The Twenty Greatest Cinematographers in Black and White Films

Do we dream in color?  Or in black and white?  Orson Wells once said that black and white was the actor’s friend.  I think he was right, especially when you look at how Ford turns Wayne’s image into something of mythic proportions with “Stagecoach” (1939), or how film noir uses shadows to suggest its characters’ state of mind.  Whatever the aesthetic reasons, black and white films should be celebrated for the worlds that the artists create.  So, with these thoughts in mind, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Cinematographers in Black and White Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”Stagecoach”  (1939)  Bert Glennon’s filming of Monument Valley helped turn the Western into an art form.

2.”Raging Bull”  (1980)  Michael Chapman’s glistening black and white cinematography contrasts with the ugliness of the main character.

3.”Citizen Kane”  (1941)  Gregg Toland’s influence on cinema itself cannot be overestimated.

4.”Double Indemnity”  (1944)  John Addison’s look became the prototype for all film noirs.

5.”Touch of Evil”  (1958)  Richard Metty’s opening crane shot has gone on to cinema history.

6.”Grapes of Wrath”  (1940)  Gregg Toland’s touch gave the film an authenticity and grace.

7.”Sunset Boulevard”  (1950)  John Addison’s lens captured a nightmarish world.

8.”Hud”  (1963)  James Wong Howe’s evocative work won an Oscar for this veteran cinematographer.

9.”The Last Picture Show”  (1971)  Robert Surtee brought a beauty to the film’s barren imagery.

10.”On the Waterfront”  (1951)  Boris Kaufman’s vision captures a documentary-like style.

11.”Sunrise”  (1927)  Karl Struss and Charles Roshner received the first Oscar ever given for cinematography.

12.”Midsummer Night Dream”  (1935)  Hal Mohr’s Oscar was bestowed by a write-in ballot, the one and only time in the history of the Academy Awards.

13.”Night of the Hunter”  (1955)  Stanley Cortez, although influenced by German Expressionism, created something new in film.

14.”Stranger on a Train”  (1951)  Robert Burk’s shot from the murdered girl’s point of view is brilliant.

15.”The Informer”  (1935)  Joseph H. August convinces viewers that the film is set in Dublin, although it was made entirely on a sound stage.

16.”Psycho”  (1960)  Alfred Hitchcock used John L. Russell, his television show’s cinematographer, to great effect.

17.”The Scarlett Empress” (1934)  Von Sternberg and his great cinematographer Bert Glennon create their own world.

18.”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”  (1931)   Karl Struss’ transformation scene is still amazing after all these years.

19.”In Cold Blood”  (1967)  Conrad Hall’s sensitivity with the black and white format earned him his first nomination.

20.”The Asphalt Jungle”  (1950)  Harold Rosson’s camera captures the nighttime world of Huston’s characters with true melancholy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Twenty Greatest Underrated Directors

March 20, 2017

These names are seldom above the title, so you might not know who they are.  But, you have probably been affected by their work, and I suppose, in the final analysis, that is what’s most important.  With that, I give you  The Twenty Greatest Underrated Directors.

