Top 100 Films (Centenary)
(in four parts)

from Time Out Film Guide

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Time Out Film Guide
Top 100 Films (Centenary)

from Time Out Film Guide

(part 3, ranked)

-- Une Partie de Campagne (1936), d. Jean Renoir, Fr
Supposedly left unfinished, but filming was in fact completed, except that the producers wanted Renoir to expand to feature length; he was reluctant, other things intervened, then the war, and the film was finally released in 1946 with the addition of a couple of titles. It may be only a featurette, but this masterly adaptation of a Maupassant story is rich in both poetry and thematic content. On an idyllic country picnic, a young girl leaves her family and fiancee for a while, and succumbs to an all-too-brief romance. The careful reconstruction of period (around 1860) is enhanced by a typically touching generosity towards the characters and an aching, poignant sense of love lost but never forgotten. And, as always in Renoir, the river is far, far more than just a picturesque stretch of water. Witty and sensuous, it's pure magic.

-- The Philadelphia Story (1940), d. George Cukor, US
Cukor and Donald Ogden Stewart's evergreen version of Philip Barry's romantic farce, centering on a socialite wedding threatened by scandal, is a delight from start to finish, with everyone involved working on peak form. Hepburn's the ice maiden, recently divorced from irresponsible millionaire Grant and just about to marry a truly dull but supposedly more considerate type (Howard). Enter Grant, importunate and distinctly skeptical. Also enter Stewart and Hussey, snoopers from Spy magazine, to cover the society wedding of the year and throw another spanner in the works. Superbly directed by Cukor, the film is a marvel of timing and understated performances, effortlessly transcending its stage origins without ever feeling the need to 'open out' in any way. The wit still sparkles; the ambivalent attitude towards the rich and idle is still resonant; and the moments between Stewart and Hepburn, drunk and flirty on the moonlit terrace, tingle with a real, if rarely explicit, eroticism.

-- Pickpocket (1959), d. Robert Bresson, Fr
Bresson is the dark Catholic of French cinema. Here a young man, unwilling/unable to find work, flirts with the idea of pickpocketing: an initial, almost disastrous attempt leads him on. Theft follows theft, on the Paris Metro, in the streets, for the activity occupies an obsessive, erotic position in his daily life. Increasing skill leads to increasing desire, and so to alienation from his only friend, and from the moral counsel of the detective who watches over him with paternal concern. Black-and-white images in the summer sun...of hands flexing uncontrollably, of eyes opaque to the camera's gaze...all part of a diary/flashback that is in the process of being 'written' by the thief himself in prison. Read it as an allegory on the insufficiency of human reason; as a tone poem on displaced desire; as Catholic first cousin to Camus' The Outsider (written about the same time): one of the few postwar European films that is both cerebral (an essay on The Human Condition) and resolutely sensual (the constant, restless evaporation of our daily lives).

-- Schindler's List (1993), d. Steven Spielberg, US
The film of Thomas Keneally's novel is Spielberg's finest since Jaws. The elastic editing and grainy camerawork lend an immediacy as surprising as the shockingly matter-of-fact depiction of violence and casual killing. And Spielberg can handle actors - Neeson as Schindler, the German profiteer whose use of cheap labor in his Cracow factory saved 1,100 Jews from death; Kingsley as Stern, the canny accountant; Fiennes as Goeth, bloodless commandant of Plaszow camp. Wisely, the director rarely seeks to simplify the mysterious complexity of Schindler, an opportunist whose deeds became giddily selfless. As in his earlier work, there's a sense of wonder at the inexplicable, but it's no longer childlike. At times the film becomes a scream of horror at the inhumanity it recalls and recreates, and the b/w images never become aesthetically sanitized. True, the Jews are huddled, victimized masses. True, too, that Spielberg finally relents and tries to 'explain' Schindler so that the last hour becomes steadily more simplistic and sentimental. Otherwise, however, it's a noble achievement, and essential viewing.

