Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Ten Favourite Films Missing from the TSPDT Top 1000:

I've been trudging my way through the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? Top 1000 for a few months now, and I'm glad that you've eagerly followed my adventures thus far - yes, I'm talking to you. There's only one of you, so I couldn't possibly be referring to anybody else!

Anyway, just to show that I'm not completely obsessed with this single greatest films list, I've decided to mount a top ten of my favourite films that DO NOT appear on the list at all. There are some rather unconventional choices, to be sure, but rest assured that each of these films means a lot to me. In keeping true to the chronological bias of my source list, I've deliberately excluded any films from 1990 onwards, otherwise I'd be forced to profess my undying love of all things Lord of the Rings... and I'm not yet ready to lose your respect and admiration.

10) Koneko monogatari {The Adventures of Milo and Otis} (1986 / Masanori Hata / Japan)
My only Japanese film on the list: is it a Kurosawa? Is it an Ozu? Is it a Mizoguchi? I'm afraid that you're all a long way off! As a young boy, I had an almost-obsessive love of animals and adventure, and so it should come as no surprise that The Adventures of Milo and Otis was one of my all-time favourite childhood films. Originally a darker Japanese film entitled Koneko monogatari {A Kitten's Story / The Adventures of Chatran}, the extensive 400,000 feet of footage from one-time director Masanori Hata was taken by Columbia Pictures and completely changed, trimmed and Westernised into a touching children's tale. In an adventure entirely devoid of human presence, mischievous feline Milo finds himself swept downriver, with loyal canine pal Otis in hot pursuit, and the pair find themselves faced with the natural beauty and terror of the unfamiliar Japanese wilderness. This film is a genuine treat.

9) The Untouchables (1987 / Brian De Palma/ USA)
After years of shamelessly imitating Alfred Hitchcock's film-making style, De Palma finally came into his own, and the railway station shootout in The Untouchables – a respectful homage to Eisenstein's "Odessa Steps" sequence – is a perfect organism of suspense and intrigue, every minute detail absorbed by the audience with a continually-quickening heartbeat. Kevin Costner stars as Agent Eliot Ness, whose dedication towards bringing down arrogant and brutal gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) has been constantly thwarted by the corruption rampant throughout the police force. Sean Connery deservedly received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Ness' brisk, irritable and racist mentor. As far as gangster pictures not directed by Francis Ford Coppola are concerned, this is about as good as they come.

8) Le Voyage à travers l'impossible {The Impossible Voyage} (1904 / Georges Méliès / France)
Released in 1904, cinematic magician Georges Méliès' The Impossible Voyage often stands in the shadow of the filmmaker's earlier success Le Voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), which has long-since earned itself the label of a cinematic classic. In many ways, however, this film is the superior of the two, brimming with stunning set and model-work, creative visual effects, an exciting around-the-world journey and no shortage of imagination. Some viewers may find it difficult to accept the film's questionable take on science and logic, but this all adds to the charm of it. Méliès – a master of magician's tricks, puffs of smoke and impossible disappearances – was never concerned with reality, but with transporting his audiences into a world quite unlike their own. In an era where so many directors were neither daring nor imaginative enough to make the impossible happen on screen, Le Voyage à travers l'impossible is the pinnacle of early film-making.
7) Watership Down (1978 / Martin Rosen / UK)
It would have taken a mighty piece of filmmaking to make me forget that I hate rabbits, and yet Watership Down (1978) had me utterly engaged from the opening moments. Not only did I care about Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig, but I genuinely fell in love with them, and for 100 minutes I was completely absorbed in their strenuous but noble struggle for survival. This mature and intelligent animated film unfolds in the English countryside, as a group of estranged rabbits trudge across the rolling hills in search of a new home. In a series of fascinating, and occasionally frightening, episodes, the animals encounter countless predators who would happily make a meal of them - eagles, dogs, cats, humans - but their greatest obstacle lies in the nasty, tyrannical Chief-Rabbit, General Woundwort, a bloated, domineering lump of a villain who is both reminiscent of George Orwell's Napolean and, oddly enough, Orson Welles' Police Captain Hank Quinlan.
6) Angels with Dirty Faces (1938 / Michael Curtiz / USA)
Angels with Dirty Faces, one of a string of gangster/crime pictures that frequented Hollywood throughout the 1930s, was a film that I really only watched to see Humphrey Bogart playing a bad guy. However, it was the performance of Mr. James Cagney – of whom I'd often heard, but never seen – that truly inspired my admiration, delivering surely one of the most memorable displays of acting ever seen. Two childhood friends (Cagney and Pat O'Brien), via a twisted act of fate, find themselves taking drastically different paths in life; Rocky Sullivan becomes immersed in a life of crime, and his old friend heads towards the Church, from which he tries to prevent the next generation from going astray. Curtiz, despite his occasional tendency to moralise, effortlessly constructs an intense atmosphere around his dynamite cast of characters, and the image of struggling shadows on the wall has never left such an indellible mark.

