|His Girl Friday
|Sherman's March A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South during an Era of Nuclear Weapons Prolifer
|Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
|Phantom of the Paradise
|Brian De Palma
|Je, tu, il, elle
Cassavetes was and remains an entirely unique filmmaker. When you're under his spell he tends to demand engagement from your entire nervous system in a way that makes everything else seem irrelevant--hence, it would feel pretty well justified to me to write in 10 of his 12 features here and call it a day. But I'll go with Love Streams. Facing mortality, like many late-career directors he'd acquired wisdom and (just a bit of) restraint--and unlike almost anyone, he'd gone from powerful to more powerful, inventive to more inventive, fearless to more fearless, fireball to eternal flame.
His Girl Friday
I've been watching movies for all of my conscious life and been around a lot of moviemaking--I'll never understand how something this perfectly delightful happens. It's certainly not a common occurrence.
Ronee Blakley's performance alone would make this an all-time favorite for me, but 23 (!!) other leads playing at her level, magnificently and mischievously orchestrated, makes this just about the richest smorgasbord of cinema pleasure I know.
If the arts hadn't worked out for him, David Lynch would have made a heckuva cult leader. He got this cast and crew to stick with him through five years of a shoot that resembled no kind of moviemaking before or since. Ultimately that faith passes through to the audience, as he grants us insights and experiences not otherwise available on our material plane.
A scarily committed actor joins an unwaveringly committed director in his unique and demanding process, and the payoff is massive. There's a fascinating helix here between the unsparingly dim and grimy worldview and the pure exhilaration that comes from this profound level of alertness from cast and crew. Perhaps the most invigorating depressing movie ever. (And Exhibit A in the argument that "flawed" movies are often better than the "perfect" ones.)
Sherman's March A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South during an Era of Nuclear Weapons Prolifer
Like all of these movies--but more so--an unrepeatable magic trick. It happily wields all of documentary's natural advantages over fiction (honesty, directness, serendipity)--while also beating most narratives on their native turfs of comedy, charm, poetry, and impeccable structure. The fact that this was all done by one man holding a clunky 16mm camera in one hand and sound gear in the other is mindboggling, if indeed the only way it could have been possible.
Breaking all the rules sounds cool but tends to be a terrible idea. Usually you walk off a cliff and plunge to your doom. But every once in a while a filmmaker (or filmmakers) pull a Looney Tunes and just gleefully ignore gravity, dancing out past land's end to snatch an insane masterpiece from the heavens. The strangest part is that, in a movie dedicated only to gags, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker's dedication to irreverently skewering conventions actually byproducts a pretty solid case for the power of those conventions. Which is to say, I'm genuinely on the edge of my seat in suspense every time Ted is landing that plane.
Phantom of the Paradise
This is very, very, very fun. And probably fairly accurate vis-a-vis Satan's work in the entertainment industry.
Je, tu, il, elle
My wife accuses me of being "declinist"--Cassavetes notwithstanding, I tend to fall harder for an artist's wild early expressions to whatever more "masterful" work may follow. Akerman here arrives fully formed (absurdly young) and pulsing with life. I'd say it's a movie unlike any other she made, but that's true of all of her works really--and her voice was so powerful that no matter how diverse the oeuvre (experimental documentary, musical comedy, unclassifiable Jeanne Dielman...) it's abundantly clear that no one else could have made these movies.
Before the Marx Brothers were movie stars they were vaudeville stars. And before that they were (remarkably, really, considering what an odd assortment they make) actual brothers. There will never be another Marx Brothers because you cannot synthesize such a diamond, it can only be formed by long years of natural pressure. Movie technology barely caught up in time to give them their greatest stage, and thank goodness it did. Hail Hail Freedonia.
I wish BFI had invited me to do this 25 years ago, back when I knew everything. At this point not only do I feel far less qualified to offer a righteous "objective" ranking of cinema history, but even my own personal pantheon has become--happily--a muddle, an embarrassment of riches which feels absurd to even bother trying to sort out. I've merely reached into the grab bag here and pulled out some happy memories. Of course several thousand movies, both more and less "canonical" than my picks, will be equally worthy of the reader's attention...