Tag Archives: Film

The Biggest and Best Movie Meta-List in the History of Cinema

Sorry for the over-the-top title, but hyperbole can be effective in getting your attention. I’ve just created a new movie meta-list – it’s the largest one I’ve ever made (791 movies) and, for the first time, I’ve arranged it in reverse chronological order so that the most recent movies are at the top. Click here to go directly to: The Big Movie List.

To make this list I put together all the movies on three other movie meta-lists from Make Lists, Not War: Best Films of All Time – Ranked; Best Films of All Time – Ranked (Older Version); and Top 200 Movies of All Time – Using a New Methodology.  Then, I took the meta-lists from Best Films – Year by Year (which covers 2002-2016) and added the top 10 movies (or more, in the case of ties) from each Year by Year list.  The result is a comprehensive list of the best movies ever made, as determined by film critics, scholars and journalists.  Since the typical “best films of all time” list tends to skimp on recent movies, the addition of the Year-by-Year lists has infused the overall list with a large number of movies from the last 20 years.

Of course, as with all lists, many will find glaring omissions (how could they leave that out???) and a few clunkers (how could they put that in???).  But that is of course the fun of lists.  Note that these are not my personal favorite 791 movies – I haven’t even seen many of them.  I did add my personal 1-10 rating for all the movies on the list that I have seen.  If you want to see a list of my favorite films, go HERE.

If you have strong opinions one way or the other, please feel free to add a comment.

If you think this list is pretty cool, feel free to share it.

 

The Sound of Silents: The Best Films from the Years Before Talkies

Silent films were never silent.  At the first official movie screening by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in December 1895, a guitarist accompanied the presentation of 10 short films, including the first documentary, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, and the first comedy, The Sprinkler Sprinkled.  In the U.S. it was more common for a pianist or – in the case of major films in big cities – a small orchestra, to accompany early films, which due to lack of the requisite technology had no synchronized soundtrack.  The musicians began by improvising or linking together popular melodies to illustrate what they saw on the screen, often adding sound effects for galloping horses, thunderclaps, ringing bells and other actions. In 1908, the first fully-composed film scores appeared in France (by Camille Saint-Saens) and Russia.  The first major U.S. film to have a score was D.W. Griffith’s racist blockbuster The Birth of the Nation, with music composed by Joseph Breil, in 1915.  The giant movie theaters built in the 1910s and 1920s often incorporated immense theater organs that allowed for musical accompaniment, which usually involved a combination of following the score as well as improvisation and elaborate sound effects.  The switch to synchronized sound after the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, a change that permitted the actors to speak their dialogue and allowed moviemakers to incorporate music into the film itself, put thousands of movie theater musicians out of work.

Modern audiences often have difficulty watching movies from the “silent” era.  The acting style necessary to communicate without spoken dialogue – essentially a form of mime – seems histrionic and over-the-top to many now.  (Even some contemporaries agreed. When Charles Chaplin made A Woman of Paris in 1923 – one of the few Chaplin films that did not star The Little Tramp – he specifically instructed his actors to adopt a more subdued acting style than was the norm. As a result the film seems more modern than many other silent films.)  The stilted, corny or moralistic tone of some of the intertitles can also be offputting to modern audiences.  On top of these substantive concerns, there are also physical problems with many silent films – many were badly preserved.  In fact, we are lucky to have any silent films left at all – it is estimated that 70% of all feature films from the pre-talkie era have deteriorated beyond repair or were deliberately destroyed after the switch to the new sound technology.

But these difficulties should not dissuade movie buffs from checking out some of the classic silent films, particularly those made in the 1920s.  It was during the silent era that filmmakers developed the basic visual vocabulary of moviemaking. By the mid-1920s, studios around the world were turning out high-quality films, some of them with dazzling visual technique and inventiveness.  In fact, the first years of sound movies, which required the noisy film cameras to be placed in soundproof (and immobile) boxes and anchored the actors to the location of the nearest microphone, saw a decrease in the cinematic inventiveness and overall quality of films. Look at many sound films from the late 1920s and early 1930s and you will see film returning to the days when everything looked like a filmed play – no moving cameras, few or no tracking shots – everything static.  The transition period is lovingly parodied by Betty Comden and Adolph Green in their screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain, the 1952 musical directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Because there was no dialogue, and intertitles could easily be translated into any language, silent film was a more international art than film after the introduction of sound. Germany during the Weimar Republic was a particularly strong producer of high-quality films in various genres: horror (Nosferatu), science fiction (Metropolis), crime thriller (Dr. Mabuse – The Gambler), and drama/social commentary (The Last Laugh; Pandora’s Box).  Several of the best German directors – Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg – brought their expertise to Hollywood in time to produce silent film masterpieces on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps the most accessible of the silent films to modern audiences are the comedies. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and other comic geniuses created personae that appeared in film after film in one outrageous fix after another.  The relative critical reputations of Chaplin and Keaton have see-sawed over the years.  At times, the sublime mix of comedy and pathos that characterizes Chaplin’s best work receives top billing; then the pendulum swings to the unsentimental acrobatics of the stone-faced Keaton, who never asks the audience for its sympathy.

