53. “Safe”, Todd Haynes (1995)

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

Safe

Safe

dir. Todd Haynes scr. Todd Haynes cin. Alex Nepomniaschy with Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkeley, Susan Norman.

In 100 words: What is wrong with Carol? This postmodern masterpiece never specifies the culprit, but through its masterful blending of horror and melodrama, suggests that modern life is killing her. Haynes’ script reveals the direness of a life built on superficial ideas about domesticity and perfection, while Moore’s performance builds a character who is primarily an empty shell and slowly shows her growing into herself as she starts to shut out the world. The excellent sound heightens the dread in everyday mundanity, while the camera frames her in ways that suggests the world is swallowing her. Great ideas, unnerving execution, enigmatic end.

Other Movies for Context: This isn’t the first film that explores the utter desolation of the modern world, and it feels partly inspired by the works of Chantal Akerman and Michaelangelo Antonioni’s examination of the horrors of the industrial age, Red Desert (1964). Personally, this movie makes me think of the odd, experimental, and enigmatic Koyaanisqatsi (1982), which builds a narrative from human life in the modern age.

54. “Daisy Kenyon”, Otto Preminger (1947)

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

Daisy Kenyon.jpg

 

Daisy Kenyon

dir. Otto Preminger scr. David Hertz, based on the novel by Elizabeth Janeway cin. Leon Shamroy with Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews

In 100 words: In Daisy Kenyon, Preminger created an interesting marriage of naturalism and artifice; a melodrama built like a noir with all that word implies: the expressionistic lighting, deft camerawork and subtly gauzy images imply the characters’ internal state. At the same time, the love triangle feels surprisingly realistic, which counters whatever melodramatic impulses the story may have. Characters act impulsively, but they face their choices head-on, rather than suffering quietly. I cannot think of another movie where my allegiances shifted from one obvious choice to another and back, yet still feel like I’m not being duped. This one does that and more.

Other Movies for Context: This is often been referenced as a Joan Crawford-melodrama so I’ll start there: Mildred Pierce (1946) is obviously her crowning glory. Preminger made Laura (1944), a sensational and tightly constructed (less than 90 minutes!) film, also starring Andrews, but memorable for Clifton Webb’s kooky performance. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) did less for me, even if I do like Frank Sinatra in it.

55. “Shoah”, Claude Lanzmann (1985)

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

Shoah

Shoah

dir. Claude Lanzmann cin. Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasburg, Phil Gries, and William Lubtchansky

In 100 words: Monumental, harrowing, and impactful, Shoah is the ultimate film about the Holocaust. Lanzmann’s exhaustive footage captures excellent reflections from survivors, grieving families of victims, and even manages to get interviews with perpetrators, all to devastating effect. It builds and builds, interweaving the discussions with footage of concentration camps. The way he edits the narration, the sound, and trains his camera on these spaces feel majestic but haunting, that even years after the trauma and nature has taken back some of the sites, they obviously still carry the scars of the past. It’s the greatest ten-hours of cinema ever put together.

Other Movies for Context: I think in terms of the Holocaust, few are as this complete and this impressively constructed. Resnais’s Night and Fog (1956) is a great distillation of the event, in a shorter timespan. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) is perhaps the best Holocaust film that is fictionalized (although based on the real life story, obviously) that I’ve seen. In any case, everyone needs to see Shoah: it’s simply a landmark.

56. “Dodsworth”, William Wyler (1936)

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

Dodsworth

Dodsworth

dir. William Wyler scr. William Wyler cin. Rudolph Mate with Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, David Niven, Maria Ouspenskaya

In 100 words: No film has ever depicted marriage as realistically as this incredibly scripted and nimbly directed movie. Dodsworth represented Wyler’s greatest script—every character is complexly drawn, and every conflict rings with truthfulness and wisdom that still feel very relevant today. Cracks within the relationship are fully explored—never fully blaming one character for their faults, but more of a commentary on how time has left behind this couple’s marriage. Wyler’s mise en scene reveal layers within each scene, although for the most part, he wisely steps back to let the audience just observe performers give generous and such well-defined characterizations.