In no particular order…

  1. Hal Ashby.  Former film editor had some big hits in the 1970’s, Shampoo (1975) and Coming Home (1978), bringing his own special brand of counterculture to all his best work.
  2. Paul Mazursky.  He brought an ethnic quality to his humanistic landscapes, Harry and Tonto (1974) and Unmarried Woman (1978).  He also had a gift with dialog.
  3. Robert Mulligan.  Much of Mulligan’s work is from an observer’s distance, yet the emotions are always full.  His work with children in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is among the finest ever elicited by a director.
  4. Martin Ritt.  Actors not only did their best work under his guidance but also their most honest.  Films include Hud (1963) and Norma Rae (1979).
  5. Robert Aldrich.  Independent director had a couple of big hits, Baby Jane (1962) and Dirty Dozen (1967).  However, his real originality was displayed in Kiss Me Deadly (1955), one of the best of all film noirs.
  6. Richard Fleisher.  Son of animator Max Fleisher made two excellent crime dramas, Compulsion (1958) and The Boston Strangler (1968), and possibly Disney’s best live action feature 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
  7. Alan Pakula.   Once a producer only, To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), Pakula made some fine films that have both an intelligence and a verve, Klute (1971) and All The President’s Men (1976).
  8. Bill Forsyth.  This Scottish filmaker has a penchant for the eccentric and made some beautiful films, Housekeeping (1987) and Local Hero (1983).
  9. Bob Rafelson.  Having made such a sensation with Five Easy Pieces (1970), the rest of his filmography seems disappointing, but Stay Hungry (1975) is quite interesting.
  10. William Dieterle.  He definitely brought a Germanic look to all of his best films, Hunchback (1939) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941).  He was one of the many German ex-patriots that Hollywood embraced during the 1930’s.
  11. Frank Perry.  Most of his scripts were written by his wife Eleanor, but Perry brought his own detached melancholy to the best of his works, David and Lisa (1962) and Last Summer (1969).
  12. George Pal.  Former animator of Puppetoons (1932), Pal made some unique entries into the fantasy genre , The Time Machine (1960) and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).
  13. Ralph Nelson.  Former television director, he hit his stride in the 1960’s with his Lilies of the Field (1963) and Charly (1968).
  14. Michael Ritchie.  Thematically, his best films are about America’s obsession with competition, The Candidate (1972) and Bad News Bears (1976).
  15. Robert Siodmak.  Another German director with an expressionistic eye, he made two gems from the noir world, The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1947).
  16. John Frankenheimer.  His range as a director is quite remarkable.  His best work, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), shows a European influence.
  17. John Sturges.  He was primarily known for action films like The Magnificent Seven (1964).  However, he made an important film about racism, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), which showcased his capabilities.
  18. Jules Dassin.  Blacklisted director had one popular international hit, Never on a Sunday (1960).  His early noir efforts produced the classic Night and the City (1950), but because of McCarthyism, he was not allowed to work in his country.
  19. Stanley Donen.  His brilliant work with Gene Kelly overshadowed his fine solo work which includes Charade (1963) and the unusual Two for the Road (1967).
  20. Dario Argento.  Italian horror maestro has some set pieces that have to be seen to be believed.  Some key films are Deep Red (1975) and Suspira (1977).

The Twenty Greatest Political Films

November 20, 2016

My, but this has been a most perverse election year.  Just plain ugly.  However, it has made me reflect on a genre that is not easy to do by any standard-the political film.   I think these films work best when the personal becomes the political.  So, on that note, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Political Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”The Best Man”  (1964)  Franklin J. Schaffner.  Based on a play by Gore Vidal, this smart film shows the ugliness that goes into a political campaign.

2.”Dr. Strangelove”  (1964)  Stanley Kubrick.  Cold war inspired masterpiece that still makes my jaw drop.

3.”Missing”  (1982)  Costa Gavras.  This powerful film, financed by Gulf and Western, was about America’s cooperation with a deadly coup in Chile .

4.”Bullworth”  (1998)  Warren Beatty.  This lively satire actually beats with a leftist heart.

5.”Battle of Algiers”  (1967)  Gilo Pontecorvo.  It feels like it’s happening in real time, but this monumental piece is perhaps one of the most realistic of political films.

6.”Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman.  Critically-acclaimed Altman film looks at the fabric of America, and how easily it can tear.

7.”Seven Days in May” (1964)  John Frankenheimer.  Rod Serling scripted this intense film about a possible military takeover in government.

8.”The Candidate”  (1972)  Michael Ritchie.  This film has a documentary feel to it.  Also, it’s one of the most incisive films about our electoral process.

9.”Norma Rae”  (1979)  Martin Ritt.  One of the better films made about the labor movement.  This humanistic director always brought out the best in his actors.

10.”A Face in the Crowd”  (1957)  Elia Kazan.  This was way before its time.  Kazan and Shulberg put together a remarkable film about the building of a demigod.  An early reminder of the danger of the media (television).  Timely, eh?

11.”Gabriel Over the White House”  (1933)  Gregory La Cava.  A really unique film about a conservative who has a political conversion after a head injury.

12.”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”  (1939)  Frank Capra.  Naive, but still entertaining look at an innocent thrown into the madness that is Washington.

13.”The Great Dictator”  (1940)  Charles Chaplin.  The moment he breaks character and talks to the audience is one of the most moving moments in cinematic history.

14.”Salvador”  (1986).  Oliver Stone.  My favorite of Stone’s films; it is able to convey its message without sacrificing its stylistic cool.

15.”The Year of Living Dangerously”  (1983)  Peter Weir.  Weir is more spiritual as a director than he is political, but the mysticism that surrounds this film makes its point, potently.

16.”Under Fire”  (1982)  Roger Spottiswoode.  It’s remarkable that any film as progressive as this one was released during Reagan’s reign.

