The new 1000 Greatest Films: statistics and opinions

Taking a cursory look at the revised list, I noticed a number of trends, many of which are listed below. The most significant shift I detected was an uptick in silent era films, mostly from Weimar Germany. As Bill noted in his own introductory remarks, he received a large number of ballots from Europe, so it is unsurprising that the list would emphasize a greater number of European films.

This has me wondering about how demographics (national, ethnic, gender) impact the results of this poll. Personally, I've long been frustrated with the dominance of American and European participation in these polls, which naturally result in American and European dominance of these lists. We can all recognize that the United States and Europe have long dominated the medium throughout the 20th century. But when 889 of the top 1000 films are from those two regions, and the remaining 111 are from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, you kind of have to wonder if the perspective of the list is a little skewed. It may not be merely that the U.S. and Europe simply make the best films, but that we've been pooling a predominantly American and European base of experts on what they think constitutes the best of cinema. I've long wondered if there needs to be a greater effort to reach out to cinephiles of different cultural orientations to get as much of their perspectives accounted for as possible.

Along these lines, I am thinking of embarking on a list collection campaign which will reach out to filmmakers, critics and academics from underrepresented areas around the world. The aim is to solicit a large number of ballots from those who share my concern for a truly global cinema that reflects the full range of humanity and the full possibility of cinematic expression. Hopefully by the time the next version of the list rolls out, we will have an ample representation of globally informed cinephiles to see what kind of impact they might have on the list as it now stands. This is certainly something worth anticipating.

In the meantime, here are some breakdowns of the current list:

By decade:

Decade: titles gained - titles lost

pre-1930: 17-4 (all 1920s except for one from 1890s) 1930s: 13-9 1940s: 10-7 1950s: 16-17 1960s: 29-20 1970s: 19-28 1980s: 21-26 1990s: 10-26 2000s: 4-2

A sampling of countries:

Country: titles gained-lost

Brazil: 3-1 China: 2-0 Czechoslovakia: 0- 4 Germany: 12-1(mostly Weimar) Italy: 5-8 Japan: 5-8 Mexico: 2-0 Poland: 3-1 Spain: 6-2 UK: 8-12 US: 69-63 USSR: 4-0

By director

John Ford was the big gainer in this version of the list, with four new titles, making him the director with the most films in the TSP 1000 with 18. If I'm not mistaken the previous leader was Jean-Luc Godard with 16 (now 14).

Behind Ford, the following directors gained three titles each: Paul Thomas Anderson Luis Garcia Berlanga Bernardo Bertolucci Fritz Lang Paul Schrader Billy Wilder

The following directors each lost two titles in the revision:

Mel Brooks Jean Luc Godard (gained 1 lost 3) Mile Leigh Barry Levinson David Lynch Pier Paolo Pasolini Steven Spielberg (gained 1 lost 3) Oliver Stone Zhang Yimou

Enough with stats, let's hear some opinions. Here are what I think are the most deserving and undeserving inclusions and exclusions from the new revised list. What do you think? Take a look at the ins and outs and let me know in the comments.

INCLUSIONS

Most deserving:

Army of Shadows (Melville, Jean-Pierre; 1969; France-Italy) •669 Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat, L' (Lumière, August & Louis Lumière; 1895; France) •825 Ballad of Narayama (Imamura, Shohei; 1983; US) •949 Chloe in the Afternoon (Rohmer, Eric; 1972; France) •943 Hallelujah! (Vidor, King; 1929; US) •558 Lady with the Little Dog, The (Kheifits, Iosif; 1959; Russia) •994 Shanghai Express (von Sternberg, Josef; 1932; US) •809 Simon of the Desert (Buñuel, Luis; 1965; Mexico) •872 Wanda (Loden, Barbara; 1970; US) •718 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse, Mikio; 1960; Japan) •739

Most undeserving:

