Cinema that was invented in the last decade of 19th century, flourished in the 20th century and for the most part,it was the most popular and in a way the most creative art format, borrowing from other art forms. After the invention of television, and the production of TV films in the second half of the last century, and later on the internet media and the new age of digitalism and online streaming or stealing of the movies, at least over the past couple of decades, Cinema has lost its glory. At the same time, while in the first half or most of the 20th century, Cinema was heavily in the hands of story tellers, photographers, and actors, who were all led by the filmmaker or the creator, in the last few decades of the past century and more so in the present 21st century, it is dominated by digital special effects and out of reality. So cinema as an art format has greatly transformed to a technical/digital industry. Along the many efforts across the globe to save this modern art against the box office sales pressure and capital demand, this site hopes to contribute a small part in this endeavor!
Cinema initially sprang from photography, so that later on and to this day, it is called “motion picture” or “movies”, while the term “film” could be used for both cinema and photography. In the beginning, cinema was simply, pictures in motion with no other adding arts or technology, such as sound, music, or else, but acting. That is why for the first few decades since the birth of cinema, the movies were “silent” and this art form had to rely basically on the power of imagery with all its cinematographic components and the filmmakers like painters on canvas had to do whatever they could to create a powerful moving picture on the screen in addition to silent acting without talk. In this endeavor, some relied on set design, the use of light and shadows, like the German expressionists, and some relied on editing like Eisenstein, and some relied mostly on acting and sensible realism like Chaplin. At the time and even today, it is easier to rate and rank a silent film, as there were no white noise of sound or talk and all were imagery and picture in motion to measure. Due to simplicity, originality and the role of these pure ingredients, the silent films are still on the top of many best films of all time, such as the works of Serge Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, D.W.Griffith, and Charles Chaplin.
The sound brought theatrical acting to the cinema despite strong oppositions of silent films’ actors who were great action actors, specially in comedy. While 1920’s were still dominated by the silent movies, the 1930’s were the era of infiltration of theatrical acting to cinema that lasted for several decades until the recent domination of special effects and interception of digitalism into cinema. Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Catharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, James Dean and Marlon Brando were such actors who stemmed from theatre or acted as such. This continued to the modern era so that the newer actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio continued with such legacy. The theatrical acting while added rich flavor to the story telling and content through dialogues to the cinema, in many instances became very close to theatrical plays and robbed the cinematic experience and presentation, and limited the filmmakers in showing their talents. This is somewhat parallel to the digital cinema nowadays, where digitalism and special effects have totally stolen the rich cinematic creation.
Evaluation, rating and ranking movies, is not a matter of personal taste, likeness, or even a collective voting of majority, as the majority could be wrong and do not consider all the components of a film, with a delicate consideration of the differential factors. In other words, the role of camera, acting and editing are not the same and do not carry the similar weights as special effect. Unfortunately this has not been done closely in most rating and ranking of the motion pictures and the best lists, or awards such as Oscar. Beyond the different components of a film, that somewhat and singularly are recognized as in awards for script, acting, editing, directing, etc., the following factors in ranking the best films are essential. (Of course based on the following criteria, the earlier a film, the higher the rank would be, except the films that in addition to these factors, they have the “best impression” that could go beyond the time boundary. This is certainly very rare and on our list could include only a few rare films such as “The Battleship Potemkin”, “Man with a movie camera” and “Metropolis”, but these films are still frontiers in the time frame and only a few ranks above the other films made before them.
- Originality: No matter how well a film has been made today, if it is a copy of an original work, or an adaptation in one form or another, it would put it out of any best rank. An original work, even if not well done to perfection, it is still original and a creation that needs to be considered. Of course the earlier films fairly take on a lot of credits from this factor, but this may encourage the true filmmakers not to be copiers or followers but original and creative!
- Technicality: This factor should cover all the technical aspects of filmmaking from the story and script to the all works of camera, acting, editing, special effects, etc. The originality and proper application of each technique or component need to be considered in ranking.
- Impact Factor/Significance: This is the factor influencing other films, urging them to copy and experience the original work in part or in whole. This factor is not only the influence that an original work has on the industry, but on people in general and other forms of art and aspects of life as well. In conjunction with the influence that a film could have on other films or else, the significance of the film on cinema as a whole and on the history of this art medium is important and will be counted on.
- Survival: This shows how long a work, no matter how great, it will be remembered and looks fresh for years to come, specially in the eyes of the true cinema patriots.
Throughout this site, in writing on films and ranking them, the above factors will be delicately considered, though no evaluation or ranking could be rightful. Such comprehensive evaluation and ranking will hopefully encourage others to take on such or similar process in ranking and awarding, and avoiding a single factor such as the content of the story for political or trend of the time reasons!
Since “Greed” of Erich von Stroheim in 1924, and the “Gold Rush” comedy of Charles Chaplin in 1925, there had not been any film to address the greed of man for gold and wealth, the main incentive of white Europeans to immigrate to the new world of America. The film, perhaps the greatest work of the American Screen writer and filmmaker, John Huston is an adaptation of B. Tavern’s 1927 novel of the same name. John Huston who gave his father a role in the film as “Howard” or “the old man” granted him an academy award for the best supporting actor, started his film career as a writer. His first triumph in script writing was for the third Hollywood version of “Maltese Falcon” in 1941, and “the Killers” in 1946 of Ernest Hemingway, his only work adaptation on the silver screen that this great American literary liked.
