesome. It’s got Hitchcock’s usual stylistic flair, and to me, it really works as a mystery and a thriller. All the psychoanalytical jargon and plot devices can seem old-fashioned and annoying, I’m sure, but I think the film is just great entertainment.
MILDRED PIERCE - Man, what a little brat the daughter is. Just makes you want to reach into the screen and ring her neck. But her awfulness makes the tragedy of the film. Once we’ve reached the end and we realize that everything Mildred has done and fought for has been for the sake of such a little worthless shit, we are in the dumps with her. This is an incredible film-noir though. It’s completely engrossing from the beginning to end. Joan Crawford gives one of her finest performances. Zachary Scott is great as a real sleazebag, and Anne Blyth is great at making you hate her so much. Curtiz rules.
SCARLET STREET - The second film of Fritz Lang’s to team the beautiful Joan Bennett with the talented Edward G. Robinson (and the great at slimeball-portraying Dan Duryea). I love the tragic noirs like this where the unassuming and lonely man gets caught up in an underworld of deceit and disaster. This is one of the bleakest noirs I’ve ever seen too. The final images of Robinson’s character are simply chilling.
THE SOUTHERNER - What a completely different role for Zachary Scott here. This is a very fine film from one of the cinema’s greatest humanists. The poetry and warmth Renoir puts into this film makes it really powerful and emotionally resonant (and very unique). Moving your family and struggling to start a life for yourself can be an unforgiving experience. But the closeness of your family always compels you foreword. This film understands the importance of bonding when times are tough.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER - Ben wrote some nice thoughts on this recently. I agree with him. The purity of the storytelling in classic films is what makes them so effortlessly enjoyable. They had a much stronger connection to theater and literature than most modern day films do because they understood the necessity for strong storytelling and character development. They also largely understood the importance of economy. Less is more, show don’t tell–all that good stuff. This film is a great example of all the things I just said that make classics so enjoyable. Lean was a born storyteller. Be it small scale like this, or enormous like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, he knew how to tell a good story.
ROME, OPEN CITY - An utterly uncompromising and tragic film. Another one I watched several years back, but still can remember its vivid images (the entire finale is just devastating). An important film, not just for rushing in a new era in Italian cinema, but for trying to depict some of the horror of the still very fresh WWII and its effects on Italy.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE - I almost can’t believe that Rene Clair directed this. It’s nothing like his extremely light-hearted French musical-comedies of the early 30s. It’s interesting to have two French greats in this list directing foreign films (for them). I vastly prefer the 30s French work of both, but it’s cool to see them still making terrific films, and in another country and language entirely. I love the oft imitated premise here. Mansion house guests getting knocked off one by one (I loved the CLUE movie as a kid, and MURDER BY DEATH is really funny); it’s awesome. There are some truly suspenseful and creepy moments in this, and the ending is just terrific.
I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! - This is a genuinely sweet fairy tale about two people meeting while trapped on a Scottish Island. We know from the beginning that her determined ways will be challenged and waylayed, but Powell and Pressburger make it charming the whole way through. Two very talented filmmakers who had a great and fruitful career together.
THE LOST WEEKEND - I haven’t watched this in a while, but I do remember that it’s remarkably adult for Hollywood film in 1945. Portraying alcholism with a real blunt honesty for the time, the film is really ballsy. Wilder is basically dissecting the illusion of alchohol. And Milland is fantastic. I need to see this again, right after I go grab another beer.
“Oh, Lisa, you and your stories. ‘Bart’s a vampire;’ ‘Beer kills brain cells.’ Now let’s go back to that...building..thingy...where are beds and tv...is.”
- Homer Simpson