American Gigolo (Schrader, Paul; 1980; US) •873 Moulin Rouge! (Luhrmann, Baz; 2001; US-Australia) •973 New York, New York (Scorsese, Martin; 1977; US) •835 Night Porter, The (Cavani, Liliana; 1973; Italy) •992 Party, The (Edwards, Blake; 1968; US) •671 Royal Tenenbaums, The (Anderson, Wes; 2001; US) •962 Ryan's Daughter (Lean, David; 1970; UK) •915 Talk to Her (Almodóvar, Pedro; 2002; Spain) •907 Unbearable Lightness of Being, The (Kaufman, Philip; 1988; US) •944 Wings of Eagles, The (Ford, John; 1957; US) •894

EXCLUSIONS

Most deserving:

Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara, Abel; 1992; US) Europa/Zentropa (von Trier, Lars; 1991; Denmark) Fortune, The (Nichols, Mike; 1974; US) Jurassic Park (Spielberg, Steven; 1993; US) Matrix, The (Wachowski, Andy & Larry Wachowski; 1999; US-Australia) Nightmare on Elm Street, A (Craven, Wes; 1984; US) Thing, The [1982] (Carpenter, John; 1982; US) Trainspotting (Boyle, Danny; 1995; UK) Vanishing, The/Spoorloos (Sluizer, George; 1988; Netherlands-France) Wicker Man, The (Hardy, Robin; 1973; UK)

Most undeserving:

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg, Steven; 2001; US) Enfance nue, L'/Naked Childhood (Pialat, Maurice; 1968; France) Floating Weeds/Ukigusa (Ozu, Yasujiro; 1959; Japan) Hail Mary/Je Vous salue, Marie (Godard, Jean-Luc; 1985; France-Switzerland) Hawks and the Sparrows, The (Pasolini, Pier Paolo; 1966; Italy) King Size Canary (Avery, Tex; 1947; US) Menilmontant (Kirsanoff, Dimitri; 1926; France) Quadrophenia (Roddam, Franc; 1979; UK) Still (Gehr, Ernie; 1969; US) To Sleep with Anger (Burnett, Charles; 1990; US)

100 - 40 = 99. Roll film, Sisyphus...

Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward the lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain...  It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

- Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

Almost exactly a year ago, I began the blog Shooting Down Pictures, primarily to chronicle a short-term project to view every film on the list of the 1000 greatest films of all time, as compiled by Bill Georgaris on his website, They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?  Having finished watching 900 of the films on the list, I decided to savor the final 100 by blogging extensively about each entry as I viewed them.  Eventually this desire to be both thoughtful and thorough in experiencing each title evolved into the video essays I regularly produce for the blog, a form of film criticism/filmmaking that I've especially enjoyed.  By the end of 2007, I managed to watch over 40 films of the final 100, on pace to finish the project by early 2009 (later than my original goal but still not bad considering the amount of work I've put into each entry).

Around mid-December I noticed that Bill had announced on the TSP site that a new revision of the list would be rolling out by the end of December, with 139 replacements in the titles.  Influenced by 284 newly acquired lists, it constituted the biggest revision of the list in quite some time.  Needless to say, it has left a significant impact on my own project.

When I got my first look at the list, I was in the middle of preparing video essays for what was at the time #939 and #940 on my list of completed titles, My Brilliant Career and Hail Mary.  To my chagrin, neither title was included on the new list. In fact,  of the 40 TSP films that I've seen this year, 13 are no longer on the list.  And overall, the 940 films I have seen from the previous version of the list have been reduced to 901 in the new revision.  Just like that, I'm back to where I was a year ago!

In a way, it's a blessing, as I now get to watch more films for my project.  But I should also admit to some discouragement, which is understandable given that on paper I am only one film closer to my goal than I was a year ago.  (However, it is entirely possible for a future update of the TSP 1000 to include more films that I had already seen - indeed, this was the case with the previous two updates to the list).  To be honest, I am more daunted by the practical matter of what to do with the films I've seen, numbered as they are on the left-hand menu.  Should I renumber them to reflect their current position in my project (for example, #899 - Wild at Heart, would now be #875, and #937 - Il Posto would now be #901)?  Should I leave them the way they are to reflect a historical record - if so then how do I distinguish between 2007's #901 (Land of Silence and Darkness) and 2008's #901 (Il Posto?).  I'm calling on all my library, information sciences and other genius friends for help on this.

