Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

A Hill of Beans: A Few Good Movies About World War II

September 3, 2013

Naturally it’s a subjective list: these are movies which satisfy me to some high degree emotionally, dramatically and aesthetically. Their quality as “war films” ranks low on the totem pole. Judged just by its combat scenes, Saving Private Ryan would certainly make the cut, but since its action is in service of a false, even pernicious, idea, I left it off. I’m also not smitten with gung-ho heroism, hence you’ll search in vain for The Sands of Iwo Jima here. For me the value of the World War II film lies in its concentration on the unlikely protagonist; fittingly, the war against fascism gave rise to some of the most egalitarian-minded films in the history of cinema, with many of the greatest ones coming from the Axis nations. The protagonists here aren’t heroes because they’ll charge a machine gun. The vast majority of them are little people, often weak, often cowardly, and almost always unprepared, but the intensity of their reactions to the cataclysm around them makes Bogart’s famous line in Casablanca—“The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”—look simply wrong. Even the characters in uniform work to stay alive mainly to return to the normal, non-military life that existed for them before the world lost its mind. These movies make their characters’ humanity the subject of their stories, even in such cases as Army of Shadows or The Conformist, where that humanity is subordinated to a wider cause. Asterisks appear by the titles which mean the most to me—the ones that landed closest to where I live.

I close things out with a short list of films which many people dote on, and several of which are considered classics, but which, for one reason or another, have the same effect on me that The English Patient had on Elaine Benes; I mention them not to be a contrary asshole, but simply to forestall the incredulous query “You mean you haven’t seen The Pianist? Why, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world!” I also omitted a handful of films I love or admire (The Long Voyage Home, A Matter of Life and Death and Notorious among them) in which the war was mainly an incidental or peripheral factor. And, obviously, I’ve omitted the ton of movies that aren’t worth ranking at all. (Hail, The Battle of Britain! Ave, The Secret of Santa Vittoria!) God knows what movies I’ve forgotten, overlooked, or need to catch up on, but I’d be grateful for tips on all of them.


The Mortal Storm (Borzage 1940)


49th Parallel (Powell 1941)

To Be Or Not To Be (Lubitsch 1942)

The Pilot Returns (Rossellini 1942)

Went the Day Well? (Cavalcanti 1942)

went ealing

Casablanca (Curtiz 1942)

Air Force (Hawks 1943)

The More the Merrier (Stevens 1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell 1943)*


This Land Is Mine (Renoir 1943)

Le Corbeau (Clouzot 1943)

Lifeboat (Hitchcock 1944)*


Western Approaches (Jackson 1944)

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges 1944)

Hail the Conquering Hero (Sturges 1944)*


Rome Open City (Rossellini 1945)*

Objective, Burma! (Walsh 1945)

They Were Expendable (Ford 1945)*

they nurses

La Bataille du rail (Clément 1946)*

Paisà (Rossellini 1946)*

Les Maudits (Clément 1947)

Germany Year Zero (Rossellini 1948)*


Home of the Brave (Robson 1949)

home of the brave

La Silence de la Mer (Melville 1949)

Battleground (Wellman 1949)

The Axe of Wandsbek (Harnack 1951)

Decision Before Dawn (Litvak 1951)

Forbidden Games (Clément 1952)


The Caine Mutiny (Dmytryk 1954)

Attack! (Aldrich 1956)

Kanal (Wajda 1956)

Four Bags Full (La traversée de Paris) (Autant-Lara 1956)

A Man Escaped (Bresson 1956)*


The Burmese Harp (Ichikawa 1956)

The Battle of the River Plate (Powell/Pressburger 1956)

The Cranes Are Flying (Kalatozov 1957)


The Devil Strikes at Night (Siodmak 1957)

Bitter Victory (Ray 1957)

The Enemy Below (Powell 1957)

Ice Cold in Alex (Thompson 1958)


Fires on the Plain (Ichikawa 1959)

The Ballad of a Soldier (Chukhray 1959)

The Bridge (Wicki 1959)


General della Rovere (Rossellini 1959)

Il Federale (The Fascist) (Salce 1961)

Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case) (Klein 1961)*

Hell is for Heroes (Siegel 1962)


Ivan’s Childhood (Tarkovsky 1962)

The Great Escape (Sturges 1963)

It Happened Here (Brownlow/Mollo 1964)

Diamonds of the Night (Němec 1964)


King Rat (Forbes 1965)

In Harm’s Way (Preminger 1965)*

La ligne de démarcation (Chabrol 1966)

Army of Shadows (Melville 1969)*

The Conformist (Bertolucci 1970)*


The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (De Sica 1970)

Distant Thunder (S. Ray 1973)

Lacombe, Lucien (Malle 1974)*


Zerkalo (Tarkovsky 1974)*

Overlord (Cooper 1975)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pasolini 1975)