While John Huston had already tried in directing with a few minor works, “Maltese Falcon” was his first great achievement that was hailed to this day by the critics. But “The treasure of Sierra Madre” was his first great classic that not only him, but placed his friend and actor, Humphrey Bogart a high spot in the history of cinema who later on once again surpassed expectations in “The African Queen”. As we will see the greatness of these two works of John Huston and Bogart are in their clear distinction from the other Hollywood films of then and later, specially where Bogart plays mostly the same roles of a macho or man of testosterone in crime dramas. Watching Bogart on the screen, particularly for his fans picturing him always as a hero, in these two distinct films as a low-life with torn clothes, dirty hands and blackened face, alone not only surprising and award winning, but jaw dropping and unbelievable to this day. Only in these two films with the guidance and assistance of John Huston, Bogart was able to stand out as a capable actor, who was robbed in his other films just for commerciality.
A Classic of difference:
Since American films coming out of Hollywood from its inception to this day, are principally commercial and crowd pleasing, to be classic and great, they have to be different. Even many of great American films of the past and present have had the commercial and box office elements, and have been of action, adventure, and in drama, they have been melodrama appealing to the public. Rare American films, as the time has gone by and most innovations and novelties have been done, possess a classic masterpiece element to place them aside the greatest world cinematic arts. One of these rarity is “The treasure of Sierra Madre” and John Huston and Bogart were both lucky or talented to repeat this once again later on in “The African Queen” together.
This great classis was the first Hollywood to be filmed on location and outside US and Hollywood, in Mexico. It has also been the first for Bogart, as it mentioned earlier to have an unconventional role. It also involved John Huston’s father, Walter Huston in a pivotal supporting role that earned him an Oscar, where he thanked his son officially for having given him such a role to show his potential. It also was one of the very first American film to run another language than English, Spanish of Mexican, without translation on the original screen version, though understood well by the audience, showing the power of the visual art of cinema. This fact was against a background of a very dialectical film, having many dialogues, between the principal players, often too philosophical for ordinary audience who had gone perhaps to enjoy an action western with their idol actor, Humphrey Bogart.
The story runs in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, where there are rich Americans such as John Huston, playing himself, and many drifters such as Fred (Humphrey Bogart) and James Cody (Bruce Bennet) and Howard (Walter Huston) trying to find a job in the oil rigs for $8/day. Howard, the old man, talking about the gold mines up on the mountains of Sierra Madre, attracts the other two, who join him on the rich-getting adventure. Not imagining the hardship of climbing the desert mountain at the start, they go through all the sufferings of thirst, hunger, pains, first comradery then animosity, until reaching the destination.
Through rich dialogues at a real life level, and well fit into the story, their behaviors and actions, the three partners while realizing “Gold changes a man’s soul”, and trying to resist, the evil overcomes them. While in some ways, the film is a copy of “Greed”, but a very good one and also different, as not being a silent, but with rich dialogues, conveying the message of the evil greed for gold or wealth. Looking back on the history of cinema, many other filmmakers at the time and later on, perhaps wished to have made this masterpiece, but the fortune happened to be of John Huston, and Bogart who played a memorable act, not able to repeat until “The African Queen”.
The story goes on taking many Shakespearian moments, well weaved, directed and acted, such as the greed, the suspicion, rivalry, guilt, redemption and more. Huston who respected and loved Chaplin as “God” of cinema, and hailed his works such as “Gold Rush” with this film, was able to get close to the master of cinema, but at a dramatic level, by alluding the film being his best. The film, one of the few in its time, not ending well and with happiness as American audience expected, like in “Greed” ends up in animosity, fighting, killing each other and misery. Fred kills his partner, James and then he himself is killed by the Mexican bandits. Worst, the gold “goes back where we found”, acclaims the old man, Howard who survives with their new partner Bob Curtin (James Cody).
The above is a short story line of the film, but the film needs to be seen scene by scene, reflect on and learn a big life lesson, a major commitment of cinema that hardly seen in American films. Not to be quite dry with philosophy of life, that has been fit in the dialogues and the story, the film contains some action, such as the train robbery of the Mexican bandits like in the rest of American westerns, fighting and killings. But the film keeps up with its enlightening commitment with its great dialogues and actions, such as “water precious, sometimes more than gold” when the threesome are run out of water, “I thought there will be sacks of gold up here and what I need to do is pack them and take them to the closest bank”,…
Through the storyline, the dialogues amidst the suspicions, hyper-vigilance to each other, arguing and fighting, there is discussion of what each will do with their gold. The answers are interesting as the old man will not be looking for gold anymore, James will start a peach farm back in his home countryside, and Fred will think about it later when he gets to town, where he would be buying 10 things of everything.
Not just a fine story:
“The treasure of Sierra Madre” is not just a superb story and script for the screen, it is a classis and masterpiece for the finest performance of the stars of the time, Bogart and John’s father, Walter Huston. Bogart, despite being a commercial actor by then, knew well he needs to play in this film to show his acting talent. So when he learnt that Huston is preparing to direct the film and Warner’s Brothers had already other actors in mind, started badgering Huston for the part, and said to a critic “Wait till you see me in my next picture…I play the worst shit you ever saw”. That shit was his finest life performance later on according to him and others. Despite his great acting in the film, when Bogart saw the depth performance of Walter Huston, he said “One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder”.
