#63 (tie) – Sunset Blvd. (1950), dir. Billy Wilder

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

The pictures got small. With her depiction of a faded silent movie star desperate for relevance, Gloria Swanson grabs the spotlight with a vengeance and refuses to let go in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd.

Movies can be about most anything — and the Sight & Sound list is proof positive of that basic sentiment. The prehistoric battle royale of King Kong is worlds apart from, say, the psychological noir of In a Lonely Place or the kaleidoscopic view of everyday life in Man With a Movie Camera. But one theme that seems to enthrall filmmakers is the art and business of making movies — it’s a theme that, for instance, runs through all of the films in the previous sentence. And why wouldn’t filmmakers be obsessed with with both their craft and the business that makes it possible — it’s basically the movie-making equivalent of “write what you know”. And few people knew movie making better than Billy Wilder. A German emigré who arrived in the United States with hardly any English, Wilder managed to quickly become one of the top scriptwriters and directors in Hollywood, known for his barbed humor and sophisticated dialogue. After two decades in the business Wilder turned his focus on Hollywood itself. Sunset Blvd. (1950) is a savage look at the way Hollywood operates, particularly in its capacity for casting aside those who gave their all to the business. But while the film bears the hallmarks of Wilder’s caustic wit and subtle direction, Sunset Blvd. is truly dominated by one of the great screen performances of all time by former silent movie star Gloria Swanson — an actor who was decidedly ready for her closeup. (110 min.) Continue reading

#17 – Seven Samurai (1954), dir. Kurosawa Akira

Seven Samurai (1954)

The Magnificent Seven. The great Toshiro Mifune leads a stellar ensemble cast in the grandest of Japanese epic films, Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai.

These days Ozu Yasujiro is probably considered to be Japan’s greatest filmmaker, but it’s a good bet that more people have gotten their introduction to classic Japanese cinema through Kurosawa Akira. This is perhaps not terribly surprising, given Kurosawa’s eye for spectacle and a well honed populist streak that makes for stellar entertainment. It also doesn’t hurt that Kurosawa’s films frequently draw from Western cultural touchstones like film Westerns, noir detective fiction and Shakespeare, making his work more accessible to Western viewers. Though a versatile filmmaker who did everything from quiet domestic dramas to urban thrillers, Kurosawa is probably most famous for his samurai pictures, and there is no film in the genre as epic and grand as 1954’s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai). The plot of the film is quite simple: a village hires seven samurai to defend it from bandits. But within that simple framework Kurosawa creates a sprawling epic touching on issues of class and economy, bravery and cowardice, selfishness versus community, and the nature of loss. Exciting and funny, smart but not preachy, Seven Samurai pretty much defined the action film, giving movies an energy they had never previously known. (209 min.) Continue reading

#154 (tie) – In a Lonely Place (1950), dir. Nicholas Ray

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Temporary insanity. Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart are star-crossed lovers torn apart by Bogie’s potentially murderous temper in director Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place.

The noir movies of the 1940s rather muddied the waters when it came to movie protagonists. Even the heroes in noir films tend to be complicated or compromised, and there was perhaps no single actor more essential for creating the Hollywood antihero than Humphrey Bogart. Too gruff and brutish-looking to be a typical leading man, but too charismatic and talented for character roles, Bogie was perfect as a protagonist who straddled the line between hero and villain. It was as the thuggish, sarcastic, womanizing detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon that Bogie became a bona fide star, and he became an icon through his performance in Casablanca by playing a hero who was essentially an angry, jealous drunk. There was always a darkness to Bogart’s performances, and that darkness gets to come to the fore in director Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950). A film set at the intersection of passion and violence, In a Lonely Place explores the capacity that we have for savagery — both to commit violence and to tolerate, or even love, those who give themselves over to rage. (93 min.) Continue reading

SASY Rank – The 1940s

Another decade down, another SASY Rank mini-post. With the 1940s now behind us it is time for the two of us to scrawl down the films that impressed us the most from the decade. There are 36 films from the 1940s on the Sight & Sound list, but as it happens we are largely on the same page with regard to our selections. Neither of us could resist throwing 11 films into our respective Top 10s and we share nine films. That’s a good indication of how strong these nine films were, because this was a particularly satisfying decade for the both of us. There were quite a few filmmakers boasting multiple list films during the decade (Powell & Pressburger, Howard Hawks, Roberto Rossellini, John Ford, Orson Welles) but nobody dominated our Top 10 lists the way that Jean Renoir did in the 1930s. No, we’ve spread the love around on this one and can’t wait to move into the 1950s with our next yammer.

