Vanessa Paradis and Kate Moran in Yann Gonzalez’ Knife+Heart (2018)
In the 1970s, film scholars Kenneth Turan and Stephen Zito wrote the book Sinema: American Pornographic Films and The People Who Make Them, a survey of stars and auteurs of the pornographic mode of filmmaking that was at a height before the dawn of video and eventually the internet. Late in Yann Gonzalez‘ sophomore effort, Knife+Heart [Un couteau dans le coeur] (2018), a pornographic film ends and the lights in the movie theater go up revealing a woman sitting by herself on the front row. The men sprinkled about adjust themselves, but one stands up upon noticing the woman and approaches her. He asks, “Are you Anne Parèze?” She replies that she is, and the man then thanks her for the masterpiece everyone just saw. Anne Parèze (Venessa Paradis) is the fictional auteur of French porn cinema at the center of this film, and she’s exactly the kind of figure that would’ve been covered in a book like Turan and Zito’s… had she been real and American, of course.
Knife+Heart is less a film about the gay porn scene of 1970s France than it is a film set within a gay porn scene of the ’70s. Working within an imagined studio, Anne Parèze’s crew of camera technicians and gay porn stars live, love, and work together. In keeping with the tradition of theatrically-exhibited pornos of the time, Parèze’s films have plots (which lead to some of the biggest laughs in the film), and the role of the editor is particularly important. That’s where’s the film’s titular “heart” comes into play: Loïs (Kate Moran) is the editor for all of Parèze’s work, and she’s also her on-and-off lover of ten years. At a moment of crisis in their relationship, Parèze’s alcoholism and feeling of loneliness is heightened by the brutal murder of one of her regular actors – that’s the titular “knife.”
On one hand the film is a love story about creatives, but on the other it’s a violent thriller. This is where a gap of sorts, and the idea of gaps as a core concept of Knife+Heart, takes shape. The casting of gap-toothed icon Vanessa Paradis could not be more perfect, for not only is her performance nuanced and affecting, but the physical embodiment of the film is found in her smile. Gaps in sobriety, affection, arousal, gay and straight, young and old, light and dark, life and death, good and evil – it’s all here.
These gaps are then found in the film itself, as the materiality of film is something that Yann Gonzalez incorporates into the plot with great passion. As Loïs works at the Moviola, splicing shots together and making cuts, she occasionally slows down frames at the tail end of a reel where Anne Parèze can be seen smiling on set. Watching it frame by frame, the space between each image is made noticeable, and the simple twinkle in her eyes and reveal of her beautifully-unique smile carry weight as she is simultaneously in the room with Loïs by appearing on film, yet also absent from her side.
This concept is then perverted and taken to new heights by the film’s dual nature, as the difference between light and dark arises during a scene in which the power flickers on and off while the killer is in the midst of Parèze’s film crew. Going from the ignorance of darkness to what revelations the light may bring is a classic horror device that is well-executed in Knife+Heart, where it manages not to feel cheap.
Throughout Knife+Heart, Gonzalez continuously impresses with his ability to present ideas on a dramatic level and then make them feel real through his aesthetic choices. The absurdity of some of the film’s most serious plot elements makes this more akin to the cinema of Walerian Borowzyck than to William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). An interest in storytelling and the mythos of the French countryside are ingredients that give this film a particularly unique flavor, and Gonzalez, cinematographer Simon Beaufils, editor Raphaël Lefèvre, and composer Anthony Gonzalez (of M83) proved more than up for the task of finding ways to visually and aurally communicate that magical quality.
One of the film’s most powerful scenes is a celebratory picnic for the cast and crew on a recently-wrapped up production. It’s a sunny day, and everyone is reclined on a blanket placed over the tall grass of a field by the forest. The grain of the 35mm film stock sings in these conditions, and with the costume design it truly feels like it is 1979 – Vanessa Paradis in a light-blue cardigan with a white-and-pastel-pink striped shirt is worth the cost of admission by itself. Detached from the party is Anne Parèze, who wishes that Loïs was with her to celebrate. One of her transgender friends sits beside her in the grass and proceeds to read Parèze’s palm. Tears well up in her eyes and eventually begin to stream down her cheeks just as Loïs steps up behind her – the camera tilts up to reveal that she is as emotionally moved as Parèze. A black bird with white eyes lands on Loïs’ shoulder and then flies off just as a violent gust of wind and the sound of thunder rumbles overhead. Everyone quickly gets up to stop their things from blowing away and then proceeds to find shelter from the quickly-advancing storm. The kiss that Parèze and Loïs share as the rain begins to pour is incredibly powerful and feels true to life.
Meanwhile, another kiss in the rain is less romantic, as the camera cuts closer and closer with beautiful dissolves hiding the cuts as the masked killer kisses the lips of his latest victim from the porno crew, the knife still protruding from his back.
For lovers of the French New Wave and post-New Wave cinema, there is much to enjoy here, like the very sincere and competent recreation of the nighttime driving scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965), the mere sight of a poster for Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of A Dreamer (1971) in a character’s apartment, and the casting of Yann Collette whose face will be immediately recognizable to those who have seen Philippe Garrel’s I Can No Longer Hear The Guitar (1991). Gonzalez has created a film that is both then and now, with generation-spanning cinephilia bridging the gap. Beyond that, Knife+Heart is simply a delight to watch, and it manages to express heartfelt emotions of longing and desire within the shell of a blood- and ejaculate-soaked film.
As I write this, Hollywood Blvd is half closed as workers prepare the red carpet for this weekend’s TCM Classic Film Festival, and classic film fans both local and far-flung are meeting up, checking out the social opportunities at Club TCM, and getting ready for a weekend of classic film fun. This year is the 10th annual TCM Fest, so the celebrations feel extra celebratory this year.
The bad news if you’re not in Hollywood right now, you’re missing out on one of the greatest experiences a classic film fan can have: seeing favorites and obscurities on the big screen with great special guests at the friendliest film festival around. The good news is that since all of these films are older, it’s relatively easy to see most of them at home, and in fact several of them are available on various streaming services. It’s not the same as being here, but at least it’s a taste of what you’re missing.
The movie ranked #4 on Flickchart needs no introduction from me. It surprised me quite a bit to see it’s streaming on Netflix, so if you haven’t watched it in a while, jump on that before it’s gone. What would you get if you saw it at TCM Fest? Well, besides seeing it in the giant and historic TCL Chinese Theatre, you’d get a discussion with Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, who worked on sound and visual effects on the film. Ranked #4 by 88843 users.
Another high-ranker on Flickchart, and another serendipitous streaming opportunity for fans of the film. This inspirational prison break film has been atop the IMDb Top 250 for a while, so bring on the cross-platform debates — is it the best film of all time, or just the fifth best? What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with director Frank Darabont. Ranked #5 by 84704 users
Spike Lee’s best-known (and maybe best) movie still packs a punch 30 years later, with its hard-hitting and controversial take on racial and ethnic violence in New York’s Bed-Stay neighborhood. It’s not on any of the major streaming services, but if you’ve got DirecTV or Starz, you’re all set. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with the film’s costume designer Ruth E. Carter, its casting director Robi Reed, and Spike Lee’s sister Joie Lee, who acted in this film and others, and is also a writer. Ranked #314 by 7284 users
One Jacques Demy’s seminal musicals, homaging the golden age of Hollywood musicals from the perspective of the French New Wave. With wall-to-wall music by Michel Legrand that will stick in your head long after the film is over, this story of young love remains heartfelt and moving. You can see it (along with other Demy films) on the newly-launched Criterion Channel. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: the chance to see Catherine Deneuve on the big screen with hundreds of other adoring fans. Ranked #351 by 769 users
Prison break movies are a pretty solid subgenre, and this one doesn’t disappoint, with an attempted escape from the prison to end all prisons. It’s hitting its 40th anniversary this year, and it’s just as tense as ever. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with the film’s screenwriter Richard Tuggle and with Hollywood Reporter editor Benjamin Svetkey. Ranked #798 by 4409 users
Of the excellent cycle of westerns directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart, this may just be the best. It’s certainly the most well-known, and that’s for a reason. It follows the titular gun through several owners, with James Stewart continually trying to catch up to it. This film and others like it worked against the “white hat” hero of earlier westerns, with flawed heroes who could be brutal and make mistakes. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: an introduction from film historian Jeremy Arnold, author of TCM-published The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter. Ranked #825 by 604 users
A lesser-known but not lesser-quality Woody Allen film, starring himself and Mia Farrow in a story of a show business manager who’s a bit on the rocks. Shooting in black and white in 1984 is a very intentional move, and it gives this story a timeless, sentimental feeling. What you’d get if you watched it at TCM Fest: a discussion with casting director Juliet Taylor, who has cast nearly all of Allen’s films (and if there’s one thing you can say for Woody Allen, his films always have great casts). Ranked #909 by 1183 users.