5) Frau im Mond {Woman in the Moon} (1929 / Fritz Lang / Germany)
Fritz Lang followed his big-budget box-office flop Metropolis (1927) with yet another big-budget box-office flop. Unlike the former, however, the march of time has caused Woman in the Moon to sink almost into obscurity, which is a shame for one of the silent era's most ambitious cinematic projects. When an eccentric scientist predicts the existence of gold on the far side of the Moon, one intrepid entrepreneur plans a rocket journey to find out for himself. However, a small faction of greedy, elite businessmen hears of these plans and hires the slick, slimy-haired mercenary Mr. Turner to gain control of the expedition. The storyline is one of the purest early examples of science-fiction, steeped in crime, corruption and espionage, and, not only are the visual effects extremely impressive, but Lang tried to be as scientifically-accurate as possible. Just try to overlook the breathable Lunar atmosphere!
4) Die Brücke {The Bridge} (1959 / Bernhard Wicki / West Germany)
When I blindly snatched a VHS copy of this film off the library shelf, I could never have known that I was about to watch one of the most outstanding WWII films ever made, a harrowing, uncompromising tale of the futility of war and the tragic loss of childhood life and innocence. In the closing months of the War, with Germany at its knees, seven idealistic teenagers join the armed forces. In order to spare them certain death, the boys are posted at a small concrete bridge on the outskirts of a small town. This particular crossing is strategically insignificant, and the commanders plan to demolish it as soon as the Americans arrive, but the boys are not privy to this information. When, indeed, the Americans do reach the bridge in a trio of tanks, the seven young recruits launch a full offensive, a tragedy of misguided courage that results in a devastating bloodbath.
3) Obchod na korze {The Shop on Main Street} (1965 / Ján Kadar, Elmar Klos / Czechoslovakia)
The Shop on Main Street is a truly remarkable film, a gentle mix of comedy and tragedy that manages to tug at our heartstrings without ever resorting to unnecessary violence or over-the-top melodrama. It is 1942, and World War Two is in full force. Tono Brtko (Jozef Króner), a poor Aryan carpenter in a Slovak town, is placed in charge of a Jewish button shop on Main Street, where the the old and senile Mrs. Lautmann (Ida Kaminska), who doesn't realise that a war is going on, naturally assumes that Brtko is here as her assistant. Fittingly, the pair received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival for their acting performances, and the film itself won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Czechoslovakia at the 1966 Academy Awards.
2) Fail-Safe (1964 / Sidney Lumet / USA)
Sidney's Lumet's Cold War-era thriller, Fail-Safe, is, put quite simply, one of the most engaging films I have ever experienced, a masterpiece of paranoia and destruction. During the 1950s and 60s, the possibility of a nuclear war must have seemed a terrifying inevitability, and many filmmakers exploited this fear for maximum effect, though none more effectively than Lumet with this film. Fail-Safe takes a scenario that sounds remarkably like Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964) and, with meticulous patience and a stealthily-mounting sense of dread, builds towards a single devastating climax. The soundtrack screams an indecipherable mishmash of radio static, piercing feedback and human suffering. Never has a film cut so effectively to black.
1) Skazka skazok {Tale of Tales} (1979 / Yuriy Norshteyn / Soviet Union)
In 1984, in an event held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Olympics, the Animation Olympiad jury attempted to recognise the single greatest animated film of all time. Despite a wealth of worthy candidates, one film was ultimately crowned with the grand title: that film, of course, was Tale of Tales. Norshteyn's masterpiece, created with a meticulous animation process for which most animators lack the patience, is a triumph of stunning animation, ambient sound and a stirring classical score. The 30-minute is comprised of a series of related sequences, each metaphorically rooted in the history of the Soviet Union, every frame so breathtakingly beautiful that you can do little but stare in captivation. We're all still waiting on The Overcoat, the feature-length masterpiece on which Norshteyn has been working since 1981.
What are a few of your own unsung masterpieces? I'd be very interested in hearing from as many people as possible (which means I'll be expecting at least one reply).