Ultimately, I come to a state of reflection not unlike the one described in the Camus passage quoted above on the tragically immortal Sisyphus, condemned as he is to forever push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom.  I think such a condition applies not only to my particular project at this moment in its history, but to any similar completist undertaking.  The plight of Sisyphus speaks to those living in the information age, overpopulated as it is with those who attempt to classify and consume the top 1000, 100, or even the top 10 of any medium of human experience.  However helpful such efforts can be to consolidate our understanding of cinema, art, or life in general, the wonders of the world will always prove to be innumerable.  Realizing this should provoke me and my fellow list-makers and list-chasers to put down their papers and spreadsheets and reflect on what these mad pursuits are good for in the first place.

I have long struggled between two states of mind: the objective-driven achiever vs. the reflective observer.  I would be the last to deny the sense of pleasure I get as I check through each title of the TSP 1000, drawing ever closer to the goal of completion.  But there have been moments in my life where after watching 3 or even 5 movies a day, I would feel empty or even nauseous, caught up in a mentality of compulsive consumption. (And as I look at the state of the world, our mass media culture and our increasingly polluted environment, I recognize this state of thoughtless consumption as an activity whose effects are poisonous to healthy living on multiple levels: physical, spiritual, environmental).  This is why I wanted the final 100 films in my project to be not a heedless dash for the finish line, but an occasion for exploration, reflection and discovery. In other words, to experience the best kind of movie watching I can manage.  These are, after all, the best films of all time.

This is why I've taken a lot of pleasure and even personal growth in the video essays I've produced for many of the films.  With each new one I've tried to push myself a little further to see what I could do with the medium, relying less on conventional approaches towards film criticism or commentary, and experimenting with different forms, voices and perspectives.  The essays will continue to be an essential feature of the Shooting Down Pictures project, and I will be actively seeking collaborators to help me further expand their range and depth.

So for now, we have another version of the top 1000 films of all time.  But whether you've seen 900 of these films or just 9, I think the same rule applies: it's not about how many films you've seen, but how much you've gotten out of seeing them.  This is the same point made by Camus in the final lines of his remarks on Sisyphus, our tragic mascot:

"Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."

Just think of cinema as the stone we shall push upward all of our lives, and take heart.

A moment of silence for the films celebrated in 2007 at Shooting Down Pictures that are no longer on the TSP 1000:

Dames (Enright, Ray; 1934; US)  video essay Evil Dead II (Raimi, Sam; 1987; US) video essay Hail Mary/Je Vous salue, Marie (Godard, Jean-Luc; 1985; France-Switzerland) Haine, La/Hate (Kassovitz, Mathieu; 1995; France)  video essay Heiress, The (Wyler, William; 1949; US)  video essay Hold Me While I'm Naked (Kuchar, George; 1966; US) video Inferno [1980] (Argento, Dario; 1980; Italy)  video essay Lovers, The/Les Amants (Malle, Louis; 1958; France) My Brilliant Career (Armstrong, Gillian; 1979; Australia) Official Story, The (Puenzo, Luis; 1985; Argentina) Quadrophenia (Roddam, Franc; 1979; UK) Still (Gehr, Ernie; 1969; US)

Unfaithfully Yours [1948] (Sturges, Preston; 1948; US) video essay Vanishing, The/Spoorloos (Sluizer, George; 1988; Netherlands-France) video essay

Brigitte Bardot better than Spencer Tracy? or Actors without a single film in the TSPDT 1000

It came to me while watching ...And God Created Woman for the Shooting Down Pictures project, that Brigitte Bardot may be the only reason why this film is on the 1000 list. And yet, Bardot's talents as an actress are dubious - is she truly deserving of being in such esteemed company, when many other, arguably more talented actors and actresses may not have a single representation on the list?