I urge you to take another look at silent films, many of which are available online either free on YouTube or through a streaming service.  Or take the DVDs out of your local library.

To give you a selection of the best silent films that have been preserved, I collected 10 lists of “Best Silent Films” and made two meta-lists.  One organizes the movies by rank, that is, with the movies on the most lists at the top.  The other list is chronological.  Enjoy.

Best Silent Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
Best Silent Films of All Time – Chronological

My Personal Year-End Round Up: Books and Movies

It’s not quite the end of 2016, but like many of you out there, I am in a rush for the year to be over, so I’m publishing my end of year summary a few days early.  Here are some of the highlights of my year in movie-watching and book-reading.

MOVIES
Number of Movies Seen in 2016: 64

Category
Feature Films: 37
Short Films: 17
Documentaries: 10

Date of Movie
1920-1930: 12
1930-1959: 10
1960-1979: 4
1980-1999: 3
2000-2014: 16
2015: 9
2016: 9

Highest Rated Movies
10/10
Shoe Shine (Italy, De Sica, 1946)
Anomalisa (US, Johnson & Kaufman, 2015)
Moonlight (US, Jenkins, 2016)

9/10
Ballet mécanique (France, Léger & Murphy, 1924)
The Freshman (US, Newmeyer & Taylor, 1925)
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Germany, Richter, 1928)
Lot in Sodom (US. Webber & Watson, 1933)
Meshes of the Afternoon (US, Deren & Hammid, 1943)
21-87 (US, Lipsett, 1964)
Land of Silence and Darkness (West Germany, Herzog, 1971)
The Cruise (US, Miller, 1998)
The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina, Campanella, 2009)
The Big Short (US, McKay, 2015)
45 Years (UK, Haigh, 2015)
Tangerine (US, Baker, 2015)
Son of Saul (Hungary, Jeles, 2015)

BOOKS
Number of books finished in 2016: 12

Category
Fiction: 4
Non-Fiction: 4
Epic Poems: 4

Date Published
1000-1299: 5
1300-1799: 0
1800-1999: 1
2000-2016: 6

Highest Rated Books
FIve Stars

The Tale of Genji (Japan, 1021). By Shikibu Murasaki
Europe Central (US, 2005). By William T. Vollmann
Lawrence in Arabia (UK, 2013). By Scott Anderson

Best Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

If there’s one thing listers like to do, it’s make lists, and we don’t need much of an excuse. Case in point: I was wandering around the Internet the other day and found about 10 lists of “The Best Movies of the 21st Century.” Being that this century is less than 16 years old (less than 15 if you want to be technical about it), this seemed like a rush to judgment, to say the least. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough to pull all the lists together to see which movies were on the most lists. Spoiler alert: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) was the highest vote-getter – it was on seven lists. The resulting meta-list is below, organized in chronological order – with every film that made it onto 3 or more of the 10 lists I collected. In addition to the title, number of lists, country of origin, date and director, I have added my personal 1-10 rating for those movies on the list that I have seen.

– John M. Becker

In the Mood for Love (on 5 lists)
China 2000  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Memento (on 3 lists)
US 2000  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Christopher Nolan

Yi Yi (Yi Yi: A One and a Two) (on 3 lists)
Taiwan 2000  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Edward Yang

Mulholland Drive (on 7 lists)
US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: David Lynch

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (on 5 lists)
New Zealand/US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Amélie (on 4 lists)
France 2001  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Spirited Away (on 4 lists)
Japan 2001  (JMB: 9/10)
Director:  Hayao Miyazaki

The Royal Tenenbaums (on 3 lists)
US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Wes Anderson

City of God (Cidade de Deus) (on 6 lists)
Brazil 2002  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Fernando Meirelles

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (on 4 lists)
New Zealand/US 2002  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) (on 3 lists)
Spain 2002  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Punch-Drunk Love (on 3 lists)
US 2002  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (on 4 lists)
New Zealand/US 2003  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Oldboy (on 3 lists)
South Korea 2003
Director: Park Chan-Wook

Elephant (on 3 lists)
US 2003  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Gus Van Sant

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (on 4 lists)
US 2004  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Michel Gondry

The Incredibles (on 3 lists)
US 2004  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Brad Bird

Caché (Hidden) (on 5 lists)
France 2005  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Michael Haneke

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (on 5 lists)
Germany 2006  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Pan’s Labyrinth (on 4 lists)
Mexico/Spain 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Children of Men (on 3 lists)
US/UK 2006  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

No Country for Old Men (on 6 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 10/10)
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

There Will Be Blood (on 5 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Zodiac (on 4 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: David Fincher

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (on 3 lists)
Romania 2007  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Cristian Mungiu

Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (on 4 lists)
Sweden 2008  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Tomas Alfredson

The Dark Knight (on 4 lists)
US 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan

The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (on 5 lists)
Germany 2009  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Michael Haneke

