Tag Archives: Andrei Rublev

A Sound-Era Soviet Cinema Primer

This is meant as a companion piece to my silent Soviet cinema primer from last year. It covers Soviet films from the beginning of the sound era – which, even more so than in most European countries – began much later than in the U.S. – through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As with most of these primers, I am limiting myself here to only one film per director. I will soon have a separate primer for movies made in Eastern Bloc countries outside of the Soviet Union that cover the same time span.

Enthusiasm (Vertov, 1931)

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Dziga Vertov’s follow-up to the revolutionary Man with the Movie Camera was also his first sound film and, while less well-known than its predecessor, is in many ways just as astonishing. It begins with a memorable sequence in which a woman is listening to the radio on headphones; we hear a cacophony of music and sound effects that rhythmically interact with a series of documentary shots of urban Soviet life that feel almost as if they could be outtakes from Man with the Movie Camera (though the aggressively anti-Christian nature of some of the images mark it as a more explicitly propagandistic work). What eventually emerges is a celebratory portrait of Stalin’s first five-year plan, focusing specifically on coal miners and factory workers in the Donbass region (the film’s subtitle is literally translated as Symphony of Donbass). Vertov’s silent movies featured pounding editing rhythms but the addition of literal sound in Enthusiasm arguably leant his art a greater, more symphonic complexity. An essential work by one of cinema’s great avant-gardists.

Deserter (Pudovkin, 1933)

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It seems somewhat curious that Vsevelod Pudovkin, a great director and film theorist, is less famous than Sergei Eisenstein (whose career spanned roughly the same time frame). In both the silent and early sound eras, Pudovkin showed just as much of a flair for associative montage as Eisenstein but, unlike his more theoretically-minded countryman, Pudovkin was more interested in wedding his radical editing techniques with traditional approaches to characterization and story construction. The story of Deserter, Pudovkin’s first sound movie, concerns Karl Renn, a German shipyard worker who “deserts” his striking co-workers and is consequently sent to the Soviet Union so that he can observe the virtues of proletarian solidarity firsthand. The use of sound is primitive (the film is often completely silent until an important sound effect or line of dialogue is required) but its implementation is still more creative than the strictly realistic use of sound being employed concurrently by Hollywood. Also notable for containing scenes that take place in Germany and feature German characters, unusual given the widespread anti-German sentiments in Russia at the time.

Outskirts (Barnet, 1933)

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Although active as a director until his death by suicide in 1965, Boris Barnet is probably best known for his silent film work (e.g., The Girl with the Hatbox and Miss Mend). Outskirts (AKA The Patriots) was Barnet’s first sound movie and remains an unjustly underseen masterpiece of its era. The film is a comedy/drama about the residents of an unnamed town in rural Russia in the days leading up to World War I. It starts off as a comedy that boasts a delightful and innovative use of sound (where animals and even inanimate objects are given voice) but becomes increasingly serious after the war breaks out. Most surprising of all is the tender love subplot that develops between a Russian peasant girl and a German POW. Hopefully, Outskirts will someday receive the loving home video release it deserves and become much better known among cinephiles.

Aerograd (Dovzhenko, 1935)

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The Ukrainian Aleksandr Dovzhenko was arguably the greatest narrative filmmaker working in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s and this early sound-era propaganda piece is one of his finest works. The plot is about the construction of an air field in remote far east Russia and, more specifically, the conflict it engenders between modern-day Bolsheviks and the rural and backwards “old believers” (read Orthodox Christians) who are being spurred on by Japanese saboteurs. But you don’t watch Dovzhenko for the plot, much less the propaganda. You watch him for his famed passages of incredible – and purely cinematic – lyricism: a briskly edited scene of a Russian sharpshooter chasing Japanese spies through a dense forest, beautiful nautical and aerial photography (including a thrilling climax involving paratroopers), and even quiet moments like the radiant smile on the face of a Chinese woman after she’s given birth to the son of her Russian-pilot husband. Operatic and sublime.

Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II (Eisenstein, 1944-1958)

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Sergei Eisenstein’s final movies were the first two parts of an unfinished trilogy about the life of the 17th-century military leader who crowned himself the first tsar of Russia. The films deal with Ivan’s attempts to unify his homeland while fending off both foreign invaders and would-be usurpers within his own inner circle. This has all of the virtues of Alexander Nevsky (spectacle, pageantry, a poetic view of history-as-myth, and a stirring Sergei Prokofiev score), minus the earlier movie’s more dubious pro-militaristic elements. Plus, in the second part (the release of which was delayed by a decade due to Stalin’s personal objections), there is a beautiful color sequence that resembles early two-strip Technicolor, and even a proto-campy musical number. This has my vote for being Eisenstein’s finest achievement.

The Cranes Are Flying (Kalatozov, 1957)

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Veronica and Boris are young lovers in Moscow whose lives are interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. He is drafted and sent to the front while she becomes a nurse and is pressured into an unhappy marriage with his cousin. This film, a kind of bleak Russian cousin to King Vidor’s The Big Parade, was groundbreaking in terms of form and content: the extensive use of handheld camera was revolutionary for a pre-Nouvelle Vague narrative feature, and it is not only remarkably propaganda-free but also taboo-busting as a social document of life during wartime in the Soviet Union. If one wants to understand Andre Bazin’s theory of the relationship between long-take, deep-focus images and “realism,” this masterpiece from the legendary Mikhail Kalatozov (Salt for Svanetia, I am Cuba) could handily serve as “Exhibit A.” The title refers to shots of birds in flight that bookend the film but it might equally refer to the epic crane shots that Kalatozov employs throughout, which give the film an awesome sense of fluidity.

Hamlet (Kozintsev, 1964)

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As much as I admire Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh’s versions (not to mention Michael Almereyda’s underrated postmodern take), Grigori Kozintsev’s 1964 adaptation remains far and away my favorite film adaptation of Hamlet. It strikes me as being the most realistic as well as the most cinematic: the action is captured almost entirely in long and medium shots via beautiful black and white ‘Scope cinematography and, combined with the stunning locations (including a real beach and a massive castle set that took six months to construct), they conjure up a gloomy, atmospheric mood perfectly suited to the story. Interestingly, Kozintsev stages Hamlet’s soliloquies as internal monologues; the “To be or not to be” speech is presented as voice-over narration as Hamlet wanders alone along a barren, rocky shoreline. This is also in many ways a uniquely Russian production: the script is base on a lauded 1941 translation by Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) and the great original score was composed by none other than Dmitri Shostokovich.

Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966)

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s austere, epic biopic of the famed 15th century icon painter is for my money the greatest movie ever made about the life of an artist. Told in vignette fashion, Tarkovsky depicts Rublev’s story against the turbulent backdrop of medieval Russia during the Tatar invasions. The highlight is the climactic sequence where Rublev, who has sworn a vow of silence in protest of the horrors he has seen, witnesses a mere boy overseeing the arduous process of the casting of a giant bell. The boy saves himself from government execution by successfully casting the bell in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. At the conclusion of this awe-inspiring 30 minute scene, the depiction of a miracle that feels like a miracle of filmmaking, Rublev is inspired not only to speak again but to continue painting and to create his greatest works.

The Color of Pomegranates (Parajanov, 1968)

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Sergei Parajanov’s biopic of the 16th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova is probably the least conventional take on its subject one could imagine. This might be better referred to as a work of poetry in its own right rather than a film about poetry – a series of fragmented, lyrical, incredibly beautiful scenes from the life of the famed poet (played by actor Sofiko Chiaureli, who also plays four other roles) that employ a purposeful, symbolic use of color, and contain barely any dialogue. This was, unsurprisingly, heavily censored (and even retitled) by Soviet authorities upon its initial release. The homoeroticism, religious imagery and overall abstract nature apparently made them very nervous. But you can’t keep a good film down: the uncut version of The Color of Pomegranates was re-released to wide acclaim in the 1980s and is a frequent staple on the “best of” lists of many critics and cinephiles.