-- The Shining (1980), d. Stanley Kubrick, GB
If you go to this adaptation of Stephen King's novel expecting to see a horror movie, you'll be disappointed. From the start, Kubrick undercuts potential tension builders by a process of anti-climax; eerie aerial shots accompanied by ponderous music prove to be nothing more than that; the setting is promising enough - an empty, isolated hotel in dead-of-winter Colorado - but Kubrick makes it warm, well-lit, and devoid of threat. Granted, John Alcott's cinematography is impressive, and occasionally produces a 'look behind you' panic; but to hang the movie's psychological tension on the leers and grimaces of Nicholson's face (suited though it is to demoniacal expressions), while refusing to develop any sense of the man, is asking for trouble. Similarly, the narrative is too often disregarded in favor of crude and confusing visual shocks. Kubrick's unbalanced approach (over-emphasis on production values) results in soulless cardboard cutouts who can do little to generate audience empathy.

-- The Third Man (1949), d. Carol Reed, GB
Justly celebrated British noir, charting post-war dis-ease in Vienna as Cotten's naive American pulp writer chases the shadows of Welles' quintessential underground man Harry Lime, an old friend now involved in black market drug-dealing and hiding out in the foreign sector of the rubble-strewn city. Robert Krasker's camerawork matches the baroque conception of Graham Greene's characters, Welles' contributions (script rewrites included) add intriguing internal tension, and even the 'gimmick' of Anton Karas' solo zither score works perfectly. A tender/tough classic.

(57) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying... (1964), d. Stanley Kubrick, GB
Perhaps Kubrick's most perfectly realized film, simply because his cynical vision of the progress of technology and human stupidity is wedded with comedy, in this case Terry Southern's sparkling script in which the world comes to an end thanks to a mad US general's paranoia about women and commies. Sellers' three roles are something of an indulgent showcase, though as the tight-lipped RAF officer and the US president, he gives excellent performances. Better, however, are Scott as the gung-ho military man frustrated by political soft-pedalling, and - especially - Hayden as the beleaguered lunatic who presses the button. Kubrick wanted to have the antics end up with a custard-pie finale, but thank heavens he didn't; the result is scary, hilarious, and night-marishly beautiful, far more effective in its portrait of insanity and call for disarmament than any number of worthy anti-nuke documentaries.

-- The Reckless Moment (1949), d. Max Ophuls, US
Having concealed her daughter's accidental killing of her seedy older lover, upper middle class housewife Bennett finds herself being blackmailed by a loan shark; fortunately for her, the man he sends - small-time crook and loner Mason - becomes infatuated with Bennett, and ends up killing his partner. Ophuls' noir melodrama, like his previous film, Caught, can be seen as a subtle, subversive critique of American ambitions and class-structures: in committing the moral and legal transgression of concealing a corpse, Bennett is merely protecting the comfort and respectability of her family life, and the irony is that Mason's self-sacrifice, made on her behalf, simply serves to preserve the status quo that has relegated him to the role of social outcast. This sense of waste, however, is implied rather than emphasized by Ophuls' elegant, low key direction, which counterpoints the stylization of Burnett Guffey's shadowy photography with long, mobile takes that stress the everyday reality of the milieu. A marvelous, tantalizing thriller, it also features never-better performances from Mason and Bennett.

-- Singin' In The Rain (1952), d. Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, US
Is there a film clip more often shown than the title number of this most astoundingly popular musical? The rest of the movie is great too. It shouldn't be. There never was a masterpiece created from such a mishmash of elements: Arthur Freed's favorites among his own songs from back in the '20s and '30s, along with a new number, 'Make 'Em Laugh', which is a straight rip-off from Cole Porter's 'Be a Clown'; the barely blooded Debbie Reynolds pitched into the deep end with tyrannical perfectionist Kelly; choreography very nearly improvised because of pressures of time; and Kelly filming his greatest number with a heavy cold. Somehow it all comes together. The 'Broadway Melody' ballet is Kelly's least pretentious, Jean Hagen and Donald O'Connor are very funny, and the Comden/Green script is a loving-care job. If you've never seen it and don't, you're bonkers.

(60) Blade Runner (1982), d. Ridley Scott, US
An ambitious and expensive adaptation of one of Philip K. Dick's best novels (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), with Ford as the cop in 2019 Los Angeles whose job is hunting mutinous androids that have escaped from the off-world colonies. The script has some superb scenes, notably between Ford and the (android) femme fatale Young, while Scott succeeds beautifully in portraying the LA of the future as a cross between a Hong Kong street-market and a decaying 200-story Metropolis. But something has gone badly wrong with the dramatic structure: the hero's voice-over and the ending feel as if they've strayed in from another movie, and the android villains are neither menacing nor sympathetic, when ideally they should have been both. This leaves Scott's picturesque violence looking dull and exploitative.