The Tree of Life (on 4 lists)
US 2011  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Terence Malick

12 Years A Slave (on 3 lists)
UK/US 2013
Director: Steve McQueen

Boyhood (on 3 lists)
US 2014  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Richard Linklater

 

IMHO: My Top Overrated and Underrated Movies

The idea that a work of art is over- or underrated is a curious one. What does it really mean?  I think we often use the terms as a type of shorthand for, “I don’t agree with most of my friends on this [painting, TV show, movie, book, etc.].”  Sometimes ‘overrated’ means “this is getting more attention than it deserves in the press, or in winning awards” and ‘underrated’ means it’s not getting enough attention.  For me, the problem with all these definitions is that they are so highly subjective – it is easy enough to figure out what your opinion is, or mine, but what exactly are we comparing our opinions to?  What your friends like probably differs from what my friends like, so your overrated book may be my underrated discovery.  While opinions about the value of a work of art are inherently subjective, I have been wondering if there is a way to quantify objectively the work’s position in the Zeitgeist.  Without such an objective standard, our judgments of ‘overrated’ and ‘underrated’ are not only extremely variable but may be based on incorrect assumptions about our audience.  An extreme but perhaps not uncommon example is the person who is told again and again that X is overrated, but who has no idea what X is and has never seen it or heard of it before. Maybe the true goal of the speaker in such a case is not to share her opinion and spark debate on the relative value of an artwork but to demonstrate to listeners that she knows much more than they do and is so much more clued in, to the point that she is already sick and tired of all the praise she is hearing for X, something she realizes is not even on the radar for most of her listeners.

In my search for an objective standard to anchor judgments of overrated and underrated, I decided to look first to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).  I’ve been a fan of imdb.com since I first discovered it in 1995, when it was already several years old.  Although in recent years, it has come to look like a zillion other entertainment sites, lying underneath all the frills is the core of the website: a gigantic database of movies and the people who make them.  You can find every movie made by a director, every actor in a particular movie, and a wealth of information about every production.  Those who are members of imdb.com are asked to rate each movie they’ve seen on a scale of 1 to 10, and the cumulative scores are published, along with the number of voters.  For example, the number of voters giving ratings to movies I’ve seen ranges from a high of 1,546,508 ratings (for The Shawshank Redemption) to a low of 69 ratings for the 1981 music documentary Dance Craze.  For this post, I decided to go through the movies I’ve seen and compare my rating with the overall imdb.com rating.  I decided that if my rating is more than two points lower than the imdb.com rating, the movie is overrated; if my rating was more than two points higher than imdb‘s, the movie is underrated.  I stayed near the top of the lists: the overrated movies all received a 7.0 or higher average rating from imdb.com (the highest rated movies on imdb received a 9.2); to find underrated movies, I looked at all the movies I rated either a 9 or a 10.   Just to be clear, even though the overrated movies list includes some films I absolutely hated, inclusion on the list does not necessarily mean I didn’t like the movie. It may just mean that the collective imdb consciousness liked the movie a lot more than I did.

While no system is perfect, I think the average ratings given by compiling hundreds, thousands and in some cases over a million votes should give a pretty good idea of where the Zeitgeist is on a particular movie.  It is then a relatively simple process to compare one’s own ratings with the Zeitgeist and see which films are over- and underrated.  Although the entire enterprise is based on the subjective opinions of the imdb.com voters and me, there is now an objective method of determining whether one’s opinion is consistent with or divergent from the average.  Instead of using an unscientific impression of what our friends think about something, or a vague notion of how much praise something is getting in the press, we can (for movies at least) quickly and easily identify whether an item is overrated or underrated.  Here, then, are my lists of overrated and underrated movies, in chronological order.

OVERRATED
(imdb.com = 9.2 – 7.0; Make Lists, Not War = at least 2.1 points lower)

