When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1984, it gave its Best Picture award to Amadeus. That one made it into my top 10, but it isn't at number one:
1. Repo Man
Written and directed by Alex Cox
"It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes."
2. Love Streams
Directed by John Cassavetes
Written by Cassavetes and Ted Allan, from a play by Allan
"All through the making of this picture," Cassavetes later said, "I kept reliving my father's words. 'For every problem there's an answer.' But since Love Streams is about a question of love, there didn't seem to be an answer I could find....Even now, I still don't know what the brother and sister really feel about each other."
3. This Is Spinal Tap
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer
My favorite rock movie; the first and funniest of the Christopher Guest troupe's semi-improvised comedies; and the strongest evidence that the now-insufferable Reiner was once capable of doing good work.
4. Once Upon a Time in America
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, and Stuart Kaminsky, from a novel by Harry Grey
One of the greatest gangster pictures. Arguably even better than The Godfather.
5. Nothing Lasts Forever
Written and directed by Tom Schiller
This movie harkens back to so many different film styles that it seems to take place in the entire 20th century at once. But it's a different 20th century—one where the Port Authority has seized dictatorial powers in Manhattan, a benevolent conspiracy of tramps guides people's destinies from a hidden base beneath New York, and the U.S. government first went to the moon in 1953, where it set up a secret shopping district for elderly American tourists.
6. Antonio Gaudí
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
The next best thing to seeing the buildings in person.
7. Secret Honor
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, from their play
Like a post-Watergate conspiracy picture, only instead of a thriller it's a one-man show.
Directed by Milos Forman
Written by Peter Shaffer, from his play
"Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you."
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
A pleasant little comedy about a small business and its run-ins with the Environmental Protection Agency.
10. Blood Simple
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
My favorite living American filmmakers make their directorial debut.
11. King Lear (Michael Elliott)
12. Before Stonewall (John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller, Robert Rosenberg)
13. Favorites of the Moon (Otar Iosseliani)
14. There Will Come Soft Rains (Nazim Tulyakhodzayev)
15. After the Rehearsal (Ingmar Bergman)
16. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
17. Return to Waterloo (Ray Davies)
18. Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch)
19. Two Tribes (Kevin Godley, Lol Creme)
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven)
Of the films of 1984 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Tightrope and The Funeral.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1994, it gave its Best Picture award to Forrest
Gump, a film dedicated to the idea that it's better to be retarded than a hippie. It didn't
make it onto my list:
1.Pulp Fiction Directed by Quentin Tarantino Written by Tarantino and Roger Avery
Tarantino is one of those artists, like Hunter Thompson or Marcel
Duchamp, who it's better to admire than to imitate. But you can't blame him for
2.Crumb Directed by Terry Zwigoff
This has a sequence where a comic book slowly devolves
into something else, the illustrations swept aside by page upon page of tiny, illegible
words. I don't think I've ever seen a movie portray a man's descent into madness
3.Hoop Dreams Directed by Steve James
Better than any scripted basketball movie.
4.Before the Rain Written and directed by Milcho Manchevski
A Balkan time-loop.
5.The Secret of Roan Inish
Written and directed by John Sayles, from a novel by Rosalie K. Fry
Aside fromLimbo, which
doesn't entirely fit the mold anyway, I'm not a fan of Sayles' big-canvas pictures—those
labored films where he tries to create a politically engaged portrait of an entire
community but ends up producing a clockwork-powered speechmaking machine instead.
But his small movies, like this eerie and endearing fantasy, can be wonderful.
6.Red Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski Written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Surveillance, love, and coincidence.
7.Chungking Express Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai
More surveillance, more love, more coincidence.
There's a plotline in this movie about a woman who keeps sneaking into a man's
apartment and rearranging his things. I'm a sucker for stories like that.
8.Ed Wood Directed by Tim Burton Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Alexander and Karaszewski went on to write two
other movies about misfits,The People vs. Larry FlyntandMan on the Moon. But
those were directed by Milos Forman, who turned them into sanctimonious biopics.
Burton did much better, because he had the inspired idea to treat Wood's life as
a fairy tale.
9.Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter Directed by Deborah Hoffman
It's a touching documentary about Alzheimer's,
and it'sfunny. No,
10.Pipsqueak Pfollies Written and directed by Danny Plotnick
In the words of the filmmaker, this short "painstakingly
details all the crap little kids can get away with."
11.Burnt by the Sun(Nikita Mikhalkov)
12.The Last Seduction(John
Dahl) 13.The Kingdom(Lars von Trier) 14.Heavenly Creatures(Peter Jackson) 15.The Madness of George III(Nicholas Hytner) 16.White (Krzysztof
Kieslowski) 17.Faust(Jan Svankmajer) 18.Barcelona(Whit Stillman) 19.Fresh(Boaz Yakin) 20.True Lies(James Cameron)
Of the films of 1994 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Through the Olive Trees and Wes
Craven's New Nightmare. And someday I should sit through Sátántangó, if only
as an endurance test.
(If you compare this to the rankings for 1994 that I posted 10 years ago, you'll see I had to bump out The Hudsucker Proxy and Crooklyn
to make room for new movies. But I still like them!)
If you'd like to keep up with my writing as it comes out, as opposed to waiting for an annual roundup of the highlights, I suggest following me on Twitter. Though there's something to be said for the roundup approach—Slow Twitter, we can call it. Reading all those pieces can keep you occupied til next December, and then we'll do it all over again.