You get a two-fer with Juliet Taylor on this one. In addition to casting most of the Woody Allen films, including Broadway Danny Rose (see above), she also cast this paean to the working woman and basically made Melanie Griffith a star. You can check this out on demand if you’ve got DirecTV, and if you saw it at TCM, you’d see Juliet Taylor again. Ranked #2360 by 3670 users
One of the last great Hollywood studio era musicals, directed by one of its brightest stars (Gene Kelly only directed a few films solo, this being one of them), and starring one of the leading actress/singers of the New Hollywood era, Hello, Dolly! is something of an anachronism — a giant, glorious, indulgent anachronism. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with superfan Christopher Radko, whose love for the film led to him create a community festival near its filming location, and who wrote a lavish book about its filming. Ranked #2786 by 841 users
One of the touchstone romantic comedies of the 1990s — a golden era of modern romantic comedy — this one gets some pushback these days as part of a general pushback against romantic comedies, but that’s pretty unfair. It’s a sweet, funny, and occasionally sharp film from Nora Ephron, perhaps the best romantic comedy writer/director of her era. I’m not entirely sure what Tribeca Shortlist is, I think you can get it as a “channel” on Amazon, but if you have it, you’re all set. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with the film’s producer Lynda Obst, and with Rita Wilson, who plays a supporting role in the film and is also married to Tom Hanks. Ranked #2846 by 24169 users
It seems there’s something scandalous going on every time Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman share the screen. Either they’re Notorious (the 1946 Hitchcock film) or Indiscreet. Any pairing of these two is worth watching, especially when Stanley Donen, seeking to reinvent himself as the musical comedy declined, is in the director’s chair. Viewster is an ad-supported service, which isn’t ideal, but sometimes to see great films you gotta do what you gotta do. Here’s what you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: an introduction by Hollywood historian Cari Beauchamp, author of several books about the early days of the industry and expert on the studio system era in general. (Cari always has great stories, I just want to put that out there.) Ranked #3057 by 232 users
1950s science fiction is a special breed of great, featuring practical effects, nuclear paranoia, sometimes suspect acting, and often grandiose ideas. This one actually eschews the paranoia and focuses instead on the promise of science to escape a coming collision between earth and another heavenly body. It’s a solid film, not to be missed for fans of ‘50s sci-fi. What you’d get if you saw it at TCMFest: a discussion with the film’s star Barbara Rush and TV personality Dennis Miller. Ranked #3900 by 224 users
Love Affair – Watch on Amazon Prime/IndieFlix/Viewster/TubiTV
Though its remake An Affair to Remember is better-known, this original star-crossed lover story is probably the better version, featuring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer as a couple who meet on board a ship and fall in love despite existing engagements, and then plan to meet up in a year’s time if they still want to be together. It’s a little less melodramatic than its remake, and a bit more grounded. There are a number of ways to watch it online, most prominently Amazon Prime, but also on some free ad-supported services as well. What you’d get if you watched it at TCM Fest: a discussion with actress Dana Delany. Ranked #5291 by 115 users
One of the most obscure films at the festival, and yet also one of the most intriguing-sounding, this is an alternate history of the 20th Century in which the Nazis invaded Great Britain. The film was made by Andrew Mollo and Kevin Brownlow, now a highly acclaimed film historian, who started developing it when they were just teenagers. Their work was supported at the time by such heavyweights as Stanley Kubrick and Tony Richardson. If you’re a Fandor subscriber, you can check out this interesting-sounding film right now. What you’d get if you saw it at TCM Fest: a discussion with Kevin Brownlow (he’s a frequent introducer for TCM Fest, and it’ll be fun to see him on the other side of the mic) and John Bailey, renowned cinematographer and current President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ranked #27367 by 7 users
This film is so obscure I had to add it to Flickchart when I was preparing this list, but it’s a film noir so it would certainly be popular with Flickchart users if it were more well-known. Like several other films of the late ’40s, it also deals with anti-Semitism, and is more frank than usual with its content. IndieFlix subscribers can check it out now, which may be about the only way to see it legally. It has no special guests listed for TCM Fest, but will certainly be introduced by a TCM staffer with great tidbits of info about the film. Ranked #22766 by 1 user
Almost all of the films above are also available for digital rental through the usual services — iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft Video, etc. Not all are on every service, so if it’s not on your favorite, check the others. The films listed below are only available for digital rental; they are not on any subscription streaming services, but can be viewed digitally for a nominal fee.
As always, TCM Fest shines the light on several obscurities that are hard to find through normal means. These may be on DVD but are not currently available via any digital distribution, subscription or rental. The chance to see films like this on a big screen with an audience is honestly the draw for many of us to TCM Fest — I bring..
The last two years of the 1920s were transition years, as cinema shifted very quickly into the sound era. Last year we covered 1928, with a Top Ten that was 100% silent. Although sound films were being made that year, the ones that have stood the test of time are all silent, and are among the pinnacle of the silent art form. In 1929, however, our top ten is a mixture of silent and sound films; the technology and storytelling for sound film had improved, sound cartoons started to become popular, and, in one of our blogger’s choices, even silent comedians begin turning to sound. There’s still amazing artistry in the silents, largely coming from European filmmakers who didn’t pick up the sound craze quite as quickly as Hollywood.
What’s missing from this postare any examples of films that are mostly silent with some sound sequences. There were many of those, and they’re fascinating from a historical perspective, but they come off like awkward hybrids and it’s not surprising they don’t make a popular list like this. All this is to say that 1929 was a really exciting time in cinema. It saw the death of cinema as we knew it and the birth of something new. Like any birth, it was painful at times, but in the films of 1929 you can begin to see some of the ways this new cinema will grow and flourish, as well as appreciate the absolute mastery of the late silent era.
After Steamboat Willie burst on the scene in 1928 and made an instant icon out of Mickey Mouse, Disney went full-bore with the character, making 13 Mickey cartoons in 1929 and introducing the Silly Symphonies series (see The Skeleton Dance below). This one is kind of an amalgam of the two, as it basically repeats the very successful Skeleton Dance formula, but shoves Mickey into it. It’s a dark and stormy night and Mickey runs to a nearby house for shelter, but surprise! It’s full of skeletons who force him to play the organ while they dance and then terrorize him throughout the crooked old house as he tries to escape. If you think Disney borrowing from themselves started in the 1960s, think again. A lot of these early sound cartoons recycle fairly similar tropes and gags. Rather than seek narrative or stylistic originality, they focus on incorporating music and popular songs of the time, but there are some clever bits here that aren’t merely lifted from The Skeleton Dance. And to be fair, the first reveal of the skeleton in the hood is genuinely creepy. – Jandy Hardesty
Ernst Lubitsch had been making risque, crowd-pleasing comedies for over a decade — he was a dominant figure in our post last month about the top 10 films of 1919 — and he didn’t miss a beat when he made his first sound film. In fact, he put sound at the very forefront of The Love Parade. It’s a musical, carried by the thickly-accented chanteur Maurice Chevalier, a Gallic Don Juan with an ear-to-ear smile whose winks did for Pre-Code audiences what Elvis Presley’s hips did for the early TV generation. Chevalier’s charm in this and The Big Pond netted him a Best Actor nomination at the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony (at that time, people were sometimes nominated for multiple roles.) The Love Parade works for many of the same reasons that most Lubitsch movies do: a romantic comedy plot, a stylish European backdrop, and a strong sense of fun. But this time, for the first time, a load of earworms come along for the ride, and you’ll be humming songs like “My Love Parade” and “Ooh La La” long after you’ve forgotten the ins and outs of the plot. – David Conrad
We’ve already looked at Disney’s Haunted House; now let’s look at the original Silly Symphony. The idea of what would become Disney’s prolific Silly Symphony series came from Carl W. Stalling in a conversation with Walt in 1928. Disney was looking to broaden his horizons beyond Mickey Mouse, and Stalling had an idea for stand-alone shorts where the action was animated to match the music instead of the other way around. Stalling went on to compose the music for The Skeleton Dance, it was animated by Disney’s long-time collaborator Ub Iwerks, and the result was five-and-a-half minutes of graveyard shenanigans featuring a danse macabre-esque centerpiece.
