Sunday, 29 March 2015

Mr. Turner



Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to see Mr. Turner on the big screen. Even on a little screen, the cinematography was gorgeous, which isn’t surprising, given the subject matter.

I had predicted that Mr. Turner would be yet another four-star film from 2014. This was based on the fact that it was made by my favourite British director (Mike Leigh), concerned my favourite British painter and had received rave reviews from my favourite critics. I am indeed giving Mr. Turner four stars, though not without qualifications. But because the film wasn’t released in Winnipeg until late February, I will count it as a 2015 film. Expect to see it on my top ten list. 

It turns out Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner was a tortured genius (not uncommon for geniuses), especially after his father died (they were very close and lived together for decades). Mr. Turner shows us only the last 25 years of Turner’s life and moves through those years in a way that isn’t always easy to follow. We see that Turner has had children but doesn’t want to have anything to do with them, or with their mother. We see other examples of Turner’s bad behaviour toward women, especially his housekeeper, and sometimes toward men. But we also see how tenderly he treats a widow who becomes his lover for the last years of his life. And we see the almost effortless way he produces his brilliant and innovative paintings while being treated scornfully by some of his contemporaries. Mr. Turner can be a difficult film to watch. Since it’s also a very long slow-moving film, it’s no surprise that Mr. Turner lasted only two weeks in Winnipeg (while I was in Europe) and has generally not been popular among filmgoers.

I also found some parts of Mr. Turner less than compelling, but much of the time I was utterly captivated by the magic of Leigh’s filmmaking genius. Leigh takes us to southern England in the first half of the 19th century and gives us a wonderful feel for the world Turner inhabited and painted. Especially striking to me was getting to see the depiction of the actual scenes Turner painted. Then there’s the stellar performance by Timothy Spall as Turner, the marvellous cinematography and the appropriate score. All in all, as a masterpiece worthy of the artist whose life it depicts, Mr. Turner deserves no less than ****. My mug is up (but be warned that many people will find this film tedious). 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Appendix to Top 100 Post-1980 Films





And finally, here is a list of 22 critically-acclaimed post-1980 (in fact, these are all post-1987) films that are among my Top 100 favourite films, but are not found in the previous two lists. They are presented in the order in which they appear on my favourites list.

1. Run Lola Run (1999), Tom Tykwer

2. Good Will Hunting (1997), Gus van Sant

3. As it is in Heaven (2004), Kay Pollack

4. Field of Dreams (1989), Phil Alden Robinson

5. Bulworth (1998), Warren Beatty

6. Pleasantville (1998), Gary Ross

7. Calvary (2014), John Michael McDonagh

8. Crash (2004), Paul Haggis

9. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Michael Moore

10. Bowling for Columbine (2002), Michael Moore

11. Braveheart (1995), Mel Gibson

12. Jesus of Montreal (1989), Denys Arcand

13. Waking Life (2002), Richard Linklater

14. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), Philip Kaufman

15. Hamlet (1996), Kenneth Branagh

16. The Quiet American (2002), Phillip Noyce

17. The Edukators (2004), Hans Weingartner

18. Minority Report (2002), Steven Spielberg

19. And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007), Anand Tucker

20. Chocolat (2000), Lasse Halstrom

21. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Joel Coen

22. Silent Light (2007), Carlos Reygadas

Observation:

Ten (almost half) of the above films were made in the first five years of this century. Looking through my favourites list, I discovered that 35 (almost 30%) of my favourite 120 films were made between 1998 and 2004, making that seven-year-span my favourite period in the history of cinema. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that over 50 of my favourite 120 films were made prior to 1980 (it means that half of my 120 favourite films made since 1980, a span of 35 years, were made during that seven-year-period). Since I’m referring to a subjective list, it could conceivably have as much to do with my headspace during that time (98-04) as with the quality of the filmmaking. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Vic's 'Objective' Top 100 Post-1980 Films





Due to popular demand, I offer my first attempt at a list of my ‘objective’ top 100 films made after 1980. I chose this year rather than 1990 because there’s a cleaner break (in my opinion) between the films made before and after 1980 than there is at 1990. Since my notes on objective top films are back in Winnipeg, this list may change in a couple of weeks.

