31. “The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum”, Kenji Mizoguchi (1939)

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

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The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum aka 残菊物語 or Zangiku monogatari

dir. Kenji Mizoguchi scr. Matsutarō Kawaguchi, Yoshikata Yoda based on the novel by Shôfû Muramatsu cin. Yozo Fuji and Minoru Miki with Shotaro Hanayagi, Kokichi Takada, and Gonjuro Kawarazaki

In 100 words: Mizoguchi, one of the greatest Japanese directors, finds himself pushing the boundaries of the cinematic form with this beautiful take on a man’s obsession with his art and the woman who helps him reach his peak. His mise-en-scene provide not only cultural context, but informs the characters’ complex emotions. But it’s his tracking shots, shooting through obstacles and only matched by Ophuls, to evoke strong feelings and keep audiences engaged as tensions rise and fall onscreen. Every nuance and movement in the story builds slowly, but surely, until it reaches a devastating ending. Prepare to cry a boatload of tears.

Other Movies for Context: What a great discovery this one was. Mizoguchi is among my favorite directors, one who had such strong interest in women. This particular movie deals equally with the story of Kiku and Otoku. The obvious films by his that has some resonance with this are The Life of Oharu (1952), a weepie that focuses on the life of a Japanese woman as she goes from one man to another, The Crucified Lovers (1954), which bears striking resemblance to this with similar emotional textures and grace, and Street of Shame (1956), the only contemporary-set movie I’ve seen of his, focusing on women who work in the brothel. Mizoguchi would show up one more time on this list.

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32. “Sans Soleil”, Chris Marker (1983)

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

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Sans Soleil

dir. scr. and cin. Chris Marker

In 100 words: The greatest documentary that I have ever seen is part travelogue, part historical examination, part experimental film, and part personal diary. Marker was a poet first, and his film never settles on a clear narrative. He juxtaposes laments of the forgotten importance of places like Cape Verde or Guinea-Bissau with the profound rituals of modern Tokyo. I find his obsession with cats endearing, and his meditations on memory, context, and time bracing. The music also feels haunting but oddly peaceful at the same time. All of this feel spiritual, like invading into someone’s memory and reading their most intimate thoughts.

Other Movies for Context: The only other movie I saw from Chris Marker is La Jetee (1963), which I was seriously confused by because it was a narrative with only images. This particular movie reminded me a lot of Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), Laura Mulvey’s bracingly opaque and brilliant experimental movie that relies heavily on narration. Fascinating really.

33. “A Moment of Innocence”, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1996)

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

A Moment of Innocence

A Moment of Innocence aka نون و گلدون‎‎ or Nūn o goldūn

dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf scr. Mohsen Makhmalfbaf cin. Mahmoud Kalari with Mirhadi Tayebi, Mohsen Makhmalfbaf, Ali Bakhsi, Ammar Tafti, Maryam Mohamadamini

In 100 words: Similar in concept to Kiarostrami’s Close-Up, in that it deals with a meta-depiction of a real-life event through the fictionalized (?) shooting of the event in question. Its reflexive qualities are more bracing and provocative, as we watch adults watch themselves onscreen, and the rush of nostalgia that kicks in slowly turning to feelings of fury and humiliation. It’s a stellar depiction of the Iranian Revolution and the sociopolitical ramifications of that event. Innocence is the rare film to function as a succinct essay on what cinema can capture and evidently its inability to recreate exact moments from the past.

Other Movies for Context: I’m not well-versed in either Iranian cinema or Makhmalbaf’s filmography outside of Kiarostrami. But this film also feels like Irma Vep (1995), which features a metadepiction of cinema but far more fictionalized than this.

34. “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, Woody Allen (1989)

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

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors

dir. Woody Allen scr. Woody Allen cin. Sven Nykvist with Caroline Aaron, Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Claire Bloom, Mia Farrow, Joanna Gleason, Anjelica Huston, Martin Landau, Jenny Nichols, Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston

In 100 words:Misdemeanors is Allen’s most perfect film and best representation of his nihilistic world view, a deeply philosophical but never sanctimonious examination of the presence of God and conscience. It’s a cold movie: Bergmanesque not only in its themes or even the look provided by Nykvist, but also his formalist camera work, editing rhythm and structure and classical music selection. Still, it’s unmistakably Allen’s voice. His dialogue is rich with sardonic humor and playful wit rarely topped elsewhere, and his cast is wholly terrific. Landau’s monologue justifying his action ranks among the most excellent scenes in Allen’s filmography. A career peak.

