JONATHAN ROSENBAUM'S 1000 ESSENTIAL FILMS: NOTES ON THE TOP 100
Over the last couple of years I have come to disagree with Rosenbaum more and more (his reviews of FAR FROM HEAVEN, MYSTIC RIVER, THE FOG OF WAR I find much to contend with) but even in these disagreements I find a formidable opinion that challenges me to make my own opinion better and stronger. I think the next five years may bring even more disagreements, and even more insights to spring from them.
Responding to his top 100 list is a useful way to take stock of where I stand with him as of this present moment. I will never post a top 100 list myself, and even if I were a straight match-up wouldn't really say anything. Lists in themselves say nothing -- their value surfaces only when we explore them and try to find out more about where they're coming from, the ideas behind the choices and and our own ideas in return.
And so I've provided some of my own interpretations of his choices, along with some of his own descriptions of these titles as found on www.chireader.com/movies -- most can be found in the database of brief reviews.
(x denotes one of the 35 films on the list I haven't seen)
Le Tunnel sous la Manche (Melies) - was on Rosenbaum's 1999 decade-by-decade top ten -- I prefer VOYAGE TRAVERS L'IMPOSSIBLE.
Les Vampires (Feuillade) - was on Rosenbaum's 2002 Sight and Sound Top 10 -- I consider this film a key source-text of a new cinema for the 21st century. He writes:
"Louis Feuillade's extraordinary ten-part silent serial of 1916, running just under eight hours, is one of the supreme delights of film--an account of the exploits of an all-powerful group of criminals called the Vampire Gang, headed by the infamous Irma Vep (Musidora), whose name is an anagram for "vampire." Filmed mainly in Paris locations, Feuillade's masterpiece combines documentary with fantasy to create a dense world of multiple disguises, secret passageways, poison rings, and evil master plots that assumes an awesome cumulative power: the everyday world of the French bourgeoisie, personified by the hapless sleuth hero, during the height of World War I is imbued with an unseen terror that no amount of virtuous detection can ever efface entirely... One of the most prolific directors who ever lived, Feuillade is arguably a good deal more entertaining than Griffith, and unquestionably much more modern: his mastery of deep-focus mise en scene is astonishing, and its influence on Fritz Lang as well as Luis Buñuel and other surrealists remains one of his major legacies."
It's significant that Rosenbaum excluded Griffith entirely while making room for two Feuillades, as he considers them antithetical to each other (Griffith = transparent polemic, Feuillade = mysterious subversion). I've outgrown this position (and I'd probably make room for A CORNER IN WHEAT or BROKEN BLOSSOMS in my top 100), partly with the help of paul panzer I came to see how one has to move beyond thinking in dichotomous terms.
x Tih Minh (Feuillade) - was on Rosenbaum's 1992 Sight and Sound top ten and 1999 decade-by-decade top ten -- haven't seen.
Foolish Wives (Stroheim) - was on Rosenbaum's 1992 Sight and Sound Top 10 -- it's pretty damn hard to take at times and decadent as hell -- I'm not sure I'd call it a masterpiece but Rosenbaum is partial to Stroheim and his extremely uncompromising and gloriously fallacious efforts at expansive, long-take cinema (which may also be why he is so partial to Feuillade and Rivette)
Greed (Stroheim) - no surprise since Rosenbaum wrote a book on this. "Greed remains one of the most modern of silent films, anticipating Citizen Kane in its deep-focus compositions and Jean Renoir in the emotional complexity of its tragic humanism."
Die Nibelungen (Lang) - 80 years ahead of LORD OF THE RINGS. "These stunning, seminal features, restored to something resembling their original form and length in 35-millimeter by the Munich Film Museum (part one is 143 minutes, part two is 129), are even more impressive in their mythical splendor than Lang's much better known Metropolis, anticipating everything from Fantasia (one lovely segment in Siegfried is animated) to Batman to Star Wars while showing Lang's plastic gifts at their most impressive."
Sunrise (Murnau)* - was on Rosenbaum's 1999 decade-by-decade top ten.
The Docks of New York (Sternberg) - I prefer SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE SCARLET EMPRESS over this but a masterpiece is a masterpiece. I'm glad he found room for two Sternbergs.
Spione (Lang) - kind of an accelerated version of Feuillade, it's very good but I wouldn't put it on a top 100.
"Perhaps Fritz Lang's most neglected major work, this stunning silent German thriller (1928) both summarizes and refines his first Dr. Mabuse film while introducing some of the principles of editing continuity found in M. Scripted by Thea von Harbou (Lang's second wife), it pits a government agent (Willy Fritsch) against a wheelchair-bound international banker (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) whose spy ring is stealing classified documents, and its fanciful and imaginative approach to the thriller form clearly inspired both Alfred Hitchcock and Thomas Pynchon... Erotic, mysterious, abstract, full of uncanny images and ideas, and rich with multiple identities and intrigue, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the great director's work."
Arsenal (Dovzhenko) - Much like Feuillade as an alternative to Griffith, Rosenbaum puts Dovzhenko as an alternative to Eisenstein, less didactic, more poetic. I'd have gone with EARTH myself.
"Earth (1930) is the most famous of Alexander Dovzhenko's masterpieces, but this white-hot war film, made the previous year... is in many ways his most dazzling silent picture. Though it was commissioned to glorify the 1918 struggle of Bolshevik workers at a Kiev munitions factory against White Russian troops, Dovzhenko's view of wartime and battlefront morality is too ambiguous and multilayered to fit comfortably within any propaganda scheme. More clearly influenced by Sergei Eisenstein than any of Dovzhenko's other pictures, it's certainly the one that uses fast editing in the most exciting fashion, and some of the poetic uses of Ukrainian folklore that were Dovzhenko's specialty have an almost drunken abandon here--as in the singing horses."
x Lonesome (Fejos) - I really want to see this! "Paul Fejos's exquisite, poetic 1928 masterpiece about love and estrangement in the big city deserves to be ranked with F.W. Murnau's Sunrise and King Vidor's The Crowd from the same period, though it's not nearly as well-known. Equally neglected is Fejos himself, a peripatetic Hungarian who made striking films in Hungary, Hollywood, Austria, and France in the late silent and early sound era before becoming an anthropologist--and making a few ethnographic films that are even harder to find. Lonesome, which has some dialogue, begins with a dazzling evocation, using superimpositions and diptychs, of the hero and heroine, who haven't yet met, as they wake and pursue their morning work routines. They meet at Coney Island that afternoon, lose track of each other in a crowd, then are reunited back in the city in a surprising diptychlike scene. Fejos was already interested in ethnographic archetypes when he made this picture, which makes city life seem like a labyrinth in a fairy tale--as intricate and inscrutable, but also as enchanted."