As mentioned above, the subject of greed for gold and wealth seeking, one more time needed to be depicted on the screen, but with dialogues so the audience capture the message, as the earlier films of “Greed” and “Gold Rush” were both silent. So the dialogues carried and performed very well in a Shakespearian style that was very powerful. The film in black and while with the cinematography of Ted McCord and music score of Max Steiner and above all by the genius direction of John Huston, created such a classic that could not be easily forgotten. The long and close up shots, the proper lighting all in the magical black and white color, conveyed the content of the story in a very Shakespearian style without much technical imposition.
In closing remarks “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality:“The Treasure of Sierra Madre” though is not that original and has been adapted from the novel of B.Traven’s of 1927, and the “Greed” of Erich von Stroheim in 1924, and somewhat less by the “Gold Rush” of Charles Chaplinof 1925, due to several elements deserves some originality. First of all it is a sound film, while the other earlier two were silent, and with its powerful dialogues, makes it an original classic of its own kind. Moreover the finest performances by Bogart and Walter Huston makes it more an original example of acting to be followed by other actors in the later years in similar realistic films. Also filming on location in rough places of Durango and Tampico of Mexico, were all original specially for the American films at the time. Lastly the film was original for Bogart, Walter and John Huston themselves as they never before had such experiences in their resumes as in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre”.
- Technicality:The technicality of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” is foremost in the direction of the film by John Huston who also wrote the script, and started his career as a scenarist, and had been already regarded not only as a script writer, surprising even Hemingway for the film adaptation of his short story, “The Killers”, but also being hailed by the great writer and playwright, Arthur Miller as “He could easily be a professor of literature”. The other great technicality of the film is in its superb acting of Bogart and Walter Huston who both played their finest life performances. Lastly the cinematography of Ted McCord and the soundtrack of Max Steiner were rarity in American films then and for years to come. More importantly the technicality of the film unlike other technical films is not over-imposing, so it could be easily missed, like in Chaplin and De Sica films.
- Impact Factor:The influence of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” has been on both critics who loved it from its premier to this very day, being on the most greatest films of all time list, to other filmmakers such as the great Stanley Kubrick who ranked the film as his fourth on his favorite list and adapted it in his film “The Killing”, to Sam Peckinpah who shows the influence in “The Wild Bunch” and Paul Thomas Anderson who watched it every night while writing “There will be blood”.
- Survival:“The Treasure of Sierra Madre” has survived well to this very day in its admiration by many filmmakers worldwide and its influence on them and their films and also still being a joy to watch, enlighten and reflect upon the human’s nature.
Prologue:Why “Bicycle Thieves”?
Why “Bicycle Thieves” jumping on the list of the greatest films of all time to the number 4 on this site? As it has been explained on the front post of the site, only a very few films (so far four) could have defied the historical time criteria of the greatest films, that are “Battleship Potemkin”, “A man with a movie camera”, “Metropolis” and “Bicycle Thieves”. These films that were not the most original, technical, and not with the most impact and the most survival factors, have been able to create such a comprehensive impression and impact on many that defy any criteria, so stand above all the other films. This does not mean that these films are short of any originality, technicality, impact factor and survival, but in contrary stand above the rest in any of these elements and beyond leaving an overall value that is unique. The rating here could be close to what this film was rated as the third greatest film of all time by the first universal poll in history by thousands of filmmakers and critics in Expo 58 in the Brussels World’s Fair, only beneath “Battleship Potemkin” and “Gold Rush” of Chaplin.
“Bicycle Thieves”, one of the major films of neorealism in cinema that was originated in Italy and put this country’s cinema suddenly on the world map, is quite different and unique even among other great neo-realistic films such as “Rome, Open City” (1945), “Shoeshine” (1946), “Paisa” (1946), and “La Terra Perma” (1948). Even Vittorio De Sica, the creator of “Bicycle Thieves”, could not repeat such a masterpiece with his next great works such as “Umberto-D”, “Miracle in Milan” after his great earlier “Shoeshine”. This is true with many great works in all different art media, as Leonardo Da Vinci could not repeat “Mona Lisa”, or in cinema Eisenstein could not repeat “Battleship Potemkin” and Vertov could not repeat “A man with a movie camera” and Frtiz Lang could not repeat “Metropolis”.
Among many essays and articles that have been written on “Bicycle Thieves” and many recognitions, though insufficiently, this article will attempt to evaluate this great film one more time.
While “Neorealism” started in cinema in Italy and with masterpieces such as “Rome, Open city” of Roberto Rossellini, it was consolidated and opened a great chapter in the art of cinema with Vittorio De Sica and “Bicycle Thieves”. While “Rome, Open City” was made right at the conclusion of WWII and dealt with its impact on a nation and their resistance reaction, “Bicycle Thieves” made just after the war, portrayed the aftermath of the war on the same nation. When after the war, the allies came out victorious and wealthy, the axis power of Germany, Italy and Japan as the defeaters suffered and became the subjects of control and domination by the victors. Here not the governments and the creators of the war suffered, but the nations under them, who endured the suffrage at the time of war and after.
