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The list is in order of quality as perceived by me. Five of the top 10 films are from European countries. Two are from Iran.
Nära livet (1958)
Deserved the Cannes award for acting but the award for direction is odd, considering the competing films
This Bergman film could easily have been a filmed play. Three pregnant ladies in a hospital room in various stages of childbirth. It deserved the Cannes best actress award for the lady ensemble--as it captures the moods of a mom doesn't want to bring the child to this world, another who is eager to do so and a third who is insecure to do so. Bergman won the Best Director award at Cannes that year beating Martin Ritt for his "The long, hot summer,' Satyajit Ray for his "Paras Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone)" and Michael Cacoyannis for his "A Matter of Dignity." I am an admirer of Bergman's body of work but this decision I feel was out of place. The film was ably directed but not worthy of the Best Director honor considering the three competing films.
Superb cinematography and production design/art direction with a commendable script by the director
Superb cinematography (Dick Pope) and production design/art direction (Suzie Davies, Jane Brodie, Dan Taylor). However, the flags and banners were too sophisticated and rich for the time and place of the film. The script is interesting because of Joseph the bugler (David Moorst, who unfortunately overacts), present at the massacres of Waterloo and Peterloo. Mike Leigh's script is commendable for the importance of the minor characters such as the egg-selling lady or the printer so immersed in his job. Leigh's details of class differences in the film are unforgettable. But as a total film it flounders. Mike Leigh may or may not realize that he was re-enacting the Jallianwala massacre by Gen. Dyer of the British Army decades later. The end lines of the films are the Lord's Prayer at the burial--fitting and yet ironic, as the rich were keen to get the poor to be in line with their warped notions of Christian lifestyles. The irony of the ineffectiveness of non-violence in a weak and blind royalty comes through Leigh's film. Well worth a look, at least for Pope's contribution, both outdoors and indoors.
The Souvenir (2019)
Average cinema; the narcissism of the director is audacious
Did it deserve the Sundance World Cinema jury prize, unless of course its competitors were abysmal? The only two honorable mentions are the screen presence of actress Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton's daughter) and the final closing music. Joanna Hogg is average but not great.
The King and Four Queens (1956)
Good stunt riding at the start of the film
Below average with a dumb sequence of dance in a living room with no one playing the music. The music was only playing on the soundtrack! Eleanor Parker and Jo Ann Fleet were interesting, not exceptional. Some stunt riding at the start of the film, that had little to do with the story line, was noteworthy.
Through Black Spruce (2018)
An interesting Canadian thriller with a very impressive Native Indian actress
Tanaya Beatty in the lead role as a Cree Native Indian is very impressive. Though the film, based on a novel, is a thriller, the film is impressive because it empathizes with the Native Indian community and their real life woes. Ms Beatty is an eye candy with a strong voice to boot. Also impressive are Native Indian actors Brandon Oakes and Graham Greene. All in all--an above average film. My first Don McKellar film and I shall look out for his other directed films.
Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa... (1965)
Clues strewn by Visconti allow the viewer to enjoy a multi-layered film
Deserved the Golden Lion at Venice. Powerful at all times except for its below average beginning. Then it changes gears.
The film is typical Visconti--a well-to-do upper class family returning to the childhood manor, picking up the memorable pieces of a rich and comfortable past before the World War II (literally in the film, the sale of valued paintings, property, and in this film, a garden that needs costly upkeep forcing the family now to gift it to the townsfolk as public property). Touches of Visconti's and Lampedusa's "The Leopard" made just before this film.
The original head of the family, Sandra's father was a Jew, and executed by the Nazis. He was exposed as a Jew by his wife, a famous pianist who fell in love with a lawyer. Sandra suspects the lawyer and her mother for her father's demise. Visconti never reveals why the Nazis spared the family members. Now Sandra's mother is demented and her father's statue in the garden is always covered in a white sheet giving the suggestion of a ghost. But the film is not about ghosts.
The film is more about Sandra (Cardinale) and her brother Gianni (Sorel) who reveal an past that might never have been consummated. Now that Sandra is married to Andrew (Craig), Gianni removes the wedding ring from Sandra's finger and wears it, Sandra's protests unheeded.