City Lights (Chaplin) - was on Rosenbaum's 1999 decade-by-decade top ten. I can't decide which is my favorite Chaplin.
M (Lang) - was on Rosenbaum's 2002 Sight and Sound top ten
x La Nuit du Carrefour (Renoir) - Haven't found much writing by Rosenbaum on Renoir.
Ivan (Dovzhenko) - haven't seen this, really need to see more Dovzhenko. He writes: "As in all of Dovzhenko's best work, the style veers closer to lyrical poetry (its opening sequence about the river) and portraiture (a later segment introducing us to various workers) than to narrative, though it's innovative in other respects as well: the final sequence includes some striking jump cuts almost 30 years before Jean-Luc Godard purportedly invented them in Breathless."
I Was Born, but.. (Ozu) - Rosenbaum prefers this because he considers it to be Ozu's most socio-political work. "Though regarded in Japan mainly as a conservative director, Ozu was a trenchant social critic throughout his career, and the devastating understanding of social context that he shows here is full of radical implications."
x Love me Tonight (Mamoulian) - along with HALLELUJAH I'M A BUM and YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, he seems to have a penchant for what I'd describe as "slacker musicals". In his words these films have a "a... metaphysical impulse to perceive the musical form as a continuous state of delirious being rather than a traditional story with musical eruptions."
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (Milestone) - one of Rosenbaum's favorite Hollywood musicals, because of its sociopolitical subtext: "
x Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor) - He writes: "For my money, the most interesting and audacious movie George Cukor ever made. It boldly and disconcertingly seems to switch tone and genre every few moments, from farce to tragedy to romance to crime thriller and back again--rather like the French New Wave films that were to come a quarter of a century later--as Cukor's fascination with theater and the outsized talents of his cast somehow hold it all together. The film flopped miserably when it came out in 1935, but it survives as one of the most poetic, magical, and inventive Hollywood films of its era."
Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey) - I prefer TOKYO STORY but I agree with Rosenbaum's comment that it may be "the greatest movie ever made about the plight of the elderly...it's a profoundly moving love story as well as a devastating portrait of how society works, and you're likely to be changed as well as deeply marked by the experience."
La Regle du Jeu (Renoir)* - sure -- though I haven't seen Rosenbaum write much on Renoir.
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi)* - was on Rosenbaum's 2002 Sight and Sound top ten (as well as that of several other critics) -- this film has enjoyed a critical comeback perhaps due to Noel Burch's argument that this is Mizoguchi before his genius was compromised by western influence. I think that's a bogus argument, and don't know how much that informs Rosenbaum's appreciation -- but all three of us can agree that this is a radical work, perhaps the most purely cinematic of Mizoguchi's oeuvre.
x Christmas in July (Sturges) - Once again, his reasons for placing it at the top of an auteurist's oeuvre are political: "Preston Sturges's second feature as writer-director (1940, 66 min.) is in many ways the most underrated of his movies--a riotous comedy-satire about capitalism that bites so deep it hurts. "
Citizen Kane (Welles)* -
The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles) - Rosenbaum is one of the leading scholars on Welles alive today. It's interesting that he didn't list TOUCH OF EVIL since he worked on its restoration, and he didn't list CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT although he had included it in his 1992 Sight and sound top ten and the 1999 decade-by-decade top ten.
Day of Wrath (Dreyer)? - was on his 1999 decade-by-decade top ten. he writes: "Day of Wrath may be the greatest film ever made about living under totalitarian rule. Astonishing in its artistically informed period re-creation as well as its hypnotic mise en scene (with some exceptionally eerie camera movements), it challenges the viewer by suggesting at times that witchcraft isn't so much an illusion as an activity produced by intolerance. And like Dreyer's other major films, it's sensual to the point of carnality. I can't think of another 40s film that's less dated."
x Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch) - Interesting that he picked this over TROUBLE IN PARADISE. "Like a good deal of Lubitsch from about The Merry Widow on, this is a movie about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition."
The Seventh Victim (Robson) - I wasn't blown away by this though I must say the ending is as chilling a moment of loss of innocence and a young woman's confrontation with the adult world as any I can think of. "Though not directed by an auteurist-approved figure (Mark Robson has never attracted any cult to my knowledge), this is arguably the greatest of producer Val Lewton's justly celebrated low-budget chillers (rivaled only by his 1942 Cat People)"
Ivan the Terrible 1+2 (Eisenstein)* - was on his 2002 Sight and Sound top ten, and how interesting that it's the only Eisenstein on his list (it kind of tells you what he thinks of the earlier stuff). "The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin's paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinema--freakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre."
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler) - "I'd call this the best American movie about returning soldiers I've ever seen--the most moving and the most deeply felt. It bears witness to its times and contemporaries like few other Hollywood features, and Gregg Toland's deep-focus cinematography is one of the best things he ever did."
Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin) - was on his 1992 Sight and Sound top 10.
Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu) - considered by most Chinese film critics the greatest of all Chinese films. I'd be curious to see if Rosenbaum has anything interesting to say about this...
x Stars in my Crown (Tourneur) "A view of the American heartland that's emotionally engaged but still charged with darkness (a typhoid epidemic and a near lynching are among its key episodes), it recalls some of John Ford's best work in its complex perception of goodness, and I can't think of many films that convey a particular community with more pungency."
x The Steel Helmet (Fuller)
x The Big Sky (Hawks) - haven't seen. He writes (for Kambei's edification): "Though this sublime 1952 black-and-white masterpiece by Howard Hawks is usually accorded a low place in the Hawks canon, it's a particular favorite of mine--mysterious, beautiful, and even utopian in some of its sexual and cultural aspects. Adapted (apparently rather loosely) by Dudley Nichols from part of A.B. Guthrie's novel, this adventure stars Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin as Kentucky drifters who join an epic trek up the Missouri River, along with the latter's uncle (Arthur Hunnicutt), an Indian princess (Elizabeth Threatt), and a good many Frenchmen. The poetic feeling for the wilderness is matched by the camaraderie, yet there's also a tragic undertone to this odyssey that seems quintessentially Hawksian--a sense of a small human oasis in the center of a vast metaphysical void."
Othello (Welles) - "For all the liberties taken with the play, Orson Welles's 1952 independent feature may well be the greatest of all Shakespeare films (Welles's later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)--a brooding expressionist dream made in eerie Moorish locations in Morocco and Italy over nearly three years (beautifully shot by Anchisi Brizzi, G.R. Aldo, and George Fanto), yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere... Despite his reputation in the U.S. as a Hollywood filmmaker, Welles made about 75 percent of his films as a fly-by-night independent in order to regain the artistic control he'd had on Citizen Kane; Othello, the first of these features, is arguably an even more important film in his career than Kane, inaugurating the more fragmented shooting style that dominates his subsequent work."
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks) - was on his 1992 and 2002 Sight and Sound Top 10. He gives the single best analysis of this film in his book PLACING MOVIES: THE ART AND PRACTICE OF FILM CRITICISM.
The Naked Spur (Mann) - "An uncharacteristically nasty James Stewart plays an obsessive bounty hunter with Robert Ryan in tow in one of the very best Anthony Mann westerns--which means one of the very best westerns, period. This 1953 film has Janet Leigh in jeans, beautiful location shooting (and Technicolor cinematography) in the Rockies, and some of the most intense psychological warfare to be found in Mann's angular and anguished oeuvre."
Rosenbaum's full-length appreciation of Anthony Mann can be found here: http://www.chireader.com/movies/archives/2002/0702/020705.html
x The Sun Shines Bright (Ford) - the only Ford title mentioned by Rosenbaum (he's also listed JUDGE PRIEST and MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE in his alternative to the AFI top 100 American films)
Johnny Guitar (N.Ray) -- his Senses of Cinema Great Directors biography on Ray:
Rear Window (Hitchcock)? "This may well be Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movie."
The Saga of Anatahan (Sternberg) -- definitely the most haunting and self-referential of Sternberg's films... I falter at calling it his greatest if only because it lacks the singular pleasure of his 20s and 30s films. Rosenbaum's full length review can be found in his book PLACING MOVIES.
Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi)*
x Track of the Cat (Wellman)
Ordet (Dreyer)* - was on his 1992 Sight and Sound top ten
Guys and Dolls (Mankiewicz) -- My reasons for liking this are sentimental (I was Nathan Detroit in high school). "Despite the fact that it is a respectable and even imaginative movie version of one of the greatest American stage musicals, this 1955 blockbuster has an undeservedly bad rep, largely because the two leads--Marlon Brando as professional gambler Sky Masterson and Jean Simmons as Salvation Army recruiter Sarah Brown--aren't professional singers. In fact, they both do wonders with Frank Loesser's dynamite score because they perform their numbers with feeling and sincerity, and their efforts to live up to their material are perfectly in tune with the aspirations of their characters (as well as the songs themselves); in short, this may be the only Method musical. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, known more for his literacy than his handling of production numbers, does a creditable job with the stylized, stagy sets and the pungent vernacular of the original Damon Runyon material (which he also adapted). Also on hand, and at their very best, are Frank Sinatra (as Nathan Detroit), Vivian Blaine (as Adelaide), Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pully, Veda Ann Borg, and Johnny Silver. This runs for 150 minutes, but chances are you won't be bored for an instant; it's conceivably the best picture that Sam Goldwyn ever produced."
The Killing (Kubrick) - of the films on this list that I've seen, this is the one I find least worthy. Sometimes "perfection" can leave one cold. "Arguably Stanley Kubrick's most perfectly conceived and executed film, this 1956 noirish thriller utilizes an intricate overlapping time structure to depict the planning and execution of a plot to steal $2 million from a racetrack. Adapted by Kubrick from Lionel White's Clean Break, with an extraordinary gallery of B players: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, J.C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, and the unforgettable Timothy Carey. Orson Welles was so taken with this film that after seeing it he declared Kubrick could do no wrong; not to be missed."
A Man Escaped (Bresson) - was on his 1999 decade-by-decade top ten. "Based on a French lieutenant's account of his 1942 escape from a gestapo fortress in Lyon, this stately yet uncommonly gripping 1956 feature is my choice as the greatest achievement of Robert Bresson, one of the cinema's foremost artists. (It's rivaled only by his more corrosive and metaphysical Au hasard Balthazar a decade later.) The best of all prison-escape movies, it reconstructs the very notion of freedom through offscreen sounds and defines salvation in terms of painstakingly patient and meticulous effort. Bresson himself spent part of the war in an internment camp and subsequently lived through the German occupation of France, experiences that inform his magisterial grasp of what concentrated use of sound and image can reveal about souls in hiding. Essential viewing."
x India (Rossellini) - haven't seen (though I can think of two or three Rossellini titles I'd put in a top 100). He called Rossellini arguably the greatest Italian filmmaker, and yet only one title? He doesn't seem to be big on Italian cinema in general.