Bill Georgaris at They Shoot Pictures Don't They had asked himself the inverse of this question back when he compiled The Shooting Gallery, a list of the most important - or the luckiest? - actors in film history based on the number of their appearances in the TSPDT 1000. Which explains why the likes of Jack Carson or Harry Carey Jr. are listed alongside Robert DeNiro and John Wayne. Though in all fairness and auteurial deference, Bill remarks, "It's fair to say that the reward (artistically, that is) for striking up lasting working relationships with better filmmakers is high indeed. Not the least of which is an appearance on this list! Would Robert De Niro, for example, be on this list if it was not for Scorsese? What about John Wayne (if not for Ford)? Or Toshiro Mifune (if not for Kurosawa)?"

So what about the indisputably great actors and actresses who don't have a single film on the list, the unluckiest actors who either didn't work with enough Fords or Bergmans to piggyback into the winner's circle, or whose work somehow wasn't enough to single-handedly catapult a film into the top 1000? I asked Bill this question and he offered this gracious response:

"Interesting statistical question, and one that I actually hadn’t thought about.

But, I’ve investigated within my database, and have come up with these famous names without a single film in TSPDT’s Top 1000.

At the top of my list is Spencer Tracy. I, personally, have seen 31 Tracy films, but none are on The Top-1000. His finest film “Man’s Castle” should be on there. But, oh, well.

Here are some other surprising no-shows-: Ray Milland, Robert Taylor, John Garfield, Daniel Auteuil, Susan Hayward & Loretta Young. But there are more, read below.

Here’s a more thorough listing… As you can tell, there are many modern performers on this list, which reflects the TSPDT-1000’s lack of ‘extremely’ modern film content."

The list follows after the break. See if you can think of any other noteworthy actors who don't have a single film in the TSPDT 1000. I thought of one more - David Niven!