Ub Iwerks built his career on characters whose rubbery, physics-free limbs seemed to have no internal structure, so it’s ironic that perhaps his best-known and most iconic work center around a quartet of dancing skeletons. The Skeleton Dance is indeed iconic, and one of the most influential works animation in the history of the medium. Many viewers know the imagery without knowing the origin, since it’s a staple of Halloween and weird cartoon montages on TV and the internet. And its legacy lingers even 90 years later, for without it, would Silly Symphonies have become what they were? And if there had been no Silly Symphonies, would there have been The Old Mill? And if there had been no Old Mill, would there have been a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Would there have been Walt Disney Animation Studios? If Disney is known by its trademark castle, The Skeleton Dance is a cornerstone. – Tom Kapr
The title says it all. Woman. In. The Moon. You’ve got to be interested already. If you’re not, consider this: Woman in the Moon comes from the minds of Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, who wrote the novel on which it is based — they’re the same wunderkinds who two years earlier created the seminal science fiction film Metropolis, which every film buff eventually sees. Woman in the Moon is their equally imaginative follow-up to that classic, but it isn’t nearly as well-known. Nor is it as famous as what the power couple made next: the talkie thriller M. Both of those films are in the global top 200, compared to this one’s position just outside the top 4000, but in many ways Woman in the Moon is the perfect bridge between them. The first half of it is a crime saga, featuring criminal conspiracies and heroic masterminds of the sort Lang loved. The second half pivots to pure science fiction and envisions something so far in the future from 1929’s standpoint that it still hasn’t happened as of 2019: a female astronaut who reaches the moon, steps onto the lunar surface, and explores an alien world. – David
Blackmail makes the top ten, I’m sure, because it is an Alfred Hitchcock film, and a notable one for its place in history if not for its inherent quality. It was Hitchcock’s first talkie, probably Britain itself’s first talkie, and it was a groundbreaking success. It is somewhat uneven, being that there are stretches that would still qualify as “silent,” punctuated by scenes of spoken dialogue and synced sound. (There is also a fully silent version, which may in fact be the better film.) It can also be unintentionally funny; have you ever seen a car chase where both the pursuers and the pursued stop at a traffic light? In 1929, however, it must have been a thrilling picture, and Hitchcock’s famous talent for suspense still has power these nine decades later. An attempted rape scene featuring Anny Ondra is especially harrowing, foreshadowing one of Hitchcock’s most iconic movie moments that would come a quarter-century later when Grace Kelly faced a similar situation in Dial M for Murder. – Tom
On her confirmation day, young Thymian (Louise Brooks) receives two important things: a diary and a rude awakening. The diary contains a message on the first page telling her to go to a certain place at a certain time. Before getting there, she discovers the body of her father’s pretty housekeeper. Running to her father, she bursts in on him with his new maid already in his arms; he has been taking advantage of his young female employees, then discarding them when they become inconvenient. Shockingly (or not, since this is a social problem film and the title tells us the lead character is in for a struggle), Thymian herself is raped that very night by her father’s assistant. Instead of marrying him when she turns out to be pregnant, as everyone pressures her to do, she opts for institutionalization. That would be plenty of issues to tackle for most movies, but things actually get worse from there for poor Thymian. Fortunately, Brooks has the gravitas and the range to sell Thymian’s downs, downs, and downs — and possibly some ups as well, but no spoilers — while director G.W. Pabst displays the same confident command of narrative and tone that made Pandora’s Box an even bigger success for he and Brooks the same year (see below.) – David
The Cocoanuts is the first movie appearance of the Marx Brothers (not counting a lost short), a quartet of smart, musically-sophisticated siblings who honed their act on Broadway before transitioning to the big screen. More multifaceted than the Three Stooges, more trenchant than Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers’s brand of comedy is an elixir mixed from Groucho’s scheming con-artistry, Chico’s working-class hustle, Harpo’s silent lunacy, and Zeppo’s… well, when Zeppo disappeared after the first few films, nobody really noticed. In their early movies, the Marxes tended to structure their comedy routines around a central romantic plot — something like a young couple trying to make enough money to get married — and The Cocoanuts shows the strengths and weaknesses of that approach. When the brothers aren’t on screen, things drag. On the plus side, the Marxes’ peculiarities stand out more for being juxtaposed against “normal” characters; none of them has to play straight man. That doesn’t mean their humor isn’t grounded. Cocoanuts opens with a startlingly relatable satire about wage negotiation, then proceeds to make jokes at the expense of perennial whipping-state Florida. Its Sunshine State resort setting creates opportunities for great bits about real estate swindles and hotel room hijinks alongside more free-floating routines that the Marxes would hone over the ensuing decade of their peak popularity. – David
In another case of an image being more famous than the film it came from, even the uninitiated might at least have come into contact with the scene featuring an eyeball being sliced by a razor. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s Un chien andalou features several indelible cinematic images: a man looking bemused as ants crawl out of a hole in his hand; lovers dead and half-buried on the beach; the infamous eye slice. It is the grandfather of all dream-logic films. Have you ever found yourself paralyzed in bed, or stepped through the hallway door and found yourself on a beach? Have you run after or away from something only to suddenly feel like you were dragging a dead donkey? The first time I watched this film, I was worried about watching the lady’s eye get sliced. Now when I watch it, it’s the moment immediately preceding that that causes me to wince and turn away — the man tests his freshly-stropped blade on his own thumbnail. I can’t even re-read that sentence without cringing. But that’s the beauty of surrealism, and perhaps of cinema itself: what you get from it depends on what you bring to it. – Tom
Louise Brooks may be one of the quintessential icons of silent cinema, but ironically she had to leave Hollywood and go to Germany to fully cement her status. This film, along with Diary of a Lost Girl, discussed above, has become so closely associated with Brooks and her stardom that it’s sometimes said that director G.W. Pabst “discovered” her. This is blatantly untrue, as she had been a leading actress in the U.S. since 1926 and already had her distinctive and trend-setting bob haircut. Yet there is something special about Pandora’s Box, perhaps in the frankness with which it treats sex (it includes one of the first depictions of a lesbian onscreen). This is not a particularly original story; it starts with Lulu (Brooks) being snubbed by her older lover when he plans to marry someone else, then takes her on a tour through murder and gambling and prostitution and almost every other kind of social ill you can think of. This kind of “everything but the kitchen sink, and why not that as well?” storytelling seems overwhelming now, but was not particularly unusual back then. In addition to this and Diary of a Lost Girl I can name two or three other films from the same era that do substantially the same thing. Pandora’s Box does it with a kind of seriousness that continually threatens to become self-parody, and yet, thanks in large part to Brooks’ grounding presence, it somehow feels worth taking seriously. And thanks to strong composition and lighting, certain moments become at least fleetingly transcendent. – Jandy
From a modern perspective, 1929 seems too early to be pondering the role of movies in the fabric of our culture, and if you were an American you would probably be correct. But in film’s founding cultures, in Germany and France and especially Russia, the medium had already reached maturity, and it was clear to the intellectual classes that it was time to treat it not only as a new permanent player in the cultural landscape but as the subject (and object) of legitimate philosophical discourse. That’s how Man with the Movie Camera can come across to modern film-school audiences: as an art film that explores the relationship between the lens and the world; a snapshot of one era’s understanding of how technique renders meaning. The sophistication with which it hits these beats is indeed remarkable for any film at any time. Yet the film has a stickiness and accessibility beyond its genre because, simultaneously with being an art film, it also manages to faithfully and emotionally capture Soviet urban life at a crucial and complicated social time. It was a period of massive complexification of infrastructure, of political ideologies driving economic and industrial ideologies, and of cross-pollination with whatever those maniacs in the West were doing. The reason this film is so good and continues to be so highly ranked is because it is several films at once, finely orchestrated by an early master of the form. You can watch it through a number of different subjective lenses and still have a profound, timeless experience. – Doug van Hollen
Ranked 17075 times by 928 users
Wins 44% of its matchups
45 users have it in their Top 20; 4 at #1
Here are a couple of extra recommendations from further down the 1929 chart.