Read the full text here:
The Shape of Water****:
This most recent film of Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker, who is a screenwriter and novelist, won the Golden Lion award of the best film at the 74th Venice Film Festival, before winning the best director award at the recent 75th Golden Globe. The story written, scripted, produced and directed by himself, is of a Beauty and the Beast type, while fairy tale, but modern taking place in 1960’s in US. Adapted to some degree from his own previous masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth”, the film centers on the universal relationship and understanding between the two beings in nature, here between a cleaning young female at a high-security governmental lab and an “amphibian” locked in for scientific or destruction purposes, or else. While the film gets caught in unrealistic fantasy and kind of fairy tale, and in a common rescue plot of commercial films, with interweaving reality of the time (governmental spy activities in the cold war era), and most importantly with the inner psychological connections of humans with an alien type, has achieved an acceptable achievement in cinema. The film also stands out among a few good beauty and the beast, and also alien type films, such as “E.T” for creating different beautiful, while surprising scenes such as the love making in the bath, flooding the bathroom with water and immersing in, of the two creatures, and more so the real love felt between the two.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri***:
This film written, produced and directed by Marin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, is original in not in its whole story content or else, but on three billboards that this searching for the criminal story hinges on. The film that has been already the big winner at this year Golden Globe Awards, with winning the best picture, actress, supporting actor and screenplay is the story of a mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) in search of her daughter’s rapist and murderer sometime after that the town of Ebbing’s police had failed in discovery. So she come up with the surprising and innovative idea of using the three billboards on the entry to the town that have been obsolete for a while, and posting her message of the police failure in the case. This creates a commotion in the town and on the top the anger of the police, the Chief Bill Willoughby, despite his name is attacked specifically on the billboards, he is a gentle man who according to him, he had tried hard to find the murderer, and now is dying from a terminal cancer and is doing his best to mend the commotion in the town. While the mystery of the murder is not really solved, despite the hunch of the deputy chief who was a bad guy for most of the film, then turns around helping Mildred at the end, the film has a surprise of the Chief Willoughby shooting himself to death, before dying slowly and painfully from his cancer. In brief the film is another murder mystery genre, but with the interesting original and surprising billboards!
This British film by Joe Wright, starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife, is the story of switching prime minister in May of 1940, from Chamberlian to Churchil, and the English government decision to make peace with Nazi Germany or go to war. The film has already been hailed for the great performance by Gary Oldman who won the Golden Globe award. The film clarifies part of the shameful history behind the second world war, such as the peace accord between Germany and US not to intervene and aid Europe, as Roosevelt rejected Churchill’s request for help. Also Chamberalin who first signed the Munich agreement in 1938, conceding the German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany, but when Nazis invaded Poland, he declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, failed to put up a strong halt to Nazis ambitions and expansions. He resigned on May 10, 1940 after the Allies retreating from Norway and occupation of France by Germany as both Labour and Liberal parties were not well untied under him, and his associate, Lord Halifax was urged to make peace with Germany again. So the film is mostly a historical depiction of Britain in the difficult days of May 1940 with a superb acting of Gary Oldman, though it has an emotional heart felt moment when Churchill, historically true or not, rides on in the London Metro to meet people and ask their opinion of making peace with Germany.
Alone in Berlin****:
This great war drama produced by Germany, France and England, directed by the Swiss Vincent Perez, adopted from the 1947 novel “Every man dies alone” by Hans Fallada, is a different and original war genre film. Some films open beautifully, but fall off as the film goes on, some start slow and lame, then warm up later on, but only a few great films stay artfully from the opening to the ending scene, and this film is one of those rare films. The opening scene is a beautiful cinematographic of a forest that then interjects in with a running soldier, who soon was shot, falls off, but his eyes open up to the tall trees and the sky, as if he is still alive. The next scene shows the streets of Berlin, then a mailwoman on a bike, handing a mail to a couple, who we’ll learn later on to carrying the news of their son’s death in the war. For a while the couple quietly swallow their grief, until the father after changing the “Fuhrer”, that in German means “leader” in a book to “Lügner” meaning “liar”, he comes up with the heroic and innovative idea to write post cards, revealing his son’s death and Hitler’s war crime and distribute them all over the city. While the wife initially disagrees as she does not see any point in that changing the path of the war, she joins him and both distribute the cards that they call it “free press” all over Berlin. The film from now on, turns to a detective chase of the card distributor who is criminal in their eyes. All the cards except 18 were handed to the police, that means they were kept by some other opponents to the Nazi’s war machine. At the end the couple were arrested and killed by guillotine without showing the brutality of the scene. The film also beautifully performed by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson, is a rare example of cinematic experiment nowadays at the era of digitalism, and computerized fake special effects. Instead the film exercises the best of camera moves, angles, slow and even almost freeze frames, making the viewer to stay longer with every scene to absorb the depth of the content. The film beautiful and simple musical score adds to its sensation. After a long time finally a different WWII film from inside of the Nazis state, joins the other such greats as the late “The Reader” of 2008, and “Europa Europa” of 1990.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women***:
It has been long since such a surprise, strange and shocking feature film has been on silver screen. This is film by Angela Robinson who has been filming on homosexual lives, relationships and issues for more than a decade, and starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall , Bella Heathcote, and Oliver Platt. The film is about the story life of the psychologist, William Moulton Martson and his wonder women, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their shared mistress Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), and the story of the evolution of “Wonder Woman” comic heroine character. The film based on the true life story of Dr. Marston (1893-1947) and his unconventional “polyamory” or threesome relationship with Elizabeth and Olive, from both he ends up having children, all in very still strict and orthodox American society of late 1930s-1940s. This personal life story that was a total shock to the neighbours and the society at large then, comes to the silver screen that even today could be a surprise and shock for Hollywood so to be ignored by many critics and others so to be reviewed and commented on. Although some extra lesbian relationships between Elizabeh and Olive could have been added to spice up the true life story of professor Marston and some intense masochistic and sadistic sexual scenes to make it repulsive to some, the film still stands out as a heroic filmmaking presented on silver screen to a large audience. This heroic filmmaking has its own faulty interpretation of Marston’s psychological DISC (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) theory of humans emotions. Marston who believed humans emotions are reactions to the environment and others based on the favorability and expressed as one of the above behavioural reactions, in the film has been misinterpreted in the form of masochistic submission and compliance, and sadistic dominance and inducement. The Wonder Woman comic character also as a fantasy icon to promote the power of women and feminism in 1930s-1940s has also been misinterpreted to submission and masochism. At any rate, like or dislike, the film is able to provoke thoughts and emotions and be a subject of discussion and argument on the freedom and judgment of any kinds, so worth to watch, as it shows the power of films.