Each Dawn I Die (Keighley, US, 1939)
The Enchanted Cottage (Cromwell, US, 1945)
The Jolson Story (Green, US, 1946)
Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock, US, 1954)
A Journey to the Beginning of Time (Zeman/Ladd, US/Czechoslovakia, 1955)
The Ten Commandments (De Mille, US, 1956)
Operation Petticoat (Edwards, US, 1959)
Village of the Damned (Rilla, UK, 1960)
Pocketful of Miracles (Capra, US, 1961)
Monterey Pop (Pennebaker, US, 1968)
Oliver! (Reed, UK, 1968)
Battle of Britain (Hamilton, UK, 1969)
The Sting (Hill, US, 1973)
Papillion (Schaffner, US, 1973)
The Return of the Pink Panther (Edwards, UK, 1975)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Edwards, UK, 1976)
The Omen (Donner, US, 1976)
Star Wars (Lucas, US, 1977)
Grease (Kleiser, US, 1978)
Alien (Scott, US, 1979)
Baby Snakes (Zappa, US, 1979)
Dance Craze (Massot, UK, 1981)
The Thing (Carpenter, US, 1982)
First Blood (Kotcheff, US, 1982)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand, US, 1983)
Terms of Endearment (Brooks, US, 1983)
Trading Places (Landis, US, 1983)
The Princess Bride (Reiner, US, 1987)
Die Hard (McTiernan, US, 1988)
Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, Italy, 1988)
Major League (Ward, US, 1989)
Field of Dreams (Robinson, US, 1989)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Chechik, US, 1989)
Total Recall (Verhoeven, US, 1990)
Home Alone (Hughes, US, 1990)
Ghost (Zucker, US, 1990)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, US, 1991)
Cape Fear (Scorcese, US, 1991)
Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale/Wise, US, 1991)
Aladdin (Clements/Musker, US, 1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Henson, US, 1992)
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, US, 1993)
The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, US, 1994)
Dumb & Dumber (Farrelly, US, 1994)
True Lies (Cameron, US, 1994)
The Lion King (Allers/Minkoff, US, 1994)
Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, US, 1994)
Léon: The Professional (Besson, France, 1994)
The Usual Suspects (Singer, US, 1995)
Primal Fear (Hoblit, US, 1996)
The English Patient (Minghella, US/UK, 1996)
Titanic (Cameron, US, 1997)
Face/Off (Woo, US, 1997)
Starship Troopers (Verhoeven, US, 1997)
Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, US, 1998)
The Matrix (Wachowskis, US, 1999)
Sleepy Hollow (Burton, US, 1999)
The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, US, 1999)
Meet the Parents (Roach, US, 2000)
Finding Nemo (Stanton/Unkrich, US, 2003)
The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowskis, US, 2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, US, 2003)
Collateral (Mann, US, 2004)
Spider-Man 2 (Raimi, US, 2004)
Anchorman (McKay, US, 2004)
Wedding Crashers (Dobkin, US, 2005)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Apatow, US, 2005)
King Kong (Jackson, US, 2005)
Notes on a Scandal (Eyre, UK, 2006)
The Mist (Darabont, US, 2007)
Ratatouille (Bird/Pinkava, US, 2007)
Atonement (Wright, UK, 2007)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, US, 2007)
WALL-E (Stanton, US, 2008)
Up (Docter/Peterson, US, 2009)
Avatar (Cameron, US, 2009)
The Hangover (Phillips, US, 2009)
Inception (Nolan, US, 2010)
The Help (Taylor, US, 2011)
Super 8 (Abrams, US, 2011)
Source Code (Jones, US, 2011)

UNDERRATED
(ML,NW = 9.0 – 10.0; imdb.com = at least 2.1 points lower)

The Birth of a Nation (Griffith, US, 1914)
The Floorwalker (Chaplin, US, 1916)
One A.M. (Chaplin, US, 1916)
Greed (von Stroheim, US, 1924)
Napoleon (Gance, France, 1927)
Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel & Dali, France, 1929)
L’Age d’Or (Buñuel, France, 1930)
Zero for Conduct (Vigo, France 1933)
L’Atalante (Vigo, France, 1934)
Swing Time (Stevens, US, 1936)
Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, US, 1935)
Stagecoach (Ford, US, 1939)
The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, US, 1942)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, US, 1944)
Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Eisenstein, USSR, 1945)
My Darling Clementine (Ford, US, 1946)
The African Queen (Huston, US, 1951)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France 1953)
The Band Wagon (Minnelli, US, 1953)
The Naked Spur (Mann, US, 1953)
A Star is Born (Cukor, US, 1954)
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, US, 1955)
Ivan the Terrible, Part II (Eisenstein, USSR, 1958)
The Trial (Welles, France, 1962)
Jules and Jim (Truffaut, France, 1962)
The Servant (Losey, UK, 1963)
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, Italy, 1964)
Band of Outsiders (Godard, France, 1964)
Repulsion (Polanski, UK, 1965)
Blow-Up (Antonioni, UK, 1966)
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, US, 1967)
Belle de Jour (Buñuel, France, 1967)
Faces (Cassavetes, US, 1968)
Kes (Loach, UK, 1969)
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, US, 1969)
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (de Sica, Italy, 1970)
Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, US, 1970)
Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci, France, 1972)
Badlands (Malick, US, 1973)
The Conversation (Coppola, US, 1974)
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, W. Germany, 1974)
Nashville (Altman, US, 1975)
3 Women (Altman, US, 1977)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder, W. Germany, 1979)
Stardust Memories (Allen, US, 1980)
My Dinner with Andre (Malle, US, 1981)
The King of Comedy (Scorcese, US, 1982)
Local Hero (Forsyth, UK, 1983)
Baby It’s You (Sayles, US, 1983)
Blue Velvet (Lynch, US, 1986)
Raising Arizona (Coen, US, 1987)
Say Anything… (Crowe, US, 1989)
Short Cuts (Altman, US, 1993)
Party Girl (von Scherler Mayer, US, 1995)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron, US, 1996)
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (Morris, US, 1997)
Happiness (Solondz, US, 1998)
Being John Malkovich (Jones, US, 1999)
All About My Mother (Almodóvar, Spain, 1999)
Waking Life (Linklater, US, 2001)
Fat Girl (Breillat, France, 2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, US, 2001)
Tarnation (Caouette, US, 2003)
Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, US, 2003)
The Holy Girl (Martel, Argentina, 2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Moore, US, 2004)
Born Into Brothels (Briski/Kauffmann, US, 2004)
Grizzly Man (Herzog, US, 2005)
Once (Carney, Ireland, 2006)
Juno (Reitman, US, 2007)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
Food, Inc. (Kenner, US, 2008)
The White Ribbon (Haneke, Austria, 2009)
Take This Waltz (Polley, Canada, 2011)
The Tree of Life (Malick, US, 2011)
Museum Hours (Cohen, Austria, 2012)
Under the Skin (Glazer, UK, 2013)
Inherent Vice (Anderson, US, 2014)
Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK, 2014)
Goodbye to Language (Godard, France, 2014)