The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ryazanov, 1975)

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A lot of the films on this list are dark, heavy, serious and slow-paced dramas (especially those immediately preceding and following this entry). This is partly a reflection of my personal taste and partly due to the way Russian and Ukrainian art films have always tended to receive wider distribution internationally than the movies that have been more popular domestically. I am, however, delighted to include at least one crowd-pleasing comedy on this list, Eldar Ryazanov’s legendary The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!. This feel-good, sentimental rom-com is paradoxically both Russian-to-the-bone and universal in its broad appeal: the screwball premise is that Zhenya, a shy doctor, is about to be engaged. After binge-drinking with friends on New Year’s Eve he ends up passing out in an apartment in Leningrad that he mistakenly believes is his own Moscow apartment (it looks the same and even has the same street name and number). Hijinks ensue when the apartment’s true tenant, Nadya, comes home and discovers this strange man in his underwear in her bed. The confusion engendered by this “compromising position” causes problems for not only Zhenya and his fiancee but Nadya and her fiancee as well. What starts off quite farcical (who knew that the uniformity of Brezhnev-era architecture could yield such comic gold?) slowly, almost imperceptibly, turns into a moving romantic drama. I’m told that this still plays on television in Russia every New Year’s Eve, holding the same beloved place in their culture that It’s a Wonderful Life does in America.

The Ascent (Shepitko, 1977)

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Larisa Shepitko was a director of enormous intelligence and integrity who tragically died in a car accident at the young age of 40 (with many more great movies undoubtedly ahead of her). The final film she completed before her death is this harrowing, indelible masterwork about the persecution of partisans in Nazi-occupied Belarus during World War II, which some feel is the finest Soviet film of the 1970s. In adapting a novel by Vasili Bykov – about the two Soviet soldiers and their futile mission to find supplies in a bleak, snowy landscape populated by Nazi collaborators – Shepitko has crafted an experience so austere, and infused it with so much Christian symbolism, that she makes Tarkovsky look both secular and populist. The drastically different way that her two protagonists meet their fates allows for Shepitko to engage the viewer in a dialogue of uncommon moral complexity. For sheer intensity, this wartime drama is topped only by her husband Elem Klimov’s Come and See from eight years later (see below).

Come and See (Klimov, 1985)

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Veteran director Elem Klimov’s final testament, Come and See, is the single most disturbing, and therefore effective, war movie I have ever seen. This tackles somewhat similar terrain as The Ascent, the final film of Larisa Shepitko (Klimov’s late wife) in that it concerns the conflict between Belarussian partisans and their Nazi occupiers during the height of World War II. What makes this film so unsettling and unforgettable is that all of the events are seen through the eyes of a little boy, a Belarussian peasant who joins the partisans and thus witnesses horrors that no one should ever have to face, least of all a child. Before the horrors begin however, there is a mesmerizing, almost unimaginably lovely sequence in which Florya, the protagonist, witnesses a young girl dancing on a tree stump in the rain, as well as a surreal coda in which images of Hitler’s life are shown in reverse order from adulthood all the way back to when he was himself a child. Without these bookending sequences, the film’s depiction of unending suffering might well be unwatchable. Klimov said he lost interest in making films after Come and See, stating, “Everything that was possible I felt I had already done.” He’s not exaggerating.


My Top 200 Films of All Time

In the past week, this blog has reached the milestone of having been viewed 100,000 times. To celebrate, I am posting a list of my favorite films of all time, one that I have been working on for what feels like forever. A wise man once said that favorite movies were always the hardest to write about and, after compiling the list, I heartily concur. I worked mighty hard to write the capsule reviews of my ten favorite movies that you’ll find below, attempting to nail down exactly what qualities they possess that has made them so impactful to me from points of view both personal (as an “ordinary” movie lover) and professional (as a film studies instructor and blogger). Below the list of my ten favorites you will also find a list of 200 runners-up that has been divided into eight groups of 25 in descending order of preference.

This highly personal list, which is actually a list of my 210 favorite movies, has literally been a lifetime in the making. I hope you enjoy it.

