Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.
Because I’m suicidal.
There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).
What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.
Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.
1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and It was also the year of the blond.
Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman. Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter, East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.
Because I might be suicidal after all.
1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.
When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.
Because I’m a hopeless romantic.
2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.
But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.
Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
East of Eden has the best hair. Aaron (Smiths album cover boy Richard Davalos) resting with his girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) after running around a barn, as his good-natured yet impish younger brother Cal (James Dean) watches from behind an ice-cube. Cal perpetually looking like a teenager who just woke up, perpetually watching. Later on, Aaron again lies down on his stomach on his father’s lawn, face up, the picture of pastoral boyhood, weighing in on the Great War and money concerns as if from a distance. Cal lying down on neighbouring farm land, impatiently watching his rows upon rows of bean sprouts grow from up close. Blessed with bounty, the citizens of Monterey establish civilizations under the guise of creation, of failures and successes but are nonetheless wary of the tension that is actually closer than they think.
They are brothers and therefore born rivals, the story marking their competition even through the different personalities of their parents. Aaron taking on his father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) and Cal with the mysterious Kate (Jo van Fleet) who lives on a suspicious house on a hill. But the lines within the family criss-cross too. Cal’s entrepreneurial skills come from both parents – as much as his business ventures are unethical, he also gets Adam’s wild yet good-intentioned visions of their Californian goods reaching outside the state. The performances also serve as a key to their genetic similarities, Aaron echoing Kate’s tough-love parental instincts towards Cal, in one scene telling him to go watch the rally. Dean, in turn, plays Cal as fidgety as a regular teenager.
The sequence when Cal and Abra go to the circus, one of the most novelistic and symbol-heavy patterns of storytelling in cinema. These friends walk through a hall of mirrors, skewing one of the most handsome faces in film into monsters. They meet one of Cal’s Mexican girlfriends, he kisses Abra on the Ferris wheel, he climbs down and jumps on a mob. All these events awakening innocent Abra’s sexuality, although her reaction towards him is tame by today’s standards. He becomes an imp again, his jealousy and Adamr’s rejection causing him to tell a family secret that would destroy Aaron, proudly telling his father what he has accomplished. He would twice destroy the angelic female that Aaron holds dear. In a movie about beauty and broken purity, Cal redeems himself, fixing things with his broken self and family as he has always intended.
- James Dean’s Brother Love (MNPP)
I mark every chapter of Max Ophuls‘ biopic of Lola Montes with the carnival routines. It’s probably not good to do so, since I conflate one part of the circus act with another. Some scenes, like the one involving horseback riding, even remind me of other carnival movies like the one with Charlton Heston.
It’s probably better to do this instead with what part of the heroine’s (Martine Carol) fascinating life that we’re seeing, like her mansion at the French Riviera or when she was Bavarian King’s (Anton Walbrook) courtesan. But there’s something less concrete about those episodes, as if they were a fantasy, because circumstances disallow permanence. Without the carnival the movie would be surprisingly boring, as if we’re watching her shuffling to different palaces. There’s beauty in those places but the circus’ surreal set pieces are to die for.
The movie’s transitions from wide-screen to lesser-wide screen seems more choreographed with repeat viewings. The ringmaster’s (Peter Ustinov) voice more commanding, the conversations between Lola and a German student (Oskar Werner) more intimate because the frame’s walls are closer. However, these black spaces also makes this feel like an incompletely restored movie. For a master, it feels like a gimmick to make these kinds of decisions or the refusal to make such a decision.
I want to know something deeper about the commonalities of Ophuls’ films, deeper than his opulent portrayal of the fragile status of the 19th century woman. Like fleeting glory that they can only touch but never hold. I envy women. Or maybe it’s the failed misogynist in the that does so, thinking that their ability to marry or consort into money isn’t self chatelling. I’m willfully confusing seduction with power. Social distinctions were more distinct back in Lola’s lifetime but she transcends her poor and suspiciously mysterious Irish provenance and be on stage for or to sit alongside Tsars and Grand Dukes and Kings.
But when students depose Kings they also get rid of her status. Her carnival life after Bavaria is as humiliating as, I imagine, it would have been for Cleopatra had she been found alive. A circus copyrights her life and she has to do it nightly for different towns. Thankfully she makes no pretenses, that she’s nothing but a performer. As a metaphor for her life, for the last act she climbs up different ladders and swings to the ceiling of the tent until she has to risk her life, taking a leap all the way down.
- “Cinema’s 50 greatest flops, follies, and failures” (gointothestory.com)
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best shot series.
If this movie was any more of a hit in its first run, Robert Mitchum wouldn’t have been allowed to sing at the old school roasts.