17.”All the President’s Men”  (1976)  Alan Pakula.  Politics as a detective story…that is what’s so great about this film.

18.””Wag the Dog”  (1997)  Barry Levinson.  Clever satire of a political cover-up dressed as a war.  It’s funny and quite alarming.

19.”Cutter’s Way.  (1982)  Ivan Passer.  This modern day Moby Dick is in it’s own way political.  This Ahab is going after the great white capitalist!

20.”The Last Emperor”  (1987)  Bernardo Bertolucci.  People were so infatuated by its visual opulence that they may have missed its sly Marxist message.

The Twenty Greatest Musicals

September 20, 2016

The musical gave a whole lot of folks employment-singers, dancers, choreographers, etc.  It also lifted people’s spirits during the Great Depression.  But, the film musical has all but disappeared.  My brother rejected the genre early on for its more fantastic elements.   Where, I, on the other hand, would love to break into a song at just about any moment.  Perhaps we’ve become too cynical for its simple charms.  Whatever the reasons, when the musicals were good, they were fabulous.  So, with that, I give  you “The twenty Greatest Musicals”.

In no particular order…

1.”Cabaret” (1972) Bob Fosse.  Fosse singlehandedly re-imagined the film musical.

2.”Singing in the Rain”  (1952)  Gene Kelley and Stanley Donen.  Pure joy captured brilliantly on celluloid.

3.”42nd Street”  (1933)  Lloyd Bacon.  The ultimate backstage musical.

4.”The Gold Diggers of 1933″  (1933)  Busby Berkeley, Mervyn LeRoy.  Depression inspired musical with eye=popping kaleidoscope Busby Berkeley stuff- a milestone of the genre.

5. “The Pajama Game” (1957)  George Abbott and Stanley Donen.  A pro-union musical that also benefits from the contributions of a young choreographer named Bob Fosse.

6.”Phantom of the Paradise” (1974)  Brian De Palma.  Faustian rock musical has recently garnished the attention it always deserved.  Great score by Paul Williams.

7.”Swing Time” (1936)   George Stevens.  The  plots weren’t particularly important in these Astaire-Rogers films.  But, the dancing and the songs were amazing.

8.”Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)  Vincent Minnelli.  This is lyrical Americana,, put together by people who knew how to make things like this work.

9.”West Side Story” (1061) Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.  Sure, the leads suck, and the Jets come off as a poor man’s Bowery Boys, but the score is magnificent as is the dancing.

10.”Wizard of Oz” (1939) Victor Fleming.  Not only is this one of the great children films, it is also one of the screen’s great film musicals.  What a score!

11.”Top Hat” (1935) Mark Sandrich.  An Art Deco treasure served by that great Astaire-Rogers team- maybe their best!

12.”Footlight Parade” (1933) Busby Berkeley, Lloyd Bacon.  Exuberant Warner Bros. extravaganza-with Cagney and Keeler hoofing it up big time.

13.”Oliver” (1968) Carol Reed.  Child abuse as a musical?  Dickens classic gracefully mounted by Reed and Company.

14.”Bye Bye Birdie” (1963)  George Sidney.  This film is everything “Grease” was supposed to be.  Bright and colorful.

15.”An American in Paris”.  (1951)  Vincent Minnelli.  The twenty minute ballet scene is absolutely mesmerizing.

16.”All That Jazz”.  (1979)  Bob Fosse.  It’s a semi-autobiographical death-laden musical extravaganza-wow!

17.”The Music Man” (1962)  Morton DaCosta.  Reprising his Broadway role-Preston created one of the screen’s great con man.

18.”Pennies From Heaven”  (1981)  Herbert Ross.  The last, great film musical.

19.”Cabin in the Sky”  (1943)  Vincent Minnelli.  Faustian folktale with an inspirational group of wonderful African-American performers.

20.”King of Jazz”  (1930)  John Murray Anderson.  An imaginative variety show?  Well, that’s what this film is.  Look for a young Bing Crosby!

 

 

 

 

The Twenty Greatest Disturbing Films

August 20, 2016

Is it an achievement to mess with the audience, to play with their sensibilities?  Well, it could be, if there’s a psychology behind it, or if it’s tied to something that’s significant. Now, is that entertainment?   I believe Martin Scorsese said it best when he was referring to the films of Cronenberg-“He goes to the soft spot in our brain”.  So, with these intriguing thoughts, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Disturbing Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”Dead Ringers”  (1988)  David Cronenberg.  It’s hard to describe the feeling that Cronenberg evokes in this most disquieting of films-something like majestic fatalism.