If you’re interested in other movie lists, check out these:

Best Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks (Updated)
Best Films of All Time – Chronological

Too Soon? The 21st Century Movie List

We’re only 14 1/2 years into the 21st Century (technically only 13 1/2, since there was no Year Zero, but I’m going to go ahead and include the year 2000 anyway), but that hasn’t stopped listers from publishing their lists of best movies of the 21st Century, best movies since 2000, best movies of the New Millennium, etc.  And it is my job as meta-lister to put these lists together and see what, if anything, they have to offer.  I found 10 lists fitting the description – here are the films that made it onto at least two of the “Best of the 21st Century” lists.  For those movies I have seen, I have provided my personal rating on a 1-10 scale.  I expect many updates as the century continues.

NOTE:  If you want more comprehensive “Best Movies” lists, click on the hyperlinks to my recently updated Best Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks and Best Films of All Time – Chronological lists.

7
Mulholland Dr.
(2001) Dir: David Lynch (US) 10

6
City of God
(Cidade de Deus) (2002) Dir: Fernando Meirelles (Brazil) 9
No Country for Old Men (2007) Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen (US) 10

5
In the Mood for Love
(2000) Dir: Wong Kar-Wai (China) 10
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 10
Caché (Hidden) (2005) Dir: Michael Haneke (France) 9
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006) Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Germany) 10
There Will Be Blood (2007) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson (US) 9
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (2009) Dir: Michael Haneke (Germany) 10

4
Amélie
(2001) Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (France) 9
Spirited Away (2001) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki (Japan) 9
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 9
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 10
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Dir: Michel Gondry (US) 10
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Dir: Guillermo del Toro (Mexico/Spain)
Zodiac (2007) Dir: David Fincher (US) 8
Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (2008) Dir: Tomas Alfredson (Sweden) 8
The Dark Knight (2008) Dir: Christopher Nolan (US)
The Tree of Life (2011) Dir: Terence Malick (US) 10

3
Memento (2000) Dir: Christopher Nolan (US) 9
Yi Yi (2000) Dir: Edward Yang (Taiwan) 10
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Dir: Wes Anderson (US) 10
Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) (2002) Dir: Pedro Almodóvar (Spain) 9
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson (US) 8
Oldboy (2003) Dir: Park Chan-Wook (South Korea)
Elephant (2003) Dir: Gus Van Sant (US) 8
The Incredibles (2004) Dir: Brad Bird (US) 8
Children of Men (2006) Dir: Alfonso Cuarón (US/UK) 9
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) Dir: Cristian Mungiu (Romania) 10
12 Years A Slave (2013) Dir: Steve McQueen (UK/US)
Boyhood (2014) Dir: Richard Linklater (US) 10