Visconti's script reveals that Sandra had a lover, Antonio (who still adores her, played by Ricci), but they could not marry because of the class divide and opposition from her mother to the relationship. Years later Antonio becomes a doctor who treats Sandra's demented mother.
While the film is not about ghosts, it is about a dark past, bitter memories, class and religious conflicts, that struggle to keep pace with the world outside the Italian town with a rich history. An electra complex emerges like a ghost--Visconti's images of Cardinale's body (especially her eyes that wonder who is outside her bedroom door) are absolutely top notch. There is no overt sex, no on screen and even the spoken words deny more than underscore it. you wonder about Sandra's mother if she is truly demented when she accuses her daughter Sandra of slithering in like a serpent.
Every bit of the film makes you wonder as you clutch at the straws the director throws as clues for the viewer to solve a big puzzle. The poem which provides the original Italian title of the film is one, There are more Solve them and you will love the film. Deserving of the Venice honor. Thank you, Cardinale and Sorel, for your unforgettable screen time in this film. A film that anticipates Visconti's "The Damned" and "Conversation Piece."
Some worthy technical aspects but not the best work of the talented director
Actress Li Sun is enigmatic. The art direction is top notch. The colors of the film are very interestingly used. So are the visual effects, emphasizing the concepts of the yang and the ying. Otherwise the film is just average. I prefer the master director Yang Zhimou of "Not one less" any day than the Yang Zhimou of "Shadow."
Lo straniero (1967)
Capturing the novel's mood well with commendable performances by all the actors
Very truthful to the novel of Albert Camus, capturing the book's atheistic and existential mood. All the actors (specially Mastroianni) are very close to what the novel suggests. Yet the film is not a major work of Visconti--it merely adapts an important literary work. One of the best visual sequences in the film is of Mr Mersault sitting on a chair viewing his mother's closed coffin at a distance with another lady sitting closer to the coffin with her nose covered. Throughout the film Visconti underscores the heat and the oppressive humid weather that led to the death of the Arab. A second important sequence involves a kind act of an Arab prisoner who offers Mersault a makeshift pillow and a cigarette in a crowded prison cell. The "bad" Arab can be a "good' one!
The book is better than the film despite all the efforts of Visconti and his talented team, which included three other co-scriptwriters.
The Killers (1964)
Quite different from the 1946 version in content and treatment.
Richard Siodmak's 1946 version of the same Ernest Hemingway short story is quite different from this version directed by Don Siegel.
First, in the 1946 film, the killed anti-hero (Burt Lancaster) is a boxer who got mixed up with a beautiful woman (Ava Gardner) and a gang of robbers. In the 1964 version, the killed anti-hero (John Cassavetes) is car mechanic-cum-car-racing driver who got mixed up with a beautiful woman (Angie Dickinson) and a gang of robbers led by actor Ronald Reagan who went on to be the US President in real life.
The second most interesting difference is final shot in the 1964 Siegel version. It is of a bag supposed to contain looted cash opening up to reveal there is nothing inside it. Unlike the 1946 version, Don Siegel's version adds an existential element to the tale--the lust for money that turns out to be meaningless eventually.
The saving grace of the film are the tolerable performances of Lee Marvin, Dickinson and Cassavetes. The highlight of the film would be the opening sequence where the two killers wearing dark goggles visit a facility for the blind where almost all the blind folks are wearing dark glasses, to do their dirty job.
A film about stage actors and support staff that ends as a stage play!
This Hitchcock film is based on a play called "Enter Sir John" written by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. It is a tale involving stage actors and stage employees and the film fittingly ends as though the end of the film is a part of a stage play!
The film uses Hitchcock's childhood terror of prisons either intentionally or unintentionally--here using menacing shadows of prison bars and interiors of prisons. Similarly, Hitchcock's love to include food/meals without much reason is added in this film when an impromptu lunch with proper tableware, cutlery and crockery is presented in an office room at short notice!
There is another unnecessary sequence involving a bevy of kids and a cat crawling on top of an adult male still lying under bed covers having his bed-tea. But the children are so natural in the sequence that you forgive the director.
The film is all about building suspense and a murder that is never shown on screen. An interesting work of Hitchcock though not a major one.
Number Seventeen (1932)
A convoluted thriller about cops and robbers using miniature trains and a ferry, used to build an interesting chase sequence, to recreate the real ones. Use of shadows (reprising the German expressionist films) and rapid (sometimes flawed) editing of visuals try to lift up the film. An unremarkable Hitchcock film on the whole, based on a play by a certain J. Jefferson Farjeon.