-- Blue Velvet (1986), d. David Lynch, US
Jeffrey (MacLachlan) is the contemporary knight in slightly tarnished armor, a shy and adolescent inhabitant of Lumberton, USA. After discovering a severed ear in an overgrown backlot, he embarks upon an investigation that leads him into a hellish netherworld, where he observes - and comes to participate in - a terrifying sado-masochistic relationship between damsel-in-distress Dorothy (Rossellini) and mad mobster Frank Booth (Hopper). Grafting on to this story his own idiosyncratic preoccupations, Lynch creates a visually stunning, convincingly coherent portrait of a nightmarish sub-stratum to conventional, respectable society. The seamless blending of beauty and horror is remarkable - although many will be profoundly disturbed by Lynch's vision of male-female relationships, centered as it is on Dorothy's psychopathic hunger for violence - the terror very real, and the sheer wealth of imagination virtually unequaled in recent cinema.

-- Pather Panchali (1955), d. Satyajit Ray, Ind
Ray's first film, and the first installment of what came to be known as The Apu Trilogy, completed by Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956, 113 min, b/w) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959, 106 min, b/w). The first Indian film to cause any real stir in Europe and America, it is still something to wonder at: a simple story of country folk told with all the effortless beauty, drama and humanity which seem beyond the grasp of most Western directors. The plot is nothing more than a string of ordinary events, focused on the experiences of Apu, child of a small family eking out an existence in a ramshackle Bengal village; a train thunders by across the plains, a frugal meal is prepared, the rains and the wind flatten and drench the landscape, someone dies. The two later films show Apu's development in more 'civilized' societies - particularly Calcutta, where he pursues his studies until money runs out, falls into an arranged marriage, painfully lives through the deaths of his parents and wife, loses direction, and pulls through chastened but undefeated. There are three changes of actor (Apu at different ages), and Ray's narrative methods sometimes veer distractingly from the episodic to the linear. What doesn't change is his remarkably natural way with symbolism (spot all those trains!), his eye for the visual poetry of both raw nature and industrial squalor, and his faith in the human ability to grow with experience. Pather Panchali, in particular, retains a fresh and pellucid beauty.

-- Le Samourai (The Samurai) (1967), d. Jean-Pierre Melville, Fr
Melville's hombres don't talk a lot, they just move in and out of the shadows, their trenchcoats lined with guilt and their hats hiding their eyes. This is a great movie, an austere masterpiece, with Delon as a cold, enigmatic contract killer who lives by a personal code of bushido. Essentially, the plot is about an alibi, yet Melville turns this into a mythical revenge story, with Cathy Rosier as Delon's black, piano-playing nemesis who might just as easily have stepped from the pages of Cocteau or Sophocles as Vogue. Similarly, if Delon is Death, Perier's cop is a date with Destiny. Melville's film had a major influence in Hollywood: Delon lying on his bed is echoed in Taxi Driver, and Paul Schrader might have made Le Samourai as American Gigolo. Another remake is The Driver, despite Walter Hill's insistence that he'd never seen it: someone on that movie had to have seen it.

-- Sans Soleil (Sunless) (1983), d. Chris Marker, Fr
Imagine getting letters from a friend in Japan, letters full of images, sounds and ideas. Your friend is an inveterate globe-trotter, and his letters are full of memories of other trips. He has a wry and very engaging sense of humor, he's a movie fan, he used to be quite an activist (though he was never much into 'ideology'), and he's thoughtful and very well read. In his letters, he wants to share with you the faces that have caught his eye, the events that made him smile or weep, the places where he's felt at home. He wants to tell you stories, but he can't find a story big enough to deal with his sense of contrasts, his wish to grasp fleeting moments, his recurring memories. Above all he hopes to excite you, to share his secrets with you, to consolidate your friendship. Now stop imagining things and go to see Sans Soleil, in which Marker, the cinema's greatest essayist, sums up a lifetime's travels, speculations and passions. Among very many other things, his film is the most intimate portrait of Tokyo yet made: from neighborhood festivals to robots, under the sign of the Owl and the Pussycat.