The Top Ten:

10. Antonio das Mortes (Rocha, Brazil, 1969)
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9. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman, Belgium, 1975)
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8. To Sleep with Anger (Burnett, USA, 1990)
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7.
 M (Lang, Germany, 1931)
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6. Journey to Italy (Rossellini, Italy, 1954)
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5. A New Leaf (May, USA, 1970)
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4. Late Spring (Ozu, Japan, 1949)
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3. Vagabond (Varda, France, 1985)
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2. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, Russia, 1929)
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1. A Brighter Summer Day (Yang, Taiwan, 1991)
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First 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

1. L’avventura (Antonioni, Italy, 1960)
2. A Man Escaped (Bresson, France, 1956)
3. Viridiana (Bunuel, Spain, 1961)
4. A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, USA, 1974)
5. Gertrud (Dreyer, Denmark, 1964)
6. Tih Minh (Feuillade, France, 1918)
7. Wagon Master (Ford, USA, 1950)
8. Contempt (Godard, France/Italy, 1963)
9. Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1958)
10. A Touch of Zen (Hu, Taiwan, 1971)
11. Our Hospitality (Keaton, USA, 1923)
12. The Decalogue (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
13. Wanda (Loden, USA, 1970)
14. Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953)
15. City Girl (Murnau, USA, 1930)
16. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, USA, 1948)
17. Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953)
18. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, France, 1939)
19. Out 1 (Rivette, France, 1971)
20. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1966)
21. Play Time (Tati, France, 1967)
22. L’atalante (Vigo, France, 1934)
23. The Leopard (Visconti, Italy, 1963)
24. Greed (Von Stroheim, USA, 1924)
25. Chimes at Midnight (Welles, Spain/Italy, 1965)

Second 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

26. L’argent (Bresson, France, 1983)
27. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Bunuel, France, 1972)
28. City Lights (Chaplin, USA, 1931)
29. Daisies (Chytilova, Czechoslovakia, 1966)
30. Casablanca (Curtiz, USA, 1942)
31. Earth (Dovzhenko, Ukraine, 1930)
32. The Mother and the Whore (Eustache, France, 1974)
33. Berlin Alexanderplatz (Fassbinder, Germany, 1980)
34. Spring in a Small Town (Fei, China, 1948)
35. Les Vampires (Feuillade, France, 1915-1916)
36. How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941)
37. Goodbye to Language (Godard, Switzerland/France, 2014)
38. Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958)
39. Three Times (Hou, Taiwan, 2005)
40. The Ballad of Narayama (Imamura, Japan, 1983)
41. Twin Peaks: The Return (Lynch, USA, 2017)
42. The Band Wagon (Minnelli, USA, 1953)
43. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1939)
44. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, USA, 1927)
45. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, Italy, 1964)
46. The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1948)
47. Bigger Than Life (N. Ray, USA, 1956)
48. The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, Sweden, 1921)
49. Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1941)
50. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959)

Third 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

51. Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999)
52. Singin’ in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1952)
53. Ordet (Dreyer, Denmark, 1955)
54. Unforgiven (Eastwood, USA, 1992)
55. Coeur Fidele (Epstein, France, 1923)
56. The Searchers (Ford, USA, 1956)
57. Park Row (Fuller, USA, 1952)
58. Two Lane Blacktop (Hellman, USA, 1971)
59. Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Italy/France, 2010)
60. Spies (Lang, Germany, 1928)
61. Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014)
62. The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937)
63. Army of Shadows (Melville, France, 1969)
64. Floating Clouds (Naruse, Japan, 1955)
65. Chinatown (Polanski, USA, 1974)
66. Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, USA, 1959)
67. Charulata (S. Ray, India, 1964)
68. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, France/Italy, 1961)
69. My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, France, 1969)
70. All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, USA, 1955)
71. Stalker (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1979)
72. Satantango (Tarr, Hungary, 1994)
73. A Fugitive from the Past (Uchida, Japan, 1965)
74. The Crowd (Vidor, USA, 1928)
75. The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, USA, 1946)

Fourth 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

76. The Long Goodbye (Altman, USA, 1973)
77. Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson, France, 1966)
78. Le Boucher (Chabrol, France, 1970)
79. The Strange Case of Angelica (De Oliveira, Portugal, 2010)
80. Day of Wrath (Dreyer, Denmark, 1943)
81. 8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963)
82. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962)
83. Nouvelle Vague (Godard, France, 1990)
84. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, USA, 1953)
85. Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou, Taiwan, 1996)
86. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968)
87. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, Japan, 1954)
88. Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch, USA, 1932)
89. A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf, Iran, 1996)
90. The Naked Spur (Mann, USA, 1953)
91. The Headless Woman (Martel, Argentina, 2008)
92. Boy (Oshima, Japan, 1969)
93. Pandora’s Box (Pabst, Germany, 1929)
94. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Rossellini, France/Italy, 1966)
95. Black Girl (Sembene, Senegal, 1966)
96. Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub/Huillet, Germany, 1968)
97. The Lady Eve (Sturges, USA, 1941)
98. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh, USA, 1939)
99. In the Mood for Love (Wong, Hong Kong, 2000)
100. Humanity and Paper Balloons (Yamanaka, Japan, 1937)