Performers_Without Any Movies on TSPDT1000_Summary

Name

Albertson, Jack
Allen, Joan
Anderson, Warner
Andrews, Edward
Auteuil, Daniel
Aykroyd, Dan
Azaria, Hank
Baldwin, Alec
Bale, Christian
Baranski, Christine
Bari, Lynn
Barry, Raymond J.
Bassett, Angela
Bauchau, Patrick
Beals, Jennifer
Belushi, James
Bendix, William
Bening, Annette
Berry, Halle
Boothe, Powers
Bosco, Philip
Bower, Tom
Branagh, Kenneth
Brand, Neville
Brolin, James
Brosnan, Pierce
Burke, Robert
Carrey, Jim
Cavanagh, Paul
Chase, Chevy
Clarkson, Patricia
Coleman, Dabney
Collette, Toni
Coltrane, Robbie
Conrad, William
Cox, Brian
Cregar, Laird
Crenna, Richard
Crosby, Bing
Cummings, Robert
Cusack, Joan
Dance, Charles
Danes, Claire
Danner, Blythe
Davis, Hope
Day, Doris
DeCamp, Rosemary
Dennehy, Brian
Diaz, Cameron
Dillon, Matt
Dingle, Charles
Donovan, Martin
Douglas, Michael
Douglas, Paul
Dukakis, Olympia
Dunn, Kevin
Dunne, Griffin
Dunst, Kirsten
Duryea, Dan
Edwards, Anthony
Estevez, Emilio
Fichtner, William
Firth, Colin
Fitzgerald, Geraldine
Gandolfini, James
Garfield, John
Gomez, Thomas
Gooding Jr., Cuba
Gordon, Leo
Gries, Jon
Griffith, Melanie
Gwenn, Edmund
Gyllenhaal, Jake
Hart, Ian
Hawke, Ethan
Hawn, Goldie
Hayward, Susan
Haywood, Chris
Headly, Glenne
Heard, John
Hill, Steven
Holliman, Earl
Hope, Bob
Houseman, John
Hunnicutt, Arthur
Hunter, Bill
Huston, Danny
Hutton, Timothy
James, Sidney
Justice, James Robertson
Keating, Larry
Keaton, Michael
Keel, Howard
Keener, Catherine
Kelley, DeForest
Kilmer, Val
Knight, Shirley
Krabbe, Jeroen
Lamarr, Hedy
Lamour, Dorothy
Lane, Diane
Langella, Frank
LaPaglia, Anthony
Lauter, Ed
Lawford, Peter
Leary, Denis
Leguizamo, John
Levy, Eugene
Lindo, Delroy
Linney, Laura
Liu, Lucy
Lowe, Rob
MacBride, Donald
Maguire, Tobey
Malahide, Patrick
Martin, Steve
McGavin, Darren
McGuire, Dorothy
McHugh, Frank
McNally, Stephen
McRae, Frank
McSorley, Gerard
Midler, Bette
Milland, Ray
Moore, Demi
Moore, Roger
Moranis, Rick
Morse, David
Mostel, Josh
Mulroney, Dermot
Murphy, Eddie
Murphy, Mary (1)
Nelson, Craig T.
Neuwirth, Bebe
Nighy, Bill
Northam, Jeremy
Oberon, Merle
O'Connor, Kevin J.
O'Hara, Catherine
Owen, Reginald
Parker, Sarah Jessica
Pate, Michael
Paterson, Bill
Patton, Will
Paymer, David
Peet, Amanda
Pendleton, Austin
Perlman, Ron
Phoenix, Joaquin
Phoenix, River
Place, Mary Kay
Platt, Oliver
Plowright, Joan
Portman, Natalie
Power, Tyrone
Presley, Elvis
Preston, Robert
Prosky, Robert
Quinn, Aidan
Rapaport, Michael
Remar, James
Reno, Jean
Ricci, Christina
Rispoli, Michael
Robertson, Cliff
Rockwell, Sam
Roland, Gilbert
Rush, Geoffrey
Russell, Theresa
Ruysdael, Basil
Ryan, Mitchell
Schreiber, Liev
Sciorra, Annabella
Scott, Campbell
Scott, Lizabeth
Segal, George
Sevigny, Chloe
Shue, Elisabeth
Sim, Alastair
Slater, Christian
Slezak, Walter
Sondergaard, Gale
Spencer, John
Steenburgen, Mary
Stiller, Ben
Stone, Lewis
Sundberg, Clinton
Taylor, Noah
Taylor, Robert
Thompson, Jack
Totter, Audrey
Tracy, Spencer
Tucci, Stanley
Tully, Tom
Turner, Kathleen
Vaughn, Vince
Washington, Denzel
Watson, Minor
White, Jesse
Wilkinson, Tom
Williams, John [I]
Wilson, Lambert
Wilson, Owen
Winger, Debra
Witherspoon, Reese
Wright, Jeffrey
Young, Loretta
Young, Robert
Zahn, Steve
Zucco, George

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989, Eric Zala)

screened Friday July 6 2007 at Anthology Film Archives, NYC IMDb

It was a sold-out screening at AFA for this legendary video remake of Steven Spielberg's epic (TSPDT #247), made by director Eric Zala, actor Chris Strompolos and cameraman/FX wizard Jayson Lamb when they were twelve years old and finished seven years later. I think you have to be a fan of the original to appreciate just how much knowledge, meticulousness and sheer enthusiasm these three kids put into their version. And the big revelation for me (other than reaffirming what wonders can be wrought by the largely untapped potential of youth) was just how much appreciation I had for Spielberg's Raiders. I haven't seen the film in at least ten years but every single shot in this low-res Betamax remake rang clear as a bell with visual memories that were burned into my memory as surely as that crystal medallion burned into the hand of evil Nazi Toht.

The original Raiders is the second film that I saw on the TSPDT 1000, back in 1981 with my father. I saw it repeatedly on television after that and for years Indiana Jones was my favorite movie character (only to be supplanted upon adolescence by Holly Martins and T.E. Lawrence). My first directing experience was in third grade when I choreographed the opening jungle sequence with three classmates (who I recall eventually mutinied from the production once they realized that I was playing Indiana Jones). When I started taking flights to college, as I packed my luggage I would flash to the image of Indiana tossing his bullwhip and pistol on top of his open suitcase.