Under Capricorn (1949)
One of the better works of Hitchcock that deserves more attention
Hitchcock relied on interesting works of other worthies for his own films. Here, the source is based on a novel of the same name by Helen Simpson, which was later adapted as a play by John Colten and Margaret Linden, which in turn was adapted by actor/screenplay-writer Hume Cronyn, and eventually re adapted by screenplay-writer James Bridie. This interest is indicative of the magnetism of the tale. While American audiences did not think much of the film, the French "Cahiers du cinema" did consider it an important work.
Ingrid Bergman appearing in the third Hitchcock film (earlier in "Spellbound" and "Notorious") is fascinating to watch. We are encouraged to think she is psychologically unstable until it is proven otherwise. Joseph Cotten, who apparently disliked the film, is actually very interesting to watch. The ever-smiling Michael Wilding (ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor), the third face in the love triangle is the least admirable of the three interesting performers. Then there is Margaret Leighton, who plays the wily housekeeper Milly, who was one of the caricatured women in John Ford's excellent 1966 swansong "The 7 women" and again in the little appreciated Bryan Forbes' film "The Madwoman of Chaillot," providing the fourth most important character in the film. By a coincidence, Michael Wilding married Ms Leighton in real life many years after this film was made and they never divorced!
Hitchcock being Hitchcock adds an English breakfast scene because so many of his films have characters discussing and enjoying food, even though the scene is not essential.
A scene that is never explained adequately occurs early in the film. An unknown white peddler of shrunken aboriginal heads tries to sell one such head to Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten) who is angry with the peddler and send him packing. Much later in the film, a similar shrunken head is found on Flusky's wife's (Ingrid Bergman) bed. The connection is never explained.
This is the only Hitchcock film with cinematography by Jack Cardiff and it is very good. The film has indoor night scenes with candle lamps and yet the lighting of Ms Bergman lying on a bed with a canopy is very clear and colourful. What is not very clear but truthful are the scenes outside the "Minyago yugilla" (Why weepest thou?) manor--with horses and carriages in shadows.
It is definitely one of the better works of Hitchcock--with fear of prisons, true history of Australia, and the varied social discriminations of the day underscored. Here is a Hitchcock where marriage is seen and shown positively, in spite of the love triangle.
Tôkyô monogatari (1953)
Evergreen lovely tale that enjoyable decades after it was made
Lovely tale that is evergreen. Endearing performances by Chishu Ryu (an Ozu regular, playing the old father) and Setsuko Hara (playing the ever-smiling,widowed daughter-in law). Much has been made out of low placement of the camera--but it is only obvious when the most of the characters are often squatting on the floor on the knees (the proper Japanese sitting posture). An odd detail that caught my eye were the steam locomotives pulling the trains when the tracks had electric wires for electric locomotives. Trains chugging away and horns of boats/ships are regular visual punctuations used in the film.
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Notable because of Shirley Maclaine's performance and the lovely visuals of Vermont
Lovely colourful photography of Vermont. A fantastic adorable debut from Shirley Maclaine that earned her a Golden Globe. Amusing, endearing performances by all characters. And a large dose of Hitchcockian humour that begins with the credits. However the doctor who reads while walking and stumbling was a bit over the top.
Stage Fright (1950)
Best MacGuffin of Hitchcock
The MacGuffin here is the best among most Hitchcocks. And Marlene Dietrich is good--her last lines in the film are her signature strokes.
Red River (1948)
The cattle sequences and Montgomery Clift are the highlights
Wo aspects that make the film tick: the handling of the large number of cattle and Montgomery Clift. Otherwise the film is ordinary putting some history in focus: the Chisholm trail, the railroad, Texas as a beef state, and Abilene.
A Foreign Affair (1948)
Dietrich, Dietrich and Dietrich
The film belongs to Marlene Dietrich. And the songs she sings in the film. Otherwise the film is a dud. The film often reminds you of the first major Dietrich vehicle--The Blue Angel. But then, Wilder is no match to von Sternberg.