2
Requiem for a Dream (2000) Dir: Darren Aronofsky (US) 10
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) Dir: Béla Tarr (Hungary)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Dir: Ang Lee (Taiwan/US/Hong Kong/China) 8
Dancer in the Dark (2000) Dir: Lars von Trier (Denmark) 8
American Psycho (2000) Dir: Mary Harron (US)
Ghost World (2001) Dir: Terry Zwigoff (US) 9
Fat Girl (À ma sœur!) (2001) Dir: Catherine Breillat (France) 10
Donnie Darko (2001) Dir: Richard Kelly (US) 8
The Piano Teacher (2001) Dir: Michael Haneke (France/Austria) 9
A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001) Dir: Steven Spielberg (US)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen (US) 7
Moulin Rouge! (2001) Dir: Baz Luhrmann (Australia/US) 10
Far From Heaven (2002) Dir: Todd Haynes (US)
The Son (2002) Dir: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (France/Belgium)
Adaptation (2002) Dir: Spike Jonze (US) 8
Finding Nemo (2003) Dir: Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich (US) 7
Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Dir: Andrew Jarecki (US) 10
Lost In Translation (2003) Dir: Sofia Coppola (US) 8
Dogville (2003) Dir: Lars Von Trier (Denmark) 10
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) Dir: Quentin Tarantino (US) 7
Shaun of the Dead (2004) Dir: Edgar Wright (UK) 7
Tropical Malady (2004) Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)
Before Sunset (2004) Dir: Richard Linklater (US) 9
Grizzly Man (2005) Dir: Werner Herzog (US) 10
A History of Violence (2005) Dir: David Cronenberg (US/Canada) 9
Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir: Ang Lee (US/Canada) 7
The Squid and the Whale (2005) Dir: Noah Baumbach (US) 9
The Departed (2006) Dir: Martin Scorsese (US) 8
Once (2007) Dir: John Carney (Ireland) 10
Encounters at the End of the World (2007) Dir: Werner Herzog (US) 10
Juno (2007) Dir: Jason Reitman (US) 10
Superbad (2007) Dir: Greg Mottola (US) 7
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Dir: Andrew Dominik (US) 8
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Dir: Danny Boyle (UK) 10
In Bruges (2008) Dir: Martin McDonagh (UK)
The Hurt Locker (2008) Dir: Kathryn Bigelow (US) 8
The Headless Woman (2008) Dir: Lucrecia Martel (Argentina)
Synecdoche, New York (2008) Dir: Charlie Kaufman (US)
Adventureland (2009) Dir: Greg Mottola (US)
Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir: Quentin Tarantino (US/Germany) 7
The Social Network (2010) Dir: David Fincher (US)
A Separation (2011) Dir: Asghar Farhadi (Iran) 9
Melancholia (2011) Dir: Lars von Trier (Denmark) 8
Margaret (2011) Dir: Kenneth Lonergan (US)
The Act of Killing (2012) Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark/Norway/UK) 10
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Dir: Wes Anderson (US) 10
The Great Beauty
(2013) Dir: Paolo Sorrentino (Italy) 9

GENERAL NOTE:  Some readers assume that the lists on this site contain my personal opinions about my favorite movies, books, music, etc.  This assumption is FALSE.  The list above and most of the other lists on Make Lists, Not War do not represent my personal opinion of what is best – they contain the combined wisdom (such as it is) of multiple listers – often critics, academics and other experts – whose lists I have combined.  I have found over many years of collecting lists that combining the opinions of multiple experts provides much more useful information than the personal views of any individual.  While the website does contain some lists of my personal favorites, they are few in number and clearly marked as such.

The Best of 2014: Your Meta-Lists Have Arrived

When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.  Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.

Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.

Best Films of 2014
Best Books of 2014
Best Music of 2014

 

Getting In On The Act: Introducing The Acting Lists

What makes a great acting performance?  Some would say, “You can’t tell he’s acting” or “She vanishes into the character.”   For some of us, it is easier to pick out the bad performances: wooden, uninspired line delivery, a lack of realistic interactions with other characters and reactions to events that don’t seem credible.  The ‘ham’ makes it obvious to all that he is ACTING, thus making it impossible for us to suspend our disbelief and accept the film or play as real (at least on an emotional level).  Of course the actor may not be wholly responsible for a ‘bad’ performance.  Except in a wholly-improvised situation, there is a writer who created the character and wrote all or most of his lines.  It takes an especially gifted actor to give a three-dimensional performance of a two-dimensional character.  To confuse matters further, writers may deliberately draw attention to the artificial nature of the play or film – think of Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill on the stage and Jean-Luc Godard in film (or Groucho’s frequent asides to the audience).  Or a writer may deliberately create a character who is acting in their own life (Tennessee Williams was famous for this).  I have occasionally reevaluated an acting performance halfway through a movie when I realized that it wasn’t the actor who was disconnected, awkward and seemingly out of place, it was the character.

The Hollywood star system added another layer of complication.  During the Golden Age of the studio system (roughly 1920-1960), actors who had become stars had their movie roles carefully selected.  The studios felt that in order to preserve the box office appeal of their stars, they had to play roles that fell within a fairly narrow range.  Furthermore, for the leading men and ladies, they were not supposed to “disappear” into their roles a la Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis, but to inhabit them while also continuing to project their star persona.  In a classic example, the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) was altered to avoid giving the impression that Cary Grant’s character had murdered his wife.  In today’s post-studio system, the audience plays a similar role by refusing to accept its stars in roles that clash with their personae.  When comic actor Bill Murray attempted to move into serious roles with 1984’s The Razor’s Edge, the audiences stayed away in droves.  It took another 20 years for Murray to achieve success in the tragicomic roles which he now excels at.

Even in contemporary performances, there may be a wide variety of acting styles, from The Method to a more instinctive approach.  There may be a variety of opinions from observers as well – an unscientific review of Internet postings reveals Daniel Day-Lewis as everything from an overacting ham to the greatest actor alive today.  And then in the case of film, there are the “performances” of the director, editor, cinematographer and others who take the actor’s performance, chop it into bits and rearrange them, decide on long shots or close ups, add music to manipulate our emotions, etc. So, while we can do better than “I know it when I see it” in evaluating good and bad acting, finding a list of objective criteria that applies generally appears unrealistic.

