|The Grand Budapest Hotel
|BOUDU SAUVÉ DES EAUX
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|The Man Who Would Be King
|The Third Man
|Cléo from 5 to 7
|My Neighbour Totoro
|Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
For me, the most consistently dazzling and enjoyable of all Wes A's films - for the inventiveness, the script, the lighting, the sets, the cast - and for giving Ralph Fiennes his first real chance to show his masterly command of comedy.
An anomalous entry in Kurosawa's filmography - no crime, no killings, not a samurai to be seen - and of the 16 films he made between 1948 and 1965, the only one not to star Mifune Toshiro. But it features the greatest performance by his other favourite actor: Shimura Takashi, as the routine bureaucrat who "has never admired a sunset in 30 years" but suddenly finds he has only a few months to give his life some meaning. "Sing the song," Kurosawa told Shimura, "as if you are a stranger in a world where nobody believes you exist". And he does.
BOUDU SAUVÉ DES EAUX
This deliciously subversive 1932 social comedy kicked off Renoir’s strongest period. A Parisian bookseller, M Lestingois, sees a disreputable tramp throw himself into the Seine. He dives in, saves him and nobly takes him into his own household. But Boudu (played by the great eccentric of French cinema, Michel Simon) proves singularly ungrateful. He spits in first editions, cleans his shoes on the bedspread, seduces his host’s wife and makes a pass at the maid, Lestingois’ mistress. In some quarters this was taken as a virulent attack on bourgeois values; but that’s to miss the genial exuberance of Renoir’s comedy.
Ray's own favourite among his own films - "the one with the fewest flaws" - is the subtlest and most delicate of his chamber dramas, with Madhabi Mukherjee enchanting as the neglected Bengali wife, and Soumitra Chatterjee (in perhaps the finest of his 15 performances for Ray) as her husband's cousin with whom she finds herself unconsciously falling in love.
The prevailing mood is sombre, lowering and intense; the narrative pace is steady and deliberate, presenting horrific events with chilling restraint; and the film deals with all Dreyer's prime concerns: religious faith, the supernatural, social intolerance, innocence and guilt, and the clash between society and the individual. In its visual texture it presents the supreme example of his use of light and darkness to express moral and emotional concerns, with severe, black-garbed figures set against stark white walls, and opposing lines of force creating tensions within the frame.
The Man Who Would Be King
For once, the often-misused term 'epic' is wholly appropriate. Huston's script (written with his long-term assistant Gladys Hill) expands Kipling's story but remains wholly faithful to its spirit (including the implicit critique of British imperialism), while further exploring the director's perennial theme of the quest and the destruction of those possessed by it. Connery and Caine are perfectly teamed, with Saeed Jaffrey in deft support.
The Third Man
A film of shrewdly chosen detail, with even the smallest bit-part perfectly cast. Welles doesn't even appear until over an hour in and is on-screen for barely 15 minutes, but his spirit dominates the action. And it's aptly set (and shot) in the shattered, divided city of Vienna, its professional charm worn perilously thin, its once grand buildings now shabby and tottering. Anton Karas’s solo zither score vividly captures the wheedling, brittle mood of the defeated city.
Cléo from 5 to 7
As always, Varda shows infinite compassion for her characters, even the less lovable ones. Here, Cléo is a petulant blonde singer suddenly brought up hard against reality: she may have cancer, and results of her test are due this evening. Varda’s achievement is to make us care about this pouty princess as she wanders distractedly around Paris awaiting the worst.
My Neighbour Totoro
Ah, which Miyazaki to choose? I think it has to be this one. True, it lacks the darker undertones of Princess Mononoke (1997) or Spirited Away (2001) - but who could resist the enchanted forest-world revealed to the wide eyes of two small girls? And I still remember the shriek of joy with which the audience greeted the sudden magical apparition out of rain and darkness of the manically grinning cat bus.
Surely the most satisfying of all Keaton's films. Apart from anything else, its sense of period is flawless. Asked years later why his depiction of the Civil War era looked so much more authentic than that shown in Gone with the Wind, Keaton replied, “They went to a novel; I went to the history books.” The narrative line runs clean and uncluttered from start to finish; all the gags – and they include some of his best – work to further the dramatic action.
The 'greatest'? Well, who can possibly decide that - and what does it mean anyway? So instead, what I've done is choose ten films that I could watch time and again without ever tiring of them - even though I know them almost by heart. So for me - yes, perhaps they are the greatest.