I should also make note of the conspicuous absence from this list of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa. I really can't offer an explanation, esp. since at the start of the 90s Rosenbaum considered all three of them among of the 12 most important living filmmakers (along with Bresson, Rivette, Rensais, Hou, Godard, Antonioni, Fuller, Sembene, and Kubrick, I think).
Breathless (Godard) - "Shot on a shoestring and none the worse for it, Jean-Luc Godard's gritty and engaging first feature had an almost revolutionary impact when it was first released in 1960. It lays down most of the Godardian repertoire that the later films would build upon: male bravado spiced with plug-ugly mugging and amusing self-mockery (brought to perfection in Jean-Paul Belmondo's wonderful performance); a fascination with female beauty and treachery (the indelible Jean Seberg as the archetypal American abroad); an emulation of the American gangster movie, and a love-hatred for America in general; a radical employment of jump cuts that has the effect of a needle skipping gaily across a record; and a taste for literary, painterly, and musical quotations, as well as original aphorisms."
Godard was second to Lang as the most-mentioned director in Rosenbaum's 1000 favorite films, yet only two of his films make the top 100. Wither PIERROT LE FOU, WEEK END, CONTEMPT, TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, etc etc?
Hiroshima mon Amour (Resnais)*
Rio Bravo (Hawks)
x The Tiger of Eschnapur/The Indian Tomb (Lang)
x Cloud-Capped Star (Ghatak)* - the only Indian film on his list, which is a shame. For myself, I'd try to find a place for AWAARA, MOTHER INDIA, PYAASA and a couple of Satyajit Ray masterpieces.
Shadows (Cassavetes) -- "This is the only Cassavetes film made without a script, and the only one that focuses mainly on young people, with the actors improvising their own dialogue (and, to increase the feeling of intimacy, using their own first names). Rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, subtlety, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film. This movie is contemporaneous with early masterpieces of the French New Wave such as Breathless and The 400 Blows and deserves to be ranked alongside them for the freshness and freedom of its vision; in its portrait of a now-vanished Manhattan during the beat period, it also serves as a poignant time capsule... It's conceivable that Cassavetes made greater films, but this is the one I cherish the most."
Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais) - was on his 2002 Sight and Sound Top Ten
"This radical experiment in film form by director Alain Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet was a surprising commercial success in 1961, even in the U.S., and it's been a rallying point for the possibilities of formal filmmaking ever since... Shot by Sacha Vierny in otherworldly black-and-white 'Scope, it oscillates ambiguously between past, present, and various conditional tenses, mixing memory and fantasy, fear and desire. The overall tone is poker-faced parody of lush Hollywood melodrama: an entire scene from Gilda is restaged shot by shot, a life-size blowup of Hitchcock can be glimpsed in a corridor, and a recurring match game played by the hero and his creepy romantic rival (Sacha Piteoff) is as mordantly ritualistic as a western showdown. Yet the film's dreamlike cadences, frozen tableaux, and distilled surrealist poetry are too eerie, too terrifying even, to be shaken off as camp. For all its notoriety, this masterpiece among masterpieces has never really received its due."
x A Wife Confesses (Masumura) - as Antonious noted, Rosenbaum is one of the very few American critics who has done any significant writing on Masumura.
Eclipse (Antonioni) - also my favorite Antonioni. "The conclusion of Michelangelo Antonioni's loose trilogy (preceded by L'avventura and La notte), this 1961 film is conveivably the best in Antonioni's career, but significantly it has the least consequential plot. A sometime translator (Monica Vitti) recovering from an unhappy love affair briefly links up with a stockbroker (Alain Delon) in Rome, though the stunning final montage sequence--perhaps the most powerful thing Antonioni has ever done--does without these characters entirely. Alternately an essay and a prose poem about the contemporary world in which the "love story" figures as one of many motifs, this is remarkable both for its visual/atmospheric richness and its polyphonic and polyrhythmic mise en scene (Antonioni's handling of crowds at the Roman stock exchange is never less than amazing)."
x The House is Black (Farrokhzad) - was on his 2002 Sight and Sound top ten
Too bad there was no Pasolini on his list, but this sounds close.
"Forugh Farrokhzad’s 20-odd-minute black-and-white 1962 documentary about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I've seen. Farrokhzad (1935-'67) is commonly regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony--people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play--that’s spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer."
Gertrud (Dreyer)? - was on his 2002 Sight and Sound top ten
"Carl Dreyer's last film, one of the most controversial movies ever made, would be my own candidate for the most beautiful, affecting, and inexhaustible of all narrative films, but it's clearly not for every taste--not, alas, even remotely. Adapted from a long-forgotten play by Hjalmar Soderberg written during the early years of this century, it centers on a proud, stubborn woman (Nina Pens Rode) who demands total commitment in love and forsakes both her husband and a former lover for a young musician who's relatively indifferent to her. It moves at an extremely slow, theatrical pace in long takes recorded mainly in direct sound (though shot principally in a studio) and deserves to be ranked along with The Magnificent Ambersons, Lola Montes, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the great haunted-memory films. Its meaning hinges partially on the refusal or inability to compromise and what this implies over the range of an entire life (in this case Dreyer's as well as his heroine's). The heroine may be regarded as a monster, a sublime and saintly martyr, or most likely an impossible fusion of the two. Dreyer's film has a similarly dialectical and contradictory effect--at once narrative and (in the figure of Gertrud herself) nonnarrative, static and flowing, a tribute to free will and a positing of the unconscious as tragic destiny. It's exquisite, unbearable, and unforgettable."
Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson) was on his 1992 Sight and Sound top ten
x Black Girl (Sembene) - Rosenbaum considers Sembene one of the greatest living filmmakers.
Playtime (Tati) was on his 1992 and 2002 Sight and Sound top ten.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy)
probably Demy's most ambitious and mysterious musical -- I prefer UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, but this one certainly has its share of breathtaking beauty.