What's beautiful about the adaptation is how in paying tribute to all the little touches, and archetypal images and moments packed into the Spielberg version, it really raises one's esteem of the original, the intricacy of its construction and the sheer ebullience of its storytelling. Of course the film suffers in its condescending stereotypes towards Middle East culture, which, as much as the film relishes the familiarity of these cliches and playfully tweaks them, makes it a problematic film to regard in today's context. But it was just great to be reminded of a time when all that you wanted of a movie was to be entertained; on that score the film is overwhelming in its effort to do so.

Ed Halter wrote a great feature on the Raiders Adaptation for the Village Voice.

Scandal and fraud on Shooting Down Pictures! Recount in order!

Okay, so I was making my plans to screen another title from my project, Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment (TSPDT #507). In perusing the list of Ophuls films on the list, I realized that there was another Ophuls movie I hadn't seen, La Ronde (TSPDT #726). For some reason I had checked this off as seen, but in truth, I have not.  During my count I must have confused it with La Plaisir (TSPDT #320) which I have seen. So now I have to eat a little crow and make some adjustments, edit the numbering on my entries so far and set myself back one title.  At least I'm keeping honest.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.  The REAL #911 will be screened at MoMA this Sunday...

25 out, 25 in - If I could mess with the TSPDT

Bill over at the mothership alerted me to a new poll he's conducting that is open to everyone. The idea is to pick 25 films that you would want to remove from the site's list of 1000 greatest films and suggest 25 that should take their place. Not sure if anything will come of this that will affect the master list - it's more of a feedback channel. Here is what I submitted:

Bad Lieutenant
Black Narcissus
Blow Out
A Clockwork Orange
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
The Exorcist
Fight Club
The Fortune
High and Low
The Matrix
Midnight Cowboy
Natural Born Killers
1900
Orlando
The Phantom of Liberty
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Searchers
Seven Chances
The Seventh Seal
Straw Dogs
Suspiria
The Thing
This Is Spinal Tap
The Wicker Man
Wild at Heart

Come to think of it though, I'd rather keep Midnight Cowboy and eliminate Forrest Gump.

Now, 25 that should be on the top 1000. These are all films by directors who don't have a single film in the 1000;

otherwise there would have been easily another 25 films to consider from directors already on the list. (the most notable in my mind being Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg). For the record, I would gladly prefer to see John Ford's Fort Apache (1948) swap out The Searchers, and Buster Keaton's The High Sign (1921) for Seven Chances. I also wanted to pay tribute to some of my favorite performers who don't have a single film in the current 1000; let's hope that someday they will have a turn in the spotlight.

Brooklyn to New York via Brooklyn Bridge (1899, James H. White) - where Lumiere-esque reportage meets avant garde art The Great Train Robbery (1903, Edwin S. Porter) - along with the exclusion of the Lumieres, unforgiveable The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912, Harold M. Shaw) The Last of the Mohicans (1920, Maurice Tourneur) The Freshman (1924, Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor) - I still prefer Chaplin and Keaton, but no Harold Lloyd whatsoever? Come on! Scar of Shame (1926, Frank Perugini) Piccadilly (1929, E.A. Dupont) - whither Anna May Wong? Love and Duty (1931, Bu Wangcang) - Ruan Lingyu. Greatest Chinese actress of all time, and one of the greatest screen actresses, period. Rose Hobart (1936, Joseph Cornell) - Bunuel knocked over the projector during a screening in a jealous fit. Nuff said. Street Angel (1937, Yuan Muzhi) - My favorite Chinese film. Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937, Sadao Yamanaka) - if Yamanaka hadn't met an untimely death serving the Japanese Army, we might today be asking "Akira who?" Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett) - Chuck Jones, Chuck Shmones. Bob Clampett's brief tenure at Warner was a creative maelstrom that truly put the looney in Looney Tunes Ornamental Hairpin (1941, Hiroshi Shimizu) This Life of Mine (1951, Shi Hui) - That Forrest Gump is in the 1000 and this film isn't shows how culturally biased this exercise is. The House is Black (1962, Farough Farrokhzad) - quite possibly the most poetic film ever made. Culloden (1964, Peter Watkins) Trash (1970, Paul Morrissey) The Arch (1970, Tong Shu Shuen) Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971, Melvin van Peebles) The Magic Blade (1976, Chor Yuen) - My favorite director of the 1970s. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977, Manhoman Desai) - Going by sheer audience figures, Amitabh Bachchan is the most popular actor of all time, and he has won more awards in his country than any actor anywhere else. See his films and you'll know why. Hey you 1,193 critics and whatevers, do any of you have a clue? Horse Thief (1985, Tian Zhuangzhuang) As Good as It Gets (1997, James L. Brooks) Ratcatcher (1999, Lynne Ramsay) Platform (2000, Jia Zhangke)

