63. “The Lady Eve”, Preston Sturges (1941)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve

dir. Preston Sturges scr. Preston Sturges cin. Victor Milner with Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, and William Demarest

In 100 words: Among all the movies I have seen, nothing is as sexy as watching Barbara Stanwyck caressing Henry Fonda’s hair with her face smooshed against his. Sturges’ screwball comedy is an exemplar of the genre—a sparkling script full of brilliant and hilarious one-liners, a convoluted plot that never loses the threads of the story, impeccable edits, smart framing, and two movie stars giving the best performances of their careers. The movie is refreshingly frisky, sensual, smart, and ironic—the dapper Fonda constantly falling down is one example—that makes each scene magical. Romance has never felt this sweet, this hot.

Other Movies for Context: Oh my gosh, it’s just too good to be true. The Lady Eve is the only film I’ve seen from Preston Sturges, and I aim to correct that soon. If this is Barbra Stanwyck’s best performance, her work in Double Indemnity in 1945 laid out the framework for the dangerous icy blondes of noir, and is as dangerously sexy as her character here.

64. “Hyenas”, Djibril Diop Mambety (1992)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Hyenas

Hyenas aka Hyènes

dir. Djibril Diop Mambety (1992), scr. Djibril Diop Mambety based on the play The Visit by Freidrich Durrenmatt cin. Matthias Kalin with Ami Diakhate, Djibril Diop Mambety, and Mansour Diouf

In 100 words: Sembene may have laid out the foundation for great African cinema that challenges western intrusion, but Mambety takes its further with a more acidic takedown of neoliberalism, international development, and African self-destruction in this bitter but comedic gem, ironically adapted from a European play. Begins with a herd of elephants that transitions to a similarly indolent group of African men sets the tone immediately, while establishing the film’s recurring motif and playful but intelligent visuals. Colorful characters fill the screen, aided by Mambety’s sharp script that deconstructs African poverty as a failure of human behaviors. A landmark of African cinema.

Other Movies for Context: Mambety’s filmography is tragically short, but his debut film Touki Bouki (1973) felt like a more rebellious and definitely Frenchier version of African cinema that Sembene laid out. Speaking of Ousmane Sembene, who’s often called the Father of African cinema, his films feel similar to Mambety, and not just because of their continental locations. Sembene’s filmography offers such strong critical dissection of post-colonialism, most prominently in Borom Sarret (1963), Xala (1975), which barely missed my Top 100, and Black Girl (1968); religion, with Ceddo (1977), and female circumcision, Moolaade (2004). I personally love all of these. They’re primers for the great African cinema that too few people care to watch.

65. “The Third Man”, Carol Reed (1949)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Third Man.jpg

The Third Man

dir. Carol Reed scr. Graham Greene cin. Robert Krasker with Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles

In 100 words: From the moment that zither motif begins, the movie has you under its spell. Reed’s post-war noir feels dreamy, finding ways to film Vienna’s beauty amid its crumbling architecture and the antiquated structures. The Dutch angles and expressionistic use of shadows and light also heighten the romanticism. Though everything about the film’s images and sound feel phantasmagorical, the script fills the screen with indelible characters so disillusioned, hardened, and maybe even confused about each other’s names: Harry Lime’s famous oratory crystallizes the cynicism at the heart of the story, surely made even more memorable by Welles’ smug delivery. That ending!

Other Movies for Context: The battered grace of the movie’s images remind me of G.W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925) or even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), although everything about it feels uniquely attuned to its milieu. But the post-war vision also owes a lot to the films of Italian neorealism, including Roberto Rossellini, especially Germany Year Zero (1946)  Carol Reed would go on to win an Academy Award for directing Best Picture-winner Oliver! (1968).