"In choosing Jacques Demy's greatest feature, one might argue strongly for Lola (1960), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), or the lesser-known Une chambre en ville (1982). But Demy's most ambitious film and the one I cherish the most is this 1967 big-budget musical shot exclusively on location, a tale of various dreamers searching for and usually missing their ideal mates, who are usually only blocks away. The score is Michel Legrand's finest, with various jazz elements, lyrics in alexandrines by Demy, and intricately structured reprises that match the poetic, crisscrossing plot. Demy's grand, colorful, and unorthodox approach to the material pays tribute to the American musical yet mixes in accoutrements of French poetic realism: dreams and reality coexist more strangely and stubbornly than in most other musicals. The results may be quintessentially French, but the energy and optimism are clearly inspired by America, and Gene Kelly's appearances are sublime. The lovely restored version offers such an emotionally rich experience, both tragic and exuberant, that you may want to weep with gratitude. "
full comments here
x L'Amour Fou (Rivette) - he writes: "This film captures the dreams and desperation of the 60s like few others, and you emerge from it changed; it's a life experience as much as a film experience."
x Out 1 (Rivette) - was on his 1992 Sight and Sound top ten. Since this 10-hour movie has only been screened once theatrically (and I'm assuming he was there to see it), it may be his statement on behalf of a cinema he has championed all his life, the one that is barely known, has barely been seen, and that barely exists, save in the bubbling oil well of our imaginations.
x La Région Centrale (Snow)
x Avanti (Wilder)
x Out 1:Spectre (Rivette) - Rosenbaum was studying and writing in Paris during the late 60s-early 70s and Rivette's films had a profound affect on him, perhaps because they captured the feeling of living in the city at that critical period when his cinematic sensibilities and general attitude towards life were taking form.
F for Fake (Welles) "Some commentators have speculated that this film was Welles's indirect reply to Pauline Kael's subsequently disproven contention that he didn't write a word of the Citizen Kane script; his sly commentary here--seconded by some of the trickiest editing anywhere--implies that authorship is a pretty dubious notion anyway, a function of the even more dubious art market and its team of "experts." Alternately superficial and profound, hollow and moving, simple and complex."
Parade (Tati) -- I think this is the only made-for-television film on his list, and it is a marvel. I think one has to be a true fan of Tati to understand why this is as much of a testament to what he stood for as PLAYTIME, if only because it attests to Tati's passion for freedom and democracy with more self-effacing, unpretentious humility.
"Jacques Tati's last film--his least-known work, shot mostly on videotape for Swedish television--is seldom shown, but it's a far greater achievement than most accounts would lead you to expect. Ostensibly nothing more than a series of circus and music-hall acts (including several of Tati's most famous pantomimes) hosted by Tati and performed for an ordinary family audience, it is in fact a powerful testament that further develops the radical formal and social ideas of his masterpiece Playtime in more modest terms without sacrificing any of that work's revolutionary implications. It's literally impossible to determine when one "act" ends and another one begins, because of a complex process of displaced emphasis and a graceful dovetailing of details; it's equally impossible to tell from the brilliant and deceptively simple mise en scene how much is straight documentary and how much contrived fiction. All this proceeds so naturally and effortlessly that one might misread the film as nothing more than minor light entertainment (although it certainly succeeds on that level). But Tati is clearly after much more--a vision of spectacle, of dexterity versus awkwardness, of seeing versus being seen that carries the filmmaker's antielitism to the point of dissolving all distinctions between stars and stargazers, performers and spectators, accomplished acrobats and children at play. It's a sign of this film's greatness that the enormous sadness that accompanies the final leave-taking of the circus interior is a good deal more than the conclusion of an unpretentious evening's entertainment; it's a sublime and awesome coda to the career of one of this century's greatest artists"
Celine and Julie go Boating (Rivette)* - I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about Rivette as Rosenbaum but this is my favorite Rivette.
Barry Lyndon (Kubrick) - yes, this is Kubrick's greatest, most accomplished film.
"With the possible exceptions of Killer's Kiss and A Clockwork Orange all of Stanley Kubrick's features look better now than when they were first released, and Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated (though Eyes Wide Shut is already running a close second). This personal, idiosyncratic, and melancholy three-hour adaptation of the Thackeray novel may not be an unqualified artistic success, but it's still a good deal more substantial and provocative than most critics were willing to admit. Exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, it makes frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O'Neal). Despite its ponderous pacing and funereal moods, the film is highly accomplished as a piece of storytelling, and it builds to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. "
Providence (Resnais) - wasn't won over by this, I like Resnais more in theory but he often can leave me cold.
"Like all of Resnais' best work, this is shot through with purposeful and lyrical enigmas, but the family profile that emerges is warm and penetrating, recalling the haunted Tyrones in Long Day's Journey Into Night rather than the pieces of an abstract puzzle. The superb performances and Miklos Rozsa's sumptuous Hollywood-style score give the film's conceit a moving monumentality and depth, and Resnais' insights into the fiction-making process are mesmerizing and beautiful...Along with Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Melo (1986), these three powerful works are Resnais' greatest features."
x Doomed Love (Oliveira)
Perceval le Gallois (Rohmer) - this seems to be the favorite Rohmer movie for people who don't love Rohmer.
"Eric Rohmer's least typical and least popular film also happens to be his best: a wonderful version of Chretien de Troyes' 12th-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of an innocent knight. Deliberately artificial in style and setting--the perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid, the musical deliveries strange and often comic--the film is as faithful to its source as it can be, given the limited material available about the period. Rohmer's fidelity to the text compels him to include narrative descriptions as well as dialogue in the sung passages. Absolutely unique--a must for medievalists, as well as filmgoers looking for something different."