The first eighteen films on this list are taken from my All-Time Top 100 list (except for the late addition of number 13). The last 82 films on my list are in chronological order (for now at least), because of the time required to place the films in some kind of order.

In my next post, I will add an appendix to this list, with 22 post-1980 films that are on my list of 100 favourite films, and are critically-acclaimed, but were not good enough for the list below.

1. Schindler’s List (1993), Steven Spielberg

2. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott

3. The Lord of the Rings (complete extended version) (2003), Peter Jackson 

4. Wings of Desire (1987), Wim Wenders

5. Three Colors: Red (1994), Krzysztof Kieslowski

6. The Tree of Life (2011), Terrence Malick

7. Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin Tarantino

8. Fanny and Alexander (1982), Ingmar Bergman

9. The Lives of Others (2006), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

10. Short Cuts (1993), Robert Altman

11. Brazil (1985), Terry Gilliam

12. Turtles Can Fly (2004), Bahman Ghobadi

13. The Great Beauty (2013), Paolo Sorrentino (should have been in my Top 100 list)

14. Secrets & Lies (1996), Mike Leigh

15. Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset/ Before Midnight (1995-2013), Richard Linklater

16. Gandhi (1982), Richard Attenborough

17. A Separation (2011), Asghar Farhadi

18. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Steven Spielberg

From 1981:

Das Boot, Wolfgang Petersen

From 1982:

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Steven Spielberg

Missing, Costa-Gavras

Tootsie, Sidney Pollack

The Verdict, Sidney Lumet

From 1983:

Under Fire, Roger Spottiswoode

From 1984:

Amadeus, Milos Forman

The Killing Fields, Roland Joffe

Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone

This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner

From 1985:

The Official Story, Luis Puenzo

Witness, Peter Weir

From 1986:

Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen

Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring, Claude Berri

From 1987:

Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel

From 1988:

Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahata

Mississippi Burning, Alan Parker

A Short Film About Killing, Krzysztof Kieslowski

From 1989:

Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen

From 1990:

Dances With Wolves (extended version), Kevin Costner

From 1991:

Beauty and the Beast, Kirk Wise

Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme

From 1992: 

Howard’s End, James Ivory

From 1993:

The Fugitive, Andrew Davis

From 1994:

Quiz Show, Robert Redford

The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Derebont

From 1995:

Dead Man Walking, Tim Robbins

Toy Story, John Lasseter

From 1997:

L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson

The Sweet Hereafter, Atom Egoyan

From 1998: 

Happiness, Todd Solondz

The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick

The Truman Show, Peter Weir

From 1999:

American Beauty, Sam Mendes

Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Matrix, The Wachowskis

The Straight Story, David Lynch

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh

Yi Yi, Edward Yang

From 2000:

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, Zacharias Kunuk

From 2001:

Gosford Park, Robert Altman

From 2002:

Hero, Yimou Zhang

The Son, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Spirited Away, Hiyao Miyazaki

From 2003:

Mystic River, Clint Eastwood

From 2004:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry

Shake Hands With the Devil, Peter Raymont

Sideways, Alexander Payne

From 2005:

The Constant Gardener, Fernando Meirelles

Hidden, Michael Haneke

L’enfant, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Sin City, Robert Rodriguez

From 2006:

The Departed, Martin Scorsese

Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood

Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro

The Queen, Stephen Frears

From 2007:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Christian Mungiu

The Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin

No Country for Old Men, Joel &Ethan Coen

Once, John Carney

There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson

From 2008:

Persepolis, Vincent Paronnaud

Revanche, Goetz Spielmann

Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman

From 2009: 

Last Train Home, Lixin Fan

From 2010:

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy

The Illusionist (animated), Sylvain Chomet

Inside Job, Charles Ferguson

The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper

Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik

From 2011:

Of Gods and Men, Xavier Beauvois

From 2012:

The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh

Holy Motors, Leos Carax

From 2013:

All is Lost, J.C. Chandor

Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron

Her, Spike Jonze

Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley

From 2014:

Birdman, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu 

Boyhood, Richard Linklater

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson

Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski

Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev


Observations:
  1. In my previous list, I did not include any documentaries or animated films. There have been so many good documentaries and animated films in the last 25 years that I had to include them in this list (indeed, there are ten animated films and six documentaries in this list).
  2. 56 of the films on this list are from the last 16 years, while only 44 are from the previous 18 years. This suggests a clear trend towards better filmmaking since 1999. The present decade has done particularly well, with 21 films on the list in just five years.
  3. There are 32 foreign language films on this list (almost one-third), which is actually more than in the previous list, which had only 29. And the percentage of Hollywood films on this list is only a small fraction of those on the previous list. As I have written elsewhere, very few great films are coming out of Hollywood anymore. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Vic's 'Objective' Top 100 Films of All Time







Since I am experiencing a month without film, here is something else I've been working on:

People frequently ask me for a list of my all-time favourite films. Since I keep a regularly-updated list of my 200 favourite films, I could easily provide such a list, but I am reluctant to do so because my list is so subjective, based primarily on the impact a film has had on my life. While it is reassuring to note that most of my all-time favourite films are considered by critics to be excellent films, I cannot pretend that my list of all-time favourite films is anything like an objective Top 100 Films list, so I have now endeavoured to create such a list. While many of my all-time favourite films find a home in this more objective list, most do not, and the order of those that do is very different (e.g. the best film ever made, in my opinion, only ranks number 35 on my list of all-time favourite films).

Of course, I do not believe that anyone can create a truly objective list of top films. A comparison of top-100 film lists, as voted on by professional film critics and film directors on different continents, always shows markedly diverse opinions. For example, the list made every decade by Sight & Sound contains a very high number of foreign language films, while other lists contain comparatively few. Continental European directors and critics regularly agree that Les enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise), a French classic from 1945, is the greatest film ever made, but you probably won’t find it anywhere on most Top 100 film lists made by American or British critics and directors. You will find it on my list because I have a soft spot for European films.

This brings me to my personal list of ‘objective’ criteria and what you will, and will not, find on that list. Some of these criteria are obvious, but others are ‘subjective’, thus to some extent undermining my desire for pure objectivity, which, as I noted above, is not possible. So while you won’t find things like ‘the Wow factor’ or ‘a film’s impact on my life’ on such a list of criteria, you also won’t find ‘innovation’ on that list. A film’s level of innovation and its impact on the countless films which benefitted from that innovation are simply not something I care about in evaluating a film’s greatness. I am attempting, instead, to compare one film to another based on common guidelines, not on whether it did something that had never been done before (unless that something also contributed to making it a uniquely great film). 

For example, in the U.S., Citizen Kane (1941) is commonly considered to be the greatest film ever made. A major factor in that acclaim is its innovative cinematography. Because that innovative cinematography contributes to making Citizen Kane the extraordinary film it is, you will find Citizen Kane among my top three films. However, a film like The Birth of a Nation (1915) was also long considered to be among the greatest films ever made, due to its innovative filmmaking and its influence on all that followed. Because of this, I made the mistake of watching it, but the only list of mine on which you will find it is a list of the all-time worst films ever made. Likewise, The Blair Witch Project (1999), which was praised for its innovative marketing and filming, has a home on my list right down there with The Birth of a Nation

Dropping innovation from my list of criteria may not be that controversial, as it does not have a major impact in distinguishing my list from those of most critics. However, the inclusion of two other criteria (which results in the automatic exclusion of the films just mentioned) might be more controversial. One of those criteria is a film’s moral compass. I have argued on this blog that part of the responsibility of being a film critic is to evaluate a film’s moral compass, so it must be one of the criteria on my list. This doesn’t mean the exclusion of films which may be morally ambiguous, but it does mean the exclusion of films which I find morally repugnant. The Birth of a Nation would fit in that category, along with recent critically-acclaimed films like Django Unchained (2012) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). 