2.”Lord of the Flies”  (1963)  Peter Brooks.  This film so terrified me when I was young that it’s still hard for me to talk about it.  I will say just say this:  Creepy murdering English boys, yikes!

3.”The Possession of Joel Delaney”  (1972)  Waris Hussein.  Seldom seen shocker goes deep into some weird stuff.

4.”Funny Games”  (1997)  Michael Haneke.  Sadistic, grim, and not particularly cheerful, it’s undeniably well done, though.

5.”A Clockwork Orange”  (1971)  Stanley Kubrick.  This still controversial film polarized many in its day, and probably always will.

6.”Freaks”  (1932)  Tod Browning.  Critics may now regard this notorious film with favor, but it outraged audiences in its day for Browning’s use of real freaks as figures of horror.

7.”Straw Dogs”  (1971)  Sam Peckinpah.  Peckinpah probes the male psyche in a way few filmmakers would ever dare.

8.”The Devils”  (1971)  Ken Russell.  Nymphomaniac nuns, a lustful priest, and people burned to death for being witches set the stage for this madhouse of a film.

9.”Bully”  (2001)  Larry Clark.  The pathology spills over to a group homicide in this hard-hitting tale.

10.”The King of Ants”  (2002)  Stuart Gordon.  This seldom seen film is quite a discovery-a horrifying look at one’s man descent into murder.

11.”Kissed”  (1996)  Lynne Stopkewich.  This film is hard to describe.  Let’s just say this gal is a little too fond of the dead.

12.”Looking for Mr. Goodbar”  (1977)  Richard Brooks.  The swinging singles lifestyle of the 1970’s is given a nightmarish treatment in this heavy-handed, but effective piece of horror.

13.”1900″  (1977)  Bernardo Bertolucci.  This Marxist epic is definitely more shocking than “Last Tango in Paris”.

14.”Blue Velvet”  (1986)  David Lynch.  I find the film strangely charming, but many were put off by the highly charged sexuality and violence that surrounds Lynch’s surreal masterpiece.

15.”M”  (1933)  Fritz Lang.  The ironies are fierce in this groundbreaking work.

16.”Out of the Blue”  (1982)  Dennis Hopper.  Uncompromising look at one family literally imploding after their father returns from prison.

17.”Heavenly Creatures”  (1994)  Peter Jackson.  By delving into the twisted imaginings of two teenage girls,  Jackson intensifies the notion of their brutal act.

18.”Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer”  (1990)  John McNaughton.  What makes this film so terrifying is that it feels like your watching a documentary.

19.”Casualties of War”  (1989)   Brian De Palma.  Haunting and heartbreaking retelling of a truly terrible incident committed during the Vietnam War.

20.”Seven Beauties”  (1976)  Lina Wertmuller.  Corrosive black comedy about the cost of survival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twenty Greatest Heist Films

July 20, 2016

I must have larceny in my heart, for I seem to have a real fondness for the heist film.  I have even been known to root for the bad guys to get away with it.  Maybe what the heist film does is provide a certain wish fulfillment for the audience; it’s a safe way to dabble at the darker side of our nature.  I mean, who hasn’t thought about an easy way to make a lot of money, or to get out from under a dire financial situation?  Well, these questions are what I believe make the heist film so appealing.  So, on that note, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Heist Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”The Killing”  1956  Stanley Kubrick.  Early Kubrick effort is a tightly structured look at a truly failed robbery.

2.”Quick Change”  1990  Bill Murray, Howard Franklin.  This is one of the more cheerful entries in the heist genre.

3.””The Asphalt Jungle”  1950  John Huston.  The most existential of all heist films-beautifully realized.

4.”Friends of Eddie Coyle”  1972  Peter Yates.  Working class characters give an authenticity to film.

5.”Dog Day Afternoon”  1975  Sidney Lumet.  Eccentric bank robbery makes the onlookers part of the circus.

6.”Inside Job”  2000  Spike Lee.  This tense, little heist film is full of surprises.

7.”The Anderson Tapes”  1972  Sidney Lumet.  Not a great film, but it makes an interesting comment on how we are all being watched.

8.”The Drop”  2014  Michael R. Roskam.  Gritty neighborhood heist film was penned with the nuances by the wonderful Dennis Lehane (Mystic River).