1900 (Bertolucci 1976)*


Mr. Klein (Losey 1976)

The Ascent (Shepitko 1977)*

Cross of Iron (Peckinpah 1977)

The Tin Drum (Schlöndorff 1979)

tin drum

Christ Stopped at Eboli (Rosi 1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder 1979)

The Big Red One (Fuller 1980)

Das Boot (Petersen 1981)

Night of the Shooting Stars (1982 Taviani)

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Oshima 1983)


Come and See (Klimov 1985)*

Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Malle 1987)

Empire of the Sun (Spielberg 1987)

Hope and Glory (Boorman 1987)

hope and glory

Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata 1988)*


Story of Women (Chabrol 1988)

story of women

Black Rain (Imamura 1989)

Europa Europa (Holland 1990)

Schindler’s List (Spielberg 1993)

The Thin Red Line (Malick 1998)


Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) (Rothemund 2005)*


Indigènes (Bouchareb 2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood 2006)

Vincere (Bellocchio 2009)

The Hangover

Murderers Are Among Us (Staudte 1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler 1946)*

Shoeshine (De Sica 1946)

Without Pity (Senza pietà) (Lattuada 1948)

senza pieta

The Search (Zinnemann 1948)

the search 1

The Third Man (Reed 1949)

Pigs and Battleships (Imamura 1961)

Das zweite Gleis (The Second Track) (Kunert 1962)

Wings (Shepitko 1966)*

Camp de Thiaroye (Sembene 1988)

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Enemies, a Love Story (Mazursky 1989)*



Memory of the Camps (Bernstein/Hitchcock 1945)

Days of Glory (Visconti/De Sanctis/et al. 1945)

(The Battle of) San Pietro (Huston 1945)*


Blood of the Beasts (Franju 1949)*


Night and Fog (Resnais 1955)*

Night and Fog

The Sorrow and the Pity (Ophüls 1969)*

The World at War (BBC 1973)*

The Memory of Justice (Ophüls 1976)

Shoah (Lanzmann 1985)*

The Doomed City: Berlin (Darlow 1986)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Hara 1987)


Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Ophüls 1988)*


The Eye of Vichy (Chabrol 1993)


But Not For Me

The Great Dictator (Chaplin 1940)

Let There Be Light (Huston 1946)

Stalag 17 (Wilder 1953)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean 1957)

Kapo (Pontecorvo 1960)

Two Women (De Sica 1960)

Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer 1961)

The Pawnbroker (Lumet 1964)

The Damned (Visconti 1969)

The Night Porter (Cavani 1974)

Seven Beauties (Wertmüller 1975)

Sophie’s Choice (Pakula 1982)

Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg 1998)

The Pianist (Polanski 2002)

Downfall (Hirschbiegel 2004)

Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino 2009)

Stray Dogies

January 6, 2012

The Self-Styled Siren was just doing what she does best, which is lighting a fire under other people’s asses, when she posted a list of her favorite old movies that she saw for the first time in 2011. Here’s a list of mine, with the usual caveat that I’m probably blanking on some of the ones I loved most. (I’ve already written about a couple of these, while there are others, such as Alice in the Cities, I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. But as the guards in Cool Hand Luke so lovingly put it, my mind ain’t right.)

1. Hell’s Hinges – William S. Hart’s 1916 version of Taxi Driver. The final apocalypse is one of those great eye-opening surprises in silent cinema.

2. Four Steps in the Clouds (originally 4 passi fra le nuvole) – Alessandro Blasetti’s graceful story about a traveling salesman who winds up helping a (single) pregnant girl rejoin her very conservative, very judgmental family. One lovely moment after another, though the ending—when the hero realizes his life has been one big missed chance—is a punch in the gut.

3. Ken Annakin’s Across the Bridge – When mysterious international financier Rod Steiger is caught embezzling millions of dollars and flees to a sun-baked, booze-marinated border town in hopes of disappearing into the interior, he only finds chaos: stolen identities, a dead body come back to life, a gallery of characters representing almost every level and degree of moral sketchiness, and a dog, a lowly mutt, who becomes a central player in his drama. It was filmed in Spain using Gypsies for Mexicans, but it works; Steiger told Annakin the only movie of his that he liked more was The Pawnbroker. “Dolores”—the mongrel that Annakin found in a pound—became a celebrity when the movie came out. (Welles HAD to have seen this before making Touch of Evil a year or two later.)

4. Adua and Her Friends – Simone Signoret and three fellow hookers, ready for a better life, put their life savings and all of their hopes into a countryside restaurant. Insert frowny emoticon here—things don’t go as planned. A vivid demonstration of how much flypaper there is on our social roles.