The Stephen King renaissance continues into 2019 with a new adaptation of his nihilistic classic, Pet Sematary. Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura (responsible for producing 2007‘s 1408), and based on a screen story by Matt Greenburg (who also wrote 1408), this new adaptation brings back to life one of King’s darkest novels. Focused on zombie pets and children, Pet Sematary is among King’s more fatalistic reflections on the nature of death, and it’s popular among fans for the depths trawls. The 80’s adaptation, while not a perfect film, is a cult classic and crafts an atmosphere of tension and dread that most decent horror films have. A 2019 version had the potential to go even darker and fully capture the tone of the book. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer fail to get as nihilistic as they ought, and the result is a mixed bag of a film.
This version does contain a few surprises. They change the script in the second half to keep the story fresh and entertaining. Unfortunately, the marketing spoils most of these changes, ruining any potential for surprise if you saw even one poster for the film. Even those who ardently avoid trailers for this very reason will likely have the changes spoiled for them. Moving the lead family’s daughter, Ellie, into a more central role in the story allows for a comparatively mature discussion about death, but predictability substantially lessens its impact.
Kölsch and Widmeyer do deserve credit for preserving the central theme of the novel and exploring it in some appropriately grim ways. Jeté Laurence‘s performance as Ellie Creed is pretty fantastic for a child actor, and the way the directors frame her in the second half produces some truly chilling scenes. The film doesn’t shy away from blunt material early in the book, and the film tackles the idea of death head on. The writing also manages to preserve King’s trademark wry humor in certain scenes. John Lithgow‘s casting as Jud Crandall is a brilliant move in that regard; he captures the aged, rural wisdom of Jud and matches the tone of the book with perfectly-delivered dialogue.
Jason Clarke, on the other hand, is a case of less fortunate casting. On paper Clarke makes sense for Louis Creed, a character written as an everyman and who honestly doesn’t have many defining traits. Clarke is enough of a blank slate that he fits King’s spare depiction of the character. Unfortunately, Clarke is a largely terrible actor and lacks the nuance to deliver some of the script’s most interesting lines. One notably terrible line reading occurs when he and Lithgow take the family’s cat Church (a Maine coon this time, matching the breed from the novel) to the pet cemetery. His delivery lacks any emotion and sounds horrendously flat for a professional actor.
The directing pair of Kölsch and Widmeyer is a smart choice for the film. Their debut into horror was 2014‘s Starry Eyes, a fantastic and grim deconstruction of a character. They are the reason Clarke’s descent in this film is even a little convincing. The directors have previously shown a capacity to capture the surreal, making Pet Sematary‘s relative lack of surreal sequences disappointing. Whether they were held back by the studio or otherwise, they fail to create any sense of creepiness throughout most of the film’s runtime.
There is a welcome reliance on practical effects for most of the gore in the film, with no CGI animals, and the final thirty minutes manage to dig into the novel’s dark abysses, resulting in a truly depressing final blow. Pet Sematary therefore has elements to admire, and the film fits in an Easter egg or two by referencing other King films and properties. But, as they say in the film, the ground is sour. Despite a whispering allure, Pet Sematary‘s revival is ultimately like the revived creatures from the story — something is just off.
The Anthony Mann-James Stewart cycle of westerns in the 1950s is second in renown only to the Ford-Wayne cycle of westerns, and truth be told, perhaps it should be first, as it gives us a series of complicated heroes in often murky situations, thematically pointing the way toward the coming revisionism of westerns in the 1960s and beyond. Usually Winchester ’73 is the first one people think of if they think of them at all, but I have a particularly high view of The Man From Laramie, which see Stewart coming into a town quietly trying to find out who’s been selling rifles to the Apache, and soon gets crossways of the town’s cattle baron and his troublesome son. What I like so much about it is how unwilling Stewart is to get involved (he’s not a white-hat-on-his-sleeve kind of moral hero), and his doggedness against the bad guys feels almost casual. I’m a fan of heroes who end up doing the right thing but aren’t super moralistic about it, and that’s what Stewart creates here.
When you think of Powell & Pressburger, you probably think of their Technicolor extravaganza The Red Shoes or their (also Technicolor) psychosexual drama Black Narcissus. Or maybe even their wartime romances. Most people don’t necessarily think of this storm-tossed B&W romance set on the Scottish Hebrides where headstrong Wendy Hiller is headed to meet the man she’s going to marry, a rich industrialist. Waylaid by a storm, she ends up on a nearby island with fellow traveler Roger Livesey. She knows where she’s going all right, and it isn’t with Roger Livesey. OR IS IT. Okay, she doesn’t know where she’s going, but you do. Despite that slight element of predictability, this is a charming and underseen gem of a film, showcasing Powell & Pressburger at their most intimate.
If the essence of noir is desperate men caught in an inescapable situation by cruel and unforgiving women, marked stylistically by defeatist voiceovers and high-contrast lighting, then Detour is perhaps the quintessential noir. A nearly no-budget film made on Poverty Row by Edgar G. Ulmer (a Weimar filmmaker who, like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, and others, escaped from Nazi Germany to make films in the US), Detour tells the story of a loser who never has — or never takes — a chance to improve his life, but ends up caught in the web of a truly nasty piece of femme fatale work. It’s presumably a coincidence that the actress’s last name is “Savage,” but in the deterministic world of noir, is it? Some argue that she isn’t really a femme fatale, as she doesn’t seduce him so much as simply trap him. Noir is not simply a matter of following a formula, but for the gritty, hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners kind, there are few that match Detour.
I feel relatively sure this was in the Top 1000 last time it showed up on TCM, because I remember feeling disappointed that I wouldn’t get to write about it. Well, it must have fallen on the global chart, and now I get to feature it in this post, but it should never have happened because the movie is great. Judy Garland’s triumphant return to the screen after four years recovering and doing concerts is simply tremendous, even though it depends on the twenty-year show business veteran playing the part of a newcomer. The “Born in a Trunk” number is almost autobiographical. The story isn’t new (in fact, you can watch the 1937 version of A Star is Born on April 27 at 11:30am, and I recommend you do), but it is somewhat timeless; after all, a very successful remake came just last year. I maintain that this 1954 one is the best version, thanks to show stopping numbers like “The Man Who Got Away,” which elevate the film far above the story of relationship between a wannabe and a has-been. Judy Garland had many ups and downs throughout her career, but this is definitely one of the ups.
This one always catches me when I’m putting these posts together. I’m pretty good at guessing which films will go in which section, based on global ranking and # of users, but I routinely guess that this fabulous precursor to Singin’ in the Rain is ranked higher than it is. The demographics of Flickchart users aren’t particularly kind to musicals. This is one of the first major studio musicals to be shot on location — the controlled environment of a soundstage was usually preferred, but New York City is such a crucial part of On the Town that it just had to be shot in the city. The story, which admittedly gets a little silly, follows three sailors on leave in NYC for one day. One of them (Frank Sinatra) wants to see all the sights, one (Jules Munshin) wants to get all the girls, and one (Gene Kelly) wants to find that special girl. It’s a lot to accomplish in one day, but determination and chutzpah are on their side. The movie is filled with ecstatic tap dancing, adorable meet-cutes, and irrepressible joy.