Again last year of 2017 like the recent years, there have not been many great films as expected, but only a few as cinema specially Hollywood has been on the downfall due to too much commerciality and digitalism, less originality, innovation and heroism.
The 75th Golden Globe awards on January 7, 2018, recognized “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” as the best picture of 2017 with the best screenplay, and Frances McDormand in this film as the best actress, and Sam Rockwell as the best supporting actor. “The Shape of Water” won the best director award for Guillermo de Toro, and the best original score. The best actor award for a feature comedy went to James Franco for “The Disaster Artist”, the best actress in feature comedy to Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird”, the best actor in drama feature to Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour”.
The 90th Academy Awards that will be presented on March 4, 2018 has listed the following nominees that the main awards nominees will be listed here, and rated by stars (out of 5) if good enough:
(There are a short list of the Best Films of 2017 on this site, that a few have not been nominated by the Oscar)
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour” **
“Phantom Thread” **
“The Shape of Water” ****
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”**
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” ***
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”**
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” ***
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”**
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
“Dunkirk”, Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird”, Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro****
“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson***
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman
“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor ****
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh ***
“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mud bound”, Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen****
Best Foreign Language Film:
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon) **
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)
“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky ****
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory***
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat ****
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell **
“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran ***
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges ***
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira ****
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle
The first film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story of the same name, written for the screen by John Huston, Richard Brooks, and Anthony Veiller and directed by Robert Siodmak creates an iconic of multi-genres in cinema. The film with the team collaboration of “Burt Lancaster” as the “Swede” in his first cinematic role and “Ava Gardner” as “Kitty” in her first major role, and with the amazing cinematography of “Woody Bredell” and the perfect music score of the Hungarian-American composer “Miklos Rozsa” has made a rare cinematic creation and one of the most unaccredited great films of all time.
While the short story of Ernest Hemingway was very simple, minimalistic and with not much of a plot, and less than 3,000 words, in deliberation of the great American novelist, the film was written and screened with multi-levels plots, and ongoing back and forth the best flashbacks, becomes a rare classic of film noir and beyond. The film is a prototype of many gangster, detective, murder and thriller films of the later years, including “Touch of Evil”, and many Martin Scorsese’s films such as “Good Fellas”.
The film is also the first one to have the protagonist being killed right from the beginning, where Hemingway left off the story, then through repeated back and forth flashback telling how the story ended to his murder. The film is not just a prototype of suspense murder and film noir genre, but an original of boxing film mixed in the murder gangster story like “Raging Bull”. It is also original in being a murder mystery solving by extensive detective search. The film is also original to include a femme fatal, “Ava Gardner” opposite the protagonist, in a love triangle with “Lilly” played by Virigina Christine as Swede’s former girlfriend.
A Classic Masterpiece:
The film opens with a great opening scene of two hitmen, Max and Al enter the small town of Brentwood at night to kill the “Swede”, a former boxer. The opening scene with its shadowy lighting cinematography is a reminder of the later years films such as Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” and “The Third Man” of Carol Reed, both starring “Orson Welles”. The killing of the Swede or “Ole Anderson” after being warned by his co-worker, by the hitmen right at the start of the film was a novelty and surprise in filmmaking at the time.
Then the film through ongoing back and forth flashbacks through interviews, reveals the life story of Swede and how he ended being killed. The plot is from the beginning to almost the end is a mystery and detective problem solving played well by “Edmond O’Brien”, a life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (for Swedd’s life insurance policy) and the detective Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene) in the murder of Swede, a nice guy a liked boxer and a lover with no apparent motifs for his killing. This main line of the film story, all added to the film that not existed in Hemingway’s story, with its repeated flashbacks is a reminder of the search in the meaning of “Rose Bud” in “Citizen Kane”, but crafted more perfectly and beautifully.