Before introducing my new lists of the best film actors of all time, I need to talk about procedure.  First, as always, I was limited by the lists I could find in books and on the Internet.  These were almost exclusively limited to film actors, so I left out actors who exclusively performed on the stage (no room, then, for Sarah Bernhardt, Lunt and Fontanne, and my favorite stage actor, Mark Waldstein).  As for the lists of film actors, there were more lists of men than of women, more contemporary actors than actors from the past, and, as usual, a pro-US and English-language bias.  I did my best to find lists that included actors from all over the world, but there were few such sites (at least in English).  Knowing that India’s film industry is one of the largest in the world, I went out of my way to find lists of Bollywood actors and include the best-regarded names, even though my knowledge of Bollywood films is essentially zero.  As a result, the lists include only the very best known actors from India and non-English speaking countries, while they include some English-language actors whom I do not personally feel merit a place on a “Best Actors” list (I’ll let you decide which ones I’m talking about).  While my original intent was to use only lists of “best” actors, I did include some lists of “most popular” and “most famous.”  I also included several lists of “best performances” in an attempt to get away from the famous/popular bias.  I did draw the line at lists titled “Hottest” or “Sexiest” or “Most Beautiful/Handsome” actors, which I refused to include on principle.  Despite all the procedural drawbacks, the resulting list has a lot going for it – I’ve arranged the actors in rank order, and divided it up into two pieces: the first starts with the actors on 22 lists and ends with those on 4 lists.  Part 2 includes all the actors on 3 lists.  For each actor, I’ve included some biographical information, a selected filmography and a still from one if the films (click on it to enlarge the picture).

So here they are:

Best Film Actors & Actresses of All Time, Part 1
Best Film Actors & Actresses of All Time, Part 2

What’s Up? Docs.

The documentary film has been around as long as the movies.  When the Lumière brothers filmed their workers leaving the factory at the end of the day in 1895, that was a documentary: a depiction of real people engaged in non-fictional activities.

When the Lumières filmed a train arriving at a station, that, too, was a documentary – it was a real train and a real station with no script or actors – but there was a twist: they filmed the train at such an angle that it looked like it was going to crash through the screen and into the theater, causing some to run, according to some accounts, or at least jump in their seats.

The documentary, or non-fiction film, then, often creates the illusion of giving us a glimpse of the truth, of real life, but the Lumières showed that choosing the perspective (literally or figuratively) for presenting the subject involves conscious or unconscious choices on the part of the filmmakers.  We easily identify Triumph of the Will as Nazi propaganda, but propaganda comes in many forms.  When propaganda happens to promote a viewpoint that you already agree with, it just seems like common sense.  And maybe it is.  Politically-charged documentaries like those of Michael Moore (Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) and Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight; Inside Job) lead some to cry foul, while others (myself included) find them rousing indictments of a corrupt system.  But one important role of the viewer is to separate facts from opinion and understand that the emotional impact of powerful images can cause us to leave our rational minds behind us.

The techniques of documentary filmmakers are myriad.  Some take found footage created by others for other purposes (newsreels, home movies) and fashion them into contemporary accounts of personal lives or historical events.  Alain Resnais shaped World War military films into a haunting memorial of the Holocaust in Night and Fog.  Some interview participants or others with a personal connection to the facts and present their subjects as ‘talking heads’ (e.g., Errol Morris’s The Fog of War.)   Others, as in One Day in September, The Thin Blue Line or Touching the Void, recreate events using techniques ranging from low to high tech.  Nature documentaries like Planet Earth, Winged Migration and Microcosmos involve dozens of technicians working all around the globe using the most sophisticated equipment.  Personal essay films like Tarnation require only a camcorder and a computer with a movie-making program – plus a willingness to bare your soul and expose all your family members’ deepest flaws.  Many documentaries follow some sort of narrative – often chronological – while some, like Man with a Movie Camera, are free-form or even surreal in their structure and imagery.  Cinéma vérité filmmakers like the Maysles brothers (Grey Gardens), D.A. Pennebaker (Dont Look Back) and Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies) reject traditional documentary formats, eschewing narration and explanatory titles in an attempt to present reality, unadorned and unjudged, for the viewer to interpret.  Other documentarists (e.g., Werner Herzog in Encounters at the End of the World), insert themselves consciously into their films to emphasize the subjectivity of the creative process.  Essay films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, where a fictional narrator reads letters from a fictional traveler while we watch documentary images, blur the line between fiction and non-fiction.  Of course, many documentaries combine several of these techniques.

The goal of the documentary filmmaker may be to inform, to educate, to challenge, to expose evil, lies and hypocrisy, to speak truth to power, to amuse and entertain, to celebrate, to warn, to question, to present the artist’s personal creative vision.  Rarely do the best documentaries simply document reality.  The conscious and unconscious choices of these filmmakers inevitably shape that reality, creating art in the process.