9.”The Man Who Wasn’t There”  2000  Coen Brothers.  Very unusual noir film shot in glorious black and white.

10.”Dead Presidents”  1995  Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes.  Insane heist film is perhaps too ambitious for what it delivers.

11.”Heat”  1995  Michael Mann.  Thought-provoking heist film that benefits from an excellent cast.

12.”Kansas City Confidential”  1952  Phil Karlson.  Kinda creepy heist film makes the robbers hauntingly anonymous.

13.”Point Break”  1991.  Kathryn Bigelow.  Unique spin on the genre,but too long for it’s own good.

14.”Criss Cross”  1949  Robert Siodmak.  Romantic fatalism skillfully served.

15.”Rififi”  1954  Jules Dassin.  This film has a wonderful twenty minute safe-cracking sequence.

16.”The Bling Ring”  2013  Sophia Coppola.  Sly, seductive offering by the talented offspring.

17.”The Maltese Falcon”  1941  John Huston.  The robbery of dreams?

18.”Resevoir Dogs”  1992  Quentin Tarantino.  Framed through a flashback, this amazing first feature still impresses.

19.”The Thomas Crown Affair”  1968  Norman Jewison.  White collar crime with a 60’s sensibility.

20.”The Town”  2010  Ben Affleck.  These neighborhood bank robbers still live in and rob from their old neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

Twenty More Underrated Films

June 20, 2016

When I compiled the list of “The Twenty Greatest Underrated Films”,  I felt that I had left off a few good ones.  And, since I am a lover of the cinema, I decided to dig up a few more gems to include on “Twenty More Underrated Films”.

In no particular order…

  1. “Badlands” (1973)  Terrence Malick.  Malick’s first feature is filmed in a cold, detached manner to resemble the affect of the main characters.
  2. “Force of Evil” (1948)  Abraham Polonsky.  Just about everyone was blacklisted on this tale of capitalism and corruption.
  3. “The Shining” (1980)  Stanley Kubrick.  Many people were disappointed with this version of King’s novel, but I see it as a marital black comedy, complete with ghosts.
  4. “Murder at the Vanities” (1934)  Martin Leisen.  Pre-code murder mystery musical is a whole lotta fun and a little naughty, too.
  5. “Dante’s Inferno” (1935)  Harry Lachman.  Imaginative venture from MGM, featuring one amazing scene set in Hell.
  6. “Up the Down Staircase” (1967)  Robert Mulligan.  The best of all films about teaching.  It makes the public school system in a big city look like a battle zone.
  7. “The Landlord” (1970) Hal Ashby.  Ashby’s first feature is a freewheeling satire on race relations.  However, it does contain some moments of real insight.
  8. “If I Had a Million” (1932)  Ernest Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, and others.  One of the best of all the anthology films.  I particularly like the W.C. Field’s sequence.
  9. “The Gypsy Moths” (1969) John Frankenheimer.  Existential to say the least.  Frankenheimer’s moody meditation on risktakers is subtle yet powerful.
  10. “Alice in Wonderland” (1933)  Norman Z. McLeod.  Unfairly neglected, this all star Paramount feature is surprisingly close in tone to the Lewis Carroll classic.
  11. “The Wind” (1928)  Victor Sjostrom.  The elements enhance the metaphor in this silent film masterwork.
  12. “King of the Ants” (2002) Stuart Gordon.  Skin-crawling tale of man’s ability to reduce himself to something less than human.
  13. “West of Zanzibar” (1929) Tod Browning.  Exotic, bizarre, and quite politically incorrect; one of the best Chaney/Browning collaborations.
  14. “It’s a Gift” (1934) Norman McLeod.  At 73 minutes, it’s uproarious; a real unsung gem of the genre.
  15. “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) Mike Nichols.  Jules Feiffer’s disturbing depiction f a generation of men who were afraid of women.
  16. “California Split” (1974)  Robert Altman.  Sobering account of two gamblers’ reckless weekend spree.
  17. “Death Becomes Her” (1992) Robert Zemeckis.  Uneven, but at times an eye-opening satire of narcissism taken to a whole new level.
  18. “Lilith” (1964) Robert Rossen.  Strange film which has gained a cult following over the years.
  19. “The Birds” (1963) Alfred Hitchcock.  Although it was popular with audiences in its day, it received mixed reviews.  This highly influential film belies its own facade to show a crumbling world.
  20. “The Candidate” (1972) Michael Ritchie.  This smart film leaves you feeling rather helpless towards the political process.