Go here if you want to participate in the poll.

My last weekly entry of 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006, Adam McKay) second viewing Watching the DVD of one of my favorites of 2006 was an object lesson in discovering the sham that is the "unrated / director's version" packaging of DVD releases. Basically they added 20 minutes of footage that was excised from the theatrical release, none of it particularly shocking or offensive, and only serving to make the film feel bloated and indulgent. They could have included the original version of the film - instead they give you the option of adding live action clips to navigate through the menu options. Big hooey. Listened to about 5 minutes of the commentary track with Adam McKay before deciding that the layers of self-parodying irony weren't going to enlighten me a bit. I'm sad to realize that the DVD will not do much to help the uninitiated discover what I remember so fondly as one of the most inspired comedies as well as social satires of 2006, but I guess I'll have to keep the flame alive the old fashioned way, by memory. Shake and bake! yes (#8 for new films seen in 2006 between BORAT and WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A TRAGEDY IN FOUR ACTS)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood) I had some of my highest expectations for any film this year going into this one, and for the most part I'd say they were satisfied. This film does so many things right that it seems peevish to find fault with it. Tom Stern continues his amazing lenswork from MILLION DOLLAR BABY, managing to give daytime scenes the frosty pallor of a dying man's gaze, as if the light were to flicker out at any time. Chillingly appropriate for a film about a troop of soldiers essentially condemned to die defending a god-forsaken island, led by Ken Watanabe in a performance worthy of Toshiro Mifune. His charisma - a mix of stern warriorship, comradely amiability and enlightened moral principle - is critical to planting the audience firmly on his side as he contends with both invading U.S. troops and rebellion from his subordinate officers, who would rather commit ceremonial suicide than fight to the death. The performances are pretty much all top-notch, especially Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) a former Olympic medalist-turned-colonel who counts Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as old friends; and an irrevernt young baker-turned-grunt (Kazunari Ninomiya) who develops his own relationship to war based on the moral code found in many Eastwood films: loyalty to himself and to others who share his sense of humanist decency. That Eastwood is able to elicit performances in another language is a remarkable achievement.

Unfortunately, the film suffers the indelible influence of two individuals -- Steven Spielberg and Paul Haggis -- whose sentimentality and overt moralizing drag the film down noticeably on more than one occasion. (Though Eastwood can't be let off the hook entirely - sometimes when watching an Eastwood film I don't get a sense that he's fully in command of his tone to begin with, and strange, incongruous elements creep in, like Laura Linney's monologue at the end of MYSTIC RIVER). Ironically, the element I find weakest in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA are the letters. The use of the soldiers' letters to flash back to key memories that deepen their personal backgrounds is neither as poetic or as deft as the epistolaries in THE THIN RED LINE, and feels like no more than what it is - a screenwriter's device. The atrociously unsubtle final image is straight out of a Spielberg movie, ruthless as it is in yanking tears from viewers' eyes. And when Baron Nishi reads a fallen Marine's letter from his mother to his own troop, Eastwood offers the Spielbergian gesture of having the Japanese soldiers rise to their feet in a moment where common sense is suspended for sentimental genuflection. Coupled with Haggis' bathetic "we are all the same" insights as expressed in the letter and subsequent dialogues, it's the film's worst moment.