25 Years of TCM – April 29, 8:00pm
Throughout out the years, TCM has done many interviews with people from the classic film world. Some of them were filmed at TCM’s studios, others recorded live during the TCM Classic Film Festival. All evening and overnight on April 29, the channel is rerunning some of the best interviews they’ve done, including Liza Minnelli, Sophia Loren, Norman Lloyd, and a special tribute to Robert Osborne. If you love TCM (and come on, you’re reading this post), this is a great chance to catch up with some of their best original programming.
The Thin Man, the first in the long-running detective series, is playing on April 17, but this second in the series doesn’t really depend on having seen it, and it’s a damn good movie in its own right. Nick and Nora Charles return to her home, an upper-class milieu where Nick feels decidedly out of place, but lo and behold, there’s a mystery to be solved, and that’s definitely his place. Besides a good story, a crackling script, and the continually delightful characters of the Charleses, this one also gets a boost from a very young James Stewart in a supporting role.
This movie is not to be confused with Manhattan, the 1979 film written and directed by Woody Allen and also starring Allen and Keaton. Manhattan Murder Mystery is much more of a romp, more in line with the pre-Annie Hall “funny Woody” than the more earnest movies he made later, with married couple Allen and Keaton suspecting their new next-door neighbor has murdered his wife. It’s a Rear Window scenario, but really zany. This was the last film Allen and Keaton made together; in fact, Allen had written the part for his then-wife Mia Farrow, but by the time production started, they were embroiled in a nasty custody battle that you surely know about, and that would’ve made for an uncomfortable set. I fully understand having trouble watching Allen films these days, but if it doesn’t bother you, this is a pretty fun and inconsequential time.
Carl Theodor Dreyer didn’t ONLY make movies about religious folk, but between this and The Passion of Joan of Arc, it seems clear that it was a subject that interested him quite a bit and that he was very skilled at bringing to the screen. In this case, the main character Anne is married to a much older pastor, having married him after his intervention saved her mother, an accused witch, from the stake. The pastor has a son from a previous marriage who just happened to be of an age with Anne, and you can bet where that heads, but there’s also the pesky little thing where witchcraft was thought to be genetic, so let’s just say Anne has a few things in her life she should be worried about. The film is quite austere, but also perfectly constructed and filmed by Dreyer, with images that will stick in your head long after the film is over.
1939 is widely considered one of the if not THE finest year in all of cinema history, with a high number of masterpieces coming out that year. The one that won most of the awards was Gone with the Wind, but you also had contenders like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, and many more. Wuthering Heights, based on the windswept novel by Emily Bronte, had many Oscar nominations but only won B&W Cinematography. However, it received the top accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle; in urban legend, the New York critics couldn’t decide between Gone with the Wind and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so they chose Wuthering Heights. That may sound inauspicious for the film at hand, but it is a very classic and solid story, and it’s well-told here with a lot of atmosphere (thanks, Gregg Toland!) You could do worse choosing a best film from 1939.
Ready to dig a little deeper? This section is for you. None of these films have been ranked by more than 200 people on Flickchart, and this month we have a particular lot of them that haven’t even been ranked by 20 people! Obscurities indeed, but I can personally vouch for nearly all of them.
Greta Garbo is TCM’s Star of the Month in April, and they’re front-loading her films every primetime for the first several days in April. It’s a great time to binge-watch the work of this remarkable star whose iconic status arguably eclipses her films themselves. Her own innate qualities quite often transcend pedestrian projects, but they’re worth watching anyway for glimpses of that transcendence. Queen Christina is a great place to start. It’s based on the life of a 17th-century queen of Sweden, who became queen as a child and was expected to marry well to solidify her power and produce an heir. The Spanish envoy she falls in love with doesn’t quite fit the bill. This is the last of several films Garbo made with John Gilbert, and the only sound one; there’s a myth that Gilbert’s star declined in the sound era because he had a poor speaking voice, but you can see here, that is not really the case. The movie is solid, and has one of the greatest closing shots of all time, a close hold on Garbo’s inscrutable face that contains everything you need to understand her iconic status.
Just so you know what you’re getting into here, there’s a musical number in this movie where Debbie Reynolds plays a football. On the scale of MGM musicals, this one is decidedly on the silly/slight side, but maybe because it’s so unabashedly silly/slight, it’s pretty undeniably delightful. Reynolds is an aspiring actress from a solid middle-class family, and Donald O’Connor is a photographer’s assistant from a fashion magazine who might promise her a LITTLE more than he can guarantee in terms of coverage in the magazine. It’s all very cute. Debbie Reynolds movies are playing most of the day, so if you need even more adorableness in your day, you’re all set.
There’s actually a new Nancy Drew movie coming out very soon, though it hasn’t been getting a lot of press. If you grew up with these books like I did, it’s kind of surprising in a way that the character has never been mined to any great degree in other mediums. There is, however, an almost completely forgotten trilogy of Nancy Drew movies from the 1930s, very close to when the books were originally written. They’re all good, very family-friendly fun. They’re pretty even in terms of quality and don’t depend on each other at all, so this is as good a place to start with them as any.
There are many great and quintessential Pre-Codes, but this one has a special place in my heart, and I do think it’s an excellent example of the Pre-Code sensibility: sensual, sweaty, and languorous due to its setting on a rubber..
Even at the age of 90, it seemed that Agnès Varda could go on making movies forever, constantly reinventing herself and experimenting with radical new forms. One of her last films was the documentary Faces Places in which she worked with the young visual artist JR to revisit aspects of her own her work; to borrow and paraphrase a line about the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, Varda was losing her sight but not her vision. While fully immersed in the politics of both her native France and the United States (see her documentary on the Black Panthers for one interesting example), Varda had a specific interest in the role of independent women, as evidenced in such features as Cleo from 5 to 7, Documenteur, Vagabond, and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, which span a range of periods and and locations. That combination of the personal and the political finally allowed Varda herself to take center stage as a larger than life personality in the documentary The Gleaners and I (2001), a movie about outsiders, and in the autobiographical documentary Beaches of Agnes (2008).
Here are her Top 10 films, according to Flickchart users:
1. Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)
2. Le bonheur (1965)
3. Vagabond (1985)
4. The Gleaners and I (2000)
5. La Pointe Courte (1955)
6. The Beaches of Agnes (2008)
7. Faces Places (2017)
8. Oncle Yanco (1967)
9. Black Panther (1968)
10. Diary of a Pregnant Woman (1958)
See Flickchart stats for all Agnès Varda films here.
Academy Award winner Jordan Peel has done it again. After writing and directing Get Out in 2017 and helping produce BlackKklansman in 2018, Peele has more than proven that he is here to stay.
Now before we dive into Us, lets break down Jordan Peele and what he is doing to the horror genre.
Arguably, mainstream horror has been in a bit of a slump in recent years, drowning in sequels, halfhearted remakes or reboots, and recycled material. Jordan Peele digs deeper to give us horror that is not only scary, but also thought-provoking. It’s that latter impulse that makes his involvement in new Twilight Zone reboot feel less like a reboot.
Us and Get Out aren’t the only horrors to enjoy major critical and commercial success recently, but they are among the best and most meaningful, and the sense that Peele is capable of revolutionizing the genre by exploring new dimensions makes him something like a 21st-century George A. Romero or John Carpenter.
Horror has its slashers, paranormal thrillers, psychological studies, apocalyptic stories, zombie tales, urban legends, alien plots, etc, but Us and Get Out blends so many of the tropes of these subgenres — and add just the right amount of comedy, too — that they feel like they point toward something brand new.
Now lets talk about Us.
Us uses many different tropes and many different emotions. It is constantly throwing you off and making you question what is actually happening and whether it is real or supernatural, or just straight-up fake.
Us is about a family who takes a vacation to Santa Cruz, California. While trying to have a good time, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) begins to feel overly stressed and paranoid due to some childhood trauma which happened at the same place. During their time at the beach, their son Jason (Evan Alex) wanders off, but is found right away. This only elevates Adelaide’s paranoia. Later that night, a new family waits outside their house. Confused and concerned, the original family panics, but are quickly overrun by the new arrivals. The new family are doppelgangers who resembles the original family except for a few deformities. A night of chaos, confusion, and bloodshed ensues. The biggest questions are: Where did they come from? And are they real?