Fifth 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

101. The Passenger (Antonioni, Italy, 1975)
102. Lucky Star (Borzage, USA, 1929)
103. The Unknown (Browning, USA, 1927)
104. Los Olvidados (Bunuel, Mexico, 1950)
105. Love Streams (Cassavetes, USA, 1984)
106. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, Italy, 1948)
107. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, Germany, 1974)
108. Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007)
109. Pierrot le Fou (Godard, France, 1965)
110. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (Hawks, USA, 1932)
111. Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960)
112. Vengeance is Mine (Imamura, Japan, 1979)
113. The Housemaid (Kim, S. Korea, 1960)
114. Naked (Leigh, UK, 1993)
115. The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch, USA, 1940)
116. Mulholland Drive (Lynch, USA, 2001)
117. The Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1952)
118. Mon Oncle d’Amerique (Resnais, France, 1980)
119. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, France, 1974)
120. Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990)
121. Detour (Ulmer, USA, 1945)
122. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, France, 1962)
123. Senso (Visconti, Italy, 1954)
124. The Docks of New York (Von Sternberg, USA, 1928)
125. Touch of Evil (Welles, USA, 1958)

Sixth 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

126. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, USA, 1971)
127. Red Desert (Antonioni, Italy, 1964)
128. Pickpocket (Bresson, France, 1959)
129. Anxiety (De Oliveira, Portugal, 1998)
130. Vampyr (Dreyer, Germany/Denmark, 1932)
131. Hindle Wakes (Elvey, UK, 1927)
132. The Quiet Man (Ford, USA/Ireland, 1952)
133. Weekend (Godard, France, 1967)
134. Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1958)
135. A City of Sadness (Hou, Taiwan, 1989)
136. Brief Encounter (Lean, UK, 1945)
137. Touki Bouki (Mambety, Senegal, 1973)
138. Some Came Running (Minnelli, USA, 1958)
139. The Earrings of Madame de . . . (Ophuls, France, 1953)
140. Floating Weeds (Ozu, Japan, 1959)
141. A Nos Amours (Pialat, France, 1983)
142. The Music Room (S. Ray, India, 1958)
143. Grand Illusion (Renoir, France, 1937)
144. Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, France, 1959)
145. Germany Year Zero (Rossellini, Germany/Italy, 1948)
146. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, USA, 1976)
147. The Ascent (Shepitko, Russia, 1977)
148. The Arch (Tang, Hong Kong, 1969)
149. Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947)
150. Yi Yi (Yang, Taiwan, 2000)

Seventh 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

151. The Piano (Campion, Australia/New Zealand, 1993)
152. The Thing (Carpenter, USA 1982)
153. The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy, France, 1967)
154. 35 Shots of Rum (Denis, 2008)
155. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France/Denmark, 1928)
156. Lonesome (Fejos, USA, 1928)
157. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, USA, 1939)
158. First Name: Carmen (Godard, France, 1983)
159. North By Northwest (Hitchcock, USA, 1959)
160. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong, S. Korea, 2015)
161. The Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, Iran, 1997)
162. Peppermint Candy (Lee, S. Korea, 1999)
163. Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954)
164. Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1947)
165. Laura (Preminger, USA, 1944)
166. In a Lonely Place (N. Ray, USA, 1950)
167. Stromboli (Rossellini, Italy, 1950)
168. Mr. Thank You (Shimizu, Japan, 1936)
169. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France, 1953)
170. Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011)
171. The Emigrants/The New Land (Troell, Sweden, 1971)
172. The 400 Blows (Truffaut, France, 1959)
173. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, Germany, 1920)
174. Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994)
175. The Goddess (Wu, China, 1934)

Eighth 25 Runners-Up (Listed Alphabetically By Director’s Family Name):