Stalker (Tarkovsky)* - was on his 1992 Sight and Sound top ten
"Tarkovsky, who regards their journey as a contemporary spiritual quest, does such remarkable things with his mise en scene--particularly very slow and elaborately choreographed camera movements... The film's final scene is absolutely breathtaking."
x Orderly or Disorderly (Kiarostami)
x Too Early, Too Late (Straub, Huillet)
"This 1981 color documentary by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, one of their few works in 16-millimeter, is almost certainly my favorite landscape film. There are no "characters" in this 105-minute feature about places, yet paradoxically it's the most densely populated work in their oeuvre to date. The first part shows a series of locations in contemporary France, accompanied by Huillet reading part of a letter Friedrich Engels wrote to Karl Kautsky describing the impoverished state of French peasants, and excerpts from the "Notebooks of Grievances" compiled in 1789 by the village mayors of those same locales in response to plans for further taxation. The especially fine second section, roughly twice as long, does the same thing with a more recent Marxist text by Mahmoud Hussein about Egyptian peasants' resistance to English occupation prior to the "petit-bourgeois" revolution of Neguib in 1952. Both sections suggest that the peasants revolted too soon and succeeded too late. One of the film's formal inspirations is Beethoven's late quartets, and its slow rhythm is central to the experience it yields; what's remarkable about Straub and Huillet's beautiful long takes is how their rigorous attention to both sound and image seems to open up an entire universe, whether in front of a large urban factory or out on a country road. As in Jacques Tati's studio-made Playtime, their subject is the sheer richness of the world we live in."
x Love Streams (Cassavetes)
x Manuel on the Island of Wonders (Ruiz)
x Mix-Up (Romand)
"One of the most remarkable and innovative documentaries ever made, this hour-long film made by Francoise Romand for French TV (1986) follows the famous true story of two English women who as babies got switched in the hospital and 20 years later discovered that they'd been raised by the wrong sets of parents. Romand enlists all the surviving family members in her haunting and bizarre investigation, which involves not only a recounting but a reenactment of all the significant events in the two daughters' emotional histories. Composed in an elaborate visual form that involves parallel shots, diptych compositions employing windows and mirrors, home-movie footage, stylized group portraits, and striking use of the families' homes and possessions, and featuring inventive work with sound and music, the movie burrows so deeply into the subject and its ramifications that one emerges with enough material for a 500-page novel. The mix-up of the title refers not only to the putative subject but to many stylistic and formal collisions: fiction versus fact, French versus English, memory versus imagination. An astonishing film debut."
x Mélo (Resnais)
"Alain Resnais' masterpiece is bound to baffle spectators who insist on regarding him as an intellectual rather than an emotional director, simply because he shares the conviction of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson that form is the surest route to feelings. In his 11th feature, he adapts a 1929 boulevard melodrama by a forgotten playwright named Henry Bernstein, and holds so close to this "dated" and seemingly unremarkable play that theatrical space and decor--including the absence of a fourth wall--are rigorously respected, and shots of a painted curtain appear between the acts. None of this is done to strike an attitude or "make a statement": Resnais believes in the material, and wants to give it its due. Yet in the process of doing this, he not only invests the original meaning of "melodrama" (drama with music) with exceptional beauty and power--so much so as to reinvent the genre--but also proves that he is conceivably the greatest living director of actors in the French cinema, and offers a way of regarding the past that implicitly indicts our own era for myopia. (Melo is certainly a film of the 80s and not an antique, but it may take us years to understand precisely how and why.) Using the same talented quartet that appeared in his last two films--the remarkable Andre Dussollier (Le beau mariage) as a gifted concert violinist, Pierre Arditi as his suburban friend, Sabine Azema as the latter's wife who falls in love with the violinist, and Fanny Ardant (in a smaller role) as her cousin--Resnais cuts and moves his camera with impeccable dramatic logic that helps to give their performances maximum voltage. His concentrated treatment of the 20s, while never less than modern, retrieves that era in all its mysterious density: for a comparable marriage between the minds of two periods equally far apart, one may have to go back to Dreyer's 1964 Gertrud, which adapted a play written in 1906--a film whose very lengthy takes, privileged musical interludes, and renderings of time and passion in a mode at once classic and avant-garde are often evoked here. An incomparable masterpiece."
Where is the Friend's House? (Kiarostami) - Rosenbaum's first encounter with Kiarostami and Iranian cinema -- he actually dismissed it as a quaint, harmless trifle at first... little did he know that he would become one of the world's most passionate and articulate advocates of both Kiarostami and Iranian cinema.
"It's entirely possible that Abbas Kiarostami, who's been making films in Iran for about three decades, is our greatest living filmmaker. The problem isn't that his films are esoteric, simply that they're different from Western and other Iranian films alike, in the way they're put together (without scripts and in most cases without professional actors), in the way they address us, and in what Kiarostami includes and leaves out. Where Is the Friend's House? (1987, 85 min.), one of his most popular films in Iran, is a miniature epic about a schoolboy trying to return a classmate's notebook. Like the somewhat related Life and Nothing More (1992; also known as And Life Goes On . . .) and Through the Olive Trees (1994), both shot in the same section of northern Iran, this is a sustained meditation on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; an obsessional quest that takes on the contours of a parable; a concentrated inquiry that raises more questions than it answers; and a comic as well as cosmic poem. It's about making discoveries and cherishing what's in the world--including things that we can't understand."
"Souleymane Cisse's extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cisse has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work won the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival, and it provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who is, next to Ousmane Sembene, probably Africa's greatest director. Not to be missed."
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Davies)
"This beautiful memoir, conceivably one of the greatest of all English films, is so startling and original that we may not have the vocabulary to do it justice. Organized achronologically, so that events are perceived more in terms of emotional continuity than of narrative progression, the film concentrates on family events like weddings and funerals and on songs sung at parties and the local pub. It's clear that Davies's childhood, which was lorded over by a brutal and tyrannical father, was not an easy one, yet the delight shown and conveyed by the well-known songs makes the experience of this film cathartic and hopeful as well as sorrowful and tragic. (There are some wonderful laughs as well.) Much of the film emphasizes the bonds between the women in the family and their female friends, although there's nothing doctrinal or polemical about its vision, and the purity and intensity of its emotional thrust are such that all the characters are treated with passion and understanding."