This is where Us begins to bend the rules of horror. It breaks off into many different tangents while the family members face off with each other. We get tension, we get slasher aspects, there is a game of cat and mouse and a battle of wits. The movie elegantly blends things together to maintain a quick pace with lots of scares that will either have you looking away or laughing because you will not know how to react.
When having a film this chaotic, you’ll need incredible and convincing performances. Jordan Peele hit that nail on the head by casting fellow Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o. She plays two different characters in this film, and even though we are still in the beginning of 2019, the Academy should be paying attention to her again. She plays a mother deprived of a childhood, caught in a horrifying situation, and yet willing to bash skulls in for her family. She is also able to play an incredibly unsettling doppelganger who speaks in a menacing tone that croaks up and down and has the edge of a merciless killer. It’s pretty incredible.
Her character Adelaide should become one of the great horror heroine staples. She reminds us of a Laurie Strode or an Ellen Ripley. She is strong, fluid, and easy to connect with her. She is believable and has more tenacity to fight to the bitter end than most horror heroes.
Winston Duke plays her husband and is also great and extremely funny. Also the kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, are very talented and will have a great future.
Besides its deranged story and compelling characters, lets talk about some of the other aspects of the film that make it such a delight.
Jordan Peele’s directing has style. There are messages hidden within, and Easter eggs and secrets spread through out. A second viewing will reveal much. There is a “cold open” in which we get vague exposition about the film, and rather than overexplaining the unexplainable it gets us ready to think “What?” and “Huh?”
The opening credits, which come next, feel more like an overture. Us has an incredible score which sometimes feels almost too ridiculous, then turns actually bone-chilling. The music continues throughout the film and is so compelling that it’s almost a character in itself, like the scores of Halloween and Jaws. It too should receive recognition at the next Oscars.
The cinematography and editing are also very impressive. Each shot feels correct, personal, and purposeful. The film has a very good look to it, and certain colors pop, especially red.
It is quite difficult to pinpoint the last horror film that had this much to recommend it, besides Peele’s own Get Out.
There is so much more to unfold and discuss, but its almost impossible to do so without spoiling this film. It is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen and with a crowd. It has been a long time since I have been to a theater with a full crowd that was able to get quiet at the right moments.
People know who Jordan Peele is now, and they know he is going to deliver.
In Part 1 of our SXSW coverage, Love, Death & Robots emerged as our early favorite. It held the top spot in Part 2 while the teen comedy Booksmart vaulted to the runner-up position. Our third and final piece of South by Southwest 2019 coverage reviews the closing-night film Pet Sematary as well as the Grand Jury Prize-winning Alice, but climbing the chart won’t be easy.
Read on, then log in and make your own list at Flickchart.com. Every time you rank a flick it helps move it up or down the global chart. Every ranking matters, especially for festival favorites that haven’t yet found a wide audience. And the more movies you rank, the more weight your opinion carries.
Aurora is a supremely confident, artful melodrama about immigration and responsibility. Shot in Finland during deep golden sunrises and against cold light-blue skies, it follows a young Iranian widower named Darian (Amir Escandari) whose search for permanent European residency for himself and his young daughter leads him to Finnish party girl named Aurora (Mimosa Williamo). There is chemistry between them despite the uncharitable assumptions she first makes about the foreigner, but her alcohol problem and aversion to commitment means she is not marrying material, even for a desperate visa-seeker. In orbit around the central pair are comical supporting players including Aurora’s best friend with whom she plans to move to Norway, unsuitable potential partners for Darian, and some Fins who resent new arrivals to the country. The outcome may feel predictable, but getting there is no less engrossing for it. The mood of Aurora gains much from a rich and diverse soundtrack, which like the dialogue shifts effortlessly between multiple languages to tell a locally-rooted story with global significance. This is writer/director Miia Tervo’s first dramatic feature, but she harnesses all the facets of the medium for a triumph of emotional and conscientious filmmaking.
Tone-Deaf is a moderately gory home-invader slasher film whose jump scares work because of their distressing imagery as much as their timing, but its overriding purpose is to have fun. The title can be read as a satire of the recent sensory-deprivation trend in horror, as seen in the likes of Hush and A Quiet Place and Birdbox; Tone-Deaf’s protagonist (Amanda Crew), a young woman from the city, is an amateur pianist who doesn’t know that she’s terrible at piano. This fact isn’t exactly related to her odds of survival; it’s just a funny character beat that tweaks a current genre fad. Olive rents a house upstate from an aging widower named Harvey, played by a demented and quietly intense Robert Patrick, who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to explain to the audience why he intends to kill her. Unfortunately for him, his attempts keep going awry, leading to a lot of deaths but not the death he wants. Meanwhile, actor Ray Wise pops up for more talking-to-the-camera monologues whose uplighting and low angles recall his creepy/humorous work for David Lynch in Twin Peaks. The movie rides that Lynchian line between fear and comedy while scoring points against bitter baby boomers, commune-dwelling hippies, bad boyfriends, and anyone else in need of a good hatchet job. Yes, “hatchet job” is a pun, and if you liked it — if you enjoy cringing and chuckling at the same time — Tone-Deaf just might be a flick for you!
Saint Frances details the quarterlife crisis of Bridget, a rigorously unattached 34-year-old. That she refuses to acknowledge her circumstances as a crisis, and that those circumstances are of her own choosing, do not make it any easier on her. While her sister and peers settle into lives of happy domesticity and profitable careers, Bridget remains in a long post-adolescence, avoiding long-term relationships, working a babysitting gig, even dressing like a college student. Kelly O’Sullivan, who wrote and stars in Saint Frances, thoroughly conveys that Bridget is an “unimpressive person,” as the character herself admits. By setting her against a more emotionally-mature semi-boyfriend and an apparently radically-successful couple who hires her to watch their sassy daughter Frances, O’Sullivan runs the risk of making Bridget too difficult for even the audience to connect with; she is pitiable, but not quite sympathetic. Yet the movie’s theme of connection — with lovers and enemies and family and most crucially with oneself — culminates in a satisfying and tearjerking final third. Saint Frances won this year’s Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice Award.
Alice gets to the point early, then makes that point repeatedly and bluntly for the rest of its runtime. It is a simple, familiar point about society’s unfair double-standards towards prostitutes and their clients. The kind of prostitution involved, a very exclusive Parisian escort service, gives the film some of the flavor of the 1967 classic Belle de jour, but Alice‘s messaging is much showier. The film is well-acted, from the expressively doe-eyed Emelie Piponnier’s titular role to Martin Swabey’s two-faced performance as her husband and Chloé Boreham’s nuanced portrayal of an experienced young escort. It is well-shot, too, with gauzy white interiors and hazy exteriors along the Seine that feel both pleasant and sad. Yet the narrative is thin, the pacing and shot/reverse-shot patterns are uninspired and tedious, and a late attempt to ramp up the emotional stakes hinges on implausible decisions and unearned expressions of feeling. Alice won South by Southwest’s Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Features in a result that feels eerily similar to the Academy’s recent decision to award its top prize to Green Book.
The phrase “Pet Sematary,” with its conjuring of dead cats and dogs and its cutesy misspelling, neatly encapsulates childhood innocence lost too soon. Yet the book and movies of that name aim for something more visceral than precious, attempting to tell frightening tales about departed family members who come back from the other side, but changed. After several attempts, the story has never attained anything more enduring than camp value and ironic quotability. The 1989 original, whose most memorable moments involved classic TV comedy actor Fred Gwynne, is emblematic of the goofiness of most Stephen King adaptations. This 2019 remake settles for an even more fleeting goofiness, a goofiness without aspirations to catchy one-liners or crowd-pleasing hooks. A new classic TV comedy actor, John Lithgow, assumes the Fred Gwynne role with a diminished sense of authenticity, and though he is likable he fails to sell the character’s arbitrary decisions to warn against, then advocate, then once more warn against the horror in his neighbors’ backyard. Unblushingly corny lightning flashes as Lithgow’s old-timer leads out-of-towner Louis (Jason Clarke) into the archetypical Indian burial ground, a trope used here with neither wink nor gravity, and one marvels at co-director Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s lack of tonal awareness. Leaning heavily on lazy horror logic of the “Why would you go into that dark room?” variety, the directors and screenwriter Jeff Buhler are content with banal tropes where they might easily have pursued something fresher, like dark comedy. There are latent laughs in the observations that Louis bought hallowed ground without a clue where his property lines were and without noticing that long-haul trucks screamed past just yards from his new front door, but you’ll have to smuggle your own sense of humor into the theater; this movie has none. It has none of the pathos or fear suggested by King’s neat title, either, with bland characterizations and tame undead that differ from the original’s only in trivial ways. Oh well, there’s always next remake.