We’ve already yammered about all of the films below, so we’ll leave the lists to speak for themselves. But if you want more, then click on a film title to be magically transported to our conversation.

S.

J.

1. Casablanca (1942) 1. Citizen Kane (1941)
2. Late Spring (1949) 1. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
3. Brief Encounter (1945) 3. Late Spring (1949)
4. Citizen Kane (1941) 4. Out of the Past (1947)
5. Out of the Past (1947) 5. Casablanca (1942)
6. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) 6. Day of Wrath (1943)
7. The Shop Around the Corner (1940) 7. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
8. A Canterbury Tale (1944) 8. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
9. Bicycle Thieves (1948) 9. My Darling Clementine (1946)
10. My Darling Clementine (1946) 10. A Canterbury Tale (1944)
10. The Third Man (1949) 10. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

#15 – Late Spring (1949), dir. Ozu Yasujiro

Late Spring (1949)

So happy together. Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara are quietly powerful as a father and daughter living together in post-war Japan in the Ozu Yasujiro masterpiece Late Spring.

This is it for the 1940s at Fan With a Movie Yammer, and we had the pleasure of finishing off this decade of Sight & Sound films on pretty much the highest of high notes. Late Spring (Banshun, 1949) is the second list film from acclaimed director Ozu Yasujiro, and also the first post-war Japanese movie to make the list. Japanese cinema is going to play heavily in our viewing of 1950s films, and it seems singularly appropriate that Ozu would be sending us off into that decade in grand style. Late Spring is a deceptively simple tale of a young woman resisting family and friends who are pushing her to marry. That is basically the whole of the plot, but Ozu and his exceptional cast imbue the scenario with a depth of feeling and provide such intimate shading of the core characters. Precise but never fussy, heartfelt and sad, but hopeful and very funny, Late Spring captures the essence of the human condition with confidence and a generosity of spirit. (107 min.) Continue reading

#171 (tie) – Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), dir. Robert Hamer

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Murder on his mind. Dennis Price stars as a distant heir to a dukedom intent on dispatching all the relatives keeping him from his inheritance in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

There’s a certain morbidity to post-World War II cinema. That darkness has frequently manifested itself in the Sight & Sound movies of the late-40s, which traffic in tragedy, brutality, and the twisted morality and shadowy settings of film noir. So perhaps it is all too fitting that director Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) — the first post-war comedy on the Sight & Sound list — is black as pitch. The film follows the exploits of Louis Mazzini, a man whose aristocrat mother was unceremoniously ousted from her noble family for marrying an opera singer. Feeling cheated of his birthright and indignant over the treatment of his mother, Louis decides to eliminate as many relatives as necessary to inherit the title of Duke of D’Ascoyne. Not the typical stuff of comedy, but with a wicked playfulness and the benefit of having the great Alec Guinness playing the entirety of the D’Ascoyne clan, Kind Hearts and Coronets finds a way to charm in its cool, delightfully urbane take on murder. (106 min.) Continue reading

#127 (tie) – Spring in a Small Town (1948), dir. Fei Mu

Spring in a Small Town (1948)

A house divided. A woman prepares medicine for her husband while trying to ignore the stares of her former lover in director Fei Mu’s tense domestic drama Spring in a Small Town.

We’ve been stuck here of late at FWAMY. So far we’ve yammered about 73 Sight & Sound list films, all of which come from just eight countries. So it is very nice to welcome a new nation to the fold: China. Spring in a Small Town (Xiǎochéng zhī chūn, 1948) was filmed in the short window between the end of World War II and the beginning of communist rule in China in 1949. As such it captures a very unique — if very brief — chapter of China’s history, and offers insight into what the country thought of itself before Chairman Mao. But the epic turbulence of this period is kept well to the background in Spring in a Small Town, which is a domestic melodrama that contains a grand total of five characters. An ailing man lives in the ruins of his family’s mansion with his wife, sister and a servant. One day the man is visited by a friend — a friend who used to be romantically attached to the sick man’s wife. It is a simple set up, but evocatively constructed to be a slow burn of passion versus duty; romance versus friendship. And while set in a society that lasted all of a few years, the beautifully shot Spring in a Small Town reaches for something universal and timeless. (98 min.) Continue reading