Other Movies for Context: Wyler’s filmography is so long and varied, it makes for a fascinating one to follow. Among my favorites from his include The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and The Letter (1940). He also directed Barbra Streisand in her star-making role of Funny Girl (1968).

57. “My Darling Clementine”, John Ford (1946)

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

My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine

dir. John Ford scr. Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller based on a story by Sam Hellman cin. Joseph MacDonald with Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan

In 100 words: When I think of westerns, I think of busy shoot-em-up movies with cowboys and some sort of black and white distillation of good versus evil, while talking about American exceptionalism. Ford, the best director of westerns, created his most unusually sweet and lackadaisical western here, in opposition to that standard. The film feels more like a hang-out movie: its focus is so much more on the life of its many characters and town activities, rather than the gathering storm that later erupts in a magnificent climax. Sterling images and edits, great use of sound, richly layered acting make this exceptional.

Other Movies for Context: Ford is one of the greatest and most important American directors. I wasn’t a big fan of westerns, and quite frankly, it’s not a genre I reach out to when I just want to watch a movie. But Ford’s are the standard for which every western films should be judged. His legendary The Searchers (1956) is often considered among the greatest movies ever, but it’s my least favorite of his. Stagecoach (1939) is my favorite apart from this one, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is pretty spectacular. Ford also has some of the most handsomely filmed images I’ve ever seen that chronicled the history of America: among them are The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was my Valley (1941), and the unusually romantic and lush The Quiet Man (1952).

58. “Close-Up”, Abbas Kiarostami (1990)

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

Close Up

Close-Up aka کلوزآپ ، نمای نزدیک‎ or Klūzāp, nemā-ye nazdīk

dir. Abbas Kiarostami scr. Abbas Kiarostami cin. Ali Reza Zarrindast with Hossain Sabzian and Mohsen Makhmalbaf

In 100 words: Defying easy classification, this blend of documentary and fiction heralded a new form of filmmaking that guided modern Iranian cinema. The reconstruction of a real-life crime, mixed with actual footage of the court proceedings blurred the lines between reality and manipulation, while simultaneously commenting on Iranian society, justice, identity, and the effects of cinema on people. The construction of the movie alone is dizzying, but I I’m more fascinated by the level of coordination and the amount of access the filmmakers were able to receive. That and the uncommon poetic tenderness that Kiarostami imbues in his trickster remains disarmingly sweet.

Other Movies for Context: I wasn’t as keen on the other movie often cited to be his greatest, the Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry (1997), which was pretty great until that ending that made me angry. But to each his own, Kiarostami is a fascinating director and I look forward to seeing more of his work. Another filmmaker, the director who was impersonated here, will make an appearance on this list with a film that follows a similar reflexive style but deeper, I think.

59. “Chinatown”, Roman Polanski (1974)

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

Chinatown

Chinatown

dir. Roman Polanski scr. Robert Towne cin. John A. Alonzo with Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, John Huston, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd

In 100 words: With Chinatown, Polanski and Towne created a world that updates the film noir of the 40s and 50s with something that at every turn feels more insidious, and doubles up on the rich symbolism of its predecessors. Nicholson and Dunaway both embody their archetypes, but twist them enough to make them feel modernist; they’re sadder and more complex than their models were. The rich details of the script’s dialogue offers a lesson in cryptic storytelling without feeling abstract, while Polanski’s direction help make the surprises and revelations fluid. Its commentary on wealth and power lends its story potency and relevance.

Other Movies for Context: This was Polanski’s last American movie before he fled for rape charges. I’ve only seen three of his other films: the creepy, skin-crawling terror of Repulsion (1965) and the richly drawn horror of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) are both awesome. The Pianist (2002) won him the Cannes Palme d’Or and the Oscar for Best Director, and I think it’s pretty superb. For modern-day equivalence, I think the closest to getting me this excited was L.A. Confidential (1997), a fantastic noir that comments more on toxic masculinity and hues closer to that than Chinatown.