ressot3 said...

Why, you're talking to me? How honored I am...

You'd call me mad, wouldn't you? I think the Odessa steps homage in the Untouchables is even better than the original. Madness, I know. :(

That's also the only one from your list I've seen. :(

Some of mine. I can't actually remember if all of these are off the list:
Werckmeister Harmonies
Through a Glass Darkly
Les Miserables [a la Bernard]
Lessons of Darkness
The Heart of the World
Elevator to the Gallows
Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi
The Last of the Mohicans [1920]
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Even Dwarfs Started Small
Buster Keaton Shorts
George Melies Shorts

Though I suppose shorts aren't really their sort of thing...

ressot3 said...

How on Earth can you hate bunnies? I mean...they're bunnies.

ackatsis said...

Yep, you're the only user who leaves messages. Your effort is much appreciated. Remember to tell your friends!

As for the Odessa Steps comparison, I'd say that it's a tough call. Eisentein's sequence is just so incredibly realistic and devastating, whereas DePalma's is highly stylised in an Alfred Hitchcock sort of way. Let's just say that I like them both.

I'm afraid that I haven't seen any of your choices, except for a few Keaton and Melies shorts. I might have to check out a few of your titles - I'm especially behind on my Herzog.

As for the rabbits, it's a condition of Australian citizenship that you hate rabbits. They're an extremely troublesome pest, and they breed like... rabbits. :-|

TheAngryViking said...

Well, Fritz Lang's Fury does not get nearly as much attention as it deserves. Neither the execution of it, nor the subject matter is perhaps as striking as his 2 best known films, Metropolis and M however this one stands firm right next to them. A gripping tale of group mentality and a rather misanthropic view of society, mixed with the best performance of a very pissed off man(Spencer Tracy) makes this a a personal favorite.

Another undermentioned gem is the french film Oscar starring Louis DeFunes. The film is based on a play, and if you like the comedies of Billy Wilder you will most certainly like this one.

ackatsis said...

Is that you, Inspector? Welcome back!

I must admit that I'm terribly behind in my post-silent era Lang. I've only seen "Scarlet Street" and "Secret Beyond the Door," both of which were interesting but underwhelming (and "M," of course). "Fury" looks great!

Likewise, I haven't heard of "Oscar" [wasn't that a Sly Stallone comedy a few years back?]. I'll check it out if I can find it!

TheAngryViking said...

Yes, it's me. I was amazed that I could remember the password for this blog account, hadn't used it for a year.

I like Scarlet Street a lot actually, but Fury is a far more important film in terms of content so hopefully you won't find it underwhelming.

The Sly film was a remake of Oscar. I have not seen it, but I cannot imagine that it's even half as good as the french original

ackatsis said...

About 10 years ago, my older brother sent my Dad into town to rent "Austin Powers" for him and his friends.
My Dad, exhibiting supreme powers of recollection, got to the video store, promptly forgot the title of the movie, came across something that sounded vaguely familiar, and return home clasping "Oscar" - with a big smiling picture of Sly on the front cover.

Needless to say, we didn't watch it!