5. Blast of Silence – Great no-budget post-noir story about a jaded hit-man, shot in the streets and skuzzy hotel rooms of NYC. Allen Baron both directs and stars (his first choice, Peter Falk, was busy getting famous in Murder, Inc.). Baron makes brilliant use of his locations, especially the reed-choked Jersey marshes where the climactic gunfight goes down in a driving rainstorm.

6. Chronicle of a Summer (Paris 1960) – Jean Rouch’s great documentary of French attitudes about sex, race and politics. Some of the interview subjects and their exchanges are mesmerizing.

7. Nothing But a Man – Honest, down-to-earth study of race prejudice in America—it’s brimming with layered characters and subtle insights. Much of its gaze is trained on how the targets of bigotry can internalize hate until they begin undermining themselves—an insidious and still under-discussed syndrome. Julius Harris and Gloria Foster, as the hero’s father and the father’s girlfriend, are astonishing. Here they are with the film’s star, Ivan Dixon of Hogan’s Heroes fame. (Not seen: the late Abbey Lincoln, who’s dynamite in the movie in her own quiet way.)

8. Two shorts: “Meet Marlon Brando” (Maysles) & “Hôtel des Invalides” (Franju)

9. Deep End (Skolimowski) – Jerzy Skolimowski’s gorgeous, funny, shocking tale of teen obsession.

10. Alice in the Cities – The whole “uptight adult gets chilled out by precocious kid” idea done as well as is humanly possible. That Wim Wenders managed this while making one of the great road movies AND one of the great buddy movies—well, it’s all clearly unfair.

Listing to Port

January 25, 2010

February is almost here, and I’ll thank whatever gods may be if it brings a respite from the torrent of Best-of/Worst-of lists that’s been pissing down on us the last two months. There used to be only one list in my life, Esquire‘s “Dubious Achievements Awards,” and then Texas Monthly brazenly stole the idea for its Tex-centric “Bum Steer Awards,” and I think that Spy magazine had something similar—but who knows, for the magazine itself read like a 100-page “Dubious Achievements” list. Nowadays everyone and his cat has a list about something, and Tom Blog, especially considering its dearth of original content, finds itself in no position to resist. And so we’ve come to this…

First up, we have the Top 50(+) Films of the Aughties, as determined by a pack of far-flung cinephiliac friends and low-lifes that I share a forum with, and as tallied by the redoubtable George Wu (creator of the immortal, a/k/a the “Deathmatch Coliseum,” as the concept was known when George brought it into the world):

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Mulholland Dr.
3. The Lord of the Rings
4. There Will Be Blood
5. No Country for Old Men
6. Spirited Away
7. The New World
8. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
9. Los Angeles Plays Itself
10. Y Tu Mamá También
11. 24 Hour Party People
12. Sideways
13. Ghost World
14. Yi Yi
15. Children of Men
15. Pan’s Labyrinth
17. In the Mood for Love
18. Gosford Park
19. Before Sunset
20. The Squid and the Whale
21. Lost in Translation
22. Waking Life
23. Zodiac
24. Adaptation
25. Synecdoche, New York
26. I’m Not There
27. The Royal Tenenbaums
27. A Serious Man
29. Dogville
30. The Saddest Music in the World
31. Memento
32. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
33. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
34. Amores Perros
35. Elephant
35. Memories of Murder
37. The Son
38. Kings and Queen
39. The Best of Youth
39. Morvern Callar
41. Head-On
42. Bad Santa
43. Tropical Malady
44. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
45. Rachel Getting Married
46. Grizzly Man
46. United 93
48. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
49. AI: Artificial Intelligence
49. A Christmas Tale
49. Joe Strummer: the Future Is Unwritten
49. Margot at the Wedding
49. Punch-Drunk Love

That’s the weighted end-result of perhaps 20 of us, each submitting lists of 25 films. This list comes from some very smart people, people who are very dear to me, but they’re also only human, several of them are Southerners, two of them were stepped on by horses when they were children, and one of them is a film instructor. This information is only meant to explain The Lord of the Rings’ high ranking or how the bogus rehab dramedy Rachel Getting Married made the list at all.

FTR, here’s the 25 I submitted, unranked:

1. Mulholland Dr.
2. My Voyage to Italy
3. There Will Be Blood
4. The Squid and the Whale
5. You Can Count On Me
6. Sideways
7. L’Enfant
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
9. The New World
10. United 93
11. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
12. Michael Clayton
13. Werckmeister Harmonies
14. No Country for Old Men
15. Ghost World
16. 24 Hour Party People
17. Gosford Park
18. The Company
19. Lost in Translation
20. Los Angeles Plays Itself
21. The Weather Underground
22. Bad Santa
23. The Saddest Music in the World
24. Margot at the Wedding
25. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