A Tale of the Wind (Ivens)
"Neither a documentary nor a fantasy but a sublime fusion of the two, it deals in multiple ways with the wind, with Ivens's asthma, with China, with the 20th century (and, more implicitly, the 19th and the 21st), with magic, and with the cinema. Ivens was born only two years after Georges Melies screened his first work, and this imaginative, freewheeling, and often comic film reflects on that fact, and on the near century of intertwining film, political, and personal history that made up Ivens's life. For all its cosmic dimensions, it's funny and lighthearted rather than pretentious and ponderous; it may even renew your faith in life on this planet."
x The Asthenic Syndrome (Muratova)
"A great movie about the contemporary world, but far from an easy one, because it breaks so many rules about what films are supposed to be like. Directed in 1989 by the venerable (and venerably transgressive) Kira Muratova, who was then in her mid-50s, it has been rightly called the only "masterpiece of glasnost"; it's also the only Russian film made during perestroika that was banned by the Russian government--mainly, one gathers, for obscenity (though it wound up being shown anyway after the government sold the rights to a film club in Moscow). Beginning as a powerful black-and-white narrative about a middle-aged woman doctor (Olga Antonova) who's in an exploding, aggressive rage about the death of her husband, the film eventually turns into an even more unorthodox tale in color about a schoolteacher (cowriter Sergei Popov) who periodically falls asleep regardless of what's happening around him. (The title alludes to a form of weakness or disability that presumably encompasses both the doctor's aggressiveness and the schoolteacher's passivity.) Though this tragicomic epic has plenty to say about postcommunist Russia, it's also one of the few recent masterpieces that deal more generally with the demons loose in today's world. This may drive you nuts--as it was undoubtedly meant to--but you certainly won't forget it."
Close-up (Kiarostami)? - was on his 1999 decade-by-decade top ten.
"A dense and subtle masterpiece from Iran (1990, 97 min.) by the highly talented Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), this documentary--or is it pseudodocumentary?--follows the trial of an unemployed film buff in Tehran who impersonated acclaimed filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Marriage of the Blessed, Gabbeh, Kandahar) and became intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare a film that was to feature them. To complicate matters further, Kiarostami persuades all the major people involved to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. A great deal of the implicit comedy here comes from the way "cinema" changes and inflects the value and nature of everything taking place--the original scam, the trial, the documentary Kiarostami is making, and so on. Much acclaimed in France for its fascinating take on the cinematic apparatus, the film combines fiction with nonfiction in a novel and provocative manner: Werner Herzog has called this the greatest of all documentaries about filmmaking, and he may not be far off--if only because no other film does more to interrogate certain aspects of the documentary form itself."
x Nouvelle Vague (Godard)
[b]In addition to the following capsules, the next eight films are discussed in Rosenbaum's article on the best films of the 90s:[/b]
"Stanley Kwan's 1991 masterpiece (also known as Ruan Ling-yu and Center Stage) is still the greatest Hong Kong film I've seen.. The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling-yu (1910-'35), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamour with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot--all to explore a past that seems more complex, sexy, and mysterious than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, and much of Kwan's work as a director goes into creating a kind of nimbus around her poise and grace. (George Cukor comes to mind as a Hollywood equivalent.) .. Highlights include the stylish beauty of an imagined Shanghai film world of the 30s and the flat abrasiveness of Kwan chatting with Cheung on video about what all this means and coming up with damn little. Any historical movie worth its salt historicizes the present along with the past, and this movie implicitly juxtaposes our own inadequacy with those potent clips of Ling-yu herself."
A Brighter Summer Day (Yang)
"Bearing in mind Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing 230-minute epic by Edward Yang (1991), set over one Taipei school year in the early 60s, would fully warrant the subtitle "A Taiwanese Tragedy." A powerful statement from Yang's generation about what it means to be Taiwanese, superior even to his recent masterpiece Yi Yi, it has a novelistic richness of character, setting, and milieu unmatched by any other 90s film (a richness only partially apparent in its three-hour version). What Yang does with objects--a flashlight, a radio, a tape recorder, a Japanese sword--resonates more deeply than what most directors do with characters, because along with an uncommon understanding of and sympathy for teenagers Yang has an exquisite eye for the troubled universe they inhabit. This is a film about alienated identities in a country undergoing a profound existential crisis--a Rebel Without a Cause with much of the same nocturnal lyricism and cosmic despair. Notwithstanding the masterpieces of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Taiwanese new wave starts here."
The Puppetmaster (Hou) - was on his 1999 decade-by-decade top ten.
"Hou Hsiao-hsien's masterpiece about the childhood and early adulthood of octogenerian Taiwanese puppet master and actor Li Tien-lu. This is the second part of a trilogy about Taiwanese life in the 20th century, covering all but the first few years of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Hou's preference for filming entire scenes in long takes from fixed camera angles and for eschewing close-ups has never been as masterfully employed and modulated as it is here--some of the landscape shots are breathtaking. The film alternates between re-created scenes from Li's life, Li speaking directly to the camera about his past, and extracts from his puppet and stage performances, creating a layered density in the narrative that does full justice to the complexity and poetry of Hou's investigation."
The full-length review can be found in Rosenbaum's book MOVIES AS POLITICS.
x Satantango (Tarr)
"How can I do justice to this grungy seven-hour black comedy (1994), which in many ways impressed me more than any other film of the 90s? Adapted by Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai from the latter's 1985 novel, this is a diabolical piece of sarcasm about the dreams, machinations, and betrayals of a failed farm collective, set during a few rainy fall days (two of them rendered more than once from the perspectives of different characters). The form of the novel was inspired by the steps of the tango--six forward, six backward--an idea reflected by the film's overlapping time structure, 12 sections, and remarkable choreographed long takes and camera movements, which often suggest a despiritualized Tarkovsky with the hothouse intensity of a Cassavetes. The story may seem to comment on the collapse of communism, but it has just as much to say about the degradations of capitalism; after all, as Tarr notes, the police--and human nature--are the same everywhere. The subject of this brilliantly constructed narrative is nothing less than the world today, and its 431-minute running time is necessary not because Tarr has so much to say, but because he wants to say it right. The experience afforded is one to cherish."