I guess you need such heavy-handedness to improve the U.S. commercial viability of what essentially is a foreign language film, to make what was the enemy 60 years ago resemble our own men and women suffering through a disastrous conflict today. But as such it denies the film its fullest potential as an unsentimental meditation on what's at stake to fight an unwinnable battle. In that regard it's closer to Kon Ichikawa's soft-hearted THE BURMESE HARP than his unflinching FIRES ON THE PLAIN -- but at least LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, unlike, say the slickly simulated death trip UNITED 93, identifies a soul in human catastrophe and lends a great deal of effort examining its struggle. yes (#18 for 2006 between JOURNEY FROM THE FALL and LINDA LINDA LINDA)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro) What does it mean that I liked HELLBOY more than this, del Toro's anointed prestige picture? I can admire it for its craft, its dark imagination, its attempt to fuse political allegory and children's fairy tale. Maybe the simplistic fairy tale allegory set-up needs to be taken as par for the course, (Sergio Lopez is too much of an all-encompassing evil meanie to really do it for me) but somehow it limited the impact of the film for me. Even as a fairy tale, it never quite leapt into the fantastical enough for me to take my breath away as I was expecting. Neither fish nor fowl. Curious what my Spaniard friend Fesch has to say about this. yes

Nippon konchuki / The Insect Woman (1963, Shohei Imamura) TSPDT #898 Somewhere between Mizoguchi's LIFE OF OHARU and Fassbinder's MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN lies this lively and unflinching look at a woman's misadventures in sex, work and motherhood. Strikes me as historically groundbreaking in its frank and explicit depiction of female exploitation and the limited options a woman had in '60s Japan to find material and sexual fulfillment. There's also a great sense of everyday, unglamorous Japanese society, from the hick villages to the seedy underbelly of the city, that was Imamura's bread and butter. I only wish the dialogue was less expository and the narrative was less choppy as it moved from one episode in the heroine's hard luck story after another. yes

Un giornata particolare / A Special Day (1977, Ettore Scola) TSPDT #899 - final 100 countdown kicks off in the next day or two! Sophia Loren sparkles in an understated earthy turn as a housewife stuck doing chores at home while her 1930s Italian family attends a Fascist celebration to see Hitler and Mussolini in person. Her pet macaw flies the coop across the apartment complex to perch with Marcello Mastroianni, an outed homosexual contemplating suicide in lieu of deportation. No surprise that this is very well acted, and Scola's direction takes full advantage of the natural rapport between the two leads, building up to some wonderfully realized scenes in the second half. Confined entirely to interiors but never stagebound thanks to some deft camerawork, this is the Italian equivalent of BRIEF ENCOUNTER. a very high yes

Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron) An audacious, visionary work from Cuaron, set 20 years in an England where humans are mysteriously no longer able to have children, leading to a mass deportation of immigrants and violent upheaval all around. Clive Owen (who, combined with his performance in INSIDE MAN, has really impressed me lately) is enlisted by his terrorist ex-wife (Julianne Moore) to escort a miraculously pregnant immigrant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. The film speeds so fast through the phantasmagoric sets and visuals that at first viewing it's hard to take it all in and make full sense of it -- plays like a high-tech version of Ingmar Bergman's SHAME though with more bravado and forward momentum and moments of blistering virtuosity - perhaps Godard's WEEK-END would be a more fitting comparison. There are at least two sequences where the camera runs for at least five minutes through some of the most jaw-droppingly choreographed action sequences ever made - for those scenes alone the film is a must-see. They are so stunningly executed that one can't decide at first whether it enhances or upstages the doomsday scenario Cuaron audaciously offers. But his reconfigurations of contemporary media imagery (deported immigrants, war, torture, civil surveillance) into a futuristic apocalyptic landscape make a powerful impact, surpassing that of Spielberg's recent attempts to do the same (MINORITY REPORT, WAR OF THE WORLDS). A must-see, and possibly a masterpiece. yes/YES (#6 for 2006 between BATTLE IN HEAVEN and BORAT)