A film that deserves more attention than it received
A notable work from director Elia Kazan based on true events and true personalities. It has an un-credited Karl Malden playing a not-so-insignificant role of a policeman. The film deserves more attention from film goers than it received. Nominated for a screenplay Oscar.
Le fantôme de la liberté (1974)
Stream of consciousness used well but the surrealism yo-yos in quality
Stream of consciousness a la Bunuel. Political prisoners being shot, statues coming alive to knock-out a soldier trying to kiss a woman saint's statue, sacrilege in a church, necrophilia, nephew-aunt incest, police who file a "child missing" report when the child is in front of them, a terrorist found guilty of random killing walks out of a court free and is treated as a celebrity, sitting around a table on open washing closets, add to the surrealist nonsense. A great line-up of actors and actresses, including a cameo by Marie-France Pisier and Michel Piccoli and brief roles by Monica Vitti, Jean Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celli, Michel Lonsdale, and a nearly-nude Adriana Asti. Brialy's dream sequence is comical with the birds and a postman entering the bedroom. The film is considerably over-rated.
Celle que vous croyez (2019)
The film belongs to the novelist Camille Laurens and the amazing Binoche
Good performances by Binoche and Garcia. The film belongs to the author of the novel Camille Laurens and the screenplay writers. Interesting watch but not great cinema. Some of the cinematography is commendable: drone shots of the cliff near the sea and the profile shot of Binoche in black in the open, towards the end
La paranza dei bambini (2019)
Where are the young boys of Naples headed, without a parent or a career to look forward to?
The film evidently won the screenplay award at Berlin because it is very true to ground reality of Naples. The title is appropriate. Teenagers who cannot see a future, become small time Godfathers, collecting protection money and selling drugs, working in large groups to get a menacing visibility. My problem with the film: where are the cops? You see them just once during a wedding dinner sequence.
The film apparently uses non-actors. The lead role of Nicola played by Francesco di Napoli is notable, as is the role of his screen mother toiling away to make ends meet. Nicola's dad is never shown or discussed. Francesco could go places as an actor under the right director.
Average film--nothing great
Man of the West (1958)
Very interesting Western in parts with a fascinating performance of Gary Cooper
Film critic Jean Luc Godard was right when he liked this film. Though the film has its weak spots, the good bits outweigh those. Gary Cooper is outstanding in the main role--a performance as creditable as his role in High Noon. The character of Beasley (Arthur O'Connel) is interesting to note when his role is only a sidebar plot in the main structure. Lee J Cobb is almost unrecognizable (recognizable by his voice) thanks to the beard and other make-up. Julie London is also notable. The cameo of the Mexican lady and then of her Mexican husband returning to a dead town called Lassoo are, for me, high points. But the concept of the ghost town having a bank with lots of money for the gang leader (Cobb) is a very interesting way to look at the way the Wild West was evolving. What does not add up is Cooper's character at the end. Does he eventually hire Billie (London) as the schoolteacher? Does he get married to her, after stating that he has two kids and a wife? An unusual western indeed.
A nugget of a film--Superior to Satyajit Ray's Apu and Goopy gyne films
This is a nugget of a TV film about a 6-year old, his dreams, his family, fate, past and future. Better than the Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and his two "Goopy gyne" films. Why? Ray had used novels/stories of other individuals; Ruiz uses his own original tales. Use of magic realism, Chilean politics, a fish named Jeremiah (the Biblical prophet who mourned the fall of Jerusalem--read Chile here). Lovely performances. This is a 3 part TV film and I have only seen the first part (55 min). Hope to see the next two.
Shattered Image (1998)
Even a below-average film of Ruiz entertains you at a different level than most other films
Lynch meets Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita", in this rare below average film of Ruiz. Something like Konchalovsky work on Tango and Cash. Ruiz blamed it on the producers and the crew. The camerawork does show the brilliance of a typical Ruiz film. Add to it a painting that keeps changing!
Shock Corridor (1963)
The premise of the tale lacks credibility but the film is well made
The premise of the story is outrageous and unbelievable though the film is well made on the technical front. Singer/actress Constance Towers gives an average performance, compared to her outstanding one in Fuller's Naked Kiss. The Euripidean quote "Whom the God wish to destroy, he makes them mad" is misplaced to begin and end the film. In the days of Euripides there was no single God--there were several gods. Then what do gods have to do with a man dreaming of a Pulitzer prize?