Dropping off his boxing career immaturely due to a right hand injury, Swede attracted to the femme fatale “Kitty” (Ava Gardner) and leaving his girlfriend Lily (Virginia Christine), he gets muddled in the bad guys and mobs gang, stealing jewelries for Kitty, that ends in his arrest and three years in jail. After his release, he continues hanging out with the mobs and associates in a major robbery, stealing a quarter of millions. When he finds out that he has been double crossed by the mobs and not being shared in the money, he steals the whole sum form them at the gun point and flees. When meeting again in Atlantic City, Kitty who’s in fact the girlfriend of the mastermind of the robbery, Big Jim Colefax (Albert Dekker) takes all the money and disappears, creating a second double cross and more twists and thrills in the film.
The film is innovating and surprising all the way with its plot of every members of the gang at the end being killed by each other, and the hitmen by the police, leaving at he end Kitty to beg Colefax in his deathbed, for saying she has been innocence. The last scene played superbly by Ava Gardner, crying for pardon ends the film in a Shakespearian guilt washing off strive. The film was the only one Ernest Hemingway liked of all his novels film adaptations, as added more sophisticated plot, from the killing of Swede on forward, where Hemingway left off, perhaps for the readers to add the rest to the story themselves.
Despite several direct adaptations under the same title of “The Killers” by the Russian Andrei Tarkovsky in 1956, a TV film in 1959, a film by the Don Siegel in 1964 with Lee Marvin, and a few short films by Todd Huskisson in 1998, Jae Yu in 2001 and a most recent by Russell and Murphy in 2008, the film is one of the most unrecognized great films of all time. Unlike the future similar gangster films, the protagonist is not a gangster or a killer, but a likable and quiet man, after failing as a boxer, attempting suicide, but rescued by a maid, to whom he leaves his life insurance money to. In brief, The Kilers” is one of the most survived films of all time that has never lost any of its livelihood and freshness.
In closing remarks “The Kilers” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality: “The Killers” is original in many aspects of plot writing with many twists and thrills, puzzle solving through repeated flashbacks. The film is multi-genre of gang or mob film, robbery heist, murders and killings, detective, murder mystery, melodrama, femme fetal, suspense and thriller.
- Technicality: The technicality of “The Killers” is also multi-level and in its screenplay that though adapted from Hemingway’s work, but with the added most of the story makes it an original script. The superb acts, cinematography, direction and above all the musical score of Miklos Rozsa, makes it a perfect film to watch even today.
- Impact Factor: The influence of “The Killers” has been on several of its direct adaptations, and indirect influence that the film had in later years on other films and filmmakers, sadly without much being accredited.
- Survival: “The Killers” has survived well to this very day not only through its impact, but to be watched even in its black and white original and being enjoyed, thrilled and surprised.
Hollywood had been quite silent about the second World War that burnt Europe and cost millions of lives all over the world, even including the American soldiers who finally after the attack of Perl Harbour being sent out to the war. But “The Best Years of Our Lives” of William Wyler that was released a year after the end of the war in 1946, surprisingly broke this silence. The film while not addressing or showing the war directly, for the first time on the screen, reflects the casualties of the war in the aftermath. This is another prototype of anti-war films, different than the great classic of Lewis Milestone’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” of the WWI in 1930.
The impact of the war in the film is shown psychologically and socially very delicately in the lives of three survived veterans, their families and friends after returning home. These veterans upon returning home only after a few years that US was in the war, notice a huge gap between themselves, their families and friends. The two sides are totally estranged to each other in feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The film unlike many other anti-war films to come out of Hollywood in the later years, it is not focusing on one but three protagonist characters representing home returning soldiers.
The film still stands out to this day among many later on anti-war films for its depiction of the American society to be totally at loss with the reality of the war, even WWII that was considered a just war against the force of Nazis and Fascists. As if the American nation were not involved or not interested in going to the war! For just a year after the end of the war, understanding such a national reaction of common people to the war is still difficult to grasp. Perhaps one explanation as it is said clearly in the one of the early scenes of the film, in a discussion between Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) and his teenage son, could be the disagreement of the American people on atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force the surrender of Japan.
But throughout the film, here and there, opinions against war is expressed clearly by other characters such as uncle Butch Engle (Hoagy Carmichael) when advising Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) who has lost hands in the war, to give it time to his family to get used to him. In short, the family and friends of the returning veterans seem to be in guilt and shame for having sent their men to the war! This attitude in a Hollywood film at the sensitive time after the second world war was as strange as heroic, despite many war films of the modern time engulfed in high patriotism, receiving the returning veterans from any war with glory. This aspect of the film alone needs to be explored and analyzed on its own, to discover if there has been any difference in the nation’s attitude towards the war then than now.
The Best Years of Our Lives: Gone!
The film as denoted above and clearly is stated and remains to be the attitude and the position of film throughout hinges on the question or statement that “The Best Years of Our Lives” have been wasted or lost in the war! The film that was adapted from the novella of “Glory for Me” of MacKinlay Cantor” in a narrative verse. The book that tells the same story of three WWII veterans returning home holds the same attitude, political or social position against the war or any war as reads “And each had felt the kiss of death so many times, that he could only share himself with other men whose lips still wore the damp and pungent print of cold infinity.” That’s why in the film we are witnessed to the closer relationship between the three veterans, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) and Al Stephenson (Fredric March) than their own families and old friends.