176. La Captive (Akerman, France, 2000)
177. Killer of Sheep (Burnett, USA, 1977)
178. Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012)
179. Vitalina Varela (Costa, Portugal, 2019)
180. Brightness (Cisse, Mali, 1987)
181. Daughters of the Dust (Dash, USA, 1991)
182. The Long Day Closes (Davies, UK, 1992)
183. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, France, 1964)
184. Renaldo and Clara (Dylan, USA, 1978)
185. Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein, Russia, 1938)
186. Notorious (Hitchcock, USA, 1946)
187. The Assassin (Hou, Taiwan, 2015)
188. A Touch of Sin (Jia, China, 2013)
189. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, USA/UK, 1999)
190. Centre Stage (Kwan, Hong Kong, 1992)
191. Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978)
192. Sans Soleil (Marker, France, 1983)
193. Mikey and Nicky (May, USA, 1976)
194. Groundhog Day (Ramis, USA, 1993)
195. Johnny Guitar (N. Ray, USA, 1952)
196. The Green Ray (Rohmer, France, 1986)
197. Our Neighbor, Miss Yae (Shimazu, Japan, 1934)
198. People on Sunday (Siodmak/Ulmer/Zinnemann, Germany, 1930)
199. The Blue Angel (Von Sternberg, Germany, 1930)
200. Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, Poland, 1958)


Top 25 Films of the 1960s

25. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, France, 1962)

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24. Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960)

23. Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson, France, 1966)

22. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968)

21. The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub/Huillet, Germany, 1968)

20. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Rossellini, France/Italy, 1966)

19. Boy (Oshima, Japan, 1969)

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18. 8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963)

Life imitates art and art imitates life in Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, a thinly-disguised autobiographical study of a movie director (Mastroianni again) fighting “director’s block.” Guido Anselmi struggles to complete his latest film, a science fiction epic, as fantasies, dreams and childhood memories collide (most of which pertain to Guido’s struggles with religion and/or women). Fellini never again recaptured the greatness on display here (even though he repeatedly mined similar subject matter) but as far as career peaks go, 8 1/2, quite simply one of the most influential movies ever, remains a dizzying high.

17. Black Girl (Sembene, Senegal, 1966)

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16. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962)

15. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, France/Italy, 1961)

Alain Resnais followed up Hiroshima, Mon Amour by expanding on its innovative formal structure to create this audacious, intellectual “puzzle film.” A man and a woman (again unnamed) meet at the title resort where he attempts to convince her, against her protests, they had met and had an affair the previous year. As Marienbad progresses, we can never be sure if we are watching flashbacks, false memories or fantasies – or even which character might own them. Don’t let its reputation as a “cold,” “impenetrable” film deter you; there are many points of entry into this masterpiece, including the extraordinarily beautiful black-and-white cinematography, the sly humor of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s script and a great lead performance by the regal Delphine Seyrig.

14. A Fugitive from the Past (Uchida, Japan, 1965)

13. Army of Shadows (Melville, France, 1969)

12. My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, France, 1968)

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11. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, Italy, 1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s best-loved film is this unorthodox but reverential version of the Christ story in which the life of Jesus (hauntingly portrayed by non-actor Enrique Irazoqui) is told in straightforward, realistic fashion – from his birth in Bethlehem to his revolutionary political teachings to his crucifixion, death and resurrection at Golgotha. Some critics have detected a Marxist slant to Pasolini’s take yet this is a movie virtually anyone, even the Pope, could love. The impressively eclectic soundtrack features Bach, Mahalia Jackson and Blind Willie Johnson.

10. Charulata (Ray, India, 1964)

My favorite Satyajit Ray film is this 1964 masterpiece, the title of which is sometimes translated as The Lonely Wife. It tells the story of Charu, a housewife with an interest in literature, whose wealthy husband is preoccupied with his business of running an English language newspaper. The husband’s younger brother comes to visit and forms an instant intellectual bond with Charu that threatens to turn into something more serious. The psychology and emotions of the characters are vividly captured by both a flawless cast of performers as well as Ray’s atypically daring use of film form (i.e., camerawork, editing and even optical effects) that suggests the influence of the French New Wave; highlights include the impressionistic swing set scene and the unforgettable final freeze frame.