Other Movies for Context: Interestingly enough, the closeness of the material to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment reminded me mostly of Lav Diaz’s Norte, The End of History (2013), although that is formally more rigorous than this. Elsewhere in Allen’s huge filmography, this stands among his finest films: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Annie Hall (1977), and Husbands and Wives (1991), proving that serious Allen is most interesting to me than seriocomic Allen.

35. “Imitation of Life”, Douglas Sirk (1959)

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

Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life

dir. Douglas Sirk scr. Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott based on the novel by Fannie Hurst cin. Russell Metty with Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, and Susan Kohner

In 100 words: The greatest of all “women’s picture”, Sirk created luxurious entertainment with a stinging view of American society. The lushness of its colors, designs and costumes, soaring symphonies, and actors’ dialed-up performances hide in plain sight the depth of its themes. I haven’t seen America’s racial consciousness depicted as vividly as I see here: as a battle between preservation and identification; a reflection of whiteness and its effect on black identity and their implicit servitude. It’s also a powerful story of mothers making sacrifices for their children, and the ways people act out roles in their lives. Heart-wrenching and deeply insightful.

Other Movies for Context: For me, this was a watershed for my moviegoing experience because it made me aware of how powerful cinematic entertainment can be when they have more to say than their pretty images would suggest and for kickstarting really my appreciation for exploring the depths of cinematic history. I’ve seen four of Sirk’s films. Apart from this, I have much love for All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). His A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) may look and sound like a Sirk film, but less interesting. Sirk’s influence is palpable in the works of Haynes and Fassbinder as well, particularly Far from Heaven (2002) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), respectively. Lastly, Sirk’s film is the second version of the Fannie Hurst novel, being adapted to a Claudette Colbert picture in 1934, which hued closer to Hurst’s original novel, although in spirit, Sirk’s version is closer.

36. “Bonnie and Clyde”, Arthur Penn (1967)

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

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde

dir. Arthur Penn scr. David Newman and Robert Benton cin. Burnett Guffey with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, and Estelle Parsons

In 100 words: The game-changer that heralded the arrival of New American Cinema, and announced a liberated, risky, and challenging style that took its cues from the French New Wave, Bonnie and Clyde is a landmark. There’s so much ingenuity in the way it’s shot and edited violence—frantic, bloody, and chaotic—so much angst coming from carnality—when do you see leading characters as impotent as Clyde?—and I loved the glamour they found in their lives—Bonnie’s berets, Clyde’s suits. Penn’s movie is so innovative and its influence so incalculable that one can see all of modern cinema spring from here.

Other Movies for Context: Mark Harris wrote a great book called Pictures at a Revolution that analyzed five key films in 1967 (the Best Picture lineup) and how they relate to the bigger cultural revolution happening at the time: this movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, Doctor Doolittle, and In the Heat of the Night. Penn’s movie also feels like an upgrade of the earlier Gun Crazy, which was a darker take on this story and later lovers on a run spring from this: Malick’s Badlands (1973), the terrific Thelma and Louise (1991), and Natural Born Killers (1995).

37. “Casablanca”, Michael Curtiz (1942)

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

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Casablanca

dir. Michael Curtiz scr. Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison cin. Arthur Edeson with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

In 100 words: An accidental masterpiece that transcended the bounds of its Hollywood studio production, Casablanca remains one of the greatest and most heartbreaking love stories ever told set in the most desperate times of world history. The script keeps everything light, despite the grim subject, with hilarious dialogue and some contrived plot that was never meant to be taken too seriously anyway. But Curtiz’s direction of the movie is stunning: the craft is undeniably handsome, and the mélange of European and American actors are all so good. Bergman and Bogart’s romance was so palpable, the anguish so deep, nothing short of iconic.

Other Movies for Context: Ranks alongside The GodfatherGone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz as the most iconic of American cinema. Michael Curtiz directed two other movies that I’ve seen that are stellar: Angels with Dirty Faces with the always amazing James Cagney and Mildred Pierce, the melodrama that finally won Joan Crawford an Oscar.