As always even to this day, when the soldiers return home and back to the reality of civil life, they are estranged and have to face, not their own harsh war experiences through their flashbacks, but to live and cope again with their families and friends who had no such experiences. In fact the war gets soldiers for the first time not to reality of the death of their own, but others who lived with them for a while during the war. Moreover the soldiers face the enemy, soldiers and civilians, who are more or less like them and have no animosity to each other, but have to kill each other. While this bitter truth was shown very clearly in the classic masterpiece “All Quiet on the Western Front”, in this film it is shown in the impact of the aftermath of the war on veterans and their families. So they are left behind with shame, guilt, and so many other psychological turmoil. For example after going through the horrific experience of the war to the edge of death, now after return they have to start all over, back to their ordinary jobs, such as behind the ice cream parlor, selling ice cream or perfumes. The fact of life going to such extremes, becomes totally meaningless to them, so they have to drawn themselves in drinking and isolation from the rest of ordinary people.
In the above regards, the film despite not being much technical in real sense, it is original in its ant-war story, and as such technical in depicting it well on the screen through its masterfully translated a narrative verse into screenplay. The film was so felt and received by the American nation at the time that sold $23.7 million in the box office, and considering the cost of a ticket 25 cent, it was seen by almost 100 million viewers in US. This is alone proves the value of a film that is not commercial or pure entertaining, but a harsh melodrama that is hailed by a nation that the film enlightened and influenced. That is the sheer impact of cinema as the modern art medium that can reach people unlike any other art formats. This brings with it, a survival for ever, and an example what a film can do.
All the above was achieved well, to a great extent as William Wyler had combat experience in the war in Europe while filming “Mepmphis Belle” and hired Harold Russell as a non-actor to play the role of Homer. He also asked the actors to purchase their own clothes so to look more real and portray an authentic feeling on the screen, and shot the film on the real life sets, against the standard of the time that were all done in studios. Hence the impact on the audience was immediate and added to the realistic perception of the film. Perhaps through the public approval and reception of the film, surprisingly it won all major Oscar awards, including the best picture, director, screenplay, film editing and music score, and the best supporting actor (Harold Russell) who as a non-actor, he has been the only one in the history of Oscar to receive an extra Honorary award as well.
In closing remarks “The Best Years of Our Lives” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality: “The Best Years of Our Lives” is original in its story and content of anti-war without showing the war fields and the physical causalities.
- Technicality: The technicality of “The Best Years of Our Lives” lies in its screenplay, artfully translated a narrative verse into a script, winning the audience and critics acclamation. The technicality of the film also lies in its delicacy in depicting the psychological casualties of the war on both sides of the soldiers, their families and friends.
- Impact Factor: The influence of “The Best Years of Our Lives” has been on many anti-war films in the later years and also on the American people who were against any wars for years to come, including the later Vietnam war.
- Survival: “The Best Years of Our Lives” has survived well to this very day as a heart warming, also heart breaking anti-war film, and it is still enlightening or even surprising for its heroic making right after the second world war.
“Rome, Open City” of Roberto Rossellini was shot in August 1944, just two months after the allies forced Nazi Germany to withdraw from the city of Rome. The title refers to the occupation of Rome by Nazis and its declaration of being an open city, meaning a city giving up all its defenses to total surrender for prevention of further damage by bombings and attacks. Rossellini who was basically trained as a documentary filmmaker was financed by a wealthy elderly lady to make a film on Don Pieto Morosini, a catholic priest who was shot by the Germans for assisting the resistance movement in Rome. Later on the same lady agreed to finance an additional documentary about children in Rome at the time of occupation who were strong part of the resistance movement. When Rossellini asked his friend Federico Fellini to get him the actor Aldo Fabrizi to play the role of the priest and also assisting him to write the screenplay of the film, Fellini suggested to combine the two documentary to a feature, so “Rome, Open City” was created.
Before discussing the film further, its creator, Roberto Rossellini deserves a brief introduction. Rossellini and both his parents were from Rome, so they knew the city very well. His father who was in construction built the first cinema in Rome, the “Barberini”, so Roberto could have unlimited free pass that he took the advantage from an early age. When his father died, he worked as a soundmaker for films and for a certain time he experienced all the ancillary jobs related to the creation of a film, gaining competence in each field, while his brother, Renzo later scored many of his films, including “Rome, Open City”. Rossellini in most of his films preferred ordinary non-actors than professionals, so to remain more true to the reality of the feature, he strived to depict. Enough of Rossellini’s great neo-realistic work and influence, that in 1948, Ingrid Bergman wrote to him if he could use her in his films that was the start of a long-term work and personal relationship ending in marriage, that lasted only seven years. Again to his credit, Rossellini was invited by Jawaharlal Nehro, the prime minister of India at the time, in 1957 to make a documentary about India and improve the Indian films industry. Six years before his death, in 1973 Rossellini was invited by Rice University in Huston, Texas to help establish a media center, working with the professor, Donald Clayton. Finally three years before his death in 1973, he was invited by Yale University to teach cinema, that he taught one semester on “The Essential Image”.