9. The Leopard (Visconti, Italy, 1963)

Few directors have been as adept at capturing physical beauty as Luchino Visconti and The Leopard is his most beautiful and perfectly realized film. Adapted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s equally great novel, Visconti’s movie tells the story of Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (a fittingly regal and masculine Burt Lancaster) who maneuvers through the political tumult of 1860s Sicily, which includes marrying his revolutionary-minded nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) to the beautiful, newly upper-class Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). The Leopard‘s climactic ball scene, a virtually non-narrative 40 minute visual feast, is one of the glories of the film medium. The Criterion Collection’s blu-ray release of this title single-handedly justifies the purchase of a blu-ray player.

8. Viridiana (Bunuel, Spain, 1961)

7. L’avventura (Antonioni, Italy, 1960)

A woman, Anna, mysteriously disappears while on a yachting trip with friends. The missing woman’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and her best friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti), spend the remainder of the movie looking for her but their search merely becomes the pretext for a love affair as they promptly proceed to forget about her. L’avventura‘s slow pace and lack of narrative resolution have driven many viewers up the wall (including me the first time I saw it) but Michelangelo Antonioni’s stately compositions and underlying philosophical themes have a power as awesome and mysterious as the ocean he so lovingly photographs in the film’s majestic first third. L’avventura‘s 1960 Cannes premiere was one of cinema’s game-changing moments.

6. Le Mepris (Godard, France/Italy, 1963)

The best movie ever made about making a movie (and no, I’m not forgetting 8 1/2), Jean-Luc Godard’s colorful, Italian-shot fantasia stars Michel Piccoli as a beleaguered screenwriter, Brigitte Bardot as his trophy wife, Jack Palance as a blowhard American producer and the great director Fritz Lang as himself, all of whom collide on an unlikely film adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. Add in a magisterial score by George Delerue, one of the greatest ever written, and the end result is Godard’s finest early work.

5. Chimes at Midnight (Welles, Spain/Italy, 1965)

4. Playtime (Tati, France, 1967)

Jacques Tati achieved perfection with this 1967 masterpiece, the pinnacle of his career. The great director put the largest budget he ever had to work with to good use, constructing enormous steel-and-glass skyscraper sets in order to suggest a futuristic Paris. Inside of this city of encroaching globalization (before the term “globalization” even existed), Tati’s characters — including Monsieur Hulot in a diminished role — bounce around like human pinballs. Shot in deep focus 70mm, the intricate jokes on display take place in the foreground, middleground and background of the frame, and often occur simultaneously, resulting in a film that demands to be seen many times in order to be fully appreciated — even though watching it for the first time is as easy as breathing. To see Playtime projected in 70mm is one of the glories of moviegoing. As the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, the film’s most eloquent defender has perceptively asked, “What other movie converts work into play so pleasurably by turning the very acts of seeing and hearing into a form of dancing?”

3. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1966)

Andrei Tarkovsky’s austere, epic biopic of the famed 15th century icon painter is for my money the greatest movie ever made about the life of an artist. Told in vignette fashion, Tarkovsky depicts Rublev’s story against the turbulent backdrop of medieval Russia during the Tatar invasions. The highlight is the climactic sequence where Rublev, who has sworn a vow of silence in protest of the horrors he has seen, witnesses a boy oversee the arduous process of casting a giant bell. The boy saves himself from execution by successfully casting the bell in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. At the conclusion of this awe-inspiring 30 minute scene, the depiction of a miracle that comes off as a miracle of filmmaking, Rublev is inspired not only to speak again but to continue painting and to go on and create his greatest works.

2. Gertrud (Dreyer, Denmark, 1964)

Carl Dreyer’s final film is an adaptation of Hjalmar Soderberg’s 1906 play of the same title and its deceptively theatrical character is also reminiscent of Ibsen (a protoypical feminist heroine) and Strindberg (the eternal conflict between men and women). But there are few films as truly and wonderfully cinematic as Gertrud, whose unique qualities of stillness, slowness and whiteness are perfectly suited to capturing the title character’s near-religious view of romantic love as an uncompromising ideal. A lot of men seem to love Gertrud but none love her as much as she requires and so she chooses to live alone – without regrets. Unforgettable for its use of long takes (one of which clocks in at 10 minutes) and Nina Pens Rode’s luminous lead performance.

1. Antonio das Mortes (Rocha, Brazil, 1969)


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