And…snark over. Film historians ETA including Ebert laud Charles Laughton’s only film and masterpiece The Night of the Hunter for its excellent cinematography and that goes well with the film’s pacing. There’s a lot of tense moments within the film, but the children cross the river to safety like, pardon the biblical reference, the Hebrew across the Nile. The children find a barn to sleep in, and for the first time, they and the audience can breathe and be tranquil. Despite the darkness of the barn we see twilight transform into night into daybreak.
Oh come on, man!
As the boy says with contempt, ‘Don’t he ever sleep.’ Hey, Mitchum, leave those kids alone!
That shot of his silhouette lets the kids know that they’re in trouble, that Mitchum’s character is evil at its most relentless, that there;’s little salvation for these young ones at all. The shot’s picture plane also consists of a foreground (the barn), a middle ground (the treetops) and a background (the plain). It makes me wonder how big a studio Laughton have had to work around with to create this shot, what kind of camera tricks he may have used to convey such dimensionality.
Also, a friend of mine has a fatwa on Lillian Gish for acting in D.W. Griffith’s racist pictures. To me, this movie and her awesomeness atones for her past sins.
“I thought the tradition of the old West was hospitality.” O hale no, Spencer Tracy.
Instead of hoodwinking us into making us feel comfortable about violent acts (“The Searchers”) or outright lying to us (“Avatar”), “Bad Day at Black Rock” keeps on message. It’s pretty much the 1955 equivalent of ‘We’re assholes, man’ without any sugar-coating. This movie also doesn’t have the annoying speeches that other politically inclined movies do. The characters are just doing and saying what’s necessary to survive against their enemy.
Mysterious John J. MacReedy (Tracy) goes to Black Rock and realizes that the attitude of some inhabitants is as dry as the desert. The town is just as mysterious as MacReedy, and it’s that mysterious element that allows oppression to occur. Both MacReedy and the man he’s looking for, Komoko, didn’t know what wa sin store for them when they went to Black Rock. When MacReedy asks Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) what happened to Komoko, Smith answers that the government shipped Komoko to a relocation camp, which couldn’t have been in the city. I’m not saying that small towns are racist. Instead it’s the population’s instinct to tuck horrific activities where no one can see them, and whoever’s the last in the exchange of hands would have to wash those horrors quietly.
Like the other movies in mentioned in this post, this movie doesn’t really paint any racial group with the same brush. Some white characters defend the oppressed minority as much as a handful of white ones oppress them. Smith could have relied on MacReedy to keep their secret if they had some unspoken bond. But no, MacReedy’s an outsider and could even have some authority beyond the small town of Black Rock, therefore the secret, as well as MacReedy, can’t possibly get out.
MacReedy finds out that Komoko, is dead. SPOILER, so is Komoko’s son, the man who saved MacReedy’s life. Apparently MacReedy should read as part Japanese – he kinds does look like Cotton Hill in this movie, after all, even if I don’t buy it. The film defending the Japanese is bittersweet in a way that it
doesn’t visually represent them and are not allowed to speak for themselves.
I also wanna say that this movie years ago was my introduction to the star-studded cast (Tracy, Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin). And I kinda have this thing about Lee Marvin, like what is wrong with me? This movie made us expect cowboys in plain clothes, and thankfully we got people who talk and think like cowboys. And who better to play cowboys than these four.
“Rebel Without a Cause” on TCM last night. Four hours before that, I was watching Caligula. I will not be talking about fucking Caligula.
The most memorable if not haunting scene in this James Dean vehicle happens the first time the kids visit the observatory. For some reason, these too-cool-for-school kids wanted some geeky presentation about stars. We get a banal delivery about constellations and their connection to the Classics, and all of a sudden the benevolent older voice talks about a black hole. And an explosion that rocks those young minds with fear.
I suppose adults can’t lie to their kids about the war (one of the rebels compares the observatory security guard to an SS officer. These kids must have been nine years old or younger when all that shit happened), about black holes and that anything outside their perfect American neighbourhoods is a volatile universe waiting to devour them. But as the kids like Jimmy (how many victory laps is he on?), Judy (Natalie Wood), John (Sal Mineo) and Good (Dennis Hopper) know these facts they become such fatalist creatures, knifing each other, participating in death races, toting guns.
The whole movie in general has a haste makes waste tone to it that’s as melodramatically effective as when Shakespeare did it (although less eloquent, of course). The adults slightly understand because these teenagers aren’t the first generation of teenagers. And their “honour code” sounds so stupid, right? But again, there’s this urgency. In one sense, that they should do what’s right and honourable, and that they should always fight back when someone else calls them chicken. In the other sense of urgency, that the older generation should be guarded and take care of their young before they hurt themselves and each other. Leading to tragic results.
After “Rebel Without a Cause” I saw “Giant,” which was ok until my cable provider sledgehammered me in the middle of the movie. Thanks, Rogers.