Now we bring the series to an end. For the record, my favorite film of 1923 is the Harold Lloyd vehicle Safety Last! and my favorite film of 1913 is the Louis Feuillade serial Fantômas—or, at least, the first three installments of it. (I've got nothing against the other two chapters, indeed I like them better, but they didn't come out until 1914. Fitting serials into years can be tricky.) I don't know enough other good films from 1923 to fill a top 10 list, and in 1913 I doubt I could even fill a top five list, so I'm going to stop the sequence here. In December we'll start over with the best of 2004.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1933, it gave its Best Picture award to Cavalcade, which isn't nearly as good as a movie based on a Noel Coward play ought to be. When I say "isn't nearly as good," I'm pulling my punches: Aside from a couple of montages and the song "20th Century Blues," Cavalcade is a study in tedium. It isn't on my list.
1. Duck Soup
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby with Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin
A cinéma vérité documentary filmed at the White House after the invasion of Iraq.
2. Zero for Conduct
Written and directed by Jean Vigo
Anarchy in the schoolhouse.
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Comparing this to the Disney movie is like comparing an R. Crumb comic to Archie.
4. I'm No Angel
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Written by Mae West
"I see a man in your life." "What? Only one?"
5. Design for Living
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ben Hecht, from a play by Noel Coward
"A man can meet two, three, or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice."
6. Alice in Wonderland
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, from two novels by Lewis Carroll
It was a stroke of genius to cast W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty.
7. International House
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Neil Brant
Fields is in this one too—and so are Cab Calloway, and Bela Lugosi, and Burns and Allen, and Rudy Vallee, and Col. Stoopnagle, and...
8. 42nd Street
Directed by Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley
Written by Rian James and James Seymour, from a novel by Bradford Ropes
It isn't the first backstage musical of the '30s, but it's the definitive one.
9. Lot in Sodom
Written and directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
The only entry on this list that is not in some sense a comedy.
10. The Fatal Glass of Beer
Directed by Clyde Bruckman
Written by W.C. Fields
Man. This was Fields' year, wasn't it?
Of the films of 1933 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Ecstasy and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.
I also participated in The American Spectator's annual collection of Christmas book recommendations, and of course I've been blogging at Hit and Run. And I've had some stories in the print edition of Reason that haven't appeared online yet; I'll include them in the next roundup.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1943, it gave its Best Picture award to Casablanca—a peculiar choice, since the film actually debuted in 1942. It appears in my top 10 list for that year, not this one.
1. Shadow of a Doubt
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville, from a story by Gordon McDonell
Few things are as odd as watching Thornton Wilder's sensibility collide with Hitchcock's. Wilder's screenplay is an ode to conformity, and Hitch's picture drily undercuts the script at every turn.
2. Meshes of the Afternoon
Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
Written by Deren
If a movie is set in a spooky dreamworld, chances are good that it owes a debt to this.
3. Le Corbeau
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Clouzot and Louis Chavance, from a story by Chavance
A Vichy-era portrait of paranoia in a small town. The Resistance denounced the film as an attack on the French people, but in retrospect it looks like a critique of the culture of collaboration.
4. Red Hot Riding Hood
Written and directed by Tex Avery
The Male Gaze: A Comedy.
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Mario Alicata, Giuseppe De Santis, and Gianni Puccinim, from a novel by James M. Cain
The first and best of the pictures based on The Postman Always Rings Twice.
6. The Ox-Bow Incident
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Lamar Trotti, from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
There's more to this noir western than a morality tale about the evils of lynching. In some ways, the view of humanity on display here is as bleak as the outlook in Le Corbeau.
7. I Walked with a Zombie
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, from a novel by Charlotte Brontë
Tourneur and producer Val Lewton's follow-up to Cat People isn't quite as good as its predecessor, but it's still one of the best horror pictures of the '40s.
8. Five Graves to Cairo
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, from a play by Lajos Bíró
Billy Wilder's Casablanca.
9. Day of Wrath
Directed by Carl Dreyer
Written by Dreyer, Poul Knudsen, and Mogens Skot-Hansen, from a play by Hans Wiers-Jenssen
A film about a witch hunt. This would make an interesting triple bill with Ox-Bow and Le Corbeau.
10. The Eternal Return
Directed by Jean Delannoy
Written by Jean Cocteau
A fairy-tale romance. Remember, real fairy tales are cruel and weird.
11. Tortoise Wins by a Hare (Bob Clampett)
12. Journey Into Fear (Norman Foster, Orson Welles)
13. Dumb-Hounded (Tex Avery)
14. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)
15. The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson)
16. The Fallen Sparrow (Richard Wallace)
17. Tin Pan Alley Cats (Bob Clampett)
18. Falling Hare (Bob Clampett)
19. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Bob Clampett)
20. What's Buzzin' Buzzard? (Tex Avery)
I'll spare you the trouble of counting: 7 of those 20 films are cartoon shorts, all from either Tex Avery or Bob Clampett. I've said before that if I allowed individual TV episodes onto these lists, there would be years in the '90s overwhelmed by installments of The Simpsons. I suppose this is the equivalent for the World War II era.
Of the films of 1943 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Lumière d'été.