1936 is definitely one of the best years in film history. No question. Now you know why I originally had the start period for cinematic greatness marked this year. I have long been blown away by the sheer quality of the films released during these 12 months of glory. Let’s gush over ‘em:
Rosenbaum’s right about Chaplin. A working-class stalwart and the godfather of humanism in cinema. Have you ever looked at those director’s top 10 lists for the Sight and Sound poll? Just about every great director has a Chaplin film in his/her top 10. Even Bresson (who supposedly was iffy about films) has THE GOLD RUSH and CITY LIGHTS listed as his two favorite films. It’s no coincidence that he was and still is so universally beloved. He was a genius. A true artist and also one of the funniest people to ever live. MODERN TIMES is a great film, as you said, mixing romance and heart with meticulous social satire. I’m actually going to watch it again soon after seeing how high you ranked it. I haven’t seen it in a few years, and was ranking it based on the adoring memory I have of it. It’s probably better than I even remember. Great pick, of course.
You and I see completely eye to eye on THE THIN MAN series. I respond to the formula very strongly as well. I can get down with any film in the series any day. Even if the same mystery formula kept been reused and some of the writing and directing lost its sharpness (losing van Dyke hurt the series a bit), each film is still a treasure if only because it affords us another opportunity to spend time with the prized couple that is Nick and Nora. The best marriage in cinema history, indeed. Their charming and deliciously snide interactions together make every film glorious. You can tell how much they love and worship one another, yet both always have a drink and a wise-crack handy to give the other a playful jab in the ribs. A hilarious, but truly loving relationship. Anyway, AFTER THE THIN MAN is so good because it literally picks up right where the first left off. The bliss continues for another hour and a half and Jimmy Stewart even makes an appearance. What more could one ask for?
Actor of the year, William Powell? By a landslide. As Ebert once wrote, “William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he's saying.” I think you once referred to Powell as an “auteur actor,” Brandon. That’s dead on.
Speaking of the great Powell: MY MAN GODFREY is my favorite film of the year and one of my favorites of all time. Insane, hilarious, and one of the most acerbic satires of the wealthy ever put on screen. I watched it again a few weeks ago (and I’m just realizing I left it off my May recap); I love it more each time I see it. Powell oozes class and dignity as Godfrey, Lombard gives her best performance as the scatter-brained, childish, but loving Irene, and the rest of the supporting cast is just amazingly funny. Special mention should be given to Jean Dixon as the surly maid Molly with the host of hysterical one-liners and Mischa Auer as the freeloading Carlo. This is absurdism at its very finest and most scathing.
FURY is terrifying. We talked about it a bit back when I watched it along side THE OX-BOW INCIDENT and YOUNG MR. LINCOLN. Mob rule is a vicious maelstrom, and films like this force us to confront the horror of its violence first/questions later mentality. It’s also a tough film, like HANG ‘EM HIGH, because it asks us to be better than our anger and violence, even if the people who have done us wrong so seemingly deserve our wrath. If we give into the impulse for vengeance, are we any better then those who caused us harm to begin with?
DODSWORTH is Wyler’s best film. I haven’t even seen all of them, but I can’t imagine him making a better one than this. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking movie. Its emotional profoundity seriously floored me. Like you wrote, Brandon, Dodsworth is chewed up and spit out in the most base way, only to find comfort and love in the arms of the lovely Mary Astor at the very last second. I was sweating over the finale too. Walter Huston is just devastating as Dodsworth. At the end, after all you’ve seen him go through, you are just praying for that hand to swoop down and lift him from the midden. One of the best of the 30s, in my opinion.
I hadn’t even heard of THE STORY OF A CHEAT, but I’m glad I have now. I’m always looking for new 30s fare to dig into. I believe this one’s on Hulu, so I’ll have to check it out.
Okay, every list you seem to bust out some film that I’ve been dying to see but have had no success finding. Who the fuck do you work for? The UCLA Film and Television Archive? haha. I really need to see THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANG. So, what’s your secret on that one?
I really need to see MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN again too. The last time was on VHS from the local video store. It does have a great cast, and I do remember liking it a lot. Have you seen Capra’s LADY FOR A DAY, yet? I think you’re gonna love it if you don’t already.
LIBELED LADY is such a great time. Anything Powell and Loy wins my heart with ease. But throwing in Harlow and Tracy just makes it even stronger. What a cast!
I haven’t seen THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, but I want to now because it’s got an awesome title and it’s John Ford.
Great list, dude! Not an easy year to rank. These lists been so much fun to read and chat over. I’m really glad you’re doing them, and now I just can’t wait to see John’s. Keep ‘em coming!
My ’36 list has changed a bit over the last few months. I’m still not sure about the order, but here’s how it looks at this moment:
1. My Man Godfrey (La Cava)
2. Dodsworth (Wyler)
3. After the Thin Man (van Dyke)
4. Modern Times (Chaplin)
5. Libeled Lady (Conway)
6. The Petrified Forest (Mayo)
7. The Lower Depths (Renoir)
8. Fury (Lang)
9. The Only Son (Ozu)
10. Partie de Campagne (Renoir)
HM: Osaka Elegy (Mizoguchi), Sabotage (Hitchcock), Swing Time (Stevens), Bullets or Ballots (Keighley), San Francisco (van Dyke), Camille (Cukor), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Capra), Gold Diggers of 1937 (Bacon, Berkeley), Show Boat (Whale)
The ranking’s mostly abitrary. I love all of these films and many in the honorable mentions, as well. PARTIE DE COMPAGNE is so beautiful, I only wish it were longer. And I clearly have a stronger connection to THE PETRIFIED FOREST than you do. Emotionally, it just resonated very deeply for me. It’s a melancholy little movie, dealing more with love and sacrifice than gangsters and violence. Some have described it as too “talky,” but for me its literacy and ability to communicate so perfectly is what makes it so absorbing. Oddly enough, Carl Dreyer is a big fan of THE PETRIFIED FOREST as well, and even included in it in his top 10 films of all time. Maybe we found the same beauty in it. I also found THE LOWER DEPTHS to be beautiful, as it is filled with all that typical Renoir humanity. The endearing friendship between the two leads is the emotionally backbone of the film, and it wins because of it.
'63 next? I've got a '49 list coming yer way this week too.