Dead Man (Jarmusch) - no surprise, as he wrote a book on this movie.
"A quantum leap by American independent Jim Jarmusch--a hypnotic and beautiful black-and-white western (1995, 120 min.). Johnny Depp plays an accountant from Cleveland named William Blake who travels west with the promise of a job to the infernal town of Machine, only to be told that the job's been taken. After killing a man (Gabriel Byrne) in self-defense and sustaining a mortal bullet wound, Blake is guided toward death by a Native American outcast named Nobody (Gary Farmer) while a trio of bounty hunters and various others try to track him down. This masterpiece is simultaneously a mystical, highly poetic account of dying; a well-researched appreciation of Native American cultures; a frightening portrait of modern American violence and capitalist greed that refuses to traffic in the stylistic alibis of Hollywood; a warm, hilarious depiction of cross-cultural friendship; and a hallucinatory trip across the American wilderness."
Full length review is here: http://www.chireader.com/movies/archives/0696/06286.html
x When it Rains (Burnett) - was on his 2002 Sight and Sound top ten
"One of my all-time favorites, this beautiful 12-minute short by Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, The Glass Shield), made for French TV in 1995, is a jazz parable about locating common roots in contemporary Watts and one of those rare movies in which jazz forms directly influence film narrative."
x Inquiétude (Oliveira) - "Now pushing 90, Portuguese writer-director Manoel de Oliveira is our oldest living film master, which makes it all the more astonishing that he's averaged one feature a year for the past decade. He's best known in the U.S. for his recent star vehicles (The Convent, Voyage to the Beginning of the World). But his finest work tends to be bound to literature and theater, and this eccentric triptych--easily his best since No, or the Vainglory of Command (1989)--is no exception. In keeping with what might be termed de Oliveira's 19th-century modernism, this French-Portuguese production contains three episodes; it begins with a curious one-act play (Prista Monteiro's The Immortals), then proceeds to a story (Antonio Patricio's "Suzy") concerning four characters who attend the play, one of whom recounts to another a third story, Agustina Bessa-Luis's "The Mother of the River," which is the strangest of all. The play is about old age, but the theme linking the three episodes is existential identity, played out in each by two characters--a father and son (both respected doctors and writers), a playboy and a prostitute, a young village woman and an ancient witch. (The witch is played by Irene Papas, and de Oliveira can be seen dancing with his wife in a restaurant in the middle episode.) The stately, reflective tempo of this masterpiece of displacement gave it a deceptive, almost artless simplicity the first time I saw it; on a second viewing, the poetic mirror structure took hold, and the three sections began to resonate together in rich and exquisite harmony."
The Wind will Carry Us (Kiarostami) - the death and rebirth of cinema, and (along with TEN) the closest Kiarostami has come to total integration of cinema and life.
"This ambiguous comic masterpiece (1999, 118 min.) could be Abbas Kiarostami's greatest film to date; it's undoubtedly his richest and most challenging. A media engineer from Tehran (Behzad Dourani) arrives in a remote mountain village in Iranian Kurdistan, where he and his three-person camera crew secretly wait for a century-old woman to die so they can film or tape an exotic mourning ritual at her funeral. To do this he has to miss a family funeral of his own, and every time his mobile phone rings the poor reception forces him to drive to a cemetery atop a mountain, where he sometimes converses with a man digging a deep hole for an unspecified telecommunications project. Back in the village the digger's fiancee milks a cow for the engineer while he flirts with her by quoting an erotic poem that gives the movie its title. Over half the major characters--including the crew, the dying woman, and the digger--are kept mainly or exclusively offscreen, and the dense and highly composed sound track often refers to other offscreen elements, peculiarities of Kiarostami's style that solicit the viewer's imaginative participation. What's most impressive about this global newspaper and millennial statement is how much it tells us about our world--especially regarding the acute differences in perception and behavior between media "experts" and everyone else. Kiarostami contemplates the power adhering to class, gender, age, and education; the film reflects ironically on his own ethical relationship to the poor people he films, and it's arguably his first since Report (1977) that tries to deal with the role of women in Iranian society. It's also a gorgeous, Brueghel-esque treatment of landscape and architecture (the village, clinging to a mountainside and marked by declivities and intricate interweavings, is a marvel in itself) and a series of reflections on Persian poetry as well as animal and insect life. You have to become friends with this movie before it opens up, but then its bounty is endless."
Full length review can be found here: www.chireader.com/movies/archives/ 2000/1200/001208.html
Platform (Jia Zhangke)- possibly the greatest Chinese film ever made.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg) - a film offers a whole new challenge to the auteur theory at the dawn of the 21st century -- and one of the most unexpectedly profound meditations on the nature of cinema.
"A collaboration between the living Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick seems entirely appropriate to a project that reflects profoundly on the differences between life and nonlife, not to mention the human and the nonhuman. It's easy to say that Kubrick thought about questions that Spielberg only knows how to approach emotionally, but that surely oversimplifies the range of both filmmakers. A more accurate way of putting it would be to say that Kubrick started this picture and came up with the idea that Spielberg should direct it, and after inheriting a 90-page treatment Kubrick had prepared with Ian Watson and 600 drawings he'd done with Chris Baker, Spielberg finished it in so much his own manner that it may be his most personal film, as well as his most thoughtful. It nonetheless delivers more of a posthumous statement from Kubrick than I would have believed possible, a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Eyes Wide Shut (with an equally offbeat view of New York) as well as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. A film that might make you cry, it's just as likely to give you the creeps afterward, which is as it should be. It's hard to think of a more important theme than the definition and survival (or nonsurvival) of the human. This is a movie people will be arguing about for many years to come."
Full length review here: http://www.chireader.com/movies/archives/2001/0107/010713.html