Pet Sematary loses to Them That Follow
1. Love, Death & Robots
4. The Highwaymen
6. Little Monsters
7. Saint Frances
8. The Art of Self-Defense
9. The Beach Bum
12. Frances Ferguson
13. One Man Dies a Million Times
14. Them That Follow
15. Pet Sematary
Thank you for following our SXSW 2019 rankings! Most of these movies can be searched and ranked now at Flickchart.com.
Wow, this month really got away from me, y’all. This may be a week or two late, but TCM still has a plethora of riches in the second half of March, so it’s still worth it to point out some notable programming. After a bonanza of Top 1000 films in February for 31 Days of Oscar, this month is quite a bit heavier on lesser-known films, so you’ll notice the Top 1000 is sparser than usual. I expect things to balance back out next month, but who can say not to some TCM obscurities? Not I!
Thanks to this film and 1961’s The Innocents, Martin Stephens will pretty much always have a reputation as a creepy-ass horror movie kid. That film is far more refined and literary than this one, but Village of the Damned is quite effective as B-movie horror. After an odd incident involving lost time, several women in the same village find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and their progeny have eerily similar features and an uncanny ability to communicate with each other non-verbally. The inimitable George Sanders is on hand to figure out what’s going on, and stop it. It’s schlocky at times, but that’s part of the fun of these kinds of films, and one look at these kids’ eyes will have you looking askance at your own tow-headed children.
A sort of combination western and war film, Fort Apache centers on a cavalry unit stationed in the west, not long after the Civil War. Henry Fonda comes in from the east as the new commander, determined to apply his modern understanding of discipline and military technique to the Indian territories. John Wayne is the subordinate officer who has years of experience working with the Native Americans, and this sets up a conflict as Wayne knows Fonda’s approaches are doomed. It’s a neat trick that the film makes you dislike Fonda’s character fairly quickly for his hard edges and inflexibility, and yet when those very same qualities set him up for failure in the climactic battle, you sympathize with him. Ford knows a little bit about leadership, and following the way good and misguided leaders are handled throughout his Cavalry trilogy (this film plus She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande) is great.
Today, the Bechdel Test is a common shorthand method to track the portrayal of women in films. A movie passes the test if it has two named women characters who talk to each other about something other than man. The gimmick of The Women is that no men appear on screen at all — but the tagline is “It’s all about men!”, so it’s a bit of a gimme-gotcha when it comes to the Bechdel Test. I think it does pass, just barely, but the film certainly makes no bones about being about a bunch of women who cattily compete over men, often the same men. The main story follows Norma Shearer’s Mary, whose husband Stephen leaves her for Joan Crawford’s Crystal, a gold-digging perfume salesgirl, but the real delight is the fantastically witty dialogue and interactions among all the supporting characters. These include Rosalind Russell, who proves her comedy chops for the first time, but also Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland, and even famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Though the film seems by and large to treat love and marriage as a farce, it’s actually fairly broadly representative of different viewpoints on marriage, and I find the whole thing not only hilarious but also refreshing and heartwarming.
A newer film by TCM’s usual standards, but one that very much deserves to be here. A refugee woman takes a place helping to cook and keep house for a pair of deeply religious women in Denmark. After years, she requests that they let her cook them a feast, and in comes a deluge of exotic ingredients (many of them live animals) that the women don’t have any framework for dealing with. There’s a whole lot to unpack in this movie, especially from a Christian perspective. Both the austere simplicity of the sisters’ lives and the extravagant feasting of Babette’s are time-honored modes passed down through centuries of different Christian traditions, and seeing them clash like this is really powerful and enlightening. Even without coming to the film with a Christian background, the juxtaposition of two ways of life that are so different and yet seeing that the characters leading them have such mutual respect for each other makes for great, quiet cinema.
It is a CRIME that there are only 23 users who have ranked this film, an outright crime. Westerns are a staple of classic Hollywood, and they could often be formulaic and predictable. This one has many of the elements you expect from a classic era Western — Indian attacks, dangerous river crossings and cliff traversals — but it has one important and compelling difference: almost every major character is a woman. They’re all on their way west to marry men who are already working in California, and while they start with an escort of men, by the end it’s basically just the women and one dude dealing with all the trials and dangers of a wagon train. It’s a fairly unique perspective on the genre, and a very welcome one. If you’re a fan of westerns and haven’t seen this one yet, sit your butt down and do it. This is not to be missed.
Treasures from the Disney Vault – Mar 25, 8pm
I always like to highlight TCM’s regular Treasures from the Disney Vault programming, which takes place every other month or so. They devote the whole evening to vintage Disney films (mostly live-action or more obscure), TV specials, and cartoon shorts. This month they’re focusing on animal pictures, so we get adventure films like Charlie the Lonesome Cougar and Benji the Hunted along with True Life documentaries on The African Lion and more, plus there will be short films focused on animals scattered throughout in between the features. TCM’s programming is always thoughtful and cohesive, but this night in particular is a great example of programming you can just park in front of and enjoy all evening… with the kids!
This film is in my own personal Top Twenty, so you know I’m coming at this with a lot of personal passion. For a film starring both Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers it still feels like it flies a bit under the radar for me, though I see it does pass my threshold for “hidden gems” on these posts, just barely. Kate is an aspiring stage actress who moves into a boarding house for aspiring (and working, but jobs are hard to come by) actresses, among whom Ginger is a only the most prominent of a who’s who of 1930s character actresses (along with youngsters like Lucille Ball and Ann Miller). Most of the movie is blazingly-written interactions among all these girls, with some of the wittiest dialogue you’ll find in any movie. There is a throughline plot that gets surprisingly dark, which is what elevates from the film from just a fun time to something more substantial.
Widely considered to be among the greatest film adaptations of Dickens’ work, David Lean’s version of Great Expectations is steeped in atmosphere, a perfect fit for the story of young Pip’s encounters with the eccentric and almost gothic Miss Havisham. If one Lean isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck: stay put after this one for Brief Encounter, Doctor Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, a nice contrast between Lean’s intimate and epic modes.
Taking advantage of the relaxed mores of the late 1960s, many New Hollywood films focused on sex in a far more frank way than films had been able to do under the Production Code. This one looks at a pair of married couples and friends who get into a swinging subculture and decide to swap partners to liven up their relationships. Interestingly, though the standards of propriety regarding stories and content that could be shown on screen had changed, a lot of the underlying morality had not yet, and this ends up being surprisingly conservative for the story its telling. It marks a quite fascinating middle ground in New Hollywood cinema, and portrays a very specific moment in time very clearly.
You can pretty much trace the beginning of English global domination to 1588 when Elizabeth I’s royal navy defeated the Spanish Armada. At that moment, a tiny island nation overcame one of Europe’s dominant powers, and the British Navy was a force to be reckoned after that. The Sea Hawk is basically about that transition, with a healthy dose of swashbuckling adventuring added in. Flynn is a captain of a sort of paramilitary fleet (uh, they’re kind of like pirates) who are loyal to England but aren’t GREAT at following the orders of the Crown (Elizabeth is the imperious Flora Robson). Turns out there’s a mole in the palace, so there are advantages to Flynn’s point of view. The film is grounded in historical and political intrigue but still maintains its sense of adventure, making it a must-see for anyone who is interested in this historical moment, but also fun for anyone who just likes to buckle some swashes.