The other criterion is somewhat related. It is, by definition, subjective but I am simply not up to the task of eliminating it, if indeed anyone can do so: I cannot, in good conscience, put a film on my Top 100 list that I don’t actually ‘like’. I happen to ‘like’ more than 90% of the films on a typical Top 100 list, so this doesn’t have a huge impact either, but it does eliminate some films which almost every major critic in the world would argue are among the best films ever made. I greatly admire the work of Francis Ford Coppola (who has two films in my Top 100), I ‘like’ Robert De Niro, and a number of Martin Scorsese films have made my annual top ten lists, but, at the risk of losing all credibility as a film critic, films you will not find on my Top 100 list include: The Godfather (I & II) (1972 & 1974), Raging Bull (1980), Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990). I won’t try to argue against the greatness of any of these films, but I just don’t ‘like’ them (partly because I am not a fan, in general, of gangster or boxing films), so I can’t put them on my list. Sorry. 

I have noticed that this criterion particularly impacts Asian films, like those made by Akira Kurosawa. Whether it’s because of my aversion to violent action, my blindness to innovation or just a style preference, you won’t find any Kurosawa films on my list. Seven Samurai finds a home on most Top 100 Film lists, but it doesn’t do much for me. I like Rashomon more, but still find it wanting. I can tell Kurosawa’s films are intelligent and well-made, but I can’t see the greatness which would qualify them for my Top 100 list. On the other hand, I have no trouble seeing the greatness in Yasujiro Ozu’s films, so you will find two of his films on my list. 

So then, what are my criteria for greatness in film, other than not having a skewed moral compass? In my opinion, the films below (with a few exceptions*) approach (in some cases, they have attained) perfection in the standard critical categories of acting, writing, directing, editing, cinematography and score. They are all compelling films worthy of repeated viewings and I ‘like’ every one of them. The prevalence of pre-1970 films on my list is not because I love B&W films but because I believe the quality of screenwriting/story-telling and mise-en-scene has markedly declined (especially in the U.S.) since blockbusters, special effects, action and pleasing a teenage demographic became the order of the day. Speaking of blockbusters, ...

*e.g. Star Wars (1977) is one of my all-time favourite films, for many reasons, but the quality of the acting (Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing excepted), writing and directing is not among them. Nevertheless, since many critics place Star Wars on their Top 100 lists, I will happily put it on my own, noting that the acting and writing are light-years away from achieving perfection.

Enough with the preamble. Keeping in mind that there are many great films I have not had a chance to see, here is my ‘objective’ list of the Top 100 films of all-time, in order (and yes, these are films everyone should see at least once):

1. Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz

2. The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed

3. Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles

4. Great Expectations (1946), David Lean

5. The Wizard of Oz (1939), Victor Fleming

6. La grande illusion (1937), Jean Renoir

7. Rebecca (1940), Alfred Hitchcock

8. The Big Sleep (1946), Howard Hawks

9. Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock

10. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Frank Capra

11. Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Stanley Donan & Gene Kelly