All I can say is, while I love and/or admire all of these films, the number of them that stirs in me the kind of rocked-back awe I feel before His Girl Friday or The Godfather Part II is, well, slim, especially coming from a 10-year period. For better or worse the movies that rattle most around my head are ones I saw fairly recently but which tend to be older—in many cases, much older. In some instances, such as Fury or The Lineup, it’s only for a sequence or two; others, such as Marked Woman and The Night of the Hunter, have the same effect on me as Tilda Swinton, making me wonder how such perfection can exist side by side in a world with The Rock and that walking bowel movement Joe Lieberman. Although I’d seen several of these films at some previous point of my lifetime, they hadn’t stuck, doubtless because I was too young, too dense, or too rushed to absorb them. This time around, though, for whatever reason, they got me, and got me good. Here, then, are the movies I’ve viewed in the last 18 months or so—a period in which, all told, I saw some 900 films—that really had an effect on me, with little starry things beside the ones that wrecked my ass completely:

  1. Applause (Mamoulian ’29)*
  2. People on Sunday (Siodmak ’29)
  3. Au Bonheur des Dames (Duvivier ’30)*
  4. The Public Enemy (Wellman ’31)*
  5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian ’31)
  6. Million Dollar Legs (Cline ’32)
  7. Three on a Match (LeRoy’32)
  8. Heroes for Sale (Wellman’33)
  9. Wild Boys of the Road (Wellman’33)
  10. 42nd Street (Bacon/Berkeley ’33)
  11. Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy/Berkeley ’33)*
  12. Baby Face (Green ’33)
  13. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Capra ’33)
  14. Wonder Bar (Bacon/Berkeley ’34)
  15. Fury (Lang ’36)
  16. Dead End (Wyler ’37)
  17. Marked Woman (Bacon ’37)*
  18. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh ’39)*
  19. The Maltese Falcon (Huston ’41)
  20. High Sierra (Walsh ’41)
  21. Kings Row (Wood ’42)
  22. Roxie Hart (Wellman ’42)
  23. Cat People (Tourneur ’42)
  24. I Walked with a Zombie (Tourneur ’43)
  25. The Curse of the Cat People (von Fritsch/Wise ’44)*
  26. The Lodger (Brahm ’44)
  27. Scarlet Street (Lang ’45)*
  28. Nobody Lives Forever (Negulesco ’46)
  29. The Man I Love (Walsh ’47)
  30. Pursued (Walsh ’47)
  31. Daisy Kenyon (Preminger ’47)
  32. They Live By Night (Ray ’48)*
  33. Cry of the City (Siodmak ’48)
  34. Yellow Sky (Wellman ’48)
  35. White Heat (Walsh ’49)*
  36. The Heiress (Wyler ’49)
  37. Colorado Territory (Walsh ’49)
  38. Criss Cross (Siodmak ’49)*
  39. The Furies (Mann ’50)
  40. Stromboli (Rossellini ’50)*
  41. In a Lonely Place (Ray ’50)*
  42. Bellissima (Visconti ’51)*
  43. The Lusty Men (Ray ’52)*
  44. Clash by Night (Lang ’52)
  45. Carrie (Wyler ’52)
  46. Scandal Sheet (Karlson ’52)
  47. Pickup on South Street (Fuller ’53)*
  48. The Earrings of Madame de… (Ophuls ’53)*
  49. The Big Heat (Lang ’53)*
  50. Little Fugitive (Engel ’53)*
  51. The Band Wagon (Minnelli ’53)
  52. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton’54)*
  53. Johnny Guitar (Ray ’54)
  54. Senso (Visconti ’54)
  55. Voyage to Italy (Rossellini ’54)*
  56. Love Me or Leave Me (C. Vidor ’55)*
  57. The Phenix City Story (Karlson ’55)
  58. The Harder They Fall (Robson ’56)
  59. Lovers and Lollipops (Engel ’56)*
  60. God’s Little Acre (Mann ’58)
  61. Gunman’s Walk (Karlson ’58)*
  62. The Lineup (Siegel ’58)
  63. Some Came Running (Minnelli ’58)
  64. Wild River (Kazan ’60)*
  65. Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Avakian/Stern ’60)
  66. Vivre sa vie (Godard ’62)
  67. Contempt (Godard ’63)*
  68. The Fall of the Roman Empire (Mann ’64)
  69. Seduced and Abandoned (Germi ’64)*
  70. The Anderson Platoon (Schoendoerffer ’65)
  71. Point Blank (Boorman ’67)
  72. David Holzman’s Diary (McBride ’67)*
  73. Goin’ Down the Road (Shebib ’70)*
  74. …No Lies (Block ’74) (no relation)*
  75. Hearts of the West (Zieff ’75)
  76. The Whole Shootin’ Match (Pennell ’78)*
  77. The Battle of Chile (Guzmán ’78)*
  78. Cutter’s Way (Passer ’81)
  79. Last Night at the Alamo (Pennell ’83)*
  80. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Andersen ’03)
  81. L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (’05)*
  82. Caché (Haneke ’05)

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