We hear a lot these days about the paucity of women directors, and it’s true we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way, and it’s important to recognize the pioneers who were working in an even more male-dominated industry than we have today. Case in point: in 1930s Hollywood, there was one woman director. One. She was Dorothy Arzner, she made a bunch of excellent films within the studio system, and she did it by herself. And she also did it her way. Christopher Strong has a very androgynous feel to it, unusual for a time of glamour girls and hypermasculinity (obviously Marlene Dietrich is in this space, too, let’s not overlook that), with an early role for Katharine Hepburn as an aviatrix.
Moves to See Before You Die
All of these films are in the Flickchart global Top 1000, making them films you simply must see before you die.
In Part 1 of our SXSW Film coverage, the Netflix anthology series Love, Death & Robots took an early lead followed closely by the New Zealand eco-feminist anthology Vai. There are no anthologies in Part 2, so let’s see how these discrete movies fare using Flickchart-style ranking, one matchup at a time.
Jesse Eisenberg‘s most familiar on-screen persona, a nerdy and emotionally-stunted man in search of the secret to unlocking the mysteries of human behavior, is open to allegations of mining conditions like Asperger’s for their comedic potential. The Art of Self-Defense can respond to that criticism by pointing out that its whole world operates by Jesse Eisenberg rules. Everyone in the film is like him, monotone and earnest and often befuddled, even the ones who’ve succeeded in learning to game life’s system and now use that knowledge to manipulate others. The premise — a lonely 35-year old gets mugged and then takes up karate at a dojo full of similar misfits — is the basis of an increasingly tense and graphic plot that satirizes alpha-male and martial arts culture with a sense of humor that is always dark, sometimes surprising, and frequently laugh-out-loud. The quirkiness of the characters is one-note, but creative dialogue and strong casting make it fun to root for and against them nonetheless, often at the same time.
The tale of Bonnie and Clyde is so shrouded in quaint romance and nostalgia, and the shadow cast by the anti-establishment 1967 film version is so long, that it’s easy to forget the gritty historical facts of the couple’s murderous crime spree. Texas film director John Lee Hancock spent 15 years bringing his version of the story — which focuses on the lawmen who tracked and killed the young outlaws — to life, and it finally comes to us courtesy of Netflix. The Highwaymen looks and feels like a throwback to the prestige dramas of the 1990s, partly because its stars include Kevin Costner and Kathy Bates who both tallied major awards and nominations during that decade. They’ve both worked consistently since then, but Hancock gives them roles worthy of their stature in Frank Hamer (“the most famous Texas Ranger in history,” says Hancock) and Texas governor Ma Ferguson (famous for being the first female governor in the South and for corruption). Texas-born Woody Harrelson brings his demon-haunted, hangdog persona to the character of Maney Gault, Hamer’s partner in crime, for these lawmen are criminals in their own way; they exceed their jurisdiction by crossing state lines to pursue Bonnie and Clyde, and they exhibit a take-no-prisoners mentality that Hancock interrogates even as he argues that they did what needed to be done. Bonnie and Clyde themselves are seldom seen except from a distance, always one step ahead of their fate until their multi-state network of abettors finally weakens and falls apart. The Highwaymen is an entertaining, thought-provoking, old-school crime procedural and road movie with precisely-timed character beats and a fresh angle on a well-known yet little-understood Texas story.
Just outside the city of St. Petersburg, Russia (formerly Leningrad), there is a seed bank that collects specimens of the world’s edible plants. The scientists there preserve not just seeds, but also whole plants ready to eat. When it started in 1926 the goal was to preserve our crops’ genetic strains in the event of a widespread ecosystem collapse. That collapse, some say, is currently ongoing, underscoring the seed bank’s importance. But the institute almost failed in the early 1940s when Nazi troops surrounded Leningrad and the city’s people began to starve to death. The scientists in charge of protecting the institute chose starvation, condemning in some cases themselves as well as their families and fellow citizens, in order to preserve the collection. The reason I’m providing this historical background is that One Man Dies a Million Times doesn’t spell it out clearly enough, despite several explanatory title cards. It would have been better to show instead of tell, to dramatize the experience of the Leningrad scientists rather than confining their experiences to narration drawn from their diaries and letters. This movie attempts to make the history feel more immediate by imagining a similar circumstance occurring in the near future among modern residents of the institute, but its aloof aesthetic and an absence of specific characterizations does no justice to the production’s on-location access or the many tragedies of nearly 80 years ago. The film’s primary achievement is to raise awareness, but it will struggle to connect with anyone not already in the know, and even with viewers who are.
One Man Dies a Million Times beats Them That Follow
One Man Dies a Million Times loses to The Beach Bum
1. Love, Death & Robots
2. The Highwaymen
4. Little Monsters
5. The Art of Self-Defense
6. The Beach Bum
7. One Man Dies a Million Times
8. Them That Follow
Booksmart is about two well-read high school seniors who lack social intelligence, but the movie is the opposite of tone-deaf. It’s wokeness about 2019’s mores and attitudes is thorough and nuanced, while its sense of humor and self-deprecating impulses keep it from feeling pandering or woker-than-thou. Its up-to-the-minute references (“Persist,” Cardi B) and commentary on current culture-war hotspots (all-gender school bathrooms) ensure that it will soon show its age, but its wisdom about the coming-of-age process in modern America will make it a touchstone among sharp-witted, post-millennial teen dramedies like Mean Girls, Easy A, and Eighth Grade. Stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are enormously charismatic as a couple of ostensibly-uncharismatic curve-wreckers who are shocked to discover, on the eve of graduation, that their party-animal classmates all got into the same tier of top universities that they did. Not to be outdone in the social-smarts category, the two besties embark on an epic last-minute quest to find the coolest unsupervised house party in town and squeeze as much unwholesome fun as they can into their last night as high-schoolers. All of the graduates in the movie are unrealistically attractive, articulate, and likable, but that’s linked to the film’s point: the two protagonists must recognize that the kids they always looked down on are each the stars of their own stories, living their own best lives, and each have their own unique wisdom to impart. Debut director Olivia Wilde‘s handling of this message is consistently funny, never preachy, and challenges the booksmart among us to raise our game when it comes to open-mindedness.
Booksmart beats Them That Follow
Booksmart beats One Man Dies a Million Times
Booksmart beats The Beach Bum
Booksmart beats The Art of Self-Defense
Booksmart beats Little Monsters
Booksmart beats Vai
Booksmart beats The Highwaymen
Booksmart loses toLove, Death & Robots
1. Love, Death & Robots
3. The Highwaymen
5. Little Monsters
6. The Art of Self-Defense
7. The Beach Bum
8. One Man Dies a Million Times
9. Them That Follow
Audaciously, this story of a young female substitute teacher who goes to jail for an affair with a male high school student has Nick Offerman narrate that, for the teacher, it was “all in all a good year.” Undoubtedly this observational comedy would have a harder time eliciting sympathy for its title character (played by a charmingly deadpan Kaley Wheless) if the genders were reversed. But that’s a problem for the audience to wrestle with. On its own merits, the movie mostly succeeds in painting a picture of the woman through Offerman’s wry narration and well-chosen vignettes that illustrate her relationships with the people in her life — mostly family members, inmates, and therapists. The picture is a familiar one, as far as it goes, reflecting small-town discontent and the slow incrementality of personal growth. The script also touches on larger questions many of us have had about cases like Frances’s but may not have articulated. Yet director Bob Byington and screenwriter Scott King’s handling of the story and character do not feel complete. There must be more to Frances’ personality than boredom and loneliness, but those are the only facets they treat in detail, and they dare not stray from the narrow path that keeps the movie from drifting into uncomfortable and truly challenging territory.
Frances Ferguson beats Them That Follow
Frances Ferguson beats One Man Dies a Million Times
Frances Ferguson loses to The Beach Bum
1. Love, Death & Robots
3. The Highwaymen
5. Little Monsters
6. The Art of Self-Defense
7. The Beach Bum
8. Frances Ferguson
9. One Man Dies a Million Times
10. Them That Follow
Check back soon for more rankings from SXSW Film 2019!