-- Sweet Smell of Success (1957), d. Alexander Mackendrick, US
A film noir from the Ealing funny man? But Mackendrick's involvement with cozy British humor was always less innocent than it looked: remember the anti-social wit of The Man in the White Suit, or the cruel cynicism of The Ladykillers? Sweet Smell of Success was Mackendrick's American debut, a rat trap of a film in which a vicious NY gossip hustler (Curtis) grovels for his 'Mr. Big' (Lancaster), a monster newspaper columnist who is incestuously obsessed with destroying his kid sister's romance...and a figure as evil and memorable as Orson Welles in The Third Man or Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. The dark streets gleam with the sweat of fear; Elmer Bernstein's limpid jazz score (courtesy of Chico Hamilton) whispers corruption in the Big City. The screen was rarely so dark or cruel.

(66) Amarcord (1973), d. Federico Fellini, It/Fr
Fellini at his ripest and loudest recreates a fantasy-vision of his home town during the fascist period. With generous helpings of soap opera and burlesque, he generally gets his better effects by orchestrating his colorful cast of characters around the town square, on a boat outing, or at a festive wedding. When he narrows his focus down to individual groups, he usually limits himself to corny bathroom and bedroom jokes, which produce the desired titters but little else. But despite the ups and downs, it's still Fellini, which has become an identifiable substance like salami or pepperoni that can be sliced into at any point, yielding pretty much the same general consistency and flavor.

-- Greed (1924), d. Erich von Stroheim, US
Originally planned to run around ten hours but hacked to just over two by Thalberg's MGM, von Stroheim's greatest film still survives as a true masterpiece of cinema. Even now its relentlessly cynical portrait of physical and moral squalor retains the ability to shock, while the Von's obsessive attention to realist detail - both in terms of the San Francisco and Death Valley locations, and the minutely observed characters - is never prosaic as the two men and a woman fall out over filthy lucre (a surprise lottery win), their motivations are explored with a remarkably powerful visual poetry, and Frank Norris' novel is translated into the cinematic equivalent of, say, Zola at the peak of his powers. Never has a wedding been so bitterly depicted, never a moral denouement been delivered with such vicious irony.

-- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), d. Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fr
Dreyer's most universally acclaimed masterpiece remains one of the most staggeringly intense films ever made. It deals only with the final stages of Joan's trial and her execution, and is composed almost exclusively of close-ups: hands, robes, crosses, metal bars, and (most of all) faces. The face we see most is, naturally, Falconetti's as Joan, and it's hard to imagine a performer evincing physical anguish and spiritual exaltation more palpably. Dreyer encloses this stark, infinitely expressive face with other characters and sets that are equally devoid of decoration and equally direct in conveying both material and metaphysical essences. The entire film is less molded in light than carved in stone: it's magisterial cinema, and almost unbearably moving.

-- Persona (1966), d. Ingmar Bergman, Swe
Bergman at his most brilliant as he explores the symbiotic relationship that evolves between an actress suffering a breakdown in which she refuses to speak, and the nurse in charge as she recuperates in a country cottage. To comment is to betray the film's extraordinary complexity, but basically it returns to two favorite Bergman themes: the difficulty of true communication between human beings, and the essentially egocentric nature of art. Here the actress (named Vogler after the charlatan/artist in The Face) dries up in the middle of a performance, thereafter refusing to exercise her art. We aren't told why, but from the context it's a fair guess that she withdraws from a feeling of inadequacy in face of the horrors of the modern world; and in her withdrawal, she watches with detached tolerance as humanity (the nurse chattering on about her troubled sex life) reveals its petty woes. Then comes the weird moment of communion in which the two women merge as one: charlatan or not, the artist can still be understood, and can therefore still understand. Not an easy film, but an infinitely rewarding one.