12. Metropolis (1927), Fritz Lang

13. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Orson Welles

14. The Maltese Falcon (1941), John Huston

15. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Robert Mulligan

16. Dr. Strangelove (1964), Stanley Kubrick

17. Schindler’s List (1993), Steven Spielberg

18. Apocalypse Now (Redux) (1979), Francis Ford Coppola

19. La Regle du jeu (1939), Jean Renoir

20. Double Indemnity (1944), Billy Wilder

21. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), David Lean

22. Tokyo Story (1953), Yasujiro Ozu

23. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley Kubrick

24. The Seventh Seal (1957), Ingmar Bergman

25. City Lights (1931), Charles Chaplin

26. The 400 Blows (1959), Francois Truffaut

27. (1963), Frederico Fellini

28. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott

29. Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock

30. Paths of Glory (1957), Stanley Kubrick

31. Manhattan (1979), Woody Allen

32. Ordet (1955), Carl Dreyer

33. Sunset Blvd. (1950), Billy Wilder

34. Touch of Evil (1959), Orson Welles

35. Pather Panchali (1955), Satyajit Ray

36. Late Spring (1949), Yasujiro Ozu

37. Chinatown (1974), Roman Polanski

38. Laura (1944), Otto Preminger

39. The Lord of the Rings (complete extended version) (2003), Peter Jackson

40. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Sergio Leone

41. Brief Encounter (1945), David Lean

42. Breathless (1960), Jean-Luc Godard

43. Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen

44. Wild Strawberries (1957), Ingmar Bergman

45. Rear Window (1954), Alfred Hitchcock

46. Andrei Rublev (1966), Andrei Tarkovsky

47. The Lady Eve (1941), Preston Sturges

48. Wings of Desire (1987), Wim Wenders

49. Children of Paradise (1945), Marcel Carne

50. His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks

51. Bicycle Thieves (1948), Vittorio de Sica

52. Jules et Jim (1962), Francois Truffaut

53. Bringing Up Baby (1938), Howard Hawks

54. Umberto D. (1952), Vittorio de Sica

55. Star Wars (1977), George Lucas

56. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Robert Hamer

57. Playtime (1967), Jacques Tati

58. North by Northwest (1959), Alfred Hitchcock

59. The Great Dictator (1940), Charles Chaplin

60. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Rainer Werner Fassbinder

61. On the Waterfront (1954), Elia Kazan

62. Persona (1966), Ingmar Bergman

63. Out of the Past (1947), Jacques Tourneur

64. Three Colors: Red (1994), Krzysztof Kieslowski

65. The Sound of Music (1965), Robert Wise

66. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), John Frankenheimer

67. The Night of the Hunter (1955), Charles Laughton

68. The Tree of Life (2011), Terrence Malick

69. Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin Tarantino

70. A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick

71. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Lewis Milestone

72. Fanny and Alexander (1982), Ingmar Bergman

73. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), William A. Wellman

74. Modern Times (1936), Charles Chaplin

75. Gone with the Wind (1939), Victor Fleming

76. East of Eden (1955), Elia Kazan

77. To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch

78. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), David Lean

79. The Lives of Others (2006), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

80. Jaws (1975), Steven Spielberg

81. Short Cuts (1993), Robert Altman

82. The Conversation (1974), Francis Ford Coppola

83. How Green Was My Valley (1941), John Ford

84. Some Like it Hot (1959), Billy Wilder

85. Brazil (1985), Terry Gilliam

86. Turtles Can Fly (2004), Bahman Ghobadi

87. Secrets & Lies (1996), Mike Leigh

88. Z (1969), Costa-Gavras

89. Spartacus (1960), Stanley Kubrick

90. Before Midnight (2013), Richard Linklater

91. Gandhi (1982), Richard Attenborough

92. Nashville (1975), Robert Altman

93. A Separation (2011), Asghar Farhadi

94. Ben-Hur (1959), William Wyler

95. Pickpocket (1959), Robert Bresson

96. The Apartment (1960), Billy Wilder

97. Network (1976), Sidney Lumet

98. 12 Angry Men (1957), Sidney Lumet

99. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Steven Spielberg

100. M (1931), Fritz Lang


Observations: 

  1. Without my thinking about it in advance, my two all-time favourite directors, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, each have five films on the list, more than any other directors. Ingmar Bergman and David Lean have four each. 
  2. Films per decade: 20’s (1); 30’s (9); 40’s (23); 50’s (22); 60’s (17); 70’s (10); 80’s (7); 90’s (5); 00’s (3); 10’s (3). So it looks like filmmaking peaked in the 40’s and 50’s and has been on a gradual decline ever since, though if I already have three films from this decade on the list, maybe things are picking up again.
  3. 40 of these films are on my list of 100 favourite films, so there is a correlation. Extending the comparison to my list of 200 favourite films adds only ten more of the above films to the list (i.e. half of the best 100 films (as chosen by me) don’t even make it on my list of 200 favourite films). 18 of the 40 mentioned above are found in the top twenty of the above list, so most of the greatest films are also on my list of favourites. But it doesn’t work the other way around, as only 6 of my favourite twenty films are found anywhere in the list above.