Here, then, are my documentary lists:

BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF ALL TIME – THE CRITICS’ PICKS
BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF ALL TIME – CHRONOLOGICAL

My Favorite Books and Films Read or Seen in 2013

BOOKS

The obsessive-compulsive folks (and their algorithms) at Goodreads.com tell me that I completed 24 books in 2013.  My stats page helpfully points out that the longest book I read this year was The Visual Arts: A History, by Hugh Honour, at 992 pages.  (Curiously, no ‘shortest book’ stat is provided.)  Most of the books I read this year come from two meta-lists I created: (1) Best Fiction Since 1900; and (2) Best Literature of All Time – Chronological.  Of the 24 books I read in 2013, I gave the following seven a five-star rating:

Great Dialogues of Plato (c. 400 BCE).  By Plato.  Translated by W.H.D. Rouse.
I’m cheating a little here – I only read the Apology, the Symposium and the Crito.  I read The Republic, too, but in a different translation (Grube).  But I did read several of the other dialogues in a philosophy course in 1979, if that helps any.  It is interesting to watch Plato go from Socrates’ chronicler to a philosopher with his own ideas (which he nevertheless continues to attribute to Socrates – an early example of branding?).

The Book of Disquiet (1935). By Fernando Pessoa.  Translated by Richard Zenith.
I read this book from my Best Literature list out of chronological order because of our April 2013 trip to Portugal.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Pessoa’s narrator (Bernardo Soares, one of his many avatars)  is an early existentialist (whole passages of Sartre’s Nausea appear to be cribbed from Disquiet) or perhaps undiagnosed depressive whose thoughts and emotions impart a dark-flavored energy onto everything in his exterior and interior world.  He seems to find comfort in describing the minute details of the view from his office window or the surface of his desk.  I can see why bookstores in the university towns of Portugal sell Pessoa t-shirts, even now, 75 years after his death.

Memoirs of Hadrian (1951).  By Marguerite Yourcenar.  Translated by Grace Frick.
A Roman emperor looks back on his life with a well-developed sense of himself and his opinions, a remarkable recall for names, places and events, and an uncanny ability to objectively assess both his strengths and weaknesses.  Hadrian was a real emperor and this narrative is steeped in the facts of his life and times as they have survived.  And yet while there is little (perhaps no) dialogue in Hadrian’s recitation, there is no question that it is a work of fiction and not history.  Changing from the third person to the first person is not merely a grammatical change – we hear a historical character speaking to us through time.

Molloy; Molone Dies; The Unnameable (1951-1953). By Samuel Beckett.
It may be some kind of aesthetic crime to try and describe Beckett’s trilogy in my lazy prose.  Each of Beckett’s sentences seems hewn in stone – it is impossible to imagine them any other way.  He is postmodern in the sense that he doesn’t believe you can read a novel without knowing that it is a fiction, created by an author, for a reader, and therefore all these concepts – “fact” “fiction” “character” “author” “reader” “novel” – are subject to change without notice.  Is the protagonist of all three novels the same character?  Is there a protagonist or character, in any previously-understood sense, in the third novel at all?  And, finally, how many stones does it have in its pocketses?  This is one of those rare books, like Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Gravity’s Rainbow, that I look forward to re-reading, and re-re-reading, and so on, for there seem to be endless depths to plumb.

A Death in the Family (1957). By James Agee.
With its shifting narrative perspectives, carefully-drawn scenes; and an ability to convey powerful emotions without manipulation or sentimentality, this story is at its heart a simple story about a boy and his father.

Invisible Cities (1972).  By Italo Calvino.  Translated by Willliam Weaver.
Marco Polo describes to Genghis Khan the amazing places he has seen on his travels.  One is more fantastic than the next.  Each description is a little prose poem.  Borges comes to mind.  But if the cities aren’t ‘real’, are they nevertheless real in some other sense?  And what do these conversations mean to Polo and Khan?

Conversations with Scorcese (Paperback edition, 2013). By Richard Schickel.
In the old days, directors denied that they had any agenda, any intellectual underpinnings or philosophical outlook.  John Ford and Howard Hawks would tell you they just want to tell a story – point the camera and turn it on.  Of course, these were deceptions, but while reading reviewer/documentarian Richard Schickel’s conversations with Martin Scorcese on life, the universe and Goodfellas. I wondered if there can be deception in a wall of words, a mask hidden behind the appearance of revealing secrets, telling all.  Here we learn details about Scorcese’s childhood and life as a director, as well as stories about each of his movies, and his thoughts on more technical aspects of moviemaking.  I raced through it and wished for more.

FILMS

I didn’t see any five-star movies in 2013 (excluding David Lean’s Great Expectations, which I’d seen before), but I did see quite a few movies that rated 4.5, which is often as good as it gets these days.

Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 1953)
San Soleil (Marker, 1983)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron, 1996)
The Piano Teacher (Haneke, 2001)
Ten (Kiarostomi, 2002)
Dogtooth (Lanthimos, 2009)
Marwencol (Malmberg, 2010)
Amour (Haneke, 2012)
Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012)
Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013)
Blue Jasmine (Allen, 2013)
Nebraska (Payne, 2013)