66. “The Wages of Fear”, Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Wages of Fear

The Wages of Fear aka Le salaire de la peur

dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953) scr. Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi cin. Armand Thirard with Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck

In 100 words: For my money, this is the greatest thriller movie ever. Clouzot’s meticulous construction of each scene is Hitchcockian, and once the movie gets on the road, his editing and sound design build the nerve-racking suspense. But just as the inherent danger in the film’s plot brings the suspense, the script’s existentialism adds tension between the characters, carefully building them up to crumble. Images impart a lot of meanings and ideas that are often unforgettable. Moreover, the film’s social critique is impressively incorporated: I love its take on American imperialism in Latin America and the destructiveness of oil and big business.

Other Movies for Context: I’m still waiting to watch more of Clouzot’s work, particularly the actress-y Diabolique (1955), which is on my list this year. Sorcerer (1977), William Friedkin’s American remake is often thought of as an overlooked masterpiece, and it’s also on my list to watch.

67. “City Lights”, Charlie Chaplin (1931)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

City Lights

City Lights

dir. and wri. Charlie Chaplin (1931) cin. Rollie Totheroh, Gordon Pollock, and Mark Marklatt with Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers

In 100 words: Is there any other film character as memorable or as iconic as “The Tramp”? This brilliant film finds Chaplin combining the best of his filmography for one perfect film: the tear-inducing pathos of The Kid, the political resonances of Modern Times, and the buddy comedy pratfalls and adorable romance of Gold Rush. Lights stands out for its playful and imaginative use of sound and score and its deft control of tone, despite the jokes about suicide and alcoholism.  Chaplin’s inimitably balletic grace and ace comedic timing shines through while the unexpected sensitivity of that ending will bring you to tears.

Other Movies for Context: Charlie Chaplin is one of the greatest and most important directors of cinema. The three films cited above are all must-sees. Additionally, I’ve seen his filmThe Great Dictator (1942), which is his rebuke of Hitler in the midst of World War II.

68. “Viridiana”, Luis Bunuel (1961)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Viridiana

Viridiana

dir. Luis Bunuel scr. Julio Alejandro and Luis Bunuel cin. Jose F. Aguayo with Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey, Margarita Lozano

In 100 words: The master of satire and irony has fashioned his most brutal takedown of the Franco regime and the Catholic Church in this comically bleak film. Viridiana is like great literature: rich in symbolism and social critique but married to Bunuel’s unique sense of wit, humor and visual grammar. Each scene is incredibly designed—Bunuel doesn’t always reveal his cards upfront, nor is he exactly subtle, but his assured direction ensures that the payoffs land hard. And boy do they sting: his views on the folly of sainthood and charity and the darkness of human nature are dense, insightful, and uncompromising.

Other Movies for Context: Bunuel is one of my absolute favorite directors ever because his work shows tremendous skill in the use of irony and satire. Viridiana feels close in association with Los Olvidados (1951), a fine satire similar in its bleakness to this one. I also see a lot of L’Age d’Or (1932) in this one, only more bitter and cynical. Bunuel will make two more appearances on this list.

69. “The Ascent”, Larisa Shepitko (1977)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

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The Ascent or Восхождение or Voskhozhdeniye

dir. Larisa Shepitko (1977) scr. Yuri Klepikov and Larisa Shepitko based on the novel Sotnikov by Vasil Bykov cin. Vladimir Chukhnov and Pavel Lebeshev with Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostuykhin, Sergei Yakolev, Lyudmila Polyakova

In 100 words: A Soviet-era war film built on Christian allusions, Ascent is one of the most completely enveloping and all-consuming films on this list. Its compositions, especially the stark whites and bleak landscapes feel purposefully remote and isolating, while the soundscape highlights the elemental and the primal, effectively instilling a sense of immediacy to the picture. As the film progresses, these images accrue power as the story delves deeper into the human condition: characters face such grim existential questions about heroism, patriotism, and the nature of betrayal, especially when it comes to survival. Shepitko’s alchemy makes all these ideas powerful and moving.

Other Movies for Context: Shepitko’s husband Elem Klimov was also a renowned director, who made another incredible (if utterly disturbing) war film called Come and See (1985) that makes quite an astonishing double feature with this one, though I’m not sure if I could handle seeing both back-to-back. Otherwise, Shepitko had a short filmography due to her tragic death in 1979. The Ascent was the last feature she ever made.