-- Rashomon (1950), d. Akira Kurosawa, Jap
If it weren't for the closing spasm of gratuitous, humanist optimism, Rashomon could be warmly recommended as one of Kurosawa's most inventive and sustained achievements. The main part of the film, set in 12th century Kyoto, offers four mutually contradictory versions of an ambush, rape and murder, each through the eyes of one of those involved. The view of human weaknesses and vices is notably astringent, although the sheer animal vigor of Mifune's bandit is perhaps a celebration of a sort. The film is much less formally daring than its literary source, but its virtues are still plentiful: kurosawa's visual style at its most muscular, rhythmically nuanced editing, and excellent performances.

-- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), d. John Huston, US
For once, Bogart plays a really vicious bastard, Fred C. Dobbs, in this, the first of two movies he made in 1948 with Huston. It's a sort of lifeboat drama for three, with Holt the young innocent and director's dad Walter as the wise old buzzard, flanking Bogart's bravura paranoia. Director Huston tries to yank the basic elements - gold lust in a Mexican wilderness - into the spare eloquence of a fable, and tends to look pretentious rather than profound. In any case, outrageously Oscar-seeking performances like actor Huston's, coupled with director Huston's comparative conviction with action sequences, work against any yearning for significance. There's a quite enjoyable yarn buried under the hollow laughter.

(72) All That Heaven Allows (1955), d. Douglas Sirk, US
On the surface a glossy tearjerker about the problems besetting a love affair between an attractive middle class widow and her younger, 'bohemian' gardener, Sirk's film is in fact a scathing attack on all those facets of the American Dream widely held dear. Wealth produces snobbery and intolerance, family togetherness creates xenophobia and the cult of the dead; cozy kindness can be stultifyingly patronizing; and materialism results in alienation from natural feelings. Beneath the stunningly lovely visuals - all expressionist colors, reflections, and frames-within-frames, used to produce a precise symbolism - lies a kernel of terrifying despair created by lives dedicated to respectability and security, given its most harrowing expression when Wyman, having give up her affair with Hudson in order to protect her children from gossip, is presented with a television set as a replacement companion. Hardly surprising that Fassbinder chose to remake the film as Fear Eats the Soul.

-- Black Narcissus (1947), d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, GB
Interesting to compare with another version of a Rumer Godden story, Renoir's The River, in that whereas Renoir shot on location in India and created an almost documentary feel to his film, Powell refused to go to the Himalayas and shot at Pinewood, coming up with a heady melodrama that treats India as a state of mind rather than a real country. A group of nuns lead a tough, isolated existence in a mountain convent, and find themselves psychologically disturbed by all manner of physical phenomena: extremes of weather and temperature, illness, a local agent's naked thighs, a young prince's perfume purchased, ironically, at London's Army and Navy stores. As temptation draws the women away from their vocation, they fall prey to doubt, jealousy and madness. Powell's use of color, design and music was never so perfectly in tune with the emotional complexities of Pressburger's script, their talents combining to create one of Britain's great cinematic masterpieces, a marvelous evocation of hysteria and repression, and incidentally one of the few genuinely erotic films ever to emerge from these sexually staid isles.

-- Double Indemnity (1944), d. Billy Wilder, US
Before he settled down to being an ultra-cynical connoisseur of vulgarity, Wilder helped (as much as any of his fellow Austro-German emigres in Hollywood) to define the mood of brooding pessimism that laced so many American movies in the '40s. Adapted from James M. Cain's novel, Double Indemnity is certainly one of the darkest thrillers of its time. Wilder presents Stanwyck and MacMurray's attempt at an elaborate insurance fraud as a labryinth of sexual dominance, guilt, suspicion and sweaty duplicity. Chandler gave the dialogue a sprinkling of characteristic wit, without mitigating any of the overall sense of oppression.

-- Intolerance (1916), d. D.W. Griffith, US
Griffith's immensely influential silent film inter-cuts four parallel tales from history (spanning Babylon, Christ's Judaea, Reformation Europe, and turn-of-the-century America) to embroider a moral tapestry on personal, social and political repression through the ages. The thematic approach no longer works (if it ever did); the title cards are stiffly Victorian and sometimes laughably pedantic; but the visual poetry is overwhelming, especially in the massed crowd scenes. And the unbridled eroticism of the Babylon harem scenes demonstrate just what Hollywood lost when it later bowed to the censorship of the Hays Code.

Previous Page Next Page