The Frontier of Neo-Realism:
“Rome, Open City” opened the Italian and the world cinema to a new kind of film style and language, later on called “Neo-Realism” with many later on masterpieces such as “The Bicycle thief” and “Umberto D”. The characteristics of such new style that gave cinema intense power, were depicting harsh and bitter, but at the same simple realities of life, shot in real scenes, on the streets, in real homes, with real people (mostly non-actors), and with children having a major parts in. That all started with “Rome, Open City” that is while a documentary, it is a narrative feature film, with melodrama, great screenplay reciting the real events, superb acting, unique camera work and cinematography and above all a perfect direction.
The film is a story of a nation, ordinary people, including men, women, children and even priests who are all suffering under fascism and Nazi occupation, and also their resistance and fighting. There is no line separating these people for the common cause of ending the occupation and grasping the freedom. So children, women and even the priest, Don Pietro (played superbly by Aldo Fabrizi) helping the fighters who some are communists and non-believers in religion. The story is one of many that happened in real life situation in Rome at the time of Nazi occupation. Giorgio Manfredi (played by Marcello Pagliero) is a communist and resistance leader who’s under prosecution by Nazis, is protected and given refuge by the whole city, including his comrade Francesco (played by Francesco Granjacquet) and his fiancée, Pina (played as it could be played only by Anna Magnani). Children who are all non-actors have a major part in the film as they had in the real Rome at the time of occupation, helping the resistance.
The film that is hailed by Martin Scorsese as “The most precious moment of film history” and by Jean Luc Godard as “All the roads lead to ‘Rome, open city’!” change the style of cinema for ever. It’s as realistic, as unexpected, as non-cliché as it can get. The heroes since are real, they die as in real life and as it happened in Rome at the time of occupation in the second world war. First Pina running after the German army truck that is taking Giorgio away, gets shot and dies in the arms of the priest Don Pietro. Then in an original scene, Giorgio is tortured to death when the Nazis could not force the priest to talk and give him away. Here in anger and disgust, Don Pietro tells the Germans that you killed his body, but not his soul! Here the religion and the communism stand together at the service of resistance to enemy on the path of national freedom. Finally the priest Don Pietro is not exempted from death by the fire squadron who refuse to shoot him as Italian soldiers, so he will be killed by the German officer, while the observing children whistle in the background.
“Rome, Open City” as the frontier of neo-realism in cinema, not just in Italy as it was called so, but worldwide, has set the foundation of similar films for years to come, not just for the entertainment, but for influencing the audience, showing the great power that cinema could have on people, with a great part in the history.
In closing remarks “Rome, Open City” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality: “Rome, Open City” is original in founding the neo-realism in cinema, that is not only portraying realities of life like a documentary in the format of feature films, but applying ordinary people as non-actors to play in front of the camera. In his neo-realistic works such as “Rome, Open City”, he used all sectors and ages of people including the children.
- Technicality: The technicality of “Rome, Open City” starts from its script to the camera moves, cinematography and the real sets on the streets and homes, to the great acting of a few professional actors and many non-actors, plus its great score, and unconventional editing with no clear opening and ending, and the content that like in real life, everyone can die specially in a war situation, and everyone could be a hero.
- Impact Factor: Discussing of the influence of “Rome, Open City” is sufficient to say that it started a huge cinematic style and movement of neo-realism across the globe with creation of many similar great films.
- Survival: “Rome, Open City” has survived well to this very day in its legacy and its footstep on other films and filmmakers and also still today being a joy to watch.
“Double indemnity” of Billy Wilder based on a year before novel of the same name by James Cain, has set a gold standard and prototype of a genre of mystery murder plot thriller, that followed by many alike such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder”(1954), “Diaboloique” of Henri-Georges Clouzot (1955), “Empire of passion” of Nagisa Oshima (1978) “The postman always rings twice” of Bob Rafelson (1981), “Basic instinct” of Paul Verhoeven (1992), “Fatal instinct” of Carl Reiner (1993), and finally the most recent “Gone Girl” of David Fincher (2014) among many more.
The film which was nominated for seven academy awards and received none, has at least been hailed by the critics from its first release and by AFI ranking it 38 in its first 1998 release of the 100 greatest American films and ranking it 29 on its second edition of 2007. The film not only boasts a genre prototype, but great acting of all the three main characters, of Walter Neff played by Fred MacMurray, Phyllis Dietrichson played by Barbara Stanwyck, and Barton Keyes played by Edward G. Robinson, and set another high standard for acting. The film also depicts the best earliest flashback opening scene in the history of cinema, by showing Walter an insurance salesman, returning to his office late at night, being shot and in pain, dictating his story of what had happened earlier into a Dictaphone.
The Gold Standard of a genre:
The film from its inception and over years has become a gold standard of the genre mystery, murder and thriller, specially depicting the main protagonists not as heroes but villains. As the story from the start unfolds, we learn that Walter caught up by greed and fatal attraction of Phyllis, a married young and beautiful woman to plot her husband’s accidental murder, to master and steel the double indemnity clause and money in his life insurance. With quite a few twists and perfect plot, the husband is killed and his body laid on the train truck, like he has fallen from the train while on a trip. But Barton Keyes a brilliant and veteran claim adjuster, played amazingly by Edward G. Robinson, would not accept the death as suicide and accidental for many reasons according to his experience, such as slow-moving train, and with his “little man” that is his instinct in his belly starting to suspect a murder.
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